The regulars -
Rose written by Russell T Davies and directed by Keith Boak
This story in a nutshell: Enter Rose!
Northern Adventurer: Looking back on series one is interesting in the light of Christopher Eccleston’s comments after he finished playing the role. What seemed like a confident performance at the time (and compared to David Tennant’s self-assured portrayal) now seems…awkward. Eccleston reminds me of Sylvester McCoy (bear with me) in that he looks very stiff and embarrassed when asked to perform something that plays against his natural personality. The shows I can remember Eccleston playing roles in are Cracker and Heroes and in both of those he was an arsehole and also his dark turn in The Second Coming and the psycho in Shallow Grave. Clearly he enjoys playing shadowy characters and shoehorning him into playing the Doctor is fine when he gets to dig under the surface and see what makes him tick but when asked to crack jokes and lighten the mood he’s really unconvincing.
Like a whirlwind he enters Rose’s life and straight away we see him running down corridors and letting off explosions. Sums up his lifestyle in a nutshell really. He certainly hasn’t lost his flair for melodrama, telling Rose to ‘run for your life!’ When studying himself in the mirror it appears he has only just regenerated (or not looked in a mirror) but we never do learn how long it has been. I loved the image of the Doctor through the cat flap. The Doctor can feel the turn of the Earth and this moment of depth is the first time I thought Eccleston felt like he could bring something impressive to the part. The story really builds up the mystery of the Doctor with him appearing in conspiracy theories and political diaries. Its great that there are obsessive Doctor Who within his universe that accumulate as much data as we do! He was at the Kennedy assassination, the eve of the launch of the Titanic and at Krakotoa. As much of a myth as a man (you can see why he asked Mickey to erase all trace of him online in World War Three). There are lots of intriguing hints about the Doctor fighting a war and not being about to save worlds. What could all this mean?
Chavvy Chick: Billie Piper plays Rose far more naturally than any of the companions of the 80’s but even she hasn’t quite got it right this point. It really bugged me how she kept getting on her high horse (‘and you forgot him again!’) with the Doctor and having a go. For a second I thought we were going to get another Tegan in the TARDIS! Rose pretty much lives up to every working class stereotype; being brought up in an ugly council estate with an absent father (okay he died) and a scrounging mother whose common as muck and keeps going on about compensation and handouts. Jackie goes one step further by being a total hoe, coming onto the Doctor (a complete stranger) in her dressing gown. Jimmy Stone was the reason Rose left school and look where he ended up! Rose has a very natural reaction to the TARDIS, running around its exterior and nearly breaking down when she comes to terms with its size and reality. She has no A Levels, no job and no future – perfect companion material then! She initially turns down the Doctor’s invitation to travel with him which was a bit of a shock on first viewing because the episode has huge neon signs flashing ‘COMPANION’ throughout but as soon as she realises it travels in time as well she’s straight in there!
The Good Stuff: Murray Gold has written a great, punchy version of the theme tune. I love the rush in on the Earth, effortlessly taking us from the magical to the ordinary. Without a word of dialogue we have an impressive character building montage, which tells us everything we need to know about Rose (mum, boyfriend, job). Looking for the Doctor online is a great contemporary spin on the mystery of the Doctor. I really liked the Mickey Auton getting a cork in his face and then having his head yanked off, finally we get some fun with the monsters (plus the headless Auton tearing up Pizza Express is wonderful). The new TARDIS set is gorgeous, warmly lit, huge, with the outer doors visible on the inside and a mushroom like growth for a console. Using the London Eye is nice but had this been later in the shows run it would have been given far more emphasis. The only time I thought the Auton rampage worked was as they march into the streets.
The Bad Stuff: The scenes of Rose locked in the basement are very plainly directed and lacks scares. What the hell are those Autons doing mechanically stretching through the bars? The Doctor and Rose arsing around with the Auton hand fails to convince as either slapstick or horror, it looks cheap and embarrassing. The tracking shot is very long and impressive as such but the surroundings are so dull! Doctor Who has never looked more like a cockney soap opera, two commoners strolling through some garages. Noel Clarke really fudges Mickey in this episode; he’s at his worst when he’s grunting at Clive’s neighbours for no good reason. ‘She’s read a website about the Doctor…and she’s a she?’ – what a pitiful line. A homicidal wheelie bin, is that the best they could come up with? It’s such a mundane way of suggesting the Auton’s ability and the effects look rough. Fake Mickey is where I wanted to turn this episode off, its horrendously played and he looks so obviously fake it makes Rose look as if she has had no education at all! The anti plastic lacks any finesse; the solution to the episode is an unnamed substance that the Doctor just happened to be carrying with him. It’s a shockingly lazy solution. The Consciousness is another failed special effect; did they have to rush the postproduction on this story? There really should have been somebody for the Doctor to butt heads with because chatting away to an amorphous blobs looks naff. The Autons come to life mechanically in the shop windows, it isn’t scary or exciting and certainly isn’t a patch on Spearhead from space’s far more effective sequence. We keep cutting back to lots of scenes of the Doctor struggling ineffectually. The bride Autons look distinctly unthreatening.
Result: Not the classic that everybody makes it out to be, I sometimes think we were so happy to have Doctor Who back we could ignore its manifold of flaws. There’s a real feeling of everybody feeling a little uncomfortable in their roles and the stiff character work comes at the expense of the lousy, barely glimpsed plot. I can see exactly what Russell T Davies was getting at, seeing the story from the point of view of the companion, learning about the basics of the show for the new audience but the direction lacks fluidity and dynamism and the story lacks atmosphere. Compared to later season openers it really underwhelms and despite a rare moment of choking depth it’s remarkably lowbrow. Underwhelming: 5/10
The End of the World written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn
This story in a nutshell: Planet Earth’s last day…
Northern Adventurer: Its wonderful to see the Doctor’s smiley reaction to the weird and wonderful aliens that are here for the show and he almost seems to delight in wierding Rose out. The gift of air from his lungs manages to be very funny and flirty. His sudden, unexpected anger when Rose starts prying into his background is shocking at first but as we start to realise that he is a damaged last survivor of his race you begin to understand how much the Doctor must have been enjoying starting again with a new companion who didn’t know anything about his past. The new Doctor shows his teeth when he drags Cassandra back to the Platform One after her near murder of all the guests and watches unflinchingly as she dies before his eyes. You really don’t want to get this guy angry. The Doctor’s quiet admission that his people are all dead and he is the last of his kind is a gob smacking moment for fans and all the more impressive for being underplayed so beautifully. There are so many questions about the war that bubble up from this revelation which will all be answered later but watching this episode now shows Davies making his mark changing the landscape of series so dramatically. Bravo. Here he redefines the emotion that can be dealt with through the character and it makes you wonder why it has taken this long.
Chavvy Chick: In terms of image and attitude, Rose in her most basic form is Ace done realistically. She’s a London girl, a bit of a drop out with a mother that hampers her chances of being anything more than she is. Billie Piper is able to dress down and enjoy a proper London accent and even Sophie Aldred has admitted she got to do all the things she wasn’t able to do in the eighties. Rose has so many questions and observations about being brought to the death of planet Earth chief amongst them that she is the last human being left in this time zone to witness its destruction. When the initial excitement of running away with the Doctor is over Rose suddenly realises she knows nothing about him and she is so far away from home. She has terrible trouble trying to get her head around the casual way the Doctor deals with proper alien looking aliens and wants to know who the Doctor is and what species he is from. She is trying to get her head around some pretty weighty concepts like her mum being dead in the time period she is in now. The biggest question is why has nobody asked these sorts of questions before? The Doctor heads off with another woman on his arm and Rose doesn’t batter an eyelid, wouldn’t it have been lovely if they could have kept that up in the second series. In her own brilliant human way, Rose reacts to the Doctor’s heartbreaking news about the loss of his planet by seeking out a portion of chips. It’s a moments like this you can see exact why he travels with human beings.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You never take time to wonder the impossible. That maybe you survive.’
‘I am the last pure human. The others…mingled.’
‘This whole event was sponsored by the Face of Boe! Talk to the Face! Talk to the Face!’
‘The Adherence of the Repeated Meme! J’accuse!’
‘At least it will be quick! Just like my fifth husband!’
‘There was a war and we lost.’
The Good Stuff: Very, very few moments before or since suggest the sheer giddy thrill of being offered the chance to go anywhere in time and space as the first of this adventure. Rose looks delighted, scared and completely bowled over by the experience. Listen to how the TARDIS creaks like a sailing ship, a lovely touch. As a way of showing the new audience the extreme possibilities of the TARDIS taking Rose to the day the sun swallows the Earth is a pretty deft example because it connects with them visually and emotionally. We have never seen special effects quite like the shuttles docking at Platform One in Doctor Who before and so the possibilities to old school Who fans are endless too. Not content with preserving places of heritage, the National Trust eventually owns the entire planet! Zoe Wanamaker was a big draw because she was so well known for her role as Susan Harper in My Family and she is one of those famous guest stars that simply gets how to play a Doctor Who villain; camp, crazy, slightly over the top and very funny. She gets all the best lines and she relishes them. With the ‘IPod’ playing Tainted Love as Rose stares at the crazy creatures around her and the Earth broils in the windows behind them it is like the insane ingenuity of the Graeme Williams era (a personal favourite of mine) brought to life in the new century. The CGI spiders are still one of my preferred special effects from the revamp of the series. There is so much for the eye to follow around they sets as they scuttle about the Station (and the ones that bump into the camera are a brilliant, brilliant touch). A time travelling mobile phone – can you imagine a better way to dazzle the youth of today? Its only the tiniest of things but the camera angle from inside the washing machine is a great example of the creativity in the execution of this episode. It’s a shame to see that in the future racism is as apparent as ever but it is a nice touch of realism (‘do you know what I call them – mongrels!’). I really like the subtle suggestions that make the Tree People feel like a real race including the birdsong technology, talk of having forests (or more accurately roots) everywhere and the very cool liana vines. The episode expertly weaves in hints about some devastating event befalling Gallifrey suggesting that the planet is more myth than an actual planet now. Some people have a real problem with the giant fans but I think its great fun and besides the show has never looked this cinematic before. I still get a giddy thrill when Britney Spears’ Toxic plays over scenes of Rose waking up in the greatest of dangers because it is like two worlds colliding spectacularly – that of Doctor Who and pop culture. Whilst you are never once convinced that the villain isn’t Cassandra, her plan to rake in the compensation after sabotaging the Stations defences is deliciously greedy and heartless (‘Flatness costs a fortune!’). She’s such a naughty thing! Just how potent is Jabe’s sacrifice and it isn’t even the most affecting moment in the episode. The destruction of the Earth is another awesome visual effect and hugely emotional to watch (I especially love the moment a massive chunk floats past the window). Can you imagine two scenes side by side that expose the thrill of incorporating the magical and the mundane more than cutting from the destruction of the Earth to a modern day street? Its so dizzying it might give you whiplash.
