Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 May, 2007

A Tangled Bank of Daleks

"Evolution of the Daleks" picks up where "Daleks in Manhattan" left off. Dalek Sec has transmogrified into a Dalek-human hybrid. The Doctor steps out from the crowd to confront it. Daleks Caan and Thay move to exterminate their race's archenemy but Sec stops them. Sec and The Doctor have one of those classic exchanges that the show has had throughout its history with The Doctor and the villain arguing over the morals of latter's grand plan. Our hero tells Sec that The Final Experiment has essentially been an exercise in futility before using his sonic screwdriver to cause a distraction allowing everyone to escape.

The Doctor and the latest batch of would-be hybrids make it back to the Hooverville in the dark of night. It isn't long before a sentry sees one of the pig-men and the whole camp is under attack. The pig-men are joined by Daleks Caan and Jast who have flown to the camp and they open fire. Solomon steps up and attempts to negotiate a peace. Watching from the Empire State Building, Sec witnesses as he is viciously exterminated. This scene too has been repeated in the show's history several times so one can't really be surprised at Solomon's death. However, I thought that maybe for just a moment the Daleks would just capture everyone but Daleks do what Daleks do.. That Sec had taken on some human qualities gave me a sense of false hope. Solomon's death provokes The Doctor to step forward and yell to Caan and Jast to kill him but to spare everyone else in the camp. Just as they ready themselves to finally do away with the Timelord that has pestered their race since its inception, Sec demands that they bring The Doctor back to the lab.

Once there, The Doctor lashes into Sec for all the killing that has taken place and the hybrid admits regret for the slaughter. Sec elaborates on his plan for hybridization which involves using a gamma strike from the sun (harnessed by the antenna atop the Empire State Building) to be used as the energy source for The Final Experiment which would create a race of Dalek-human hybrids that would combine the intelligence of the former and the emotions of the latter. In addition, the Dalek's naked spirit of aggression would become history.

As you can imagine, this plan doesn't go over too well with the rest of the Cult of Skaro. The Dalek Praetorian guard put the kibosh on the proceedings proclaiming that Sec is no longer a Dalek and take him and The Doctor hostage. They replace the hybrid gene solution formulated by Sec and replace it with one that retains all the nastiest traits of their vile race. In the chaos, The Doctor and Laszlo escape.

Back at the Empire State Building, Martha, Frank and Tallulah have gained entry and make their way to the top floor. They discover the blueprints and note the antenna changes. An elevator arrives carrying The Doctor and Laszlo. After being shown the designs, The Doctor heads up to the roof to dismantle the antenna while the others prepare for an elevator of pig-men to arrive any minute. Up top, The Doctor is able to remove one strip of the Dalekanium before he drops his sonic screwdriver. Meanwhile, Martha has created a large electric conductor from pipes which funnels a lightning strike at the elevator killing the pig-men as they arrive.

Below in the lab, an army of hybrids has awoken with Dalek Caan as their self-appointed leader. They arm themselves and head into the sewers. At the same time, The Doctor, Martha, Tallulah, Frank and Laszlo head back to the theatre. There, The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to emit a signal which would be picked up by the Daleks and, sure enough, the hybrid army appears along with Thay and Jast who have a chained Sec in tow. The Doctor reads them the riot act and, for the billionth time, the Daleks think they've finally defeated their mortal enemy. But Sec steps up to the plate and takes a laser bolt intended for The Doctor. He then reveals that he had hung onto the antenna during the lightning strike and that this infused freedom-loving DNA into the army of hybrids. Thay and Jast then open up on the supposedly inferior hybrids who return fire. The sheer volume of firepower overwhelms the pepper pots. Caan, however, has been observing and engages a destruct mechanism built into the hybrids, killing them all.

