101 Dalmatians (1961) Review

101 Dalmatians Poster

“101 Dalmatians”, adapted from a children’s novel of the same name by Dodie Smith, is one of several movies that Disney has produced over the years about dogs, man’s intrepid best friend. After “Sleeping Beauty” failed to turn a profit, causing a major paradigm shift at Walt Disney Animation Studios, “101 Dalmatians” was the film that officially kicked off Disney’s dark age period, which would last for decades, while also being one of the highlights of that era. As the second major dog movie Disney has done, in some ways “101 Dalmatians” feels like a spiritual successor to “Lady And The Tramp“. A major aspect of this movie is the relationship between humans and canines, how they compliment each other, what it’s like living besides one another, how dogs like to think of humans as being their pets instead of it being the other way around. But while “Lady and the Tramp” told a pretty general story about the circle of life – growing up, balancing family matters, and finding love – “101 Dalmatians” is a much more specific kind of adventure, about dogs getting wrapped up in a human crime and dogs pulling off a rescue mission. The inner-workings of canine society (which humans will never understand) plays a massive role in this film, since Pongo and Perdita rely heavily on the Twilight bark – a system dogs have devised to send messages to each other across long distances the way humans would with telegrams – giving the whole film the sense of being a classical adventure. Canine solidarity across long distances is perhaps the most consistent theme in the movie, since the dogs Pongo and Perdita encounter (along with their families) help them to find their children, let them in their own homes for shelter and protection, and help them return home to London. If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers, our heroes almost certainly wouldn’t have survived.

101 Dalmatians Thunderbolt Hour 3

The main protagonist of the film is a playful, loyal and protective British Dalmatian named Pongo. He and his owner, Roger, are initially a pair of bored bachelors who have hit a dead-end in their lives, so Pongo decides to set his owner up with a woman, and by chance he meets his own soulmate in the process. I really love Pongo. As the film’s narrator, he provides a lot of wry, sassy commentary about a dog’s view of the world, and he’s easily the most animated character in the movie (check out the faces he makes when he learns he has fifteen puppies). Pongo’s mate, Perdita, isn’t characterized as strongly as he is, but she is a very warm, nurturing, fretful and attentive canine, to her owner and her pups. A pretty common Disney formula is for two characters to meet, fall in love, get married and have kids: the ideal outcome after they’ve overcome a series of challenges. Several classic Disney films follow that template, like “Bambi” or “Lady and the Tramp”. So I find it interesting that Pongo and Perdita have your standard Disney meet-cute in the first fifteen minutes and jump ahead to the babies phase, what should be their happily ever after, pretty quickly. Pongo and Perdita are parents for most of the movie, and the main conflict they face is the difficulties of parenthood, some humans threatening their family, and their love for their children being put to a grueling test. It’s a refreshing change from Disney’s usual formula for couples at the time. In the second half of the film, Pongo and Perdita race halfway across Britain, fight off crazed humans to rescue their pups, and then they have to play cat and mouse games with them: trying to outwit the dognappers and stay one step ahead of them. During the latter half of the film, the tension of their predicament is very thick and it’s always present, because the Dalmatians are always one wrong move away from being discovered and getting themselves and their children killed.

Pongo’s owner, Roger, is a musician, and a bit of loner, who’s married to his job. He’s very passionate about his profession, and he can easily get lost in his work, but he can also be very brash and blokish in his leisure time. By contrast, his wife, Anita, is a prim and proper lady. She’s a sensible, level-headed and pragmatic woman, who’s always quick to offer a differing opinion about how family matters should be handled. Roger and Anita’s different temperaments compliment each other well, whether it’s Roger encouraging Anita to loosen up and have more fun, or Anita keeping her husband’s rashness in check – and the two of them have some loving chemistry. I also enjoy Roger’s silly bromance with Pongo, and how it’s a quite bit stronger than your usual master / pet relationship between a man and his dog. Roger and Pongo lived together on their own for years, and as such they’re best friends, to the point where they can often guess what the other is thinking, and they sometimes even think in-sync. Anita has an old schoolmate, Cruella De Vil, who really can’t stand Roger, and he feels exactly the same way about her. He puts up with her for Anita’s sake, but he also goes out of his way to annoy her whenever she visits (Pongo completely approves by the way). Roger harbors a healthy amount of fear of her, because she’s obviously completely nuts and abusive to everyone she encounters, but by the end of the first act, he grows to stand up to her, for the good of the family, and lines are drawn in the sand. Then she steals the family pets, and he grows to really despise her. Roger gets some of his own back, by writing a very unflattering song about Cruella that actually gets published and turns a profit. The Radcliffes don’t have to worry about legal issues, because Cruella has given them plenty of dirt on her that they can probably use to avoid being sued, and since they are the world’s biggest dog lovers, they wind up adopting eighty-four more Dalmatians by the film’s end.

101 Dalmatians Cruella De Vil

While the Radcliffes are fun, likable heroes, “101 Dalmatians” is one of those films like “Peter Pan” where the villains are the real stars of the movie, especially Cruella De Vil. I love how campy and over-the-top her character is. Cruella De Vil is a vain heiress and a flamboyant fashionista who parties hard, indulges in all sorts of vices (smoking freely everywhere she goes), and has thrown herself wholeheartedly into mainstream 1960’s culture, wanting only the best clothes and the best artwork to show off her wealth, to the point of obsession. Cruella is rude, vivacious, demanding, opinionated, short-tempered and materialistic. Her voice actress chews all of the scenery, and she commands the screen every time she appears. Cruella wants the dalmatians pups so she can kill them and use all their fur coats to make an exquisite, creative, morbid fur coat, and she will not be denied it. I’m glad this movie doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence by dragging out the obvious reveal that Cruella is behind the puppies’ theft. Everyone knows it has to be her, because she’s literally the only person with the motive, but what the Radcliffes lack is proof, since Cruella wants to her own hands clean for as long as possible. Cruella has a very violent, volatile and unstable temper, and she will lash out at people when they keep getting in her way, since she’s used to getting what she wants without any questions asked. She abuses her henchmen, Jasper and Horace, for much of the movie to the point where they’re terrified of her. She obsessively hunts the Dalmatians down to find them and kill them, growing frustrated, until she flies into a bloodthirsty, murderous rage towards them (and anyone else in her warpath) during the climax. First, Cruella hired two men to kidnap some dogs for her. Then, she tried to straight-up murder some dude on the highway who did nothing over some dogs (and she tried several times to do him in, seeming pretty cool with committing murder). Cruella De Vil is one crazy-ass woman, and I love her for that.

In order to acquire her new line of spotted fur coats and keep the police off her trail, Cruella hires two low-rent thieves to help her with her fiendish plan: tall, gangly Jasper, and short, portly Horace, a pair of lazy, evil siblings. The two cockney ruffians are always fighting and bickering about something, because Jasper thinks he knows best as the older, supposedly wiser brother, despite Horace’s (well-founded) attempts to be the voice of reason during their schemes. They’re a funny, comedic duo, but they’re also sadistic, cruel and utterly amoral: Jasper seems to enjoy humiliating Nanny when they overpower her and make off with the pups, they have zero problems with abusing animals for their amusement, and they’re willing to bump off ninety-nine puppies for a generous sum of money (plus, two meddlesome parents for getting in their way). As bumbling as they may be, Jasper and Horace do have a sinister edge to them when it comes to how far they’ll go to satisfy their greed (Jasper tries to help Cruella with her aforementioned murder attempt, it just backfires horribly), and I like how they change the mood of the film whenever they appear: the color palette always seem to become more grey, washed-out and uneasy during their scenes. As Cruella’s hired muscle, they wind up taking the brunt of the movie’s slapstick (at least, until the climax), whether they’re receiving punishment from the animals or Cruella herself. Like Roger, they have a healthy amount of fear of her, because she’s completely nuts, but they do try to be rebellious and stand up to their employer in little ways, with Jasper finally writing her off as a lost cause by the film’s end.

101 Dalmatians Jasper and Horace 2

A considerable amount of screentime is devoted to the Colonel, a stuffy British sheepdog and an aging farm dog who runs the estate like it’s a military platoon, dishing out orders to his fellow farm animals to keep it running smoothly (it really is fun to look back on all these old Disney movies and realize just how much Disney liked the stuffy British guy character type, and since this story is set in Britain, it fits the setting for a change). The Colonel is a dry, skeptical, and absent-minded dog, but not an unreasonable authority figure; he’s a courageous, warm-hearted figure and he and his friends are responsible for discovering Jasper and Horace’s hideout in the countryside. The Colonel’s right-hand man and closest friend is Sergeant Tibbs, a farm cat who’s often put in charge of scouting and reconnaissance since he’s the most agile animal on the farm. I’ve talked a lot about how courageous Pongo and Perdita are, journeying so far away from home to save their children, but I feel like Sergeant Tibbs is also the unsung hero of this movie, who doesn’t get mentioned that often. It’s his bravery and quick-thinking to outwit Jasper and Horace that keeps the pups alive long enough for back-up to come and save them all, especially since he can’t fight off two human men as easily as two large dogs can. Lastly, the Radcliffes have a housemaid in their employment, Nanny Cook, who nicely rounds out their unique family unit as a maternal figure to both the humans and their pets. Nanny is a hard worker, she’s fiercely loyal to the two heads of the household, and she’s dedicated to upholding their wishes: Jasper and Horace actually have a difficult time fighting her off when they break in, because she’s a surprisingly feisty woman for her age. She’s as much of a dog-lover as Roger and Anita, and she proudly considers the Dalmatians to be a temperament part of the family (her voice actress, Martha Wentworth, really taps into something raw when she conveys Nanny’s distress at realizing the puppies have stolen).

“101 Dalmatians” marked an important turning point for Disney. After the studio’s last big-budget project that they spent several years on, “Sleeping Beauty”, bombed at the box office, they decided their current method of creating animation was too expensive and they needed to find a way to cut costs and save time somewhere: so they started using modified xerox cameras to transfer drawings directly to animation cels, allowing them to skip the inking process.  It was a great success, though it came with the side effect of the camera being unable to deviate from a thick, scratchy outline, creating all the razor sharp pencil lines the xerox era films are known for. Disney stuck with the process for the next three decades – creating the studio’s new, rough around the edges art style – allowing them to stay afloat with entertaining, serviceable if unambitious films until the Disney renaissance of the 1990’s. Like “The Jungle Book“, “101 Dalmatians” feels exactly like it’s a product of the 1960’s and the jazzy hipster culture of the time, in a very charming way. The film has a very distinct art style that’s intentionally meant to emulate abstract art, which the movie shows off in a rather creative main title sequence – turning Dalmatian spots into ink stains, paintings, sheet music, type-writer paper and so much more. The scenes set in London all have very stylized, eccentric backgrounds, keeping with the abstract art theme, while the scenes in the gloomy British countryside are all much more minimalist and reserved; though there’s a certain beauty to be found in their simplicity, from the grassy, empty winter pastures to foreboding frozen rivers.

101 Dalmatians De Vil Hall 3

I also find it interesting that there’s a noticeable bump in quality for the character animation during the quietly tense, understated scene where Lucky almost dies and Pongo believes he’s just lost one of his pups right after they were born. Compared to later xerox films, stock animation isn’t reused as often in “101 Dalmatians” (save for that shot of Pongo and Perdita’s run cycle), though there are some odd, ineffective moments, like a shot of Pongo and Perdita jumping into a choppy river and trying to swim with the current, which does not look right. Interestingly, “101 Dalmatians” straddles the line between being a musical like most Disney films and being an ordinary, straightforward movie, without ever committing to being either, with only two songs composed by Roger (“Dalmatian Plantation” and the famously catchy villain song, “Cruella De Vil”) and a short jingle about Kanine Krunchies. Apparently there were three other songs written by Mel Leven for Jasper, Horace and the Dalmatians (“Don’t Buy A Parrot From A Sailor”, “Cheerio, Goodbye, Toodle-Loo, Hip Hip!” and “March Of The Hundred And One”) that never made the final cut, which explains why the movie is only partially a musical. It’s probably for the best. The second half of the film manages to build up a pretty tense and suspenseful atmosphere (the way the movie manipulates it’s razor sharp color scheme to heighten the danger, not unlike “Bambi”, plays a major role in that success), so having our main characters burst into song while they’re on the run from people who want to kill them would probably just kill the vibe. The signature song of the film, “Cruella De Vil”, would later receive a pretty cover by Selena Gomez decades down the line. Like his work in “The Jungle Book”, George Bruns composes a score for the film that manages to thread a line between charming and laidback, and being moody and tense.

Upon rewatch, I really liked “101 Dalmatians”. I’d probably say it’s Disney second-best dog movie after “Lady and the Tramp”, and an entertaining way to kick off a new period in the studio’s library of films.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

101 Dalmatians Pongo and Roger

* “He was married to his work, writing songs. Songs about romance of all things, something he knew absolutely nothing about” Ouch, bro.

* “I say! Well, I do say! Now there’s a fancy breed. Hmm. Perhaps a little too fancy. Yes, much too fancy.” After a bit of thought, Pongo figured he’d better lower those standards.

* “At first you think Cruella is a devil, but after time has worn away the shock! You come to realize, you’ve seen those kind of eyes, watching you from underneath the rocks!

* “Here, dog. Here, dog!” Yeah, you wanna lose that finger, Cruella?

* “Oh, I’d like a nice fur, but there are many other things…” Sweet, simple Anita. I know, I know! This horrid little house is your dream castle… and poor Roger is your bold and fearless Sir Galahad! Hahaha!!!

* “That witch. That devil woman. She wants our puppies. That’s all she’s after!” “Don’t worry, Perdy. They’re on to her. Nothing’s going to happen to our puppies” “But, what does she want with them?! She can’t possibly love them! Oh, Pongo. I was so happy at first, but now I… Oh, I… I wish we weren’t having any”. Ouch. Poor Perdita.

* “Ohh! Steady, boy” Stiff upper lip, Roger! Stiff upper lip!

* “Why, you horrid man! You… you… All right. Keep the little beasts for all I care. Do as you like with them. Drown them! But, I warn you, Anita, we’re through. I’m through with all of you! I’ll get even. Just wait. You’ll be sorry, you fools! You… YOU IDIOTS!Property damage ensues. I love Cruella.

* Pongo thinks Cruella is gone for good. Pongo, you sweet summer dog.

* On television, we get a brief glimpse of a dog named Thunderbolt, who we’ll be seeing a lot more of later in this franchise, and Patch in particular really seems to get into his show. I kind of like the fact that Disney decided to make a whole movie about two characters who both only got like three minutes of screentime in this film, and somehow they still managed to have chemistry.

* “That old dirty Dawson! The yellow-livered old skunk! I’d like to tear his gizzard out!” “Why, Patch, where did you ever hear such talk? Certainly not from your mother!”

* “Well, I’ve been thinking…” “You’ve been thinking?! Now, look here, Horace: I warned you about thinking!”

