Army of Ghosts/DoomsdayBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

The funny thing about this story is there’s really no plot whatsoever to speak of; ‘Army of Ghosts’/‘Doomsday’ unfolds more like a loose collection of Big Events than a genuine narrative designed to keep the audience wondering how it’s all going to work out. Big Event One: The Ghosts Are Here! Big Event Two: The Cybermen Are Here! Big Event Three: The Daleks Are Here! Big Event Four: The Cybermen and Daleks Are Gone! and Big Event Five: Buh-bye, Rosie. (More annoyingly, the story is a copout on the labored foreshadowing of Rose’s death, though it’s inconceivable that either fans or the general public would have responded well to that if it had happened.)

I suppose I don’t need to point out that none of these Big Events I mentioned involves Torchwood. It has to be said up front that, taken only as a payoff for ten stories’ worth of arbitrary references (eleven if you count ‘Bad Wolf’), or as a quasi-pilot for a new spinoff, this story fails miserably. Torchwood as an institution barely even registers – it has much less personality than those cheap-looking old UNIT labs. (Its one real character is annoying, and anyway she gets turned into a Cyberman.) I suppose on paper Jack Harkness plus alien doodads plus flirty clerical staff equals somebody’s version of a good idea, but if the new series is anything like what we see here, it’ll be lifeless and empty. It’s also hard to tell from its depiction here why anyone would *want* to create a series around Torchwood, even if it were better realized. The institution, at least under Yvonne Hartman, seems to be a place of the worst kind of scientific irresponsibility, with its smug administrators (I hated Hartman’s clapping) abusing technology they don’t even bother trying to understand, all to recreate the Empire of Victorian Britain (!). Doesn’t sound like a concept that’s going to get the public crowding round their sets in the evenings to me, but then what do I know.

Anyway, rather than dwell in negative speculation about how bad the future is going to be (Doctor Who fans have had enough of that over the years, haven’t we?), let’s concentrate on the present and move on to those Big Events. The ‘ghost’ invasion actually works pretty well, both as an eerie omen of bad things to come and as an amusing take on pop culture fads. The people of Earth unquestioningly accept these spectral visitors and incorporate them into daily life, just as their parallel-world counterparts did with Lumic’s earpods in ‘Rise of the Cybermen,’ and it’s nice to see a consistent satirical thread like this running through the new series. (And, maybe because I’m not British, I actually found the ‘ghost’ versions of the TV shows to be funny rather than annoying.)

After the revelation comes that there are Cybermen hiding behind the shower curtains at Torchwood, of course, there’s little suspense surrounding the mystery of who or what those ghosts really are. Once they’re revealed, we find that the Cybermen haven’t been developed much since we last saw them – I suppose the Doctor’s objection in ‘The Age of Steel’ that Cyber ‘upgrading’ stifles progress also holds true for character growth – but we are (initially) impressed that they have managed to break through the barrier between worlds and come stomp-stomp-stomping into ours. They are still scary, too - the shot of the family cowering from the Cyberman in their living room while their philosophy is reassuringly espoused on TV (“Cybermen will remove fear . . . Cybermen will remove sex and class and color and creed”) is quite unsettling and effective – and of course they’re also kind of funny, getting the better lines in the memorable Cyber/Dalek bitch-off (“DALEKS HAVE NO CONCEPT OF ELEGANCE.” “This is obvious.”). But really, the Cybermen aren’t much more than a red herring in this story, just a piece of bait to set up the surprise when the Daleks arrive, and to make their fellow cyborgs look good after they do.

And it’s true, the Daleks come off better in this story than the Cybermen; in fact, this is probably their strongest realization in the new series so far. They prove to be physically unstoppable – the Cybermen can’t destroy even one, and eventually have to try fleeing back into their old world – but more importantly they show signs of their old personality. They arrogantly refuse the ‘inferior’ Cybermen’s proposed alliance, dismiss the presence of an occupying alien force of five million as 'irrelevant,' and generally trumpet their superiority at every opportunity (“WE WOULD DESTROY THE CYBERMEN WITH ONE DALEK!”). They’re pushy and impatient (“SOCIAL INTERACTION WILL CEASE”), and best of all, there’s no godlike UberDalek directing them this time - the script vaguely identifies these four as ‘the Cult of Skaro,’ but apart from having Teletubby-esque silly names they don’t seem a bit different from the classic Daleks of old. In fact, the presentation of the Daleks here is more reminiscent of the stranded but strong group in ‘Death to the Daleks,’ and the species looks all the better for it. ‘The Genesis Ark’ is an amusing reference to ‘Genesis of the Daleks,’ too, and may even be a punnish nod to the Second History of the Daleks suggested in ‘The Discontinuity Guide’ (although that may simply be wishful fanwanking on my part).

As for the human factor, it’s disappointing that Mickey, whose departure was so surprisingly poignant in ‘The Age of Steel,’ is brought back to do little but crack bad jokes here. (Comparing the Daleks to Stephen Hawking, while in agreeably bad taste, undermines what tension the scene might have had.) It doesn’t help that Noel Clarke often seems to be playing Mickey as *Ricky* this time around either. Jake Simmonds reappears as well, but fares no better; he is simply used as a Sawardian blank who shoots guns because the good Doctor doesn’t.

As for the Rose/Doctor goodbye thread, which should be the real focus here, it doesn’t turn to treacle until the very end, but when it does, it’s embarrassing, and makes us sadly remember the artful ambiguity of ‘The Green Death,’ or even the less ambiguous but more genuinely moving goodbye of ‘The Parting of the Ways.’ It’ll be interesting to see where the series goes next; probably too much has been made of the 21st-century DW as ‘Doctor Who and His Interstellar Girlfriend!,’ but it’s hard to imagine the production team doing the David-and-Maddie thing again with a new companion. (At least, it’s hard to imagine them doing it well.) As for the performances, both principal actors are OK – Billie Piper isn’t given much to do until the blubbery finale, and David Tennant, whose performances improved dramatically in the final few stories of this season, is acceptable, though he does perhaps push too hard on ‘angry’ lines like “You’ve got their *children*, of *course* they’re going to *fight*!!!”

But there is one story element that ‘Army of Ghosts/Doomsday’ does actually handle extremely well. The strange relationship between Jackie and Pete Tyler (or, rather, between *both* Jackie and Pete Tylers) has been slowly developing since we first met Pete in ‘Father’s Day,’ and here it’s almost as if more care has gone into building up the story arc for these characters’ reunion than for the Doctor and Rose’s goodbye; when the lost husband from one world finally embraces his lost wife from another, it’s a powerful moment. It’s odd that, after initial misgivings, I feel I’ll miss Jackie more than Rose – we actually saw a greater range of personality from this not-always-easy-to-like character (shrewishness and good humor, smallmindedness and great imagination, selfishness and trust, vulnerability and courage), often within the confines of a single story, and Camille Coduri has to be commended for bringing such extremes to life believably.

And she’s funny in this story too, particularly in her interactions with the Doctor (“Hoy!”) and as she screeches invective at the terrified Yvonne Hartman, even as the latter is being led to her death.

All in all, it’s not a great Doctor Who story (or even a great *story* at all), but despite its problems it remains watchable. It’s sort of in the vein of ‘Planet of the Spiders’ – overstuffed and perhaps self-consciously ‘historic,’ at times repetitive (Doctor forces Rose to safety against her will) or nonsensical (the revenge of Cyber-Yvonne), but agreeably silly and featuring some good moments. In other words, it’s empty calories, but they’re reasonably tasty ones.