Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End (2008) Review

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth The Medusa Cascade 2

“The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End”, the Series 4 finale of Doctor Who, is in many ways the climax of the RTD era. There are still a few specials to come after this two-parter, that focus on sending off David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, but “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End” ties up most of the character arcs and plot threads that have been running throughout Russell’s entire tenure, giving most of them plenty of closure. The Series 4 finale is basically one big comic book crossover movie, in the vein of “The Avengers”, where all the RTD era companions team up with the Doctor to save the multiverse (except for Adam, because no one likes Adam). Russell T. Davies also uses this opportunity to confirm, once and for all, that the spin-off shows that were airing at the time are canon, by bringing in side-characters from “Torchwood” and “The Sarah Jane Adventures”. If you’ve only watched Doctor Who, and you’ve never seen “Torchwood” or “The Sarah Jane Adventure”, you shouldn’t haven’t any trouble guessing what Gwen and Ianto are to Captain Jack, because we’ve known since the Series 3 finale that Jack is working with a branch of Torchwood now. However, good luck trying to figure out who that Luke kid is who’s with Sarah Jane now, since she certainly doesn’t offer up any details. As a RTD era reunion story, “The Stolen Earth” proves to be a pretty fun and epic two-parter (the opening credits are jam-packed full of familiar, returning names this time around), and to this day, there has never been another crossover story like it with such a stacked cast in NuWho, so the hype levels for this finale are pretty high.

If there’s one significant criticism I have of this story, it’s that it relies way too heavily on deus ex machinas. Russell has always been guilty of using these in his finales, but they’re a lot more noticeable in this two-parter, because there are so many scenes where Russell backs our heroes into a corner, with imminent doom closing in on them, only for them to be bailed out by something that appears completely out of the blue. Martha uses an experimental teleport without any coordinates that should kill her dead? It taps into her memories somehow and just takes her home instead. Sarah Jane is in peril of being killed by the Daleks? Mickey and Jackie appear next to her car and rescue her, even though they shouldn’t have known she was there or that she was in any danger. A Dalek comes to Torchwood Three to kill Ianto and Gwen? Toshiko already installed a time lock as a security system offscreen to protect them (and considering that’s time lord technology we’re talking about, Tosh was apparently a lot smarter than I gave her credit for). The Doctor has just been shot and is about to have an untimely regeneration in terrible circumstances? He funnels the energy into his severed hand to avoid changing his face, even though we’ve been given no indication that’s a thing time lords can even do until just now. Then the Doctor’s severed hand grows into a clone of him, that can be conveniently paired off with Rose later to make her happy, while the meta-crisis event also conveniently gives Donna an intelligence upgrade so she can beat the Daleks with her hacking skills when everyone else runs out of plans. There are many, many scenes where Russell puts his main cast in grave peril, but they all have so much plot armor that none of them are really in any danger of being killed off (except for Harriet. Rest in peace, Harriet).

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth The Shadow Proclamation

After finally getting Rose’s warning about the end of the world in the previous episode, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) rushes back to Earth only to find the whole planet has vanished – stolen out of its place in the universe. The Daleks are geniuses and very good at covering their tracks, so the Doc, admitting he’s out of his depth for once, decides to take Donna to see the Shadow Proclamation we’ve heard so much about for the last four seasons, so they can regroup and come up with a plan. “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End” is one of the more inactive roles that the Tenth Doctor has had in a season finale. He’s kept out of the action for most of “The Stolen Earth”, because he can’t find the Earth, and when he does make it there, he spends most of “Journey’s End” as a prisoner in Davros’ lair, so the action in this two-parter is primarily carried by the companions and all the other returning faces from the RTD era. Still, even in his absence, “The Stolen Earth” builds off one of the main ideas from “Turn Left“: how important and irreplaceable the Doctor’s role in this series is. The Doctor’s former companions can take his teachings out into the world, become heroes in their own right and fill in for him temporarily, but none of them have the wisdom and experience to do what he does long term, and they spend most of the first episode trying to reach him because they know they need his help dealing with villains on the level of the Daleks. The Doctor is fatally wounded by a Dalek at the end of “The Stolen Earth” and forced to regenerate, but he manages to find a way to heal himself while cheating the part about changing his face. The show has never really touched on Ten’s feelings about regeneration before now, but this is the first glimpse we get of his vainer streak and the reservations he might have about changing his whole personality again, and those feelings are about to become very important during the year of specials.

At the mercy of his greatest enemies, Ten is made to feel helpless in more ways than one throughout “Journey’s End”, as Davros threatens his friends. The Doctor and Davros have plenty of history, stretching all the way back to the early days of Classic Who. The Doctor could have stopped Davros’ reign of terror a long time ago, but he didn’t believe he had the right to erase a whole species from existence, even one as wretched as the Daleks, so the animosity between them only continued to escalate over the years. Davros wants to break him, expose his true self and drag him down to his level, and considering the Doctor has committed multiple genocides by now, including against his own people, Davros has a lot to work with. After spending so long running away from his past as a soldier because of the way he compromised his own principles then, the Doctor is very disheartened to discover the influence he’s had on his friends and how he’s led them to become more like him over time, having trained them to fight. They spend most of this two-parter trying to make plans, finding weapons, threatening to kill themselves or even blow up the Earth to save the multiverse in desperation, they even describe themselves as the Doctor’s secret army, something he would not approve of. Traveling in the TARDIS changes you irrecoverably, in good ways and bad ways. There’s also a small but significant moment where Ten comes to feel like a complete ass: he never did forgive Harriet for her betrayal in “The Christmas Invasion“, only to discover she gave her life saving the Earth in his absence. David Tennant gets to play a double role in this two-parter as the Doctor’s half-human clone, who’s essentially written as the Tenth Doctor on crack. His clone proceeds to kill off all the Daleks to prevent them from ever trying something like this again, which the real Ten is outraged about, though I doubt most of the people in the audience will mourn the deaths of insane, omnicidal dictators who tried to nuke the multiverse five minutes earlier.

Eventually, Ten decides to leave his clone with Rose, because in his heart he knows he could never make her happy in the long run and his doppelganger could have the sort of life with her he could never experience. Ten is completely wrecked during the denouement, and not just for Rose-related reasons: it didn’t take the Doctor long to guess what the consequences of Donna’s intelligence upgrade would be, and he spent the entire last act of the episode quietly waiting for them to catch up to her. You’ll notice that each one of the Tenth Doctor’s three seasons end exactly the same way: with the Doctor depressed and alone again in the TARDIS, usually as the result of his own choices. What makes things even more tragic is the Doctor did everything right this time. He didn’t strut around the universe, showing off carelessly all season, like he did with Rose in Series 2. He didn’t shut his friends out and constantly take them for granted like he did with Martha and Jack in Series 3. But he still wound up in a position where Donna’s mind would either need to be wiped or he would have to let her die, because someone had to be sacrificed to save the world from the Daleks and the universe picked Donna for the job. Needless to say, Ten is never really the same again after the events of this two-parter, losing Donna like this affects him about as strongly as losing Rose in “Doomsday“, and he goes into a funk for the remaining episodes of his tenure, swearing off companions entirely. It’s understandable that the Doctor would make this decision, considering he must surely consider himself to be cursed by now and a terrible influence on all his friends, but it’s also a really bad idea. Ever since “The Runaway Bride“, Donna’s whole tenure has made it a point that the Doctor needs someone to stop him sometimes and keep his flaws in check. Without a dissenting voice in the TARDIS, the ugliest parts of Ten’s personality will steadily claw their way to surface by “The Water Of Mars” and “The End Of Time”.

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth Subwave

“The Stolen Earth” is Donna Noble’s (Catherine Tate) swansong as the current companion, and the climax of her character arc throughout Series 4. Donna met Rose in the previous episode and formed a bit of a connection with her, and ever since she met the Doctor, she’s seen how much he misses Rose’s company, so Donna is very supportive about the Doctor’s chances of seeing Rose again, as possibly the only silver lining in this adventure. She has a great personal stake in everything that’s happening, since the Earth is her home with all her friends and family on it, and she tries not to think of the worst as she helps out with their sleuthing mission – showing off her own intuitive streak by suggesting that all the missing worlds they’ve heard about this season could be connected as an important clue -but if the Doctor is feeling lost at the moment, there’s not that much Donna can do either. After surviving a post-apocalyptic hell for two years and committing suicide to save the world in the previous episode, “The Stolen Earth” makes it clear Donna still has a cosmic target painted on her back, and something terrible is still going to happen to her soon. Ever since “Silence In The Library“, Donna and the Doctor have been split up a lot in the second half of Series 4, and it happens to them again in “Journey’s End”, allowing her to create Ten’s clone. Clone Ten briefly serves a red herring, tricking the audience into thinking he’ll swoop in and save the day, before Donna steps up to do the job herself with her super temp skills, having gained a time lord’s intelligence (because as you’ll have noticed since “Bad Wolf“, Russell really likes giving his main characters a last minute power-up at the climax of each season to turn the tides). Time lady Donna can actually get pretty annoying, since she basically turns into an enormous fountain of technobabble and exposition, but this achievement is still a really big deal for her. She gets to be the hero of the hour, and for once she feels proud of herself and confident in her own skills.

Donna saving the day comes at a terrible price though: cramming all the knowledge of a time lord brain into a human head is way too much for her and it will kill her, so the Doctor decides to wipe her memories, erasing all the character development she’s had over the last two seasons and resetting her personality back to what it was in “The Runaway Bride” as a consequence. What makes this development feel very painful, even by the usual standards of a tragic companion departure in Doctor Who, is that “Turn Left” just emphasized how bad Donna’s self-worth issues can get. Over the course of Series 4, Donna has grown wiser, more thoughtful, patient and considerate, and become a true friend – she’s finally started to value herself for the things that make her unique. Losing all of that growth in an instant, and going back to living with her toxic mother who gave her a complex in the first place feels very cruel. To add one last bit of salt in the wound, the time lord meta-crisis event that necessitated this mindwipe is the exact same plot device Russell used to give Rose her happy ending with clone Ten in the previous scene. The only bit of cold comfort we have is that “Turn Left” made it clear that Donna always had the potential to be brilliant inside of her, and even without the Doctor there to act as a catalyst, hopefully she can still go on to live a more fulfilling life. One of the biggest overarching themes in Series 4 has been the legacies we all leave behind with the people who’s lives we’ve touched – Caecelius and his family never forgot the kindness our heroes did for them, and the Ood will always remain grateful to them; Ten set a positive example for the people of Messaline and hopefully changed their society for the better; Agatha Christie’s novels permanently changed the genre she was writing for; River Song will have a tremendous impact on the Doctor’s life, even long after she’s gone; and the whole universe will forever be indebted to Donna, even if she never remembers what she did herself.

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth Rose 2

Since Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) is the one who saw this whole planet-stealing crisis coming all season, she’s naturally right in the thick of it, lugging around a comically oversized gun like the one Mickey had in “Doomsday”. When Russell wrote Rose out of the show and exiled her to a parallel universe at the end of Series 2, he always envisioned her using her own skills and her knowledge of alien worlds to become a defender of the Earth at Torchwood (he even briefly toyed with the idea of a spin-off show centered around that premise, before he decided against it), and that version of Rose, who’s grown a lot more worldly, finally gets to be realized onscreen in the Series 4 finale as she jumps across universes to help her old friends fight the Daleks (and since Rose was the companion who started it all in 2005, it’s only fitting that she gets to join the party). After forming a bit of a connection with Donna in “Turn Left”, as two kindred spirits, Rose quickly meets up with Donna’s family in “The Stolen Earth”, since they’re her best shot of finding Donna and the Doctor, confronting Sylvia with her daughter’s activities for the first time all season. Rose spends a good chunk of the first episode sadly pouting about how, even after jumping across universes, she and the Doctor are still being kept apart. Russell really prolongs giving the audience what they want until the last act, to make them crave it, and even though I don’t really ship Rose and Ten, even I have to admit I grinned like a loon when they finally got to see each other again after two seasons (with “Rose’s Theme” used as the underscore, for an extra dose of nostalgia for the early days of NuWho). From here on out, Rose and the Doctor never leave each other’s side for the rest of “Journey’s End”, looking to each other for strength and support, and they face the potential end of the world together, just like the good old days.

Once Russell made the decision to bring Rose back for the big reunion in the Series 4 finale, naturally he had a new dilemma on his hands about how he would permanently write her out of the show in a satisfying way for both her and the audience, and the decision he went with was very strange and quite divisive to this day. Once the danger’s gone, the Doctor decides to kill two birds with one stone in regards to Rose and his rogue doppelganger. He encourages Rose to be with his half-human clone, who can live out a mortal life with her and make her happy in the long run, giving up his own chance in the process: a bittersweet solution to the problem they had throughout in Series 2. While this outcome works well enough in isolation, it feels pretty at odds with how their relationship has been written before now. Throughout Series 2, the show repeatedly implied that, despite caring about each other a lot, Ten and Rose were not really a good influence on each other and often brought out each other’s worst traits. After the tragic ending of “Doomsday”, the show has glamorized their relationship and looked back on it with a lot more nostalgia since then, often glossing over their flaws. Ten’s clone being half-human solves the problem of the Doctor outliving her, but there’s no indication that Ten and Rose have matured enough to avoid falling back into bad habits – if anything, Rose spending years trying to find a way to get back to the Doctor implies the opposite. Since “Journey’s End” is the conclusion of Rose’s character arc spanning over four seasons, the show has sent out some pretty mixed signals about how we’re supposed to feel about her relationship with the Doctor: what was previously a cautionary tale about not giving too much of yourself to a codependent relationship has now become a story about holding on for years until you get your happily ever after with your soulmate. I don’t hate that change by any means, but it does feel very strange.

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth Torchwood 2

Reprising his guest appearance from the previous season finale, Captain Jack Harkness lends a helping hand during the end of the world, this time bringing the entire crew of his spin-off show with him (Torchwood is looking pretty understaffed at the moment, since they’ve just lost Owen and Tosh). John Barrowman is personable and charismatic as always, and the energy of Captain Jack’s character never fails to be infectious. We get to see all of Jack’s most important relationships in this two-parter: the chain of command between him and his team, complete with his cheeky new relationship with Ianto, his supportive friendships with Rose and Martha (both of whom he thinks quite highly of), and how easily he slots into the role of the Doctor’s right-hand man, the lancer of the gang, again whenever they team up. “The Stolen Earth” provides a new bit of insight into Jack’s personality: the Daleks are one of the only things out there he truly fears, which makes perfect sense. They ended his first mortal life and he knows perfectly well how unstoppable they are, but he still faces that fear nonetheless for the greater good of humanity. Over at UNIT, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) has quite the terrible dilemma on her hands when she’s entrusted with the Osterhagen Key, the detonator to a bomb that will destroy the entire Earth in the event of a doomsday scenario (UNIT, what the fuck?!), essentially putting the fate of the world in her hands, and naturally it weighs on her a ton. I really appreciate the callback to “The Poison Sky“, when Martha decides to give the Daleks a chance to back down, despite already knowing how pointless that would be. She didn’t understand Ten’s suicidal bluff with the Sontarans at the time in “The Poison Sky”, but now that she’s stepped into his shoes, making the sort of choices he usually has to handle, she’s decided to take a page from his book: it’s a nice way of showing how much the Doctor’s friends look up to him, and how they’ve all learned something from him.

Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) has recently become a mother figure in her own spin-off show, so naturally her priorities are torn between keeping her adopted son, Luke, safe and helping out the other companions against the apocalypse. Like Jack, Sarah Jane is haunted by the Daleks, since she knows what they’re capable of and she’s the only classic series veteran around who’s had prior experience with their mad creator, Davros. During the second episode, Sarah Jane teams up with two unexpected latecomers to the party as Russell indulges in even more fanservice for the hell of it. Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), the defiant, gun-toting freedom fighter, naturally isn’t far from behind Rose, and neither is her mother, Jackie (Camille Camdouri), who’s come to have her daughter’s back (because even after four seasons, some things never change, like a certain someone’s overprotective streak). Surviving numerous alien invasions and fighting plenty of Cybermen offscreen has hardened Mickey over time and made him scruffier, to the point where he greatly resembles Rickey from “The Age Of Steel” now (in fact, I feel like Mickey has steadily grown hotter over the course of this show, which I completely approve of), and unlike a few of the others, his personal status quo is left permanently changed by the end of this two-parter (Mickey and Martha walking off together with Jack is all the development their relationship is going to get onscreen before they’re hitched the next time we see them in “The End Of Time”). Lastly, Harriet Jones is finally given a chance to redeem herself for her fall from grace in “The Christmas Invasion”, and is even given a bit of validation when it comes to the one good point she made in that episode, since she’s the one who unites the companions and gives them all the resources they’ll need in their darkest hour, having thought ahead and made a contingency plan for how they should handle an alien invasion in the Doctor’s absence.

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth Davros

We haven’t seen the Daleks, everyone’s favorite space Nazis, in a while now, not since their two-parter in early Series 3, which should have been a red flag in retrospect, since they’re never gone for long in this show. They’ve been growing in numbers and growing in strength offscreen, like they always do when they scamper off to lick their wounds, stealing planets for their own secret agenda, and now they’ve entered their endgame. They’ve created a doomsday weapon that will let them carry out their genocidal intentions on a massive scale, and they have their twisted father to thank for their surge in power. If the Daleks are space Nazis, they must surely have a Hitler analogue, the creator of their core ideology, and that would be Davros (Julian Bleach), who’s reintroduced to the franchise four years after them. Davros is very much an old school villain: a campy, vain, disabled and thoroughly evil mad scientist who smugly revels in chewing scenery. As a Social Darwinist, he is very proud of children, the products of his twisted imagination, even if they don’t respect him in return, and he had no problem mutilating himself for genetic material so he could rebuild them, stronger than ever. “The Stolen Earth” makes it clear that Davros is completely insane, even crazier than the Daleks are, who is beyond thrilled to finally be living out his genocidal fantasies, with an added bonus of getting some long-awaited revenge. However, he didn’t count on being backstabbed by Dalek Caan, a Dalek who went insane, allowing him to see how futile, pointless, and self-defeating their fanatic obsession with purity is. It’s really ironic that Dalek Caan is the one to turn to traitor, considering how quickly he threw Dalek Sec under the bus for the same crime of blasphemy, but also a fitting way to wrap up the Cult of Skaro arc that’s been going on since “Doomsday”. Davros gets left behind to his doom, but you needn’t worry: like the Doctor and his friends, Davros has way too much plot armor to be killed off. He’ll be back.

Like the previous episode, “The Stolen Earth” is directed by Grahame Harper, who brings his A-game to this two-parter by giving it a grand, sweeping sense of scope and scale with brisk tracking shots, majestic overhead shots, and confident wide shots that really take their time basking in the landscapes of the cosmos. Doctor Who has had a fair amount of low budget episodes recently, clearly saving away money for the season finale, and that decision paid off handsomely, since “The Stolen Earth” has some of the most gorgeous and smooth CGI you’ll see from the Mill in the RTD era, mainly involving the twenty-seven planets looming overhead in the Earth’s sky or floating adrift in the Medusa Cascade. Likewise, Murray Gold pulls out all the stops with his score for “The Stolen Earth”, giving it everything, writing some of the most bombastic, larger-than-life music you’ll find in the series. Under different circumstances, it would probably feel like overkill, but since the entire multiverse is at stake in this two-parter, the urgent and grandiose nature of Murray’s music is certainly warranted. “The Dark And Endless Dalek Night” roars to the heavens with an ominous, thundering choir, nicely capturing both the evil and pomposity of the Daleks. The direct counterpoint to the Daleks’ menacing theme is “A Pressing Need To Save The World“, the heroic electronic variant on “All the Strange Strange Creatures”, that really drives home the fact that while the Daleks might make up a fearsome armada, the Doctor and his resourceful human allies are quite a force to be reckoned with themselves. In the same vein, “Hanging On A Tablaphone” is a bouncy, determined and adrenaline-fueled techno beat that’s used extensively throughout the two episodes, while Murray beefs up the Ood song from earlier this season in the super sentimental “Song Of Freedom“, which backs the scene where the Doctor and his friends celebrate their victory, towing the Earth home.

As far as season finales go, “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End” sends out Series 4 of Doctor Who on one hell of a bang, and serves as a well-deserved victory lap for Russell T. Davies, his cast and his crew who brought Doctor Who back from the dead and made it a success for four years straight. There are still a few more specials to come after this two-parter, to tie up some remaining loose ends, but “The Stolen Earth” definitely signals the end of an era for the show.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth Ten Regenerating 4

* One of the extras in the prologue, the milkman, looks a lot like James Marsters, and it’s rather distracting to me.

* “It’s gone dark. It’s them aliens, I’ll bet my pension. What do you want this time, you green swine?!” “Dad…” “Look, you get back inside, Sylvia. They always want the women!” Wilfred, what the hell?

* “Right, now we’re in trouble, and it’s only just beginning!” Rose is ready, and so am I.

* “Indigo’s top secret, no one’s supposed to know about it” “I met a soldier in a bar, long story” “When was that?” “It was strictly professional” I see your saltiness, Ianto.

* Cool companions don’t look back at explosions, like our girl, Rose.

* “Oh, look at that. Twenty seven planets in perfect balance” As all things should be.

* “Are you saying bees are aliens?” “Don’t be so daft. Not all of them” Eh, that makes sense. If there are alien wasps in this show, there might as well be alien bees too. For all we know, they’re rivals.

* “The planets were stolen with hostile intent. We are declaring war, Doctor, right across the universe, and you will lead us into battle!” Oh honey, you really don’t know him well, do you?

* “You will come with us! Resistance is useless!” It’s ‘resistance is futile‘. That was such an easy quote and you butchered it, random Dalek.

* “Someone’s trying to get in touch” “The whole world’s crying out. Just leave it” “Captain Jack Harkness, shame on you! Now stand to attention, sir!

* “Oh, she can’t hear me. Have you got a webcam?” “No, she wouldn’t let me. She said they’re naughty”

* After a whole season of Martha being compared dis favorably to Rose, can I just say it feels weirdly satisfying to see Rose get jealous that Harriet called Martha and not her.

* “All the same, might I say, you’re looking good ma’am?” “Really? Ooo” “…Not now, captain”.

* “Martha Jones, former companion of the Doctor-” “So was I, and I was here first!” Rose, honey, focus.

* “Marvelous woman. I voted for her” “You did not!”

* I always chuckle at that shot of Rose, Wilf and Sylvia furiously, desperately texting to save the world.

* “Harriet Jones, former prime minister” “Yes, we know who you are” I did not expect the Daleks, of all people, to get in on that running gag.

* “That’s Martha! And who’s he?” “Captain Jack. Don’t… just don’t, Donna”.

* “Your voice is different and yet, it’s arrogance is unchanged” Savage, Davros.

* “After all this time, everything we saw, everything we lost, I have only one thing to say to you. Bye!”

* When that Dalek interrupts Ten and Rose’s reunion, there’s a brief moment of terror where you’ve really not sure which one of them he’s going to shoot. Of course, it wouldn’t make sense for him to waste time killing some woman when the Doctor is standing right there, but I really wouldn’t past Russell to bring Rose back just to kill her off.

* As an aside, can I say that it’s kind of a dick move how the Doctor rarely ever gives his friends a heads-up about what regeneration is and what to expect until he’s right on death’s door? Because Donna is completely lost and freaking out during the cliffhanger.

* “Jackie Tyler, Rose’s mum. Now where the hell is my daughter?”

* “Aww. You can hug me, if you want” Heh” “No, really. You can hug me” Donna’s usual thirstiness levels hit the roof in this finale.

* “It’s been good, though, hasn’t it? All of us. All of it. Everything we did. You were brilliant. And you were brilliant. And you were brilliant. Blimey” Everyone’s brilliant.

* “No. Oh, you are kidding me. No way. One heart. I’ve only got one heart. This body has got only one heart!” “What, like you’re human?” “Oh, that’s disgusting!” “Oi!” Dial back your racism, Doctor.

* “I can see, Donna, what you’re thinking. All that attitude, all that lip, because all this time you think you’re not worth it. Shouting at the world because no one’s listening. Well, why should they? But look at what you did”.

* “Oh, that’s it. The anger, the fire, the rage of a Time Lord who butchered millions. There he is. Why so shy? Show your companion. Show her your true self”.

* “Across the entire universe. Never stopping, never faltering, never fading. People and planets and stars will become dust, and the dust will become atoms, and the atoms will become nothing. And the wavelength will continue, breaking through the Rift at the heart of the Medusa Cascade into every dimension, every parallel, every single corner of creation. This is my ultimate victory, Doctor! The destruction of reality itself!”

* “Just my luck. I climb through two miles of ventilation shafts, chasing life signs on this thing, and who do I find? Mickey Mouse” “You can talk, Captain Cheesecake” “Aww, it’s good to see you. And that’s Beefcake” Now kiss.

* “The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your Children of Time, transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor. You made this”.

* “Supreme Dalek, the time has come. Now, DETONATE THE REALITY BOMB!” Bless Julian Bleach, he went all in with this role.

* “I was wrong about your warriors, Doctor. They are pathetic” Savage, Davros.

* “So there’s three of you?” “Three Doctors?” “I can’t tell you what I’m thinking right now” Jack, you naughty naughty boy.

* “Never forget, Doctor, YOU DID THIS! I name you, forever, you are the Destroyer of Worlds!” I’ll never forget how Davros is officially the biggest hypocrite in this show. Mass genocide is totally awesome, so long as it’s directed towards other people.

* Much like the Doctor igniting the Earth’s atmosphere in “The Poison Sky” without any lasting ecological consequences (that we saw anyway), the climax of this story requires the audience to suspend their disbelief quite a bit, when the Doctor and his friends manually tow the Earth back to it’s old spot in space, without killing a good chunk of the people living on the planet in the process (again, there might have been causalities, but the Doctor and company certainly didn’t see them).

* “Now we can fly this thing- No, Jackie. No, no. Not you. Don’t touch anything. Just stand back” Damn, Ten.

* Oh my God, imagine if Davros had actually taken Ten up on his offer, and during the gang’s joyful, feel-good moment of piloting the TARDIS home, Davros was just sitting there in the corner, swearing vengeance on them all the whole time.

* “You know, I’m not sure about UNIT these days. Maybe there’s something else you could be doing?” Captain Jack, shame on you, trying to steal UNIT’s employees just because you’re understaffed.

* Neither Ten or Rose will be winning any points in the sensitivity department during their last scene together. First, the Doctor decides to take Rose back to the exact same beach where she got her heart broken the last time to drop her off (classy Doctor, very classy), and then Rose decides to make out with clone Ten while the original Ten is still standing right there.

* “I want to stay” “Look at me. Donna, look at me” “…I was going to be with you forever. The rest of my life, traveling in the TARDIS. The Doctor-Donna” Ouch.

* “I just want you to know there are worlds out there, safe in the sky because of her. That there are people living in the light, and singing songs of Donna Noble, a thousand million light years away. They will never forget her, while she can never remember. And for one moment, one shining moment, she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Stolen Earth Davros 6

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Doctor Who: Turn Left (2008) Review

Doctor Who Turn Left Rose

During “The Fires Of Pompeii“, Lucius Dextrus sneered at Donna Noble that she had something creeping on her back, a rather ominous warning that was quickly forgotten about by our heroes as they rushed to preserve ancient history. But as Series 4 of Doctor Who starts to draw to a close, that prophecy is finally going to be fulfilled in “Turn Left”. “Turn Left” is the annual Doctor-lite episode of the season, in which David Tennant is given a respite, only appearing in the first and last scenes of the episode to bookend the story. Unlike “Love And Monsters” and “Blink“, which put the focus on one-off characters, “Turn Left” is a centered entirely around the current companion, giving us a Donna-centric episode that lets Catherine Tate shine (and I would say it’s tied with “The Fires Of Pompeii” as the quintessential Donna episode). The previous episode, “Midnight“, tackled a classic type of sci-fi story, the bottle episode, and “Turn Left” does the same with another classic sci-fi trope: the ‘what-if?’ one-shot story. A story that’s set inside an alternate timeline, exploring how differently a main character’s life could have gone for the worse if they had made different choices. Naturally, since Russell T. Davies has the freedom to do whatever he wants in an alternate timeline, “Turn Left” is one of the darker episodes of the series and a large divergence from Doctor Who’s usual formula. The overall tone of this story is very gloomy and bleak, as things grow worse and worse for the UK without the Doctor around. There are little glimmers of hope and brief moments of levity between all the death and depression, but they never last long before the rug is pulled out from under the audience again. “Turn Left” is the penultimate story of the season, the calm before the storm that sets the stage for the two-part finale. Except, unlike it’s rough equivalent from Series 3, “Utopia“, it’s generally considered to be a separate story from “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End“.

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During a fun trip to a future planet, Donna is tricked by a manipulative fortuneteller and her leech of a partner into rewriting her own history, creating an alternate timeline where she never the Doctor. Despite Donna having no memory of what changed, there are cracks in her mirage of a normal life – people can still sense the creature feeding off her, even if they can’t see it, and she often catches them staring at her in horror. It’s a fantastically creepy concept, and it’s most effective when the creature is left to our imaginations. When we actually see the beetle monster at the episode’s end, it looks very plastic, like the shark from “Jaws”.  While it’s been clear before, “Turn Left” makes it especially apparent how the Doctor’s influence has changed Donna for the better. In this episode, Donna is reset to the person she was in “The Runaway Bride” who was pretty self-absorbed and struggled to see past her own corner in the world. There’s one scene where Donna is disturbingly callous about hundreds of people disappearing, and is more concerned about getting fired. This reminder of where Donna started from really makes you appreciate how much she’s grown over Series 4, and it also makes it all the more painful to see her be permanently reset for real in the following finale. A major aspect of this episode is how much the world needs the Doctor to fight off monsters, but “Turn Left” also makes it clear how much the Doctor needs a companion to keep his flaws in check: how Ten and Donna are both important in their own ways. Donna saved the Doctor’s life in “The Runaway Bride“. Without her there to do that, a domino effect is set in motion in this episode that ultimately leads to the world ending. As a Donna-centric episode, “Turn Left” devotes a lot of time to exploring the Noble family dynamic. We see more of Donna’s delightful father-daughter relationship with Wilf, and the horrible way Sylvia speaks to her, which would wear down anyone eventually.

As Britain’s society steadily collapses, Donna is forced to deal with her home being destroyed, her government falling, and more and more people dying everyday. She tries to take a page from Wilf’s book and keep up the family’s morale, but her relatives lose hope and give into depression. Sylvia in particular is haunted by the devastation and becomes a shell of her former self; she gives up on living because in her eyes, there’s nothing worth living for. Donna’s main character flaw, her painfully low amount of self-worth, has been hinted at since her first appearance and is often the source of her troubles, but it’s put on full display during the final stretch of episodes in Series 4 (the climax of her character arc), and is exacerbated by the horrible circumstances in “Turn Left”. In this bleak dystopia, Donna can’t find work to support her family when they need it the most and she feels useless, and even after all this time, some part of her still wants her distant mother’s approval. Donna doesn’t understand how she can help to save the world, when she doesn’t think she’s worth much and she can’t even help herself (Catherine turns in another viscerally raw performance when Donna finally snaps under the pressure and lashes out at Rose). The truly brilliant thing is “Turn Left” demonstrates that Donna always had the potential in her to be extraordinary. The Doctor showed it to her in the main timeline, but even without him around here, she still does what she has to and steps up to save the world. Donna certainly isn’t perfect, and she’s sometimes annoying, but she is so very human, embodying some of the best bits of humanity when it counts. “Turn Left” is also the point where Russell’s foreshadowing about her destiny really starts to ramp up. Even after she’s already committed suicide in one timeline to fix the world, there’s still something major coming for her in her future, something that will apparently end with her life ending. Donna is officially a cursed woman.