* “Now, be off with you, you big weasel!” “Now, you’ve been gone and done it. You’ve cut me to the quick, lady. Why, I wouldn’t stay here if you asked me. Not even for a cup of tea.”

* “Anita and her bashful Beethoven! Pipe and all! Oh, Roger, you are a fool!”

* “I don’t like it, Jasper! I-” “Oh, shut up, you idiot!” “WHAT??!!!!” “Oh, not you, miss!-”

* “”Yes, Cruella, it was quite a shock” “Is she calling to confess?!” Nah, bro, she’s crazy, but she’s not that crazy.

* Several dogs from “Lady and the Tramp” make cameos in this film, and they do the same in “Oliver and Company“, because Disney dogs are apparently immortal.

* “Puddles, sir?” “Fifteen spotted puddles stolen? Oh, balderdash!”

* “THE DE VIL PLACE?!” “Oh Pongo, it was her!” Of course it was. Would anyone else even give a damn about kidnapping your puppies?

* “Can’t we see the rest of the show first?” “Yeah, we want to see ‘What’s My Crime?‘” Spontaneous explosions ensue. I still love Cruella.

* I like how the Colonel just watches from the window as Pongo and Perdita maul Jasper and Horace. It’s like, he would step in, but they’ve both clearly got it covered.

* “Is everybody here? All of you?” “Twice that many, dad. Now’s there ninety-nine of us!” Your counting could use a little work, Lucky.

* Rolly, I swear, could you please stop trying to get your family killed?

* “Watch your driving, you imbeciles! Do you wanna get nabbed by the police?!”

* “I’m tired and I’m hungry and my tail’s froze… and my nose is froze and my ears are froze. And my toes are froze.” Your grammar could use a little work too, Lucky.

* “Watch it! Crazy woman driver!” Heh, this is a 60’s movie.

*  You idiots! You fools! You imbeciles!” “Oh, shut up!” There is no way that skinny woman and her two goons survived a collision like that. They would be so dead, so dead.

* “101? Where did they all come from?” “Pongo, you old rascal!” Wait, is Roger implying Pongo and Perdita had all those extra puppies themselves? Man, Perdita wouldn’t be able to walk for months.

* Take it away, Selena Gomez!

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

101 Dalmatians Nanny Cook

Posted in Disney, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Doctor Who: Army Of Ghosts / Doomsday (2006) Review

Doctor Who Doomsday 4

As far as television seasons go, Series 2 of Doctor Who has been quite a mixed bag, with good episodes, bad episodes, average episodes and a few great episodes; along with new monsters, old monsters, rubbish monsters, and a few surprise returns. After all the peaks and valleys we’ve had so far, the big question is: can the series finale, “Army Of Ghosts / Doomsday”, send the season out on a high note? For most part, it does. “Army Of Ghosts / Doomsday” is remembered for three things, the first of which is the grand unveiling of the Torchwood Institute, after Russell T. Davies had been teasing Queen Victoria’s secret society all season. The Torchwood arc in Series 2 wound up serving as a backdoor pilot for Doctor Who’s first spin-off show, “Torchwood”, centered around Captain Jack and his comrades investigating alien activity in Cardiff, and I have to say, I always felt lukewarm about that show. Partly because I never grew too attached to the ensemble cast outside of Captain Jack, and partly because the premise felt like a less impressive hybrid of “Angel”, “CSI” and “The X-Files”.

The second thing “Doomsday” is notable for is pitting the Daleks and the Cybermen against each other for the first time with a pretty impressive villain smackdown. In fact, something I appreciate about this finale is that despite there being multiple antagonists in it, there’s never a grand reveal about all the villains being in league with each other like there is in several other stories. The Daleks came through the void, the Cybermen followed the Daleks, Torchwood took an interest in both of them, Pete’s team followed the Cybermen, and the Doctor and Rose just showed up because the TARDIS brought them there. There are a number of different factions with different goals and agendas in this two-parter, and they all collide in the same place to create a perfect storm of total chaos. The last thing “Army Of Ghosts / Doomsday” is remembered for, by casual viewers and hardcore fans, is the show finally splitting up the Tenth Doctor and Rose. “School Reunion” made it apparent that Billie Piper wouldn’t be part of the show forever, and the Beast implied something nasty was coming for Rose in her future. This whole season has been foreshadowing the fact that Ten and Rose are ultimately not made to last in the long run, and “Doomsday” takes things to their logical, painful conclusion.

Doctor Who Doomsday 8

Things start off normally enough for the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant). He and Rose are positively baffled when they discover the human race has been making contact with thousands of gray ‘ghosts’ on Earth for the last couple of months. The human race doesn’t know what to make of the phenomenon, so they’ve taken to thinking that it’s the ghosts of their loved ones coming back to visit them – but the Doctor does not buy into the idea. As we previously established in “The Satan Pit“, the Doctor has seen a lot of weird and insidious things, he has a naturally skeptic personality, and he’s not the superstitious type. He knows that whatever is going on here it can’t be good, so he starts looking into it and it leads him right to Torchwood. Since Ten doesn’t know what he’s getting into, he decides to play it cool for a change. He plays his cards close to his chest and lets Yvonne think she’s in charge for the time being, while he and Rose gather info, and once he finally knows what Torchwood is doing, he reasserts his authority on alien affairs. The Doctor quite rightly scolds Torchwood for stupidly putting their universe in danger for resources, and there’s a great psychological scene where Ten accepts that Yvonne is way too stubborn to be talked out of the next ghost shift with simple logic and reason, so he decides to use reverse psychology and scare her out of it instead: letting her go through with her plan with full knowledge of what will happen until she backs out. David Tennant is given the chance to lend the role of the Doctor some gravitas and pathos again, since the return of the parallel world concept from “Rise Of The Cybermen” makes the Doctor feel nostalgic for how the time lords used to manage alternate universe travel, and he’s more than a bit unnerved by how the Void, the space between the worlds, contains nothing in it: no light, no time, no life – just pure hell. And that’s before the Daleks show up.

Once again, Ten finds himself in a predicament where he doesn’t know all the answers and he has to scramble to keep up, and just when he thinks he’s gotten it all figured out, he’s blindsided by a whole new, confusing revelation. If nothing else, it’s rather humbling. “Doomsday” is the first of several times the Tenth Doctor confronts the Daleks, and it’s interesting to note how differently he handles them compared to his predecessor, and what that implies about the Doctor’s character growth. The Ninth Doctor’s interactions with the Daleks were always spiteful and vitriolic, with loads of unrestrained resentment. Ten is very clearly worried about what the Daleks will do and he still hates them, but’s he also a lot more composed and self-assured whenever he faces them, partly because he’s got his friends backing him up now. His new family for the last two seasons helps to give him confidence, which makes it all the more tragic that the Doctor loses that support system by the end of this two-parter. One of the main themes of Series 2 is hubris: Torchwood’s hubris and overconfidence caused the whole conflict of this finale, but there’s also Ten and Rose’s hubris. Over the last season, they’ve grown way too cavalier and complacent when it comes to saving the world. Rose in particular seems to expect them to pull off their usual M.O. of being backed into a corner, thinking of something incredibly clever to escape unscathed at the last second, and trading sassy quips all the while. It’s why they enjoyed the werewolf romp in “Tooth and Claw” way more than they should have. But not this time. This time there’s a price to be paid for saving the world: namely that Rose gets trapped in an alternate universe forever, away from the Doctor. In one swell swoop, the Doctor loses all the friends he’s made over the last two seasons, and he has to continue on alone and start over again someplace else. As “School Reunion” and “The Girl In The Fireplace” implied, it’s a cycle that never truly ends for the Doctor in this franchise.

Doctor Who Doomsday 22

After being a major part of the revival for two years, “Army Of Ghosts / Doomsday” is Rose’s Tyler’s (Billie Piper) swansong as a regular cast member, so the Series 2 finale serves as one last character showcase for her, showing off every faucet of her personality, the good and the bad. The Doctor and Rose are split up fairly on in the story and Rose has to hold her on for most of the two-parter, whether it’s trying and failing to go undercover among the Torchwood staff, or coming face-to-face with the Daleks once again and trying to outplay them to buy her and Mickey some time for back-up to arrive. At this point, Rose has known the Doctor for at least two years (possibly more), and it’s no secret that she’s become more like him over time, or that her inner courage has been shining through more often ever since she started traveling in the TARDIS. In fact, “Doomsday” contains one of my favorite Rose scenes, that shows how much her character has grown in two seasons. Rose is fully aware that the Daleks are gonna kill her and Mickey, so she decides to let them know what happened to the Dalek Emperor and how he died, partly for spite, and partly to knock them down several pegs and screw with their haughty heads. Back in Series 1, Rose was quite rightly terrified of the Daleks, but now she understands that their god complex is every bit as pathetic as it deadly. “Doomsday” also dives into the negative effect that TARDIS travel has had on Rose over time, which the show has only hinted at before. When we first met Rose, she was almost depressed about the state of her life. She had no prospects, no future, no drive. Running off in the TARDIS changed all that: it showed her amazing things, it gave her a new leash on life, and it made her a happier woman. The thing is though, Rose has built all of her new happiness around the Doctor specifically.

The prologue for “Army Of Ghosts” reveals that Rose honestly, truly hates everything about what her life used to be. She would never want to go back to it, and she can’t fathom her life without the Doctor in it anymore – it would have no meaning. Rose honestly believes that she’s nothing special without the Doctor and his support. It’s why she completely shut down when she thought she lost him in “The Christmas Invasion“.  Rose has become overly reliant on the Doctor to give her life meaning, resulting in their relationship becoming unhealthily codependent. Jackie voices her concerns at one point that if Rose keeps throwing herself into the Doctor’s lifestyle wholeheartedly – never having any other ambitions of her own, or any friends, or any kind of life outside of him – she’ll lose herself entirely eventually and maybe waste away her life, which Rose uncomfortably tries to ignore. Ever since “School Reunion”, this entire season has been warning Rose that her relationship with the Doctor ultimately can’t last, and it will have an expiration date eventually, and Rose has ignored every sign to cling onto a fantasy that they will be together forever. A pivotal turning point is during the climax, when she has to choose between staying in Pete’s world and never seeing the Doctor again, or staying with the Doctor and never seeing any of her friends and family again for the rest of her life, and she chooses him in an instant. As Mickey noted in “Boom Town“, if Rose had to choose between the Doctor and anyone else in her life, it would always be him, and this has been foreshadowed since the end of “World War Three“, when Nine rather dickishly gave her an ultimatum between running off with him or spending time with Jackie, and Rose started packing. Even Ten seems rather disturbed by how quickly and easily Rose will cut everyone else out of her life for good for him, but her mind is made up and it’s too late to turn back now.

The climax winds up demonstrating how Rose can be both selfish and incredibly selfless in equal measure, since she risks her life to ensure that the plan to get rid of all the Daleks and Cybermen and save humanity works without a hitch. For her troubles, she gets trapped in Pete’s world anyway, and she would have straight-up died in the breach if Pete hadn’t doubled back for her. The Doctor and Rose are heartbroken by this outcome, but Rose in particular is absolutely shattered. The Bad Wolf Bay scene in the coda is more than a bit overhyped for its tearjerking factor by the Doctor Who fandom, but it nonetheless contains some of the best acting we’ve seen so far from David Tennant and Billie Piper (especially since Billie breaks out her patented, visceral ugly crying that we last saw in “Father’s Day“), and the Doctor’s declaration of love to Rose being cut off right before he can finish is basically Russell T. Davies driving a knife into Rose’s gut one last time for extra measure. The ultimate outcome of Series 2 for Rose serves as a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t make one person the center of your world (even someone as extraordinary as the Doctor), because it will only ever lead to heartbreak one way or another, and the conclusion was handled pretty well. My only complaint is that if Russell T. Davies was trying to send some kind of message about why codependent relationships are bad for you with Ten and Rose in Series 2, that message really gets muddled down the line when Rose gets everything she ever wanted and more with a clone of Ten anyway at the end of Series 4, and unlike the Doctor, there’s never any indication that Rose even tried to let go of the Doctor and move on with her life between “Doomsday” and “Turn Left”. But that bit of weirdness rests at Series 4’s feet.

Doctor Who Doomsday 17

Since “Doomsday” is the last time we’ll be seeing the Tyler family until Series 4, Jackie Tyler (Camille Camdouri) is given her biggest supporting role so far in one of the Doctor and Rose’s adventures, topping the one she had in “Aliens Of London”, when the Doctor inadvertently drags her along to the Torchwood Institute. Jackie once again serves as the quirky comic relief mother for most of this story, squabbling away with the Doctor as they’re forced to spend time together, but she’s also given some meaty character development regarding her relationship with the Doctor and Rose. For the last season, Jackie has been backing off and giving Rose the space and freedom she needs as a young adult, trusting her judgment and the Doctor’s judgment; and as we’ve established in “Love And Monsters“, Jackie has grown so accustomed to the Doctor being part of their lives over the last two years that she’s started to consider him part of the family. However, lately Jackie’s concerned mother instincts have been flaring up again that Rose might be getting too overzealous about her relationship, to the point where she’s neglecting everything else in her life (worries that are ultimately proven to be correct), and her primary concern in this two-parter, above all else, is keeping Rose safe. “Doomsday” also features the surprising return of Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) to bookend the season, and I have to say I’ve really missed Mickey and his history with Rose. Since we last saw him in “The Age Of Steel”, Mickey’s confidence has only grown even further with his new calling of fighting aliens and Cybermen. He’s become a scruffier and edgier soldier dragging around a comically oversized gun (who’s starting to resemble his alternate universe self, Rickey), but his primary character trait is still his fierce loyalty to his friends and now that he’s completely his character arc of becoming his own man, Mickey and his squadron prove to be helpful allies in this finale.

With the Daleks and the Cybermen jumping around between dimensions, “Doomsday” becomes a perfect opportunity to finally receive some closure with Pete Tyler, Rose’s father from an alternate universe. From Pete’s perspective, it’s been a few years since he last saw the Doctor in “The Age Of Steel”, and he’s grown to be wiser and more well-informed, working with Torchwood in his world. He’s still reluctant to accept Rose as his daughter, since she’s a total stranger – the child of a man who had the same face as him but wasn’t him, and that weirds him out – and he has similarly mixed feelings about Jackie. Pete’s primary concern is protecting the dimensional borders and keeping his world safe from the Cybermen above all else. In fact, protecting one’s own is a major recurring theme in this two-parter: the Daleks are only concerned about the Dalek race, the Cybermen want to create new Cybermen, Torchwood (for better or for worse) was only thinking about Britain’s potential future, Jackie wants to keep her family safe at all costs, and Pete wants to protect his world, so he teams up with the Doctor to do so. A Tyler family reunion finally happens in “Doomsday”, and I have some mild niggles about it. Seeing her parents get back together has been Rose’s dream for years, and it’s a sci-fi miracle, but in two universes we’ve seen Jackie and Pete have a dysfunctional, unhappy, failing marriage because of their respective flaws, and they only really got nostalgic for each other when one of them died. I’m not sure if going on the rebound with doppelgangers of their dead spouses is such a good idea in the long run, but it’s the route the show goes down (and Russell resolves the Ten / Rose dilemma with a similar trick two seasons later). In any case, Pete finally accepts Rose as flesh and blood kin to him, when he doubles back to save her life during the climax, and after years of separation and tragedy, the Tyler family finally becomes whole again as Rose’s tenure during the show comes to a close.

