‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 9.1
Whilst waiting for the next delivery unto this House of a fresh batch of Doctor Who DVDs to review we’re going to jump ahead an look at some of the more recent adventures! Time for one that many people considered one of the darkest and bleakest of the Doctors…
The episode opens with Rose Tyler, London shop girl at the beginning of the new century, finding herself trapped in a basement with a bunch of mannequins come to life. Hoping it’s little more than a student prank Rose realizes the real danger she’s in when a mysterious stranger calling himself The Doctor turns up to save her, blowing up the building along the way. Rose finds herself crossing paths with The Doctor again and again until he finally reveals himself as an alien time traveler trying to quash an invasion of living plastic creatures called ‘Autons’.
When it comes to introducing a new Doctor for a new generation of viewers there’s a fine line to walk between drawing in new people while pleasing the original fans. Some good casting and writing makes the transition easy for both groups of the audience. Telling the story from the perspective of a civilian observer is a smart move, unrolling the information as she discovers it. Smoothly transitioning into the modern era by having internet conspiracy theorists trying to track down the truth about the mysterious ‘Doctor’ is certainly a nice touch, and bringing out the Autons for the first outing keeps things grounded in modern England for an easy introduction.
Billie Piper is somewhat grating as a companion but she carries the everyman role very well – she is perfectly suited to the role. Christopher Eccelson is an odd choice for the titular Time Lord. Not that he’s bad in the role, he’s got a unique and unusual set of mannerisms that give the impression of being an alien and maintaining the trademark quirkiness of The Doctor. He’s much darker, however, and it often feels out of character when he insists on Rose living him to die. Even though this is a reflection of the new plot thread involving The Doctor being the last member of his race after the Time Wars, but it detracts from the notion of The Doctor being the fun, goofy character who takes us on awesome adventures.
Although it’s got some hokey moments (gymnastics, eh?) and the low budget CGI looks iffy it’s a well written introduction to a new era and a dramatic shift for the epic franchise.
The End of the World
With his new companion on board The Doctor take the TARDIS five billion years into the future to show Rose the end of the Earth. Finding themselves on board an observation ship they join a group of wealthy aliens creatures to watch the sun expand and envelope the Earth, among them the last ‘pure’ human, little more than a face on a stretched out piece of skin. Things begin to go awry when it becomes clear that one of the guests has arrived with the intention to sabotage the vessel leave them all to be obliterated.
The new series wastes little time in dealing with the big issues. Initially coming across as a bit shallow Rose has trouble wrapping her head around some of the alien species that she encounters, especially ones who have evolved from Earthly plant life. Things start to get metaphysical when she starts to appreciate the enormity of what she is witnessing and the almost glib attitude of those who have come to see it. With all of space and time laid out before her Rose is confronted with her insignificant place in it all, and Piper does a decent job of communicating it even if she frustratingly gets herself captured.
The Doctor is also further expanded on with one of the aliens recognizing him as a Time Lord, bringing to light the tragedy that has befallen his race. The reasons behind The Doctor’s more abrasive attitude gets fleshed out further and deepens the mystery as to what has happened to him. It creates an interesting contrast with the development of Rose’s character during these early episodes between them.
Some of the action sequences feel a bit shoe-horned in for the sake of padding out the tension, but it’s a fun and interesting episode.
The Unquiet Dead
After their adventure in the future The Doctor takes Rose backwards through time to experience Christmas in Naples, 1869 – although The Doctor’s inability to steer the TARDIS lands them in Cardiff instead. Meanwhile Charles Dickens is feeling the sting of loneliness on Christmas Eve while preparing to perform live, and a mortician is out hunting for a cadaver that got up and left. Everything comes together when the ghoul interrupts Dickens’ performance and Rose gets kidnapped by the mortician after she witnessed them recapturing the walking dead.
When they all meet up in the funeral parlor they learn that the mortician’s servant Gwyneth is bestowed with psychic powers and has been in communication with ‘angels’. These angels are in reality a group of inter-dimensional aliens whose planet is dying and they’re trying to break through to there world. The gas-based beings are in a desperate plight, so The Doctor and his companions agree to help them by using Gwyneth to bridge the gap between their worlds. Sadly the ‘angels’ are not all they claim to be.
Although slow to start this ends on a really strong couple of scenes. The Doctor is once again in a grumpy mood and gets downright snappish at times. The inclusion of Charles Dickens may have been written in for the sake of having a historical figure in the mix, and actor Simon Callow initially wanted no part of it for that very reason. The actor – who is known for his in-depth knowledge of Dickens and has played him live many times – turned around when he saw that the script treated the character better than that, and gave him his own genuine development arc in which he has his skepticism challenged.
A slow burn episode with a good climax and a genuinely heartfelt closing scene.