Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 10.2
With less than a month until the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who the mission to watch and review every episode is starting to look impossible. If only one had a way of travelling through space and/or time.
In this episode Mickey alerts the Doctor and Rose to strange happenings he had be tracking in relation to Deffrey Vale High School. The reports include disappearances and UFO sightings and the Doctor aren’t the only one who takes an interest. After infiltrating the school as a teacher and cafeteria worker the Doctor crosses paths with his former, long longing travel companion Sarah Jane Smith and the robotic dog K9. The combined force of the Doctor, Rose, Mickey, K9 and Sarah Jane set out to solve the mystery.
Students at the school are unusually well behaved and demonstrate a strong understanding of astrophysics. It’s all part of a nefarious scheme by the principal and some of the teachers, who are actually members of a race called the Krillitanes. This particular breed of alien takes characteristics of other races in order to reach a point of evolutionary perfection, and have taken of the children at this school to use their combined intellect to crack the Skasis Paradigm, which would allow them unlimited control over time and space.
There are quite a few things that make this a noteworthy entry into the Doctor Who canon. In terms of villainy we have the awesome Anthony Stewart Head, who brings extra weight to the role and the dialogue heavy scenes with David Tennant. Elizabeth Sladen returns as Sarah Jane Smith decades after she last set foot on the TARDIS and slips effortlessly back into the role. Some of the best scenes are those between Rose and Sarah Jane working from jealousy through to friendship after trying to one-up each other on the adventures they’d had with the Time Lord. Mickey also gets himself a bit of character development with increasing frustration with his role in the group.
The conflict between the Doctor and the Krillitanes is revealed to be less cut and dry than the initial set up suggested. Once they have successfully operated the Skasis Paradigm they over the Doctor the chance to operate it, taking control of life across the universe and potentially saving the Time Lords and his family from destruction in the Time War. With this temptation before the Doctor things are certainly more interesting than the usual fare.
The Girl in the Fireplace
With Mickey finally joining Rose and the Doctor in their travels one might expect the next episode to focus more on the companions, but instead it’s a very Doctor-centric story. Arriving on an alien spaceship that’s been abandoned in deep space. Plenty of unusual mysteries await the team – parts of the ship have been replaced with grafted human organs and various portals around the ship open up on the life of a young French girl.
By travelling through a fireplace between the ship and 1727 Paris the Doctor rescues the young girl from a clockwork robot, revealed by its ticking noise. When he again travels from the ship to Paris using different time windows he discovers that the girl is now a young woman. He is surprised to discover that she is Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV. Back on the spaceship Rose and Mickey discover more organs in the place of ship parts and learn that the automated repair robots continued to make repairs after losing their store of parts by killing the crew and using their ‘parts’. The final part they need is the brain of Madame de Pompadour.
The clockpunk robots are a fantastic design and come across especially menacing with their masks and wigs used to fit in with the 18th Paris locales. The broken clocks and ticking noises are pure Moffat creepiness. The organ-patched spaceship is as imaginative as it is freakishly creepy and the attempt to prevent the robots from finishing their mission boils into an especially awesome finale.
As brilliant as all these elements are they wind up only serving to support the love story between The Doctor and Madame de Pompadour. With a character like The Doctor creating a convincing love interest is a sketchy proposition as he is, by nature, elevated above normal humans. The fact that he meets a normal human and falls in love so deeply and so quickly is pretty extraordinary, but the script works it completely perfectly. Actress Sophia Myles plays a big part in selling the notion by creating such a rich and believable relationship with the Doctor in he space of 45 minutes.
Easily one of the best episodes of the Tenth Doctor’s run.
Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
Throughout the history of Doctor Who the Cybermen are the only bested by Daleks as the longest running enemy of the Doctor. In spite of their longevity they have never been an especially threatening foe. They have had their strong moments, such as Earthshock, but they are not always used to good effect. With this revisit the history of the creatures is rewritten to create a far more menacing enemy. The life cycle and the origins of the Cybermen had only been glanced over before, but here man creates them, and are a mechanical body built around a human. By rounding up the human population they increase their numbers by feeding everyone into conversion chambers to be ‘upgraded’ to a Cyberman and those unsuitable get ‘deleted’.
These new versions of the classic foe are downright terrifying. Their mechanical and precise nature is unsettling from the get go, and the deadly conversion chambers are the stuff of nightmares. When the characters encounter former loved ones having been turned into Cybermen it’s a devastating moments, and when the Doctor hears one questioning where they are and what happened to them it is heartbreaking.
The two-part adventure begins with the TARDIS being jolted out of the time vortex and winds up in a parallel dimension. After re-energizing the remaining power cell with his own life-force the Doctor is finds that they have to wait for it to recharge. While in the other version London Rose spots a billboard with a picture of her father on it, clearly a success, and against the Doctor’s instructions goes looking for her family. Mickey takes this as a cue to do the same, wanting to see his grandmother. Rose finds that her father was a massive success in and was still married to her mother, but the two never had children while Mickey’s grandmother is still alive.
Amid the confused emotions and the Doctor trying to keep them under control the head of Cybus Industries, John Lumic, has developed the Cyberman technology having conducted secret experiments on human subjects. This reality’s Mickey (called Ricky) is part of an underground resistance who are fighting against Lumic after learning that they have been kidnapping homeless people for the experiments. Everything comes to a head with Cybermen begin rounding up the human population and building an army.
In the second part of the two-part story the Doctor, Rose and Mickey are forced to co-operate with Rose’s family and Ricky and his group of underground resistance fighters to bring down Lumic’s army of Cybermen. With the Cybermen themselves converting Lumic to one of their own their only option is to bring down the zeppelin that is being used to control everything. This episode focuses on more than just action though – many of the emotionally driven moments discussed earlier are peppered throughout the story.
By the end of the episode Mickey has gone through some drastic character development. Rather than being a somewhat goofy character, the long suffering straight man to the Doctor’s narkiness, he takes on an air of responsibility and makes great sacrifice to complete his mission. By the end of the episode he makes the decision to remain in this universe to help take down the Cyberman factories in other countries. He does eventually return to the series but for now he makes his way as a mercenary.