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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/10.

Side-Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “Oh, very good, very good!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: The Girl In The Fireplace (2006) Review

Doctor Who The Girl In The Fireplace The Call

“The Girl In The Fireplace” starts in media res: the palace of Versailles is under attack by an unstoppable alien force, so a French noblewoman, Madam De Pompadour, calls into her fireplace for the Doctor, a man she’s known most of her life, to come and lend a hand; leaving the audience puzzled as to how all this came to be. Series 2 has had a pretty solid of run of episodes so far, ranging from average to good, but “The Girl In The Fireplace” is the first truly great episode of the season. Upon rewatch, I’m impressed by how streamlined and efficient the screenplay is. It successfully tells a rousing, insightful and genuinely sad complete story in just forty-five minutes (with a limited number of sets), and it does it all by never wasting a moment. “The Girl In The Fireplace” is Steven Moffat’s second story after his debut two-parter, “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances“, and it feels like a spiritual successor to that adventure. Like “The Empty Child” (and Moffat’s other two contributions to the RTD era), “The Girl In The Fireplace” establishes the template for Moffat’s own vision of the show when he becomes showrunner, and foreshadows many of the decisions he would make during that period of the Doctor revival. Most of your standard Moffat tropes can be found in this episode: a dark fairy tale tone, a puzzlebox plot, a mystery girl for the Doctor to try to figure out (in more ways than one), cheeky quips, the idea of a time traveler journeying down someone’s timeline, some rumination on the never-ending sands of the time and the dreaded possibility of time running out, Reinette having to face her childhood fears, and of course, emotionless machinery from the future running amuck, terrorizing humanity.

Doctor Who The Girl In The Fireplace Arthur 3

With his second story, Moffat gets to expand on his view of the Doctor being a madman with a box and adds a good deal to the Tenth Doctor’s characterization early on in his tenure, cementing him as the ace heartthrob incarnation. Throughout the adventure, Ten is portrayed as a dashing, debonair hero, and a suave, daredevil adventurer; a brilliant and cultured man, if obliviously thick at times, who can easily impress the opposite sex, even without intending to. Like always, Ten is able to easily command respect from everyone in a room and give the impression that he’s more in control of a bad situation than he actually is, while also being able to deftly leap between emotions in a moment’s notice, becoming giddy with excitement about finding a new, grand mystery. In this case, he finds himself having an unprecedented whirlwind romance with Reinette. Moffat slips in his idea that the Doctor is as good at comforting kids as he is because he had a lonely childhood himself, which we’ll eventually get a glimpse of in “Listen”. And for all his faults, Ten demonstrates that he can be very selfless and self-sacrificial, stranding himself in the past for Reinette’s sake. The core premise of “The Girl In The Fireplace” is a high concept idea – casually and unwittingly journeying through someone’s timeline – but what makes it a great episode is how Moffat explores the emotional consequences of it for everyone involved. Moffat loves “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and that book was a major influence for both this episode and the Doctor’s relationship with River Song, so as you’d expect, “The Girl In The Fireplace” has a pretty tragic ending. At this point, a jovial David Tennant has really made his role as the Tenth Doctor his own, and we’re shown again at the end what a great facial actor he is. As much as the Tenth Doctor jabbers away most of the time, David conveys all of his most honest and important emotions through his expressions, like when the audience comes to the slow, horrible realization that the Doctor returned to Reinette too late and she’s already long dead. Ten barely says a word at the end, but you can see his thoughts slowly cycle through horror, guilt, heartbreak and finally grim acceptance.

Reinette has her first, short encounter with the Doctor as a kid, and he’s a mysterious figure to her, a childhood hero who vanquishes monsters. When she’s an adult and they finally meet again, he’s a mystery for her to figure out, much like she is for him, and she begins to develop a crush on him. Reinette is very sharp and perceptive, taking note of any and all oddities, and she’s able to get a good grasp on ideas that are well beyond her time. She’s very forward, she loves to tease and engage the Doctor with an intellectual debate, and she does not respond well to being patronized by the Doctor or his friends. Most of all though, Reinette is a noble and brave woman, who has a lot of inner strength when it counts and has utmost faith in the Doctor’s abilities. The climax forces her to confront her childhood fears, the monsters that have been targeting her and influencing her whole life, and she does so commendably. The core romance of this episode could easily have come off as skeevy, but instead David Tennant and Sophia Myles have plenty of playful chemistry. Initially, Ten and Reinette simply have cheeky flirting, but Moffat takes things to another level when Reinette flips the Doctor’s mind reading on him and gets some info on the Doc, allowing her to sweep him off his feet as easily he does her, and another level still when Reinette finally gets a look at the Doctor’s world and her own future. The core conflict of the episode (that provides all the pathos) is that as a time traveler, the Doctor can step in and out of Reinette’s life whenever he chooses, while she travels linearly and ages like every ordinary human. Any relationship she could ever hope to have with him could never be a satisfying one of equals. After the Doctor makes a great personal sacrifice for her, she returns the favor and helps him get back to his world, forsaking any life she could have had with him. The Doctor offers to take her on as a companion, but he returns several years too late, after she’s already dead and gone, and she spent the rest of her life waiting for him. Ouch. Moffat would later revisit and flesh out his core idea for Reinette’s character with Amelia Pond, the girl who waited.

Doctor Who The Girl In The Fireplace Reinette

I’ve mentioned before that Steven Moffat tends to write the Doctor and his companions quite differently from Russell T. Davies and the other guest writers of the RTD era. It’s usually not that noticeable, simply a case of Nine or Ten being cheerier than usual, but there’s a bit of a disconnect between “The Girl In The Fireplace” and the two episodes surrounding it. Ten and Rose are noticeably nicer and more attentive when it comes to Mickey than in “School Reunion“, where Rose’s reaction was to groan and sulk at the idea of her ex-boyfriend tagging along and making things weird, or “Rise Of The Cybermen” where Ten and Rose are so wrapped up in themselves that they keep forgetting Mickey is even with them. Ten also seems pretty quick to repeatedly blow Rose off to spend time with Madame De Pompadour, compared to most of his episodes, where he is all about Rose. At least part of this can be explained by the fact that Moffat hadn’t read the script for “School Reunion” while he was writing “The Girl In The Fireplace”. In any case, Rose has warmed to the idea of Mickey tagging along, and much like she did with Adam, she’s taken it upon herself to tutor him and ease him into the companion life. Rose makes it no secret that she’s out of her depth on this adventure, but that doesn’t stop her from showing plenty of sympathy and compassion to Reinette for her troubles. There’s also a great stealth arc for Rose between “School Reunion” and this episode. The Doctor told Rose he never looked back because it always hurt for him to outlive his friends. Rose didn’t think much of it at the time, because she was still upset about Sarah Jane, but in this episode, she and her friends traverse Reinette’s entire life in a day. When Reinette dies, the Doctor lies and says he’s alright, but you can see Rose staring at him silently and sympathetically from the TARDIS console, and you know it’s finally hit home for her that this is what it’s like being an immortal time traveler. She’s gained a greater understanding of the Doctor’s life. We don’t know what Rose is thinking exactly. Perhaps she’s thinking the Doctor will have to experience this pain all over again when she’s gone eventually.

At this point in his character arc, which has been running smoothly for a season and a half, Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) has grown from being a cowardly and pitiable wet blanket to a lovable and excitable yet streetwise goof. Having decided to try out touring the universe in the previous episode, Mickey has gotten into the spirit of adventure like Rose has, and he takes the time to savor the sights of the future. Mickey does his best to pitch in and he likes the idea of seeing cool sci-fi stuff, but that doesn’t stop him from thoroughly freaking out when things start to go very, very wrong. This is still Mickey after all. His character started out a poser, someone who always pretended to be tougher than they actually were when faced with the unknown, but these days he tends to have actual bravery to back him up. Like Captain Jack in Series 1, I almost find myself wishing Mickey’s short tenure as a companion had lasted a bit longer than it did, because he’s fun to have around. The villains in this episode are the Clockwork droids, a unique and macabre creation from Steven Moffat. “The Girl In The Fireplace” feels like a spiritual sequel to “The Doctor Dances” because this episode has the same theme of amoral, emotionless technology from the future malfunctioning with disturbing results involving body horror that only gets worse the more you think about it. The clockwork droids were built to keep a spaceship running smoothly, but when the ship died and they ran out of parts to repair it, they used the human crew’s body parts to keep it running: lacking the basic intelligence to grasp how contradictory, pointless and evil that move would be. At one point, the Doctor and his friends even discover the scent of human flesh cooking in the wiring. The clockwork droids have an obsession with Reinette and have targeted her specifically to be harvested, keeping tabs on her throughout her life. Eventually, the audience discovers the reason for this convoluted scheme, while the Doctor and his friends never do: the ship was named after Madame De Pompadour, and the droids were very literal minded – there could be no other ideal pilot.

Doctor Who The Girl In The Fireplace Night Terrors

I mentioned back in “Tooth And Claw” that Euros Lynn was one of the best directors Doctor Who had back in the RTD era, and he gets to prove it when he helms “The Girl In The Fireplace”, depicting the episode’s events with style and confidence. Notably, there are a lot of low angles in this episode, accentuating the characters in comparison to backgrounds, which either makes the Doctor seem more like a grand figure when he springs into action, or makes the Clockwork droids feel more imposing when they stalk around an anachronistic setting. “The Girl In The Fireplace” is one of those episodes that benefits from having excellent lighting as well, with the softer scenes shared between Ten and Reinette having a warm, inviting ambiance to them, contrasting sharply with the cold harshness of the Clockword droids’ ship, the robots’ first introduction in Reinette’s bedroom at night, or the second to last scene where Reinette has died and all the life has gone out of Versailles. The special effects for the episode are pretty good, partly because the story doesn’t require a lot of CGI, and partly because CGI is much more capable of creating and rendering big science fiction concepts like spaceships or supernovas in space than flesh and blood creatures like the Krillatines. I haven’t mentioned the show’s costume department since “The Unquiet Dead”, but the period dress in the episode, evoking pre-revolutionary France, is some very impressive and convincing work from behind the scenes. Murray Gold’s lite, innocent, playful, ominous and comparatively reserved score contributes a lot to the dark fairy tale tone Moffat was aiming for, always ticking away throughout the hour and notably standing on it’s own in isolation without reprising any of his previous themes for the Doctor or Rose. Murray writes a soft, inquisitive, whimsical piano theme for Reinette that has numerous variations throughout the episode and finally takes a tragic turn in “Madame De Pompadour“.

As the first of several great episodes in Series 2, “The Girl In The Fireplace” is an unexpected masterpiece that I’ve grown fonder of over the years, and another early example of how grand Steven Moffat’s writing style can be when he’s firing on all cylinders.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Girl In The Fireplace To The Rescue

* Between Queen Victoria in “Tooth And Claw” and Madame De Pompadour in “The Girl In The Fireplace”, we got two celebrity historicals for the price of one in Series 2. Sweet.

* “Can you tell me what year it is?” “Of course I can. 1727” “Seventeen hundred and twenty seven” “Right, lovely. One of my favorites. August is rubbish though. Stay indoors”.

* “Just a nightmare, Reinette, don’t worry about it. Everybody has nightmares. Even monsters under the bed have nightmares, don’t you monster?” “What do monsters have nightmares about?” “Me!”

* “Listen, seriously, I mean this from the heart, and, by the way, count those, it would be a crime, it would be an act of vandalism to disassemble you. But that won’t stop me”.

* For a short while, the Doctor had a horse named Arthur accompanying him, and he was adorable.

* “Oh, here’s trouble. What have you been up to?” “Oh, this and that. Became the imaginary friend of a future French aristocrat, picked a fight with a clockwork man. Oh, and I met a horse” “What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?” “Mickey, what’s pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective”.

* “The queen must have loved her” “Oh, she did. They get on very well” “The king’s wife and the king’s girlfriend?” “France. It’s a different planet”.

* “Oh, Doctor. So lonely. So very, very alone” “What do you mean, alone? You’ve never been alone in your life. Wait, when did you start calling me Doctor?” “Such a lonely little boy. Lonely then and lonelier now. How can you bear it?”.

* If there’s one scene in this episode I would describe as ‘cringeworthy’, it’s Ten pretending to be drunk with an exaggerated drawl. Clearly, he’s playing the buffoon to fool the Clockwork droids, but um, please don’t do that again anytime soon, Doc.

* “There is a vessel in your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book, so that he may step from one to the other without increase of age while I, weary traveller, must always take the slower path?” “He was right about you, you’re good”.

* “He’ll be there when you need him. That’s the way it’s got to be” “It’s the way it’s always been. The monsters and the Doctor. It seems you cannot have one without the other”.

* “Are you okay?” “No, I’m very afraid. But you and I both know, don’t we, Rose? The Doctor is worth the monsters”.

* “Madame de Pompadour. You look younger every day” “What the hell is going on?” “Oh. This is my lover, the King of France” “Yeah? Well, I’m the Lord of Time, and I’m here to fix the clock”.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: School Reunion (2006) Review

Doctor Who School Reunion The Gang 2

“School Reunion” is something of an unprecedented Classic Who reunion. When Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper leading it, it blindsided Britain and was an unexpected hit. But for a long while, people weren’t really sure if it was supposed to be a reboot or an actual continuation of the classic series, especially since the Doctor now had an edgy backstory about the time lords being nuked off-screen at some point. In “School Reunion”, the show fully anchors its connection to its previous incarnation and confirms that NuWho and Classic Who are meant to be set in the continuity. In this installment, the Doctor reunites with Sarah Jane Smith, a long-running, fan favorite companion from the classic series, and the pair reminiscence about the time the Doctor left her in Abordeen. “School Reunion” also marks the writing debut of Toby Whithouse, a guest writer who would turn in a good many episodes for Doctor Who over the years, as well as spearhead his own supernatural series, “Being Human”, eventually. From what I recall, “Being Human” was a really good, charismatic show, while his writing style tends to have more mixed results on Doctor Who. His batting average isn’t nearly as inconsistent as Mark Gatiss’, but his dialogue for the show tends to be quite dry and is usually elevated by the actors’ quality performances. Looking back, I think he wrote best episodes for the Eleventh Doctor, like “The God Complex” and “A Town Called Mercy”, while he turned in his worst script for the Twelfth Doctor, “The Lie Of The Land”. His first story, “School Reunion”, feels like a good, sentimental episode, if not an especially memorable one. I like Sarah Jane’s return and the scenes she shares with the Doctor, while the rest of the episode’s plot lands around the average range.

Doctor Who School Reunion Ten And Sarah Jane 2

For the last couple of episodes, the audience has been privy to the Tenth Doctor’s youthful exuberance about his new regeneration, enjoying having a fresh start. It’s almost been easy to forget that the Doctor is already nine hundred years old, but “School Reunion” is one of those episodes where the mask drops and the Doctor lets his true age show underneath David Tennant’s perky looks. We’re shown again that he never sits still for more than a day, and he purposely never looks back once he closes a chapter in his life. As a time lord, the Doctor is pretty close to being immortal, while humans have a good hundred years in them at most. Once he drops his friends off at home for good, he lets them get on with their lives – he doesn’t write, he doesn’t visit, he doesn’t offer to take them on any more adventures, because he doesn’t want to experience them growing old and dying like mayflies. In that regard, from an understandable place of pain, he’s actually a pretty bad friend, which Rose, Sarah Jane, and the episode itself calls him out on. The large number of friends the Doctor has cycled through has been a part of the series since it’s conception, so it’s nice to see “School Reunion” touch on that. “The God Complex” would also comment on the Doctor’s relationship with his companions, and that episode would pull even less punches about his shortcomings. There’s also an interesting scene where Mr. Finch offers the Doctor your usual villainous spiel about how he should cross over to the dark side, so they can reshape reality and become gods, and the Doctor actually seems way more tempted by it than he ought to be. One of the Tenth Doctor’s primary character flaws is that he has a god complex, and this is our first glimpse of it. As the last time lord in existence, a part of him is always tempted to buck the natural order and ignore the limitations of what he can do, reshape the cruel parts of the cosmos and his own history. So the Tenth Doctor has the potential to fall to the dark side from his own temptations. Keep that in mind for future episodes like “The Water Of Mars” and “The End Of Time”.

