Superman II (1980) Review

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Rather impressively, “Superman” and “Superman II” were filmed simultaneously; a practice that’s not uncommon now for film franchises but was pretty rare in the 70’s and 80’s, because handling a workload that size is stressful as hell. Pretty much everyone involved with “Superman” worked their asses off and poured all their creativity into that film to make it a masterpiece. It was “Superman II” that felt the strain of all the behind the scenes drama going on at the time. The Salkind brothers were apparently dicks and fired the director, Richard Donner, over creative differences when the film was already partly filmed, resulting in a lot of reshoots and the script being rewritten. Donner’s absence would probably explain why some of the wire-work and flying scenes feel clunkier this time around. You’ll also notice that despite “Superman II” name-dropping his character loads of times, this movie seems to go out of its way to avoid showing Jor-El, even previous footage of Jor-El, to the point where Zod’s trial is refilmed and given a decidedly less impressive reimagining. After Donner was dismissed from the project, the Salkinds decided that Marlon Brando was a very expensive actor to keep around and cut all of his scenes in the movie, even footage from the first movie, to avoid paying Brando royalties.

Really, considering how heated the production of this movie got towards the end, it’s a miracle that the final theatrical cut turned out as well as it did. As it stands, “Superman II” accomplishes a great many things: it gives us further insight into Christopher Reeve’s Superman, it puts greater focus on his relationship with Lois Lane and ties it into the personal balancing act Clark has to do everyday, it picks up the hook established in the first film about the Phantom Zone prisoners and fleshes them out into their own fantastically campy villains, and it brings Lex Luthor back into the fray for a second shot at revenge on Superman. “Superman II” works well as a character study and a frothy, romp movie. In retrospect, “Superman” and “Superman II” strike a good balance between silly, campy, over-the-top fun and lofty, contemplative themes about a hero’s burden and the loneliness that comes with being the last of your kind, which gives these movies just the right amount of weight. The Donner films are a lot of fun to watch, with a wide of variety of charismatic characters, so it’s easy to forgive their faults, like how the climax of this movie gets fucking insane.

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“Superman” went to great lengths to establish Clark Kent’s background and level him up gradually – from his childhood, to the years he spent training with Jor-El, and finally the early days of his Superman career. Now that that’s done, “Superman II” delves deeper into his personality and expands on his character faults, which is a choice I really appreciate. Characters need to have flaws and shortcomings in order to be well-rounded, even a paragon of virtue like Superman. His relationship with Lois Lane provides the emotional crux of the movie. The first film played the classic Lois and Clark, triangle for two dilemma entirely straight and was fantastically romantic for it, while the second film deconstructs it and shows just how dysfunctional that set-up would be for both parties involved. Lois is starry-eyed for Superman and pretty indifferent to Clark Kent, who she sees everyday, which irritates him. He seems to want Lois to love both his identities, as irrational as that is, and tries to pursue her as Clark. Meanwhile, Lois has been feeling Superman pull away from her lately and is feeling rejected. It’s quite a mess, and the movie milks it for all the comedy it’s worth. As the only Kryptonian of his kind, Clark is always very lonely. He’s always putting on several different masks to the world, whether it’s the exaggeratedly nerdy, wimpy Clark Kent, or the perfect, boy scout hero everyone thinks Superman is. Very few people know Kal-El’s true self, besides his elderly mother in Kansas and the memory of his dead parents in the Arctic, but he wants to share every part of himself with Lois. He eagerly does so when he finally shares his secret identity with her, and after getting a taste of domestic bliss with her, he decides he wants to go one step further than that. Clark would like to live an ordinary life with Lois. He could devote most of his time to being with her, grow old with her, fully enjoy intimacy with her, and maybe start a family with her someday. The prospect of becoming human is very tempting to him for a variety of reasons, so Clark chooses to give up his powers and become a mortal man.

Of course, it turns out to be a terrible, impulsive mistake in the long run. Leaving aside that Clark is breaking the promise he made to be humanity’s protector, what would he do to help Lois the next time she inevitably got in trouble? Clark grew up with his alien abilities: they’re a part of him, an extension of his senses. Without them, he’s far more weak and vulnerable than he expected, like he when he decides to go start something with some creep in a bar and the fight does not go the way Clark thought it would. Lastly, the whole situation with Zod only grows as dire as it does because the villains went unchecked for ages while Lois and Clark lived in their own little corner of the world. “Superman II” expands on the Space Jesus motif from the first movie: Christopher Reeve’s Superman is pretty much portrayed as a demigod who gave up his incredible strength for personal desires and mortal folly and let everyone down, before he thankfully regains his powers via a crystal ex machina. The film also implies that Clark has a bit more of a vindictive streak than he lets on. He baits Zod into a false sense of security before he crushes his hand and tosses him down a chasm to die. Keep in mind, that unlike in “Man Of Steel”, the threat has already been defused at this point, so this is clearly Supes wanting some payback, and I can’t say I blame him in the slightest. I also find it hilarious how as soon as Lois realizes what’s happening, she decides she wants in on that action and shoves Zod’s lieutenant down there after him. Later, Clark goes to teach that Rocky guy a lesson, and having learned his own lesson from the last time, he waits until after he’s gotten his powers to do it, so he doesn’t get his ass beat again. Whilst he’s saving the day, Superman proves he has a good mix of brains and brawns. He lures the Zod Squad away to the Arctic when he realizes Metropolis won’t survive their onslaught, and he tricks Lex Luthor into helping him defeat Zod, because Lex is so predictably two-faced he knew he couldn’t help but try to betray him.

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Developing their dynamic from the previous film, Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder have some lovely chemistry as Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Despite pretending to be foppish and ineffectual in many other areas, one thing Clark always stands his ground on, without or without the cape, is his personal convictions. With Clark’s unbridled optimism constantly combating against Lois’ jaded cynicism, Lois and Clark bounce off each other well as foils and trade some good snark with each other day to day about their respective flaws. Lately though, their dynamic has started to charge. Lois is starting to become aware of Clark’s feelings for her, even though she doesn’t really return them, and she’s starting to grow suspicious of him. Lois is starting to realize Clark is always absent when Superman appears, and that without his glasses, Clark sure looks a lot like Superman, which leads to one of the funniest scenes of the movie: Lois tries to get Clark to out himself by throwing herself into a raging river. Yeah, Lois is kind of nuts (but we all still love her). Funny thing is, this scene is entirely in-character for her, because Lois Lane did a lot of crazy stuff during the silver era (like that time she decided to try out being black and gave herself a race lift for a story). In any case, Lois finally discovers Clark’s secret, and as a result, her whole demeanor subtly changes for the rest of the movie; her brash, sardonic outer shell falls away to expose the romantic dreamer within. As previously established, Superman brings out a different side of Lois that she’s been protecting ever since she stopped being a girl, a side that likes to dream of impossible things and support impossible heroes, and occasionally indulge in a bit of whimsy. Lois becomes a more soft-spoken character in the second half of the film because she holds a great deal of respect for Superman and feels humbled by his origins, even if Clark would rather just be an ordinary man.