Doctor Who Turn Left Rose 3

After it’s been constantly teased throughout Series 4, Rose Tyler finally makes her big guest return to the show in “Turn Left”. Since the RTD era will be coming to an end in a few more stories, Davies has decided to bring his showrunning tenure full circle by bringing back the companion who started it all in 2005, giving Ten and Rose some much-needed closure. Rose has obviously changed a lot since we last saw her in “Doomsday” (though her insensitive streak has remained as one of her personality flaws). When you watch “Turn Left” for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking Rose died offscreen and became a ghost at some point, since that’s certainly the way she’s written and portrayed in this episode. There’s something very eerie and dreamlike about Rose in this episode: how she constantly seems detached from the world around her and uncertain, while also being strangely omniscient. Apparently, Billie Piper had forgotten how to play Rose in the gap between Series 2 and 4 and needed to rewatch some of her older performances to refresh herself, which partially explains why Rose feels so different in this episode (and why her performance in the following two-parter feels more in line with Series 1 & 2 Rose). Rose has become a dimensional traveler who’s main goal is to reunite with the Doctor and give him an important warning. As someone who exists outside of time, Rose is the only one who knows the world has gone wrong and tries to find out why. A former companion and a current companion meeting is always a welcome pleasure in the RTD era, but Rose’s connection with Donna is quite different and special. Rose is essentially a ghost of Donna’s future who wanders in and out of her life, guiding her towards answers. We, the audience, know more about Rose than Donna does, but there are still several unanswered questions as Russell drops tantalizing hints about the series arc, like how Rose keeps appearing everywhere and why she seems to know so much, having become more like the Doctor now.

Russell T. Davies had a noticeable writing habit of portraying the Doctor as some sort of messiah figure for the people of Earth (which came to a head in “Last Of The Time Lords”, where Ten literally rejuvenated himself with the power of humanity’s belief in him), and that trend crops up again in “Turn Left”. A recurring theme throughout the RTD era is how important the Doctor’s role in the show is, in-universe, and how much people need him. In Ten’s first episode, “The Christmas Invasion“, Britain suffered through an alien invasion that would have been easy for the Doctor to defeat, because he was recuperating at the time from his new regeneration. In the latter half of Series 3, episodes like “42“, “Human Nature” and “Last Of The Time Lords” put Martha under intense pressure, having to stand on her own against dangerous villains without the wisdom of the Doctor to help her. “Turn Left” takes this idea and plays it out on a massive scale, by exploring what kind of consequences there would be for mankind if the Doctor was totally absent, considering how often aliens invade the Earth in this show. All the invasions we’ve seen in Series 3 and 4, even the goofier ones like the Adipose’s, have much greater causalities and ramifications, killing thousands of people and destroying the economies of nations. The Doctor’s friends and allies all die standing in for him, since they’re in way over their heads, but it’s the only thing they can do to help. The TARDIS, the heart of the series and the franchise mascot, wastes away in silence, since she loves the Doctor and has a symbiotic relationship with him. The Doctor’s world has always been pretty dark – it’s a universe where stone statues can destroy your entire life in the blink of an eye, shadows can strip the flesh right off your bones, and unknown monsters can steal your voice and your body from you – but “Turn Left” is the first time it feels empty and depressing. In this story, the Whoniverse runs out of heroes and runs out of hope as everything gradually decays.

Doctor Who Turn Left Refugees

The UK gradually turns into a post-apocalyptic hellhole as society collapses. We never get any insight into what’s running through the minds of government officials as they make crucial decisions about how they should proceed onwards, about who lives and who dies, we only see the consequences on the ground level and how they affect the average citizens like Donna’s family and her neighbors, and in many ways, that makes things even creepier. By the third act, Britian is running dangerously low on resources with so many homeless people to house and feed, and every other nation out there has closed their borders to tend to their own problems, so a choice is made to get rid of all the nation’s immigrants by hauling them off to concentration camps. Holy shit. One disturbing scene has Donna’s neighbor try to be brave and pretend to be okay about his fate, and while Donna is pretty slow to freak out at first, since the Nazis were well before her time, Wilf immediately makes the connection and breaks down crying. The fact that the British government would stoop that low once the nation was in tatters and there was nothing around to keep them in check touches upon a pretty harsh and ugly conclusion the previous episode, “Midnight”, made about humanity and magnifies it: when circumstances get really bad, when people get desperate, and when they want to secure the survival of their own at all costs, it takes far less than the Doctor would like to believe for some people to turn into monsters. “Turn Left” makes it clear that without the Doctor around to keep history in check, the Earth would quickly die. Even after the timeline is fixed and everything is back in place, the ending cliffhanger of this story makes it clear that everyone is still in danger, and that the worst is still to come. Someone or something out there is doing something evil that’s putting the whole multiverse in danger, and the people of Earth need their Doctor now more than ever.

“Turn Left” is once again handed over to Grahame Harper, a veteran in the industry, who’s direction takes a major step up from his rather flat work in “The Unicorn And The Wasp“. Harper’s direction is definitely more muted and low-key than usual, to match the downbeat tone of this story. There are a lot of low-angle shots, as well as some tastefully staged shots that have fun obscuring objects in the background – like Rose running up towards the camera from a distance, or Donna trying and failing to get her depressed mother’s attention – which calls to mind all those sweet shots Harper filmed of the Cybermen in “The Age Of Steel” that always kept them just out of focus. Like “The Unicorn And The Wasp” and “Midnight”, “Turn Left” is clearly intended to be one of the more low-budget episodes of the season, despite having a lot of location shooting. There’s barely any CGI used from the Mill, and most of what does appear is recycled from older episodes in Series 3 and 4 (there’s also a pretty unconvincing effect of the atmosphere igniting at night at one point, which looked a lot better in “The Poison Sky“). The show seems to be saving up most of its special effects budget so it can spend it on the following two-part finale, one of the most expensive stories in the RTD era, and that was a decision that paid off massively. Unlike his work in the previous episode, Murray Gold’s score in “Turn Left” incorporates a lot of recurring themes and motifs throughout Series 4, like “Midnight”, “Life Among The Distant Stars”, and “A Pressing Need To Save The World”. With his new material, Gold often blends acoustic guitars and electric guitars with a synthesizer, particularly in the title theme “Turn Left” (which features a rather ghostly and distorted version of “The Doctor’s Theme”), as well as “A Dazzling End” and “The Rueful Fate Of Donna Noble” (the former of which seems to be built upon the same melody as “The Mad Man With A Box” in Series 5).

As a journey down a more morbid path, “Turn Left” is a rather haunting episode of Doctor Who that won’t be easily forgotten, since it also marks the beginning of the end for Donna’s time in the TARDIS: with the two-part finale right on the horizon, nothing will ever be the same after this episode.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Turn Left Noble Women 4

* “Oh, I know why you want a job at HC Clements, lady. Because you think you’ll meet a man with lots of money and your whole life will change. Well let me tell you, sweetheart. City executives don’t need temps, except for practice” Can I just say I always laugh at Sylvia’s exaggerated face on that line?

* “Look, I can’t deliver. I’m losing a fortune” “Well, sack one of this lot! Sack Cliff. He just sits there. Don’t know what he does all day. Sorry, Cliff. Actually, I’m not sorry. What do you do all day?”

* “Thanks for nothing! Oh, and you know when that money went missing from the kitty? Anne-Marie, that’s all I’m saying. Anne-Marie!”

* “I can’t believe how well you’re taking it, me getting sacked. I thought you’d hit the roof” “I’m just tired, Donna, what with your father and everything. To be honest, I’ve given up on you” Damn, Sylvia.

* “Be classy. Dad, take those things off” “No, I shan’t. It’s Christmas!”

* “Sweetheart, come on. You’re not going to make the world any better by shouting at it!” “I can try”.

* “Ah, well. We’ll settle in, won’t we? Make do? Bit of wartime spirit, eh?” “Yeah, but there isn’t a war. There’s no fight. It’s just this” Already, the depression is setting in.

* One of the most annoying things about the RTD era is how, every time there’s a modern day invasion story, we always cut away to coverage on the local news. It’s getting old. Plus, there’s usually these extreme close-ups all the way to the reporters’ lips, and I do not want to see that.

* “Mary McGinty. Do you remember her? She worked in the newsagent on Sunday. Little woman. Black hair. She’ll be dead. Every day I think of someone else. All dead”.

* “The whole world is stinking. How can anything be worse than this?!” “Trust me, we need the Doctor more than ever. I’ve been pulled across from a different universe because every single universe is in danger. It’s coming, Donna. It’s coming from across the stars and nothing can stop it… the darkness”.

* “I need you to come with me” “Yeah. Well, blonde hair might work on the men, but you ain’t shifting me, lady”.

* “You were right. You said I should have worked harder at school. I suppose I’ve always been a disappointment” “Yeah” Wow, Sylvia. Just wow.

* “Look, look there! They’re going out. Oh, my God! Donna, look. The stars are going out!”

* “I’m ready! Because I understand now. You said I was going to die, but you mean this whole world is going to blink out of existence. But that’s not dying, because a better world takes its place. The Doctor’s world. And I’m still alive. That’s right, isn’t it? I don’t die. If I change things, I don’t die. That’s that’s right, isn’t it?” “…I’m sorry” That was some really great dialogue from Russell T. Davies. He held out that moment just long enough to make the viewers feel deeply uncomfortable, and it always gives me a chill.

* It’s times like these that Donna really regrets not being in better shape. Between Pete’s sacrifice in “Father’s Day”, John’s sacrifice in “The Family Of Blood”, and Donna’s sacrifice in “Turn Left”, heroic suicide is a rather dark trope that the RTD era is very fond of.

* “What the hell is that?!” A really plastic beetle, Donna.

* “What was her name?” “I don’t know. But she told me to warn you. She said two words: bad wolf”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Turn Left Chinatown 2

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Doctor Who: Midnight (2008) Review

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The ghost train ride that is the second half of Doctor Who’s fourth season continues to chug along at a steady pace with “Midnight”, penned by showrunner Russell T. Davies. “Midnight” and “Turn Left” are quite an interesting pair of episodes written by Russell that juxtapose each other. By now, you’re aware that the show occasionally does ‘Doctor-lite’ episodes like “Love And Monsters” and “Blink“, that barely feature the main characters to make things easier on the regular cast’s filming schedule. With Series 4, Russell decided to diverge from the usual formula, divide things up and write a Doctor-lite episode and a companion-lite episode, so David and Catherine could take center stage in their own adventures, with “Midnight” being Ten’s solo adventure. “Midnight” is a bottle episode, a TV practice dating back decades that’s designed to be a low-budget story by only having one or two locations (Doctor Who previously tried it’s hand at a bottle episode with “The Edge Of Destruction” back in 1964), and funnily enough, “Midnight” still wound up being quite an expensive production, because of how many complicated takes had to be done to sync up all the actors’ voices. It takes some pretty sharp writing to keep the audience’s attention and engage them with an episode that’s set almost entirely in one room, and “Midnight” turned out to be one of Russell T. Davies’ best scripts. As a slow-burning character study, it dives into some pretty deep psychological horror that can hit a bit too close to home for the viewers,, shining a full, ugly, unrelenting light on how mob mentality can corrupt the most seemingly ordinary people and drive them to kill in a terrifyingly short amount of time, with just the right circumstances. Notably, “Midnight” is also the last small-scale adventure we’ll be having in Series 4, before Rose Tyler returns to the series to usher in the big, world-ending finale.

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Donna has decided to spend some leisure time lounging in a futuristic spa (and after the traumatic experience she had in the Library in the last episode, I’d say she could use some relaxation), so the Tenth Doctor is flying solo this week. As we’ve seen throughout Series 4, the Tenth Doctor is a very outgoing, extroverted guy who loves to socialize and make new friends while he’s sight-seeing, so on his trip across the planet, it doesn’t take him long to strike up a rapport with his fellow travelers. And once his voyage starts to go wrong, he makes his usual promise to keep them all safe from harm – before things start to go south. Ten has pretty good people skills, when he’s not putting his foot in his mouth, but in this episode, the Doctor’s usual methods of handling a crisis and keeping order completely and utterly fail him, and in some cases, even backfire on him. The Doctor elects himself leader of the survival efforts, assuming he’s the best man for the job since he’s the smartest one in the room, but the other passengers quickly decide that they do not want him calling the shots for them. Ten has a haughty, sanctimonious streak in him (we’ve seen it a few times this season in stories like “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Doctor’s Daughter“), and the other passengers do not appreciate him instantly assuming moral authority over them, when as far as they know, he’s just some dude. Ten loves a good mystery, and despite the incredibly high amount of danger they’re in, he can’t hide his fascination with the monster of the week, which the others find appalling as they grow steadily irrational. Eventually, they realize they don’t actually know anything about the Doctor, and he stands apart from all of them as someone who’s not human, someone who’s an outsider. The Doctor is basically walking on hot coals with the humans in this episode, losing patience with them as his situation grows worse and worse, until he’s completely lost control for once by the last act, leading to one of the worst experiences of Ten’s life.

I feel like “Midnight” is an episode that really benefits from it’s placement in the season, coming right off the heels of “Forest Of The Dead“, because while these two stories have a pretty similar set-up, their outcomes are the complete antithesis of each other. In the previous episode, the Doctor encouraged a group of people to trust him to face down unknowable monsters out to kill them all, and despite all the loss and heartbreak they suffered, the Doctor did come through for them in the end, doing what he does best, ending that story on a hopeful note. Here, there’s no optimism to be found: the Doctor’s attempts to help fail miserably, the humans actually turn on him and try to get rid of him themselves, the monster gains the upper hand, and the Doctor is left completely and utterly broken by his ordeal. After “Forest Of The Dead” lulled you into a false sense of security when it comes to how competent and reliable the Doctor is, seeing him totally fail and be overwhelmed here, by the villain of the week and the very same people he was trying to help, is quite a jarring and effective shock. After all the fearsome enemies he’s bested, it’s a rather terrifying dose of reality to see that all it really takes to potentially end the Doctor for good is to trap him in a room full of angry, terrified, murderous people out for blood who can overpower him. And this adventure certainly left quite an impact on the Doc and his view of humanity. Three seasons down the line, Eleven claims that he would rather deal with Daleks than a mob full of scared, desperate, unpredictable people – so make of that remark what you will. Since the Doctor undergoes mental torture easily on par with what he experienced in “42“, David Tennant gets to once again demonstrate how great of a facial actor he is when the monster takes Ten’s voice. While his tone stays flat and montone as he’s forced to repeat his lines, Ten’s shell-shocked eyes look completely and utterly terrified, crying out for help, during the entire climax.

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Like with “Voyage Of The Damned“, Russell gives us a pretty large and diverse group of personalities in the supporting cast of “Midnight”. There’s the Hostess, an employee on the tour bus who always tries to do her job with a fake, cheery smile, but is really concealing a lot of inner darkness. Professor Hobbes, a blustering know-it all who’s very stuck in his ways, something a man of science should never be. He often talks down to his assistant Dee-Dee, who’s implied to be smarter and more attentive than him, and truthfully he considers her a nuisance – so a lot of his true colors come out, revealing quite a nasty streak to him, when things get heated later on. There’s the nagging wife Val, her brutish, hotheaded husband Biff, and their rebellious, emo son Jethro (played by a very recognizable Colin Morgan), who’s not on good terms with them. Lastly, there’s the introverted lesbian, Sky, who, unlike the others, prefers to keep to herself. She seems to have a great deal of anxiety, freaking out the most when things go south, and has apparently just left an abusive relationship before she’s attacked by the monster and possessed. The main theme of “Midnight” is fear, and how it easily brings out the worst in people. Once the monster strands the Doctor and his fellow passengers out in the middle of nowhere, having already killed several people, they feed off each other’s paranoia and desperation, and despite the Doctor’s best efforts to keep everyone calm, all they do is gang up on him with suspicion over and over again. Cool heads do not prevail when everyone is an irrational mess, whipping themselves up into a frenzy, until eventually mass hysteria reigns unchallenged and mob mentality starts to set in. It’s the Hostess, the last person you’d expect, who keeps escalating things past the point of no return. The creature possessing Sky killed her co-workers, and she hates it for that, so she suggests that they all toss it out of the airlock – kill it before it kills them – killing Sky as well as a consequence.

The RTD era of Doctor Who has never shied away from exploring the uglier side of human nature – in fact, I love the cynical undercurrent that runs through Russell’s best episodes – and “Midnight” makes it clear that it takes far less than the Doctor would like to believe for humans to devolve into savage, tribalistic animals. Over the course of this episode, the passengers go completely insane, and the terrifying thing is how quickly it happens. At one point, the Doctor scolds them all and asks them if they’re really capable of killing Sky to save themselves, his usual method of shaming people to talk some sense into them, and then he discovers that oh yes, they very much are – and that is the point when the Doctor starts to get scared, as he realizes he greatly overestimated the moral character of these people and he’s also trapped in a confined space with them. Since the Doc keeps getting in their way, they simply decide to get rid of him too. Eventually, the monster does exactly what the Doctor warned them it would to do, try to become one of them, but they’re too lost in their own madness in see it, and they let themselves be played as it spurs on their hatred and fear and tells them what they want to hear. Biff and Val in particular are baying for blood by the climax, and they even drag their teenage son into their murder attempt. Eventually, they start turning on each other – any dissenting voices that go against the collective are threatened and silenced as things reach a fever pitch – and a few of them do realize things have gone way too far, but none of them try to stop it. Eventually, the Hostess realizes the creature is playing them, so two toxic ladies are sucked out into a toxic planet when she gets rid of it herself. My only regret is that the rest of those crazy-ass people weren’t sucked out into space with them. Instead, for the rest of their lives, they’ll have to live with the knowledge that they’re 100% capable of murdering people in cold blood like feral, deranged monsters – so those are gonna be some fun memories.

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All the trouble and terror in the episode is kicked off by the Doctor’s tour bus having to venture off the beaten path, taking a detour into uncharted territory (and considering the violent hijacking that follows, the circumstances that made them have to change their route seem very suspect). The episode’s setting, the planet Midnight, is a toxic, barren world roasted by solar radiation with a hostile atmosphere. It’s meant to be a planet devoid of life where nothing could survive, and yet that assumption is proven to be completely wrong. Like the Weeping Angels and the Vashta Nerada, the creature in this episode taps into an innate fear of the unknown – the less the viewers know about it, the creepier it is, but from what we see, it’s very clearly a predator. It comes out the wilderness, targets the tourist shuttle, plays games with the passengers to instill fear into them (and it does a very good job of that), it picks out the best host – the one drawing the most attention to herself as she’s crying and screaming out with fear – before it strands them in the middle of nowhere and possesses Sky. For the rest of the hour, Sky has these blank, glassy, dead eyes (courtesy of some fine acting by Lesley Sharp, essentially playing a zombie), making it clear the creature emptied her out and climbed inside, and she moves in a very inhuman way – like a fish or an eel, rather than a person. The monster mimics them to learn about their species and learn about their language, and as the Doctor correctly guesses, it does not have good intentions for doing so. First it talks in sync with them, then it talks before them, and then, with enough exposure, it latches onto their minds and forms a telepathic link with them, so it can take control of their bodies.

The back and forth scenes of the passengers talking and the monster repeating are very gripping and creepy, and they took a hell of lot of effort from the cast and crew to get right, resulting in this episode having a high number of takes. The Midnight creature is cold and unknowable, but it’s also intelligent: it sees the humans turning on the Doctor and quickly decides to use that to its advantage. It singles out the Doctor and throws fuel on the fire, making him a target of the mob so it can worm its way into the humans’ ranks and trick them into taking them back to civilization, where it can find even more prey – and since the humans in this episode are pretty terrible people, they made it quite easy for it. Like “The Satan Pit“, the episode has an open-ending, even after the monster is dispatched, and “Midnight” is all the better for that ambiguity. Despite the Hostess giving up her life to stop it, we still don’t know if she actually killed that creature, since it’s already adapted to live in Midnight’s hostile atmosphere. In all likelihood, it’s probably still out there, waiting for its next chance to get off-world, and unless it’s the only one of its kind, there should be plenty more like it roaming around the planet’s surface – so that’s some lovely food for thought. After the close encounter with the Vashta Nerada in the Library, “Midnight” is also the second episode in a row after “Forest Of The Dead” where the Doctor freely admits the villain is too powerful to be beaten, even by him, and he simply advises the humans to abandon the planet, declare it unsafe, and leave the monster of the week to its own devices for their own good, and I like that trend. As I mentioned in “Planet Of The Ood“, the Doctor can sometimes feel a bit too invincible in this show, so I like when he’s put in a more vulnerable position or he doesn’t always have a long-lasting solution to the problem other than getting as far away as possible.

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“Midnight” is directed by Alice Throughton, who previously helmed “The Doctor’s Daughter” and did it an impressive job with it, and she really takes her directing game to the next level in this episode. It’s not easy to create a suspenseful atmosphere and maintain a tense, uneasy feeling of claustrophobia throughout a low-budget episode that only has one or two locations, but Alice manages to do that with a lot of carefully chosen shots of the passengers, designed to make the audience feel as uncomfortable as possible (in particular, that shot of Biff lowering his hands around the Doctor’s neck always give me a bit of a chill, because for a few moments, it legitimately looks like the man is going to strangle him). “Midnight” has some of the best work we’ve seen from the show’s editors since Series 3, with plenty of rapidly changing cuts and close-ups that bombard the audience and threaten to overwhelm them, really putting you into the characters’ mindsets (least of all the Doctor’s) as things spiral further and further out of control throughout the hour. As a money-saving episode, CGI from the Mill is used very sparingly, mainly for a few establishing shots of the planet’s surface, so the small number of pristine environments that we get a glimpse of throughout the episode are all created pretty well. Murray Gold’s score for “Midnight” definitely stands apart as something unique from the rest of his work for Series 4. Like most of his music in “Planet Of The Ood”, “Midnight’s” score doesn’t rely on any pre-existing melodies and is comprised entirely of new material. The title theme of the episode is filled with itchy, deeply unsettling strings, clinking piano keys, and finally rumbling horns to symbolize the passengers’ growing madness. The main theme is used extensively throughout the episode, rarely ever far away, to really underline the constricting claustrophobia inside the tour bus, along with the subtle creepiness of “Davros“.

After twelve years, “Midnight” is still one of Doctor Who’s spookiest episodes, and an excellent example of how a great story can be told with a limited amount of resources, with a little creativity and a lot of talent.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes

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* “And you be careful, alright?” “Nah, I’m taking a big space truck with a bunch of strangers across a diamond planet called Midnight? What could possibly go wrong?” Doctor, you sweet summer child.

* “Four hours of fun time. Enjoy!” Lady, that cascade of noise was a full-on assault on their eardrums, not to mention maximum cringe.

* “We’ve got four hours of this? Four hours of just sitting here?” “Tell you what. We’ll have to talk to each other instead!” Be careful what you wish for Ten. They’ll be doing plenty of talking alright – mainly talking about getting rid of you.

* “Oho, we’ve broken down! In the middle of nowhere” You’re a very morbid lad, Jethro.

* “Did you see that? That ridge. There was like a shadow. Just for a second. Like something shifting. Something sort of dark, like it was running” “Running which way?” “Towards us” Oh dear.

* “It’s coming for me! It’s coming for me! It’s coming for me! It’s coming for me! IT’S COMING FOR ME!” Well, she’s not wrong there.

* Rose has another cameo here, like the one in “The Poison Sky”. Except now, her message has appeared several centuries into the future. Does this mean Rose is somehow broadcasting it across all of time and space, like the Pandorica? I know Torchwood has plenty of resources, but since when are they that powerful?

* “That noise from outside. It’s stopped. But what if it’s not outside anymore? What if it’s inside? It was heading for her”.

* “We must not look at goblin men. We must not buy their fruits. Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry, thirsty roots?”

* “No, I’ve got to stay back, because if she’s copying us, then maybe the final stage is becoming us. I don’t want her becoming me, or things could get a whole lot worse”.

* “I say we throw her out!” Oh, wow.

* “This is where you decide. You decide who you are. Could you actually murder her? Any of you? Really? Or are you better than that?” “I’d do it!” “So would I!” And from this point onwards, Ten was basically trying in vain to save a sinking ship.

* “Even if he goes, he’s practically volunteered!” “Do you mean we throw him out as well?!” “If we have to” Hot damn, the Hostess is in top-tier treachery mode in the second half of this episode – I both love it and I hate it.

* “But how did you know what to do?!” “BECAUSE I’M CLEVER!” Luke Rattigan approves of your outburst, Doctor.

* “It’s inside his head. It killed the driver, and the mechanic, and now it wants us. He’s waited so long in the dark and the cold and the diamonds, until you came. Bodies so hot with blood and pain”.

* “I think you should be quiet, Dee” “Well, I’m only saying” “And that’s an order! You’re making a fool of yourself, pretending you’re an expert in mechanics and hydraulics, when I can tell you, you are nothing more than average at best. Now shut up!” Damn, bitch, you’ve been thinking that for a while, haven’t you?

* “I said it was her” Val, shut the fuck up, you two-faced coward. The Hostess was the main instigator of all of this, and I still have more respect for her than you, because at least she put her money where her mouth was it counted. Despite constantly screaming for the Doctor to be thrown out, I noticed Val didn’t get her own hands dirty during the murder attempt. Instead, she just stood to the side, letting the men do it. I wonder why.

* “Molto bene” “No, don’t do that. Don’t. Just don’t” Ouch. Poor Ten.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Midnight Leisure Palace 2

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Doctor Who: Series 4, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Doctor Who: Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead (2008) Review

Doctor Who Silence In The Library Ten & Donna 5

“Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead”, penned by Steven Moffat, is not only one of my favorite adventures that he’s written for the series, it’s one of my favorite Doctor Who stories in general, and it proves to have a lot of long-lasting consequences for the series that extend beyond David Tennant’s tenure. As per the name, “Silence In The Library” is set inside the world’s biggest library in the future. It’s the size of a planet, but it’s completely empty and deserted – something happened to it a long time ago to clear out all life entirely, something that’s still lingering around now, creating a deliciously eerie and uneasy atmosphere throughout the first episode. Like all of Steven Moffat’s best two-parters, “Silence In The Library” does a great job of juggling half a dozen different plot threads across two episodes without dropping the ball on any of them, weaving them into each other and wrapping them all up neatly and satisfyingly. The first episode takes it time doing some world-building, establishing the surreal setting of this future era, but there’s never a moment wasted and it rarely ever drags. As the Vashta Verada close in, ready to strike, the tension steadily rises up until it boils over for a rousing second episode. Like most of the RTD era seasons, the tone of Series 4 gets a lot darker in its second half, with the stretch of episodes between “Silence In The Library” and “Journey’s End” being quite the ghost train ride. Every one of these six episodes features some different type of horror, and “Silence In The Library” has a nice variety of grim, macabre concepts: like carnivorous shadows that eat people, technology that can store fading echoes of people’s consciousness after they die, people donating their faces to the Library, and small children realizing their entire existence is a lie dependent on someone else’s delusion, before they vanish into nothingness. “Silence In The Library” is quite a creepy two-parter.

Doctor Who Silence In The Library River Song 4

Impressively, David Tennant turns in one of his best performances as the Tenth Doctor in this two-parter – firing on all cylinders with a high level of emotional intensity in both episodes – and it helps that “Silence In The Library” gives him plenty of interesting material to work with. The plot is kicked off when a jovial, spellbound, yet cautiously suspicious Ten is summoned to the Library by a mysterious contact because there might be danger there, and sure enough, it’s not long before he needs to put his genius to good use, solving the mystery of what’s haunting the planet. Over the course of this two-parter, archaeologists get killed off rapidly, the Doctor loses his friend in an attempt to keep her safe, every attempt to be a diplomat between the humans and the Vashta Nerada gets him nowhere, time starts to run out when the whole library goes into meltdown, and the Doctor is frequently distracted by River Song, who he tries to figure out without much luck. The Doctor’s mind is constantly racing in this story, trying to juggle so many things at once that he sometimes misses important clues. Luckily, he has River’s trust and support to help keep him steady. The Doctor is very guarded around River, who seems to know more about him than she should, until she whispers his real name into his ear – meaning that her claims that someday she’ll be someone very important to him checks out. “Silence In The Library” never outright states what her relationship with him is, but it doesn’t have to – she’s very clearly a future lover of his, and in the context of the RTD era and the Doctor Who revival so far, this is a really big deal. Ever since 2005, Rose has been the Doctor’s main love interest: a major thread throughout Series 3 was the Doctor longing for Rose, a significant aspect of the Series 4 finale is the Doctor finally getting some closure with Rose, and even Ten’s last episode gives her a significant cameo.

However, River’s appearance here signifies that even if this particular face of his will always carry a torch for Rose, someday the Doctor will be ready to move on. His heart will heal, and he’ll find love again with another incredible woman – so part of me wonders what Rose fans thought of River, when she first appeared in 2008. Someday the Doctor will become quite besotted with her; however, there’s a catch, like there always is with the Doctor’s relationships. Moffat borrows quite a bit here from “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, just as he did with “The Girl In The Fireplace“. The Doctor and River always meet each other out of order, and his first meeting with her is tragically her last with him. Throughout the entire development of their relationship, from a simple crush to deep love and respect, the Doctor has to live with the terrible burden of knowing exactly when and where she is going to die, which weighs on him heavily. The future Doctor’s final gift to River makes for a great, heartwarming parallel to the gesture of love CAL’s family did for her: the Doctor couldn’t save River’s mortal life, but he could give her an eternal afterlife in the world of the Library, able to go anywhere anytime she chooses. Notably, during the crisis, River planted an idea in the Doctor’s head that he can fall back on his hard-earned reputation to scare off his enemies and get them to back down. It works like a charm here, but he starts to rely on this trick way too often down the line, which plays a significant part in the Eleventh Doctor’s character arc concerning his hubris, when it finally gets him in hot water several seasons down the line. The bittersweet ending of this episode makes it clear that the RTD era will be coming to an end soon, and a brand new era is on the horizon. “Silence In The Library” was a pretty bold sneak peek from Steven Moffat about what the show will be like when he becomes showrunner, and while the Doctor is still a bit wary about the near future, he has a lot of great adventures to look forward to.

Doctor Who Silence In The Library Ten & Donna 2

A rather grumpy and reluctant Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is dragged along on this adventure this week, when she would much rather stay in the TARDIS or go to the beach. Donna has her fair share of skills under her belt, but she doesn’t know anything about future society or future technology, so she’s completely out of her depth in “Silence In The Library” and she spends a lot of the first episode standing to the side, watching the Doctor and River work in wonder. The companions have always served the purpose of being the audience’s stand-in characters for the fantastical worlds the show visits every week, compared to super geniuses like Ten and River, and Donna certainly fills that function well in this episode, trying to take it all in. It doesn’t take long for Donna to sympathize with Ms. Evangelista, a member of River’s team who’s often overlooked and mocked by her co-workers, and who later becomes the first victim of Vashta Nerada. One of the most depressing, affecting and well-written scenes in the episode is when a horrified, devastated Donna has a choke down her own feelings to console the woman’s corpse (who’s been stripped clean) as her consciousness fades away – one more example of Donna seeing how life in the universe can be equally beautiful and horrible. The Doctor sends Donna away back to the TARDIS to try to keep her safe, which backfires horribly when she gets uploaded to the Library’s database (with an incredibly chilling scream). Donna is given her own surreal subplot in “Forest Of The Dead”, which lets us find out more about what’s going on with CAL. Once she’s inside the mainframe, Donna is quickly conditioned and integrated into the system by Dr. Moon gaslighting her every five minutes until she conforms. As I mentioned in “The Empty Child“, Steven Moffat loves to dabble in psychological horror, usually with a set of disturbing implications, and one horror trope he’s especially fond of is toying with someone’s memory.

