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: Fear Her

Somehow, following Love & Monsters seems to disproportionately improve the quality of this episode. It was a pretty average story, but even an average story is actually kind of refreshing after what came before. For this reason, I think I enjoyed Fear Her more than I otherwise would have — which is not necessarily anomalous as these episodes are supposed to be watched in order, as part of a series. I mean, obviously the producers didn’t intend Love & Monsters to be received negatively, but somehow it kind of worked out: Fear Her, although not a terribly good episode itself, was a welcome reprieve from the rot of Love & Monsters.

When I say the episode was “not terribly good”, I’ll admit that I found it interesting, even fun, but it was hardly the most inspired of concepts or the most ambitious of works. It’s self-admittedly unambitious and self-consciously camp and tongue-in-cheek, so it shouldn’t expect the best of receptions, although, at the same time, that also makes it less offensive—I can hardly fault it for trying and failing when all it was trying to do was entertain. It had its good points; in particular, it was very creepy in parts. There’s an air of mystery and menace hanging over the story for much of its initial stages, when the Doctor and Rose were investigating the disappearances. It was also funny in parts: Kel, with his council-philia, was a much appreciated bit of comic relief, and I actually laughed out loud when he was reproaching Rose for offending his blessed council. I found that I really liked David Tennant’s performance in this episode. Yes, it’s a funny episode for which to praise Tennant’s acting, but I just got the sense, in this episode, that Tennant had properly taken hold of the role of the Doctor and made it decisively his own. He got off to a nervous start in The Christmas Invasion, but I can see here that he’s settled nicely into the role and is at ease with the character.

To say something about what I wasn’t so impressed with, the plot, although played out with all due creep, was a bit rubbish. The “monster”, the alien flower thingy, was rubbish. The idea of stealing people away by drawing them was rubbish. It was all a bit rubbish. This kind of stuff satisfies some people, but I can’t bring myself to take this seriously. It was a poor idea only redeemed by quality production and acting. In regards to the child actor, Abisola Agbaje, I know it’s not good form to be too harsh on child actors, but surely someone better could have been found? The thing about child actors is that if they’re not totally convincing, they positively detract from the story as you’re left unduly distracted by their dodgy acting. This one was particularly distracting. I also thought the resolution was a bit ridiculous. I didn’t even understand it, but I gather it had something to do with the power of love… channelled through the Olympic torch. More feel-good, lovey-dovey stuff that satisfies the nannas and the kiddies, but a total cop-out from my perspective. I also cringed at the Doctor carrying the Olympic flame. Like… seriously? On a more macro level, the repeated alien interventions in London are becoming a bit tiresome and questionable. In the course of two series, London, and 21st Century Earth at large, has been invaded by aliens on a large scale four times. Russell T Davies is playing havoc with continuity here. How many times must London be invaded by aliens before the citizens start to wonder if perhaps there really is something out there after all…?

Rating: 4/10.

Thoughts on: Love & Monsters

In the notes I took for this post as I was watching the episode, I have “starts promisingly”. And it did. My interest was genuinely piqued as I watched a young bloke wander upon the TARDIS, imposing and mysterious, with that eerie music in the background. This episode looked set to play out as something potentially very interesting. The next thing I wrote was “…until the webcam”. Then I remembered how utterly cheesy this episode was. It’s a long masquerade of some of the cheesiest material Doctor Who has ever produced, perhaps surpassed only by Torchwood’s Random Shoes: Elton, Ursula, LINDA, Abzorbaloff, the whole lot. I found Elton to be a really sad guy with a very sad life, and I had zero interest in following his story. I watch Doctor Who for escapism—following Elton’s sad life was an unwelcome jolt back to how dreary reality can be. It was entirely the wrong idea and tone for Doctor Who. Furthermore, Abzorbaloff was probably the most ridiculous, ill-conceived monster in the history of this show. I will admit to almost being interested in the story up until the point where Victor Kennedy turned into Abzorbaloff, but as I watched what looked like a green sumo wrestler bounding after Elton down an East London street, I genuinely wondered whether I wasn’t being trolled. This is a warped parody of Doctor Who—I accept that Doctor Who is an incredibly versatile show, but surely there are limits.

Reluctantly, I’ll admit it wasn’t all bad. The highlight of this episode was undoubtedly Jackie. Jackie was written really endearingly—I would suggest that this is even Jackie’s best script. To a greater extent than before, we got to see how the Doctor has affected Jackie’s life and how Jackie deals with her anxieties about Rose. Her worries have driven her to become somewhat stir-crazy in Rose’s absence, as her attempted fling with Elton showed. This is an entirely understandable reaction to her feelings, and I feel that I cared more about Jackie in this episode than in any previous. Moreover, although I didn’t particularly like any of the members of LINDA, the way the episode showed the members bonding and forming a little community around their devotion to finding the Doctor was a very good and realistic representation of the human urge to community, and the way humans will form bonded communities whenever they come together for a common purpose. Anyone who’s been in social groups such as bands and sports clubs and churches will know the feeling. Finally, I liked the way the Doctor was made a very enigmatic figure, especially in Elton’s flashbacks to seeing the Doctor in his house as a child. The Doctor should be, to some extent, shrouded in mystery and enigma, and I feel some of the magic is lost when the Doctor becomes too familiar a figure, as, I think, he does at certain times during the Tenth Doctor’s run. Here, however, there was no lack of magic at all. Finally “We forget because we must” was an uncharacteristically mature and poignant point in this episode, and a quite beautiful addition to Elton’s story.

The good points of this episode, I’m afraid to say, don’t redeem it enough for me to bring myself to give it more than a rating of 2. It was substantially an awful story, and I would not willingly watch it again unless I was feeling particularly masochistic.

Rating: 2/10.

Thoughts on: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

I take back what I said about Series 2 being more pitched at children. This story was srs bsns. I can scarcely believe this is the same show as New Earth. This was the deepest the revival has gone into the realms of hard science-fiction (or at least science-fantasy) yet: a thematic and stimulating discussion of religion and empirical reality, packed into an atmospheric and chilling adventure. Although I wouldn’t want to see this sort of thing every week, this is nevertheless the quality of storytelling that I watch Doctor Who for. We endure the likes of Aliens of London and New Earth for stories like this.

I thought the plot was really exhilarating. The setting—a mysterious lonely planet in orbit around a black hole in some inaccessible, arcane corner of the universe—was intriguing and well-conceived, even the sci-fi equivalent of a romantic setting. It was hair-raising and claustrophobic in its best moments, and the action sequences involving the Ood were marvellously directed and acted. The moments where we were getting closer to the heart of the mystery about the Beast, as the Doctor and Ida descended deeper into the pit, were quite captivating. The whole sequence involving the Doctor and Ida in the pit, and their dialogue, was genuinely masterful writing. Furthermore, the Ood were a really well-conceived and very creepy creature. There’s something about them that makes you uneasy even when they’re politely offering you a cup of tea—and this discomfort (dare I say mild xenophobia?) was really effectively played upon by making them the murderous, wild-eyed minions of the Beast.

The best thing about this two-parter was that it offered a really intelligent and provocative commentary on religion and the limits of perceived reality that I found quite invigorating (I mean, insofar as a television drama can be intellectually invigorating…) This being Doctor Who, they obviously weren’t about to outright state that “the Devil is real”. Doctor Who has always had an atheistic, or at least sceptical streak, that prompts it to offer rational (in the sci-fi sense) explanations for the supernatural. But here, the show didn’t go the completely predictable and unsatisfying route of saying “the Devil is just a big scary alien”, it left the question hanging. The Doctor met the Devil. What the Devil actually is remains unclear. Something from “before time”, as it said, or was it lying? The Doctor, who always had the answer to all manner of supernatural superstitions, was made to question himself and his whole worldview. He came face-to-face with something that didn’t fit into his notions of how the universe worked, and it scared him. The point being most effectively made was that the universe is more vast and unknowable than we can possibly comprehend, than even the Doctor can possibly comprehend, and it isn’t advisable to assume, even with the illuminating revelations provided to us by modern science, that there is not something out there that would throw the very way we understand the universe into question. Contrary to what some of Doctor Who’s militant atheist fans insist, this story wasn’t bullsh*tting religion—quite the opposite: it was humbly acknowledging, considering the vastness of the universe and the limitations of our knowledge about it, that there is the very real possibility that reality may be very different from how we understand it. And that—open-minded agnosticism—is perhaps the most intelligent and rational position to take, and it is a credit to the writers that they were prepared to go down that route rather than offer some faux-rational explanation for the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. As always, Shakespeare said it best, in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I thought Rose was, in parts, well-written in this story. She showed leadership and resource when the Doctor was trapped in the pit, showing how much her experiences with the Doctor have changed her. In this way, it was very telling the way she took charge of the group and mobilised them in the Doctor’s absence. However, I thought she was acting like something of an irrational clingy girlfriend when she insisted on staying behind to wait for the Doctor when he was assumed to be dead near the end of The Satan Pit. Arguably this was the moment when it was confirmed beyond doubt that Rose had fallen in love with the Doctor (and the Doctor with Rose, considering “Tell Rose… oh, she knows.”) I thought the Doctor was generally well-written, and David Tennant delivered a competent performance, especially in the Doctor’s confrontation with the Beast. However, I, and others, find the “Humans are amazing!” thing to be very tiresome and cringe-inducing. What happened to “stupid apes”? This was an unnecessary insertion of cheese on the part of the writers into an otherwise perfectly good script. That said, the Doctor had a point. This story was an ode to the indomitable human spirit, something I felt quite emphatically when Rose was rallying the crew to work together to get themselves out of a seemingly hopeless situation. That, at least, was an effective display of how humans are “amazing”. Remember: show, not tell.

This is the best kind of Doctor Who. Action-packed and exciting, but at the same time cerebral, intelligent and subtle. This is an all-round high-quality story, competing with The Girl in the Fireplace for the best story of Series 2.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: The Idiot’s Lantern

This was a bit of an odd one. It had its good points and its bad points. I’ll start with the good. This episode was really well directed. The cinematography was exceptional, and made for some very creepy moments. The faceless people were quite horrible (in a good way), and the clenching and unclenching of the hands was a good, freaky touch. The plot was interesting, and the 1950s setting, I think—when everyone was more private and when an Englishman’s home really was his castle—worked well with the story. This was particularly so in relation to the family sub-plot, where the romantic conservative idyll of 1950s family values was compellingly challenged. The Wire was a chilling villain, and making it take the form of a 1950s maternal BBC newsreader, uttering eerily incongruous things like “Feed me!” and “Hungry! Hungry!” was quite disturbing.

However, there was also a lot about this episode I found questionable. For one, the resolution to this horror seemed overly simplistic, and, honestly, almost an anticlimax. The Doctor just seemed to employ his vast genius to effortlessly cobble together a thingummy which he used to pip the Wire. Aspects of this episode displayed hints of genius, but here it seemed like Mark Gatiss was just going through the motions, as though he couldn’t summon up the effort to employ his great creative capacities to produce a more satisfying story resolution. Secondly, the Wire, although a decent and, at times, chilling villain, was also somewhat confusing. It was never made quite clear what its motives were, nor what exactly it was. Was it really just looking to “feed” on the population of London? Is that all Gatiss could come up with? Again, going through the motions. I’m also not sure I’m comfortable with the political point that was being made here with the family sub-plot. Sure, challenging erroneous rose-tinted perceptions of a 1950s domestic idyll is one thing (no period in time was perfect and one should be cautious about looking back on any period too favourably), but separation? I hate seeing families dissolve and couples separate. The episode was strident in making the point that Eddie deserved to be ejected from his family. To be sure, he was a highly disagreeable person, but he was no villain. He wasn’t an abusive husband or father (at least that we saw)—is it really right that his not irredeemable personal failings justifies the dissolution of a marriage and the breaking up of a family?

Finally, something that bugged me about this episode was David Tennant’s acting. He’s doing the manic overacting thing again. “There is no power on this Earth that can stop me!” was particularly bad. I cringed. Matt Smith was so much better at doing fury. To be fair, that was a bad line, but Tennant could at least have delivered it better. Before now I was equivocal about which I preferred of Eccleston and Tennant, but I’m pretty sure now that I like Eccleston better. Eccleston was a better actor and a more engaging incarnation. That’s not to diminish Tennant as such—Tennant can be absolutely luminous when he’s on form—it’s just that he’s a lot more inconsistent than Eccleston and, at least until we get to The Waters of Mars, his character lacks the depth that Nine had. That said, however, I’m going to wait until I’ve viewed and reviewed the rest of Ten’s era before I officially pass judgment on him. I seem to remember he gets better.

I spent a lot of time critiquing various aspects of this episode, but, all in all, it’s not a bad episode—it just fails itself in a number of respects. It’s enjoyable enough, but not particularly memorable and, of Gatiss’s two efforts so far that I’ve viewed in this marathon, it’s easily the worse.

Rating: 6/10.

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…