It’s the tallest genetic experiment on Earth!
It’s Manhattan in the 1930s. The show’s about to start and showgirl Tallulah is talking to her boyfriend Laszlo, one of the stagehands. They’re making plans to go away together, but after Tallulah goes on stage, Laszlo has an unfortunate encounter with a pig creature.
Later on, the TARDIS materializes at the base of the Statue of Liberty and Martha is excited to finally visit New York City. She spots the (under construction) Empire State Building and finds the date on a newspaper: November 1st, 1930. The mystery of people vanishing from Hooverville piques the Doctor’s interest. So, it’s off to Central Park they go.
As the Doctor explains the history of Hooverville (and similar locations across the United States), the watch as community leader Solomon breaks up a fight over a loaf of bread. The travelers talk to Solomon, who questions why a building like the Empire State can be built while people like him are starving in Manhattan.
At the Empire State Building, a businessman named Mr. Diagoras pressures his foreman to speed up construction on the roof mast. When the foreman refuses, Diagoras introduces him to the masters over the project: The Daleks, specifically from the Cult of Skaro. The foreman is taken by a pair of pig slaves for the “final experiment” while Diagoras gets a new set of orders. Dalek Caan needs more bodies for the experiment.
The Doctor and Martha ask Solomon about the disappearances, but their discussion is interrupted by Diagoras asking for volunteers to work in the sewer. When no one volunteers for the dollar a day wages, the Doctor and Martha step up, joined by Solomon and a young man from Tennessee named Frank. They probe the depths of the sewers and find a pulsing green mass of alien flesh, square under the Empire State Building. The Doctor examines it before shoving it in his pocket.
Meanwhile, Diagoras has workers placing Dalek spheres on the building mast, disregarding the risk of death for the men. After they leave, Dalek Caan joins Diagoras and muses about humanity and how a city like New York can survive while Skaro cannot. Noting how Diagoras thinks like one of them, Dalek Sec orders Dalek Caan to bring the human for the final experiment.
The Doctor and his sewer crew don’t find the collapsed tunnels that Diagoras hired them to clear, but before the Doctor can send the humans back, they encounter a lone pig slave. They are soon surrounded and running for their lives. They escape but Frank is taken after holding off the pig slaves.
The ladder and manhole lead right into the theater, and the Doctor, Martha, and Solomon soon meet Tallulah and her (stage prop) handgun. She asks them about Laszlo, but our heroes don’t have any info to offer. The Doctor uses electronics in the theater to develop a scanner for the alien mass while Solomon returns to Hooverville to defend his community. Martha and Tallulah discuss Laszlo – someone is still leaving her roses every day, but won’t reveal their identity – while Martha hems and haws about her relationship with the Doctor.
The Daleks begin the final experiment, and Diagoras fears that he will be changed into one of the pig slaves. Dalek Thay questions why Daleks need DNA from inferior species and Dalek Sec counters that their xenophobic quest for purity has resulted in their extinction. Dalek Sec opens his shell and grabs Diagoras, merging with the human as the casing seals shut around them.
The Doctor examines the alien flesh blob as Martha watches Tallulah’s show from just offstage. Martha spots a pig slave watching the show from across the stage and navigates through the performance to get a closer look. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds the numbers 467-989 and isolates the point of origin to Skaro. Martha chases the pig slave, which soon captures her, and the Doctor and Tallulah pursue them into the sewers. They soon discover the Daleks in the sewers and the Doctor is immediately put on edge.
On their way back to the theater, they encounter Laszlo, now transformed into a pig slave but able to maintain his intelligence. He is the pig slave that Martha was pursuing, and he was leaving the roses for Tallulah. The Doctor asks Laszlo to take him to Martha.
Martha is added to a lot of future slaves, including Frank. They are soon joined by the Daleks, whom Martha recognizes from the Doctor’s stories. The Daleks assess the slaves by intelligence and divide them into two groups: Future pig slaves and candidates for the final experiment. As they are led away, the Doctor and Laszlo join Martha’s group as Tallulah heads back and gets lost.
They end up in the lab where Dalek Sec is finalizing his evolution. The Doctor prompts Martha to ask about the experiment and the Daleks explain that the Children of Skaro must walk again. The Doctor is beside himself when Dalek Sec’s shell opens to reveal a Dalek-human hybrid.
The Doctor reveals himself as the Daleks prepare to process the slaves. He taunts them – time was that four Daleks could have conquered the world – and confronts Dalek Sec about what he feels. He shows them a radio and muses about its wonders before springing his trap. He uses the sonic screwdriver to produce a high pitched noise from the radio, then runs with the prisoners to Hooverville. The Daleks give chase while Dalek Sec remains behind. Daleks Thay and Caan discuss their doubts about Sec’s plan.
Solomon’s community, now armed with rifles, defend Hooverville against the pig slaves that come to retrieve their prisoners. When the pig slaves have fallen, Daleks Jast and Caan arrive in the air and start bombarding the village while Sec watches from the Empire State Building. Solomon tries to reason with the Daleks, but the Daleks exterminate him in response. That act causes Sec, who was moved by Solomon’s courage, to gasp in sorrow and despair. Martha is horrified and the Doctor is angry. The Doctor demands to be exterminated, but Sec spares the Doctor’s life. The Daleks are apprehensive but follow Sec’s order to bring the Doctor back to the lab. Martha tries to follow, but the Doctor asks her to help the wounded while slipping her the psychic paper.
Sec explains that the deaths were wrong. As the first of his kind confronting the last of the Time Lords, he talks about how he tried to rebuild the Dalek race. Eventually, he landed on a Frankenstein-level experiment to wipe human minds and reformat the brains with Dalek information. They have over a thousand empty shells ready for experimentation and genetic splicing, and all they need is power. Enter the dalekanium plates on the building’s roof and a large solar flare.
Sec’s plan would remove the Dalek mentality from their next evolution, but Jast, Caan, and Thay are unsure. Despite their reservations, Sec says that they will follow his orders. He also suggests that the Doctor could take them to another planet and let their new civilization grow in peace. The Doctor sets to work on the plan.
As Martha, Frank, and Tallulah make their way into the Empire State Building and examine the construction in progress, the Doctor continues his work. He also apologizes to Laszlo because he can’t reverse the stagehand’s physical changes, but he confides that if helping Sec will save the universe, he has to try. Martha finds the revised plans that added the dalekanium to the roof as the experiment goes awry. The Daleks revolt against Sec and change the genetic solution to make the subject pure Dalek. The Doctor and Laszlo make a break for it and meet up with Martha’s group while the Daleks restrain Sec.
The Doctor and his acrophobia climb the mast and start work on the Dalekanium. Meanwhile, the pig slaves assault Martha’s team. Laszlo falls before the fight, and Martha evens the odds with a makeshift lightning rod. The Doctor’s work is halted when he drops his sonic screwdriver, so he improvises by embracing the mast as lightning strikes. The bolt slaughters the pig slaves, but the new Dalek-human hybrids awaken and prepare for war. Dalek Caan takes command as Sec protests.
Martha and Frank find the Doctor and his screwdriver. The Doctor snaps out his shocked state and makes a plan with Martha’s team. They race back to the theater and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to signal the Daleks. They have no choice but to face their ultimate nemesis.
The hybrids burst into the theater and surround the Doctor’s team. Thay and Jast, with Sec in chains, take aim on the Doctor. Sec tries to sway the hybrids and his captors, then sacrifices himself by stepping in front of the bolt meant for the Doctor. The Doctor addresses the hybrids and convinces the Daleks to let them kill him. The hybrids refuse to shoot, questioning their orders. The Doctor’s DNA got mixed into the genetic structure, and that revelation sparks a firefight between the Daleks and the hybrids. Thay and Jast are destroyed, but Caan issues a self-destruct command that kills all of the hybrids.
The Doctor returns to the laboratory and faces Dalek Caan, the last of the Daleks and the last of the Cult of Skaro. In the face of the recent genocide, the Doctor offers to help Caan, but the Dalek uses an emergency temporal shift to escape.
Martha and Tallulah bring Laszlo to the lab. The pig slaves were only meant to live for a few weeks, but the Doctor springs into action with the gene lab to save his life. In the end, Laszlo and Tallulah find a home in Hooverville.
Martha and the Doctor return to the TARDIS. Before they leave, Martha asks if he’ll see Dalek Caan again. The Doctor is sure of it.
This two-part story is filled to the brim with action and intrigue, and it’s a good chance to finally introduce the Doctor’s mortal enemies to his new companion. The narrative is true to the Dalek history while adding some interesting (but somewhat silly) twists.
The Doctor/Martha relationship is still solid enough for me, but the will-they-won’t-they aspect is my least favorite part.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Lazarus Experiment
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.