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Daleks in Manhattan

Doctor Who
by Artemis

Fans whinged a bit (okay, a lot) about "Daleks in Manhattan," but really it was Doctor Who doing what Doctor Who does. Historical setting? Check. Trusty old recurring foe? Check. Wacky sci-fi evil scheme? Check. Okay, the turd-in-a-pinstripe-suit guy wasn't their finest moment, but c'mon, this is the show that gave us the Sontarans, who are basically baked potatoes in spacesuits. Lighten up.

The Doctor is a 900-year-old Time Lord who travels through time and space in search of the next great adventure with his companion, and his fantastic time machine the TARDIS. The Doctor has regenerated several times during his life, changing his whole appearance and personality while still remaining essentially the same man.

The Doctor and Martha arrive in New York, in the 1930s, where the city is in the depths of Depression Era America. Hundreds of dispossessed live in Central Park, in a shantytown called Hooverville, many of whom are disappearing into the sewers, never to be seen again. Meanwhile, a project to build a special mast atop the under-construction Empire State Building is being overseen by the power-hungry Mr. Diagoras, who is in league with the four Daleks that make up the Cult of Skaro who escaped the Battle of Canary Wharf. The Daleks are trying to build a new army, better, stronger and more victorious than ever before, as well as experimenting on the kidnapped humans, turning them into special hybrid pig-men. A missing stagehand at a local theatre brings the Doctor and Martha right into the Daleks' underground transgenic lab and the audacity of the Daleks' newest plan shocks even the Time Lord...

I will admit, I would have been perfectly happy had season one's "Dalek" been the swansong for the species - it was poignant and dignified, and it's not like there hadn't been plenty of Dalek stories already. Still, having brought them back, at least the producers decided to do something new with them, rather than just resume the old interchangeable take-over-universe routines. And you have to admit, it wouldn't really be right for there to be Doctor Who without the Daleks being around somewhere.

Since we're on the subject, let's start with this four-figure set's resident tin pot, Dalek Thay. He's the one who didn't look inconspicuous enough when Dalek Sec asked for volunteers, so he's missing a few plates of dalekanium from the rear of his chassis - however, from the front and sides (unless you turn him right around to the back or left) he's perfectly serviceable as a generic Dalek too.

The new Daleks are quite a piece of work - instantly recognisable, very faithful to their original cardboard selves, yet tweaked in lots of little ways to look more advanced and sci-fi. That is a good representation - the copper-look plastic and dull gold paint match the colours of the TV Daleks pretty well, and the reflectivity of the metallics is about right, so far as I'm any judge. There are various minor paint apps too - silver rivets on the gold weapon segment panels, silver and black on the arms and eye stalk, and a fairly good black in the recessed areas just beneath the head. Additionally there's some clear plastic used on the eye stalk and "ears," and the base is a matte grey-green that blends in well with the rest of the body's shiny metals.

The only real could-have-been-better areas are the lens in the eye stalk - a bright blue light is tricky to paint, of course, but the sky blue circle here is underwhelming - and the tip of the death ray, where a black dot to indicate the barrel interior would've been nice. The missing dalekanium panels on his back have been replaced by cobbled-together steel sheets, which don't have any paint on them, but the dull silver plastic does a decent job of selling its own appearance without help.

Thay's a reasonably well-built toy, though he's lacking anything that's "wow" cool. The head turns, and the eye stalk hinges up and down, both arms are mounted on balljoints with the limited range you'd expect from looking at the joint housing, and underneath he's got three wheels - two rear wheels set parallel to the direction of travel, and a trolley-style front wheel that turns freely. The wheels are a simple set-up, but when you come to push him around on the desk, you'll find he tends to move in a very Dalek-like manner - the degree of ease of turning, and the way he settled into a straight-ahead motion on his own, is strongly reminiscent of how the props move on TV.

There's a lot extra that could have been done with Thay - an extendable sucker arm, a rotating weapons section, a naked Katy Manning figure as an accessory - but he's a Dalek, and he looks good and is fun to play with.

Since there's only four of them (and rapidly dwindling), the Daleks need someone to push around. With Ogrons being a no-show, they had to improvise, which brings us to the pig-slave. Doctor Who, for all its makeup advances of late, does have a tendency to just make aliens that look like random Earth animals - the Judoon, for instance, and the Catkind - but at least it's on purpose this time, with the Daleks pig-ifying their captive humans (because pig and elephant DNA just won't splice) to create their workforce. And, ultimately, to create this action figure. He's as decent a figure as you can really do of bacon in a boiler suit, with a good detailed sculpt, especially on the sagging folds of his oversize clothes, which come across just fine despite there being no highlight or shading on the bare plastic. The head is finely-detailed, with a thin wash bringing out the wrinkled face, and a white highlight picking out the wiry hair remaining on his head.

