One of the great things I'm finding about trying to reflect upon the new (although I suppose it's not actually "new" any more, is it?) series of "Doctor Who" after a second viewing of the episodes this summer is that my natural propensity towards objectivity isn't compromised.
As a fan, I would always want to like the show, rather as you will your sports team to do well (even when, like mine, they invariably don't) and to write about it in positive terms. Hey, I would try to find nice things to say about "The Creature From The Pit", "Nightmare Of Eden" and "The Horns Of Nimon" . . .
In my profession as a journalist, I suppose (albeit subconsciously) I try to look for a more-balanced view. In doing so, though, I have reached the objective opinion that "Series One" is a great piece of television! And, when the time comes to pick the juiciest plums from the individual stories, "The Unquiet Dead" must take high order up the tree.
At this point, it's worth making an observation about Russell T Davies's contribution to this third episode. I'm sure Davies doesn't need me (or anyone else) to defend him, but I have read some opinions suggesting his stories were the weakest of the series. I think the salient point to be made is that ALL the stories in the series were Davies's vision. It was his idea to take the Doctor and Rose from the far future, and plunge them back in time the next episode. Introducing Charles Dickens and the 19th-century setting was Davies's call, as was making the alien characters of gas.
It was a fairly-significant push in the right direction for the writer, and I believe it was a similar scenario for all the other non-Davies-penned episodes. Others contributed greatly but this is "Russell T Davies's Doctor Who" even if his name isn't listed as writer. That said, "The Unquiet Dead" author, Mark Gatiss, used the momentum from that push, and fashioned not only a terrific piece of "Doctor Who" but a great example of well-crafted TV drama in its own right.
Period costume dramas seem to be a speciality of the BBC, and this was no exception. You could almost feel the love of the costume and set designers pouring through the TV screen. To the viewer, this was 1869 on the screen. Job done. But could the script match the quality of the setting?
No doubts on that score. And, unlike the two episodes beforehand, "The Unquiet Dead" didn't feel as if it had too much to cram into the 45-minute format. It got off to a great start with the pre-credits sequence. The Gelth-ridden old woman, eerie white light pouring from her mouth, striding towards camera was an enduring image, not just of this story, but the whole series. This was a genuinely-scary scene, and there were a few in this story fantastic!
The pre-credit scenes (another successful break with "tradition") have generally been of a tremendously-high standard it's hard to believe many casual viewers wouldn't stick around on the basis of those first few moments, to see how the rest of the story panned out.
Simon Callow's portrayal of Dickens was predictably brilliant, and his early interaction with The Doctor in his carriage a beautifully-written piece, expertly delivered by Callow and Christopher Eccleston two of the finest actors around. Gatiss (and Davies) must have been thrilled to have such artists bringing the words to live.
Not to be outdone, Billie Piper's Rose continued to bloom in a fabulous period costume, and her one-on-one scene with the ultimately-tragic Gwyneth was another example of the type of high-quality dialogue we have come to expect from this series even just three episodes in. And Eve Myles as Gwyneth was so good, even in this exalted company, she nearly stole the show from the lot of them.
And then there was the Gelth. They may have sounded good on paper, but could have looked disastrous on screen. Cue shiver down the spine at the shimmering tin-foil aliens of "Invasion of Time"! However, another pat on the back for the visual effects team. I can't imagine this was a simple process, but they made the Gelth into convincing ghostly images without degenerating into cartoon a fine line which they didn't cross.
The Doctor's over-eager willingness to "pity" the Gelth and use Gwyneth as a "bridge" to bring them to Earth was an example of how this incarnation of the Time Lord's judgement is more flawed than his predecessors. We come to learn in later episodes that his role in the Time War (although I hope we never find out exactly what that role was) has left him on a kind of guilt trip.
It's also interesting to note that again, it wasn't the Doctor who actually does the Earth-saving Rose did the business in the first episode, and it was Gwyneth and Dickens this time. In fact, you could reasonably argue the Doctor was actually responsible for Gwyneth's death!
An early spoiler for "Series Two" suggests that Queen Victoria will feature, and it's good to hear these historical trips appear to have a role in the series's future. If it's anything like as good a journey as for "The Unquiet Dead", we're in for a great ride.