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 Monsters Inside

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The sky was a shimmering green. Three suns shone through the haze, their heat prickling her skin. The muddy ground was the colour of olives and sloped up sharply, while beyond it a range of pale mountains, perfect pyramids, stood like pitched tents on the far horizon.
It wasn’t Earth. She was, officially, somewhere else.

It’s taken me quite a long time to review this one, hence the relative lateness of it. It took me a fair while to read it as well – things got in the way, and, I suppose, I wasn’t all that into it.

And I’m not entirely sure why. It was a good book, it was well written  – great characters, great premise, great plot – but it just… wasn’t particularly gripping? With the other books that were released alongside it (The Clockwise Manand Winner Takes All), they really did, to use a cliche, have me ‘glued to the page’.

I’m not really sure why this is exactly – maybe it was the way certain things were handled? I’m not sure. A complaint I did have, I suppose, is that the Slitheen weren’t handled fantastically – they were given a bit more background, but nothing was really added to them or developed about them. I mean, obviously you can’t give them laser eyes or something, but you could, say, address certain themes about them in different lights, perhaps. Not sure.

There is a lot to like in this book. The setting – a futuristic prison – leads to some great characters, and some great ideas being presented. The Doctor ends up in a prison think tank, working on new forms of space travel – at one point, the book sort of seems to be saying something about the function of prisoners in society… but it probably wasn’t, and I was maybe reading too far into it. Which could be alright really – that’s hardly the function of the book, it’s meant to be a diverting way to spend a few hours.

And provide that it does. One thing I remember is a particularly funny sequence where the Doctor is trying to give Rose a coded message, and does so via Coronation Street references! It was a nice moment, which I can really imagine showing up on TV.

So… good book, not the best. Probably comes into third place of this set of three. It’s nice though. Recommended, but not… not strongly recommended.

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: World War Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doctor: Is that what I said?

Slitheen: You’re making it up!

The Doctor: Oh well, nice try. Harriet,

[offers Harriet Jones the decanter]

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

Harriet Jones: You pass it to the left first.

The Doctor: Sorry.

[hands it to Rose]

Absolutely hilarious. Loved it.

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

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

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

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

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

So… ultimate estimation of the episode?

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

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

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

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: Aliens of London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh never mind there’s a trailer whatever…

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

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

Oh hang on wait let’s check the trailer…

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

See you next week!

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