It’s very refreshing for Lois to be in the know throughout this movie: she always tries to be understanding and always tries to be there as someone Clark can confide in, like she promised she would be, but it’s also very clear that Lois feels increasingly out of her depth. Up until now, Lois has almost started to regard Superman as a benevolent god, a modern mythological figure. Now she’s being confronted by the fact that he’s also still a man, he’s still very fallible, and he can still be injured, and it’s a definite shock to her. Lois is pretty mortified when Clark is assaulted and beaten to a pulp by Rocky (how great is it when she jumps into that brawl and straight up attacks Rocky?), and the confrontation with Zod really puts her through her wringer. Having been suddenly confronted by Superman’s mortality, Lois is terrified for Clark when he has to face three super-powered tyrants who can actually kill him, especially since the fate of her world is also on the line. Superman triumphs over Zod, because it’s what he does, but Lois’ fears and her inferiority complex next to Superman remain afterwards. Lois has to deal with the fact that as much as she loves Clark, he can never be just hers. He’s married to his job, and she has to share him with the whole world, all while feeling worried about him every time he goes out to fight crime; the stress of that breaks her heart. So Clark wipes her mind. Yeah, the amnesia kiss kind of comes out of nowhere, and it’s portrayed as a quiet sacrifice on Clark’s part – he’s giving up the relationship he could have with Lois for her happiness and peace of mind – but it’s also kind of creepy. Knowing Lois, she wouldn’t want Clark to do that for her or appreciate him doing it without her permission. And since the last five minutes of the film reset Lois and Clark right back to the status quo, it almost makes Lois’ whole journey and character growth throughout this film feels pointless. I’ve never been fond of the reset button in moves and TV shows when it comes to resetting character development, but it is what it is I suppose.

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I do love the Zod Squad, because all three of these space fugitives are crazy as hell and they chew so much scenery throughout the movie. General Zod and his soldiers are a trio of mutineers (decked out from head to toe in leather of course, just so we know they’re evil) who tried to overthrow the science council on Krypton, but were instead banished to the Phantom Zone, which ironically saved their lives until Superman’s time. General Zod is a massive ham, but a cold one. He’s callous and reserved, but he houses some serious anger issues behind a seemingly even temperament. He’s an experienced soldier, with a long military background, so the general is a very efficient strategist and a fairly ruthless usurper when it comes to overthrowing authority figures and making his way up a chain of power. Zod is very egotistical, power-hungry and self-aggrandizing; he wants to rule because he feels he deserves glory, he never misses an opportunity to assert his authority, and he loves to boast about himself in the third person (which is so goofy, but the movie plays it entirely straight, and I love it for that). Zod is flanked by his two subordinates, Ursa and Non. Ursa is Zod’s second-in-command, and a total vamp as far as villainesses go. She’s arrogant, cruel and sadistic, and she’s apparently something of a misandrist. She holds nothing but contempt towards every man she encounters that isn’t Zod, who is the only man she knows that’s earned her respect and devotion by being as brutal and goal-focused as she is (it’s easy to assume Zod and Ursa are very involved, in more ways than one). Non is the near-silent muscle of the trio. He’s a total brute, occasionally seems more like like an animal than a person, and his own partners make it clear he’s not that bright, but he follows orders well and he’s every bit as loyal to Zod as Ursa. On Krypton, Zod, Ursa and Non were simple usurpers, three mutinous soldiers with delusions of grandeur, but on Earth they’re far more dangerous.

The trio, Zod in particular, still believe in Kryptonian supremacy when it comes to their place in the universe: they will settle for nothing less than humanity bowing at their feet, and they’re more than capable of making that happen. As goofy as the Zod Squad can be, they can also just as easily be frightening. The spark of humanity and the world humans have created for themselves over the years is so fragile compared to them, they might as well be conquering a world made of cardboard, allowing them to easily bully whoever they please. The first film devoted a lot of time to establishing Superman’s powers, but his principles as well. To quote another famous superhero franchise, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. The Zod Squad’s presence in this movie allows us to see for the first time how devastating Superman’s nearly unlimited power can be without his morality, and the Phantom Zone trio relish it – they lord it over every human character they encounter. The Superman films are usually pretty campy and silly when it comes to their tone, so it’s very jarring, disturbing and effective when characters actually die horribly, like an early scene of the trio straight-up murdering a group of astronauts on the moon, or the group razing a line of troops come to fight them. “Superman II” takes it’s time building up these villains, as they progress from experiencing culture shock, to menacing rednecks, to rejuvenating their plans for world domination. Conquering humanity isn’t as fun or challenging as Zod thought it would be, so he sets his sights on fighting Superman, partly for excitement and partly so he can get revenge on his old jailer’s son. The last act of the film is devoted to the Zod Squad’s 3-1 fight with Superman, and it is awesome. My only complaint is (like Clark’s time-traveling trick in the first film) it makes the Kryptonian race a bit too OP. In addition to their standard power set, they pull all sorts of other powers out of nowhere towards the end, like teleporting, telekinesis, the ability to make holograms of themselves, and of course, amnesia kisses.

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Gene Hackman reprises his role as Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, and he’s as darkly funny as ever as the evil businessman, without overshadowing the new villainous trio. I think “Superman II” is one of the last times Lex Luthor works really well as an antagonist in a Superman movie, because the Superman movies really have an obsession with Lex Luthor. Most of the Superman films seem to have Lex as the main villain or a side villain, to the point where the other members of Clark’s rogues gallery like Darkseid, Doomsday, Braniac and Bizarro must really hate him for hogging the spotlight every time. In any case, Lex still hasn’t given up on his real estate schemes and he’d love to get some revenge on Superman for foiling his plan in the last movie, even if he’s currently doing time in prison. However, he finally gets smart and decides to ditch his two comedy relief lackeys, the bumbling oaf Otis and the flighty airhead, Miss Tessmacher. Amusing as they are, they’re a liability and they cramp his style, so Lex flies solo for much of “Superman II”. He pokes around Superman’s home base in the Arctic, which Clark leaves unprotected most of the time, to try to find another weak spot in the Man of Steel’s defenses, and he manages to hit the jackpot. Lex proposes the glorious idea of a supervillain team-up to the Zod Squad, and is basically willing to sell out his entire race to some alien tyrants so he can get some notoriety. Lex is as smarmy, greedy and ambitious as ever, brimming with bluster (whether it’s earned or not) and is no doubt planning on out-playing them, but there’s definitely a sense that he’s a bitten off more than he can chew this time and is dealing with villains above his league. Aside from their mutual hatred towards Clark, Lex and the Phantom Zone trio have nothing in common and they can back up their threats in a way Lex can’t, so it’s a lot of fun watching Zod make Lex squirm again and again. Lex also lets Superman outsmart him during the climax. Clark made the mistake of underestimating Lex in the last film, and he clearly resolved not to make it again.

