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Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - Reviewed by Steve Manfred

We knew going in that this was Billie Piper's last story as Rose, and as the story and recent events kept hinting, that she could very well die. I found myself in the position thinking that she should die. It's not that I've come to hate Rose or anything, it's just that that felt like the only "honest" thing the storytelling could do, given the lifestyle that she leads with the Doctor and the law of averages. You can't keep cheating death like this forever. In the end, our Mr. Davies found a way to have his cake and eat it too, where Rose can go on living but in such a way that she and the Doctor are forever separated, and so as far as their relationship goes, it has the same effect that death would have done. And so it was a bittersweet ending for the Doctor and Rose, wonderfully written, structured, and certainly well-played by both Billie Piper and David Tennant. Billie went back to those pained places she showed us last season in "Father's Day" and "The Parting of the Ways," while meanwhile David Tennant got to a similar place for the first time. Actually, it's not "meanwhile"... his best moment was before the final farewell, during that ten seconds where we thought briefly that Rose could get sucked into a hell dimension... the scream and the look on his face of utter pain and panic is a new classic moment in the whole of "Doctor Who," and though I know he's good, I didn't know he had that look in him. The way he has the Doctor basically shut down emotionally again after Rose is gone was also well-judged... as though the Doctor may be heading back into the shell he was in before he met Rose, but I suspect he won't have long to stay there given that last-second bridal arrival in the TARDIS at the end.

We also in this story say goodbye to the rest of the Tyler clan, plus Mickey, and they all come out better than they ever were before. On the one hand, I questioned that big scene where alt-Pete and Jackie meet up coming as it did while the world was ending outside, and they stop to have this big emotional moment. On the other, it was very important to them and to us that this moment happen, and I'm glad that it did happen. Didn't everyone (with a heart) smile when they finally embraced? We just needed some line or some excuse for them to have this moment that was better than everyone simply stopping their run. Some obstacle or other that needed time to clear, and we didn't get one. I enjoyed seeing Mickey return too, stronger than ever.

On the other hand, I wasn't overjoyed with the concept of the return of the alternate universe and the alternate Cybermen, since I didn't care for either when we saw them the first time. Fortunately for us, the worst elements of "Rise of the Cybemen/The Age of Steel" were left behind in their world, and the way these Cybermen acted wasn't really much different than the way the "real" Cybermen would act. I do like to think, however, that the "real" Cybermen from the classic series would've fared at least a little better vs. the Daleks than this bunch did, since they at least have got spaceships and heavier weaponry than those little red wrist lasers. The sight of Cybermen everywhere in the world at once - even in your house- having snuck in as "ghosts," was quite the good the image, I'll grant you. I just wish the budget would've stretched to seeing a better fight than the one we got. Surely the Cybermen shouldn't be so stupid that they'd keep firing uselessly at the Daleks as they do and would turn to using their other strengths, such as their strength, to physically attack the Daleks or hurl large objects at them or something. I don't really disagree with the answer to "who would win in a fight" that we're given here... it should be the Daleks, but the Cybermen shouldn't be falling over this easily. It brings back too many bad memories of Ace/slingshot and the Raston Warrior Robot massacres of the 80s.

I was happy to have the Daleks back though, and I was very happy with their developments... the "cult of Skaro" where all four have names... the void ship they used to escape the Time War... and the stolen Time Lord prison ship they call the Genesis Ark with millions of Daleks inside. These were all perfectly in keeping with what we saw of the Daleks last season and with their general rehabilitation of character that's gone on ever since Big Finish started doing audios with them. (I just with the Cybermen could also be so lucky.) And though I'm disappointed with the combat between the two, I'm fine with the general idea of them meeting up and fighting, and especially with the way they talked to each other when they first met. Lots of people cite the "pest control" line as a favorite, and that is good, but mine is how the Dalek and the two Cybermen that meet up in the corridor keep demanding that the other identify themselves in a conversation that has a chance to go on forever. In fact, I would love to hear an audio or read a short story or something where you've got a Dalek and a Cyberman imprisoned in a cell together or something just to listen in on how they'd argue with each other.

The remaining main element to this story is the finally-revealed Torchwood Institute. I wasn't exactly looking forward to this what with all the heavy-handed product placement advertising there's been for this in the season leading up to fact I'm surprised the Cybemen didn't have "Watch Torchwood the Series this fall on BBC1" emblazoned on their chests, but the actual place itself wasn't that bad. I was sort of expecting your typical "X Files"-ish shadowy conspiracy place, but in fact it looks like a perfectly charming and reasonable corporate headquarters, which makes it a different sort of creepy. Yvonne Hartley's charming banter with the "enemy" Doctor really adds to that, and was well-played by Tracy-Ann Oberman. I do have to question how she manages to break her programming and fend off that party of Cybermen that was about to ruin everything at the end, when no one else we've seen converted by these alt-Cybermen has been able to do so up until now. (though Big Finish fans might find a clue in her first name... think of the similarly-named character in "Spare Parts") I also question why Torchwood controls the rift with those two giant levers... it's this year's stupid "Galaxy Quest"-like set piece like the spinning fan blades on Platform One last season.

The plot manages to hang together if you don't squint too hard. If you do squint, you start to wonder if the Cybermen who were converted here on our Earth are still around since they presumably wouldn't have the void stuff on them, and why Daleks being drawn to the breach are doing so all through that one window in the tower, or why the Daleks chose this moment to emerge from their Void ship and why indeed they came to 21st century Earth in the first place, or why we only see Daleks flying into the breach but not Cybermen, and there's a few others. I can think of explanations for all of these questions, and indeed a couple of them are in fact answered by Russell if you listen to his podcast commentary on the official website. He and Julie Gardner also make it clear in that that they deliberately excluded most of these explanations for fear of bogging down the story with all this exposition. I saw the second half of this story for the first time with a crowd full of old-time "Who" and general genre fans, and they all really hate that these sorts of things don't get explained not just in this but in lots of the other stories, and they consider it to be bad writing, and as some of them are regularly published self-supporting authors, I have to think they know what they're talking about. On the other hand, skipping over these fine details like this and avoiding technobabble seems to have made the series more accessible to the general public and the non-genre industry, going by the viewing figures and all the awards the show has won, so perhaps Russell and Julie are on to a new, more successful way of handling these things we like to call plot holes. I'm not sure which side I'm on really... I think I'm probably in the middle. I'd like to see the writers and script editors find ways to explain these things but in a manner elegant enough not to put off casual viewers. Something more like one really brilliant element of the plot, which was the 3D glasses that the Doctor kept putting on to look at things, which at first seem like just another weird thing that the Doctor does, but which turn out in the end to actually have a useful practical purpose in showing the "void stuff" that's left on people and things that made the dimensional jump. I had no clue that was coming, and it was a great touch.

One last topic I feel I should cover is the incidental music score by Murray Gold, which is another return to the excellent form that certain episodes this season have shown he's capable of. He can veer wildly from awful to brilliant, in my opinion, but in this story he was brilliant, particarly with his use of rhythm to underscore the "ghost" scenes in the first episode and the scene of the Doctor and Rose on opposite sides of the dimensional breach at the end. This score and the one for "Tooth and Claw" have been my favorites of his by far, and I hope they encourage him to do more like this.

Overall... the story delivered on its main objective of the writing out of Rose and the Tyler clan and was another shining moment for the Doctor and the Daleks. The Cybermen continued to suffer from the problems their earlier story left them saddled with, and I would've liked more to have been made of their combat with the Daleks. Strong, but not perfect... I'll say 8 out of 10.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor