Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Runaway Bride

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I’m getting married today!

And so today we have the customary Doctor Who review, albeit not The Return of Doctor Mysterio – that’ll be up at some point tomorrow, or perhaps the day after. (Hopefully alongside The Husbands of River Song, which I unfortunately missed last year.)

No, we’ve here got The Runaway Bride, continuing with the ongoing retrospective of David Tennant’s era as the Doctor. I was quite determined to get this one posted today, simply because I’ve never missed an anniversary yet for these reviews, though I suspect I may end up cutting it rather fine with these ones into the next year. But we’ll see for now.

It’s hardly a new observation to note that, in this particular special, that Catherine Tate as Donna is representing the casual audience – most immediately, she’s the audience identification figure to whom everything is explained, but of course there’s also the fact that she’s missed all the other episodes of Doctor Who. Hungover during the last Christmas special, in Spain during the season finale, so on, so forth. Of course, that’s also interesting though is that Catherine Tate was cast in this role; while she’s arguably now known more for Doctor Who and Shakespeare (I recognise this is heavily debatable), at the time of The Runaway Bride, she’d recently finished starring in the third season of The Catherine Tate Show. This is Doctor Who colliding with another icon of popular culture…

… and, actually, being weirdly unrelenting in how firmly it makes the case for Doctor Who. Of course, going into it, I was well aware that Donna was representative of the general audience here – so I was expecting the episode to be far more in that vein. It’s not though, is it? A lot of it is reliant upon knowledge of previous episodes – or, at least, if not reliant upon it, The Runaway Bride certainly assumes a certain knowledge. The Santa robots, for example, have very little explanation or set up; the Christmas trees are a direct callback to The Christmas Invasion; Torchwood plays a heavy role in the plot of the episode. There’s even the new series’ first reference to Gallifrey, for the older generation of anoraks.

And in general, that was just quite an interesting facet of the episode, to my mind. The Christmas special, intended for a mass audience and designed to have broad appeal, and yet it assumes the people watching are, by and large, Doctor Who fans. More than that: if they’re not, they should be! Understandable, given that the intention for this is perhaps also to attract more of an audience next year, but it’s really nice to see this episode making that statement of validity, and really reaffirming it across the entirety of its runtime.

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Notable also is the characterisation of the Doctor; this is the episode in which Russell T Davies most overtly established that idea that he needs someone to travel with, which remained a prominent theme for the rest of his era, and arguably still until today. Consider, after all, the scene in Heaven Sent where the Twelfth Doctor declares he always needs an audience, and that recurring idea throughout Moffat’s tenure that ‘the Doctor’ is an ideal to live up to for the madman in the box. It’s a clever touchstone, and one that makes the character more interesting than if he were simply a paragon of virtue at all times.

Also worthy of comment, though, is Donna. I don’t think Catherine Tate gets enough credit for this episode, actually; received wisdom is always that she plays a very broadly comedic character here, essentially out of one of her sketch shows, and it was only during series four that Donna received any real depth.

Unarguably, the character was expanded during her later appearances – of course she would be, that’s only natural when one compares thirteen forty-five minute episodes with one hour long special. But it’s actually worth looking at the arc Donna undergoes in this episode, and remarking upon the quieter moments. Certainly, Tate does a good job of selling Donna’s grief after Lance’s betrayal, and it’s actually quite moving – I’d argue that it’s impactful because of the tonal shift, because it’s the first time we’re forced to engage with Donna as a character, rather than merely a caricature. It’s quite effective, and I think justifies a lot of the tonal shifts within the episodes; often that’s pointed to as a weakness, and while that’s fair, I think it’s paid off by these quiet moments.

In general, that’s one of the strengths of Russell T Davies’ writing; the ability to encapsulate broad, sweeping spectacle, with quieter and more human moments. It’s particularly well suited to a Christmas episode, where you need to encompass that breadth more than ever.

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Beyond that? What stood out to me most was the Empress of the Racnoss. More than anything, I realise that she actually had a personality; there was a certain sardonic wit to her that I didn’t particularly remember. It’s a great performance from Sarah Parish which goes a long way towards creating a really fascinating monster; of course, the spectacular design work must be commended as well. Really, it’s an amazing piece of work. (Though the gift of hindsight is now making me wonder if RTD had a ticklist of animals that he worked his way through across his time on the show…!)

Admittedly, the episode isn’t perfect. Some of the direction does, I think, leave a little to be desired – there’s a lot of shaky camera movements combined with closeups, particularly during the scenes with the Racnoss, which obscures what’s happening onscreen. It’s a little bit irritating, and doesn’t seem to serve any particular purpose.

More notable – and your mileage may vary to what extent this is a problem, though – the episode isn’t exactly very Christmassy, is it? In contrast to prior and successive years, much of the Christmas elements of The Runaway Bride feel somewhat tacked on. This is an episode coincidentally set at Christmas, rather than a Christmas episode. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a bit of a bother for an episode which is meant to be the Christmas special. (Of course, I’d argue the same problem plagued The Return of Doctor Mysterio, so it’s clearly not always an easy one to overcome.)

Regardless: The Runaway Bride is a fun and entertaining episode of Doctor Who, which manages to not only further the Doctor’s character arc, but create a new character in Donna who already has enough potential to be one of the best companions of the revived series. It’s difficult to term any episode that manages that a failure.


And a very Merry Christmas, to all of you at home!


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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Series 2 Overview

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So! Another year, another series. As ever, when I finish a rewatch, I like to do these general retrospective posts, to just sum up my thoughts on the series as a whole, as well as seeing how effective the series is as a single block.

(This post is a little late, due to my oversleeping considerably yesterday. Ah well.)

First of all, let’s just look back at the scores I gave to each episode. Each episode title contains a link to the original review.

Pictured below we’ve also got the traditional handy-dandy graph, which I am becoming ever fond of with each passing year.

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What immediately stands out to me, actually, is how different some of these scores are to what I would have expected – based on general fan reception, as well as what I remembered of the episode myself. I was quite surprised at The Christmas Invasion, in hindsight, and I fear I might have been a little harsh on the Cybermen two-parter. It does, I think, highlight how I’ve started to move away from trying to give “objective” scores – I realised a while ago that was quite a silly thing to do, and so I’ve ended up with a far more idiosyncratic grading scale based on my own personal enjoyment.

As ever, we’ve also got the maths to do. (Forgive any errors in calculations – over the past year I have realised that my mathematics skills are abysmal, so I fear even basic addition and division might be beyond me at this point.)

Excluding The Christmas Invasion, the series comes to a total of 108/130, which equates to a mean score of 8.31/10. The inclusion of The Christmas Invasion brings the mean score to a slightly higher 8.36/10, or 117/140.

The series did, in fact, do better than Series One; you can read my retrospective of that series here, but the main point of comparison is that it only received 107/130. Despite more lower rated stories (none of the series one episodes received less than a seven), the abundance of high rated episodes meant that Series 2 just managed to pip Series 1 to the post by a total of one point. Again, that’s an interesting one, because I don’t know if I would have said that Series 2 was better than its predecessor.

(Also of interest is that Series 8 received 89/120, or 7.47/10. For series 9 I apparently didn’t feel the need to break down the calculations, but it received a score of 106/120, or 8.83/10. Roughly speaking, I’d say that feels right in comparison to series 2, but I’m also having a massive crisis of faith over my maths ability right now.)

I have previously done breakdowns comparing writers, but I think that’s probably not wholly productive really; it’s clear enough that there isn’t exactly enough diversity in the writing pool for that sort of maths to be really indicative of much.

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As to the series as a whole, in terms of my general thoughts?

It was, of course, very good. More than that, though, I think was Series 2 does is prove conclusively that Doctor Who could be an ongoing, continuing force; the first series wasn’t just a flash in the pan, as it were. What we saw this year was a further example of the breadth and potentIal for the concept, while at the same time demonstrating that it could all keep going with an entirely new leading man. Had Series 2 been a failure, I doubt that we’d have made it as far as we have – in some ways, as much is owed to series 2 as is owed to series 1.

Outside of that? I think the most resounding impression that I’ve got from this rewatch is, in fact, quite how much of it I did (and in some cases didn’t) remember from my original experience watching the show. This was, after all, where Doctor Who really began for me, and so looking back on it now has been particularly interesting from a personal perspective. It might be worth, I suppose, doing a post someday about Totally Doctor Who, Panini Sticker albums, Doctor Who Adventures, and those Battles in Time trading cards – for me, those are just as much a part of the texture of the program as Target novels and Weetabix cutouts were for the generation before. (To say nothing of the action figures, of course.)

In the end, I don’t really have a lot of cogent, articulate points to make. At this stage, I feel I’ve made them all; while I’m still planning to write a post taking a look back on the development of the Doctor and Rose, I think for the most part it’s quite clear already what I’ve thought of this season. Broadly speaking, I was pretty positive, because it was very good.

I’m glad of that, really. Because it would have been so dispiriting if, when turning my critical eye to these episodes, I’d found out that they were actually all just a little bit crap. Thankfully, though, they weren’t! And, I guess, that’s the real conclusion for this little rewatch. The best conclusion that I could possibly have reached.

All those years ago, I was right to love Doctor Who.

And I still am today.


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Doctor Who and the Problem of the Cybermen

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Iconic though they may be, the Cybermen occupy the funny status of not really having any purpose beyond being “the other famous Doctor Who monster, who aren’t Daleks”. Particularly for the new series, while it’s easy to point to strong Dalek stories, it’s much more difficult to do the same for the Cybermen. We’ve been lacking in any particularly strong stories for the Cybermen, as well as any instances where they may have been particularly scary. The reason for this, I think, is simple; there’s not really any clear angle from which to approach them.

They began as an expression of the creators’, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, concerns over organ transplant procedures and body modification, and the fear that humanity may one day augment itself to the point that it was no longer recognisable. It was a clever conceit in the 60s, but in an era where such medical advances have not only been accepted but also embraced, I’m not so sure that this is a concept that resonates in the same way.

Fond though I am of the Cybermen, I’ve long been of the belief that Doctor Who hasn’t quite figured out how to handle them properly. Without a clear central conceit at the heart of the concept, the Cybermen have oft been reduced to little more than clanking robots; ever since my recent rewatch of the 2006 series, I’ve been thinking about just what the Cybermen should be in terms of Doctor Who.

This most recent Yahoo article, then, is all about trying to present a solution to the problem of the Cybermen…

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Doctor Who: Looking back on Doomsday, the Doctor, and Rose Tyler

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Inspired by Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, and wanting to provide a cataclysmic event that would keep the Doctor and Rose apart forever, Russell T Davies decided to leave Rose trapped in a parallel universe that the Doctor could never revisit.

Doomsday, then, saw the culmination of a two-year plot arc, and it is heartbreaking. All of us in the audience had 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. Notably, however, their feelings had never really been expressed to one another on screen before; though we all talk about the epic love story between the Doctor and Rose, it’s actually far subtler and much more understated than that.

Expanding somewhat on my recent review, I’ve written a Yahoo article about Doomsday, talking about the Doctor and Rose’s relationship, the bond the two shared, and that final scene where they’re ripped apart forever. It’s great stuff, really; rewatching these episodes, I was quite keenly reminded of just how much I love Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who work.


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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.


(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?



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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.


(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!)


Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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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.



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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.


(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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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Impossible Planet

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We are the legion of the beast. The legion shall be many; and the legion shall be free.

One of the most interesting aspects of these two part stories is their capacity for world building. Given the style and format of the average 45-minute episode of Doctor Who, there isn’t necessarily the opportunity to really delve into the culture and society of each place the Doctor and Rose land week on week. Consider, for instance, something like New Earth; we get a deft sketch of the hospital, yes, but there’s not a huge amount of detail regarding how it works, what the rest of the world is like, and so on and so forth.

Don’t get me wrong, that absolutely works. I think one of Russell T Davies’ most useful skills as a Doctor Who writer is his ability to give the impression of a wider world with just a few short lines. He’s great at things like that, quite often deploying evocative and imaginative lines, referring to the planet Felspoon, where the mountains sway in the breeze, and so on and so forth. It’s a clever way of hinting at and showing us the shape of a broader world, while still working within the constraints of the format.

But! It’s still really nice to be able to spend some time getting to know a place more slowly, learning about the characters, and just generally sort of luxuriate in the world itself. There was a scene in this episode where we took a couple of minutes to watch Scooti take a space-walk and do some maintenance; though it also works as set up for a later sequence, it is genuinely difficult to imagine this sort of thing happening in the Moffat era, with its hyper compressed narrative speed. It wouldn’t always work, of course, and spending too long on the slower moments would be a mistake… but in this instance, I was quite fond of the little stuff.

The entire episode makes great use of the dirty, “used future” aesthetic that was so popular in movies like the original Star Wars trilogy, or the Alien franchise; we get a real sense that this base is lived in and battered and genuinely right out there on the edge. It’s a really nice way of giving us a sense of a living, breathing world; these people are right out there on the edge of the frontier, just barely holding on and pulling through. You get a sense of that through the characters as well – little details like Zachary Cross Flane (a fantastic, eccentrically futuristic name) being the Acting Captain, rather than the original Captain, giving the impression of the peril they’d been through previously.

Similarly, the Ood are a wonderful race. Neil Gorton did a fantastic job with the prosthetics and the general design – personally speaking, I think the Ood have the best look of all the New Series Doctor Who monsters. That, I imagine, is why they’re so iconic – it’s all down to that bulbous head and those dangly fronds. The design belies a similarly interesting concept, which is that of a slave race. As we know, this is followed up on in the fourth series, but for now, we’re once again given a look at a new and unfamiliar side of the universe.

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Another notable aspect of The Impossible Planet is the manner in which it blurs the lines between different genres, being simultaneously one of the furthest that new Doctor Who has gone into ‘hard’ science fiction, and the one of the furthest that Doctor Who has gone into a sort of… fantasy horror type genre.

Before this point, the closest to a ‘hard’ science fiction was The Long Game, but even then it was centred quite firmly around Earth and the human experience, given that it was a news satellite orbiting our planet. Here, though, we’re almost entirely divorced from the Earth – yes, obviously, we’ve got a human crew, but that’s just about it. There are a large number of Ood hanging around, we’re on a gritty and grimy space base, and we’re on a faraway planet orbiting a black hole, of all things. This is as sci-fi as Doctor Who has ever been in the past two years.

(I’m using the term ‘hard science fiction’ loosely, realising that Doctor Who takes many liberties with science quite often; I’d be genuinely surprised if any part of this episode was in any way accurate at all. What I’m referring to is more the iconography and the images associated with it, which are of course on full display in this episode.)

At the same time, though, it’s the most overtly horror/fantasy story that the series has done so far as well. We’ve got an ancient language that defies translation, powerful sigils and possession. There’s even the idea of the Devil himself – not a devil, or a demon, but the Devil. Satan, Abbadon, Krop Tor. I’ll talk about this a lot more next week, obviously, as the story delves into this idea more, but for now I just want to highlight how well these aspects work, and the genuine sense fear and tension that’s palpable throughout the episode.

(Again, the term ‘horror/fantasy’ is a bit of a loose one here. I’m aware of things like The Unquiet Dead, obviously, but I feel like the difference is that this is much more of a sort of… almost cosmological horror, really. The Unquiet Dead or Tooth and Claw both saw fairly traditional monsters – ghosts and werewolves respectively. This, to me, feels like something a little more off the wall and outlandish in its approach.)

Essentially, what we’ve got is a sci-fi story which is being haunted by something much older, and much more complex. It gives the whole story a really rich and compelling tone throughout, far more so than it would have had had it simply been about a space base under siege, or a possession story on Earth. By blending these ideas together, The Impossible Planet has a much more powerful set of iconographies working in its favour, and the episode is stronger because of it.

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It’s also worth talking about Rose and the Doctor here, not least because there’s some further development of their arc together, but also simply because I’ve not really discussed it in a while.

Often, we talk about the Doctor and Rose as being a love story, and… to an extent, yes, that’s been there for a long time. Certainly, there are little impressions of it during the series – Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel both have quite a few moments where you can see how devoted they are to one another – but for my money, this is where it stops becoming subtext, and starts becoming more overt.

A moment that sticks in my mind is when the Doctor and Rose are discussing the possibility of them getting a mortgage. It’s an entertaining exchange in and of itself, because of how utterly the Doctor rejects the idea of a normal life, but there’s a lot more going on there. It’s clearly building to Rose trying to ask the Doctor about the pair of them living together, but when she does bring up the shared mortgage, she ultimately fumbles the moment.

And I liked that! It was awkward, but it felt true to life. The pair of them share such a deep bond, and they’ve saved each other’s lives countless times, but they still struggle with the more banal expressions of affection. To me, that was a pretty nice moment in terms of the development of their relationship, and the general continuation of that plotline.

They both got a lot of nice individual moments too, of course. I was particularly fond of the Doctor asking to hug Acting Captain Zachary, and Rose expressing empathy towards and taking an interest in the Ood works really well. It’s a nice moment which is in keeping with what we’ve seen from her so many times before, and it feeds into the broader message of compassion and tolerance which is so central to Doctor Who.

Obviously, it’s difficult to properly judge this episode, given that it’s only half of a much larger story. I know that the relationship between the Doctor and Rose is going to develop further next week, and similarly the idea of the Beast is going to become much more central to proceedings next week also.

Nonetheless, this episode is still an entertaining episode in its own right; while I’d never just watch it on its own normally, having done so this week, I don’t feel like my enjoyment of it is dependent on seeing The Satan Pit as well.

Still, though.

I’m very much looking forward to it!



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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