The cracks in time erase the people you love from your life forever, and they don’t even let you keep the memories. You forget about the Silence the moment you look away from them, and then they kill you. Skewered perception is another recurring theme in Moffat’s stories: episodes like “Last Christmas”, “Heaven Sent” and “Extremis” seem to suggest that being unable to trust your most basic senses, being completely unsure of your surroundings, and finding out your whole world is a lie is a concept that Moffat finds especially creepy. The Library can create a pretty impressive computer simulation, but it’s no patch on the real deal, and there are cracks in the facade – noticeable tells. Time in the database progresses the same way it would in a dream, or a book, or TV show with instantaneous, disconcerting jump cuts everywhere (do I see Doctor Who leaning on the fourth wall there?). After a while, Donna has so many conflicting memories, she doesn’t know what’s real or what isn’t anymore, as she gains an ideal life with a lover who has a stutter (which probably appeals to one of her deepest desires, since she’s been hoping to find someone special). Eventually, Ms. Evangelista lets her know she’s living inside the matrix, and the fallout is not pretty. Donna’s perfect life was never real, but it sure as hell felt real, including all her maternal instincts. Like the last act of “The Fires Of Pompeii“, Catherine Tate once again demonstrates how great of an actress she can be with dramatic material, during the complete meltdown Donna has when her virtual children vanish from existence and the grief of a mother sets in. Once she’s back in the real world, Donna misses out on her one chance to be reunited with Lee because of his stutter, as the episode pours one last bit of salt in her wounds. Much like Rose in Series 2, the concerning hints that something nasty is coming for Donna in her personal future are starting to become more overt as well, as the series finale grows closer.

Doctor Who Silence In The Library River Song 7

Professor River Song (Alex Kingston) makes her first appearance of many in this two-parter, leading a team of archaeologists on an expedition to discover what happened to the Library to cause it to be abandoned for decades (and considering the way River’s story arc pans out over Series 5 and 6, isn’t it fitting that we’re first introduced to her while she’s wearing a space suit?). River is a very intelligent, knowledgeable and flirtatious woman who’s lived a life of adventure and excitement, traveling from place to place wherever the road takes her, and she’s one of a very small number of characters in the series that can be considered the Doctor’s intellectual equal. She’s very passionate and outspoken, but also very strong-willed and authoritative, and she can easily take charge in an emergency when she needs to by cutting through everyone else’s foolishness. River has complete trust in the Doctor’s skills and his judgment, and she encourages her co-workers to have faith in him as well. River is still a stranger to the audience at this point in the series, but thanks to some sharp writing, her history with the Doctor comes across strongly in this two-parter, since she’s knows his M.O. inside and out, and knows just how to help him under pressure. The Doctor doesn’t trust her, since she knows way more than she should about him while he knows nothing about her in return – River staying tight-lipped and guarded all the while to avoid giving him dangerous foreknowledge about the future. In fact, despite growing fond of her, the Doctor doesn’t start to trust her fully until he learns her true identity as Melody Pond, Amy and Rory’s daughter in Series 6 – and the distance between them stings a lot. Thanks to the paradoxical nature of their relationship, River has always feared going back this far in the Doctor’s timeline, because of the possibility that it might mean that their time together is at an end.

River is full of flirty bravado and she’s always quick with a clever quip, but she carries around her share of inner hurts and past regrets, and Alex Kingston excels at conveying River’s humanity when we get glimpses of her true self, those moments of vulnerability and uncertainty that she occasionally shares with her friends and family. During a somber moment of nostalgia, River tells Anita all about what ‘her’ Doctor is like, and the Doctor she’s describing is very clearly Eleven, the one she knows best. It’s fascinating to see that Moffat already had a pretty well-defined idea of what he wanted the next Doctor’s personality to be like, a good year before Matt Smith was cast. During the two-parter’s heartbreaking climax, River takes the Doctor’s place in his last-ditch plan and sacrifices herself to save all 4,000 people in the Library and preserve the timeline, dying at a point in the Doctor’s timeline before he fully knows her. Throughout this two-parter, despite her own depressing thoughts, River’s faith in her husband (that she encouraged her friends to share) never wavered, and in the end it pays off, since he does come through for them, saves the Library, and gives her one last gift of love. River is quite an interesting character who fully embodies the fact that Doctor Who is a time travel series, and the storytelling approaches we get from it won’t always be strictly linear. We’re introduced to her at the end of her life, and then for the next several seasons, her character arc plays out backwards as Moffat fleshes out her background and her personality. Telling River’s story like this was quite a gamble, and it was easily one of the most ambitious things he ever did, but I would say it paid off in the long run, since River was easily one of the more likable and tragic characters from the Moffat era – and “Silence In The Library” is a two-parter that only grows sadder over time, the more you grow attached to her.

Doctor Who Silence In The Library Vashta Nerada

A curious character of interest is little Cal: throughout the two-parter, we constantly switch back and forth between her perspective and the perspective of the protagonists, seeing the inner workings of a computer through the eyes of a child, leaving it a mystery how she’s somehow part of the Library’s security systems when she’s seemingly a normal little girl, having therapy sessions with her psychiatrist. If there’s one thing that bothers me about Cal’s scenes, it’s that it feels weird that a 51st century girl’s dream home would resemble your typical 21st century suburban neighborhood that far into the future – it’s not a huge complaint, but it always threatens to take me out of this story. Cal has been kept in the dark about her true nature for a long time, to preserve the fantasy she’s created for herself – but now she’s starting to grow increasingly self-aware, questioning her sanity, and by the second episode, we start find out why this fugue state was kept in place for decades. Once she’s confronted with reality and she has carry the burden of protecting 4,000 people, she starts to crack under pressure and her mental health takes a very sharp decline- causing her to have a literal and figurative meltdown – because at the end of the day, she is just a scared child. Refreshingly, Moffat subverts an old Doctor Who trope in this story. At first, Mr. Lux seems like your typical selfish businessman, who’s only out for himself (like Rickston in “Voyage Of The Damned“), but it later turns out he’s been keeping Cal’s existence a secret to protect her for years. Cal was dying from a sickness that would take her life at far too young an age, so her family uploaded her mind to the Library, so she could have all the time in the world and experience all her dreams, undisturbed – it’s a very poignant, bittersweet and strangely beautiful sentiment in the story, that certainly fits Steven Moffat’s ongoing motif of most of his stories being written as dark fairy tales.

With his one-off villains for this two-parter, Steven Moffat gets pretty creative with the Vashta Nerada: living, carnivorous shadows who eat people. Thanks to their simple but effective modus operandi, they instill a lot of paranoia in both the characters and the viewers, since there’s always the potential that they’re lurking in the dark, waiting around every corner for their next meal in the dimly-lit library setting. Like the Weeping Angels, the Vashta Nerada tap into an innate fear of the unknown as a force of nature, an example of how gruesome and alien the Doctor universe can be. “Silence In The Library” has a taut, growing sense of dread and suspense thanks to them: whenever they have some poor soul in their sights and latch onto them, that person is already as good as dead, since there’s no stopping the shadow monsters who will strip their bones clean with a bit of patience. Every good mystery should give the viewers some clues so they can work out the puzzle for themselves ahead of time, so I like that we’re given a big hint early on: the Doctor picks up millions of life signs inside an abandoned library and briefly wonders if the books are alive, before dismissing the thought as silly. It turns out, he wasn’t too far off base. The shadows typically spawn in forests, but they hatched from books in the Library that were chopped down and pulped from their trees  – claiming the Library as their own and killing a huge chunk of visitors in a massacre. For a long time, it’s left ambiguous just how sapient and malevolent the Vashta Nerada are. They’re vicious, implacable predators, no doubt about that, but they’re also carnivores doing what carnivores do – protecting their territory and eating anyone who’s below them on the food chain. At the end of the day, they’re allowed to keep the planet as their home – the Library is declared unsafe and humans abandon it forever, leaving the Vashta Nerada, and the souls living with CAL in the database, in peace.

Doctor Who Silence In The Library Ten & Donna

Alongside Grahame Harper, I would single out Euros Lynn as one of the most distinctive and reliable directors from the RTD era, and he really steps up his game here. He does a fantastic job of bringing “Forest Of The Dead” to life, conveying the sheer depth and scale the Library has as a location (shot inside the Old Swansea Central Library in Wales), with sweeping shots that make it clear the never-ending shelves of books stretch on in every direction, gorgeously lit in a dark and gloomy atmosphere by the show’s lighting department, alongside well-rendered establishing shots from the Mill that have aged surprisingly well over the years. Like his work in “Voyage Of The Damned”, Murray Gold writes some of his best music for this two-parter: penning a dark, whimsical, mysterious score that really captures the feeling of a child’s innocent fantasy world gone horribly wrong. You have the trembling, unsettling strings in “Midnight“, the thrilling electronic bombast of “A Pressing Need To Save The World“, and the enigmatic wonder of “The Song Of Song” and “Silence In The Library“. Ten, River and Donna all lost something precious in the Library and got their hearts broken in this story, and the heartbreaking suite in “The Greatest Story Never Told” sums up their loss very well. The most beautiful gem though is “The Doctor’s Theme: Series Four“, a reprise of a familiar melody. As you’ll recall, “The Doctor’s Theme” was originally written for the Ninth Doctor in Series 1, but after he regenerated into Ten, it was retooled into more of a theme for the Doctor in general, sometimes appearing in episodes where the Doctor receives character development. It feels very fitting that some of Nine’s essence lingers in the soundtrack for this story, because the whole point of this two-parter is that no matter how young or old he is, or what face he has, the Doctor will always be the Doctor – the time lord River married – and that thought certainly warms my heart.

Like “The Parting Of The Ways“, “The Satan Pit” and “The Family Of Blood“, “Silence In The Library” is a top-tier Doctor Who two-parter, that makes for one hell of an introduction to River Song. If nothing else, this two-parter reminded me how much I’m going to enjoy revisiting the Matt Smith years down the line.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Silence In The Library River Song 9

* “Maybe it’s a Sunday?” “No, I never land on Sundays. Sundays are boring” Well, now I have the mental image of Ten pouting about what day of the week the show airs now.

* “A million, million…” “But there’s nothing here. There’s no one” “And not a sound. A million. million life forms, and silence in the library”.

* “Count the shadows. For God’s sake, remember, if you want to live, count the shadows”.

* “What do you think? A cry for help?” “A cry for help with a kiss?” “Oh, we’ve all done that”.

* “Oh, you’re not, are you? Tell me you’re not archaeologists” “Got a problem with archaeologists?” “I’m a time traveler. I point and laugh at archaeologists”.

* “Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they’re wrong, because it’s not irrational. It’s Vashta Nerada” “What’s Vashta Nerada?” “It’s what’s in the dark. It’s what’s always in the dark”.

* “Professor Song, why am I the only one wearing my helmet?” “I don’t fancy you”.

* “Pretty boy, with me, I said!” “Oh, I’m pretty boy?” “Yes. Oh, that came out a bit quick” “Pretty?” “Meh”.

* “They don’t want me. They think I’m stupid, because I’m pretty” We’ve all been there. honey.

* “They’re right though. I’m a moron, me. My dad said I have the IQ of plankton, and I was pleased” “See, now that’s funny” “No, I really was pleased. Is that funny?” “No, no”.

* “Whatever did this to her, whatever killed her, I’d like a word with that” “I’ll introduce you”.

* “Now, listen. This is important. There’s the real world, and there’s the world of nightmares. What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real. The library is real. There are people trapped in there, people who need to be saved. The shadows are moving again. Those people are depending on you. Only you can save them. Only you”.

* “Every shadow?” “No. But any shadow” “So what do we do?” “Daleks, aim for the eyestalk. Sontarans, back of the neck. Vashta Nerada? Run. Just run”.

* “Actually, Proper Dave? Could you stay where you are for a moment?” “Why?” “I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. But you’ve got two shadows” Oof.

* “Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”.

* “Oh, for heaven’s sake! Look at the pair of you. We’re all going to die right here, and you’re just squabbling like an old married couple!” Well…

* “Professor, a quick word, please. You said there are five people still alive in this room”.
“Yeah, so?” “So, why are there six?” Well, damn.

* Miss Evangelista walking around, wearing that veil dramatically, is giving me proto-Madam Vastra vibes.

* “Other Dave, stay with him. Pull him out when he’s too stupid to live!” Thanks, River. You just got Other Dave killed.

* “Oh, look at that. The forests of the Vashta Nerada, pulped and printed and bound. A million, million books, hatching shadows”.

* “You know when you see a photograph of someone you know, but it’s from years before you knew them. and it’s like they’re not quite finished, they’re not done yet. Well, yes, the Doctor’s here. He came when I called, just like he always does. But not my Doctor. Now my Doctor, I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away. And he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor in the TARDIS. Next stop, everywhere”.

* “Why are the children all the same?” “The same pattern over and over. It saves an awful lot of space” “Space?” “Cyberspace” “NO, DON’T TELL! YOU MUSTN’T TELL!!!” Cal, girl, calm down.

* “So this isn’t the real me? This isn’t my real body? But I’ve been dieting“.

* “STOP IT! YOU’LL SPOIL EVERYTHING! I HATE YOU! YOU’RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING! STOP IT!” Damn, Cal, that is one hell of a tantrum.

* “SHUT UP, DR. MOON!” Thank you, Cal, for finally shutting him off.

* “Don’t play games with me. You just killed someone I liked. That is not a safe place to stand. I’m the Doctor, and you’re in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up!”

* “There’s nothing you can do” “You can let me do this!” “If you die here, it’ll mean I’ve never met you” “Time can be rewritten!” “Not those times. Not one line. Don’t you dare. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s not over for you. You’ll see me again. You’ve got all of that to come. You and me, time and space. You watch us run”.

* “Donna? What’s happening?” “I don’t know, but it’s not real. Nothing here is real! The whole world, everything. None of it’s real!” “Am I real?” “Of course you’re real. I know you’re real. Oh God, oh God, I hope you’re real. I’ll find you. I promise you, I’ll find you!

* “I made up the perfect man. Gorgeous, adores me, and hardly able to speak a word. What’s that say about me?” “Everything” Damn, Ten.

* “Your friend, Professor Song. She knew you in the future, but she didn’t know me. What happens to me? Because when she heard my name, the way she looked at me-” “Donna, this is her diary. My future. I could look you up. What do you think? Shall we peek at the end?” “…Spoilers, right?” “Right”.

* “When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it will never end. But however hard you try, you can’t run for ever. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark, if he ever, for one moment, accepts it. Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call – everybody lives”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Silence In The Library The Planet 5

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Doctor Who: The Unicorn And The Wasp (2008) Review

Doctor Who The Unicorn And The Wasp Ten & Donna 6

Series 4 of Doctor Who reaches its official midway point with “The Unicorn And The Wasp”, penned by Gareth Roberts, another returning guest writer from Series 3. “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is the traditional NuWho celebrity historical, which comes surprisingly later in the season than usual compared to its typical early slot. These sorts of episodes usually involve the Doctor and his friends teaming up with some famous historical figure to fight off a monster, and they sometimes offer up the show’s spin on unsolved mysteries surrounding the figure’s lives (like the night Agatha Christie lost her memory), with the answer almost always being that ‘aliens did it’. My favorite of them so far has been “The Shakespeare Code“, also penned by Gareth Roberts. Naturally, “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is a period piece, set within the grounds of a quiet country estate during the roaring twenties, and since the guest character is Agatha Christie, this episode is also an opportunity for the show to spoof a certain genre of fiction. “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is a murder mystery and a classic whodunnit that embraces all the tropes, trappings and conventions of the genre, plays around with them, and has a lot of silly fun for forty-five minutes until the killer is revealed. As such, like “Partners In Crime“, I would probably rank “The Unicorn And The Wasp” as one of the more average episodes of the season, since it’s pretty light on substance, but it is another good opportunity to show off how much of a fun duo the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble are when they’re on a case. “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is also the last truly fluffy and ridiculous episode of the season. The following two-parter, “Silence In The Library“, marks the point where the tone of Series 4 starts to shift into heavier territory, and the rest of the season gets darker and darker from there, straight up into the finale.

