Think about it, though. Christmas 1860. It happened once. Just once, and it’s… gone, it’s finished. It’ll never happen again. Except for you. You can go back and see days that are dead and gone, a hundred thousand sunsets ago. No wonder you never stay still.
First historical episode of Series One! Cardiff, 1869. Not Naples, 1860 – you can tell it’s the same Doctor just from his piloting skills…
First new writer of the series as well – it’s Mark Gatiss’ turn to take the stand. And he does really, very well. There’s some very funny lines in there – Charles Dickens asking “What the Shakespeare?” had me laughing aloud, and the “I love a happy medium” part. There’s lots of other clever little bits of dialogue too; plenty of great speeches, talking about wonder and understanding, which is something of a theme for the episode – there’s Rose on her first trip into the past, and Charles Dickens’ becoming just a bit less cynical. It’s really very good. Very Doctor Who as well I’d argue – if one of the central aspects of Doctor Who isn’t about learning, and always keeping an open mind, then I don’t know what is.
Rose gets some nice character development here too – her story is really being taken bit by bit, and being quite thoroughly explored. It’s quite a big thing, this first trip into the past. Which, obviously, it would be – travelling with the Doctor like this is quite a privilege, and a really awesome experience.
We also see more of the Doctor, and he’s put in a new situation as well. In the last few weeks, it’s generally been broody Doctor, and it’s only now we’re seeing the Doctor being really happy, enjoying himself. And… well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag I guess. At times, it works well, and feels very genuine. Other times, it’s a bit more forced. It’s more the displays of enthusiasm that feel forced – other bits, like general happy moments, seem fine. Still, the moment where the Doctor realises who Charles Dickens is does work really well, so perhaps I’m just being nitpicky. (Or maybe it’s on purpose – the Doctor hasn’t been enthusiastic for a while, Time War and all, so Eccleston was deliberately reining it in. If I remember correctly, he does get enthusiastic later in the series, so maybe…)
The Gelth are really good – Ghosts! At Christmas! With Charles Dickens! – and throw up some very interesting questions of morality. Rose and the Doctor’s arguments about organ donations highlight in a pretty interesting way the Doctor’s alien-ness, as well as how important saving lives has become to him in wake of the Time War. (Also, I want to link to this article, which examines the idea in more depth. It’s really great, I recommend reading it)
Speaking of Charles Dickens, Simon Callow does a really great job as the great author. It’s a very good portrayal, both in the writing and the acting – the tired, slightly cynical Dickens has a great character arc where he realises that “there are more things in heave and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy”. It’s quite emotional at times actually.
The other cast members are good too, not that there’s very many of them. Eve Myles is great as Gwyneth, bringing an interesting character to life. Contrasting her with Rose, in the same way as Raffalo in The End of the World, is a pretty clever way to show the culture shock of time travel, and how society changes. I’ve not seen the reconstructions, but I’d say this is quite the same as Susan talking to Ping-Cho in Marco Polo – it’s the same series, even underneath all it’s differences.
It’s also worth mentioning that it looks great – really good production values. The BBC does period drama pretty well, doesn’t it? I wonder why that is. Hmm. Anyways, Victorian Cardiff is brought to life really well, and looks very authentic.
This is a great episode; I think, should I be trying to introduce someone to Doctor Who for the first time, this is one of the episodes I’d have them watch. (You can tell it’s that good because the BBC agree; when trying to introduce a whole new generation to Doctor Who, this is one of the episodes they chose)