The Bad Stuff: Rose chatting with Ruffalo the plumber is the first of many tedious moments that sees Russell T Davies and his army of writers trying to stress the normality of the guest cast. Oddly Jackie’s kitchen seems to be twice the size than it was in Rose. Cassandra says ‘when I was a little boy’ – is she a bloke then? What an odd line about Ipswich.
Menagerie: Its worth discussing the effectiveness of the various aliens that show up in the course of this story because it shows how far Doctor Who has come and how things have stayed the same. The Steward is quite a cheap example of alien with nothing but a painted blue far and yet his cat like contacts do give him quite a unique look. The Moxx of Balhoon is precisely the sort of the make up job the Sylvester McCoy era was very good at conjuring up – good in close ups but less so in long shots. Blue midgets (read children) in helmets are very naff. The make up for Jabe and the tree people really stands out (naturally since she gets the most to do) not only because of the seamless way they have added the bark to her face but because it somehow manages to look like genuine bark and highly sensuous too. What an unbelievable sight The Face of Boe is! If anybody was to tell you that there would be an alien that would be a huge head in a jar you would probably laugh your head off and yet over three stories RTD shows his skill off by imbuing the Face with some real character and gravitas until you are weeping at his death in Gridlock. The first truly successfully completely computerised alien in Doctor Who comes in the shape of Cassandra and it is through her that you see what is possible creatively with the use of CGI. A think sheet of veiny skin with a little face in the centre, this is an unforgettable sight that was so instantly popular she was pencilled in for a return as soon as possible. Even the touch of the two attendants who moisturise her is perfect. I always laugh my head off when Rose says ‘quick word with Michael Jackson’ because the cut to Cassandra is rather cruelly made to look just like him! She gets one of the ickiest death scenes ever that manages to be as funny as it is gross.
Result: After introducing the basic elements of the series in Rose, The End of the World needed to show that the series meant business and it achieves that in spades. It’s a potent brew of some heady characterisation, oodles of creativity and an astonishingly expensive looking production that like a fine wine has improved with age. Its with this script that I realised that Russell T Davies understands his new audience and is trying to reach out to as many people as possible; there’s monsters and cool gadgets for the kids, an emotive character arc with Rose for the girls, a destabilising shock in established continuity for the geeks and pretty production values for those who just want a good time on a Saturday night. It really bugs me when I see a book like Mark Campbell’s guide driving a stake through a story with as much imagination, humour and drama as this just because it has a few moments that you might describe as being ‘a bit silly.’ It’s a Graeme Williams tale with a huge budget and offers a hefty emotional wallop at its heart, The End of the World is massively entertaining and really makes you think as well. I can still remember the excitement this episode gave me when I first watched it, Doctor Who was most definitely back and it was better than ever: 9/10
The Unquiet Dead written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Euros Lyn
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor, Rose and Charles Dickens team up to take on an alien menace…
Northern Adventurer: There’s a real feeling of wanting to explore all facets of the Doctor/Rose relationship from the giddy thrill of landing somewhere that is a complete mystery to the conflict that arises from their different takes on the morality of the situation. I especially like the angle the episode takes with the Doctor being Dickens’ biggest fan because it allows for Christopher Eccleston to speak passionately about something rather than overemphasising the joy of his life to the nth degree. The Doctor is as rude to Dickens here as he was to Rose in her debut episode but the difference is he finds a quiet moment to apologise for that. Within their argument we get to see what both the Doctor and Rose are made out of; he can see past the discomforting notion of bodies rising from the grave en masse to the core of the problem which is a race that is suffering and she understands the social and moral implications of the situation and acts for all intents and purposes as the mouth piece for the human race who would object strongly to this solution. Contrast this with the Eastenders back biting between them in Father’s Day (a little bile just came up just writing those words) and Gatiss shows you how to inject tension into their relationship in a very intelligent way that allows both characters to shine. Cornell take note. It was at this point that I really started to see the pattern emerging of the Doctor encouraging guest characters to wrap up the plot for him. Rose saw the titular character defeat the Nestene Consciousness, The End of the World featured Jabe burning to ashes in order to allow him to get back into the thick of the action and The Unquiet Dead sees another innocent lose their life to stop an alien menace. It fits the characters backstory perfectly, he’s afraid to get commit completely because the last time he did that Gallifrey fell.
Chavvy Chick: The TARDIS materialising whilst being caressed by a gentle falling of snow and Rose taking her first excited footstep into history crunching down on the icy depths…its certainly an enticing moment for the character and the show. The nature of her life with the Doctor is spilled out before her makes her re-examine her doubts from The End of the World and take a far more positive spin on the adventures they could have. Whilst this style of optimistic pontificating on the nature of time travelling would become wearying as early as New Earth it is definitely something that they got bang on the money in the first series. I don’t think there was a single boy and girl out there who didn’t want to be in Rose’s shoes and that is exactly the feeling they were aiming for. She’s quick to react when she thinks there’s injustice afoot and is more than capable of standing up to Mr Sneed after he drugs her and exposes her to terrible danger. The protracted scene between Rose and Gwentyh is vital to the emotional core of the episode but also the sort of character building exercise that was excised after the first year when the production team were asked to tart the historical stories up a bit more. It exposes Rose as the peoples companion, championing the ‘little’ people (for want of a better word) and it offers a great in to a section of the audience who might not otherwise be interested (its basically a girl chat across the centuries). I especially liked the sexual politics that creep into the conversation, Gwentyh declaring Rose a ‘wild thing’ because she talks about boys so freely (‘ask him out - give him a cup of tea or something…that’s a start!’). News that Rose’s dad is dead works twofold because it sets up Father’s Day later in the season but also further reveals Gwentyh’s ability as a medium. That gorgeous moment when Gwentyh tells Rose she can speak for herself and that she isn’t as stupid as she thinks she is makes me punch the air every time. We all need a little reminder when we are being condescending every now and again. Finalising all the great work that has been done with the two characters in the first three episodes, Rose and the Doctor take each others hands and insist that they are going to go down fighting. It’s a wonderful affirmation of their friendship and that they have a bright future together…if they make it out alive.
Mr Dickens, I Presume?: ‘This morning I thought I knew everything in the world! Now I know I’ve just started!’ One bone of contention between a friend of mine and I is our different takes on the works of Charles Dickens. I read a great many of his works during my formative years and found his use of language stylish and his plotting and creation of character up there with the greats. She on the other hands finds him an overrated hack who over dramaticises his work and over articulates his language (‘why use one word where ten will do?’). Another friend is a bit of a literature snob and considers Dickens the height of sophistication and condemns a lot of contemporary fiction as paling in comparison. Its odd because there is a general feeling of uniformity about other respected writers amongst my mates (Austen and Shakespeare to name a couple) but it is only Dickens who really provokes a really good argument. Although please don’t think that we sit around discussing literary classics all the time…more often than not the jibber jabber is shockingly lowbrow! If I was going to compile a list of historical characters for the Doctor to hook up with Dickens would be somewhere in my top ten so to say I was excited to see what this episode delivered is an understatement. For them to capitalise on the interest and the talent of Simon Callow only served to whet my appetite even further. You know with Callow involved it is going to be as authentic as possible and that he will approach the part with real dignity and stamina. It’s a star turn and one that has rarely been bettered (marrying a name to a character is a tricky business) when I think of the guest stars that have appeared in the series since. I personally think that Dickens’ work stands up on its own merits but if you want proof of his talent as a storyteller but can’t stomach the prose then check out the spellbinding BBC adaptation of Bleak House from a few years back and the version of Great Expectations that has not long been released at the cinema. I love that it is Dickens who figures out the Gelth’s Achilles Heel and becomes a vital component in the execution of the climax. Giving him the knowledge that his books last forever is a wonderful gift for the Doctor to bestow. There are few ending jollier than Charles Dickens walking the streets drunk with laughter at his new lust for life. It really makes me smile.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mind you I’ve gotta say that American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit, what’s that about? Was that just padding or what? I mean it was rubbish, that bit.’
‘Stories going back generations. Echoes in the dark. Queer songs in the air and this feeling like a shadow passing over your soul. Mind you truth be told its been good for business. Just what people expect from a gloomy old trade like mine.’
‘Now you tell me that the real world is a realm of spectres and jack-o’-lanterns. In which case have I wasted my brief span here Doctor?’
‘Incredible! Ghosts that are not ghosts but beings from another world who can only exist in our realm by inhabiting cadavers!’ – can you imagine a line that sums up Doctor Who more than this one? And Callow plays it for all its worth.
‘What about me? I saw the fall of Troy, World War V, I pushed boxes at the Boston Tea Party and now I’m going to die in a dungeon…in Cardiff!’
‘I shall be subtle. At first…’
- I have heard complaints in the past that The Unquiet Dead offers a stylised picture postcard view of the Victorian era that completely misinterprets the period. I hate to break it to you but Doctor Who always offers a stylised version of history from the overly theatrical tone of The Aztecs, The Crusade & The Massacre to the jolly adventure romps like The Smugglers & The Highlanders right through to the colourful cliché ridden delights such as The Time Warrior, The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Black Orchid. None of these stories is a particularly accurate portrayal of any of the periods that they are set in because you are making the choice re-interpret the era to suit the story that you are trying to fit in it. Any of the stories I have listed above could be massively moulded to suit a different tone and would suggest an entirely different take on the period. I just don’t think you can discuss and criticise the integrity of how a writer paints a picture of the period when they are going to do something as anachronistic as dumping a time machine and time travellers within in it. The Unquiet Dead offers a whiter than white, huddle into your jacket and cuddle up to loved ones view of the Victorian era but that is fine for the mock Dickensian romp that it is trying to tell. I don’t think it spoils the effect of the episode at all that the show chooses to Disney up its first step into history. Davies and Gatiss are trying make the idea appear fun and engaging for the fresh audience they are introducing the shows basic concepts to and it feels all part of the game plan of series one to reach out to as wider audience as possible. The Unquiet Dead might make history ‘safe’ (aside from a ravening horde of zombies) but that works within the context of the story they are telling. And besides, it looks gorgeous.
- Structurally this is one of the tidier episodes of the New Series and a great example of squeezing a classic Doctor Who adventure into 45 minutes. In days gone by we would have enjoyed an introductory episode to the period with grumblings of something amiss leading up to the cliffhanger of Mrs Pearce waking from the dead and strangling her son. Here we cut to the chase within seconds but its nice that Gatiss does seize upon the opportunity to indulge in a classic cliffhanger in the pre-credits sequence (the long unearthly scream as she makes her way across the courtyard and towards the camera is one of the best of its kind’). Gatiss makes Sneed light the gas lamp as the first thing we see in the episode, exposing both the nature of the threat and the method of its vanquishment before the events have even kicked off. Gwentyh being both the cause of the disaster and its solution is so neat I could write a thesis.
- The gaseous Gelth might be one of the least substantial ‘monsters’ the show has coughed up physically but they represent a very different sort on a dramatic level. Inhabiting the bodies of cadavers allows for a macabre Doctor Who spin on your typical ghost story and before the end we have legions of zombies attacking en masse, The Walking Dead style. Zombies are not really my bag (I am on the fence about Shaun of the Dead) but I like how Gatiss finds an approach here that in true Doctor Who style makes logical sense (these are gaseous aliens that need to live inside people in order to actualise and corpses don’t put up a fight) but still allows for the scares like the best of the genre. There’s a rather wonderful camera angle from the point of view of a corpse as Dickens lifts the coffin lid and stares inside. The effect of the spectral figure looming over Gwentyh at the séance is absolutely gorgeous. These are the kind of effects that I have always dreamt of the show commanding. I can understand in dramatic terms why Gatiss tried to pretend that the Gelth were innocent refugees but anybody who has watched enough television will realise that things aren’t as legitimate as they appear. There’s still another fifteen minutes to go for a start and you definitely need a good twist in that time. Its almost a shame, a benevolent alien race that exploits the dead of other races is actually quite an intriguing idea. Moving down into the morgue is a stroke of genius, Euros Lyn glides across the deathly space highlighting the erect bodies lying on slabs and giving a good idea where this episode is heading. Sneed having his neck snapped and being reanimated is a great shock moment (especially since he was the lovable comedy character) but also important because it proves that the revived show isn’t going to be as neutered as some might have suspected.
- It says something about the effectiveness of the writing that she has been given since that her first role in the series is still probably Eve Myles’ most successful in any Doctor Who related media. Had Torchwood’s Gwen turned out to be anywhere near as likable as her name sake in the past then that show could have really have been something special (given she is the POV character most of the time). Gwentyh is a victim of circumstance which makes her easy to sympathise with whereas Gwen is more often than not a victim of her own bruised character and that is far less forgivable. Myles plays the part with great restraint and doesn’t do that distracting wide eyed look that has become indicative with her style of acting (seriously, you would think that Gwen was hypnotised half her life the way she stares off camera goggle-eyed). She’s extremely good and I have to wonder if she may have been an effective companion under different circumstances. I’m not the biggest fan of the self sacrificing climax but this works a treat because of the injustice of it. Gwentyh isn’t trying to redeem herself, she’s just a nice person that was exploited and is doing the right thing to make sure that her mistake is rectified. Its an entirely selfless act from an entirely selfless character. Its rather touching and fully deserving of the pause to reflect on her actions that they give her (even if the camera raise is a little too self conscious).
- There is a real Talons of Weng-Chiang vibe about setting the early scenes around a theatre and I love the image of the zombie old dear sitting in the audience staring out at the camera. It takes you a little while to spot her but then your eyes never leave her. Its like Where’s Wally, Victorian zombie horror style! Something about an audience being enraptured by one man standing on stage reading his own story beguiles me. The last three or four shows I saw at the theatre were spectacular displays of colours, songs and effects. Rather than considering Dickens’ recitals as a more primitive form of entertainment, it actually exposes a more sophisticated audience.
The Bad: I’m almost tempted to knock a mark of or two for setting up the basis of Torchwood in the future. But I’m not that mean. Huw Rhys is one of those actors that always delights me when he shows up because he pretty much always plays the same daft character. He has some great lines here and is very funny for the most part but the performance is a little mannered in places. Like he is trying to be funny. Callow manages that without any effort. The zombie advance probably should have been scarier than it is in the climax. Rattling some bars isn’t perhaps the best utilisation of such a terrifying monster but then we were hardly going to see corpses being disembowelled and eaten so perhaps keeping them at a distance was a good idea.
Blaidd Drwg: ‘The big bad wolf…’
Result: In recent years it has become quite fashionable to knock The Unquiet Dead but to my mind it is a great little chiller that re-invents the genre in the ‘celebrity historical character’ mould. If that seems like a fatuous thing to do to you then you should cast your mind back to a period when Doctor Who avoided the past altogether. If we have to big up a particular person (and in any case there is a great deal to celebrate in Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare and the rest) in order to be lavished with a trip into history then I think that’s a fair trade. Take a large pinch of Dickens’ own work, add some supernatural trappings, shove in a slavering zombie horde and wrap it all up with some gentle character drama and lots of funny lines and you have a handsomely written tale that captures Gatiss’ work with the League of Gentlemen better than any of his other scripts for Doctor Who to date. The Unquiet Dead reminds me so much of Doctor Who in general; you’ve got the slower, historical scene setting of Hartnell, the conceptual monsters of Troughton, the horror of Hinchcliffe and the wit and character of Williams all wrapped in 80s gloss. There’s even an element of Gatiss’ previous Doctor Who work as well with the animation of corpses explored to riveting effect in the NA Nightshade and the world of table wrapping exploited in his Big Finish audio Phantasmagoria. Its not the most demanding of adventures intellectually but there is such a feast of performance, direction and dialogue that its easier to just go with the flow and just relax into the episode. Any five minute segment of this story is packed full of memorable imagery, great lines and acting to knock your socks off. This is a time where Doctor Who commanded a cast that saw Christopher Eccleston and Simon Callow acting their hearts out together and that’s definitely something that should be celebrated. The Unquiet Dead is a cosy slice of teatime horror (or as cosy as something with animated cadavers, neck snapping and suicide can be) and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that when it is presented this well: 8/10
Aliens of London/World War Three written by Russell T Davies and directed by Keith Boak
This story in a nutshell: The Slitheen make their debut wanting to turn the Earth into molten slag…
Northern Adventurer: This is was the story where I was finally convinced that Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor. He was superb in the first three stories but he felt like a new kind of Doctor, a rougher, ruder, unstoppable sort of Time Lord. There are so many moments in this two parter where Eccleston charms and I can see shades of previous Doctors. I especially love his anger and quiet sadness at the death of the space pig and its disgusting treatment but the moment that absolutely sold him for me was when he squares up against the Slitheen and tries to bluff for information brandishing a decanter. This is still the war torn, self destructive Doctor but it is clear that Rose is having a profound effect on him. He doesn’t do families and doesn’t want the TARDIS to become domestic (probably remembers when he was shuttling Tegan and Adric about). In 900 years of time travel the Doctor has never been slapped by somebody’s mother! He travels to see history happening right in front of him. This is an event in history that has nothing to do with him (bloody hell, that’s rare!) and he seems genuinely thrilled about that. He grins in the face of so many guns. When Mickey looked up the Doctor online he found him followed by a list of the dead (ouch – for more of this see Journey’s End). Who is the biggest expert in alien affairs? He cuts right to the heart of the matter in the meeting of experts, which makes him an instant target. His warm relationship with Harriet is more validation of this dark character. Suddenly the Doctor is witty and wonderful, taking on aliens, making friendships and saving the day in style. He cannot guarantee that rose will be safe. The Doctor threatening Margaret Slitheen is sold purely on Eccleston’s stony face. He usually saves the world and moves on, no fuss. Bless him; Jackie has invited him to dinner! He tempts Rose to leave her life again and sweetly pretends he stubbornly refuses to let Mickey come aboard.
Chavvy Chick: This is Rose at her height. She was employed as the Doctor’s companion; I really like that somebody asked if this is a dodgy relationship. She cannot hurt her mum again but knows they cannot take her with them. With Ace the ‘missing person’ element was only a throwaway reference but here it is handled full on and it makes Rose a brand new type of companion, one that has a life to return to. She asks the Doctor not to leave without her and she has earned herself a TARDIS key. It’s nice to see Rose looking so sheepish for a change, seeing how many lives she has ruined by running away selfishly. She makes a dark joke about squeezing into a size smaller and Harriet calls her a very violent woman. I love all the silent stares between the Doctor and Rose as Jackie asks if she will be safe in her travels – this script is laden with sparkling moments of character. Rose steps into action as soon as a massive missile tears towards her. Another gorgeous moment, Rose gets to pack a bag and sign up this time unlike all the previous companions that only have the clothes they are wearing when they step on board.
Monkey Boy and Mouth Mum: Real effort has gone into taking the caricatures from Rose and turning Mickey and Jackie into living, breathing, thinking characters. Jackie’s insane anger at Rose really sells their relationship and the depth of feeling they have for each other. You’ve got to love Jackie’s priorities after an alien body is carried from a crashed spaceship she enthused other a guy who asked her out! Jackie’s reaction to the TARDIS is absolute horror and is one of the best since An Unearthly Child. Oddly during the missile-deploying conclusion Jackie is the voice of reason! Her ‘Don’t go sweetheart’ will break your heart, Davies really is mining a rich seam of character drama. Poor Mickey suffered the worse when Rose hopped into the TARDIS, he was questioned five times, had Jackie pointing the finger and things stuffed through his letterbox. Mickey clutching the baseball bat and Jackie opening all the jars in the cupboard – suddenly these characters are working like a dream! Mickey gets to save the world by blowing up Downing Street! Don’t you think Mickey works so much better as the brave wimp that he is here rather than the muscle head he would become?
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘History just happened and they’re talking about where to get dodgy top up cards!’
‘Why would we invade this god forsaken rock?’ – hahaha!
‘You’re making it up, aren’t you?’
‘Mankind stands proud, and tall, undefeated.’
‘For all I know he eats grass and safety pins.’
