Army of Ghosts/DoomsdayBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

And so to ‘Army of Ghosts’/‘Doomsday’, the season finale, Rose’s final story, and an epic battle between two of the Doctor’s greatest foes. After the ghastly mess that was ‘Bad Wolf’/‘The Parting of the Ways’, I approached the story with caution, albeit with optimism based on my conviction that Davies’ writing has, for the most part, improved massively during Season Two. Things start well, with an ominous voiceover from Rose as she tells the audience, “Then came the army of ghosts. Then came Torchwood and the war”, an opening full of promise that, happily, is largely fulfilled.

Having secured critical and popular success for the series, ‘Army of Ghosts’/‘Doomsday’ sees Russell T. Davies listen to the fan inside him and provides a story that is almost pure fanwank. For the first time in Doctor Who’s history we get a battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen, with references to Skaro, hitherto unmentioned in the new series. As the press noted, casual viewers might think that this sort of thing happened on numerous occasions, whereas in fact in the entire history of the series it has only happened outside of fan-fiction in Terrance Dicks’ Doctor Who stage play ‘The Ultimate Adventure’, and in Dan Abnett’s Doctor Who Magazine short story ‘Heliotrope Bouquet’. The story is also peppered with less obvious nods to the past: the Doctor mentions the Eternals, as well as Arcadia, the setting of Peter Darvill-Evans’ New Adventure ‘Deceit’. The ending, which sees an army of Daleks pulled through a small portal by an irresistible force, feels like homage to the Peter Cushing movie ‘Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD’. We even get a Cyberman overcoming its conditioning and fighting its own kind, something only previously seen in the Doctor Who comic strips featuring Cyberleader Kroton.

Inevitably, the war between the Daleks and the Cybermen is the main draw of ‘Army of Ghosts’/‘Doomsday’, despite the departure of Rose. Some controversy has been generated by the fact that not only are the Cybermen soundly thrashed by the Daleks, but they don’t even manage to scratch a single one of them; personally, I have no issues with this. The Daleks have always been portrayed as more technologically advanced than the Cybermen, which have often been depicted as desperate scavengers on the verge of extinction, and lest we forget these are not the Mondasians of old but a new breed of Cybermen from a contemporary parallel Earth. This has the benefit of allowing Davies to up the stakes mid-way through the story; the appearance of the Cybermen in this story was well-signposted in advance, but their mass invasion of Earth makes for an impressive and awesome threat, as the Doctor grimly notes, “It’s not an invasion, it’s too late for that. It’s a victory.” And yet just as the odds seem overwhelming, Davies increases the sense of menace as the Void Ship opens at the end of ‘Army of Ghosts’ and four Daleks appear from within. I had read enough speculation prior to watching the episode to be expecting this, but it still makes for a fantastic cliffhanger, the tension building rapidly as the Doctor puzzles that the sphere is beyond the Cybermen’s technological abilities and the Cyber Leader informs him, “The sphere is not ours”, prompting the alarmed, “Then what’s inside it?”

With the Daleks unleashed, Davies then gets to showcase the differences between them nicely; on the one hand we have the ruthlessly logical Cybermen, who suggest an alliance with the Daleks, with the cringe-worthy line, “Together we could upgrade the universe!” and who subsequently side briefly with the humans and the Doctor when faced with a more powerful mutual threat once the Daleks refuse. On the other hand we have the arrogant, xenophobic Daleks, responding to the Cyber Leader’s, “You have declared war on the Cybermen” with the brilliantly withering, “This is not war. This is pest control!” The Daleks exude malevolence here in a way that they didn’t in ‘Bad Wolf’/‘The Parting of the Ways’, the Cult of Skaro replacing the boringly mad Emperor in that story and presenting a ruthless and cunning side to them that harkens back to the sixties. The Cult of Skaro itself is an interesting idea, and the revelation of what the Genesis Ark actually is, is a nice twist, as the Doctor realizes with horror that it is a prison ship containing millions of Daleks. Happily, Dalek Khan escapes, more easily leaving the way open for a return than the seemingly final destruction of the Daleks in ‘Bad Wolf’/‘The Parting of the Ways’ did.

‘Army of Ghosts’/‘Doomsday’ also sees the first full appearance of Torchwood after numerous mentions throughout the series, and this too works well, as it turns out that the organization is full of roaring eccentrics, dreaming of empire and clapping when the Doctor comes out of the TARDIS. After the ghastly denouement of the Bad Wolf subplot in Season One, this comes as a considerable relief. The especially eccentric Yvonne Hartman, a genuinely likeable character who is awestruck when she sees the TARDIS and can’t resist showing off when the Doctor arrives, heads Torchwood. She obviously wants to learn from him more than she wants him prisoner, and Singh is equally honored to meet him.

