Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 10.5
Welp, it’s Saturday – time to churn out some more Doctor Who viewings. And since the deadline to finish reviewing every episode is SERIOUSLY CLOSE we’ll going to knock out a couple of volumes today. Let’s get started…
In the polar opposite to the historical cameo of the previous episode we have a classic sci-fi concept here. The Doctor takes Martha to New Earth but rather than finding the utopia he brought Rose to they wind up in a slum. They find that emotions are being sold as drugs and there’s a planet-wide traffic jam absorbing the population. People of all types from the slum are taking to the wheel and living their entire lives in their car in the hope of reaching a better place.
Of course there’s something more sinister lurking beneath it all. The Doctor spends most of the episode travelling with Thomas Kincade Brannigan and his wife Valerie (Thomas being a rather well spoken orange cat) before delving further through the gridlock. A young couple needing a third to get access to the fast lane, meanwhile, has abducted Martha. Amid the disbelief at the madness of the situation the Doctor learns of the giant crablike Macra lurking beneath the fast lane, snacking on motorists.
Although the episode starts slow the concept gets well explored in the second and the third acts. The reason behind the gridlock is more interesting than what is hinted at in the beginning. As the Doctor makes his way down to the fast lane he experiences a colourful cross section of the different people trapped in this nightmare and the danger than Martha is in feels genuine. At the end of the episode the Doctor and Martha come face to giant face with the Face of Boe, who imparts a cryptic clue as to the rest of the season. The Face of Boe turned into one of the most interesting figures of the franchise without doing anything being sitting around like a pickled onion.
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
Once again the Daleks return to cause mischief, and once again it’s a double episode. Quite often it feels as though a Dalek story is a big event worthy of two or more episodes simply by dint of having the Daleks in them, and they wind up feeling more stretched than anything else. Fortunately this isn’t entirely the case on this adventure, with some interesting ideas about the nature of the Daleks at the forefront.
The Doctor and Martha arrive in New York during the depression, where they meet a group of people, including Spider-Man, living in a shantytown in the middle of central park. In an ironic juxtaposition they scratch out a living in the shadow of the Empire State Project construction, a project representation the changing fortunes of the city elite. People in the shantytown community are given the chance to do construction work but some never return. When investigating the disappearances the Doctor discovers that the Daleks are pulling strings in the Empire State Building.
Having had their numbers decimated in the Time War the remaining Daleks work alongside the Cult of Skaro, a group of time locked Daleks tasked with keeping maintaining the Dalek line. In order to achieve this they create a human/Dalek hybrid. Amid the infighting between Daleks who disagree with this course of action the Doctor and Martha have to prevent them from using a burst of gamma power to create more hybrids.
In addition to revisiting the themes of what makes a race ‘pure’ and the value of maintaining this (the Daleks reached a point of civil war over this in the original series) there’s some very strong side plots that make this an effective pair of episodes. The Daleks have been converting some kidnapped humans into pig hybrids. A showgirl who assists the Doctor has had her lover turned into on of the pigmen, bringing some more heartfelt drama to the episodes. The commentary of the social and economic hardships faced by the workers struck by the depression never feels forced, creating a more interesting backdrop to a story that could’ve taken place on a generic spaceship.
The idea of Daleks experimenting to regain their strength as a species is always an interesting one, but the result of the human/Dalek hybrid does not look as impressive as it should. The baby squid-headed Dalek Sec does not inspire the fear or respect a villain of this calibre should. Maybe it’s back to the drawing board for this guy.
The Lazarus Experiment
This story sees Doctor Who scribe Mark Gatiss step back into his actor shoes in order to play a rather nasty piece of work, something he seems to do with relish. The elderly Professor Richard Lazarus promises to unveil a world changing new technology. Through contacts with Martha’s sister the Doctor and Martha attend the grand event to discover that Lazarus has discovered a way to regain his youth.
After being here, there and everywhere with Martha a grounded episode like this is quite welcome. More than a monster of the week the villain comes from man’s folly, and is pursuit of eternal youth. Initially he seems like a benevolent figure, using his mastery of science to better mankind. Once he has his this power under his control it isn’t long before he reveals himself to be greedy and selfish, refusing to share his discovery even with those he’s close to. Now needing to draw upon the life of others to sustain his youthful form Lazarus truly is a monster and not even the reasoning of the Doctor can bring him back to humanity.
Whilst the episode is interesting from a thematic point of view the plotting and action isn’t anything special. With a standard alien monster it would be a wholly unremarkable episode. The most interesting aspect of the story involves the development of the ongoing mystery surrounding ‘Mister Saxon’, who begin working to turn Martha’s family against the Doctor.