The Doctor returns to the lab and confronts Caan. Just as the Fourth Doctor was unable to commit genocide in "Genesis of the Daleks" by exterminating the nascent race, so too is his eleventh incarnation. He offers some compassion to Caan, the last Dalek, saying he doesn't want to be responsible for killing of the last of its race. But just as with last season's finale, the Dalek initates an "emergency temporal shift" and disappears.

As Martha and The Doctor prepare to leave, she asks if they'll ever seen Caan again and he replies, "Oh yes... one day".

When Terry Nation created the Daleks back in the 1960s, he infused his villains with a hefty dose of reality – the Nazis. And just as the Nazis are for us the ultimate in evil, the mere mention of which can arouse heated vitriol, the Daleks are for the same for Doctor Who. Thusly the most profound moral quandaries for The Doctor arise out of his confrontations with The Daleks. As I noted above, Tom Baker's Doctor had to wrestle with moral culpability in choosing whether or not to set off some explosives and deny life to the Daleks. Similarly, Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor is unable to kill their creator, Davros, in cold blood. The Daleks are basically amoral whereas The Doctor is, perhaps über-moral so one question that our hero has been unable to answer over the several hundred years of his life is whether or not amoral creatures should be treated in a morally good way.

The new series has benefited from the Doctor Who audio dramas greatly. I certainly don't want to minimize what Russell T. Davies and his crew have done with the series, but, when they decided to bring back The Doctor's pepper pot nemesis in "Dalek", they used the audio drama "Jubilee" as the basis of the story. Whether you consider the audio dramas to be canon or not, the fact remains that the folks at Big Finish have added layers of nuance to the Doctor Who world unthinkable in the classic series or, indeed, the new one. For instance, the character of Davros is really fleshed out in "The Juggernauts" and "Davros", which find the evil genius having bouts of (gasp!) introspection. Davies and the new series have emphasized the Dalek-human dichotomy by showing human DNA being infused with that of Daleks. This began with "Dalek" when some of Rose's DNA is absorbed by the captured Dalek. At the end of Christopher Eccelston's tenure as The Doctor, he confronts a vast Dalek army built from humans, although our best qualities were rooted out. And so the transmogrification/evolution of Sec in "Daleks in Manhattan" bridges these previous storylines. I would also point out that, while the classic series saw warring Dalek factions, I am pretty sure it was in the audio drama "The Mutant Phase" that we first hear of Dalek DNA mixing with that of another race.

Getting back to the episode at hand, I thought this two-part story was a hoot. The show doesn't portray America often so it was fun to have a story take place on these shores. And after all these years of seeing Daleks as ruthless robotic killers, it was genuinely weird seeing Sec and hearing him echo regret and admiration. I enjoyed how these elements of the story stand in stark contrast to the established traditions of the show. Watching these episodes made me wish that Christopher Eccelston had stuck around for a season or two more. His more, well, ruthless fuck-the-Daleks attitude was a welcome change from the classic series. One got the notion that he'd have little compunction about wiping them out once and for all. David Tennant's Doctor, however, gives a more traditional response to the Daleks and he sees in Sec a chance to rid the universe of the Dalek threat by working with instead of eliminating them.

While The Doctor has to choose whether to commit genocide or not, over on the other side of the aisle the Daleks are forced whether or not to commit what I believe to be their first act of mutiny on the show. Instead of being a unified front of murder and mayhem, internal squabbles arise and intra-clan conflict is an issue.

At the risk of sounding like one of those people who finds profundity and meaningful subtexts everywhere in popular culture, I do want to note that this story was really quite rich in circumstances in which people or characters have to decide on how to treat the "other". Aside from The Doctor vs. the Daleks and Sec vs. the rest of the clan, we see the wealthy build a skyscraper as the poor huddle in a Hooverville; Diagoras is white while Solomon is black; are the pig-men human enough to mourn their deaths? And what about Laszlo? He looks different but is still human on the inside. How should he be treated? I'm not saying that "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks" is a grand morality play or anything but I appreciate how these situations out on the periphery of the story echo the central conflicts.

|| Palmer, 10:45 PM


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