Tooth and ClawBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 August 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

There are a lot of little details in “Tooth and Claw” that ought to have been cut somewhere. Too much of the author’s personal politics and too much pop culture knowledge projected onto the Doctor really grate, as no doubt they’re intended to. In other words, I think Mr. Davies and some of the other writers enjoy taking jabs at the fans. The Doctor seems less like a mysterious alien and more like a teenager be-bopping around Earth’s history, listening to pop music and indulging in movies. These little asides never really come across as authentic character moments for the Doctor that we’ve been watching for 40 years now.

However, regardless of that, the episode itself is quite good overall. Despite the fact that I’m tired of RTD’s writing style, and despite the fact that this is his sixth episode in a row, for the most part he’s done a good job this time around and deserves credit for it.

“Tooth and Claw” is in many ways a very traditional monster tale with many familiar elements. There’s the old mansion out on the lonely moors, with the local legend of a monster that turns out to actually exist. True to form the monster is nearly indestructible, unaffected by bullets but allergic to a certain herb. The monster is of course is given the typical Doctor Who treatment in that it is not supernatural, but is an alien life form that crashed on Earth hundreds of years before the story takes place. The book that the Doctor finds in the library details the arrival, and the host in the cage tells Rose that he’s “so far from home”.

The idea of an alien werewolf isn’t actually new. The Eighth Doctor novel “Kursaal” introduced the Jax, a virus that migrates from host to host, and appears early on as a werewolf. The werewolf in “Tooth and Claw” could just as easily be one of the same creatures, though it’s been awhile since I read Kursaal so some of the fine details escape me. Regardless of the recycled idea, the CGI werewolf is excellently realized. It’s far more convincing than a man in a suit would have been, and is made very effective by being largely kept in the shadows of a dark house and by only being seen for brief moments. And it’s not just a mindless killer, but an intelligent alien with a plan to take over the British Empire by migrating into Queen Victoria. Presumably the monks are all for the wolf taking over, or else they’d just have killed Victoria on sight rather than set a trap. Perhaps they think that they will be able to exercise the same amount of control over the wolf once it possesses Victoria as they do over the current human host, and thereby rule the British empire.

The monks are effective villains, but the martial arts are silly. Since when do Scottish monks in the 18th century know kung-fu? Their disappearance at the end of the episode ought to have been at least addressed, although it’s easy enough to surmise that with Father Angelo and the wolf dead, the jig was up and they figured that they had better leg it out of Dodge. I expect Victoria had them hunted down later and punished for their crimes. Father Angelo is only around for half the episode, but he’s a creepy villain with his quick reflexes and glaring eyes.

Queen Victoria is treated quite well by the script, and well acted by Pauline Collins. It’s not unusual for someone to play multiple roles over time in Doctor Who, but isn’t it enjoyable to have someone return after almost forty years? How many programs are still around after that length of time? It speaks well of the Doctor Who formula that it allows such longevity. Victoria is a well-rounded character, displaying good humor, wit, grief and a good measure of determination and spirit. I was cheering her on when she shot Father Angelo dead. Her grief over Albert’s death is touching, and seemed to resonate with the Doctor as well, given his silence and facial expressions during that conversation. Victoria is also used well in the story, being not only the ‘guest historical celebrity’ of the week, but also essential to the plot. The actions of the monks are motivated by their desire to assassinate Victoria and take the throne. Victoria is the voice of incredulity as well, questioning the Doctor and his lifestyle, and outright condemning it in the end. She rewards the Doctor and Rose for their actions and bravery, and then banishes them for their cavalier attitude to life and danger. Brilliant. She also is open minded enough not to rationalize away the werewolf attack, but to found Torchwood as an institute to investigate and defend Great Britain from paranormal dangers. It’s an altogether satisfying use of the character, thoroughly justifying her inclusion in the story.

The humor works sometimes. The bumpy landing in the highlands one hundred years off target is amusing, as is the Doctor’s sudden switch to a Scottish accent (Tennant’s real accent) and adoption of “James McCrimmon” as his alias. Rose’s attempts to get Victoria to say “we are not amused” grow old rather quickly though. The unavoidable gay joke is highly offensive, as well as quite honestly being a pitiful excuse for not noticing problems with the household staff. “Your wife’s away, your servants are bald and athletic. I just thought you were happy.” The wife’s away, forget marital fidelity, gay orgies everyone. It’s smut, and it’s not funny, it’s disgusting. I’m not British, but the mockery of the Royal Family at the end also disgusted me, as did the smug dismissal of Margaret Thatcher. No respect for anyone, eh Russell?

