Archive for the Series 1 Category

1.9 & 1.10 – “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - The Empty Child

The Doctor and Rose find themselves in the middle of the London Blitz, where falling bombs aren’t the scariest thing happening. A young boy in a gas mask has everyone terrified, simply by asking one little question: “Are you my mummy?” It’s up to The Doctor, Rose and their newfound friend, Captain Jack Harkness, to find out exactly what’s going on.

This is one of my absolute favourite two-parters. I love these episodes. If I go all gushy, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, why do I love this story so much?

Well firstly, the writing is excellent. We start off with The Doctor and Rose chasing an object through space. This leads to a brilliant bit of comedy when the TARDIS lands and The Doctor steps out to ask some locals whether anything has fallen out of the sky recently. He’s interrupted by an air raid siren and realises exactly where – and when – he is. The writing throughout both episodes is of a consistently high quality and there are some fantastic lines, especially for The Doctor and Captain Jack.

The plot is solid, too. It centres around a little boy called Jamie, who’s scaring the living daylights out of his “sister” Nancy (who – spoiler alert – turns out to be his mum; I know, it’s all a bit EastEnders) and everyone else who meets him, by asking “Are you my mummy?” He has a gas mask fused to his face and anyone who touches him will become “empty” like he is; masked and doomed to wander listlessly, asking the same question over and over. Somehow, a child’s voice calling: “Mummy? Muuuuuummy?” is even scarier than the most deadly of aliens. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition; how can a child be the cause of such fear? The answer is, yet again, that this is a brilliant piece of writing from Steven Moffat, wonderfully acted by the whole cast.

Florence Hoath is brilliant as the terrified young Nancy. She’s taken it upon herself to look after the city’s homeless and orphaned children, having recently lost her brother Jamie in an air raid. Nancy knows that the scary, “empty child” is Jamie, but her terror whenever he comes close is completely believable. Some actors are able to convey enormous amounts of emotion with just a single look and Hoath manages this when Nancy stares at Jamie, just before she runs away in fear; we can tell that there are hundreds of things she wants to say to him, but can’t bring herself to. We can see that she doesn’t want to fear him, but that she’s horrified by what he’s become. We somehow know that she blames herself for it long before the revelation that she is his mummy. That’s a heck of a lot to convey in just a look, but she manages it and she deserves a mention here.

Nancy is torn between wanting to solve what’s happening and loyalty to her family/fear at the truth coming out. She tells The Doctor that the object that fell from the sky is connected to her brother, but that it’s being guarded by soldiers. Again, Hoath plays this conflict of emotions brilliantly; I can’t stress enough how well acted I think both episodes are by everyone involved.

“The Empty Child” is also the first episode in which we encounter Captain Jack Harkness. I’ve always been a fan of Captain Jack and his debut appearance, dressed in RAF uniform, flirting outrageously with Rose (and anyone else who happens to catch his roving eye) immediately caused him to stand out from other guest stars in previous episodes. It was obvious that this was a character with the capacity to stick around. When we meet Jack, he’s flying what he says is a Chula war ship. A ship he tries – unsuccessfully – to sell to The Doctor. The Doctor eyes Jack with not a small amount of suspicion and in return, Captain Jack mocks his screwdriver. There’s some brilliant writing as the pair peacock it out in front of Rose and it’s the start of a relationship I wish we could see more of. And no, I don’t mean in that sense. Although…

Anyway, back to the plot: The Doctor heads to a hospital close to where the object he was chasing crash-landed. Inside, he meets Doctor Constantine, brilliantly played by Richard Wilson. All of Constantine’s patients have exactly the same physical symptoms – a scar on one hand and a gas mask fused to their face – and all seem to be comatose until Constantine shows The Doctor that they all react simultaneously to loud noises. Constantine explains that Nancy’s brother Jamie was the first patient with these symptoms and that others followed after but, as he’s talking, he begins to morph into one of the “empty” people himself. It’s a genuinely frightening scene, which makes me shudder every time I watch it.