Doctor Who The Unicorn And The Wasp Ten & Donna

As “The Unicorn And The Wasp” kicks off, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna find themselves attending a posh private party on a warm spring day in the 1920’s, when murder strikes – murder that was committed by an extraterrestrial, which means this mystery is right up the Doctor’s alley. As you would expect from Ten, who is quite the history buff and a gleeful tourist when it comes to meeting famous people, he is a top-tier Agatha Christie fanboy and is very happy to not only meet her but work with her as a fellow detective. Naturally, there are moments when he unwittingly steps on her toes, because a pretty established character flaw Ten has is that he can be very bad at reading a room – especially when he’s geeking out – and Agatha is feeling pretty prickly at the moment, thanks to personal drama. During their melding of the minds, Ten has plenty of knowledge about alien species that he can provide, while Agatha has a deep understanding about the complexities of human nature that’s her own area of expertise, allowing the two to balance each other out well. Compared to other episodes in Series 4 (like all the drama that just went down in “The Doctor’s Daughter“), Ten doesn’t have an emotional arc in this episode – Agatha does, and to a lesser extent, Donna and Lady Edison – so the Doctor is in full exposition mode in this episode, a role that fits him quite well. “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is an adventure that continues to develop Ten’s friendship and camaraderie with Donna, showing off the sillier side of their relationship and the nice comedic double act Tennant and Tate have. Case in point, there’s a very over-the-top scene mid-episode where the Doctor gets poisoned with cyanide, and he’s forced to play a deadly game of charades with Donna on a time limit to come up with an antidote (which she is not very good at, not very good at all).

Living up to their unofficial status as ‘partners in crime’, Donna Noble (David Tennant) basically acts as Ten’s wingman and his assistant detective in this episode. She’s every bit as enthusiastic as Ten about getting to rub elbows with high society, and even though solving mysteries is more of the Doctor’s thing, when murder strikes she’s willing to play along with him and help him get the job done. Like in “Partners In Crime”, we’re shown how beneficial it can be for the Doctor to have someone else around to offer a different perspective from his own, because it’s Donna who gives him his first, really important clue – pointing out that the murderer is acting like a character in one of Agatha’s books, like a really twisted role-player, which seems even weirder once they discover the killer is a giant alien wasp. As she learns about Agatha’s personal problems, Donna sympathizes a good deal with her insecurities – she knows all about feelings of those discontent, like you haven’t done anything meaningful with your life, so she (ironically) encourages her not to be so down on herself, and she can’t help feeling a bit demoralized about how this episode wraps up for Agatha. “The Unicorn And The Wasp” has a rather bittersweet ending where Agatha gets mindwiped – erasing all the personal growth she had gained from this adventure. However, the episode makes it clear that even though Agatha doesn’t remember it, it still happened and it still mattered – she was still a brilliant woman when it counted, and she saved lives. With foreknowledge of how Series 4 ends, “The Unicorn And The Wasp” clearly foreshadows Donna’s fate in “Journey’s End”, with Agatha’s arc serving as a micro parallel to Donna’s journey all season. As the climax of the season gradually approaches, Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts are already stealthily trying to prepare the viewers for it and preemptively soften the blow of Donna’s very cruel exit from the TARDIS.

Doctor Who The Unicorn And The Wasp Ten & Donna 10

As the significant historical celebrity of the week, Agatha Christie is given a large amount of focus in this episode: Gareth Roberts recycles a lot of his jokes from “The Shakespeare Code”, where the Doctor and his friends keep letting future knowledge about her career slip in front of her, which prove to be a lot less funny the second time around. I always find it interesting, the line Doctor Who tries to walk when it comes to fictionalizing notable people who are long gone – because on the one hand, the show obviously tries to stick to historical accounts of what they were actually like, but on the other hand, it also tries to humanize them as one-off characters with flaws in their own right. Gareth Roberts writes Agatha as an intelligent and accomplished woman, who’s currently feeling rather bitter and morose because she’s just been hurt by the betrayal of her husband’s affair. The fact that the man she loved would cheat on her and turn to another woman over her has clearly dealt to a blow to her self-esteem: she considers herself to be an amateur author who’s work will eventually be forgotten once the initial hype dies down (not unlike Charles Dickens’ depressed pessimism). Still, even if Agatha doubts herself, she’s shown to be a good writer who possess a strong and complex understanding of human nature, which she puts to good use when she’s mapping out the plot of her books. Here, as she’s confronted with the impossible and her changing perception of the world, she puts that skill to good use when she tries to help the Doctor track down his murderer. Everyone puts a lot of pressure on her, counting on her genius, and she nearly buckles under the strain and her own self-doubt several times, but she comes through in the end – by the story’s end, all the remaining survivors in the Edison estate owe their lives to Agatha as much as the Doctor and Donna.

There are a wide variety of supporting characters in this episode, and since it’s a murder mystery, none of the suspects are quite what they seem at first glance. As members of high society, putting on airs and graces in respectable company, they all have skeletons in their closets that they’e covering up to adhere to social norms. Roger, the heir to the Edison estate, is a gay man who’s having a secret fling with one of the servants (and doing a pretty poor job of concealing it). Lady Edison appears to have a drinking problem that she’s keeping under wraps, while her husband isn’t really a disabled man, he’s simply pretending to be one to try to maintain their marriage (which is actually pretty manipulative). Mrs. Redmond isn’t a visiting aristocrat at all, but a thief from London posing as one, who serves as a red herring to the real killer. Most of these reveals are played for laughs, but the overall theme of all these suspects creating these fake versions of themselves, to get ahead or protect their reputation, does pay off in a more serious way, when the true killer is revealed and Lady Edison turns out to have another, darker secret. When she was a young woman, she gained an alien lover and had a child with him out of wedlock. Since such a thing was considered scandalous, she covered it all up and gave the child away to protect her reputation. Years later, her now insane son came home, looking for revenge. First, he killed anyone else who knew of his existence, then he killed her second son, Roger, presumably out of jealousy, and eventually he would have worked his way up to killing her, if the Doctor and his friends hadn’t stopped him – having learned all about the art of murder from Agatha’s books. As ludicrous as the idea of a giant killer wasp is, there is something tragic about the way the villain’s arc played out: Lady Edison now has to live with the heartbreak of knowing the son she gave up became a psychotic murderer, while the son she kept got murdered by him, and that is some nasty stuff.

Doctor Who The Unicorn And The Wasp The Reverend

“The Unicorn And The Wasp” is helmed by Grahame Harper, whose direction is a lot less sharp and engaging than usual in this episode, presumably because this is a comedic, frothy episode and not a dramatic adventure that’s related to the series arc, like the kind he usually handles (“The Age Of Steel”, “Doomsday”, “42”, “Utopia”, “The Stolen Earth“). Matching the tone of the episode, Grahame Harper’s direction throughout the hour is very silly and tongue-in-cheek, filled with exaggerated zoom-ins, wavy dissolves for the bizarre, wandering flashback sequences, and some spinning newspapers tossed in for the flash-sideways – even the lighting, filled with pronounced shadows in some scenes, contributes to the surreal, old school atmosphere in this installment. “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is noticeably one of the low budget episodes of Series 4, alongside the bottle episode “Midnight“, which makes sense, since it’s sandwiched between “The Sontaran Stratagem“, “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “Silence In The Library” – all of which are stories that are heavy on stunts, explosions and CGI – so the show would need to have a smaller-scale story to save money somewhere. As such, the action in this episode is mainly set inside one manor, with a lot of lovely outdoors shoots done in the scenic countryside of Newport. Throughout Series 4, the Mill has shown a lot of improvement when it comes to integrating CGI elements within a real, tangible environment, but they take a step backwards with the giant killer wasp in this episode, which sticks out like a sore thumb compared to everything else surrounding it. Murray Gold’s score for “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is probably his most unremarkable one in Series 4 – it’s ambient and inquisitive, but otherwise bland and forgettable, and summed up quite well by “The Unicorn And The Wasp” suite on the soundtrack album.

Like “Partners In Crime”, “The Unicorn And The Wasp” is a solid and serviceable outing which doesn’t do much to stand out as a whole, but it provides the last bit of fluffy fun the season will have before the intensity level starts to pick up with the following two-parter.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Unicorn And The Wasp The Edison Manor

* “What do you think? Flapper or slapper?” “Flapper. You look lovely”.

* “Some of these young boys deserve a descent thrashing” “Couldn’t agree more, sir” Davenport is feeling a bit thirsty, I see.

* “The plucky young girl who helps me out?” “There are no policewomen in 1926” “I’ll pluck you in a minute”.

* “No, but isn’t that a bit weird? Agatha Christie didn’t walk around surrounded by murders. Not really. I mean, that’s like meeting Charles Dickens and he’s surrounded by ghosts at Christmas” “…Well”.

* “Oh, come on! It’s not like we could drive across country and find Enid Blyton having tea with Noddy. Could we? Noddy’s not real. Is he? Tell me there’s no Noddy” “…There’s no Noddy”.

* “Donna, you search the bedrooms. Look for clues, any more residue. You’ll need this”.
“…Is that for real?” “Go on. You’re ever so plucky” Donna looks like she knows exactly where she’d like to put that magnifying glass.

* “It’s a giant wasp!” “What do you mean, a giant wasp?” “I mean, a wasp that’s giant!” “It’s only a silly little insect” “When I say giant, I don’t mean big, I mean flipping enormous!!

* In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag, Roger and Davenport had apparently been spending some special alone time in Roger’s room when the Doctor came bursting in the hallway.

* “I found my husband with another woman. A younger, prettier woman. Isn’t it always the way?” “Well, mine was with a giant spider, but, same difference”.

* “What do you want, a Harvey Wallbanger?” “Harvey Wallbanger?! How is Harvey Wallbanger one word?!”

* “A terrible day for all of us. The Professor struck down, Ms. Chandrakala taken cruelly from us, and yet we still take dinner” “We are British, Doctor. What else must we do?”

* “And then someone tried to poison me. Any one of you had the chance to put cyanide in my drink. But it rather gave me an idea” “And what would that be?” “Well, poison. Drink up” Turnabout is fairplay, after all, and the Doctor is ready to get his murder on.

* “My son, MY CHILD!” Hot damn. Showing that huge knife buried in Roger’s back where the reverend shanked him is surprisingly graphic for this show.

* “Just like a man. He flashes his family jewels and you end up with a bun in the oven” The holy reverend grimaces at that line for a variety of reasons.

* “At this point, when we consider the lies and the secrets, and the key to these events, then we have to consider it was you, Donna Noble” “What? Who did I kill?”

* “Don’t make me angry!” “Why? What happens then?” You won’t like him when he’s angry.

* “Damn it, you humans, worshiping your tribal sky gods. I am so much more. That night, the universe exploded in my mind. I wanted to take what was mine. And you, Agatha Christie, with your railway station bookstall romances, what’s to stop me killing you? What’s to stop me killing you all?!”

* ” Donna, that thing couldn’t help itself” “Neither could I!”

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Unicorn And The Wasp Ten & Donna 9

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Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter (2008) Review

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Jenny 2

“The Doctor’s Daughter”, an episode you never quite look at the same way again, once you discover David Tennant and Georgia Moffet are actually married in real life (having tied the knot years after they worked together on this episode). Part of me wishes “The Doctor’s Daughter” was the first two-parter of Series 4 instead of “The Sontaran Stratagem“. Because the plot of this episode is the Doctor suddenly gaining a daughter cloned from his DNA, who’s also a brainwashed soldier, his least favorite type of person. The Doctor must overcome his prejudices, take responsibility for her, and try to set a good example for her. And at the same time, he must also try to put an end to a bloody war between rival factions of settlers, which he later discovers has wiped out several generations in just a week. That sounds like a considerably more interesting premise for a two-parter than the Sontarans’ secret master-plan in “The Poison Sky”, especially since it’s a very personal story for the Doctor, and with the length of two episodes, the emotional core of this episode could have been even stronger – but it wasn’t meant to be. The pacing of “The Doctor’s Daughter” can feel too rushed in places, since it has to juggle character development of the regular cast and the titular guest character with a whole lot of ambitious world-building for the period the Doctor and his friends have traveled to, but for the most part, it manages to walk that line in a satisfying way. In regards to the tone, “The Doctor’s Daughter” is partially meant to be a more light-hearted episode, a good mystery romp filled with plenty of running, but it does have a more mature, contemplative side to it. It expands of many of the themes and ideas of the previous two-parter, laying down the show’s moral stance on senseless warfare much like “Planet Of The Ood” did with slavery, while also giving David Tennant’s Doctor a chance to shine by giving us deeper insight into his character.

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Ten 9

The episode doesn’t waste any time kicking off its main premise when a progeny of the Doctor is cloned from his DNA without his consent, and naturally, he wants nothing to do with her, because she was born and bred to be a soldier with no desire to be anything else. After the Tenth Doctor’s sanctimoniousness reached an irritating high in the previous two-parter (with signs of it continuing in this story), it’s incredibly satisfying to see Jenny call him out on his prejudices and hypocrisy – pointing out that he still thinks like a soldier himself and is hardly any better than her, despite his efforts to distance himself from his past. Eventually, the Doctor does take a shine to her – seeing how she can learn and grow and adapt – and tries to mentor her, admitting that he wants her to be better than he is while she still has the chance. Like most NuWho Doctors, Ten’s cheery, easygoing exterior often masks a lot of inner sadness that’s pushed up to the surface in this episode. Jenny’s presence dredges up a lot of old wounds and some painful memories that he’s tried to forget. The Doctor’s entire family died because of the Daleks, and as much as he likes Jenny, he’s afraid to get attached and risk that kind of heartache again – and Ten’s fears unfortunately prove to be warranted. The Doctor offers Jenny a spot in the TARDIS, which is practically a death sentence for guest characters on this show, and not long afterwards, she gets shot, just as the Doctor was finally accepting her family. David Tennant is extraordinarily good at portraying his Doctor’s pain and anguish, and I think the writers started playing to that strength in Series 4, because there are a lot of episodes in this season that find new ways to break Ten’s heart – like Astrid’s death, or Pompeii’s destruction, or Jenny’s ‘death’, or River’s sacrifice, or Ten having to mindwipe Donna. Ten manages to put an end to the fighting and set a good example for the settlers, but it’s quite a hollow victory compared to what he lost, and what could have been.

As Series 4 approaches its midway point, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) has grown a lot more comfortable as a sidekick, knowing what to expect out of TARDIS travel by now (more or less), and she’s acclimated well to the whole experience. As we saw in “The Fires Of Pompeii” and “Planet Of The Ood“, Ten and Donna generally aren’t afraid to lay down some uncomfortable truths or give each other some tough love if it means stopping each other from making big mistakes, or encouraging each other to be the best they can be. Donna is easily the person who’s most receptive to the idea of Jenny’s existence, and is tickled pink by the idea of Ten suddenly becoming a father. Since she’s basically an outsider in the conflict, she can see how Ten being stuck in his ways and constantly rejecting Jenny is hurting her, so she encourages him to let go of his past and accept her for who she is and who she’s trying to be. Donna is the Doctor’s best friend, but she also acts as his conscience in this episode, showing that she has her own brand of wisdom that even a genius like the Doctor sometimes needs. Ever since the revival in 2005, the companions have acted as the heart of the TARDIS team, and Donna fits that role surprisingly well. “The Doctor’s Daughter” also demonstrates a different part of Donna’s growth: she’s a lot more perceptive and eagle-eyed now that she knows how important noticing the little details can be. Throughout the episode, Donna picks up on things the Doctor and Jenny miss while they’re squabbling, inconsistencies with the background of the time period that don’t add up, and by the climax, she puts her super temp skills to good use – she’s the one who solves the mystery of what truly happened between the Hath and the humans. When it comes to Donna’s scenes with Martha, I’m still enjoying the sister-like camaraderie and mutual respect they have, from one companion to another, and I’m glad to see that, even though Martha has decided that TARDIS travel isn’t for her, she’s given Donna her blessing.

