Thoughts on: Utopia

Although Utopia forms a linked three-part narrative with the final two episodes of the season, I tend to consider it separate from The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords so will be giving a separate review from the latter two episodes. Utopia was fairly light on plot—there’s not much in the way of a complication or conflict to be resolved in this story, unless ensuring the success of the Utopia voyage counted. The threat of the Futurekind to the remnants of human civilisation represented the inkling of a substantive plot, but ultimately this and even the Utopia voyage itself proved to be peripheral to the focus of this episode. As such, although I’d normally considerably fault a story for such dearth of… well, story, I feel that it would be unfair not to overlook it here as the objective of this story was not on such substantive plot issues, but on setting up the finale. The whole episode was leading up to the revelation of the Doctor’s great arch-nemesis of old, the Master.

Derek Jacobi, playing Professor Yana and/or the Master, was absolutely phenomenal. He brought a theatrical majesty to the production that truly put everyone else to shame. David Tennant, who was by no means anything short of wonderful in this episode, looked positively average next to the acting genius of Jacobi. He portrayed both Yana and the Master masterfully (sorry). As Yana, he depicted powerfully the gentle old scientist’s internal trauma as echoes of his old life returned to him, brought on by the appearance of his old adversary, the Doctor. Yana’s transformation into the Master was chilling, Jacobi invoking the dramatic style of the stage in portraying adeptly, physically and verbally, his character’s fundamental metamorphosis from sweet old man to sadistic megalomaniac. The revelation of the Master in general was spectacular, one of the most dramatic and captivating sequences the revival has given us. Jacobi summoned up one last spell of theatrical intensity in the Master’s regeneration scene to give us what will surely live on as one of Doctor Who’s greatest moments.

Another great aspect of this episode was the welcome return of Captain Jack Harkness. I echo those who say his presence was missed in Series 2, but it was excellent to see him back again with the Doctor. He added a touch of humour and frivolity that made the majority of this episode a lot more engaging than it would otherwise have been. A much beloved character who’s always welcome in Doctor Who, Jack had great chemistry with the Tenth Doctor. They were very amusing to watch together, particularly their banter in the scene Jack was removing the engine clamps in the irradiated room. Martha didn’t have a particularly big role in this episode, making it, in my calculation, only the second episode where Martha wasn’t absolutely brilliant (the other being Blink, where she had all of 15 seconds of screen time). I’m a bit peeved that, even in the final throes of the series, Martha’s character is still living under the shadow of Rose. I think she’s justified in being resentful, and I think her character was poorly treated by the writers in that, even now, she’s still the “rebound girl”, Rose’s replacement, rather than a companion with a personal connection with the Doctor in her own right.

John Simm, in his few moments as the regenerated Master, was positively electric and terrifying. It seemed, in the apparition of Simm, as though the Doctor had finally met his match, a kind of demented version of himself, just as manic and as brilliant as he was. My heart was pounding at that point—the episode had just reached an exhilarating crescendo leading into… that cliffhanger. Yes, I couldn’t possibly write about Utopia without mentioning that torturous cliffhanger. Surely that has to be one of the best cliffhangers in the show’s history? Having decided beforehand to watch Utopia today and leave the final two episodes for tomorrow, it certainly left me with the urge to forge ahead…

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: Gridlock

This episode played well on the very relatable real-world frustration of traffic jams. It took the scourge of commuters everywhere and turned it into a nightmarish satire. Imagine spending 23 years stuck in traffic, never even to arrive at your destination. The undercity traffic jam plot was an intriguing idea realised spectacularly onscreen by wonderful use of CGI and by a fleeting tour through the cramped vehicles of the befuddlingly placid commuters: an inter-species couple, some octogenarian lesbians, a pair of mobile naturalists… The Macra were an interesting addition to the story, and portraying them as having devolved from highly intelligent beings to little more than carnivorous beasts was an interesting twist on the old 1960s monster. They, too, were realised impressively by CGI, and the “car chase” scene involving Martha’s vehicle careering through the festering swarm of Macra was genuinely exhilarating. The plot twist, i.e. that New New York had been brought to its knees by the dissemination of dangerous “moods”, with the commuters in the undercity the only survivors, was ingenious.

Martha continues to endear herself to me. I thought she was excellent in this episode. She proved herself to be more than capable of taking care of herself when she was separated from the Doctor. She particularly shone when she arguably saved herself and Milo and Cheen when she had the ingenuity and the instinct to urge Milo to cut the power, warding the Macra away from them. Damn clever that girl, and damn resourceful. I like that Martha is obviously being more open about her feelings for the Doctor than Rose was, a refreshing change from the unspoken “will-they-won’t-they” of the Ten-Rose relationship. I also like that she’s willing to stand up to the Doctor and make him treat her properly, as she did at the end in making the Doctor stop brushing her off when she asked about him and his people.

The Doctor is obviously on the rebound here with Martha, although he may not admit it to himself. The fact he took Martha to the site of one of his dates with Rose is pretty conclusive. The lingering effects of the Doctor’s agonising separation from Rose is going to hang over his and Martha’s relationship for a while, which is to be expected, but I wouldn’t blame Martha for being resentful, and I would hope the writers have the sense to ensure it doesn’t overshadow the Ten-Martha partnership unduly (I haven’t watched Series 3 in a while so I can’t remember if it does). In any case, I think Martha is exactly what the Doctor needs after the emotional devastation of his separation from Rose, and I really hope he comes to see that and value Martha properly.

The Time War, and its effects on the Doctor, seem to be a theme that’s gathering momentum here. The Doctor’s eulogy to his lost planet at the beginning was touching, filled, as it was, with nostalgic affection and a painful sense of loss. David Tennant portrayed the Doctor’s continued, futilely repressed suffering over the loss of his home and his people at the end of the episode, when Martha forced it out of him, extraordinarily movingly. Furthermore, the Doctor seemed in astonished disbelief when the Face of Boe made his enigmatic revelation, suggesting how much it would mean to the Doctor to be reunited with another of his kind. The Face of Boe’s final scene, by the way, was beautiful—the dialogue just wonderful.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: Smith and Jones

I really enjoyed that. It was a fun romp of a series opener, introducing us to a promising new companion, showing us how the Doctor is faring without Rose, portraying an impressive new alien species, at the same time as telling a ripping yarn to usher in the third series of the revival. Martha, I thought, made a very positive start to her time as the Doctor’s companion. I liked her: she was intelligent, intuitive, resourceful and brave, not to mention pretty—all the traits that make for an ideal Doctor Who companion. Like Rose in Rose, she emphatically proved what an extraordinary person she was in her opening episode, particularly in the way she gave her last breaths to save the Doctor’s life, and, indirectly, the lives of everyone in the hospital. I always liked Martha best of the Tenth Doctor’s companions. She seemed to me the most agreeable and the companion I’d most like to be friends with, which is perhaps why I warm to her, even from this one opening episode, more than I do to Rose and Donna. I don’t even mind the family baggage she’s portrayed as carrying—she wants to travel with the Doctor to escape the complications and frustrations of her ordinary life, which is as it should be.

The Doctor put in an entertaining performance. He seemed a lot more manic and, in Martha’s words, “completely mad”, than he was in Series 2, bouncing around the place and generally giving the impression that he’d escaped from a mental institute before he’d completed his treatment. Perhaps being separated from Rose and travelling around on his own has made him a bit stir-crazy? Nevertheless, I’m not criticising—it was an amusing and enjoyable performance by Tennant, who brought out the eccentric side of the Doctor’s character, a trait I feel doesn’t come out enough in the Tenth Doctor. He even seemed to be consciously channelling Tom Baker at times, for example:

Martha: “You’re completely mad.”
Doctor: “You’re right. I look daft with one shoe.”
*The Doctor throws his other shoe away*
Doctor: “Barefoot on the moon!”

The plot was nothing necessarily special, but it was played out onscreen well. Anne Reid made for a menacing, camp villain in the form of a dear old lady who sucked people’s blood out with a plastic straw. I can’t say that was the best villain Doctor Who has ever come up with, and, to be sure, she didn’t seem that intimidating a threat in this episode, but she was enjoyable to watch nonetheless. The Judoon were an interesting new alien species, a rough band of intergalactic police-rhinos who employed questionable methods in carrying out their duties but who insisted on compensating Martha for her full body scan. They’re a lot more like our police than we realise at first.

In sum, a fun, promising start to Series 3, with a great new companion and a Doctor on form.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: The Runaway Bride

I don’t really have much to say about this episode. I enjoyed it, probably more than I should have. It was fun, lighthearted, delightfully camp, and exactly the kind of thing you want to sit back and put your feet up to on Christmas night (or Boxing Day night for us in the Antipodes). In the greater scheme of things, it was a pretty mediocre episode of Doctor Who with an unimaginative plot, an extremely camp villain, and overblown action sequences padding out 60 minutes due to the dearth of substantive story. But I didn’t even mind. This episode wasn’t trying to be ambitious or even trying to be a serious episode of Doctor Who, it was some mindless, entertaining fun to settle down to after a tiring day of cooking and feasting and socialising with relatives. In that respect, it did what it set out to do admirably, and I can’t really fault it for not being, or even trying to be, something else.

One aspect of this episode I really liked, though, was the partnership of the Tenth Doctor and Donna. David Tennant and Catherine Tate clearly have great chemistry together, and their characters, more or less from their first encounter, are an absolute joy to watch together. Their personalities complement each other so perfectly, bouncing off each other brilliantly. I would say that, even from this episode alone, the Tenth Doctor and Donna work better together onscreen than did Ten and Rose. I mean, Ten and Rose were cute, but Ten and Donna are genuinely funny. I can definitely see why Russell T Davies jumped at the opportunity to bring Donna back as a proper companion, as he did.

Another thing I liked about this episode was the way the Doctor’s execution of the Racnoss children was portrayed. That was a really, uncharacteristically intense moment in this episode, with the haunting screams of the Racnoss Empress and the flames and flood engulfing the Doctor. It was another of the Tenth Doctor’s “dark” moments. I’ve mentioned before the idea that the Tenth Doctor may have actually been the darkest of all the Doctors, a darkness that, most of the time, he suppresses behind a jovial and affable exterior, but which comes out when he loses control. We catch only glimpses of Ten’s dark side as it comes out only infrequently, but it’s definitely there, lying just beneath the surface, suppressed but not quashed. The Racnoss death scene was a very powerful moment, in general and in terms of the Doctor’s characterisation. The theory is a really compelling one which I’m inclined to think is true, which would make Ten a far more interesting incarnation of the Doctor than he’s usually given credit for. The Doctor definitely has a very dark side to his persona, which waxes and wanes between his incarnations just as his other characteristics do. All of the revival Doctors have had fairly prominent dark sides, due to the lingering effects of the Time War upon the Doctor, and the Seventh Doctor displayed the most darkness of the classic Doctors. I like my Doctors to have a dark side, so I really appreciated this scene.

Rating: 7/10.

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: 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: Tooth and Claw

I thought Tooth and Claw was very well made, and had an interesting plot. It was very atmospheric and reeked of intrigue and the supernatural. The dark, foreboding colours of this episode, in particular, gave it a gritty aesthetic, and paired well with the grim and phantasmal tone of the story. The story itself was interesting, although nothing necessarily particularly special. It was a fairly standard monster runaround, albeit a monster runaround set in an aristocratic Scottish house in 1879… with Queen Victoria. The backstory, of an ancient wolfish spectre that has haunted a local Scottish community for generations, possibly of non-terrestrial origin, was intriguing enough to make the otherwise simplistic and humdrum plot work. I’m always sceptical when Doctor Who depicts aliens as having the form of an Earth creature (i.e. a wolf here, or a giant wasp in Series 4…), and the werewolf idea was, indeed, a bit corny. Nevertheless, I think it was executed well enough, with the possession of human bodies and everything, that I can overlook how corny the idea was.

Queen Victoria was well-written, and well-played by Pauline Collins. She had a particularly touching monologue about her departed husband, Prince Albert, and the appeal of ghost stories:

Victoria: “Indeed. Since my husband’s death, I find myself with more of a taste for supernatural fiction.”
Doctor: “You must miss him.”
Victoria: “Very much. Oh, completely. And that’s the charm of a ghost story, isn’t it? Not the scares and chills, that’s just for children, but the hope of some contact with the great beyond. We all want some message from that place. It’s the Creator’s greatest mystery that we’re allowed no such consolation. The dead stay silent, and we must wait. Come. Begin your tale, Sir Robert. There’s a chill in the air. The wind is howling through the eaves. Tell us of monsters.”

