The regulars -
Voyage of the Damned written by Russell T Davies and directed by James Strong
Mockney Dude: Generally speaking I think Tennant does an excellent job with this script (especially when you think that he was suffering a bereavement at the time) and my issues are generally with the characterisation more than anything. Davies just can't help a little hero worship sometimes, can he? I wish he had somebody there who could restrain him on occasion because sometimes it overflows from a natural love of the Doctor to saccharine gushing. ‘I’m the Doctor, I’m a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey…’ – I had my head in my hands during that speech and it was rightly mocked by Moffat in Day of the Doctor. I don’t need to be told how good the Doctor is, just show me. Davies' era is affected by a number of these arduous moments of Doctor love (The Next Doctor sees the Doctor being applauded once he has taken down the Cyber-King and there is similar applause during Planet of the Dead) that could have happily done without. There are enough demonstrative moments of how wonderful the tenth Doctor is throughout his tenure and heaping all this praise on top feels like overkill. Perhaps that is why the Doctor is so bruised at the moment of his regeneration, the ultimate selfless act to an audience of nobody. He is gotten to a position where he feels as though he needs a 'reward' for his services. Donna Noble cannot turn up quick enough to crush is magnificent ego. The other moment I find hard to the swallow is when Davies tries to mythologise the character by having him borne aloft by angel wings...talk about laying it on a bit thick (the music doesn't help). It is superbly realised but this is one of those moments where I wonder if there is something in the criticism that Davies pushed this a bit too far on occasion. Perhaps that is the fault of the Christmas specials, giving the showrunner (whoever it maybe) carte blanche to over characterise the lead for the extra three or four million that will tune in on Christmas Day. Those are my only issues with the Doctor in Voyage of the Damned and they consist of about two minutes of material which isn't bad going. There is a great deal to celebrate about the Doctor in this story too. I like it when Tennant travels alone and how he effortlessly ingratiates himself into whatever setting he has found himself in (it worked in Smith and Jones, Partners in Crime, Midnight and his final run of specials too). He looks great in a tux and immediately catches the eye of the prettiest girl on the ship. There's something of the trampish vagabond about him, materialising without a ticket or money and yet acting as if he belongs that really appeals to Astrid and it easy to see why she is seduced by his lifestyle. There is lovely moment where he mentions Martha which is much subtler than his entire season of mooning over Rose. A few years ago the Doctor was made homeless and the Earth became his surrogate home. Astrid is spot on when she realises the Doctor needs somebody to watch out for him. When push comes to shove the Doctor will grab whatever he can find to defend himself and he brandishes a saucepan like an unhinged Pauline Fowler to hold back the Angels. Described perfectly as being all banter but not a word wasted. One thing that Tennant has in abundance (aside from immense skill as an actor) is energy and it is precisely what Voyage of the Damned needs. It isn't a character led script that pushes him like Human Nature or Midnight but it is one that physically demands a great deal of stamina and charisma which he displays in abundance. Clearly that first kiss with Grace in the TV Movie awakened something in Doctor because he can't get enough of it these days, despite Tennant trying to show a degree of confusion after the event. Let's just say his first seven regenerations were pre-puberty. He tells Mr Copper that he travels alone which is a massive fib to avoid travelling the stars with a doddery old fart. I wonder if the situation would be different if he was a she and blessed with a winning smile and curvy figure. Throughout the Doctor seems to be improvising in a blazing eyed state of madness as he reacts to the many dangers and it is easy to admire his tenacity.
Angelic Astrid: I cannot comprehend the reasoning behind securing the talent of national treasure Kylie Minogue and sticking her in an unflattering wig and serving outfit and forcing her to climb through miles of dirty rubble and wreckage. I've heard that he can be quite the charmer but Russell T. Davies must be extremely persuasive if he sold her on this story. Who said acting was glamorous? Astrid is such obvious companion material but Minogue plays her with such guileless charm it pretty much subverts the characterisation. I genuinely think she is simply reeling off the lines rather than truly thinking about the character and her journey but that straightforward approach works very well because another actress might stress those 'please take me with you' qualities and the result could be as painfully obvious as the Doctor's hero worship. Her life must be desperately dull if an empty street in Cardiff presses her buttons. Astrid flirts with the Doctor but she has such an air of innocence about her that it is rather appealing for a change (compared with the overt sexual advances on Matt Smith's Doctor it is practically chaste). Even the kiss is romanticised and rather adorable, having to grab a medical box so she can reach his lips. It feels like somebody saying goodbye before they head off to get on with a dangerous task rather than somebody trying to shove their hands down his trousers (Amy Pond's speciality). Kylie takes control brilliantly when the Doctor heads off to find Capricorn. I didn't think she had it in her to lead this cast but she displays real confidence in these scenes. Killing off Astrid was a good move, her perky sweetness probably would have grated after a while (you would probably have to continually do awful things to such a nice character to make make her tolerable over an extended period of time) but as a one off she is as appealing as a cuddle with a loved one on a snowy day (or about as appealing as Catherine Tate wasn’t at the beginning of The Runaway Bride). Starlight is a fairytale end to a fairytale character. Who said that approach was unique to Moffat?
Sparkling Dialogue: This is written by Russell T. Davies, of course it is stuffed with great lines...
‘She’s an old ship. Full of aches and pains.’
‘Information: You are all going to die.’
‘You drive me barmy, I don’t half love you’ – what’s that? Nine words and Davies sums up love perfectly.
‘You can’t even sink the Titanic!’
‘You’re not falling Astrid, you’re flying.’
‘It’s just France and Germany. Only Britain’s Great.’
The Good Stuff: The exterior effects shots of the Titanic gliding into the atmosphere above the Earth are visually stunning, by far the sexiest spaceship ever seen in Doctor Who. I remember a friend who doesn't watch the show seeing this footage on BBC News before the episode aired and it peaked her interest enough to give it a try. Now she watches every week with her daughter (although admittedly she doesn't understand what is going on half the time). Geoffrey Palmer’s understated performance automatically gives this story a great deal of kudos. There are some astonishingly dressed sets; that gorgeous globe that dominates the passenger lounge, the ship made of lights, the Heavenly Hosts gleaming on the sidelines, hundreds of smartly dressed extras…this is without a doubt one of the best looking NuWho adventures. The Hosts are a genuinely creepy robotic creations. Who cares if they are Robots of Death knock offs? If you going to steal an idea, you might as well steal from the best. Mr Copper's Christmas tale that puts all the details in a blender and serves them up entirely out of context is hilarious; human beings worship the Great God Santa, a creature with fearsome claws and his wife Mary. Every Christmas Eve the people of UK go to war with the country of Turkey and then they eat the Turkey people for Christmas dinner. I bet the kids were lapping that up. I'd much rather watch that tale than the nativity. Doesn't it warm your heart to think that there is still room in Doctor Who for ridiculous looking monsters like Banakafalata that the audience will take to their hearts? Bernard Cribbins is a delight, can you imagine a better ambassador for Britain if you were only going to pop down for five minutes? This years Christmas record (an idea that has unfortunately been dropped) was a massive hit in my house and Simon plays The Stowaway every Christmas as part of his playlist. The direction of the meteor attack beautifully captures the drama and the spectacle of the disaster; the rising music, the shot of the Captain through the set, gusts of fire, screaming guests, guests being crushed to death... James Strong's direction must be applauded, this is a story that lives and dies through it's visuals and he deserves a great deal of kudos for pulling off a stylish disaster movie on a BBC budget. This could be shown on the big screen with relatively few alterations. There are some great touches such as the camera being the POV of the hosts halo as it screams towards its terrifying victim. Russell Tovey is very, very good; he plays Midshipman Frame with an appropriate earnestness that makes you feel for the character, shot in the gut and forced to endure the Host murdering their way through the passengers and crew. He contrasts very nicely against the cast of comics and grotesques that the Doctor is lumbered with below decks. His high pitched scream as the Host try and force their way in is priceless. He would have made a great companion. The scale of the storm drive FX is immense. Sometimes the epic nature of the effects on NuWho unbalance a simple story and sometimes they are absolutely appropriate. This is definitely a case of the latter where bigger is definitely better. Davies creates a number of likeable characters and kills them off one by one in a perverse but realistic manner, little touches of malfeasance in a blockbusting script. Standing atop a deadly ball of energy, armed with pipes and deflecting lethal halos, the Heavenly Host Game is rip for a theme park to swipe. Mr Copper is charmingly written and played and whilst the humour is occasionally forced it is his more thoughtful moments that really endear him to the audience. He talks the Doctor into leaving Astrid as stardust and ponders on the horror of dictating life and death (a wonderfully prescient observation considering the events of Waters of Mars) in scenes that prove him to be much more astute than I had previously given him credit. Copper could have been a comic caricature but Clive Swift gives him a real sense of dignity (and quite the actor too as he seems to be an arsehole in real life as his interview in Doctor Who magazine exemplified). Max Capricorn doesn't get spoken about much when it comes to the great Doctor Who villain but I think he has a lot to offer. He's visually delicious; confined to a steam punk contraption that only allows us to see his head protruding from oily wires and his retirement plan of destroying the Earth, slaughtering the board of his company and spending the rest of his days copping off with metal obsessed nymphs is inspired lunacy. No you can't take him seriously at all...but there are very few Doctor Who villains that I can. He's a materialistic, psychotic despot with a penchant for one-liners and I think he is marvellous. The comedy gurn from Capricorn as he plunges into the storm drive always makes me die with laughter, it punctures the slow motion melodrama of Astrid falling to her death hilariously. Murray Gold’s music as the Titanic plunges towards the Earth is genuinely dynamic and exciting, capturing the madness and the pace of the conclusion. The Doctor’s hilarious reaction to where exactly the Titanic is going to crash almost makes the sequence worthwhile (almost). Sometimes the bastards survive is a point worth making. Slade is a complete slime ball and remains in character right up until his parting shot. I respect Davies for that. What happened to the next time trailers for the new seasons? This is one of the most exciting examples. Catherine Tate! Sontarans! Martha Jones! Stone monsters! Sarah Lancashire! Ood! The piano addition to the theme tune is superb, I don't think this has been improved before or since in NuWho.
The Bad Stuff: I have absolutely no clue as to the purpose of the Titanic crashing into the TARDIS if this painfully simple resolution was always going to be how it was going to be concluded. It is just there to provide a good cliffhanger without any logical purpose beyond that and that's not good enough. The characterisation can be Paul Cornell obvious at times (that's the Paul Cornell from Father's Day, not the Paul Cornell of Human Nature), trying to push you into a certain opinion on characters so forcefully. The toffs laughing at Marvin and Foon are clearly supposed to make us feel for these characters. Who on Earth would dial a phone line 5000 times? Davies has a funny obsession with numbers, always going for one which is far out of the realms of believability (see also the dating of New Earth and Utopia). Cyborgs with equal rights is a metaphor for the fight for homosexual rights and I'm not sure if it was needed, even to provide Banakafalata with some substance. I can usually defend this show to the high heavens but what hope have I got with a parting cry of ‘Thank you Doctor!’ from the Queen? Clever? Funny? Cute? Embarrassing.
The Shallow Bit: The things I could do to Russell Tovey. Look at how stunningly Kylie Minogue scrubbed up on The Voice last year...what the hell happened here?
Result: Voyage of the Damned is a fast paced, sexy disaster movie in space and when taken as a blockbusting Christmas special it is very well done, executed with panache and performed in style. You wouldn’t want many stories of this ilk but as an attractive one off with piquant visuals, pace, excitement and some pleasant touches of character it is a highly engaging experience. I’m pleased one of the highest rated Doctor Who stories is such a shameless crowd pleaser because the generally increased viewing figures of series four would seem to suggest that some of the uninitiated came back for more. Kylie Minogue isn’t the world’s greatest actress but she is effortlessly likeable and clearly a great draw and actors Jimmy Vee, Clive Owen, Russell Tovey and Geoffrey Palmer provide fantastic moments along the way. David Tennant is no slouch either, keeping the energy levels up and the Doctor's relationship with Astrid reminding us of how seductive a life with the Time Lord can be. Only when Davies tries to push the hero worship does the characterisation really sink and fortunately that is reduced to a few scant scenes. Voyage comes in for a lot of bad press but I think it is a story that knows exactly what it is doing and gets on with doing it very well indeed, more amusing than The Runaway Bride, less static than The Next Doctor, more compact and easily digestible than The End of Time, far less up its own arse than A Christmas Carol and a world away in terms of quality compared to The Doctor, The Widow & the Wardrobe and The Time of the Doctor. Only The Christmas Invasion and The Snowman triumph over this in the Christmas Special stakes as far as I am concerned, a fun packed thrill ride which plunders the disaster genre and does some pleasing things with it. Voyage of the Damned is a great example of how your opinion can be revised upon watching a story again. I was left distinctly unimpressed after my first viewing but now this one of my ultimate comfort stories, a splash of colour, noise, action, charm and great lines that never fails to amuse me: 8/10
Partners in Crime written by Russell T Davies and directed by James Strong
Result: An insanely weird and wonderful season debut which to my mind is the strongest of the Russell T Davies seasons. There are too many moments to enjoy; The Doctor and Donna infiltrating Adipose Industries at the same time and never crossing paths, Donna and her Granddad up the hill, the silent miming through the window, the vertiginous cable car sequence, Adipose babies waddling along the street in their masses and the Wilf's glorious reaction to Donna living the dream that gives you massive cuddle before the credits. Watching this makes me yearn for the days when Davies was suffusing the show with gorgeous characterisation of this kind and it doesn’t matter who this episode focuses on they are all impeccably written and performed. He has struck gold with the Noble's and living up to that astute aphorism of Barry Letts', that you should have a set of regulars who you cannot take your eyes off of even when the story isn't all that interesting. When you marry those characters with a great narrative (Turn Left) you have television gold. James Strong’s direction makes this potentially ropey (but quick witted and paced) plot come alive in unexpected ways and imbues the whole episode with a thrill of energy that keeps you glued. I will always remember my excitement when this was first broadcast and how it shoved two fingers in the faces of unhappy fans who were scared that Catherine Tate’s involvement would sink the show. She’s superb and remains one of my favourite ever companions. I love Partners in Crime, comfort Doctor Who made with an abundance of talent. I have a giant cuddly Adipose on my bed and I don’t care who knows it: 9/10
Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2014/06/partners-in-crime-written-by-russell-t.html
The Fires of Pompeii written by James Moran and directed by Colin Teague
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor and Donna arrive in Pompeii and its Volcano Day…
Mockney Dude: Some stunning work done with the Doctor in this story. Series four was where the tenth Doctor’s characterisation was refined to a seriously awesome level, with the silliness of series two balancing the seriousness of series three and adding Donna to the mix. Between them Tennant and Davies have refined the character into something that had serious mass appeal and brought a new wave of viewers to the screen that have been long since lost. She is perfectly right, the Doctor has been surrounding himself with younger companions that he feels he can talk to how he likes but now he has met his match. I really love the ‘we’re not married’ which runs through the series because given their sniping at each other it is exactly the impression that they give. The Doctor still cannot resist a mystery and whilst shooing Donna away back to the TARDIS he catches sight of the printed circuit on marble and that decides that they are staying. ‘You fought them off with a water pistol! I bloody love you!’ cries Donna and she’s right, he walks that fine line between stupid and clever where genius lies. The Doctor can see what is, what was, what could be and what must not – we get a glimpse of life as a Time Lord and how he sees the universe. It's a unique opportunity to understand the weight of responsibility that rests on his shoulders, usually hidden underneath layers of frivolity. Pompeii or the world, what an impossible situation. We get to see how scarred the Doctor was by the Time War by paralleling his decision made then and now. Four years on and the decision to rid the series of Gallifrey was still generating great drama. He runs away from the consequences of his actions because he’s too scared to look back at what he has done and how he might see himself. The Doctor as a spectre of mercy returning to save the family is an enduring image. The last scene between the Doctor and Donna where he admits that he does need somebody and she quietly agrees is priceless, it has been a long time since we have had a Doctor and companion who work this well together, and perhaps we never have. It’s mesmerising.