Captain Jack and Rose arrive just in time to rescue The Doctor, where Jack finally admits that his “Chula war ship” is not a war ship at all, but a medical ship. He denies that it could have anything to do with the strange goings on in London but The Doctor isn’t convinced. They don’t have much time to argue, however, as it’s time for the cliff-hanger: The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack are all trapped in a room as the “empty” patients head towards them, arms outstretched, calling for their mummy…

“The Doctor Dances” starts off with another example of the comic writing I love in this two-parter. As the “children” edge closer to the trapped trio, The Doctor yells: “GO TO YOUR ROOM!” It works – if only defeating a Dalek were that easy, eh?! However, as the gang head back to the part of the hospital where Jamie was originally treated, The Doctor realises that they’re in his room. Sure enough, Jamie appears and it’s time to run…

Whilst Jack teleports back to his ship, Rose decides it’s the perfect time to ask The Doctor to dance. Because I don’t know about you, but being chased by a strange, possessed child always unleashes my urge to boogie. The Doctor doesn’t get a chance to break into the Macarena, however, because Jack teleports him and Rose onto his ship. Damn. On board the ship, The Doctor uses Nanogenes to fix a wound he’s picked up along the way.

Back on Terra Firma, Nancy is on her way to where the crashed object is being heavily guarded, having told the children she’s been helping to stay away from her, as it’s her that Jamie wants and they’re no longer safe with her around. Before she gets very far, however, she’s captured by soldiers and it’s not long before we realise that the “empty children” no longer need to touch people to pass on the symptoms; the “virus” is now airborne. Nancy is horrified when she’s left with a soldier who morphs into an empty child, but manages to put him to sleep by singing him a lullaby.

The Doctor, Jack and Rose arrive to rescue Nancy and The Doctor quickly realises that the object he was chasing was in fact the shell of a Chula medical transport. He deduces that the same Nanogenes from Jack’s ship are responsible for the epidemic of “empty children.” When Jamie was killed in the air raid, the Nanogenes tried to repair him. After that, they used him as a template for all humans, hence the gas masks fused to faces and the many people with a sudden mummy-obsession. As the object is opened and the “empty children” converge on the site, The Doctor realises that Jamie’s mind is controlling everyone and that he won’t rest – and therefore the epidemic won’t stop – until Nancy answers his question: “Are you my mummy?” This leads to a poignant scene in which Nancy admits that yes, she is his mummy. The Nanogenes are then able to properly repair Jamie and Nancy can finally remove his gas mask. Once Jamie is “fixed,” The Doctor takes a gamble and sends the Nanogenes to repair everyone else too. And it works, leading to one of Christopher Eccleston’s greatest moments in the role of The Doctor “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once – everybody lives!”

Jack stops a German bomb from falling on the site, capturing it with his ship with the intention of throwing it out into space. We get a nice Bad Wolf reference here; the bomb has “Schlechter Wolf” written on the side of it. Since there was a historical bomb at the site, The Doctor sets the Chula medical transport to explode once everyone is safely out of the way, ensuring that history is correct and that the Nanogenes can’t do any more damage.

And yes, because it says so in the title, right at the end of the episode, The Doctor dances. All together now: “YMCA!”

Where do I start? The comedy between The Doctor and Jack, the brilliant plot, the superb acting, the fantastic use of something so seemingly un-scary to terrify the pants off the viewer…this two-parter has pretty much everything I could ask for from my favourite show. A classic 9/10.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi


1.8 – “Father’s Day”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , on October 26, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - Father's Day

Rose asks The Doctor to take her to the day her father, Pete, was killed. However, when Rose ends up saving his life instead, a paradox is created and suddenly Pete’s life isn’t the only one in danger.

We all know that I enjoy the more emotional episodes of Doctor Who. My soppiness should, by now, be familiar to most readers. And if not: “Hi, I’m Emma and I’m overly sentimental.” *waves*

“Father’s Day” begins with a flashback to Jackie Tyler telling a young Rose about her father. She explains that he was killed in a hit and run accident on the way to a friend’s wedding. We then cut back to the present day and Rose asks The Doctor if she can go to see her father when he was still alive, as he died when she was too young to remember him. We get a glimpse of the Rose I don’t like much when The Doctor asks where this request has come from and Rose feels the need to turn into a sulky teenager about it. But The Doctor is nicer than I am, so he grants her request rather than send her to her room and the duo head back in time to witness Rose’s parents getting married. We get a chance to marvel at Jackie’s poodle perm, before we cut back to the same flashback from earlier, during which Jackie tells her young daughter that she wishes someone had been with Pete when he died. Adult Rose then tells The Doctor that she wants to be that someone. With that in mind, the pair head for the date of the accident: November 7th 1987.