Elisabeth Sladen (may she rest in peace) reprises her role as Sarah Jane Smith, the journalist, in this episode, an old long-running companion from the classic series, accompanied by her plucky (and surprisingly cute) robot dog, K9. So naturally, her subplot has more impact if you’ve seen some of her appearances in the classic series, thought it’s hardly required viewing. The Doctor and Sarah Jane have some unfinished business to discuss, namely how they parted ways. The Doctor changed her life, he showed her amazing things and an entirely different way of living, and then he dropped her back home with little fanfare and cut off contact for decades, so she’s been feeling a bit restless all this time. With Rose and Sarah Jane, “School Reunion” is mostly an episode about the companions, the role they play in the franchise, and the lives they could have after their tenure is over. Because it’s an interesting conundrum for the series to contemplate. After spending some of the best years of their lives as a thrill-seeking daredevil every week, how could someone actually adjust to ordinary, everyday life on Earth again? Through “School Reunion”, brought it up, the idea of life after the Doctor was one NuWho would return to several more times. Nearly all the Moffat era companions have arcs that end with them outgrowing the Doctor and embarking on their own. After they had been growing apart for quite some time, Amy finally said goodbye to the Doctor for good so she could live a full life with Rory. After she had been emulating the Doctor and following in his footsteps for several seasons, Clara struck on out her own as her own heroine in her last appearance. Bill wasn’t ready yet to see the vast expanse of the universe when it was first offered to her, but after being tutored by the Doctor for a whole season and experiencing all sorts of pain and loss, she was more ready for her own adventure. Through the events of “School Reunion”, Sarah Jane realizes the importance of moving on with her life and finally receives the closure she needed to live fully in the present, making a heartwarming and poignant departure at the end with K9. She even received her own spin-off show.

Doctor Who School Reunion Rose And Sarah Jane

Rose does not have a fun time in this episode. She starts the case feeling surly and frustrated that she’s back to frying chips, posing as a cafeteria worker, and then things get worse when Sarah Jane enters the picture. Rose and Sarah Jane spend most of the episode trading barbs and cheap shots out of mutual jealousy, and since Sarah was the one who fired the first shot, she clearly had no idea she was picking a fight she couldn’t win when it came to being catty. Truthfully, Rose feels hurt and insecure by the knowledge that she’s just one notch in a long line of companions, and she wonders if it makes her connection to the Doctor, which she’s recently started to accept as a loving one, feel less special and meaningful. From an external point of view, “School Reunion” exists to educate the audience and prepare them for the finale. For any viewers who started with the revival, Rose is the POV character, but this episode confirms that she’s not only far from the first companion, she also won’t be the last. Billie Piper won’t be around forever. In fact, she only has ten more episodes under her belt before she bows out. The reality of their different lifespans is also an important sign that as much as Ten and Rose feel strongly about each other, any relationship they might have ultimately won’t work out in the long run. Meanwhile, Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) continues to develop nicely as a side character. After being burned several times in Series 1, Mickey really enjoys the Doctor and Rose’s lover spat in this episode, and you’re right there with him. At this point, Mickey is starting to come into his own as a sidekick who can be brave and helpful when he needs to be, and he’s trying to live down his increasingly inaccurate reputation as ‘Mickey as the idiot’. As the man back home, he’s been feeling aimless and bored for a while now. He wasn’t ready to see the universe the previous season, when Rose offered it to him, but he’s ready now, to try to find his purpose in life. He still won’t find it being an awkward third wheel in the TARDIS, between his ex-girlfriend and her new beau, but he’s made a good step forward.

Easily the weakest aspect of “School Reunion” is the subplot devoted to the villains, the Krillatine. The Krillatine are a chimera race of conquerors and invaders who (currently) resemble giant bats. Anthony Head portrays their leader, Mr. Finch, and he is rather unsettling. Mainly because any “Buffy” fans will notice Anthony plays the headmaster exactly like what a twisted, evil version of Giles would probably be like (based on the super shady moments Rupert had on that show): he’s calm and reserved with a false geniality that belies malice and utter contempt for everyone around him. Mr. Head’s guest appearance in this episode makes sense when you consider that RTD freely admits that “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” was a large influence in how he structured his era of Doctor Who, and “School Reunion” was a chance to pay homage to that series. The Krillatine actors incorporate stiff, animal-like movements into their performances, even before the reveal, and I find it absolutely hilarious how Anthony Head just goes wild with his expressions in the last act, screeching like a banshee as Mr. Finch becomes more and more unhinged. The reason I singled out the Krillatines as the weakest link in the episode isn’t just because the CGI for their bat forms is really bad, but because their master plan kind of boggles the mind. The villains in the previous episodes have been delightfully absurd (like a talking skin flap, some cat nuns, a social-climbing werewolf and some werewolf worshiping monks), but somehow it’s the Krillatines who threaten my suspension of disbelief. Basically, they’ve hijacked a grade school and have made the kids super intelligent so they can utilize their collective knowledge and solve an equation that will (somehow) allow them to warp reality and become gods. Both the Doctor and the episode take this plan completely seriously as a threat to all life. I have to say, between Rose looking into the time vortex and getting her goddess on a few episodes ago, and the Krillatine’s rather simple plot, becoming a god in the Doctor Who universe is surprisingly easy.

Doctor Who School Reunion Tenth Doctor Showdown 2

James Hawes once again steps up to direct “School Reunion” (he’s been busy this season, hasn’t he?), and he does a fine job injecting some life into the proceedings with some shots I really enjoy, like the drawn out tracking shot of Ten standing behind Sarah Jane in the hallway, waiting for her to notice him, or the off-kilter dutch angles of Ten and Mr. Finch locking eyes in the stairwell, or the one and done pan down where the Krillatine bats fly down a staircase and their human forms emerge at the end. “School Reunion” is not one of Doctor Who’s better days when it comes to the series’ CGI. Some of the special effects in this episode look fine, and some of them rank alongside the carnivorous wheelie bin and the Nestene Consciousness in “Rose” when it comes to being incredibly dodgy. In particular, there’s this one shot of Mr. Finch and one of his Krillatine brothers standing on the school roof at night, spying on the Doctor, except the green screen proportions are way off for some reasons and it looks hilariously fake, but the episode keeps cutting back to it, making me chuckle every time. “School Reunion” boasts one of Murray Gold’s better scores for Series 2, which makes me sad that all of it is unreleased. Series 1 and Series 2 really should have received their own soundtrack releases, instead of being lumped together on one album. Standout tracks included the ominous choir music that’s used throughout the entire climax, during the students’ ‘study session’, and the instrumental variation of “Song For Ten” (the peppy, beach holiday song from “The Christmas Invasion” that fits Ten so well) during Ten and Sarah Jane’s final heartfelt goodbye.

“School Reunion” has it’s faults, mostly when it comes to the villains, but as a proud celebration of the show’s past and a proper send-off for Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, this episode is a fun and heartwarming addition to the NuWho canon.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who School Reunion Final Goodbye

* “I thought there’d be happy slapping hoodies. Happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs. Happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones!”

