Saturday, 3 May 2014

Army of Ghosts & Doomsday written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper

This story in a nutshell: ‘My name is Rose Tyler and this is the story of how I died…’ which in plot terms is slight exaggeration but emotionally is bang on the nail. It's quite a tasty appetite whetter all the same...

Mockney Dude: Tennant is so nearly there. At the time I didn’t understand what people were saying when they were criticising his performance in his first season but compared to what comes later (especially in series four) he does seem a little wild and (dare I say it) nervous with how far he can go, often choosing to overplay and landing himself with some really embarrassing moments. This story sees him getting it 80% right with some really smashing tenth Doctor scenes but the odd moment of dive under the sofa cringworthiness crops in (‘Come on you beauteeee!’ and his mad ‘Alonsy!’ rant). You can look at one of two ways. Either Tennant was growing into the part and got better as he went along or the further in he got the less feral, dangerous and experimental his performance came. The Doctor isn’t happy when Jackie knows more than him and happily dismisses all of her theories with the science he has at his fingertips. Torchwood can shoot him down but if he goes out there with no weapons he has the moral high ground (is that scene dubbed? The dialogue feels a little too clean). I like the idea of an organisation that has been hiding from him because they consider him the enemy and at the same time they have mythologised him. The idea that Torchwood might have been keeping tabs on the Doctor during his exile on Earth really makes me grin. According to Yvonne's rather florid description he lords it over all of them assuming alien authority. The scene where the Doctor shows her the fault lines in the Earth is astonishing, Tennant goes from blazing eyed fury to absolute calm, sitting back and waiting for the fireworks and scaring Yvonne with nothing but a silent gaze. That's the kind of confident acting that comes with playing the part for a year. Yvonne mentions that he has a reputation for making a mess, an accusation you can hardly refute. Watch his quiet panic when the shit hits the fan and he realises he is dealing with both Daleks and Cybermen. Whilst Jackie is panicking the Doctor is trying to keep his cool and think through a solution. There's a wonderful moment of hysteria when Tennant stands up for the people out on the streets being terrorised by Cybermen - of course they are going to fight to protect what is there's. The Daleks physically recoil at Rose’s mention of the Doctor, which is a gorgeous touch. He tries to get Rose to safety against her will but she isn’t having any of it. Have we ever seen the Doctor this devastated at losing a companion and actually crying at a loss? Whatever you might think of the ending of Doomsday dramatically, it is outstandingly performed by both Tennant and Piper and acting-wise is the highlight of their time together on the show. Everybody was talking about this the day after. People who I never in a million years would watch Doctor Who. My mum was devastated. I think the tenth Doctor of the next two series saw him at his height but there's no denying that this is a great showing for his character.

Chavvy Chick: I don't want people to think I am completely against the Tennant/Piper relationship in season two because there are moments scattered about where the pairing sings. Rose leaving the Doctor to read his letter at the end of The Girl in the Fireplace. Their reunion in The Idiot's Lantern. The awkward conversation about living together in The Impossible Planet. Dashing about with buckets in Love & Monsters. The trouble I have with this pair is that it comes after the ninth Doctor/Rose partnership and doesn't match up in any way, shape or form. Davies seemed to know exactly what he was doing with Rose in series and there is rarely a duff note (mostly Father's Day for me). In series two Davies drops the hungry adventurer and goes for the emotional jugular, turning Rose from somebody who just wanted to get out there and have an adventure to someone who is obsessed with the Doctor and doesn't want anybody else going anywhere near him. It is not a shift in her favour. Add to that Tennant finding his feet in the role and you have some shaky characterisation and chemistry at points as the writers and the actors trying get the relationship to work. Can you imagine anything more working class than seeing Rose in a hideous hoodie eating chips on a night bus? The Doctor has shown her the whole of time and space and Rose thought that it would never end. It's a nice sentiment but one that has been repeated ad nauseum by this point in the season. It comes to something when you want a bit of Tegan style whining just to balance things out. Martha was similarly gushing (but more pragmatic and less desperate) and Donna just about got the mix right in that she loved her travels with the Doctor but she never lost her perspective or looked down upon anybody in her travels. You genuinely got the sense with Donna that the Doctor had made her a better person whereas Rose seems to have devolved as a character, becoming something catty and smug. There's an air of superiority to her these days, exemplified with the scene where she brings all of her washing home for her mum and talks down to her as though she is simple when Jackie talks about the impending visit of her Granddad Prentis. Rose hasn't quite got the hang of the not looking guilty whilst attempting subterfuge, as she feeds a pack of lies to Raj guilt is coming off her in waves. Doomsday saw something of a return to form for the character, proving that she still has some fire in her belly when she mouths off to the Daleks and lets them know what happened the last time she came up against them: ‘I met the Emperor and I took the time vortex and poured it into his head and turned him to dust.’ That’s probably the best line she has had in her entire run. After her horrendous mistreatment of him earlier in the season it is great to see Rose tell Mickey he is the bravest man she has ever met. Rose refuses to leave the Doctor to face the danger of the Void alone even if it means that they will die together. That's how in love with him she has become. We've seen companions risk their lives for the Doctor before because they care about him but I don't think anybody has been quite this obsessed with him before. It's actually quite a dangerous obsession at that, forcing her to place herself in suicidal positions (perhaps Jo is the closest comparison in the classic series). Billie Piper’s performance as the grief stricken Rose is extraordinary; a tour de force of making the audience feel something. It genuinely seems as though Rose has had her heart ripped out of her chest. She’s the first companion to mention the words ‘I love you’ to the Doctor (JNT would have had a fit!) and the idea of Rose working for Torchwood on Pete’s world feels very right-on given her experiences with the Doctor. This does feel like a definitive ending for the character (it's a really long coda after the story has ended) so it is surprising that she does earn a return appearance.