Richard Lester’s direction for “Superman II” isn’t quite as dynamic as Richard Donner’s work in the first film (heh, two Riches), but it still manages to impress with it’s sleekness and immersiveness, particularly during some of the meatier scenes in the film: like Lois’ ride down the raging rapids and Superman’s brawl with the Phantom Zone trio in the climax. In addition to the usual back-lot shoots for Metropolis, there was quite a bit of location shooting done for the movie in middle America and Paris, France. Lester wanted to emphasize the humor of the story as much as the pathos and the mythological elements, which eventually led to “Superman III” and “Superman IV” becoming so silly that they became parodies of themselves, but with “Superman II”, Lester’s approach paid off incredibly well, since the final film is completely hilarious. Like I mentioned before, the final cut of the film flows surprisingly well, considering it’s basically a hodgepodge of footage captured by Richard Donner and Richard Lester a year apart, and the only really noticeable drop in quality from the first film is that the flying scenes for Superman and Zod Squad seem more awkward and stilted. Replacing John Williams, Ken Thorne composes the score for “Superman II”, and basically expands on the catalog of material from the first film. Rather delightfully, Ken Thorne’s score is mostly made up of variations on the themes and leitmotifs from the previous movie, including the lovely Lois and Clark love theme, considering the greater amount of focus their romance gets in this sequel. There’s also a peppier, extended version of the Superman March from Thorne, which does a excellent job of drawing the audience back into the Donner-verse during the main titles recap.

“Superman II” is a rare example of a really good sequel that does everything a sequel ought to do: it tells a fun story, develops the themes and ideas from the original film further, and fleshes out the two lead characters. While not quite as strong as it’s predecessor, “Superman II” would also go onto influence the superhero genre years down the line.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

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* Yeah, the planet Krypton in these movies is still giving me Star Wars vibes.

* “Mr. White, that’s terrible” “That’s why they call them terrorists, Kent”.

* Lois, why did you think this was a good idea?

* “I hope you don’t have many sins to be forgiven, because if you let go of that, you’ll only have ten seconds to list them”. I think becoming a terrorist would be pretty high up on the list.

* Wait, that was the police’s plan? Just drop the bomb down an elevator shaft and let it fall several hundred stories until it hit the street? Even if the bomb wasn’t already primed, how did they not expect that to make it explode?

* Guys, don’t become terrorists if you’re not ready and willing to be blown to bits by your own bomb.

* But the Phantom Zone prison exploded right next to Clark in space, how did he not notice that?

* “This is our genuine bearskin rug-” “Gee, real polyester!”

* “Look at this, Lois. A complimentary corsage” “Oh sure, everything’s complimentary, until you get the bill”.

* “Now, what are we gonna do about our sleeping arrangements?” “Mr. Smith – the complimentary couch”.

* “Lex, how could you do that to Otis?!” “What else is ballast for?”

* Dat blue screen.

* “You know, Lois, we should hold hands. Everyone else is doing it” “You know what I think? They’re afraid to let go, cause as soon as they let go, they’re off straight to the lawyers”.

* Man, this boy is dumb, even by movie standards.

* “Lois, you are amazing. Here we are in front of one of Nature’s most awesome spectacles, and you’re still thinking about food!”

* “After eons of harmony, there appeared among us three rebel elements. What you on Earth would call ‘criminals'”. “Criminals? My kind of people”.

* “You’re what I thought was Superman?” “Sorry, Lois” “This is really embarrassing”.

* Trust me, my dude. That ain’t Jesus.

* Snake murder.

* I just have to ask: if Zod, Ursa and Non didn’t have powers inside the Phantom Zone, then why haven’t they aged a day since they were imprisoned decades ago?

* “Please, sir, let my daddy down!” I’m sure there’s a very interesting, untold story about why there’s this one British kid in a town full of rednecks.

* “Look, they need metal machines to fly!” “What bravery, be kind to them, dear. Blow them a kiss”.

* “I’ll kneel before you, if it will save lives” “It will, starting with your own”.

* “Dear, god” “No, Zod”.

* So, how did Lois and Clark get back from the North Pole without Clark’s powers?

* “Come to me, Superman! Come and kneel before Zod! ZODDD!!!” Zod being crazy on live TV always makes me laugh.

* “FATHER!!!” How dramatic of you, Clark. These movies are still giving me Star Wars vibes.

* “What an undemanding male this Superman must be” “Yeah, you could use a tuck here and there yourself, sister” I really love Lois.

* “Superman, thank god” Lex, you traitor.

* “My baby, someone save my baby!” Well, you could save your baby yourself by moving out of the way, lady.

* “I never thought this thing would go the distance”.

* Metropolis destruction porn, thirty years before “Man Of Steel”.

* “Why do you say these things, when you know I’ll kill you for them?”

* “Scruffy, so morbid. A sentimental replica of a planet long since vanished. No style at all”.

* Thanks to “Superman II” and “Man Of Steel”, Superman / General Zod has gradually become one of my crack ships.

* “We did it, Superman! We stopped-” “IT’S TOO LATE FOR THAT, LUTHOR! IT’S TOO LATE!” It’s good to see Clark is so done with Lex backstabbing Luthor at this point.

* I’d just like to point out that Superman mindwiped Lois, but there’s no indication that he also gave Lex Luthor an amnesia kiss. I’m sure letting Lex retain the top secret location of his fortress of solitude won’t bite Clark in the ass at all in some future movie.

* “I won’t let you down again, sir” *Cough* “Superman Returns” *Cough*.

* “Coming soon: Superman III” Where Superman faces his deadliest foe – Richard Pryor.

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

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Doctor Who: Bad Wolf / The Parting Of The Ways (2005) Review

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While they’ve both had their lighter and darker moments as showrunners, one key difference between Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat’s writing style is that Russell’s stories can get very cynical, while Steven has a more optimistic approach to Doctor Who. And while a frothy RTD comedy romp like “The Runaway Bride” or “Partners In Crime” can be amusing, most of his best stories like “Gridlock”, “Utopia”, “Midnight”, “Turn Left” and “The Water Of Mars” involve him playing to his strengths and wandering into some really dark territory. The Series 1 finale is an excellent, early example of what I’m talking about. Right from the dizzy, disorienting opening scenes, the tone and setting of this two-parter feels very hopeless and empty on a guttural level, set in a faceless, grey, clinical television studio in a time period that only grows more and more chilling conceptually the more time the Doctor and his friends spend there. As the sheer magnitude of what our heroes have gotten swept up into becomes apparent, threatening to overwhelm them with each new revelation, dread creeps in and an oppressive bleakness blankets this entire two-parter with very little humor or reprieve from it – not unlike the second half of “The Doctor Dances”, yet so much worse.

