Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Journey’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Stolen Earth

I came here when I was just a kid.

I love this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It still stands up today, I reckon.

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Last of the Time Lords

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Will it stop, Doctor? The drumming? Will it stop?

John Simm’s Master is terrifying.

There is, I think, quite a widespread school of thought that essentially argues the opposite; he’s too camp, too erratic, just a little too crazy to pose any meaningful threat. Certainly, the Scissor Sisters scene at the beginning no doubt contributes to this – I’ve always loved it – but honestly, looking beyond that, I struggle to understand why he still retains that reputation.

For me, the key to all of this is Alexandra Moen’s performance as Lucy Saxon; it’s subtle and nuanced in some really clever ways – arguably, despite only a very small part, she’s one of the standout aspects of the episode. Moen plays the character essentially as disassociating the whole time; it’s not just nihilism in the face of seeing the end of the universe, rather a response to trauma. It’s clear in turn what this is; indeed, it’s rather explicit, when one sees the scars and bruising on Lucy’s face, but you can see how it informs Moen’s performance across the whole piece. (One detail I particularly liked was in the way she held herself; flinching when the Master punches the Doctor, for example.) It’s subtle, but it’s there – the Master is abusing her.

And so, beneath all the mania, there’s a real and genuine veneer of brutality to the Master. Yes, that’s clear enough from the violence associated with the character – killing Tom Milligan, the fear in the eyes of the people when he walks among them, references to the horrors of the past year. Yet it’s never more effectively illustrated than by Lucy (although, of course, by extension the Jones family) and her response to him. The rest of it is just theatrics, really; this is a far more intimate, uglier sort of evil, and one that surely can’t be separated from the character at large.

Naturally, it’s also worth commenting on Simm’s performance too – much like last week, he’s fantastic. Better, in fact; he’s given a lot more material to work with and dig into here. The Master unleashed, rather than a separate side of Harold Saxon. It’s even more evident here just how obsessed with the Doctor he is; everything that motivates him derives from his envy, his jealousy, and above all else, a want for the Doctor’s attention. That’s what it all comes down to, really – that’s all it ever does. In a way it’s almost childish; a fit of pique, just trying to get a rise out of him. From working with the Toclafane to his pursuit of Martha, from creating a new Gallifrey to having a wife – it’s all about the Doctor.

That’s why the character works as well as he does – more than anything, there’s a crystal clear motivation for the Master. However, it’s a far more layered and, indeed, human one that we’ve seen in previous years; the Daleks may want to destroy reality, but the Master has a far more mundane motivation than that. It’s an obsession – a love, a lust, a need. More than that, there are moments when you get the impression the Doctor feels the same; it’s why he forgives him for it all, in the end. The Doctor and the Master, as characters together, are defined by that relationship; they work best when, as in the modern series, that aspect is placed at the forefront of their dynamic. Last of the Time Lords does a fantastic job of establishing that, and indeed acts as the basis for all the Master’s subsequent appearances in Doctor Who. It’s absolutely perfectly pitched.

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Much as I love this episode, there is admittedly a slight problem to contend with.

The ending doesn’t make even the slightest bit of sense. Nor does the middle, exactly. Really just the last third, basically.

To recap, for those of you who don’t recall: Martha, brought upon the Valiant to be executed in front of the Doctor and her family, starts to laugh. It turns out that she wasn’t travelling the world trying to assemble a weapon to kill the Master – she was actually spreading the story of the Doctor, inspiring people, and giving them hope. More than hope – an instruction. Everyone, all at once, think of the Doctor. When they did, the collective belief and psychic power, contained and amplified by the Archangel network, was enough to briefly give the Doctor telekinetic powers and restore him to youth once more. From there, it’s a relatively simple case of destroying the paradox machine, and thus reversing the effects of the last year, up to the point the paradox began – the Master’s reign of terror is undone.

So. Let’s unpack this a little.

The latter half of this is basically fine; for all the complaints of an undo button, it’s worth noting that the events still happened for our characters. The emotional impact remains intact, going on to provide the basis of Martha’s reason to leave the TARDIS, and giving us a particularly powerful scene with Adjoa Andoh. In that regard, there’s little issue – it’s the other, rather more notorious, aspect that I struggle with.

