A pig in a poke (spoilers for Evolution of the Daleks)

April 30th, 2007 by Reinder

No, no, no, no, no!

Last week, some Doctor Who fans on Livejournal responded to criticism of Daleks in Manhattan by saying this was the best Dalek story since Genesis of the Daleks, Evil of the Daleks, Planet of the Daleks, you name it. THEY-ARE-INCORRECT!
Taken as a whole, the two-parter of Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks wasn't even the best Dalek story since Doomsday. it wasn't a Dalek story at all. It was a Cybermen story with the word "Cybermen" struck out and "Daleks" scribbled above it. Some other superficial changes were made: instead of a Cyber Controller in his station, we got a battle station that a Dalek fits into; instead of a cybernetic laboratory where the victims were hacked and slashed to bits, we got a genetics laboratory in which dead people's brains are filled with Dalek DNA —

And that brings me right to the second thing I hated about this episode. Just for once, could we have an episode where the science isn't 100% bullshit? 90% bullshit, I'm with you; 80% bullshit and I'll take time out to specifically praise the science in this here blog, 70% bullshit and I'll be as happy as a pig in shit. But for God's sake, try. Five minutes with the Great Gizzoogle and Wikipedia will take you to the level where 10% or more isn't baloney, bunkum or balderdash. And we'll have none of that "using gamma radiation from a solar flare, looking exactly like lightning, powering up the DNA-splicing machine that turns quasi-dead empty shells of human beings into Daleks with human bodies, only not really, because the Doctor is on top of the lightning rod when the flare strikes so that his DNA gets mixed up with that of the quasi-dead empty shells of human beings hundreds of meters below instead". Those aren't ideas you engage with or even suspend disbelief for. Those are ideas you point and laugh at before launching into a reactionary tirade about how science education in Britain has clearly gone to shit. Besides, everyone knows that gamma radiation will make you green and musclebound.

Rrright. I think that gets the criticism of the script out of the way. Sorry about the vulgarity – I mean sorry about it being insufficient. I should have been much ruder but I'm not feeling inspired today.

Thing I Hated Number 3. The acting. And I mean "acting" in the loosest sense of the word. What I said last week about the accents not being Nicola Bryant-level bad? I take it back. Tallulah even took over some Peri-like mannerisms. Solomon's accent slipped (though considering what he had to work with in this part, I can forgive him), as did Frank's. And I liked his character. Decent, average young man caught in a terrible situation and holding his own. Very American Dream, even if the girl decided to stick with the piggy in the end. He just about scraped through, believability-wise, but he didn't sound like he was from Tennessee at all.

Were there any good bits? Well, yeah. Despite it not being a Dalek story, I enjoyed the scenes in the basement, with the Daleks' interaction with Ex-Dalek Sec, the Doctor and especially one another. There was a wonderful moment where one Dalek spoke eyestalk-to-eyestalk with another, discussing what they thought about Sec's behaviour, and the second Dalek turned his head to look if no one was watching. The director and the Dalek operators at the BBC were clearly having a lot of fun making those things act. Nicolas Brigg's timing in that sequence was impeccable as well.

Solomon's extermination was a nice surprise; I expected hick-boy to be the one to buy it. I liked the switch from the Doctor seemingly launching into a Star Trek style appeal to Sec's humanity, using the radio and its music as a prop, to turning his sonic screwdriver on it and making it produce a ghastly noise that Daleks couldn't handle. Though now that I think about it, it's a bit strange that Daleks would be so vulnerable.

Finally, once you accept that Manhattan/Evolution really a Cybermen story, it's not so bad. At least these Cybermen didn't plod and plonk about looking bloody stupid; they had lovely 1940s costumes on and ... oh, who am I kidding. They did look pretty stupid. But better than the silver stompers.

Tennant and Agyema were good as always though. Sorry, force of habit here. I thought Agyema was a bit crap in this, too, to be honest. Miranda Raison's horrible acting must have been contagious. Tennant was good, but not as good as he's been earlier in the series. I think both can do a lot better.

First update: Gamma Radiation bursts from earth triggered by lightning, a scientific explanation of a phenomenon that is almost entirely, but not completely, unlike what Helen Raynor put in the script. Even so, we're at 99% bullshit and falling. (Hat tip: John Nor commenting on Behind the Sofa.)

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