Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Journey’s End

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It’s been good, though, hasn’t it? All of us. All of it. Everything we did. You were brilliant.

Again, I want to start with a fairly simple, straightforward declaration: I love this one. I love every part of it, even the silly parts, even the bits I don’t like that much. It’s the apex of a particular version of Doctor Who, and when I watched it the first time, it was everything to me. So, there’s a degree to which I’m not really going to budge on that, now or ever.

Admittedly, that perhaps sounds like a preamble to an “admittedly…”, but no, I really do like this one a lot. It’s an episode that is, I think, easier to talk about for its questionable moments, and I obviously will talk about them, but that’s only really because of the nature of its strengths. It’s an episode that’s so bombastic and sprawling, so confident and sure of itself, that for a lot of it you’re left with little to do but point and gesture in wordless appreciation.

The review that follows – a particularly lengthy review, actually, because I wanted to try and do something hefty for what is a pretty significant episode, but also because I happened to have a lot of thoughts on it all – comes across, I worry, as being more negative about the episode than I actually feel. Like I said, it’s the sort of episode where the good things about it felt, to me, a bit harder to write about.

That said, though, I do just want to take a moment now to talk about my favourite moment of the episode: towing the Earth back home. It’s such a brilliantly sentimental scene, with one of Murray Gold’s best pieces of music from the Davies era, and I love what it represents. I love the way Freema Agyeman makes eye contact with the camera, too – it’s a strange, Blue Peter moment, and in a way it kinda threatens the integrity of the whole thing, as though it’s about to make it a joke. But, actually, it’s different from that, because it’s letting us in on the joke, including us, as though we’re piloting the TARDIS with them. I love the strange, crazy confidence to the way the scene just stops for an obscure Gwen Cooper continuity reference.

It’s really such a brilliant, brilliant moment. It’s actually the bit that makes it all worth it, to my mind; you could probably make some reasonable arguments that bringing all the companions together like this isn’t a brilliant idea – or at least you could try, because this scene shows how absolutely wonderful that is. I really, really loved it.

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Ethically, there are bits of it that are a little sketchy. Well, that’s perhaps the wrong way of putting it (if nothing else, it creates the impression I’m talking about something else) – rather, I suspect the moral quandary supposedly at the heart of the story is somewhat ill thought out.

One of the things that Journey’s End purports to grapple with – it doesn’t really; the idea is abandoned reasonably quickly – is this idea of the Doctor as a very dark figure, the Destroyer of Worlds. Not someone who emboldens and elevates those around him, shaping their lives, inspiring and empowering them to be better people, but instead moulding them into soldiers, weapons first and foremost rather than travellers or people or Doctors themselves. In and of itself, that’s debateable; certainly, I wonder how much, outside of this episode itself, that interpretation is actually supported by the Davies era anyway. Undeniably, there’s elements of it, and it’s more obvious with characters like Martha, but… well, is it true? I’m inclined to compare it to the Capaldi era, as I so often am, where the companions were left to become Doctor figures in their own right; I wonder if perhaps that’s the same as what’s happening here, but it’s a fundamentally different vision of the Doctor here than in the Capaldi era. That’s an interesting idea to grapple with – immediately the counter argument that they’re becoming, in effect, failed versions of the Doctor, missing the point, not the full version of such, which has an interesting resonance of its own – but I think befitting its own essay rather than a few stray paragraphs here.

More to the point, though, I think it’s worth considering what the companions are turned into soldiers against: the Daleks, the ultimate robot fascists. It is… difficult to argue, to be honest, in any meaningful sense that killing Daleks is wrong particularly. Certainly, in prior contexts – the Time War, or The Parting of the Ways – the point was not about the morality of killing Daleks per se, but killing Daleks while leaving massive collateral damage. That’s definitely the case with Martha’s final solution, but that’s not really emphasised in the text, and it doesn’t seem to be a factor with the warp star or… whatever it is TenToo did with the Crucible at the end. Instead, it does seem to be a fairly basic “killing Daleks is wrong”, which strikes me as questionable. It feels mainly like a broader version of the whole punching Nazis thing – yes, that is ethically fine. Just as it is, you know, ethically fine to blow up a Dalek.

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And that… not complaint, exactly, but certainly that little curio feeds into some wider points about the episode’s spine. Well, no, I’m reluctant to call it a spine exactly, because I don’t think it is – as I’ve said above, it’s dispensed with fairly quickly. It’s more that it’s just the subject of Davros’ rant, because if the villain is going to have a rant at all, it needs to be something with a lofty ethical point to be made.

I think I’d have preferred it if, on some level, there was an effort to refute that. I think it might have held the episode together a little better thematically if… well, if at any point the Doctor had been able to turn around and say “actually, we are so different, you and I”. Or, not like that exactly, but I think taking the broader point, about the impact the Doctor has on people, and showing it actually hasbeen a positive, that he actually is different, so on. I think it’s interesting to look at Sarah Jane’s line about how the Doctor has the biggest family of anyone on Earth, because actually, it’s debateable how much the episode itself actually seems to believe that; after all, the note that’s emphasised at the end is him, alone, crying in the rain.

More on that later, though, because what I want to talk about instead is TenToo. A lot is made of the suggestion that he’s this very dark figure – born in battle, full of bloodlust, all that jazz – but I’m not wholly convinced that rings true across the episode. Certainly, he seems broadly more cheerful and adjusted throughout than the brown-suited version of the Doctor does; you can chalk bits of that up to knowing Donna isn’t dead and the TARDIS wasn’t destroyed, so TenToo certainly has reason to not be as angsty, but even then. I think a big part of this, though, is that I’m still not especially convinced that killing the Dalek empire like that is an especially difficult decision; TenToo did the right thing, and Sarah Jane’s suggestion wasn’t wrong either. Martha is a bit more questionable, but at least that’s got an element of the trolley problem to it. (My hot take: Journey’s End would’ve worked better with the Slitheen, in that regard at least.)

What I do think works, though, is TenToo leaving with Rose at the end. Certainly, it’s a difficult scene to get right, and you can understand why Russell T Davies deliberated over it so much in The Writer’s Tale; very easily, it could have been a weaker rehash of the version from Doomsday. What’s impressive, though, is the way it’s doing something much more complex; where the last version was about Rose, this is about the Doctor – he’s manipulating her and pushing her away, essentially, making a choice because he thinks he knows what’s best for her. Actually, thinking about it, there’s an interesting connection to what he does to Donna later.

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Of course, there’s also the question of Donna. I’ve been deliberating over exactly how to handle this for some time now. To be honest, I was tempted to not bring it up at all; certainly, that would have been truer to my experience of the episode the first go around, because it was years and years before I realised there was anything to discourse about at all. For the longest time my thoughts on the subject began and ended with “that’s a tragic ending, I wish there had been some way for Donna to remember” – which, to be honest, I suspect was also the beginning and end of Russell T Davies’ thoughts while writing it.

But, equally, it’d feel too much like an unspoken elephant in the room if I didn’tmention it, and that doesn’t feel like something I can go without talking about. Particularly, actually, given that my beloved Capaldi era addressed this ending directly – more than once, actually, but most obviously with Clara, my favourite companion. So, it’d be a bit dishonest not to.