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Martha 3

The titular guest character, Jenny, has a pretty solid and heartwarming character arc over the course of “The Doctor’s Daughter”. Early on, Jenny is shown to be a perky and capable young woman, who’s stubborn, fearless and dedicated. Like all the other clones in her unit, she was born and bred to be a soldier, and all she really knows is fighting. She’s basically been brainwashed, but as she observes the Doctor and Donna’s peaceful, nomadic way of life, she steadily grows to be so much more than her ‘base purpose’ and the circumstances of her birth – she starts to forge her own identity. The Doctor’s constant judgment and rejection doesn’t sit well with her at all – taking him down a peg at one point when he starts to get a bit too high and mighty – and she makes it her mission to gain his love and respect, showing her first signs of being an individual. Once Jenny starts to question the way things are and challenges the status quo, she starts to unlearn her conditioning. With the Doctor’s encouragement, she starts to use her head more often, and violence is no longer her first method when it comes to solving a problem. Even amongst the other clones, there’s no other being in the universe like Jenny, since she’s part Time Lady, and she happily embraces the things that make her unique. During the last act, she gets shot saving her dad, content with the knowledge that he’s come to love her. If it were left at that, it would be the usual, tragic case of fridging someone the Doctor cares for to break his heart, like what happened with Astrid, but during the coda, a time lord’s handy talent of regeneration revives her – giving her a second chance at life. And that rebirth marks the point where Jenny’s life truly begins, setting off to live out her new dream of seeing the stars and experiencing all they have to offer her. Despite the storytelling potential of a reunion, Jenny never did appear in the series again after this episode, and our poor Doctor still thinks she’s dead to this day – but at least she’s happy.

Picking up where we left off in “The Poison Sky”, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) gets dragged along for the ride in this adventure. The episode kicks off with Martha admitting to Donna that she has missed TARDIS travel a little, before she swiftly gets separated from the others in the gang. Compared to how she was written in “The Sontaran Stratagem”, Martha resembles her Series 3 self a lot more in this episode, and not just because she’s sporting her Series 3 hairstyle, but because her characterization puts a lot more emphasis on her status as a healer than a fighter – and that’s a good thing, because Martha was at her best in Series 3. Martha basically takes on the role of the Doctor in her own subplot. Because of her compassion, Martha puts her medical knowledge to good use and helps out one of the Hath soldiers, Peck, who she later befriends. Since our heroes are split up between the Hath and human factions of settlers, Martha’s subplot helps to humanize the Hath and show that they’re not monsters, they’re not so different from their human counterparts. Martha is determined to help out her friends, and Peck basically becomes her companion. She encourages him to leave home, broaden his mind to new ideals and new experiences, explore the unknown and help to save lives – and then it gets him killed: he dies saving his new friend’s life. Martha has her share of trauma over how terrible the consequences of the Doctor’s lifestyle can be, and how many good people she saw die in the Master’s hell-world, even if she doesn’t always show it, so she’s as horrified and devastated by Peck’s sacrifice as you would expect her to be. Jenny’s senseless ‘death’ on top of that basically reaffirms to her that, as great as seeing the universe can be, she made the right choice walking from it when she did and she’s happier back at home, parting with the Doctor and Donna on good terms and wishing them the best of luck with their endeavors.

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Ten 10

The deliberate placement of this episode by Russell T. Davies (who gave each of his writers their assignment) is kind of fascinating to consider, because it’s a redux of how the previous season was structured. In Series 3, you had a Helen Raynor two-parter followed by a Stephen Greenhorn episode that was its own separate story, but also built off some of the themes and ideas of the previous two-parter: like mortal men growing a bit too ambitious for their own good for selfish reasons, and mad scientists trying to do the impossible, tampering with human nature. In Series 4, you once again have a Helen Raynor two-parter followed by a Stephen Greenhorn episode that expands on some of the themes and ideas from “The Sontaran Stratagem”, like senseless violence and bloodshed, clashing egos, clone armies that can be used to wage never-ending wars, and the Doctor’s own personal biases about the matter. The main conflict for the episode is established early on when the Doctor and his friends are dropped right in the middle of two warring factions of colonists in the future, regular human beings and fish people called the Hath, who are fighting over territory. The biggest instigator of the violence is a religious fanatic, General Cobb, who the Doctor must stop from committing genocide. The Doctor later discovers that the great human / Hath war has only lasted a week, but both sides have burned through countless generations of clones in that time – which is quite insane, but it’s exactly the kind of weird, bizarre and ambitious ideas I like to see from this series. Once Cobb is subdued, at the cost of Jenny’s life, the Doctor manages to bring peace to the settlement with a big speech about ‘the man who never would’, setting an example of what sort of men they need to be avoid to making the same mistakes, which (like the Doctor’s brief stint as space Jesus last season) either works for you as a triumphant moment, or comes off as preachy to an eye-rolling level.

“The Doctor’s Daughter is directed by Alice Troughton, who does a fine, solid job of helming the episode, giving the pacing plenty of lively energy, particularly during the various chase scenes up and down corridors. The set designers have their work cut out for them in this episode, much like they did in “Voyage Of The Damned“. “The Doctor’s Daughter” is a base-under-siege story that’s set almost entirely inside an industrial complex, so plenty of sets had to either be dressed or created for this episode, and they’re all pretty convincing – looking suitably lived-in for a worn-down, dusty camp setting. The costume department is put to work creating another new alien species for this episode, and the design for the Hath has to be one of the better ones from the RTD era. Like so many other alien species from this period, the Hath are hybrid animals – half human and half fish – and they strike a nice balance between being quirky, surreal and a tad unsettling in a more distinctive way than the cat people from “New Earth” did. Like in the previous two-parter, CGI is used pretty sparingly in “The Doctor’s Daughter”, since there aren’t a lot of stunts or effects in this episode that actually require it, but when it does appear there are some surprisingly gorgeous shots crafted by the Mill in this episode: like the windy storms whipping around on Mesaline’s surface, or the Source’s iridescent light terraforming the planet. Murray Gold’s score is on top form as usual in this episode. “The Doctor’s Daughter” kicks off the episode’s score with plenty of playful mystique, featuring a sweet electric guitar riff on “The Doctor Forever”, while “The Source” veers sharply into the opposite direction, being a deeply morose and moving track filled with tender strings and gutting brass – it’s easily one of Murray’s most beautiful pieces from the season. Naturally, there a few new renditions of “Martha’s Theme” in this episode, along with a surprisingly somber take on “This Is Gallifrey”, a longing leitmotif that’s rarely ever used.

“The Doctor’s Daughter” is a flawed episode, particularly in regards to how much information has to be crammed into just forty-five minutes, but as a whole it’s a pretty sturdy mid-season episode, and a pretty moving morality tale about the Doctor and the people he inspires.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Martha 4

* “You are completely impossible!” “Not impossible. Just a bit unlikely”.

* “Where did she come from?” “From me” “From you? How? Who is she?” “Well, she’s… she’s my daughter” “Hello, dad!”

* “Now, then. I’m Dr. Martha Jones. Who the hell are you?”

* “Donna, you can’t extrapolate a relationship from a biological accident” “Child Support Agency can”.

* When the fish people gather around Martha and start stroking her hair, there’s a hilarious moment where she’s clearly not sure if she’s just become their pet.

* “But, I didn’t do anything” Martha summing up what she contributed to the previous two-parter.

* “You need to get yourself a better dictionary. When you do, look up genocide. You’ll see a little picture of me there, and the caption will read, over my dead body!” Actually, Ten, the picture would most likely be you nuking Gallifrey in a past life, but the humans didn’t need to know that.

* “I’d like to see you try that” I think we all can agree on that, Donna.

* “Let me distract this one. I have picked up a few womanly wiles of my own over the years” It is a travesty that we didn’t get to see Donna try that.

* “You can stay down here and live your whole life in the shadows, or come with me and stand in the open air. Feel the wind on your face. What’s it going to be? It’s up to you. But nothing’s going to stop me!” Hell yes. There’s the Martha I know.

* “So, you don’t have a name either? Are you an anomaly, too?” “No” “Oh, come off it. You’re the most anomalous bloke I’ve ever met”.

* “So what do you do?” “I travel through time and space” “He saves planets, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures. And runs a lot. Seriously, there’s an outrageous amount of running involved”.

* Easily the funniest scene in the episode is the one where Jenny backflips through a whole laser grid, like she just wandered out of a “Kim Possible” episode. Even for this show, that sequence was ridiculous, and I loved every minute of it.

* “So, you travel together, but you’re not together?” “What, no, no way. We’re friends, that’s all. I mean, we’re not even the same species. There’s probably laws against it” That didn’t stop Rose, honey.

* “I’ll tell you something, Doctor. Something I’ve never told you before. I think you’re wrong” Well, that’s a weird line. Donna has told Ten he’s wrong about things loads of times.

* “Jenny, be strong now. You need to hold on, do you hear me? We’ve got things to do, you and me. We can go anywhere, everywhere, you choose. You’re my daughter, and we’ve only just got started. You’re going to be great. You’re going to be more than great. You’re going to be amazing”.

* “Two hearts. Two hearts. She’s like me. If we wait. If we just wait-” “There’s no sign, Doctor. There’s no regeneration. She’s like you, but maybe not enough” “No. Too much. That’s the truth of it. She was too much like me”.

* “Why would I ever give up all this? I’m gonna travel with that man forever” In hindsight, this is the point where the audience should have started to suspect something awful would happen to Donna. Rose started talking like that in Series 2, and we all know how that season ended for her.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Martha 6

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Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (2008) Review

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem General Staal 2

Keeping with the tradition of how every NuWho season reintroduces an antagonist from the classic series, another villainous race of alien warriors make their revamped return to the franchise in “The Sontaran Stratagem”, penned by Helen Raynor. This two-parter is also the first proper UNIT story of NuWho, after the organization has made several small appearances before now, putting the spotlight on the Doctor’s tentative military allies. The RTD era of Doctor Who has a pretty standard and effective formula at this point: the Doctor gains a new companion, he takes her for a few early spins in the TARDIS to show off what it can do, and then he takes her home to spend some time with her family and get her bearings. I noticed that these designated episodes are often the most average ones in their respective seasons. “Aliens Of London” had some interesting dramatic material in regards to the Powell Estate drama with Jackie and Mickey, but the A-plot of that two-parter, with the Slitheen’s master plan, was easily the most cringeworthy story of Series 1. “The Lazarus Experiment” was a pretty solid and standard episode of Doctor Who (albeit with some dated effects) that was easily overshadowed among all the other good material in Series 3. “The Sontaran Stratagem” is not the weakest adventure of Series 4, but it doesn’t quite buck the pattern of these sorts of episodes being safe and workmanlike; in fact, the first half of this story is pretty low energy. Like many two-parters from the RTD era, most of the main conflict is saved up for “The Poison Sky”, while a lot of “The Sontaran Stratagem” is either devoted to our heroes standing around, making plans, or the villains standing around, waiting for their traps to spring. As a result, this story can drag in places, and it takes a while to pick up. Plus, I have some gripes about the way the main characters are handled, and how some of them are totally wasted.

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem Ten & Ross 2

Compared to his usual cheery, affable demeanor, enjoying every opportunity for a new adventure that presents itself, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is not in a good mood this week. There was a pretty sizable period of Classic Who, during the Third Doctor’s tenure, when the Doctor was exiled to Earth by the time lords and his TARDIS was rendered defunct, stranding him there – so he wound up taking a job at UNIT, as their alien adviser. He certainly met a lot of interesting people, but he didn’t particularly enjoy it. The Doctor has always had a distaste for the military that’s only grown stronger over time, now that fighting in the time war has left him with all sorts of issues that he tends to freely project onto others. In fact, the Doctor is probably at his most irritating when he’s dealing with soldiers in NuWho, since he rapidly turns into a condescending, self-righteous snob who assumes he knows everything there is to know about someone and the content of their character based on whether or not they’ve ever carried a gun. The Twelfth Doctor’s first season, Series 8, explores this aspect of the Doctor’s personality when Danny Pink calls the Doctor out on how much of a judgmental prick he can be without an actual leg to stand on, and it is immensely satisfying. Ten is not happy to be called upon to help UNIT once again, and he’s even less happy to discover Martha, one of his good friends, is on their payroll now, disapproving of the company she’s keeping. Ten has made it no secret that he hates guns and any types of killing machines in general, but this guttural revulsion the Doctor has gained towards the military goes a bit deeper than that: he very clearly has some issues with authority figures.

Ever since Series 1, it’s been clear that fighting in the time war changed the Doctor, in big ways and small ways, and he did not come back the same man he was before. From his perspective, being a soldier means signing off moral responsibility and becoming someone else’s tool. It leads people to do horrific things and gets other people killed senselessly, and the Doctor knows that from personal experience, since he betrayed many of his own core principles during the war. There’s a very telling sequence where a team of the colonel’s men get violently slaughtered by the Sontarans – including Ross, a soldier the Doctor had taken a liking to – in a massacre that could have been avoided, and Ten goes silently numb, apparently having a PTSD episode, before he lashes out. So the Doctor tries to close himself off and distance himself from that sort of hell by turning his nose up at soldiers and the very concept of them, acting more self-righteous than he actually is, hence the projection and the hypocrisy – since the Doctor shows a complete lack of self-awareness about the fact that he not only still thinks like a soldier (or an officer, in Danny’s estimation), but he also tends to cause his friends to become more like him overtime. This is something both Jenny and Davros, of all people, point out to Ten when they decide to share some uncomfortable truths with him. During the climax, we’re reminded how much the Doctor’s principles mean to him, and how much they make him who he is, when he almost gets himself killed trying to give the Sontarans one last chance to retreat before Luke takes his place on the suicide mission. It’s a futile endeavor that’s both noble and foolhardy, and it nicely sums up how different the Doctor’s character can be from most heroes, who feel a lot more comfortable with solving their problems by blowing up their enemies.

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem Donna Alone

Despite some rocky moments of self-doubt so far, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is still going strong with her travels in the TARDIS and enjoying herself. She’s gained the Doctor’s trust to the point where she’s not only received her own TARDIS key, a rite of passage for the companions, but she’s also learning how to fly the TARDIS already; so Ten and Donna have clearly hit it off quite well, and their friendship remains one of the most consistently entertaining aspects of Series 4. When it comes to the Doctor consulting with UNIT, Donna naturally wants to pitch in and help out – and she does manage to contribute something by putting her super temp skills to good use and tipping off the soldiers that there’s something wrong with the Atmos factory workers – but as the newbie of the TARDIS team who’s still learning, Donna naturally feels a bit out of place. Donna has heard about Martha Jones before now but this is the first time the two characters meet, the first time Donna meets any of the Doctor’s former sidekicks (it won’t be last time), and since I like both Martha and Donna a lot, I’m quite glad to see that they get along swimmingly and become friends a lot faster than Rose and Sarah Jane did (mainly because they don’t have any desire to compete over the Doctor’s attention). Since Donna is quite a bit older than Martha, some of the advice she gives her feels almost sisterly, and since Martha is a lot more experienced with TARDIS travel than Donna, she gives her some advice in return, so Donna won’t make the same mistakes she did when it comes to handling her personal relationships and having a healthy support system. When the gang splits up, Donna decides to pop back home to check on her family, and what she finds is a lot to take in.

