Let’s see who can look me in the eye.
This was the bottle episode. The cheap one, where they had to save money. There couldn’t be an Auton invasion of London, or a spaceship crashing into Big Ben. Platform One and assembled aliens were both out of the picture, as were WWII and Victorian Cardiff.
But… Doctor Who has a very long history of taking monetary limitations, and coming out with something fantastic. The chameleon circuit and the Police Box shape, for example, was borne out of a lack of money. And that’s become one of the show’s most enduring images. (I like to imagine the explanation of the chameleon circuit and the TARDIS exterior were because this was the ‘cheap episode’, and that’s why they exist)
So… cheap. Yeah. But… so what?
This episode doesn’t open with spectacle, but suspense. We see Mr Cleaver, telling an offscreen presence about the deaths and the dangers of this new project. It’s pretty interesting already, even if it doesn’t quite have the same hook as previous episodes. There’s mystery and intrigue rather than action and explosions. (Not that I’d ever pick one over the other. Both is good. Both is always good)
But… actually, no, it doesn’t start that way. Even before that, there’s a ‘previously on’ trailer – nowadays, everyone just knows – which tells us we’re going to be dealing with pre-existing characters and referencing earlier episodes. But that’s a good thing! What that does is allow us to see, and to examine, the consequences of the way the Doctor lives his life. It’s the first time we really see this in NuWho, and it’s going to become a bit of a theme over the years.
It’s examined in a really interesting way – Margaret and the Doctor’s dinner is a really fantastic scene, with some really interesting questions put forward. Is the Doctor content to ‘execute’ her? Is he actually responsible for that, if he returns her? Doesn’t she deserve mercy?
Another stand out moment was the “Can you look me in the eye?” moment, in the TARDIS. It was very, very good, a great piece of writing in my opinion. (One thing I would perhaps have preferred would have been if, in the edit, they’d toned the music right down. It didn’t really fit, what they had going on there – it should have been much lower, more sinister. Subliminal, almost)
Christopher Eccleston’s acting of these scenes was pitch perfect – the steely eyes, the blank expression, the calm demeanor. Fantastic. Annette Badland is great as well, moving between threatening and pleading, and keeping it all very natural.
Something I was also quite fond of, and would maybe have liked to have seen more of, was the interplay between these four characters. It was really fantastic – Rose, Jack and the Doctor just seemed to be having so much fun together, which I always loving seeing. Doctor Who is, at it’s heart, quite an optimistic show, and to see the characters enjoying life… it’s nice. (Can you imagine a second series, with Rose, Nine and Jack? That would have been amazing. Just picture it. Wow.)
Mickey was pretty great as well. The way his relationship with Rose was portrayed was, I thought, quite intelligent – his getting angry was another demonstration of the consequences. It’s not just the Doctor, it’s the Doctor’s lifestyle. A lifestyle Rose has begun to live…
It’s also a really funny episode. Lots and lots of funny moments, right alongside the darker stuff. And it never jars – everything fits together perfectly. My favourite exchange was this one:
Cathy Salt: And then just recently Mr. Cleaver, the government’s nuclear advisor?
Margaret Blaine: Slipped on an icy patch.
Cathy Salt: He was decapitated!
Margaret Blaine: It was a very icy patch.
Absolutely brilliant. Margaret has a lot of funny lines throughout though, she’s a really great character.
The ending, admittedly, is probably one of the weaker elements of the story. It is a bit… deus ex machina, as it were, and does only exist to set up next week’s episode. (I know the budget wouldn’t have supported it, but maybe it would have been better if the TARDIS got a bit destroyed in the process, rather than just a panel popping open?)
It also conveniently avoids giving any sort of answer to all those great questions that were posed throughout, which is a little bit of a shame.
So… in all, a very, very good episode, which I would definitely rewatch. The ending does let it down a little, but I’m still going to give it a strong, and possibly slightly arbitrary, 8/10