Doctor Who Series 2, it’s fair to say, is a mixed bag. If you listen to the fandom as a collective, you’ve got the highs of The Girl in the Fireplace and The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit and the lows of New Earth and Love & Monsters. It could be argued that that’s true of any season, but these contrasting opinions perhaps feel more prominent after the welcome reception Series 1 received.
So to give a fair assessment of David Tennant’s first series as the Tenth Doctor (and Billie Piper’s second as Rose Tyler), we asked members of the Doctor Who Companion to re-evaluate the 14-episode run. We randomly assigned each contributor two episodes to find out what we thought of the 2006 series…
The Christmas Invasion
By Jonathan Appleton.
It’s easy to forget how excited we all got about Doctor Who having a Christmas special back in 2005. The show went on to become such a fixture of the festive schedule that the memory of what a novelty all those Christmas TV guide covers picturing David Tennant in his pyjamas were (did Character Options ever do that as a variant?) had faded away.
But such was Russell T Davies’ ambition for the programme, a seasonal episode was always part of his plans. Many of the Davies era tropes are there: international news channels covering a global crisis; cheeky gags (Jackie asking if there’s anything else the dormant Doctor has got two of; Penelope Wilton’s wonderfully delivered ‘they’re on the roof’ as she tells the nation what’s become of the royals), Rose getting all gooey over the Doctor… Like any Christmas classic, it delivers a warm nostalgic glow when viewed all these years later.
The story is an effective Earth-under-threat tale of the kind RTD often served up, with the Sycorax (surely overdue a return?) a nicely unnerving race of villains. It’s noticeable how much more scary they are when we can’t understand their language, leaving me wondering if the show could find more ways of disabling that universal translator courtesy of the TARDIS.
It still seems a daring move to keep the Doctor out of action for so long (it’s 40 minutes in before he’s fully revived) but Billie Piper does an excellent job of carrying the episode without him, and her valiant attempt to scare the Sycorax off, quoting Gelth, the Shadow Proclamation, and Uncle Tom Cobleigh, and all reminds us just what she’s learned since the Doctor first told her to run.
And how young does David Tennant look! As the makers intended, he makes for an engaging, electric presence when we finally see him in full flight, though I do find his grandstanding a bit much.
The ending, mirroring the real life events of the sinking of the Belgrano in the Falklands War, disabuses us of any notion that this is an insubstantial Christmas treat as Harriet Jones, one of the most loved guest characters of the previous series, blows the alien ship out of the sky. You never got that in Only Fools and Horses…
By Joe Siegler.
I remember when this episode first aired, thinking “What is this going to be like”? While it’s technically the second David Tennant episode (the Christmas in Need Special notwithstanding), it’s the first “full” episode, as The Christmas Invasion had the Doctor unconscious for about 80% of the episode – was that the first Doctor Lite story? Anyway, I digress…
After dropping Mickey – again – the Doctor and Rose are off to New Earth. It’s way in the future, in the city of New New York (although technically it’s the fifteenth New York, so that’s New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York). The Doctor and Rose make it to a hospital where they run into a race of cat doctors… and Cassandra, the “flat human” from Eccleston’s The End of the World. However, in this episode, Cassandra has a new skill: she’s able to transfer her consciousness temporarily into Rose. That actually was comical, as it had Cassandra/Rose admiring her own body, showing some cleavage, and declaring herself a Chav! Cassandra’s mind also went into the Doctor for a bit, which led to some odd, but apt, physical comedy from Tennant.
The main plot of the episode was about the nurses being able to heal any disease or sickness people would have in this far future – some examples of things that should have killed patients in 10 minutes were shown. Of course the way they did it led to a great zombie sequence in the middle, which struck me as both cool and odd at the same time, since the episode wasn’t set up that way – a nice mid-episode change of pace. Still, I enjoyed New Earth. Perhaps not my favourite Tennant episode, but definitely not Love & Monsters – sorry about that, Jordan!
Finally, there’s the Face of Boe, also from The End of the World. He was set to impart his “big message” (which later turned out to be ‘You Are Not Alone’) to the Doctor, but at the last minute, he postpones it till his next meeting, which didn’t happen until the next series.
According to legend, Russell T. Davies had promised Billie Piper an episode where she could be funny, and this pretty much works. While it’s got a hint of the “puppy dog eyes – I love the Doctor” stuff that comes later, it’s not out in full force quite yet here. I loved Rose with the Ninth Doctor, but not so much with the Tenth – it was teenage unrequited love angst here, and that feels out of place in Doctor Who.
Flaws aside, it’s a fun season opener, and one that I enjoyed in a rewatch for this.
Tooth and Claw
By Philip Bates.
Here’s a funny thing about Tooth and Claw: I wasn’t that keen on it when it originally aired (indeed, I only felt that Doctor Who was back again with School Reunion), but it’s grown so much in my estimation that, when given the chance to show some of Series 2 to my class back at university, I elected to screen this and The Girl in the Fireplace. (I would’ve gone for my favourite Tenth Doctor tale, The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit, but I wasn’t initially sure I’d be allowed to pick two episodes; fortunately, they enjoyed Fireplace so much, they wanted another. Plus it was Christmastime, and nothing says “festivities” like a giant werewolf knocking about a Scottish estate while trying to bite Queen Victoria on the bonce.)
What didn’t sit right when I first viewed it? It was the ending. Bathing the wolf in moonlight, the very thing that gave it its power? It just didn’t work for me. The Doctor’s explanation didn’t fit either. It felt like a cop-out.
Except then I realised how much I enjoyed every other aspect of the story.
It’s bleak and beautiful. A masterclass in mood. The horror is present throughout, even in those last shots – the Doctor and Rose cheerfully nipping off in the TARDIS, but surrounded by stunning desolation; and Queen Victoria ominously setting up Torchwood to fend off the Doctor and any other aliens who decide to visit the UK.
It starts off, rather ridiculously, with kung-fu monks, yet it’s done so hauntingly, the music as chilling as the Scottish winds, that it fit so nicely with the overall tone of the piece.
Tooth and Claw is an ideal demonstration of writer and director on the same lines, both working to a clear goal. This is probably Russell T Davies’ first chance, at least on Doctor Who, to properly scare viewers: his Series 1 serials weren’t presented as horror (though Rose comes close, I’d say), but there’s a clear line between Tooth and Claw and, say, Midnight and The Waters of Mars. When Russell wanted to give adults the creeps, he really could. And Euros Lyn shows how well he understands this programme and this genre, pulling out all the stops to fashion the story in the same vein as classic horror movies, while capturing some truly stunning images. In fact, when viewing Tooth and Claw again, you come to appreciate just how beautiful it really is.
The performances are great too – the Doctor and Rose are admittedly too cliquey in testing the Queen, but when the adrenalin hits, they come into their own. Surprisingly, they both feel out of their depth. It’s especially pleasing to see the Doctor’s awe at facing the werewolf, his sheer glee as he realises what those stories are all about. “Oh, that’s beautiful,” Tennant purrs in the face of danger.
A special mention must go to Tom Smith, the wolf’s Host, who is incredibly eerie, despite being confined solely to a tight cage. “Moonlight,” he whispers as the cold glow hits him, and it’s like an unearthly relief.
So then we come back to that ending. “You’re 70 percent water, but you can still drown,” says the Doctor. In retrospect, that’s such a poetic explanation. I was wrong, all those years ago. It’s a perfect ending. I’m glad I’ve finally seen the light.
By Joe Siegler.
“The Missus and the ex – welcome to every man’s worst nightmare”
While Mickey doesn’t have the greatest moments in the series – this one is one of the greatest lines ever. Every guy can relate to this. I know I got a HUGE laugh out of it, because it made me think of my wife, and the immediate ex prior to that, and yeah, that would not work.
Anyway, this story has a plot about a school being taken over by creatures disguised as the staff and using the students as computers (of sort), and there’s some investigating going on – but lets face it. The only reason anyone really cares about this episode is the primary reason to watch it…
SARAH JANE SMITH!
Liz Sladen makes a glorious return to the mothership, a full on appearance (not just a cameo) in Doctor Who. It’s the first time she’d been in Doctor Who proper since The Five Doctors back in 1983. In a plot that was slightly revisited in the opening of Series 4, the Doctor and Sarah are separately investigating the events at the school. The Doctor and Rose infiltrated as a teacher and a lunch-lady. Sarah was there as a more traditional journalist. The moment where the Tenth Doctor sees Sarah Jane, and she doesn’t know it’s him… It’s glorious. The look on his face is the same look a lot of fans probably had watching it. Sarah back in action with the Doctor is something those of us from the classic era longed to see again.
Then the moment when she sees the TARDIS and the Doctor is hovering in the background… Amazing. But the absolute best part was the scene when they were in a cafeteria talking, and she directly mentions the events when the Fourth Doctor dropped her off. I absolutely loved that they directly went back to her last (regular) appearance on the show. It addressed something Doctor Who never really dealt with before in a major fashion – what happens to the companions when they’re dropped off or left. That level of writing could probably only be picked up by a fan – and RTD and Tennant certainly were. In fact, if you watch Confidential, Tennant talks lovingly about the experience of working with Liz; it’s obvious he’s pulling on his memories from years gone by watching the show.
That’s not the only thing brought back, either – K9 returns here, and it’s voiced by the proper K9 too, John Leeson. Since I’m pedantic about stuff like this, I wondered when they first announced this story if they would address this being officially K9 Mk III, and they did. When the Doctor first sees K9, he seems gleefully overjoyed, and announces him as “Mk III to be precise”. At the end of the story, he gets blown up, and is replaced by a new gift to the Doctor as “K9 Mk IV”. That Mk IV version stays with Sarah through her appearances on her own show, The Sarah Jane Adventures. K9 got some great moments too, and it tied into Mickey’s realisation of himself – “I’m the tin dog!”
The last scene when the Doctor leaves Sarah Jane, and goes off – we get a moment of her inside the TARDIS, and he invites her to stay with him. Now I know that wasn’t happening, but I was so sucked in by the plot that I thought “would she?” That would have been epic – even if just for an episode or two more, just to have that old character back in the TARDIS. But the departure scene where he said goodbye properly – great stuff!
This episode really is a love letter to fans of the classic series. I always wondered what fans who had never seen Classic Who would make of this story, as without the knowledge of Sarah’s long history with the programme, I have to imagine it would seem a lot more pedestrian and wouldn’t be held in such high regard as long time fans of the show held this episode.
The Girl in the Fireplace
By Jonathan Appleton.
Doctor Who is a show that has never been afraid to borrow from other sources, and if you’re going to steal you might as well steal from the best. Steven Moffat presents us here with a Doctor Who take on Audrey Niffenegger’s hit novel The Time Traveller’s Wife, a blend of sci-fi and romance about the relationship between, well, a time traveller and his wife.
In the book, Henry has a genetic disorder which means he has no control over his time jumps, but here the Doctor is very much choosing to pop back and forth to visit Sophia Myles’s Madame de Pompadour. Weighing up how much of his motivation is solving the mystery of the abandoned ship, and how much is the allure of seeing Reinette is one of the questions the episode leaves us to mull over…
Indeed it’s possible to come away from the episode with a rather unfavourable impression of the Doctor, who sees fit to come and go at will, enjoying parties and boasting of his conquest while Reinette is left to take the slow path. This feeling is heightened all the more so at the end of the series, when we’re asked to accept that the Doctor being separated from Rose is the worst thing that could have happened to him in the universe, Madame de Whassername apparently forgotten.
Perhaps that’s reading too much into it. The episode delivers some wonderful moments, such as when Reinette turns the tables as the Doctor reads her thoughts and reminds him of how lonely he’s always been. The scene where Rose is sent to warn Reinette that the clockwork robots will come for her some five years hence is beautifully acted, conveying all the courage in the face of fear we know these two characters are capable of (even if it does rather fail the Bechdel test).
The final shot as the camera pulls away from the spaceship, enabling us to see its name for the first time may well be the best pay off in the entire history of Doctor Who, and is one of the those wonderfully Moffat-ian moments when a story which has gone off in a myriad of different directions comes back together again at the end.
It’s a feeling I had again when, reminding myself how to spell Niffenegger for this review, I looked up the Wikipedia entry for The Time Traveller’s Wife and discovered that Steven Moffat has been commissioned to adapt it for television. Well, he’s already done it once, I suppose. Doctor Who, eh? You couldn’t make it up.
Rise of the Cybermen/ The Age of Steel
By Rick Lundeen.
The Cybermen, as a concept, are a tricky animal. Mostly because there’s so little animal left in the shell. I really only ever felt a chill when it came to the Mondasian metal men. Human hands, cloth covered faces, bizarre synthesized voices. Pretty much all subsequent versions have seemed less frightening to me, more uniform and rather more like an army of bland weapons to utilise. Perhaps that’s why they often need an interesting figure head, an emotional leader, such as Missy or even the rather over the top, cartoony John Lumic (Roger Lloyd-Pack). If he had a moustache, he’d have twisted it.
It seems an unusual choice to create a new brand of Cybermen — complete with branding on their chest — when we have plenty in our reality but it’s really just an excuse. An excuse for Rose to meet another Pete Tyler (Shaun Dingwall) and conveniently get the other Jackie (Camille Coduri) killed for a bizarre version of the Dating Game later on in Series 2.
But this story isn’t really about the self-absorbed Rose or the Rose-absorbed Doctor. No, it’s about Mickey and how he deserved much better than the treatment he got from the two lovebirds he had to hang with in the box. Now, at the beginning of Series 1, I had no use for Mickey. He really was the most useless idiot in the world. But credit RTD for slowly but surely making him a much better, braver man. Mickey gets his reward and even gets to spend more time with his gran. Nicely done, Russell.
As for the rest of this two parter, Black Mirror‘s got nothing on Doctor Who, as we see the further dangers of futuristic tech upgrades. We see an even less kind Jackie, a far more competent and noble Pete, a furry Rose, and a sneering Ricky (also played by Noel Clarke) who’s not as tough as he’d like to think. We see freedom fighters, Mrs. Moore (Helen Griffin) and Jake Simmonds (Andrew Hayden-Smith), who join with the Tylers and their catering staff to take down the megalomaniacal Lumic and his army of Cybus specials. It’s also an interesting choice in how the Cybermen are killed: by turning off their emotion inhibitors. In essence, waking up thousands of humans, making them realise the horrors that have taken place, and exactly what they have become. It’s a torture so horrific, so severe, that it kills them within — hopefully — a minute or so.
I guess there was no other choice but wow. Considering my thoughts on how showrunners usually tend to consign certain side characters to a living fate worse than death, I guess I should be happy RTD didn’t find some way to make the now tortured humans go off to create a colony somewhere and live in horror.
Side note: These also might have been the loudest Cybermen ever in any version of Doctor Who. The metal marching mayhem of menace! Slam, slam, slam, bam, bam, bam! I mean, you can clearly hear the things marching in from a mile away – they are LOUD, except of course for the one that sneaks up on Angela (Mrs. Moore) and zaps her. RIP Angela.
Finally, Rose admits her identity to Pete, who runs for the hills, finally sees there’s some worth in Mickey as he leaves and, eventually gets back in the box, where the five minutes left of power to get them home has surely almost run out. Seriously, if I were the Doctor, I would have been shouting verbal countdowns every 30 seconds. Why would anyone want to be stuck someplace with that many zeppelins?
The Idiot’s Lantern
By Philip Bates.
I never understood it. I really enjoyed The Idiot’s Lantern, but everyone else says it’s a bit pants.
The episode has lots going for it: an unusual time period (for Doctor Who anyway); an electrical creature that’s trapped, in a suitably meta way, in television; Muffin the Mule; lots of faceless victims; a dog getting its snout sucked off by a TV set; and an optimistic tone. It doesn’t make sense that the Wire’s victims should have no faces, but wow, it’s a creepy image and so it’s not just forgivable but actually a stroke of genius.
The Connolly family are caricatures, but that feels alright too – Rita’s exactly how you picture a downtrodden wife and Eddie’s a stereotypical monster whose selfishness and twisted values bite him on the backside. Tommy, however, is exceptional: Rory Jennings (who plays the young Dalek creator in Big Finish’s I, Davros – brilliantly, it has to be said) is timid and sensitive, but there’s a strength hidden within, aching to break out, especially after years of seeing his mother living in the shadow of his father.
Unlike many, I like that, right at the end, Tommy goes to his dad. He doesn’t forgive him, but he’s willing to still be a part of his life. For all the Doctor’s “liberal” teachings throughout the show, it’s Rose’s encouragement that pushes Tommy into becoming the bigger man. It’s a more realistic conclusion for that family too. Tommy was strong, but he clearly loves his family, despite its fallibilities.
Rose is sure of herself here and suffers for trying to be the Doctor: she ends up with her features smoothed away and her brain patterns captured by the Wire. It also puts the Doctor on a back-foot, driven purely by anger; not something we often see.
Nonetheless, in a calmer moment, we get the serial’s best scene: the “start from the beginning; tell me everything you know” role reversal with Detective Inspector Bishop (bless his mum). And watch the officer in the background after the Doctor says “Well, for starters, I know you can’t wrap your hand around your elbow and make your fingers meet.” Just brilliant.
That Best Scene has strong competition from Maureen Lipman, in a lovely understated moment, glancing bitterly to one side as she monologues, “And when I have feasted, I shall regain the corporeal body, which my fellow kind denied me” – as if her peers are right there, behind-the-scenes, having just told her she’s been fired. Hilarious!
There’s so much I enjoy about The Idiot’s Lantern that I might call it Mark Gatiss’ finest (that is, if I didn’t love Cold War and The Crimson Horror an inordinate amount). But everyone else says it’s pants. I suppose that’s television for you.
The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit
By Peter Shaw.
In the first of the revived Doctor Who series, Russell T Davies established a pattern for his 13-part seasons, which continued (by and large) across the four full runs that he oversaw. Alongside the single part stories, he always include three two-parters. In the first half, there is a blockbuster/knockabout adventure story – Aliens of London/ World War Three or Rise of the Cybermen/ The Age of Steel. At the end, there’s a finale with a returning big foe that has cast a shadow over the series.
The other in-between two parter is usually reserved for something darker, more experimental, and less tied intrinsically to the season as a whole. It started (and arguably peaked) with Steven Moffat’s Series 1 masterpiece, The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances – a story that has reached legendary status as the ‘one with the gas-mask child’.
The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit has the – um, impossible? – task of filling that slot, and while it may not quite hit the dizzy heights of its predecessor, it stands alongside Human Nature/ The Family of Blood and Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead as some of the very best of the RTD era (that wasn’t credited as written by Davies himself).
And there’s an interesting point. We know that when Steven Moffat sent in scripts RTD changed very little, such was the quality of his work. But we also know from The Writer’s Tale (the 2008 book of email correspondence between Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook about the scripting process) that in the case of most other writers, RTD had huge input into the scripts. In one chapter, Davies reveals how frustrating he finds rewriting other people’s work. He concludes that, however much he inputs into another script, it is never as good as something that he has written from scratch. “With the exception of The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit,” writes RTD. “God, I love that story.”
Which tells us two things. First, that these episodes have been extensively rewritten by Russell T Davies (as that’s what he was discussing when making that statement); and that he clearly counts them amongst his best scripts. I could be wrong, but this seems to be backed up by the significant role RTD takes in the accompanying episodes of Doctor Who Confidential. In them, he seems to take ownership of the scripts. For example, when describing the appearance of the Ood – so vital to their involvement in the story – prosthetic monster creator Neil Gorton says, “Russell described it as mouths like sea anemones…” He is corrected by RTD, who explains, “Fronds, I think I said.”
We also know from production material that the Ood were a late edition to replace what were originally the Slitheen. Which is quite a jump, as the scheming, selfish family from Raxacoricofallapatorius are diametrically opposite to the selfless, passive Ood. Perhaps another hint that these are scripts that required quite a lot of development…
So what of Matt Jones, the credited writer? From his other contribution to the Doctor Who universe on television, the Torchwood Series 2 episode Dead Man Walking there are certainly parallel themes to observe. In that story, the institute’s chief medical officer and erstwhile wide boy, Owen Harper, is possessed by Death itself. And there is a scene startlingly reminiscent of Toby Zed’s possession by the Beast in The Impossible Planet.
Jones’ Doctor Who novels and short stories often centre around possession and powerful legendary creature rising again to threaten all life. The Devil is suspected to be involved in his Virgin New Adventures novel, Bad Therapy; and his short story, The Nine-Day Queen features the Vrij, an entity from the Time Vortex which feeds on arrogance and anger.
So, it would not be unreasonable to surmise that the core idea either came from Jones or was presented to him by RTD as a good writer to explore ideas of faith, evil, darkness, and possession. But I suspect that at some point RTD felt that he needed to take charge, and the final scripts owe much more to Davies than the credits would suggest.
But what of the end results? Well, for me, this was a massive highlight in a rather bumpy series so far, that had rather dipped in quality over the preceding three episodes. Unfortunately, repeat viewings fail to match the visceral thrill of watching as it was broadcast. I remember being on the edge of my seat at the Ood chase Rose and the crew through the corridors. And it also has that rare thing in Doctor Who of a satisfying denouement for the baddies as the Beast is blasted through the spaceship window thanks to Rose. But that also means that the Doctor spends a lot of time speechifying before a mindless mute monster in the final episode, but at least his actions in smashing the jars propels the story to its conclusion.
There’s a lot longer article to be written about the Beast’s relationship with similar ultimate evil, devilish monsters including Azal the Dæmon, Sutekh the Destroyer, The – um – Destroyer (from Battlefield), and Fenric (also trapped in a small vessel). In fact, this story richly enhances the existing Doctor Who universe in many ways, such as the Ood being from the same solar system and having a sartorial as well as anatomical similarities to the Sensorites (as confirmed in Planet of the Ood in Series 4).
The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit has also spawned two semi-sequels. The aforementioned Planet of the Ood offers a rewarding back story for the race, tackling the unanswered questions from Planet/ Pit, such as why the Ood are so servile and how come the seemingly-good crew of the Sanctuary Base don’t have a problem with slavery. It also offers the Tenth Doctor a chance to partly redeem himself for not saving the Ood before. And, of course, the Ood go on to play an important role at the end of the Tenth Doctor’s life…
The other, more tenuous sequel is the first series Torchwood episode, End of Days which features Abaddon – known as ‘The Devourer’ – who is revealed to be “the son of the Beast”. Which opens up the possibility of further stories featuring the Beast’s family – his wife: ‘The Smasher’, his mother-in-law: ‘The Wrecker’, his younger brother: ‘The Waster’ etc. etc. Unfortunately, the grey and less-well-realised Abaddon fails to match the Beast’s impact. He roars a bit and stomps on a few dismal tower blocks opposite Cardiff Bay before being vanquished by immortal Captain Jack’s life force. I’d be satisfied if that’s the last we see of the Beast and his dynasty, as it seems that similar returns are likely to be diminishing…
End note: this is a composite review from a series of writers, and I have no idea what the next scribe will make of the next story, Love & Monsters… But I’d like to go on record and say how much I love that episode. Really. Genuinely. It has such love, heart, compassion, silliness, and brilliance that it is possibly the ultimate RTD story. Not necessarily the best, and definitely not the most lauded. But I absolutely love it, and save watching it for very special occasions. Actually, I think I might have one coming up right now…
Love & Monsters
By Jordan Shortman.
Ah, Love & Monsters. I think it’s fair to say that you’ll either love it (like that Peter Shaw chap) or hate it (I forgive you, Joe), but I think it does what it sets out to do: give us an interesting, if strange look at the Doctor Who fan community. If we think about it in that way, it’s a very meta episode, with plenty of digs and in-jokes littered throughout the script if you know where to look. But for many people, it’s a story that gets bogged down by a strange alien that never gets any less silly on rewatches, sexual innuendoes, and the nagging feeling that you are watching something completely different to Doctor Who.
I remember hating this story when it first aired. There are some episodes I can vividly remember watching upon transmission in 2006 – for good or ill – and Love & Monsters is one of them. Obviously I knew that this was Doctor Who, but the lack of inclusion of both David Tennant and Billie Piper disappointed the 9-year old me. To me, this wasn’t Doctor Who; it felt more like a bootleg version of what Doctor Who should be. Even to this day, it’s a hard watch, mainly because I remember it so vividly from the first time around.
That’s not to say that there aren’t things to enjoy here. Perhaps the biggest appeal of the story is Jackie Tyler played brilliantly by Camille Coduri, who, despite the story being about Marc Warren’s Elton Pope, absolutely steals the show. Whether she’s flashing her knickers in the launderette or in the quieter scenes in the Tyler flat where she explains what it’s like to be left behind by a daughter who’s run off with a man who’s given her a life she never could, Coduri never drops the ball. I’ve always felt the scene where she discovers what Elton is actually doing like a gut-punch.
Warren does an enjoyable enough job as Elton, a man who’s spent his whole life trying to find the Doctor. I always found it mysterious that the Tenth Doctor was in his house the night his mother died. Not only that, but the Doctor is standing over his mother’s body. If I were Elton, I would see the Doctor as the man who murdered her, not an alien creature. His motivation here to be a little strange. But looking past that, the writing from Russell T. Davies allows him to feel like a real person, something that Davies has always excelled at. It’s clear that he feels for both Jackie and Ursula and despite some odd character choices, he always deserved at least one trip in the TARDIS.
The Absorbaloff, though, is a villain that should never be brought back (though it does pose the question of whether it should have been created in the first place). The creature came into existence following a competition on Blue Peter where participants designed a brand new monster to appear on the show. The concept is sound – a creature that absorbs another is a terrifying prospect but the story lets it down. What could have been a great monster gets bogged down in the silliness from both Davies’ script and the performance from Peter Kay, who is far better at being the Absorbaloff’s alter-ego, Victor Kennedy. The Hoix, the creature at the beginning is a far better villain, with a much better design and I wouldn’t have minded seeing an episode where that hunted down Elton’s friends before the Doctor rescued him.
For me, what is most unforgivable is the performances from Tennant and Piper. For the two seconds they are in it, they feel like they’ve just stepped up on stage for a first pantomime rehearsal. They’re actively unlikable here. They seem to be taking it as a joke, both as their characters and in their performances. And the Doctor and Rose feel completely wrong as they are so uncaring towards Elton. It’s just a disaster from the moment these two turn up towards the end. It’s especially notable as everyone else had put in decent performances.
Some say that a hero is only as good as their villain and that speaks volumes about Elton and the Absorbaloff. That does feel the point of this episode; Elton is as flawed as any of us. He’s living in a horror movie, trying to survive while all his friends fall around him. By the time the episode ends, you do feel a connection to Elton and for that, Warren and Davies should feel proud. But undoubtedly his episode belongs to Coduri who is pitch perfect from her first line. But it does make you wonder: is a Doctor Who story only as good as its villain?
By Jordan Shortman.
Fear Her, much like Love & Monsters, is a story that bogs down in its performances, silliness, and – dare I say it? – cheapness. And it’s another story that’s only as good as its villain… which really isn’t saying much. Maybe I’m being a little too harsh. Perhaps the biggest problems this story faces is that it’s dull and slightly predictable.
From the moment the Doctor meets and threatens the creature infecting Chloe Webber, you know it’s going to make him disappear. And it’s another example of a great concept ruined by its execution. Despite being a young actress at the time, Abisola Agbaje is nothing short of terrible as Webber; then again, perhaps playing a child who’s been infected by an alien is a tall order for a youngster. But plenty of other child actors have played similar roles in television and film before and done a much better job. Even the backstory of an abusive father doesn’t create any sympathy, despite the script from Matthew Graham really trying.
Billie Piper at least does a surprisingly good job when she’s out of Tennant’s shadow. And indeed, the final act is where the story really picks up, even if it is a little too late by that point for the audience to care if the world’s ending. She manages to buck up Trish (Chloe’s mother) and bring some stability to the family, forcing them to stand up for themselves in the final moments.
The Isolus is far too forgettable to stand out, though once again, that’s perhaps down to Agbaje’s performance. With the ability to draw away her enemies, the Isolus is an interesting creation, and there is some urgency when she begins to draw-away an entire Olympic stadium’ to the episode’s credit, without the Doctor being around, things do feel dire for a while. But it’s a concept that Turn Left would do much better a couple of years later. Much of the threat comes from a drawing of Chloe’s abusive father that she’s hidden away in her wardrobe. And when that creature finally gets free and begins to come down the stairs towards a terrified Trish and Chloe, you wonder why this couldn’t have been the villain all along. The small estate setting certainly would have allowed for the more adult themes of abuse and bullying to work brilliantly and tell a cracking story, which actually had an important message to it.
What makes the episode, however, is the brilliantly OTT performance of Abdul Salis as the builder, Kel. He is just hilarious and whenever I’ve walked past a council van, I’ve never forgotten the immortal line, “You’ve just taken a council axe from a council van and now you’re digging up a council road. I’m reporting you to the council!”