The Good Stuff: There are two brilliant ideas in the teaser, taking Rose home one year late and her alleged abduction, both so good you have to wonder why nobody thought of them before? The spaceship flying over London, crashing through Big Ben and diving under the Thames is one of my favourite moments in the Davies era. Not only is it a hilarious gag (poor Rose), stunningly realised but it also changes the landscape of Doctor Who on Earth permanently. Interesting considering how many invasions of Earth we have been through that it has taken this long to be treated as an international event! Penelope Wilton’s ‘not a babe, just a faithful back bencher’ is immediately likable. I love the scene with Tosh and the Space Pig because it is filmed in the style of a spooky horror but turns out to be something far more bizarre and poignant, typical Davies subversion. The scenes in the TARDIS are warmly lit. The aliens have been here for a while, sending the ship up deliberately to crash and cause panic and spectacle (another new approach to the series). I love the realism in the episode, the Doctor and Rose surrounded by armed soldiers, escorted to Downing Street and attacked by the press, this is truly contemporary Who. The Prime Minister is dead in a cupboard! No cliff-hangers in sixteen years and then three come along at once! Jackie being attacked in the kitchen brings the danger right into your home. The Slitheen are easily the most prolific monsters of the Davies era with countless return appearances and references. They haven’t quite got the design perfect (it was much better in Boom Town) but I love the cheekiness of these monsters, their desire to be naked, their love of the hunt (and the stink of fear) and the baby faces with blinking eyes are a touch of genius. They are great fun and wouldn’t look out of place in a Williams story. ‘If you’d just like to go through and get changed’ – I love the idea of hanging the flesh suit on a coat hanger! Once again Doctor Who is making policemen sinister! The whole sequence with the policeman Slitheen attacking Jackie and Mickey whilst the Doctor, Rose and Harriet try and figure out their planet of origin and weaknesses is superb. The scripting is sublime and the performances treasurable; suddenly Russell T Davies’ modern, confident, characterful Doctor Who makes perfect sense – its sublime. The Slitheen plan to get the codes, release the missiles, start World War Three and reduce the Earth to molten slag and sell it cheap is gorgeous! Who guessed that was the ultimate goal in Aliens of London? ‘The telephone is actually red!, ‘Ring damn you!’ and ‘Oh boll-!’ – all laugh out loud moments, the Slitheen are delightfully silly! How awesome are the scenes of the missile flying over the cliff and weaving its way through London? Downing Street is left a fiery wasteland…could we possibly love Davies more than at this moment? The ten-second ending.
The Bad Stuff: Laughter and farts were a bit too much for some people but I bet the kids loved it (I’m on the fence). There is an obvious difference between the dexterity and realism of the Slitheen when brought to life in CGI and when they are actors running around in cumbersome costumes. The PM is too broadly played at times, its almost as if he knows he is a Doctor Who villain. The first ten minutes of World War Three meander before it settles down to something rather special. Is that the most melodramatic newsreader ever (and no I’m not talking about Trinity Wells!)? Is it really that easy to hijack a missile? The Doctor’s phone is hideous!
The Shallow Bit: The PMs aide is gorgeous (love grey eyes).
Result: The first two parter in NuWho has aged very well indeed. Once condemned as the worst episodes of the first year, I found this delightful spin on an alien invasion a funny and exciting delight. You can literally hear the gears grinding into place as the Davies era suddenly realises what it does best and really delivers. It is the story that turns the ninth Doctor, Jackie and Mickey into wonderful characters and gives fantastic material to Rose, Harriet and all the devious bad guys. The first episode enjoys a public invasion and all the consequences that come with it and episode two has two of the best set pieces of the entire year. The Slitheen are here whether you like it or not and whilst the design needs some tweaking they are brilliantly cheeky monsters. If you could snip out a few moments where the story runs on the spot and a touch of bland direction this would get full marks for its audacity and confidence: 9/10
Dalek written by Rob Shearman and directed by Joe Ahearne
Northern Nutter: My first taste of the blink and you’ll miss him ninth Doctor. He really is the marmite Doctor, huh? I know people who think he is the best incarnation who came along at the right time and shook their world up. Others think he is the weakest because he didn’t stick around long enough and Eccleston’s shoulder shrugging attitude towards the show stuck in the craw. I’m somewhere in the middle – he’s certainly an eye opening actor and brought some real grit and gravity to the part but at the same time I don’t think he played humour so well and there isn’t that much material to judge him by. For me he’s well above seven and five, well below six, two and ten and somewhere around three and one. Dalek features Eccleston’s most assured performance in his season, he’s riveting throughout.
I love it when he delicately strokes the musical instrument, he can be a remarkably gentle person when he wants. He doesn’t need to make claims since he knows how good he is. The scenes between the Doctor and Dalek define this first season. He spits venom at the creature and teases it cruelly; we have never seen a Doctor this vicious before and its slightly uncomfortable and utterly riveting. He is haunted by the loss of the Time Lords and is childishly nasty (‘I got your little signal…poor little thing’). He reacts violently to being told he is like a Dalek (probably because he knows it’s the truth) and he actually grins as he tortures the creature. Truly a war torn Doctor, slightly unhinged by the violence he has seen. The Dalek is only a threat because the Doctor has shown up. This really isn’t a man you want to get angry, his condemnation of Van Statten is eye watering! Look at Eccleston’s blazing eyed frustration when the creature tells the Doctor he would make a good Dalek. His relief when Rose is discovered alive is palpable, could he be in love with her? Rose gets to show the Doctor what he has become, battle scarred, used to fighting and killing. The TARDIS is a little piece of home and if any other Time Lords existed, he would know.
Chavvy Chick: This is the confident, self assured Rose from series one and not the jealous, hopeless creature from series two and she’s gone all punk for this episode and looks hotter than ever! She’s gonna smack you if you don’t stop calling her she. I love how Rose tries to sound amazed by Adam’s claims that the universe is teeming with life; her lifestyle makes his seem even geekier. She is a reckless flirt. Rose feels for the Dalek and cannot stomach its torture. When she thinks she is going to die Rose tells the Doctor she wouldn’t have changed anything (imagine Jackie’s reaction?). Billie Piper gives a very strong performance in Dalek but her material is no where near as strong as Maggie Stables’ was in Jubilee and Evelyn is by far the more interesting character in this situation, genuinely terrified.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you want orders follow this one. Kill yourself. The Daleks have failed. Why don’t you finish the job and make the Daleks extinct. Rid the universe of your filth! Why don’t you just die!’
‘You’re about as far from the stars as you can get!’
‘Broken, Broken. Hairdryer.’
‘This is not life. This is sickness.’
The Good Stuff: Having a stuffed Slitheen arm in the museum is a lovely touch. The retro Cyberman helmet with the close up on the eyes is both nostalgic and chilling (especially the Doctor’s reminisces of simpler times). How nice is the matte painting of the museum complete with flashing light? We get a chilling POV of the Dalek being tortured complete with gurgling scream. A Dalek in chains being tortured is frightening for what it says about us. The Time War is revealed in Dalek, the final battle between the Time Lords and the Daleks. I really like how the first series drip fed the information rather than just shoving it all in your face in one go. It is a lovely way to re-introduce the Daleks, a quiet character story that reveals how powerful they are before the explosive and epic finale – that Russell T Davies really knows how to plot a season. The extermination x ray and slow motion bullets are both gorgeous effects. The segmented Dalek swivelling his gun around is an awesome innovation. Can somebody please give me the cure for the common cold? The suckering of the guard to death is the one moment I saw some of Jubilee’s sick humour emerge. The elevating Dalek is nicely done but the Remembrance version was far less self-congratulatory. I love the twitching Dalek gun in the lift; he’s just aching to kill. Eww…the yucky, gunky, sticky Dalek mutant with a winking eye! The Dalek suicidal bumps are another very nice innovation.
The Bad Stuff: ‘In tru der window’ a gag so awful they used it twice! Van Statten is beyond irritating and I really that was supposed to be the case but anybody intimately aware of Jubilee can see that Rochester is a far funnier, classier and better played kind of villain. Adam is hopelessly wet and it annoys me that Rose would fancy such a hopeless geek. Aren’t all those guards wearing rubber? So surely the electricity should actually touch them? I hate the ending with a passion bordering on insanity – who wants to see a poncy Dalek opening up his casing and touching the sun? More comparisons but the Dalek in Jubilee managed to defy its nature with far more dignity. I like my Daleks to be kick ass which the audio one managed but still being just as thoughtful. I don’t want Daleks to admit they are frightened. With Diana Goddard in charge somehow she becomes even more annoying than Van Statten!
The Shallow Bit: Some people might find Adam pretty (the Doctor and Rose, apparently) but not this geezer! Eccleston topless might get the shippers excited but he’s far to skinny to be worthy of a second look! Rose and her grungy look is definitely the hottest thing about this story.
Result: Dalek is nowhere near as clever, funny, twisted, macabre or entertaining as Jubilee, there I said it. It feels as though someone has taken the audio and sucked away all the dramatic bits and made Dalek, a punchy and violent episode but lacking the imagination and dark humour that sparkles in the best of Rob Shearman’s work. This is probably the most individual Dalek we have ever seen on the television but the audio version was miles better, really testing human psychosis to its limits. Perhaps it is because children will be watching but I personally find Dalek to be a sanitised version of Jubilee, just a run-around with a few emotional beats. What helps is how well directed the story is, the action is visually stunning and Christopher Eccleston gives an unforgettable performance that really slaps you awake whenever he is on screen. Well made and well intentioned and exciting in spots but a shadow of its former self: 7/10
The Long Game written by Russell T Davies and directed by Briant Grant
TO BE REVIEWED...
Father’s Day written by Paul Cornell and directed by Joe Ahearne
This story in a nutshell: Rose is a very naughty girl…
Northern Adventurer: Looking back at series one now is a real curiosity. In many ways the series has never been as exciting as it was in that initial season when everything was new and we lapped every second of screen time. Nothing was taken for granted. In other ways you can see how the series hasn’t quite hit its stride yet but is constantly trying new things to see what sticks. I never had a problem with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor aside from the fact that the actor isn’t a naturally cheerful performer so making him act the goon at times is clearly a painful operation for him. His Doctor is also something of a curio because without the benefit of the Big Finish audios (which the other, shorter run Doctors) all we have to judge him on is his condensed run of episodes. For the most part I thought he acquitted himself very well (and I still maintain that the show needed someone this attention grabbing in the part to capture a large audience) and he plays the darker moments of the season (the bruised man haunted by the Time War) with real aplomb. However, Father’s Day is probably the furthest away from ‘the Doctor’ that I recognise that any actor has ever taken the part (although to be fair it is almost entirely down to Paul Cornell’s script – Eccleston is just performing what he has been given). So much so that I may as well be watching a different show altogether. Running around in his Debenhams jumper, making ridiculous mistakes, indulging in childish melodrama and lacking in any ability whatsoever, he’s a complete anathema.
