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: The Age of Steel

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We think of the humans. We think of their difference and their pain. They suffer in the skin. They must be upgraded.

The biggest thing about this episode – and the episode beforehand, really – is the question of the Cybermen. I am not actually wholly convinced that they work, as a concept.

Originally, they were borne from a fear of organ transplants and body modifications; we’re a long way past that now. So where do you go to modernise the concept, and make them relevant? Arguably you could invoke transhumanism, but that’s not exactly the most pressing concern for… well, for basically anyone. Which in turn makes you wonder just what, exactly, you’re meant to do about the Cybermen, because otherwise they’re just stomp-y robots.

In the previous episode, they were a post-industrial, capitalist force; taking the homeless and the vulnerable, transforming them into the perfect worker, exploiting them for labour. (It’s an idea that Russell T Davies will return to, to an extent, in The Next Doctor – but it’ll be a few years yet before I get to that.) There was also the idea that they were cutting edge technology, however… well, that doesn’t work, simply by virtue of writing the Cybermen in a pre-Apple world for a post-Apple audience. They were dated on transmission, let alone now.

Here, though, Davies and MacRae (because, you know, it was essentially a team effort) focus more on the tragedy angle, which I think is a far stronger manner from which to approach the Cybermen. It’s particularly effective here, with two key moments that stand out from the rest.

The first is the reveal of the upgraded Jackie Tyler, and the scene where we lose her in the crowd; it really demonstrates the loss of identity faced by the Cyber victims – but also, of course, the fact that it just doesn’t matter to them. Billie Piper and Shaun Dingwall sell it, of course, through their horrified response, but it’s also a rather cleverly directed scene; Graeme Harper has blocked it out in such a way that it’s actually very difficult to follow which Cyberman Jackie actually is. (Every time I watch this episode, I try to figure it out. It’s only now that I’m starting to realise that she walked offscreen and didn’t come back.)

Following this, you’ve got the scene with Sally, the converted Cyberman who’s emotional inhibitor is broken. It is, obviously, a very poignant scene, but it’s also a very clever one in terms of how it’s written. It starts with “he can’t see me”, which you initially assume to be because of her conversion to being a Cyberman; a simple fear and disgust at what she’d become, as the Doctor had suggested they’d feel a few moments beforehand. But then, in a rather deft piece of writing, it’s revealed that Sally isn’t worried about Gareth seeing her as a Cyberman, but seeing her in her wedding dress. It’s a really poignant moment, and it does a wonderful job of selling the tragedy of the Cybermen.

But then, because this is a story with a limited run time – even despite the fact it’s of two parts – there’s a need for a neat resolution, and a way for the Doctor to more or less destabilise the threat. So we end up with explosions and… that’s kind of it. I mean, it’s probably missing the point a little to ask for Doctor Who to examine the long term consequences of an episode, but it does sort of undercut what had been established about the Cybermen.

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Also picking up from where we left off last week is Mickey, and his development as a character. This is essentially the culmination of what was set up last week, and I think it pays off quite well.

Key in this is the death of Rickey; it’s Mickey’s primary motivator, because he’s seen this vision of what he could have been. Interestingly, and perhaps more importantly, Rickey is also the only one who really offers Mickey any genuine approval prior to his death. That, I think, is why it’s such a transformative moment for him – Rickey, mirror of all his potential to be something more, thinks he’s alright. And that means something to Mickey.

It isn’t, admittedly, actually very subtle in terms of how this is depicted, and I think more to the point, it’s not necessarily earned. The previous episodes showed Mickey integrating with the Doctor and Rose reasonably well; I think, if anything, Mickey proved himself to them a long time ago. As early as World War Three, the Doctor offered to let him travel with them, and during The Girl in the Fireplace he’d slotted into the team quite well.

The only way it works, really, is in terms of Noel Clarke’s performance. He really is that good, he’s able to sell it and make it feel naturalistic, even though it… well, even though it sort of isn’t. I think a key moment here is when he turns back to look at the Doctor and Rose, but they’ve already forgotten him; it quite clearly parallels a similar scene in the previous episode, but here and now it’s the final deciding moment when Mickey realises he has to stay behind.

Rose’s reaction to all this is quite interesting I think, because it’s quite selfish in some ways. Even though she’s been quite dismissive of him for some time, Rose still doesn’t want Mickey to actually go; particularly following the let-down she just received from the alternate Pete. It’s a really interesting facet of Rose’s character, and it’s always nice to see this explored, however briefly.

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There’s other weaknesses here, too – or, perhaps more accurately, other limitations.

You’ve got great quasi character arcs here for Jake, Mrs Moore, and even Mr Crane, but they’re all somewhat restricted by a lack of development; none of them really get the required level of focus to feel like they’re anything more than perfunctory. It also doesn’t help that Andrew Hayden-Smith is something of a patchy actor; the performance is quite rough, with varying levels of quality throughout. Don’t get me wrong, of course – I like the three characters, and I appreciate the fact that these moments were included at all. I just wonder if perhaps they could have been handled better? It’s difficult to say, of course, because even despite being a two parter, this is quite a busy pair of episodes.

The eventual confrontation between the Doctor and Cyber Controller Lumic is quite weak as well. It’s difficult, I suppose, to write a proper polemic against emotions, and it’s similarly difficult for the Doctor to respond, because you end up with dialogue about “well cooked meals” and whatnot. It’s great to see the Doctor championing the small moments of beauty, because that’s a philosophy which is integral to the heart of the program, but it is difficult to write dialogue about this which seems genuine, and still manages to find some level of truth. They do pursue something of a post Time War emotional narrative, I guess, but not much is made of it; I do wonder if perhaps that’d work better with the Ninth Doctor, because I think you could genuinely believe he might have at one point considered relinquishing all emotions to free himself of his guilt and grief.

Last week, after I’d watched Rise of the Cybermen, I was left feeling a little meh. It was all just a bit… average. Very middle of the road, turning the wheels, perfectly median Doctor Who. But as I was writing my review, I was able to pick out lots of interesting little attributes and distinctions which gave the episode a lot more nuance than I initially credited it for.

Here, though, I feel like almost the opposite happened. I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but having reflected on it, there were definitely some pretty clear flaws, which stood out increasingly as I thought about it more.

Which is kind of a shame, I guess.

6/10

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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 Girl in the Fireplace

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One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.

With a degree of hindsight, this episode is in fact rather fascinating – the lens of history gives it a whole new meaning, in a manner not entirely dissimilar from the time windows of The Girl in the Fireplace.

Steven Moffat, who wrote this episode, is something of a big deal. You may have heard of him? He’s been the head writer of Doctor Who since 2010, and is now preparing to embark on what will no doubt be his final victory lap, with the 2017 series being his last in the role of showrunner. Moffat has been an undeniably controversial figure, and while I’ve not enjoyed every aspect of his tenure, I’d be one of the first to attest that he is an undeniably talented writer as well.

Looking back, a lot of the key themes that he was interested in are on display here – you can almost consider this as something of a trial run. The first episode of the Moffat era, right here in 2006! True, some of it is pretty surface level (for example, the three person TARDIS team is an idea he returned to), however I would argue that there’s a lot more to it than this.

Take Moffat’s attitude towards the Doctor. I’ve often seen it stated that where Davies was interested primarily in the Doctor’s impact on other people, Moffat was fascinated by the Doctor himself, in terms of his character and his reputation. It’s certainly an oversimplification, which disregards a lot of the nuance in their respective approaches, but you can certainly see the echoes of Moffat’s developing vision of the Doctor.

To Moffat, the Doctor has always been the coolest person in the room – you can see that in the way Tennant effortlessly commands the ballroom in Versailles, with everyone focused on him. He’s charming and charismatic and the centre of everything that goes on around him. The Doctor is also the fairytale hero and imaginary friend – but he’s not left behind with childhood, not at all. The Doctor can and will remain a part of your life, always there when you need him. (One wonders if there’s a personal level to that!)

It remains more nuanced, though. Because the Doctor is wonderful – after all, one may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel. And that’s what’s at the heart of Moffat’s vision of the Doctor, I think; the idea that he is a wonderful, wonderful man.

There’s a lot of other trademark Moffatisms, to coin a phrase, across the course of this script. It is, obviously, extremely funny; any instance involving Arthur the Horse is more or less guaranteed to be gold, and Mickey gets some pretty great lines too. The dialogue throughout is inspired, of course, it’s not just limited to the jokes. Something that stood out to me was the Doctor saying to the Clockwork Man “I’m not winding you up”’; it’s the sort of thing that’d be overlooked, given that it’s not the funniest or the most quotable lines, but I thought it was a really clever piece of writing in terms of how the language was structured, and the general implications of it. (This is the English student in me talking.)

You’ve also got an effective villain with a suitably creepy motif (how clever was that scene with the broken clock?) and a subtle puzzle box structure threaded throughout, with a wonderfully clever reveal about Madame De Pompadour. It’s classic, classic Moffat.

And speaking of Madame De Pompadour…

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The backbone of this script is the relationship between Reinette and the Doctor – and this, of course, is what The Girl in the Fireplace is best remembered for. Russell T Davies always liked to talk about this one as having really pushed the boundaries of the Doctor’s character, and providing David Tennant with the opportunity to really demonstrate his range as an actor.

It is, generally, quite well handled. Obviously, 45 minutes is in fact not a lot of time, which can make it quite difficult to effectively write a convincing love plot – particularly when you’ve got to include subplots and spaceships and horses and monsters – but I think that The Girl in the Fireplace does a very good job of it. The time windows aspect helps; in exploring Reinette’s character across different stages of her life, there was a greater level of depth to her character.

Admittedly, it’s not perfect; for all that the Doctor talks of her being a wonderful actress or artist and suchlike, we don’t get the opportunity to actually see her talents in play. Unlike Dickens or Queen Victoria, you can’t really rely on the knowledge the audience already has of this figure, given that Madame de Pompadour is in fact a relatively obscure figure. More focus is placed on her position as mistress to the King than her own skills and attributes, to the extent that at times it feels like she’s being framed as important in terms of her relationship with him, rather than herself. (Even then, there’s limited explanation of the social context, and why this is important. There’s a funny joke about French people though, so we’ll call it a wash.)

Sophia Myles does a fantastic job of drawing it all together, though, and her performance is what really makes this work. There are a lot of fantastic scenes, all intended to endear us to her character; one of Myles’ best, I think, is during the ‘mind meld’ scene, as she gives a brief insight into the Doctor as a “lonely little boy, lonely then and lonelier now”. It’s rare that anyone gains such an insight into the Doctor, and you can understand why their relationship develops from this. That, and the fact that Reinette is a very elegant, and at times commanding figure; Myles gives a very mannered and complex performance, which suits the story very well!

In the end, though, the story is marked by tragedy. And it is a tragedy that the slow path robbed Reinette of another final meeting with the Doctor – but more than that, it’s simply a tragedy that this woman died so young. Everything has it’s time, and everything ends, but this should not have been her time. Her final letter to the Doctor is a poignant scene; it’s certainly one of Moffat’s most moving moments, with a real and genuine sense of pathos to it.

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It’s not just Moffat’s writing and Myles’ acting that makes this episode work, though; a concerted effort from all parties involved really makes it work.

Pre-revolutionary France is genuinely beautiful here – Ed Thomas did a stunning job on the design, and Euros Lyn did a similarly wonderful job with the direction. (The washed out, dull colours during the Doctor’s final trip to France are a particularly nice touch, in contrast to the warm yellows and oranges of his previous jaunts.) It’s a really well made piece of television, with an effective juxtaposition of the 51st Century spaceship and the 18th Century French palace. Really reminds you of the scope of Doctor Who; I think this is probably a wonderful episode to show someone if you want them to start to get involved with the programme.

Murray Gold has written some of his best music for this particular episode as well; certainly, it’s amongst his best scores during the RTD era. The Madame de Pompadour motif is a very moving melody, which really heightens the emotions of the scenes. Don’t take my word for it, though; the piece is here on YouTube. Excellent stuff – I’ve been playing it on a loop ever since I finished watching the episode a couple of hours ago.

There’s further advancement of Mickey and Rose; both Noel Clarke and Billie Piper do a fantastic job here. I’ve sort of neglected to mention them in previous weeks, largely because the focus has been on the new Doctor. That’s unfair, of course – both of them are very good at what they do, and they’re a huge part of the reason why Rose and Mickey are such compelling characters.

Ultimately, then, this is a particularly strong episode; it’s one of the highlights of the second series so far, and I think it’s one of Moffat’s strongest episodes to date. (I include the later aspects of his oeuvre in that statement – this is up there with other masterpieces like Heaven Sent!)

There is one word I keep coming back to, though, in describing this episode. Exquisite. Every aspect, every tiny detail – it’s exquisite.

9/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: School Reunion

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Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it’s a world, or a relationship… Everything has its time. And everything ends.

Doctor Who is, obviously, a family show. We all know that (the debate as to how effective a family show it is can be saved for another time) but, at the same time, it’s always held something of a special regard for children.

After all, it’s the children who are going to be pretending to be Daleks in the school playground come Monday morning (I say that, probably I was the one being K9). It’s like the Krillitanes say in this episode; there’s something special about the imagination of it. And so, in turn, Doctor Who has a pretty special relationship with the child portion of its audience.

Which is why, in many ways, this conceit at the heart of this episode is so fantastic. It’s not just the fact that we’re setting a Doctor Who episode at a school – but, in and of itself, that’s a wonderful concept. Juxtaposing the mundane and the alien is something Doctor Who has always done very effectively, but there’s something so much more personal about setting it in a school, rather than the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Everyone has, at some point, wondered if the teachers slept at school at night… but what if they were aliens as well? It’s a fantastic image.

But the episode doesn’t stop there; it takes it further. It’d be easy for the cold open to end right after Mr Finch has ate the child; with any other episode, that’s where you’d expect the titles to start, and the music to come crashing in. Not here, though.

Because the hook of this episode isn’t the fact that aliens are teachers.

It’s the fact that the Doctor is a teacher.

And there’s something unique about that, and the way that this episode melds those two worlds. Certainly for me, there was something a little extra thrilling about seeing the Doctor – my Doctor – walking up and down corridors that I could have quite easily been in myself just a few hours ago. Teaching a lesson I could have been in (well, I say that, I don’t actually take physics lessons anymore) surrounded by students that I could have been.

This episode, moreso than any other, is one that’s able to merge the world of Doctor Who and the world we know. And I think that’s pretty impressive.

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Also notable is the fact that this is the first time we really delve into the Time War with the Tenth Doctor; though we are, obviously, aware of it as an audience, it was always framed in terms of the Ninth Doctor. Understandable really – it was through him that we came to know about it.

But thus far we’ve not really seen David Tennant’s Doctor being confronted by the Time War; in both New Earth and Tooth and Claw, it simply didn’t really come up very often. This is his first Time War episode – it sets a precedent for how things will follow on from here.

I find it fascinating, actually, and I consistently find this fascinating, how well telegraphed a lot of the Doctor’s later development was, even right from the beginning. When we see the Tenth Doctor being tempted by Mr Finch, that right there is sowing the seeds for the Time Lord Victorious, a good three years down the line. Hubris has always been this Doctor’s fatal flaw, and here it is on display, as early as his fourth episode. Tennant does a wonderful job here; it helps, of course, that’s he’s playing off of an actor as talented as Anthony Head (Giles!) but he gives a brilliantly subtle and understated performance when first confronted with the Skasis Paradigm. It’s moments like this that prove, over and over, why Tennant was cast as the Doctor.

Interesting further still, though, is the Doctor’s little diatribe about aging, and why he has new companions. “You can spend every day of your life with me, but I can’t spend every day of mine with you.” David Tennant, once again, performs this wonderfully; he does a great job of conveying how strained the Doctor is in that moment, trying to hold himself back from an emotional outburst. It’s clear that this is something he’s kept bottled up for a long time, and will continue to do.

It’s a new way of looking at the dynamic between the Doctor and his companions; that’s why he’s always running. Always moving forward, never looking back.

And that brings us quite neatly to Sarah-Jane Smith.

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Sarah Jane was, and remains, iconic in her own right. One of, if not the, most popular companions of Doctor Who’s original run, this was one of the most meaningful interactions that the new series had with its history in the first couple of years of its life. True, we’d had the Daleks, and shortly afterwards we’ll have the Cybermen – but there’s something rather different about having metal men in suits, when compared to the sheer joy that is seeing Elisabeth Sladen on screen as Sarah Jane once again.

I mentioned in a recent article for Yahoo that there’s a palpable sense of legacy throughout this episode; more than that, though, there’s a real pathos and poignancy to the episode. It’s not just about seeing Sarah Jane taking another lap around the corridors, there’s genuine emotional depth to her return. The Doctor is forced to confront what happens when he leaves people behind, and Sarah Jane is able to find closure. (It’s rather wonderful, though, that’s she’s become like the Doctor in her own right though; a fantastic little detail is that, when breaking into the school at night, both the Doctor and Sarah immediately head for Mr Finch’s office.)

With hindsight, of course, this episode is particularly poignant; even five years on, it’s difficult not to view this in light of Elisabeth Sladen’s passing. She embodied the role perfectly – twice, for two different generations of children. I wasn’t there the first go around, when Sarah Jane was travelling with the Third and Fourth Doctors, but I was there watching The Sarah Jane Adventures each week. And as wonderful as it is to see her… it’s sad, too. It’s a harsh reminder of one of the key themes of the episode; pain and loss define us, just as much as happiness or love.

(The first time she appeared on screen in this episode – Mr Finch introducing her to the Doctor – I was just beaming. Grinning at the screen like a fool. It was just genuinely wonderful and truly heartening to see Sarah Jane on screen again, because she’s a part of my childhood too.)

Ultimately, then, School Reunion is a strong effort from Toby Whithouse, and it’s another impressive instalment in the ongoing story of the Tenth Doctor. Once again, we’ve got another effective reminder of just why I love this era of the show so much.

8/10

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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: 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: 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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