* “This isn’t your classroom, Kenny. Now run along!”

* “All right, team. Oh, I hate people who say ‘team’. Er, gang. Er, comrades. Ugh, anyway!”

* The verbal sparring in Rose vs Sarah Jane is brutal, and I love it.

* “Ho, ho, mate. The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare!”

* “You see, what’s impressive is that it’s been nearly an hour since we met her and I still haven’t said I told you so.  Although, I have prepared a little ‘I was right’ dance that I can show you later. All this time you’ve been giving it, he’s different, when the truth is, he’s just like any other bloke” “You don’t know what you’re talking about” “Maybe not. But if I were you I’d go easy on the chips” Hot damn, Mickey.

* “I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone who you-” “What, Doctor?” “You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on. Alone. That’s the curse of the Time Lords”.

* “Fascinating. Your people were peaceful to the point of indolence. You seem to be something new. Would you declare war on us, Doctor?” “I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy. You get one warning. That was it” Another appearance of edgy Ten.

* Like I said, Anthony Head goes wild.

* “Ugh, forget the shooty dog thing!”.

* “Oh my God. Kenny blew up the school! It was Kenny!” “Yeah! Kenny! Kenny! Kenny! Kenny!” Something tells me Kenny won’t enjoy his new reputation as an arsonist when the law gets eventually. The Doctor does love leaving other people to clean up his mess.

* It’s kind of fascinating to see how much Rose’s character has changed in just one season. Rose was the one who wanted Mickey to come along in “World War Three“, but ever since she and the Doctor had a relationship upgrade in “The Parting Of Ways“, she’s been feeling a lot more possessive of her time with the Doctor. She wraps her head around her ex-boyfriend hanging around all the time, cramping her and the Doctor’s style, and all she can think is ‘ugh’.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Tooth And Claw (2006) Review

Doctor Who Tooth And Claw Full Moon

Series 2 of Doctor Who is a season with a good amount of highs and lows, particularly in the second half, so “Tooth And Claw” has always stood out to me as one of the highlights: the one where the Doctor meets Queen Victoria and a werewolf. Impressively, “Tooth and Claw” manages to be even more jam-packed with characters and plot points than “New Earth” was, but it still flows incredibly well thanks to Russell streamlining his subplots and managing his time wisely; Davies wastes no time establishing all the key players in the first act, and devotes the entire second and third acts to the runaround mystery in Sir Robert’s manor. After two relatively light episodes, Russell ventures into darker territory again in “Tooth And Claw”, which is appealing. As fun as a good RTD comedy romp is, Rusty is usually at his best when he’s writing a gruesome or macabre adventure, as evidenced by “The Parting Of The Ways” being his best script from Series 1. “Tooth And Claw” is pretty much Russell T. Davies writing his own low budget, Doctor Who horror movie, embracing all the usual horror movie cliches while toying with a few of them, and since werewolves are my favorite horror movie monster, I’m all onboard with that. Despite the genre emulating fun Russell has with this installment, “Tooth And Claw” is not the standalone episode it seems to be at first. After the seeds of it were planted in “The Christmas Invasion“, “Tooth and Claw” is a major turning point in the Torchwood arc: the creation of the Torchwood Institute, by the queen of England herself. Between Rose making Captain Jack immortal in “The Parting Of The Ways”, the Doctor convincing the queen to create her secret society in this episode, and Battle of Canary Wharf in “Doomsday”, the Series 2 story arc can best be described as ‘the Doctor and Rose set up the spin-off show’.

Doctor Who Tooth And Claw Visitors 2

I usually tend to think of “Tooth And Claw” as being the point where David Tennant really starts to come into his own as the Tenth Doctor, because Ten is firing on all cylinders in this episode. Early on, the Doctor is genial and charismatic as always, delighted by the idea of rubbing elbows with royalty. For the sake of his present company, Ten pretends to be a Scotsman for the first half of this episode, giving David Tennant a chance to use his native Scottish accent for a change (which is quite a shocker, after you’ve grown accustomed to his British one). As the night unfolds and it becomes apparent he’s going to get to meet a queen and a werewolf on the same day, Ten gets super into the werewolf conspiracy. He loves a good ghost story, a good mystery, and brand new forms of life, so he might stop to admire the monster that’s currently trying to killing him once or twice, regardless of how inappropriate that is. As the most knowledgeable person in the manor (and the one who’s quickest on his feet), Ten appoints himself as leader of the survivors and tries to take control of the crisis. The funny thing about the Tenth Doctor is that, through sheer force of will and his amiable personality, he has a habit of easily convincing people he’s in control of a situation (even the audience members), when he’s actually nearly as disadvantaged as everyone else. He tries to save as many people as he can, but if someone won’t listen to basic common sense, or if they want to make a grand, heroic sacrifice for the sake of honor, Ten won’t hesitate to leave them to be killed by the monster. With no other means of defending themselves on hand, Ten shrewdly deduces that the best way to stop the werewolf is to find out what it is, so he taps into his detective skills again. Gathering everyone together for a good research session, the Doctor arms the remaining survivors with knowledge, the best weapon out there, and they manage to solve the puzzle just in time for the Doctor to save the queen and the empire.

Billie Piper’s Rose is given another chance to demonstrate how her gut instincts and intuitiveness have improved during her time in the TARDIS this week. When she’s split off from the Doctor, Rose takes it upon herself to take charge of a dodgy situation, consoling Flora and trying to find her help, interrogating the werewolf in the cage for information until the moon rises, and finally rallying her fellow prisoners to break their chains before they get eaten. During the interrogation scene, Russell also includes an interesting and plausible suggestion that Rose might not be entirely human anymore, after her stint as a goddess in Series 1. Mainly though, “Tooth and Claw” serves as an example of how the Doctor and Rose are not always the best influence on each other. The Doctor is a shameless thrill-seeker, who thinks about so many things all the time. He can get so caught up looking at the big picture, solving the mystery of the week, that sometimes he starts to forget about the little people, the collateral damage. It’s part of the reason why he keeps his friends around to ground him. Meanwhile, Rose’s primary character flaw has always been that she can be self-involved. You put the Doctor and Rose together for a long amount of time and things can get pretty smug, cliquey and insular, particularly with Ten and Rose, whose personalities are a lot more similar than Nine and Rose. The pair of them enjoy the werewolf murder mystery way too much. They treat the whole thing like a lark and encourage each other to do the same, laughing about seeing a real live creature and trading in-jokes. Rose repeatedly needles the queen to try to win a bet she made with the Doctor, and she keeps on doing it, even after a member of the queen’s entourage has just been ripped to shreds by the wolf in front of them. Rose, no. After all is said and done, the Doctor and Rose saunter back to the TARDIS, laughing about the idea of the whole royal family being werewolves. Unfortunately, Ten and Rose learn nothing from this episode about being too full of themselves. In fact, they only get worse as the season progresses, but it does have consequences for them eventually.