Gissa Kiss: After her star turn in Love & Monsters I am pleased to see Jackie making such an impact in this story. As soon as the Doctor kidnaps her in the TARDIS comic madness ensues (‘She looked into the heart of the time vortex and aged 57 years’). I could suddenly see a very different, far superior series two with Jackie as the companion – she would brought a bit of life to New Earth, The Idiot’s Lantern and Fear Her! Jackie snogs the Doctor to death when they land on her doorstep much to his consternation. She wouldn't have gotten away with that with Eccleston. Jackie is genuinely worried that her daughter is no longer Rose Tyler any more but that she’s turning into a proto-Doctor and once she dies Rose wont have any reason to come home. It's a lovely scene between mother and daughter and one which all parents must go through when they realise that their children have effectively outgrown them. Every time Jackie cries ‘he kidnapped me!’ I always get An Unearthly Child chill. It shouldn't work with Jackie at the Doctor's side but for some reason it really does, the dialogue is sparky and amusing. Much like it would be when Donna turns up full time. Her fear for her daughter when facing the Daleks is palpable, breaking down when she thinks she might be dead. I found Jackie’s pleading with the Doctor as she is dragged off to be converted one of the most disturbing scenes in the second episode. Jackie has no remorse for Yvonne screaming ‘this is all your fault!’ as she is dragged off to her death. She hasn’t entirely lost her flair for comedy when the shit hits the fan as she runs about the staircases giving extremely unhelpful markers to allow the Doctor to find her. Reuniting Pete and Jackie is a very poignant moment thanks to some careful performances (‘I said there were ghosts but that’s not fair, why him?’). The narrative might stutter for a moment to allow this reunion to take place but it is written with such heart and humour I don't really care. I’m really glad Jackie gets a happy ending in a luxurious lifestyle with the man that she fell in love with, that’s the next best thing if Rose is going sniffle at the conclusion. It might be a bit strange to wind up living with an alternation version of your dead husband but after all she has been through in the past couple of years she deserves a happy ending. Funnily enough Rose gets exactly the same ending in Journey's End, winding up with an alternative version of the man she originally fell in love with.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Daleks have no concept of elegance’ ‘This is obvious.’
‘Cybermen plus Daleks, together we could upgrade the universe.’
‘This is not war. This is pest control.’
‘That explains your voice. No wonder you scream.’

