Doctor Who: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005) Review

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“The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” is the second two-parter of Series 1, and the writing debut of Steven Moffat. Steven Moffat was a guest writer who penned a number of episodes for Doctor Who every year, until he was appointed the second showrunner of the series after Russell T. Davies. As of now, he’s currently the man who’s written the most material for NuWho, so he’s had a tremendous amount of influence on this show since it returned to television. “The Empty Child” proves to be a great story and a good first impression, finding just the right balance of creepiness and goofiness to be incredibly charming. It’s fun to watch the past and future collide in this two-parter, alien technology from the 51st century blending with a rustic World War II setting to create a bizarre, zombie plague. I find Moffat’s stories from the RTD era provide an early insight into his vision of “Doctor Who” and lay down all the tropes and themes of his own era. For one example, Moffat favors conceptual horror. An idea in your head can be every bit of scary as a lumbering monster onscreen, and Moffat loves crafting villains that unnerve you with all their horrible implications. Second, children are the ultimate symbol of innocence in the Moffat era and he loves writing stories about families. Cal was a dying little girl given eternal life by her family to live out her dreams. Amy missing out on having a normal childhood is portrayed as a tragedy, and River even more so. The star whale chose to help out humanity because he couldn’t stand to see children suffer. Kazran Sardick was hardened into a miserable miser because of an abusive childhood. Captain Avery knew he hit rock bottom when he almost got his son killed. Madge Arwell tried to bury her own grief over her husband to give her kids a good Christmas. Clara is immediately shown to be a good person because she’s kind to children. When the Doctor recounts how the time war ended, it’s mostly the kids he’s sad about. So it’s very fitting that Moffat’s debut story is about a tormented child.

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The Ninth Doctor is in good spirits this week, and his dialogue is on top form. If you were to ask me, I’d say that the best thing about Moffat’s writing style is that he has a very good handle on the Doctor’s character (which is apparent as early as “The Eleventh Hour”). Even in Moffat’s weakest stories, the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors were usually engaging to watch. Russell T. Davies tends to view the Doctor as a lonely, romantic messiah figure, while Steven Moffat thinks of him as an ingenious, madman in a box. Those two interpretations are not incompatible, but there are some noticeable differences. The Ninth and Tenth Doctors always seemed a bit more quippy and cheery than usual when Moffat wrote them. Nine is separated from Rose very early on, and he spends most of “The Empty Child” investigating on his own, which I appreciate. As much as I enjoy the chemistry between the Doctor and his companions, I also like seeing the Doctor fly solo once in a while. His demeanor changes a lot when he’s not trying to impress his friends, and in some ways, he becomes more straightforward. Like in previous episodes, the Doctor continues to be a clever and perceptive detective, chasing down every lead that presents itself and occasionally goading people with reverse psychology to give him the answer he wants. Nine also lets his age show more than usual in this story. He ruminates on how humans can both frustrate him and impress him endlessly with their indomitable spirit. He briefly connects with Nancy and Dr. Constantine, because they’ve all lost someone and they’ve all experienced grief. And his compassionate side is on display whenever he deals with Jamie, since he has a good understanding of children. The Doctor is presented as a paternal figure several times in this two-parter, being the oldest character present. Even when he’s chewing out Captain Jack for causing the plague, he resembles a parent scolding an ignorant child.

The Doctor is quite brusque and standoffish towards Captain Jack throughout this two-parter, partly because he suspects Jack has something to do with the current gas mask zombie outbreak, and partly because he has little reason to trust some random space criminal. There’s also the fact that the Doctor is clearly annoyed that Rose likes him. Between Mickey, Adam and Jack, the Doctor feeling competitive about the other guys Rose likes has been a pretty clear thread throughout this season, and we’ll get the gender-flipped version of it next season (Rose vs Sarah Jane is not gonna be pretty). Still, the Doctor is gradually won over by Jack, despite himself. He eventually saves his life and brings him onboard as a companion, showing that his character development from “Father’s Day” has stuck. “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” establishes the Doctor’s stance on romance and sexuality in NuWho; namely that he’s bisexual and friskier than his friends give him credit for. In the classic series, the Doctor rarely seemed interested in matters of the heart. The fact that Susan existed implied that the First Doctor, at some point, must have met a very nice time lady and had kids with her, but for the most part he seemed uninterested in romance. NuWho takes the exact opposite stance with the character, which is easily the most controversial aspect of the show. For the record, I am not opposed to the idea of Doctor Who shipping, but I do dislike how much Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat overused it. In the first ten series, the only female companions who didn’t fancy the Doctor at some point were Donna and Bill. Russell especially didn’t do Martha any favors by giving her an unrequited love arc in Series 3. Christopher Eccleston gets a number of good moments in this story, but he shines the brightest during the emotional climax of “The Doctor Dances”. The Doctor’s unbridled glee about the problem being solved without any loss of life at all is a thing of beauty.

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Billie Piper’s Rose is feisty and a lot of fun in this two-parter. By now, the romantic subtext between Rose and the Ninth Doctor is pretty much becoming text, and their chemistry sizzles. Rose has a pretty good idea of what makes the Doctor tick and she respects him, but at the same time, she can’t help playfully teasing him about how unimpressive his approach to time travel can be sometimes. For a 900 year old alien, the Doctor can seem pretty mundane. Rose gets separated from the Doctor early on and has another close shave with death when she gets caught up in an air raid. The flashy and futuristic Captain Jack rescues her, and the pair become attracted to each other pretty quickly. During their scenes together, where Rose has to handle herself and make important decisions without the Doctor to back her up, it becomes clear that she’s gained some experience in being a time-traveling adventurer. As always, she’s willing to take some initiative. Rose and Jack match wits, flirting with each other and verbally jousting as they try to pump each other for info. As Rose’s tenure stretches on, you’ll notice that she loves a good bluff (whether it actually pays off or not). When the Doctor, Rose and Jack team-up and bounce ideas off each other to try to solve the mystery of the empty child, the two men constantly compete to try to impress Rose, and a bizarre but devilishly fun love triangle starts to form between the trio. It’s a rare set-up in the series, but I always enjoy having three people in the TARDIS. Having three travelers around allows for a good melting pot of opinions, and some great banter to form. The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory would be a similarly fun trio in later seasons. To cap off her great characterization in this story, Rose gets a quiet but heartening scene where she talks to Nancy and convinces her not to give up hope during the oppressive war, because it will all be worth it in the future, Rose’s future.

John Barrowman makes his debut in this story as the glorious cheesy yet charismatic Captain Jack Harkness, a major recurring character in the RTD era. Captain Jack is a cheeky, flirtatious, competent, intelligent and roguish time traveler from the future. Jack is a former time agent (secret servicemen who kept the timeline flowing smoothly the way the time lords used to) who now works as a professional conman. Jack likes to perform clever and seemingly harmless cons throughout history, so he can get money and information from the time agency, and in “The Empty Child”, his overconfidence leads him to bite off a bit more than he can chew. Like the Doc, Captain Jack is bisexual, the first Doctor Who companion who was anything other than straight, which apparently caused quite a stir in 2005 (I wouldn’t know, because I hadn’t even heard of the show yet at the time). Captain Jack famously flirts with anything that walks, and he carries a torch for Rose and the Doctor both. Captain Jack’s backstory involves him being betrayed by the time agency, who stole several years worth of memories stolen him, which disillusioned him greatly from his old employers. It’s an intriguing tidbit that hints at future Captain Jack arc that never actually happened. After “Bad Wolf / The Parting Of Ways”, the rest of Captain Jack’s character arc involved him being immortal and his affiliation with Torchwood, so “Doctor Who” never did solve the mystery of his stolen memories. In any case, the Doctor is slow to trust Jack, not only because he sees him as a rival to Rose’ affections, but also because he’s a very shady and perhaps unreliable character. Still, Jack’s heart of gold shines through in the end. He can be cocky, shrewd and boastful, but he can also be caring, resourceful, and ultimately selfless.

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Jack is a different sort of companion than usual for “Doctor Who”. He’s a mercenary from the future, which means (in addition to his fluid sexuality) he’s had a lot of adventures on his own, he knows a lot about temporal mechanics and alien technology, and he’s one of the few characters in this series who can intellectually match wits with the Doctor. In later episodes, the two will not only trade barbs about ethical issues, but also team up to man the TARDIS. Future companions weren’t uncommon in classic Who (like Steven, Zoe and Adric, to name a few), but they’re very rare in NuWho, presumably because the audience would find it a more difficult to relate to their skewered, alien perspective than your average contemporary Londoner, and they’re usually reserved as part-time heroes. Another recurring character in the series like Jack is Professor River Song, who is every bit as fun. When the Doctor accuses him of bringing about the end of the world, Jack denies every bit of it and refuses to take responsibility, something which we know by now pisses the Doctor off. When Jack finally gets confirmation that the plague is his fault, he’s pretty horrified. You’ll notice that incidents like this have been happening a lot this season. Doctor Who often states that time can be rewritten easily, and Series 1 seems to especially stress to new viewers how fragile the timeline can be, even to our heroes’ own meddling. The Doctor almost caused armageddon when he let the Gelth through the rift. Rose almost caused it when she set the Dalek free. Adam almost caused it when he led the Editor to the TARDIS. Rose almost caused it again when she tried to save her dad. Jack almost caused it when he unwittingly set off the zombie plague. Taking responsibility, the normally selfish conman nearly gets himself killed to fix his mistake, which finally earns him the Doctor’s respect, and officially kick-starts Captain Jack’s redemption arc, which will come to a head in the finale.

Nancy is a homeless youth who prowls the streets of London during air raids, looking for a bountiful score. Nancy has basically become the leader and mother hen of a bunch of homeless kids and teenagers, and she steals food every night from the more wealthy citizens of London to keep all the kids fed. She’s a resourceful and quick-witted thief with a sharp tongue and a preference for propriety, but she’s also a very stern and maternal ward. The Doctor takes a liking to her quickly because of how clever she is, and the mystery she presents as an enigmatic figure. It’s obvious pretty early on that Nancy is hiding something, she knows more about the empty child and the zombie plague than she should and she seems to be running and hiding from something in her past. Jamie, the undead boy, is stalking and targeting her specifically. Considering “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” is full of silly gags and quippy wartime humor, Moffat uses Nancy to take the story into some darker, more serious places. Nancy’s subplot shines a light on some of the more nasty, unpleasant and repressive aspects of British society in the 1940’s (which has historically valued keeping up appearances, and had strict social taboos). When Nancy gets busted on one of her raids, she successfully turns the tables on her blustering captor by revealing that she knows he’s a closeted man who’s been cheating on his wife for who knows how long with the neighborhood butcher. She rather audaciously and impressively blackmails him into giving her freedom and some supplies. Later, we learn Nancy herself was a teenage single mom who was tossed out onto the streets and left to fend for herself and new baby. So she lied to everyone, including her son, and told people he was her kid brother out of shame, right up to the day he died. That revelation proves to be as surprising as it is depressing.

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You know how I said children are the ultimate symbols of innocence and morality in Doctor Who, and that Steven Moffat likes writing conceptual horror? Well, Jamie might not seem like much at first, but what he endures in this story is really very horrifying, and it only gets worse the more you think about it. Jamie was raised as an orphan for the first four years of his life, with his teen mother pretending to be his sister out of shame. One night, he wanders out during an air raid and gets brutally murdered by a German bomb, complete with a crushed skull, destroyed chest and everything. Not long after, rogue alien technology discovers his corpse, tries to help him and does a terrible job of reanimating him, leaving his body maimed and mutilated and melding his melted gas mask into his flesh. Worst of all, the fragments of his consciousness are stuck in loop, forever circling around the last thoughts he had before he perished – wanting his mother. Jame is left as an empty shell of a human, crying out for the love he was denied when he was alive, and if there’s even enough of him in there to still feel pain, he must be in horrible agony the whole time. For a month, zombie Jamie becomes obsessed with finding his mother and relentlessly seeks her out, spreading his unique condition to other people. The empty child virus spreads physical injuries as plague and turns healthy, normal adults into mutilated drones with the mindsets of children, since the nanogenes believe every human being on Earth should be ‘upgraded’ like Jamie. We get to watch the transformation happen ourselves twice, and I like that Moffat draws out both cases just long enough for the audience to realize what’s going to happen before the characters do. Viewers get to look on in a mixture of awe and mortification as flesh and bone and skin twists and contorts and good, ordinary people feel their humanity slip away from them by the second, simply because they were in the wrong place in the wrong time. Is it a wild coincidence that the Doctor happened to visit Dr. Constatine on the night he finally succumbed to the zombie virus? Yes it is. Is it still creepy and effective? Yes it is.