Doctor Who Tooth And Claw Queen Victoria

When the Doctor and Rose stumble upon her procession in the Scottish countryside, Queen Victoria plays a large role in this episode. As you would expect from an aging monarch, the queen is stoic and dignified, carrying herself with grace to the point where she’s almost mirthless, though she does possess her own, dry sense of humor. She commands respect from the people around her, though like her men, she’s fully prepared to die for a good cause. Victoria misses her late husband dearly, keeping his diamond close by in memory of him, and it’s clear she never fully recovered from the king’s death. She’s a strict and orderly sort of woman, and despite her flights of fancy, she’s deadset on the world working a certain sort of way. Over the course of the episode, the queen’s worldview is steadily torn down by the revelation that the supernatural is entirely real, and she does not take it well, shutting down and going into denial at one point. To make her even more rattled, by the end of the episode, she’s possibly a werewolf; the show leaves it pretty vague. So she uses her regal authority to try to regain some sort of control. After being disgusted by their borderline-callous behavior, Victoria thanks the Doctor and Rose for saving her life and then she banishes them from England (how that’s for gratitude, eh?), before funding the Torchwood Institute. We saw with Harriet Jones what happens when powerful authority figures get a bit too scared and paranoid, so the Queen’s idea for Britain to have a secret defense almost certainly won’t end well. Sir Robert has a nice, complete arc throughout the episode. The son of a brilliant man with big shoes to fill, Sir Robert would consider him an honorable person but he’s blackmailed into helping the monks when they threaten to kill his wife. He spends most of the episode feeling guilt-ridden about committing treason and wants to find some way to redeem himself for being complicit in the werewolf’s evil. Eventually, he chooses to sacrifice his life (in dramatic fashion, of course) to protect the queen and ensure the wolf’s destruction.

Russell shrouds the episode’s lupine antagonist in cryptic mystery, and it’s certainly an unpredictable mystery, mainly because the answers are so strange and bizarre that you couldn’t possibly guess them in advance. As you would expect from this show, the antagonist of the week is an alien: a werewolf-like species that crashed landed on Earth centuries ago, near a local monastery of Catholic monks. It survived for years as a single-celled organism, passed on by bite from host and host, growing in strength; and in the meantime, the monks supported the wolf and revered it from generation to generation, forming their own cult. The werewolf may look like a savage beast, and it’s certainly cruel and merciless, but it’s actually a shrewd, power-hungry schemer. The wolf longs to infect the queen of England so it can conquer Britain, creating it’s very own empire of the wolf. Through the monks, the wolf lures her into a trap to make it’s fantasy a reality. So the villains for the episode are a social-climbing werewolf and a bunch of werewolf worshiping, kung fu monks. Only in Doctor Who. The werewolf proves to be a fearsome and nearly unstoppable creature, bar his weakness to mistletoe. The sheer brutality and relentlessness of the wolf makes it frightening, as he chases our heroes all throughout the Torchwood estate, constantly on their heels (since he has two extra legs on them). Eventually, after the death of several redshirts, the Doctor and company find a way to subdue the wolf. He’s been outwitted by the late king and one of the local lords, and his trap for the queen is actually, ironically, a trap within a trap. Turning werewolf lore against it, the Doctor and Rose manage to kill the beast with moonlight, finally putting it’s host out of his misery. I just have one question though, what happened to the monks? Did the queen’s soldiers round them all up offscreen, or did they all high-tail it out of Dodge when they realized their leader and their other leader had both bit the dust?

Doctor Who Tooth And Claw Snarl

Euros Lynn is one of the best directors Doctor Who had during the RTD era, along with Grahame Harper. He previously directed “The End Of The World” and “The Unquiet Dead”, two of the more visually appealing episodes from Series 1, and he returns to helm this episode. “Tooth And Claw” has a very grey, somber atmosphere, to match the gothic horror tone Russell was aiming for, and the dreary looks of the Wales countryside. Euros Lynn shoots most of the episode like he’s filming a music video, trying to include as many different angles and quick cuts as he possibly can. And to his credit, most of the time, the approach works incredibly well, like the werewolf’s drawn out transformation sequence, or the various chase scenes through the manor (which include the werewolf’s POV). There is one scene though, where the music video approach looks incredibly, hilariously goofy – the attack of the kung fu monks. In this scene, a bunch of bald, middle-aged guys in anachronistic orange jumpsuits assault Sir Robert’s staff and get an insane amount of air with their flying leaps, like they’re under the impression they’re in a martial arts movie instead of a sci-fi show, and the erratic way that that scene is shot makes it even funnier. The werewolf himself was one of the series’ most impressive CGI creations at the time, making for a frightening lumbering brute for our heroes to contend with it, and it’s aged surprisingly well after a decade, compared to some of the other visual effects in this series (like the ones in the very next episode). Whenever Doctor Who emulates a certain genre, Murray Gold’s score tends to follow suit, embracing all the musical trappings (which makes the series’ soundtracks a lot of fun to listen to). Murray uses an electrifying combination of a howling choir, a traditional orchestra and an electronic pulse to create an old school monster movie leitmotif for the werewolf, with some Asian influence from the monks. Variations on it are never far away throughout the episode, until a moment of catharsis is achieved when Ten finally breaks the werewolf’s curse.

“Tooth And Claw” is an admirable early attempt from the show at doing a monster movie episode, while slipping in some covert arc progression, and it’s one of the gems of Series 2.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Tooth And Claw Bad Wolf

* The teaser leaves me with some questions. When the monks pull the tarp off the wolf’s cage, Lady Isabel and her staff immediately scream their heads off in absolute fear at the beast within, except the werewolf hasn’t transformed yet. The only thing they would have seen is a chained up, half-naked man with pitch-black eyes. Why is that terrifying? Do coal black eyes automatically signal ‘werewolf’ in the Victorian era?

* “Could we find some clothes for Miss Tyler? I’m tired of nakedness”.

* “That’s the charm of a ghost story, isn’t it? Not the scares and chills, that’s just for children, but the hope of some contact with the great beyond. We all want some message from that place. It’s the Creator’s greatest mystery that we’re allowed no such consolation. The dead stay silent, and we must wait”.

* “Look. Inside your eyes. You’ve seen it too. The Wolf. There is something of the Wolf about you. You burnt like the sun, but all I require is the moon!”

* “What if they turned from God, and worshiped the wolf?” “And what if they were with us, right now?”

“I take it, sir, that you halted my train to bring me here?” “We have waited so long for one of your journeys to coincide with the moon” “Then you have waited in vain. After six attempts on my life, I am hardly unprepared” “Oh, I don’t think so, woman” “The correct form of address is Your Majesty!

* “Oh, my lady. Look! They’ll never let us out. They mean for us to die!” Yeah Flora, that was pretty obvious when they locked you all in the basement with the wolf to get eaten.

* I’ve ragged on the Doctor and Rose a good bit, but being non-natives of the time period does have it’s perks. Many of the supporting characters in this episode feel dutybound to lay down their lives for the queen, as her subjects and/or employees. While the Doctor and Rose want to keep Queen Victoria safe, you’ll notice that they never once volunteered to use themselves as meat shields for her majesty, and no one in the audience blamed them for that in the slightest.

* “I tried to suggest something was wrong. I thought you might notice. Did you think there was nothing strange about my household staff?” “Well, they were bald, athletic. Your wife’s away, I just thought you were happy” Damn, Ten.

* “Nevertheless, that creature won’t give up, Doctor, and we still don’t possess an actual weapon” “Oh, your father got all the brains, didn’t he?” Again, damn, Ten.

* “I committed treason for you, but now my wife will remember me with honor!” HONOR!

* “OH MY GOD, THEY’RE WEREWOLVES! AWWOOOO!

* “I saw last night that Great Britain has enemies beyond imagination, and we must defend our borders on all sides. I propose an Institute to investigate these strange happenings and to fight them. I would call it Torchwood. The Torchwood Institute. And if this Doctor should return, then he should beware, because Torchwood will be waiting!”