A lot of the criticism directed at this episode focuses on the fact that, when it comes down to it, what basically happens is the faith, trust and pixie dust (or somesuch – if they want to be really derisive, it’s the power of love) lets the Doctor float around (fairy Doctor, space Jesus Doctor, magic Doctor – all terms we’ve come to know and love) and thus save the day. Often the word deus ex machina is bandied around. Now, these critiques aren’t wrong, per se, but I somewhat suspect they’re missing the point a little bit. Yes, it’s a bit nonsensical – but it’s not the first time, and it certainly wasn’t the last time either. Certainly, you can argue that it’s a classic Doctor Who resolution, leaving the villain hoisted by his own petard, his downfall engineered by turning his own advantage against him.

It’s not the plot mechanics of this that bother me – yes, they’re nonsense. But they also don’t bother me. No, the trouble is that I’m not convinced this makes any thematic sense. If we’re to take this story, broadly speaking, as being about Martha stepping up and taking control over her life, what relevance does this have? Even if you’re reading it as being about the Master and the Doctor’s relationship, it begs the question – what’s the significance? (Well, I’m sure you could spin something out of it, but I suspect that might be stretching it too far.)

There’s no easy fix, really. It would have been better, I think, to simply leave the Doctor ‘aged’ rather than ‘ancient’; while the idea is nice, taking David Tennant out of the equation was a mistake. (Though, equally, it’s worth noting that it’s not actually as obtrusive as you’d think – it prompts the narrative to focus moreso on Martha, which is nice.) Equally, I also think that in and of itself, the moment of unity would have been better if everyone was thinking of Martha, rather than the Doctor; the episode would be more obviously about her, her story, and her own ability and worth.

Though that doesn’t really solve the plot mechanics. Maybe everyone thinking of Martha could give her laser eyes? I don’t know.

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Of course, speaking of Martha, this is very much her finest hour – the episode that does, at last, stand aside and give her centre stage. It’s a defining moment for Martha in the same respect that The Parting of the Ways is for Rose, or Turn Left is for Donna, or perhaps… actually, I’m struggling to pick more obvious ones for our later companions. Suggestions to the usual address.

In any case, yes – this is Martha’s moment in the limelight. Even before her departure scene, it’s all about her autonomy; proving to herself, and indeed the audience if they have any final reservations, that she is good. There’s something quite harrowing about what she goes through, really – the year of hell, and all of the trauma it entailed. Certainly, I think what Martha did is in fact far more impressive than absorbing the Time Vortex, which is in effect just an impulsive risk; this was sustained difficulty and conscious choice across a year. It speaks not only to Martha’s dedication but the strength of character that she possessed that she’s able to go through that; it would have been particularly interesting, I think, had she stayed on as a companion for another year to explore how that would have affected her.

Further, Martha’s departure – well, it really is very well written. I’m reminded of Russell T Davies describing a scene in one of his soap operas, where he had two characters breaking up without ever saying “break up” or words to that effect – it’s a similar principle in effect here. A lot of the understanding is carried by the performances; the dialogue is direct but understated. It’s one of the stronger companion exits, I think, and I’d like to see more in a similar vein – not under similar circumstances, exactly, but a mutual acknowledgement that things have come to an end. If not a happy ending, per se, certainly the chance at one.

I’m still not entirely happy with Martha’s overall arc; in many cases, it was outright damaging to the character. Strong though this episode is, both for the character and as a conclusion to the arc, I can’t help but feel like it’s too little too late – we should have had a scene like this much longer ago. I don’t want to pre-empt myself particularly – next week I’m going to do an overall series retrospective, in which I will no doubt have much to say about Martha’s storyline – but there’s something quite disappointing about how the character was treated overall. Much as I consider this a standout moment for her, there’s perhaps some questions worth asking about why her moment in the limelight is also, essentially, as the Doctor’s hypeman – it all comes down to an obsession with him.

(Oh, there’s a thought – is that the unifying thread of the episode, a fixation on the Doctor? The Master, Martha, and the people united by the Archangel Network? Certainly, that makes them thematically relevant, and starts to bring the episode together more cohesively… but I’m not sure what the point would be. Perhaps something to ruminate on for next week.)

It’s difficult, then, to grade this episode. In terms of my own enjoyment, I know what I want to give it; when I consider my own critical perspective, there are certain aspects of the episode I can’t quite justify. A high mark would be given in spite of rather than with respect to these aspects. But ultimately, I think I know which would win out.

I watched this episode twice today, in preparation for this review – immediately replaying it after it finished the first time. That’s not what I usually do (though perhaps I should, since this review was much better than previous ones) – I just enjoyed the episode that much. With that in mind, then…

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Sound of Drums

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I looked down upon my new dominion as Master of all, and I thought it good.

What strikes me about this episode is quite how fraught it is.

In part that’s because it’s grounded, in a way that previous finales haven’t necessarily been. Bad Wolf drew its strength from the juxtaposition of the mundane and the terrifying with those brilliant game shows; Army of Ghosts, while it began based in the everyday, soon worked its way into the conspiracy theories and aliens more at home in the sci-fi genre.

Here, though, it’s different. The episode is, as I’ve said, grounded; the fight is against politicians, the police, CCTV cameras. There are no Daleks or Cybermen to speak of. Yes, there are certainly fantasy elements to it, and the ‘realism’ is far from the focus of the episode – but, for a time, our main trio are labelled as domestic terrorists and forced on the run.

From that comes a certain powerlessness to our characters, in a way we haven’t quite seen before – understandable, given that the villain is the Prime Minister. There’s a certain level of authority there we’ve not exactly seen to a villain so far; when the Doctor, Martha and Jack are driven to the streets and hide in the dark, it feels significant. There’s a deconstruction of their entire position – the narrative collapse is put into effect.

It’s because of course, at this point – rather unlike the previous finales – the ‘bad guys’, as it were, have already won. The Master is the Prime Minister. Martha’s family has been arrested and her house destroyed. There is no help coming. There’s a real tension to this, and it makes the episode all the more effective.

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One of the big things that works about this episode is John Simm’s Master.

I touched on this a little last week, and I suspect I’ll expand upon it again tomorrow, but the Master here is perfectly pitched to work alongside Tennant’s Doctor. There really is a sense that the pair are equal and opposite in every way; Simm’s own manic behaviour mimicking Tennant’s inclination towards the same, but also the slick control and charm. They work together fantastically; the phone conversation in the middle of the episode is one of my favourite interactions between the Doctor and the Master ever, and it’s played perfectly by John Simm. Despite everything, despite the fact that the Master holds far greater power than the Doctor, he plays it with a real vulnerability – one that really underscores the depth of feeling, of love and of lust, that’s shared between the two men.

It’s because of that that Simm playing against Capaldi tomorrow is quite so interesting a concept – in a sense, there’s a lot of the same promise that a multi-Doctor special offers. There will, I assume, be a certain frisson resulting from it – a juxtaposition of the two styles and characterisations, particularly when throwing Missy into the mix.

Indeed, over the past few weeks I’ve been saying that Capaldi and Gomez are perhaps the best Doctor/Master pair we’ve ever had, but I’m inclined to qualify that once again. Because the dynamic between Tennant and Simm is fascinating, really; it’s absolutely the right way to pitch the two characters for the show at this point, both diegetically and extradiegetically. It grows not just from the Time War and that personal isolation the two characters have, but there’s a real feeling of emotional depth and weight to the pair here. Certainly, the backstory and motivation presented for the Master is controversial amongst some circles; personally speaking, I’ve always liked it. For better or worse, it grounds the Master in a certain means of storytelling that puts emotion at the forefront – he’s not quite a pantomime villain anymore.

(Yes, I know, the obvious response is to point to any of the scenes where the Master is over the top or camp and say “really, that’s not a pantomime villain?” – but I think that’s missing the point slightly. Those moments of humour underscore the insanity of it; you’re not losing the pantomime aspect, but rather adjusting it, presenting it in a different light alongside the more serious moments.)

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In a way though, and one that’s not often commented on, this is quite a pivotal episode for Martha. Obviously, we know, with the benefit of history, what’s going to happen next week – but taken on its own, you can see that a lot of the groundwork was established this week to make that work.

She gets a rough time of it again here. There’s no arguing against that. Her home, and presumably the majority of her possessions, are destroyed. Her family is kidnapped. Also, there’s the end of the world, and the fact that she’s left to deal with it pretty much alone. (Actually, what’s Martha’s job situation like? Does she still have her position at the hospital? That might be an issue.) Of course she gets the worst of it – Martha is grounded in a way that Jack and the Doctor aren’t, so a story that’s as fundamentally grounded as this one is will naturally affect her far more deeply. It’s her world in a far more manifest sense than it is theirs, and it shows across the story.

But for the first time though, Martha more obviously takes a stand and directly argues back. There’s a steel to her, and a steel to her frustration; the character is in a much different place to earlier points in the series. Even as recently as Human Nature, one suspects that she would have taken a lot of the instructions given to her – here, though, contextualised around her family, Martha refuses to.

It makes sense, of course; the personal stakes give Martha a reason to take more direct control. However, I do wonder if this highlights a broader issue with the series as a whole – that Martha, effectively sidelined by her own unrequited love arc, didn’t really get the opportunity to exercise her own autonomy enough. It’s an ongoing truism of the show that the companion never listens to the Doctor – but I’m struggling to think of any particular occasion when Martha does ignore the Doctor? That might just be a personal lapse, but I think the overarching point stands. I do like Martha, and I don’t want to pre-empt myself too much when it comes to the overall series commentary, but I worry that this moment standing out only serves to underscore how limited her role has been so far.

Ultimately, though, I do really enjoy this episode. It’s another strong one – much like Utopia, and indeed I’ve always been particularly fond of this trilogy. It’s nice to be able to look back on it and to feel justified in that; it’s not actually the rubbish it’s oft criticised to be. (I’m worried for next week, to be honest; one moment in particular gets a lot of criticism, and I hope it doesn’t let me down.)

In the end, though, I quite enjoyed this one.

9/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Utopia

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End of the universe and here you are. Indomitable, that’s the word. Indomitable!

Russell T Davies has long been one of my favourite Doctor Who writers – if not, indeed, my favourite.

In a way, of course, that makes a certain degree of sense; he was the architect of the vision of Doctor Who that I was first introduced to, and so in turn a lot of the things I love about Doctor Who are things that came from him. (Obviously over the years I’ve grown to love a lot of what Steven Moffat has brought to the show, and I’m sure the same will be true of Chibnall’s tenure – eventually I’m sure I’ll have an even more eclectic vision of the show, drawing from all sorts of different places. And then I’ll inflict it on you all, and you’ll all grow to love my version of it. Hopefully.)

Regardless, though, it’s Russell T Davies’ vision of Doctor Who that I first fell in love with. His book, The Writer’s Tale, is basically my bible – I’d attribute a lot of my desire to write to that book. Not solely to it, of course – it had been a longstanding ambition prior to that – but it solidified the desire in a much more meaningful way. (Steven Moffat said once that if you read the book and still want to be a writer, you probably will be. I hope he’s right!)

Of course, the book isn’t just personally inspiring in that way. It’s also a really great look at Russell T Davies’ writing process; how he approaches the scripts, the way he thinks about them, what he thinks is important. There’s a huge amount of it that’s instinctual; there’s an anecdote in there about Utopia, where Davies explains how he wrote the script in about three days, after weeks of delaying, and it all just slotted into place.

In a way, you can see that in Utopia itself. It moves along at great pace, and structurally, it’s… well, it almost entirely rejects a lot of the traditional structural rules. It’s doing a huge amount of lifting for the rest of the series, establishing lots of different ideas and concepts that are going to come into play for the next few episodes. It’s a collision of different set pieces and ideas, a lot of which don’t necessarily mesh together very well – one of the more obvious ones is the fact that, to introduce the Doctor’s hand, Martha needs to have been nosing around in Jack’s bag for some reason! Yet at the same time, they’re all remarkably well put together – every little detail is paid off down the line. One of the things that stood out to me, for example, was the introduction of the livewire used early on in one of Jack’s deaths, before using it again as the Master kills Chantho; it’s a subtle detail, but it really ties the piece together.

All of which is to say that I think Utopia is remarkable in displaying one of Russell T Davies’ greatest abilities as a writer – making it up as he goes along, improvising the hell out of it, and making it all work brilliantly. In a way it’s because he’s never really cared about simple plot mechanics; a lot of the reason why this hangs together so well is because of his attention to character and to theme. An episode like Utopia works so well in part because of its panache and its confidence – there’s a sheer, effortless skill on display here.

Utopia isn’t Davies’ best episode; it’s not my favourite of his episodes. It’s not even my favourite of this series, to be honest. But I think it might the one that I would point to were I to try and explain why I think he’s such a good writer.

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Of course, that’s a remarkably ‘me’ opening to write, focusing as it does on the script of the episode (and, characteristically, fawning over Russell T Davies). So I think it’s also worth focusing on another aspect of the episode, which is something I wouldn’t necessarily comment on – the direction. Utopia, of course, is directed by Graeme Harper – you can tell from his signature ‘shot through blurry thing’ trademark, and you can probably also tell from my description of such how poor I am at discussing visuals. Nonetheless, though, Harper is oft regarded as one of the best directors to have worked on Doctor Who, alongside the likes of Nick Hurran and Rachel Talalay; while I’m not sure this is an episode people would point to as his best, per se, it’s certainly an impressively directed piece.

On an idiosyncratic level, one reason why I really like the direction of Utopia is because it gives us – for my money, anyway – one of the best quarry planets of Doctor Who history. Really! Much as I know it is just a quarry at night, there’s a certain bleakness to it; it comes, I think, from just how dark it is. There’s a real feeling here that every light in the sky has gone out, and this is the end; it’s perhaps the most nihilistic night sky ever put to screen. The setting has a certain power to it, then, and it comes from how well directed these scenes are. This makes for a nice contrast against the refugee camps at the silo – that juxtaposition there, from the emptiness to the scenes bustling with life, really sells those lines about the human race being “indomitable”.

Another aspect of the episode that demonstrates how well directed it is is the mounting tension throughout. That can be quite difficult to pull off, really – and I suspect it might have been made more difficult given the less traditional style of Davies’ build up to the climax of the episode. But Harper acquits himself admirably – as you’d expect – and as such the episode is quite an effectively made, taut piece. There are some excellent chase scenes early on in the episode, but beyond that it’s a real master of tone; the confidence of Davies’ script can be seen translated to a similar confidence in the direction, with an easy, even effortless, conviction in how to handle each scene. There’s something quite alluring about that, and it gives the episode even greater strength as a drama.

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Of course, Utopia is one of those episodes where the cliffhanger entirely overshadows the rest of the episode – this is known as the one where the Master comes back.

It’s probably worth questioning, given that this is in part a personal history of my relationship with Doctor Who, whether or not I knew the Master was coming back. After all, every analysis of this episode – and indeed this series – basically works from the assumption that the entirety of the audience was, to some extent, aware the Master was coming back. That’s just what you do after the Daleks and the Cybermen, right? The surprise wasn’t his return, it’s the fact that he came back as Tony Blair. But then, those analyses are all written from the perspective of the fan audience – the type of person I am now, I suppose, who pays deeper attention to clues and foreshadowing and knows about the classic series. (Series 10 is totally going to bring back Susan. Obviously.) What would it have looked like to an 8-year-old obsessive?

Well, sadly this is one area where my memory is somewhat shakey. I would have known who the Master was at that point; I also remember an article from Doctor Who Adventures magazine hinting at a possible return from a Time Lord. I suspect that I would have cottoned on to who Yana was just before the actual reveal, or been left reeling after the line itself; it was probably quite an effective twist. Hmm.

Even so, Professor Yana is actually a pretty great character, and in a way provides an apt microcosm of just what makes the Master work at his best. Here, he’s a direct parallel to the Doctor – the kindly and self-sacrificing scientist, a genius trying to help others, even with his own companion in Chantho. The idea continues with John Simm’s portrayal, of course; the Master as a twisted mirror of the Doctor, specifically paired to that incarnation of the Doctor. (It’s why Missy works so well alongside the Twelfth Doctor – she’s a Master firmly for that Doctor – and why it’ll be so interesting to see the Twelfth Doctor alongside a Master who, in effect, ‘belongs’ to a prior incarnation.)

Ultimately, then, Utopia is a great piece of television. I’ve always loved this episode, really – I suspect I would have rewatched it far more often than the two episodes that accompany it. Hence the score I’m giving it – totally and utterly undeserved, really, apart from in the sense of my own personal enjoyment, and indeed deep respect for it. But what can I say? All these numbers are quite subjective anyway.

10/10

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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: Bad Wolf

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Someone’s been playing a long game. Controlling the human race from behind the scenes for generations.

Ah.

Bad Wolf.

I’m feeling rather sort of nostalgic actually. Bad Wolf was the first episode of Doctor Who I ever watched, more or less. (I’m not 100% sure, more like 90%, but this is the episode I consider to have been my first one). Nine years ago today, give or take an hour, I started watching Doctor Who. I’ve passed a point where Doctor Who has now been a part of my life longer than it hasn’t been. That’s just mad to think about.

And, as first episodes go, it was one hell of an episode, wasn’t it?

So, Bad Wolf opens with the Doctor in the Big Brother house. It’s a very funny opening, and it works really well. The Doctor, in a way he doesn’t tend to, acts like the viewer would. He asks pertinent questions, he mocks the game, he finds it all very ridiculous. It carries through to Rose as well, as she laughs about being on The Weakest Link. I loved that actually, it really suited the tone of it. Of course you’d laugh at something like that- it’s totally absurd. (Actually what I found hilarious is how Jack got swept along with it, the only really willing participant – “I have to find the Doc- what do you mean you need to change my look?”)

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What I also liked about this was the very creepy, almost insidious build up of threat. It was rather interesting to watch back actually, because I didn’t really remember it all that well it turns out. I’d just sort of assumed, probably because I already knew, that the whole killer game show thing was obvious from the outset, but it wasn’t. It’s very slowly revealed, pared back bit by bit – until we start seeing people die, and it begins to kick in. As a reveal, I think it’s rather well done. (It’s good enough for me to forgive them the Daleks, who I wouldn’t have revealed until the very, very last seconds. Ah well.)

Another rather stand out aspect which I liked was the characterisation. It’s something I don’t really mention often, and that’s kinda a shame – there’s always really great characters in Doctor Who, always deftly created and well acted. (Or maybe I just love everything and I’m looking at it all through rose tinted glasses!)

Lynda (with a ‘y’) was a really great character. The first companion who could’ve been, I think. I do wonder, perhaps, if she would have been a companion had Christopher Eccleston stayed on? Probably not. I think she was always created to die, which is… nice, in a way. Dramatically I mean.

Once again, I loved seeing the interactions between Jack and the Doctor. They’re a great, really comfortable team. It’s a shame we never did get a season with Jack as a companion. (Incidentally, one of my favourite Doctor Who books, The Stealers of Dreams, has Jack in quite a prominent role, and it’s really fantastic. Recommended)

The final cliffhanger then… ooh, that’s very nice. The game show aspect is more or less dispensed with, and we get down to setting up the plot for next week. The Big Bad. The Big Bad Wolf, even. Our overarching enemies, who’re here for the ultimate showdown…

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Well, it was hardly going to be the Face of Boe, was it?

It’s a really great episode this one. And I’m not just saying that! There’s so many great elements here, I only got to touch on a few of them. I’ll give it a 9/10, because it really is that great – the only thing that, perhaps, I’m sad about is that the game show aspect wasn’t developed more, or given more attention. Seems almost like a lost opportunity.

It’s an odd one that, having TV on TV. Doctor Who doing TV. At the start of this review, I was talking about how Doctor Who has been a part of my life for such a long time… and then, we’ve recently had the 50th Anniversary… at the minute, I’m writing an essay for my English class about the influence of TV…

Doctor Who?

Well, it was never just a TV show, was it?

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: Boom Town

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Let’s see who can look me in the eye.

This was the bottle episode. The cheap one, where they had to save money. There couldn’t be an Auton invasion of London, or a spaceship crashing into Big Ben. Platform One and assembled aliens were both out of the picture, as were WWII and Victorian Cardiff.

But… Doctor Who has a very long history of taking monetary limitations, and coming out with something fantastic. The chameleon circuit and the Police Box shape, for example, was borne out of a lack of money. And that’s become one of the show’s most enduring images. (I like to imagine the explanation of the chameleon circuit and the TARDIS exterior were because this was the ‘cheap episode’, and that’s why they exist)

So… cheap. Yeah. But… so what?

This episode doesn’t open with spectacle, but suspense. We see Mr Cleaver, telling an offscreen presence about the deaths and the dangers of this new project. It’s pretty interesting already, even if it doesn’t quite have the same hook as previous episodes. There’s mystery and intrigue rather than action and explosions. (Not that I’d ever pick one over the other. Both is good. Both is always good)

But… actually, no, it doesn’t start that way. Even before that, there’s a ‘previously on’ trailer – nowadays, everyone just knows – which tells us we’re going to be dealing with pre-existing characters and referencing earlier episodes. But that’s a good thing! What that does is allow us to see, and to examine, the consequences of the way the Doctor lives his life. It’s the first time we really see this in NuWho, and it’s going to become a bit of a theme over the years.

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It’s examined in a really interesting way – Margaret and the Doctor’s dinner is a really fantastic scene, with some really interesting questions put forward. Is the Doctor content to ‘execute’ her? Is he actually responsible for that, if he returns her? Doesn’t she deserve mercy?

Another stand out moment was the “Can you look me in the eye?” moment, in the TARDIS. It was very, very good, a great piece of writing in my opinion. (One thing I would perhaps have preferred would have been if, in the edit, they’d toned the music right down. It didn’t really fit, what they had going on there – it should have been much lower, more sinister. Subliminal, almost)

Christopher Eccleston’s acting of these scenes was pitch perfect – the steely eyes, the blank expression, the calm demeanor. Fantastic. Annette Badland is great as well, moving between threatening and pleading, and keeping it all very natural.

Something I was also quite fond of, and would maybe have liked to have seen more of, was the interplay between these four characters. It was really fantastic – Rose, Jack and the Doctor just seemed to be having so much fun together, which I always loving seeing. Doctor Who is, at it’s heart, quite an optimistic show, and to see the characters enjoying life… it’s nice. (Can you imagine a second series, with Rose, Nine and Jack? That would have been amazing. Just picture it. Wow.)

Mickey was pretty great as well. The way his relationship with Rose was portrayed was, I thought, quite intelligent – his getting angry was another demonstration of the consequences. It’s not just the Doctor, it’s the Doctor’s lifestyle. A lifestyle Rose has begun to live…

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It’s also a really funny episode. Lots and lots of funny moments, right alongside the darker stuff. And it never jars – everything fits together perfectly. My favourite exchange was this one:

Cathy Salt:  And then just recently Mr. Cleaver, the government’s nuclear advisor?

Margaret Blaine: Slipped on an icy patch.

Cathy Salt: He was decapitated!

Margaret Blaine: It was a very icy patch.

Absolutely brilliant. Margaret has a lot of funny lines throughout though, she’s a really great character.

The ending, admittedly, is probably one of the weaker elements of the story. It is a bit… deus ex machina, as it were, and does only exist to set up next week’s episode. (I know the budget wouldn’t have supported it, but maybe it would have been better if the TARDIS got a bit destroyed in the process, rather than just a panel popping open?)

It also conveniently avoids giving any sort of answer to all those great questions that were posed throughout, which is a little bit of a shame.

So… in all, a very, very good episode, which I would definitely rewatch. The ending does let it down a little, but I’m still going to give it a strong, and possibly slightly arbitrary, 8/10

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Doctor Dances

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Just this once Rose, everybody lives!

Another week, another episode. We’re back again in 1941 Britain, height of the Blitz, middle of the war, with all hell about to break loose. Time travel really opens up a lot of possibilities, it’s fantastic. So many different stories and settings and opportunities. I wonder, perhaps, if the show had just been about space travellers (Relative Dimensions in Space) back in 1963, would it have made it 50 years? (Maybe. Star Trek and all.)

Digressing somewhat though.

Right from the bat, this episode hits the ground running (unlike this review. Oh, it’s almost like I planned it). The resolution to the cliffhanger is really very clever – “Go to your room!” – and segues right into a brilliant joke. There’s a precedent set for the rest of the episode – smart moments, and fantastic jokes. As it goes, that’s a pretty good standard for a Doctor Who episode – smart and funny is a great baseline.

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One thing that stands out is just how smart it is. It’s really intricately plotted, and it fits together brilliantly. Every part of the episode which is important later on is foreshadowed and set up ahead of time – nothing feels like it’s come out of nowhere, as it were. It means that the episode plays out really well, and just… works. Perhaps not the most articulate praise I’ve ever given an episode, but it’s definitely the most meant. If that even makes any sense at all. What stands out to me is the Chula ambulance reveal – it’s the nanogenes. We’ve known about the nanogenes ever since the start of the story, but we haven’t noticed them. This isn’t an “I’ll explain later moment”, it’s a “Look, in the corner of your eye…” moment, and the story benefits for it.

Something which benefits from all of this forethought are the character arcs; Jack and Nancy in particular get some pretty great material. With Nancy, you can see her progression from harbouring the guilt and denial about what happened to Jamie, to eventually becoming a lot more hopeful about the future – something which comes, I think, from Rose’s conversation with her about the end of the war. That was a really nice moment – amidst all the destruction, in the middle of that bleak airfield, Rose gives Nancy hope for the future. I loved that.

What was great about Jack, and this carries on over the next few weeks, is that he does start out as being a lot more selfish, and a lot more self serving, before changing – he starts out making jokes about Volcano day, and finishes willing to sacrifice himself to stop ‘Volcano day’. It’s a fantastic character arc, and it’s really well acted by John Barrowman. It shows, again, the ways in which the Doctor can influence and inspire people.

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Finally then. It’s Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor, not Nine Years of Captain Jack and Nancy. Once again, Christopher Eccleston gives a fantastic performance – some of the best moments are where he gets angry at Jack for his reckless behaviour. Maybe he sees shades of the old disaster tourist he used to be in Jack…?

Of course it’s not just the angry moments he pulls off well – all the interplay about the bananas and the squareness gun are brilliant. For an episode which is renowned for being scary, it’s one of the funniest scripts that we’ve had across nine years. There’s a joke every few minutes – my own favourite is the “Dr Constantine, when I came to you, I only had one leg!”//“Well, there is a war on, is it possible you may have miscounted?” joke.

So… another really great episode. I’m going to give it another 9/10 – it’s a really, really great episode. Taking the two parts of the story together I think I would have given it 10/10 as a 90-minute movie episode.

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Empty Child

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You’re amazing. The lot of you. Don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me. Off you go, then. Do what you got to do. Save the world.

You know, this episode has something of a reputation, doesn’t it?

Widely held up as one of Steven Moffat’s best episodes, considered by many to be one of the best episodes of Series One, and it was voted as the 5th Best Doctor Who Episode Ever in DWM’s Mighty 200 poll in 2009. And, it’s won a Hugo Award.

So it’s a little bit of a big deal actually, isn’t it?

The real question though… well, the real question is whether or not it stands up to my requirements…

One of the things which stands out, almost immediately, is that this is actually really, really, funny. There’s a couple of jokes that are quoted a lot, like “I don’t know if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical”, or “I’m looking for a blonde in a Union Jack T Shirt. A specific one, I didn’t just wake up with a craving” but my own favourite is nearer to the beginning, when the Doctor’s in the nightclub. The whole exchange where he asks about something falling from the sky and making a large bang, then realising he’s in the middle of the Blitz… priceless. It’s a joke that only really works once though probably – I already know it’s set in 1941, so the effect is lessened… but it’s still hilarious. So’s Christopher Eccleston’s expression, it’s fantastic.

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Another thing I liked about this episode was that, in being a two-parter, it was allowed to take the pace a lot more slowly. It got to a point, about 35 minutes in, when I realised that all of the preceding scenes would have had to be condensed down to 10 minutes if this were a normal episode. It was nice, actually, being able to take things more slowly, and show the quieter character moments. I must admit, it’s something I sometimes miss in the show now (which is not to say they don’t exist, obviously, just that there’s fewer of them).

The fact that we had the time spent with the kids, or with Dr Constantine, meant that the threatening moments had a far greater impact than if we hadn’t already had those crucial scenes with them. Dr Constantine’s transformation is one of the best moments of the episode; it’s wonderfully structured, foreshadowed and hinted at well, and when it actually happens, it’s actually rather frightening. And in establishing what happens to him, it makes the cliffhanger even more potent later on.

The Empty Child himself, or itself, is actually really creepy, isn’t it? It’s got a very, very eerie voice. A sort of… quality to it. I suppose that’s why, bar “Exterminate!” and maybe “Delete”, the most quoted monster phrase from recent years is “Are you my mummy?”. That’s always a spooky, spooky thing.

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Something I like about the cliffhanger, though it’s probably just coincidental, is that the scene with Nancy underneath the table echoes the scene in Matilda, where Matilda is under the table in Trunchball’s house. It’s a really tense scene in that movie, and some of it translates into this scene as well. I imagine the point was to have connotations with hide and seek, that sort of thing. Juxtaposition of the mundane and the threatening. Very good, very Doctor Who.

On the topic of children, it was pretty interesting to see the Ninth Doctor’s only lengthy interaction with children. It was particularly interesting to think about it in terms of the 50th Anniversary, and the 2 billion children on Gallifrey. There’s a few Time War references in there anyway, like “Before this war, I was both a father and a grandfather. Now I am neither, but I am still a Doctor”, and “You lose someone. That’s why you’re doing this, helping people”. The way he reacted to someone calling through the TARDIS phone was interesting as well.

The Doctor was pretty at ease with the kids at any rate, which was nice to see. Happier than he seems around adults at times even.

So… a very, very good episode. I’m unwilling to give it a ten out of ten though, because it doesn’t quite feel like an episode, more like… the first half of a ninety-minute film. Which it is, really. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. So… hmm. I did give Aliens of London its own grade, didn’t I?

Alright. I’ll give it a provisional and ever so slightly arbitrary 9/10

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