Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Creeping Death written by Roy Gill and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: London, 1952, and a deadly smog envelops the capital. But something even more dangerous - and alien - is hiding within the mists. When the Doctor and Donna get lost in the fog, they find a motley group of Londoners trying to make their way home. Very soon, the stakes are raised, as death creeps along fume-choked streets, and not everyone will make it out alive...

Mockney Dude: The Doctor and Donna have been brilliantly characterised in this entire box set but it’s The Creeping Death that featured them together the most. Gill writes for both beautifully, treating them as equals and allowing them both to have their opposing views but work together very effectively. They respond to the material by giving highly charged, charismatic performances. The Doctor is dead excited to be showing Donna her history because there is always something new to be discovered. He loves a little cinema. ‘Isn’t the NHS marvellous?’ states the Doctor, pre-empting its existence. The Doctor manages to figure out the year by finding out what has come out on the cinema. If only he had an encyclopaedia of all film releases he would never have this problem again. The Doctor is like Tigger when he’s got an idea. I love how succinct the Doctor is when he confronts the aliens of the piece, he simply tells them this world isn’t right for them and they are going to have to let it go. Never let it be said that the tenth Doctor talks too much, sometimes he can be very to the point.

Tempestuous Temp: Like Planet of the Ood, Donna leaps from the TARDIS with huge expectations about where the Doctor has taken her only to be assaulted with inclement weather. She realises her Gramps and Nan are out there in 1952 and it most be early days for them. Why do so many people keep mistaking Donna for a bloke? She thinks she’s indestructible, but her adventures with the Doctor would test that. Donna says it how it is when it comes to the smog, it isn’t a frustration as the Doctor describes it, it’s a tragedy. At first I thought Donna celebrating gay rights in the 50s was a bit corny (I really need to question what that says about me) but I loved the moment when she shoots down the Doctor with the line ‘we do our best. Sometimes it’s a bit messy but we still try.’ That sums up humanity perfectly. All Donna asks is that Doctor does as much as is allowed. Not to break the rules, but to bend them slightly. She objects to being called the Doctor’s understudy, and of course there’s something on her back. She’s here to watch the Doctor’s back and she won’t let him forget it. I could listen to Donna’s stories about her legions of friends until the cows come home. She really does bring the series down to earth in a very amusing way.

Standout Performance: The unmistakable Helen Goldwyn being able to let loose on the fruitiest of characters, Alice Aiken. The story might have been a little too serious if it wasn’t for her prostrations and objections. You’ve got to love a theatre luvvie!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The weather around here is taking a turn for the worst.’
‘Humans burning up their planet I don’t know why I’m even surprised.’

Great Ideas: Somebody screaming in the poisonous fog…sounds like the pre-credits to a Doctor Who story to me. How terribly sweet to have a gay romance taking place in the 50s, where such things where not only frowned upon but prosecuted. The smog was a combination of weather, geography and sheer bad luck. A cyclone trapped the smoke and as the temperature dropped people started reaching for their coal, piling more onto their fire and making the situation ten times worse. The creatures have come to earth because they are drawn to pollution. The Industrial Revolution was like sending up a beacon to the Fumifugium. They watched, waited and encouraged more technology pumping smoke into the atmosphere because it is life to them.

Standout Scene: I admire a writer that can toss in a dinosaur at the climax, seemingly at a whim. This is Doctor Who after all, you can do ANYTHING. Donna’s comment about it being able to roar made m howl.

Result: ‘Go on I know that face. How’s the world going to end this time?’ This an atmospheric character tale, not quite as immediately arresting as the other two stories in the set but one that rather creeps up and envelopes you, like the fog. I really enjoyed how both the Doctor and Donna were given a surrogate companion in this story; it’s always great to see David Tennant’s Doctor being charming with a new friend and its proof again that Donna could more than hold up the series without her best pal around. The Great Smog that hit London in 1952 and killed 12,000 is a well-documented historical record that I’m surprised the TV show hasn’t exploited before (isn’t it awful when historical tragedies can be exploited for drama…but that’s the world we live in). David Bishop wrote a terrific little novel (Amorality Tale) set here and it pleases me no end to think that the Doctor and Donna could bump into the third Doctor and Sarah at any minute. It doesn’t go down The Fires of Pompeii route of having the Doctor and Donna on opposing sides of the tragedy, each with their own agenda, but instead shows that they have learnt from that experience together and work together to save as many people as possible without breaking the laws of Time. I thought that was a very mature approach because it could have been so easy to copy that very successful formula. It’s much harder to write two people working together than opposing one another and Roy Gill manages to make it very engaging. There’s a natural chemistry between all of the cast (I swear Tennant and Tate bring this out of people because it has been the case with all six of their stories so far) and given we only know them for an hour I was impressed with how well I knew these characters by the story’s close. A strong Roy Gill script, more evocative direction, great acting = another winner: 8/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

I only recently read Amorality Tale. It really is amusing to think there are two sets of Doctors and companions battling two sets of invading aliens at the same time in the same setting. I can only assume the smog made it hard for them to notice one another. Anyway, I agree that they're both great stories. This one's necessarily the slighter of the two stories, but I enjoyed it almost as much. I was worried that Richard or Terry might not make it out alive, since they seemed like such a happy couple. Ivy sounds like she'd make a fair companion.