Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Stolen Earth written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper

This story in a nutshell: The Earth has been stolen and an old enemy reveals his endgame…

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.

The Good:
· 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

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

The whole bit with the Shadow Proclamation just seemed like a waste of time to me, quite apart from how tatty the place looked. Really most of his scenes just felt like padding, less a clever way to keep him out of the action and more a desperate reminder that he's still in this crowded show. It also seems like a bad idea to bring Rose back in this episode just so that she can start whining again that nobody's paying attention to her.

But I liked the rest of it.