Why the Doctor would ever indulge his companion in taking her back to the site of her fathers death is beyond me. Its inexplicably cruel that he would agree to such a thing and its soliciting for the most dangerous of consequences. Why he would take her back again (when its clear that she means to intervene this time – it’s the only reason why she would ask to see the events again) is utterly demented. The fact that he has the nerve to blame her for the way events transpire melted my brain. As the ‘designated driver’ he is entirely responsible for everything that occurs in this story and should be clamped for the sheer lunacy of his decisions. I also have a real problem with the Doctor stating ‘I can do anything’ which seems to be a declaration to the audience than Rose when that is precisely the sort of nonsense that lead to the drippy hero worship of the character that got way out of hand in later seasons. The way the Doctor scrutinizes Rose observing her father is akin to a scientist studying a lab rat, consciously cruel and dispassionate. It reminds me of McCoy’s Doctor in all the worst ways. Its strange how pre-2005, the Doctor and his companion never got mistaken for lovers. Now it happens with alarming frequency. For the Doctor to make such a reckless decision and then toss racist remarks at his companion when she exploits the situation doesn’t make him a flawed character, it makes him a complete asswipe. The spat between the Doctor and Rose marks a new low point for Doctor/companion relationships (the previously held title came when Tegan Jovanka was an incumbent of the Ship), they both come across as vindictive, irrational and childish. Its horrible to watch. He stomps off back to the TARDIS like a kid whose had his toys taken away. I think the Doctor telling Jackie off is supposed to be a moment of triumph but she’s only ever been seen as a normal person trying to cope with extraordinary circumstances. Why she should be condemned for that baffles me. The Doctor speaks longingly about the life of dreary chavs heading home in a taxi after a night out on the town – are you having a laugh with me? He’s dreaming of their life? He travels through time and space and righting wrongs! I think it should be the other way around. Some writers (and Cornell is more guilty then others) just love dragging the Doctor down to Earth and flirting with the idea of giving him a ‘normal life.’ What they fail to realise is that they would be reducing the show to that of any other drama. The scene in the church where the Doctor talks down to both baby Rose and adult Rose (‘don’t touch the baby!’) sees Eccleston abandoning his art and playing the role as a hectoring numbnuts. Why should Rose have to say that she’s sorry? And more to the point why doesn’t he apologise for being such a patronising fuckwit? And why does he suddenly start beaming at her like she’s a special needs child and needs exaggerated reassurance? Have I stepped into a world where suddenly nothing makes sense? This Doctor seems to have a real suicide complex, choosing to give up far more than he chooses to fight (The Unquiet Dead, Dalek, Father’s Day, The Parting of the Ways) and in most other cases getting people to make sacrifices for him. Playing the martyr is touching if it happens once a lifetime but constantly throwing yourself in front of a train loses its impact and begins to feel like giving up. To be fair this is one of the few stories this season where the Doctor doesn’t get somebody else to fight his battles but that is only because he has thrown himself in the path of a Reaper long before the climax, proving how superfluous he is to events. The Doctor being devoured by a Reaper felt like divine retribution for his abhorrent handling – I was actually applauding rather than horrified. And that should never be your natural reaction when the Doctor is seen to be killed.
Chavvy Chick: I love Rose in series one. I thought that Russell T Davies pretty much got her spot on from the outset and I remember falling in love with her more and more right up to The Parting of the Ways. I remember watching the first episode though and fearing that this show (with its focus on the domestic and council estates) was going to turn into Eastenders and by the time we had reached Father’s Day all of my fears were pleasingly allayed. Oh dear. Along comes this script which is so saturated in the crass melodrama and syrupy sweet cloyness that I regularly associate with soap operas it was like I had wandered into an appalling nightmare world where Doctor Who featured a bitching pair of stereotypes (the angry father and the rebellious child) as its main stars. Billie Piper is trying so hard to connect with her audience that she overdoes the honeyed emotion and winds up overdosing them with syrup. Doctor Who is not a naturally introspective show and allowing the companion to indulge quite this much is really harmful to the integrity of both the show and the character. Of course Rose was going to wind up saving her dad. Any sane person would. Pete on the verge of flirting with his own daughter is a grey area that Doctor Who should avoid at all costs. There’s something very nasty about crushing a little girls image of her father, dragging him down from a pedestal and kicking him into the mud. Rose slowly realising that her father isn’t the man she thought him to be but a regular jack the lad who fools about the side and fails to provide for his family makes for loathsome viewing. Oddly the one character beat that felt right was decidedly sexist and old school – Rose actually screams when she sees a Reaper which to me felt like a perfectly natural reaction.
The Tylers: Pete getting Jackie’s name wrong during their wedding is one of the few positive reactions I had to this episode. Can you imagine getting that detail wrong when you are about to be betrothed to your sweetheart? It would cast a doubt over the whole proceedings. Pete was stupid for bring Rose along to the wedding but Jackie’s abrasive attitude bubbling over on someone else’s happy day also feels untrue. Is she so unsubtle that she wouldn’t try and put a poker face on for her friend (that, frankly, would be much more painful viewing but the script plumps for the most obviously melodramatic choice).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m so useless I couldn’t even die properly.’
The Good: Despite myself, the vicar being gobbled up by a Reaper made me chuckle. Pete being given the gift of a few extra hours with his daughter is rather a touching concept. Shame it had to be with them facing imminent death and drowning in tears. Had this been a regular Doctor Who adventure where he had to choose to return to his death afterwards it would have been far more tolerable. And probably much more touching for not straining the emotion to bursting point. Considering some of the nauseating things he has to say, Shaun Dingwell escapes this episode with his dignity intact. He’s quite likable despite the wealth of issues working against him.
- I was just having a discussion with a friend about Murray Gold’s music last night where I found myself in a position defending his work but watching this episode I don’t know why I bothered. From the outset its one of the most predictable and corny soundtracks that has been slapped on any Doctor Who material. Because this is supposed to be tearing your heart out and stamping on it the piano is omnipresent and the violins are never far away. It makes the soundtracks of the Original Series of Star Trek look subtle in comparison.
- Rarely is Doctor Who as predictable as this. The dramatic close up on Pete Tyler’s photograph before the credits tells you everything that you need to know about the episode that is about to transpire. Things are going to go very wrong indeed. There’s no element of mystery involved and it is hardly gripping foreshadowing. Its says prepare yourself for 45 minutes worth of overly sentimental soap opera. At least it doesn’t have any pretensions to the contrary.
- I understand that there is supposed to be a funereal tone to the episode but the look and feel of the scenes in the 70s is really grim. Its all pastel colours, mundane locations and dreary close ups. Its not particularly pleasant to look at at any point.
- Considering that the whole episode is built around the moment where Pete Tyler is mown down by a car the realisation of that moment is awkwardly handled. The approaching car barely seems to be moving and the cut to the vase smashing is badly timed and nowhere near as dramatic as it should be as a metaphor for his body shattering under the impact. With the absence of any blood (naturally given the shyness of the New Series at this stage), it feels like slap on the wrist rather than ram raid. The POV shots of the Reapers are effective but again the resulting cuts to the shears and the bottle pop fail to convince. Its strangely ineffective from the same director that packed Dalek full of memorable imagery the previous week. Pete’s sacrifice at the climax is even more bizarre – the car approaches him at a hell of a lick this time but the director chooses to cut to an overlong reaction shot that fails to take into account that he would have been floored about three seconds earlier. Rather strangely the driver stands there in mute shock whilst the witness to his crime grabs a mans hand and walks into a police box. That strikes me as an odd reaction, you would want to keep tabs on the person who has just witnessed you accidentally murder a man.
- The inconsistencies, illogical moments, unexplained mysteries and bizarre choices that make up Father’s Day are a very rare thing - a Doctor Who story that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. On its most basic level you can see what Paul Cornell is trying to do emotionally (mostly because it is rammed down your throat with irritating frequency) but if you start to pick this script to pieces it unravels as the ill thought out, co-incidence based and horrendously plotted nonsense that it is. For the Doctor to take Rose back to the point of Rose’s fathers death twice is extremely irresponsible. I refuse to believe that the Doctor ‘knows what he’s doing’ wherever he visits and knows precisely who should be alive and who should die – if that is the case (as seems to be suggested here) then pretty much every reaction to someone’s death he has had in the series to this point has been faked. What rot. Why does the TARDIS turn into a normal police box? Who would have the power to do that and why does saving Pete’s life have that effect? Is it a punishment of the Time Lords for the Doctor’s complete lack of discretion? Why is modern day music pumping through Pete’s car stereo? Where did the first phone call come from? Saying ‘oh something has gone wrong with time’ just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid. You can’t just toss in a load of unexplained mysteries and try and excuse them all with a temporal wave of the hand. It feels like a mass of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ moments were tossed about in a pitch meeting and they all made it into the script with no idea of how to explain their presence. The general impression seems to be that because the Time Lords aren’t about then time has gone good and loopy but surely we would see more evidence of that beyond this story in that case (plus if you want to see how that concept can be done controversially and yet still make logical sense check out the BBC books The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and Anachrophobia). Why does the TARDIS key start glowing and form the ship around it? ‘Just leave it be and everything will be fine’ seems to be the explanation. Thanks for that. I don’t understand how two Rose’s can be in the same vicinity as each other and its fine but as soon as they touch the universe explodes – or something. But that stretches beyond this story and into Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors and many others. Why is the car going round and round in circles? Who is making that happen?
- The characterisation of the guest characters lacks any subtlety as well. You’ve got the grooms father who constantly reminds his son that he could pull out at any time (as though anybody would behave like that on what is supposed to be the happiest day of their childs life). And then there is the happy couple themselves who in a scene that is trying so hard to melt your heart reveals how they met in the most mundane of circumstances. Its so overemphasised (Cornell exposing his New Adventures roots) it loses any kind of emotional strength and strays into over-sentimentality. Nobody stands out as particularly memorable (I can’t remember any of their names) beyond being jejune stereotypes.