After all the incredible things she’s seen that only a small circle of people would ever understand, things that have changed her already, her daily mundane life in the suburbs feels so far away now – a similar sort of culture shock as to what Rose experienced in Series 1. Thankfully, she still has Wilf as her confidant. Wilf has always served as her support system more than her mother Sylvia, and now she can share her true thoughts about the universe with him, their mutual enthusiasm about life out in space, that lets them become closer still. Their father / daughter relationship which we saw back in “Partners In Crime” is developed upon here, and it’s still just as heartwarming to see how much faith Wilf has in her. Wilf is written in a very fatherly light in general in this two-parter. While Ten and Donna are away, it falls upon to Wilf to console Sylvia (who’s very much out of the loop and convinced that they’re both going to die), and we’re given a much starker reminder than usual that these two are father and daughter – Wilfred is usually the one who tries to keep up morale in the family. With the world choking on poison gas, Donna wants to help out, but she doesn’t know where to start, and she spends about half of this two-parter separated from the Doctor, forcing her to stand on her own for the first time. As you would expect from a companion, Donna rises the challenge in spite of her fears, and does her part to help save the world. When Donna flew away with Ten back in “Partners In Crime”, it was an impulsive decision – albeit one she had wanted to make for a while – and now it’s an official choice that she’s fully committed to. In a way, she’s finally moving out of her mother’s house and moving on with her life so she can see the stars, but saying goodbye to Wilf and leaving him behind is easily the hardest part – the penultimate scene in “The Poison Sky” wrings one last bit of pathos out of their bittersweet farewell.

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem The Gang 6

One of the sweet positives of the RTD era, in my opinion, is that it wasn’t uncommon for former companions and current companions to meet up once a season and share experiences, which had a way of making the show feel a bit like a superhero series (and that vibe is definitely coming to a head soon in “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End“). In this two-parter and the following episode, “The Doctor’s Daughter”, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) is brought back as a guest star. Martha only left the TARDIS a few episodes ago, but I can’t say I’m opposed to checking back on her and seeing how much she’s changed since she set out on her own to forge her own path. After everything she saw at the end of Series 3, Martha seems to have given up on being a regular doctor and has instead gone to work for UNIT as a doctor and a consultant who’s very knowledgeable about time travel and alien races, a job that’s not unlike the Doctor’s position in Classic Who. After surviving the Master’s year of hell and completing her training with UNIT, Martha has gained the mentality of a soldier, which the Doctor does not approve of. There’s just one thing that bothers me about this conflict. Martha claims that Ten got her the job at UNIT by recommending her, and Ten doesn’t deny it. So why would you land her a job with people that you don’t like, and then be surprised and annoyed that she took it? In what world that does make any sense? I mean, it’s not out-of-character for Ten to send Martha some mixed signals, but it’s one more reason why Ten is annoying in this two-parter. Thankfully, Martha does not tolerate Ten judging her and shuts that down early on.

Martha quickly takes a liking to Donna as a clever woman who has no problem standing up for herself and gains respect for her, deciding to pass some wisdom on to her from one companion to another. In a rather sad scene, we discover that Martha still feels partially responsible for what happened to the Jones clan last season, and she doesn’t want Donna to make the same mistakes she did. From that point on, the rest of this two-parter does almost nothing with Martha’s character. To elaborate, Martha gets kidnapped by the Sontarans early on and replaced by a clone impostor while she’s in a coma for about 60% of this story. Freema gets to play a slyly wicked villainess for a change, who’s been sent to sabotage UNIT from the inside by withholding information and preventing them from going nuclear. In a way, Freema has come full circle portraying a sinister double agent in this episode, since that was also her very first role back in “Army Of Ghosts“. Clone Martha has the real Martha’s memories and her appearance, but none of her warm, caring personality, which is a dead giveaway. She doesn’t react to Ten subtly throwing shade at her, she isn’t concerned for her family during the Atmos crisis – which is incredibly out-of-character for a companion who always made her family’s safety a top priority, and eventually left the TARDIS to care for them – and she’s generally apathetic to everything. Naturally, Ten sees right through her from the start. As dysfunctional as their friendship can sometimes get, Ten and Martha know each other quite well. Once she’s freed, the audience is treated to a bizarre but semi-sad scene where Martha watches her clone die, another victim of the Sontarans’ war in the end, and manages to appeal to her better nature, showing some of the spirit that makes her unique. Martha didn’t get to do much in this two-parter, but thankfully, she’s better served in the next episode.

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem The Gang 7

Like most UNIT stories, “The Sontaran Stratagem” starts with the organization calling upon the Doctor for input. Colonel Mace is a pretty seasoned military man who wants to impress the Doctor, since he respects his work in the past, but Ten is not interested. He serves as a stand-in for the Brigadier – the straight man to Ten’s wild card, the Doctor’s ideological foil and a mouthpiece for UNIT’s ideals, who’s primarily concerned with following protocol but is willing to think outside the box if needed – a role that’s later passed on to Kate Stewart in the Moffat era. Colonel Mace has a nice arc over the course of this story, where his irritation with the Doctor grows from the man frequently treating them all like idiots and blatantly looking down on them. Eventually, he decides to take initiative himself, which winds up getting some of his men killed. Afterwards, he decides to use his head and be smarter with his next move, building on what he’s learned, proving himself useful. It’s too bad we never saw this character again, because I quite liked him. Despite this story being pretty critical of military practices, “The Poison Sky” also demonstrates why UNIT has a place in the series, even if the Doctor doesn’t like them, and it ties back into a point Harriet raised in “The Christmas Invasion“. As much as Ten likes to sing humanity’s praises, he also has a semi-paternalistic view of them. He wants the human race to rely solely on him to solve every hostile alien conflict that comes along, since he trusts their judgment about as much as he would trust children’s. But he won’t always be around: the Doctor frequently swans off somewhere else in history for fun adventures. So the humans have to learn to defend themselves and fight their own battles eventually. UNIT will always need the Doctor’s help sometimes for cases they can’t handle, but the Doctor also needs to know when to give them some space and let his favorite species grow up.

The Sontarans prove to be fitting villains thematically for a two-parter where the Doctor’s secret ties to the British military are exposed. The Sontarans are a clone-race, comprised of angry bald dwarves, who are born and bred to be soldiers – some of the universe’s greatest warriors. They’re conquerors who love war, viewing it as bloodsport and a rite of passage for their kind, and they’ve nationalistic to a fault. The Sontarans basically embody every idea of what a brash, bullheaded, amoral military man is, since they’re all pure bluster, machismo and testosterone, entirely willing to die for their foolish pride. In many ways, they encompass everything the Doctor dislikes about a military force: greed, ruthlessness, brute strength, and some seriously unchecked egos. They do have some depth to them: their culture has it’s own twisted honor system about how great it is to die as a martyr for the cause, and they’re tactical geniuses when it comes to playing a long game. In particular, they’ve reached out to Luke Rattigan and played on his delusions of grandeur so they can exploit his intelligence for their own ends – weaponizing all the cars on Earth so they can kill the world with the fumes. Advanced alien races taking advantage of stupid, greedy locals who want to advance their station has been a commonly used trope in Doctor Who for a long, long time now: it was in the Sontaran’s first story, “The Time Warrior” in 1973, and Helen Raynor herself used it in her last story, “Daleks In Manhattan“. The Sontarans made quite a tactical error though, smugly exposing their deception to Luke without disposing of him properly, since he gets some of his own back in the end. The Sontarans were never the main villains of a story again after this two-parter (as of Series 12), though Strax was a recurring character in several Moffat era episodes, who was hilarious and a fun change of pace to watch a fairly messed-up Sontaran who wasn’t an antagonist.

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem Skorr 2

Luke Rattigan is the human antagonist of the two-parter, in league with the Sontarans. A former child prodigy and an insufferable teen genius, Luke has always felt isolated from other people – partly because it’s implied that other people his age looked down on him for his genius, and partly because Luke himself is an incredibly arrogant, condescending person and has a fragile ego, which is shown best when he gets epically triggered by Ten correcting his grammar. Luke is an incredibly bratty, immature teenager and disturbingly detached from the consequences of his actions, being something of a sociopath. He thinks people being horribly murdered is cool, and he treats world domination and the death of his entire planet as a game. It’s clear that his emotional development went horribly wrong somewhere. “The Sontaran Stratagem” wrings a lot of humor out of how out-of-place this bratty teenager looks compared to militant alien dictators, and eventually, he gets in over his head. Luke gets a harsh and well-deserved slap of reality when his former students do not in fact abandon their families to die to follow him into space, where they can bolster his ego and help him live out his fantasies. Instead, they ditch him, tell him how much of a maniac he is, and leave him to throw a hilarious tantrum. Then the Sontarans inevitably, gleefully stab him in the back – which is even more delicious – leaving him to realize that not only is he not the most super special man alive, he was the fool who sold out his entire species with nothing to show for it in the end. At the end of the day, Luke takes Ten’s place in his suicide mission to blow up the Sontarans, and I don’t entirely believe that was for Ten’s benefit. At this point, Luke is pretty much broken and has nothing to go back to on Earth as a known traitor to his entire species – so I’m sure he wanted to get some agency back and take his revenge on the aliens who used him and tossed him aside himself.

“The Sontaran Stratagem” is directed by Douglas MacKinnon, who has a pretty strong, above-average vision for the two-parter. He shows plenty of range behind the camera, directing this story with confidence: giving us tracking shots, perspective shots, panning shots, overhead shots, shots that are out-of-focus, shots that purposely conceal important information from the viewers until the time is right. The camera is rarely ever static throughout this two-parter, and it definitely helps to immerse the audience into the story. The costume and make-up department is once again called upon to redesign an alien race from the classic series: the overall look for the Sontarans is very consistent with their appearances in the previous show, except now it’s sleeker and more streamlined, allowing the actors to emote more effortlessly. The lighting team are on top form as well with the work they did on the Sontarans’ ship: all the scenes that are set there have strikingly bright, purple lighting that make the environment feel distinctively inhuman, and are easily some of the visual highlights of this two-parter. The CGI from the Mill is used sparingly for a change in these two episodes, since most of the stunts in this story can be achieved through practical effects, but the few that are utilized are all rendered well (like the establishing shots of the Sontarans’ ship, orbiting the Earth in space), reflecting the upswing of quality the show is currently on when it comes to its production values. Murray Gold’s score is consistently, reliably pleasant this week, reworking numerous melodies and motifs from the previous season, like “Martha’s Theme” for Ms. Jones’ return and Ten’s theme from “The Doctor Forever”, which is used extensively throughout “The Poison Sky”. His militant theme for UNIT is given a more confident revamp on the electric guitar in “UNIT Rocks!“, and the electronic call to action in “A Pressing Need To Save The World” makes a few more appearances as well as Series 4 chugs along.

“The Sontaran Stratagem” is a two-parter that ticks all the right boxes well for a ‘companion returns home’ story, and it does a great job of reintroducing the Sontarans to the franchise. But on the downside, the Tenth Doctor’s personality is at it’s most annoying here, and the show brings back a former companion as a guest star and then does almost nothing with her except put her in a coma. “The Poison Sky” is a perfectly watchable, serviceable two-parter, with its share of positives and negatives.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem Martha 6

* “Getting a bit too close to the 1980’s” “What am I going to do, put a dent in them?” “Well, someone did” Considering what happened in “Father’s Day“, I’m guessing it was Rose.

* “Doctor, it’s Martha, and I’m bringing you back to Earth!”

* “A modern UNIT for the modern world” “What, and that means arresting ordinary factory workers, in the streets, in broad daylight? It’s more like Guantanamo Bay out there. Donna, by the way. Donna Noble, since you didn’t ask. I’ll have a salute”.

* “A hothouse for geniuses. I wouldn’t mind going there. I get lonely”.

* “It wasn’t the Doctor’s fault, but you need to be careful. Because you know the Doctor. He’s wonderful, he’s brilliant, but he’s like fire. Stand too close and people get burnt”.

* “He’s amazing, Gramps. He’s just dazzling. And never tell him I said that. But I’d trust him with my life” “Hold up, I thought that was my job!” “You still come first”.

* “Do you know, with equipment like this you could, I don’t know, move to another planet or something?” “If only that was possible” “If only that were possible. Conditional clause” It was at that point that Luke decided he wanted Ten dead more than he had ever wanted anyone dead.

* “You’re smarter than the usual UNIT grunts, I’ll give you that” “He called you a grunt. Don’t call Ross a grunt. He’s nice. We like Ross”.

* “General Staal, of the Tenth Sontaran Fleet! Staal the Undefeated!” “Oh, that’s not a very good nickname. What if you do get defeated? ‘Staal the Not Quite So Undefeated Anymore But Never Mind?'”.

* “Umm, how do you tell each other apart?” “…We say the same of humans” Luke, boy, that is racist. Now, hush up.

* “What is that?!” “Soon that will be you”.

* “There is an enemy of the Sontarans known as the Doctor. A face-changer. Legend says that he led the battle in the last great Time War. The finest war in history and we weren’t allowed to be a part of it. Oh, but this is excellent. The last of the Time Lords will die at the hands of the Sontaran empire, in the ruins of his precious Earth!”

* “What, have you met before?” “Yeah, Christmas Eve. He disappeared right in front of me!” “And you never said?” “Well, you never said!”

* “Some of the boys Donna used to turn up with. Different one every week. Here, who was that one with the nail varnish?” “Matthew Richards. He lives in Kilburn now. With a man”.

* “I don’t know, men and their cars. Sometimes I think if I was a car-” Thirsty Sylvia.

* The solution to the first episode’s cliffhanger is hilarious. Ten and Donna are panicking about how the sonic screwdriver won’t work on Wilf’s car and he’s going to choke to death. Then Sylvie shows up, finds something really heavy, and smashes the windshield in like they should have done ages ago. Sometimes, I think the Doctor relies a bit too much on the sonic.

* “This is it, isn’t it?! Oh man, this is war!” Luke, boy, calm down.

* “It’s the Sontarans, they’ve taken it. I’m stuck on Earth like, like an ordinary person. Like a human. How rubbish is that? Sorry, no offense, but come on!”

* “My God, they’re like trolls” “Yeah, loving the diplomacy, thanks”.

* “So, tell me, General Staal, since when did you lot become cowards?” “How dare you?!” “Oh, that’s diplomacy?” “Doctor, you impugn my honor!” Well, Ten certainly has a talent for triggering villains today.

* “Fifty thousand years of bloodshed, and for what?” “For victory! Sontar-Ha! Sontar-Ha! Sontar-Ha!- Sontar-Ha! Sontar-” “Oh, give me a break” Sassy Ten.

* “I guess that just proves it. I’m cleverer then you. I’m cleverer then everyone, do you hear me? I’m clever!” You are a sad, strange little man, Luke, and you have my pity.

* “Ha! The planet is going nuclear! I admire them. The bravery of idiots is bravery, nonetheless”.

* “Greyhound Forty, report!” “He wasn’t Greyhound Forty. His name was Ross. Now listen to me, and GET THEM OUT OF THERE!”

* “A pity. We’ve lost our target practice. Upon arrival on board this ship, your students would have been shot down. Perhaps they were more clever then you thought” Top ten anime betrayals.

* “Are you my mummy?” Ten, there’s a time and a place for a callback.

* “Thank you, Doctor. Thank you for your lack of faith. But this time, I’m not listening!”

* “Whoa, that’s brilliant!” “Getting a taste for it, Doctor?” “No, not at all. Not me”.

* “In your mind, you’ve got so many plans. There’s so much that you want to do” “And I will. Never do tomorrow what you can do today, my mum says, because-” “Because you never know how long you’ve got. Martha Jones. All that life”.

* Luke’s students quite rightly mock him for his ‘breeding program’. Ironically, the Sontarans’ whole plot turns out to be turning the Earth into their own ‘breeding program’.

* The climax is an excellent example of Doctor Who taking some liberties with science. The Doctor rids the world of the Sontarans’ poison gas by igniting the whole atmosphere on fire. Wouldn’t that cause massive ecological damage as a consequence? If it did, the Doctor didn’t stick around to see it.

* “I won’t tell her. Best not. Just keep it as our little secret, eh? And you go with him, that wonderful Doctor. You go and see the stars, and then bring a bit of them back for your old Gramps” Doctor Who really lucked out when Bernard Cribbins was cast as Wilf, because he is in great in the role.

* The unexpected cliffhanger always makes me laugh. Martha is saying goodbye to Ten and Donna, telling them about how she’s happy where she’s at, and then the TARDIS basically kidnaps her and drags her off into the next episode (because Sexy has a mind of her own). To say Martha was not expecting that betrayal would be an understatement.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Sontaran Stratagem The Gang 4

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