Further Reading:

Posted in Doctor Who, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Doctor Who: New Earth (2006) Review

Doctor Who New Earth Marvel 4

Much like “The Long Game“, “New Earth” is an episode I think I’enjoy more than a good chunk of the Doctor Who fandom. Mind you, I am always surprised that “New Earth” was the Series 2 premiere. “The Christmas Invasion“, the preceding Christmas special, felt way more like a series opener than this episode. The typical job of a series opener is to establish all the main cast members and set up the themes and story arcs of the season. The Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie were all introduced in Series 1, and the seeds of the Torchwood arc were already planted in “The Christmas Invasion” (which will receive a significant amount of progression in the following episode, “Tooth And Claw“), so “New Earth” really doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting for a change. Instead, Russell decides to write a frothy, comedy romp to kick off the series. “New Earth” serves as a sequel to “The End Of The World“, which further showcases how the Tenth Doctor is still the same man as the Ninth Doctor while also being very different from him in a lot of areas, having a lot of laughs along the way. The end result of Russell’s decision is one of the most gleefully silly episodes of his tenure. I’m actually surprised “New Earth” works as well as it does, considering how jam packed it is; it’s basically the opposite of “The Christmas Invasion”. “The Christmas Invasion” was very slow-paced and was pretty thin on plot, “New Earth” is very fast-paced and it tries to juggle several different ideas at once. It tries to be a body swap comedy romp with Cassandra, a zombie plague story with the human lab rats, a debate about the ethics of animal testing, a cautionary tale about the dangers of vanity, and a major tease for a Face of Boe arc. On paper, this episode should be a hot mess of clashing tones and subplots, but onscreen, it’s completely hilarious, largely because of Billie Piper and David Tennant.

Doctor Who New Earth Smile

Something I admire about the way the Doctor is written in this episode is how often Russell T. Davies stresses his love for life and his zest for new experiences. There’s a wondrous scene early on where the Doctor and Rose take a moment to marvel at the sights of New Earth, from the flying cars to the apple-grass, which perfectly illustrates why the Doctor likes to travel. Later, Ten seems to enjoys every second of repelling down an elevator shaft, and gets pretty ecstatic about watching a new species of humans be born. It strikes you that the Tenth Doctor is still so young in these early episodes. Aside from the time war regrets he inherited from Nine, Ten is still unburdened by the trauma of episodes like “Doomsday”, “Last Of The Time Lords” and “Journey’s End”, and it’s strangely heartening to see him be so carefree in this adventure. The new Doctor endears himself to us even further by showing plenty of kindness and sympathy to the Face of Boe, even if he knows nothing about him (the Face knows a lot about him though), and we’re shown again that Ten is a very hands-on Doctor when it comes to the problem of the week, concocting a fairly ridiculous plan to stop the oncoming zombies and using himself as live bait. Ten’s gift of gab is here to stay, since he jabbers away for most of the episode, but underneath his breezy geniality, the Tenth Doctor is very hotheaded when it comes to injustice and atrocities. His outburst at Harriet wasn’t just a fluke, Ten can turn his mood around on a dime, and he barely restrains his fury when he discovers the cat nuns have been genetically engineering their own people to inhumanely experiment on from birth to death. Despite that, thanks to character development, Ten has got a better handle on his wrath currently. The Ninth Doctor let the Lady Cassandra die violently for her crimes, the Tenth Doctor decides to do her a kindness and make her happy before she expires naturally. Whether it’s out of pity, or because he decided to give her some modicum of forgiveness is up to your interpretation.

Despite the regeneration anxiety in “The Christmas Invasion”, the Doctor and Rose have clearly, gleefully, grown closer than ever. By now, Rose is on her way to becoming a seasoned companion. She knows to ask questions, arm herself when she random dude knows way more about her than he should, and she tries to avoid walking into an obvious trap, which still happens anyway, since Cassandra outwits her. Rose actually isn’t in this episode much, since she spends most of it being possessed by Cassandra, but that doesn’t mean Billie Piper isn’t given a lot to do. Billie Piper and David Tennant are both clearly having a ball getting to act way out of character when their characters are possessed by Cassandra, chewing so much scenery and doing their best Zoe Wanamaker impersonations as the whiny diva. The B-plot of the episode concerns the Sisters of Plenitude, supposedly wise and aloof cat nuns who run a hospital in the far future. They’ve learned to cure all ailments on New Earth, at a high cost. In secret, they genetically engineer their own human lab rats to test horrible diseases on, using the process of elimination to find antidotes. There’s something very disturbing about their complete disregard for the life they’ve created; they purposely distance themselves from the clones and dehumanize them at every turn so they don’t have to feel any shame or remorse for their actions. Being born so you can be experimented on, and having no purpose in life other than to suffer for other people’s benefit before you’re executed is a rather nightmarish concept to find in an otherwise lighthearted episode, and it actually seems like a precursor to the Flesh two-parter in Series 6. In any case, the cat nuns get their just desserts when the zombies revolt, expose them and utterly wreck their hospital. The final C-plot centers around the ancient Face of Boe, and his personal nurse, Novice Hame. All of their scenes feel a lot more portentous in retrospect, in light of what happens in “Gridlock”, one of the most poignant episodes in Series 3.

Doctor Who New Earth Green 2

The Lady Cassandra was an entertaining villainess in “The End Of The World”, but here I would argue she’s the real star of “New Earth”. Having found a way to escape back in Series 1, Cassandra rather hypocritically despises the Doctor and Rose for letting her die, and eagerly plots her revenge the next time she sees them. Cassandra didn’t just have all those surgeries because of her vanity, she also wants to cling to life at any cost (despite already being centuries old). She hijacks Rose’s body so she can have a flesh body again, and tries to steal Rose’s life for her own. Her attempts to fool the Doctor don’t last long though, not only because of her terrible fake accent and her inexplicable knowledge of future technology, but also because she’s so incredibly selfish to the point of sociopathy that she can’t possibly be Rose. Her attempts to kill the Doctor and blackmail the Sisters backfire horribly, so she’s forced to tag along with the Doctor for the rest of the episode, which is surprisingly fun. Much like in “Boom Town”, a cowed, amoral antagonist is forced into a position where they have to cooperate with the Doctor and Rose, while still holding their own agenda. Eventually, “New Earth” reiterates the aesop of “The End Of The World”: everything has it’s time and everything ends. More than that, times change and species evolve because they have to. Cassandra’s whole experience in this episode with the clone humans finally taught her that lesson, so she finally relents and accepts it’s time for her to die, having wasted her life. Before that happens, the Doctor takes her back to a nostalgic, simpler time: before she had destroyed her body to preserve her ego and she had some compassion for people other than herself. It’s actually a pretty messed-up scene – a talking skin flap in the body of a dying clone compliments her past self, consequently setting herself on the path to ruin via a bootstrap paradox – but it’s also a sad one, a good example of how Doctor Who can be completely strange yet moving at the same time.

With principal photography being shot at Wales Millennium Center, James Hawes once again returns to helm “New Earth” and his direction for this episode is a massive step up from his work in “The Christmas Invasion” (though again, the script for “New Earth” probably gave him more to work with). With the help of some tight editing, he frequently lends the episode a strong sense of kinetic energy, through sequences like the Tenth Doctor firing up the TARDIS at the start, the establishing shots of the hospital and the surrounding territories, the zombie chase through the restricted areas of the building, and the Doctor and Cassandra’s hasty jump down an elevator shaft. “New Earth” is another good day for Doctor Who when it comes to the show’s CGI, which manages to convincingly creating a line of flying cars on New Earth’s surface, and a labyrinth of cages in the secret chamber of the Sister’s hospital (I like how sickly green the lighting always is in these scenes), though it fares less well with portraying the spread of the zombies’ diseases. As a sequel to “The End Of The World”, Murray Gold revisits several of his pieces from that episode for “New Earth”, like like the gentle, innocent wonder of “Rose’s Theme” (which the show has actually been getting a lot of mileage out of for the last few episodes), and the wavering, alien sass of “Cassandra’s Waltz”. Murray composes a new, quiet, dignified piano piece titled “The Face Of Boe“, hinting at the long, old life the character has had, filled with many secrets; “The Face Of Boe” would receive a pretty heartfelt and appropriate expansion in “Gridlock” the following season.

“New Earth” is an unorthodox story to a start a season with, but it’s also a fun one and one of Russell T. Davies’ better romp episodes.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who New Earth Marvel 2

* “Rose Tyler! I knew it. That dirty blonde assassin!” “She’s coming here, mistress” “This is beyond coincidence, this is destiny! At last, I can be revenged on that little-” “Bit rich, coming from you”.