By the climax, the stakes have grown incredibly high, befitting a finale, and the conflict between our leads has reached painful, uncomfortable levels until it finally boils over cathartically with the twist of Bad Wolf Rose. The fact that Russell pulls no punches with the Daleks in this finale helps give it gravitas. Basically, everyone in this story except Rose dies in a massacre, and many of them die cruelly and brutally. “The Parting Of The Ways” being set in the future allows Russell to do whatever he wants with the human race against the Daleks, without having to worry about maintaining the show’s usual status quo, and he uses it to do some serious damage. I wouldn’t want every Doctor Who episode to be filled with this much of death and depression (or even most of them), but as a special occasion, it makes for one hell of a strong finale. In fact, the only real downside to this two-parter is the fact that the reality TV show satire in “Bad Wolf”, exaggerating popular British shows of the 2000’s into deadly versions of themselves, can get quite cheesy and has not aged well over the years. I’m not British, so the only parody I actually recognize is “Big Brother” (because I remember seeing commercials for it a decade ago). Doctor Who loved it’s pop culture references during the RTD era, and there was always going to be a downside to that down the line.

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“Bad Wolf” brings attention to the fact that the Doctor has always been a bit of a contradictory character. He’s supposed to be a rebel time lord – a mischievous old man who stole a magic box and ran away for fun, solving problems wherever he goes – and yet he’s simultaneously an authority figure, the same sort he claims to dislike. He’s able to easily command respect from his peers through his confidence, charisma and the sheer amount of knowledge and experience he lords over other people. Initially, Nine is feeling pretty haughty and overconfident. He’s bored out of his mind being trapped inside a tacky and gaudy reality TV show, at least he learns the contestants die if they lose – that sets off some alarm bells. Nine is convinced that someone has lured him into a trap and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it, when in reality, he’s been drafted. Along the way, Nine is mortified to discover that he’s helped to screw up the development of the human race. A repeated assertion throughout Series 1 is how sensitive and fragile the natural time-stream is to outside meddling, like Adam’s actions in “The Long Game“, or Rose’s in “Father’s Day” or Jack’s in “The Empty Child“. Now it’s the Doctor’s turn in the hot-spot. He showed up in “The Long Game”, he raised hell and beat the bad guy, and then he left others to clean up the mess like he always does. It wound up making things worse in the long run, and now the consequences have come home to roost. In fact, most if not all of Russell’s core ideas about his interpretation of the Doctor come home to roost in this finale: like the consequences of the Doc’s reckless actions, the Dalek-related PTSD the Doctor has gained from the time war, the Doctor having to make impossible (and sometimes ugly) decisions for the greater good of many, and the influence the Doctor has on other people over time, whether it’s empowering them or turning them into makeshift soldiers or both.

When Rose is seemingly killed as collateral damage of the Bad Wolf conspiracy, it seems for a moment that the Doctor is going to go on a furious rampage of revenge, before RTD subverts our expectations about that. Doctor Who is not that kind of show, and whenever it does become that sort of show it’s usually a sign that there’s something seriously wrong with the Doctor. The taut cliffhanger of “Bad Wolf’ has a fantastic dual reveal that Rose is still alive and that the Daleks have returned in numbers. The Daleks warn the Doctor to stay out of their business or else they’ll kill Rose for reals, a deliberate callback to the Dalek’s ultimatum in “Dalek“. Rose has already been established as a weak spot in the Doctor’s judgment several times this season, so you would expect him to bend, like he has done before. Instead, he stands his ground and defies them, declaring (in almost deranged fashion) that he’s going to fetch Rose himself and he trusts her to stay alive until then. Man, you’ve got to love Nine. The Doctor’s rescue plan works successfully, but that’s about the only thing that goes right for him in “The Parting Of The Ways”. The finale is pretty much the Ninth Doctor’s darkest hour, where he can no longer avoid all the guilt, anger and despair he’s been carrying around since the war and has only just started to learn to cope with. He committed double genocide and killed his own people to save the universe, and now the return of the Dalek empire means it was all for nothing. What’s more, the Doctor is clearly out of his depth as one time lord going up against so many Daleks. On an ordinary day, he would do something incredibly clever and think himself and his friends out of trouble. But not this time. This time, he can’t win and he can’t save the Earth. The only thing he can do is send Rose home. So he does what the Doctor does best: he lies to her. Nine is faced with that terrible choice again: the only way he can keep the universe safe from an empire of Daleks is if he nukes all life on Earth with them.

While Russell doesn’t address the idea head-on until “Journey’s End”, I think “The Parting Of The Ways” is the first time it becomes clear that the Doctor’s influence causes people to become more like soldiers over time. Jack is pretty much Nine’s right-hand man and lieutenant throughout this story, the remaining humans on the base become cannon fodder for the Daleks to give the Doctor time to enact his plan, and Rose is more than willing to die for a good cause with her friends. As the Ninth Doctor’s swansong, the finale shows off all the different faucets of his character and features a tour-de-force of acting from Christopher Eccleston: whether it’s breezy, comical Nine, haughty, hubristic Nine, righteously angry Nine, determined Nine, remorseful, guilt-ridden Nine, or even unhinged Nine. In the end, despite all the death and sacrifice from his side, the Doctor can’t bring himself to play God and make that sort of decision again, become an even bigger killer than he already is. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that the needs of the universe outweigh the needs of the Earth, let alone the Doctor’s own soul, but Doctor Who is not the kind of show that would settle for that stance. So Rose returns with a third, far more effective option, and the Doctor saves her life one last time, which causes him to regenerate. Christopher Eccleston decided to resign from the show after just one series for personal reasons, which surprised everyone at the time, but it all worked out in the end. The Series 1 finale is all about the Doctor facing the literal and figurative demons from his past so he can finally start to move on with his life, so it feels like the right time for Nine to bow out, and Eccleston’s last scene as the Doctor is pitched at just the right level of bittersweet. The Doctor is clearly sad that this incarnation of himself has come to an end, like he always is, but Rose is safe, the Daleks are gone, and he’s gotten all his affairs in order, so he tries to go out with a smile.

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Billie Piper’s Rose is put through the wringer several times over in this finale. Trapped in a futuristic version of “The Weakest Link”, Rose is at a disadvantage right from the start: she can only guess the most basic of questions, since most of them involve information that’s way after her time. Once she discovers the losers get murdered, the pressure’s on for Rose to stay in the game long enough for her friends to find her, especially since she’s competing against a callous, greedy, opportunistic bastard (yeah, he’s pretty much the only character who you’ll be rooting for the Daleks to exterminate when it happens). When that fails, she gets captured by the Daleks and held hostage on their ship. Compared to other episodes, Rose doesn’t actually get to do much in “Bad Wolf” and she damsels it up for the first half of the finale, which seems strange but in hindsight helps to mask her agency in “The Parting Of The Ways” and the fact that she becomes the game-changing character. The Doctor decides to send her home against her wishes, taking responsibility as the one who invited her along with him so she won’t die a hundred thousand years away from home. Throughout Series 1, Russell has intercut Rose’s surreal adventures with periodic trips back to the Powell Estate, showing her progress, and after everything Rose has seen and all the character growth she’s experienced in a year, her old home and the daily, mundane rituals of a quiet, suburban life feel jarring and tiny now. In fact, they become downright torturous and almost insignificant for her when she knows her friends are fighting and dying, and her home planet is at risk of being destroyed in the future. There is no way in hell Rose is going to just sit on her backside and do nothing, even if everyone else wants her to do. For better or for worse, “The Parting Of The Ways’ is the point where Rose accepts that she’s changed irrevocably and she doesn’t belong on the Powell Estate anymore. Seeing all of creation is worth the risk, beating the Daleks is worth the risk, and being with the man she loves is worth the risk.

Rose’s stubbornness and gutsiness were the traits that led her to become a companion in the first place, and now she has to use everything she’s learned this season to try to get the TARDIS to take her back to the future. And just in case you thought Rusty was suggesting an ordinary life had no merit at all compared to a fantastical one, Rose succeeds in her task thanks to some Powell estate grit, ingenuity and support from Jackie and Mickey. Once Rose looks into the time vortex and telepathically speaks to the TARDIS, something surreal happens (even for this series). You see, the TARDIS isn’t just a mode of transportation, she’s alive and she’s sentient, even if she can’t speak. The TARDIS having a mind of it’s own is an idea that’s been played with since “The Edge Of Destruction” in 1963, and there’s eventually an entire episode devoted to the TARDIS’s personality called “The Doctor’s Wife”. It’s just one of many reasons why the TARDIS is a beautiful ship. In any case, the TARDIS loves the Doctor as much as his human friends do, so she teams up with Rose to find him. There’s been a repeated phrase scattered throughout Series 1, “Bad Wolf”, an Easter egg for the audience that the Doctor and Rose finally noticed in “Boom Town“, leading them to their destinies on Satellite Five. It turns out to be a bootstrap paradox, caused by Rose herself. For half of this two-parter, Rose was the most ordinary, out-of-place, and borderline helpless player (besides Lynda), but thanks to her bravery and determination, she becomes a modern goddess. She uses the power of the time vortex to destroy the Daleks, save the universe and revive Captain Jack. Rose has other cool achievements after this episode, like vanquishing the devil in “The Satan Pit” or facing the Daleks again in “The Stolen Earth”, but “The Parting Of The Ways” is easily her finest hour as a companion. The Doctor and Rose share their first kiss, and after a whole season of romantic chemistry and ship-tease moments, the Doctor and Rose have a relationship upgrade from this point on.

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“Bad Wolf” serves as Captain Jack Harkness’ departure story as a companion until we see John Barrowman again as a guest character in Series 3, and while I’m sad to see him leave so soon after such a short but fun tenure, “The Parting Of The Ways” is a good send-off for him. Captain Jack has always been the sort to carry himself with swagger and braggadocio, giving the impression he’s more confident and in control than he actually probably is. In this two-parter, he’s firing on all cylinders as a wingman, and as a future companion he actually feels more at home in the alien setting of Satellite Five than any of the other heroes. Whether he’s cheekily showing off with reality TV show hosts, flirting with everyone he encounters, lending a helping hand with his technical know-how, leading the Doctor’s improvised army, or giving the Doctor and Rose his upmost trust and loyalty that they’ve earned from him as things get bleak. Jack was a freelancing, mercenary figure with a military background when we first met him; he became more scrupulous overtime because of his friends’ influence, but his time in the TARDIS has also clearly heightened his instincts as a soldier, or brought them to the forefront. He’s pretty much the Doctor’s lieutenant in this two-parter: fighting in sync with the time lord, handling tasks the Doctor has delegated to him, and eventually rallying troops as a wave of defense for the base. As a conman, Jack mirthfully, noncommittally boasted that when the going got tough, he was usually the first to flee. But his loyalty to his friends and the need to stop the Daleks convinces him to stay once more in this two-parter, even if it means certain death from one side or the other, showing how his character has grown from a selfish rake to a fairly courageous hero in just five episodes. And before he marches into hell, he makes sure to get a kiss from the Doctor and Rose each. Good lad. Jack sacrifices himself to buy time for the Doctor but is (thankfully) revived by Rose, giving him a second chance to do whatever he wants with himself from here on out.

Lynda with a Y is a charming yet tragic character. Lynda starts as a game show contestant on “Big Brother”. She’s sweet, earnest, naive, wide-eyed and fairly affable. She wouldn’t dream of breaking the rules for fear of fatal consequences until now, but she dreams of the great, big outside world and everything it has to offer. Basically, she’s companion material. The Doctor befriends her during his investigation; he takes under his wing, promises to help her and show her a better life, and then he utterly fails to do that. Instead, she gets swept up into a war she barely understands, she witnesses a massacre of her people and her home, and then she gets murdered by the Daleks as the story’s sacrificial lamb. She tries to be brave and helpful, providing information about the local culture, but in the end it’s all for nought. Lynda’s death scene, where the Daleks silently kill her and suck her corpse out into the vacuum of space, is rather chilling and serves as a harsh reminder that sometimes terrible things happen to good people, especially when the Daleks are involved. Furthermore, you’ll gradually notice that the Doctor inviting someone onto the TARDIS when their actress’ name isn’t in the credits is practically a death sentence for them. Just ask Astrid, or Jenny, or Rita, or Osgood. Sad thing is, Lynda was doomed no matter which way this story panned. If she hadn’t accompanied the Doctor, she would have either been killed in the games, or slaughtered when the Daleks came to Satellite Five.

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The world-building in “The Long Game” was easily my favorite aspect of that episode, and “Bad Wolf” takes the future conspiracy surrounding Satellite Five to a whole new, tantalizingly twisted level. RTD’s episodes set in the future usually served as social commentary about modern society, by exaggerating the worst traits of humanity to disturbingly perverted levels. “The Long Game” touched on the power of the media, and “Bad Wolf” takes a stab at people’s affinity for television as entertainment. In the present day, people already enjoy TV shows where the contestants hurt themselves for their viewing pleasure. In the year 200,100 this is taken one natural yet obscene step further, and the contestants frequently die. This is completely normalized. The Daleks manipulated humanity’s development and used them as cattle, but they did not make humans enjoy their messed-up entertainment or support it for years. That stemmed from either sadism or a complete lack of empathy for the people on their screens. Like Rose said, it’s sick. Life on Satellite Five is still clinical and utilitarian. Humans are essentially livestock, and their whole reason for existing is to be pawns for the Daleks – whether they’re cannon fodder in the games to keep the masses placated, workers on the base, broadcasting to the planet below, or genetic material that’s used to create more Daleks. From birth to death, they’re measured entirely by how valuable they are to their secret masters, which is shown to it’s full, horrifying extent with the Controller character, a woman who lived in blindness, running the station her entire life since she was five years old. The fourth great and bountiful human empire is pretty much a strict caste society where humans are ignorant slaves with a warped sense of morality, on the verge of being slaughtered by their superiors who have utterly ruined them. The audience is slowly drip-fed this revelation about the Earth’s future, the way of life humanity has become accustomed to, and it is disturbing.

