When 'The Unquiet Dead' was first broadcast, it felt good, and it felt great. In short, it felt like Series One had reached its peak already, three episodes in. Of course, this was arguably not to be and later episodes proved themselves to be just as evocative in terms of appreciation, but despites this I still think that there is a strong case to be made for hailing 'The Unquiet Dead' as the best of the best in Series One.
'Doctor Who' has the most remarkable formula, in that it can dip in the past and future with equal ease and get away with it, and here is a good example of the show doing just that. If everything looked fine and dandy in 'The End Of The World', then things are positively glowing throughout 'The Unquiet Dead'. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper seem to be having a whale of a time prancing around (or, perhaps, swanning off) in Victorian Cardiff, and their enjoyment adds to the undeniably joyful ambience that presides over this episode.
Visually, everything simply feels Christmassy- the snow looks crisp and cold, the ghostly blues and red of the gaseous Gelth by contrast look so stunning against the dark and brooding backdrops that the episode as a whole is a veritable treat for the eye. When they said they were bringing 'Doctor Who' back, and they were going to try their hardest to make sure it looked great, I bet they had this episode in mind. In terms of looking so blissfully aesthetically pleasing, 'The Unquiet Dead' is not beaten throughout Series One.
Whilst I found Euros Lyn's direction a little stale in 'The End Of The World', here it looks truly brilliant. The exterior scenes sweep in and out and about, giving Cardiff a grand and appealing guise whilst the interiors are nicely contrasted between the large and comfortable main rooms where the richer reside, and the cramped relative squalor of the servants' whereabouts.
Just observe the difference between the grandiose wide shots of Charles Dickens' horse and carriage trotting down Cardiff, and the cramped tight shots of the smaller and more haunting cellar in Sneed's house. It's visual moments like this which set scenes far better than any dialogue could ever do, and full points must go to both Euros Lyn, and the unsung hero of the New Series, the Director Of Photography: Ernie Vincze BSC.
Murray Gold's incidental music for 'The Unquiet Dead' perfectly compliments the visuals and the tone of script, with the rousing music following the explosion of Sneed's house being the highlight of it. There is arguably too much music, but when it is as good as it is here, there is little room for complaints.
Mark Gatiss' script is thankfully every bit as impressive as the visual interpretation of his words. The dialogue literally crackles, with the interaction between the Doctor and Rose managing to perfectly capture the relationship thus far exclusively established by Russell T. Davies; their banter throughout is evocative of older Doctor-companion partnerships, whilst also managing to tie in with the new direction for such a pairing. The Doctor's comments concerning Rose's Victorian costume perfectly captures this, and that is merely one moment in a story full of such delights. For me, however, the stand-out moment has to be Rose's first footstep into Victorian snow; her acting, the direction, the music, the sound effects and Gatiss' expert handling of the situation is a real lump-in-the-throat moment. You suspend your disbelief- you believe you are there.
The plot in 'The Unquiet Dead' is great too. Zipping along at a pace hitherto unknown to 'Doctor Who', the plot manages to tell the story of an alien invasion attempt, the hierarchal status of Victorian England whilst also charting the re-birth of Charles Dickens' youth. Beginning 'The Unquiet Dead' with a sombre and depressive Dickens and ending it with a reinvigorated and blissfully optimistic one gives the episode as a whole the same sort of positive feel.
Gatiss writes for Dickens so well that you can see why Simon Callow seems as happy as he is to be playing the character. His writing for the other cast is superb as well. Gabriel Sneed and Gwyneth are both instantly recognisable and well-realised characters, and the pairing of the two of them works very well indeed. As well as Dickens' story, this is Gwyneth's also. Her journey from hapless Servant girl to Saviour of the World is both touching and natural, and never feels forced. If only all writers could pull off such feats with perfection.
Perhaps best of all is the fact that 'The Unquiet Dead' boasts- without a shadow of a doubt- one of the greatest openings to a 'Doctor Who' story ever: possessed dead body kills man by breaking his neck, knocks out an Undertaker then screams out her gaseous innards in a very real sense. Cue title sequence. Brilliant!
In all, it is hard not to see why all the fuss was generated over this episode. The acting is brilliant; the script is strong; it is visual stunning; the episode throughout is aurally pleasing too with every sound effect and musical note being perfectly placed in the overall scheme of things. When the TARDIS dematerialises at the conclusion, you can see tiny flakes of snow tumble off the windows of everybody's best loved Police Box. It's little moments like this- such tiny attentions to detail- which raises this high up in the pecking order of quality throughout Series One. The general consensus was correct- 'The Unquiet Dead' really is on par with as good as it ever got.