* This episode is set unfathomably far into the future, and Cassandra stores her precious memories on a 20th century movie projector. She really likes her retro stuff.

* “Mistress?” “Moisturize me”.

* “Arms, fingers, hair! Let me see! Let me see! Oh my God. I’m a chav! Look at me, from class to brass!”

* “She’s… she’s with the Doctor. A man. He’s the Doctor. The same Doctor with a new face! That hypocrite! I must get the name of his surgeon”.

* “This Doctor man is dangerous” “Dangerous and clever. I might need a mind like his. The Sisterhood is up to something. Remember that Old Earth saying, never trust a Nun? Never trust a Nurse. And never trust a cat”.

* “What I don’t understand is, what have you done to Rose? I’m being very, very calm. You want to be aware of that. very, very calm. And the only reason I’m being so very, very calm is that the brain is a delicate thing. Whatever you’ve done to Rose’s head, I want it reversed. Because these people are dying, and Rose would care!”

* “We understood what you did to us. As part of the machine, we know the machine. And we will end it!”

* “Goodness me, I’m a man. Yum. So many parts. And hardly used. Oh, oh, two hearts! Oh, baby, I’m beating out a samba!”

* “What do we do? What would he do? The Doctor, what the hell would he do?” “Ladder. We’ve got to get up!” “Out of the way, blondie!”

* “All our good work, all that healing, the good name of the Sisterhood! You have destroyed everything!” “Go and play with a ball of string!” “Everywhere, disease. This is the human world. Sickness!”

* I know it’s supposed to be frightening, but the way that sped-up shot of Matron Casp dropping down the elevator shaft is framed makes me burst out laughing every time.

* “Oh, chavtastic again”.

* “Oh, I hate telepathy. Just what I need, a head full of big face”.

* “I can take you to the city. They can build you a skin tank and you can stand trial for what you’ve done” “Well, that would be rather dramatic. Possibly my finest hour, and certainly my finest hat”.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (2005) Review

Doctor Who The Christmas Invasion Arrival 2

After the explosive drama of the Series 1 finale, “The Christmas Invasion” serves as a cool-down episode for Doctor Who. In this installment, Harriet Jones’ short-lived tenure as Britain’s prime minister comes to an abrupt end. Mainly though, fans remember this special as the official debut of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Way back in 1966, when Doctor Who was still young, William Hartnell’s health was declining and the crew needed a way to replace him as the Doctor, as organically as they could, so they came up with the concept of regeneration: if a time lord’s body is dying, they grow themselves a new one, with a slight change of personality being the consequence. The regeneration concept was successful and it’s definitely aided in the franchise’s longevity since then. Over a dozen actors have taken up the role of the Doctor. It’s easy to get attached to certain Doctors and it’s always sad to see them go, but it’s also a lot of fun to see each actor bring something new and different and special to the part, making the role their own. David Tennant went on to be one of the most liked Doctors in the revival. With that much having been said, as much as I like Ten, Series 2 is probably the weakest season in the RTD era. Series 1, 3 and 4 are all seasons with tightly written arcs and a lot of fun, ambitious episodes. The first half of Series 2 is pretty solid, but the second half contains some really bad episodes (“The Idiot’s Lantern“, “Love And Monsters”, “Fear Her”), along with a few other average outings. Not to mention, it feels like this season spends too much time on contemporary Earth. After the show established what it could do in Series 1, it feels like we ought to be going on more trips through time in Series 2; instead we spend even more time in London than we did before. The final stretch of the season even has four episodes in a row set on contemporary Earth (“Love And Monsters” to “Doomsday”). It gets pretty dull. Thankfully, Series 3 and Series 4 are a large improvement.

Doctor Who The Christmas Invasion Did You Miss Me 2

Compared to a few other incarnations, the Tenth Doctor gets off to a pretty slow start. Like the classic serial, “Spearhead In Space”, the Doctor spends most of this episode laid up in bed, recovering from his regeneration, which means it takes a while for us to get a full picture of who the Tenth Doctor is (in my opinion, Ten really comes into his own during the stretch of episodes from “Tooth And Claw” to “The Age Of Steel”). Notably, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall would opt have to the new Doctor hit the ground running in their first episodes, which helps to win people over quicker. For most of “The Christmas Invasion”, the focus is actually on the vacuum the Doctor has left behind, along with Rose and Harriet’s failed attempts to fill in for him. There are several stories in the RTD era that emphasize how important the Doctor is to the series. There’s a whole run of episodes in the back half of Series 3 (“42”, “The Family Of Blood”, “Blink”, “Last Of The Time Lords”) where stopping the villain of the week is far more dangerous than usual because the Doctor is incapacitated. In “Turn Left”, the world slowly starts to come to an end because the history changed and the Doctor died, leaving no one stop the invaders, and in the following two-parter, the Doctor’s friends team up to summon him to Earth, so he can save them from being exterminated by the Daleks. The RTD era repeatedly stresses that the Doctor’s friends can emulate him and follow in his footsteps, like Jack and Martha do, but no one else can else ever really replace him – he just has too much knowledge and experience (and a convenient way of cheating death). When Rose tries for about thirty seconds, she gets completely humiliated (poor Rose). Once he’s back on his feet, Ten makes short work of the Sycorax: utterly cowing them. The Sycorax were able to frighten and intimidate the humans on Earth, who knew nothing about them or the extent of their power, but in reality, they are some pretty pathetic villains (the Daleks and the Cybermen would destroy them in a day).

Ten proves to be a stark contrast to Nine, who was pretty stoic and reserved half the time. The Tenth Doctor is hyper, cheeky, talkative, and manic. He loves to banter away and engage the people around him, whether it’s making small talk or having a good intellectual debate, but even more than that, he loves to psychoanalyze people. Ten loves to get in his enemies’ heads, mock them, and take the wind out of their ego. Thanks to Rose’s influence, the Doctor gradually came out of his shell and exposed his vulnerable bits over the course of Series 1, and his regeneration into Ten has cemented the Doctor’s growth into a more personable person once more. In hindsight, the way Ten handles the Sycorax establishes his character for the next three seasons. The Ninth Doctor was a brilliant detective and he usually did most of the work thwarting his adversaries, but he also often encouraged and empowered the people he met to stand up for themselves and take the final step to finish the job. Ten fights the Sycorax leader in a duel (the daredevil in him clearly loving every minute of it) and resolves the problem on his own, making it clear he’s going to be a more hands-on Doctor than Nine. In his rare moments of seriousness, Tennant lends the Doctor a real sense of gravitas; he’s an excellent facial actor and he usually conveys a lot of the Doctor’s thought process through his expressions, be they jovial or stern (which is especially apparent in episodes like “Midnight”). As much as the Doctor gives the impression that he’s a quirky, zany, rebellious time lord, we’re shown again that the Doctor is exactly the sort of authority figure he claims to dislike, and in his first episode Ten demonstrates that he can be ice cold when you provoke him far enough: whether it’s letting the lead Sycorax drop to his death with an edgy one-liner, or arranging for Harriet to lose her position. By the end of the episode, Ten enjoys a lovely Christmas dinner with Rose, Mickey and Jackie, his found family. Enjoy this sweet scene while it lasts, kids. The Doctor doesn’t stick around to have Christmas dinner with his friends and family again until Series 7.