This episode touches on a question many of us have probably asked ourselves at some point; if we could go back in time and save the life of someone we love, would we do it? It sounds like a no-brainer. However, Rose doesn’t say that she wants to save Pete’s life. She simply asks to go back in time so that she can be with him and offer some comfort in his final moments. Billie Piper is emotionally convincing as Rose and The Doctor stand at the roadside. She explains that her father had been running late for the wedding, having been to pick up a wedding gift. You get the feeling of tension as Rose steels herself for what she’s about to witness. The Doctor slips his hand into Rose’s and it’s a nice, yet simple reminder that he genuinely cares for the feelings of his companion. The accident takes place, but Rose can’t bring herself to watch and once her father is lying in the road, she finds herself unable to go to him.

I’m going to interject here to say that whilst I love the emotional content of this episode, there are times when it’s a bit heavy-handed with the dramatic close-ups and slightly scary music. It’s a shame, because that actually detracts from the genuine emotive content. This moment is a case in point; as Rose laments the fact that her father still died alone, there’s a strange close-up of The Doctor’s eyes, along with a dramatic surge in the music and it just feels a bit like a random Doctor Who/generic spy movie mash-up.

Aaaanyway. Rose asks if she can try again. The Doctor takes her back, but warns her not to make a move towards her father until the previous versions of Rose and The Doctor are out of sight, as it’s a “very bad idea” for two versions of them to be in the same place. As the accident is about to unfold, however, Rose realises that she can’t watch her father die again. She dashes into the road and pushes Pete out of the way of the car, saving his life. Whilst Rose is overjoyed and relishes the opportunity to meet her father, The Doctor is furious. He remains silent and deadly – much like a fart – whilst Pete takes Rose and her “boyfriend” back to his place. When The Doctor does speak, it’s to berate Rose. He calls her a “stupid ape” and demands that she hands back her TARDIS key. As he stomps away, we see an overhead shot, coloured red and accompanied by scary music. It’s the second time we’ve seen this happen in this episode and jeepers, could it be a clue that all is not well?! Well, yes, because Rose’s decision to save her father’s life has created a paradox. Rose has caused a “wound in time” and creatures called Reapers are attempting to sterilise it by consuming everyone they see. These monsters are perhaps a little under-explained, but work within the context of the episode.

I really enjoyed the short scene in which Pete and Rose are driving to the church. It’s well acted by both Shaun Dingwall and Billie Piper, as Rose listens to Pete making conversation about his life and begins to realise that her mother has embellished a few facts about the father she never knew. It’s subtly done, which goes some way to making up for the heavy-handed moments from earlier in the episode. I also like the fact that the car that was supposed to kill Pete is seen rounding the corner, narrowly missing Pete’s car, before disappearing into thin air; the driver doomed to repeat this action again and again.

When Jackie arrives at the church and sees Pete with Rose, she believes them to be having an affair. Rose gets an unwelcome insight into her parents’ marriage. I really enjoyed this aspect of the episode and it’s commendable that the writers didn’t fall into the trap of making everything blissful and saccharine between Jackie and Pete. The truth of their tempestuous relationship adds to the drama of the episode.

Meanwhile, after finding that the TARDIS really is just a police box as a result of the paradox, The Doctor rushes to the church and announces that he can restore the TARDIS due to the key still being warm. Next time my car breaks down, I’ll try sitting on my keys…Again, this isn’t as fully explained as it could’ve been, but the focus is on the emotional content in this episode and it delivers on that aspect to the point that you can almost forgive the odd bit of plot weirdness.

The “downtime” whilst The Doctor is working on saving the day gives Pete a chance to speak quietly to Rose. In genuinely touching scenes, he realises that she’s his daughter. The emotional impact grows as Pete begins to ask questions about what he’s like in the future and what kind of a father he is. Rose is unable to answer, having never known him in her lifetime. Later, when Rose tries to invent a childhood with her father that neither of them ever lived, Pete is forced to acknowledge that the man she’s describing isn’t him. He explains that he understands that he was supposed to die in the earlier hit and run and tells Jackie that Rose is an adult version of their baby daughter and that she saved him. As he passes the baby to Rose to hold, it worsens the paradox and the Reapers manage to get into the church. One of the creatures consumes The Doctor and Pete realises that the only way to save everyone now is to sacrifice himself. The scenes in which he says goodbye to Jackie and Rose are genuinely moving.

As Pete is hit by the car, the Reapers disappear and The Doctor – along with everyone else they consumed – is restored. Rose is able to hold the hand of her dying father and say one last goodbye. The episode ends with Jackie recounting that the driver of the car did stop and that there was a young girl who stayed with Pete so that he didn’t die alone. Rose has done what she set out to do.