For the most part, ‘Army of Ghosts’/‘Doomsday’ thus works extremely well. We get a nice glimpse of an alien planet, and the build-up of tension in ‘Army of Ghosts’ is superb, with the Sphere in particularly proving very ominous. Despite this, there are inevitable flaws, albeit a world away from the plot holes and deus ex machina ending of the previous season finale. The brief examination of how humanity has reacted to the ghosts results in Davies’ trademark cultural references, which are more welcome than the reality television references in ‘Bad Wolf’ only by virtue of being far less intrusive. The specially-filmed Eastenders scene is ghastly, as is the clip of somebody declaring their love for a ghost on Trisha. Disturbingly, this is probably very realistic. Mercifully, this is quickly passed by. The Doctor’s means of disposing of the Daleks and the Cybermen is a bit suspicious too; although it works reasonably well in principle, it takes a suspiciously short amount of time for millions of Daleks and Cybermen to be sucked through a portal the size of a barn door, and as some critics have already pointed out, some of the Cybermen are from this universe. Fortunately, series veteran Graeme Harper does a fine job of directing the episode, the only real let down being the diabolical close-up of the Hartman Cyberman’s eye leaking a tear of hydraulic fluid. Even Murray Gold’s typically pompous and intrusive score is tolerable during moments of drama, although smears his usual aural syrup over everything else, especially the ending.

‘Army of Ghosts’/‘Doomsday’ also seemingly marks the departure with Rose of the series’ regular supporting cast, and they all get a pretty good final outing. Camille Coduri’s largely appalling performance as Jackie has markedly improved during Season Two, and her character gets some great moments here, especially when she plays comic foil to the Doctor. The scene in which he introduces “Rose” to Yvonne and explains, “Just last week she looked into the heart of the TARDIS and aged fifty-seven years” is particularly amusing, largely because of her expression of indignation, and despite my antipathy towards the character, the happy ending for Jackie and Pete is quite touching. Their initial meeting/reunion is great; despite knowing that they are facing parallel versions of their lost partners rather than they real thing, they can’t resist each other. Mickey too gets a final appearance, having become a real hero in the ongoing war against the Cybermen. After everything he’s been through, it’s nice to see signs of genuine friendship and respect between the Doctor and him, and I can’t object in any way to the fact that they all get a happy ending and a new start on the parallel Earth.

As for the Doctor, David Tennant gives his best performance in the role to date, helped considerably by Davies’ scripts. He is immediately concerned about the ghosts, ominously telling Jackie and Rose, “They’re pressing themselves into the surface of the world. But a footprint doesn’t look like a boot”, and proactively tracking their source of the manifestation. His handling of Yvonne is great, as he bluffs her into canceling the next ghost shift by deciding to sit back and “watch the fireworks”, rattling hr enough to decide, “I suppose it makes sense to get as much intelligence as possible”. The Doctor also gets some great, genuinely funny lines, most notably his response to Rose’s, “Doctor, they’ve got guns”, which is the magnificent, “And I haven’t. They can shoot me dead, but the moral high ground is mine”. This year, he saves the day, not Rose, devising a means of getting rid of the Daleks and the Cybermen, saving both Earths and repairing the breach in the universes. His “Who you gonna call?” bit is deeply irritating, but this is a brief aberration here rather than just one of many irritating moments. Notably, Tennant actually gets to act properly here, looking horrified when the Doctor realizes, “This world’s colliding with another. I think I know which one.” When the Doctor first sees the Daleks, he doesn’t comment at all, his expression alone conveying his horror.

And finally there’s Rose. Having been hugely impressed with Billie Piper’s performance in Season One, I’ve become increasingly bored with her character’s lovesick moping in Season Two and frankly am glad to see her depart. Nevertheless, she has generally been great companion material, and she gets plenty to do here, penetrating Torchwood’s security with brief success, and standing up to the Daleks, explaining how she destroyed the Emperor. Her opening monologue informs us, “This is the story of how I died”, building on hints laid down in ‘The Impossible Planet’/‘The Satan Pit’, but I didn’t believe it for one minute, and it does indeed prove to be a con. Nevertheless, having nearly sacrificed herself to exile in the void in order to keep the rift open until all of the Daleks and Cybermen have gone, she’s firmly isolated the Doctor once and for all when he permanently (I hope) seals the breach between the universes. Her final goodbye to the Doctor is cloying, but hardly unexpected; after several episodes of avoiding the subject, she finally blurts out, “I love you”. Mercifully the Doctor disappears before he can reciprocate.

With Rose gone, the Doctor ends the series looking tearful and morose in the console room. Wisely, Davies provides a coda that quickly snaps the Doctor out of his reverie, as he finds a new mystery facing him in the TARDIS. Unwisely, it involves Catherine bloody Tate. Merry Christmas.