- The idea of the Reapers is great, phantom creatures that cauterise wounds in time. They had the potential to be as memorable and far reaching as the Weeping Angels (although if we had to suffer more episodes of this nature…) but something went a amiss in their realisation. Instead of the Doctor Who equivalent of the Dementors from Harry Potter what makes it to the screen is an evidently supplemented effect, unimaginatively derived from a bat and a spider.
- Back in the day a decent base under siege story would feature mutant seaweed pouring forth from ventilator grills and filling the set, forcing the characters to cower away as red shirts were consumed by vicious tendrils. It was edge of the seat claustrophobia. Now it is an excuse for a girl to fall in love with her daddy over again and for him to become the hero she always imagined him to be. Oh vomit. This is not a shift in the series’ favour.
- The Mickey’s cameo as a kid could have been cute but once again the script overemphasis the moment with ‘God help his girlfriend if he ever gets one.’ Its like subtlety doesn’t exist.
- ‘I’m your dad, its my job for it to be my fault’ – what an ugly inference. Plus mentions of underage sex for a cheap gag is another no-no.
- Come the third or forth scene in the church featuring Rose and Pete getting to know each other I was screaming ‘for heavens sake just throw yourself in front of the car and get on with it!’ which probably wasn’t the effect that Cornell was going for. It’s the most protracted episode ever, stuffed with padding. All the weird temporal shit and sequences in church could have been avoided if the Doctor had just grabbed Pete and thrown him in front of the car. It would have been the kindest thing all round, especially on the audience. Suicide has never felt so laboured.
- Russell T Davies stole the idea of a climax featuring a much loved character tossing themselves in front of a car in order to set reality back on track. Turn Left is the antithesis of Father’s Day, its superlative alter ego.
- There’s a great deal of relief to Pete finally being run over (again probably not the desired reaction) but it has the adverse effect of pushing the giant Voyager reset button and everything going back to normal. And those endings really bug me. On no level is the plotting of this narrative gratifying. Even down to the replay of the same scene at the beginning with the added bonus of Rose being mentioned. I don’t understand why if she was there that wasn’t the original tale that was spun.
Result: Be careful what you wish for indeed. For me this exposes why so many of the New Adventures simply didn’t work. Its gimmicky, overly sentimental, illogical and turns the show into a depressing melodrama. Father’s Day isn’t completely without merit because Joe Ahearne is directing and manages to salvage the shoddy script with some stylish directorial flourishes but its probably the closest the New Series has come to being as far away from what I would want to recognise as Doctor Who. It’s an ugly, twisted hollow piece of drama that lacks even basic competence in the areas of plotting and character. The show has toyed with episodes that highlight the emotions of the characters since this (Turn Left, The Girl Who Waited) but this is the only time where it has been harmfully detrimental to the story. The dialogue is crass and obvious and its one of the very few times when both the Doctor and his companion come across as being thoroughly despicable (one who makes really bad choices and projects those mistakes on others and the other who spends far too much time obsessing over herself). I desperately wanted the Doctor to stop getting angry with people for no reason and Rose to stop pouting and staring off into the distance lost in her thoughts…and for them both to get on with something far more interesting. What’s irritating is that this almost convinced me that the New Series had completely perverted Doctor Who but in respect of tone, plotting, characterisation and a general sense of adventure the series was about to show you precisely how it should be done in the very next tale. Juxtaposing the two stories simply leaves Father’s Day looking even more inadequate than it already does on its own terms. How this came from the same pen that produced Human Nature/The Family of Blood bewilders me. But then what do I know? I have never had a great relationship with my dad so perhaps I was not the target audience: 2/10
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances written by Steven Moffatt and directed by James Hawes
This story in a nutshell: ‘Are you my mummy?’
U-Boat Captain: Christopher Eccleston gives his most assured performance in this story, you can see how confident he is in the part at this point and if he was fatigued behind the scenes it never once affects his stunning portrayal. I particularly like his relationship with Nancy which is very different to how he treats Rose, she initially doesn’t want anything to do with him but he wins her over simply by being gentle and understanding with her. He can read her easily and tell that she has lost somebody to the war. His pained expression when he realises his bomb dropping faux pas is wonderful. Being a cat lover I find his little chat with the cat in the darkened alley very sweet, just like when Matt Smith did the same in The Lodger. Astonishing how well he gets on with the kids, he talks their lingo and doesn’t patronise them. The Doctor knows exactly what its like to be the one kid left out in the cold. The script rather hilariously takes the piss out of his huge honker and radar dish ears. In nine centuries he has learnt to cope with the name Doctor. His ‘go to your room!’ solution is inspired; only the Doctor would think to fight zombies by playing the disgruntled parent! When he gets upset he likes to insult species. It’s wonderful that the Doctor tries to empathise with the child; he’s almost consumed with his anger and fear as he listened to the tape of his interview with Dr Constantine. In a not very subtle yours is bigger than mine penis metaphor the Doctor is embarrassed by his sonic screwdriver! I love that he tries very hard not be insulted because Rose lusts after Jack whilst she doesn’t consider him a dancer. He’s so sweet and inexperienced when it comes to women which is kind of ironic considering how many pretty girls have accompanied him on his travels. He’s a bit rubbish compared to jack’s style which makes him all the more appealing. All this sitcom-esque material should be horrendous but somehow it really works because it’s played very warmly. He’s got the moves but he doesn’t want to boast…besides he is too busy resonating concrete! After all the angst and darkness of the early episodes it is very satisfying that Moffatt gives the Doctor such a touching ending (‘Give me a day like this, give me this one!’). You can’t not have a huge smile on your face as he throws the nanogenes at all the infected people and everybody lives!
Chavvy Chick: If Christopher Eccleston has come to terms with his part, Billie Piper is unstoppable at this point. She is taking her Union Jack T-shirt out for a spin! Poor Rose hangs from a barrage balloon with the English flag splattered all over her breasts as enemy fighters advance! Some people get no luck! Imagine what a gooey mess she would have made if Jack hadn’t been there to catch her! Rose is deliriously flirtatious with Jack, footloose, fancy free and very available. ‘I went by barrage balloon?’ – this is the angst free, effortlessly hip season one Rose and she kicks ass. She trusts Jack because he is like the Doctor but with dating and dancing. Her gift to Nancy is proving to her that the British win the war.
Horny Hunk: John Barrowman bursts onto the scene in very memorable fashion, giving possibly his most self-assured performance in the show. He’s certainly never been this central to the plot since. He appreciates Rose’s lovely bottom and Algy’s too! He tries the psychic paper trick but winds up handing Rose a piece of paper saying he is single and he works out. Tries never to discuss business with a clear head. He turns on Big Ben’s clock face when Rose asks what the time is – I love his style! Jack likes to think of himself as a criminal and Rose is happy to finally meet a professional! I love the fact that you have no idea that Jack will be a companion at this point. Jack and the banana is hilarious (‘Don’t drop the banana!’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Good source of potassium!’). He woke up one morning and found the time agency had stolen two years of his life…this seemed like a complication at the time but it has since been forgotten in Jack’s ever convoluted timeline! His flirting with Algy is a huge step forward for Doctor Who, the first openly gay character in the series.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Bloomin’ Germans don’t they eat? Don’t you eat?’
‘1941. Right now not very far from here the German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it, nothing. Until one tiny amp little island says no. No. Not here. A mouse in front of a lion. You’re amazing the lot of you. Dunno what you do to Hitler but you frighten the hell out of me.’
‘They just…don’t die.’
‘The world doesn’t end cause the Doctor dances…’
‘Dr Constantine! My legs’ grown back! When I came to the hospital I had one leg!’ ‘Well there is a war on, is it possible you mis counted?’
The Good Stuff: James Hawes’ direction is very alluring throughout and that first pan down the washing lines to the materialising TARDIS. It’s fantastic that we’ve finally got a story set entirely at night. The Doctor stumbles in on a secret nightclub; candles, smoke and sultry singing, its all beautifully evocative. There are some deliriously good special effects, the moon glistening on the Thames, spotlights reaching into the sky, explosions claiming buildings and enemy planes tearing through the night like a swarm of insects. I cannot believe that is the first time we have had the police box phone ring. There’s a real feeling of classic Who in the retro time ship design. Domestic dinner scenes that glow with wit and warmth. There’s some real attempt to film this like a horror movie and I love the tilted angle shot of the child silhouetted against the front door. Moffatt manages to drop in the nanogenes very subtly. Drinking champagne on an invisible spaceship tethered to Big Ben in an air raid…I bet Russell T Davies cringed when he thought of the budget for this story! Silhouetting the gorgeous Jack and Rose against Big Ben’s clock face and dancing to Glen Miller – could this story get any hotter? Its great that they managed to slow down the pace and allow for some excellent character work and atmosphere (it really bugs me that RTD said they had their hands slapped for that and were told to jazz up all future historicals). Richard Wilson has finally appeared in Doctor Who – I can die happy! His one scene is blissfully intense and in one line Moffatt manages to say everything you need to know about the character with some depth (‘Before this war I was a father and a grandfather. Now I’m neither but I’m still a Doctor’). The bodies in the hospital all have the same injuries and their gas masks are fused to their faces. Constantine’s bone splitting transformation is one of the nastiest moments ever in Doctor Who, its blood curdling for adults so god knows how much it must have scared the kids! You can actually see the blankness behind Jamie’s mask; he is literally an empty child. Fuck the sonic screwdriver, I want a squareness gun! ‘End of the tap…it ran out about 30 seconds ago’ – such a simple fright and yet highly effective. Back to good old classic Doctor Who with monsters stalking our heroes through a disused hospital (how funny! The Invasion of Time had exactly the same sort of scenes!). ‘You feel like you’re going to be sick like something’s forcing its way up your throat!’ – that’s horrible (and the soldiers chilling scream of ‘MUMMY!’ always gets me!). I love the dizzying rush towards the child as he activates his soldiers to protect the ship. The answer to how the gas-masked zombies came about is surprisingly plausible. There’s a beautiful, tear jerking and distressingly simple revelation that has been spelt out to us throughout the story and yet still comes as a total surprise – Nancy is the child’s mother. As soon as the gorgeous underscoring piano kicks in and the boy confronts his mum I always well, its one of the most satisfying plot twists because it ties a neat bow around everything we have seen in a very emotional way. Jack catches the bomb and straddles it…could this guy be any more brilliantly camp? There’s a beautiful happy ending where everybody survives, you wouldn’t want every story to be like this but just this once its very heart warming. Dancing in the console room, has the TARDIS ever been lit this sexy before?
