I’m finding it hard to organise my thoughts about this story in a way that will lend itself to a coherent review because of how emotionally devastated that ending has left me. But bear with me, I’ll endeavour to put my thoughts into some kind of sensible form.
I’m somewhat unimpressed with the decision to portray yet another large-scale alien invasion of 21st Century Earth, as I mentioned in my last review of Fear Her. “Relevance” is one thing, but this is getting ridiculous. The history of the Earth of the Doctor Who universe would detail a dizzying succession of alien invasions and interventions within the space of a few years in the 21st Century—all thanks to Russell T Davies. At least Davies had the sense to portray the Earth’s authorities as having had the initiative to formulate some sort of defensive measures in Torchwood. That said, I wasn’t necessarily as bothered about this as I otherwise would have been, as the story was so good. The much-awaited revelation of Torchwood, by the way, wasn’t particularly well carried out. Hints and teasers about Torcwhood were being dropped all series, but the eventual revelation was almost understated. I was expecting something bigger and more grand, but it all just seemed like a fairly nondescript operation. I realise Doctor Who doesn’t exactly have the budget to do things on as big a scale as I would like, but surely the producers could see that Torchwood looked like they were conducting their highly-sensitive and dangerous operations out of a converted factory?
Both the apparition of the Cybermen and the Daleks was done well. The former was impressive and imposing, the latter a genuine, dreadful shock. A prospective Dalek vs. Cyberman face-off was one of those long-awaited events, and, although in some respects it was awesome, in others it was a bit of a disappointment. The banter between the Daleks and the Cybermen was genuinely brilliant:
Cyberman: “Our species are similar, though your design is inelegant.”
Dalek: “Daleks have no concept of elegance.”
Cyberman: “This is obvious.”
Cyberleader: “Daleks, be warned. You have declared war upon the Cybermen.”
Dalek: “This is not war. This is pest control.”
Cyberleader: “We have five million Cybermen. How many are you?”
Cyberleader: “You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?”
Dalek: “We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek. You are superior in only one respect.”
Cyberleader: “What is that?”
Dalek: “You are better at dying.”
Classic. I am somewhat disappointed, however, both by how easily the Daleks were able to defeat the Cybermen and by the lack of a large scale battle between the two species. We’re talking about the second most dangerous species in the universe (as Doctor Who has always portrayed), and not only did they not even dent the Daleks, but they were felled effortlessly by the latter. Way to make the Cybermen seem like pushovers… Further, although there was a decent battle scene in the Torchwood tower, I feel like the opportunity to stage a large-scale battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen was squandered, although I’ll concede that budgetary concerns may have had something to do with that. The Daleks were portrayed very well in this story—if only the same commitment had been given to the Cybermen. Why bring them back in such spectacular fashion in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel if they’re going to be demoted to the status of “most feared and dangerous villains in the universe when the Daleks aren’t around (in which case they’ll get walloped)”?
I thought David Tennant’s performance was absolutely magisterial. I can see that he’s truly made the role his own as he’s a much more commanding and magnetic presence than he was in his debut, in The Christmas Invasion. He truly exerts his presence in every moment he has onscreen in this story, from beginning to end. There really isn’t a moment when he isn’t in masterful control of the role, even in the relatively mundane sequences. I thought his confrontation with the Daleks in the Void Ship room was probably his best performance yet. Not overstated, as he’s been earlier in the series, but positively captivating; hair-raising. You really got a sense that this was the Doctor of legend we were seeing, the Doctor who sends the Dalek legions fleeing without firing a shot. This is how to write the Doctor.
“Technology using the one thing a Dalek can’t do. Touch. Sealed inside your casing. Not feeling anything ever, from birth to death, locked inside a cold metal cage. Completely alone. That explains your voice. No wonder you scream.”
Billie Piper was outstanding in her final outing. From that poignant poetic opening to her teary farewell, she delivered a moving and highly admirable performance. Rose herself was fantastic in her last time saving the world. The moment when she confronted the Daleks after they had emerged from the Void Ships to save herself and the others, was brave and amazing. That she had the guts and the initiative to do so showed how far she’s come from the shop girl she was in Rose, how much she’s been changed by her life with the Doctor, how much she’s become like the Doctor.
Then there was that ending, that parting of the ways. Oh, God, that was heartwrenching. I think Doctor Who just came close to emotionally traumatising me. I cannot find words with which to praise the performances of both Piper and Tennant as they were forced apart. Billie Piper, in particular, mustered up a truly agonising portrayal of Rose’s pain of separation that left me close to tears. Surely that must be the saddest, most affecting goodbye in the show’s history? In any case, it was some truly outstanding acting on the part of Billie Piper in her last moments as a Doctor Who companion, and a spectacularly touching farewell for the first, and most fondly remembered, companion of the revived series.
I would have given this a rating of 8, which in my terms means “great but not quite brilliant”, but the respective performances of Tennant and Piper raise it to a 9 in my estimation. They really were the gleaming highlight of this story.