Doctor Who Doomsday 11

One of the biggest recurring themes in Series 2 has been the dangers of unchecked hubris, and the Torchwood Institute proves to be the physical embodiment of that. Torchwood is ran by Yvonne Hartman: a civil, outgoing, orderly, and rather condescending woman, who tries her best to be an approachable boss and foster a good workplace environment so Torchwood can run swiftly and efficiently. Since Torchwood was founded by Queen Victoria and has existed for centuries, the men and women who work at the institute have all heard of the Doctor’s legend and have some mixed feelings about him, since they respect him but have vastly different methods of defending the Earth than him. They’re very arrogant, ruthless and unscrupulous. They kill any and all alien visitors on Britain’s soil, hostile or benevolent, without discrimination to put on a good show of force. Then they harvest resources from alien technology to strengthen the nation’s security (they even try to nab the Doctor’s TARDIS), and they do all this in a way that’s so detached and clinical that it’s actually rather disturbing. Yvonne takes pride in her country, she hopes to one day restore the British empire with Torchwood’s breakthroughs, and while she’s not an unreasonable woman, her nationalism has gradually morphed into your classic British imperialism. Everything the Doctor disapproves of, everything he didn’t want for the UK when he disposed Harriet Jones, Torchwood is. However, the institute bites off a lot more than they can chew when they start meddling with the breach between worlds: the series of events that follows gets them all slaughtered and nearly brings about the end of the world. In a rather karmic outcome, the Cybermen show them no mercy and use them all for resources, converting them all into Cybermen soldiers (Yvonne, however, manages to rebel, since her patriotism gives her one last scrap of humanity to hang onto).

Classic Who ran for over twenty-five years, and the Daleks and the Cybermen were the breakout monsters of the franchise, so it’s hard to believe the two races never actually clashed until “Doomsday”, the “Freddy vs Jason” of Doctor Who episodes. The Daleks in “Doomsday” are the Cult of Skaro, a secret sect of Daleks far more intelligent than the average drones who were put in charge of advancing the Dalek race, and the four of them will become arc villains for the rest of the Tennant era. When the Daleks aren’t being murderously evil, they are magnificently bitchy villains, and I love that about them. The Daleks and Cybermen trade as many petty barbs and salty insults as possible when they interrogate each other, trying to assert their superiority with an alien cock fight. As I noted in “The Age Of Steel”, the Daleks and the Cybermen make for interesting ideological foils to each other. Both races are incredibly rigid, arrogant and unwavering in their own sense of perfection, while having vastly different methods of achieving their goals: the Cybermen want to make everyone like them, assimilating people to make their numbers swell, while the Daleks simply want to kill everyone who isn’t them, so the universe will belong solely to the Daleks. “Doomsday” makes it clear that one of the biggest differences between them is that the Cybermen are more adaptable than the Daleks, if only by necessity. The Cybermen are willing to an entertain the idea of an alliance, and they do wind up teaming up with the humans against a common threat later in the finale. Meanwhile, the Daleks would never sully their purity in such a way, and they do not appreciate other, lesser villains moving in on their territory. The Daleks may be a group of pompous authoritarians, but they have the might to back up their bluster and they outclass the Cybermen by a mile: which they prove as they thoroughly kick the Cybermen asses’ in this two-parter.

Doctor Who Doomsday 19

“Doomsday” is directed by Graeme Harper, who, like Euros Lynn, was often put in charge of directing the more cinematic and ambitious episodes of the RTD era, like “Utopia” and “The Stolen Earth”. He already brought the Cybermen’s origin story from script to screen in “Rise Of The Cybermen”, and now he gets to spearhead the sequel to that story as well with the Series 2 finale. Once the action starts to pick up, Graeme shows off his directing chops numerous times with carefully chosen, uncomfortable close-ups of the Daleks, the Cybermen and sometimes even the Doctor advancing on people; chaotic shots of the Daleks and the Cybermen invading London, raining death on people from above; and the signature scene after the climax, where Rose completely breaks down while the Doctor silently retreats into himself, and the two of them lean against the same wall, trying to find each other across dimensions. At this point, it’s pretty clear that Davies and his team saved up a lot of the season’s budget for the two-part stories, so they could successfully deliver on their spectacle (which sometimes came at the expense of ordinary episodes like “School Reunion” and “The Idiot’s Lantern“), because the two-parters in Series 2 have all had much higher production values than the regular episodes. The Series 2 finale sports a lot of really good CGI, from the multiplying Daleks to the planet Ten and Rose visit in the prologue, with the worst effects probably being the Cybermen ghosts before they unmask themselves. As one from expect from a season finale’s score, Murray Gold revisits a lot of the themes and motifs he’s written for the last two years, including the signature monstrous theme for the Daleks and the Cybermen. The most notable melody is “Doomsday“, a bittersweet lament that originally appeared in the series premiere, when Rose first laid eyes on the TARDIS. Murray brought the melody back for her swansong, to bring Rose’s journey full circle. I’m especially fond of the harsh bass guitar and cello duet during the bridge, where you can actually feel Rose’s frustration build to unbearable levels.

When “Doomsday” first aired in 2006, it was quite a game-changer. Whether you loved Rose or hated her, Billie Piper had been a huge part of the revival from the start, and a lot of people had to be wondering what the show would be like without Rose in it. I can safely say that it just gets even better from here, since Series 3 with Martha Jones and the Master is easily my favorite season from the RTD era, and the season that cements how great David Tennant is as the Tenth Doctor.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Doomsday 3

* “Then came the army of ghosts. Then came Torchwood and the War. And that’s when it all ended. This is the story of how I died” Yeah, no. Ever since “The Satan Pit”, the show has been teasing the idea of Rose dying, and Russell milks that possibility for all it’s worth in the finale, to ensure people tune in each week just to see if Rose bites it. We later discover Rose’s narration is just her being overdramatic and she’s talking about how people back home declared her dead, making this some blatant false advertising.

* “According to the paper, they’ve elected a ghost as MP for Leeds. Now don’t tell me you’re going to sit back and do nothing” “Who you gonna call?!” “GHOSTBUSTERS!” “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”

* “Push that one” “Close” “That one?” “Eh, now you’ve just killed us”.

* “When I’m dead and buried, you won’t have any reason to come back home. What happens then?” “I don’t know” “Do you think you’ll ever settle down?” “The Doctor never will, so I can’t. I’ll just keep on travelling” “And you’ll keep on changing. And in forty years time, fifty, there’ll be this woman, this strange woman, walking through the marketplace on some planet a billion miles from Earth. But she’s not Rose Tyler. Not anymore. She’s not even human”.

* “Here she is, Rose Tyler. She’s not the best I’ve ever had: bit too blonde, not too steady on her pins, a lot of that. And just last week, she stared into the heart of the Time Vortex and aged fifty seven years. But she’ll do” “What?! I’m forty!” “Deluded. Bless. I’ll have to trade her in. Do you need anyone? She’s very good at tea. Well, I say very good, I mean not bad. Well, I say not bad. Anyway, lead on. Allonsy. But not too fast, her ankle’s going” “I’ll show you where my ankle’s going!

* “What’s the Void?” “The space between dimensions. There’s all sorts of realities around us, different dimensions, billions of parallel universes all stacked up against each other. The Void is the space in between, containing absolutely nothing. Imagine that. Nothing. No light, no dark, no up, no down, no life, no time. Without end. My people called it the Void. The Eternals call it the Howling. But some people call it Hell”.

* “Well, if that’s Rose Tyler, who’s she?” “I’m her mother” “Oh, you travel with her mother?” “He kidnapped me!” ” Please, when Torchwood comes to write my complete history, don’t tell people I traveled through time and space with her mother”.

* “This is the last story I’ll ever tell. This is the story of how I died” Rose, stop lying.

* I love that scene where a Dalek strolls up and demands that Rose, Mickey and a worker tell him which of them is least important, so he’ll know which of them to kill off first. Those few lines of dialogue nicely sum up just how fucked-up the Daleks are, and how much they don’t get human nature. No one would ever be stupid enough to answer a question like that, and if they did, you would get a lot of conflicting answers about who should get offed first.

* “She answered. She’s alive. Why haven’t they killed her?” “Well, don’t complain!”

* “Our species are similar, though your design is inelegant” “Daleks have no concept of elegance” “This is obvious”

* “Daleks, be warned. You have declared war on the Cybermen!” “This is not war, this is pest control!”

* “You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?” “We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek. You are superior in only one aspect. You are better at dying” Hot damn.

* “The female’s heartbeat has increased!” “Yeah, tell me about it”.

* “This is your fault. You and your Torchwood. You’ve killed us all!” “I did my duty for Queen and Country! I did my duty. I did my duty. Oh, God. I did my duty!”

* “You are proof” “Of what?” “That emotions destroy you” “Yeah, I am. Mind you, I quite like hope. Hope’s a good emotion. And here it comes!”

* If you escaped the Time War, don’t you want to know what happened?” “Place your hand-” “What happened to the Emperor?” “The Emperor survived?!” “Until he met me. Because if these are gonna be my last words, then you’re going to listen. I met the Emperor, and I took the Time Vortex and I poured it into his head and turned him into dust. Do you get that? The God of all Daleks, and I destroyed him. Ha!”

* “But that thing, they said it was yours. I mean, Time Lords. They built it. What does it do?” “I don’t know. Never seen it before” “But it’s Time Lord” “Both sides had secrets” Not all time lords know each other, Rose.

* “Pete?” “Hello, Jacks” “I said there were ghosts, but that’s not fair. Why him?”

* “In my world, it worked. All those daft little plans of mine, they worked. Made me rich” “I don’t care about that… How rich?” “Very” “I don’t care about that… how very?”

* “Come on! All of you. Top floor!” “That’s forty-five floors up! Believe me, I’ve done them all!”

* “Here I am at last. This is the story of how I died” Rose, oh my God.

* “I, I love you!” “Quite right, too. And I suppose, if it’s my last chance to say it. Rose Tyler, I-”

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Doomsday 18

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Doctor Who: Fear Her (2006) Review

Doctor Who Fear Her 3

I think it goes without saying that “Fear Her” has a pretty poor reputation in the Doctor Who fandom. In fact, there was a good long period when “Fear Her” was not only considered to be the worst episode of Series 2, but the worst episode of the entire revival. Whenever polls were done to single out the worst of the worst, “Fear Her” was usually the top pick. Which surprises me, because of out of the three episodes from Series 2 that are considered to be infamous, “Fear Her” bothers me the least. Don’t get me wrong, the premise of this episode is hardly subtle, and Chloe Webber’s child actor is frequently wooden to the point of being very amusing. But “Fear Her” doesn’t go out of it’s way to deliver a terrible aesop about domestic abuse like “The Idiot’s Lantern” did, and it doesn’t have a villain that will destroy your soul with cringe like “Love And Monsters” and “The Idiot’s Lantern” did. In fact, upon rewatch, I think I’ve come to like ‘”Fear Her” a lot more than I did previously. It was a last-minute script Russell T. Davies commissioned Matthew Graham to write, after a planned story from Stephen Fry fell through. He wanted it to be a breather episode before the two-part finale, aimed at the younger members of Doctor Who’s family audience. During this adventure, the Doctor and Rose discover a dark secret lying in the heart of an otherwise ordinary and unremarkable suburb. People are disappearing from mysterious means that no one seems to want to talk about. The Doctor and Rose are convinced that talking to the neighbors is the key to solve the problem, giving them the opportunity to mend a rift in a broken family, but their efforts are tripped up when one half of the TARDIS team is put out of commission before the climax. If that plot sounds familiar to you, then it should. It’s actually remarkable how much “Fear Her’s” plot feels like a redux of “The Idiot’s Lantern”, while still being a much better episode than that one.

Doctor Who Fear Her 8

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) decides to take Rose Tyler a few years ahead into the near future of 2012 (which, needless to say, is not the future anymore) to check out the Olympics. But when they discover a bunch of kids in the area have gone mysteriously missing recently, they quickly get down to work investigating. The Tenth Doctor is on top form in this episode, bouncing around the proceedings as a cheeky, jovial sports fan initially, before we get some deeper insight into his personality. The fact that Ten has some pretty good people skills under his belt is emphasized a lot in “Fear Her”, when he shuts down a large and unhelpful case of the blame game from the neighbors to focus on the task at hand and uses some reverse psychology on Trish to get his foot in her door. And like in “School Reunion“, Ten lets a lot of his true age and experience level shine through his surface personality in this adventure, which I’m quite happy about, since Ten is usually at his most interesting when he’s divulging some time lord wisdom. We’ve seen the Doctor be a self-appointed authority figure several times now, but in “Fear Her”, he serves as a mediator between the humans and the alien of the week. The Doctor tries to frequently be patient and sympathetic with Chloe and Trish, while also being firm and stern, refusing to let them avoid their problems and go into denial. The Doctor had a lonely, neglectful upbringing himself, allowing him to empathize with Chloe and the Isolus’ shared dilemma, and he was both a parent and a grandparent a long time to go, giving him a good idea of how to handle bratty kids. There’s a quick scene I appreciate where Ten unwittingly mentions his old family to Rose, catching her off guard, and just as quickly drops the subject. Rose has known the Doctor for at least two years at this point, and there is still so much she doesn’t know about him, and a lot of things she’ll never know. And of course, you can’t forget the gloriously cheesy ending where Ten saves the Olympics.

After “The Satan Pit”, “Fear Her” proves to be another good episode for Rose Tyler’s (Billie Piper) characterization. Rose has always had a perceptive side to her, even if she struggles with complicated space-time concepts beyond her home era, and “Fear Her” puts a lot of focus on the detective skills she’s been honing for the last two years, showing she has a sharp eye for details. When Ten and Rose first start investigating, it’s Rose’s idea to start talking to the neighbors and the council workers for information, and it’s Rose who catches onto the fact that Trish is hiding something, something involving her daughter presumably. Throughout the episode, Ten and Rose’s personalities off each other well, showing they make a good team: Ten provides the knowledge of alien cultures while Rose has the human intuition. Since there have been several episodes in Series 2 devoted to how annoying and self-involved Ten and Rose can be like “Tooth And Claw” and “Rise Of The Cybermen“, it’s good to see them both at their best in “Fear Her”. “Fear Her” also presents Rose with a challenge to overcome. As a former father, the Doctor is quite good with kids, he’s also had several sidekicks who are good with kids, like Martha the time-traveling medical student, or Clara the time-traveling nanny / school teacher. Rose is not one of those sidekicks. Rose makes it no secret that she frequently feels awkward around Chloe, and she definitely disagrees with the Doctor about the proper way to handle the Isolus, but she decides to take his word for it that he knows what he’s doing. When the Doctor is taken out of commission halfway through, mirroring what happened to Rose in “The Idiot’s Lantern”, Rose is forced to fly solo and step out of her element with time running out rapidly. She wrangles Chloe herself and pieces together the rest of the mystery’s clues to save the day, and save the Webbers from a murderous creation.

Doctor Who Fear Her 5

The title ‘Fear Her’ refers to Chloe Webber and her mother, Trish, the two guest characters who are given the most focus in this episode. Despite being a seemingly ordinary, reserved, middle-school aged girl, Chloe Webber is disturbing cold, indifferent and detached towards everyone, whether she’s addressing her mom, the neighbors, or strangers like the Doctor and Rose. She’s so aloof and emotionless that she almost seems dead inside and inhuman, except for when she’s not so subtly threatening people. Trish is well aware that there’s something wrong with her daughter, and it’s probably connected to the missing people in the neighborhood, but she’s been covering it up and turning a blind eye, partly because she doesn’t want to believe the worst of Chloe, and partly because she’s grown afraid of the girl. To everyone’s surprise, Chloe is currently sharing a body with an alien. It turns out Chloe and her mom were abused and mistreated a lot by the girl’s late father before he died a year ago. The man is gone now, but years of parental abuse always leaves a nasty scar, especially on one so young. Chloe is still traumatized and haunted by the memories of her dad, but she couldn’t turn to her mom and talk to her about it for comfort. The woman could barely cope herself, and it’s apparently part of her nature to avoid talking about difficult subjects whenever she can. So Chloe bottled it all up inside and quietly kept her emotional pain to herself, feeling very alone. Chloe turned to the Isolus because the strange alien child knew what it was like to be all alone and in pain, and they found solace in each other. Sharing a body, they isolated themselves from the rest of the flesh and blood world, but they collected friends for themselves like dolls, stealing them away from their families and loved ones to tend to their own emotional needs.

Needless to say, even if this arrangement is what Chloe and the Isolus want, it’s really not good for her or healthy for anyone, and it has to stop. A child’s cry for help and her most thoughtlessly selfish desires, twisted into something dangerous and obscene because of unforeseeable circumstances. It strikes me that “Fear Her’s” premise is exactly the sort of story you would expect to see in a Moffat era episode like “The Snowmen”, but with the domestic setting and trappings of an RTD era episode, which makes “Fear Her” a rather unique installment in the canon. Chloe and the Isolus refuse to part with each other, at one point sabotaging the Doctor’s plans to stop them, and eventually things progress to the point where they try to make the whole population of the Earth disappear so the Isolus can have four billion new playmates. I find it hilariously ironic how the Isolus repeatedly, defensively states that it loves Chloe, and that that’s actually the last thing it tells her before it leaves to rejoin it’s herd, and then it swans off and leaves her to be killed by her evil, zombie crayon daddy that they brought to life. Clearly, they were such good friends. Elsewhere, Trish is quite rightly horrified when she realizes how badly her emotional negligence has hurt Chloe and what it’s led to, and she vows to be a better mother if she can get her daughter back. She makes good on that promise, as signified when the Webbers banish the last remaining memory of Mr. Webber together during the climax, to save their own lives. Chloe’s child actor, Abisola Agbaje, tries to bring the role to life, but she struggles to do so and it’s pretty clear that the role of possessed Chloe is above her current acting level; she mainly delivers her lines in a raspy, hissing voice that gets increasingly funny throughout the episode. Despite that, I still found Chloe and Trish’s subplot to be rather moving, and the pay-off at the end feels earned by everything that built up to it.

Doctor Who Fear Her 7

“Fear Her” is once again helmed by Euros Lynn, one of the standout directors of the RTD era, and after having a slump in his last contribution to the series, this installment proves to be a return to form for him. There are a wide variety of dynamic and creative shots scattered throughout the episode which help to liven up a low-budget episode: like pan-in shots of the neighborhood street, the sinister close-ups of Chloe spying on our heroes from her window, the rather unnerving animation that was done of Chloe’s drawings moving by themselves, the POV shot of the monster in Chloe’s closet that’s almost always kept offscreen, the two-hander shots set in Chloe’s room with purposely heightened, darkened shadows, and the occasional dutch angle that’s thankfully used sparingly. Despite being set during the summer Olympics, “Fear Her” was filmed in Cardiff during the winter months, so a line was written into the script (about the Isolus feeding on all the heat in the street) to justify the chilly weather and visible breath on the actors’ lips. Murray Gold’s score for “Fear Her” curiously feels more like a throwback to the previous series than usual. Murray utilizes a lot of queasy, uneasy synthesizers to invoke tension in the background score of the episode, which he did in basically every episode of Series 1, compared to most of his work on his Series 2, where he’s switched to utilizing a full, traditional orchestra. Despite that, a standout track in the score is a heartwarming (and regrettably unreleased) piece of choral music that’s used when all the kids are returned to the neighborhood and Ten and Rose are finally reunited during the coda.

At the end of the day, I quite like “Fear Her”. It serves its purpose well as a breather episode, one last hurrah for Ten and Rose before the storm of “Army Of Ghosts / Doomsday“, and an episode that uses all the traditional trappings of a sci-fi story to tell a sweet, shamelessly sappy human story about a mother and daughter reconciling.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Fear Her 4

* You’ve gotta love how melodramatic the title is for this episode. Forget the Daleks or the Cybermen or the Master. Clearly, the most terrifying antagonist in Doctor Who is Chloe Webber.

* “What’s your game?” “My, er… Snakes and Ladders? Quite good at squash. Reasonable. I’m being facetious, aren’t I? There’s no call for it”.

* “You’re tired, Chloe. I heard you calling out again, last night” “It’s fine” “Nightmares?” “I’m drawing!” “Whatever they are, they’re just dreams, you do know that? They can’t hurt you.” “I’m busy. Unless you want me to draw you, mum“.

* “I’m not really a cat person. Once you’ve been threatened by one in a nun’s wimple, it kind of takes the joy out of it”.

* “The girl!” “Of course! Wait, what girl?”

* “You’ve seen it, out of the corner of your eye. And you dismissed it, because what choice do you have when you see something you can’t possibly explain? You dismiss it, right? And if anyone mentions it, you get angry, so it’s never spoken of, ever again. You’re terrified of her, your own daughter. But there’s nowhere to turn to, because who’s going to believe the things you see out of the corner of your eye? No one. Except me”.

* “I told you, he’s dead” “Well, he’s got a very loud voice for a dead bloke” “If living things can become drawings, then maybe drawings can become living things”.

* “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You don’t have kids” “I was a dad once” “What did you say?”

* “Fear, loneliness. They’re the big ones, Rose. Some of the most terrible acts ever committed have been inspired by them. We’re not dealing with something that wants to conquer or destroy. There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive, wormhole refractors. You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold”.

* “Bring him back, now” “No” “Don’t you realize what you’ve done? He was the only one who could help you. Now bring him back!” “Leave me alone! I love Chloe Webber!

* “No, stop! You just took a council axe from a council van and now you’re digging up a council road! I’m reporting you to the council!”

* “What is it?!” “It’s a spaceship. Not a council spaceship, I’m afraid”.

* “Hang on, I told you not to leave her! Why aren’t you watching her?” Dammit it, Trish, you had one job!

* “There’s still no sign of the Doctor” “Maybe he’s gone somewhere?” “Who’s going to hold his hand now?”.

* Like the next time trailer at the end of “Boom Town” (the penultimate episode of the previous series), the next time trailer for “Army Of Ghosts” makes it no secret who the season finale villains are: because someone, somewhere, still gives zero fucks about spoilers.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Fear Her 11

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who: Love And Monsters (2006) Review

Doctor Who Love And Monsters 6

I’m not gonna lie to you, ever since I started writing these Doctor Who reviews, I have been dreading “Love And Monsters”. Because it’s one of the worst of the episodes of Series 2, and the RTD era in general. At the same time, I’m pretty glad to have this episode finally behind me, because while the RTD era still has it’s share of duds from here on out, I don’t think they bottom out as far as “Love And Monsters” does, and I did find a good amount of things to dissect in this episode. Notably, “Love And Monsters” is the first ‘Doctor-lite’ episode of NuWho. The cast and crew of Doctor Who have never made it any secret that the filming blocks can be difficult and stressful to handle, especially for the lead actors, trying to get thirteen to fourteen episodes filmed per year and wrapped up on a tight schedule. To make things a little easier on everyone, the writers would come up with ‘Doctor-lite’ episodes, low budget stories where the Doctor would have a significantly reduced role than usual and someone else would step in as the protagonist. The idea for ‘Doctor-lite’ stories has actually led to some of the more creative episodes in the revival, and the formula has definitely improved over time since Series 2. It’s a lot to ask from the audience to get immersed in the story of some random person that we’ve never seen before and we’re never gonna see again, and “Love And Monsters” doesn’t really work in department. “Blink” is a massive improvement over it, telling a nice standalone adventure, though I will admit I’m not all that wild about Sally Sparrow’s character.

Later Doctor-lite episodes only get even better from there by choosing to focus on the Doctor’s friends, people the audience already has a strong attachment to, and developing their characters. “Turn Left” is about poor Donna trying to survive in a world without the Doctor while doing some soul-searching, “The Girl Who Waited” is a love letter to Amy Pond’s character (all her best and worst traits) and her relationship with Rory, “The Crimson Horror” is about Vastra, Jenny and Strax trying to solve a case where the Doctor doesn’t even appear until the halfway mark, and “Flatline” is about Clara trying to fill in for the Doctor for a day, tying into her character arc for that season of getting some more insight into the Doctor’s lifestyle. Ever since the Capaldi era, Doctor Who seasons have regrettably gotten increasingly shorter, to the point where the cast and crew wouldn’t need ‘Doctor-lite’ stories anymore, so I imagine the tradition is dead now. As the first experimental episode of it’s kind, one of the most jarring things about “Love And Monsters” is that it doesn’t really feel like an episode of Doctor Who. It’s certainly set in the Doctor Who universe, with cameos from the Doctor, Rose and Jackie, but the tone feels like one of the more surreal episodes of “Torchwood”, the kind where the character of the week would have encounters with Jack’s team and have trouble accepting that aliens are real. Honestly, the first two-thirds of “Love And Monsters” range from being kind of dull and kind of cringy but otherwise fine, and then the last fifteen minutes feel like Russell T. Davies lit up and went on one sweet acid trip.

Doctor Who Love And Monsters 7

Elton Pope (Marc Warren) serves as our protagonist and narrator this week, and like a lot of RTD era characters, he’s an unashamedly nerdy bloke, freely making pop-culture references to spice up his blog and bopping around to ELO music in some rather cringeworthy cutaway gags. Elton can also be a thoughtful and insightful person, and at times, rather reticent, since he’s haunted by some childhood memories that don’t make sense. Russell T. Davies indulges in a lot of callbacks to previous episodes with Elton’s character, which is kind of a staple of his tenure as showrunner. The RTD era was very heavy on continuity, as the people in London became increasingly aware of the Doctor and alien lifeforms because of all the frequent, public alien invasions. “Love And Monsters” explores what it would be like to live in the Whoniverse as an average, unassuming Londoner and have an outside perspective on everything that’s happened.  In that regard, “Love And Monsters” is almost a spiritual sequel to “Rose”, the very first episode where the Doctor was still a mysterious figure wandering in and out of Rose’s life, talking in riddles, so she turned to Clive for answers. Series 1 and 2 have come a long way since then when it comes to fleshing out the Doctor’s character and humanizing him, but whenever we step outside of the Doctor and Rose’s perspective that we’ve become accustomed to, the Doctor still seems just as alien and unknowable, inspiring awe and reverence in some of the people he briefly encounters.

Russell T. Davies really liked to build the Doctor’s character up as being a living mythological figure in-universe, a habit Steven Moffat would continue in his own tenure before deconstructing it during the Matt Smith years, and like all myths, there’s usually a price to pay for mere mortals dabbling in things that are way beyond their knowledge. The Doctor’s lifestyle is not a game: people who get too close to it without knowing what they’re doing usually wind up getting burned, which is what exactly happens to Elton and his chums. Elton is certain than the Doctor somehow has a connection to his past and the demons of his childhood, so he meets up with some other likeminded individuals who are interested in the urban myth of the Doctor to investigate. With this aspect of the episode, Russell T. Davies gets more than a bit meta, commenting on the nature of fandoms. Elton has a fun time initially: he gets to bond with lots of other people from different backgrounds about their shared interest and swap ridiculous theories, he makes some new friends, and he finds love with a beautiful, quiet-natured yet deeply passionate woman named Moaning Myrtle Ursula. Until Victor Kennedy arrives and changes things drastically. At a certain point, fandoms have habit of turning sour. Elton and the other members have their curiosity taken advantage of by a predator, and by the end of the episode, Elton is a pretty different man, a more traumatized man. He’s lost all of his friends, seen a lot of things he’ll never be able to unsee, and re-awoken some repressed memories, so Russell T. Davies purposely leaves open the possibility that the end of this episode might have taken it’s toll on poor Elton’s sanity (at least, until “Journey’s End” confirms that pavement slab Ursula is indeed real).

Doctor Who Love And Monsters 2

Victor Kennedy (Peter Kay), an oily, campy, secretive sort of man, serves as the main antagonist of “Love And Monsters”, and he is very obviously evil. In fact, the episode makes no attempt to hide the fact that he’s evil and up to no good, which actually makes him feel more unsettling at times, since the audience catches on where LINDA doesn’t. If the Doctor and Rose were in this episode for more than five minutes, they would spot him as an impostor from a mile off, but since they’re not, Victor is able to safely take advantage of LINDA’s naivety and inexperience to integrate himself. He appoints himself leader of their little gang and treats them all terribly when he sends them out to find the Doctor, on top of killing them off periodically to feed himself. Russell indulges in quite a lot of dramatic irony that these people have no idea how much danger they’re in, and it becomes increasingly tragic watching their numbers dwindle, since they all had lives and dreams and relationships waiting for them. So Victor is a pretty fine, if average antagonist until the last fifteen minutes, when the Abzorbaloff reveals his true form. The design for the Abzorbaloff came from a kid who won a contest to get his monster on the show, and it did not translate well onscreen unfortunately, dialing the cringe levels up to the max. In fact, the last fifteen minutes cause a lot of emotional whiplash. I really can’t take a man in a green fat suit with a thong and a mane who absorbs people seriously, especially when he chases after Elton. But Elton loses all of his friends, and he discovers his mom died when he was just a kid, which is genuinely sad. But then Elton’s girlfriend is revived as a talking, immortal face on a pavement slab, and Elton reassures us that they still have a love life somehow, and this is somehow a better fate than if she had just died, and I have so many mixed feelings about this weird, nonsensical ending. And the sad thing is the Abzorbaloff was still a more credible threat than the Wire.

