Evolution of the Daleks

Region 1
box set

Region 2
box set
Region 2
plain 4-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 186, starring David Tennant)
  • written by Helen Raynor
  • directed by James Strong
  • produced by Phil Collinson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 2 episodes @ 45 minutes each:
    1. Daleks in Manhattan
    2. Evolution of the Daleks
Story: The Great Depression of the 1930's has hit New York City, and Central Park is full of homeless vagrants looking for work.... who are also mysteriously vanishing. Why have the Daleks taken over the construction of the Empire State Building? Why is the young pin-striped employer Mr. Diagoras working with them? And what connects all of this to a Broadway theatre full of showgirls? The Doctor soon suspects he and Martha may have stumbled onto a key moment in Dalek evolution....

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Episode One audio commentary by writer Helen Raynor, actress Miranda Raison (Tallulah), and costume designer Louise Page.
  • Episode Two audio commentary by David Tennant (The Doctor), Nick Briggs (Dalek Voice), and on-set effects technician Barney Curnow.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: A New York Story (11 min.) with Raynor, Raison, Eric Loren (Mr. Diagoras), director James Strong,
    producer Phil Collinson, and executive producer Russell T. Davies.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Making Manhattan (12 min.) with Davies, Strong, Collinson, Tennant,
    visual effects supervisor Dave Houghton, and special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves.
  • David Tennant's Video Diaries (8 min.) with Tennant, Strong, Raison, Loren, Briggs, Freema Agyeman (Martha),
    David Hankinson (Dalek Operator), and Ryan Carnes (Laszlo).
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

It is always interesting to see a Doctor Who script editor write a story himself, or in this case herself, not least because it may reveal something of the criteria which they use to guide the major arcs of the entire series. Additionally, it hasn't happened on Doctor Who since the fiasco of Season 23's Trial of a Time Lord caused producer and script editor to part on hostile terms. The elements used here by Helen Raynor for her story range from tried and true sure-things to a couple of abysmal bad ideas, contributing to a less than favourable reaction from the fans and followers of the show. But there also seems to be a palpable shift towards higher quality in the second episode of the story, helping to redeem the tale somewhat and bring it up to a half-decent level.

The two biggest mistakes can be summed up by naming two of the story's most "original" elements: pig men and Broadway-musical-number-singing showgirls.

Pig men? Of course, it makes sense for the Daleks to want to grab humans and do something to them to make them strong, subservient, obedient slaves. History suggests that turning them into Robomen would be their first choice, which certainly turned out to be a cinematic success in the Peter Cushing feature film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (theatrical version of story no. 10). Even if the necessary hardware is in short supply, and something far more organic had to be done, there are any number of new mutant forms that could be experimented with until something nasty and believable could be put on the screen. But pig men? By simply picking a common farm animal, for no discernable good reason, it becomes almost laughable and demonstrates a lack of imagination and scope that does not bode well for the future of the show.

Mistake no. 2: Showgirls singing on Broadway, getting ready to sing on Broadway, etc., etc. Too Earthy, too limp-wristed, too staged to mix well with action and plot, and most importantly, too far into the musical genre which has always been such a bad combination with science fiction.

On another note, the choice of setting itself begs some scrutiny. In other circumstances, 1930's New York, even with Broadway, might be a decent place to set a Doctor Who story, showcasing enough cultural differences from the usual London setting to make a nice diversion as one of, say, the two or three Earth-based stories in a ten-story season. But, look at where they've positioned this story: after two and a half years of barely ever being able to set a story on a planet outside of Earth's orbit, and directly after visiting the not-very-original city of New New York on a copy-cat planet for the second time in the previous story. And after spending too much time on Shakespeare's stage in the story just prior to that. What the production team desperately wants to portray as a cool new expression of dazzling culture and colour on Doctor Who's screen actually comes across as a cheap re-hash of the same old elements they've been chucking at us for some time. Want to impress us? Show us the galaxy, and get back to real alien planets and alien cultures, like the original show had never been afraid to do even on its limited budget.

Another big factor to consider here is how much both the writing and the directing of this story seem to be just painting by numbers. The opening shows the usual earthly routine (showgirls) being interrupted by the scare (pig men?!), showcasing both big elemental mistakes. Don't be surprised if it doesn't work for you. But why then, if the Daleks haven't been revealed in the teaser, do Raynor and Co. choose to reveal them in the completely uninspiring title "Daleks in Manhattan"? Daleks themselves always seem to be popular, and so here they are again, doing most of their usual antics and reliving as many scenes from their previous adventures as possible, generally with less inspiration than before. But Daleks have been done so often in the past two years, we aren't really all that excited in seeing them show up yet again, much less occupying one of the double-length slots in the season.

Thankfully this painting-by-numbers approach gives us a full materialization of the TARDIS to start the story off right, although Raynor rightly laments about losing the preceding TARDIS interior scene she had written. It's included on the deleted scenes in the box set, and probably wouldn't have demonstrated the interior/exterior relationship to new viewers any better than the scenes in "The Ribos Operation" (story no. 98). Sad. The Doctor and Martha immediately come out to marvel at the culture and landmarks they find surrounding themselves, and quickly identify a mystery worth investigating to occupy themselves while they are there. Sounds good theoretically. But whatever questions fascinate the Doctor remain nebulous and ultimately uninteresting to the audience.