The Good Stuff: Jagged rocks touching the sky, ground cracked by seismic disturbances, rippling waters touched by sunlight, creatures screaming through the air – the opening sequence has an astonishing planetary surface, a five second scene that looks like it has twice the budget of Fear Her in that scene alone. What's all this nonsense from Davies about not being able to do alien planets effectively? Rose’s narration gives her last story and epic quality (even if she does exaggerate her fate a little). The ghosts haunting the Powell Estate are a terrific image, very Doctor Who and screaming with storytelling possibilities. You know that Doctor Who is never going to go for the supernatural angle and so the mystery at the heart of this adventure is what are these humanoid apparitions? It's only worth mentioning in retrospect given that it is used to identify the show of the same name but I really like the bouncy Torchwood style music that plays throughout. This is one of Murray Gold's most bombastic of scores (my heart couldn't keep at the five minute cliffhanger at the end of Army of Ghosts) but when he brings it down to a subtler level it is superb. I love the use of contemporary television programmes exploiting the latest bizarre occurrence that has afflicted the world. Russell T Davies isn’t afraid to have a little fun with the ghostly visitations and the Doctor flicks through channels showing a ghost weather report, an episode of Trisha featuring a woman who has fallen in love with her ghost (I wish that was the most ridiculous thing I've seen on those sort of shows) and of course Eastenders has to get in on the action ('Get outta maaa pub!'). The description of the ghosts pressing themselves into the surface of our world is a potent one. But from where? What an ideas packed episode Army of Ghosts turns out to be with the whole notion of Torchwood finally exposed and proving to be deliriously enjoyable. The organisation has been expanded well beyond this story but it's debut airing is still extremely memorable, an organisation working in the shadows capturing alien technology and stripping it down for the good of the British Empire. The set up in both The Christmas Invasion and Tooth and Claw makes this revelation a long time coming and the little hints throughout the season make this eventual reveal a very rewarding one. Another great idea – a void ship that can exist in the spaces between dimensions. Did Russell T Davies save all his big concepts for the finale? It would seem that the inner seven year old in him has burst through in this story. None of these ideas are particularly realistic but clashing against each other in a furiously paced episode they are all fantastic fun. Yvonne is a charismatic, confident and dangerous villainess (although she would never see it that way), ably played by Tracey Ann-Oberman. What a shame she was killed off in the second episode, I could have seen a future for her in the next two seasons (or someone for Jack to butt heads with other in Torchwood). Having Torchwood Tower turn out to be Canary Wharf is a touch of genius, another landmark that a kid can point to when visiting London and get excited about seeing. Even though it was just an excuse to bring two big enemies face to face Davies makes sure the explanation is as interesting and exciting as possible – the surface of the world is splintering and the ghosts are bleeding through the fault lines and through one of those cracks in the void comes the Dalek prison ship. It might be pure fanwank but it is enough to get any fan-boys heart racing. Mickey turning up is a total surprise and he looks gorgeous. He's found his mojo in that alternative world and exudes confidence now. It is worth mentioning that even thought the Cybermen are effectively painted as second class monsters next to the Daleks, this is the only time they have successfully managed to invade the planet. It might only be for five minutes but I still think they should have points for effort. I can't decide whether planting the Cybermen in all those well known landmarks is incredible or a little bit cheeky. The effects are incredible though. How scary must the scene of the Cybermen smashing into the house have been for young kids? Watching them force their way into peoples homes. If you are young enough that would be quite impressionable. I remember watching the cliffhanger and teetering on the edge of my seat and wondering if Davies would have the nuts to bring together the two most popular monsters in the shows history for the first time. My head was saying that the very idea would be awful but my inner fanboy was screaming 'Go on, I dare you...' I have to admit my heart was racing at the climax because nobody does this kind of climactic build up like Graeme Harper (he manages it again in Utopia, The Stolen Earth and The Waters of Mars). Even the ‘previously on Doctor Who’ recap is gripping this time round. Bringing together the Daleks and the Cybermen was a such an obvious, playground idea and whilst there are the fireworks and exploding craniums and casings that you would imagine would come with such a clash of the Titans, Davies enjoys injecting some hilarious sitcom style bitching into their rivalry too which delighted me. That's what you get when you square off one morally superior race of machine creatures against another. Steven Hawking versus the speaking clock. Davies is still firing off great notions in the second episode; the Genesis Ark might seem like an excuse to introduce an army of Daleks to the pot again (I rather liked the idea of there just being three this time round) but it is also another little piece of the puzzle added to the Time War. A Time Lord prison that is the size of a capsule, that's a gorgeous idea. With each detail added, Davies is building an epic picture of the War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. My favourite effect is probably the simplest in this episode, Rose looking at the Doctor covered in void stuff through the 3D glasses. Suddenly in the last ten minutes you get the same feeling of disquiet that you did in Earthshock when you realised that everything wasn't going to turn out okay this time. The episode takes on a fatalistic tone, all the humour drops away and you suddenly realise that something unforgettable is going to happen. We are entering dangerous territory, which is a great feeling. Rose falling into the vortex with the Doctor screaming hysterically is so well played you might need to get your breath back before continuing. It was a very brave move to split them up so dramatically – if only Davies could have stuck to his guns because this is a far superior closure for Rose than the muck at the end of Journey’s End. The coda showing Rose, Mickey, Jackie and Pete as a family is new territory for Doctor Who and the scene on the beach epitomises Davies approach to the series, mixing science fiction and emotional drama (‘I’m burning up a sun just to say goodbye.’). Whatever you think of his era, the writing and performances here are deeply moving. However I did cheer when Donna turned up unexpectedly to cut through all the mush.