Having been introduced before as campy, hateful, megalomaniacal conquerors, it’s only fitting that the Daleks return as the final boss villains of the finale. The reveal that there’s a whole army of them now, when the Doctor and Rose could barely handle one before, makes for one belter of a cliffhanger and raises the stakes perfectly for the second half of the two-parter. The twist that the Daleks survived the war is significantly less effective when Russell doles it out again, and again, and again for the remainder of his era, to what some would argue was a series of diminishing returns. In retrospect, there probably should have been one less Dalek two-parter than there was in the RTD era (I vote “Doomsday”, since they waltzed in and totally stole the Cybermen’s villain thunder in that episode). In any case, at this point in this series, the Daleks are still mostly unknown, alien and utterly terrifying. Their leader, the Emperor of Daleks, is a massive kaled who is arrogant, hubristic, spiteful and delusional, even by Dalek standards. The emperor possesses one hell of a god complex and pretty much rebuilt the Dalek race from the ground up after he fell through time, crafting new Daleks from DNA he harvested from dead humans. As a result, the emperor’s Daleks have gone utterly insane with self-loathing. Their blasphemous human DNA conflicts with their innate imperative to always remain pure: they are contaminated. Nevertheless, they worship their emperor for giving them life, and consider him to be a Dalek god. Under ordinary circumstances, the Daleks are already ruthless, war-mongering murderers, but this lot of them are pretty much mad dogs, lashing out at everyone and everything in their sight. Russell doesn’t shy away from how brutal, merciless and cruel the Daleks are as a species in this story, whether they’re bombing the Earth or exterminating every human on the base just because they can. The Daleks are arguably never more frightening in the RTD era than they are in this finale.

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Like “The Doctor Dances”, “The Parting Of The Ways” gives me a greater appreciation for Doctor Who’s lighting team, as well as the ones in charge of the color grading. Whereas the former two-parter was set in London entirely at night, the latter takes place on a space station with dodgy, pitch black lighting. Right away, the atmosphere of Satellite Five feels subtly, viscerally wrong, with large, gloomy rooms and sharp shadows casting everywhere. Compared to how colorful and vibrant of a location Satellite Five was in “The Long Game”, the game station has clearly been neglected over the years. I posited back in “Dalek”, a very grey episode visually, that the Daleks seem to subconsciously suck all the fun and wonder out of Doctor Who whenever they appear, and that idea is certainly magnified in the finale. The fact that most of this two-parter is so downcast makes the rare instances of vivid color we do get very striking, like the ultraviolet blue wires hooked up to the Controller, the burning orange ‘throne room’ the Emperor Dalek has, and the ghostly, golden light of the time vortex Rose employs as the Bad Wolf (Nine and Rose’s first kiss in front of the TARDIS is a beautiful visual). For the emotional climax of the season, Murray Gold revisits and ties together many of the themes and leitmotifs he’s been employing in Series 1, like the bold synth of “Westminster Bridge”, the enigmatic, ethereal vocals of “The Doctor’s Theme”, the mad, howling choir of “The Daleks”, the soulful piano in “Rose’s Theme”, and the understated sadness of “Father’s Day”. While Nine regenerates in this finale, his personal theme is retooled into more of a leitmotif for the Doctor in general and reprised numerous times afterwards, meaning a little piece of Nine always lives on in the series’ soundtrack. From Murray’s new material, some of the more dramatic scenes receive some stunning, elegant, and bombastic underscore like “I’m Coming To Get You“, “Rose Defeats The Daleks“, and “Hologram“, the Ninth Doctor’s bittersweet regeneration music.

While Eleven is my favorite Doctor, I think Nine’s swansong in “Bad Wolf / The Parting Of The Ways” is my favorite regeneration story in NuWho. As the emotional climax to the dual character arcs Nine and Rose have been on in Series 1, it’s a smashing success and it leaves you eager to discover where Doctor Who will go next, now that Christopher Eccleston has vanished in a flash and been replaced by a wild-eyed David Tennant.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Okay, defabricator: does exactly what it says on the tin. Am I naked in front of millions of viewers?” “Absolutely!” “Ladies, your viewing figures just went up!”

* “Are you unemployed?” “No” “Do you have a job?” “Well, no, but-” “Then you are unemployed, and yet you still have enough money to buy peroxide” Damn, that was bitchy.

* How convenient for Rose that some other dude offered himself up to be slaughtered, just when she was about to back out of the game.

* “That’s a Compact Laser Deluxe!” “Where were you hiding that?” ” You really don’t want to know”.

* As an aside, Captain Jack looks good in leather. The Ninth Doctor also looks good in leather. There are some pretty attractive men in this two-parter.

* “Mind you, have they still got that program where three people have to live with a bear?” “Oh, Bear With Me. I love that one!” “And me. The celebrity edition where the bear got in the bath!” “Got it in the bath!”

* “Let’s do it!”

* “This is what I’m going to do: I’m going to rescue her, I’m going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet, and then I’m going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!” “But you have no plan, no back-up!” “I know, and doesn’t that scare you to death?! Rose!” “Yes, Doctor?!” “I’m coming to get you!”.

* “Those words are blasphemy!” “Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”

* “I am the god of all Daleks!” “Worship him! Worship him! Worship him!”

* “If you want to remember me, then you can do one thing. That’s all, one thing. Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life”.

* “But it was, it was a better life. And I don’t mean all the travelling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things, that don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know, he showed you too! That you don’t just give up, you don’t just let things happen. You make a stand, you say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away, and I just can’t!-”

* “Rose, you can’t spend the rest of your life thinking about the Doctor” Micky, my lad, just wait until she gets to Series 2.

* You’ll notice that Bad Wolf Rose revived Jack from the dead, because she remembered he was her friend, but she let Lynda stay dead. Considering there were some subtle shots of Rose looking jealous at Lynda’s back earlier in the episode, make of that what you will.

* “My head… it’s killing me!” “I think you need a Doctor!” Good old, Rusty, embracing the camp.

* The Doctor and an unconscious Rose wind up leaving Jack behind on the Game Station, which, for a long time, gives the impression that the Doctor didn’t know what Rose did. Later, we discover this is actually a case of the Doctor being a complete ass.

* “It’s like… there was this singing” For a few moments, being the Bad Wolf allowed Rose to hear the soundtrack vocals.

* I do have one little niggle about the Bad Wolf thing. Rose wields the energy of the time vortex for several minutes, which threatens to consume her. The Doctor takes it on for thirty seconds to disperse it. Rose is fine afterwards while the Doctor promptly drops dead. The Doctor said he took the power out of her, he never said he used any time lord healing magic on her. Does that mean time lords are actually more vulnerable to the energy of the vortex than humans are, the same vortex that they use to travel in quite often? Cause if that’s the case, then that is really unfortunate for them.