The Bad Stuff: The very first shot of the hospital ship flying through the vortex looks like a bottle cap! There’s a crappy gay reference (was Moffatt trying to impress RTD?) about Mr Lloyd and the Butcher that is completely unnecessary.
The Shallow Bit: John Barrowman oozes charisma from every pore in his body and he’s damn hot to boot. You should hate somebody who can act, dance, sing and is strikingly attractive but somehow he’s extremely likable!
Result: The highlight of the first season of NuWho, this is a frightening tale which generates its scares through the performances and the subtlest of effects. As such it’s the most ‘classic Who’ story yet with a slower pace, some faceless monsters and a Doctor/companion combo that positively twinkle. Steven Moffatt’s first script is still one of his best, it manages to tell a wartime story whilst avoiding all the clichés and a fine science fiction story at the same time with plenty of gorgeous lines for everybody and some moments of extreme cool and poignancy. It’s a beautifully realised piece as well, evocatively all shot at night and with some stylish horror touches that really make this an under the duvet experience. John Barrowman joins the cast and he makes an instant impression, the Doctor, Rose and Jack make for a blissful trio of regulars. All in all this is one of the strongest Doctor Who stories you are likely to see, just when you think its going to end with a load of technobabble the story hits you with the most windingly emotion of revelations. A classic: 10/10
Boom Town written by Russell T Davies and directed by Joe Ahearne
This story in a nutshell: Everybody takes time out in Cardiff to pause and reflect…
Northern Adventurer: By this stage of series one Christopher Eccleston has made peace with the role and is delivering flawless performances. This story throws a mixture of comedy and drama at him and whilst he was only cut out for the latter earlier in the season he has now perfected the former. The Doctor is such hard work but he’s worth it, he says whilst flirting cheekily with Jack. It is wonderful to see the ninth Doctor and his friends laughing in the café, his life is just starting to come together again before the devastating events in the next story. Eccleston’s slight eyebrow raise when Margaret drops her teacup is priceless. Don’t worship him because he would make a very bad God. Davies takes this opportunity to reflect on the Doctor’s lifestyle and we have never had such a harsh light thrown on his methods and the carefree way he walks away from whatever situation he has made. It’s not always like this, having to wait and deal with the consequences of his actions and Margaret is spot on when she says he is always the first leave. How strong is the Doctor’s stomach, can he sit with a person he is going to kill and take supper? All this introspection is very New Adventures/Eighth Doctor Adventures and its very welcome in the new series. What I love is that these ideas are tossed into the air, the finger is pointed but the episode doesn’t come down on either side. We are left to consider what Boom Town says about the Doctor and to make up our own minds. His happy go lucky lifestyle leaves devastation in its wake, always on the move because he daren’t look back. Playing with so many people’s lives he might as well be God.
Chavvy Chick: It aches me to watch the series one episodes where Rose is portrayed so strongly knowing what comes next when she pairs up with Tennant. When Mickey says that she looks fantastic I cannot argue, the pigtail wrapped up look makes Rose look so cute! Its great to see Rose saying that she loves the TARDIS as it is. Asking Mickey to bring her passport was just a pretence because she wanted to spend some time with him. I did like it when she tells Mickey what she gets up to is none of the Doctor’s business. Rose declares that Mickey deserves better at the end of the episode.
Cheeky Chap: Boom Town is the making of Mickey offering him precisely the sort of development that there wasn’t time to give him (but was desperately needed) in Rose. Watch as he very shyly asks Rose out on a date, he is trying to feel his way into their new relationship. When he tells Rose that he is dating Trisha Delaney it is clearly just a ploy to make her react and to reminder that he isn’t sitting idle. He admits that he at least knows where Trisha is and she won’t leave him like Rose did, making him feel like nothing. Clarke is excellent when Mickey almost breaks down, that was the point where I fell in love with Mickey the idiot. If Rose picks up the phone Mickey will always come running but he wants to know if he is supposed to wait forever because he will. He needs a promise that if she comes back, she will be coming back for him. Unfortunately all of this goo work goes out of the window when Mickey selfishly shouts after Rose when she goes to help out with the end of the world and you are reminded of the pig headed ape from his debut story. When Mickey walks away from Rose at the end I was left wondering if he did it for his sakes or hers.
Hunky Hero: Jack is sidelined slightly to allow the others to be developed which I thought was a real shame at the time because he was only in five episodes but in hindsight given the four series of Torchwood coming and his multiple reappearances in Doctor Who its not such a bad thing.
Sparkling Dialogue: Boom Town is loaded with fantastic lines and if I recited them all I would pretty much be typing out the entire script so here are a few of my favourites…
‘To the future! And believe, it will glow…’
‘This is persecution! Why can’t you leave me alone? What did I ever do to you?’ ‘You tried to kill me and destroy this entire planet!’ ‘Apart from that?’
‘Oh…I sound like a Welshman! God help me I’ve gone native!’
‘Dinner in bondage. Works for me.’
‘You’re pleading for mercy out of a dead woman’s lips.’
‘Some date this turned out to be!’
The Good Stuff: Annette Badland as Margaret is still one of the best villains that the new series has given us. Hooray that they managed to shoot on one of the few days of the year that the sun comes out in Wales! Electrifying swimming pools, runaway cars, icy patches – that is some quick fire comedy Mr Davies! Is this the first Doctor Who story that has a scene in the ladies lavatory? Amazing how Davies can turn a scene around on a sixpence and Margaret’s sudden realisation that she is going to kill a pregnant woman is great (I remember Simon first watching that scene and going ‘Uh-oh’). The Slitheen costumes look a lot better, glistening wet skin and kept hidden in close ups. The whole sequence with the gang preparing to trap Margaret, deploying their phones has just the right touch of fun (the music is awesome and I always laugh when Mickey trips over the utilities trolley!). The teleport gang is inspired and you have to feel sorry for poor Annette Badland running back and forth. I can’t decide whether a pan dimensional surfboard is jaw droppingly cool or agonising embarrassing but regardless it is certainly an original plan of escape! Having a prisoner in the TARDIS is an interesting idea. Woman’s Wept sounds like the sort place that should be rendered in CGI for us to visit! Margaret’s attempts to poison the Doctor are more very funny moments, its all played straight and that just makes it funnier. Just think the next time you are out for dinner the Doctor might be next to you providing a last meal for an enemy! The dialogue in the restaurant scenes is extraordinary (‘And that’s how you live with yourself, because once in a while, on a whim, when the winds in the right direction you happen to be kind’). The climactic last ten minutes borrows plot twists and visual directly from the TV Movie (you’ve got a shot of Cardiff being rained down with lightning and a low angle shot of the TARDIS plus the ending which sees the TARDIS perform a magic trick on somebody’s life, this time regressing them rather than bringing them back to life). Its great to see the TARDIS mythologized in the new series. All of Margaret’s chatter about her murderous nature being bred into her at an early age is paid off as she says thank you knowing she is going to get a second chance.
The Bad Stuff: There is way too much continuity in the first ten minutes explaining why they are in Cardiff and how comes the TARDIS is shaped like a police box.
Result: Turn away if you want to hear a wrap up that condemns Boom Town because it is one of my favourite episodes of the first series. Like The Unicorn and the Wasp what we have here is a tried and tested action director turning his hand to something lighter and more character based and doing a bang up job. It’s an episode that that juggles themes of consequences, capital punishment and the pain of those left behind and it examines the ninth Doctor better than any other episode in this season. Who cares that there isn’t the budget to produce something more blockbusting, Davies returns to the adage of the classic series and uses the lack of money as an excuse to give the episode more meaning. Boom Town is a pause between two massive two parters and yet manages to have more to say than either of them. Light, frothy, dark and thoughtful, it’s far more than the soap opera of repute: 9/10
Bad Wolf & The Parting of the Ways written by Russell T Davies and directed by Joe Ahearne
This story in a nutshell: A whole load of Daleks are back to their old tricks…
Northern Adventurer: The Doctor’s tired look and ‘you have got to be kidding me!’ is what I imagine was Christopher Eccleston’s reaction was when he read the first half of this script! Its wonderful to see his Doctor in some darkly played comedy because it allows us to see him do what he does best, be all broody and mysterious and yet be very funny at the same time (without the excesses of earlier attempts in the season). Its very touching that he gives Lynda some hope that people like her when he cannot know what people are saying about her. You believe the Doctor’s threats when he points directly at the audience and tells the creators that he is going to stop them. When the Doctor holds his hand out for Lynda to join him all I see is a charismatic and wonderful man, the ninth Doctor has finally become the Doctor and he’s offering the universe up to strays again. We’ve had the Doctor return to the scene of a previous adventure and see what his interference has caused (The Face of Evil) but 100 years of suffering because he thinks he was doing the right thing, that has got to hurt. The idea of somebody manipulating the Doctor’s life to trap him is so delicious. You feel every second of the Doctor’s guilt and pain as Rose is (apparently) blasting to death in front of him…I always think Jackie is going to kill him. I’m not all that fond of big, rousing speeches and do think they got more and more ridiculous as the series went on (especially the one in Voyage of the Damned… ‘I’m the Doctor! I’m 900 years old!’ blah blah…) but I have to say Chris Eccleston does a fine job with some pretty cheesy dialogue (‘every last stinking Dalek – what is he Abalsom Daak?). You believe him and are pretty scared for the Daleks, that’s how convincing Eccleston is! The Doctor looks haunted that the Time Lords died for nothing since the Daleks always seem to survive, the fact that we later learn that he was responsible for their deaths must have made him ache with guilt. The Doctor screams at the Daleks so dramatically they physically recoil. There is a dramatic zoom in on the Doctor resting his head against the TARDIS doors as the Daleks scream at him from outside that is one of my favourite moments from the first season – it sees the Doctor tired and practically defeated, sagging with guilt at his actions and facing the impossible task of having to deal with Daleks who are already punishing themselves. It’s a beautifully small moment that juggles so much meaning. The Doctor’s awkward goodbye with Lynda is really sweet where he kind of goes to kiss her but ends up shaking hands. Tricking Rose into entering the TARDIS and sneaking her off to safety against her will is the most selfless act he performs in his ninth incarnation. ‘That’s okay, I hope it’s a good death’ he says about facing an enemy that cannot be defeated. Telling Rose to have a fantastic life is enough to make you weep. His solution to wipe out the Daleks but also all of humanity forces the Doctor confront his actions in the Time War and he looks truly pained as he considers which way to jump. Has the Doctor ever been this interesting before? I can think of three times – the initial spiky first Doctor, the second Doctor forced to confront his past in The War Games and the fourth Doctor facing the decision to wipe out the Daleks but that’s about it. We get to understand the universe as the Doctor does; he sees all that is, all that was and all that ever could be all at once. The ninth Doctor dies because he absorbed all the energy of the time vortex and every cell in his body dies. Unlike when the eleventh Doctor steps out of the tenths shoes and you knew instantly that this was a mad and cheeky fella that you will have a lot of fun with the tenth Doctor’s brief appearance here is confined to a few lines and it is hard to grasp what he is going to be like in those few seconds. However the whole thing feels so upbeat and bright you know you wont be disappointed.