The neck is a balljoint, but the tightness of the collar restricts it - turning can be done (with a bit of force), but tilting is difficult, and in many cases the collar will force the head back to neutral if you try to tilt it forward or backward. The rest of the body is pretty well articulated, with peg shoulders and biceps, pin elbows and swivel wrists, swivel waist, balljoint hips and pin knees. The pig-slaves weren't the most athletic of specimens, so the articulation is quite sufficient for their purposes, which is basically to look lumberingly belligerent.

The big surprise of Daleks in Manhattan was the Dalek hybrid - or it would have been, if they hadn't plastered his image all over the place in advertising beforehand. Mr. Diagoras, having been forced inside Dalek Sec's armour and absorbed by him, re-emerges as a half-human half-Dalek. Or a turd in a pinstripe suit, depending on how you look at it. While the notion was good (and played out for quite an effective storyline) the realisation of Dalek Sec's human form wasn't quite the chilling creature the episode (and certainly the orchestra) thought it was - but for what he's worth, he's recreated here in fairly faithful form. The head is the focal point, moreso than usual, and the lion's share of attention has gone to making it look right, with an intricate sculpt supported by well-applied paint, especially the detail in his brain. The mini-tentacles can't move, but considering how corny they looked on TV waggling about, that may be a good thing.

The rest of him's no slouch either. His hands are sculpted to match the makeup, with gnarled skin and ridges on their backs, and even his faithfully-recreated pinstripe suit (with very impressive clarity and consistency on the stripes) has blotches on it where it's been discoloured by being wrapped in Dalek goop for a while. The Dalek race's ultimate evolution is also sporting a snazzy polka-dot tie, with a two-stage paint app to produce metallic lilac spots outlined in silver. Articulation is identical to the pig-slave, right down to the stiff collar restricting the neck, but it's worth noting that the suit jacket is a soft piece, allowing the waist and hips to move fairly freely beneath it.

And of course there's the Lonely God, the Oncoming Storm, the Doctor himself - David Tennant in suit, long coat, and sneakers. This is by no means an easy figure to produce, as Tennant has one of those faces that are instantly recognisable, but difficult to portray in simplified form - play up the distinctive features and it slips easily into caricature. The work here is very good, especially when you consider the smaller scale these figures use - the profile of the nose and upper lip isn't quite right, but otherwise it's a very good likeness, and captures a Doctor-like expression of implacable resolve that'd be suitable for various kinds of display, whether he's facing down a Dalek or just standing in front of his TARDIS ready to take on the universe. Like Diagoras/Sec, the striping on the Doctor's suit is very neat work for such fine painted detail on a mass-market figure; it doesn't cover the whole suit, but you have to pull the coat up quite a way to start seeing uncovered areas, so it suffices quite well.

Articulation is more limited than the other humanoids in this set, with the swivel biceps and wrists missing - at least, I think the wrists aren't meant to turn, but the hands are such soft plastic that I couldn't tell if they were immobile or just stuck. The lack of these joints is a bit irksome, since they limit the Doctor's ability to effectively wield his accessory (the only one in the set), the famous sonic screwdriver. This is quite a delicate soft plastic piece, with painted tip and handle, and it fits snugly into the Doctor's right hand, but the lack of versatility in the arms means he can't hold it in different postures - you just have to stick his arm out and be happy with that. Without ankle joints it's difficult to do anything really dramatic with his legs, but there are some options for minor posing, and the soft coat doesn't impede mobility.

If you're looking at full price, the value of this set really depends on how much you liked the episodes it's based on - do you want a pig-slave and a tentacle-headed guy in a suit? They're fine figures, but aside from completists they can't be high on peoples' lists of must-have toys. But if you're lucky - as I was - and see this set on discount, it's worth it for the Doctor and the Dalek alone. Like much of the Doctor Who merchandise Character Options has been producing (at a meteoric rate, it seems), there are a couple of minor issues, but overall you get a satisfying product for a reasonable price, and Doctor Who fans should have no reason not to be content.

-- 08/08/08

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