* “And Rose, you were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I!” Yeah, you were, Doc.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Boom Town (2005) Review

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“Doctor Who” has been on a really hot, consistent streak of episodes ever since “Dalek“, so it’s completely understandable if your first reaction is to groan when Margaret Blaine’s appearance, coupled with their heavy prominence in the recap, makes it clear that Russell T. Davies is already bringing back the Slitheen, the villains from this season’s worst story. In fact, I find it unintentionally funny that when the Doctor sees Margaret’s face plastered in the paper, his first reaction is to sigh and lament that his good day is now ruined. Thankfully though, “Boom Town” is a much better Slitheen story than their debut two-parter, abandoning almost all of the cringeworthy fart jokes in favor of a good, quiet character study. Like “The Long Game“, “Boom Town” basically serves as a refreshing breather episode between the ambitious creepiness of “The Empty Child” and the oppressive bleakness of “The Parting Of The Ways”. The bulk of this episode is the Ninth Doctor and friends goofing off and having fun solving a smaller case than usual, which feels earned after nearly a whole season of developing the relationship between these four characters. Steven Moffat gave us some great dialogue in “The Doctor Dances”, and Russell T. Davies keeps it coming in “Boom Town” as the Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jack’s personalities bounce off each other for 45 minutes (not to mention, Margaret). In retrospect, this TARDIS team feels like a rare, special occasion. After “Boom Town”, we wouldn’t see these four characters interact in the same episode again until “Journey’s End”, several seasons later. But despite a lot of “Boom Town” being fun friendship fluff, it does touch on some deeper themes and head into some serious, thought-provoking territory in the second half, ruminating on the psychology of a killer and the morality of capital punishment. My only real nitpick about “Boom Town” is that the pacing feels a bit lopsided. The first half is really fast-paced, so we can spend as much time on the moral dilemma on possible, and the second half becomes really slow, to the point where they almost feel like two different episodes.

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By this point in the season, the Ninth Doctor has mellowed out a lot (he’s noticeably nicer to Mickey now, having gained respect for him), and I really enjoy spending time with him. He basically wants to have fun while he waits for the TARDIS to refuel, but he gets drawn into another Slitheen adventure. Nine is his usual breezy self throughout the episode, until the second half, when RTD scrutinizes his character. Margaret insists that by taking her home to be executed, the Doctor and friends are basically killing her themselves, which is a load of rubbish. The Doctor insists that it’s not problem and it really isn’t, except this entire season has stressed that personal accountability is something that’s very important to Nine, and people trying to pass the buck only pisses him off. Whenever Cassandra, Van Statten, Adam or Captain Jack tried to offer up weak excuses for the consequences of their actions (ranging from petty murder to the potential destruction of the world), they were met with callous indifference at best and total righteous fury at worst. Despite being prepared for it, Margaret’s flimsy attempts to guilt-trip him and get under his skin – for something she did entirely to herself – works because of his own personal hang-ups and principles. Margaret offers up a weak, unconvincing argument about how she can change and the Doctor cuts right through it, pointing out that it probably doesn’t mean anything. Margaret fires back that the Doctor’s hands aren’t all that clean either, having bumped off plenty of his enemies like he did with her clan, and that he has a funny habit of running away from the consequences of his adventures, leaving other people to clean up the mess. This is 100% true. He’s done it numerous times this season, and the consequences will finally catch up to him in the finale. Throughout the dinner scene, the Doctor and Margaret peel away at each other’s defenses and the lies they tell themselves, until they finally reach something raw and real and uncomfortable, and it makes for really good television. For once, the Ninth Doctor has met his match.

I mentioned before that the Slitheen were surprisingly competent and intelligent manipulators, and thankfully that’s the aspect of their characters that RTD chooses to emphasize in their return appearance. Margaret Blaine has clearly given her escape plan a ton of thought and she lays traps within traps for the Doctor throughout the episode. “Boom Town” wrings a lot of dark humor out of her arranged ‘accidents’ for any snoopers and her infrequent attempts to kill the Doctor. Annette Badland proves to be a revelation as Margaret. She was already pretty impressively evil with a small part in “World War Three”, but she is phenomenal in “Boom Town”, possessing genuine screen presence. Annette conveys a lot of Margaret’s thought process through her expressions alone, which are always shifting, always calculating, as she toys with people beneath the gleefully phony, oily facade she puts on for the public. To say nothing of the chillingly unsettling, hateful glares she sends every member of the TARDIS team while she’s their prisoner. Russell decides to give some depth to a character was previously a stock villain, and do something that’s unusual for the series: question what a villain can they do with themselves after they’ve already lost everything and been thoroughly beaten. Throughout the episode, both Margaret and RTD raise the question of whether she can reform or whether she’s already far too gone for that. The audience is tipped off early on that Margaret is entirely alone and heartbroken and hates that she’s wasted away her life. She claims to be repentant, which the Doctor wisely refuses to believe. Since she was just buying for time until her back-up escape plan kicked off, it’s interesting to rewatch the dinner scene and wonder how much of her claims were genuine. The TARDIS peers inside her mind and determines that her heart’s desire is to regress to her childhood and become a blank slate, implying that she really did want a chance to do it all over again if it was possible. Whether or not Margaret actually deserved that chance is a different matter (she did not), but the Doctor and the TARDIS grant her her request regardless.

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Something I really appreciate about Series 1 is that we keep popping back to London every few episodes to check on Rose’s progress and get a fresh idea of how traveling with the Doctor has changed her (the dramatic pay-off for that showrunning decision is coming up rapidly in “The Parting Of Ways“). In “Boom Town’s” case, her latest return home forces her to finally deal with the uncomfortable elephant in the room that’s been lingering since “Aliens Of London”. Rose hopes to have a fun day out with Mickey in this episode, but things between them have gone more than a bit awkward and frosty. Bagging a Slitheen eats up a good portion of the day, but even when they have some time alone all they seem to talk about is the Doctor. Rose gushes about him and her adventures with him constantly, which is rather telling to anyone who’s not in denial. Mickey acknowledges that they’ve been drifting apart for ages and admits he’s thinking about seeing other people, which pisses Rose off and sends her into a heated judgmental rant, before Mickey blows up at her. Like I said in her first episode, Rose’s fatal flaw is that she can be very self-involved. She rarely ever does it with malicious intent. Rose simply tends to think about how things affect Rose first and foremost (which is very apparent in episodes like “Tooth And Claw”), and it’s very satisfying to see her get harshly called out for that trait, because Rose is an enormous hypocrite in this scene. On top of her ship-tease moments with the Doctor, Rose has been flirting with guys she fancies like Adam and Jack and bringing them onboard the TARDIS for the last few episodes while she still hasn’t broken up with Mickey yet. Rose is finally confronted with how unfair and unhealthy it is to string Mickey along for months as her safety net while her heart is somewhere else, a million light years away, so she finally does what she should have done in “Aliens Of London”: rip that band-aid off and break up with Mickey so they can both move on with their lives.