The Bad Stuff: I’m not certain I would have given Freema Agyeman the gig on the strength of her performance in Army of Ghosts. ‘Who you gonna call?’ ‘Ghostbusters!’ ‘I aint afraid of no ghosts!’ – with three lines of dialogue you can see precisely the horrendous smugness that has permeated series two, it’s a scene that makes me recoil from the screen it's so horrid. The ruddy great lever is not very subtle. When Yvonne opens the door and introduces the Doctor to Torchwood the hangar looks surprisingly cramped and low budget (oddly the Sarah Jane Adventures made a far more impressive job of this sort of thing when they visited UNIT’s Black Archive with a fraction of the budget). The Cybermen chose a hugely ineffective hiding place inside the building works of Torchwood Tower. A Cyberman news broadcast looks very funny and that probably wasn’t the idea. The action sequences in Doomsday leave quite a lot to be desired, a surprise considering this was helmed by Graeme Harper. A lot of fuss was made about the battle on the bridge between the UNIT soldiers and the Cybermen but it isn't a patch to the action scenes in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. It feel less like action and more like a series of consecutively staged effects. The return of Jake and the parallel world feels lost in the plethora of other stuff going on, Doomsday is definitely top-heavy with plot elements and some suffer from limited exposure as a result. I’m not sure if I buy the idea of the Cult of Skaro or why we have never heard of them before. The teeny weeny Daleks floating up to the top of Canary Wharf looks hilarious, it’s a surprisingly unconvincing bit of effects work. The Yvonne Cyberman crying oil and turning on the Cybermen is beyond naff. Are we supposed to believe her will is that strong? Oddly the Mill forgot to add the Cybermen to the effects shots of being sucked back into the void. Where did they all go?

The Shallow Bit: Mickey and Jake look prettier than ever. I really wanted to give Rose a hug at the climax

Result: A chaotic, climactic, conclusive two parter that sees the Doctor and Rose ripped apart in gripping style. Army of Ghosts is the superior episode because Davies walks the fine line between setting up the plot and playing with some fun concepts and humour and it builds to an unforgettably exciting cliffhanger. Doomsday starts out well but keeps piling on so many elements that it loses itself and surprisingly the relentless action was the least effective element of this busy episode. The Daleks/Cybermen tension grows tired quite quickly (after a superb bitch fight) but the episode redeems itself with the operatic emotional drama of the final ten minutes. Suddenly all that hideous smugness drops away and the Doctor and Rose are real people again, trapped in two different universes and trying to say goodbye through tears. It’s sensitively acted by Tennant and Piper and whilst it was easily past time Rose left us it does see her go out with an emotional wallop. There’s so much that is good here that it’s a shame that it doesn’t quite hold together as well as it should but there are still a wealth of great scenes. Davies seems to have saved up all of his 'wouldn't it be great if...' ides for this finale (phantom Cybermen, secret organisations hiding out in famous landmarks, Daleks vs Cybermen, a Time Lord prison) and the resulting madness is intoxicating. Army of Ghosts would score a 9 and Doomsday a 7 so this two parter ranks: 8/10


Anonymous said...

I think the first companion saying "I love you" to the Doctor was Charley to Eight (and to death in Scherzo) and the Doctor being so devastated after losing a companion I think of Eight(again) after Lucie's death, which drove him into suicidal mode, but I suppose you were thinking only in terms of the TV series.

Daleks vs Cyberman is the ultimate fanwank and so enjoyable that I don't care, RTD is ace in that sort of thing, as he is in bringing home the emotional and human angle (the family curling up together which house one cyberman smashes... I miss this in the Moffat era)

Anonymous said...

To the point above, in terms of the chronology of the show, Charley is the first companion to say "I love you" to the Doctor. Though I think in terms of the Doctor's own personal timeline, it's Evelyn in 'Thicker than Water'.

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