Army of Ghosts/DoomsdayBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - Reviewed by James McLean

The combined storylines Army of Ghosts and Doomsday brings Doctor Who’s second series to an epical and climatic close. A hard act to follow; the show’s first season was an explosive finale in itself, with an army of zealous Daleks and the death of the ninth Doctor punctuating its run with end with a time shattering conclusion.

So how could Series Two top such a perfect finale? Well, contrary to laws of nature, Doctor Who’s second season manages to finish on an even more catastrophic note. Indeed, with another batch of abrasive Daleks, a non-too-merry band of Cybermen and the swansong of the new series’ first companion, Rose Tyler, series two has decided that in no uncertain terms, it’s going to go out with an even bigger bang.

The first episode, Army of Ghosts - and like Bad Wolf the previous year - isn’t particularly action orientated. Russell T Davies wrote both series finales and he appears to have adopted a similar writing pattern on both penultimate episodes. Both Bad Wolf and Army of Ghosts are deceptive; they wittingly hide the plot’s true intentions until the climax of the episode. In Bad Wolf, the plot focuses on the games played on Satellite 5 rather than intentions of the masters behind them. In Army of Ghosts, we have phantom appearances at the whim of a secret organization, which again masks the true danger to the characters that lurks - once again - behind the scenes.

Likewise, both series’ finale episodes – Parting of the Ways and Doomsday – are very similar; both are epical battles beyond anything seen before and both play a vital role in tying up the obligatory series arc.

The structural similarities of series two’s finales to series one is not detrimental. The actual plots are set in two very different scenarios. So any format comparisons between the two does not in anyway weaken the strength of either story. In fact, the formula works very well with the shows format which is probably why Davies has used it for the second time.

The series two finale helps tie up two season arcs. There is Torchwood, a mysterious organization that - like Bad Wolf in series one - has had veiled references to its existence throughout the season. There is also a strong character arc throughout the season between the Doctor and Rose; an ongoing question as to whether their relationship can last the duress of time travel much longer.

While Torchwood has not always been a major factor of each story in series two, it has always been present throughout the season in some form. Both Army of Ghosts and Doomsday work as a resolution to the identity of Torchwood as well as a springboard for the new Torchwood series starting autumn 2006. While some fans have complained the series has been used as an advertising promotion for Torchwood, the name and organization has had an underlying relevance throughout the series. It’s not merely a name that has been subliminally slipped into each episode to crassly promote the new upcoming show, it has far more series necessity - as the finale reveals. In fact, the character arc between the Doctor and Rose dovetails with the Torchwood arc nicely. In Tooth and Claw, Queen Victoria questions the pair’s lifestyle and it is their involvement - and to some extent - it is their frivolous dynamic that encourages Victoria to set up Torchwood, an organization whose work spells the end of the Doctor and Rose’s relationship in the finale.

The surprise return of the Daleks is a masterful idea. By implanting the return of a major villain early in the story – in this case The Cybermen – the story tricks the audience into their own self deception. After all, Doctor Who always has one villain of the week, as with most shows. Despite this misdirection, the clues remain present throughout. The void sphere that contains the surprise Daleks remains Dalekesque; it’s gold and - obviously – spherical, two trademarks of the new Dalek design. Certainly one can’t accuse the production from making their comeback too obscure; the clues are there. Therefore, when the Daleks do appear, the debut is made even more pleasurable knowing you’ve not been unfairly hoodwinked, simply misdirected.

Bringing the Cybermen and Daleks together in a fight – the central theme of Doomsday – is an audacious move. With less than an hour to tell the story and bring these forces together – and within the budgetary constraints - is a monumental production feat. And these monsters feel appropriately balanced in regards to their might. The Daleks are more powerful than the Cybermen. The show makes no attempt to hide that and it has always been an accepted measurement throughout the classic series. One of the elements that make this encounter so special is the dialogue and interaction between the two foes. The dialogue between the Daleks and Cybermen verges on schoolyard taunting yet as humorous as it is, it still manages to capture their personalities and different ideologies. I was originally a little concerned that a battle between two hybrid beasts with related antagonistic goals may simply underscore the similarities between the two villains. In fact, their confrontation manages to emphasize the different characteristics between Cybermen and Dalek, thanks in particular to this clever and quite whimsical bit of verbal sparring.

Where the story works very well is in its resolution of the Tyler family. When alternative Pete Tyler walked away from Rose in “Age of Steel” I feared that any possible return later on in the series might weaken that excellent resolution. His abrasive departure from the episode was very refreshing. However, the return of Mickey and Pete from the alternate dimension brings a totally different and satisfying solution to the dysfunctional family with all members – including Rose – being left in an alternate dimension to start anew as a full unit.

The prologue to this story implies quite strongly that Rose dies, and morbid little viewer than I am, I was quite looking forward to this potentially emotional and final end to the character. This is not the case. Davies has justified this with a fair comment that Doctor Who isn’t really meant to be that dark and such a death maybe out of sync with the show. Certainly the death of a companion helps creates an extra tension to Doctor Who – as I think Adric’s swansong proved. After all, we know the Doctor won’t die, but if the companion is vulnerable, we have more tension. The more tension, the longevity of the show increases before it ultimately becomes formulaic. That said, in regards to Rose, not dying does have a certain story logic. The Jackie and the Doctor’s story arc has always been about Rose’s safety with the Time Lord and a resolution in which he succeeds in keeping her safe does seem more befitting the show. While in some ways the Doctor is tragic, and is always in the midst of disaster, his presence should be positive. Leaving a broken family without its daughter is too bleak. Companions should have the risk of mortality, but with Rose Tyler the repercussions of her death would make the Doctor's travels questionable: Would he really be a force for good, or simply a harbinger of doom? Since the Doctor is a source of good for young and old, Rose’s death would have been far more destructive that it initially appears.

Yes, I admit it. I wanted Rose to die, but logically, Davies’ decision to strand Rose in another dimension with her family gives the story a bittersweet ending that doesn’t betray the series roots, but doesn’t seem vacuous either.

Personally, I found the Doctor and Rose’s chummy companionship through the season a little irritating – one of my few criticisms of this year’s episodes. They have spent the series treating time travel as a sort of non-stop roller coaster with an ambience of giggles and invulnerability. All of which fits within the story arc, but not as enjoyable to experience as the audience. The end of Doomsday kicks Rose’s jolly jape attitude squarely in the face. Rose now has a new exciting life, but she’s lost the life and the person that was so precious to her - the life she intended to life until she died. It’s a masterful ending, as no matter how one feels about the Rose character, you should enjoy this resolution. If you loved Rose, you will have found her departure respectful and emotive. If you hated Rose, you’ll find the resolution a suitable end to her season character arc and quite probably, deliciously satisfying (she isn’t too happy with her circumstance, that’s for sure).

Downsides to the story? The pacing of Doomsday is a little haphazard. The confrontation between alternate Pete and Jackie is way too long and in the middle of such an epical battle feels somewhat out of place. Stuck right in the middle of the episode’s crescendo, the meeting delivers frustration rather than drama and ultimately, I think the audience loses some empathy for the scene. The epilogue is somewhat a little too contrasting as well. Certainly, this can be justified change of tone for the kids; it extinguishes some of the sadness for the younger audiences who miss Rose. However I think many of the adults will find Catherine Tate’s brief debut a little out of kilter with the episode.

Overall this is quality entertainment. It has great acting from all, a solid story and wonderful dialogue. Tennant and Piper glow with energy and neither the return of the Cyberman or Daleks feels stale. The visual effects remain solid as ever and Gold’s musical score captures each scene appropriately

Favorite scene? Definitely Torchwood executive Yvonne Hartman gut wrenching realization that she was to be upgraded by the Cybermen. To have full awareness about what is about to happen to you, knowing you are about to have your brain ripped out and your humanity stolen makes for horrifying situation. That scene was possibly the most chilling of the series.

Doomsday is a fantastic epical finale that actually tops the last series' fantastic epical finale. Quite how Series 3 fantastic epical finale will continue this upward trend in the fantastic epical finale category is very much beyond me - but I look forward to see them trying.