Doctor Who Review: Resolution

doctor who review resolution of the daleks jodie whittaker thirteenth doctor tosin cole daniel adegboyega wayne che yip charlotte ritchie chris chibnall nick briggs mandip gill bradley walsh

Not even Netflix?

It’s obvious enough what Resolution is reaching for. It’s trying to be big and bold and impressive, a confident and sweeping holiday special that’s both a reminder of why you’ve liked Doctor Who for the past year, and why it’s going to be worth the wait until next year. Unfortunately, though, the only thing that’s impressive about Resolution is how shockingly, stunningly vacuous it is.

Resolution wasn’t lacking in ideas – just the conviction to follow through on any of them. As a piece of television, it’s quite staggering how much time is devoted to establishing its premises, simply to abandon them in favour of the next idea. There are ways that can work, obviously, but it doesn’t here – it’s not the madcap whirlwind of Moffat era narrative substitution, one idea rolling into the next with dizzying intensity. No, instead Resolution is just an exercise in moving from one set-piece to the next, with little heed towards internal consistency or any economy of storytelling. There’s a real sloppiness to, say, the way Resolution establishes and then discards the Order of the Custodians, but probably more indicative of the story’s overall failure to cohere is the emphasis it places on the Dalek assembling itself anew out of a bunch of farmyard scraps… before revealing it also has hidden missiles still.

The Dalek is an interesting throughline to approach Resolution from, actually, indicative both of the episode’s ambitions and its failure to meet them. Positioning the special within that tradition of periodically refreshing the Daleks and scaling them back as a reminder of their significance was, in all fairness, a good move – it’s not wrong to point out that there hasn’t been a ‘proper’ Dalek story since 2014, but they’ve still felt present in such a way that a reintroduction was an obvious necessity. Hence an episode that’s consciously designed to, if not ‘make the Daleks scary again’, certainly to remind audiences of what it is they like about the Daleks. It’s a shame, then, that Resolution takes such a superficial approach to the Daleks – it seems that, to Chris Chibnall anyway, the most interesting thing about a Dalek is the explosions that come along with it. There’s a focus on being cool more than anything else, obvious in the way the camera lingers on those explosions, or in giving the Dalek a claw rather than the traditional plunger. (Surely if the Dalek has been made out of scraps, the obvious joke – much funnier than call centres or conversations – is giving it an actual, genuine toilet plunger for once?)

Again, the frustrating part is that Resolution isn’t lacking in ideas – it’s not even lacking in good ones. Deconstructing the Dalek, taking it out of its shell, is a neat idea; combined with the possession storyline (even if it very obviously should’ve been given to Yaz rather than Lin, no matter how good Charlotte Ritchie was) it had the potential to really sing. There’s something particularly potent, in 2019, to the idea of a long-buried evil reconstituting itself, borne from scraps, and extending tendrils to corrupt and control. It’s not an idea that Resolution does a lot with, though; granted, argument could be made that those ideas wouldn’t suit a holiday special, but if you’re ruling out the fascism angle after already opting against Christmas of the Daleks (self-evidently the best Dalek holiday special), then Resolution is already being forced to work with, at most, the third best idea available. As a Dalek episode, Resolution is little more than a collection of remixed and rehashed beats from prior stories, with little thought paid towards how those beats might cohere in this story.

doctor who review resolution jodie whittaker thirteenth doctor dalek eye view wayne yip chris chibnall nick briggs nicholas pegg power of the daleks alex moreland

Indeed, the general lack of coherence makes one wonder if Resolution’s most interesting sequence was an accident – the mirroring between the Dalek constructing a new casing here, and the Doctor constructing her sonic screwdriver back in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. It is, surely, too specific a parallel to be an accident. Again, though, there’s a messiness to it, because it’s a parallel that never broadens, never really goes anywhere.

That feels particularly noteworthy with this incarnation of the Doctor, though – or at least, this incarnation of the Doctor, after a series that’s pointedly avoided framing the lead character in terms of wider mythos points like Daleks, Time Lords and Time Wars. (Not that that’s a bad thing, particularly – indeed, it’s probably a good thing – though it is admittedly odd the Doctor’s new friends never thought to ask basic personal questions like “where are you from?”.) There’s a strange disconnect between how the Dalek is understood by the audience, and by the characters; it leaves moments like the Doctor reflecting that she’d learned to think like a Dalek a long time ago feeling oddly unearned. It harkens back to Eccleston’s Doctor or Tennant’s Doctor, where the Time War and that history with the Daleks is never very far from the surface – with this Doctor, it feels like an attempt to tap into a darkness that just isn’t there.

And yet! The shape of something interesting lurks in the subtext. It’s easy to read the Doctor’s attempt to kill the Dalek at the end not as going wrong unexpectedly, exactly, but an act of sheer recklessness and desperation to the point that she’s willing to sacrifice Ryan’s dad to make sure the Dalek dies. That would be thinking like a Dalek, with all the destructive drive and determination that it implies, and it could be the springboard for a much-needed effort to add some nuance to this incarnation of the Doctor. It’s a long-held truism that any Doctor is defined by their first clash with the Daleks (literalised in Into the Dalek), but the Thirteenth Doctor might be the first one that doesn’t quite hold true for – the character is hardly manifestly different, or understood in some new light, by virtue of this meeting of foes. If any interpretation of the character was particularly crying out for that meeting, it was this one; after ten weeks of moral leanings best described as “confused”, something to more starkly define the character against would’ve been welcome. (Plus, it would’ve been neat to have the Dalek immediately recognise her as the Doctor, recalling Power of the Daleks, but no dice on that one too. In its own small way that’s almost the biggest missed opportunity of the piece.)

It’s not, of course – and this really does bear repeating – that Jodie Whittaker is in any way a weak performer. In some sense, it’s the opposite; she’s realising a weak role well. Or, no, not a weak role – that’s too simplistic a way to describe it. Rather, eleven episodes in, the Thirteenth Doctor feels like a collection of disparate threads that haven’t quite been brought together – an unfinished join-the-dots picture where you can just about make out the overall shape, if not quite the finer details.

doctor who review resolution jodie whittaker bradley walsh mandip gill tosin cole dalek daniel adegboyega charlotte ritchie nikesh patel wayne yip chris chibnall gchq wifi conversation a

The same is true, still, of the companions. For all that this series has tried to position Yaz, Graham and Ryan as friends rather than companions, the relationships between them this year have felt like the most distant and detached across the past decade; there’s still very little familiarity, very little interiority, to these characters and how they interact with one another. It’s a problem. A problem generally, obviously, but here particularly, in an episode that’s supposed to act as the culmination of the year’s emotional arc with the return of Ryan’s dad.

Notably, though, it’s actually the same set of constraints and limitations that affected Resolution’s Dalek plotline – the return of Ryan’s dad is little more than a collection of remixed and rehashed story beats. (There’s something almost reassuring about the consistency of the issues inherent to Doctor Who at the moment, because that at least implies a simple solution, albeit perhaps not an easy one.) Tosin Cole does an admirable job with the material he’s given – arguably, in fact, Cole has been the strongest performer all year – and much the same is true of Daniel Adegboyega as Aaron. But what’s admirable about their performances is how they elevate the material, taking scenes that could easily have been very flat and turning them into scenes where you can at least say “well, the acting was decent”. Once again, it’s a case of ideas with unfulfilled potential; there’s a version of Resolution that, for example, draws parallels between Aaron and Graham, both running as far and as fast as they can because of their grief, only one able to do it in a TARDIS. There’s a version that reaches a spikier, more difficult resolution between Aaron and Ryan, not as simple as a catch-all panacea in the form of a near-death experience – if the episode is going to end by postponing the majority of the eponymous resolution anyway, it’s difficult not to wonder what it might have looked like if Aaron had actually died. It’s not that killing characters is always or even often a particularly compelling narrative choice, but it might have helped here a little to dispel the nagging sense that, at almost every turn, Resolution opted against the more interesting decision.

But then, that’s nothing new with this series of Doctor Who, or even particularly unique to Ryan and Aaron’s plotline. (It really does bear repeating: this episode would’ve been vastly, vastly improved if Yaz had been possessed by the Dalek, rather than Lin.) All of the same foibles and flaws that that you could track across Series 11 recur here – killing off a side character immediately after they mention they’re gay was egregious bordering on parodic, and deserves much more criticism than its got from certain quarters – and even escalate in some cases. What’s particularly damning, though, is that Resolution is probably still one of the better episodes of Series 11. There’s a confidence to it, a certainty, and by comparison to its immediate predecessor, it’s difficult not to concede the point. Wayne Yip is the best director the series has had all year; Charlotte Ritchie does give a great performance; the Dalek redesign does look alright, actually.

As the episode that closes Doctor Who series 11, Resolution is probably perfect – a microcosm of the all the year’s flaws and some of its strengths. As the episode that closes Doctor Who across the past decade… well, it hardly even makes the case that there’s much to miss until 2020.

6/10

Related:

Doctor Who Series 11 reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Journey’s End

doctor who journey's end review tenth doctor david tennant donna noble catherine tate rose tyler billie piper russell t davies graeme harper daleks davros

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.

doctor who journey's end review children of time david tennant tenth doctor rose tyler donna noble martha jones captain jack sarah jane smith jackie tyler mickey smith

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.

doctor who journey's end review davros julian bleach dalek crucible dalek caan the abomination david tennant tenth doctor russell t davies series 4 graeme harper

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.

doctor who journey's end review rose tyler billie piper tenth doctor david tennant tentoo bad wolf bay I love you russell t davies

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.

doctor who journey's end review donna noble catherine tate doctordonna forget mindwipe tenth doctor david tennant tardis graeme harper russell t davies

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

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

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.

doctor who the stolen earth review tenth doctor david tennant donna noble catherine tate tardis medusa cascade subwave network facebook russell t davies

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.

doctor who the stolen earth review sarah jane adventures sarah jane smith elisabeth sladen luke smith tommy knight mr smith alexander armstrong attic russell t davies

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

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Evolution of the Daleks

doctor who review evolution of the daleks helen raynor james strong russell t davies tenth doctor david tennant martha jones freema agyema

You told us to imagine, and we imagined your irrelevance.

Back in Series One, when they were writing Dalek, they hit on a bit of a stumbling block: Terry Nation’s estate wasn’t playing ball. Eventually, they were able to sort it out in the end (with some help from Steven Moffat’s mother in law, Beryl Vertue), but there was a point when we would have seen a version of Dalek without any Daleks.

The suggested replacement for the Daleks was a sort of prototypical version of the Toclafane – future humans, encased in those flying spheres. We’ll get to the Toclafane in a month or so’s time, but what’s interesting to me is the fact that it was humanity that was going to be set up as the iconic villain of the new series of Doctor Who.

In a sense, it does make rather a lot of sense. The Daleks have always paralleled the humans to some extent; the number of stories where they try to discover the ‘human factor’ that will help them conquer the galaxy is fairly expansive, and of course the fact that they’re a Nazi allegory in the first place means that’s a connection that’s always going to be around. On some fundamental level, there’s a connection between Daleks and humans within the show that doesn’t, and can’t, go away.

So, there’s something quite interesting about seeing an episode engage with that a bit more directly, and to in turn offer an evolution of the Dalek concept. They’re one of the few Doctor Who aliens that resist change, and always have; you can’t even get away with redesigning them anymore! In some ways, that’s actually rather perfect – that they’re the still point around which the show turns, a perfect foil to a lead character who’s always changing, and the obvious villain for a programme about change.

But then, by the same degree, that’s why the promise of an evolution of the Daleks is so enticing. The rules are made to be broken, and this is one of the bigger rules that the show has. Some of the ideas being thrown out here, and the possibilities that are being broached – there is a world, somewhere, where Evolution of the Daleks is looked upon as the successor to Genesis of the Daleks in terms of what it achieved and what it represents. (It is possible that this is the universe where it was written by Steven Moffat, as was the original plan, but to be honest I doubt that too.)

It wasn’t, though. Even I’m willing to admit that, despite my defence of last week – this is undoubtedly a weak follow up. The question that’s to be asked instead, I think, is why this episode isn’t what it could have been.

doctor who review evolution of the daleks helen raynor james strong eric loren dalek sec hybrid tenth doctor david tennant cult of skaro

I think it’s worth looking at Dalek Sec, because he’s the interesting character here.

The episode is clearly positioning him as something of a renaissance man, in keeping with the great man of history theory – like the Doctor says, the right idea at the right time, coming from the right person in the right place, could change everything. It’s clear that’s what we’re meant to see Dalek Sec as, and it’s he that represents this evolution of the Daleks – and, I’d argue, the human-Dalek hybrid is a character who could have been as important as Davros.

Obviously, he doesn’t work here. There’s a couple of reasons why, although none of them are particularly interesting, and I doubt it’s any huge insight to point them out. Part of it is the design – it’s less that it’s goofy or anything like that (I’m still somewhat partial to it), but it’s clear that the prosthetics constrain the performance. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that Eric Loren really knows what he wants to be doing with the part anyway – it’s not an amazing performance, really.

But, equally, how could it be? There’s a sense that the script is just a little bit too rushed, and tries to cram too much in while moving too fast. Even though it’s dealing with a lot of interesting ideas, they don’t have the time to fit them in; you move from Dalek Sec fondly looking at the radio, to his big revelation with Solomon, to his about face on the entire Dalek doctrine. It’s just moved through far too quickly, and these aspects are left almost entirely unable to work. Part of that is the pacing; I’m not convinced this episode works in the two-part style. Or, rather, the story was too unbalanced – Daleks in Manhattan had a lot of filler, meaning this one has to move faster than it can manage. You almost wish, really, that the cliffhanger last week hadn’t been Dalek Sec’s reveal, but rather the moment he changes his mind; perhaps some ominous “It is time for the Daleks to die, Doctor” dialogue would have helped immeasurably.

How could he have been the next Davros? Well, maybe a lot of this is just coming down to the version that exists in my head (if I get the time, though I suspect I won’t, I might try to elaborate on that) but it does feel like… well, it feels like this is a character who has legs. Imagine for a second the prosthetics were less convoluted, and the human Sec was played by Julian Bleach; that the character was established more firmly, and given more interesting material here. You can – or, I can, at least – quite easily see the character becoming a longer running adversary to the Doctor, creating a genuinely new paradigm for the Daleks, and offering a huge amount of potential going forward. They could have continued this civil war idea, with Caan and Sec both providing different perspectives, perhaps with the threat of a new Dalek Time War emerging the next time they need an apocalyptic series finale. I wouldn’t even posit Sec as a good or moral character, particularly – just one who thinks the Daleks need to evolve to survive, but retaining the focus on nationalism, jingoism and racial purity and so on.

Alas, though. It wasn’t to be.

doctor who review evolution of the daleks martha jones freema agyeman tallulah miranda raison manhattan empire state building hooverville

The problem, I think, is in part the fact that the episode isn’t very well paced. But then, it’s actually slightly more than that – because despite grappling with lots of different ideas, not a lot actually happens. They take all the toys out of the box, but then they put them back in again after a little bit of a runaround; the actual scope of the plot is very limited, even as the possibilities of the story are wide reaching.

In that sense, the story is a victim of the Daleks themselves. Because the status quo snaps back at the end, and the icon resists change, in the same way it always does. There’s something almost ironic about that; the weight of the symbol means you can’t entertain any change to it, and so of course the story about them changing to survive doesn’t work. It can’t – because the Daleks have survived more than long enough without needing to change yet, so why would they need to now?

And that hobbles it, fundamentally. Evolution of the Daleks isn’t willing to actually evolve the concept – there’s no chance for a revolution of the Daleks in this story. At the end of the day, the people working on the show didn’t want to entertain a seismic shakeup to the Daleks. That’s more than fair; there’s certainly an element of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and there was still plenty of room to work with the Daleks recoiling from the Time War. It just means this episode doesn’t quite work as well as it should, or as well as it could, because so much about it would only function in the context of a springboard.

There’s certainly a lot to like here, still. I remain fond of James Strong’s direction, and there are some nice scenes with the Daleks in them. Admittedly, it’s the comedy bits that work best, but hey. And, of course, I absolutely adore Tallulah (with three Ls and an H!), who is probably one of the best supporting characters in the entirety of Doctor Who ever. But then, equally, it’s not like the weakness to the premise is the only big issue here. The way the Doctor, and the narrative, continues to treat Martha is pretty shocking; eventually, I’m going to have to write about it at length, because it is a problem.

All in all, then, it’s an episode that perhaps is befitting of the reputation that it earned, in a way that last week’s effort wasn’t. That’s a shame, really – because it could have been so much more.

5/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Daleks in Manhattan

doctor who daleks in manhattan review helen raynor james strong russell t davies series 3 martha jones freema agyeman nick briggs eric loren

I swore then I’d survive, no matter what.

It’s always difficult reviewing the episodes that are less popular. In some ways, it presents challenges that aren’t there with the ones that people tend to like, or even the ones that are controversial; you’re always trying to respond to a prevailing weight of opinion, that in turn shapes a lot of what you say and think about the episode. I couldn’t come to this clean – it was always “well, this is the one everyone seems to think is a bit crap”.

Oddly, the venom for this story is quite intense. Not in the same way that’s true of Love & Monsters, but in an almost more casual way – where people would dedicate lengthy essays to complaining about Love & Monsters, this one was always dismissed out of hand. It’s objectively poor quality is seen as so objective that people don’t even really feel the need to argue about it; it’s just accepted as fact. Just one of those things everyone knows.

Russell T Davies has this story in The Writer’s Tale about how, when Helen Raynor read the reviews of this story online, she felt like she’d been assaulted – that they were so horrible, so vitriolic, she was literally shaking. As in, the actual proper definition of literally.

That stuck in my mind somewhat when I was watching this episode. I was in two minds going into it, really. On the one hand, I’d not quite ever got the hate for this episode; though, as ever, I was relying on the memory of an eight-year-old who loved pretty much anything with a Doctor Who logo on it. Sometimes the memory cheats. And yet I couldn’t help but feel as though the criticism of this story has become overdone, almost as though a meme – really, I’d never seen much justification for it beyond gripes about how it’s rather silly.

And, actually, reading the IMDb reviews now (surely a more sensible refrain than checking GallifreyBase) it seems to be a lot more positive than I realised. What’s striking, really, is that it’s – generally speaking – the ones closer to the time that are more positive. It’s when you start to get into reviews from years after the episode first aired, that’s when they turn negative. So, maybe, perhaps a part of this episode’s poor reception simply is the perception that sprung up around it, negativity feeding into itself.

Which is good, actually. Because I rather liked this one.

doctor who daleks in manhattan review david tennant tenth doctor martha jones freema agyeman hooverville volunteer empire state building

Part of the poor reception to the episode is, undoubtedly, because this is the ‘for kids’ episode. Generally speaking, the first two-parter of any given series was aimed slightly younger, painted in broader strokes, had the big monster scenes, etc. That’s a truism of the series – or, arguably more accurately, it’s a truism that it’s a truism.

It’s not fair, though, to dismiss the episode purely on that basis. After all, it’s a programme that’s for all audiences – by any reasonable understanding of that, you’re going to have certain episodes that lean more towards certain demographics than others.

But then, I don’t think that’s the most accurate way to categorise this. In the context of a Doctor Who episode, ‘for kids’ isn’t a genre per se – it’s an aesthetic. When people are criticising the fact that the characters are broader, or that they’re speaking in silly accents, they’re missing the point – that’s part of the texture of the episode.

To an extent, then, it comes down to personal taste, as all things do. I love the exaggerated aspects of the episode, and I love the sheer fun of it, and I love that dance sequence. These, I’m sure, are a lot of the aspects people would dismiss, unable to handle the “Noo Yoik” accents (I think Tallulah is fantastic) and in turn disregarding the episode as a whole… but, well, it doesn’t bother me. It’s fun in the same way a pulp-y Dalek serial is; it doesn’t mean the episode is bad, merely that you don’t respond to what it’s trying to do. (And, I reckon, succeeding at doing.)

Equally, however, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a particularly simplistic episode. Yes, it’s unsubtle in places, but it does have some interesting ideas at the heart of it. There’s a genuinely interesting advancement of the Dalek ideology here, pushing the concept of the Cult of Skaro to a new place and setting up some great stuff for next week to deal with. Similarly, setting it in the wake of World War One and the Great Depression is a great way of grounding it in terms of the themes of survival that are so central to the episode.

(The contrast between Solomon and Mr Diagoras is great, incidentally. Both gone through the same war, but left with very different beliefs about how to survive. And yet there’s that great little detail when Solomon leaves Frank behind, because he’s scared – there’s that underlying ruthlessness that the Daleks want to tap into. It’s not presented subtly, no, but there’s an interesting idea there.)

doctor who daleks in manhattan review james strong daleks eyestalk empire state building elevator lift helen raynor tenth doctor martha jones

Beyond that? There’s honestly quite a lot to enjoy about this episode. Lots of little directorial flourishes, for example – that shot of the Dalek exiting the elevator is fantastic. Indeed, it’s a very well-directed piece in general; James Strong maintains a great aesthetic throughout, keeping the sewers atmospheric and realising the visuals very well.

Similarly, I enjoyed a lot of the dialogue. I think Helen Raynor deserves a fair bit of credit here – my understanding is that this episode wasn’t rewritten by Russell T Davies to the same extent that most of the series was, because he’d been ill when this one was in development. She acquits herself well, certainly; like I’ve said already, I really enjoyed the aesthetic of this episode, and the way in which it is so brazen and on the nose about its themes. But even then, I do think it’s well written independently of that style – there’s some great Dalek dialogue here that wouldn’t be out of place in any other episode.

Is it perfect? No, it’s not. But then, the problems that I took from this episode are ones that are endemic to the series itself; I remain unimpressed at how quickly they moved into the whole “Martha loves the Doctor” angle, and maintain it should have been developed more slowly. This episode in and of itself is still pretty charming in many respects. For example, I love the fact that the Doctor has to spend time building a DNA scanner, when these days the sonic screwdriver would do it immediately – it’s blatantly padding, but there’s something lovely about it.

Again, it’s difficult to review this episode. It always is, with the first half of a two-parter, because so much of it is setting up and establishing a tone – in turn, it’s difficult to write about it without this just becoming a list of things that I liked.

But I did like this episode. It was charming, and it was fun, and it had some cool ideas running through it. Honestly, genuinely, what more could you ask for? This isn’t an episode that deserves the poor reputation it holds. Thankfully, though, that hasn’t mattered – because this episode survives.

8/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Why it’s important to advance Doctor Who’s Nazi allegory into the 21st Century

dalek nazi salute allegory invasion of earth trafalgar square lion black and white first doctor who skinheads alt right terry nation david whitaker

Daleks began as fairly straight-forward allegories for Nazis. It was a depiction shaped by Terry Nation’s youth during the second World War, and one which was understood by all watching – the dark days of the 1940s weren’t so distant a memory in 1963, after all.

This allegory forms part of the central tension of the Daleks as not just monsters, but villains. The Daleks aren’t mere clunky sci-fi robots; they’re a representation of the worst of us. Of hate and prejudice and a very specific human evil. It’s this aspect to them that has made the Daleks last for so long, and why they resonated so well with audiences in the 1960s.

However, in recent years, this allegory hasn’t quite held the same meaning. And that’s understandable; the way we perceive Nazism has changed a lot since the 1960s. Accordingly, the allegory that the Daleks form doesn’t hold quite the same impact anymore – which means that one must consider what Nazis represent now, and update the allegory accordingly.

The idea of the Daleks as an allegory for the Nazis has always fascinated me; even moreso in recent years, as the way in which we understand Nazis in society has begun to change.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Doomsday

doctor who doomsday review russell t davies euros lyn tenth doctor rose tyler daleks vs cybermen army of ghosts

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.

doctor who review doomsday dalek sec cult of skaro black dalek eyestalk russell t davies cybermen this is not war this is pest control euros lyn

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.)

doctor who doomsday review russell t davies tenth doctor rose tyler I love you bad wolf bay david tennant billie piper beach norway daleks

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.)

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Army of Ghosts

doctor who army of ghosts review russell t davies euros lyn cybermen daleks void torchwood title sequence card tardis time vortex

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?

doctor who army of ghosts david tennant tenth doctor jackie tyler camille coduri yvonne hartman tracy ann oberman cybermen daleks gh

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.

doctor who army of ghosts review rose tyler tenth doctor david tennant billie piper alien planet travel together forever russell t d

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

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Doctor Who Review: The Witch’s Familiar

doctor who the witch's familiar review steven moffat hettie macdonald davros peter capaldi twelfth doctor michelle gomez jenna coleman

I didn’t come because I was ashamed. I came because you were sick and you asked. 

To be entirely fair, I don’t think anyone really expected the episode to open the way it did. We’d all believed that we’d see a linear progression from the cliffhanger on to the start of the next episode – I even spent some time proselytising about the morality of it all, and whether or not you really should steal Davros’ favourite teddy.

It was a classic piece of misdirection though, which we really should expect by now, and it allowed Moffat to present us with something that was a little bit different. Rather than a parable about changing time (I was entirely expecting them to just do away with the Daleks completely, to be honest) of the sort we’ve seen before, we saw something that has been rather unique thus far.

A proper conversation between Davros and the Doctor.

That was, I’ve read, the starting point for the episode, when Moffat was working on the idea; we’ve had so many stories with the Doctor and Davros, and their interactions are always stellar, but often so fleeting as well. Here, then, was a chance for us to really examine the relationship between the pair of them, getting to the heart of it, and showing us something we’ve never seen before.

Julian Bleach and Peter Capaldi sell it, of course. It’s their performance that captures the essence of the thing, and provides the true highlights of the episode. This is likely to be remembered as the best interaction between the Doctor and Davros ever, and will no doubt inform all future ones as well.

It’s some genuinely compelling writing in those scenes – I’d be prepared to say this is Moffat’s best rendering of a returning villain, but Missy was in this episode too – which gives us a fresh outlook on things, whilst still remaining faithful to what’s gone before. Take, for example, the conversation about Gallifrey; Davros congratulates the Doctor, says that he’s happy for him, and you can believe it, because that’s based on everything we already know about Davros. It builds upon his own jingoism and passion for Skaro, and examines it in a different light.

doctor who the witch's familiar review davros cries eyes julian bleach skaro twelfth doctor peter capaldi hettie macdonald steven moffat

Another thing that stood out to me were the moments where Davros was almost like a friend of the Doctor’s; sharing a joke with him, watching a sunset together, and speaking of the admiration he felt for the Doctor. It forms a wonderful set of parallels with Missy, another staple of the programme, who’s both an enemy and a friend to the Doctor.

The difference, of course, was that it was ultimately just a lie – where Missy genuinely does consider the Doctor a friend, albeit it in a complicated fashion, Davros is simply manipulating the Doctor, taking advantage of his compassion. It’s a testament to the strength of both the writing and the acting that Davros’ about turn really did feel like a betrayal; I’d totally bought into the idea that they were going to kill off Davros, because this felt like the absolute right way to handle it. When he did then start to laugh maniacally… well, everything changed.

Something that worked quite well about the Davros and the Doctor scenes were how perverse they were, in a way. A lot of the imagery relied upon twisting what we already knew so well, and presenting it in a very different, much more disturbing light. Davros laughing, for one thing, as well as Davros’ real eyes – there’s a strange, almost uncanny valley effect to it, which really heightens the tension to the scene. Davros quoting the Doctor’s own question – “Am I a good man?” – only added to this, really heightening the intrigue, and investing us in the interaction between the pair.

On the topic of the imagery, and disturbing ideas, it’s worth discussing the Dalek sewers. That was a fantastically macabre concept (that set up a similarly fantastic pun!) which was used quite effectively I think. It’s another aspect to the horror of the Daleks; the screaming sound remains chilling, and the concept of Daleks living on, even after “death”, is one that has a lot of potential, and I really hope it gets mined further.

Director Hettie MacDonald did a wonderful job of bringing it all to life. I must admit, I am typically not inclined to comment on direction, because I don’t really know a huge amount about it, and usually can’t distinguish between any particular flourishes or mistakes, but it must be said, this episode was quite well done. The Dalek city is very stylish, the sewers are atmospheric, and the whole episode is wonderfully evocative. So, great job there.

doctor who the witch's familiar review twelfth doctor young davros peter capaldi julian bleach steven moffat hettie macdonald steven moffat

Admittedly, though, the episode was not perfect. I think it’s probably fair to say that, as with last week, the plot was not necessarily the most substantial. Obviously, the sheer quality of the Davros/Doctor scenes more than makes up for a lot of this, but the episode does feel a little empty, in some ways.

Similarly, the subplot with Clara and Missy was lacking too. Lots to appreciate; both Michelle Gomez and Jenna Coleman are exceptionally skilled actresses playing well written characters delivering witty dialogue, and seeing the two play off of one another works very well, but… Clara was disappointingly easily manipulated. She fell for the same tricks just a few too many times, and I feel like she should have been a little more guarded around Missy – particularly given what happened with Danny.

Something that was interesting that came up: all this talk of hybrids and confession dials and why the Doctor left Gallifrey. It looks (though I’m not certain) like they’re trying to set up something of a series arc here. I’m not entirely certain how I feel about that, really – the reason why the Doctor left Gallifrey is something that I’m always cautious about them getting too close to. It’s one of those pieces of the mythos that should really always remain largely open to interpretation; add in bits and bobs, develop certain aspects, but shy away from any explicitly writing big prophecies into the canon. That’s the sort of divisive element that should really remain in headcanon.

But, talking about the character of the Doctor, this lets me swing back round to the start of the episode – and to the end of the episode – to comment on something I really enjoyed: the character of the Doctor put forward.

I loved that line, “I’m here because you’re sick and you asked.” I loved how Capaldi delivered it, and spoke of how ‘the Doctor’ is, essentially, an ideal he aspired towards. The Doctor is someone who’s just passing through, trying his best to help people.

He doesn’t kill Davros, because why would he? If presented with the opportunity to kill Davros, the answer is in fact to try and teach him something better. To help him. To let compassion win out.

And that was brilliant. So, no, the episode wasn’t quite perfect. I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as last week (which I was perhaps a bit kind to), but it’s still a very, very good episode. 9/10

Related:

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Doctor Who Review: Into the Dalek

doctor who into the dalek review phil ford steven moffat rusty ben wheatley zawe ashton peter capaldi jenna coleman nick briggs

All those years ago, when I began, I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. But then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot. And I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.

Daleks are pretty amazing really, aren’t they?

They’re one of the most enduring concepts in fiction of the 20th Century – there aren’t a great many things which could claim to have had such an impact upon the zeitgeist, or such an impact to their presence. They started out as Nazi metaphors, but they’ve outlived that. They have a new relevance. Daleks are creatures of hatred; they’re twisted mirrors which show our own propensity for cruelty and evil. Daleks are far more than just another Doctor Who monster. They’re the perennial threat, there since the start, all those years ago, when it began. To use them simply as monsters shooting and killing, whilst a lot of fun, is something of a waste. They can be a lot more – they are a lot more.

Into the Dalek is a lot more.

At its heart, Into the Dalek has a fascinating, complex moral dimension to it. It’s the question of whether or not you can have a good Dalek; whether it can overcome what is it’s basic nature. The Doctor is, of course, dubious. Why wouldn’t he be? Same goes for the audience. Everyone knows how a Dalek works, everyone knows what a Dalek is. And it’s not like we haven’t seen the idea of a good Dalek before; similar ground has been covered, though not quite dealing with the same aspects.

The episode deliberately plays off parts of the Dalek iconography from across fifty years, to really cement the idea that we don’t have a good Dalek. There’s some subtle symbolism, like the parallels to Dalekand there’s proper, classic scenes – “This door won’t hold forever, but I’ll be damned if I make it easy for them!”. It’s Daleks 101, all serving to reinforce the idea that there isn’t a good Dalek. Everyone expects the inevitable turn around – and there it was. It was even earlier than I expected actually, by a good 5 minutes or so – there isn’t a good Dalek.

But Into the Dalek is smarter than that. “Good” isn’t a matter of what side you’re on, it’s who you are. A Dalek isn’t something that kills and hates the good guys, it’s a thing that kills and hates. The big point of the Dalek is hatred. And they couldn’t take that away. They tried so hard but they couldn’t. The Dalek was still full of hatred – it was pointed in a different direction, sure, but it was still a Dalek. Everything else? It’s as Dalek as they come.

It’s the hatred that makes a Dalek, it’s the hatred that makes something evil. And it’s whether you rise above it that counts.

doctor who into the dalek review dalek ben wheatley peter capaldi twelfth doctor steven moffat jenna coleman clara oswald journey blue

Which brings us quite neatly onto the Doctor. Is he a good man? I don’t know. But I do know that Peter Capaldi is one hell of a Doctor.

I’m on the record as having said that my favourite Doctor is the Sixth. He’s still the Doctor, he’s still compassionate, he’s still a hero – but he’s an alien hero. He’s different, and he’s not all that easy to understand. Sometimes it won’t be clear what he’s doing or why, but he will always come through. Yes, he might be abrasive, but he’s saving your life. If your feelings get a little hurt, well, better sad than dead. And that applies very much to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. (6 x 2 = 12, after all.)

Peter Capaldi acts this fantastically. He is very, very good. I’d give a standout scene, but frankly I’d just end up listing them. The opening, where he forces Journey Blue to put down her gun, stop threatening him, and say please. All the brilliant one liners, the pithy humour, the sarcasm.

But he’s more than just that. There’s some real poignant and introspective moments here, which really make the story worth its salt.

“You are a good Dalek.”

Peter Capaldi really, really sells this part of the plot. The sheer contempt in his voice when talking about the “Good Dalek”, which begins hope and wonder when he thinks it’s possible… and the quiet, introspective sadness and revulsion when a Dalek looks into his soul and sees hatred.

That’s how you do a new and interesting take on the Daleks. By looking at them, and looking at what they mean. That’s when you find ways to make them continually relevant. And that gives us brilliant, brilliant stories like Into the Dalek.

doctor who into the dalek review peter capaldi twelfth doctor you are a good dalek greenscreen universe mind filled with hate

Clara is continuing to soar to new heights as well. When I first watched Jenna Coleman in the role (in another Dalek episode, no less) I thought that she might eventually become my favourite companion of the new series. In series 7B, however, Clara didn’t really get the focus she deserved, for one reason or another, which was something of a shame.

But that’s very clearly changing now. The writing is really concentrating on her now; it’s focusing on character traits she already had, but changing the way they look at them, and making them more central to her. She feels a lot more distinctive now, and it’s really encouraging. Seeing her hold her own with the Doctor, and making him re-evaluate his decisions and what he knows in a way that’s unique to her as a character? That’s brilliant.

Plus, Clara is a lot more fun to watch now. That sequence at the start with Danny Pink? Wonderful stuff, and very funny too. Samuel Anderson played the part really well, and there’s a lot of promise to the character, I’m interested to see where it goes. Loved his lines about the reading. I feel a kindred spirit.

Finally, the direction. It was really wonderful here. I loved the way they’d intercut scenes with flashbacks – it made Clara and Danny’s conversation a lot funnier, and gave quite a bit of impact to the Doctor meeting the Dalek by holding it off a little longer. The whole thing looked amazing throughout. Spaceship battles at the start? Fantastic. Inside of a Dalek? Brilliant. Exploding Daleks? Wonderful. It was probably the best set of Dalek fight scenes across the past ten years.

As you can tell, I really, really enjoyed this episode. Bar the 50th, it’s probably the best Doctor Who episode since 2012. Now, it wasn’t perfect, no – the scene with Missy in the middle jars a little, for example – but it’s pretty bloody good.

I’m going to give it a 9/10. In part, that’s because I’m saving the 10 – I’m confident that this series is going to keep getting better…

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index