Thoughts on: Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

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?”
Dalek: “Four.”
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.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen this two-parter, and I’m happy to say that it’s a lot better than I remembered. I had a sketchy memory of this one as a rather camp and overblown Cyberman runaround featuring a deranged wheelchair-ridden Owen (from The Vicar of Dibley) in a parallel universe. To an extent, that’s what it was, but that’s not necessarily to say it’s bad. Admittedly, the story premise was a bit rubbish, but it was carried out capably and engagingly. It featured well-written supporting characters, and the device of Rose’s trying to connect with her parallel universe parents was very interesting and well-plotted, particularly the abrupt parting of ways between Rose and parallel-Pete at the end. I’m a bit unimpressed with the way the episode portrayed a world in thrall to a monolithic and malignant corporation which tyrannises over the populace of Great Britain (and, I assume, elsewhere), for similar reasons as my critique of the evil “consortium of banks” in The Long Game, but I’m willing to forgive it in deference to creative licence.

I have mixed feelings about how successful this story was in bringing back the Cybermen for the revived series. In the first place, although I prefer the original Mondas backstory of the Cybermen (as visited fantastically in Spare Parts), I suppose, if one is to show a genesis story of the Cybermen for a modern audience, recasting the Cybermen’s origins in a parallel universe makes more sense than showing or making allusions to the impenetrable Mondas story. Critically, recasting it like this gave the writers the ability to reintroduce the Cybermen, what they are and what they’re about, to a modern audience, rather than if they’d just shown a random Cyberman attack. I think they did this quite well overall, making it chillingly clear what the Cybermen were about: not just Daleks with legs, but real human beings who’ve transplanted themselves into cybernetic bodies and removed all their emotions, and who are driven by an unremitting compulsion to make all other forms of life, humans especially, like them, genuinely believing they are doing good.

Lumic: “What is your name?”
Doctor: “I’m the Doctor.”
Lumic: “A redundant title. Doctors need not exist. Cybermen never sicken.”
Doctor: “Yeah, but that’s it. That’s exactly the point! Oh, Lumic, you’re a clever man. I’d call you a genius, except I’m in the room. But everything you’ve invented, you did to fight your sickness. And that’s brilliant. That is so human. But once you get rid of sickness and mortality, then what’s there to strive for, eh? The Cybermen won’t advance. You’ll just stop. You’ll stay like this forever. A metal Earth with metal men and metal thoughts, lacking the one thing that makes this planet so alive. People. Ordinary, stupid, brilliant people.”
Lumic: “You are proud of your emotions.”
Doctor: “Oh, yes.”
Lumic: “Then tell me, Doctor. Have you known grief, and rage, and pain?”
Doctor: “Yes. Yes I have.”
Lumic: “And they hurt?”
Doctor: “Oh, yes.”
Lumic: “I could set you free. Would you not want that? A life without pain?”
Doctor: “You might as well kill me.”

This is something the classic series seemed to lose sight of. The Cybermen in the classic series gradually devolved from their original conception as humans cybernetically-improved to the point of obscenity whose primary impulse was to convert, to essentially little more than murderous metal men. This story substantially rehabilitated the Cybermen in this regard, returning to the essence of this villain. This was especially manifest in the way the Cybermen were defeated not by blasting them to smithereens or short-circuiting them or something, but by giving them back their emotions. The blood-curdling scream of the terrified Cyberman as it fell from the helicopter into the blaze below was a skin-crawling demonstration of this.

That said, there are aspects of these new Cybermen that I don’t like. For one, they seem to have been, to an extent, re-conceived as robots, evidenced by the ostentatious frog-stomping and the way the Cybermen are portrayed as lacking free will, as unthinking automatons. The Cybermen have free will, it’s just will mutilated and enslaved to unyielding logic. They’re not automaton-cum-soldiers who obey the commands of their superior without question, or slavishly follow their programming. In purely aesthetic terms, the Cybermen should invoke the feel of zombies more than robots, as the very creepy original Cybermen in The Tenth Planet did. It should never be forgotten that the Cybermen are humans, albeit mutilated humans, not walking computers. To an extent I think New Who needs to go back to the “primitive” Cybermen, on Mondas or having just left Mondas, in order to get back to the roots of what the Cybermen are about, as Big Finish did in Spare Parts. The Cybermen’s most recent underwhelming outing in Dark Water/Death in Heaven showed that the writers have run out of interesting things to do with the Cybermen—so why not get back to basics?

This story was also about giving Mickey a suitable farewell. Mickey, mercifully, was finally given a good role that did him justice. He was courageous, selfless and resourceful in this story, and it’s heartening to observe how far he’s come from the pathetic, cowering wretch he was in Rose. Noel Clarke delivered a good performance playing two characters, acting against himself, as Mickey and Ricky, and it’s good to see Clarke given a meaty script for him to gnaw into and display his abilities. That said, I thought Mickey’s departure was clunky and poorly executed. Despite the quality of Mickey’s part in this story, it was obviously written because the writers wanted to get rid of Mickey and thought he deserved a good send-off. Inventing a beloved dead grandmother and having Mickey remain behind to care for her sounded like it was made up on the spot. It’s also a bit incongruous in the way that the Doctor insisted that Rose could not stay behind to be with Rose and Pete because they weren’t her parents but raised no objections at all to Mickey’s staying behind to be with his not grandmother. In fact, he seemed to positively encourage Mickey to stay. Moreover, I found strange Mickey’s last words as the TARDIS dematerialised, “That’s the Doctor in the Tardis, with Rose Tyler.” He spoke those words with pride and a surprisingly lack of resentment towards them both considering how they’d turned his life upside down—the Doctor by callously taking the best thing in his life, Rose, away from him, and Rose by dropping him so heartlessly for the Doctor. I would have thought he’d be very resentful towards both of them, but, astonishingly, it appears not. Mickey as a character has always been poorly served by the writers (due to no fault on the part of Noel Clarke, who obviously did the best with what he was given), and I think this was a poorly-executed departure for him. For this reason, I’m somewhat relieved to see Mickey go at last (lifting a burden from the writers’ shoulders), but I regret that he wasn’t better treated while he was around.

Overall, not a half-decent episode, although questionable in some respects.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: The Girl in the Fireplace

Moffat, you genius. You brilliant, brilliant man. The Girl in the Fireplace is Steven Moffat’s second Doctor Who script, and he’s gone and done it again and given us an absolute belter of a story. This was a really masterfully crafted script—in terms of character writing and drama, it’s even superior to the masterpiece of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and really does leave me in awe of Moffat’s writing ability.

It begins almost in the style of a Classic Who serial, with the Doctor, Rose and Mickey stepping out of the TARDIS and encountering a curious situation, and wondering aloud what’s been happening. The Doctor goes to investigate and suddenly he finds himself in 18th Century France in the bedroom of a young aristocratic girl… with a creepy clockwork man. From there the mystery only thickens as it becomes clear that the spaceship they’ve landed on contains numerous windows into various points in the life of Madame de Pompadour. It’s a really riveting mystery and really exquisitely executed. It displays wonderfully, once again, Moffat’s flair for the creepy, the mysterious, the self-indulgently clever (in a good way), one of the reasons why, all things considered, he is, in my opinion, Doctor Who’s best ever writer.

It was also a touching story of a girl and her imaginary friend. It’s subtle, and isn’t made plain, but it appears that the Doctor genuinely fell in love with Reinette in this story. Reinette seems a perfect counterpart for the Doctor, I’m not surprised he fell for her. The way it was carried out, this romantic bond between the Doctor and Reinette, was beautiful and so perfect. David Tennant and Sophia Myles, both delivered highly commendable performances. Myles’ acting, in particular, was touching and engaging, and she obviously put her all into delivering such an outstanding performance. She effectively endeared her character to the audience, making us care deeply about her over the course of only a few brief scenes. Which made it all the more poignant when the Doctor discovered she had died. It was such a carefully and perfectly crafted scene, and perhaps remains one of the saddest goodbyes of all.

The Doctor’s abrupt separation from Reinette follows up on a point explored in the preceding episode, School Reunion, i.e. about the Doctor, as an ageless being, suffering from the consequences of having to live among and consort with mortal, short-lived beings. For him, an ancient, practically immortal Time Lord, to live among humans is to live constantly in a state of pain. That’s why he constantly leaves behind his companions—he fears that to become too close to any of them would cause him too much pain when he’s forced eventually to leave them, or even watch them die. But yet, perennially lonely, he can’t live without them. Here, with Reinette, is perhaps an instance where he became too emotionally close to a human, and suffered the consequences. His relationship with her was fleeting—the blink of an eye to a Time Lord—but it was strong enough to cause him such pain when it so tragically ended. This episode, in a way, is almost a case study in the Doctor’s curse, of being the lonely immortal whose very existence plagues him, for whom life is constant pain and for whom all friendship, relationship and love is just deferred heartbreak.

This review was a bit disjointed, but I think that’s because there’s only so many ways I can dollop praise upon it, and there was precious little for me to criticise. Just the one, very minor thing, in fact: the Doctor seems unusually blasé about the prospect of being stuck on the “slow path”, 3000 years away from his TARDIS. Perhaps he just likes the thought of being with Reinette for the remaining six years of her life, but I’d have thought he’d be more affected by having to wait 3000 years before he can get back to his TARDIS. Nonetheless, this story was exceptional in every department.

Rating: 9/10.

P.S. The oversized post titles on this theme which spill over so easily like that are really starting to annoy me…

Thoughts on: School Reunion

The highlight of this episode was its character focus. School Reunion brought back iconic Classic Who companion Sarah-Jane Smith and explored the dynamics of the Doctor-Companion relationship. The heartwarming reunion of the Doctor with Sarah-Jane (and K9) ought to have brought a broad smile to any Classic fan’s face. As should the very entertaining and telling interplay between Sarah-Jane and her successor, Rose. It’s clear that the Doctor’s companions, particularly the ones with whom he forms the strongest relationships, like these two, are very protective of him and jealous of their special bond with the Doctor, thus the rivalry between Rose and Sarah-Jane which played out almost like that between a wife and an ex-wife, as the episode indicated. They all think they’re special; they all think they have something special with the Doctor, and are somewhat resentful and put out when they realise the Doctor has had dozens of companions with whom he has been as close to before and after them—as Rose’s interrogation of the Doctor about her not being his first showed. They oughtn’t be so surprised, though. As the Doctor made touchingly clear, it’s too painful for him to stay with one companion for too long, to grow too attached, because he has to face watching them wither and die, and having his heart broken in the process, as he continues, ageless and eternal. This emotional dynamic between the Doctor and his companions was explored really excellently and movingly by this episode, and constituted the highlight of an otherwise mediocre story.

The episode also explored the effect travelling with the Doctor has on his companions’ lives. Sarah-Jane had evidently bottled up a lot of resentment towards the Doctor for leaving her behind. He had shown her the unbelievable, done the extraordinary with her and profoundly changed her life… and then, in her words, he “dumped” her. Back to the dull, dreary monotony of ordinary life on Earth, after all that. I think the Doctor underestimates how profoundly he affects the lives of his companions, such that he’s unwittingly wont to leave them permanently affected when he parts company with them. I don’t think the original series gave this aspect of the Doctor-Companion dynamic the attention it merited, and it’s refreshing to see that the revived series is more sensitive to the character dynamics in this respect, not only with Sarah-Jane but with subsequent companions, Rose especially. We seem to be already seeing how significantly Rose has been affected by her travels with the Doctor, as she seems to have become infatuated with him. At the end she seems immoderately put out by the prospect of Mickey’s joining them aboard the TARDIS. Compare with the end of World War Three in Series 1 when she was scolding the Doctor for not “allowing” Mickey to come aboard. She sees herself and the Doctor as having something special, love even, and Mickey as being an intruder on their special, private relationship. This will end in heartbreak.

The episode also did a good job of exploring the Doctor’s character more deeply. Apart from exploring his relationship with his companions, and the way he feels about becoming too close to them, as discussed above, the episode also delved intriguingly into the darker side of the Doctor’s character:

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

And also where the Doctor was tempted almost to join sides with the Krillitanes, tempted by the lure of absolute power, which his reason and experience tells him should not be wielded by anyone, not even the most noble-intentioned, but yet he’s tempted nonetheless. This is a far cry from the eternal goody-goody peacemaker that was the Doctor of Classic Who. We see again how the Doctor has changed since we last saw him in San Francisco in faux-Edwardian garb and long black curls. One of the revived series’ most successful motifs is exploring the way the Time War has affected the Doctor. It’s a compelling aspect of the revived series’ Doctor’s characterisation which, for me at least, never gets old (and was one reason why I didn’t like the way the events of the Time War were reversed in The Day of the Doctor). I’ve heard some say that these little glimpses we get from Ten, like here and more infamously in The Waters of Mars, show that Ten was potentially the darkest and most complex of all the Doctor’s incarnations. I’m inclined to think there’s something in that observation, and Ten’s usual irrepressible joviality, if anything, makes it all the more compelling a theory.

To say something about the plot, I’m inclined to think that, while admittedly it was not the main focus of this highly character-focussed episode, it rather let down the quality of the episode. To say the least, the plot consisted of very unimaginative, even trite, writing. The monsters, the Krillitane, were badly designed and were generally treated poorly by the production, although I’ll admit that their concept was quite interesting and had a lot of potential. For this reason I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to their being brought back, although something fresh and interesting needs to be found to do with them, and, for goodness’ sake, change their form (at least that can actually be done). I feel like, thus far at least, Series 2 of Doctor Who has been more self-consciously a children’s show than Series 1. In this episode, this was manifest in the rubbish and simplistic plot surrounding the poorly-designed Krillitane, and in the depiction of schoolteachers as ugly shape-shifting bat-like monsters, something we all suspected as children and a children’s fantasy Doctor Who was obviously indulging. I mean, that’s not necessarily a bad idea in itself, but the way it was pitched squarely to children seems like lazy writing and production in that it lets the producers get away with pleasing the lower standards of children rather than creating something of genuine quality that all ages can appreciate.

I couldn’t find anywhere to fit these last minor points, but I think Anthony Head, or Uther Pendragon, as I know him, was superb as Mr Finch. He’s electric as the King of Camelot, and he was suitably intimidating and menacing as a giant bat in human form. He’s a great actor. And finally, I found the scene where Rose and Sarah-Jane were splitting their sides laughing at the Doctor together just gorgeous. Great writing, that bit—I was actually grinning broadly as I was watching. I wonder if this is what all the Doctor’s companions do when they meet?

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: The Christmas Invasion

It doesn’t need to be said that The Christmas Invasion was not about the Sycorax. This episode was about the Doctor. As imperfect as this episode was in the plotting department, I’m willing to forgive it that as it did a fairly good job of introducing the new Doctor in David Tennant. The episode pulled a clever trick of saving, substantially, the appearance of the Tenth Doctor until the end of the episode. The episode perhaps engaged with the audience’s scepticism about this new actor who was replacing the stellar Christopher Eccleston through Rose’s insecurities about the Doctor’s change. And the episode bode addressing these insecurities until near the end, making it all the sweeter when, his presence having been noticeably lacking and missed for the majority of the episode, the Doctor swaggers out of the TARDIS and effortlessly takes control of the increasingly desperate situation. “Did you miss me?” the Doctor asked nonchalantly. We certainly did. The use of that device was something of a masterstroke on the part of Russell T Davies, and, indeed, I remember, when I first saw this episode, thinking it was awesome when the Doctor stepped out in his pyjamas and began lecturing the entire Sycorax parliament.

That said, the whole “what kind of man am I?” thing was a bit of rubbish writing: of course, in a new Doctor introduction episode, it must be shown what kind of man the Doctor’s new incarnation is, but, this, I think, should be a instance of show not tell. This was done very well subsequently with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in their respective introductory episodes. What The Christmas Invasion did by having the Doctor repeatedly ponder what kind of man he is was very much tell not show. The result is that we were left more confused than we ought to have been about what this new Doctor was like. We would come to understand the Tenth Doctor more as we saw more of him over the following series, but The Christmas Invasion did not, fundamentally, accomplish what it set out to do, except at a very basic level. We gathered that the Tenth Doctor was a genial, easygoing, charismatic and reckless bloke, but little more.

None of this was necessarily David Tennant’s fault—he was a victim of poor writing. I thought Tennant generally gave a strong first performance. The “Did you miss me?” sequence—a critical segment of the episode—was carried out admirably by Tennant, and the Doctor’s characterisation, at least at the surface level, was skilfully deployed by Tennant. That said, I think he overacted in parts: for example, the girning and panting on the floor outside Rose’s apartment was a bit OTT, as was the “I DON’T KNOW!” in response to the Sycorax. The line about mistakenly quoting the Lion King was also cringe-inducing, as was “It’s a fighting hand!”, although these missteps were due to poor writing, not Tennant, who I’m sure did the best with what he had to work with.

To say a bit about the plot, it was fairly unimaginative and derivative, and played out quite predictably. Nevertheless, as I said, as the Doctor, not the plot, was the main focus of this episode, I’m willing to overlook its shortcomings in this department this time. That spinning Christmas tree was also ridiculous. The Sycorax were okay, but they were obviously conceived in order to fit the “generic belligerent advanced alien species” trope, and, for this episode, that’s okay. Harriet Jones was badass in this episode (no better way to describe it). I wouldn’t exactly say she was well played by Penelope Wilton, except in a self-consciously comical sort of way, but she’s certainly come on since her salad days as MP for Flydale North. It’s questionable whether Jones’ decision to take out the Sycorax ship was right—unless I’m misinterpreting, it was left open to question. I personally think that, although hardly morally scrupulous, she made the right decision. The Doctor was being a naive idealist (and a hypocrite, given he committed double genocide to save the universe from the Time War). In any case, I’ll agree that “Don’t you think she looks tired?” was awesome.

Rating: 6/10.

Review: Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

Not a “quickie review” because I thought this story merited a full-length review.

Where, oh, where do I start? The magisterial finale to Series 1 never fails to blow me away. It was just a perfect, flawless finale, resolving the first series of the revived series exquisitely. To my mind, although Pandorica is my personal favourite, Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways is still the best and tightest finale of the revived series—it exhibited a standard of writing and production that hasn’t since been matched (although Pandorica comes close). Unlike certain stories in Series 1 (*cough* Aliens of London *cough*), it has aged exceptionally well and retains an X-factor about it making it highly re-watchable.

It seemed to start indubiously enough. “You have got to be kidding me…” the Doctor said incredulously as he found himself in what seemed to be a futuristic Big Brother House. That opening was funny enough, but, nevertheless, from the otherwise comical outset it was clear that there was some mysterious force at work. Indeed, the episode employed a favourite plotting device of 1960s Doctor Who of beginning a story in an ostensibly innocent setting before gradually revealing more and more of the circumstances in which the Doctor has found himself, until the true magnitude of the threat is laid bare. It was really effective in stories like The War Games and works really effectively here, a slow build-up of suspense and plot, keeping the viewer gripped. The moment when this episode started to get sinister was when Fitch was disintegrated by the Anne Droid as the “weakest link”, and then when Crosbie is evicted from the Big Brother House.

The Doctor has come to some horrid places in his travels, but the Game Station has got to be one of the most repulsive. This is Satellite 5, and this is what has become of the human race since the Doctor last visited. The human race is reduced to ogling helplessly over their television sets, their lives consumed by watching mind-numbing game shows which kill their contestants as entertainment. A comment, obviously, on the increasingly television-dependent society of the modern world, where we increasingly live our lives vicariously in front of our TVs, often mesmerised by mindless reality television and asinine game shows.

Of course, it becomes clear that the Daleks are responsible, having been manipulating the human race behind the scenes for generations. The look on the Doctor’s face when the Dalek ships are revealed makes the skin crawl. They were all supposed to be dead—the Doctor saw to that. To see them again, I would imagine, would evoke a mix of indignation, grievance and vengefulness. He said it himself: if the Daleks survived, it means his people died for nothing. He killed his own people in vain. Unfortunately, though—and this is one of my minor criticisms of the finale—we didn’t get to see that in the Doctor. He was astonished, of course, to see so many Dalek ships again, but, apart from that, the Doctor seemed relatively unfazed by the sudden apparition of the Dalek legions. “Oh will you? That’s nice. Hello!” said the Doctor jovially as a Dalek greeted them over a viewscreen. If this were Matt Smith’s Doctor, he would be literally spitting with rage and disbelief. Eccleston has said that he thought he overdid the humour when he played the Doctor. Although I think he was fine, superlative even, up until now, with this I can see what he was getting at.