The nanogenes that patched Jamie up were designed for the battlefield, and they turned him into a super-powered soldier. He’s super strong now, able to punch through walls; he can call anyone, anywhere on any kind of communication device; and he has a telepathic link to all the other zombies, controlling them as an army of the undead to achieve his goal. With so many odds stacked in his favor, Jamie seems almost omniscient at times; his influence seems to reach everywhere at once and the boy is physically never far away, stalking our heroes. As time goes on, there’s a growing sense of fear and paranoia surrounding Jamie as things go from bad to worse, as well as a bleak, crushing pessimism that’s usually uncharacteristic of this show when it gradually becomes apparent that Jack, Nancy, the nanogenes and World War II have created a perfect storm of a disaster that seemingly can’t be stopped. Just when it seems all hope is lost, London is saved by Jack taking some responsibility for the first time in years and Nancy accepting Jamie as her son, a miracle that surprises and delights the Doctor as much as it does the audience. In retrospect, it’s very Moffat. In his grander stories, the end of the everything takes a backseat and serves as window dressing to the character drama and the character relationships, and the emotional climax of said stories tend to hinge on a turning point in the relationships or a moment of catharsis. “Silence In The Library” is a story about the Doctor solving a mystery in the world’s biggest library, but it’s also a story about River’s relationship with the Doctor and her faith in her husband paying off in the end. “The Big Bang” sees the Doctor save the universe from destruction by rebooting it, but it’s mostly about his relationship with Amy Pond and his role in her life. “The Time Of The Doctor” has the Doctor fight a war to save a town for centuries, but it’s mostly about the Eleventh Doctor choosing to finally stop running his past and metaphorically grow up. Despite being set on Gallifrey, the crux of “Hell Bent” is the Doctor and Clara realizing they’re just not good for each other and they need to split up. Jamie didn’t do anything to deserve the horror he endured in this story thanks to other characters, and against all odds, he gets to have a happy ending.

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“The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” is a fairly unique story in Series 1, since it’s set entirely at night. Darkness blankets this entire two-parter, giving it a mysterious mood on a chilly, empty grey night. With that in mind, I have to commend the lighting team and the set designers for all their superb work in this story. There are times when “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” bares a lot of resemblance to the old monster movies and sci-fi thrillers from the 40’s and the 50’s, giving it a tone that’s a mixture of old school horror and whimsical, dark fantasy. James Hawe’s direction is the best we’ve seen so far this season, effortlessly alternating between being lively, playful and bombastic, and being taut, tense and uncomfortable, exuding confidence the whole time. The CGI is noticeably better in this story than it has been in some of the other episodes from Series 1 (including “Father’s Day”), while still being a bit rough and conspicuous. I find unpolished CGI is a lot easier to accept during a nighttime setting that can hide some of the blemishes, and a good example of that is the explosion of CGI that happens very early on in the story, when Rose gets drawn into an air raid. The ever so slightly somewhat unnatural look of the CGI actually winds up helping Dr. Constantine’s transformation feel more viscerally wrong when it happens. And I have to say, I really like the sleek, aerodynamic design of Jack’s ship. If the TARDIS is retro, reliable and badass, Jack’s ship is like the sports cars of spaceships, exactly the sort of thing a future boy who loves to show off would ride in. Murray Gold’s dynamic score is once again unreleased for this two-parter, which is quite frankly criminal, since Murray turns in some of his best work this season and writes some great pieces for “The Doctor Dances”, like the exuberant, rising music during the climax.

“The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” is a really strong and enjoyable two-parter, and in retrospect, it also serves as a good blueprint for Steven Moffat’s writing style over the next ten seasons. It nearly claims the title of Series 1’s best story with ease, except the Series 1 finale, “Bad Wolf / The Parting Of The Ways”, is coming up quickly to “The Doctor Dances” some healthy competition.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Doors, music, people. What do you think?” “I think you should do a scan for alien tech. Just give me some Spock! For once, would it kill you to give me some Spock?!”

* In hindsight, it is blindingly obvious Jamie is Nancy’s son. After all, they both possess the ability to just vanish into thin air.

* Like in “Dalek“, Rose’s hair is frizzier is this week, and she’s feeling patriotic.

* “Ernie, how many times? We are guests in this house-” That’s not the word I would use.

* “Thank you. That’s much better” “Oh, yeah, that’s a real load off, that is! I’m hanging in the sky in the middle of a German air raid with the Union Jack across my chest, but hey, at least my mobile phone’s off!!!”

* “How are you gonna do that?” “Easy, I’ll do a scan for alien tech” “Finally, a professional!”

* “Amazing. 1941. Right now, not very far from here, the German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it. Nothing. Until one, tiny, damp little island says no. No. Not here. A mouse in front of a lion. You’re amazing, the lot of you. Don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me”.

* “I thought you were Time Agents. You’re not, are you?!” “Just a couple more freelancers” “Oh, I should have known. The way you guys are blending in with the local color. I mean, Flag Girl was bad enough, but U-Boat Captain?!”

* “I’m really glad that worked. Those would have been terrible last words!”

* “Doctor, what’s that noise?!” “The end of the tape, it ran out two minutes ago. I sent the monster to it’s room. This is it’s room” Yeah, another thing about Moffat’s stories – he really likes the ‘we don’t have to go looking for the monster, cause it’s already found us’ trope.

* “Battery? That’s so lame!” “Well, I was gonna send in for a new one, but somebody had to blow up the factory!” “Oh, I know. First day I met him, he blew my job up. That’s practically how he communicates”.

* “Now, assets, assets!” “Well, I’ve got a banana, and in a pinch you could put up some shelves”.

* “Okay, so he’s vanished into thin air. Why is it always the great looking ones who do that?” “I’m making an effort not to be insulted” “I mean, men” “Okay, thanks, that really helped”.

* “Rose, I’m trying to resonate concrete”.

* “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!

* Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat both had moments of darkness and light, but one key difference between them is that Russell’s writing style tends to edge more towards cynicism, while Steven’s edges towards optimism. This is especially apparent in Series 4. “Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead” and “Midnight” are positioned right next to each other and they have fairly similar set-ups (the Doctor tries to help a group of strangers brave an alien threat), but they have vastly different outcomes.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Father’s Day (2005) Review

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There are a few episodes of “Doctor Who” that I don’t rewatch all that often. Not because they’re bad (quite the opposite), but because I know they’ll leave me feeling depressed for a while afterwards. I save those episodes for when I’m either in the mood for a good sad story, or when I’m rewatching the entire series from start to finish. Some of these stories include “Father’s Day”, “Turn Left”, “The Angels Take Manhattan” and “Face The Raven”. “Father’s Day” is a pretty unique installment of Series 1. It’s not as campy or larger-than-life as “The End Of The World” or “The Long Game“, it’s tone is a lot more grey and muted than “Rose” or “Aliens Of London“, and it’s about as character-driven as “Dalek” (albeit showcasing a different cast member). Furthermore, while there are time travel sci-fi elements present in this episode, they largely rest in the background and service the primary focus of the story: the Tyler family (which is just as well, since the Reapers serve their purpose as one-off antagonists, but are really troublesome as a concept down the line). Like ‘Aliens Of London”, the Powell estate drama can sometimes come dangerously close to soap opera territory (like the subplot of a groom’s annoying, womanizing father nagging him about the girl he’s marrying), and the overall plot of this episode is pretty basic, straightforward and sometimes predictable. But for the most part, “Father’s Day” goes a long way in humanizing Rose, and it ties the separate strands of it’s plot together well to create an effective dark fairy tale. Every companion has one or two episodes where their character really shines, and I think I would single “Father’s Day” out as the ultimate Rose episode, much like I would say “Turn Left” is the ultimate Donna episode, or “The Girl Who Waited” is the ultimate Amy episode, or “Flatline” is the ultimate Clara episode.

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I’ve had plenty of good things to say about Christopher Eecleston’s performance in the last few reviews, and I want to shine some light on Billie Piper for today’s episode. When Billie was cast as Rose Tyler in 2005, she caused a minor stir. People figured Russell T. Davies had picked a pop star as the companion for star casting and doubted she had the acting chops to lead a sci-fi show like “Doctor Who”, only to be surprised by her raw talent (just as they would with Catherine Tate and Matt Smith). However my feelings may fluctuate on Rose from Series 2 onwards, there’s no denying how good Billie is in the role, giving her both an ego and a believable vulnerability. I especially like that whenever the script calls for her to cry, she doesn’t just go half-way like actors sometimes do, looking sad while still remaining attractive. She goes full-on, unapologetic, jarring ugly-cry, both in this episode (as Pete goes to sacrifice himself) and the coda of “Doomsday”. All in all, Billie played as large a role in making Series 1 a success as Russell and Chris did. Her best performance so far has been in “The End Of The World”, but “Father’s Day” finally gives her some meatier material again. Rose grew up hearing stories about her dead father from her widowed mother, about how brave and clever and kind he was. Jackie rarely spoke ill of him the way people tend to do when their loved ones pass away. Having never known him in person, little Rose followed her mother’s example and mythologized him, putting him up on a pedestal in her head as the perfect dad she never met. Now that young adult Rose has a friend with a time machine, she would like to fulfill a childhood wish and see her dad when he was still alive. Needless to say, the past is not as romantic or idyllic as Rose imagined.

Pete and Jackie’s relationship was very strained and dysfunctional while the man was still alive, to the point where Jackie started to regret her choice of a husband, and Rose has a hard time dealing with that revelation. In fact, there are a lot of Rose scenes in this episode that are just plain uncomfortable to watch, underlined with a stony silence, like Rose growing more and more horrified as her parents tear into each other in front of her, or Rose trying to think up a good lie to tell Pete so he won’t know he’s dead in her time, or the fights she has with the Doctor. The real trouble starts when Rose steps in and saves her father from being killed in a hit-and-run, which removes her reason for being there in the first place and causes a paradox that starts to unravel the timeline. From that point on, Rose really falls from grace as a companion as the situation grows more and more horrifying and lethal. Keep in mind, Adam was kicked out of the TARDIS in “The Long Game” for almost getting the Doctor and Rose killed and almost bringing about the end of the world. Rose actually does doom the universe and gets who knows how many people along with the Doctor (the man she loves) eaten by monsters. Despite a few glimmers of hope, Rose just sinks lower and lower until she eventually hits rock bottom, and it’s painfully sad. The one good thing about the whole ordeal is that Rose gets to spend a day with Pete, learn who he was as a man, and form a real, short-lived connection with him, which culminates in Paul Cornell twisting one last knife in her gut when Pete goes to heroically commit suicide to save the world. It’s a dark, emotionally sublime climax where Rose’s heart breaks, but she still ironically accomplishes the task she came there to do in the first place, give Pete some comfort in his final moments. Like I said in “Dalek”, Rose must be really good at repressing some horrible, horrible memories.

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After two episodes of Rose being sidelined, it’s the Doctor’s turn to be kept out of focus in this installment, but he still benefits from his supporting role. By now it’s pretty clear that the Ninth Doctor is a very knowledgeable time traveler, but he has two noticeable weak spots in his judgment. The time war is one of them – the Gelth used it to manipulate him, and the Dalek taunted him with it – and Rose is the other, since he’s starting to fall in love with her. He knew bringing Adam onboard the TARDIS was probably a bad move, but he wanted to give Rose’s idea a chance. Likewise, bringing Rose to the site of her father’s hit-and-run is a terrible idea, not just because of the potential risk to the timeline, but because basic common sense should tell you that taking someone to see their dad die is a very morbid and traumatizing request that a good friend probably shouldn’t oblige. Still, the Doctor trusts Rose enough to ignore his instincts and tries to help her with heart’s desire and he winds up getting burned. Considering how he handled personal betrayal in the last episode, the audience waits with bated breath for his reaction when the Doctor and Rose get some privacy, and it is not pretty. The Doctor is pretty furious, outraged and worried about the potential consequences of Rose’s actions (and not without good reason). Like the previous episode, it’s implied he had started to put Rose up on a pedestal in his head, thinking she was special and wiser than other humans, while forgetting that an important part of humanity is making mistakes and learning from them. The Doctor would like to just nip back to the TARDIS, fix everything and wipe his hands clean of the whole affair like he did in “The Long Game”, but the episode’s plot forces him to stick around.

“Father’s Day” suggests that the Doctor can sometimes be too harsh, unforgiving and self-righteous. While he works to save everyone, the Doctor is reminded that however terrible the outcome was, Rose did have good intentions in mind, and the ultimate resolution to the problem breaks her heart, so the Doctor finds it in him to forgive her by the end of the episode. The Doctor would also go on to forgive Captain Jack for causing the gas mask zombie problem in “The Doctor Dances”, after he almost got himself blown up to fix it, so “Father’s Day” served as a growing experience for Nine. This episode also provides some more insight into the Doctor’s standard m.o. In a crisis, the Doctor will always try to keep everyone calm and safe, try to buy as much as time as he can, and try to keep hope alive, even when he has no plan in mind and he has to lie to them. The Doctor has a quiet, lovely exchange with the frightened newlyweds about how important an ordinary life can be, even if it’s not the kind of life for him, which telegraphs the main theme of the episode. Paul Cornell includes a rather cruel hope spot before the climax of his script. The Doctor comes up with a plan to summon his ship so he can sort out the paradox and ward off the reapers with a TARDIS ex-machina. It’s a very feasible plan and one the audience would love to succeed after things have got increasingly bleak. But from a storytelling standpoint, it would be an unsatisfying resolution to the problem at hand; it’s way too easy and completely at odds with the main themes of the episode. Instead, Paul uses it to crush the last bit of hope the survivors had left by straight-up killing off the Doctor and the TARDIS. It’s a horrible, crushing scene, but one that needed to happen to really ram home what Rose’s actions have done on a personal level, and take the episode into the darkness entirely so it can emerge with a stunning, emotionally stirring finale centered around the true hero of the hour: Pete.