Delicious Donna: Along with Turn Left, this is Catherine Tate’s most extraordinary performance in series four. I remember watching this episode when it first aired and being blown away by the strength of her performance and how it was two wonderful fingers in the face of all of her critics. Donna walks from the TARDIS and shows Tegan exactly how you can be suspicious and joyful at the same time. The major difference between the two characters (both of whom are very bolshie and loud mouthed) is that Donna manages to be enthusiastic and drag you into her wonderment whilst Tegan used to mope from the ship as though she was being dragged to the dentist by her father. Donna enjoys asking awkward questions and forces the Doctor to recognises his amorality in the face of the impending disaster. She refuses to accept that he is in charge and tells him she doesn’t need his permission to help people (how long have I been waiting for somebody to say that in the new series?). When Donna laughs with and comforts Evelina she feels real, some real effort has gone into pushing Donna away from the caricature she was in her first story and turning her into somebody that you might meet in real. No impossible girls here, just flesh and blood and emotion. Her feelings override her reason and Donna chooses to make her own prophecy about the upcoming eruption. Donna Noble is the only person who would mouth off in the face of a giant bloody knife and face certain death as though the situation is such a chore. When the chips are down Donna is willing to selflessly give up her own life to save the world. When she takes the Doctor’s hands and helps him to make one of the toughest decisions he has ever had to make, to refuse to allow him to take the weight of that that decision alone that was when I fell in love with Donna Noble in a massive way. You really feel for her as she learns the hard way at how cruel history can be as she tries to save lives in the ash filled streets and stands there in tears as the world goes to hell. Donna screaming after the Doctor as he leaves, walking past the family they have gotten to know and willing to let them die gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. She begs him to save somebody and genuinely believes that had he refused she would have left him.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Doctor, she is returning. And you, daughter of London – there is something on your back!’
‘It's me. I make it happen.’
‘The sky is falling!’
The Good Stuff: The street scenes are as filmic as Doctor Who has ever been, beautifully shot in glorious sunshine with elaborate pillars and arches and full of richly dressed extras. One day the series had to tackle volcano day, I’m just pleased they waited until they had the resources to do it justice. It’s really peculiar to think that is Karen Gillan as one of the Sisterhood (and doesn’t she look like Ohica from The Brain of Morbius, mad staring eyes and all!) and wouldn’t it be awesome if they worked this into a later story? The fact that the future Doctor is here too let us just consider this an audition piece for the casting director. The TARDIS vanishing as they realise the danger of their situation is very Hartnell historical. Peter Capaldi is a huge acting coup and whilst some say he is wasted in a likeable role I couldn’t disagree more because it was more vital than ever to make this ordinary man as gorgeous as possible to drive home the pain of the threat. It is far harder to make a nice character interesting and he succeeds in spades. The POV of the Pyrovile looking up through the grille at Evelina is just one example of the thoughtful direction on display here. Lucius is a formidable villain played with real gravity by Phil Davis. He might not be given the most substantial of roles but the way he spits his dialogue out I promise you will never forget him. The scene where Evelina and Lucius try and out soothsay each other is extremely powerful, beautifully performed and scored and with lots of dark hints of things to come. The lighting is extraordinary throughout from the warm glow of the hypocaust, the moonlight streaming through Lucius’ house and the bleached red furnace of the volcano. Give that lighting director a raise. Thanks to the lighting the studio scenes more than match the visual splendour of the scenes in Cinecetta. I always flinch when the Doctor snaps off Lucius’ arm. The Pyroviles are excellently realised, proper filmic monsters for this movie-look episode. A grey blank stone face with a fat pink tongue rolling inside – that High Priestess is horrible to look at. She turns my stomach every time she appears. The scale of this episode is immense, the image of the Pyroviles stomping around inside the volcano, giant behemoths with sparks flying from their every footstep, is fantastic. Another astonishing set piece and the highlight of the episode visually is the volcano exploding and the ash reaching out to steal the sun. Donna condemning the Doctor is powerful drama the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Massacre. She slaps down his objections after his brutal abandonment of the family they have gotten close to. The Doctor and Donna as the household Gods is a lovely finishing touch, more people to remember her after Donna loses these memories.
The Shallow Bit: Quintus is an exotic beauty.
Result: A top ten favourite of mine and the sort of episode the latest series still has to live up to. There isn’t one part of this episode that isn’t firing on all cylinders from the excellent performances, the quality direction, astonishing effects and an excellently crafted script that pushes the Doctor and Donna into some very difficult decision and forcing them to confront each other’s morality and the climax which delivers one dramatic punch to the gut after another. It's one priceless scene after another cumulating in one of the most devastating climaxes to any Doctor Who story, a blistering dramatic final ten minutes that will leave you gasping for air. This is the episode where Catherine Tate proved her dramatic potential and her chemistry with David Tennant is positively sizzling. I love historicals and have been a little disappointed at the entertaining spin the new series keeps giving its forays back in time. This more than makes up for it as the laughs evaporate into a dilemma that means something to our regulars and the lives that they will affect. Astonishingly good, I never get tired of watching this exquisitely realised slice of drama: 10/10
Planet of the Ood written by Keith Temple and directed by Graeme Harper
This story in a nutshell: We’re off to the Ood Sphere to start a revolution! Oh wait…they’ve done it already! Carry on.
Mockney Dude: As some of you may know I have been working my way through the early seasons with my husband Simon (and we have been enjoying ourselves immensely – check out our ‘The Fella’ tab at the top of the page!) and we have just reached the early first steps of David Tennant in the role which vary from the squeaky voice nerves and overdone aggression (New Earth & The Idiots Lantern) to smugness and a Doctorish charm (Tooth and Claw & The Girl in the Fireplace). However skipping forwards to season four with this review and there is a world of difference in his portrayal now. He is supremely confident at this stage and can play the emotional beats of the show like an expert. David Tennant’s chemistry with Catherine Tate is rarely bettered by any Doctor/companion team and he charges through the story completely in charge of his actions and sympathetic to the cause. The one problem with Planet of the Ood comes not from David Tennant (he really is excellent) but from Keith Temple’s plot which deliberately makes the Doctor an extraneous character in his own show. Extract the Doctor from this piece and the events would (pretty much) play out exactly as they are. The Ood revolution would go ahead because they already have everything in place before the Doctor arrives. Which puts out hero in the uncomfortable position of being merely an observer which is exactly what his people would prefer were they still around but means he doesn’t make a terrific impact. The best he can do is explain the plot as Halpen transforms at the climax. Oh and he throws a switch which releases the Ood but anyone could have done that. I would go as far to say that Donna is more important to this story because although the Doctor does sympathise with the Ood it is through Catherine Tate’s heartbreaking silent tears that you truly feel for them. Interestingly the Doctor mentions that he owes them one for not asking the right questions in The Impossible Planet and letting them all be wiped out. This is a rare admission of failure by the Doctor and it's fascinating to be brought up in a story where he is similarly impotent. He even gets told off when he tries the Eccleston trick of insulting the human race for their slave labour – Donna suggests he takes humans around with him so he can take cheap shots. It’s a great moment though and one that was long coming to him for his loose insults about the humanity. In this case he needed a verbal slap and he apologies. One thing I did love about the Doctor in this episode comes right at the beginning. You’ve never seen a better example of why the Doctor travels with a companion, he is literally drinking in Donna’s excitement at landing on an alien world and visually you can see how much he is getting off on her anticipation. Weirdly at the climax the free Ood say that they will never forget the Doctor or Donna and what they did for them which was absolutely nothing but empathise. Perhaps that’s enough.
Tempestuous Temp: You see this is why we love Donna so much. She’s absolutely terrified to be on an alien planet and grinning about it all the while. Imagine the similarly verbose Tegan Jovanka in this situation…she would be slitting her wrists whilst offering to do everybody else at the same time. Donna loves the unpredictability of this life and so do we – she’s basically us but funnier and gorgeous. Fabulously she doesn’t wait around whilst the Doctor makes a grand speech about travelling in the TARDIS, she’s already back inside fetching the cutest fur coat on the planet! The few laughs we do get all come from Donna and I especially enjoy the moment when she picks up the translator ball thinking that is how the Ood communicate. It's embarrassing and feels very real. She is so sweet when she strokes the aliens head when she realises it has died. Her ‘why d’you say Miss…do I look single?’ feels like a direct leap from her own sketch show which I happen to adore but for others who are less keen it might be a step too far.It's unavoidable in some scene because there are only a certain amount of ways that you can say lines. How formidable is Donna? Not only has learnt to kick doors down (to try and catch naughty lovers in a clinch) but she also learnt to wolf whistle down West Ham every Saturday. I have heard the complaint that Catherine Tate pours out tears in every single episode and whilst this may have some merit the writers ensure that each and every time it happens there is a damn good reason for it (the deaths of thousands in Pompeii, returning home to her Granddad, realising she is going to die…I defy you to remain stoic and emotionless in the same situations) and every time it breaks my heart because Tate is just so good at driving the emotion of these scenes right at you. Maybe it's because she is so shallow and bolshie at times that these moments truly stand out and humanise Donna or perhaps the writing, direction and performances are just really good. When Donna hears the silent scream of the Ood she wells up and so do we – she is hearing the sound of an oppressive race crying out for help and that is a genuinely moving experience. Suddenly all this horror means something. It's enough for Donna to ask the Doctor to take her home because the horrors of this world have repulsed her so much she just needs to experience something normal.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Are we like explorers or more like a virus?’ ‘Sometimes I wonder’ – Donna and the Doctor discussing the human race!
‘Being with you I can’t tell what’s right or wrong anymore!’ ‘It's better that way…’
The Good: How groovy is that kaleidoscopic effect of zooming in on the Ood in the teaser? What could be more glorious visually than the TARDIS as a minute dot on a stunning snow swept landscape with giant stalactites hanging from canyons and planets with rings filling the sky? There is a glorious feeling of classic Who about this adventure with the Doctor and Donna enjoying each others company as friends (they remind me strongly of the fourth Doctor and Sarah), location work around some industrial nightmare (the sort you would find in Day of the Daleks, The Green Death, The Sun Makers), an icky looking monster in the snow (Revelation of the Daleks) and scary monsters with red eyes and silky voices (ala The Robots of Death). Oh yeah and there’s a giant brain that features strongly in the conclusion (Time and the Rani). The mention of the Sense Sphere reminded the audience in the know that the Ood resemble the Sensorites. It is a forty year plus reference only Doctor Who could get away with. Tim McInnerny shows the others how a good villain ought to be portrayed; he gives a twitchy, stressed out performance that makes you wonder which way he will jump, he’s thoroughly nasty to his employees and has a surprising bloodlust and love of money that seems to be the staple of all the memorable bad guys. You want to hiss at him like a pantomime villain even though he isn’t played as such (we’ll leave that to Anthony Ainley) and being so thoroughly despicable is what makes him so memorable. Businessman never get a fair deal in Doctor Who, do they? They’re all corrupt murderers (Morgus, Max Capricorn, Sil) or ambiguously villainous (Drax). Intercutting between an Ood being hunted down and Solana making a speech about how they are happy to serve and do as they are told is dynamically realised– it's far more assured storytelling than the unsubtle pre credits sequence. A rabid Ood being gunned down is a surprisingly adult thing for the show to even imply but they charge on brazenly. Images of the Ood being marched like Jews in a Nazi slave camp and being whipped if they fall behind is typically powerful Graeme Harper direction – he would pull off more effective wartime imagery in Turn Left when Rocco is driven off to a slave labour camp to similar disturbing effect. The location work in and around the power complex is stunning, Harper employs plenty of low angles to ensure that the scale of the plant fills the background of dialogue scenes. The notion of a telepathic scream encapsulating all the fear and pain that the Ood are going through is powerfully alien. You will never find a better example of what Doctor Who can do with its fast direction and stunning effects in the new series than the sequence where the twitchy, aroused guard menaces the Doctor though the storage bay with the mechanical claw. Dynamic, exciting and climaxing with that gorgeous crane shot of the claw hanging silently right over the Doctor. There’s an awesome political commentary that practically goes unnoticed because it is so brief; Donna suggests that if people on Earth knew what was going on they would be appalled but Solana declares that they do know but they ‘just don’t ask.’ There’s so much that could be applied I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. Action sequences in the snow? How can that be anything other than a feast for the eyes? Some of these pans across the gunfight look as though they have leapt from a feature film. Halpen letting his personal slave Ood go and join his people (even if that will probably result in his death) is a small act of mercy that momentarily made me reconsider this character – a great touch. Ugh – how nasty as the Ood that savagely bites at the scientists face? What’s so glorious about Halpen’s transformation at the end (besides the fact that it is still a shock despite being signposted throughout) is that I thought his hair loss was already a wonderful punishment for being such a creep. It's almost as if his body is rebelling against his nature, saying that he cannot be a nasty piece of work and a good looking man. Then they go one further and have him literally peel his head away to reveal the face of the very creatures he has been enslaving and killing. It has such a disgusting irony to it I felt like applauding, it shows that the Ood are far more savvy than they appear and director Graeme Harper magnificently refuses to shy away from the horror of the scene. Gooey skin peels away and tendrils vomit from his mouth. Its just glorious. Murray Gold’s music comes into its own during the climax as the Ood sing their song of freedom.
