Army of Ghosts/DoomsdayBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - Reviewed by James Tricker

RTD goes from the ridiculous (Love and Monsters) to the sublime as only he can in this wonderfully emotional and dramatic season finale which successfully executed the task of writing out the Tyler family, thus bringing to a close both their and Mickey’s involvement with the show, doing justice to the massive contribution Billie Piper has made to new Who and well and truly wiping the slate clean for the show’s future. That RTD had planned a happy ending for the Tylers and had decided not to kill off Rose wasn’t in doubt for me save of course that aside from Rose’s presumed death in the present she feels, due to the intensity of her love for the timelord who took her away from her shop and humdrum life and showed her so much, that she has indeed “died” due to her permanent separation from him, and if as we now know Sarah’s life was ripped apart how much more Rose’s ; nevertheless, she has changed, she has the capacity to move on and not to be the kind of sorrowful figure feared by Jackie in that illuminating exchange with her daughter in the Tardis during the first instalment.

If we saw a slightly more restrained and seasoned Graeme Harper in the Cyberman two parter, flashes of the old magic resurfaced in Army of Ghosts and positively burst through in Doomsday ; I didn’t think it possible to top the wonderful climax to the first instalment culminating in the re-appearance of the Daleks, yet the sequence in Doomsday when the Doctor and Rose open the void and Rose has to use her bodyweight to get the lever back online did just that…it was simply jaw-dropping, one of the most exciting, dramatic, yet gut-wrenchingly moving scenes ever as both she and the Doctor scream as she is about to be sucked into the void, only to be saved at the very last moment by Pete. The expressions on Tennant and Piper’s faces, that glance by Rose as she realises what’s about to happen- astonishing. Indeed was it just me or were there parallels with Androzani here as Pete seems to re-appear at the same critical moment as Davison re-appeared to save Peri and watching this whole climatic mayhem unfold I got that same sense of sheer amazement at the intensity of the drama that I did with that superb story from 1984.Also amazing were the scenes of the immediate aftermath as Rose’s realisation that there is no way back causes her to crumble completely, and the expression on Tennant’s face as he confronts his loneliness is every bit as effective as Pertwee’s reaction to losing Jo at the end of the Green Death. Top marks for the acting here.

But if we may return to Army of Ghosts, as this is a combined review! Firstly may I say how disappointed I am by the lack of adequate laundry facilities aboard the Tardis and, come to think of it, in the Universe at large that force a young girl who’s travelled further than we can only imagine to bring her dirty washing back for Mum to do. What a flaming cheek as they used to say. It was a nice idea that the human race is being softened up into thinking that the ghosts of loved ones are returning little realising that a vast invasion force is poised to strike. I thought Derek’s cameo could have been, well, not quite as much of a cameo as it was but never mind. What we did see more of was Torchwood and again I do like the idea that behind the modern facade embodied in Yvonne “I’m a people person” Hartman lurks a very unmodern imperialist outfit with dreams of restoring the British Empire to its former glories. Quite bold stuff that in this politically correct age and equally well thought out is the ultimate vision of globalisation offered by the Cybermen who will remove sex, class, creed, colour and the like to create complete and lasting uniformity but at the price of being upgraded. Army of Ghosts didn’t disappoint and we were treated to some sparkling exchanges between the Doctor and Jackie who assumes, and very well I thought, the role of companion whilst Rose remains in the Tardis. When the Doctor explains that Jackie’s ankle’s going and she replies “I’ll tell you where my ankle’s going!” this is just one of several genuinely funny exchanges between the pair…funny without grating. As for the appearance of Torchwood itself, I was perhaps expecting a little more as what we assume to be one of the main areas of the building resembles an overblown warehouse with conveniently placed objects of antiquity and so on.