To be honest, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this episode. I’m sure some fans will be madder than I am about some under-developed moments; sure, there are some plot points that are never fully explained but, as I said at the start, I’m a soppy mare and this episode packs one heck of an emotional punch. For that reason, it’s getting an 8/10. And I’m off to dry my eyes…

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

1.7 – “The Long Game”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , on October 1, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - The Long Game

TARDIS newbie Adam gets his first (and, as it turns out, last) adventure when the gang land on Satellite 5 – a space station broadcasting news to the “Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire.” But all is not what it seems. Any station employee “promoted” to Floor 500 mysteriously disappears and it seems as though humanity is being manipulated by the news being broadcast from the station. Satellite 5’s Editor also seems to have a boss above him, whose managerial skills are definitely “out of this world…”

“The Long Game” poses a question that many Whovians – myself included – have pondered over the years; what if The Doctor picked the wrong companion? Okay, so Adam Mitchell was picked by Rose rather than The Doctor himself, but it only takes one trip in the TARDIS for him to prove that he’s not quite up to scratch. What I love about this concept is that really, in the entirety of time and space, it’s bound to happen eventually. Probably more than once. I mean think about it; people are flawed. You put an average guy – who’s spent a huge portion of his life dreaming about exploring the stars and experiencing time travel – into space and it’s bound to turn his head. It does so with Adam. It literally turns his head; INTO A PORTAL STRAIGHT TO HIS BRAIN!!

I love the idea of the show exploring the concept of a human companion whose motives for travelling with The Doctor aren’t quite as pure as “saving the world.” Adam gets overexcited and does something wrong. Something pretty majorly wrong, maybe, but does that make his character inherently bad? I don’t think so. But of course, his actions give The Doctor a chance to remind us that he really is often the show’s moral compass. Sure, even he makes mistakes, but he has a strong idea of what’s right and wrong and his immediate dismissal of Adam reminds the viewer that The Doctor gives his companions a chance when he takes them away in the TARDIS and that if they blow that chance, there won’t be a second. To put it another way: try to use your adventures in the TARDIS for your own gain and you’ll end up in Coronation Street.

Or something…

Anyway, what about the plot itself?!

Well, Satellite 5 is supposed to be at the heart of a mighty human empire, with a million species all mixed in together. But when The Doctor only spots humans on-board the station, he realises something is wrong. The station’s employees talk in raptures about Floor 500, where the walls are made of gold. Thing is, anyone who goes to Floor 500 is never seen again and The Doctor quickly works out that in this case, when something seems too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. Floor 500 is manned by the station’s sinister “Editor,” played rather brilliantly by Simon Pegg (whose performance reminds me of John Simm’s interpretation of The Master at times and, from me, that’s quite a compliment). Above the Editor (literally) is a creature called “The Mighty Jagrafess of The Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. Or “Max” for short. The concept of the Jagrafess is pretty scary – a creature controlling humanity, enslaving the human race by manipulating the news and creating a climate of fear, destroying anyone who begins to suspect the truth. In many ways, it’s a clever satire on the modern media’s grip over our social prejudices and the Jagrafess does work on some level as a Doctor Who “baddie.” However, it’s basically a slimy mass on a ceiling, with big teeth poking out. There’s not enough interaction for me to be genuinely freaked out by it. Simon Pegg’s Editor is, in my eyes, a better villain than the monster he’s working for.

Possibly scarier than this episode’s actual monster is the idea of people being so entirely controlled by the media and the powers above them that they’re willing to have chips put in their heads that enable them to open up their foreheads, allowing energy beams to send information directly to their brains. Whilst the person doesn’t retain any of the information once the energy link is broken, during the connection, they transmit data to the 600 channels Satellite 5 broadcasts to. It’s a pretty freaky idea and although it’s clearly very powerful technology, it is, as The Doctor says, “the wrong technology.” It’s not only fairly immoral, but open to misuse, as Adam proves when he has a chip installed and, whilst connected to the energy spike, calls home and leaves an answerphone message for himself, hoping to glean knowledge of the future that he can use for his own gain.

Of course, it is Cathica, the character we first see undergoing this “energy spike,” who later ends up saving the day, when she overhears The Doctor talking with the Editor and realises that humanity has been manipulated and controlled for years and that everyone is in great danger. New Who in particular has a habit of allowing The Doctor’s human companions and friends to become heroes and I love that about it. I particularly like that it’s Cathica, a character who is very much a pawn of the old system, who turns against her Editor and his alien boss and ends up saving everyone in the process.

It’s not an easy one for me to call, to be honest. I like the ideas put forward in “The Long Game”, but in spite of brilliant appearances from Simon Pegg and the always great Tamsin Greig, for me it doesn’t entirely live up to its possibilities. That said, the episode does a good job of foreshadowing the end of the series, with references to Bad Wolf and it being set in the same place as the series finale. I do also genuinely love the exploration of the concept of “the wrong companion.” I was thinking 6/10 but I reckon that might just be because I’m overtired and slightly grouchy. With that in mind, I’m bumping it up a mark and I’m going with 7/10.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

1.6 – “Dalek”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , on August 11, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - Dalek

Deep in an underground bunker, a rich man named Henry Van Statten has collected an array of alien objects. One of these, a so-called ‘Metaltron’, is alive and being held captive whilst Van Statten and his employees work around the clock to figure out what it is and how to communicate with it. Enter The Doctor and Rose, who quickly discover that the ‘Metaltron’ is actually the last surviving member of The Doctor’s deadliest foes…

I’m going to say this up front; “Dalek” is one of my favourite Eccleston-era episodes so, forgive me, because I’m about to gush as though I’ve been infected by the water on Mars. We all knew this was coming. Ever since Doctor Who was brought back, it was inevitable that the Daleks would make an appearance (and rightly so). We wanted to hide behind our sofas, but this episode gives us something different; a Dalek with a sob story.

The Doctor explains to Rose that they’ve landed in the bunker because something was “calling for help.” That something is, of course, Van Statten’s ‘Metaltron.’ In its own private prison, the creature is screaming in pain as it’s experimented upon and tortured in an attempt to get it talking. The Doctor is appalled by this and, upon entering the cage, he tells the creature that he has come to help. Hearing the name Doctor, the creature wakes and that well-known cry echoes around the cage: “EXTERMINATE!”

Except, of course, it can’t do any exterminating, because its power is dwindling and it’s trapped in chains. The Doctor’s reaction is, in my eyes, sublime. It’s one of Eccleston’s finest moments as the Time Lord, as he first panics and rushes to the door in fear, begging to be let out, before realising that his enemy is helpless. He shows the darker side of his character as he rails against his foe. His line as he tells the Dalek about the destruction of its race (“I watched it happen – I MADE it happen!”) never fails to send a shiver down my spine. Eccleston is brilliant in this scene, showing us that however wonderful we think he is, the Doctor is not a man to be crossed. And yet we also see a flash of the guilt he feels at the part he played in ending the Time War. As he turns away from the Dalek and lowers his voice to explain that he had no choice in doing what he did, the emotional intensity is immense. I can’t tell you how much I bloody love this scene. If this scene was a cake, I’d eat the lot, with no spoon. If this scene was a man, I’d marry it in a heartbeat.

I said earlier that this episode gives us a Dalek with a sob-story and, in spite of knowing how merciless the creature would be at full-strength, the sight of it screaming in pain as The Doctor forces an electrical current through it, moments after it has pitifully acknowledged that it is “alone in the universe,” is actually rather moving. I can remember watching this episode for the first time, thinking – completely unexpectedly – poor thing.

Just before we start fundraising for the stricken homicidal maniac (Dalek Relief anyone?), we cut to Rose flirting with Van Statten’s employee, Adam Mitchell. He tells Rose he’s fascinated by all things alien, but doesn’t believe space exploration will happen in his lifetime. He logs onto the CCTV in the cage and shows Rose the creature being held prisoner. When Rose sees the Dalek being tortured, she’s horrified (she’d totally be up for Dalek Relief – I can see her as Bob Geldof: “Every time I click my fingers, a Dalek dies…”). Rose insists that Adam takes her straight to the cage and it’s at this point that we cut to any Eccleston fangirl’s dream come true: The Doctor, bare-chested, handcuffed to a grid!

Yes, now The Doctor is being experimented on (and not in a fun way). Van Statten is overjoyed to discover he has not only one living alien in his bunker now, but two. This keeps The Doctor nicely out of the way for what happens next: on arriving at the cage, Rose takes pity on the imprisoned Dalek and promises to help. She lays a hand on its metal casing and BAM! It absorbs the time energy from the TARDIS, breaks its chains and resorts to its original setting: kill anyone and anything non-Dalek that it sees (memo to all staff: Dalek Relief is cancelled). Exterminate!

The Dalek does what Daleks do best and goes on a killing spree. It attacks everyone it comes into contact with, as The Doctor watches in horror via CCTV. Rose legs it with Adam and, chancing upon a flight of stairs, believes she’s safe. But this is New Who and stairs are no match for these bad boys. Elevate!

After screaming at the Dalek to kill itself, The Doctor is forced to seal the vault in order to contain the threat, thus believing he has doomed his companion to certain death. However, as the Dalek approaches Rose, we realise that the creature absorbed more than just time energy from her touch; it took on human DNA, too. As Rose pleads for her life, the Dalek finds that it can’t exterminate her. It persuades The Doctor to let it out of the vault in exchange for letting Rose go. From there, the Dalek heads to Van Statten’s office, intending to exterminate the man who caused it such misery. However, it fails to do so, after Rose again pleads with it not to kill anymore. The Dalek is conflicted by human emotions and it tells Rose it only wants freedom. After Rose takes it to the top of the vault to bask in the sunlight, it begins to question whether it wants to continue in its new form. The Doctor bursts in with a gun he’s found in Van Statten’s collection, but Rose begs him not to kill the Dalek, explaining that it isn’t as devoid of emotion as he believes. We see how much Rose’s opinion means to The Doctor and we witness him question himself as much as his enemy has. The Dalek cannot tolerate what it has become and asks Rose to order it to self-destruct. In a surprisingly moving scene (hang on…Dalek Relief might be back on!), the Dalek implodes, too conflicted to live with its new human DNA. How this episode manages to make me feel such sympathy with a bringer of death and destruction, I don’t know, but it does. As the Dalek dies, I always feel a pang of sadness.

The episode ends with Rose inviting Adam along in the TARDIS with her and The Doctor. That can only end well, right?!

Gush, gush, gush…Have I mentioned that I love this episode? From Eccleston’s incredible scene with the chained Dalek to the fact that I genuinely felt sorry for said mortal enemy in the end, this is a brilliantly scripted and perfectly acted piece of drama. The idea of human DNA changing a Dalek’s emotionless state and causing such huge conflict within the creature is a brilliant one. As the 9th Doctor himself would say: FANTASTIC. 9/10.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

1.4 & 1.5 – “Aliens Of London”/”World War Three”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - Aliens Of London

The Doctor brings Rose home, in order to show her that she can be gone for weeks, yet return seemingly moments after first departing. But this being The Doctor, rather than arriving home “just twelve hours” after they left, something goes awry and they return twelve months later. Whilst Rose is busy dealing with the consequences of her “disappearance”, a spaceship crashes into Big Ben and The Doctor and co are forced to take on the Slitheen – an alien family, intent on starting a Third World War, then selling the Earth for scrap. Charming!

If overdone fart jokes are your thing, then this is the two-part story for you! If not…yeah, it might not be your lucky day.

Let’s go for the good points first, shall we?

One thing I particularly love about New Who is the occasional focus on periphery characters left behind when The Doctor and his companions go off on their adventures. In “Aliens Of London”, we discover that The Doctor’s plan to bring Rose home after only twelve hours away has failed and she has returned a whole year after leaving with him. This gives us a chance to see how her family and friends dealt with her sudden, unexplained disappearance. It’s easy to get excited about travelling through time and space without a care in the world, but this is the first time we really get to consider how doing so affects those left to plod through their day-to-day lives without their loved one. Jackie Tyler is understandably furious and demands to know where her daughter has been. Rose’s vague answers get short shrift from her mum and we see some of the emotional fallout The Doctor inevitably leaves in his wake. It’s interesting to watch and it’s done rather well by all concerned; we even discover that poor Mickey has been under suspicion of Rose’s murder whilst she has been gone, but that he has valiantly refused to give away the secret of where she is and who with. The scenes involving Rose’s year-long absence and the consequences of it are emotive ones, as Jackie, Mickey and Rose try to come to grips with what’s really going on.

By the end of “World War Three”, Jackie has learnt the truth about The Doctor and has witnessed his efforts to save humanity from certain destruction. In spite of his heroics, she harbours resentment for the fact that he has taken her daughter away from her and is putting Rose in danger. It’s a plotline very much rooted in reality – what mother wouldn’t be freaked out about her only child disappearing with a 900 year old alien who has a habit of risking death on a daily basis?! I like that the show tackles the issue and Rose having strong family ties back on Earth makes the series seem grounded, providing opportunities for emotional development in all of the central characters.

Another thing I quite enjoyed about these episodes was the portrayal of Harriet Jones MP (for Flydale North, no less) by Penelope Wilton. Her character is feisty, determined and really quite brave in the face of an alien invasion. Okay, so the constant introducing of herself might grate after a while, but she’s someone proving herself to be an old-fashioned “goodie” over the course of the double bill and she’s doing her bit to help The Doctor save the day. She also has a chance to grow and develop over time; when we next meet her in “The Christmas Invasion”, she is Prime Minister and we get to see how doing that job has taken its toll on her usually fair and peaceful persona. I may be in a minority, but I actually wish we’d seen more of her. It was also nice to see UNIT and to have a nod to the classic series, when Eccleston’s Doctor informs Rose that he once worked with the team but “they wouldn’t recognise me, now.”

So…I like those things about these episodes. I guess now we have to have a look at some of the things I like a lot less.

Let me start with the zips. Each member of the Slitheen family is able to kill a human and wear its skin. They step out of the skin by undoing a zip in the forehead, shrugging the skin off and revealing their true form. The first time you see it, it’s quite freaky and unnerving. The trouble is this “big reveal” moment is revealed far too many times during the two parts. You feel as though you’ve seen the “zip moment” so often that it’s ceased to be scary and become frankly irritating. It’s less “quick, hide behind the sofa!” and more “This? AGAIN?!”

And then there’s the farting (believe me, that’s not a sentence I expected to write when I was first asked to contribute reviews for this site). According to the Slitheen, compressing their large bodies into a human skin involves a gas exchange that causes extreme flatulence. Which would be funny if I was five years old. Call me humourless, but do we really need fart jokes in Doctor Who? What next, a Dalek with chronic diarrhoea? A Cyberman with erectile dysfunction?!

And yes, yes, I know the Slitheen – and indeed, the whole story – was meant to be a loving pastiche of the classic series. But in my eyes, it doesn’t entirely work as such. Perhaps it does at first, but not after the ninety six millionth reveal of the zip in the bloody forehead. And again, yes I know the fart jokes were supposed to be a clever little reference to politicians being full of shit. But someone needs to tell the writers that a joke stops being funny if you tell it ten times in a row.

This two-part story is something of a mixed bag for me. I loved the exploration of Rose’s “disappearance” and how her loved ones back home coped in her absence. I liked some of the characters we were introduced to and, on the whole, the idea of aliens wanting the planet to rip itself apart in war so that they could sell the leftovers as scrap is quite an intriguing one. Unfortunately, they tried too hard to make it witty and as a result, the whole thing just felt overdone. It needed to be taken out of the oven a good half an hour earlier than it was. It’s a pretty average 6/10 from me.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

1.3 – “The Unquiet Dead”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , on March 13, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - The Unquiet Dead

The Doctor and Rose team-up with a Victorian maid to defeat alien ghost things. Also, some dead white guy who happened to be in town that week pops his nose in and gets a futile epiphany for his trouble.

“The Unquiet Dead” is the first New Who story to be set in the past and the first written by someone other than Russell T. Davies. I think this unfairly burdened Mark Gatiss with a reputation for someone who can only write in pastiche. This episode is as important as “Rose” for the success of the 2005 series and provided a blueprint for how Doctor Who could do historicals with reasonable success.

We start with a cold open. It is perhaps in retrospect obvious that the perfect use of the cold open in Doctor Who is for the old early-story cutaway to the situation that The Doctor is about to wander into. It does this effectively, setting up the mood, the danger and with a tiny one-liner the fact that the possession of bodies by spirits unknown has been going on for some time. This is as deft a scene-setting as anything to have come from the pen of RTD. The opening titles then provide a barrier and we rejoin the story again, through the eyes of The Doctor and Rose.

The Doctor and Rose play tourist for a little while before they encounter the ghost story which, as far as undertaker Gabriel Sneed (Alan David) and Gwyneth (Eve Myles) are concerned, is well into its second act already. The possessed corpse (Jennifer Hill) is off to see a performance by our star attraction Charles Dickens (Simon Callow), this being her living intent, an intriguing idea that just gets dropped. Things go badly wrong, natch, and Dickens gets dragged into our ghost story, teaming up with The Doctor in a scene of nearly unalloyed delight, marred only by Eccleston’s terrible line reading of “My friend. She’s only nineteen. It’s my fault. She’s in my care, and now she’s in danger.”