The Bad: The Ood killing Halpen’s business associate comes far too soon into the episode. It rather spoils the idea that there is anything wrong in Ood Central and gives you a massive hint as to the revolution that is to follow – all in the first minute of the show! I know that in single part stories this is the one chance to squeeze in a cliffhanger (of sorts) but had this moment come ten/fifteen minutes into the episode it would have been far more memorable. Unusually for NuWho the guest characters don’t really live up to their name. Take Solana for example, we figure she is competent at her job and makes the mistake of turning on the Doctor but we never learn anything about her life, whether she has any strengths, weaknesses, quirks…she’s a function of the plot rather than a character driving it and you could say that about all of the character except Halpen. The most we learn about her is ‘it's nothing to do with me’ when it comes to assigning the blame which just doesn’t cut it in my book. Her death is unfortunate too because it seems as though the episode is saying that everybody who makes a wrong choice gets punished but that is far too black and white to be realistic. It’s the same with the sadistic guard. It would have been far more effective had one of them escaped at the end and been left contemplate their choices. The Homer Simpson gag falls way short of the mark for me. Perhaps if the Ood truly were complicit it might work but this is the same discomfort I would feel with poking fun at the retarded. The idea of filling containers full of Ood and shipping them out like groceries might have laboured the point a bit too far. The song was affecting enough, did we really need the added touch of the brains in their hands (although I did love Donna pointing out that makes them peaceful)? It's odd how this episode can swing like a big dramatic pendulum between the restrained and the mallet over the head extreme. The drunken executives all need to be shot too, what dicks. Where the hell does that subplot about ‘Friends of the Ood’ come from? That hasn’t been foreshadowed in any way besides the character (who has makes very little impression otherwise) lurking around like Halpen’s shadow. That’s the worst kind of twist, one which doesn’t surprise the audience as much as it does cheat them. Still he does get eaten by a giant brain so its not all bad.
The Shallow Bit: How stunning does Catherine Tate look with her hair styled like this? Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman and Karen Gillan might be what people consider conventionally beautiful but this is a natural looking redhead who has a hell of a lot of style.
Result: Planet of the Ood is an odd story for sure because it has all the ingredients that should make it an instant classic; the return of a memorable monster, Catherine Tate as exuberant as ever, Graeme Harper giving the action scenes a sense of scale and gritty atmosphere and a fabulous villain in Tim McInnerny’s Halpen. It's certainly not a bad episode by any means and it looks like it has ten times its budget but my only problem is that it is so unrelentingly grim that (like a classic finale of the Davison era I could mention) that I rarely feel the urge to take it off the shelf and give it a re-watch. Saying that though there are lots of other pluses too – a bona fide alien world that is exceptionally realised, some real gore that the new series has been lacking and some smirk worthy b-movie moments (a giant brain, the title sequence which could have come straight from the classic series) that no other show would dare to attempt. It's almost a shame that it is so serious because some smart humour and a few more likeable (or even interesting) characters would have made this near perfect. As it is it is a perfectly serviceable action tale with plenty to drink in visually and possibly even intellectually if you are in the right mood (although this swings dramatically between the subtle and the obvious that it is quite jarring in places) but there’s not a lot here to make you smile. Massive kudos for Murray Gold’s score which manages to express so many emotions whilst remaining lyrical and strange: 7/10
The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky written by Helen Raynor and directed by Douglas MacKinnon
This story in a nutshell: It’s the moment you've all been waiting for…the Sontarans invade the Earth!
Mockney Dude: The Doctor is in a tetchy mood around UNIT and clearly the good old days of them fighting side by side are over. He declares that people with guns are usually the enemy in his book and I’m really not sure when his vision became so black and white. He can be quite a moody git like this from time to time, a fully flawed character who often thinks that he is right. Martha describes the Doctor as being like fire and if you stand too close people get burnt. If that seems like an exaggerated statement then hold judgement until Journey’s End when we see a poignant montage of just how many people have lost their lives because of him. Donna literally touches his fire and pays the price. I remember when I first saw the moment where the Doctor mistakenly thinks Donna is going to leave him and found it a bit cringe worthy but the more I see it, the more it amuses me (I think it is the performances). The way he tries to sell the wonders of the universe reminds me of the final scene of Invasion of the Dinosaurs but what really makes me chuckle is how Donna lets him go on saying how marvellous she is simply because she enjoys making a bit of a fool out of him. It's not malicious, it's just bursting that ego of his a bit. The Doctor’s reaction to the truly unspectacular explosion of the ATMOS device is a great gag. Wilfred wants the Doctor to promise that he will take care of his only grandchild but the Doctor has to admit that she takes care of him. He can see through the fake Martha in about five seconds flat but plays along for an age. It is interesting to hear him considering the idea of settling on the Earth again when the TARDIS is stolen - he thinks it would be hell to be stranded in one place and one time. I was initially infuriated by the Doctor’s arrogance when he barges in and conducts the negotiations with the Sontarans until he put his feet up on the desk and switched over to a cartoon during their war cries. That was pretty cool. My husband is terribly fickle when it comes to his Doctor’s and seems to switch allegiances every time he regenerates. He was very fond of Tennant until Matt Smith came along but now finds more to criticise than to praise. One of the criticisms Simon levelled at Tennant was that he was far too excitable and that sometimes underplaying moments is just as effective as shrieking uncontrollably. Watching The Poison Sky I begin to see his point because he gets awfully shouty at times, doesn’t he? Screaming his head off at Colonel Mace in a way that, had it been the Brigadier, he would have gotten a cuff around the face to remind him to remain mannerly. The tenth Doctor really needs Donna to keep his monstrous ego in check. Watch out for the scene where he brings the real Martha Jones back to life and he treats the clone with no dignity or kindness, he rips the life right out of her. Don’t get this guy mad. He’s not all tantrums though, I love the bit where he tosses away Luke’s gun without breaking his stride. His method of defeating the Sontarans by igniting their ship and wiping out thousands of them is very bloody but considering they are on a war footing what other option did he have? Diplomacy? At least he tries to give them a choice. They made this rod for their own back. Helen Raynor provides a mixed characterisation of the Doctor but given a touch of magic of season four, it is still most fabulous.
Tempestuous Temp: Showing the trust he has in her, the Doctor is teaching Donna to fly the TARDIS but she keeps veering too close to the 1980s (‘What am I going to do? Put a dent in them?’). I cannot tell you how glad I was that Davies and Raynor did not go down the obvious route of having Donna and Martha bitch fighting each other over the Doctor. Knowing how fiery Donna is and how much Martha was in love with the Doctor it is easy to understand why people might think this might be a powder keg of resentment but nothing could be further from the truth. They are both very adult and get on like a house on fire from their first meeting. Donna’s maturity never ceases to amaze me because it always shows up when I least expect it. It's great to see Donna sticking up for the ordinary people who are being bullied and treated like criminals by UNIT. It would seem that she is everybody's conscience. Her work as a temp comes in handy as she figures none of the ATMOS workers have had sick days. I bet she had the odd duvet day and sneaky shopping trip. Donna’s homecoming is beautifully presented; from the soaring crane shot that follows her down the road, the autumnal colours suggesting a melancholy feel and Tate and Cribbins reactions when they see each other from across the street. She admits to her grandfather something that she would never tell the Doctor, that he is amazing and that she trusts him with her life (although Gramps still comes first, naturally). This family just feels so real especially with Sylvia always coming down hard on Donna and considering her a bit of a failure (she’s definitely the matriarch in this household). It is Sylvia's presence that stops this unit from becoming too twee. Donna's time travelling exploits are like a naughty secret between Gramps and Donna and I love it that way. The Doctor and Wilf recognising each other from Voyager of the Damned is cute but not as sweet as the very human line of ‘you must be one of those aliens!’ Sylvia’s dislike of the Doctor is very consistent. Mind you the Earth nearly comes to an end every time they meet and that sort of thing sticks with you. DO NOT if you value your life try and burgle Sylvia Noble’s house because she has an axe and she’s not afraid to use it. Both Rose and Martha were thrilled to be trusted with a TARDIS key but Donna, ever the realist, says they can get sentimental when the world stops choking to death. Until now Donna has been protected from the aliens she has met by the Doctor but this time she is alone and trapped on a Sontaran ship and I think it is a testament to her bravery that she ventures out with a bloody great mallet and gives one a whack right up the probic vent even though she is terrified. It is lovely that Raynor allows Donna to be afraid because one of my biggest problems with the new series companions as audience notification figures (especially Amy and Clara) is that they seem to take every threat in their stride. If they aren't afraid for their lives...why should we be? It's astonishing how much emotional weight the families of the companions can bring to a story; it was exposed with Jackie in Love & Monsters when she turned on Elton and reminded us how awful it must be to be left behind and it is just as devastating here where we cut to Wilfred in the middle of the action trying to comfort his little girl as she breaks down on the kitchen floor. Just heartbreaking, and an angle the show hadn't really touched on before Davies took the reins. When the Doctor is beamed back from his suicide mission Martha hugs him but it's Donna that provokes the biggest reaction, making me howl when she smacks him on the arm for being so stupid. Wilf’s parting sentiment to Donna that she should get out there and see the stars for him because he is too old to do it himself was so beautiful it left me in tears (what is it about Bernard Cribbins that makes me cry?). It makes me smile inside to think that one day he would be able to see the stars for himself.
Marvellous Martha: How lovely to see Freema Agyeman back in the show and forming such a great rapport with Catherine Tate. Martha is engaged to Tom Milligan from The Last of the Time Lords although What happens there is best left to the imagination because she is engaged to Mickey come The End of Time. Perhaps he never came back from Africa (or perhaps Tom Ellis is off filming Miranda?). We’ve always suspected that the Doctor’s companions go on to have fulfilling lives after they have left him but here we actually get to see it with Martha working as a Doctor in UNIT and doing just dandy for herself. Donna questions if this is what the Doctor did to Martha – turn her into a soldier - and considering she was originally going to have a quiet career in medicine you have to concede that she might have a point. The point about turning his companions into fighters is driven home in The Stolen Earth. It feels as though Martha's potential is being exploited to the full now; showing off her bravery, her compassion and her intelligence. She refuses to carry a gun and she figures that if she can surround herself with men that do perhaps she can make them better people. Martha learnt the hard way what keeping your life with the Doctor a secret from your family can do to them and so she is in the perfect position to warn Donna of the deadlier side of travelling with him. Evil Martha is a great idea and it gives Freema Agyeman a chance to do something other than enthuse about everything – this is one of the better evil duplicates I have seen in a while because it is nicely underplayed. I kind of wish she had been given a bit more to do than stand around in the background, fake Francie style (Alias) and I don't like the idea of a stinky Martha!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It's like a potato! A baked potato! A talking baked potato!’ ‘Now Ross don’t be rude. You look like a pink weasel to him.’
‘I admire them! The bravery of idiots is bravery nonetheless!’
‘Back of the neck!’ – best Donna line ever.
‘You go with him, that wonderful Doctor. You go and see the stars. And then bring a bit of them back for your old Gramps’ – how is it Cribbins always makes me cry?
· It strikes me as something treasurable that the most classic NuWho two parter (try saying that three times fast) begins with the single most classic Who opening scene. A journalist cum UNIT secret agent (it's Sarah Jane for the next generation) being kicked out of the Rattigan Academy and suffering the shock of something very normal turning against her and killing her. It’s the sort of gloriously simple opening that could have taken place in the 70s, the 80s or even in the 2100s. I swear at points I thought I was watching classic Who. I love the idea of evil cars (it was originally Russell T Davies’ idea, I believe, but Raynor uses it spectacularly in the opening sequence) and that chilling parting line ‘This is your final destination’ justifies the idea entirely. It seems this is the year that consumerism is under fire because both fad diets (Partners in Crime) and cars are turning deadly and making the consumer pay for their vanity. What’s worse, the Sontarans are using our fear of global warning against us too with ATMOS reducing carbon emissions to zero. The car shooting into the river is one of those images that lingers in the mind.
· They’ve got those exterior shots looking into the TARDIS spot on at this stage (earlier episodes were clearly just photographic backdrops) and Donna walks down the ramp towards the doors as the Doctor stands outside the ship greeting Martha. Very nicely done.
· Finally we are treated to a proper, full blooded UNIT story. We have flirted with them in Aliens of London and The Christmas Invasion before the show turned it's attention to Torchwood (with the odd mention here and there) but this is the UNIT I remember from the Pertwee years (and Battlefield). A military force packed with buff young things clutching at rifles and trying their damnedest to protect the Earth from alien menaces. The idea that they are searching for ‘illegal aliens’ in a factory is a subtle political comment whilst still being entirely within their remit. An on site base inside a haulage truck – how awesome is that? They have massive funding from the United Nations in the name of home world security and it shows – I don’t think I have ever seen so many soldiers in a Doctor Who story. It's clear that the myriad of alien menaces that have been made public have forced UNIT into a position of power again. The nail biting sequence with UNIT attempting to set off nuclear strike at the Sontarans was very reminiscent of the last episode of The Invasion when UNIT were on tenterhooks for precisely the reverse reason – waiting to see if a nuclear explosion would tear the planet apart. Just when you think that UNIT might actually have lost their touch you realise that the writer has dragged them down under a Sontaran bombardment just to send their reputation sky high. You can't help but punch the air when they turn the tables and kick some Sontaran ass. Love the kiss between Mace and his subordinate, a moment of character I wasn’t expecting which poses some intriguing questions about their relationship.
· People consider Luke Rattigan a poor character but they forget that the whole point of him is that he is supposed to be annoying and Ryan Sampson pulls off that mix of insane genius and unpredictable childishness really well. He's as childishly unpredictable as the Master was last season. I always admire actors that aren’t afraid to make themselves look fairly idiotic and I sympathise with Luke because his monumental sized ego shrouds the fact that he is bring taken for a ride. In a way this is how Luke Smith could have turned out had he been exploited by the Bane rather than raised by Sarah Jane. Luke’s rant about the Doctor’s ATMOS system tautology says everything you need to know about this character and the Doctor sums him up perfectly with a curt ‘It's been a long time since anybody has said no to you, isn’t it?’ Luke looks out at the Earth and says ‘It was never big enough for me.’ Bless him, the way he mimics the Sontar-ha war cry is just a little bit pathetic but again completely in character. It is clear that Luke has probably played one too many combat games in his childhood because he is ready to explode when the Sontarans go on a war footing. Luke has surrounded himself with yes men for so long and when they are smarter than he is for seeing through the ridiculous Earth.2 nonsense he pulls out a gun because force is the only way to control them once that spell of obedience is snapped. He proves himself to be a weak little boy bullying people into obeying him and just like every Doctor Who villain with that spec you know he is ultimately going to be brought down by his own inadequacies. He was so deluded that he was going to be God of his own little world that he had the nerve to design a mating programme. Poor foolish little Luke. When he realises the truth he ends up crying in the corner, the fate of all fascists. Astonishingly, Raynor allows the character a final moment of redemption as he follows up on the Doctor’s suggestion that he do something useful with his life and sacrifices it so the Doctor can live. I never saw that coming on my first watch and it is a satisfying end to a fascinatingly twisted character. Love his final ‘Sontar-ha!’ In your face. Staal, like the audience, underestimated him.
· Their introduction scene aside, this is a great use of the Sontarans and the script is obsessed enough with them to more than justify their inclusion. Compare and contrast to the Autons in Rose who were little more than stock villains and you can see how badly this could have ended up. Their redesign is quite subtle compared to other aliens that have transferred from the classic series. Christopher Ryan has a gorgeous throaty voice that is perfect to portray an aged Sontaran commander and his performance never falters away from that stern, military mindset. The Sontarans are pretty miffed that they weren’t allowed to take part in the finest war in history – the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. We’ve only ever seen single Sontaran ships before so imagine my delight at seeing their arrow shaped warship with a ring around its middle that can deploys hundreds of spherical scout ships. The Sontaran/Rutan war has been raging on now for 50,000 years and their plan to turn the Earth into a suitable clone world for more soldiers to be hatched suggests that it is not going so well for them. They pitched the sequence where the Sontarans go on the attack exactly right. It is almost hilarious watching these humpty dumpty numpties marching in formation a hundred strong but this is soon followed up with an agonising close up of Ross, a character we have come to like a lot, sprawled dead on the floor. The story is saying we know these guys are ridiculous but look what they can do. Suddenly the Sontarans are a genuine military threat. Even when UNIT begin fighting back and kick their shiny blue asses they are still grinning and getting off on the honour and glory of fighting to the death. This is 100% the same creatures that Robert Holmes created in The Time Warrior and it's great to finally be able to see a large scale skirmish worthy of them. At the risk of bashing Moffat more than I already have on this site this is the only time the Sontarans have appeared in the series and been a credible threat. Strax is a nice character but he has condensed the race into a comic parody of their former magnificence.
· I cannot believe it has taken four seasons to give us an Earth-in-danger cliffhanger like this. We’ve had Slitheen popping out of body suits, gas masked zombies attacking, Dalek fleets emerging, Cybermen on the march, the Beast coming out of the pit, Daleks and Cybermen revealing themselves, a Dalek human hybrid, John Smith having to choose between his best friend and his girlfriend and the Master sending down his Toclafane army to attack the Earth… The last one might qualify but that never happened but what I’m talking about is an attack from the Earth’s point of view with all of the Doctor’s friends caught in the action. Like the end of The Invasion episode six. Or Invasion of the Dinosaurs episode one. This feels like the definitive classic cliffhanger; cars emitting an evil smoke, Wilf in danger, the Sontarans having a little jig and the Doctor apparently helpless.
· The effects heavy second episode is packed full of great images. London is seen disappearing in a swirling smog, as is New York, Istanbul and Sydney. There is a shot of Donna phoning home to Sylvia in The Poison Sky where she is sitting just on the periphery of the console room and you can see the full size and scope of the size – it's easy to forget what a carefully designed and lit set that console room is. It's probably my favourite in the shows entire run. The director cleverly uses rapid camera movement to follow the blast of a Sontaran weapon to it's victim and there is an impressive pan across the warehouse as the UNIT troops are massacred. The Valiant was a highlight in The Sound of Drums but it is even more so here where we get an epic shot of its mighty engines clearing away the smog. No matter how daft setting fire to the atmosphere might be, it looks awesome. Oddly for a science fiction show Doctor Who has steered away from using it's CGI budget for battle scenes and spaceships ala Star Trek and usually pushed the money in a more imaginative direction (like the Krillatines, the Werewolf, Lazarus’ monster and the Adipose). Here however they get to go nuts with the warships destruction, escape pods flying off to escape the exploding mother ship but tearing apart as the flames reach out and consume them. It's gorgeous eye candy.
· The final burst of nostalgia is the little treat at the climax as the TARDIS veers out of control and the Doctor, Donna and Martha grip hold of the console. I felt as if I was back in the Davison era.
· What a shame that the Brigadier could not be involved in this story (for whatever reason) because if there was ever a place for him in the new series this massive snog to the Pertwee era is it.
· Clearly the director is channelling The Two Doctors because the Sontarans are introduced in the most undramatic way possible – Staal just turns up in the middle of a scene and starts nattering. This is a far cry from their astonishing reveal at the end of The Time Warrior episode one.
· Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have had the Doctor visit the Rattigan Academy in Bessie? Or is he too hip these days for a yellow roadster?
· This is going to seem like the oddest of criticisms but there is a very feminine purple light which invades most of the scenes that are supposed to be creepy. Note to future lighting engineers, electric purple = not scary.
· ‘Intruder window’ was bad enough the first time. We really didn’t need it repeated.
· I got the message without Sylvia having to remind me the story had a message about ozone and carbon. Don’t talk down to the kiddie winks because they are a lot smarter than you give them credit for. Smoke belching from cars and filling the sky is enough of a visual clue to suggest car fumes = bad news.
· Setting fire to the atmosphere? What about the planes in the sky? Did they ground them all? And the birds? Are there millions of birds frazzled around the world? I’m sure that I buy that as a solution but really want else could they do after setting themselves a problem this international to solve? If the Valiant had gone round hoovering up all the mist around the world it would have felt too anti-climactic so at least they went with the exciting (if ludicrous) option. And they did set it up adequately by introducing Luke’s terraforming equipment very early in the story.
Notes: If you want to find out what happened after this story head over to the debut story of season two of the Sarah Jane Adventures which sees one Sontaran scout managing to escape their defeat and planning on bringing down the Earth in revenge.
The Shallow Bit: Too many gorgeous UNIT soldiers to mention! Ross Jenkins is up there as one of the five hottest males ever to appear in the show and his death is far more affecting than a bit part character has any right to be.
Result: Sontarans, UNIT, evil duplicates, a boy genius and everyday objects turned bad; the first episode of this two spectacular is a glorious nod to Doctor Who of days gone by. If there is a fault with this action movie slice of Who it is that the set up for the first episode means the pace slackens a little too often but that is more than made up for in the second episode which is pretty much one long magnificent action set piece. There is the odd moment that misfires (the Sontaran introduction scene is shockingly undramatic and I’m not sure if setting the atmosphere on fire makes any sense intellectually) and the direction might not be quite as tight as usual (although it is certainly imaginative in spots) but overall this story has a great deal of energy and excitement, a furious momentum peppered with lovely moments of character. The Sontarans make a stunning debut (mind you with Christopher Ryan in the driving seat how could they fail?) and there is fantastic reason for what they are doing to the Earth that is saved for the tail end of the story. David Tennant is a little too hysterical for my tastes and evil Martha means we are denied a proper return story for her but that is balanced by the gorgeous work being done with the Nobles who make my heart smile whenever they appear. Helen Raynor still hasn’t written her perfect Doctor Who story but she is definitely getting a lot closer and as a tribute to 70s Who we should thank her for this deliciously old school style adventure. This is terrific family entertainment just as the show promised to be when it hit our screens again: 8/10
The Doctor’s Daughter written by Stephen Greenhorn and directed by Alice Troughton
This story in a nutshell: How to have and lose a family in 45 minutes…
Mockney Dude: There is some interesting material for the Doctor here but much of its overwritten and given too much emphasis (which could often a problem with the tenth Doctor) and yet David Tennant is such an old hand at playing the part now he gives it all a great deal of significance. He’s not impossible just a bit unlikely. He’s not what you’d call a natural father, especially given his dangerous lifestyle with no roots. I love his casual suggestion that if they want to peace why not stop fighting? So simple and yet so true and something that so many people forget when they are caught up in conflict. Go and watch the scene where he threatens to take down Cobb and stop his genocidal plan, it’s the most natural response for the Doctor but I hate the way the Doctor bigs himself up in this fashion, making himself feel important. The Last of the Time Lords listens to his daughter’s twin heartbeats and has a little taste of home. There's a great scene in the cell where he calls her an echo of a Time Lord and the that the real thing is so much more; a sum of knowledge, a code, a shared history and a shared suffering. David Tennant sells those quietly mournful scenes perfectly. The Doctor fought and killed in the Time War so how are he and Jenny that different? The script rushes the Doctor’s unexpected adaptation to fatherhood but Tennant gently softens his character discreetly and somehow makes it convincing. The Doctor talks all the time and but doesn’t say anything. He’s not sure if he can face looking at Jenny each day reminding him of what he has lost. The day the Time Lords died a part of him died with them. This is essential foreshadowing for Day of the Doctor. Tennant milks the ending for all its worth even when the material is beyond syrup but I can’t help but think we’ve seen this incarnation lose too much now. Couldn't he have seen Jenny survive and go on to continue his work to make him proud? Having Jenny survive was a marvellous idea (although it is a shame that she has never returned - I would have thought she would have been a given in The End of Time) but the Doctor is left heartsbroken at the climax just like so many other episodes. He wants them to make the foundation of this world a man who never would. Imagine how controversial this episode would have been had the Doctor shot Cobb. Paul Cornell would have a heart attack. He's a Doctor that doesn't mind handling a firearm when the situation calls for it (The End of Time).
Delicious Donna: Catherine Tate makes me laugh so much, I love how she delivers the line ‘Have you got that, GI Jane?’ Donna coins the name Jenny for the Generated Anomaly, which is kind of cute. Her characterisation is inconsistent from scene to scene, at first she thinks Jenny is nothing but a soldier (GI Jane), then a person (Jenny), then a soldier again (you’re not really real) and then starts telling the Doctor he should live up to his responsibilities as a parent. ‘Oi! Cool the beans, Rambo!’ Donna has picked up some womanly wiles over the years but thank goodness we don’t get to see them being deployed. I like how Donna is depicted as intelligent, good with numbers and always thinking. She might be reactionary but she's smart too. Donna is not afraid to challenge the Doctor’s forceful opinions; she was such an excellent foil for him, confronting his prejudices whilst never demeaning him (as Amy and River often seemed to). She thinks the Doctor is wrong and the Time Lords will return. Let's call her Cassandra. Donna figures out the numbers are completion dates for each section. How can she ever go back to normal life after this, she asks? She’s going to travel with the Doctor forever. Oh dear, whenever a companion starts talking like that there’s going to be trouble.
Marvellous Martha: I am very fond of both Martha Jones and Freema Agyeman as a performer; I like the character for her intelligence and resourcefulness and the actress for her charm and infectious enthusiasm. This is probably Martha’s weakest episode though, shoehorned into a story that doesn't really need her and feeling more like the obligation of a promise to the actress rather than a necessary inclusion. She still gets lots of stuff to do but it kind of feels like Martha has been added to the story so Donna can comment on the Doctor’s parenthood and another character can tag along with the Hath. Martha loves the bit where you step out of the TARDIS. She protects the Hath even though they were shooting at her a few minutes earlier. Martha is very independent at this stage, heading to the surface despite the dangers. Martha’s panic as she sinks in the swamp is uncomfortable to watch and losing her friend adds a touch of poignancy to this otherwise over milked episode. She recognises that she cannot live the Doctor's lifestyle any more, that she has Earthbound responsibilities now.
The Good Stuff: Propergation from a single organism, one biological entity is both mother and father. I can imagine that is the method of procreation on Gallifrey rather than surrendering to the lust of the flesh. I love the Hath design, piscine creatures with jars clamped to their mouths to allow them to breathe underwater and move about. It’s a fresh idea for an alien and it's clever how Martha has to learn to communicate with them. The new series shies away from that kind of alien weirdness, often trying to boil alien civilisations down to recognisable Earth terms. Joe Dempsey is far more convincing than Georgia Moffatt so maybe this would have been better played as The Doctor’s Son? The surface is a beautifully stark landscape of temples and moons. Jenny’s laser acrobatics is one of the best set pieces of the year. Ridiculously overdone, but impressive nonetheless. When the technobabble is the best thing on offer you know you are in trouble but I really like the idea of a device used to rejuvenate a planets eco system. We actually get to witness the gases escaping and triggering the terraforming process.
The Bad Stuff: A casualty of the new series in 45 minute episodes is you do not have the time to set up the location in the style of the classic series. To explore the landscape and generate some atmosphere. It's all wham bang plot and the pre-title sequence in this episode is the crudest example yet. You’ll be shaking your head as soon as the title music kicks in and thinking how the hell did we get here? The ‘she’s my daughter’ and ‘hello dad’ dialogue was written for the trailers but it's completely unrealistic within the episode. The sets look remarkably low budget for the new series, lacking the imagination of what would have been achieved in the classic series. I love the idea of a theatre being turned into a triage centre but it isn't pulled off with any style. It all feels remarkably under-dressed. I don’t buy Georgia Moffatt as Jenny; she lacks any kind of gravitas or naturalism (‘You are such a soldier!’). I would have imagined the Doctor's Daughter to be a little more quirky. Idris from The Doctor's Wife, that sort of thing. Jenny is so...normal. Check out Lance Parkin's excellent Doctor Who novel Father Time to see how this was handled originally and with far more care. Nigel Terry is too much of a softie to be the ruthless military man he is written as. Jenny’s completely arbitrary death milks the melodrama to a new level (although the music is excellent). I remember me and Simon watching this episode and when Donna and the Doctor reveal how long the war has been going on and 20 generations in day blah blah blah and looking at each other in puzzlement. We declared this the least convincing twist ever. Until Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. What happened to the editing during the climax? I would have liked to have seen more of Jenny's revival and escape but this real blink and you'll miss it stuff. It seems weird that the beginning and end of this episode is rushed and yet all the stuff in the middle is so ponderous.