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Peter Alan Tyler (Shaun Dingwall) is a seemingly unremarkable yet funny bloke. Like all the members of the Tyler family, he comes from a pretty modest, working-class background and his relationship with his wife is pretty rocky by the time his daughter is born. Pete is apparently a layabout who can’t keep a steady job and can barely provide for himself and his family. He would like to fancy himself an inventor, coming up with all sort of clever schemes to make money, but none of his ideas take off. Jackie also accused of him cheating on her once, which is quite the eye-opener, whether it’s actually true or not. Regardless, the man does love his family and the idea of being a father, and he would do anything for them. Despite Pete’s overall dodginess, he is clearly not dumb. He’s actually quite sharp and observant, to the point where the other characters frequently underestimate him. Keeping track of every strange thing he sees and learns about the wound in time, it doesn’t take long for Pete to realize that Rose is his daughter from the future (and it helps that Rose is a terrible liar). Beyond that, he quickly comes to the horrible realization that he is not and never will be a part of Rose’s life, that he’s supposed to be dead. In a sobering scene, when Rose describes his dad skills, Pete sadly notices the dissonance between the lionized hero Rose has imagined and the man that he actually is, knowing they can’t possibly the same. In that exchange, it becomes clear that Pete’s opinion of himself is about as low as Jackie’s. By the end of the episode, Pete has accepted that he couldn’t be there for Rose during her childhood, fate stole that chance from him, but he can die a good death to save the world and the future she lives in, he can be her hero. Pete was a completely ordinary man, and a screw-up for much of his life, but when it counted he was completely extraordinary, and only a few people will ever know that.

While the Doctor has griped several times about Rose’s mother being annoying, it’s mostly been an informed attribute before now. In previous episodes, Jackie was at most mildly irritating, and often quite funny in my opinion. In “Father’s Day”, young Jackie is kind of a pain. She frequently comes off as a snide, bitter, and rather vicious nag. She’s very haughty and vain, and the script never misses a chance to insult her intelligence. Jackie makes it no secret that she’s starting to regret marrying Pete and she constantly calls his integrity into question, though it’s clear this stems more from frustration with their failing marriage than a place of genuine resentment. Lastly, when they’re all trapped in a church, about to be killed by monsters, Jackie keep obsessing over how close Rose is sitting to Pete, convinced he’s trying to cheat on her. To quote Slip Fel Fotch Slitheen, she really needs to get some perspective. It’s implied that Pete dying young and Jackie having to raise Rose on her own as single mother humbled her and mellowed her out a lot. In an alternate universe where Pete never died and Rose was never born, present day Jackie is exactly the same, but somehow worse. I suspect that if Russell T. Davies and Paul Cornell had known how long the Doctor Who revival would last, they probably wouldn’t have introduced the Reapers as one-off villains in the first series, or they would have written them differently. The Reapers are indestructible monsters who live outside the time vortex and opportunistically feast on temporal paradoxes, like the one Rose accidentally creates. Trouble is, since 2005 we’ve seen way worst paradoxes in Doctor Who than the one in “Father’s Day”, and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Reapers since. The inconsistency makes the plot of this episode feel very strange in retrospect. My own personal headcanon is that the Reapers got a bit too curious about the cracks in times in Series 5, like the Weeping Angels did, and got themselves erased.

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Joe Ahearne returns to direct this episode, and unlike his work on “Dalek”, I’d say his direction for “Father’s Day” is competent and workmanlike but otherwise unremarkable, save for a few interesting shots like the long, held take of Pete staring out into the street, slowly realizing what he has to do, or the cold, distant shot of Rose feeling empty inside. Set entirely in a regular London block, “Father’s Day” is probably one of the least interesting episodes of Series 1 in terms of visuals, especially since it’s sandwiched between the exciting world of Platform One in “The Long Game” and the World War II setting of “The Empty Child”. Still, I do like the ominous atmosphere of this episode, achieved with grey filters and washed-out, destatured colors. Adding to the chilly tone of the episode, Murray Gold’s score is rather haunting this week. It’s whimsical and childlike, but in a twisted and perverted sort of the way, since this is Rose’s childhood fantasy gone horribly wrong. It’s the sort of music you would expect to hear in a horror movie while a serial killer picks off child targets. After all that creepiness, Murray writes a gorgeous, emotional piano piece for the scene where Pete runs out to meet his destiny, simply titled “Father’s Day” (which is sadly trimmed down on the album). After two episodes with really good CGI, “Doctor Who” steps a step backwards this week with the Reapers, unsettling CGI creations that serve their purpose but haven’t really aged that well and never quite feel like a tangible part of the environment.

The plot of this episode can get a bit dry and predictable, and I prefer Paul Cornell’s next entry, “Human Nature / The Family Of Blood”, over it. But it is a very good, small-scale story, and as a character study, “Father’s Day” has to be one of Rose’s best and most memorable outings from her tenure.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “I did it again, I picked another stupid ape” That’s still racist, Doc.

* “Boyfriend trouble?”

* You’ve gotta love how fast Rose shuts things down when Pete starts talking about pretty she is, for so many reasons. I like to think Rose has seen “Back To The Future”, and she knows she has nip that shit in the bud as soon as possible.

* “Oh, Pete. You never used to like them mental. Or I don’t know, maybe you did”.

* Heh, just when Rose thinks she has the Doctor wrapped around her finger, giant bat monsters show up to eat her.

* “The entire Earth’s been sterilised. This, and other places like it, are all that’s left of the human race. We might hold out for a while, but nothing can stop those creatures. They’ll get through in the end. The walls aren’t that old. And there’s nothing I can do to stop them. There used to be laws stopping this kind of thing from happening. My people would have stopped this. But they’re all gone. And now I’m going the same way”.

* “Rubbish. I’m so useless I couldn’t even die properly. Now it’s my fault all of this has happened” “This is my fault” “No, love. I’m your dad. It’s my job for it to be my fault”.

* “Her dad? How are you her dad? How old were you, twelve? Oh, that’s disgusting” It was at that point that Nine checked out.

* “It’s cold. The key’s cold. Oh, my God, he’s dead. This is all my fault. Both of you. All of you. The whole world“.

* “I never read you those bedtime stories. I never took you on those picnics. I was never there for you” “You would have been” “But I can do this for you. I can be a proper dad to you now” “But it’s not fair” “I’ve had all these extra hours. No one else in the world has ever had that. And on top of that, I got to see you. And you’re beautiful. How lucky am I, eh?”

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: The Long Game (2005) Review

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If the early episodes have done their job of easing you into “Doctor Who” and getting you hooked on the show, I generally find the sixth and seventh installments are when you’ve fully gotten into the swing of the series’ premise and start anticipating it. For Series 5, it’s “The Vampires Of Venice” and “Amy’s Choice”, and for Series 1 it’s “Dalek” and “The Long Game”. Right from the pre-titles sequence, where an excited Nine and Rose and a shell-shocked Adam take in the fact they’re onboard a space station orbiting the Earth in the far future, I was psyched for another time-traveling, mystery-solving adventure. Unpopular opinion time: I really like “The Long Game”. In fact, every Doctor has one or two episodes that the fandom really dislikes that I’m partial to myself. For Ten, it’s “42”, for Eleven, it’s “The Curse Of The Black Spot”, and for Twelve, it’s “The Eaters Of The Light”. “The Long Game” refreshingly serves as a slow-paced, breather episode. Since things got really intense in “World War Three” and “Dalek“, and are about to get really depressing in “Father’s Day”, it’s slotted in just the right place (and like “Dalek”, it stealthily acts as a lynchpin episode in the season’s arc). I enjoy the core concept of this episode: the Doctor and Rose investigating a corrupt news station in the future. One of the great things about Series 1 is that it’s filled with bold, creative ideas that grab the audience’s attention, like alien socialites gathering in the future to watch the Earth burn, or gas mask zombies running amok in World War II, or aliens faking a crash landing to cause mass hysteria. Even “Boom Town” has the novel idea of the Doctor being forced to spend a night with a captured enemy he’s taking to her death. “The Long Game” also features some pretty frank, on-the-mark social commentary from Russell T. Davies about the dangers of a corrupt media, which actually resonates more now than it did a decade ago.

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The Ninth Doctor is in top form in this episode, and Christopher Eccleston has clearly settled into the role at this point. As usual, the Doctor intends to be just a tourist at first who enjoys the future, but it’s not long before he starts to notice that something is wrong about human society – little details that don’t add up – so he latches onto some clues and works his way backwards from there. Every little thing he discovers worries him more and more. Like “The Beast Below” in Series 5, the Doctor catches wind of a grand conspiracy in the future, going all the way up to the government, and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it, no matter how outrageous it sounds. The Doctor was written as a rebel time lord, an anarchist and a non-conformist in the classic series, and that aspect of his character shines through in this episode. He’s direct and to the point when he’s sleuthing, and he doesn’t have the time or the patience for willful ignorance when it comes to the locals who would prefer to stick their head in the sand, like Cathica. But despite what he tells her, he doesn’t actually give up on her thinking for himself, and when she comes to rescue him in the climax, the Ninth Doctor does what he does best: empower other people to stand up for themselves. The Doctor is thoroughly pissed-off when Adam betrays him, but on some level, he saw it coming. Considering Adam worked for Henry Van Statten, an amoral jackass, of course he probably wasn’t a good fit for TARDIS life. When the Doctor evicts him, it’s worth noting what he says about Rose in comparison. The Doctor and Rose have gotten along swimmingly for a while, and she just stopped him from crossing a major line in the last episode, so he’s started to put her up on a pedestal in his head as an ideal woman, forgetting that she’s human and she mistakes too – an illusion that will be shattered in the next episode. After toppling a corrupt society, Nine also swans off and leaves Cathica to deal with the power vaccum, an irresponsible habit of his that will catch up to him eventually.

Like the previous episode, Billie Piper’s Rose is given less to do than usual, but this story still feels like a growing experience for her. At the start of their adventure, Rose is eager to show off to Adam and mentor him in the ways of time travel, showing him just how much fun and excitement the TARDIS can offer. As the episode stretches on, it becomes clear that Rose didn’t just bring Adam along because she fancied him (though that certainly contributed), but also because traveling in the TARDIS is always incredible and she would like to have someone else to share that experience with. She offered Mickey a spot in the TARDIS as well a few episodes ago, but he turned her down. It’s interesting how much Rose’s stance changes after she and the Doctor have a relationship upgrade in the finale. By “School Reunion” the following season, Rose firmly believes three is a crowd. RTD includes a moment where Adam acknowledges (albeit to butter her up) that she clearly fancies the Doctor and he can’t match up to him, which is usually one of my least favorite motifs in the RTD era. The Doctor and Rose are Russell’s one true pairing, and no other person in the universe can hope to stack up to them in comparison. It gets annoying when RTD frequently disses Martha and Mickey for his Doctor / Rose ship, but I don’t mind it with Adam, because Adam really is a slimy prick. Fully in the spirit of adventure, Rose has become a lot more gung-ho about seeking out trouble and mysteries, and she and the Doctor have become quite a team. They can always count on each other to have each other’s backs, and they indulge in quite a bit of flirting. Their cheeky, genial camaraderie is fun to watch, and it also serves to set up the harshness of their first, really big row in the next episode. Rose is utterly disappointed when Adam betrays her and the Doctor’s trust, and she never repeats the mistake she made with him again. When Adam actually has the nerve to try to play on her sympathies a second time, I love that she just coldly steps back inside the TARDIS and leaves his ass there.

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For the first act of the episode, Bruno Langley’s Adam just seems to have a foppish, dull and milquetoast personality, but he gradually reveals himself to be sneaky, manipulative and greedy. I love that Adam’s subplot in “The Long Game” serves as a twisted mirror to Rose’s journey in “The End Of The World“, which was certainly a deliberate parallel, since Russell wanted to use Adam’s character to demonstrate that not everyone is fit to be a companion. Where Nine and Rose gazed down on a future Earth in wonder, Adam apparently faints. Where Rose ran off on her own to cope with her terrifying mortality, Adam does it to do treacherous things. Where Rose phoned home to feel the comfort and familiarity of London, Adam does it to try to get rich. Instead of seeing the sights of the future, appreciating the culture, or even trying to help the Doctor and Rose with their case, Adam’s first thought, when he gets to travel through time, is to try to make himself rich. Wow. Even worse, he takes advantage of the Doctor and Rose’s hospitality to do it, which is at best rude, at worst super ungrateful. Again, he worked for Henry Van Statten, it’s no surprise he has such a skewered, petty perspective. The problem with Adam is that he’s a bit too clever for his own good, while also being quite stupid where it counts. He actually undergoes surgery to have a chip permanently installed in his head as part of his plan, which not only almost gets the Doctor and Rose killed by costing them their protective anonymity, but also causes the TARDIS to almost fall into enemy hands, which would have brought about the end of the world (as seen in the climax of Series 3). Once the crisis is over, the Doctor takes Adam straight home and leaves him to deal with the consequences of getting his chip, which is a pretty harsh eviction, but I can’t say the brat didn’t deserve it. Adam never returned in the series, but he did have an arc in the comics where he returned to try to get his revenge on the Doctor and Rose.

