Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Review – Vol. 10.9

Eights days to go…

The Doctor’s Daughter

First thing we have to address here is the unusual family tree that exists behind the scenes of this episode. During the course of this episode the Doctor is unwittingly cloned and the result is a daughter. ‘Jenny’, as she is known, is played by Georgia Moffett and is the real life daughter of Peter Davison – best known as the fifth incarnation of the Doctor. Just to make things strange Moffett would later marry David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor. Now moving right along…

The Doctors Daughter

Along with the Martha and Donna the Doctor arrives on the planet Messaline, which is embroiled in a generations long conflict. Upon arrival they are set upon by a group of soldiers produce a clone of the Doctor, the aforementioned Jenny. Whilst the first soldiers they encounter are humanoid their opponents, the Hath, are reptilian and require a respirator to survive. Martha winds up on the opposite side of a pile of rubble with the Hath where she works as a healer. Meanwhile the Doctor is dismissive of Jenny, referring to her as an echo of himself, which Donna takes exception to.

Whether or not Jenny can be considered a real person, let alone a true member of the Doctor’s family, becomes a major point of development for the Doctor. Sadly it doesn’t get explored in as much detail as you’d hope. Nor is the opportunity taken for the show to delve into the Doctor’s own mysterious past. Over the course of almost 50 years we’ve only had vague hints about the Doctor’s children, with his grand-daughter Susan the only one to be identified, let alone appear in the show. The fate of the Doctor’s family has never been revealed despite the hints.

The Doctors Daughter 2

Even once this has been put aside the episode is a weak one. There seems to be a lot of set-up for very little pay off. At the end of the episode the Doctor leaves believing Jenny to have died, sacrificing herself to save him. It is later revealed that this is not the case, and it’s pretty depressing seeing the Doctor leave thinking that he lost her. The last thing we see is Jenny leaving on her own, ready to start a new adventure, but it’s never followed up on.

The Unicorn and the Wasp

It’s been a while since the Doctor crossed paths with a celebrity, especially one he can totally geek out over. After arriving in England, 1926, the Doctor and Donna invite themselves to a dinner party where they discover that one of the guests in legendary crime fiction author Agatha Christie. By providence one of the guests at the party winds up murdered. Posing as members of Scotland Yard the time travellers must team up with the famed author to solve the mystery. The fact that the killer is a giant wasp shouldn’t get in the way.

The Unicorn and the Wasp

What makes this encounter with a historical figure interesting is the way they weave a real life mystery into the plot of the episode. During her lifetime Agatha Christie went missing for several days and claimed that she had amnesia during this time. It’s well written into the conclusion of the episode adding a welcome touch of realism.

The rest of the episode works with the usual Christie framework, mostly due to the Doctor’s glee with the situation. Suspicion falls to a number of people with set pieces including a dinner scene where Donna tries to poison the alien murderer and a sitting room confrontation. It does keep the audience guessing up until the end, with a clever twist involving Christie and her connection to the alien.

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Although it’s not a ground breaking episode it is plenty of fun. The Doctor and Christie have a fun dynamic. The image of the giant wasp looks pretty silly at times but it all comes together nicely at the end.

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Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

He is one of those episodes that does everything right. The setting, the characters, the monster…it’s all excellent. The Doctor takes Donna to the 51st century to visit the largest library in history, one that covers the entire surface of a planet. They’re confused when they arrive because the entire place is deserted – except for millions upon millions of non-human life forms detected by the computer system. The only other people they encounter is a group of urban explorers, one of whom is Trackman Lux whose grandfather built the library. The group is lead by archaeologist Professor River Song.

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This scene is all kinds of different these days…

For those not familiar with the canon, River Song is set to become a recurring character over the coming seasons. More than just a wacky side-kick River would be revealed to have a much deeper relationship with the Doctor than he aware in this episode. Both being Time Travellers they often meet in the wrong order. It becomes clear that although this is the first time the Doctor has met River it is far from the first time she has met him.

Running parallel to the narrative that is occurring in the library we also see a seemingly unrelated young girl undergoing treatment from one Dr. Moon. She describes a giant library she can see in her imagination and becomes upset when she sees people in it. For reasons initially unknown her imaginary library is the same one that the Doctor and the group are currently trapped in.

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Whilst exploring the library the Doctor learns that the Vashta Nerada has surrounded them. These microscopic carnivores appear as a shadow when grouped together to hunt and can strip a human to the bone in a matter of moments. The Vashta Nerada are a great source of nightmares, with the appearances of extra shadows being enough to create fear. Some of the victims become skeletons in spacesuits lumbering after the survivors, repeating the victim’s last words that have been recorded in by their communicators. Scary stuff indeed.

These two episodes are packed full of suspense and some genuinely moving moments, especially when the first victim is discovered and they are forced to listen to her last words recorded by the communicator. Moments like these are haunting and remain some of the best of the modern series. This would be enough for any writer worth their salt to sit back with the satisfaction of a job well done, but there’s even more value to be had in this double episode.

Forest of the Dead

When Donna vanishes it is revealed that the denizens of the library were protected by from the Vashta Nerada by the computer system, which uploaded their consciousness into the library data bank until the danger had passed. Donna becomes trapped in the simulation where she begins a new life, unaware that it is a simulation. The young girl seen earlier is the core of the system, formally a young girl with an incurable condition.

This is a double episode simply bursting with ideas and great moments. From the intriguing mystery at the beginning of the story to the terrifying Vashta Nerada to the heart-breaking conclusion this is without a doubt one of the best.

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