Chavvy Chick: If these two episode had seen the end of Rose’s character I think a lot of people (including me) would be declaring her one of the all time best companions. Its astonishing how right both the writing and Billie Piper’s performance feels compared to the rather more irritating version of Rose who turned up in series two. She looks great in this story and it really is the character at its height both in terms of her relationship with the Doctor and her confidence. You can’t help but laugh along with Rose as she enjoys the Weakest Link. The first touch of Rose’s jealousy as Lynda refuses to leave the Doctor and she looks mightily miffed that somebody else cares for him as much as she does. If only it had stayed as tiny looks in the next series. When we first watched this Simon was really impressed by Billie Piper’s performance when she screams for the TARDIS to take her back and its one of the few scenes in Doctor Who that gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. The sheer mundanity of stepping from the TARDIS to dreary Central London with the thought that this is going to be her life once more really makes you feel for the character. This is the moment when Jackie comes around to liking the Doctor because he brought her daughter home when things got tough. Their relationship is far less fractious from now on. Her speech about the Doctor showing her a better way of living her life is beautifully written and performed. How loaded with emotions is the scene between Rose and Jackie when she admits she met her dead father?
Jack of All Trades: This opening salvo of episodes was a great time for Jack where we were first getting to know his character and knowing what comes next when we get to see him at his loosest. I love the little nod he gives to his cock when the defabricator does its business – this is an actor that doesn’t lack a certain amount of irresistible charisma! Nothing could quite have prepared me for the scene where Jack pulls a gun out of his ass – I still heave with laughter every time I see it! Imagine this in Hartnell’s time! For Jack saying hello is flirting. Does he look like an out of bounds sort of guy, he asks with a machine gun in each hand! Jack telling Rose that she is worth fighting for single handedly justifies his continuation in the series and how he quietly kisses both of them is a perfect touch. Jack doesn’t batter an eyelid when the Doctor saves Rose and leaves him there to die, he thinks he was much better off as a coward but we can see how much he has grown. What a casually brutal death he suffers. What a world of fascination his character is about to undergo after Rose brings him back to life. Simon got in a right paddy the first time we watched this because Jack (his favourite character) got left behind.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Am I naked in front of millions of your viewers?’ ‘Absolutely!’ ‘Ladies! Your viewing figures just went up…’
‘Then you are unemployed and yet you’ve still got enough money to buy peroxide.’
‘And then we’re gonna get you!’
‘But that’s a compact laser deluxe!’ ‘Where were you hiding that?’
‘Driven mad by your own flesh. The stink of humanity. You hate your own existence.’
‘That’s how good the Doctor is!’
‘My head is killing me.’
The Good Stuff: I remember when the premise for Bad Wolf was announced and a friend of mine wasn’t even willing to give it a chance because it was going to glorify reality television and he thought Russell T Davies had finally gone mad. He texted me afterwards to say how much he loved it! Davies is clearly a lover of popular television culture and he manages to poke fun at reality TV without ever demeaning it in this episode and providing a lot of laughs and scares by making these shows deadly. The pre titles sequence is one of the most surreal and I really love that they drown out the moaning drivel of the housemates with frankly the best thing about Big Brother – the music! This might be the gayest observation I have ever made in my life but those multi coloured hand chairs in the house are simply divine darlings! The Weakest Link sequences are lit dramatically and Rose looks more gorgeous than ever! It’s a symbol of how much faith people put in this first series of Doctor Who that Anne Robinson, Davina McColl and Trinny and Susannah all agreed to take part and send up their own shows. The first mention of Torchwood very subtly introduced to the show. When the laser beam vomits from the Anne-droid’s mouth and the story takes a turn for the serious its with some delight that you realise that this insane premise is going to work! The Controller is a masterpiece of design and lighting, so simply achieved and yet it looks so striking and effective on screen. I know Davies wasn’t a fan but I simply adore the You are What You Wear droids especially when they unveil their chainsaw hands and needle and scissors fingers! Bad Wolf being written all over the universe is the first time Doctor Who had attempt to weave an invisible arc into a series and it is still one of the most effective, taking on deeper meaning every time we hear it. The reveal of Satellite Five gives more depth to The Long Game (and my God does it need it!) and nabs the greatest thing about the earlier story, the incredible design of the station. Davies is very good at creating a whole world out of a line (the great Atlantic smog storm with news bulletins that let you know when it is safe to go outside and breathe the air). I realised this has been pitched at just the right level when I was actually shouting with excitement at the screen as Rose goes head to head in the last round. Subtle use of continuity (the Isop Galaxy, Lucifer) that will please the fans but otherwise go unnoticed. Love the idea of the Controller bringing the Doctor to the game station to defeat the Daleks – she’s a fascinating character and it is a shame that she was killed off so quickly (although the shot of her being ripped from her station is very dramatic). Lets not beat about the bush the idea of visualising an entire fleet of Dalek saucers (don’t you love how retro they went with the design) and seeing half a million Daleks streaming through space makes you tingle all over with fanboy joy! The cliffhanger is so unique I don’t know how to judge it, it’s so rare to have a cliffhanger that is as optimistic as this (the only other example I can think of is the trains Evil of the Daleks one) but its definitely sitting in this category because it is very exciting and upon first transmission had me bouncing on the sofa desperate to see the next episode. Missiles being fired at the TARDIS feels very Star Trek but its all so exciting who cares? Finally somebody bothers to write a scene where the Daleks simply try and murder the Doctor as soon as they see him. It has always bothered me that they have never done that before. The thought of the Daleks harvesting humanity to create more of their kind repulses and throws open an interesting notion of their self-hatred. One of the defining characteristics of the Daleks is their racial purity and so perverted humanised Daleks murdering because they despise themselves is such a frightening idea and far more psychologically interesting than the usual Dalek nonsense. A little mention for Jo Stone-Fewings who gives a wonderfully understated performance as the male programmer (what a shame he didn’t get a name!) – it’s the sort of strong incidental character that Davies excels at that isn’t important but whose inclusion adds a lot of depth to the story. The concept of the TARDIS standing on a street corner gathering dust for all eternity makes me choke up. The shot of those revolving chickens is so appallingly routine it brings home everything that Rose has lost. There’s something pleasingly old school about the Daleks streaming through the corridors. The Daleks take a little detour just to murder innocent people and bombing whole continents, now that’s evil. Best death of the year: Lynda being sucked out into space by the silent Daleks – astonishingly well executed and an unforgettable end to a nice character. The idea of pouring the TARDIS into a young woman’s head is highly original and proves that Neil Gaiman (as fantastic as The Doctor’s Wife was and it was brilliant) is simply borrowing a great idea. To have the Doctor explain the process of regeneration to Rose and thus reassuring the kids in the audience that this is perfectly natural is a touch of genius.
The Bad Stuff: ‘She’s been evicted…from life!’ should never have made it to the studio. Jack actually looks pretty ridiculous with that bloody daft giant gun made out of the defabricator. I know it was the idea but Roderick is as annoying as pubic louse! Jack screaming and waving his big gun about is ultra camp (‘your stupid freaking game show killed her!’). I realise it would rather spoil the well-filmed surprise return but the Controller should really have said ‘the Daleks’ rather than ‘my masters.’ ‘What is the meaning of this negative?’ is another duff line. Thankfully the Emperor comes along because the Dalek dialogue is as banal as ever. What a shame the new Emperor is no where near as visually impressive as the original – they should have knocked up a CGI version of the Evil of the Daleks one and we could finally see him in all his glory. While I love the insanity of the Dalek psychology on display I could have done without the religious leanings which I felt did them no favours at all. Making this a battle of Gods doesn’t make the material more epic. Whilst the long shot of the chalk on the playground is striking it seems a little odd that Rose doesn’t notice BAD WOLF in huge letters right in front of her! In real Eric Saward fashion Davies kills off his entire guest cast because they have fulfilled their plot function. ‘Am I becoming one of your angels?’ – ugh. Despite where it leads and how strong the scene the Rose/TARDIS is the ultimate deus ex machina. I don’t object to sealing the regeneration with a kiss after all if I was going to go I would probably lock tongues with Rose too but ‘I think you need a Doctor’ is one of the worst lines in Doctor Who history.
The Shallow Bit: Although it makes him look camper than ever Jack looks gorgeous squeezed into those tight black jeans and white vest! Rose is practically edible in this story. I can’t believe they gave the Trinny and Susannah androids boobies…or that Jack actually cups them at one point! Jack in the noddy is shot as risqué as a family show will allow and we should be glad that this isn’t Torchwood otherwise it would have shown us everything (and suggestion is far more arousing!). We get our first companion on companion kiss and our first Doctor and a bloke kiss in the same beautiful scene and the world doesn’t end. Go figure.
Result: With a few forgivable flaws Doctor Who’s first attempt at a two-part season finale is a rip roaring success with many memorable, shocking and dramatic scenes. Joe Ahearne’s handling of the material is superb and he manages to pile on atmosphere and scares whilst always highlighting the strength of the actors. This story mixes the epic science fiction world of Doctor Who with Davies’ enchanting domestic character work to blistering effect and throughout every scene is given real meaning by the 11 weeks of material that have come previously. Somewhere in the second episode around the time where Rose is sitting in that god awful takeaway restaurant I realised that not only had Davies approach worked but it was starting to produce some of the most epic and personal Doctor Who we have ever seen. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper have managed to bring the show back with a real bang and save their best performances for their last story together and the ninth Doctor and Rose are simply made for each other at this point. It’s unique in Doctor Who’s history to have a cliffhanger and a regeneration that both feel so positive and the ending promises great things for the future. Both episodes earn a practically perfect 9: 9/10