Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Journey’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Doomsday

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Same old life. Last of the Time Lords.

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

Of course the Cybermen and the Daleks should meet.

And of course they should fight each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

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

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Army of Ghosts

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And this is the story of how I died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Love & Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she’s a wonderful character.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so much better.

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Rise of the Cybermen

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Every citizen will receive a free upgrade.

We’ve reached the annual “bring back a classic monster episode”. There’s one during every series of the Davies era, and this episode is when we first see the Cybermen!

Except, you know, not really. Despite the title, there’s actually very little of the Cybermen here; they’re largely limited to hints and references, and clever camera shots to obscure how they look. It’s an effective device, which makes their eventual reveal at the party all the more effective, but it does leave me with similarly limited commentary to offer! The design is rather great, I think.

What did strike me was how… 2006 it was. I mean, obviously any piece of television was going to be of its time, but it’s particularly apparent here. During the writing process, Russell T Davies rejected the idea of “body shop” modification places, because he felt like the original organ transplant paranoia concept that had been the original inspiration for the Cybermen was outdated. Fair enough; we’ve come a long way from the 1960s, and organ transplants are a lot more commonplace than they once were.

But they didn’t exactly do a very good job of making their new concept particularly timeless. Or rather, they almost did, but it’s been done in such a 2006 way that it can’t help but feel demonstrably dated. You’ve got your Bluetooth headphones, and John Lumic, and that’s fine… but there’s a very clear sense that, if this were made even a few years later, it’d be based around Apple and Steve Jobs. The whole thing ends up feeling weirdly basic, when it’s clear they’re trying to aim for a sense of cutting edge technology.

I did like the idea that this was all being attributed to the oppressive onslaught of capitalism, though. The machine (driven by business, in a world that’s already stratified with a very literal “upper” class) is eating the homeless, chewing them up and spitting them out as the perfect worker, reformed to suit the purposes of the rich man, with little consideration for their wellbeing. It’s an interesting concept, and I’m looking forward to seeing it explored in more depth next week.

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Another interesting concept put forward in this episode is that of the parallel world – usually a staple of science fiction, but one oddly eschewed by Doctor Who. There’s only really Inferno from the classic series, and these Cybermen episodes from series 2. Likely there are plenty of extended universe stories, of course, but it’s still a little odd that we’ve never seen them particularly often.

What I find particularly clever about the depiction of this parallel world was the manner in which the reveal was layered – not entirely dissimilar from the Cybermen, I suppose. Rather than throwing us into a world which was immediately and evidently strange (like on The Flash, for example, where Earth-2 has a clear 1940s aesthetic, and a slight yellow tinge to the camera) this is one where we’re gradually introduced to the differences.

It starts simple, with Mickey insisting that this is in fact our London – but oh wait, hang on, those are zeppelins. (Those are such a strange and idiosyncratic little inclusion. Never really understood it, but they certainly do a good job of immediately stating how this world is.) It’s then furthered, of course, with the reveal of Pete Tyler, the lack of Rose, the President of Great Britain, and so on and so forth. Interestingly, at one stage this world was supposed to have been a result of Queen Victoria being killed by the werewolf in Tooth and Claw; you can see, perhaps, how that idea influenced the very capitalist, post-industrial origin for the Cybermen.

My favourite details, though, are the far subtler ones – those that hint at the underlying class divide that seems to lie at the heart of this society. I’ve already mentioned the capitalist themes with the first cyber conversion, but there’s a lot more to it than that. One interesting thing that stood out to me was the mention of a curfew, and the soldier who speaks about the rich people in the zeppelins. That was fascinating; it’s such a small detail, but it speaks volumes about the sort of world this is. It’s eminently forgettable – I had no idea it was coming. But that also meant it was a real surprise, and it actually made me appreciate Russell T Davies’ worldbuilding efforts a lot more.

Jackie Tyler, though, is where the parallel world aspect is most evident, and indeed the best of a parallel world character that we see. Ostensibly, there’s a lot about this Jackie that’s the same as the one we’ve come to know and love; she’s brash and loud and she loves a party, and there’s just a hint of the materialistic in her. That’s not so far off from the Jackie we know. But then she’s so utterly vile to Rose, completely dismissing her as just “the help”, that it becomes painfully evident that this Jackie is very far from the one we know. It really sells the parallel world aspect, though, because the differences are so firmly juxtaposed against the similarities, in a very effective manner.

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Most notable about this episode, though, is neither the Cybermen nor the parallel world.

It’s Mickey.

I’ve always liked Mickey, as a character; he’s very much the everyman, representing the average guy, brought into this fantastical world. We’ve seen him develop a lot over the past two seasons, and I think Noel Clarke deserves a lot of props for this; he gets a little criticism at times for leaning into slapstick a little much during the first series, but I’m always impressed by his portrayal of the character.

We’ve seen him moving from the normal guy on the estate – a little scared, maybe a little rubbish – to becoming a fully-fledged companion in his own right. (Mostly). He’s saved the world more than once, playing an important role in the resolutions of various different episodes.

Rise of the Cybermen, then, gives us the next instalment of Mickey’s character development; right from the beginning, he’s beginning to realise that he maybe doesn’t fit in here entirely. It makes sense, after all – part of the theme of this series so far has been about how close knit the Doctor and Rose are becoming. What place does Mickey have, then, if all he’s ever going to be treated as on the TARDIS is the awkward, slightly forgettable, third wheel?

It’s particularly interesting to get the backstory on Mickey in this episode – even though we’ve got to know him quite well over the past few years, we’ve never really seen the details about his own family sketched out quite like this. He’s always very firmly been one of Rose’s supporting characters, but now in this episode he’s starting to… not get a life of his own, as such, but develop independently of Rose, I suppose.

This gives us one of the best emotional moments of the entire episode, and one that really makes the whole parallel universe aspect worth it – when Mickey meets his grandmother. It’s interesting, really, that this resonates so much more so than when Rose meets her father (the wonderful Shaun Dingwall) even considering the fact that we saw him last year during Father’s Day. There’s just some extremely poignant about that brief shot of the torn carpet, and Noel Clarke brilliantly sells the moment.

Ultimately, then, Rise of the Cybermen is a pretty decent episode. I think, after I’d watched it, I wasn’t actually all that fussed – it was the middle of the road, firmly “for kids” monster runaround two parter. Not something to expect a lot from, really. But I think as I’ve been writing this review, I’ve been able to highlight some of the stronger aspects of the episode – to myself, primarily – and I’ve come away with a much greater appreciation of the episode. So that’s nice! Never let it be said that these reviews are for nothing.

7/10

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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: The Parting of the Ways

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It was a better life. I don’t mean all the travelling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things. That don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say “no.” You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away, and I just can’t!

I feel… I feel weirdly nostalgic actually. As though I’ve come to the close of a great adventure. That’s a slightly ridiculous thing to say really, but it’s true. I’ve now completed the Ninth Doctor’s era. All 13 episodes, tied up in a neat little bow. One complete run.

But it’s not quite over yet. The Parting of the Ways. Christopher Eccleston’s final episode. The swansong, as it were.

The swansong – the only song and swan can sing, in its final moments – is supposed to be the most beautiful song sung by any bird. (I think so anyway, I might be misremembering. It doesn’t really matter though, it fits the point I’m trying to make)

And you know what? This really is a beautiful episode.

One of the most important things to talk about in this episode is, I think, the Daleks. This is, after all, just as much their episode as it is anyone else’s.

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The bit that sort of epitomises the Daleks in this episode, for me anyway, is actually one of Captain Jack’s lines.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war.

And that’s what this is here! It’s a gritty, brutal, war. One final stand, one final resistance. This episode is, I think, one of New Who’s strongest Dalek episodes, and it’s for this reason. We’re seeing an actual fight against the Daleks, full of desperation and fear.

But Daleks being Daleks, they go one better than that. They don’t just fight and kill, they exterminate. In one of the scariest moments of the episode, they go and kill all the other people who are hiding. Who didn’t believe in the Daleks. Who are having their worst fears realised. To see quite so many Daleks, swarming in and surrounding everyone… that’s scary. That is a scary set of Daleks.

There’s so many other fantastic moments in this little war, all of it adding together to create this dark, hopeless fight. There isn’t a line wasted in these scenes – one, chilling, awful moment is when the female producer of The Weakest Link calls Jack, and screams at him “You lied to us! The bullets don’t work!”. And then… she’s killed, only a few moments later. Just like everyone around her. There is so, so much death.

Of course, a benefit of being the second part of a two-parter is that we know a lot of these characters already. The two programmers, male and female, and Lynda with a Y. We knew them, in a way, and we cared about them, which meant what happened to them hurt all the more. The guy, finally, finally able to admit his feelings to his colleague – and then she’s killed. And he goes into a senseless rage – and he dies too. It’s awful.

And Lynda. God, what happens to her is so painful. She isn’t safe. She was never safe. But that last scene is so much worse because it’s silent, yet we know what the Dalek is saying. We can see the flash of it’s lights. It’s an awful, chilling moment.

But it gets worse still. Jack dies. And it’s a tragic, poignant moment. We’ve seen him develop and change since he was that conman. Since he was a coward. (God, that feels like ages ago). Yet here, he’s making the ultimate sacrifice. It’s a brilliant scene. His final line, full of that trademark bravado, really works. I remember quoting that for weeks after this. Actually, no, years. I love that line.

The whole thing comes together and it gives us the best Dalek episodes of the new series.

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The other important aspect of this episode (because it’s a threefold episode, split between the Daleks, the Doctor, and Rose) is, of course, Rose.

Sending Rose home was, I think, one of the best moments of the episode. It helped to tie everything together, bringing every theme and aspect of the series to a close.

The scenes with Rose and her family were amongst the best of the episode (though having said that, every scene is pretty damn great). There’s a pathos about them, to use a big word. Rose’s refusal to accept the Doctor’s death, and her refusal to stand by and do nothing is wonderful. The speech she gives is one of my favourites of the episode, and it kinda sums up, for me, a lot of the philosophy of the show. It’s quite profound, in it’s own way.

I really loved the scene where Rose tells Jackie about Pete. There’s an element of coming full circle there. The separate threads and plotlines come together and culminate here. Jackie finally accepts the Doctor and Rose’s new life with him, and helps.

And then we have the Bad Wolf. Seeded across the series, threaded through, hinted at, referenced. It’s been there, hiding in plain sight, all the time.

I love it.

I know it has it’s detractors, I know people whine about deus ex machina. I do not care. I love it, it’s brilliant, it’s wonderful, it’s excellent.

It works in the context of the story because it’s not just a deus ex machina (well technically it is but shut up), it comes from Rose. Rose takes the machine and makes herself a god, and goes out and deliberately saves the day. And it is really, really wonderful. It’s a wonderful, triumphant moment, and I love it. The Bad Wolf storyline has been concluded, and it really is excellent.

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Now, there’s one last thing to talk about, but I’m going to try and keep it brief, because this review is getting pretty long already, and I’d like to write an overview on Nine’s entire tenure and story arc next Wednesday.

This is, I think, Christopher Eccleston’s finest episode as the Doctor. And rightly so – the swan’s final song is its best.

He demonstrates so many different sides to his character here – the anger, the compassion, the intelligence – but most importantly, there is closure. The Doctor is finally able to move out of the shadow of the Time War. When presented with that same decision once again, he refuses to make it. Coward, any day. It’s a wonderful, poignant moment. On some levels, you’re happy for the Doctor, because he made the right decision – but it’s at such a cost. It’s already been at such a cost. There is no way to escape, it seems.

But the Doctor is finally the Doctor again.

Cliched though it may be, and I know that every other person who’s ever reviewed the Ninth Doctor must have said it… but I don’t care it’s great I’m saying it.

Now that it’s the end, before I go, there’s just one thing that needs to be said. He was fantastic.

And you know what? So was this entire episode. There’s so many things I didn’t get to mention, all sorts of little details… but everything was there.

And an episode like this deserves 10/10.

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: Father’s Day

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Rose, there’s a man alive in the world who wasn’t alive before. An ordinary man: that’s the most important thing in creation. The whole world’s different because he’s alive!

I have a book. In fact, I have several. (Did you guess?)

The particular book in question, though, is called Doctor Who: The Shooting Scripts (2005). It’s a fantastic book, and it’s definitely worth picking up a copy. It’s a big, hardback book containing the shooting scripts for Christopher Eccleston’s series as the Doctor.

And as part of each script, there’s a little introduction by each of the writers. In his introduction, Paul Cornell writes that, for him, Doctor Who has always been about “big emotions”.

Well, he certainly managed that here.

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This episode revolves around Rose and her family; she asks the Doctor to take her back to 1987, so she can be with her father when he dies. Already that’s a brilliant idea, and you can see all the different possibilities – it’s just begging to go wrong.

And, of course, go wrong it does.

Rather than just be with her father Pete as he dies, Rose averts his death. She changes her personal timeline in a big way. Her father lives – and she gets to know him. There’s no Back to the Future style fading away here – Rose stays, and deals with the immediate consequences, rather than ramifications further down the line.

Brilliantly, but perhaps also obviously, Pete isn’t anything like Rose expected. He’s not the idealised man in the idealised marriage that Jackie always told her about; Pete is fallible. More than that, he’s already failing. His marriage is strained, his business non-existent. Rose gets to know her father as he is, not as he was remembered. And that’s absolutely brilliant – it makes the whole thing feel a lot more real.

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Shaun Dingwall, who plays Pete, gives an absolutely brilliant performance. He probably rivals Simon Pegg as best guest actor of the series; the relationship between him and Billie Piper is absolutely pitch perfect. Everything about it is absolutely right. The best scenes of the entire episode – and I’m sure this has been said again, but I’ll say it again – are those where Rose and Pete properly talk. Talk about the picnics and the bedtime stories, or about being bald… they’re very poignant moments, which are brilliantly written and performed.

The Doctor and the Reapers have a pretty interesting part of the story, though they’re not really the point of it all. Still, what’s Doctor Who without monsters? Christopher Eccleston gives another great performance here – I really liked his scenes with the soon-to-be-married couple. Very Doctor-y. His anger at Rose was also very well done.

So, in all, another great episode. The season is shaping up pretty well, isn’t it?

8/10

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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: Winner Takes All

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It’s not fair, is it, when we’re forced into pitying someone we hate. Feels like the world’s turned topsy-turvy. But it’s all right. You’re still allowed to hate them. As long as you don’t gloat at their downfall, that’s all.

love this book.

I know, cutting right to the chase here. Normally I’d have a little paragraph of introduction, talking about how prolific an author Jacqueline Raynor is, mentioning all the other books she’s written, all of those things – but, nope, none of that. I just really love this book.

First of all, there’s a really, really great premise. Aliens are exploiting human greed in the most contemporary and banal of ways; through lottery scratchcards. That lends it a really, really realistic touch. There’s some very, very deep moments, and they’re all really… true. All the conflicting emotions, for example, are done exceptionally well. Rose is glad that someone died, yet at the same time she’s revolted at herself for thinking that – but doesn’t care, because the person who died was quite so horrible. That’s really, really fantastic, and it’s written brilliantly.

As well as that, there’s some great moments for the Doctor, which you can really just imagine Christopher Eccleston performing. There’s some funny scenes, showing the less serious side to the Doctor, like when he’s joking around and making puns with Rose – that was really nice, and it did feel like something that you might see in an actual episode. On the other side of it, which is borne from another aspect of the plot, there’s a point at which the Doctor has to control Rose so as to be able to save the day – and he absolutely hates it. He hates the fact he has to degrade her, remove her autonomy, control her like that. You can imagine the steel in Eccleston’s eyes when he talks about it.

So, another great book then. Definitely reccomend this one; it’s absolutely brilliant.

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