Result: The weakest episode of series four by some margin, The Doctor’s Daughter is the series pretending to be bold but running on the spot for 45 minutes. It's an odd one because it is an idea that can be worked (Father Time) but it needs double the running time, a braver writer and a stronger actress in the central role of Jenny to even begin to be able to pull it off. I wouldn’t want to sit through another 45 minutes of this. It's biggest selling point is fudged by the fact that Georgia Moffatt is stiff and unconvincing in the role and her pointless death scene and resurrection feel like blatant manipulation rather than a natural conclusion to the story. Both David Tennant and Catherine Tate add some charm and lovely moments but poor Freema Agyeman is worth more than the material she gets here. Add to these problems a jumbled narrative with an unconvincing reveal at its heart, some lousy production values, under dressed sets and cloying music and you have a troubled episode planted right in the heart of the season. I genuinely believe that Steven Moffat took his inspiration from Russell T. Davies in this episode, recognising that it had a spike in the ratings because of it's enticing title and trailer. It is the blueprint for The Doctor's Wife, The Wedding of River Song and Name of the Doctor amongst others. Episodes that don't really live up to their titles...unless you twist their meaning out of recognition. Fortunately there are six episodes of pure bliss coming up: 3/10
The Unicorn and the Wasp written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Graeme Harper
This story in a nutshell: ‘Agatha Christie didn’t go around solving murders all the time…’
Mockney Dude: Come season four Tennant has been doing this job so long his performances are peerless. Certainly the next four episodes would see some of his most memorable turns as the Doctor and Unicorn and the Wasp is his last chance to have some fun before all the fireworks begin. This time the Doctor adopts the role of chief inspector Smith from Scotland Yard and he seems to having a whale of a time picking up on clues and slips of the tongue whilst the death toll mounts. I love his moments of utter lunacy, which mirror Tom Baker at his finest (certainly his sudden exclamation of ‘MAIDEN!’ reminded me strongly of Baker’s ‘BRILLIANT!’ in The Stones of Blood). Like the werewolf in Tooth and Claw, the Doctor finds the wasp magnificent to behold, this is a guy who can appreciate beauty even if it is deadly. The sparkling cyanide sequence is one of the best of the year and we get to see the Doctor at his most energetic, hilarious and desperate. David Tennant makes a pretty good stand in Poirot having as much fun revealing everybody’s dirty secrets and pointing the finger as David Suchet does.
Tempestuous Temp: You would never be able to tell that this was filmed way in advance of the rest of the season as Catherine Tate is at her all time most confident during this murder mystery. It is around The Unicorn and the Wasp that my mum who was determined not to like Tate in the role (her loyalties lie with Billie Piper’s Rose) defences were crumbling and she fell in love with the character. Come the end of the season she was weeping with the rest of us. Never mind planet Zog, Donna would much rather go to a garden party in the 1930s. Is Donna a flapper or a slapper? I love how she completely fails to convince as a member of the gentry (or it could be Tate playing the whole thing for as many laughs as she can get: ‘Spiffing! Top ho!’). Roger declares that she is a super lady and she likes the cut of his gib, chin chin! Donna ponders why all the best men are on the other bus (why thank you kind lady) – when did we get to the stage where a companion could make an observation like that? Donna is shoehorned into the role of the plucky young girl that assists Inspector Smith. Her copyright faux pas (Donna is responsible for both Miss Marple and Murder on the Orient Express) are wonderful winks. I really like the gentle moments between Donna and Agatha which show a tender side to her character and it is great to hear her talking so openly about the events of The Runaway Bride. She is very understanding and talks about moving on, finding the Doctor and changing her life. This would have been sugar overload coming from Rose or Martha but hearing how much the Doctor has changed Donna’s life works because we have gone on such an incredible journey with her already. Donna is disgusted that the unnamed serving boy cannot grieve Roger because they were in a homosexual relationship. I love watching her munching on grapes during the big reveal bewildered and baffled how complex it has all become and befuddled at how everyone seem to have a motive. She's treating this as though she is watching it on the television with her slippers on on a Sunday evening. In one final act of heroism (or murder if that is your take), Donna causes the Vespiform to drown and stands by her decision that she had no choice. It really was a case of kill or be killed because the creature was working on pure instinct.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This makes a change! There’s a monster and we’re chasing it!’
‘Those tiny huge things than can turn a normal person into a killer.’
‘That night the universe exploded in my mind!’
The Good Stuff: The opening scenes give you an instant hit of summery 1930s gorgeousness – if you are a fan of the era (and Christie’s mysteries) this is already enough atmosphere to win you over. The location and the weather are perfect for s stylish slice of Christie pastiche. In order I screamed out loud as the episode introduces Felicity Kendall, Christopher Benjamin and Fenella Woolgar – just like a Sunday night Poirot/Marple this is an incredible guest cast that give their roles full justice. It is nice that we learn something about Christie rather than this simply being a parody, her disappearance is a story worth telling (and explaining). I love the structure of the flashbacks, with blatant lies (the Vicar), affairs revealed (Roger’s romance), perverts uncovered (Curbishley lost in a flashback within a flashback) and Edison exposed as a drunk. Whilst I probably would have preferred a pure historical I cannot deny the wasp is a brilliant bit of CGI, both beautiful and terrifying with some stunning detail. I'm frightened enough of little wasps but this grotesquely over sized version is genuinely nightmarish. Everybody leaving their room would be funny enough by Roger’s little gay playmate popping his head out is laugh out loud funny. ‘Try as I might it's hardly great literature’ – I found Agatha’s modesty very charming (being such a huge fan) and her assertion that she is just a ‘purveyor of nonsense’ making her all the more appealing. Even the nonsensical twists such as Curbishley faking his disability adds some colour. The flashbacks to Deli are sumptuous and I wouldn’t have a whole story story set in such an exotic location. The plot comes together like delicious clockwork – Lady Edison having had a child, brought to England to give birth, ‘maiden name’ being discovered by Professor Peach, Roger killed for his share of the inheritance and the Vicar being brought up by the ‘Christian fathers.’ The Reverend’s buzzing manages to be both silly and oddly terrifying – like he is trying to resist what he is becoming. It is so discordant, it's quite destabilising for children. Especially coming from a Vicar. Roberts offers a joyful touch of The Shakespeare Code as the Doctor still has the Carrionites locked away. The final sentiment that people will never stop reading Christie novels is the perfect way to end this little gem. I'll be re-reading her books until the day I die.
The Shallow Bit: Needless to say both Roger and bit of fluff are gorgeous. Donna is most definitely a flapper and Tennant has never looked as radiant before.
Result: I find it astonishing that Gareth Roberts managed to write a full bloodied Agatha Christie story complete with suspects, flashbacks, secrets, lies, murder, a dinnertime death, a huge reveal and still has time for a ruddy great monster and a car chase! Not only that but this is lovely homage to why we all love Christie’s work and an interesting look at the woman behind the books as well. The script sparkles with wit and intelligence and there are some outstanding performances as well (Tate especially shines in this setting). Simon adores both Sunday night murder mysteries and Catherine Tate and this episode is still his favourite NuWho and whilst there are a handful that I find better pieces of Doctor Who there aren’t any that I find much more pleasurable: 9/10
The Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead written by Steven Moffat and directed by Euro Lyn
This story in a nutshell: Killer shadows and songs from the river…
Mockney Dude: ‘The Doctor in the TARDIS. Next stop everywhere…’ Wow, I got such a buzz out of the Doctor and Donna simply landing the TARDIS in a great setting and wandering out to explore. It's so rarely done these days (without lots of set up, picking up of characters, etc) that it's shocking to be reminded of what a simple thrill it is. This is one of my favourite interpretations of the tenth Doctor, Moffat gleefully taking the most popular contemporary incarnation and turning him into a mythological figure confronting his own future. The Doctor enthusing about books feels very right and Donna aptly points out that biographies are very him because there is always a death at the end. His head is so full of stuff he declares that he needs a bigger head. As a traveller in time there is something appropriate about the Doctor’s mockery of archaeologists and he cuts through red tape by simply tearing up a form that would otherwise bind him. The Doctor is so used to turning up and being the one with all the foreknowledge and the one time that somebody knows not just more than he does but detailed knowledge of his own personal future, it haunts him. It's rare that the Doctor is this wrong footed in the new series whereas it used to happen all the time in the classic show. Given the myriads of times and places he has left his footprints in it's surprising that this sort of thing hasn’t happened before. Paradoxically there is a sense of the Doctor’s great age (his presence in so many books in the library) and at the same time that his life has barely begun and there is a wealth of experience to come (River’s foreknowledge). David Tennant rarely gave a better performance than the one he exhibits in Forest of the Dead (it helps that the material is so strong) as he dives from one problem to the next; wild eyed, angry, legendary and passionate. There seems to be something absolutely terrifying about the revelation of the Doctor’s name – given Moffat’s penchant to remember details like this and the shows new theme (or should that be old) theme of ‘Doctor who?’ perhaps this will be revealed during the 50th anniversary. I have complained in the past about Davies’ hero worship of the Doctor and how going down that path leads to abysmal sequences such as the one in Voyage of the Damned where he buys into his own mythos and starts declaring nonsense like ‘I’m the Doctor, I’m a Time Lord and I’m going to save everybody!’ Moffat to subverts that here, jumping on the bandwagon but handling the same form of hero worship in such a creative way that I was left admiring the kisses blown to the Time Lord. It works because it comes at a moment where he is confronting the villain(s) of the piece and the truth of what he is saying is literally bound up in their existence (since they have been transferred to the library via books, via the binding and printing of knowledge). The shadows shrinking away from him as he stands there defiant is as brilliant a visual representation of what the Doctor is all about. The tenth Doctor is so of the ‘I can do anything!’ mould so to see him look so pained and defeated when River takes her life is devastating. We don’t need to see River’s charred corpse because Tennant sells the scene in excruciating silence. The wild look on his face as he taps his fingers on River’s book is magical, his hand resting on knowledge of the future that would dangerous to read. Clicking his fingers to open the TARDIS door after pulling off an eleventh hour coup, the Doctor embraces the mythological figure that River painted of him. The image of him and Donna standing at the console, staring out at the audience is unforgettable.
Tempestuous Temp: One of my favourite companions in one of my favourite stories, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Donna has been travelling with the Doctor for some time now so that tingle of ‘OH MY GOD!’ has diminished slightly but she’s still in awe of the places that he takes her. She makes intelligent observations, gags (‘maybe everybody is really, really quiet’) and compliments David Tennant’s Doctor by simply getting along with him and enjoying the ride without over emphasising either. Donna can tease the Doctor over a cry for help ‘with a kiss?’ without it coming across as a snide remark because there is no hint of sexual tension between the two characters. When the sonic screwdriver fails to open a door (‘It doesn’t do wood?’) Donna is capable of kicking it open, a skill developed over time to surprise straying boyfriends. The majority of the Doctors companions over the last couple of regenerations haven’t minded being handled by the Doctor but get too cosy with Donna and you’ll get a slap. Her reaction to the Doctor being called ‘pretty boy’ is spot on hilarious and it’s the effect that it has on her that makes ghosting so memorable. To her it is the most horrible thing she has ever witnessed. One of the reasons that Amy failed to work was because she failed to be affected by so much of the horror that she confronted but Catherine Tate never forgets that she is the audiences eyes and ears and makes every shock count. Unlike Amy, Donna knows when to stop being smart mouthed and shed a tear for those who are lost in their adventures. Having River recognise the Doctor but not Donna is the first (and very clever) indication that things aren’t going to end up well for my favourite temp. It works within the context of the story because it sets up the cliffhanger but once that is resolved it leaves the thread hanging ominously. Companions just don’t scream any more (everyone is far too sassy for that) and I had echoes of Elisabeth Sladen proudly declaring there was a reason for it (to let the audience know its time to be really scared) when Donna’s terrorising shriek sounded as she was snatched away from the TARDIS by the system. They got it so right with this companion. Whilst Turn Left is my favourite Catherine Tate performance, Forest of the Dead is probably her greatest challenge as an actress and she rises to the occasion magnificently. She has to convince in a very short space of time that Donna’s life with Lee and her kids is something that she is willing to cling on to for real life in order for the climax to impact when it is all wrenched away from her. Tate enjoys terrific chemistry with Jason Pitt and amongst all the chilling imagery and freaky edits there is a real warmth shared between them. Few scenes in Doctor Who have disturbed me as much as when Donna’s children are snatched away from her…and that is all down to Tate’s shocked performance. Despite the fact that they are separated throughout the second episode, the few scenes between Tennant and Tate during the climax reveal a chemistry between a Doctor and a companion the likes of which I haven’t seen since Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen.
Winding River: I never knew at the time just how important this story was going to turn out to be. River Song walks into the series with apparent foreknowledge of the Doctor’s future in what felt at the time to be astonishing nerve on Steven Moffat’s part. We would probably never get to experience the relationship with him that she describes. It still astonishes me that Moffat has had the opportunity to plot out her story over several seasons, telling the chronicle of her life backwards at the same time as playing out the Doctor’s subsequent meetings with her in a linear fashion. The complexities of time travel have never been more apparent than in the handling of this barmy relationship. It's Matt Smith’s Doctor that we associate with River Song but it pleases me that it all began with David Tennant, crossing eras with a confident stride. And to this day there has been nothing in Moffat’s cats cradle of plotting of River’s timeline that contradicts her death in this tale. It makes The Silence in the Library not only a terrific story in its own right but also a vital part of the shows future. Not many stories can boast that. In a moment of tension River tells Lux to put his visor on because she doesn’t fancy him…that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about her personality (if not her character). I love the mention of the crash of the Byzantium because Moffat would never have known at the time that he would have the chance to realise that story. Unburdened by later complications, obfuscations and disappointments, you might just feel more of a bind between the Doctor and River here than at any point in the future. I’ve heard people suggest that River is basically the female version of Jack (or built from the same Moffat mould) and when she touts a squareness gun, gets to kiss the Doctor and even sports a vortex manipulator in subsequent episodes its hard to fight the argument. At some point in the future River is going to be somebody that the Doctor trusts completely, so much so that he will give her his sonic screwdriver and tell her his name. Until she reveals that last piece of information the Doctor is sceptical but the disquieting look on his face afterwards sees a man who cannot fight the future that River describes. River isn’t lying when she says she has seen entire armies run away from the Doctor (A Good Man Goes to War) but I try and forget about that. Although I didn’t know it at the time, River punching the Doctor’s lights out and sacrificing her life for him proves to be her finest moment in the series. All the time the Doctor has known River he knew that she was going to end up dying in library and yet she only learns that upon her death. The catch with his first meeting with her being her last meeting with him is that he has to live with that knowledge with every subsequent meeting. Dressed angelically, River winds up in a technological version of heaven with all of her friends. As an ending to a character who would go on to have great significance, its gloriously transcendent.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A 1000,000,000,000 lifeforms and silence in the library…’
‘There’s the real world and there’s the world of nightmares. What I want you to remember is this…the real world is a lie and your nightmares are real.’
‘Who’s the Doctor’ ‘The only story you will ever tell. If you survive…’
‘The forest of the Vashta Nerada. Pulped and printed and bound.’
‘This isn’t the real me. This isn’t my real body? But I’ve been dieting!’
‘I’m the Doctor and you’re in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up.’
‘Why do you even have handcuffs?’ ‘Spoilers…’
‘Time can be rewritten’ ‘Not those times. Not one line, don’t you dare.’
‘Is all-right special Time Lord code for really not all-right at all?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I’m all-right too…’
- I adore libraries and the notion of having one on a planetary scale thrills me beyond compare. What’s especially great is that this could easily have been realised in classic Doctor Who with a few simple sets, a cloth backdrop (like, say, the one in The Aztecs that impressed the idea of space beyond the few sets) to suggest a little scale and some clever, world building Robert Holmes-esque dialogue (ala The Ribos Operation) to fill in the evocative background detail. However we are in the days of CGI and seamless matte work and as a result we are treated to some of the most majestic visuals yet seen in show. The curtain-raising shots of vertiginous stacks of books opening out to an impressively detailed planetscape of towers, spires and monorails drags you straight into this setting. Charlotte flying over the spiked towers and looking down is so effortlessly realised it might just give you vertigo. I can think of very few Doctor Who settings that have had me so immediately gripped like this; a supernaturally silent, planet wide library devoid of life. Lashings of atmosphere, ripe for nasties hiding in the shadows and evoking that classic series feeling of an adventure just waiting to happen. It somehow manages to be an agoraphobics nightmare (few locations have been afforded such a luxury of space) but by losing the characters inside a labyrinth of terror and capitalising on that feeling of desolation by removing all sense of population its also stiflingly claustrophobic. Huge spacious rooms with light bleeding through the windows and cutting through the dust. Forest of the Dead takes the CGI shots to another level, offering several gorgeous, dizzying pans across the library planet at dusk. The effect of the Doctor hanging from the bridge way should be goofy (it looks seamless but I also find super human acts like this hard to swallow – see all Horror of Fang Rock) but cutting to Charlotte watching it on television and smiling at his heroic nature makes it work. The library planet lit up at night is truly something to behold. My other half has been complaining about alien planets not looking alien enough but I think even he would be satisfied with this.
- Moffat just loves telling his stories out of sequence, doesn’t he? At this stage it was an endearing idiosyncrasy rather than an overused irritant and having Donna and the Doctor burst into a little girls dream is a fascinating way to open the story. Immediately there are several mysteries posed to be explained. When we eventually catch up with this point in the story we expect to see a little girl and the mystery deepens as the Doctor and Donna are confronted with a security camera.
- Interfaces posing as modern art with a real head implanted into the system to convey the information. Not only a whopping great clue as to the identity of CAL but proof that that Moffat is continuing his macabre mixture of the horrific and the mundane (gas masked zombies, killer statues).
- Colin Salmon. Steve Pemberton. Alex Kingston. David Tennant. Catherine Tate. Few Doctor Who stories can boast a cast that phenomenal and it’s the only time since season two’s The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit that the cast has been bettered (with The Fires of Pompeii only just lagging behind).
- Often my favourite Doctor Who monsters exploit or personify something everyday to make their invasion into the audiences nightmares all the more insidious. Dummies, doppelgangers, statues, maggots, spiders, nightmares themselves, memory…all exploited by Doctor Who. It astonishes me in a show that was as low budget as Doctor Who that nobody has capitalised on the horror of nasties embodying shadows. Like all the best ideas, it is so obvious and so simple but only when somebody has pointed it out. Given that light is vital to out very existence we can never escape the presence of shadows and so it is one monstrosity that kids cannot escape when the TV has been switched off. There must have been children who were terrified to turn their lights off when this was aired, afraid to be lost in the darkness of their bedrooms. Again it's something that classic Doctor Who could have had a field day with – considering they had access to some of the most prodigious lightning designers of the time (check out Genesis of the Daleks) and it seems a shame that nobody thought of the idea sooner. Piranhas in the shadows is an evocative description, stepping into one will see your flesh ripped clean off your bones. Suggesting that the dust in the sunbeams are the Vashta Nerada gnashing their teeth is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl on a sunny day. You’ve got the perfect explanation for a missing persons case (‘not everyone comes back out of the dark…’) and the assertion that it is not every shadow but it could but any shadow solidifies this as one of Moffat’s creepiest ideas. Walking skeletons in spacesuits with the final words of the victims ringing out over and over and shadows spilling out from its feet…on occasion that man is a genius.
- Having Charlotte experiencing her life within the system as the normal life of a little girl, spending time in her living room colouring and watching television and waiting for dinner, is an inspired idea. Throughout the first episode it’s a complete mystery and a wonderfully jarring wrench out of the main narrative. The way the two storylines invade each other (the Doctor appearing on the television screen, Charlotte floating into the library) provides some great moments.
- Few Doctor Who episodes have the time to indulge in a hair raising set pieces like the death of Miss Evangelista these days. They whip by at such a pace that there is little time for moments of unnerving silence and atmosphere. If you think back to classic Who (something that I am doing an awful lot throughout this adventure and with good reason) it is packed to the brim with characters like Gantry (The Daleks’ Masterplan) Van Letyens (Fury from the Deep), Ransome (Spearhead from Space), Chub (Robots of Death), Stimpson (The Leisure Hive) and Grigory (Revelation of the Daleks) with memorable death set pieces. It’s an atmosphere building art that the new series has slowly let slip through its fingers.
- Ghosting is another intriguing and haunting idea that Moffat throws into this script and utilises it to make the Vashta Nerada as terrifyingly memorable as possible.
- In a time when we have to grasp a hold of pre credits sequences as mini episodes so we can enjoy a cliffhanger of sorts, the closing sequence of The Silence in the Library is something to be cherished. A scary monsters, tension, excitement and the potential death of a companion. It's insane and uniquely terrifying and I had the imagery rattling around in my head for an entire week in a way that few Doctor Who episodes manage. Bravo.
- Donna’s virtual reality nightmare inside the system comes out of left field and proves to be a riveting divergence from the main storyline. I love the way that Charlotte flicks through the channels like so many viewers do at home (although hopefully not when Doctor Who is on), watching the action in the library unfold from various locations before switching suddenly to what appears to be a hospital drama with Donna Noble being admitted and convalescing. The imagery this thread boasts endures; Miss Evangelista cloaked on a dark street corner, the play frame being menaced by clones of the same children, the portentous red light bleeding through the front room windows to signal Armageddon’s a’callin.
- ‘That is how time progresses here in the manner of the dream…’ Within this scenario Moffat gets to comment on how television cuts out so much flabby padding within a story by jumping to the important events. By having Donna comment on how she always seems to be where the story needs her to be rather than living her life in the usual linear pattern, Moffat is showing how television employs section breaks to keep things moving. By showing us snapshots of Donna’s life from meeting Lee, getting married and having children in less than a minute he also gets to observe how domestic scenarios are handled unconvincingly on television. Viewers don’t have the patience to watch these events unfold at the laborious pace that they do in real life and want to get to the good stuff as soon as possible. With Charlotte switching channels and hiding behind cushions when things get too scary this script is saying a lot about television conventions and the habits of the audience watching. There’s also something to the idea that because Miss Evangelista is intelligent in the virtual reality scenario, her looks have been wiped clean. That genius comes at the price of character flaws.
- I will never get bored of that Squareness gun. Askew squares cut out of set walls is a visual that will never get stale.
- The sudden reveal of the Doctor Moon hanging in the sky linking the two stories comes at exactly the right moment. This is a magnificently structured script.
- Moffat’s playing creepy games with his audience again. I never thought he would better that moment in The Doctor Dances when the Doctor reveals that the tape has come to an end the child is still talking…but ‘there are five people still alive in this room…so why are there six?’ made my skin crawl in a wonderful way. I hadn’t realised at all despite the figure being clearly visible in some shots.
- Lots of Murray Gold magic this time around. The stirring cliffhanger music never fails to rouse me, the flute score winningly introduces us to Donna’s virtual world and just how creepy is that electronic sting when she meets Miss Evangelista in the park?
- What a bloodthirsty lot we have become. After Moffat’s glorious ‘everybody lives!’ conclusion to The Empty Child two parter I have heard groans that he has been trying chase that feeling ever since. Here he gets to have his cake and eat it. The Doctor saving 4000 odd people here feels like a moment of triumph but littering the library are also the skeletal corpses of the victims of the Vashta Nerada.
- A gravity platform might feel like the show taking advantage of its new found effects triumphs but let's not forget that this idea has been stolen from Underworld. Doctor Who has always been this ambitious when it comes to effects even if it hasn't always had the money to realise them this well.
- There’s something magical about the fairytale notion of Charlotte Abigail Lux being plugged into a system where she can wander every storybook ever written. Long before the whimsical tales of Amelia Pond, Steven Moffat was toying with that dreamlike concepts. Given that Charlotte is family, it makes perfect sense that Lux would have kept her identity a secret.
- The (first) climax to this story features some of my favourite moments in the show since the show return to our screens. The performances of David Tennant and Alex Kingston as River sacrifices her life for the Doctor and thus cements their future relationship are sensational (as good as Kingston and Smith can be there have never reached a high of this magnitude). The sequence of Donna screaming that she will find Lee as her world is torn away from her is seared onto my mind. The two braided together sees the series reaching an stirring apex, one of the few times it has reduced me to tears.
- The cruel irony of Lee’s stutter preventing his reunion with Donna…
- Just when you think Moffat cannot possibly throw anything more at you and River’s narration closes the story the director slowly glides towards the sonic screwdriver to reveal one last, celebratory twist. The Doctor gave River the screwdriver for a reason. To save her life. Charlotte’s smile to the Doctor mirrors my own every time I watch this. It’s a massively triumphant climax.
- My one complaint about this otherwise peerless adventure is that Steve Pemberton is wasted on a somewhat thankless role. Watching The League of Gentlemen you can see what a brilliant, versatile actor this man is. To have him play somebody that features so heavily but doesn’t stretch his acting muscles feels like a waste of talent.
The Shallow Bit: Lee McAvoy can stutter my name any day of the week.
Result: Bridging the gap between classic and NuWho like so few contemporary adventures do, this is something very special indeed. If there was ever an argument to be made for keeping the two part stories an integral part of the show then this blockbuster is all you need. The first part is the perfect scene setter; packed full of mysteries, introducing us to all the major players, brewing a stifling atmosphere and relishing in some terrifying notions. With the advent of Donna’s ‘death’ the concluding part is one knock out scene after another as the narrative insatiably unravels and the surprises keep coming. As an overall piece of work, it remains my favourite Steven Moffat set of scripts; every line and every shot integral to the greater whole. When you look at what he is juggling; a library planet, killer shadows, virtual reality, the Doctor and Donna facing their own futures, a post dated love story, the fairytale adventures of a dying child…this is a remarkably packed script that brings all of these elements together for an unforgettable conclusion. At the same time Moffat throws in lots of ideas like ghosting, the nodes, walking skeletons whilst still having time to make some intelligent comments on the conventions of television. Euros Lyn directs with his usual panache but handed a script this dense he rises even further to the occasion, packing the story with unforgettable imagery, a terrific pace and some spine tingling performance pieces. David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Alex Kingston were rarely better than they are here and the remaining guest cast provide excellent support. This is the astonishing standard that Steven Moffat can reach when he is not propping up the entire show and only contributing one story per season. Unburdened by arcs and seasons that rely on non linear madness to protect their surprises, this is when he had the chance to simply revel in being creative. In a way I wish we could go back to those days because he has rarely achieved anything quite this unique and beautifully formed since. Series four notches up another top ten story for me: 10/10
Midnight written by Russell T Davies and directed by Alice Troughton
Result: The best writing, the best direction and the best acting that television has to offer, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Given that the stunning Library two parter came before this and the manifest of treats available from Turn Left and The Stolen Earth come after this, you think that Midnight would suffer since it is such a scaled back and subtle adventure. Not a bit of it. In fact it gets my vote as the best episode of season four (it’s a toughie because so much of it is so good). What’s that I hear you say? Russell T. Davies has turned Doctor Who into a shallow soap opera with no space for scares? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! Alice Troughton cut her teeth on a much inferior script earlier in the season but now she has something really challenging to get her teeth into and she does a fantastic job at wringing every last ounce of tension out of this piece until the audience as left as traumatised by the events as the passengers. They are such simple ideas and yet they are so effective, that’s why this is so chilling. Banging on the ceiling and walls, the darkness hiding nasties, the game of repeating phrases, the horror behind the eyes…Davies doesn’t need money to frighten his audience when the simple act of locking frightened people in a confined space and scaring them to death does the job better than practically any Doctor Who story. How the story shifts from the horror of the entity to the horror of the passengers reaction provoked a real sense of dread in me, unknown aliens are frightening enough but unrestrained paranoia is a whole new level of psychological horror that the show rarely feels compelled to explore. This is the only story where the people that the Doctor is trying save are so frightened that they turn on him and try to kill him. Not people who are under any influence, just normal, frightened people. That’s terrifying. The simplest of ideas, so effectively executed and the most complex characterisation, Midnight surprises throughout and tightens its grip around your throat until you are gasping for air at the climax. I remember watching this on transmission and being scared to death and blown away by it’s breadth of characterisation. It was worth the cast almost losing their minds being cooped up in one set for days on end because the performances it provoked are tangible. David Tennant is exceptional and Lesley Sharp gives the guest performance in the new series (to date) but there isn’t a weak link, they’re all fantastic. It is one of the few Doctor Who episodes that captures me in exactly the same way every time that I watch it. Astonishingly good television, let alone peerless Doctor Who: 10/10
Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/midnight-written-by-russell-t-davies.html
Turn Left written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper
This story in a nutshell: An alien force invades Donna’s past to kill the Doctor and destroy the future…
Delightful Donna: So Catherine Tate can’t act? Here’s her chance to prove that not only she can but given the right material she can shit all over every other companion that has come before her (and certainly since her). Donna and the Doctor have now got to the stage where they are having a blissful time together, in Russell T Davies terms that means they are about to be split apart in the most catastrophically dramatic way possible (twice over actually, both here and in Journey’s End). She doesn’t need to know if she will be happy in the future because she’s happy now. The relationship between Sylvia and Donna bubbles with resentment and disappointment, it's one of the great unsung relationships in Doctor Who because it contains so much that is just feels so real. She is trying to get Donna to work as a secretary and has no faith in her daughter to find a job that has a future (‘City execs don’t need temps except for practice’). In a moment of pure thoughtlessness, Donna has a bitchy reaction to her redundancy and completely skips right over the fact that people have died (no wonder she missed the Cyberman invasion, etc). And yet somehow you still love her. Sylvia admits she has given up on Donna, what a devastating thing to hear from your mother. I love how she doesn’t just throw herself into Rose’s arms, she’s quietly very aggressive with her and can totally look after herself. Her mockery of northerners clearly comes from an angry place and too enduring too many episodes of Coronation Street and is very, very funny. Look at the scene where she walks away from her mother in that long black coat, she looks like a spectre of death. She genuinely thinks she is nothing important (I guess her mother has told her enough times for it to make an impact) and after Rose tries to convince her of the contrary Donna’s ‘just don’t…’ speaks volumes. Donna is all flame hair and fire! Bravely she agrees to see the creature that has been hiding on her back and Tate aces the fear and anger, giving a performance of intensity that we aren’t used to on Doctor Who. This is the episode where Donna proves she doesn’t need the Doctor to be exceptional, she can do it all on her own. A companion has never been treated to a vehicle of this kind to prove their mettle before and I am so happy it was Donna (and Tate) that was afforded that honour. Donna’s optimistic speech about putting time back on track twists into pure terror when she realises she is going to have to commit suicide, a transition that Tate makes effortlessly. Proving that she understands how important the Doctor is, Donna commits suicide to make the world a better place. Somehow that bleak ending manages to be staggeringly optimistic because Donna proves herself as the ultimate companion, laying down her life even when she is terrified to do so. What a character. The fortune teller backs away from her, telling her she is so strong and asking what will she be? This is powerful stuff.