After being absent for most of Series 2 so far, Rose’s mom (Camille Camdouri) is given a fair amount of focus and a sympathetic portrayal in “Love And Monsters” when Elton and LINDA rather creepily decide to use her to gain info about Rose, giving us an opportunity to see what Jackie Tyler is like without the Doctor and Rose present and a chance to see how much her character has grown in two seasons. Jackie is once again characterized as a rather forward and flirtatious person, with a taste for younger men. The scene where she tries to seduce Elton into sleeping with her can get pretty uncomfortable, though still not as cringy as the Elo cutaway gags or the Abzorbaloff climax. Beyond that though, “Love And Monsters” confirms something that the viewers have probably suspected for a while: Jackie is very lonely and fairly stressed living home alone nowadays. Nearly every parent has to deal with their adult kids moving out and leaving the nest at some point. However, most parents don’t have to worry about their kids getting killed on an alien planet a billion light years away (or worse, in a completely different time period), which they would never even know about if the Doctor couldn’t get back with the news. Jackie has been trying to fill the void in a lot of different ways, and for a moment it seems like her friendship with Elton might help, before she discovers the disturbing real reason why he contacted her and reacts accordingly. It’s always been obvious that Rose got her ability to verbally rip people to shreds from her mom, and it’s very satisfying to see Jackie let her mama bear claws come out and threaten Elton to stay away from her, stay away from Rose, and stay away from the Doctor, because after two seasons she’s become protective of both of them. Amusingly, Jackie’s outraged feelings are fully reciprocated at the end, when the Doctor and Rose appear just so Rose can scold Elton when she gets the news.

Doctor Who Love And Monsters

Dan Zeff does a decent and serviceable (if unremarkable) job of directing “Love And Monsters”, considering he’s given very little to work with besides a slice-of-life story. I like how he manages to emulate the tone and style of a 90’s British sitcom, considering the tone of the episode is purposely written to be as cheesy and absurd as possible. The framing device of Elton blogging his adventures on his webcam, mixed with found footage, gives Doctor Who a chance to try out several different filming styles in one episode, depending on the sketch. Compared to a lot of their previous work in the series (like the Clockwork droids, the Cybermen and the Ood), I want to say the costume department and the CGI team for the series really dropped the ball when it comes to the Abzorbaloff in the last fifteen minutes, who is a super narmful and super unconvincing villain. But the Abzorbaloff is a pretty faithful depiction of William Grantham’s contest-winning monster, scaled down to human size, so the costume department at least continued to turn in some good work for this episode (and for anyone who’s curious, the adult William has gone on the record sharing his feelings about “Love And Monsters” and the whole experience in retrospect). Murray Gold’s score is pretty understated in “Love And Monsters”, befitting a smaller-scale, comical episode, while also expanding on some previous melodies. “Seeking The Doctor”, another ethereal vocal line from Melanie Pappenheim, was previously used in “Rose” and “School Reunion” to signify the enigma of the Doctor’s TARDIS as a living legend, while the lightweight, bouncy fun of “Monster Bossa” is reprised from “Boom Town”.

Much like “The Idiot’s Lantern“, “Love And Monsters” is a below average episode of Doctor Who that tried to do something different and failed rather badly, though I had more fun dissecting this episode than I thought I would. “Love And Monsters” is mostly notable for the fun trend of Doctor-lite episodes it would set down the line and the truly bizarre final act it has.

Rating: 4/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Love And Monsters 5

* “Wrong one, you made it worse!” “You said blue!” “I said not blue!”

* I’m not gonna lie though, that Scooby-Doo chase scene reference with Ten, Rose and the alien in the hallway made me laugh, because anyone who enjoyed that show as a kid will spot that reference from a mile off.

* “Mr. Kennedy, we were wondering. No sign of Bliss. Do you know where she is?” “Yes, didn’t she tell you? She’s getting married. She left a message. It’ll never last, stupid girl”.

* “Use that cane on him and you’ll get one hell of a smack off me! And then a good kick. Is that completely understood, Mr. Kennedy?” “Duly noted. Ursula Blake, most likely to fight back”.

* “So we hit the streets. We get out there, we take the photographs. Someone’s got to know who she is somewhere” “Yes, but London’s a big place. I mean, I should know. My own daughter’s out there-” “Bridget, don’t make this personal”.

* “Now, Mr. Skinner, I don’t mean to pry, but did you give Bridget a little kiss back then?” “I think I did” “And if you get your way, might there be more little kisses between the two of you?” “I think there might’ “I knew it!”

* “Ursula, get your stuff! Mr. Skinner, are you coming? Not to the Chinese, if you don’t mind. Just sort of walking out”.

* “What about Bliss? Where is she?!” “You really don’t want to know” Stay classy, Doctor Who.

* “Don’t touch me. Oh, Elton, I’m so sorry. You can’t touch me”.

* “Wait a minute. Now I’ve been absorbed, I can read his thoughts. Oh, my God. Elton, you’re next. Get out of here. Now you’ve seen him, he can’t let you go. Just run. Go on. Never mind me, get out!” “Isn’t she the clever one?”.

* “You see, I’ve read about you, Doctor. I’ve studied you. So passionate, so sweet. You wouldn’t let an innocent man die. And I’ll absorb him, unless you give yourself to me!” “Hmm, sweet, maybe. Passionate, I suppose. But don’t ever mistake that for nice. Do what you want”.

* “I had this nice little gang, and they were destroyed. It’s not his fault, but maybe that’s what happens if you touch the Doctor. Even for a second. I keep thinking of Rose and Jackie, and how much longer before they pay the price” About two more episodes, Elton.

* “You know, when you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all, grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker, and so much madder. And so much better”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Love And Monsters 4

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (2006) Review

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 15

“The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit”, the one where the Doctor and Rose meet the devil in space. “The Satan Pit” is one of the standout stories from Series 2, not just in terms of quality, but also the Tenth Doctor’s overall character development in his first season. Matt Jones is one of those guys like Rob Shearman, James Moran, Simon Nye and Richard Curtis who wrote a belter of an episode for Doctor Who, outside of the show’s usual norm, and regrettably never returned to the series to pen another adventure, inadvertently ensuring he had a positive, untarnished track record as a guest writer. Like “The Girl In The Fireplace“, “The Impossible Planet” serves as a proper sci-fi adventure for Series 2, as well as a modern update of a classic Doctor Who formula, the base under siege story, allowing Matt Jones to indulge in a lot of classic horror movie tropes with the Beast across the two episodes. In general, I love the setting of this two-parter: a space station with a limited amount of crew members on a lonely, empty planet orbiting a black hole at the end of the universe. It really proves to be an inspired choice on Matt Jones’ part, which he takes full advantage of: because throughout this story there’s always a strong feeling of loneliness and isolation haunting the Doctor, Rose and the astronauts as they fight for their lives in cramped quarters, light-years away from home and anybody that could help them, eventually being kept apart by the devil himself to fight their own battles. Not to mention, a gnawing sense of fear and paranoia about the unknown, dangerous history of the planet. Things frequently go from bad to worse for our heroes at every opportunity, and by the coda of this adventure, all of the survivors have experienced some form of pain, loss, heartbreak or despair.

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 7

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) has never made it a secret that he loves a good mystery, the thrill of a good riddle, and he gets quite a bit more than what he bargained for in this two-parter. Right from the pre-titles sequence, he’s intrigued by hieroglyphics that are so old the TARDIS can’t translate them, older than the universe, older than Gallifrey. From there, he’s incredibly alarmed to discover he and Rose are standing on a planet that’s in stable orbit around a black hole, something that’s completely impossible and feels viscerally wrong to his time lord instincts. The Doctor is usually written as a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, particularly in NuWho, so it’s good to see him reach his limits and be legitimately stumped every now and again. In fact, “The Impossible Planet” feels a lot like Ten’s dilemma from “Rise Of The Cybermen” being taken to a whole other level – the Doctor being forced into a crisis where his usual tricks are useless. Fairly early into the two-parter, the Doctor and Rose get separated from the TARDIS and are led to believe that it was destroyed. The Doctor has lost not only his ship, but his home, his oldest friend and his oldest companion, and he takes it pretty hard. Nearly a thousand years worth of adventures have seemingly come to an end just like that, because of one impulsive decision. As captain of the TARDIS, he’s also failed Rose, stranding them both 2,000 years in the future for the rest of their lives. Their predicament is pretty grim, and the usually jovial and energetic Ten stays somber and depressed for a good chunk of this adventure; the only thing left for the Doctor and Rose, as far as they know, is solving the mystery of the pit. The Doctor’s spirits do improve a bit, when he and Ida venture down into the planet to satisfy their curiosity. The Doctor manages to strike up a good rapport with Ida, since they prove to be kindred spirits, and they have several honest, vulnerable, character-building conversations.

Doctor Who has never been afraid to start talking about politics or take political stances on matters, especially during the RTD era when the show loved to take digs at world leaders, but it’s a lot rarer for the show to discuss religion, since it’s such a touchy, sensitive subject all around. Doctor Who is generally an agnostic show, unlike it’s spin-off series, Torchwood, which is a straightforward atheist series (and at times, almost depressingly nihilistic). The Doctor doesn’t deny other people their faith unless it harms others, even if he doesn’t believe in it himself (“The Rings Of Akhaten”). A thousand years worth of experience has ensured that the Doctor has a naturally skeptic personality; he always doubts that the supernatural or the paranormal actually exists unless he sees it for himself, and even then he’ll try to find a rational, scientific explanation for it (he usually does). In “The Satan Pit”, the Doctor concedes that there are some things he doesn’t know, and the fact that he doesn’t know everything about the universe is why he travels: to learn. Miles away from Rose, the TARDIS, and any of his other friends, Ten is forced to do some soul-searching and confront the idea that maybe some myths are real, or maybe some myths have some basis in truth. The Doctor’s own faith is called into question, along with his place in the universe as one time lord in a world of impossible, unknowable things. Being the rebellious time lord that he is, the Doctor rejects the idea of predestined destinies, robbing people of free-will, and takes fate into his own hands, determining that he if he believes in anything, he has faith in his friends. Notably, the Doctor never does get all the answers: he never gets conclusive proof about whether the Beast was just a super old alien who influenced human religion over the years, or if he actually was the Christian devil trying to make a comeback, and he’s okay with that. Ten is just happy to get his TARDIS back so he can leave this adventure. “The Satan Pit” won’t be the last time NuWho challenges the Doctor’s personal beliefs, but it’s certainly one of the best examples.

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 11

“The Satan Pit” is Rose’s (Billie Piper) best character study in Series 2, much like “The Age Of Steel” was for Mickey, serving as an excellent example of how Rose is the heart of the TARDIS team for the first two series of the show. While the Doctor is preoccupied with the ever-growing mystery of Krop Tor, causing a few things to slip off his radar, Rose’s attention is continually drawn to the Ood working on the space station, disturbed by the idea that humans rely on alien slave labor in the future. Not only is Rose’s basic human decency perturbed by the values dissonance of the distant future, but it’s been an established part of her character since her second episode that Rose feels an affinity towards neglected, underpaid, working-class people, and she will reach out to them and try to befriend them whenever she can. So Rose checks in on the Ood several times in “The Impossible Planet”, when no one else does, and tries to make sure they’re being treated well. Pretty soon, the Doctor and Rose are trapped in the distant future for the rest of their lives, ensuring Rose will never see her friends, her family, or her home world ever again. Rose honestly doesn’t know how to process that, but she also accepts the consequences of where her dangerous choices her led instead of letting the Doctor infantilize her by shouldering all the blame herself, which is something I’ve always liked about Rose. Despite her own fears and uncertainty about the future, she shows the Doctor plenty of sympathy about losing his home and his best friend. There’s a rather telling scene where Ten and Rose discuss their options: Rose is able to resign herself to the idea of settling down in the future and starting a new life with a job and a mortgage, so long as the Doctor is with her, while Ten is genuinely mortified by the idea. “The Power Of Three” confirms that the Doctor would consider that to be a torturous way to spend his immortal life; as much as he respects his friends’ mundane, daily rituals, he would never want to live like them.

It’s interesting: as much as Series 2 loves to flaunt the Doctor and Rose’s close bond, their unspoken relationship, nearly every episode also deconstructs it and demonstrates how they’re ultimately incompatible in the long run. Not just because time lords live longer than humans, but also because of core differences in their personalities. The only ones in denial about how they’re not gonna last are Ten and Rose themselves. In any case, the Doctor and Rose are separated, unable to help each other, for most of the two-parter, which means Rose has to stand on her own in “The Satan Pit”. With the Doctor detained, Rose becomes the de-facto leader of the survivors and holds down the fort herself. I always love seeing the companions step up and use the skills and knowledge they’ve gained from their TARDIS travels to become heroes in their own right (like Martha in “Human Nature”, or Clara in “Flatline”), and if there’s one thing Rose has learned in the last two seasons from the Doctor, it’s how to be a good leader during a crisis. Rose focuses on keeping everyone together, keeping them calm and thinking rationally, and keeping up the team’s morale. She keeps them from shooting their own, she delegates tasks depending on the crew members’ skills and plays to their strengths, and she pools their resources wisely. Finally, she gets to deliver the killing blow to the villain of the week herself. Becoming a goddess and destroying the Dalek fleet is easily Rose’s most badass accomplishment, but shooting the freaking devil into a black hole to die, partly to make him shut up, is also a close second. I’ve given Rose flack before, but she also had some really great stories under her belt as a companion, and I’m really proud of how well she handled her adversity in this two-parter. Between almost losing her home world for good, having her heart broken when she thought the Doctor died, and nearly being sucked into a black hole to die during the climax, you will feel for Rose throughout “The Satan Pit”.

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 12

The base under siege story is a pretty classic staple of Doctor Who adventures; in NuWho alone, there’s a bevy of them. “The Impossible Planet” is one of the better examples in the show because the cast of characters we spend two episodes aren’t just a group of a generic, interchangeable red-shirts; they’re likable, charismatic people with a decent amount of development. They’ve all developed a bond with each other out of necessity from spending months in isolation, turning to each other for companionship and amusement, and they have a healthy amount of respect for the chain of command. You actually feel something when these people die, like Mr. Jefferson’s death scene in the vents (choosing to die on his own terms before he can be killed by the Ood), or Scooti’s horrific fate of being sucked out in the vacuum of space to choke. The man in the charge of the base is Captain Zack, who is a refreshingly level-headed authority figure by this series’ standards. Zack is often very cross and stressed out from trying to keep the crew safe and trying to keep the base running smoothly, since the Captain’s position was never meant to be his in the first place. He’s simply doing his duty and filling in for the previous captain after he died, so he’s prone to a lot of self-doubt and self-deprecation throughout this two-parter. During the attack of the Ood, Zack is trapped in his quarters, acting as mission control for the rest of the crew as he tries to get them all to safety, and it always hits him extremely hard when he loses a good man or a good woman. The head of security on the base is Mr. John Jefferson, a gruff, grizzled war veteran. Jefferson is a sardonic man and he can be very stubborn, but he’s also efficient, brave, and self-sacrificing, and that line from the Beast, about some sort of ugly relationship drama that went down between him and his ex-wife, is one of many intriguing mysteries in this two-parter that will never be answered.

