One of the hardest transitions from the classic “Doctor Who” to the new series was the predominence of multi-episodes stories. Having been brought up on 26 seasons of stories with a cliffhanger every 25 minutes, it was hard to get used to the idea of “self contained” stories instead of longer serials.
Each style of storytelling has its merits and its weaknesses and three years into the new series, my brain no longer starts looking for cliffhanger points or old-series storytelling habits in each new episode of “Doctor Who.”
Unless it’s so over the top obvious that the story could be an old-school, standard four-part “Doctor Who” adventure like series three’s encounter with the Daleks.
This is the most the new series has felt like old school “Doctor Who” in its three-year run…but before you think that’s a praise, it’s not. It’s more a criticism.
Four-part “Who” stories ran 90 minutes (approximately). The Dalek two-parter we saw last week and this week runs 90 minutes (again, approximately). One criticism of the old-school four-part stories is that by the time you get to part three, not a lot really happens to advance the plot. You get a lot of discussing, rehashing or examining the implications of whatever nefarious scheme or villain is on the scene, but rarely does part three do much to push the plot forward.
Which looking at “Evolution of the Daleks” as the third and fourth parts of a classic “Who” serial, the same criticism can be said here.
Last week, we ended on the big reveal of the half-human/half-Dalek creature that claimed it was the future. This week, we spent much of the first half of this episode with long sessions of scenery chewing between the new Dalek/human hybrid and the Doctor. Of course, we have the obligatory escape from the clutches of the Daleks and some chases in the sewer during this time, but during these 25 or so minutes little happens to really push things forward in any significant way.
What we get instead is the Daleks reduced to little more than bad retreads of Dr Evil. The Doctor reveals himself and the Daleks are giddy with delight to extereminate him–only they never do. It gets a bit old by the second or third time this happens. And then, for some reason, the Doctor decides to help them with their plot. He sees some hope that the new Dalek/human hybrid might be a step foward for the creatures and steps in to help them. At this point, I was fully expecting the Doctor to be up to something and to double cross his greatest enemies…but he doesn’t.
Seems the Daleks want to create a new race of Daleks from human beings. The four Daleks left in the universe have collected a bunch of humans that they’ve wiped out and basically have a blank template to start from. It’s an intriguing idea, but given that we’ve seen Daleks creating new Daleks out of human remains before and putting them in the pepper-pot containers, it doesn’t make much sense here. There are some quick lines about how the technology of the time period won’t allow them to do this, but these are Daleks and they could easily find a way around it.
Instead, we get a whole lot of Dalek politics as the new human/Dalek hybrid’s authority is questioned and then eventually taken away. The Doctor is able to insert himself into the creation process and create a loophole for later in the story, but otherwise I still can’t buy why he’d help his mortal enemies–esp. when last week he was lamenting at the toll they’d taken upon him over the years. It’s hard to fathom this change in the Doctor based on his attitude toward and his relationship with the Daleks in the new series.
I don’t want you to think I hated the episode. Certainly it’s not in the same league as the hair-pulling-out horror that was the “Aliens of London” two-parter. Instead, this one is more in the league of last year’s Cyberman two-parter–a good idea stretched a bit thin and not living up to its potential. Make no mistake–this one could have been great.
It has some isolated great moments. The Doctor offering himself to the Daleks to exterminate once and for all is a wondeful moment and Tennant continues to impress in this role. Overall, the acting is univerally good (though the actress playing Tallulah is still grating. Not sure if it’s her or the character) and visually its stunning (as always). The scenes of the Daleks attacking Hoover-town are nice, as is the Doctor offering to surrender to them to save the town. But there’s still some weaknesses to the overall story that are too gaping and apparent to label this one as anything more than a nice try and a bit of a disappointment.
It’s the first time this year I’ve walked away from “Doctor Who” feeling unsatisfied…and hopefully it will be the last.
Next week: The Doctor meets a man who can reverse the aging process….or so he claims. Wait, didn’t see this once before with Tom Baker?