Chavvy Chick: I know it’s a coarse observation to make...but what has happened to Rose’s teeth? It is very interesting that Rose is played as a supernatural portent of death for Donna. If she had to return to the show (and after her sensational departure I still wonder if it was necessary) this is an inventive way to pull it off. She has crossed many different realities as an anonymous benefactor. I have to say I really like this witty, clever and confident Rose, she reminds me of the rock chick from series one but one who can now step into the Doctor’s shoes very snugly and take over his role in the series. Perhaps the idea of her running an alternative universe Torchwood wasn't such a crazy idea given the evidence in this episode. Billie Piper isn't quite afforded the same opportunity as Tate in Turn Left but she still acquits herself well. They make a pretty formidable team.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We’re just no one Donna. We don’t exist.’
‘Oh my God. The stars are going out.’
‘You liar! You told me I was special!’ – I have never seen a line delivered with such venom!
The Good Stuff: How much do I want to visit that exotic marketplace? Every time I visit Chinatown in London it reminds of the back alley planet from Turn Left, all lanterns, eateries and delicious foreign smells assaulting you. The chilling pre-credits sequence involves the notion that somebody can invade your memories and manipulate them to change the future. The Trickster was the finest SJA villain because of this stunning modus operandi that opened up so many storytelling possibilities and it is great to see that spilling over into Doctor Who. Like Love & Monsters Davies plays about with his own continuity but he uses it like a scalpel here, cutting and slicing at the very fabric of the series. Graeme Harper’s recount of the Webstar attack on London cuts out the hysterical music and makes its advance over London silent and consequently a million times scarier. The Doctor’s body on the stretcher with the sonic screwdriver slipping from his dead fingers is a terrifying image, and yet one of many in this episode. The events of Smith & Jones play out but this time Martha, Sarah, Luke, Clyde and Maria all die on the moon. Given Elizabeth Sladen's death these scenes have an extra layer of poignancy to them. Isn't it wonderful how all of the fluffy, much moaned about Russell T. Davies threats to the Earth that bring the planet to its knees? Utilising the Voyage of the Damned threat of the Titanic almost crashing into the planet but this time actually showing the devastating consequences adds another element of danger to the former story every time I watch it. The delayed impact felt by Donna’s family and the mushroom cloud hanging over the city is a devastating moment. London destroyed and everybody you know dead, that is almost impossible to come to terms with. At this point I realised this had to be undone at some point and feared the worst kind of reset button (ala Last of the Time Lords) but Davies has something much more personal in mind. Suddenly we are in darker territory, refugees being piled into tiny houses, no employment, concentration camps and armed soldiers on the streets. How can you not love Wilf? He refuses to take off his daft antlers at the super posh hotel, ‘God bless America!’, enjoying a sing song with his fellow house mates and his beautiful tears which leave you with no illusion to the horrors he has witnessed in his life. ‘Every day I think of someone else. All dead’ – I really like how Davies doesn’t ever shy away from the psychological consequences of losing everybody you love. Of course the Adipose hit America the worst – that is a rare (priceless) gag in an otherwise black episode. Donna’s ‘Where are you going?’ as she chases after the army van and the following scene where Sylvia stares at the audience blank faced, the only thing she can bring herself to part her lips for is to insult her daughter are two of the bleakest moments you will see in Doctor Who. Illusions to slave camps and depression and hopelessness brought to life so vividly by Jacqueline King - the Doctor hasn't been anywhere near as brave as this since because it is so emotionally real, Just when you think it cannot get any more apocalyptic the stars start going out. The visual of the dying, musty TARDIS is unforgettable. The ship aches for the loss of the Doctor, in throes of depression herself. S much so it resists the attempts of Rose and UNIT to coax her back into life. The episode never stops surprising - Donna landing half a mile away from her destination is both hilarious and edge of the seat exciting. Who saw that devastating conclusion coming when they walked into this episode? Donna proves herself as the selfless person that she really is and kills herself to save the Doctor. To follow that up with such a breathtaking cliffhanger which heralds Rose's return to our universe and suggests that the drama in this episode is only the beginning was a bold move. Nobody can build up to a finale like Davies and here he provides his most appetite whetting example of gearing the audience up for what is to come whilst still telling a brilliant story. Turn Left is a 45 minute long prelude to the finale, showing you the result of what will happen (the stars going out) if Davros (as yet undisclosed) manages to prime his reality bomb.
The Shallow Bit: Donna is beautiful throughout, outside and in. The moment Donna realises it is a time machine Rose breaks into a smile that makes you realise this is out Rose all along.
Result: Turn Left is bold, brilliant and shits on continuity with real verve. Because of its lasting emotional impact on me, the stunning production values, the bleak, uncompromising tone and adult content it manages to achieve the impossible...it knocks Blink from the top spot of my favourite Doctor-lite episode. Season four had been performing extremely well up until The Unicorn and the Wasp but the run of episodes from The Silence in the Library to The Stolen Earth are exemplary one of the greatest runs of knock outs in the shows history. Given the Doctor's absence this should be the weakest of the bunch but it is actually my favourite and the two individuals responsible, Russell T. Davies and Catherine Tate, should be extremely proud of what they achieved here. Tate has always been excellent but here she is a revelation, silencing all of her critics with a performance that has down in Doctor Who history. Russell T, Davies has written an impeccable script and it is dramatically realised by Graeme Harper giving us a deliciously dark waltz through the last four years of alien invasions and showing us the consequence of them without the Doctor's interference. Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins provide the best support that Tate could ask for, propping up the episode with some weighty talent whilst still giving her the limelight. The world without the Doctor is a scary place and the episode never shies away from how much we are in his debt. But the human race is a formidable force too and Donna proves once and for all what an incredible person she is; suffering terrible indignities, watching her world collapse and then willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to put things right. I couldn't love her character more than I do in Turn Left. Series four raced towards its conclusion with six incredible episodes in a row and Turn Left rises ever so slightly above the quality and drama of its neighbours and has a vivid, stark and emotional identity all of its own: 10/10
The Stolen Earth written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper
The idea of Davies bringing together his whole universe of characters was an ambitious one but it displays what a fantastic cast of regulars he has accumulated over time. We have had mentions of the Doctor in both The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood but now they are both confirmed as both canon (if you are the sort of person who cares about such things) and taking place within the same universe. You cannot imagine my excitement when I first watched this episode and saw Donna, Sarah and Jack all in the same scene. I nearly pissed my pants with excitement.
Mockney Dude: It's rare to find the Doctor as impotent as he is in this story...which is rather the point. So much of the action takes place out of reach from his point of view and he only connects with the real drama of the piece at the climax, his presence expertly denied by Russell T. Davies who wants to show just how badly (and then how well) his friends cope without him. It starts to feel like one of those mid eighties stories scripted by Eric Saward, his presence is so deferred. Saward stalled because he wasn't keen on the actor in the role whereas here Davies uses his absence to show how much his friends need him (re-enforcing his themes from Turn Left) and the lengths they will go to to procure his help. Instead he is kept busy investigating the missing planets, heading to the Shadow Proclamation to put all the pieces of the season together. How Catherine Tate managed to keep a straight face as Tennant speaks such bollocks to the Judoon is beyond me. Although his ‘Ma-Ho’ is way cool. The way the Doctor spills out technobabble about the Tandoka scale to find the missing planets is frankly, unintelligibly rapid, and Donna (like me) who has never had any time for this kind of scientific double speak runs back to the TARDIS and tells him to shut up. It's precisely the reaction that characters needed to be told on Star Trek after they have swallowed a technical dictionary and regurgitated it on cue. All credit to Tennant though as he manages to say all this gobbledegook without a pause or a frown. The Doctor running away from a higher power to do his own thing resonates with his first incarnation. The Doctor reveals that he came to the Medusa Cascade when he was just a kid of 90 years old. When the Doctor gives up and stares into space helplessly I had flashbacks of Vengeance on Varos where he fell into a similar bout of despondence. How rubbish is the Doctor? He’s barely out of the TARDIS and he’s shot dead – at least he is one road ahead of the seventh Doctor in the TV Movie.
Tempestuous Temp and her Nobles: The main difference between Rose and Donna (in my eyes) and the reason why Ms Noble kicks the shit out of her predecessor is that when she learns that Rose was the girl who haunted her in the parallel world she is so happy for the Doctor and lifts his spirits with the news. There is none of the jealousy that Rose vomited up when Sarah Jane came back on the scene (and don’t even get me started on that comparison). Donna, for all her bite, is an adult and revels in her friends happiness and that’s rather lovely. You want to punch the air when she says that she might not be the stuff of legends but every but as important as Time Lords. Donna was shocked to learn in The Silence of the Library that River Song did not know about her and she knows the Doctor in his future and now she is approached by a member of the Shadow Proclamation and told that she has a loss that is yet to come. None of this bodes well for the companion that we have grown to love. When the Doctor and Rose run towards each other Donna simply smiles knowingly as though she was a fan of series one and two. Donna is literally hysterical when nobody will tell her what is going on as everybody steps back and watches the Doctor die. It is healthy to be reminded that not everybody is aware of regeneration.
Wilf heads out to the streets after the cataclysmic Earthquake which has followed the Earth’s theft with a baseball bat screaming ‘It's them aliens I’ll bet my pension!’ Don’t you just love him? Just when you think he can’t get any better he takes to the streets again but this time with a paint gun and splats a Dalek long enough for Rose to blow its top off. Wilf is not allowed a web cam because Sylvia says they are naughty, a cheeky moment that made me smile. We’ve seen Sylvia delude herself through the attack of the Christmas star, the Adipose incident, the ATMOS terror and avoid a life of fear in an alternative universe but now the planet has been stolen and the Daleks invaded she cannot go to bed and pretend that everything is normal. She tries to shrug off Wilf suggestion that Donna is travelling the stars and he gives her a much needed slap (metaphorically) of realism.
Lovely Lis and her gang: It still gives me goosebumps to see Sarah Jane, her wonderful attic room and her son Luke Smith all appearing in Doctor Who. If there was ever a series that deserved to be canonised (spit spit) by the main series it was The Sarah Jane Adventures. As the Daleks scream their creed at the Earth those goosebumps retched up a notch as Sarah stares, eyes streaming with tears, in horror at the thought of the approaching nasties. It brings home the amount of history she has with the show in one moment of intense emotion, kissing her son and telling him he is too young to die. Sarah knows they are a relentless, genocidal force and the end might finally have come. Jack has been following Sarah’s work and compliments her on her handling of the Slitheen (and her looks) and she bluntly tells him she has been staying away from Torchwood because there are too many guns involved. I kind of wanted to step into the show and give her a big kiss at that point. When Luke suggests using Mr Smith, Sarah proudly announces that he is her son. Sarah recognising Davros’ voice gives me chills. How brilliant is it to get a good old fashioned cliffhanger with Sarah being threatened by the Daleks?
Marvellous Martha and UNIT: Martha is now Medical Director on Project Indigo in a UNIT base in New York and it appears that she does command a great deal of respect. Most of her best material comes in the conclusion of this tale.
Hunky Hero & his crew: Ianto has no broken bones when the Earth shifts but a slight loss of dignity and so there’s no change there. Jack’s reaction to Martha’s apparent death is hysterical and it brings home the time that she spend with the Torchwood team in season two of the spin off show.
Chavvy Chick: I remember feeling a bit depressed that Rose was returning to the show after the perfect departure for her character but being very impressed with her handling in Turn Left as she haunted Donna’s life like a spectre of doom. Then I was even happier to see as everybody joined together to fight the Daleks Rose almost perversely being kept out of the fun. When Martha’s face appeared instead of Rose’s I punched the air with delight. I’m being unfair, I did feel a stab of emotion for Rose when everybody meets up with the Doctor and she left on the periphery. And the run of forever on the street does have a certain frisson to it as well.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I wish you’d stop giving me that fanfare and tell me what’s happened!’ – Sarah Jane has a go at Mr Smith.
‘Time Lords are the stuff of legends. They belong in the myths and whispers of other species.’
‘Calling the Doctor…’
‘The Children of Time are moving against us but everything is falling into place…’
‘Oh you know nothing of any human and that will be your downfall.’
‘Welcome to my new Empire, Doctor…’
‘I fleeeeew into the wild and fire!’ – including because Simon quotes this line all the time because he loves Nick Briggs’ stress on fleeeeew.
· Don’t you find it wonderful that a tale that is told on such a jaw dropping scale can begin with the Doctor and Donna witnessing a milk float ambling along the road on a Saturday morning. When Tom Baker talks about the links between the domestic and the fantastic meeting in Doctor Who this is a great example. Shivering milk bottles as a portent to the end of the world – love it.
· There is a very subtle shot of the Doctor’s hand at the beginning of the episode as a get out clause at the beginning of the second which is nicely done.
