Doctor Who: Fear Her (2006) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Love And Monsters (2006) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who Love And Monsters

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

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

Rating: 4/10.

Side-Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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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).

Doctor Who Rise Of The Cybermen

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

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

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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:

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* “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. 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 down 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, 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:

Doctor Who The Girl In The Fireplace The Gang

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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 reprises her role as Sarah Jane Smith 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 with context, though the classic series is 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? The idea of life after the Doctor was one NuWho would explore several times over. 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 than 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

* Elisabeth Sladen passed away in 2011; may she rest in peace.

* “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:

Doctor Who School Reunion Ten And Sarah Jane

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