The Doctor and Rose are gelling as a team, though I think Rose worked better with the 9th Doctor than the 10th. Piper and Tennant seem like a couple of kids on a lark, laughing and irreverently mocking anything they feel like (rather like RTD), and it gets old fast. Rose in particular is becoming an annoyance. I don’t know what’s happened to her since last year, when she was such a great character. Much has been said about her attempts to get Victoria to say ‘we are not amused’ and so I won’t belabor the point, but if I were traveling in time and met a famous historical figure, I’d be trying to get to know them, not poking fun at them. It does make Rose look quite foolish, which may be the point. However she does display quite a bit more character and moral fiber when she is talking to the host and learning about the werewolf. She also shows some initiative and leadership when she leads the chained prisoners to pull free of the wall and escape the cellar as the wolf transforms.

I’m hesitant to compare David Tennant to either Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton, because I don’t think he’s anywhere near the level of those two actors, but his character seems to draw attributes from both. He’s energetic, enthusiastic and suitably eccentric. Whereas the anti-establishment attitude of the Doctor goes back all the way to Hartnell, it’s far too overt coming from the word processor of RTD and the mouth of David Tennant. Subtlety is the key. The Doctor’s rapid intellect is demonstrated in the library when he works out the trap inside a trap that Albert set up years earlier. His energy is apparent when he’s running down hallways and trying to spring the trap for the wolf. He’s sombre when listening to Victoria speak of her grief over her dead husband. He displays wonderful wide-eyed wonder at the werewolf when he gets his first view of it. It’s an excellent performance.

In short, “Tooth and Claw” is a rather traditional monster story adapted to the Doctor Who framework. It is very enjoyable, and I wish all of Russell Davies’ efforts were at this level. A good solid episode.





The Girl in the FireplaceBookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 June 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

I have to admit that I enjoyed this episode more than I thought I would. On the surface, it’s a mix of absurd story ideas. A love story for the Doctor is going to struggle against long odds just to be acceptable or believable, especially with the limited development time available in the 45 minute format.

And “a spaceship from the 51st century stalking a woman from the 18th” is certainly an inventive idea, but any attempt to explain why that is happening is going to strain credulity, even in a Doctor Who context.

Let’s start with the Doctor/Madame du Pompadour romance. I’ll be the first to admit that Sophia Myles is stunningly beautiful, and would no doubt turn the head of just about any red-blooded man who noticed her. She’s also playing a character that was quite accomplished and intelligent in real life, and her performance brings that out fairly well in the limited time available. That being said, the Doctor isn’t normally given to noticing anyone, and indeed it’s possible to argue that the attraction in this story is one-sided. The advances and flirting certainly all come from Reinette, and the lengths that the Doctor is willing to go to in order to save her life and protect history (since history tells us that Madame du Pompadour did not die at the hands of clockwork robots) are perhaps no more than he would have done for anyone else.

The time needed for a genuine relationship to develop is the crucial missing element in the story, both for the Doctor and Reinette. At best she enjoys either flirting or toying with the Doctor, and he lets himself be pulled along perhaps by the sheer novelty of it all. Certainly he seems to treat her kiss as something to be proud of because of who it was that kissed him. “I’ve just snogged Madame du Pompadour!” he says exultantly, after first listing her accomplishments. As for her motives for kissing the Doctor when she’d only met him twice as a child, who can say? It certainly doesn’t make much sense in the context of the story. To be honest, it makes her look rather easy. That’s not a character trait to admire. At least when she becomes involved with the King she’s sleeping her way to the top, though that too is hardly admirable.

In essence what we have is not so much a love story as it is the story of Reinette perhaps trying to hold on to the mystery of this man who keeps appearing in her life. I’m just trying to explain what’s on screen. We’re told it’s a love story, but the events that are acted out for us don’t support that description. There’s no time for love to develop, and there’s no depth to the relationship. Perhaps Reinette hopes that a good kiss and some flirtation will entice the “Fireplace Man” to remain longer so that she can learn more about him. After all it’s worked on other men in her life. This theory holds at least until the point the Doctor suddenly gains the ability to read minds and has his read in return. There certainly appears to be a bit more genuine affection in the final scenes where Reinette tells the Doctor about the one remaining link back to the spacecraft. The two seem very relaxed and happy in each others company, and the Doctor’s sadness at Reinette’s death is certainly heartfelt. Once he opened the letter and knew that she had never seen him again, going back to visit her in the TARDIS became impossible.

