Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 10.10
Every now and then we’ll get an episode that puts the Doctor on the backbench so we can focus on the characters that are affected by his invasion into their world. This episode takes the opposite route by leaving Donna poolside while the Doctor has to deal with the kind of volatile situation that brings out the worst in people.
It all begins on the planet Midnight, which is covered in a radioactive galvanic surface. The Doctor is eager to take the bus trip to see the sapphire waterfall but Donna refuses to budge from her deckchair, having been run down by the events in the library. The Doctor heads off solo and after seeing the find of entertainment provided he uses his sonic screwdriver to shut it all down and engages the rest of the passengers in conversation. It’s a good way to set up the episode as it establishes the support cast as normal and decent people before a serious dilemma strikes.
When the shuttle comes to a complete stop and strange noises begin emanating from the outside the Doctor steps into his familiar role. Things are a bit more complicated when one of the passengers seems to be possessed by an outside force. The rest of the people on board become frightened by the way the possessed passenger begins repeating everything they saw, sparking a fear that will eventually lead to a witch-hunt and angry mob scenario.
This is a great example of the ‘cabin fever’ horror trope with the biggest threat isn’t the monster from the outside but the growing madness inside the room. The narrative is in no hurry to get to the conclusion and the slow burn approach makes it all the more exciting. It’s an intense episode that forcing the Doctor to question his unwavering faith in mankind. A great character study.
After the Doctor has his moment in the spotlight the attention turns to Donna, and a seemingly innocuous decision that caused ripples through history. Through a fortune telling in an alien market place Donna recalls having to decide between driving left or right at an intersection – turning left lead to the temp job in which she met her fiancée and then the Doctor. She is given the chance to go back and turn right, creating a universe where she wasn’t in the dam to convince the Doctor to escape leading to his death.
Without the Doctor in the world Sarah Jane and Martha perish when the Junon move the hospital to the moon, London is flattened by the crashing starship Titanic, the USA population is devastated by the Adipose and Torchwood were killed by the Sontaran. With martial law being instigated and sickness rampant in England things go from bad to worse when the stars begin going out. Eventually Rose Tyler appears back in this dimension to guide Donna and ultimately lead to UNIT to undo everything that has taken place.
There’s nothing quite like a good causality episode. Seeing the real outcomes to some of the disasters that the Doctor has prevented is quite startling, especially when the familiar faces get checked off. With sharp writing and close attention to detail this becomes a harrowing experience for long-term fans of the show. The return of the Time Beetle from much earlier in the canon is used remarkably well. The real selling point is Catherine Tate as Donna. She turns in an amazing performance with a finale that is mind blowing, a real development for the character. The cliff-hanger finish is all that is needed to make this a fantastic episode.
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
There’s nothing like dragging out every past character for one epic season finale. Actually I usually find this kind of thing to be trite and gimmicky but it works exceptionally well in this series. Over the course of the two episodes we see the return of Sarah Jane, Capt. Jack, Martha, Rose, Harriet Jones, Wilfred and members of the Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures casts. Of course we need a pretty big plot to justify bringing everyone on board.
After receiving a message from Rose at the end of the previous episode the Doctor goes to investigate – only to find that it has vanished. He contacts galactic police force the Shadow Proclamation and learns that the Earth is one of twenty-seven planets that have been stolen by those wacky Daleks, lead by their creator: Davros. Many of the Doctor’s allies escape the Dalek’s conquest of Earth by going into hiding and are contacted by Harriet Jones. Through their efforts they allow the Doctor to locates the missing planet and he confronts the Daleks.
Amid all the chaos the Doctor finally reunites with Rose – just in time for a Dalek to shoot him. The Doctor enters a regenerative state but halts it part way through, instead healing himself. Later, while he is held at the mercy of Davros, the excess time energy causes his severed hand to regenerate in to a duplicate, and Donna to become imbued with the energy and obtain the Doctor’s knowledge. The three of them can finally match the Dalek’s force and they can retrieve the TARDIS.
This seemed the beginning of the episodes where the writers discovered that they could really upset their viewers. The death of Harriet Jones is possibly the most effective – being a genuinely brave moment for the character, but we also have the regeneration fake-out, another farewell to Rose and Donna having her mind erased. Still, the emotional weight of the episode is worthy of the epic story.
The Daleks are the longest running and most famous of the Doctor’s villains but they don’t always get a story worthy of their mettle. This is one of their best stories. It’s on a grand scale with big ideas and real sacrifices. It’s a huge finale for the season and one of the best Dalek episodes.