For anyone who’s not aware, the discussion centres around the Doctor mindwiping Donna; the – critique feels too mild a word, and perhaps misrepresents the strength of feeling of some of those who object to it – objection (not much better) regards how he ignores her wishes, disregards her autonomy and takes something from her without her consent. Part of the contention, too, is that it’s not really problematised within the narrative enough; the focus is largely on the tragedy, and how sad it is for the Doctor, as opposed to depicting it as a horrific violation of consent. That’s… I was going to say “That’s not an unreasonable interpretation, even though it’s not what the episode intended”, which manages to be both true and missing the point; whether it’s what the episode intended or not, that is essentially what’s on screen. I’m inclined to disagree heavily with certain sections of the debate, largely those that compare it to rape; I understand where they’re coming from, in terms of it being a violation of consent, but… it doesn’t sit well with me, for myriad reasons too extensive to really delve into here.

I think it’s probably best understood as a medical procedure; even then, there’s questions to be asked, but I think that’s a better model from which to approach it. (I also think it’s worth noting, in terms of comparisons to the Capaldi era, in Hell Bent and The Pilot, where the selfish, patrician nature of the act is emphasised, it’s not to save a life, which is manifestly different to what’s going on with Donna. Just to complicate things further!) It’s not a companion exit that sits with me entirely well admittedly; it’s cruel in a lot of ways, bleakly cynical in a way that sets it apart from the tragedy of, say, Doomsday. But… it also doesn’t, in a significant way at least, diminish the episode. At least not for me. I don’t know.

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One thing that did strike me as interesting is how easily this episode could have functioned as a series finale to New Who as a whole, if the specials hadn’t been commissioned.

Granted, you’d want a few changes made throughout; the version of this episode that was an actual ending would, I think, leave Donna as the DoctorDonna – the Doctor would finally have a companion and friend who really could travel with him forever (at the same time he gave Rose a Doctor who really could live with her forever, which would’ve been neat). Also, you’d kinda want there to be more of an effort to address Davros’ accusations, as I mentioned above; Journey’s End is interesting because it feels like it comes quite close to, or could have come quite close to, addressing the whole survivor’s guilt thing, and ultimately saying “actually, no”, but then ultimately eliding that in favour of a sad ending.

(Actually, personally, I think much more telling than the actual consent violation/mindwipe aspect is the fact that Donna isn’t allowed to keep her memories once she becomes a Doctor figure – a successful Doctor figure, in marked contrast to the others, beating the Daleks by tricking them into their own trap and hoisting them by their own petard rather than an aggressively militaristic figure. But where the others are failed Doctor figures who live, Donna is… not punished, exactly, but regresses. That, I think, is the difference between Donna and Clara; where “being the Doctor” is something anyone can do in the Moffat era, “being the Doctor” is a much more singular burden to bear in the Davies era. Again, that’s another idea worth returning to, particularly because I think Moffat’s conception of what it means to be the Doctor is one of the most interesting ideas of his tenure, and it’s actually probably one of the best ways to get to the heart of the whole lonely god idea in the Davies era.)

Anyway! Gosh. When this is finished it’s going to be over 2000 words, possibly approaching 2500; certainly, the longest of any of the X Years of the X Doctor posts I’ve done over the years. Actually, no, it could well be the longest single piece I’ve written full stop. It’s probably too critical in a lot of places, and doesn’t flow the way I’d like it to; equally, though, to repeat the usual refrain, these are often just the thoughts off the top of my head after watching an episode. A lot of the thoughts above are ones I’d like to elaborate on in future, though.

So. Journey’s End. I enjoyed it massively; I think that impression might not come across from this review, much as I would’ve liked it to, because so much of it dwells on the problem areas of the episode. That’s what got me thinking, I suppose.

I did have a slightly more elegiac conclusion in mind, but I’ve just remembered that next week I’ll be doing a general Series 4 overview. So I’ll save that for then!

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Stolen Earth

I came here when I was just a kid.

I love this one.

I also love the next one (arguably more, though I don’t tend to think of these two in discrete parts), but we’ll get to that in time.

I used to have all these Doctor Who action figures – no, collectibles – nah, action figures. A couple of David Tennants, quite a few of them missing hands; Rose from New Earth and Rose from Rose, a strange thing that looked like it was about to start a fight most of the time; Daleks, invariably missing their manipulator arms (alright, plungers) or guns or eyestalks, each one totally broken by the siblings and never by me. (That’s not, like, an attempt to talk around it or laughingly suggest it was me and I pretended it was them; it was them and they know it.) Judoon, Slitheen, Captain Jack from The Empty Child and Sarah Jane from her Adventures, complete with a little Graske, Martha from Smith and Jones and Mickey from Army of Ghosts, complete with half a Cyberman.

But, anyway, I collected them over the years, and played with them, obviously.  Always ridiculous, over the top narratives, with exterminations and resurrections and epic, galaxy-spanning stakes, and, of course, every companion ever. (Well, no, not every companion ever, because I never had a Donna figure.)

You can, I imagine, see where this is going. The Stolen Earth is Doctor Who as it always existed in my imagination, writ large across the screen. It’s sprawling and excessive and fun, Doctor Who taking joy in simply being Doctor Who. There was no way I wasn’t going to love it. Watching it at nine years old (probably) it was, genuinely, event television in a way I’d never really experienced before. Watching it ten years later, there’s still such a rush of giddy joy to it all. Across these reviews I’ve written about how I sometimes worry my opinions are based too firmly on how I first watched it, but with this one, I’m not worried about that. I know it, and I don’t care – this was the most amazing episode of Doctor Whoever then, and in more ways than one it still is now.

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There’s still, I think, a kind of… conversations about Doctor Who are still basically lead by the same types of people, and arguably in some cases the same people full stop. It’s people who grew up in the 70s, talking about Weetabix and Target novels and Tom Baker pants, and then being terribly ashamed of it all in the 80s and 90s (and in some cases still, bizarrely, carry the imagined weight of that around with them).

Less common – and to me, more interesting – is accounts of people talking about growing up under the revived series. Probably the obvious reason for that, I suppose, is that they’re mostly just not old enough yet; we’re still kinda at the point where it’s people who were teenagers when Rose aired are talking about it, as opposed to the 7 and 8-year olds. Maybe in a few years’ time we’ll start to see the stories of Cyber-strawberry frubes and Totally Doctor Who and David Tennant pants, which I would just like the record to state that I always found kinda weird and never had. Anyway, though, we’re definitely getting there. It’s something I’d like to have a go at myself one day, I suppose.

If, and when, people start getting around to it, I suspect The Stolen Earth will loom large in those accounts. It feels difficult, now, to quantify quite how big it was at the time. I remember that it was one of the last episode titles to be revealed; at that point I was following production news and stuff, albeit mainly through the Doctor Who Adventures magazine, and listing the title of episode 12 as CONFIDENTIAL (or TOP SECRET or what have you) – alongside, I think, what became The Sontaran Stratagem – really set me off. The anticipation! (Mind you, I was always pretty confused by the theory that Harriet Jones was the Supreme Dalek, though I’m pretty sure I found out about that after the fact.)

And, I mean, I’ve already said how much I loved this episode at the time. That picture of all the companions assembled together, ‘The Children of Time’, that was my computer background for years. It was then, and in many ways still is, such a wonderfully intense episode of Doctor Who, and one that’s really quite deeply bound up with the ways I watched Doctor Who at the time, the way I experienced Doctor Who, and, sure, the way I lived it.

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It still stands up today, I reckon.

The oft-repeated refrain when I write about the first part of any two-parter is, you know, that that’s quite difficult for all these reasons, which I recount mainly to fill up my own arbitrarily set wordcount, and as a bit of a caveat for the fact that I’ve not really said anything. Admittedly, a lot of this review is me talking around the fact, discussing what The Stolen Earth is and represents as opposed to anything that actually happened in it. On the flip side, though, it is mostly set-up and OMG moments and the cliffhanger of modern-Who, still yet to be topped, so maybe that’s not so bad.

Still, though. There’s a lot of great moments. The obvious bits, like any moment where Bernard Cribbins is on screen, have been rightfully discussed, but what stood out to me about this episode most of all was Elisabeth Sladen. It feels odd to say it, but she’s a much, much better actress than I ever realised –  not that I ever thought she wasn’t, or anything, but it really struck me that every emotional beat of the Dalek invasion works because of her. It’s her fear of the Daleks, at Davros, and for Luke, that makes it work – it’s genuinely the most impactful performance of the episode.

It’s quite the episode, The Stolen Earth. Quite the episode.

These days those action figures are all neatly displayed on my shelves – lovingly displayed, in fact. (I’d have to concede they’re actually maybe not that neat, and they pick up dust like mad.) I feel like maybe I should try and construct some metaphor out of that, that the things you love as a child start to hold a different place in your life as you grow up or whatever, but nah, that’s nonsense. Or it’s nonsense here, anyway.

I just wanted to tell you about them. I really love those things

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Turn Left

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What are you? What will you be?

[THE FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPT FROM A VIDEO UPLOADED TO YOUTUBE ON 21ST JUNE 2018, ENTITLED “Turn Left???”]

So anyway, there I am, channel-hopping, and there’s this show on I’ve never seen before. Looks vaguely interesting – it has Catherine Tate in it, and she’s quite funny, so sure, why not. Let’s give it a watch. I’m not really doing anything else, after all, and I’m dimly aware of this show – I think some of my friends used to quite like it about a decade ago or so?

Something called doctor who.

And then I figured, hey, here’s an idea: why don’t I make a video about it? I know my videos aren’t normally about television, since I don’t watch a lot of it, but this was on my mind I guess, so I figured why not? Plus this show is kinda popular, or it used to be – my friends all stopped watching it when they cast that Benedict guy, but I know everyone was pretty excited last year when they cast Johnson from Peep Show, so maybe it’ll be popular again next year  – and I figure maybe a few enwhothiasts might wanna like this video or share it around or something.

Admittedly I didn’t entirely understand the beginning of it – I suppose they must have been on some alien planet, or something? Or was it, like, China in the future? I don’t really know what that was about, because I’ve never really seen the show, but I thought it was kinda neat that they included that instead of just having another sci-fi kinda thing. I suppose it must have meant that this show had a lot of scenes with sort of representation of other cultures, and particularly Asian cultures, so this was just another in a long line? It’d probably be a bit dodgy if it was the only one I guess, I don’t know.

… What was I saying? Oh, yeah, yeah. So one of the things I did know about this show was that they time travel a lot, which is pretty neat – if you click on this thingy here you can see a video I did about a year ago, which was all about the top five different places I’d love to time travel to if it were possible – but I was kind of a little bit confused when it happened with the beetle thingy? I always thought it was in one of those phone box things from the 1960s, like a great big blue one that’s bigger on the inside.

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But, anyway, yeah. I got the impression this was all, like, referring back to past episodes of the show, which is probably pretty exciting if you’re an enwhothiast. The idea of changing your past, or someone else changing your past which I guess is actually what happens here, is pretty interesting to me. Like, I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t do my vlogs, you know? I’ve been doing my little videos for nearly five years now – actually five years exactly tomorrow! – but what if, like, I’d done a blog, with writing and words and stuff instead? I remember my friend Rose suggested I make one ages ago, but I never did. Or I guess on a bigger level, there’s questions of, like, what if Hillary Clinton hadn’t beaten Jeb Bush in the election last year, or Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister?

Sorry I just got distracted! What was I saying?

Oh, yeah, I know. Anyway. Catherine Tate is properly amazing in this episode – it’s genuinely such a great performance, the way she moves from being a more sort of comic character at the beginning, a bit like her character in her own show, but then gradually becoming a much more tragic figure. A lot of that is because of that kind of rise of fascism and stuff, that sweeping force that’s going on in the background and affecting all their lives.

I think – though obviously, not really being involved in any enwhothiast communities or anything, I don’t know for sure – that probably one of the most talked about scenes of this episode is that one where it’s Mr Colasanto being taken away by the army, and Donna gradually realises that he’s being taken to a concentration camp. Like, it’s definitely a really powerful scene – Bernard Cribbins sells it so well, it’s a great performance – but perhaps what’s more notable is the way that, in the next scene, Donna is still going to the army to try and find a job.

It’s a moment of quiet defeat, that, and it feels like it’s perhaps the episode’s most incisive observation about the nature of fascism. You can argue, perhaps fairly, that one of the big flaws of the episode is that the thing that finally motivates Donna to step up isn’t one of the small human moments, but the existential mythic threat of the stars going out, but I’d argue it actually ties back to that moment where Donna goes to the military for jobs, a comment on the same sort of apathy.

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Soo, yeah. I hope you liked this video! Please don’t forget to like and subscribe and leave a comment below – I could do some more Doctor Who videos if you enjoyed this one! Maybe a series? Like, I could start them next year for the anniversaries, eleven years since the episode was done or something like that.

Wait, what’s that noise…?

[TRANSCRIPT ENDS.]

So, Turn Left.

It’s an episode that’s all about an alternate reality – a world where a significant event didn’t happen, and the repercussions that has, the tornado caused by the beating of a butterfly’s wing. A reality without the Doctor, or a reality without watching Doctor Who; a reality where fascism is on the rise and internment camps are built, and a reality where fascism is still on the rise and internment camps are still being built, except also I have a blog instead of being a vlogger.

I don’t know, mostly I thought this was a funny little gimmick. It’s perhaps not as insightful as it might have been – hey, when are they ever? – but it struck me as a broadly funny idea. Probably one that would have been better if some actual time and thought had gone into it – if I’d had the idea early enough, I totally would have done an actual vlog, or at least made sure the “character” of vlogger Alex in the above transcript was a little more consistent throughout.

Still! Turn Left. A pretty brilliant episode. Possibly, admittedly, a little too dark in places – the death of Sarah Jane, Luke, Clyde and Maria was quite upsetting – but it works throughout. A fantastic script from Russell T Davies (it’ll be interesting to see him return to some of these ideas with Years and Years in 2019) and, as the other Alex mentioned, a wonderful performance from Catherine Tate. Arguably her finest hour, in fact.

Can’t wait for next week!

9/10

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Collateral is an intimate drama fascinated by individuals and sceptical of institutions

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What’s interesting about Collateral, of course, is that it’s very pointedly not a whodunnit. It spends very little time dwelling on questions of the murder’s identity, revealing this roughly halfway through the second episode; instead, Collateral unfolds from both directions, focused on questions of how and why rather than who. At each turn, the show avoids leaning into any simplistic formulae – it’s consistently something more interesting.

I went back and forth a lot over whether or not that title needed a comma after “drama”. Still not sure. Also, come to think of it, the inclusion of “intimate” full stop. I suspect I’ve come to overuse that word.

Anyway, here’s a piece on a show I really really enjoyed, but no one has really seemed to be talking about much. It also, entertainingly, fairly neatly highlights the problems with how I’ve broken down the television genres on the blog, given that this is tagged as a “crime drama” and I open the piece by talking about all the ways it’s not exactly that.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Doomsday

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Same old life. Last of the Time Lords.

There are some things which are pretty self-evident about Doctor Who, when it comes down to it. Ideas which, as soon as they’ve been brought up, practically beg to be incorporated into the show – in fact, not just beg, but need to be used. Of course the Time Lords would be the ultimate villains of the Time War (I’m getting ahead of myself there, though). Of course the Doctor is friends with all these different historical figures.