Danny, a rather neurotic and sarcastic man, is the technical genius of the base. Danny is the crew member who has the most fun chemistry with Rose, since he apparently doesn’t work well under pressure and gets frightened easily, compared to Rose, who has steadily been growing into an action heroine for the last two seasons. Ida Scott is an expert archaeologist and the head researcher of the base. Ida is a friendly, outgoing woman who gets along well with the Doctor through their shared wanderlust, and like Zack, she’s one of the more level-headed crew members. She’s determined to solve the mystery of Krop Tor because she’s been looking for answers for years, and at a certain point, her desire almost borders on being an obsession. When things start to get pretty bleak in the underground caverns, Ida takes a moment to reflect on the nature of irony: she spent so many years trying to find enlightenment, and her biggest discovery would apparently become her grave, doomed to die alone in the dark without reaching any conclusions. The crew members who do the most manual labor are the Ood, a slave race of eccentric, reserved aliens. The Ood are a telepathic race, always in tune with each other because of a shared telepathic field, and the group on the base become corrupted by the Beast, a telepathic monster. The Beast turns them into his own personal army of foot soldiers to dispatch the humans with, and eventually they prove to be the ultimate victims in the Beast’s scheme, getting sucked into the black hole with him. The Ood’s relationship with humans, who barely react to them and treat them more like dumb cattle than sentient beings, is one of the most intriguing bits of world-building Matt Jones does to flesh out the 42nd century setting. The Ood apparently offer themselves up as unpaid servants, because they have no other purpose in life than to serve other races, which Rose quite rightly doubts, even in the future. “The Impossible Planet” pays lip service to the idea that what humanity is doing is morally wrong, even if it’s completely accepted, but we don’t get much time to dwell on the implications before the Beast makes his move, so an entire episode is devoted to the Ood slave trade in Series 4.

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 8

Compared to the non-threatening Wire in the last episode, the Beast proves to be a fantastic, unnerving, manipulative villain throughout this two-parter, making “The Impossible Planet” a cross between a base under siege adventure and a good old fashioned ghost story. The Beast’s introductory scene – where he stalks and haunts poor Toby from the darkness, letting him know he’s coming and giving him false hope of escape before he consumes him – quickly establishes him as a psychological threat, someone who likes to instill fear, discontent and paranoia into his victims ahead of time, partly to weaken their defenses and partly to indulge his own sadism.  The Beast’s ancient hieroglyphics etching themselves onto Toby’s skin, declaring him a marked man, is unexpectedly disturbing, but they’re only the prelude to a sequence that’s darkly mesmerizing. He steps out into the vacuum of space for a walk, enjoying having a new vessel and being free to walk around for the first time in millennia, reveling in the desolation of the planet. Scooti seems almost entranced by the unnatural sight for a few moments, before Beast-Toby decides to get rid of her. For the rest of “The Impossible Planet”, the audience is a few steps ahead of the Doctor and Rose, who don’t know about the danger Toby poses as a mole and a ticking bomb, allowing for some tension about when the Beast will strike again. The Beast exerts his control over the base to turn it against our heroes, and he turns the Ood into an army of his personal pawns so he can start killing people off, one by one. And while he’s doing that, he shares little tidbits about their past that he shouldn’t know about with them, along with foreboding threats about their future so he can frighten them and destroy their morale. The Beast is willing to play the long game; sometimes he will strike when our heroes at their most vulnerable and leave them scrambling, and other times, he will fall back and lay dormant for a while to lull them into a false sense of security.

One of the my favorite treacherous moments in “The Satan Pit” is when the Ood corner a seemingly frightened Toby in the air vents, and their master turns to them with his signature red eyes, raises a single finger to his lips and orders them to back off so he can keep working, before letting out a hilariously fake call for help. Up until now, the audience has been under the assumption that the Beast had been stepping into Toby’s body periodically, possessing him unexpectedly, but now it’s clear that Toby has been dead for a long time, ever since the Beast first stepped into him, and the Beast has been putting on an elaborate facade, pretending to be him the whole time. Partly so he could manipulate Rose and the others into doing what he needed, and partly so he could have a front row seat of his chaos. He is the devil, after all; of course he’s a sneaky bastard. The Beast is incredibly old, incredibly powerful, and incredibly arrogant, boasting about being the embodiment of all evil, but he is not infallible, not by a long shot. It’s frequently hinted that there’s something lurking below the base, in a pit within the planet, and the Doctor finally uncovers the truth when it’s almost too late. The Beast was an ancient evil so powerful that he needed to be sealed away by another under powerful force, under a black hole in a perfect prison, and even then he still managed influence intelligent races throughout history. He’s been terrorizing the humans and killing them off, while taking Toby as a new vessel, so they would evacuate the base and help him finally escape his own personal hell, so he can rebuild his empire anew. His evil, ingenious plan almost works, but he gets a bit ahead of himself in the eleventh hour and is promptly thwarted by the Doctor and Rose. At the end of the day, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the Beast, whether he was just an ancient alien influencing mythology or if he actually was the Devil, and it’s better that a way. A bit of ambiguity in Doctor Who is good from time to time.

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 13

Like “The Age Of Steel”, “The Satan Pit” is clearly a story that much of the season’s budget was spent on, and while most of the episode’s action is set inside a cramped space base, “The Satan Pit” ironically feels larger in scale than a lot of the episodes in Series 1, helmed by director James Strong. The set designers get to flex their muscles, bringing an impressive, industrial space base to life with a winding maze of tunnels, and a labyrinth of claustrophobic air ducts; trying to emulate both “Star Trek” and “Alien” and succeeding. The exterior shots of the planet Krop Tor were filmed in a British quarry (with the aid of CGI), a very old tradition for Doctor Who when it comes to creating alien planets. The costume department is given an interesting challenge as well, creating a new species of alien called the Ood, the most elaborate and complex design they’ve worked on since the Slitheen in “Aliens Of London”. Unlike the Slitheen, the Ood look mostly humanoid except for their pale heads with tiny, beady eyes and unsettingly long, squidlike, deadly tentacles. I’m rather pleased to see that many of the stunts and visuals effects in “The Satan Pit” were done with practical effects, so CGI is sparingly. And it’s used for the things television CGI is best at: creating and embellishing locations like the black hole Krop Tor orbits, or the underground caverns the Doctor and Ida explore. The weakest effect in “The Satan Pit” is the Beast’s true form, and even that is passable. Murray Gold’s score is in fine form again this week: the main, recurring theme of the two-parter is “The Impossible Planet“, a distinctively Greek lament which is noticeably never used again outside of this two-parter. Murray reworks a lot of his older material, reprising “The Doctor’s Theme” and “Tooth And Claw” for the story’s last quarter. I’m especially glad to notice that “The Lone Dalek” is used extensively throughout this two-parter, since it was one of Murray’s most beautiful and sorrowful pieces in Series 1, and it fits the occasionally bleak but ultimately hopeful tone of “The Satan Pit” perfectly.

“The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit” is definitely the best story from the second half of Series 2, and not just because of how creative and surreal the premise is. I really appreciate how much of a strong character study it is for the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler, especially since we’ll be saying goodbye to Billie Piper in a few episodes as Series 2 draws to a close.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 14

* “Since when does the human race need slaves?” *Glances back at the last 2,000 years of human history* Rose, you sweet summer child.

* “Do you actually get paid, though? Do they give you money?” “The Beast and his armies shall rise from the Pit to make war against God” “I’m sorry?” Rose’s face when the Ood starts talking crazy out of nowhere is priceless.

* “No signal. That’s the first time we’ve gone out of range. Mind you, even if I could. What would I tell her?”

* “He is awake” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “He bathes in the black sun”.

* “Don’t forget to breath. Breathing’s good”.

* “Well, we’ve come this far. There’s no turning back” “Oh, did you have to? No turning back? That’s almost as bad as nothing can possibly go wrong, or this is going to be the best Christmas Walford’s ever had”

* “We are the Legion of the Beast. The Legion shall be many, and the Legion shall be few. He has woven himself in the fabric of your life since the dawn of time. Some may call him Abaddon. Some may call him Kroptor. Some may call him Satan or Lucifer. Or the Bringer of Despair, the Deathless Prince, the Bringer of Night. These are the words that shall set him free”.

* “For once in my life, Officer Scott, I’m going to say retreat. Oh, now I know I’m getting old”.

* “Are you going to start shooting your own people now? Is that what you’re going to do, is it?” “If necessary” “Well then, you’ll have to shoot me if necessary, so what’s it going to be?”

* “This is Captain Zachary Cross Flane of Sanctuary Base Six, representing the Torchwood archive. You will identify yourself” It’s good to know Torchwood still exists 2,000 years into the future. I’m guessing Captain Jack has something to do with that?

* “You little things that live in the light, clinging to your feeble suns which die in the end. Only the darkness remains, only my domain”.

* “The valiant child who will die in battle, so very soon” “What does that mean?” “You will die, and I will live”.

* “There’s all sorts of viruses that could stop the Ood. Trouble is, we haven’t got them onboard” “Well, that’s handy, listing all the things we haven’t got. We haven’t got a swimming pool either, or a Tesco’s”.

* “I regret to inform you, sir, I was a bit slow. Not so fast these days” Well, there’s a particularly painful callback to “Dalek”.

* “Thank you, Ida” “Don’t go!” “If they get back in touch, if you talk to Rose, just tell her… Tell her… Oh, she knows”.

* “Take me back to the planet! Take me back!” “Or what?” “Or I’ll shoot” “Would you, though? Would you really? Is that what your Doctor would want?”

* “If I destroy this planet, I destroy the gravity field. The rocket. The rocket loses protection and falls into the black hole. I’d have to sacrifice Rose” Yeah, more than just Rose is on that rocket, Ten. Are you implying you’d be more okay with just sacrificing them?

* “It doesn’t make sense. We escaped, but there’s a thousand ways it could’ve killed us. It could’ve ripped out the air or, I don’t know, burnt us, or anything. But it let us go. Why? Unless it wanted us to escape?” “Hey, Rose, do us a favor. Shut up” For a few brief seconds, the Beast channeled Rose’s hatedom.

* “I’ve seen a lot of this universe. I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods, and out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing, just one thing, I believe in her“.

* “Nothing shall ever destroy me! Nothing!” “Go to hell” “Waaauugggghhhhh!!!” If the Beast somehow survived getting sucked into a black hole, I know he hates Rose with a fiery passion.

“Hang on though, Doctor. You never really said. You two, who are you?” “Oh, the stuff of legend”. Fun fact: the coda of “The Satan Pit” was actually the last scene Tennant and Piper filmed together in Series 2, which makes it even more bittersweet.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Satan Pit 18

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Doctor Who: The Idiot’s Lantern (2006) Review

Doctor Who The Idiot's Lantern 3

The first half of Doctor Who’s second season was pretty solid, like I remembered it being, with a nice variety of episodes ranging from average (“School Reunion“) to great (“Tooth And Claw“, “The Girl In The Fireplace“, “The Age Of Steel“). The worst episode of the run was “The Christmas Invasion“, which landed firmly in the average camp. However, the second half of Series 2 is when things start to get rocky; really, really rocky. I’m gonna lay it all out now: I’ve never really liked “The Idiot’s Lantern”. I’ve always regarded it as the mediocre episode about 1950’s London sandwiched in-between the return of the Cybermen in “The Age Of Steel” and the creepy hauntings in “The Impossible Planet“, and I’ve only grown to dislike it more over time. Mark Gatiss’ sophomore script turns out to be one of his worst contributions to the NuWho canon, which is ironic, since “The Unquiet Dead” last season was one of his best episodes. “The Idiot’s Lantern” is one of those rare cases where there’s very little that I actually like about an episode of Doctor Who: the A-plot with the Wire is laughably bad while it’s trying to be deathly serious, and the B-plot with the Connolly family spends forty minutes making the audience feel incredibly uncomfortable only to deliver a terrible, contradictory life lesson at the end. I’ve also touched on this in my review of “The Christmas Invasion”, but a serious problem Series 2 has is a lack of variety when it comes to our heroes’ destinations this season. Despite the Doctor and Rose possessing a time machine, most of the episodes in Series 2 are either set in contemporary London or a tiny suburb near London, and during the final stretch of the season that starts to get really boring.

Doctor Who The Idiot's Lantern 11

With slicked-back hair, his best pinstripe suit, and a trusty scooter on hand, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is ready to take on the 1950’s in this adventure. A fun trip to see Elvis Presley is sidetracked when the Doctor and Rose (Billie Piper) discover a mystery in the suburbs and they set out to investigate it, hoping to charm some information out of the locals. “The Idiot’s Lantern” doesn’t reveal much about the Doctor and Rose that we don’t already know: like how the Doctor will never back down from injustice, or how Ten and Rose constantly trade quips and inside jokes for fun on their adventures. If there is one particularly interesting thing about the Doctor’s characterization in this episode, it’s that “The Idiot’s Lantern” further explores the two faces of the Tenth Doctor. Underneath his cheery smiles and friendly demeanor, Ten is a bubbling cauldron of righteous anger just waiting to erupt, and he can get quite nasty when you provoke him far enough. During his first visit to the Connolly home, Ten quickly catches on to how badly the family is being treated and challenges Eddie on his sexism and emotional abuse, eventually knocking the slimy creep down to size and putting him in his place, and throughout the episode, he encourages Tommy and Rita to stand up for himself. When the villain of the week nabs Rose, Ten is practically on the warpath for the rest of the episode, resembling a snarling pit bull, and he gets to fly solo for a bit, which makes for a nice change. “The Idiot’s Lantern” also continues to progress Ten and Rose’s character arc of becoming overconfident. When they get separated, Rose decides to confront the suspicious and presumably dangerous villain of the week by herself with no back-up, no leverage, and no means of defending herself at all, and demand that he give her some answers: she gets her face stolen as a result. I’m really not sure what Rose thought was going to happen in that scene, but in a darker show, Rose would have been shot and killed, and her body would have turned up in a ditch somewhere.