A line like that isn’t something you want an episode to be remembered for exactly. Unfortunately, overshadowed by the almost apocalyptic finale, Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday, Fear Her pales. And that’s the biggest disaster because there are some great ideas and concepts on offer, yet they fall flat in their execution.
Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday
By James Baldock.
Dear friends: it’s purely conjecture, but when the Eleventh Doctor said “Sometimes winning is no fun at all”, he might well have been thinking about this story. It begins and (almost) ends on a beach, a wraparound voiceover from Rose explaining that she was dead and that this was how it happened, and we know that whatever happens next it’s probably not going to be a barrel of laughs. What follows instead is an hour and a half of London-based warfare (complete with stock footage of the Taj Mahal) which starts quite well and then disappears up its own backside faster than you can say “I did my duty for queen and country”. On the upside, they brought back Mickey, and he was a bit less useless and a good deal more fun. Every cloud.
The first half, Army of Ghosts, opens with a trip home for the Doctor and Rose, only to find it gripped in a spectral fever. We witness the sort of strange manifestation the Doctor is usually unable to explain for about 20 minutes (spoiler: the Cybermen are doing it), along with the usual pop culture references: some (Trisha) work quite well; others (EastEnders) are forced and tedious. Perturbed, the TARDIS crew head across to the source of the energy fluctuations, which turns out to be Torchwood One. It’s an ethereal, sterile hub of a building, rather like its boss, Yvonne Hartman (Tracy Ann Oberman), who is about as one-dimensional as deuteragonists get outside a 1980s action movie – although the scene where Tennant introduces her to Jackie Tyler is the episode’s standout comedy moment.
Army of Ghosts ends with one of the finest cliffhangers in the show’s recent history, as the sphere opens and four Daleks fly out, wiping the floor with the opposition and the grin from Mickey’s smug little face. It is a wonderful moment, particularly if you don’t know what’s coming (it’s one of the few occasions when I’ve taken great pains to ensure my children didn’t), and it’s one that the series finale is sadly unable to follow. The synopsis must have looked brilliant on paper: Daleks! Fighting Cybermen! One of the greatest match-ups since Hulk Hogan faced down Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI! Sadly, the reality fails to live up to its promise: instead, the two iconic foes have a cat-fight over a computer screen in a sequence that’s about as much fun as watching two Speak-and-Spells talk about the weather. At least then you could close your eyes and pretend it was Stephen Hawking.
Doomsday is what happens when you get a bunch of Doctor Who enthusiasts in a pub and get them to write a script: an overwrought, needlessly melodramatic mess of fan-pleasing guff. There is a Cyberman who leaks oily tears. There is a pitched battle where things blow up in the most unspectacular manner. There is a weird and vaguely sinister love story between Jackie and Pete (complete with tedious, if decently plausible dialogue – one thing you can say for Davies is that he did know how to write natural conversation, rather than quotable platitudes destined for a long shelf life on Tumblr). The two of them embrace in a corridor while the world burns around them: by the end of the story, she will be pregnant.
For all its mawkishness, there is, admittedly, something quite sweet about Jackie’s happy ending, but the rest of Doomsday is a train wreck of Island of Sodor proportions. There is technobabble, questionable motivation, and a grim and cheerless climax that wouldn’t look out of place in a Nicholas Sparks novel. About the only thing it does right is to finish the Doctor/ Rose romance, and even that didn’t last: the windswept farewell would, in the grand scheme of things, at least be faintly moving if it had actually turned out to be the last time we’d seen Piper, but Davies knew a money-spinner when he saw one and it was only a matter of time (and dental surgery) before she was back. In many ways, it’s unfair on the episode, but unless you undergo a complete media blackout, it’s impossible to watch Doomsday without thinking about its overall context, which is to say that it’s not the end at all – the Doctor’s final words to Rose left unsaid only until they were whispered in her ear, a la Lost In Translation, on the same beach a couple of years later.
It’s churlish, but I’ve always hoped that what Tennant actually said was “Don’t forget to like and subscribe to the official Doctor Who YouTube channel.”
See? A mixed bag. Can Series 2 be summed up in two words and an ampersands? Marmite & Monsters.
NEXT: Time and Tide.