I think, in the writing and acting of this little moment, that Victoria’s infamous oppressive grief over the loss of Albert, which never truly left her, was conveyed exceptionally. In a very action-oriented episode, this quiet, affecting little moment, I think, was the most compelling point and the most touching lines in the story. David Tennant, too, delivered a positive performance. David’s highlight this episode was the Doctor’s manic thinking aloud when he was struck by a brainwave when he realised Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father had laid a trap for the beast in the house. This manic brainstorming would become one of Ten’s distinctive idiosyncrasies. I know I said I was unimpressed with Ten’s manic behaviour in my review of New Earth, but, when done well, as here, it can be really effective.

I’m afraid I didn’t have all that much to say about Tooth and Claw. Perhaps that’s because this is one of those episodes that are fairly run-of-the-mill good-but-not-great Doctor Who episodes, with not much to criticise and not much to praise. I enjoyed it, but it’s nothing special. I will say that it’s not re-watch material. It gets slightly worse in your memory after every rewatch. I mildly groaned when I realised this was the next episode I had to watch and review, not because it’s necessarily a bad episode, but just because it’s so nondescript and forgettable. It occurs to me that that’s now two episodes I’ve labelled “forgettable” in a row that we’ve had so far in Series 2, which is two more than can be said for Series 1. Series 1 may have had the spectacular flop of Aliens of London/World War Three, but that story, at least, was controversial and excited some passion in me. These two were just meh—enjoyable enough, this one in particular, but still meh.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: New Earth

The first episode of David Tennant’s first series started with a… whimper that could have been a bang. It’s true: my view of New Earth is that it was an unspectacular story that nevertheless had a lot of potential and could have been executed much better. The plot—of cat nurses on humanity’s new home in the distant future concocting advanced remedies for all manner of afflictions by breeding their own humans, infecting them with deadly diseases, and testing their remedies on them—was quite an original and interesting idea, but the episode, I think, rather let itself down by pitching itself to a certain audience, namely, children. We saw this in the way the episode spent a lot of time on faux action sequences, such as the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra running around to escape the diseased people. A particularly grievous plotting offence this episode committed was the resolution, where the Doctor just mixed all the remedies together and sprayed them at the diseased. I mean, come on. That resolution was worthy of a first-time fanfic writer, not a professional writer of a high-profile television drama. Honestly, it felt like the producers were following a “How to Make an Authentic Doctor Who Episode in 10 Quick Steps” guide when they made this. All the standard, predictable plot and production devices were thrown in, knowing the audience wouldn’t notice that they’d been skived. It felt like the writers were simply going through the motions, and that the episode was made with little critical scrutiny about how it could have been improved so as to make this episode stand out and not be ultimately consigned to being the forgettable, positively average episode that it is.

That said, there were a few golden moments and features of this episode. Both Billie Piper and David Tennant showed off their acting abilities when they were playing their characters as possessed by Cassandra. David was particularly hilarious when he was portraying Cassandra’s fascination at finding herself in a male body—a male Time Lord body no less. The scene where Cassandra, in Rose’s body, gives the Doctor a big wet snog to the Doctor’s dishevelled astonishment, was also brilliant. The character of Chip, played by Sean Gallagher, was also amusing, albeit creepy, although Gallagher gave a wonderful performance at the end when he was possessed by Cassandra, and was coming to terms with her (his?) impending death. I wasn’t so impressed with David’s manic, jumping-up-and-down elation at the end when the diseased people were being cured. That felt like cringe-inducing overacting again.

I wasn’t sure what the purpose of including Cassandra in the story was, except perhaps to tie up her character. I’m not sure whether I think Cassandra’s inclusion was beneficial or irrelevant to the story, but, at the very least, I think her inclusion facilitated the few genuinely quality scenes of this episode, and her absence would have made an already forgettable episode even more forgettable. The final scene where Cassandra, in Chip’s body, confronts her younger self and tells herself that she’s beautiful before promptly snuffing it at her feet was… beautiful. It was easily the strongest scene of the entire episode. Shame that it had nothing to do with the plot.

Rating: 5/10.

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.