The plot of “The Idiot’s Lantern” (an episode of a long-running TV show) gets a bit tongue-in-cheek, since it’s centered all around the invention of the television, back when television was still a new and revolutionary concept. In the suburbs of London, people have had their faces stolen, ripped right off their skulls, by a creature called the Wire who feeds on electrical energy, and the local police department is trying to keep it under wraps – because Britain has an image to maintain, creating a thematic link between the A plot and the B plot. The Wire victims (including Rose) resemble wax mannequins (or autons with hair) and the CGI work that was done to remove their features is both incredibly obvious and unpolished, which makes several dramatic reveals that are meant to be serious really unintentionally funny. But those scenes are nothing compared to the Wire herself. The Wire has to be one of the most non-threatening villains I’ve ever seen in my life. Even the Slitheen, as cringy as they were, had some frightening moments, but the writing for the Wire is just plain weird. She has a very stilted and wooden personality, which I think is supposed to make her seem more alien, she constantly repeats the same few phrases in over-dramatic fashion, and she moans orgasmically every time she gets to feed. Ever since she’s arrived in London, the Wire has haunted and tormented Mr. Magpie, an aging and rather weak-willed man who’s primarily out to save his own skin, driving him mad and cowing him into becoming her servant / accomplice. The Wire hopes to use the upcoming coronation of Queen Elizabeth to feast on thousands of Brits. Doctor Who scrutinizing British patriotism and implying that it’s not always a good thing is one of the main overarching themes of Series 2, so it’s appropriate that the villain of this episode tries to weaponize so many Brits’ pride in their country against them for it’s own self-gain.

Doctor Who The Idiot's Lantern 4

While the A-plot of the episode is bad, it’s the B-plot that really makes “The Idiot’s Lantern” a dud, because it kind of pisses me off. With the Connolly family, Mark Gatiss wants to shine a light on the dark side of the idyllic, wholesome 1950’s and the picture perfect image of a nuclear family, which is not a bad idea in theory. Among the Connolly clan, you have the beloved, elderly Gran; the fearful, emotionally cowed Rita; the bright, rebellious, forward-thinking young Tommy; and the proud, blustering former war hero, Eddie. The B-plot dives into the mechanics of domestic abuse, exploring why it happens and how it persists, and it hits all the right beats with a disturbing amount of accuracy. To the people of the neighborhood, Eddie is a fine and upstanding family man, and he’s worked hard to maintain that reputation, but behind closed doors, in the privacy of his home, he’s a completely different person entirely. As the sole provider for the family and the man of the household, Eddie is a control freak / manchild with an explosive temper, who lords his power and authority over his family like a tyrant and treats them like they’re his property. He isolates them from other people, makes them feel trapped in their own home, forces them to keep his secrets and never ask questions, screams in their faces whenever they step a toe out of line, and threatens to beat them to get them to obey – with the implication that he’s already done it before, several times. Over time, his emotionally beaten down wife and son grow to resent him, thanks to the Doctor helping them find their inner strength.

The final straw breaks when it turns out Eddie sold out Gran, his wife’s elderly mother, to the police to be imprisoned because she was filthy and disgusting and he didn’t want her staining his way of life, and he’s already done the same to all the other houses on the block. Eddie is a disgusting husband, father and human being, and ironically more hateable than the actual murderous villain of this episode. Rita’s reaction is entirely apt: she kicks him out of her house and throws his ass out on the streets to fend for himself. The entire B-plot of “The Idiot’s Lantern” builds to an aseop about realizing when someone you used to love has become utterly toxic to you and knowing when it’s time to just let go, cut ties with them and kick them out of your life – take back control. It’s something that’s always hard and always painful to do when it comes to abusive relationships in real life – especially when it involves your parents – but considering everything we’ve seen in this episode, it’s definitely the right call for Tommy and his mother to make. Except, right as the story is wrapping up, “The Idiot’s Lantern” backtracks on that aesop and shoots it in the foot, when Ten and Rose insist that Tommy should want to keep his abusive and borderline sociopathic father in his life, for literally no reason other than the man being his blood relative. Yeah, no, fuck that line of thought. Seriously, what kind of advice is that to give someone who just got out of an abusive relationship? I kind of understand Rose giving it, she was rejected by Pete in the last episode and she’s clearly projecting her desire to have a father onto Tommy, but I kind of expect better judgment from the Doctor. If Mark Gatiss wanted to include a hopeful ending about the chance of reconciliation, he probably shouldn’t have made Eddie a completely despicable person with no redeeming qualities at all for this entire episode.

Doctor Who The Idiot's Lantern 6

“The Idiot’s Lantern” is helmed by Euros Lynn, and like James Hawes’ work in “The Christmas Invasion”, his direction is surprisingly weak and below his usual standards when compared to “The End Of The World”, “The Unquiet Dead”, “Tooth and Claw” and “The Girl In The Fireplace”; though it’s probably partially because “The Idiot’s Lantern” doesn’t give him much to work with. For some reason, “The Idiot’s Lantern” is full of off-kilter shots and dutch angles, and I’m not really sure why. It doesn’t normally enhance the mood of the episode or make the setting more visually appealing, it’s usually just distracting. Still, Euros Lynn’s direction does manage to be distinctive and moody at times, like Ten’s motorcycle chases through the London streets, or the Doctor’s interrogation scene, the climax where the Doctor and Mr. Magpie to reach each other to the top of a television station transmitter. The costume department is given a chance to recreate historical clothing again – trenchcoats, flamboyant dresses, pinstripe suits – and if nothing else, “The Idiot’s Lantern” passes the test as a period piece of the not-so distant past, with the aid of some charming, vintage 1950’s automobiles. “The Idiot’s Lantern” is another one of those episodes where the score is entirely unreleased on the series’ soundtrack, but Murray Gold’s music is pleasant and period-appropriate as always this week: I quite like the southern rockabilly music after the credits, when the Doctor and Rose are preparing to see Elvis, and the subtle, empty, dark reprise of “Rose’s Theme” (compared to the usual vibrant state of her melody) when Ten discovers Rose has been accosted is a nice touch.

Overall, “The Idiot’s Lantern” is a well-intentioned failure of an episode that never manages to do anything remarkable with either its A-plot or its B-plot. Funnily enough, “The Bells Of St. John” from Series 7 has a very similar premise with a 21st century twist, killer wi-fi preying on people’s souls through the world-wide web, and it goes on to be a much more entertaining episode than “The Idiot’s Lantern”.

Rating: 4/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Idiot's Lantern 10

* Ten, never slick your hair back, 1950’s style, ever again.

* “You going my way, doll?””Is there any other way to go, daddy-o? Straight from the fridge, man!”

* “Men in black? Vanishing police cars? This is Churchill’s England, not Stalin’s Russia”.

* “Union Flag?” “Mum went out with a sailor” “Ohohoho, I bet she did”.

* “I AM TALKING!” “AND I’M NOT LISTENING!!!”

* “Hold on a minute. There are three important, brilliant, and complicated reasons why you should listen to me. One-” *Thawck*

* :Nice to meet you, Tommy, Mrs Connolly. And as for you, Mister Connolly, only an idiot hangs the Union Flag upside down. Shame on you!”

* “Oh, very good, very good!”

* The scene where the Wire victims menace Ten reminds me a lot of the Autons attacking Rose in the first episode.

* “Start from the beginning. Tell me everything you know” “Well, for starters, I know you can’t wrap your hand around your elbow and make your fingers meet” ” Don’t get clever with me” Heh, look at what’s going on in the background of this shot.

* “Eddie, is that true?” “I did it for us, Rita. She was filthy. A filthy, disgusting thing!” Again, he’s talking about his wife’s mother. What a creep.

* “What was all that, then?” “That was, that was the sound of something ending. And about time too”.

* “We don’t even know where to start looking, Doctor. It’s too late” “It’s never too late, as a wise person once said. Kylie, I think”.

* “FEEEEEEEDD MEEEEEEE!!!!” Wire, please shut up.

* “That thing, is it trapped for good on video?” “Hope so. Just to be on the safe side though, I’ll use my unrivaled knowledge of transtemporal extirpation methods to neutralize the residual electronic pattern” “You what?” “I’m going to tape over it” “Heh, just leave it to me. I’m always doing that.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Idiot's Lantern 8

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Doctor Who: Rise Of The Cybermen / The Age Of Steel (2006) Review

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 10

Arriving in the middle of Series 2, in roughly the same position as last season’s “Dalek“, “Rise Of The Cybermen / The Age Of Steel” proves to be a fantastic two-parter and it’s actually tied with “The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit” as my favorite story from Series 2. When Russell T. Davies revived Doctor Who, he was very patient about the task on hand and willing to play the long game. Doctor Who had built up a sizable amount of lore over four decades, and instead of dropping all that information and all those characters on people at once, confusing and alienating newcomers, Russell decided to dripfeed it. Not only is the Doctor’s backstory teased out over several years, but we’re also introduced to the franchise’s major antagonists one season at a time. Russell gave the Daleks an update in Series 1 and that proved to be a massive success, so Series 2 moves on to the next villains in the cycle of Classic Who monsters: the Cybermen. Penned by Tom McRae, “The Age Of Steel” is just as effective at showcasing how deadly the Cybermen can be as “Dalek” was with the Daleks, if not more so. The first half of the two-parter takes its time establishing and exploring the concept of an alternate universe adventure, but as soon as the Cybermen arrive and make their first movie, the second half proves to be one of the most action-filled episodes in the revival, as the Doctor and friends race to stop their invasion of London. In addition to reintroducing the Cybermen, “The Age Of Steel” also serves as the climax of several plot threads and character arcs that the series has been running for a season and a half, like Mickey’s restlessness from “Boom Town“, or Rose’s father issues from “Father’s Day“. With Mickey’s departure at the end of this adventure, “The Age Of Steel” marks a turning point in Series 2. It almost feels a midseason finale, dividing the first and second halves of Series 2, except Doctor Who doesn’t actually have those (at least, not until the Matt Smith era).

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen

“Rise Of The Cybermen” picks up a thread that “Tooth And Claw” initiated: the idea that the Tenth Doctor and Rose bring out each other’s most obnoxious traits when they’re left to their own devices long enough. Part of the reason why the Tenth Doctor and Rose get along as well as they do is because they share some of the same personality flaws; they can both get so wrapped up in their own thoughts that they completely run roughshod over other people’s feelings, without even intending to; like how Ten handles things with Martha with zero tact or sensitivity in Series 3. This unfortunate aspect of their personalities is arguably at it’s most prominent in Series 2, when they’re at their most self-involved. Even if makes them all uncomfortable to admit it, by “Rise Of The Cybermen”, it’s very apparent that Mickey is the third wheel in the TARDIS. Ten and Rose frequently forget that he’s even there with them, Ten states more than once that he’s only really concerned about Rose and that he can’t be expected to keep track of Mickey as well, and he later admits to Rose that he doesn’t know jack about Mickey and he never bothered to learn anything either in a year and a half. Yowza. In Ten’s defense, he does have his hands full in this two-parter. “Rise Of The Cybermen” is the first NuWho story to explore the concept of an unknown, alternate universe, and the idea of a visiting one is portrayed as being quite a bit more dangerous than it usually is in a sci-fi show, since getting back to the main universe is far from easy. As captain of the TARDIS, the Doctor is personally responsible for everyone onboard, and now they’ve all found themselves stranded in a strange, potentially dangerous world where there’s no quick or easy way back, and the Doctor’s vast knowledge of science and history can’t help him for a change because a different universe means a different set of rules, so he’s quite frustrated about that.

Ten mostly wants to keeps everyone safe and together until the TARDIS has time to recharge, but of course, things are never that simple. Trouble is brewing in alternate universe London, which is the reason why our heroes were drawn there in the first place. Ten tries to convince Rose not to get involved in the affairs of her alternate universe parents, in fear of another disaster happening, and like in “Father’s Day” there’s a sense that the Doctor, as a time lord, really underestimates how strong the bonds of family are to humans, and how impulsive Rose can be. When the Cybermen invade, there proves to be a silver lining: the Doctor finally finds himself in a situation where his knowledge is useful again, since the Cybermen of the prime universe are old foes of his, so the Doctor does what he does best and takes charge of a nasty situation. Ten quickly becomes the leader of a scared but resourceful band of survivors, acting as a much needed voice of reason and pooling his knowledge of Cybermen technology with intel from the native Londoners to form a rebellion plan and take the fight to Lumic. Ten receives a lot of great, humanizing scenes in “The Age Of Steel”. Since he fully understands the atrocities the Cybermen were born from, against their will at that, Ten has the most compassion and sympathy for the tragic monsters, even while everyone else is mostly terrified of them. Ten also has a few pleasant, intellectual chats with Mrs. Moore while they’re paired up on a mission, showing that while Ten is always the first one to butt heads with violent, trigger-happy idiots, he gets on just fine with rational, level-headed people, and he’s gutted when the Cybermen murder her. Lastly, Ten is the one to challenge Lumic to a philosophical debate during the climax, and illustrate why his glorious regime is not only unethical, but ultimately unsustainable in the long run, further defining Ten’s personality (all while cluing Mickey in to his secret plot). David Tennant got off to a slow start as the Doctor at the start of Series 2, but by this point, he owns the role.

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 11

After lying dormant for a good many episodes, Rose’s (Billie Piper) unresolved issues about her dead father rear up again during her unexpected trip to an alternate universe. It’s interesting: Rose is usually pretty reasonable, a bit impulsive maybe but reasonable, but her inner child always seems to awaken when the subject of Pete comes up, clouding her judgment. Logically, she knows she should try as hard as she can to avoid a repeat of “Father’s Day”, but the part of her that’s wanted her dad in her life since she was a little girl can’t resist meddling a little before she leaves. Like in the prime universe, Rose’s parents are shown to have a dysfunctional, failing marriage (which says quite a bit about Pete and Jackie), and Rose rather creepily tries to play marriage councilor as a complete stranger only to get burned, several times. Like in “Father’s Day”, it’s suggested that blood tends to recognize blood across time and space: in times of crisis, Rose turns to alternate universe Pete for support, and Pete tends to instinctively trust Rose, even though he doesn’t even have a daughter in this universe. “The Age Of Steel” showcases many of Rose’s best qualities from Series 1, like her courage and rebellious streak, that we unfortunately haven’t seen as often in Series 2. Rose is perfectly willing to go against the Doctor’s wishes and trust her own gut when it’s comes to the things that really matter, which I’m quite happy about, since Rose and the Doctor’s relationship is at it’s best when they don’t see eye to eye on everything. Rose is still willing to risk her life for a good cause, like stopping Lumic’s factory of Cybermen, and is fiercely loyal when it comes to her loved ones’s safety, insisting on going into the belly of the beast with Pete to try to find Jackie. At the end of the day, Rose’s alternate universe mom dies, Rose is understandably rejected by a very disturbed Pete, and shortly after that she loses Mickey as well, who is not only her ex-boyfriend but her oldest friend, so Rose ends this two-parter in tears from being emotionally gutted so many times in one night.

Shaun Dingwall returns in this two-parter as Pete Tyler, Rose’s father. In this universe, Pete managed to become a wealthy and successful businessman from his creations and he never had a daughter, so he shares a healthy amount of differences and similarities with prime universe Pete. At his core, Pete seems to be a somewhat shady and dishonest con artist, finding success through fraudulent means, but a decent and loyal family man at heart nonetheless.  The audience is briefly led to wonder if he’s a traitor to the human race because he works with Lumic, when in reality, he’s been trying to inform on him to the authorities for ages. Pete’s previous role in “Father’s Day” was to be an unassuming, unlikely hero, but here he’s more involved in the main plot, and we get a chance to see action movie Pete when he and the others try to rescue Jackie, his estranged former wife, from the Cybermen (who’s quite a bit more vain, snobbish and annoying in this universe, since becoming a mother never forced Jackie to mature). As the story presses on, Pete becomes increasingly curious about Rose, who’s quite clingy with him and Jackie; he doesn’t understand her and eventually he’s quite disturbed by her when he learns who she really is, which is entirely fair. The biggest difference between prime universe Pete and alternate universe Pete is that the latter instinctively rejects Rose; he really doesn’t feel like leaving his universe to be Rose’s new father, especially when this new blood revelation in sprung on him on the same night his wife got murdered. Throughout this entire story, you’re kind of waiting for the series to pull the trigger and kill Pete a second time, because you really wouldn’t put it past Doctor Who to put us through that kind of pain again, but surprisingly Pete survives to the end credits, and it’s Jackie who gets the axe, leaving Rose’s parents single in two universes and ready for some pretty dodgy and questionable season finale shipping down the line.

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 3

In my review of “Rose“, I mentioned that there would come a day when Jackie and Mickey have grown so much as characters that they start to become more sympathetic than the Doctor and Rose, and “The Age Of Steel” is that day for Mickey (Noel Clarke). At the start of Series 1, Mickey seemed content with having a humdrum, unremarkable life because of his relationship with Rose, but he’s long since accepted that that bond is over for good, so he’s been drifting for a while now, trying to find his drive or his purpose. He hasn’t had much luck finding it in the TARDIS, where he’s still the awkward third wheel to the Doctor and Rose who’s frequently ignored, mocked or forgotten about, until he finally and quite rightly decides to blow Ten and Rose off and wander off on his own. Mickey’s always been written as being a bit of a sci-fi nerd, so he’s very curious about the possibilities of a parallel universe, taking the opportunity to track down the living counterpart to his dead grandmother. In his departure story, Mickey is finally given a detailed backstory, and it’s a pretty sad one. Mickey’s grandmother died when he was just a preteen and he’s always blamed himself for not managing to prevent it. Mickey, at his most honest, has a very self-deprecating personality with low self-esteem. He’s internalized a lot of feelings of uselessness over the years, which have only grown worst since he’s met the Doctor and has constantly felt like he’s second best to him. Ever since “Boom Town”, Mickey has longed to prove himself, and he finally gets the opportunity when he meets his alternate universe self, Rickey (the pay-off for a very long running gag), and his associates. The scruffy and intense Rickey is also a suspicious conspiracy theorist, and he lives in a harsher, more dangerous world than Mickey that’s caused him to become hard, vigilant and tough out of necessity. Amusingly enough, Rickey is still a bit of a poser though, since it turns out he’s London most wanted for parking tickets.

Since Rickey and his unlikely band are the only ones who’ve been looking into Cybus industries’ strange activities, they’re also the only ones who have any forewarning when the Cybermen attack, and Mickey gets dragged along into fighting the good fight. Rickey and his second-in-command, Jake, are apparently gay lovers, as the biggest difference between prime universe Mickey and his doppelganger; it’s outright confirmed in a deleted scene, and subtly implied in the final cut of the story (Jake has good taste, by the way. Rickey’s a pretty cool dude). When Rickey is killed by the Cybermen, Jake is absolutely gutted and he lashes out at Mickey, the stranger with a familiar face, as a result; treating him with bitter resentment for a good while. Mickey has already been emotionally beaten down in this story, and now he was brand new thing on his plate. But instead of letting Jake’s disdain discourage him, Mickey chooses to let it spur him on and try even harder to do his part. Over the course of a year and a half, we’ve seen Mickey become more courageous and selfless, and that growth comes to a head in “The Age Of Steel”. After watching his alternate self be killed in front of him, helpless to save him, Mickey steps up fully and uses everything he’s learned in Series 1 and 2 to get the job done. Mickey’s hacking skills come in handy again when he takes down Cybus industries from the inside, he demonstrates the positive influence the Doctor has had on him by following his example and keeping Jake on the straight and narrow, and he later risks his life to give Ten, Rose and Pete enough time to escape from Lumic. Like with Pete, you halfway expect the show to kill off Mickey as part of his hero’s journey, since his oncoming death seems really heavily signposted, but it never happens thankfully. Instead, Mickey gains Jake’s respect, and he decides to stay in Pete’s world so he can fight the Cybermen and look after his aging grandmother, embarking at the end to see more of the world. Mickey has a long, hard journey in Series 1 and 2, but the show gives him a pretty powerful and dignified send-off that makes it all worth it in the end.

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 13

The primary villain of this two-parter, John Lumic, is a very hammy, bombastic, larger than life character. He’s an evil maniacal genius and a mad scientist straight out of a James Bond movie, and Roger Lloyd really seems to get into the role. Lumic’s personality is almost too much at times, but the character ultimately lands on just the right side of campy and entertaining. Lumic is an aging businessman, lacking scruples and principles, who’s currently dying from a terminal illness, so he’s spent years trying to devise a way to cheat death. He’s created a race of cyborgs that he likes to envision as the future of the human race, the next step in evolution, partly as a way to save himself, and partly as his own personal vanity project, since the man is quite insane and delusional about his own self-importance. In the usual RTD era fashion, the story indulges in a bit of social commentary about how humanity is a too reliant on technology, incorporating relatively new inventions (like their phones) into every aspect of their day to day lives as a crutch or a pastime, leaving themselves vulnerable to Lumic’s corruption and manipulation. John bides his time and is willing to play the long game: he preys on the poor and homeless citizens of London, targeting the underprivileged members of Pete’s world that presumably won’t be missed, so he can use them as guinea pigs in his experiments. Lumic not only wants to preserve his own life, he also wants to reshape the world in his image, and disturbingly enough, he’s actually capable of it: especially when he assassinates a world leader, leaving a power vacuum that he intends to fill. Naturally, John is quite the hypocrite. He converts many of London’s citizens into metal men against their will to live out his fantasies, but he tries to put off his own conversion for as long as possible until he’s on death door, at least, until he’s deliciously betrayed by his creations. Nevertheless, Lumic comes to embrace his new metal life and see it as a blessing, as king of the Cybermen.

“Rise Of The Cybermen” serves as an origin story for NuWho’s first iteration of the Cybermen, who will be sticking around for the rest of the David Tennant and Matt Smith years, a returning monster from the classic series. Throughout the first half of the two-parter, the Cybermen are filmed from clipped angles and out-of-focus shots by Grahame Harper, obscuring their new redesigns and building up suspense for their unveiling during the cliffhanger. The Cybermen are an emotionless race of cyborgs, a Frankenstein fusion of flesh and technology, intended to preserve the human race from sickness, injury and aging, at the cost of almost everything that made them human in the first place: favoring the cold, hard logic of the brain over all their flesh organs. As story arc villains, the Cybermen make for interesting ideological foils to the Daleks. Both of these races wholeheartedly believe that they’re walking perfection, the pinnacle of life, and they are entirely impossible to reason with. Except, while the Daleks utterly despise every other form of life out there and spend all their time trying to think of ways to carry out mass racial cleansing so they’re the only species left in the universe, the Cybermen swing hard in the other extreme. The Cybermen want to make everyone alive like them, they want the world to join them in the glorious utopia they’re creating, and they certainly don’t care about finding willing volunteers. The Cybermen will forcibly convert people so they can follow out their programming while their numbers grow, but they will also ruthlessly kill any non-compatible dissenters, any troublemakers who would threaten their way of life. The Cybermen are a different kind of evil from the Daleks, and in some ways they’re even more unsettling. The Daleks will usually only kill you, while the Cybermen will subject you to a never-ending hell. If the Daleks are space Nazis, the Cybermen are metallic zombies.

Despite being a great concept for a monster, the Cybermen haven’t been as well as served by the Doctor Who franchise as the Daleks have when it comes to receiving great stories. The Cybermen have a habit of being written as bland, faceless, stomping robots that are easily beaten by a last-second deus ex machina. There are only a couple of stories in both Classic Who and NuWho where the Cybermen actually feel like a credible, formidable threat, and “The Age Of Steel” is one of them. Since “The Age Of Steel” is set in an alternate universe where anything goes, we get to see an implacable army of them march through the streets, converting people by the hundreds and doing some real damage to London, without Russell having to hit a reset button to preserve the status quo, not to mention the jump scares where seemingly dormant Cybermen leap out at our heroes to try to kill them. More than that though, “The Age Of Steel” never forgets about the tragic elements of the Cybermen: that they used to be normal people once, proud people with fulfilling lives who had their humanity stolen from them. The two-parter vividly portrays the body horror of the conversion process: at one point, a whole line of brainwashed people is sliced and diced while “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is played to drown out their screams. Cybermen have to cut out their emotions after the conversion, because otherwise the pain of what they’ve lost would drive them insane. The Doctor is given a chance to pick apart the Cybermen’s vision for the future during the climax, and he plainly lays out why it’s not only unethical but unsustainable. People’s flaws and imperfections are what make us human, what allow us to grow and imagine: without them, humanity would quickly stagnate and remain the same until it gathered dust. Not to mention, human life would lose it’s individual value entirely, and be judged wholly by the Cybermen collective.

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 5

“The Age Of Steel” is helmed by Grahame Harper, a returning director from the classic series who was often brought onboard to work on some of the more cinematic episodes from the RTD era, like “42” and “Utopia”. Using a good variety of wide angles and extreme close-ups, Grahame gives “The Age Of Steel” a very impressive sense of scope and scale during the Cybermen’s invasion of London, with some of my favorite choices being the overhead POV shots during the conversion scenes. The costume department is given an interesting challenge in this story: like the Daleks last season, the Cybermen are given a redesign for the revival, except the changes are quite a bit more radical. Compared to their classic series counterparts, the Cybermen have been slimmed down in places, while still being bulky, lumbering soldiers, and the organic elements of their designs have been scaled back, making them appear more uniform and inhuman. It’s a good look for the Cybermen, especially compared to the one in “Nightmare in Silver”, which I think looks a bit too sleek and clean. The set designers are also put to the task of creating the deep blue lair of the Cyberking for the story’s climax, which looks and feels exactly like an old school evil villain’s lair. With all the practical effects done for this two-parter, CGI is used sparingly in “Rise Of The Cybermen”, and when it does appear it’s rarely ever required to recreate a flesh and blood creature (mainly it’s used for the zeppelins hovering over alternate universe London), so the visual effects hold up well throughout this two-parter. Murray Gold gets to compose a prominent leitmotif, the new theme for the Cybermen in NuWho, that’s sinister, foreboding, chaotic and persistent. There are dozens of variations of it, both subtle and bombastic, scattered throughout this two-parter, and beyond that, Murray would utilize it in most of the Cybermen’s appearances until Series 10. Interestingly, the second half of the Cybermen theme sounds very similar to the werewolf’s theme in “Tooth and Claw”, which is appropriate, since the Cybermen’s reintroduction winds up intersecting the Torchwood arc later this season.

“Rise Of The Cybermen / The Age Of Steel” is a rousing success of a two-parter, as a reintroduction to the Cybermen, a send-off for Mickey Smith (who’s been on his own journey for a season and a half), and a mid-season finale of sorts for Series 2. It’s too bad Tom McRae won’t be back to write another great story for Doctor Who until Series 6.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 16

* “I’m sorry, sir, but it’s my duty. I shall have to inform them” “And how will you do that from beyond the grave?” You see what I mean about Lumic being a 60’s villain?

* “‘Trust me on this’. Oh, I can trust you all right. Trust you to cock it up” Whoa, Jackie, there are kids watching this show.

* Don’t think I didn’t notice Jake admiring the view when Rickey strips Mickey down and interrogates him.

* According to Lucy, that man over there-” “Who’s Lucy?” “She’s carrying the salmon pinwheels” “Oh, that’s Lucy, is it?” “Yeah. Lucy says, that is the President of Great Britain” “What, there’s a President, not a Prime Minister?” “Seems so” “Or maybe Lucy’s just a bit thick” Hot damn, Rose.

* Rose’s face when the tiny dog named after her shows up is absolutely priceless, and well deserved after that dig at Lucy.

* “We surrender! There’s no need to damage us, we’re good stock. We volunteer for the upgrade program. Take us to be processed” “You are rogue elements” “But we surrender” “You are incompatible” “But this is a surrender!” ” You will be deleted” “But we’re surrendering! Listen to me, we surrender!” “You are inferior. Man will be reborn as Cyberman, but you will perish under maximum deletion. Delete, Delete, Delete!

* I kinda love how quickly the cliffhanger is resolved in Part 2, considering what a big deal it was made out to be. In the first twenty seconds of the episode, Ten realizes the Cybermen won’t be reasoned with, so he whips a TARDIS ex machina out of his coat pocket and murders all the Cybermen before screaming for the others to haul ass.

* “Are you finished chatting?! I’ve never seen a slower getaway in my life!”

* “That’s the only reason I was working for Lumic, to get information. I thought I was broadcasting to the Security Services. What do I get? Scooby Doo and his gang. They’ve even got the van”

* “But the Preachers know what they’re doing, Rickey said he’s London’s Most Wanted” “Yeah, that’s not exactly-” “Not exactly what?” “I’m London’s Most Wanted for parking tickets” “…Great” “Yeah, they were deliberate! I was fighting the system! Park anywhere, that’s me!” “Good policy. I do much the same. I’m the Doctor, by the way, if anyone’s interested”

* “I knew you weren’t a traitor” That’s not actually true, Rose. He’s a traitor to Lumic, after all. In fact, when Lumic snaps and tries to kill them all during the climax, you’ll notice he heads straight for Pete first.

* So, why did the Scooby gang split up again? It looks like they gained nothing from it, and all it accomplished was getting Rickey killed.

* I love the way Rickey’s death scene is handled. Compared to the rest of the episode, there’s no score for a change, and it’s left unclear for a while which Mickey got killed. And when Mickey glares at the Cybermen, they glare back in at him in stony silence, seemingly daring Mickey to climb over the fence since they kill him next.

* “Help me!” “You are in pain. We can remove pain forever” “No, not yet! I’m not ready” “We will give you immortality” “I’ve told you. I will upgrade only with my last breath!” “Then breathe no more”. It was probably unintentional, but that last line was a great callback to “The Unquiet Dead“.

* “I have factories waiting on seven continents. If the ear pods have failed, then the Cybermen will take humanity by force. London has fallen, so shall the world”.

* “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!” Darth Vader wannabe.

* “Jackie Tyler, this is for her!” “Waaauugggghhhhh!!!” Rest in peace, Lumic, you campy bastard.

* “What the hell?” “That’s the Doctor in the TARDIS with Rose Tyler”.

* “With all those Cyber factories out there, do you think they’ll be one in Paris?” “Yeah”  “Then, let’s go and liberate Paris” “What, you and me, in a van?” “There’s nothing wrong with a van. I once saved the universe with a big yellow truck”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 17

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments