Army of Ghosts/DoomsdayBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Hayes

In every battle there are casualties. In every war, there are heroes. Heroism means little or nothing, however, unless it is thrown into sharp relief by tragedy and sadness. When the two greatest alien races in the history of Doctor Who come together for the ultimate showdown, it follows that all of these qualities are going to be present for those who are caught in the crossfire – the Doctor, his companion, their friends, family and associates. Planet Earth. The universe.

As Doctor Who fans, we usually tend to judge ‘eras’ of the show more in terms of production personnel, specifically the producers, than the on-screen staff, aside of course from the Doctors. With the climactic Army of Ghosts and Doomsday two-parter, however, we have an epic finale not just to the second series of the new Doctor Who but, despite the Tenth Doctor and the production team all remaining in place, to an era that began back with Rose that wonderful night in March 2005. The ‘Tyler era’, if you will.

Rose is gone, and with her having left it’s hard not to think we have also seen the last of Jackie, Mickey and Pete, for better or for worse. Doctor Who, after a never dull first two years back on air, once again has to reinvent itself, change, adapt and wow us all over again in a whole new world of raised expectations and high definition viewing.

But such things are for the future. What of the present? The most mouth-watering of scenarios, one many fans have dreamed of and speculated about but until now not even the maddest of mad Big Finish writers dared try and put together – Daleks versus Cybermen.

It’s hard not to feel lifted, elated even by that cliffhanger at the end of the first episode. It’s a great moment, even if you knew or had guessed what was inside that Voidship – I mean, it’s the Daleks, for goodness sake! Arriving to kick some Cyber backside! How could that not be exciting? One of those real punch-the-air moments akin to, say, Earthshock episode one. This show can be deep, it can be thought-provoking and it can have moments of calm reflection, but we all know that it’s the moments like these that burn themselves onto children’s brains and the collective popular consciousness, and make our little fanboy chests swell with pride and excitement.

Personally, this excitement was added to by the thought of ‘Hurrah! A proper enemy is arriving!’ Because, as I think I have said before, I deeply dislike the Cybermen. I think they’re frankly a bit rubbish, and they’ve never made an impression on me as any kind of meaningful threat or exciting presence in a storyline – aside possibly from the aforementioned Earthshock – so I was glad to see that the Big Boys had arrived to boot them out of the picture and make bloody war.

Russell T Davies couldn’t resist having the two races throw some insults at each other about who was best. As a serious person trying to write a serious review of the episode I should disapprove strongly of this sort of daft meta business, but given it had me grinning hugely to myself I don’t feel as if I have the right to complain! Seeing the Cybermen hopelessly gunned down by the four Daleks – one Dalek would be enough, don’t forget! – also raised a smile. For those who are fonder of the Cybermen than I it was perhaps disappointing to see them turned into mere cannon-fodder as soon as the Premier League bad guys showed up – even humanity managed to blow one of them to bits, for goodness sake – but with so much to cram into these episodes not every element was ever going to receive the time and space it deserved.

I am, of course, jumping ahead. It wasn’t simply the great meeting of these two Who icons that Russell T Davies had to wrestle with – he had to pick up on and make sense of all the Torchwood references we have been getting all year, and that have driven so many fans half barmy.

Torchwood turns out to be run by Yvonne Hartman, and as my friend Tim pointed out in an e-mail to me immediately after Army of Ghosts was transmitted, it seems the organisation for all its boasts is actually so under-funded it can’t even afford to provide its director with a shirt. What with Yvonne’s jiggling and Rose and Jackie’s efforts in New Earth and Rise of the Cybermen respectively, you do perhaps have to wonder whether the over-arching plot arc or this season has been not in fact the Torchwood Institute but gratuitous cleavage shots.

When not busy thrusting her chest in the direction of anybody who will look, Yvonne is actually quite a good character – not the ice-cold bitch I had been expecting her to be, but actually quite fun and a little scatty, albeit slightly mad and a little obsessive with it. Torchwood itself looks like a cross between the Area 51 set-up from Independence Day and the BBC Television Centre props store circa 1975. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s similar ‘Initiative’ organisation in season four of that programme, you suspect that they simply lacked the money and the scale to be able to make it look as good as it ought to, although the idea of it being hidden in Canary Wharf is quite a clever one.

Less clever, and in fact a rather dubious piece of scripting by Davies, is the idea that this ultra-secret alien-bothering organisation could allow some building works to be going on right in their midst without anybody having the slightest clue that the Cybermen have set up camp down there and are snaffling up Torchwood employees as they head off for their coffee-and-kissing breaks.

Let’s face it, this is an organisation with a security system so slack that not only do they allow any passing cybernetic life form from a parallel universe to sneak in, but they also let Mickey set up shop undercover as a scientist. I was very pleased and not a little surprised by Clarke’s reappearance in Army of Ghosts, incidentally revealed in a nice shot over Doctor Singh’s back by Graeme Harper. Possibly more through luck than judgement – I had even looked at the Radio Times listing before the episode aired and completely missed his name in the credits – I had no idea that Mickey was returning for the grand finale. He lost out somewhat in Doomsday as Pete and Jake also returned to squeeze him out of the plot, and Rose’s departure at the end meant neither he nor Jackie got the farewells to the show they deserved, but proving that he has come a long, long way since the bumbling fool of Rose was perhaps enough.

Even Yvonne got to display a bravery when Doomsday came around – I was actually pretty heartbroken when the poor old Torchwood director was turned into a Cyberman, and it was quite a relief to see that her bloody-minded devotion to Queen and Country had left her with enough marbles rolling around in her head to provide a remarkable convenient blockade to the Cybermen about to ruin the Doctor’s plan. Also rather too convenient was Pete hopping back in the nick-of-time to rescue Rose from being sucked into the void. These niggles leave an uncomfortable sense of corner-cutting that just stops this two-parter from being up there with the very best of Doctor Who, although then again, if you’re going to start pulling adventure fiction apart for nick-of-time rescues then you’re going to bring the whole genre crashing down like a game of ker-plunk.

I wasn’t the only one to be less than thrilled with the rescue, however – poor old Rose herself was also left pretty devastated to be trapped on the wrong side of the void. Rose was always going to get an emotional send-off, and even though the Pete-less Jackie and Jackie-less Pete always seemed likely to end up together from right back in the first Cybermen two-parter of the season, Rose and Mickey ending up trapped in the alternative universe was less expected. In some ways, Rose has ended up with the same life she had before she met the Doctor – a job, Mickey as her boyfriend, her mum…

But she’s gained so much more. Not simply through travelling and experiencing so much of the universe with the Doctor, and learning about how to live a better life from him. Not simply from having a better job because of it all, or finding some sort of inner happiness and peace. But because she has her father back, and the stable nuclear family that you sense she probably always wanted all along. That’s what she was searching for with the Doctor, and why she became so deeply attached to him, and why it was always her personal tragedy that she could never have him. She loved him, but she could never have that fully-rounded life with him.

Nor he her, although it’s doubtful whether he loved her in the same way. He was snatched away – by the fanboy tractor beam, you might speculate! – before he was able to say it. He had to leave her behind for good, in Bad Wolf Bay, over and done with but perhaps finally at some sort of peace.

As with so many endings, however, even when it seems to be so final there is still a glimpse of how life can carry on afterwards, how some future point can pick up the threads. For here, through a coincidence of casting and a young actress seizing her chance to impress the programme’s producers, the future of Doctor Who has been glimpsed like a Watcher preceding a regeneration. Freema Agyeman may have played only a small part in Army of Ghosts, but she has a much bigger role – literally – to perform in the future of the series.

I for one cannot wait to see the future. Especially given the rather fun cliffhanger ending – Catherine Tate? Runaway Bride?

Barmy. But brilliant. As, of course, Doctor Who always is!

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