In any case, the production did a superb job of creating an ominous atmosphere around the Daleks in this episode. The Daleks have always been a slightly corny monster, but they were a truly scary and foreboding presence in Bad Wolf. We didn’t get to see the Daleks until the very end of the episode when the Dalek ships themselves were revealed. Whovians like us would have known, of course, who was behind it all, but, for the regular viewer, the eventual revelation would have been big. I remember being desperate to find out who the enemies were when I first saw this episode, and was suitably surprised when the Daleks were finally revealed. The sound effects also, in no small part, effectively created an ominous and intimidating aura around the Daleks. All this made it all the more awesome when the Doctor defied the Daleks. “You will obey or she will be exterminated,” said the Daleks. “No,” replied the Doctor. How succinct; how perfect. His declaration that he was going to save Rose, save the Earth and then, and I quote, “wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky” was one of those fist-pumping “Doctor” moments that I love writing about.

We discover that the Daleks are not “pure” Daleks, but Daleks created from harvested human cells. It’s a truly grisly, horrible thought, but it made for an interesting spin on the Daleks as we’ve traditionally known them. I almost felt sorry for these Daleks. They had been ensconced in their ships for hundreds of years, “hiding in silence”. The human inside them had driven them insane. They had begun to worship their Dalek Emperor as a god. They hated their own existence, begat of human remains. The Doctor was right that that made them more dangerous than ever. A self-loathing monster is truly something to fear.

The Parting of the Ways, though, was notable for its character-driven story, particularly for resolving Rose’s character arc. The Doctor tricked Rose into travelling back to her home, wanting to protect her. “Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose,” the Doctor’s hologram exhorted Rose. But she couldn’t. Rose had come too far just to return to her ordinary, safe, pre-Doctor life of work, sleep, chips and Mickey. Rose didn’t want to be home and safe. She wanted to be 200,000 years in the future, in mortal danger, helping the Doctor fight a hopeless battle against the Daleks. She would do anything to return to the Doctor, even if only to help him escape, and tried all she could to get the TARDIS to take her back to him. Every fibre of her being militated against meekly accepting defeat. Rose has changed because of the Doctor. The Doctor has shown her a “better way”. “There’s nothing left for me here,” she says—she knows, and he knows, that she belongs with the Doctor now, even if it means losing her life for him. When she’s finally able to return to the Doctor, by communicating with the heart of the TARDIS, it’s the gratifying culmination of her series-long character arc that’s seen her changed thoroughly by her life with the Doctor.

She’s also changed him. The Doctor, when the moment came, could not bring himself to activate the delta wave, killing all Daleks and humans alike. He knew the consequences of his reticence—the unleashing of the Daleks upon the entire universe—but ultimately his nerve failed him. This isn’t the man who said “Everything has its time and everything dies,” coldly as he looked on as Cassandra died, begging for mercy. This isn’t the man who was prepared to blow apart a Dalek to save a base full of people. This isn’t the man who was responsible for the genocide of two entire races. Rose has changed him, just as he’s changed her. When they first met, the Doctor was suffering from the trauma of the Time War. He was full of blood and anger and revenge. He’d been desensitised to killing and death, and cynical about life. Rose helped him recover. Rose reignited his love of life and his moral drive, and saw him become again the man he thought had been lost. The Doctor’s arc was subtle, but it was obvious what had happened to him over the course of this series when he couldn’t bring himself to do what he had already done once.

Between them, the character arcs of Rose and the Doctor were the highlight of this series and what this series was ultimately about. It culminated, of course, in Rose’s return to the Doctor as the Bad Wolf. Both Rose’s and the Doctor’s respective arcs had led them both to this moment. And what a glorious moment it was. Rose, the eerily angelic Bad Wolf, disintegrates the Dalek legions, ends the Time War, with the power of the time vortex. It was a really exhilarating resolution. Rose’s presence was unearthly and hair-raising. Some don’t like it and see it as a deus ex machina like cop-out, and to an extent it was, but, for those who revel in the character-driven plotting that formed the focus of this series, it’s a really gratifying and satisfying culmination. It would be a finale ending that would not be matched again, even by the superb Pandorica.