Of course the Cybermen and the Daleks should meet.

And of course they should fight each other.

Russell T Davies once described it as sounding like “bad fan-fiction” and… on the one hand, I can sort of understand what he means. There’s something very gratuitous about it; when you think about it, there’s not really any reason for the Daleks and the Cybermen to meet one another outside of the fact that they’re the two famous Doctor Who monsters. If it was any other pairing, it wouldn’t quite have the same weight (although I look forward to the eventual Ice Warriors vs Sontarans story).

Yet, at the same time, that’s exactly why it appeals – the reason why it has that fanfiction attraction. The sheer insanity it symbolises, to finally bring these two together; that’s fantastic, to steal from the Ninth Doctor. With this story, Davies is quite literally bringing to life the imagination of every fan. There’s something about Doomsday that consistently goes further, time and time again, to properly realise everything that we’ve always held in our heads; even Verity Lambert herself highlighted the spectacle of seeing the Daleks swarming across London in their thousands. In a way, there’s something quite special about that.

In many ways, I think Doomsday contains what I would consider to be the archetypical depiction of Daleks – cruel, scheming, and full of hate. Brimming with evil, and genuinely quite deadly. And yet, at the same time… just a little bit snarky. A cruel edge of sarcasm and smug superiority. For me, this is the definitive image of the Daleks – likely because, thinking about it, this would have been my first proper Dalek story. All others have been measured against this one.

And it’s rather impressive for a Dalek story, isn’t it? I’m very fond of the Cult of Skaro in particular, actually; they’re a brilliantly innovative concept. They do the wonderful trick of elevating the Daleks from monsters to villains – in this story and subsequent ones, that is, and I don’t mean to suggest it’s never been done before – which helps to make the interactions between Doctor and Daleks far more nuanced, and indeed far more compelling to watch.

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There’s a lot else to like in this episode, of course; I’m going to take some time to highlight those things, because I don’t want to let the drashig in the room overshadow the rest of what makes this episode such a great piece of television – the final ten minutes are great, and they are iconic, but the rest of it is pretty damn brilliant too.

I always comment on Russell T Davies’ character work, because I do think it’s his chief strength as a writer; I’m going to be talking about that a lot in a moment, specifically in terms of the Doctor and Rose, but I think it’s worth taking a moment to look at all the other impressive character moments that are on display in this episode.

Principally, you’ve got Jackie and Pete; just as much as this is the ending of Rose’s story, it’s also the ending of their story. It’s nice, then, to be able to see the pair of them finally reaching a sort of happy ending together – it goes to show you just how effectively Doomsday acts as a series finale not just to the second series of Doctor Who, but also to the past two years of the program.

We also get the opportunity to see Mickey in hero mode; after Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel, he’d completed his hero’s journey, and now we’re looking at the end result. It’s fascinating to compare the Mickey we see here – self-assured, confident, and the “bravest human” Rose had ever known – to the jumpy, frightened young man of Rose. It’s a testament to those involved, then, that this evolution feels earned; you can understand the journey, and you can understand why Mickey is who he is now. (Incidentally, I’ve gained a lot of respect for Noel Clarke over the past few weeks, simply because I’ve found out a lot more about the rest of his career. He seems to do a lot of interesting things; definitely going to have to search out his Hood movies and watch those.)

Similarly, Rose’s own hero’s journey comes to a fore this week; she stares down the Daleks, she makes the final sacrifice, and she chooses Doctor-life over any other. Over on Pete’s World, she becomes a ‘defender of the Earth’ – the Doctor for a world that doesn’t have one. It really is very reminiscent of the journey that Clara went on; I know a lot of people draw parallels between Clara and Donna, but I definitely feel like Clara and Rose have a lot in common with one another.

One final aspect worth commenting on, though, before moving on to the main event: Yvonne Hartman. I mentioned last week how impressive I found her character – and now, this week, we get to see her tragic downfall. At the same time, though, there was something of a triumph to her tragedy; Yvonne is the only character we’ve seen with a resolve strong enough to resist the Cyber conditioning. It’s perhaps ironic that she gets her only ‘moral’ moment of the two-parter when she’s been converted; a parallel, maybe, with how Torchwood was always appropriating alien technology for its own benefit. Even in death, Yvonne is still doing what she’s always done.

(And I bloody love that single, solitary tear. It’s one of those defining Doctor Who images which has always stayed with me.)

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Of course, there’s only really one thing that Doomsday is known for. That scene. Possibly one of the most iconic scenes of Davies’ Who, if not the entirety of Nu-Who as a whole. It is quite the scene.

For a Yahoo article a while ago, I wrote this about the scene:

It’s the culmination of a two-year plot arc, and it is heartbreaking. All of us in the audience have watched these two characters travel together, and grow together, ever since the show returned; it was with the Tenth Doctor that we really saw the depth of feeling these two characters had for each other. And yet, in the end, the Doctor and Rose were ripped apart from each – it was cruel, it was unforgettable, and it was wonderfully written by the fantastic Russell T Davies.

And, you know, that’s completely right. But it’s also a huge oversimplification of what’s really going on in the scene; that, admittedly, was because I was writing it largely from memory, without a proper understanding of the context of the scene.

It’s not just about seeing the depth of feeling this two characters have for each other – it’s the moment when they finally admit to each other how they feel. Because so far, they haven’t; I’ve pointed out over my previous reviews that the love story between the Doctor and Rose is, in fact, quite subtle. They weren’t ever really in a relationship together; it was never anything that complicated, or that mundane. It was just the Doctor and Rose, in the TARDIS. As it should be.

But that’s what really emphasises the tragedy of this moment – there was a sort of purity to it, because it was the first time that the pair of them expressed these feelings. The first time they chose to, because it was the last time they could. Which serves only to heighten the sheer cruelty of “Rose Tyler, -”, in the end – we know what he was going to say, but it’s just not fair that he didn’t get to say it. (All the more frustrating, really, that the pair of them wasted time on little small talk; in a way, though, that makes the moment all the more effective. These two inarticulate idiots, dancing around their feelings – and, in the end, denied even that one final moment together.)

Tennant and Piper are, frankly, perfect here. I’m inclined to say that Billie Piper does better here even than in Father’s Day, with her grief open and raw. Similarly, Tennant does an impressive job of just barely holding it together – wonderfully delivering the Doctor’s ever so slightly dismissive jokes, he really conveys quite how sad the Doctor is. It’s a poignant moment, and I must admit that it had me on the edge of tears. Russell T Davies really managed something special here, it has to be said.

Ultimately, Doomsday is a brilliant episode of Doctor Who. It’s a fitting resolution to the second series of Doctor Who, a wonderful ending to Rose Tyler’s story – and most importantly of all, it’s got a clever hook for the start of next year.

9/10

(This time next week, there will be an overall series review & retrospective, and the following week there’s going to be a general analysis on the Tenth Doctor in his first year.)

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Army of Ghosts

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And this is the story of how I died.

I feel like this is, perhaps, something of a repetitive opening statement, but it’s one I keep repeating since it’s just so true – this really brought me back. While I don’t have any particularly strong memories of Army of Ghosts (nor of Doomsday, it has to be said), this episode really did evoke a certain sense of nostalgia in me. Just little things, really – the background music, the naff CGI, David Tennant – brought a real feeling of familiarity and of all sorts of different memories. Back in the day, with Doctor Who Adventures and those Panini Sticker Albums and the Battles in Time trading cards. It was nice, on some levels, to be able to return to that.

Were I to be pretentious about it – and I’m certainly prone to that sort of thing – I’d compare Doctor Who to something of a TARDIS. After all, that’s part of why we love rewatching these episodes, isn’t it? Because it’s letting us reconnect with something of ourselves that’s nice to remember, even if we have moved on from it.

Of course (if you’ll allow me the artifice of a heavily contrived segue) that’s rather similar to what the Ghosts represent here, isn’t it? That whole idea of returning to loved ones lost, and reconnecting with them in that sense. It’s a fascinating concept, and even though it’s not given a lot of time or focus, I do think the episode did a good job positing them to be a global phenomenon. Russell T Davies loves his television sequences, naturally, and there are some great ones here – particularly the Eastenders joke – but it’s actually a little dark in places, isn’t it? Particularly when it comes down to Jackie; in light of Love & Monsters, where we saw how crushingly lonely she actually was, seeing her interact with the ghost takes on a really tragic tone. Rather than rattle around in that flat alone all day, she’s started projecting her father onto things. It’s quite unsettling, if you stop to think about it.

Interestingly, the identity of the ghosts was revealed much sooner than I remembered it to have been – I recalled it being much more of a mystery for longer. However, that was not the case – the Cybermen made their appearance fairly early on, and of course they had the little musical cues throughout. (It reminded me rather a lot of Dark Water, actually. But then, Clara and Rose have always been quite similar, haven’t they? I’d love to read some articles comparing them actually. Or write some!) The real surprise, in the end, wasn’t the Cybermen; it was the Daleks. A rather clever bit of a misdirect there, isn’t it?

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One of the most interesting concepts presented in this episode is Torchwood. It’s something we’d been building up to for quite some time – it was first referenced in Bad Wolf, back with the Ninth Doctor, and there’s been plenty of little nods to it here and there ever since. It was this year’s own ‘Bad Wolf’, as it were; the overarching mystery, now finally resolved.

In an extension of its origins in Tooth and Claw, the Torchwood Institute is an explicitly imperial, nationalistic force, intended to protect, preserve, and indeed re-establish, the British Empire. That felt, to me, to be quite a potent mission statement – I imagine at the time Davies intended it in a bit of a joke-y manner, and I think I always found it a little ridiculous, but watching it today it felt like a much more powerful piece of satire. Lines like “This will allow Britain to be a truly independent nation” stood out to me in particular, given that sort of rhetoric is quite prominent these days. Obviously, there’s a lot of much deeper analysis to be made there; I think there’s likely a lot of interesting commentary to be made on this topic, and indeed how Torchwood fits into a wider narrative of imperial themes alongside Doctor Who’s own relationship with such concepts. That’s possibly something I’ll return to (or at the very least Google) in the future, actually. For now, though, it simply stood out to me how these episodes, even ten years later, can resonate on such a level; between this and my comments on the Ghosts, I’m almost bordering on something resembling a coherent theme!

Cleverly, though, Torchwood is actually… sort of likeable? I mean, obviously they’re something of an antagonistic force – they do consider the Doctor to be an enemy of the crown, after all, as well as taking him prisoner – and yet there’s something quite charming about them. Rajesh is a fairly affable guy, not-Martha and her boyfriend are sweet with their budding office romance, and Yvonne actually seems to be a pretty good boss. Tracy Ann Oberman was perfectly cast for that role, I’d say, and Yvonne as a character is actually a rather nuanced one. It’s particularly evident in terms of how we the audience react to her, I’d say; at times we’re inclined to like her, and yet at others there’s a degree of shock and even revulsion at her ethical practices and the choices she makes. It makes for an excellent character, though, and she really enlivened the episode.

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Worthy of comment also are, of course, our wonderful Doctor and his lovely companion.

Lots of classic lines for the Doctor debut here – this is the beginning of “Allons-y!”, and it also has that wonderful dialogue about guns. Generally, I’m quite fond of Tennant in this episode; I always love him, of course, but this episode was a particularly good one for him. I noticed a lot of subtle little things he did in this episode, actually; grins and facial expressions and suchlike that I wouldn’t normally pick up on. It’s great to see him doing that sort of thing, and putting so much care into his performance. One of the reasons why he’s so loved, I reckon.

Billie Piper too did well here – it’s a rather strong episode for Rose, I think. In a way, it’s a culmination of a character arc for her too; much like Clara, she becomes something of a Doctor in her own right here, with the psychic paper and the coat and etc. (Indeed, Jackie’s monologue about what will happen to Rose is what happens to Clara, in a way, reaffirming my belief regarding the similarities between them.) I did find the opening of the episode – “this is the story of how I died” – to be a little ineffective, but I wonder if perhaps that’s simply because I know what happens? It’s one of those times when I think that, perhaps, my foreknowledge regarding the episodes and where they’re going to go does actually limit my experience with them. There’s no way I can reliably comment on how effective this opening was, because I already know what the ending is. As it stands, it makes it seem like a terribly tortured and slightly melodramatic metaphorical reading of the concept of death, but it may well have been extremely tense had you watched it not knowing where the story would end. I was quite fond of the recap of Rose’s time as a companion at the beginning of the episode, bringing with it something of a reflection on the past – again, evoking that theme of mine!

The Doctor and Rose together were, as ever, a lot of fun. I know it’s unpopular, but I love that Ghostbusters joke; I think it’s Billie Piper’s laugh that properly sells it, because in that moment she seems to be so genuinely having fun with it. Which, I suppose, she probably was! It’s nice to see the Doctor and companion together, enjoying themselves like that; I get the feeling it’ll serve to make next week’s episode feel all the more tragic.

I’m getting ahead of myself there, with references to next week, but then it’s very difficult not to. This episode – moreso than any other two parter, I think – feels very much like it should be Doomsday Part One, rather than Army of Ghosts. Even though there is (albeit in a roundabout way) something of a thematic through line with regards to the past here, there’s not a lot of this episode which feels like it’s just this episode. While there’s not a sense of incompletion or anything – you could watch this on its own without having to follow it up with the next one, I think – it does make it a particularly difficult episode to write about on its own terms.

Which similarly makes it quite difficult to assign it a numerical score – knowing, of course, that the majority of the “flaws” come from the fact that ranking this episode is essentially the same as trying to rank the first 23 minutes of The Girl in the Fireplace, or something like that. It’s times like this where I suppose I should eschew numbered scores altogether, actually, but for now I’ll stick with it.

Ultimately, then, it’s an entertaining episode, which throws up a lot of interesting concepts, and sets up an exciting premise for next week. At the end of the day, what more does a part one need to do?

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Fear Her

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There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive… wormhole refractors… You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.

It’s odd, because I find myself in the position where I’m writing a review of another critically maligned episode of Doctor Who, just a week after the last one. The general consensus from a lot of people is that Fear Her is a pretty awful episode; it came in at 240/241 in the recent-ish DWM First 50 Years poll, with an average score of about 4/10, and a whole twenty places lower than Love & Monsters. In the 2009 Mighty 200 poll, it was in 192nd place, while Love & Monsters was at 153. During the actual 2006 season poll, it also came last, falling just a few hundredths of a percentage short of Love & Monsters.

That’s actually quite interesting, you know. I knew it had a poor reputation, but I didn’t realise that it was – by every popular metric – actually considered a fair bit worse than Love & Monsters; the way fandom talks about them, I’d sort of expected it to be the reverse. I’m actually feeling a little validated in my appreciation of Love & Monsters, as it goes. Nonetheless, I’m always inclined to be positive towards and defend Doctor Who – so what’s the real situation with Fear Her?

Actually – and indeed quite weirdly – I realised that this episode might well be one of the ones I remember best from Series 2. Which is not to say it made any particular impression on me, or that it was very good; one of those memories was the Cybermen in the next time trailer, after all. And even then, they’re pretty weird and idiosyncratic moments that I picked up on – I remember the girl who played Chloe Webber giving an interview on either Doctor Who Confidential or Totally Doctor Who, and playing a game on the Doctor Who website where a scribble monster chased you through a maze while that kookaburra song played. So, in terms of Alex’s Personal History of Doctor Who, I guess that makes Fear Her one of those important but utterly bizarre little details that you include to point out that the past really was another country.

Which isn’t to say that the episode doesn’t have some good stuff in it either, mind you; I think the interactions between the Doctor and Rose are quite well written in this episode, for example. (Even if, you know, Matthew Graham is riffing quite heavily on The Christmas Invasion in a way rather unlike essentially all of the other writers.) There’s undeniably a lot of fun stuff here, and I think if you’re the sort of person who derives a lot of enjoyment from seeing the Doctor and Rose together, you’re likely to enjoy this episode; they’re very clearly positioned as close friends, really enjoying their time together. Just mucking around through time, as pals. On the flip side of course, I am starting to understand why Rose does grate on some people – the sort of irreverence and playfulness in these scenes does straddle a thin line between fun and obnoxious, and if it’s not to your personal tastes, it’s the sort of thing that could very easily dissolve any and all enjoyment you’re getting from those scenes.

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Another interesting thing that this episode tries for is a sort of… I want to call it “social realism”, but I’m not sure that’s the right term for what I’m trying to convey. I imagine it’ll become more apparent shortly, in any case.

Immediately speaking, it is difficult for something like Doctor Who to do those “near future” stories – while in 2006 they may not have known that the show would still be running in 2012 (even if it turned out to not actually be on the TV very much that year) and beyond, it was, so we can look at this episode and point out all the little errors. “Shayne Ward’s Greatest Hits” is laughable in hindsight; he’s become my go to reference for an obscure musician. David Beckham carried the Torch, not David Tennant, and it didn’t even look like that anyway.

Mind you, they got one thing right – there was absolutely some panic about empty seats!

Still, though, those are just surface details, and we can forgive those in the same way we forgive historical inaccuracies – it’s the same thing, just from the other perspective. When it gets down to it, there’s a much deeper tension to this episode in terms of its attempts to tackle what are, essentially, real world issues. It’s epitomised at the beginning of the episode, really; upon seeing the missing children posters, Rose asks “What sort of person would do this sort of thing?”, and she’s sad in the same way many of us are sad, confronted with the horrors of the real world. That sort of self-defeating horror and sadness where we’re all resigned to the facts of it anyway.

And then the Doctor says “What makes you think it’s a person?”, before dashing off. The implication being, then, that it’s aliens.

In and of itself, I’m not really sure how well something like that works. It feels very crass to bring up something that is, in fact, a genuine real world horror, and then just explain it away with that kind of fictional logic – oh, it’s just aliens. But, then again – murder is a genuine real world horror, and we have aliens murdering people all the time. So, you know, why not? What makes this tasteless but that okay? I do find it hard to say, and I’d be interested in other people’s opinions if you want to drop me an ask.

It does get worse though, and I’m much more inclined to be emphatic in describing this next bit as a mistake. Because this is the episode featuring a child who’s been a victim of domestic abuse, and the embodiment of her abusive father (who was killed while drink driving, let’s not forget) coming back to haunt her… all while children are being captured in drawings. Tonally, it’s a little mismatched; you’re dealing with some astonishingly dark stuff in this episode, to the point that I’d argue Fear Her may well be the darkest episode of the entire new series at this stage, and then you’ve also got the bloody scribble monster running around. While I don’t doubt that you could bind these things together into something really impressive, the fact is that Fear Her just sort of… doesn’t. There’s nothing going on beneath the surface here; it feels as though the abusive parents was just thrown in for the sake of it. And that is something that can only really be described as dropping the ball.

I am quite hard on Doctor Who when I feel like an episode has tried to tackle an overtly political theme, and then dropped the ball; Kill the Moon being an example in recent memory, though interestingly I was a lot less critical at the time than I remember. I suppose in my youth (!!) I was a bit more worried about openly stating political opinions on the blog like that. Fear Her feels like it fits into that same tradition; the story of abuse told here is done in such an awful, tone deaf way as to make the episode deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

Weirdly, that’s actually the second time this season we’ve got a particularly tone deaf story about parental abuse – The Idiot’s Lantern made a similar hash of the whole thing, but at least also had the courtesy to be sort of interesting to watch most of the time. Fear Her really does just sort of feel a lot like filler, with not a huge amount going on other than the crappy stuff.

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There’s another thing in there that I think is perhaps worth talking about though, particularly today. I’m not sure to what extent what I’m saying will be particularly coherent, or indeed insightful; it may simply be that I ruin some perfectly entertaining Doctor Who commentary with a load of old nonsense. We shall see, however.

Much is made of the Olympics in this episode. Particularly it’s the Oympics as a symbol of hopes and dreams and aspirations; the Olympics as a symbol of unity, and of love.

I’ve never really made up my mind on what I think about the Olympics, to be perfectly honest. I’ve never really been interested in sport, and at the time of the actual Olympics in 2012 I don’t think I actually watched very many of the events. In fact, I do actually recall ignoring one of the races to read a Doctor Who book, which probably tells you a lot about me – or perhaps tells you very little, given much of that could be surmised from the blog itself.

There is, of course, the fact that any sufficiently large organisation is going to experience issues with corruption – the Olympics is no exception. Just look at Rio, really; that could well be a disaster. While as far as I’m aware the London ones went reasonably well (and I stress that awareness is a limited one) it’s to be acknowledged that the Olympics in practice aren’t always what the Olympics symbolise in theory.

But it is very nice symbolism, isn’t it? The world, drawing together, to celebrate skills and abilities and, above all, to have a bit of fun together.

And that is, in a roundabout way, what this episode was trying to say. That we’re all better off together. That strength is found in communities; that isolationism ultimately only hurts us.

That what we need is a hand to hold.

In a strange cosmic coincidence, then, the anniversary of Fear Her – the episode dedicated to a moment which, in many ways, defined us as a nation – has fallen on a day which will also come to define Britain for a very long time.

Now, I don’t know about you, but… I think I’d rather reach for the optimism of the Olympics than the alternative posed to us today.

5/10

(I mean, for all the nice Olympic symbolism, the episode was still a bit naff – I’m only being kind because of the extenuating circumstances!)

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Celebrating Father’s Day with Doctor Who

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Brilliantly, but perhaps also obviously, Pete isn’t anything like Rose expected. He’s not the wonderful man in the perfect marriage that Rose was always told about; Pete is fallible. More than that, he’s already failing. His marriage is strained, his business non-existent. Rose gets to know her father as he is, not as he was remembered. It’s really compelling drama; we’re seeing Rose build a relationship with a person, not with an idea, all while having to confront her preconceptions about her father.

Today’s Yahoo article is about Father’s Day – not just the day, but the Doctor Who episode! I’m quite fond of this episode; it’s one of the highlights of Christopher Eccleston’s first season.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Love & Monsters

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When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.

So this episode has quite the reputation, doesn’t it?

Charitably, one could perhaps call Love & Monsters a marmite episode. Certainly, it’s true that there are some who love it. But the marmite moniker indicates that, you know, the two sides are at least somewhere approaching equal in number – but they’re really, really not. Any time this episode is mentioned, there’s an overwhelming voice that dominates the discussion, and it’s always a very hateful one.

I love this episode, as I’ve mentioned from time to time in the past. Which makes this my opportunity to try and defend it, I suppose.

Admittedly, I think that’s going to be a little difficult for me, because I’ve never really understood why people dislike it. I’m going through the IMDb reviews now, and typically speaking they all seem to highlight aspects of the episode which are either wholly subjective (“the acting is really bad”) or in fact simply miss the point entirely. It’s quite odd, I think, for the consensus opinion to have formed like this – though, then again, it could be that the exact sort of fan who’s going to be ranting about it online is the sort of fan who’d be put off by what’s in this episode. Not sure if it’s that simple, though.

It is, I suppose, easy to dislike this episode because of how different it is to the average Doctor Who story. Certainly, it breaks every established convention of the program so far – the Doctor’s hardly in it, we’re following the antics of an entirely new set of characters, and it’s got the video diary conceit which is so unlike any other Doctor Who episode before it. Interestingly, though, that’s “any other episode before it”, and not since – the similarly maligned Sleep No More made use of that style of monologuing direct to camera, and indeed the very non-standard found footage model.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I quite enjoyed Sleep No More, for the fact it offered something new. And that’s a huge part of why I enjoy Love & Monsters as well – it’s something entirely new! One of the things I always highlight as a strength of Doctor Who’s premise is the fact that you can, quite literally, do anything with it – so the times when they really go for it and genuinely give us something new, something entirely unlike what we’ve seen before, are consistently amongst my favourite episode. It’s genuinely wonderful to see the standard conventions of the program challenged, and then re-explored from a whole new angle.

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Of course, it’s not all new in this episode. We spend a lot of time with Jackie Tyler, who’s been part of the new show since the beginning. This time, though, we’re getting to see what she’s like when she’s alone; who is Jackie, without the Doctor and Rose hanging around?

The answer is that she’s lonely. She is so, so lonely.

Honestly, it’s actually more than a little upsetting to see Jackie here, and to realise how she feels when the façade drops. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this episode (even if it is, admittedly, one of my most rewatched Doctor Who episodes) so I hadn’t really registered quite how far the episode goes to show that Jackie is alone.

It’s presented as something comedic, of course, so I suppose that might be why some people might find it grating. Or, indeed, why they might miss the point entirely – one of those IMDb reviews I was talking about dismisses the whole thing as little more than “Jackie doing the slapper routine again”, which is a spectacularly short-sighted criticism to make. I do think it is quite subtle in some ways – or perhaps more accurately, it’s quite nuanced. The ostensible lack of subtlety is masking something with a lot more meaning; after all, the fact that it’s being played for laughs isn’t just a narrative conceit, but it’s also a coping device for Jackie. That’s how she deals with her loneliness – trying to laugh. Trying to connect with a stranger in the laundry shop, because she has no one else.

And it’s not like it’s played for laughs the whole time, because the comedic aspects are gradually stripped away as the episode progresses. After just a few short moments, you go from a joke about getting Elton to take his shirt off to the pair of them sat there, cold and slightly awkward, with Il Divo still rattling on in the background… and it is a little pathetic. I mean that in the sense of inspiring pity, of course – Jackie is so sad, it’s difficult not to feel bad for her

Possibly her standout moment, though, comes when she confronts Elton – and we really dig into the heart of Jackie. Because even though Jackie has been left behind, she will never stop defending her daughter, and she will never stop defending her daughter’s friend. Despite all her vulnerability, and her sadness, there remains a real steel to Jackie, and a real strength. It’s admirable.

And she’s a wonderful character.

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Back to Elton, though. Because Jackie isn’t the only wonderful character here – there’s a whole host of them.

I’ve often said in the past, and I think this is in fact the prevailing opinion, that one of Russell T Davies’ greatest strengths as a writer is his character work. Reading his book The Writer’s Tale you definitely get the sense that it’s those aspects of the story that he’s more interested in; the arguably quite mechanical functions of the plot take a back seat to the emotional heart of the story during his writing. And, you know, that’s clear in this episode – it’s very much about the characters, with a relatively simple plotline.

Part of Davies’ skill with characters is his ability to create a pretty deft sketch of an individual in a fairly short space of time, and I think it’s never been more apparent than in this episode. Each of the LINDA group is distinctive in their own way, and even though in reality they have a pretty limited screentime, there’s something that feels quite real about them each. Moreso than any other Doctor Who guest cast, they have lives outside of the story – Mr Skinner and his novel, Bliss and her cooking, and Bridget and her daughter.

Which is to say nothing of Elton himself either, who’s our lead for this episode. Part of me almost wishes they’d mocked up a new title sequence with Marc Warren and Shirley Henderson in the top spot; it’d probably have to be made of newsprint or something though, the time vortex wouldn’t feel appropriate there. In any case, though, the pair of them would deserve it, because they both do fabulous work here.

On a basic level, Elton is a lot of fun to watch. He’s a pretty average guy, but in an entirely endearing way – he’s not hugely confident, he’s not the most charismatic guy, he’s just a nice bloke. He likes football, he likes Spain, and he likes a bit of ELO. (And so do I!) It’s nice to get this very down to Earth approach to Doctor Who, because it’s a whole new lens through which to view our show – while Rose might once have represented the ‘normal person’, insofar as such a person exists, she’s now very much part of the Doctor’s world. Elton lets us live in the Doctor’s world from the perspective of… well, we’ll get to that.

There is, of course, a greater depth to this character than what’s immediately clear on the surface, because part of this episode is about Elton working through the grief of his mother’s death. It’s about coming to terms with that, and accepting that in life there are moments of sadness, and moments of tragedy. To quote Elton quoting Stephen King, “salvation is damnation”. Or, to quote another wise man – any life is a pile of good things and bad things. I’ll concede, of course, that this isn’t exactly telegraphed early on in the episode; the reveal about Elton’s mother does come as something of a surprise to the audience. I think it still works, though, because we’re viewing it through the lens of Elton’s diary entries, so we only come to know of it when he makes that realisation, and properly processes the event. Which does beg the rather interesting question as to whether or not Elton is an unreliable narrator – how much of this really happens? It’s perhaps worth asking what we consider to be the objective viewpoint, Elton’s camera or “our” camera – and then, depending on which one we choose, be it both or neither or only one, to what extent we can trust what happens.

It is worth mentioning for a moment Ursula’s fate at the end, because that’s something the episode comes under a lot of criticism for. The fellatio joke… well, to be honest, I never really got that until a few years ago, so I’ve spent quite a lot of time under the impression they really were just kissing. And, you know, there’s nothing that says they don’t mean that. In any case, I’m loathe to dismiss an entire episode simply because of one joke that doesn’t quite land properly – particularly in an episode which is at times genuinely very funny. As to the ethical implications of Ursula living as a stone head… yes, if you try to look at it from a “realistic” point of view, you’re going to come up with a hell of a lot of quandaries. But the episode invites you to read it as a happy ending, and I think that is the best way to approach it – it’s meant to represent a grace note at the end, where two people are able to find some form of happiness, even despite everything.

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And that, in a roundabout sort of way, brings me onto the final point I wanted to make. This is probably my longest Doctor Who review ever, and it’s only now that I’m getting onto the final, and indeed most important, point of the episode.

It’s about joy. It’s about finding happiness in fandom. And it’s about community.

One of those IMDb reviews I was reading spoke about how this episode mocked and parodied fans, but that couldn’t be further from the case. This episode is about Doctor Who fans, and there’s honestly no better representation of us on television at all. These are real people, with real lives, who are drawn together through a shared interest – but their relationship grows beyond that, and it becomes something more.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Doctor Who forums over the years – I first signed up to one in May 2011, but I’d been trying to start my own, real life Doctor Who fan club for years by that point – and they are genuinely nice places. Certainly, the aforementioned forum was genuinely the nicest group of Doctor Who fans I’ve ever come across; there was a sense of community there, and I’d like to think a degree of friendship too. Even though the forum itself has sadly faded, I’m still in contact with a few of those people. It’s not limited to the internet, though, of course – my best friend and I initially bonded over a mutual love of Doctor Who and similar such things. (Admittedly, it began with Star Trek. I know, I know, I’m a traitor.)

That’s the real value in Doctor Who, of course. In any fandom! It’s not textual devotion, or anything like that. It’s the passion and the creativity and the love. It’s… well, I can’t believe I’m going to say it, but the real meaning of fandom is the friends we made along the way. It’s no accident that the villain of this story is the type of person who doesn’t engage with the concepts in such a way, acting simply as gatekeeper and archivist, and generally not really understanding how anyone else works. “I don’t like to be touched, physically or emotionally.” Of course you don’t, Victor Kennedy.

We’ve all known a Victor Kennedy at some point – hello IPFreely! – and it’s fairly common knowledge that RTD based Kennedy on a particularly prominent fan in Doctor Who circles. I imagine he hated the episode, for some dull reason or another. But we don’t let them win, because they can’t win. No matter how hateful some of those people might be, you can never let them take over something that so many people love so much.

That’s why I love Love & Monsters, in the end. It’s a love letter to people like me.

And, you know, the thing is, when you’re a fan of something, they tell you it’s all… binge watching. Anoraks. Forums. Antisocial maladroits, and that’s it. But the truth is, fandom is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder.

And so much better.

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Satan Pit

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If I believe in anything, I believe in her

There’s a certain camp of the audience who would hold this episode up as the best of each of the Doctor Who two parters – certainly, the best of the Tennant era in any case. Of course, right now, I can’t really comment on that (I try my best to make sure not to make such sweeping generalisations without having, you know, seen the episodes within the past few years) but I can certainly attest to the fact that this episode really is pretty damn good.

In my reviews I do tend to focus on the writing side of things, because that’s typically what I’m interested in – I like to think of myself as something of a writer, so it’s the story side of things that I’m most concerned with when it comes down to these reviews. To an extent I’ll also talk about the acting, but I know that I often let that fall by the wayside. It’s rarer still that I refer to and commend the direction, the score, or the set design; in part, because they’re not really my area of expertise, but also, admittedly, a tendency on my behalf to take them for granted.

Now seems as good a time as any to rectify this, because The Satan Pit is an impressively well-constructed piece of television.

James Strong, the director, did a wonderful job of making this a very atmospheric episode. Something that stood out to me at the time – and has remained with me ever since – is the ventilation shaft chase. It’s a brilliant sequence, which is genuinely, properly tense; probably one of the best air vent chase sequences I’ve ever seen. Jefferson’s death is particularly chilling, in fact, and well portrayed by all involved.

Last week I spoke about the design, and how impressive it was – largely, though, I was focused on the base. I didn’t really mention the underground cavern; impressive though it was, it didn’t really get a lot of screentime last episode. It’s a really lovely design though; a wide expanse, hinting at an impossibly old civilisation. When Ida says it’s beautiful down there, well… she’s right.

As ever, of course, there’s also Murray Gold’s music. He comes under criticism at times for overdoing it – making the scores very overt, telegraphing exactly how you’re meant to feel at any given time – but the musical cues are, I think, undeniably quite effective here. There’s one recurring motif that crops up quite often in this episode, and it’s absolutely the right sort of piercing noise for this quite frightening episode.

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One of the central ideas of this episode is the fact that the Doctor confronts the Devil. On paper, that’s both insane and irresistible – the Doctor confronting the ultimate evil? It’s reaching for something so grand and so compelling that it’s a hugely rich concept in and of itself… but it’s also very difficult to execute, isn’t it? I mean, on some level, doesn’t that implicitly do away with the vision of the Doctor as just a guy with a box, if he’s someone who comes up against the Devil? Then again, perhaps it’s an idea that’s more palatable following the Time War – even then, though, what do they say to each other? How do you write that dialogue? What does the Devil say?

At first glance, they avoid this confrontation. Just write around it entirely, really; the Doctor never does speak to the Beast. He confronts only the body – only the animal. Except it’s not really true, there, because what the Doctor is actually confronting is the iconography of the Beast – the image of evil, and the idea of it. He’s forced to examine his own beliefs; right at the beginning of the writing process, that was the pitch for this episode. To write a scenario where the Doctor has to genuinely assess what he believes to be true. You can see him genuinely having to take pause throughout; not just in terms of whether or not the Beast can be “before time”, but also whether or not there genuinely is one single entity of evil. He’d normally take the same stance as Ida, in her neoclassical church, that evil is simply the actions that men do… but what if?

Rather fantastically, though, this debate is woven through the fabric of the episode itself. Because the beliefs the Doctor has been espousing so enthusiastically across this two parter – about the ingenuity and curiosity and initiative of the human spirit – is one that is in a fundamental diametric opposition to this endless, inconceivable evil. It’s brought up early on, of course, when the Beast first starts sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of the crew, but it’s always there as a creeping undertone.

And, ultimately, it’s left down to interpretation who wins out in the end. The Doctor’s fall is stopped – so perhaps that niggling desire to fall is bested by the positive desires to explore. But then he does have to fall; he has to be subsumed by the unknown. You’ve got Jefferson’s death – is it a noble sacrifice, or pointless brutality? Right at the end, the focus of the episode isn’t the Doctor’s faith in Rose; the final word goes to the Ood. The last note of this story is death.

Maybe the Beast was sent into the Black Hole. But if the Devil really is just an idea… who got the last word?

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Also following on from last week is the further development of the relationship between the Doctor and Rose.

And I can wholeheartedly say that they are indeed blatantly in love with one another.

It’s quite clear throughout, really; they’re genuinely distressed at being separate from one another, far moreso now than ever before, because here it seems like it might be permanent. Rose is terrified of a life without the Doctor – even to the point of being more willing to stay in the base, facing certain death, than she is to face a life without the Doctor.

Earlier in the episode, you’ve got the moment where the Doctor is about to fall into the pit – facing god knows what, with no way of knowing whether or not he’d come back. Facing, quite possibly, a far more permanent death than ever before. And his final thought is of Rose, but he still can’t quite articulate it. He’s about to say he loves her; we all know that – but he believes she knows it too. It’s a nice little parallel (or more accurately, piece of foreshadowing) to what’s coming at the end of Doomsday.

What’s most interesting, though, is that in the face of the Beast, what they ultimately assert is their faith in each other. If the Doctor believes in one thing, he believes in her – and that is the best statement of their relationship that exists. Certainly, it’s this episode which deserves to be held up as one of the most iconic of their relationship, because this is the story where their relationship is most emphatically defined.

It’s a really, genuinely triumphant moment – when the Doctor says at the end, all he knows is that they beat the Devil… the reason for that was because of the bond he shares with Rose. That, according to Doctor Who, is what you need to beat evil – faith in the people around you. The people you love.

That’s probably the most innately Doctor Who philosophy that this episode could ever have proposed. A really, genuinely, properly Who thing to say.

So! A very good episode this week. I enjoyed it a lot.

8/10

(Gotta say, I am hugely looking forward to next week, because the episode that follows this one is amongst my favourite Doctor Who episodes of all time. Yes, honestly.)

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