The world of “The Long Game” is a fascinating one to gradually unravel. For his second foray into the future, Russell opts for your classic dystopian world, albeit one that seems clean, appealing and innocuous on the surface. The advanced technology of the future allows humans to turn their brains into literal computers, sharing and downloading information from across the stars in an instant, creating a supposedly enlightened age, but it also means they have no privacy whatsoever. They’re tagged with chips from the day they’re born to the day they die, and big brother is always watching. The Editor, portrayed by a chilly Simon Pegg, is in charge of running Satellite Five, the news station that broadcasts across the great and bountiful human empire. The Editor is a very snide villain. He loves order, he loves a good puzzle, and he hates being deceived. He likes to feel in control at all times, and he has a sick sense of humor. Most of all, he’s a very demanding boss. All the workers in Satellite Five are equipped with chips so they can work the systems, and the chips allow their decaying corpses to keep working non-stop, long after they die. The Editor’s disrespect for the dead is obscene and depraved, but as far as he’s concerned, it’s efficient. As it turns out, he’s just a lackey, a representative for a beast called the Jagrafess who really owns the station, and by extension, humanity. By manipulating the daily news feeds, the Editor and the Jagrafess can build whatever narrative they choose to influence humans everywhere. They can have an effect on the economy, they can push for certain leaders to be put in office, they can keep humans thick and complacent so their own personal empire will stay running smoothly. They’ve been spreading their lies for a century, and they’ve managed to stunt the progress future humans have made expanding outwards. It’s a great idea for an episode. It’s also a great cautionary tale from Russell about how much influence the media has on the collective masses of humanity from day-to-day, and how easily that influence can be abused.

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Cathica is a work-obsessed reporter, social climber and somewhat irritating side-character who gets sucked into the Doctor and Rose’s investigation as the episode progresses. Like your average employee, she doesn’t step outside her lane or question the way things are done. She keeps her head down, gets her job done everyday, and tries to butter up upper management so she can get a promotion. When her co-worker, Suki, is picked over her, she can barely hide her jealousy. Russell’s episodes set in the future usually shine some light on the less than pleasant aspects of human nature, like the sadism and dehumanization on display in “Bad Wolf” when it comes to the humans’ entertainment, or the blind trust in authority figures that the motorists have in “Gridlock”, or the mob mentality that erupts out of fear and self-righteousness in “Midnight”, or the mad desire to cling to life in a dying universe that’s twisted into something really ugly in “Utopia”. In “The Long Game”, Russell suggests that humans have a habit of willfully staying in the dark about things, downplaying or ignoring uncomfortable inconsistencies so their lives can go on normally. The Doctor considers it to be one of their most annoying traits. Cathy has a nice character arc in the background of the episode, where she overcomes her desire to conform and literally saves the day by thinking for herself. Suki doesn’t too shabby either. In an unexpected twist, the mild-manner reporter turns out to be a spy who goes into the belly of the beast and gets killed on. However, the Editor made a grave mistake keeping her corpse around like the other workers. Like Gwenyth in “The Unquiet Dead“, Suki’s consciousness hangs onto life just long enough to keep her killer in place and get her revenge by taking him down with her when the whole lair blows up. That bit of karma is still just as satisfying the second time.

Brian Grant’s direction proves to be very lively and competently handled throughout the episode, especially as we get closer and closer to the climax. “The Long Game” was primarily shot in a dressed-up warehouse and a variety of other locations around Britain, so as a destination, Satellite Five looks pretty impressive, with massive rooms packed full of people and a variety of sharp, striking colors thanks to some beautiful lighting (Suki stepping out of an ultra-bright elevator and wandering around an empty, navy blue floor 500 has to be one of the most visually appealing scenes in the episode). A combination of CGI and matte paintings helps to create the illusion, and they go a long way in giving this episode a decent sense of scale. “The Long Game” has some of the best CGI we’ve seen since “The End Of The World”, which feels appropriate considering how much this episode harkens back to that one. The rotating satellite orbiting the Earth in the wide shots still looks great after thirteen years, and I like the outrageous, carnivorous blob design the Jasgrafess is given (the sort of thing you’re only ever gonna see in “Doctor Who”). Murray Gold’s score is entirely unreleased in this episode, he writes some good, ominous pieces for the environment of Floor 500, as well as some pleasing variations of “Westerminster Bridge”.

I really enjoyed “The Long Game”. As its own standalone story, it’s a fun, compact, and occasionally thought-provoking mystery that does some surprising things with Adam and contains a nice message from RTD. In light of the finale, it’s also significant for what it sets up later on.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* After leaving behind Van Statten’s base, the Doctor, Rose and Adam jump straight from one period in history where the Daleks have resurfaced to another, with the audience none the wiser. Sneaky, RTD, sneaky.

* “He’s your boyfriend” “Not anymore”.

* “The thing is, Adam, time travel’s like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guide book, you’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?”

* One of the news stories is about how the Face of Boe has gotten pregnant, again. Jack, what have you been getting up to in your old age?

* “The process of news gathering must be open, honest, and beyond bias. That’s company policy.” “Actually, it’s the law” “Yes, thank you, Suki”.

* “What is that?!” “Your boss. This has always been your boss, since the day you were born”.

* In most of her scenes, Tasmin Greig seems overly-wooden as the nurse character, but she starts sending out some serious creepy vibes when it becomes clear she’ll say or do anything to make her sale. She’s a viper, that one.

* “Floor five hundred?” “Something up there is generating tons and tons of heat” “Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m missing out on a party. It’s all going on upstairs. Fancy a trip?”

* “Come on. Come with us” “No way” “Bye!” Heh, sassy Nine is the best Nine.

* “So all the people on Earth are like, slaves” “Well, now, there’s an interesting point. Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?” “Yes“.

* “Time lord. The last of the Time Lords in his travelling machine. Oh, with his little human girl from long ago”.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Dalek (2005) Review

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The title of this episode stands out to me as being pretty spoilery. I mean, any newcomers to the franchise probably wouldn’t know what a Dalek is going in, so the title would mean nothing to them, but let’s just say this episode doesn’t even attempt to hide what it’s about. In fact, most of the Daleks’ episodes have their names in the titles. I consider “Dalek” to be the lynchpin story of Series 1, the one the rest of the series’ story arc and the Ninth Doctor’s character arc pivots around, as well as the second great episode of Series 1 so far (after “The Unquiet Dead“). It covers a lot of ground in just forty-five minutes, so like “Rose“, “Dalek” has a very compact, succinct and tightly-written screenplay that doesn’t waste a moment diving into what makes the Ninth Doctor tick or doling out significant character-establishing moments for the supporting cast. “Dalek” was written by Rob Shearman, who adapted it from his previous Dalek audio story, “Jubilee”. Rob Shearman never returned to write another episode for the revival, which puts him in the camp of writers who wrote unique, standout episodes for “Doctor Who” but opted out of a repeat performance, along with Matt Jones (“The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit”), James Moran (“The Fires Of Pompeii”), Richard Curtis (“Vincent And The Doctor”), Neil Cross (“The Rings Of Akhaten”, “Hide”), and Paul Cornell (“Father’s Day”, “Human Nature / The Family Of Blood”). The last five episodes have taken their time easing us into the world of “Doctor Who”, and this episode is when we get our first large taste of Whoniverse lore when we’re introduced to the Doctor’s greatest enemies, and the series’ arc villains, the Daleks.

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While the Doctor has had an increasingly large role in the last five episodes, “Dalek” is the first real Doctor-centric story. The pre-titles sequence gives us some insight into the time lord’s weary, jaded mindset of someone who’s lived longer than they would particularly like (which his youthful appearance tends to hide). Discovering an old, hollowed-out shell of a Cybermen causes Nine to nostalgically wax about his adventures in the classic series, back when everything was so much simpler. After that, the rest of the episode gradually pushes his personality to the extreme. Over the first half of the season, the audience has gotten a pretty good idea about the Doctor’s cool demeanor and his strict moral code, so it’s both jarring and very effective writing to see him behave wildly out-of-character in this episode, especially since we’ve known for a while that the time war is a massive trigger for him. When Henry Van Statten locks him in a cage with a Dalek, the Doctor is at first absolutely terrified, practically trying to claw his way out, before he realizes the creature is defanged and laughs madly, descending into a spiteful, vindictive rage. In a rare moment of malevolence, lashing out at the Dalek, the Doctor reveals to all of us that he wiped out the Dalek race and his own people in the great war, for the greater good of the universe. As far as edgy anti-hero backstories go, that’s pretty fucking edgy, RTD. When Russell brought “Doctor Who” back from the dead, the classic series had a ton of lore and continuity tied to it, especially involving the time lords and Gallifrey, that he chose to forego for a while in favor of a clean slate. To simplify things, he chose to nuke all the time lords offscreen with the Daleks, and had the weight of what the Doctor had done to try to save the universe (since both races had gone utterly insane and genocidal) be the source of his character development for the next four series. In fact, we don’t even meet another time lord besides the Doctor until we encounter the magnificent villain that is the Master in Series 3.

The Doctor hates the Daleks because of what they are – racist, genocidal warmongers – and what they did to his people and the rest of the universe. But they also get under his skin in a way no other villain can, because as much as he would like to deny it, he sees a bit of himself in them and what he has the potential to be. The titular Dalek keeps drawing parallels between himself and the Doctor and insisting they have things in common to infuriate him, since the Doctor is apparently a genocidal war criminal with a good deal of hate and bloodlust in his heart when it comes to the Daleks (Jackie’s concerns about the Doctor’s influence are seeming more and more justified by the day, aren’t they?). As the episode progresses and the Doctor grows increasingly desperate to stop the Dalek’s warpath, his actions get more and more disturbing, especially after you’ve seen the Moffat era and you know the moral standard he usually tries to hold himself to (‘Never cruel or cowardly’? Not in this episode). He tortures it, tries to kill it, screams at it to kill itself so it can put the Dalek race out it’s misery, and finally starts to compromise his core principles, putting Rose at risk which nearly gets her killed. By the end of the episode, the man who normally abhors guns and violence is charging at the monster with an overly-sized gun so he can try to blow it off the face of the Earth. Having had enough, Rose accuses him of staring into the abyss for too long; if he keeps going to such extremes and betraying who he is, there is a very real chance he’ll turn into the things he’s fighting. Now, the Ninth Doctor can avoid that sort of statement from a Dalek, albeit uneasily, but not from Rose. Realizing she’s right, the Doctor finally calms himself down and feels utterly ashamed of himself for the remainder of the episode. The Doctor’s experience in this episode was a painful one to watch, but it was one he needed to have so he could get a lot of things off his chest and make the right decision later in the finale.

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The big hook of the episode is the return of the Daleks: the franchise’s signature villains from the classic series. The Daleks are genetically engineered cyborgs from the future, created by a madman, whose sole interests are maintaining the purity, integrity and longevity of the Dalek race, and exterminating all other forms of life in the universe that they consider to be inferior. A wizard at racial cleansing, the Daleks were basically conceived as space Nazi analogues, but grew beyond that because of their robust designs, distinctive voices and fiendishly evil personalities. The Daleks have always struck me as a great concept for a monster, but I imagine they must be a bit difficult to write as a villains, for the same reasons as the Cybermen. They have very rigid motivations, and they’ll only ever want one thing. The Daleks will always want to exterminate people, and the Cybermen will always want to convert more people into Cybermen. Notably, a lot of the Dalek episodes in NuWho involve them behaving out-of-character for one reason or another to facilitate the plot, like developing emotions from human DNA, or going insane and dabbling in religion, or trying to evolve, or forcing the Doctor to investigate their asylum. Regardless, Rob Shearman set out in this story to reestablish the Daleks as a threat to a new audience, while also daring them to give them some complexity. The Dalek the Doctor encounters in Van Statten’s base shows how stubborn, stationary and utterly devoted each soldier is to the Dalek cause, but it also has to deal with the crushing idea  that his entire race is dead and he is the only Dalek left in existence – completely alone in the universe because of the Doctor – when he wasn’t designed to have any other emotions besides fear, hatred and bloodlust. He has no purpose anymore, he undergoes something of an existential crisis, and it’s fascinating to see such a vile villain try to process this. With nothing left to lose, he breaks out to stubbornly fulfill his sole function – wiping out all other organic life on his own.

The Dalek may be an army of one, but the episode makes it clear that the cyborg singlehandedly wiping out humanity is actually a possibility, by showcasing how frightening a concept the Daleks actually are. The Dalek is practical and pragmatic; it slaughters and massacres every human it encounters without an once of mercy, and it does so effortlessly. Nothing they throw at it stops it or slows it down, and it keeps charging on like an unstoppable, invincible tank. The episode doesn’t shy away from how painful or brutal each of their deaths are either. The Daleks are seriously overpowered villains. The Doctor can usually handle them because he’s also an overpowered hero (search your feelings, you know it’s true), and because he and his friends have plot armor protecting them, but every redshirt in the vicinity is so screwed whenever the Daleks show up. Still, even after he’s cleansed most of the base, the Dalek still feels empty. It’s existential crisis only seems to be getting worse, especially as his emotional range widens. The Dalek played on Rose’s human sympathies to steal it’s freedom, and in a bit of karmic justice, absorbing Rose’s DNA proves to be it’s undoing, since he also took on her humanity. He begins to mutate into a new lifeform that can doubt it’s ideology, imagine brand new things and appreciate organic beauty. The Dalek was damned from birth as a creature of hate and murder who knew no other way of life, and now it has a chance for a fresh start. I love that he rejects the opportunity. He would rather die than relinquish his purity or venture out into the terror that is the unknown, so he clings to his base nature and exterminates himself. He remains a bitter, insane racist to the end, afraid of a brave new world, albeit one the audience has gained a new understanding of and just a touch of sympathy for. In his own twisted way, the Dalek gains some closure and peace in death and is free to move on from the time war, while the Doctor is stuck soldiering on and shouldering his own inner demons.