I have already touched on the superb climatic revelation of the Daleks coming as it did hot on the heels of the apparently “game set and match to us” takeover by the Cybermen as the true identity of the ghost army is revealed. That leads us into Doomsday, but, boys and girls, if you want to do the Cybermen and Dalek together thing again, think hard. Because the Daleks come across as so superior in all respects- intellect, firepower, the lot- that the Cybermen are made out, unintentionally I assume, to be rather a laughing stock at times, which isn’t particularly fair given that the gas chamber parallels to parts of the Cyberman two parter were genuinely chilling. The offer of an alliance is swiftly rejected and the only thing the Cybermen can offer is an insult about lack of elegance. When the Dalek says “this isn’t war, it’s pest control” and that the only thing the Cybermen are better at is dying I’m afraid that is spot on but that’s not the fault of this story, this is as many will know a long running problem with the Cybermen and here they are, quite frankly, irrelevant to the Daleks. Of far more interest is the exchanges between Rose and the Daleks wherein Rose displays a level of sinister maturity that must have unnerved even them. Full marks to RTD for again portraying the Daleks correctly as ruthless, powerful killers even if sadly this has the side effect of downgrading the Cyberman menace. Even the latter’s upgrade programme goes wrong as a cybernised Yvonne Hartman (hitherto played well by Tracey-Ann Oberman, bar her melodramatic “ I did my duty” nonsense) destroys those Cybermen who are trying to leg it back into the parallel world. I’ll give RTD the benefit of the doubt on that (just) as those at Torchwood are supposed to be of greater intellect than us mere mortals so clearly the upgrade didn’t work as well on her.

It isn’t just for the Doctor/ Rose scene at the levers to which I’ve already referred that make Doomsday such compelling viewing. There will be those gnashing their teeth and cursing RTD for spending too little time exploring the intriguing allusion to the Knights Templar story with a secret order of Daleks, the guardians of the Genesis Arc, made with Timelord technology, in favour of tying up loose ends but boy how one of those loose ends was wonderfully tied up with the Pete and Jackie reunion in the smoke-filled corridor. Wonderful dialogue and acting there. And the beach scene at the end was a completely justifiable acknowledgement of the impact Billie Piper has made on the show. She deserved a fitting finale and she got it. This was a tear-jerker that surpassed the latter part of the Parting of the Ways by some way. The trouble is with these sorts of RTD stories that if you stop and think long enough they have a tendency to unravel, but if you let yourself be carried away by the emotional rollercoaster of it all they’ll leave their mark for sure. Which this one certainly did.

And so to the season overall. As with the previous one, we have had some ups and downs with the general standard maintained as high. I think Billie Piper’s decision to quit was absolutely right- and she needed to go so that the show could move on- but she stayed long enough to leave her mark as one of the most successful companions in the show’s history. She established a great rapport with Doctors 9 and 10 and whilst the intensity of her feelings for the Doctor and the whole Tyler baggage that came with her has been too much for some it has, like it or not, been a factor in the successful restoration of the show’s current popularity. To my mind we have had six stand-out episodes ( Tooth and Claw, Girl In the Fireplace, Impossible Planet two parter and Army of Ghosts two parter), some solidly enjoyable episodes ( School Reunion, Cyberman two parter, Fear Her) some average fayre (New Earth, Idiot’s Lantern) and one experimental story which didn’t work for me (whose title I shall not name). But now, as I say, the slate is wiped clean; it’s stating the obvious I know but season three carries a great weight of responsibility on its shoulders if the show is to have a long-term future, but we have a solid base in the shape of David Tennant who has established himself well in the role even though I still think he is at his best when restrained and inquisitive rather than, erm, overly manic.

Very briefly. I like Catherine Tate a lot but was I alone in feeling a little uneasy over that Christmas story preview? We shall see of course. Oh, and a plea for next season aside from the obvious one of getting out and about a bit to alien worlds. No more “sorry, I’m so sorry” utterances from the Tenth Doctor please. If he says that again, I shall have to instruct a Dalek to remove those words from his vocabulary bank.