· Rose being able to walk from one parallel world to another (or rather punch her way through – see Turn Left) means the walls of the universe are breaking down and that sounds very bad indeed. Every year Davies has had to try and up his game to make the finale more epic and unforgettable and in series four he has had a running idea of planets going missing which leads to the phenomenal sequence where the Doctor and Donna look outside of the TARDIS door to find a starry blank spot where the planet should be. Who gives a fuck about the science when that is simply a heart in mouth twist. Where the hell has the Earth gone? The subwave network is another great idea, a sentient piece of software that seeks out anybody with links to the Doctor. Obviously there is a backlog of Polly, Liz, Tegan, Ace, Evelyn, Bernice, Fitz, etc…but they couldn’t all fit on the screen. The entire Medusa Cascade has been put a second out of place from the rest of the universe, the perfect hiding place for 27 stolen planets. A single, simple Dalek managed what Time Lords and Emperors have failed to do – to defy the time lock and re-enter the Time War and save Davros.
· Cutting from New York to Cardiff to Ealing is a fan boys delight – I don’t care if people find this sort of Five Doctors-esque blending of the three shows a ratings pulling exercise. I couldn’t have been more thrilled at the time and it still makes me smile from ear to ear now. To see all of these locations (the TARDIS, a UNIT base in New York, the Attic and the Hub) shows how big the Whoniverse is these days and gives the show a real sense of scale. It's one of my favourite pre title sequences ever.
· Where would be without Trinity Wells telling us not to panic? In a story that brings together everybody from the Daviesiverse it would have been a shocking omission not to include everybody’s favourite newsreader.
· Richard Dawkins has balked at the shows scientific inaccuracies so I think its brilliant that he is on screen hammering home the fact that we have travelled. Of course it is scientifically inaccurate – it is no more outrageous than the idea of a 900 year old man with thirteen lives travelling through time in a spaceship that is larger on the inside than the out. It's bonkers but it's also bold and brilliant. Just like the premise for Doctor Who.
· The end of the world comes and we start looting. Recent events have shown that we don’t need such dramatic circumstances but this gave me a little shudder, reminding me that there will always be somebody who wants to exploit chaos.
· As the Daleks scream ‘EXTERMINATE’ it resonates through all of the Doctor’s companions. Jack was murdered by the Daleks, Rose bewitched by one, Martha haunted by them in the Empire State Building and Sarah has the greatest history with them stretching right back to their genesis. Talk about frisson, this one word is a doorway to memories of terror.
· It's easy to underestimate the sort of effects that Doctor Who commands these days but The Stolen Earth is packed full of expensive imagery that pulls off a Dalek invasion in a way that the second season classic had no way of achieving. The planets greedily filling the skies is a fairytale image to kick off the show and it is followed by saucers gliding across and dominating the skies, blasting the crap out of buildings and an entire fleet of ships descending on New York. There’s a glorious visual of the holographic planets dancing around the Doctor and Donna. Like a race of insects the Daleks swarm towards the Valiant and take out its defences.
· Amongst the planets taken are Calufrax Minor (The Pirate Planet), Clom (Love and Monsters), Woman Wept (Boom Town), the lost Moon of Poosh (Midnight), Pyrovillia (The Fires of Pompeii), the Adipose Three (Partners in Crime). Lovely touches for those in the know and just names of planets for those who aren’t. Project Indigo turns out to be experimental teleport salvaged from the Sontaran invasion.
· Wow this is like Dalek pornography with all manner of awesome ghastlies on display. The Supreme Dalek looks radiant in his red livery, Dalek Caan spits out insane lines as his tentacles shiver and squirm about him and Davros has never looked better with his blistered and scarred face in the spotlight and his beating heart and withered body revealed. What a marvellous, ghoulish set of villains. Julian Bleach gives a powerhouse performance as Davros and there are hints of both Michael Wisher and Terry Molloy present in one of the most malevolent turns as the Daleks creator.
· After her tense downfall in The Christmas Invasion, Harriet Jones (and the wonderful Penelope Wilton) makes a triumphant return. She cuts through the slough of depression which has gripped the Doctor’s companions and binds them all together with an optimistic fighting spirit. It's one of the great moments in Doctor Who when they all come together. Harriet stands by her actions because she knew that one day there would be a threat to the Earth and the Doctor wouldn’t be here to save us. Allowing the character to maintain her integrity, she was right. She sacrifices her life to bring together the Doctor’s friends and save the Earth – it’s a magnificent coda for a magnificent character.
· I have such mixed feelings about the Doctor and Rose running towards each other because for one thing it feels like the longest road in existence and for another the Dalek turning up and shooting the Doctor and preventing their reunion is one of the most manipulative and melodramatic devices Davies has ever used. But saying that there is definitely a powerful chemistry in the air as they see each other and the simple act of a Dalek exterminating the Doctor is something I have longed to see for many years. The cliffhanger as the Doctor regenerates is another. Two wishes fulfilled within a few minutes, cheers Davies!
The Bad: Rose landing with that massive gun takes a step into uber campness – for a show on a scale as operatic as this I guess they can just about get away with it but it does look faintly ridiculous. Considering all the fireworks going on elsewhere the visual for the Shadow Proclamation both the turquoise station floating in space and the minimalist office space inside is quite anti-climactic. Come to think of it so is the Medusa Cascade which winds up being a bunch of dirty green clouds in space. I wonder if the effect when the planets start appearing around the TARDIS is supposed to be deliberately shoddy because rendered in CGI it looks as though the ship is being dangled on string!
The Shallow Bit: It is definitely worth pointing out that all of the Doctor’s companions are looking hotter than ever. Martha’s wrap over hair, Donna’s leather coat, Rose’s confidence, Jack’s waistcoat and Sarah Jane looking as if she has hardly aged a day.
Result: The Stolen Earth is the closest we have ever come to a movie for the new series with all the velocity, exhilaration and astonishing production values you would expect if Doctor Who reached the big screen. The first half is astonishingly fatalistic with the Earth stolen and attacked, friends caught in the cross fire and the human race subjugated. Then the TARDIS flies into the heart of the problem and the Doctor realises that his friends have all found each other and the sense of euphoria and pride at their union is phenomenal. Davies juggles mad concepts, returning villains, emotional vignettes and whole host of gorgeous companions with equal aplomb. It is only when he has to wrap this all up that he falters but I wont concentrate on that during The Stolen Earth which is easily the most exciting and climactic the show has been since its return. Frantic pacing and gorgeous visuals blind to the fact that the Doctor is being kept out of the action until the last second but it is well worth the wait when we reach one of the finest cliff-hangers in the shows history. Exciting enough to make the concluding part the only time that Doctor Who was the most watched show for the entire week at the point it was transmitted. I watched this over and over when it was first broadcasted and now I’ve just watched it for the purposes of this review and I want to watch it again. The biggest reason that this story is such a success - Graeme Harper The man is a legend: 10/10
Journey’s End written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper
Mockney Dude (times two!): Much like the story itself the treatment of the Doctor here is full of good stuff and bad stuff which leaves me kind of ambivalent. I loved his cheeky little grin when Rose tells him that she came back for him and Davros’ assertion that even when powerless he is best contained. There is a breathtaking moment where Davros reveals he is a Time Lord who has butchered millions and we get to see flashbacks of all those that have died in his name. He keeps running and never looks back for fear of shame. That’s all really good, meaty stuff. But all the stuff surrounding the second Doctor is a bit hit and miss for me. I personally think it is a perfectly workable and fun idea but its another element in an already busy script and would work much better if played entirely for laughs in a comedy episode (as proven in the delightful moment between the Doctor and Doctor when he first shows up). When it comes to repeating the beach scenes and having to spell out about the war torn ninth Doctor and all the snogging…I thought I had wandered into a really odd soap. Good idea, bad execution. It really tips the story into farcical melodrama and that’s a shame because there is a lot of good stuff elsewhere.
Tempestuous Temp: I love Donna with every fibre of my being and then a little bit more! I am so sad that my first taste of her should be in her devastating farewell but much of this story does demonstrate everything I adore about her character and Catherine Tate’s magnificent portrayal. In my top companion stakes Donna would probably only be beaten by Sarah. That’s how much I like her. The story makes such a big deal about the timelines converging on Donna I’m glad Davies’ gave her a suitably unforgettable ending. She keeps stressing that she is a nobody, just a temp from Chiswick and in a quietly powerful moment the duplicate Doctor gets inside her head and reveals that it really isn’t a lie, that is genuinely how she sees herself. She doesn’t believe she is anything special and she shouts at the universe because nobody is listening. Donna is screamingly funny as well, I love her squeaky voiced ‘You’re naked!’ and the chemistry between her and DonnaDoctor (‘Oi watch it Earth girl!’ ‘Oi!’ ‘OIII!’ ‘Stop it!’) is priceless. A shame that we didn’t get more of that since Tennant and Tate are unstoppable magic at this point. I screamed at the telly when Donna was zapped by Davros…surely she wouldn’t get such a trivial end? Thank Goodness we didn’t get super clever Donna all the time since her smug technobabble is pretty unintelligible! I feel sorry if you are the sort of fan who cannot handle Donna making the Daleks spin round for a giggle, she’s so cheeky I love it! ‘The universe has been waiting for me!’ Donna tossing Sarah Jane away from Jack is laugh out loud funny. She has a great big universe packed inside her tiny human brain and things suddenly turn dark when she admits ‘there can’t be’ a Time Lord/human metacrisis. Its painful to watch when Donna begs the Doctor not to take away her incredible experiences with him, this is Davies’ writing at its most powerful and cruel. Tate’s casual ‘Yeah, see ya’ is heartbreaking. Wilf swears she was a better person with the Doctor and I have to wonder if the Doctor was a better person with Donna.
The Others: Well I wasn’t going to have a category for the entire menagerie of companions in this story or I will be here forever! Everyone gets a nice little moment and this where they will be listed. Jack is exterminated again; you’ve got to feel for the guy. Gita Kapoor makes her second appearance in Doctor Who (Dimensions in time being the first) and it catalogues her death. I really like that Martha has learnt from the Doctor to give the Daleks a choice to surrender before she scuppers their plans. Martha impresses Rose, a small but defining moment between the two characters who have never met before. Mickey is a joke these days, butch muscle and little else. Nice ‘good to see you again’ moment between Sarah and Rose. I miss Jack’s cheeky humour; he wants a foursome with the two tenth Doctors and DoctorDonna! Martha grinning at the audience is a lovely touch. Sarah screams with joy when she sees Luke again. Who didn’t cry out with joy when K.9 appears? ‘Maybe there’s something else you could be doing?’ Jack says to Martha, which has never been followed up on. Hang on if this Doctor is infected with Noble personality does that mean Rose is kind of snogging Donna (100 horny fans just punched the air)? Wilf’s tears are agonising to watch and he tells the Doctor that every night he will look up at the stars on Donna’s behalf and think of the Doctor. The Doctor condemning Sylvia for her treatment of Donna is deliciously tense.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The last child of Gallifrey is powerless…’
‘They are the playthings of Davros now…’
‘I was wrong about your warriors, Doctor. They are pathetic.’
‘Don’t just stand there you skinny boys in suits…get to work!’
‘I was gonna be with you forever…’
The Good Stuff: The German Daleks are very cool. Its nice to see a fully-fledged Dalek Empire at its height with the budget to make it look as awesome as you would imagine. Donna in the exploding TARDIS is gripping, roundels detonating, fire raging and Donna screaming in desperation. There is some really interesting development of Davros, living in the basement as the Daleks pet. Dalek Caan is a genuinely fantastic Dalek innovation (Simon quotes the line ‘I fleeeeew into the Time Vortex…’ more than is reasonably sane). When you think of the scale and immensity of the Reality Bomb it makes the mind boggle…27 planets in alignment creating z neutrino energy and compressing reality into nothing. As Davros’ parting gift to the universe it is pretty memorable! When Davros recognises Sarah I get a chill of nostalgia that almost makes all this madness worthwhile. When Davros screams ‘detonate the reality bomb!’ he grabs his head as though he is in pain with insanity, Julian Bleach gives a stunning performance. Donna’s ‘Thank you Davros!’ is hilarious! The Daleks are ultimately defeated…by one of their own kind with a conscience. I love the ‘guess which planet is left’ gag…would it ever have been anything other than Earth? Its nice to see we can still be surprised by things we thought we knew everything about such as the six operators in the TARDIS.
The Bad Stuff: This was the most anticipated Doctor Who episode ever with the highest ever placing in the charts and it begins with the most crushingly disappointing cliffhanger resolution in the history of the show. It becomes a bit of a joke when Mickey and Jackie show up as gun toting gangsters, there are far too many returning characters that will not have anything to do. Jackie has absolutely no characterisation beyond ‘Where’s Rose?’ The Doctor pauses to tell all his companions that they were brilliant before stepping out to face the Daleks…oh fuck off and get out there! Its basically Davies’ talking to his own characters before it all gets nasty. The Germany scenes are entirely superfluous if beautifully played. The nuclear warhead idea is ridiculous…when would destroying the planet ever be an option? It suggests the death of hope, which goes against everything Doctor Who stands for. There is a rubbishy mention of Gweneth from The Unquiet Dead – he just can’t resist spelling things out for us! Flying the Earth home is so distressingly twee I really wanted to vomit…and you are talking to a guy who can handle a whole lot of twee! There are more goodbyes in here than Return of the King! Davies cannot bear for his treasured companions to have an unhappy ending. It makes me really angry because the end of Doomsday was unforgettably good and yet Rose’s end her is so sickly and indigestible.
The Shallow Bit: Jack looks as hot as ever and I have bad thoughts when he hugs Mickey. Is it my imagination or is Catherine Tate the best looking female companion in this story?
Result: I watched this episode with a non-fan and at the end she turned to me and asked, ‘What was that all about?’ Journey’s End finishes off (in my eyes) the most successful year of NuWho yet; it’s a noisy, busy, jumbled mess with the occasional brutally thoughtful moment thrown in. It looks fantastic and Graeme Harper’s direction is as strong as usual but he is fighting a losing battle with a script that is overloaded with elements screaming for attention and a number stomach churningly awful moments of melodrama. Davros doesn’t get nearly enough screen time considering he is the most interesting thing here and I can only hope that Moffatt resurrects him in the future. The duplicate Doctor thread doesn’t work for me and Rose’s fate is like swallowing a bitter pill. However after all the lengthly goodbyes the story ends on the most achingly poignant farewell the series has ever offered us and a brutal end to a treasurable companion which almost makes up for everything that comes before: 6/10