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Despite being sidelined for a change, “Dalek” is one of Rose’s finest hours as a companion. Rose is separated from the Doctor early on and given a subplot where her better nature, naivety and empathy are showcased, along with the bravery she’s gained from traveling with the Doctor. With the ‘Metaltron’ being tortured by soldiers, Rose goes down to comfort it and listen to it’s sob story about being the last of it’s species, playing right into it’s trap. Speaking of which, Rose must be really good at repressing some bad memories. In this episode, doing what the Doctor would do and trying to be nice to the alien of the week helps it escape and winds up killing a base full of soldiers. Only two episodes later, trying to save her dad winds up bringing the reapers down on them and getting more people killed. That’s two stories in close proximity where Rose’s good intentions almost cause the end of the world, and as far as I can tell, she was not permanently scarred by them. Another trait I admire about Rose is that she always accepts responsibility for her decisions and where they’ve led her, refusing to let the Doctor shoulder all the blame and infantilize her (though this case was mostly his fault); she did it in previous episodes and this one, when she thinks she’s going to be shot by the Dalek. Towards the end, Rose develops an unexpected, striking connection with the Dalek. When she realizes her DNA is causing it to question it’s purpose, she tries (and fails) to get it to embrace it’s new humanity, with one of the most stunning visuals in the episode being the beauty and the beast walking side-by-side to try to get a glimpse of the sunlight. She also talks down the Doctor when he shows up looking for another fight, not liking what she’s seen of her friend’s behavior (and she wasn’t even there for his previous meltdown). After all the violence, rage and murder, I like that the emotional climax of the episode is two, tired war veterans having one last, cathartic conversation, with Rose acting a mediator, before the Dalek takes itself out of the picture, leaving Rose behind to offer the Doctor some emotional support.

Henry Van Statten (Corey Johnson) is a genius entrepreneur and an egoistical businessman on a power trip. The head man in charge of his secret underground bunker, he commands his own small army of mercenaries and heads a team of scientists who analyze alien technology so they can reverse engineer it. He bites off way more than he can chew when he decides to study a captive Dalek. Mr. Van Statten is a pretty straightforward antagonist and basically embodies all the personality traits that could piss the Doctor off. He’s greedy, ruthless, arrogant and vain; he doesn’t appreciate the beauty of life or the finer details of the technology he’s studying, only caring about a profit; he has a callous disregard for the lives of his own employees, considering them to be disposable; and he only becomes agreeable and cooperative when he wants to save his own ass from the Dalek. He’s such a pathetic and morally defunct human being that he loops around to being pitiful towards the end, and despite angrily protesting when his soldiers mutiny against him, he really got off easy. Considering he did everything he could to piss off the Doctor and a Dalek, he’s lucky one of those two didn’t get rid of him themselves. In Mr. Van Statten’s employ is Adam, a cocky boy genius from across the Atlantic. Adam is affable and mildly charming, albeit overly confident in his abilities and something of a braggart. He’s curious about alien life and alien technology, and he would like to see the stars someday, which is why he took the job when Henry recruited him. Rose clearly fancies him, so she invites him onboard the TARDIS to travel with her and the Doctor. The Doctor is clearly wary about how wise her decision is but he acquiesces her request, because Rose did him a major favor in this episode and he owes her. Adam doesn’t actually do much, his appearance in this episode is mostly to set up the next one, but Bruno Langley is pleasant I suppose.

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Joe Ahearne helms this episode as the director and (like he does later with “Father’s Day”) he gives it a queasy, off-kilter atmosphere. Right from the pre-titles sequence, there’s something foreboding and unsettling about the way this episode is filmed, with plenty of tight, reserved angles and quiet moments of silence. The lighting and color grading probably contributes to it. While nearly all the other episodes before now have been bright, vivid, colorful and campy affairs, “Dalek” has an overall muted, gloomy and desaturated color scheme, filled with dull greys and flat browns. The choice subliminally suggests that the Daleks suck all the fun out of “Doctor Who” whenever they appear, an idea that will be far more in pronounced in the somber, dark blue finale, “Bad Wolf / The Parting Of Ways”. The cold, sharp Dalek pov shots are probably my favorite in the episode, as they heighten the unrelenting predator themes of the monster. The CGI in this episode has improved a lot from the previous two-parter. While there’s still a bit of uncanny valley,  the Dalek extermination effects are very effective in their brutality, and the cyborg floating up the stairs after Adam and Rose is pretty intimidating. Murray Gold composes a rich, dynamic, and almost overpowering score for the episode, his best one so far. The music he writes for the oppressive, villainous pepperpots, entitled “The Daleks“, is an electronic piece overlaid by a thundering, howling choir as the Dalek mows down everyone in it’s sight. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Murray pens a surprisingly heartfelt and memorable cue for the creature’s send-off. “The Lone Dalek” is a stirring, morose theme, performed on lonely, languishing strings, that captures the song of the villain’s sorrow. It keeps returning to the same central melody again and again, searching for some form of closure, before it finally bows out with a freeing, choral crescendo. “The Lone Dalek” would later receive an equally bittersweet reprise in the closing minutes of “The Satan Pit”, the following series.

“Dalek” is a pretty great episode of “Doctor Who”, and a triumphant return for the evil, xenophobic pepperpots of doom. It’s kind of funny though, how the coda tries to fool the audience into thinking the Daleks are gone for good now that the last one has exterminated itself. There is no way in hell that the BBC would have killed off their cash-cow villains in only the sixth episode. We’re gonna be seeing some Daleks again in the finale.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

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* You wanna know how you can tell this episode aired thirteen years ago, besides the effects? The Doctor and Rose visit the year 2012, and Rose considers it to be the future. Yeah.

* Speaking of which, does Rose’s hair seem much bushier and frizzier than usual in this episode, like she just came back from the 1980’s?

“We’re not the same! I’m not… No, wait. Maybe we are. You’re right, yeah, okay. You’ve got a point. ‘Cos I know what to do. I know what should happen. I know what you deserve. Exterminate!

* “Thank you, Doctor, but I think I know how to handle a tin robot!” You know, there are some tropes you can always count on finding in movies and TV shows. Authority figures are almost always corrupt, policemen are almost always useless, and soldiers are almost always egotistical idiots.

* The Dalek makes sure to turn on the sprinklers so he can get all the soldiers wet, and then electrocutes the floor so he can save time and kill all of them at once. Did the Dalek watch “Carrie” by any chance, when he downloaded the internet?

* “What should I do?!” “Alright then, if you want orders: kill yourself” “The Daleks must survive!” “The Daleks have failed. Why don’t you finish the job and make the Daleks extinct? Rid the universe of your filth?! Why don’t you just die?!” “You would make a good Dalek”.

* “Let me tell you something, Van Statten. Mankind goes into space to explore. To be part of something greater!” “Exactly, I wanted to touch the stars!” “You just want to drag the stars down and stick them underground underneath tons of sand and dirt. And label them. You’re about as far from the stars as you can get!”

* “They’re all dead because of you!” “They are dead because of us!

* “You, in a fight? I’d like to see that” “I could do” “What are you gonna do, throw your a-levels at them?”

* When Rose argues the Dalek is changing, she claims it couldn’t kill Van Statten as evidence. I’m pretty sure he was totally gonna blast that dude before Rose got in the way.

* “Are you frightened, Rose Tyler?” “Yeah” “So am I”.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Aliens Of London / World War Three (2005) Review

Doctor Who Aliens Of London

In “Doctor Who”, a couple of early trips in the TARDIS are usually followed by a quick pop back home, so the companion can regain their bearings and establish a home base. And in Rose’s case, “Aliens Of London” tackles the unexpected consequences of her decision to run off with the Doctor, when he accidentally brings her back a year later than intended. It’s easy to take for granted now, since it’s such a big part of the revival, but the companion’s home life was never given a large amount of focus in the classic series. When Russell T. Davies revamped the series, he also made a wise decision to flesh out each companion’s backstory and give them a supporting cast back home, which led to some great stories down the line, like Donna’s self-esteem issues or Amy’s relationship problems with Rory. “Aliens Of London / World War Three” is also the first two-part episode of the revival (a throw-back to classic Who where multi-part serials were definitely the norm, and they were known for their cliffhangers) and the results are very mixed. In a lot of RTD era two-parters, I notice the series doesn’t split the conflict neatly or equally across two episodes, but saves most of it up for the second half and relegates the first half to being almost entirely set-up, which means the first episode usually drags in places (“Rise Of The Cybermen”, “Daleks In Manhattan”, “The Sontaran Stratagem”). As such, “World War Three” is a much more exciting and entertaining episode than “Aliens Of London”. There’s also the fact that “World War Three” puts way less focus on farting aliens jokes.

I’m not gonna mince words here: the Slitheen are some pretty awful villains, and they make you wonder what was going through RTD’s head while he was penning this script. Making an episode about farting aliens already sounds like a bad, potentially cringeworthy idea to begin with, but why would you want to make it a two-parter? “Doctor Who” is a family show, and “Aliens Of London / World War Three” is clearly aiming towards the younger members of the audience, but I don’t think the kids enjoyed it that much more than the adults. Every time “Aliens Of London” builds up a good amount of excitement or intrigue, or gets the audience hooked on Rose’s family drama, we cut back to the Slitheen for more unfunny fart jokes that just drag on, drain the tension and make you die a little inside. The last three episodes did a great job of showing what makes “Doctor Who” special and getting audience members hooked, but this two-parter has a strong chance of turning them right off and giving them second thoughts. The cliffhanger that bridges the two episodes is also fairly weak. It involves three groups of people just standing around, gawping at monsters slowly transforming and coming to kill them instead of trying to run for their lives, and at the start of the next episode, the head Slitheen just stands there and watches the Doctor move to electrocute his brother. Has everyone in this cliffhanger forgotten how to use their legs? It’s a shame, because there are a lot of great things about this two-parter – particularly the ensemble cast and the villains’ scheme – the overused farting aliens gag simply threatens to drag it all down.

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Easily the best thing about this two-parter is it’s portrayal of the Doctor. It’s funny, I always knew I liked the Ninth Doctor, but I’ve been enjoying Christopher Eccletson a lot more than I remembered while revisiting this season. He only had thirteen episodes as the Doctor, but all thirteen scripts gave him plenty of interesting character material to work with. In “Aliens Of London”, Nine is ecstatic about the possibility of humanity making first contact with an alien race, and being there for that first, big step forward, still his intuition tells him that something is not quite right. Nine flies solo for a bit so he can do some investigating, which gives us an opportunity to see the Doctor’s expert sleuthing skills. In fact, the Doctor’s quick wits and intelligence as an alien and a seasoned time traveler are displayed quite prominently throughout this two-parter, both of which manage to keep him alive when he’s clearly out of his depth. He can read an entire book back to front in a matter of minutes; he uses his knowledge of British architecture to give himself and his friends a temporary stronghold in 10 Downing Street; banking on basic human nature, he can bluff his adversaries and buy for some time at a moment’s notice; and when Jackie and Mickey are put in grave danger, he uses everything he’s learned about the Slitheen to try to identify them from the hundreds of alien races he’s encountered in his memories, like narrowing down search results from a collective internet database. It’s why I like the Doctor as a character. There are plenty of heroes who rely on guns or brute force to solve their problems, but the Doctor prefers to use his head. Despite being a bit of wary of soldiers, it’s worth noting that the Ninth Doctor can commandeer a whole group of them at ease with just the right words and authority, once again hinting at another aspect of his past that he hasn’t been forward about yet.

The Doctor’s compassionate side is emphasized twice, when some human soldiers gun down the silly-looking pig creature out of fear (implying that humanity’s first instinct is to lash out at the unknown, foreshadowing the Slitheen’s master plan) and again when he takes a moment to mourn an overlooked and underappreciated redshirt employee who was killed by the Slitheen. Considering that he kept overlooking Mickey in “Rose“, it’s good to get another reminder of how much the preciousness and sanctity of each person’s life means to the Doctor. Despite denigrating ‘domestic life’ several times, the Doctor is forced to deal with it in this story. He’s very obviously jealous of Mickey for being Rose’s (ex?)-boyfriend and spends much of the episode engaging in petty, macho bickering with him, and he’s got Jackie breathing down his neck for bringing Rose into his dangerous lifestyle. “The End Of The World” clarified the Doctor’s stance on time travel, and “World War Three” elaborates on why he sometimes gets involved with human/alien affairs, beyond obviously caring for humanity. As the last time lord in existence, the Doctor feels it’s his responsibility to get involved with problems mankind can’t get handle on it’s own and protect the safety and integrity of the Earth’s timeline from outside interference, especially since, as we learn in the next episode, it’s partly the Doctor’s fault there aren’t any more time lords. Perhaps the greatest misconception about the Doctor’s character is that he’s a pacifist. The Doctor is someone who would like to be a pacifist, he always tries to be understanding and prefers non-violent solutions to people’s problems, but if there’s no other option at hand with time running out, he will use violence or deadly force to remove a threat. The Slitheen sold him short, and he completely destroyed their way of life in the span of a day. The ramifications of that will be explored in “Boom Town” later this season.