It’s at this point that it starts to become clear that the episode does not know what it’s about. Is it about Dickens or Gwyneth? But neither character is given enough time; we only really get one “getting to know you” scene with either of them. Dickens is too big a personality and merely to be a supporting character in someone’s else story: he has a definite arc of his own regarding his change of heart regarding the supernatural. Dicken’s rationalism is related by him not demonstrated, and his revelation that there are things unknown to science is facile: this was a time of great scientific discovery, not one in which they believed they knew all the answers.

Gwyneth, though, is the real story motor here, the way she believes in the Gelth and her reaction at her betrayal is the core. Gwyneth dies, in the end. The Doctor promises Rose that he won’t leave the building without her. Of course, he does. He explains to Rose that Gwyneth was dead the moment she entered the rift. Well, of course she was, she’s a young female guest character in an episode of the first series of Doctor Who. To be perfectly honest, she was dead the moment she appeared on screen. None of this stops “The Unquiet Dead” being a well-executed piece of fun, though. It never fucks up (apart from with the accidental xenophobia-endorsing subtext), it just fails to reach a state of excellence.

The first celebrity historical is a bit flawed, but nice moments and a good sense of pace make it an eminently watchable 6/10.

Written and edited by Abigail Brady

1.2 – “The End Of The World”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , on January 29, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - The End Of The World

The Doctor casually demonstrates that the TARDIS really is a time machine by taking Rose to the destruction of her homeworld, Earth. Things heat up. Then they heat up again. And again.

“The End of the World” is a strangely calm episode given the eponymous apocalypse that it presents. Although ostensibly structured as a murder mystery, fairly little screen time is given to this – the main characters don’t even get introduced to any real sense of danger until 20 minutes in. At its heart, it’s a character drama between The Doctor, Rose, and Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman), a tree who is closer to The Doctor’s level.

Even without the risk of life or limb, taking Rose to the future to watch her planet burn is perhaps not The Doctor’s finest hour. Having been introduced to a large group of diverse aliens, with no real consideration from The Doctor as to how she’s managing, Rose promptly freaks out and bolts (to a fantastically cheeky use of the song “Tainted Love” – one of two bits in the episode that are structured as music videos) to decompress. She’s further weirded out by the revelation that the reason she understands all of the alien languages is thanks to the TARDIS’ telepathic field, something which The Doctor had never thought to mention. (As a side-note, the bit with Raffalo, played by Becky Armory – apparently a late addition – is lovely. How is it that she hasn’t done any telly since?)

Meanwhile, The Doctor has his own arc this episode that is just as significant. Rose is quite fun, he’s found, but that turns out to be no basis for a serious relationship and she finds his boundaries pretty quickly; he has no desire to tell her where he’s from or anything about whatever trauma he has clearly experienced in the recent past. It takes another person to break him a little out of his shell; Jabe, a pretty tree-lady from the forests of Cheem who is able to look him up and discover his secret – that he is a Time Lord, who shouldn’t even exist. People look back and say “Bad Wolf” was the plot arc of series 1. It wasn’t. It was this – the slow unfolding of the story of the Time War and its effect upon The Doctor. Bad Wolf was just the hundreds and thousands liberally sprinkled on the Time War cake. Jabe soon dies, of course, in a self-sacrificing way necessitated by the plot. She’s the first woman the new series fridges (although, a fridge would have been exactly what she needed, ho ho ho). If she’d lived, she should have become the new companion. Or she’d have imparted advice to Rose, and we couldn’t be having with that.

With that done, The Doctor saves Rose and brings back Cassandra (Zoe Wanamaker) (already revealed in true Accusing-Parlous style as the villain of the piece), to take his revenge. There’s moral fudging of merely “failing to save her” invoked here – by reversing the teleporter she is using to escape, he ends up killing her. It’s a wonder he can look her in the eye in “New Earth”. She might have been a wrongun but summary execution is not really The Doctor’s style. And this despite Rose’s plea. And then finally – in the first big misstep of New Who – the narrative just forgets that. It’s as if it never happened. Given the entire experience, Rose really ought to run away at the first opportunity. Instead, she held The Doctor’s hand on the platform when he revealed his great big dirty secret, and then buys him chips. Maybe that’s real, but he’s still a bit of a bastard.

This is a competently executed piece of television that I’ve just taken a bit of an ethical dislike to when picking it apart for the review. It’s fine, really. Eccleston is great at being the more subdued torn-up Doctor and doesn’t go for the scenery like in some of the later episodes and Billie Piper gets plenty to do. The set dressing and aliens are good too, even if I’m not entirely sure which is which. A serviceable 6/10.

Written and edited by Abigail Brady