I really like Captain Jack Harkness. Having had some off-screen adventures with the Doctor and Rose between episodes, Jack slots in well as the easygoing, flirtatious engineer of the group, and his personality bounces off Nine and Rose’s easily. In addition to being able to deliver cheesy one-liners with a straight face, John Barrowman is a natural at delivering rapidfire technobabble and he spends much of the episode working alongside the Doctor as his right-hand man. Notably, there are times when Jack seems to be chafing under the Doctor’s command – since, as previously established, they’re both the alpha male brand of heroes – though Jack bares the Doctor no ill will for cramping his style and is simply happy to be there. While Jack is currently the Doctor’s sidekick, the time traveler is a natural born leader,  which hints at things to come for him. In retrospect, I wish we could have had one more episode like “Boom Town”, where Jack is a regular, incumbent companion, before we lost his character to “Torchwood”. After receiving some character development in “Aliens Of London”, Mickey Smith continues to grow on you as well. Mickey has had a small but significant change of attitude since we last saw him. He cringed away from the extraterrestrial in his first appearance, and then he embraced weird alien conspiracies. He’s still wary of alien business now, but he’s willing to pitch in and try to be a team player. Mickey is as lippy as ever (and all the better for it), but he clearly desires the others’ approval, which is both cute and sad, because no matter what he does, he can’t shake off his status as the team screw-up, making him feel inadequate. The Doctor has gained respect for him and Rose tries to make him feel welcome, but he just doesn’t fit in. The Doctor’s life is not for him. All Mickey had previously envisioned for himself was a happy, humdrum relationship with Rose on the Powell estate, but he seems to finally accept in this episode that that is not his future or Rose’s. The conundrum Mickey has of trying to figure out what to do himself and trying to find a place where he belongs is one that will plague him until “Rise Of The Cybermen” in mid-Series 2.

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Joe Ahearne returns to helm “Boom Town”, and his direction is solid and serviceable. It’s not as impressive as the dynamic direction in “Dalek”, “The Long Game” or “The Empty Child”, but since “Boom Town” aims to be a smaller, low budget story, Ahearne does a commendable job. Some of his choices in the second half of the episode elevate the story and make the episode’s atmosphere rather haunting, like the increasingly tight, uncomfortable close-ups in the dinner scene, as the Doctor and Margaret chip away at each other’s defenses; or the mesmerizing, fixed shots of the Doctor and Margaret, backlit by the encompassing light of the TARDIS, in the console room; or the long shot of Mickey watching Rose from a distance in the coda. Murray Gold’s score is a lot of fun this week. In addition to a few new renditions of “Westminster Bridge”, Murray wholeheartedly digs into the dual different tones of Russell’s breather romp. He composes some breezy, spirited jazz music for the Doctor and his companions’ fun day out in Cardiff, which he cuts loose on when the Doctor and Margaret head out for their ‘date night’. He also composes some stirring, somber themes for Margret’s stoic solitude, performed on a lone languishing oboe, when she converses with Cathy alone or talks to the Doctor in the TARDIS. Both sides of Murray’s score are on display in the “Boom Town Suite” he compiled for the soundtrack album. The CGI quality has been mixed throughout Series 1, but this proves to be another good week for the special effects team, and it’s probably because very few scenes in “Boom Town’ require any digital assistance except for the climax where the Cardiff rift opens. I do find it interesting that the audio mix contains a lot of stock screaming and lightening effects during the climax.

Considering how cringy “Aliens Of London” could get, it’s surprising that the sequel to that two-parter would be one of the better episodes of Series 1, but “Boom Town” is a really entertaining character drama from RTD. The final five minutes of the episode feel rather portentous and foreboding, because “Boom Town” was the calm before the storm; the following finale will be the end of an era – the Ninth Doctor’s run – no matter how short-lived it was.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Who the hell are you?” “What do you mean, who the hell am I? Who the hell are you?” “Captain Jack Harkness. Whatever your selling, we’re not buying” “Get out of my way!”

* “Aw, sweet, look at these two. How come I never get any of that?” “Buy me a drink first” “You’re such hard work” “But worth it”.

* “Are you saying I’m not handsome?!”

* “Just recently, Mr. Cleaver, the government’s nuclear adviser-” “Slipped on an icy patch” “He was decapitated” “It was a very icy patch”.

* Here’s another RTD writing trope for you: annoyingly persistent workers who keep prodding antagonists who are clearly shady until they get themselves killed. Cathy here does fare a lot better than the example in “The Sound Of Drums”.

* “Excuse me, who’s in charge?” “Sorry. Awaiting orders, sir” “Right, here’s the plan… Like he said. Nice plan. Anything else?”.

* “The Lord Mayor says thank you for popping by. She’d love to have a chat, but, er, she’s up to her eyes in paperwork. Perhaps if you could make an appointment for next week?” “She’s climbing out of the window, isn’t she?” “Yes, she is”.

* “This is persecution! Why can’t you leave me alone? What did I ever do to you?!” “You tried to kill me and destroy this entire planet” “Apart from that”.

* “Didn’t anyone notice? Isn’t there someone in London checking this sort of stuff?” “We’re in Cardiff, London doesn’t care. The South Wales coast could fall into the sea and they wouldn’t notice. Oh. I sound like a Welshman. God help me, I’ve gone native”.

* “But why would she do that? A great big explosion, she’d only end up killing herself” “She’s got a name, you know” “She’s not even a she, she’s a thing”.

* ‘And it would have worked too, if wasn’t for you meddling time travelers!

* “They have the death penalty there” Way to kill the mood, Margaret.

* “Thank you” “You’re welcome” I love these two.

* “You let one of them go, but that’s nothing new. Every now and then, a little victim’s spared because she smiled, because he’s got freckles, because they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction, you happen to be kind”.

* “Only a killer would know that. Is that right? From what I’ve seen, your funny little happy go lucky little life leaves devastation in its wake. Always moving on because you dare not look back. Playing with so many peoples’ lives, you might as well be a god. And you’re right, Doctor. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes you let one go. Let me go“.

* “Boom Town’s” conflict is ultimately solved by a TARDIS ex machina, which is impressive and it sets up the finale. For now, let’s just say the TARDIS isn’t just a vessel, she’s her own player in the game.

* I’m not gonna lie, the ‘next time’ trailer annoys me. The identity of the villain in “Bad Wolf” is a major plot twist, to the point where it isn’t revealed until the last five minutes. Meanwhile, the trailer just casually blabs that it’s the Daleks. Because someone, somewhere, gave zero fucks about spoilers.

Further Reading:

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

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“The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” is 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 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 story, 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 he loves crafting villains that unnerve you with all their subtle implications. Secondly, children are the ultimate symbol of innocence and morality 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. Danny Pink’s most horrific wartime experience, and the stain on his soul, is the day he unwittingly shot a child civilian. 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 whenever 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 and earnest. 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 from him, which disillusioned him greatly from his old employers. It’s an intriguing tidbit that hints at a 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 new 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 a 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 the war 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 Song’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 the role he has 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 several 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 “Bad Wolf / The Parting Of The Ways” is still coming up to offer it some friendly 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 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 best portrayals 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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