Season 29 Episode 5 – Evolution Of The Daleks, by Helen Raynor

May 11, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

Afraid this one reaffirms one bad pattern of new Who, while leaping to an opposite extreme of another pattern, with more bad results. Now, the episode isn’t as awful as some have made it out to be, but it’s still yet another second-half-of-a-two-parter that doesn’t live up to the promise of the first half. And it must be said, it’s the largest gulf between the halves of a two-parter to date. MUch of the cool, measured and careful build-up of the scenario in Daleks In Manhattan is cast aside here in a confused, over-loud and ill-thought-out mash.

I’m often critical of new Who’s zany and puerile ‘sense of humour’, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the series to have a sense of humour at all. I like the classic series’ wit and clever irony, and I wish the new series would emulate that more often. Here, mercifully, the screwball attitude is abandoned, but the story goes to the opposite extreme, which is just as bad; it takes itself far, far too seriously, and that’s a shame, because it doesn’t recognise the increasing silliness of its own plot.

The Human Dalek, still looking about as scary as Elvis Costello in 3D specs, goes on an emotional journey recycled straight from the Eccleston season, while two Daleks stand around in a tunnel gossiping to each other behind the other Daleks’ backs .(That bit when the Dalek furtively glances over its shoulder to make sure no one’s listening automatically loses the episode a point on its own. I said it last year after Love And Monsters and I say it again now, this is not an episode of Scooby friggin’ Doo.)

The story’s a mess of missed opportunities, with idea-development sacrificed to make room for a lot of frantic running around, and more typical deus ex machina events to carry the story to its conclusion. There’s some atrociously overcooked dialogue – Hugh Quarshie’s speech appealing to the Daleks in particular had me biting my fingers – and some very predictable ‘twists’. With Quarshie again, getting exterminated was so obviously going to happen they might as well have had him wink at the camera and do a countdown. Sek’s betrayal by his underlings was also a certainty long before the event, and in any case, I thought the handling of Sek’s story would have been far more interesting if things had panned out the other way; if, for instance, it turned out that he had tricked the Doctor all along and secretly planned to use his new hybrid army for conquest. After all, are lying and manipulation really not human traits? Given the nasty, bullying nature of the foreman Sek merged with, wouldn’t those traits have become more prevalent in the hybrid, and not less?

The solution with the gamma-powered lightning bolt and Time Lord DNA was shameless pseudo-science – slightly preferable to another magic button on the side of the sonic screwdriver I suppose, but only just – while the Doctor’s survival of it is utterly unbelievable. Given that a fairly long drop was enough to kill off a couple of his generations in the past, I find it impossible to accept that a bolt from a sunspot didn’t blast the skin from his bones.

On the subject of the DNA, and indeed on ‘innately-superior’ human/Time Lord morality, this message appears to contrast horribly with the whole idea of the Dalek merging with a human in the first place. Sek accepted that the idea of superior genetics and race are a myth… and then when his underlings betray him, they are defeated by supposedly superior genetics. This makes the story sound excruciatingly pompous, in the most tiresome traditions of the Federation from Star Trek, as hypocritical as a Ben Aaronovitch script, and as morally-bankrupt as the Daleks themselves.

David Tennant’s performance here was another one to hide behind dark glasses from, far too much shouting and flashing-the-ivories. Again, it’s the weaker episodes that bring out the worst in DT, and I’m starting to think he hams it up deliberately just to make clear to people that he knows when a script is a pile of poo. (See Paul Darrow’s deliberate mocking performance in Timelash for an example of something similar.)

Not much good news I’m afraid. Another good setup in part one messed up royally in part two. 4/10.

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