And then there was that regeneration. It was subtle, understated, but brilliant. The Doctor, although overjoyed that the Daleks had been vanquished, was obviously pained inside by his impending departure. He was not concerned with explaining to Rose what was about to happen—he was experiencing his last seconds of life, and his apprehension, and his sadness, showed through his jovial facade. He did, however, make sure he told Rose before he left that she was fantastic. And she was. And in the words that tied up the Doctor’s character arc: “And you know what? So was I.” No longer the self-hating, vengeful, traumatised, lonely war survivor. He had made peace with himself. He was a new man. Enter the Tenth Doctor.

Rating: 10/10.

Quickie review: Boom Town

This was a vastly better Slitheen story than Aliens of London/World War Three. It built on the few strengths of Aliens of London whilst rolling back the cheesiness and Marvel Who-y-ness. This episode was pitched at a more mature audience than its prequel. It was darker, more sombre and more intelligent. It dealt with themes of homicide, justice and mercy. We saw Blon Fel-Fotch captured by the Doctor, who promised to take her back to her home planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius to meet the justice of her people. “Not my problem,” said the Doctor when Blon objected that she would be met with the death penalty upon returning home. By any measure, Blon deserved the highest punishment of the law for her crimes, but… death? Is it really right to kill someone for their crimes? That was the point the episode was discussing, and it was telling that none of the Doctor’s entourage could look Blon in the eyes as they held her prisoner, awaiting sentence. It was also interesting the way the episode portrayed Blon as unable to face up to her guilt and that she deserved punishment—she tried to justify herself in a number of ways, that she had changed, that she was not all bad, that she was captive to her violent upbringing, but never did she admit guilt or sorrow for what she’d done. Some monsters will blame anyone and anything but themselves. The episode also waded into murkier waters when it was revealed that, at the very moment Blon was imploring the Doctor to believe that she could change, her plan to trick the Doctor and destroy the world was proceeding. Was the point being made that some people are irredeemably evil? In any case, the entire sequence between Blon and the Doctor in the restaurant was really compelling viewing.

It was interesting, in this episode, to observe how the Doctor’s character arc has (subtly) progressed over this series. “Not my problem,” sounds a lot like “Everything has its time and everything dies,” from The End of the World. But observe how the Doctor, although insisting that Blon must be taken back to her planet to be dealt justice, nonetheless seemed somewhat unsure of himself. He, too, couldn’t meet Blon’s eyes. Moreover, he seemed relieved when Blon regressed to an egg after looking into the heart of the TARDIS. He isn’t the cold, PTSD-stricken war survivor that we met at the beginning of the series anymore. Imperceptibly, he’s changed, and the way this character arc was carried out over the course of Series 1 was really well-written and -executed, culminating, of course, in the amazing finale.

The Rose-Mickey drama was really well done. As a paid-up Moffat partisan, even I’ll admit that if there’s one thing RTD was good at, it was character drama. It wasn’t often in Classic Who (never, in fact) that we got to see the unhappy effect of the companions’ travels on the people and the lives they leave behind. Rose left Mickey behind, and it obviously hurt him considerably. I felt bad for Mickey, and rather annoyed at Rose that she couldn’t see how much she’d hurt Mickey, how inconsiderate it was to leave him, and how galling it was that she should expect Mickey to remain loyal to her, obediently awaiting her beck and call like a trained lapdog. I don’t dislike Rose as a character for that, it makes her flawed, which is good, as her character was just becoming slightly too much of a perfect Mary-Sue before now. That said, the blame can’t be placed all at Rose’s feet—Mickey had the opportunity to come with them in the TARDIS at the end of the last Slitheen incident, but declined. It’s just slightly hypocritical to be berating Rose for leaving him out in the cold when he could have come with her long ago. Either Mickey is just a bit of a bitch or that was a slight authorial oversight on RTD’s part.

The sequence in which Blon was bathed in the light of the heart of the TARDIS was really well produced, it all seemed very ethereal, with the Doctor seeming almost angelic as he spoke out of the ghostly TARDIS light. The moment when Blon raised her eyes, a look of perfect tranquillity on her face, and whispered “Thank you…” was really hair-raising—eerie, but in a good way.

Rating: 8/10.