Hooverville isn't quite the fresh new scoop of 1930's New York history that the production team think they've unearthed, because we've seen it before on Doctor Who in 1963. It's the petrified forest all over again, full of Thals camping out after their crops have failed and they're forced to search for new means of sustenance.

The visual reveal of the Daleks becomes yet another lacklustre going-through-the-motions event. Nick Briggs works hard with the Dalek voice to put extra menace into the Daleks' first few lines, but particularly after the title of the episode, the scene is far too predictable and lacks any anticipation of something surprising or interesting happening. Camera angles also appear uninspired. Having the Dalek flanked by pig men (pig men?!) certainly didn't help. Using the established fish-eye lens for the Dalek's point-of-view only seems to make Mr. Diagoras look silly as he speaks his lines... not a good choice. I'll save my discussion of further revelations for the In-depth Analysis version of this review....

The Pointless Investigation

What is extremely disappointing is how the Doctor's investigations fall so far behind what the audience already knows, making him rather pointless to the first half of the narrative, his scenes uninteresting. He spends most of the first episode just trying to figure out what the teaser and title have already revealed: that there are Daleks and pig men (pig men?!) behind everything.

And he has to do most of that in one of the worst parts of the story's settings. Painting by numbers again, Raynor has dredged up another overused Doctor Who setting in which her monsters can congregate and chase after the protagonists: sewers, which of course for television looks more like a bunch of dingey but nicely dry corridors than anything that is actually transporting waste. You could leave out nearly all the sewer scenes and not miss anything worthwhile, and set the chases and other key moments in locations that make for more interesting cinematography.
Murray Gold reuses a few of his developing pieces for the main characters, but new original music is not this story's strong point. As with many of the other production members, Gold gets swept up into the perceived glory of 1930's New York Broadway and proceeds to write a song, vocals and all, to stop all narrative dead while it gets its moment to be sung on screen. As I said, musicals and sci-fi aren't a great mix.

The Daleks too get additional music, where Gold plays up the holy choir vocal element way too much again. Sorry, it's just not ALIEN enough to represent Daleks for me - it's more about the Londoners hiding behind their sofas like ninnies because they think any appearance of Daleks on screen is a big event. And any time you do vocals, you have to wonder about lyrics, which once again sound like a load of pompous nonsense.

Music by Murray Gold
"Evolution of the Daleks",
"My Angel Put the Devil in Me",
"All the Strange, Strange Creatures",
"Martha's Theme", and "The Doctor Forever" are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 3"

More info & buying options

"The Daleks" is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who by Murray Gold
Silva Screen SILCD1224

More info & buying options

Things do pick up significantly though, as the Doctor gets a nice moment leading into the most memorable cliffhanger of the season. At last the story reveals some new territory that is worth exploring! Too bad an entire episode was wasted setting it up.

Episode Two is definitely on safer ground as it stays away from many problem areas for the most part, recreating some scenes from previous Dalek adventures. A few too predictable parallels with 1963's original "The Daleks" (story no. 2) take place.

Thankfully, there is a genetic laboratory in this story, in which nearly all of its best scenes and best new elements take place. Dalek Sec proves to be the most interesting character in the piece, the only character allowing viewers to anticipate that they may see something new and fresh occur in a Dalek story. The demonic bursts of flame occurring spontaneously in the background of many shots in the lab are of questionable taste and believability, however - style sadly winning out over substance again.

Strategy between the opposing forces is fairly decent throughout most of this second episode. I thought the tale had reached an okay climax at one point, only to be pleasantly surprised as it escalated beyond that and provided even more good stuff. But twice there are lapses into very questionable actions and responses that stretch believability too far and seem a little too staged.

The end generally works, although doesn't feel definitive - it's as though anything could have happened. The Doctor does get his due as main character and central hero, adding a few more notches to his long list of victories.

As I came to the end of this weird piece, and I found myself wondering why a woman would choose to write showgirls and pigmen (pigmen?!) so prominently in her first blockbuster teleplay (assuming of course that she had a reason other than a man's visual interest in putting showgirls on screen), it began to occur to me that she might by trying to weave a message into the story. Perhaps there was a not-so-hidden message that men shouldn't judge themselves unworthy based on their looks, because women tend to pay more attention to deeper things? But on hearing how tacked-on the actual ending was, and what the alternative was going to be up until almost the last minute, somehow this doesn't seem to be what she had in mind. Showgirls likely just flowed out of Raynor's familiarity with stage production work. Which leaves me wondering all the more how pigmen (pigmen?!) ended up in this tale.

All in all, while episode two offers enough good stuff to be an enjoyable episode, and enough new stuff to be interesting sci-fi, the first episode is a bit of a chore to go through, and the whole thing probably would have worked much more excellently as a single 45-minute story. "Evolution of the Daleks" earns some good points for its better elements, but will have to take one of the lower rankings in the season.


This story has become available on DVD.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
14-episode boxed set
for the North American market:

DVD PAL Region 2
14-episode boxed set
for the U.K.
DVD PAL Region 2
plain 4-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Lazarus Experiment"

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