Doctor Who The Christmas Invasion Killed By A Christmas Tree 2

In the wake of the Doctor’s regeneration, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) tries to be strong and brave, but really she’s falling apart. “The Parting Of The Ways” was the point where Rose accepted she was in love with in Nine, and immediately after that, everything about him changed and she misses him terribly. What’s more, she barely knows anything about how regeneration works. Of course, Rose serves as an audience surrogate in this episode, for all the people at home who still don’t know how to feel about Christopher Eccleston being replaced with a completely different actor and need to gradually accept Tennant. Rose’s pessimism and defeatism feels a bit strange though, coming off the previous episode. In “The Parting Of The Ways”, Rose refused to give up, even when she had very few plans, she was up against terrible odds, and it was clear she and her friends would die. In “The Christmas Invasion”, Rose makes it clear, several times, that she’s given up, there’s no hope, and without the Doctor they’re all totally dead. At one point, Rose sees Harriet asking the Doctor for help on TV and something in her snaps, leading her to dramatically blubber to her mom about how the Doctor has left her for good. Finally, Rose decides that they should all just hide in the TARDIS until the Sycorax thing blows over, and even then, she continues to grouse. That is the fastest 360 I’ve seen a character have in a TV show in a while. Basically, without the Doctor to back her up, all of Rose’s confidence has abandoned her, which feels rather telling in retrospect, considering that the rest of Series 2 (particularly “Doomsday”) reveals that Rose is way too reliant and codependent on the Doctor, not only to give her confidence but to also give her life meaning. That problem will only lead to heartbreak down the line, but for the time being, it’s good to see Rose eventually accept Ten and look forward to their brand new adventures. It’s also good to see again that Mickey and Jackie are Rose’s support system. Mickey’s broken heart is still healing, but he’s accepted by this point that Rose really loves the Doctor, so he tries to focus on helping her stay strong.

Harriet Jones is granted her own subplot in “The Christmas Invasion”, which serves as a far darker parallel to Rose’s predicament. Like Rose, Harriet finds herself contending with a vicious group of alien slavers looking to expand their empire, while the Doctor is nowhere to be found. She tries to be strong and unwavering, showing her people leadership, when truthfully she feels completely lost. When faced with the unknown, Harriet eventually reveals herself to be duplicitous, underhanded, and surprisingly ruthless. She’s always been portrayed as a proud patriot who will put the British Isles above all else and do whatever she has to do to protect her nation, “The Christmas Invasion” simply shows the ugly side of that. From a storytelling perspective, I’m kind of glad Russell added in Harriet’s treachery, because otherwise this Christmas special that’s thin on plot would be way too lightweight. The dangers of unchecked nationalism serves as a loose arc in Series 2, along with the dangers of unchecked hubris; Russell would bookend it in the finale by introducing Torchwood, an organization that still clings to the long dead ideal of a British empire (which ironically ends up harming Britain). In any case, Harriet destroys the Sycorax ship while they’re retreating, killing everyone onboard, knowing the Doctor would disapprove her slaughter. Harriet offers some weak defenses for her actions, but she does make one good point. The Tenth Doctor has a very condescending and paternalistic view of the human race. He wants them to rely on him, and only him, to solve any alien problems, because they’re too stupid to handle it themselves (which is expanded upon in “The Poison Sky”). But the Doctor won’t always be around to step in, and humanity needs to learn to fight it’s own battles: “Torchwood: Children Of Earth” got as bad as it did because the Doctor did nothing to help out. The Doctor dispatches Harriet mainly out of disgust at her actions, but also because she dared to go against him and presume she knew better than he did, which implies that Ten has quite a bit of arrogance himself.

Doctor Who The Christmas Invasion Group Hug

James Hawes steps up to direct this Christmas special, and I have to say, his vision for this episode is a lot less impressive than his work on “The Doctor Dances“, though to be fair, the script for that two-parter was a lot sharper than one for this episode. James Hawes’ direction is decent and it gets the job done, but there are barely any moments that grab you and pull you into the story (which is particularly noticeable once you get into the climax), though there is one hilariously shot scene where Rose, Mickey and Jackie are accosted by a killer Christmas tree and Jackie gets reduced to tears in the corner (that scene is about as silly as Doctor Who gets). Throughout the second half of Series 1, starting around “Dalek”, Doctor Who’s visual effects steadily improved as the crew grew familiar with the technology, until we arrived at the fantastically moody finale, “Bad Wolf / The Parting Of Ways”. “The Christmas Invasion” takes a large step backwards, because the green screen and CGI in this episode is really not good, including one scene where the Doctor’s hand gets chopped off, which the CGI is really not ready for yet. Like a lot of the more inconsistent elements in Series 2, the visual effects improve and stabilize in Series 3. If you’re a fan of “The Doctor’s Theme” like I am, Murray Gold’s score for “The Christmas Invasion” is a pleasant one to listen to, since he writes a lot of different variations on Nine’s leitmotif (now passed down to Ten) in this episode. While Murray’s score was mostly synthesized in Series 1, he’s given a properly large orchestra to work with in Series 2, which leads him to not only re-record some of his tracks from the previous season like “Rose’s Theme”, but to also write more lush and layered scores for the rest of the RTD era and Moffat era. Murray’s strident, militant theme for UNIT (which sounds like an expansion of his Slitheen theme, but with additional Britishness) is introduced in this special and I love it, particularly the revamps he would give it in Series 3 and 4.

Compared to “Rose”, “The Eleventh Hour”, “Deep Breath”, and “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”, “The Christmas Invasion” might be the weakest introduction to a new Doctor so far in NuWho. The Tenth Doctor makes a good first impression at the end, but otherwise this Christmas special feels like it’s lacking sustenance.

Rating: 6/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Christmas Invasion Snowfall 4

* David Tennant was a lot paler in 2005.

* “Well, he’s got two hearts” “Oh, don’t be stupid” “He has” “Anything else he’s got two of?”

* “Oh, yeah, that’s fascinating, because I love hearing stories about the Tardis. Oh, go on Rose, tell us another one because I swear I could listen to it all day. Tardis this, Tardis that”.

* “I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas tree!”

* “We haven’t got much time. If there’s pilot fish, then- Why is there an apple in my dressing gown?” “Oh, that’s Howard. Sorry” “He keeps apples in his dressing gown?” “He gets hungry” “What, he gets hungry in his sleep?” “Sometimes”.

* Here’s another RTD era writing trope for you. Every time there’s an invasion story set in the modern day, there has to be footage of reporters on TV dramatically declaring that the end has come and everyone is going to die. It was a pretty cool move in “Aliens Of London”, but Rusty breaks it out every time there’s invasion, and by the time you get to “The Poison Sky” in Series 4, it’s gotten pretty old hat.

* “Maybe they’re not actual Martians” “Of course not. Martians look completely different”.

* “Did you think you were clever with your stolen words? We are the Sycorax, we stride the darkness. Next to us you are but a wailing child. If you are the best your planet can offer as a champion then your world will be gutted, and your people enslaved”.

* “Am I ginger?” No, you’re just sort of brown” “Ugh, I wanted to be ginger. I’ve never been ginger. And you, Rose Tyler, fat lot of good you were. You gave up on me!”

* “Look at these people, these human beings. Consider their potential. From the day they arrived on the planet and blinking step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen. More to do than- No, hold on. Sorry, that’s ‘The Lion King’.  But the point still stands, leave them alone!” The Tenth Doctor has great taste.

* “Want to know the best bit? This new hand? It’s a fighting hand!

* “No second chances, I’m that sort of man” The first appearance of edgy Ten.

* “Don’t challenge me, Harriet Jones, because I’m a completely new man. I could bring down your government with a single word” “You’re the most remarkable man I’ve ever met, but I don’t think you’re quite capable of that” “No, you’re right. Not a single word, just six” “I don’t think so” “Six words” “Stop it!” “Six. Don’t you think she looks tired?” Tennant’s intensity level in that scene makes it very clear why he was hired.

* Like they did with Rose Tyler, Sacred Icon and Spiralbound Notebooks wrote two great unpopular opinion articles about how the Tenth Doctor, despite his fan favorite status, can get pretty annoying.

Further Reading:

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