So where did this ability to read minds come from? We’ve never seen it before, though I admit it’s plausible given the Doctor’s limited use of telepathy in the past. Susan displayed some talent for telepathy, the Master was able to hypnotize rather easily, and Time Lords are supposed to enjoy telepathy among themselves, so it’s not inconceivable that the Doctor suddenly has the ability to mind-meld with a human. It’s just highly convenient as a plot device.

It’s so highly convenient that I’m tempted to be really irritated at the sudden appearance of the Doctor’s new ability, but I’ll let it go. Convenient or not, it’s certainly a shortcut around the time limitations of the episode and suddenly the Doctor and Reinette are intimately acquainted. Just how intimately acquainted depends on whether the ‘dance’ metaphor from last season still refers to sex and whether the Doctor went along for the ride. You can read it either way. If you like the Doctor as a cosmic Casanova who beds attractive women he barely knows while he’s supposed to be in love with Rose, you can read events one way. If you prefer a more virtuous Time Lord, you can go that route, despite the obvious intent of the author.

During the final encounter with the robots, the dramatic entrance of the Doctor as a heroic ‘knight on a white stallion” is entirely in keeping with the self-sacrificial nature of the character, though his abandonment of Mickey and Rose is hard to explain. He saves Reinette’s life, but (as far as he knows) strands himself in 17th century France, and strands his traveling companions in a 51st century spaceship with no means of returning home. When he asks Rose, “how long did you wait?” it doesn’t really make sense. Neither she nor Mickey can fly the TARDIS, and the Doctor is surely aware of that. What else could they do but wait? Perhaps it’s just a case of the Doctor trying to save face and mend hurt feelings.

Moving right along, there’s a lot less to say about the clockwork robots, proving yet again that this series of Doctor Who frequently puts character above plot, which is detrimental to the story far too often. Plot holes are papered over with sentiment while the writer hopes the audience won’t notice or won’t care. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that the attempt is successful in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, though in all honestly I must confess that the story is crazy. As a means of tying the spacecraft and France together, we have repair robots who create time windows and travel back in time to find the person their ship is named after, so that they can use her brain to repair the main computer, but only when she’s the same age as the spaceship. It’s so off-the-wall and creative that I’m willing to enjoy the idea tremendously and buy right into the premise.

The robots themselves are inventive, from their mannequin-like period dress and masks, to the clockwork-filled clear heads underneath. Having the first one that we encounter hiding under a child’s bed is just a wonderful conceit.

I have to address the issue of ‘self-awareness’ in the new series of Doctor Who. I would define this as actions or dialog which pulls me out of the story and reminds me that yes, I am watching a TV program. This is frequently a failing of Russel Davies scripts, but it crops up here as well. “The Doctor and the monsters,” Reinette says at one point. “It seems you cannot have one without the other.” And with that meta-textual line my suspension of disbelief is shattered and I’m thinking about Doctor Who the program rather than remaining engaged in the story. Any time that someone says “Doctor Who?” it does the same thing. And it’s very annoying.

There are other things to like about this story apart from the Doctor/Reinette relationship and the robots. It’s Mickey’s first trip in the TARDIS, and his enthusiasm is wonderful to watch. The fact that he and Rose get along with no hint of Rose’s usual jealous streak is a breath of fresh air. I’m sick of Rose’s jealously and tired of the character for that matter. It just seems like her story was told last year, and there’s not really anything new to say about her. It’s a lot like Charley Pollard, whose story came to a good conclusion in “Neverland” and then the character seemed to stagnate. Rose has been irritating in “New Earth”, “Tooth and Claw”, and especially in “School Reunion” where the claws came out with Sarah Jane. She’s much better here, and I hope continues to do well in future. As of this writing I haven’t seen any stories beyond “The Girl in the Fireplace”, so I don’t know how the character develops over the remainder of the season.

Some of the dialog is almost poetic. References to “The slow path” to describe linear time, or Reinette’s phrase “In your world there are rooms where the days of my life are pressed together like the pages of a book” are wonderful to hear.

Overall, the story has an appeal that transcends the crazy premise, but it never lives up to the billing as ‘a love story for the Doctor’. But it is inventive, it’s different and it’s sincere, which sets it apart and elevates it above much of the new series. It’s well worth the time to watch it.





New EarthBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 17 October 2006 - Reviewed by Jordan Wilson

“Oh my God! I’m a chav!”

Notes: Unless intuitively obvious or otherwise noted, what follows is opinion; as the ‘in my humble opinion…’ tag rapidly grows tedious. Some spoilers follow.

There’s no messing about. Doctor Who: New Earth is the first in the 2006 thirteen-part run of 45-minute episodes comprising Series 2. In the fleeting and welcome pre-credits montage, the latest Doctor (David Tennant) fires up his TARDIS. This is juxtaposed with shots of companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) bidding au revoir (?) to her loved ones – all two of them: Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler (Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri). And then our two travelers are off, “further then we’ve ever gone before” promises the Time Lord. What ensues is a sequel of sorts to The End of the World (2005), and arguably one of writer Russell T. Davies’ strongest entries to date. It is, unsurprisingly, hurriedly-paced, effectively injecting the viewer with their weekly ‘hit’ of Doctor Who. By the outcome, one might very well feel visually fatigued. Indeed, largely due to this, New Earth feels like a mid-series story. There is no pause for an extended celebratory re-introduction, as the brisk opener readily attests.

In reciprocation to a mysterious message, from a familiar Face (voiced by Struan Rodger), our protagonists materialize in a distant and decidedly Welsh future, after the year five billion. There, they must contend with two primary plots, touchy-feely ‘zombies’, and various other story elements. The colloquialism ‘bursting at the seams’ springs to mind. Effectively, this is also Rose’s first televised visit to an alien planet (see suggested by Boom Town, 2005). By this point, I had almost forgotten that they existed in the Doctor Who universe.

Plot A, if you will, pertains to (at least) a trio of cats dressed as nuns. Go figure. In their clinic, the Sisters of Plentitude subject home-grown human vegetables to various interstellar illnesses and diseases, so as to devise illicit cures for their genuine patient population. Cue some old-school self-righteous indignation from the Doctor. Plot B concerns the return of another familiar character, Lady Cassandra [O’Brien] (Zoë Wanamaker), who is out for revenge (well… money). Her method? Possessing Rose’s body! During the course of the show, we witness Cassandra’s ever-changing form; she switches between human, a “bitchy trampoline”, an ethereal body-swapping vapour, and a mind-stealing entity. In the previous series, I felt Piper’s acting was very sincere and plausible (in stark contrast to the Doctor and his universe). Here, she impresses us further; with her depiction of “Cassandrose”1 (“I’m a chav!”) – suggestive of a fairly broad range. This extends to some amusing scenarios, although unfortunate lines akin to “it’s like living inside a bouncy castle” (and “Oh, baby! I’m beating out a samba!”) will, undoubtedly, remind avid viewers who penned the screenplay. Nonetheless, Piper’s performance is a highlight of this week’s episode. Her depiction of Rose is circumscribed to the very first few scenes, where – aside from an amusing elevator incident – she summarizes for us that she loves universe-trotting with her companion.

Wanamaker is also on form, although her Cassandra appears somewhat more ‘on the attack’ than interpreted previously, largely due to the dialogue. Referring to Rose as “that dirty blonde assassin” implies either warped rationalization, or Davies’ poor recollection of his own screenplays – the Doctor was the “blonde assassain” in The End of the World. Arguably, Rose is guilty by association, a scapegoat; as Cassandra does not recognize the “new new” Doctor.

Tennant is promising. As with the untitled Children in Need special and The Christmas Invasion (2005), my primary, trivial, criticism at this point in time, is that I find his occasionally-high-pitched voice irritating. Here, he is as quirky and eccentric as his previous outings implied; and morally self-righteous (“HOW MANY?!”) and self-mythologizing (“There is no higher authority”). I do not care for this “lonely God” business, though. Unfortunately, his outraged scenes do not develop the traditional ‘animal experimentation’ debate. From the given information, the moral of the story is ‘don’t keep zombies in cells in your basement detained via a simple and collective open-close switch’. Or something. However, as I noted in my Christmas review, this ‘superficial’ presentation of moral issues does allow the individual viewer to interpret them as he/she pleases. Regardless, a third fine and enjoyable performance from Tennant.

Unfortunately, our introduction to the detained ‘zombies’ heralds the onset of major absurdities in plotting. For instance, Cassandra no longer requires her “psychograft” for body-swapping. Furthermore, the Doctor’s solution to The Night of the Living Dead, as you will see, is blatantly impractical (whereas, of course, the rest of Doctor Who is not…). Nonetheless, it is all entertaining and engaging, with fine performances from the primary dramatis personae, and the supporting cast: Cassandra’s Welsh sidekick Chip (Sean Gallagher); and the Sisters Matron Casp, Sister Jatt, and Novice Hame (respectively: Dona Croll, Adjoa Andoh, and Anna Hope). As are the petrifold regression-ailed Duke of Manhattan and bespectacled Frau Clovis (Michael Fitzgerald and Lucy Robinson). James Hawes directs.

Is this production suitable for you?

The verdict: 3/5. Relentless, surreal, well-acted, engaging, and sometimes amusing; New Earth requires the suspension of disbelief. Not perfect, but another fun romp from the regular writer. An appropriate series-starter.

Target audience(s): General. Based upon my experiences, it is light-hearted and watchable enough for most viewers.

Certificate recommendation: U-PG. ‘Zombies’. A few minor sexual allusions children will overlook. Nothing major, and given today’s desensitized audiences, I feel PG is probably pushing it. Colourful atmosphere. (Being cheeky, that probably equates with an ‘18’ from the BBFC, who have not been desensitized since the Fifties… [But, then I am stereotyping somewhat])





Army of Ghosts/DoomsdayBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - Reviewed by James Tricker

RTD goes from the ridiculous (Love and Monsters) to the sublime as only he can in this wonderfully emotional and dramatic season finale which successfully executed the task of writing out the Tyler family, thus bringing to a close both their and Mickey’s involvement with the show, doing justice to the massive contribution Billie Piper has made to new Who and well and truly wiping the slate clean for the show’s future. That RTD had planned a happy ending for the Tylers and had decided not to kill off Rose wasn’t in doubt for me save of course that aside from Rose’s presumed death in the present she feels, due to the intensity of her love for the timelord who took her away from her shop and humdrum life and showed her so much, that she has indeed “died” due to her permanent separation from him, and if as we now know Sarah’s life was ripped apart how much more Rose’s ; nevertheless, she has changed, she has the capacity to move on and not to be the kind of sorrowful figure feared by Jackie in that illuminating exchange with her daughter in the Tardis during the first instalment.

If we saw a slightly more restrained and seasoned Graeme Harper in the Cyberman two parter, flashes of the old magic resurfaced in Army of Ghosts and positively burst through in Doomsday ; I didn’t think it possible to top the wonderful climax to the first instalment culminating in the re-appearance of the Daleks, yet the sequence in Doomsday when the Doctor and Rose open the void and Rose has to use her bodyweight to get the lever back online did just that…it was simply jaw-dropping, one of the most exciting, dramatic, yet gut-wrenchingly moving scenes ever as both she and the Doctor scream as she is about to be sucked into the void, only to be saved at the very last moment by Pete. The expressions on Tennant and Piper’s faces, that glance by Rose as she realises what’s about to happen- astonishing. Indeed was it just me or were there parallels with Androzani here as Pete seems to re-appear at the same critical moment as Davison re-appeared to save Peri and watching this whole climatic mayhem unfold I got that same sense of sheer amazement at the intensity of the drama that I did with that superb story from 1984.Also amazing were the scenes of the immediate aftermath as Rose’s realisation that there is no way back causes her to crumble completely, and the expression on Tennant’s face as he confronts his loneliness is every bit as effective as Pertwee’s reaction to losing Jo at the end of the Green Death. Top marks for the acting here.

But if we may return to Army of Ghosts, as this is a combined review! Firstly may I say how disappointed I am by the lack of adequate laundry facilities aboard the Tardis and, come to think of it, in the Universe at large that force a young girl who’s travelled further than we can only imagine to bring her dirty washing back for Mum to do. What a flaming cheek as they used to say. It was a nice idea that the human race is being softened up into thinking that the ghosts of loved ones are returning little realising that a vast invasion force is poised to strike. I thought Derek’s cameo could have been, well, not quite as much of a cameo as it was but never mind. What we did see more of was Torchwood and again I do like the idea that behind the modern facade embodied in Yvonne “I’m a people person” Hartman lurks a very unmodern imperialist outfit with dreams of restoring the British Empire to its former glories. Quite bold stuff that in this politically correct age and equally well thought out is the ultimate vision of globalisation offered by the Cybermen who will remove sex, class, creed, colour and the like to create complete and lasting uniformity but at the price of being upgraded. Army of Ghosts didn’t disappoint and we were treated to some sparkling exchanges between the Doctor and Jackie who assumes, and very well I thought, the role of companion whilst Rose remains in the Tardis. When the Doctor explains that Jackie’s ankle’s going and she replies “I’ll tell you where my ankle’s going!” this is just one of several genuinely funny exchanges between the pair…funny without grating. As for the appearance of Torchwood itself, I was perhaps expecting a little more as what we assume to be one of the main areas of the building resembles an overblown warehouse with conveniently placed objects of antiquity and so on.

I have already touched on the superb climatic revelation of the Daleks coming as it did hot on the heels of the apparently “game set and match to us” takeover by the Cybermen as the true identity of the ghost army is revealed. That leads us into Doomsday, but, boys and girls, if you want to do the Cybermen and Dalek together thing again, think hard. Because the Daleks come across as so superior in all respects- intellect, firepower, the lot- that the Cybermen are made out, unintentionally I assume, to be rather a laughing stock at times, which isn’t particularly fair given that the gas chamber parallels to parts of the Cyberman two parter were genuinely chilling. The offer of an alliance is swiftly rejected and the only thing the Cybermen can offer is an insult about lack of elegance. When the Dalek says “this isn’t war, it’s pest control” and that the only thing the Cybermen are better at is dying I’m afraid that is spot on but that’s not the fault of this story, this is as many will know a long running problem with the Cybermen and here they are, quite frankly, irrelevant to the Daleks. Of far more interest is the exchanges between Rose and the Daleks wherein Rose displays a level of sinister maturity that must have unnerved even them. Full marks to RTD for again portraying the Daleks correctly as ruthless, powerful killers even if sadly this has the side effect of downgrading the Cyberman menace. Even the latter’s upgrade programme goes wrong as a cybernised Yvonne Hartman (hitherto played well by Tracey-Ann Oberman, bar her melodramatic “ I did my duty” nonsense) destroys those Cybermen who are trying to leg it back into the parallel world. I’ll give RTD the benefit of the doubt on that (just) as those at Torchwood are supposed to be of greater intellect than us mere mortals so clearly the upgrade didn’t work as well on her.

It isn’t just for the Doctor/ Rose scene at the levers to which I’ve already referred that make Doomsday such compelling viewing. There will be those gnashing their teeth and cursing RTD for spending too little time exploring the intriguing allusion to the Knights Templar story with a secret order of Daleks, the guardians of the Genesis Arc, made with Timelord technology, in favour of tying up loose ends but boy how one of those loose ends was wonderfully tied up with the Pete and Jackie reunion in the smoke-filled corridor. Wonderful dialogue and acting there. And the beach scene at the end was a completely justifiable acknowledgement of the impact Billie Piper has made on the show. She deserved a fitting finale and she got it. This was a tear-jerker that surpassed the latter part of the Parting of the Ways by some way. The trouble is with these sorts of RTD stories that if you stop and think long enough they have a tendency to unravel, but if you let yourself be carried away by the emotional rollercoaster of it all they’ll leave their mark for sure. Which this one certainly did.

And so to the season overall. As with the previous one, we have had some ups and downs with the general standard maintained as high. I think Billie Piper’s decision to quit was absolutely right- and she needed to go so that the show could move on- but she stayed long enough to leave her mark as one of the most successful companions in the show’s history. She established a great rapport with Doctors 9 and 10 and whilst the intensity of her feelings for the Doctor and the whole Tyler baggage that came with her has been too much for some it has, like it or not, been a factor in the successful restoration of the show’s current popularity. To my mind we have had six stand-out episodes ( Tooth and Claw, Girl In the Fireplace, Impossible Planet two parter and Army of Ghosts two parter), some solidly enjoyable episodes ( School Reunion, Cyberman two parter, Fear Her) some average fayre (New Earth, Idiot’s Lantern) and one experimental story which didn’t work for me (whose title I shall not name). But now, as I say, the slate is wiped clean; it’s stating the obvious I know but season three carries a great weight of responsibility on its shoulders if the show is to have a long-term future, but we have a solid base in the shape of David Tennant who has established himself well in the role even though I still think he is at his best when restrained and inquisitive rather than, erm, overly manic.

Very briefly. I like Catherine Tate a lot but was I alone in feeling a little uneasy over that Christmas story preview? We shall see of course. Oh, and a plea for next season aside from the obvious one of getting out and about a bit to alien worlds. No more “sorry, I’m so sorry” utterances from the Tenth Doctor please. If he says that again, I shall have to instruct a Dalek to remove those words from his vocabulary bank.





Army of Ghosts/DoomsdayBookmark and Share

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 this...in 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.





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.