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Billie Piper’s Rose continues to be a brave and capable companion in this story, particularly when she’s paired up with Harriet Jones as an older woman / younger woman duo trying to fend off the Slitheen. She’s also still trying to figure out what she wants out of life, now that she has more options available to her. While Rose has been an inoffensive character for the last three episodes, the Doctor bringing her home a year late in “Aliens Of London” marks the point where she starts to become more divisive. Rose is one of the two most divisive NuWho companions in the show’s fandom (with the other one being Clara), for very understandable reasons. You tend to either love her or think she’s a pain. I’ve talked a lot about the positives of Rose’s character in the last few episodes, now I’d like to dive into the negatives. Russell purposely gave Rose Tyler a somewhat contradictory personality. When it comes to her calling, saving the world, Rose can be very selfless: she’s willing to keep an open mind and show kindness and compassion to things she doesn’t understand, and she’s willing to die for the greater good. But when it comes to Rose’s personal life, she can be very selfish and insensitive. After being home for a day, it’s clear Rose has forgotten Mickey entirely, and despite the fact that she’s clearly fallen out of love with him, she doesn’t break things off with him when she has a chance but continues to string him along for the rest of the season. Not to mention, she breaks Jackie’s heart in the closing minutes of “World War Three”. The two extremes of Rose’s character will be present throughout her tenure, eventually coming to a head in her departure story, “Doomsday”, wherein one scene she’s willing to ditch all of her friends and family in an alternate universe forever to try to stay with the Doctor, and in the next scene, she nearly gets herself killed trying to ensure all the Daleks and Cybermen are dispatched. As such, I don’t hate Rose, but I’m don’t know if I would say she’s one of my favorite companions either, though I do think she’s at her best in Series 1.

We also get our first look at the more unhealthy side of the Doctor and Rose’s relationship. The Doctor is aggressively harsh to her (ex?)-boyfriend throughout this two-parter, and at the end, he rather dickishly gives her an ultimatum between spending time with her mom that she accidentally abandoned for a year, or running off with him to have more adventures. If Nine didn’t offer Mickey a spot in the TARDIS at the end, I would almost think he wanted to drive a wedge between Rose and everyone else in her life so he could selfishly have her all to himself. Keep that in mind for when the Doctor and Rose grow increasingly codependent in Series 2. “World War Three” has the first appearance of another recurring theme throughout NuWho: how fragile the Doctor’s companions are compared to him. The Doctor lives a very dangerous life day by day that his friends choose to partake in, and when they stick around long enough, eventually they get burned. Despite all the ominous talk throughout Series 1 and 2 about the possibility of something terrible happening to Rose, it doesn’t actually amount to much in the end. It’s usually other characters who wind up paying the price for Rose’s decisions. Mickey and Jackie had their lives wrecked for a year when she ran off with the Doctor. When Rose breaks the space-time continuum, it’s Pete who has to commit sucidide to put things right. And when Rose absorbs the energy of the time vortex, the Doctor sucks it out of her, causing him to regenerate. The worst sort of consequence that ever happens to Rose is getting stuck in an alternate universe with her family in “Doomsday”, separated from the Doctor, which causes her to spend the remainder of that episode crying her eyes out from a broken heart. Russell would be far more cruel to Martha and Donna in Series 3 and 4, which is another reason why people started to fall out of love with Rose eventually. Out of all the RTD era companions, there was always this impression that Rose was Russell’s favorite.

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Noel Clarke returns as Mickey Smith in this story, and while Mickey continues to fill the role of the bumbling, comedy relief boyfriend, his character is fleshed out substantially from his debut, alternating between being a prickly and bitter man, and a rather sympathetic, forgotten third wheel. When Rose ran off and disappeared for a year without a trace, everyone suspect her boyfriend had something to do with it and accused Mickey of murdering her, which destroyed his reputation. Mickey is furious when the Doctor and Rose finally return, and clearly jealous of the Doctor, no doubt thinking the alien wandered into his life just to steal his girlfriend. As we previously established in “Rose”, Mickey is quite the poser; he likes to put on a front of being hard and tough, but his first instinct is to run from trouble. While he crumbled under pressure in “Rose”, “Aliens Of London / World War Three” is the first story to really challenge Mickey and force him to overcome his cowardly streak. The Doctor, Rose, Jackie, Mickey and Harriet are the people alive who know about the Slitheen, so it’s up to them to stop them, and Mickey gradually finds him he can be brave when he needs to be, for his friends and his home. Mickey also proves to be more intelligent than we first thought, to the point where even the Doctor has to admit he underestimated him. He apparently has efficient hacking skills and has become quite the conspiracy theorist since he first met the Doctor, in addition to being street-smart. Thanks to less than ideal circumstances, Mickey and Jackie spend much of the episode holed up together, and team up as an unlikely comedy duo. By the end of the story, Mickey has stepped up and grown some as a person, but he’s still not ready to go traveling with the Doctor when the time lord offers him the opportunity. Instead, he resigns himself to be the man back home for the time being, waiting for Rose while she has fantastic adventures without him.

When Rose disappeared, Jackie Tyler was emotionally wrecked, and spent the next year wrought with terror and despair about what could have become of her, trying not to assume the worst. When the Doctor and Rose turn up again and are fairly glib about the whole matter, Jackie cycles between relief and fury. Considering what she has to go on, and what someone would most likely think when their twenty year old daughter runs off with a man in his forties, it’s pretty awesome to see Jackie chew out the Doctor, accuse him of being a predator and pervert, and finally pimp-slap him. Worried about the Doctor’s influence on Rose, Jackie reports him to UNIT when she learns he’s an alien, which nearly gets her killed by the Slitheen (no one likes a snitch, you know, not even RTD). As the four of them are forced to cooperate to stop the Slitheen, Jackie gets a good insight into the Doctor’s lifestyle and why he does what he does. It’s interesting direction for RTD to steer the show in, and a good opportunity to dissect and scrutinize the Doctor’s character (something he would do again in “Boom Town”). It also produces a small dilemma for the series. If Rose is going to stick around, the show obviously can’t have her overbearing, somewhat overprotective mother breathing down her neck every week, so Jackie has to be brought up to speed on the Doctor and brought around to him fairly quickly, without it feeling forced. The Doctor can’t promise her that Rose will be safe, because what he does is always dangerous, and it’s what Rose has chosen to be a part of. By the end of the two-parter, Jackie seems to have accepted that Rose is an adult now and that the Doctor isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so she’d like to learn more about him. But to her dismay, extending an olive branch is still not enough to keep Nine and Rose from leaving again much sooner than she, or anyone else, would like. Since Jackie has no reason to think they won’t be gone again for another year or more, you feel pretty awful for her in the story’s closing minutes.

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I’ve already talked about how the cringeworthy, overdone farting aliens gag makes the Slitheen incredibly dodgy villains, but there’s also the fact that their dialogue feels very jarring compared to everyone else’s. The main cast talks like they’ve stepped out of a drama series, while the Slitheen quip away like they’re Saturday morning cartoon villains. Still, I will admit that they do have some genuinely funny moments (“Victory, should be naked!“), and there are some interesting aspects to them. Underneath their obnoxiously clownish exterior, the Slitheen are sadistic, smug, smarmy, arrogant and sociopathic. They’re also remarkably clever by the standards of most Doctor Who villains and very effective manipulators. They’re a crime family from space, who see humans as insignificant ants and occasionally hunts them for sport. Instead of wanting to invade the Earth, they hope to make a profit off of it. They put on a good show to make humans aware of the existence of aliens, kill off important public figures so they can take their place, and dish out a sizable amount of fear-mongering to cause a panic and convince nations around the world to defend themselves from nothing with a nuclear war. With a minimal amount of effort, they’ll steer humanity into destroying themselves and salting the Earth for them. For a group of farting, baby-faced aliens, it’s a surprisingly genius ploy, and it would have worked if the Doctor wasn’t there to stop them. Another notable aspect of the Slitheen is that Russell puts emphasis on the fact they’re a crime family. The Slitheen don’t give a fuck about anyone other than themselves and consider every other race beneath them, but there is a genuine, cordial bond between the four of them. Like the villains in “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, the monsters are allowed to have some feelings of loyalty and attachment towards each other that gives them complexity. These are all traits of the Slitheen that Russell T. Davies would thankfully focus on more in “Boom Town” than the farting aliens gag.

“Aliens Of London” sees the debut of Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, who, even by RTD era standards, is a colossal ham. Despite only appearing in three stories, Harriet had a very significant impact on the RTD era, rising and falling in both the public’s eye and the Doctor’s personal estimation. While a part of me wishes her debut was a stronger two-parter, Penelope Wilton is a delight here, and it’s great to see Harriet in her prime, working with the Doctor and Rose to stop an alien threat. We’re initially introduced to Harriet as a regular, unassuming character from a modest background. She’s a low-level, hardworking politician who’s determined to get her job done, even in the middle of an alien crisis. Harriet finds herself in the middle of extraordinary, horrible circumstances when she accidentally uncovers the Slitheen’s evil scheme, and confides in the Doctor and Rose about what she saw. Some of the best scenes in “World War Three” are the Doctor, Rose and Harriet bunkered down in their improvised stronghold, bouncing ideas off each other and combining their collective intellect. As nice as it for the Doctor and his companion to have some one-on-one time, it’s also nice to have a third person around to offer a third opinion, and something I appreciate about Series 1 is how balanced the character focus is between the Doctor, Rose and the supporting characters each week. Noticeably, while the Doctor is hesitant to take any final, lethal action against the Slitheen, for fear of harming Rose as much as his own moral right, Harriet is a lot more bold and decisive about what needs to be done. Harriet’s most significant character trait is that she is a proud patriot and nationalist who will do whatever she ever has to to protect her country when it’s under fire. It’s portrayed as a good thing here, but Russell will explore the dark side of her patriotism in her second appearance, which makes the Doctor’s prediction in the end, about Harriet ushering in a new golden age for the UK, feel a lot more ominous in retrospect.

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Like in “The End Of The World”, the costume department is given the opportunity to design some real, proper off-putting alien creatures for the series. The pig slave is an early, silly example that looks designed to appeal to the younger audience members, but the prosthetics really shine with the Slitheen monsters. The Slitheen are giant, green, lumbering beasts with baby-faces who can easily fill up a tight-enclosed space, but are much faster on their feet than you would expect. After keeping the designs hidden for most of “Aliens Of London”, “World War Three” shows them off at every opportunity, and considering how much work must have been put into designing the look of these beasties, it’s understandable that the show feels proud of them. “Aliens Of London / World War Three” was shot in the same production block as “Rose”, so Keith Hoak once again helms this story, and he’s noticeably improved a lot from the first episode. There are a number of frentic, engagingly shot sequences in “World War Three” that help liven up the two-parter after some of the doldrums of “Aliens Of London”, like the Doctor, Rose and Harriet trying to escape the Slitheen by running up staircases and dashing through corridors, or the missile Mickey sent honing in on 10 Downing Street. I also enjoy the way the tense stand-off between the Doctor and Margaret is shot, as he orders her to spill about her evil plan from a place of perceived, deceptive weakness. The CGI in this two-parter is pretty bad. The Slitheen ship crashing into Thames is passable, I suppose, but the drawn-out scenes of the Slitheen unmasking looked awful in 2005, and they still look awful now. Like I said before, some of the CG in Series 1 and 2 really looks unfinished. Murray Gold’s score, filled with queazy, ambient synthesizers and ploinky, comedic strings, continues to improve with each story. He assigns a rousing, percussion-heavy leitmotif to the two-parter called “The Slitheen“, which actually sounds a lot like the UNIT theme he would start using in “The Christmas Invasion”.

“Aliens Of London / World War Three” is easily the weakest story from Series 1, while still having enough redeeming qualities to earn itself a passing grade from me. It’s kind of a shame really. If the Slitheen weren’t such embarrassing villains, this would be a much better two-parter, and it would be more well-regarded by the fandom. As it stands, for anyone who’s temporarily worried about the quality of this strange sci-fi show, Series 1 will only fly up from here, and it even manages to improve the Slitheen later on.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “How old are you then? Forty? Forty five?! What, did you find her on the Internet? Did you go online and pretend you’re a doctor?!” “I am a Doctor!” “Prove it. Stitch this, mate!

* At this point in the series, Rose understandably thinks she’s the only person out there who knows about aliens. She doesn’t there’s been two dozen other people in the TARDIS before her (and she ain’t gonna be happy when she finds out).

* “I missed a year. Was it a good one?” “Eh, middling” “You’re so useless”.

* As much as I didn’t really like that spin-off show, it is neat to see all the pieces that make up “Torchwood” be quietly established in the first two series. “The Unquiet Dead” gave us Eve Myles and the Cardiff Rift, Toshiko makes an early appearance in “Aliens Of London” (the only member of Jack’s team to actually meet the Doctor until “The Stolen Earth”), “The Empty Child” gives us Captain Jack Harkness, “The Parting Of Ways” makes Jack immortal, “Tooth and Claw” shows the creation of the Torchwood institute, and ”
Doomsday” knocks it down a few pegs. After two series of build-up, you’ve got a spin-off show ready to lift off the ground.

* “Like it said on the news, they’re gathering experts in alien knowledge. And who’s the biggest expert of the lot?” “Patrick Moore?” “Apart from him!”

* The Slitheen look almost orgasmic as they unzip their foreheads. That’s… interesting.

* “Gentlemen, I think you’ll find the Prime Minister is actually an alien in disguise!… That’s never going to work, is it?” “No” “Fair enough”.

* “I’m getting poisoned by the gas exchange. I need to be naked!” “Well, rejoice in it, brother. Your body is magnificent”

* “I thought I was going to die!” “Come on, Jacks. If anyone’s gonna cry, it’s gonna be me”.

* Rose suggests that they try to blow all the aliens and Harriet blankly states that she’s a very violent-minded woman. Glass houses, Harriet.

* “It wasn’t just alien, but like proper alien! All wet, and stinking, and disgusting! And more to the point, it wanted to kill us!” “I could have died!

* The Slitheen’s endgame is apparently a bit of social commentary from Russell T. Davies about the Iraq war that was happening at the time. I didn’t get into “Doctor Who” until 2010, so that detail flew over my head for a long while. In retrospect, it feels kind of strange to touch on such a serious matter as a contemporary war in an episode about giggling, farting aliens.

* “Victory should be naked!” The Slitheen are confirmed nudists. They probably have their own club.

* “Ring, damn you!

* Thoughts From A Spiralbound Notebook and Sacred Icon did great jobs elaborating on how Rose’s character can be divisive and irritating in their respective retrospectives.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead (2005) Review

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Your average season of “Doctor Who” usually kicks off with a loose trilogy of episodes set in the past, present and future to ease the audience into the show’s time travel premise. Of the three establishing episodes we’ve had so far in Series 1, “The Unquiet Dead” is the best of the bunch, and the first great episode of the season. It irons out a few of the wrinkles of the last two episodes: the pacing is even more laidback and slow-burning than it was in “The End Of The World“, allowing for plenty of nice character moments; the CGI is used sparingly and it’s always rendered well whenever it’s employed; and while the last two trips had a strong focus on the Doctor and Rose, “The Unquiet Dead” is more of an ensemble episode. An enjoyably quiet and small story centered around a company of five that gives all of it’s players their time to shine. It’s a bit surprising that Mark Gatiss contributed one of the best episodes of the first season, since he doesn’t have the most stellar reputation among the fandom. I don’t believe Mark Gatiss is a bad writer, but I do think his track record in NuWho is pretty hit-and-miss. Mark noticeably likes to embrace all the tropes and conventions of whatever genre he’s writing for in a Doctor Who episode: “Victory Of The Daleks” is a campy, over-the-top parody of a wartime movie, “Night Terrors” ticks off all the haunted house horror movie tropes as it ambles along, “Robots Of Sherwood” tries to cram as many aspects of the Robin Hood myth into it’s runtime as possible, and “Cold War” feels exactly like a Cold War story, forty-five minutes of dry, macho-posturing. When embracing those tropes pays-off for Mark, it can lead to some great episodes, and when it doesn’t, it leads to some really bland, formulaic and uneventful scripts. “The Unquiet Dead” is the former result; it’s a clever, old-fashioned ghost story with a “Doctor Who” twist, with a cool setting of a Victorian Christmas.

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The Doctor is in good spirits in this episode, grinning away sincerely throughout most of it. The Doctor and Rose are really enjoying bouncing around through time wherever they please, and the pair of them are starting to become as thick as thieves. Knowing the ultimate outcome of their friendship, I was surprised to see the show was already giving them ship-tease moments as early as the third episode. The Doctor never passes up a chance to be a cheeky sod, and it’s great to see another lighter side of Nine’s personality when he temporarily turns into a gushing fanboy over meeting Charlie Dickens (Christopher Eccleston is at his most personable here). He takes it upon himself to help Charles adjust to the paranormal, and tries to curb his pricklier side so he can console the man with logic and reason; another sign that beneath his usual gruffness, Nine is a good man at heart. The Doctor and Rose have a brief disagreement over the Doctor’s pragmatism: whether they should let Gwenyth risk her life for the Gelth and let the Gelth use human corpses for vessels. Rose argues that it’s perverse and immoral, and the Doctor argues she’s too hung up on human taboos to focus on saving lives. They both make good points, and it’s a nice example of why I enjoy Nine and Rose’s dynamic. They argue several times about several things in Series 1, challenging the way they both think, which usually results in them both growing as people. I find that aspect of their relationship becomes majorly downgraded once Nine regenerates into Ten. In the end, the Doctor makes the wrong call and gets manipulated by the Gelth. His survivor’s guilt over the time war and the responsibility he feels as a time lord for the casualties is a chink in his proverbial armor that particularly crafty enemies can use against him (this won’t be the only instance this season). The Doctor is far from infallible, and a lapse of judgment can be very deadly in his line of work.

After getting a change in perspective from the year five billion, Rose seems to have taken the last episode’s message to heart and gotten into the swing of time travel as much as the Doctor has. When they arrive in 19th century Cardiff, Rose takes a moment to marvel at how lucky they are to be able to relieve any moment in history whenever they choose, and she takes another moment to appreciate stepping foot in snow from the distant past. Delightfully, Rose continues to be a fish out of water character this early in her tenure. She tries to blend in with the period and appreciate the culture, but as a headstrong 21st century lass, she’s just a bit too forward and a bit too brash to pull off being a Victorian noblewoman. Poor Rose has only taken two spins in the TARDIS and in both trips she gets knocked out and dragged off somewhere, though it will be a while before I get tired of watching her chew someone out the way she does Mr. Sneed. Like with Raffalo, Rose quickly takes an interest in mousy Gwenyth and starts to befriend her, suggesting she has a strong affinity towards people who come from a modest background. I always like when the companions split off from the Doctor and spend some time socializing with the locals (Martha does a lot of this in Series 3), so Rose’s scenes with Gwenyth are a highlight. Rose is quick to stand up on Gwen’s behalf and tries to keep her out of trouble, while Gwen argues that Rose is patronizing her and assuming that because she’s from the past she must be simple and ignorant, which holds more truth to it than Rose would like to admit. Significantly, when Gwen reads Rose’s mind she implies she’s been thinking about her dead father lately; Rose also mentioned him in the last episode. Ever since she discovered the Doctor has a time machine, Pete has been on the back of her mind, and she finally broaches the subject to the Doctor in “Father’s Day“, which doesn’t lead anywhere good.

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In many seasons of “Doctor Who”, there’s an episode early on where the Doctor and his friends encounter a famous figure in human history. Our first ‘celebrity historical’ is centered around Charlies Dickens, the author of “A Christmas Carol”, and he has a nice compact character arc. We’re introduced to Charles near the end of his life. He’s a bitter old man who feels like he’s hit a dead end in his personal life and his writing career, basically just going through the motions at this point for his fans while he tries to drink his problems away. He’s a dry and droll man, a bit snobbish, though not without a sense of humor. Encountering the Doctor when one of his performances gets crashed by ghosts proves to be just the break from the mundane that he needs. Despite writing several fantasy novels, Charles does not actually believe in the supernatural, preferring the cold hard facts of reality, and he is staunchly stuck in his ways, much to the Doctor’s frustration. Over time though, he’s forced to accept that the universe is much bigger and scarier and filled with so many more possibilities than he ever thought, causing him to have something of existential crisis and fall deeper into self-loathing. During the climax, the harsh reality of the Doctor’s world threatens to overwhelm him, but he manages to use what the Doctor taught him and pull through to save the others. It ties into a noticeable theme in the Ninth Doctor’s sole season. Nine usually does most of the work solving a case, but his influence usually empowers other characters to step up and finish the job, like Rose in “Rose“, or Charlies in “The Unquiet Dead”, or Mickey in “World War Three“, or Cathica in “The Long Game“, or Pete in “Father’s Day”, or Nancy and Jack in “The Doctor Dances“, or Rose again in “The Parting Of The Ways”. By the time the TARDIS crew leave him, Charles is a changed man who’s regained his author’s imagination and vigor, and feels more alive than he has in years.

Appropriately, the Gelth have been haunting a funeral home, trying to break through a rift in time and space under Cardiff, and the undertaker Mr. Sneed has been trying to cover it all up. The episode inspires a good deal of mixed feelings about Mr. Sneed: because on the one hand, he’s very funny, and on the other hand, he’s a surprisingly shady and uncouth man who’s quick to dodge responsibility for everything that’s happening. I can’t say he deserved to be murdered though, swiftly and brutally, when the Gelth betrayed everyone, and at least he cared about Gwenyth. Mr. Sneed’s assistant and housemaid is the meek, religious young lady, Gwenyth, portrayed by a familiar Eve Myles. Gwen has a supernatural secret, shameful for her time. She grew up on a rift in time and space, like a Victorian Amy Pond, and it’s given her the gift of foresight as well as empathetic abilities. She can see through time with her connection to the rift. She tries to keep her powers a secret, but oftentimes she says more than she should, tipping people off. There are times when I think Eve Myles is a bit too stiff and unconvincing as Gwen, but she’s properly mystifying during her two-hander with Rose in the kitchen, when she starts to rattle off details about Rose’s life in the far future and name drops a big, bad wolf. The Gelth use Gwen’s good-nature and religious upbringing to try to consume humanity, but she gets her own back by thwarting their scheme. While the Gelth have a decent sci-fi explanation for their existence, Gwen’s send-off is a properly enigmatic phenomenon. She manages to hold on and destroy the Gelth, several minutes after they had already killed her as a ghost. This is a mystery that will never solved, and it makes the closing scenes of “The Unquiet Dead” rather haunting.

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The Gelth are very good villains for a small-scale episode. They’re the first example of supernatural creatures with a sci-fi explanation in NuWho, ghost-like aliens, and they provide the spooky atmosphere for much of the episode, starting with a Victorian nobleman being murdered by the corpse of his recently deceased grandmother in the episode’s teaser. The Gelth can possess the bodies of dead humans, but only for a short time, leading to the memorable visual of glowing, moaning corpses stumbling along like tormented zombies, intent on killing more living people to make an army of bodies for the rest of the Gelth. I like that they prove to be both cunning and ruthless, preying on the respective weaknesses of the Doctor and Gwenyth to get what they want and then discarding them immediately afterwards, and I find their defeat is set up well throughout the adventure by Mark Gatiss. The Gelth are creatures of pure gas, capable of traveling through gas lamps, and cannot exist for so long without a vessel, so Charles traps in the morgue by flooding the room with gas and Gwenyth destroys them by igniting it all and taking the Gelth down with her.

“Doctor Who” is very fond of the Victorian era as a destination, visiting that period in British history quite often. Apparently, the 19th century is one of the easiest periods for the BBC to recreate. I’m quite fond of the fashion from the period, so I always find it fun to see what sort of period dress the costume department comes up with for the Doctor and his friends during their stay (Nine tells Rose to change clothes for the occasion, while he rather lazily forgoes dressing up entirely). Euros Lynn continues to impress as a director, giving a small-scale production with a modest budget a sense of grandness. Some of my favorite shots from this episode include the long, held wide-shot of Mr. Redpath’s grandmother storming out of the funeral home towards the camera until we can almost see down her throat, the Gelth flying circles around Charles’ theater performance and menacing his audience, and the reanimated corpses of several people reaching towards the Doctor and Rose through bars like crazed zombies. The visual effects range from decent to good in this episode, and they do succeed in making the Gelth zombies feel creepy and unnatural: the shimmering blueness stands in stark contrast to the otherwise grey atmosphere of the episode. Like “The Long Game” and “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances”, you won’t find any music from “The Unquiet Dead” released on the series 1 soundtrack, though there are some pleasing cues in the last act. “Doctor Who” wasn’t a big money maker for the BBC yet like it was during the heights of David Tennant and Matt Smith’s tenures, so not only were the RTD era soundtracks limited to one disc each, but the music from the first and second series were condensed into one release, omitting a lot of interesting music. It will probably never happen, but I wouldn’t mind the soundtracks for Series 1 – 4 getting an expanded re-release someday.

“The Unquiet Dead” is one of my favorite episodes from Series 1 and one of Mark Gatiss’ best contributions to the series. As a third trip in the TARDIS, it’s a pleasant success and I figure it’s the point where newcomers start to get into the swing of the series. “Doctor Who” has built up a nice bit of goodwill over the last three episodes, and it’s gonna need every bit of it for when the Doctor and Rose fight far more obnoxious gas monsters in the next two-parter.

Rating: 9/10.

Side Notes:

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* Here’s a cool bit of foreshadowing to catch upon rewatch: the very first shot in the episode is Mr. Sneed lighting a gas lamp for light.

* “Oi! I promised you a time machine and that’s what you’re getting. Now, you’ve seen the future, let’s have a look at the past. 1860. How does 1860 sound?” “What happened in 1860?” “I don’t know, let’s find out. Hold on, here we go!”

* “Mr. Sneed, for shame. How many more times? It’s ungodly!” “Well don’t look at me like it’s my fault!

* “There she is, sir!” “I can see that. The whole blooming world can see that!

* “Mind you, I’ve got to say, that American bit in ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, what’s that about? Was that just padding or what? I mean, it’s rubbish, that bit” “I thought you said you were my fan” “Ah, well, if you can’t take criticism”.

* “Attaboy, Charlie!” “Nobody calls me Charlie” “The ladies do“.

* “Are you alright?” Well, Rose he looks like glowing zombie ambling out of a coffin, so I reckon he’s not okay.

* “First of all you drug me, then you kidnap me, and don’t think I didn’t feel your hands having a quick wander, you dirty old man!” “I won’t be spoken to like this!” “Then you stuck me in a room full of zombies! And if that ain’t enough, you swan off and leave me to die! So come on, talk!” “It’s not my fault! It’s this house!” I’m pretty sure the house didn’t make you kidnap Rose.

* “I saw nothing but an illusion” “If you’re going to deny it, don’t waste my time. Just shut up” And just like that, everyone in the room felt a lot more awkward.

* “Mister Sneed, what’s the weakest part of this house? The place where most of the ghosts have been seen?” “That would be the morgue” “No chance you were going to say gazebo, is there?”

* “Give yourself to glory. Sacrifice your lives for the Gelth” “I trusted you. I pitied you!” “We don’t want your pity. We want this world and all it’s flesh” “Not while I’m alive” “Then live no more”. That sharp retort actually gets a callback a season later in “The Age Of Steel”, from one of the Cybermen no less.

* “I saw the fall of Troy, World War Five. I pushed boxes at the Boston Tea Party. Now I’m going to die in a dungeon in Cardiff”. As an American, that’s one of the few bits of British humor in this show that flies over my head: random cheap shots at Cardiff.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: The End Of The World (2005) Review

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Having a strong series opener is really important in “Doctor Who”, and in many ways, the second episode is just as important. The second episode is usually a character-building adventure that helps to cement the dynamic the Doctor and his companion will have (“The Fires Of Pompeii”, “The Beast Below”, “The Rings Of Akhaten”), though occasionally that task falls to the third episode (“Gridlock”, “Thin Ice”). While “Rose” was fairly reserved with it’s sci-fi elements, the whole Whoniverse really opens up in “The End Of The World” and it’s pretty grand. Compared to “Rose”, “The End Of The World” has a more relaxed and casual pace (yet sillier tone), and it’s our first good look at Russell T. Davies’s writing tropes. His episodes set in the future were usually meant to be social commentary, exaggerated parodies of modern society, suggesting that times change and technology advances but human nature stays the same. In the year five billion, people are still vain and greedy, they still put their blind trust in authority figures, and classism still exists. Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat both had their personal fixations as showrunners, and class commentary was one of RTD’s. The divide between the various social classes was a topic that came up a lot in the RTD era, usually in the context of the rich and wealthy being evil. In the Moffat era, the characters sometimes bend to the will of the plot, and in the RTD era, the entire world sometimes bends to the needs of the story. The climax of “The End Of The World” is thrilling to watch as the tension ramps up and the Doctor rushes to save everyone, but you can’t help but wonder why the hell the space station’s emergency switch is positioned behind a row of giant, deadly spinning fans. I initially thought the Lady Cassandra had something to do with that design, but apparently architects in the future are just really dumb.

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Rose and the Doctor’s excitement and enthusiasm at the start of the episode, about taking a fun spin in the TARDIS, is very infectious. For me, a large part of the appeal of this series is how flexible and ambitious it’s premise is. Since we’re talking about a show that can go anywhere at any time in the universe, there’s an enormous amount of stories that can be told in “Doctor Who”, with very little limit to it’s potential except for the series’ budget. Rose and the Doctor decide to go big for her first trip and venture into the far future, and the subsequent visual of the pair gazing down on the planet from orbit – the Earth now an ancient world due to be destroyed by it’s own sun – is simply stunning. I love that after all her excitement about getting to leave home and travel through time, when Rose actually does it she falters and freaks out for a sizable chunk of this episode. Not only is she experiencing a massive amount of culture shock in the future, but what was supposed to be a fun trip has unexpectedly confronted her with her own mortality and the mortality of her entire species in comparison to the vastness of time, so she struggles to come to terms with that. In the year five billion, nothing makes any sense, aliens gather together to celebrate the death of her ancestral home and everything she comes from and they treat it like a fun evening party, the enormous amount of culture humanity built up during it’s existence has almost become a forgotten relic, seemingly the last human around is an eccentric piece of talking skin, the Doctor doesn’t seem bothered by any of this, and Rose still doesn’t know anything about him at all. Eventually, Rose starts to feel very tiny and wonders what she’s gotten herself into. Taking some time to collect herself, she finds comfort in learning blue collar workers still exist in the future and connects with one of the locals.

While Billie Piper was good at portraying Rose’s brashness in the previous episode, this one makes it clear the real reason why she was cast: she is stellar at capturing Rose’s inner turmoil and vulnerability. The Doctor is still reluctant to open up about his past, but he helps Rose phone home to her mom for a reassuring talk. Fans sometimes speculate that Rose’s call went through a few days prior to “Rose”, mainly because Jackie seems a lot more calm and relaxed here than she ought to be, considering the last time we saw her she had nearly been killed in a mall, Rose had rudely hung up on her, and she presumably didn’t find Rose waiting for her when she went home. While looking into the strange malfunctions on the space station, Rose gets some one-on-one time with the Lady Cassandra, which leads to what’s easily her best scene in the episode. Rose quickly gets tired of Cassandra’s arrogance, pomposity and casual racism, so she lets the upper-class woman know exactly what she thinks of her and verbally rips her to shreds in front of everyone present. If it wasn’t clear before, Rose is definitely Jackie Tyler’s daughter. Cassandra does not appreciate that one bit, so her crazy self tries to have Rose bumped off in retaliation, and like the Doctor in the last episode, Rose damsels it up in the climax. After the Earth finally passes and Rose is left fairly heartbroken, the Doctor takes her back to the Earth in her own time, still alive and thriving and comforting and the same as ever, even if Rose’s perspective on it has changed vastly over the span of a day. The Doctor teaches her that nothing lasts forever, not even your home in the end, which is why you should make the most of the time you’ve got, live life to the fullest and and treasure every moment. It’s a surprisingly touching message for the show to impart in only it’s second episode, and a good insight into the Doctor’s stance on time travel (and by extension, the series’). He’s not the type to set out to change history, but he does try to savor everything it has to offer, and from here on out, Rose does as well.

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Unlike his sparse appearances in “Rose”, the Doctor is present throughout this episode so we learn a lot more about him in this adventure. “The End Of The World” serves as a nice character study for Nine, and a chance for Christopher Eccleston to continue to grow into the role. Every companion has a moment early on when it dawns on them just how alien the Doctor is, and I’m not just talking about his biology but how divorced his mindset is from that of an average human’s. The Doctor is a time traveler, he has been for most of his long life now, and he’s gradually become desensitized to the natural life cycle of the universe. Clara has a great scene in “Hide” where she correctly surmises that everyone the Doctor talks to in every moment is both alive and dead to him – unborn in the faraway past, and long dead in the distant future – and there’s something rather unsettling about how easily he accepts that. In “The End Of The World”, the Doctor decides to show off for Rose on her first trip by taking her to see her ancestral home be destroyed by an expanding sun, and it honestly doesn’t occur to him how much seeing that would mess Rose up until she points it out to him. Realizing he might have gone a bit too far in tossing Rose into the deep end, the Doctor tries to help her adjust and feel comfortable as best as he can throughout the episode. When he’s not saving the world, the Doctor is content to play the part of a tourist and just enjoy watching monumental moments in history unfold. But when trouble brews, he’s quick to leap into action, and he can’t help enjoying the chaos just a bit because of his reckless, daredevil streak. Still, there’s a gnawing sense that the Ninth Doctor’s constant, cheeky grins are a bit of a front, that he’s consciously making an effort to appear more cheery than he actually is.

The Doctor is still keeping secrets about who he is and where he comes from. There’s something in his past, something eating away at him, that he’s desperately trying to run away from and stay in denial about. He tries to distract himself by jumping from case to case, but Rose and Jabe both pick up on it immediately, and the latter manages to puzzle it out. The Doctor eventually comes clean to Rose that he is the last of his kind, the last time lord. His home planet, Gallifrey, was destroyed in a mysterious time war and the Doctor was left to soldier on by himself, carrying around all that loneliness and survivor’s guilt the entire time. The Doctor is clearly still holding out on some details, leaving another large shoe to drop in “Dalek“, but this development explains a lot of his prickly, morose behavior in the last two episodes and why he appreciates Rose’s friendship. “The End Of The World” does a lot to humanize the Doctor’s character and make him sympathetic, so it’s an interesting choice that this episode also contains one of his most grippingly ruthless moments. The Doctor is a righteous man and he’s furious when multiple, good people die as a result of Cassandra’s crimes. He refuses to let that go unpunished, so he enacts some vigilante justice and calls her back to Platform One so he can callously watch her dry out and die. You really won’t feel sorry for her, but this scene is definitely creepy, and it’s the first one in NuWho to suggest that the Doctor can be an ice cold time lord if you push him far enough. After his experience with Rose in this episode, Nine seems to have realized he needs to start accepting what happened to Gallifrey. His new words to live by are ‘everything has it’s time and everything dies’, an idea that would become a major recurring theme in the rest of the RTD era; it’s even incorporated into the Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ regeneration stories.

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Out of the quirky alien cast hobbling around in this episode (including the noble tree-woman Jabe, who dies a horrible, tragic death), the Lady Cassandra is easily the most memorable member. Cassandra is basically your typically camp, flamboyant and saucy diva / socialite, except she’s a sheet of talking skin, and Zoe Wanamaker clearly has a lot of fun hamming it up as the character. Cassandra knows how to play to a crowd and she tries her best to appear hospitable and personable, but beneath her cheery exterior lies a lot of unpleasantness. Tying into Russell’s commentary on the frivolity of the rich and wealthy, Cassandra is obsessively vain and has tried way too hard to conform to her own self-imposed beauty standards out of insecurity. She’s altered her body with so many plastic surgeries for centuries that she’s not even recognizable as being human anymore, not that she would ever admit that. She’s also determined to keep herself ‘pure’ as the rest of humanity changes and evolves and becomes ‘mongrels’, a remarkable bit of cognitive dissonance that Rose does not hesitate to point out. With that in mind, Cassandra is a pretty obvious suspect for what’s happening on Platform One, even if she tries to make the obviously evil robot monks her fall guys. As it turns out, Cassandra is a greedy psychopath who tried to have the richest aliens in the universe killed so she can cash in on their deaths and maintain her slavishly expensive lifestyle. She also tries to kill Rose, for no reason other than Rose personally pissing her off. Cassandra receives a karmic demise at the end of this episode, but despite what it appears, this is not the last we’ll see of her. Cassandra will make her glorious return in “New Earth” the following season, an episode that gives David Tennant and Billie Piper a chance to chew so much scenery.

The production values for “The End Of The World” are pretty good by Series 1 standards. The CGI has noticeably aged better than it’s use in the last episode, and the direction by Euros Lynn is frequently captivating, flaunting all the different areas of Platform One as it orbits the Earth in space. After the first episode was set entirely in London, RTD wanted the second episode to be a big one as the show journeyed into space and gave the audience it’s first taste of the scale of Whoniverse, so he apparently blew through most of the season’s budget doing justice to all the warranted special effects in this episode. It’s why the CGI in some of the other episodes can look pretty rough and unpolished. The costume designers went to town thinking up weird, colorful and extravagant designs for the alien guests at Platform One. “Doctor Who’s” episodes set in the future usually wind up focusing on future humans, so it’s nice to see one centered around a bizarre conglomeration of diverse aliens for a change. Murray Gold’s score is again rousing and pleasant: the wavering, psychedelic and electronic “Cassandra’s Waltz” sounds like a classic piece of 60’s sci-fi music and is a nice touch throughout the episode, helping the whole adventure to feel a bit off-kilter. Most notably, “The End Of The World” sees the debut of Rose Tyler’s leitmotif, “Rose’s Theme“, a soft piece of piano music that I find very enchanting. Fans sometimes describe the writing in the RTD era as resembling a soap opera, and “Rose’s Theme” definitely feels soapish and larger than life. Mostly, I love how bittersweet it is. Rose learned in this episode that she should enjoy everything life has to offer her, because nothing lasts forever. Her adventures with the Doctor in Series 1 and 2, seeing the universe, were the best times of her life and that came to an end too eventually, so “Rose’s Theme” feels like a complete musical journey of beauty, joy and sadness. My favorite use of it is probably Rose saying goodbye to Mickey at the end of “The Age of Steel”.

“The End Of The World” is a really entertaining, if at times overly silly, second episode of Doctor Who’s first series, and it’s good to see it officially break the ice between one of the better Doctor / companion pairs in the revival: the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “You lot, you spend all your time thinking about dying, like you’re going to get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible, that maybe you survive. This is the year five point five slash apple slash twenty six. Five billion years in your future, and this is the day… wait, hold on. This is the day the sun expands. Welcome to the end of the world”.

* I’d just like to mention, the Face of Boe is present for the proceedings. If you believe Captain Jack and the Face of Boe are the same person, Jack was the first NuWho companion the Doctor met out in order, three years before River Song.

* “Hello. My name’s Rose. That’s a sort of plant. We might be related- I’m talking to a twig“.

* “They’re just so alien. The aliens are so alien. You look at ’em and they’re alien” “Hmm, good thing I didn’t take you to the Deep South” Says the man who called humans ‘stupid apes’ in the last episode.

* “I could show you and your wife” “She’s not my wife” “Partner?” “No” “Concubine?” “Nope” “Prostitute?” “Whatever I am, it must be invisible!”

* “I was born on that planet, and so was my mum, and so was my dad, and that makes me officially the last human being in this room, ‘cos you’re not human. You’ve had it all nipped and tucked and flattened till there’s nothing left. Anything human got chucked in the bin. You’re just skin, Cassandra. Lipstick and skin. Nice talking”.

* I always flinch when the monks knock out Rose. I’m 99% certain Billie Piper did not get bitch-slapped, but that was a very convincing stunt.

* “At arms!” “What are you gonna do, moisturize me?” “With acid“.

Further Reading:

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