Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Stolen Earth

I came here when I was just a kid.

I love this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It still stands up today, I reckon.

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Christmas Invasion

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Did you miss me?

So I’m not really sure if anyone noticed, but today is the tenth anniversary of The Christmas Invasion; the first Doctor Who Christmas special, as well as the first introduction of the Tenth Doctor, as played by David Tennant.

Early last year, for the ninth anniversary of series one, I reviewed each of the Christopher Eccleston episodes, as part of a Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor series, celebrating and commemorating this incarnation of our favourite hero. Naturally, then, it seems appropriate to do the same with the Tenth Doctor – my Doctor. The 2006 series was the first that I really, properly engaged with as a fan, so it’s naturally pretty close to my heart. (Realising it was ten years ago is making me feel more than a little old. Doctor Who has, at this stage, been a part of my life for longer than it hasn’t. That’s weird to think about.)

We’ll get to the introduction of the Doctor in a moment though; this episode is also important for kicking off the new series tradition of Christmas specials! The closest thing to a Christmas special in the classic series was, I believe, The Feast of Stephen (missing from the archives, but home to the famous “Incidentally, a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home” line), so this was somewhat unprecedented – but Jane Tranter had been so impressed by series one that a Christmas special was commissioned.

And it works – of course it works. There’s nothing about this that doesn’t make sense really, when you think about it. You’ve got Russell T Davies writing, who’s always had a firm grasp on the emotional core of stories, particularly when it comes to themes of family, which is something well suited to Christmas. More to the point, though, you’ve got the very nature of Doctor Who itself – the classic juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane, the frightening and the normal, is perfectly poised to give us a properly scary Doctor Who Christmas. And that’s what we get! Murderous brass band Santas and Killer Christmas trees. It’s exactly the sort of thing that’ll resonate with the kids over Christmas

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And, just like any Christmas, we spend time with family – in this case, the characters we grew to know and become familiar with across the last season. Rose, Mickey, Jackie, and even Harriet Jones (former MP for Flydale North, currently Prime Minister, in case you didn’t know who she was!) have central roles in this episode, while we wait for the Doctor to appear.

It’s a clever thing to focus on these characters, particularly given that the Doctor has just regenerated. For one thing, it emphasises the fact that, despite the lead actor being recast, we’re still watching the same program – all these characters we’ve got to know and love are here, they exist, and they continue to play an important role. Frankly, it’s also just a lot of fun to see these characters here; I know that’s not quite how it would have been viewed ten years ago, but honestly, watching this I got really nostalgic remembering these characters. Going into the episode, part of me was expecting it to be a little hokey, and a little crap, but it wasn’t – The Christmas Invasion is a genuinely good piece of television. That’s in part because of how strongly drawn the characters are – Jackie Tyler is a gift, I tell you, a gift.

More than that, though, by focusing on these other characters we see the Doctor’s regeneration framed as a loss; it’s a concept that I don’t think was ever explored in such depth before. Billie Piper does a great job of selling how emotional Rose is at the Doctor’s regeneration, essentially treating it like she’s been abandoned, and in many ways, she has been. The Doctor – her Doctor – has left her. Christopher Eccleston isn’t there anymore. Rose, just like the audience, is having to get used to a new Doctor. It’s through her that we are able to process the change, and, indeed, are eventually able to accept it.

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The Christmas present, though, is the Doctor. Anticipation has been building for nearly forty minutes when he finally appears – yes, we’ve had teases here and there, but never a proper look. And when he does finally appear, it’s immediately a moment of triumph; the Doctor’s arrival is signified as we begin to understand the Sycorax, breaking down a boundary that the rest of our heroes had faced so far.

Right from the off, the Doctor is charming. It’s a lot of fun to see him on screen, whether it’s casually dismissing the Sycorax so he can catch up with Rose, Mickey and Harriet Jones, or destabilising everything the Sycorax had achieved so far with just the push of a button. The simple fact of the matter is that David Tennant as the Doctor is a genuinely charismatic and entertaining character – where Chris Eccleston last year was more withdrawn, making the audience approach him, David Tennant’s Doctor has been designed to be loved right from the off. (A personal favourite moment of mine is his quoting of the Lion King, actually.) It follows through all the way to the end, as the Tenth Doctor sits down for Christmas Dinner with Jackie, Rose and Mickey – something the Ninth Doctor never would have done. He doesn’t “do domestic”, as he said in Aliens of London/World War Three.

Despite this, though, there’s a ruthlessness and a steel to the Doctor; he kills the Sycorax leader (”No second chances. I’m that sort of a man.”) and deposes Harriet Jones with a mere 6 words. It’s one of the earliest hints of this Doctor’s arrogance and hubris that will ultimately prove to be his undoing – but that’s a matter for another Christmas, really, a few years from now. For now, though, it’s an interesting character trait in an incarnation of the Doctor we’re still only just getting to know; as fun and charming as he is, there’s something distinctly alien lying beneath the surface. And that’s something we shouldn’t ever forget.

In the end, then, The Christmas Invasion is a perfect introduction to the new Doctor. We’re shown him gradually, with short scenes here and there, before he eventually steps up to save the day in the final act. The Tenth Doctor proves himself to Rose, Mickey, and Harriet Jones – but more to the point, he proves himself to us.

On top of that, we’ve got an imposing threat in the Sycorax, a compelling plot with the Guinevere One Probe, strongly drawn characters with our returning cast, and, of course, a truly Doctor Who juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane to create the scariest Christmas ever.

9/10

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: World War Three

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Do you think I don’t know that? ‘Cause this is my life, Jackie – it’s not fun, it’s not smart, it’s just standing up and making a decision because nobody else will.

Yeah alright this is a weird one. It’s… it’s weird, okay. But weird is good! I like weird.

Anyways, I tell you what I want to talk about. Ferengi.

I’ve always thought the Ferengi were kinda like the Slitheen – profit-driven, often a family business, that sort of thing. But there’s also another similarity – the Ferengi were originally going to be villains, like the Klingons. That was the original pitch for the big eared, profit-driven little guys. But eventually they realised that the Ferengi were just a bit ridiculous, so they were changed to more comic characters. Which was good! Quark was one of the best characters of DS9!

So, I’m just thinking… maybe that’s the way to treat the Slitheen as well? Not quite villains, but they’ve the potential to be something more interesting.

So, last week we left off with the Doctor, Rose & Harriet Jones, and Mickey all in different, dangerous situations involving Slitheen. We knew they’d get out of it – not just in a cynical TV watching way, but because there was a trailer. Whoops.

Anyway, the Doctor uses the Slitheen’s own trap against them, electrocuting the one in the room with him. And, in quite a clever conceit, this actually affects them all. It’s a pretty interesting idea (though not as central as I remember it) which brings up some interesting questions about the Slitheen.

What it leads into, though, is a sort of comedic scene with the Slitheen struggling to get back into its skinsuit (a pretty chilling bit of body horror if you dwell on it, but the episode never really does). And that’s indicative of a lot of this episode – it seems to jolt between two extremes, never being quite serious or quite a comedy.

But… you know, as it goes, I think that’s okay? What we don’t necessarily remember in retrospect is that Doctor Who was in a pretty precarious position at this stage. They had to make sure they appealed to as wide an audience as possible. And… fine, this doesn’t mesh all that well. The jokes for the kids and the drama for the adults aren’t as cohesive as they are in later years. But, you know, everyone is allowed to stumble along the way.

So long as you don’t expect this episode to be, say, Midnight, or Vengeance on Varos, you’re going to get a lot out of it. It’s a good episode!

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Having said that, there is a lot to like. If the episode swung one way or the other – full comedy, or fully serious – it probably would be a bit better.

There’s a sort of character arc for the Doctor and Mickey, for example. The Doctor treats Mickey in a rather horrible, dismissive way in the first episode – he doesn’t really care about what Mickey went through, likely because of what the Doctor’s just been through himself.

As the episode progresses though, both viewer and the Doctor begin to respect Mickey, to the point that the Doctor invites him to come aboard the TARDIS. And that’s the point of the way he was treated in the first part of the episode; it’s a very deliberate choice. Whether it was the right choice, or the most Doctor-like portrayal, is certainly debatable, but I liked it.

And on the other side of it, there’s some really, really funny lines. Personal favourite was this entire exchange:

Slitheen: Aaaaahhh, Excuse me? Your device will do what? Triplicate the flammability?

The Doctor: Is that what I said?

Slitheen: You’re making it up!

The Doctor: Oh well, nice try. Harriet,

[offers Harriet Jones the decanter]

The Doctor: Have a drink. I think you’re gonna need it.

Harriet Jones: You pass it to the left first.

The Doctor: Sorry.

[hands it to Rose]

Absolutely hilarious. Loved it.

It’s all the stuff like that which makes me wish it had meshed a bit better – you don’t need the Slitheen to be quite so farcical with all the one-liners like that. That would have struck a much, much better balance than what we got, and probably would have improved the overall quality of it.

Because, of course, you’ve still got some relatively heavy stuff, which might have made more of an impact in a slightly more serious episode – all of the stuff about Rose’s safety, for example. That could have been expanded a fair bit. (Ah, but should it have been? Could they have done that? Was Doctor Who safe enough at that point? Probably not)

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Also, two other things I loved: Christopher Eccleston’s ‘serious’ acting, and Harriet Jones taking charge of the missile strike. There are lots of little touches there, where Eccleston really sells that the Doctor is now a man who’s seen far more bloodshed than he would ever have liked to. It’s also particularly telling that he describes his life as being neither fun nor smart – it says something about the way he views his travels now, and the way the War changed him. It’s really, really impressive.

(Especially when you think about what he’s saying – I could save the world but lose you. It’s something of a microcosm-like depiction of the decision which he made to end the Time War – I could save creation, but isolate myself forever. It’s actually a really layered moment – I didn’t realise the connotations until a few hours after I’d finished the rest of this review, let alone whilst watching it. It’s probably something that didn’t survive the John Hurt retcon as well as it could have…)

Same goes for Harriet Jones – fantastic character. That moment where she takes charge is rather lovely, if sadly brief. It foreshadows some of her later decisions though, doesn’t it? You can quite clearly see that this is the same woman as in The Christmas Invasion, or The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

So… ultimate estimation of the episode?

Eh, I’m struggling. It could have been a bit more coherent, there could have been a better blend of the two aspects. That certainly drags it down. But there really was so much to love about it, on both sides of the court.

Hmm. Okay, whatever. 7/10. But it’s a very different seven out of ten to the other seven out of tens, because it’s a different episode. So there.

(Next week though, wow. That is an effective trailer. I got chills, and I’ve already seen the episode and know what it means. God, imagine it, back in 2005. That must have been amazing)

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: Aliens of London

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So maybe this is it! First contact! The day mankind officially comes into contact with an alien race. I’m not interfering because you’ve got to handle this on your own. That’s when the human race finally grows up. Just this morning you were all tiny and small and made of clay! Now you can expand!

Steven Moffat wrote a short story once, with a lecture about the Doctor. And the lecturer, one Professor Candy, was talking about the effect the Doctor had on people. In this lecture, he mentions a Mr and Mrs Brown, who have to talk to some nice policeman, who are digging up their back garden. “Oh, don’t worry officer,” they say “Peri isn’t dead, she’s a Warrior Queen on Thoros Beta.”

Now, I’ve not read that story, but I imagine it was a very good one. It’s a pretty clever idea, isn’t it? What happens to the companions’ families who’re left behind? Generally, it’s not been explored in Classic Who. Off the top of my head… Victoria had a family, but they died, Adric had a brother, who also died, Tegan had an Aunt who they did visit once, Sarah Jane had an Aunt that was never really present, and then… Ace has her friends, that she returns to in Survival, but I don’t think that big of a deal is made of them.

So, here and now with Rose’s family is pretty much uncharted territory for Doctor Who. It’s a new step in a new direction – and that’s great! Doctor Who should always being going to new places, seeing what works, and how the show can always be innovative.

For this review, I’m going to focus mainly on the “domestic” side of things, as it were, because that’s the primary focus of this episode. I’ll talk a little bit about the Slitheen, but not much.

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The episode starts off on a high note, with a really amazing scene with Camille Coduri, who plays Rose’s mum Jackie. Rose comes in and says hello to Jackie as though she’d only been away for a night, because that’s what happened, as far as she knows. And then Jackie looks at her, and you can see so much emotion on her face. It’s a really fantastic scene.

That continues throughout the episode – the standard of acting with our regulars is very high, and it helps to create a really moving story. The missing year idea is really fantastic, and it’s very clearly shown how it affected them all – Jackie’s grief, Mickey’s isolation, and Rose’s guilt.

Christopher Eccleston does really well here as well. I mentioned last week that he seemed a bit at odds when doing “happy acting” – that’s not the case here at all. He’s clearly, fantastically enthusiastic about the idea of human’s making first contact, and it’s a brilliant, very Doctor-y portrayal. Consider him jumping up a few points in my opinion of him…

When we make the jump to Downing Street, the episode continues to perform well, although perhaps not as well as the other parts of the episode. The fart jokes… personally, I’m not against them. They really don’t bother me that much, because they’re pretty trivial things. I did wonder, admittedly, whether the episode would have been better without them, and the aliens had been a bit more serious. I think… maybe. Equally though, the fart jokes are hardly a focus, so it wouldn’t have been a huge difference.

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This is also the first cliffhanger of the revived series! It’s a Doctor Who tradition revived! Making you question whether or not a character is going to make it to next week, make you wonder how they’ll get out of that scrape, how everything will –

Oh never mind there’s a trailer whatever…

Yes, anyways, episode rating. I think I’m going to give this episode a 7/10.

The question now is… will next week’s installment be that good? Will it be better? Will it-

Oh hang on wait let’s check the trailer…

the Doctor uses the Slitheen’s own trap against them – a pretty chilling bit of body horror – something of a microcosm-like depiction of the decision which he made to end the Time War – I’m struggling – I got chills – imagine that back in 2005 – it must have been amazing

See you next week!

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