Adam J Purcell Ponders… Doctor Who Series Two, Season Two
Published: 28 August 2006
Doctor Who 2006, 10 years after the Universal/BBC war. Yes, it went all but unremarked, it really was 10 years since the Paul McGann TV movie. Now we also have 10 Doctors, with David Tennant taking over from last years Christopher Eccleston (who had barely a 3 month TV stint, even if he had to go through 9 grueling months of filming...)
Of course Doctor Who 2006 really starts in 2005 with the Children in Need Special. Filmed some way into the 2006 season this gave us our first real glimpse of the new Doctor and also filled in the gap between Parting of the Ways and The Christmas Invasion.
It's hard to imagine what The Christmas Invasion would have been like without first seeing the Children in Need Special. Too much important information was given in the Special to miss it out but, originally, the Special wasn't going to exist. Imagine not getting an explanation why their visit to Barcelona ended up with them back at the Powell estate. Why did the TARDIS crash land? Then there was the excellent suspicion Rose had that this wasn't the Doctor at all but some impostor. It would have been a bit jarring to miss the Special, I think. On the other hand we were introduced to an insane Doctor, suffering terribly after his regeneration. An insanity that didn't manifest at all in the Christmas Invasion.
Nonetheless, on the whole, the Children in Need Special seems like essential viewing before the Christmas Invasion. If it says nothing else about the new Doctor (and it probably doesn't) it does highlight his energy and that alone makes for a stark contrast with Eccleston's Doctor.
To the Christmas Invasion itself, then. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. There are some (many?) who don't share that and I don't really understand why. They complain that the Doctor isn't in most of it. I liked that. It built him up as a character. The world was falling apart, even Rose and UNIT couldn't figure out how to beat the Sycorax. At their darkest hour he returns - "Did you miss me?" Yes, they did, and so did the audience and that's why it worked.
Then we have twenty minutes of light hearted fun as he destroys the Sycorax plot, has a sword fight, regrows an appendage, shows hints of a dark side and brings down a government with nothing more than 6 words. That's a triumphant return in anyone's book, I would think.
Excellent stuff and exactly what is called for on a Christmas evening and for a introduction of a new Doctor. By the end of that there was no doubt in my mind that this was the Doctor. I was completely sold on Tennant's portrayal and was looking forward to the new season proper in the spring. Any doubts I had about the general audience accepting a new Doctor had evaporated. I really don't think RTD and his cast and crew could have done better to introduce us to the 10th Doctor. I know there are people who will disagree with that but in my experience they are old guard Who fans and not the new generation who have flocked to the series in such numbers.
A few months later and we have New Earth. Another light hearted romp and one that deliberately harkened back to Eccleston's time to reestablish that this was the same character and the same programme.
I think I must be a bit weird as I also enjoyed this one rather a lot, even though quite a few people didn't appear to. The same goes for last years first episode, Rose. You want something fun to reintroduce the series with and New Earth wasn't without its faults but it was entertaining. The solution to the story's problem may have been simplistic but it was a feel good resolution and I have no problems with it.
Let's not forget the Cassandra inhabiting the bodies of our heroes, I was surprised just how good both Billie and Tennant were! I, for one, cannot forget the bouncy castle bits with Billie - why couldn't she have shown as much cleavage all the time..! There were a good number of memorably funny moments in this, such as the Doctor's reaction after being snogged by Rose/Cassandra!
So, that's two RTD scripts in a row I've enjoyed greatly. Could this be a new beginning for my appreciation of his script writing (and I've never had anything but respect for this Producer role - a massive improvement over the producer whose episodes I really grew up with - JNT). Then along comes another RTD episode, can this be a hat trick?
Now, with the second proper episode this new season, things take a darker turn in Tooth and Claw. An altogether more serious and scary episode set in 19th century Scotland with Queen Victoria (wonderfully played by Pauline Collins).
People rave about the CGI werewolf and it is indeed very well done. On the whole, though, I found this episode a bit of a let down. Again, most people probably think me a bit perverse in that regard but there we go! Too many corridor chases and the tension wasn't quite there, at least not nearly as much as it should have been. Perhaps I just had my expectations too high for this one, the 'Fear Factor' was up at maximum and the only other time I think that happened was The Empty Child and nothing, for me, has since hit that high tide mark (let alone exceeded it). That association in my mind can't possibly have helped Tooth and Claw. The Empty Child two parter is that yard stick and, I may as well say now, nothing this season got close to it (nor did anything else last season for that matter).
Back to Tooth and Claw, though. Fantastic production values. Certainly for the first half or so of this new season I thought the production values had increased significantly over last year - and they weren't exactly bad in the first season! The guys over at the PodShock Doctor Who Podcast (great chaps, all of them!) have more than once this season made reference to 'Scooby Who'. This episode is very Scooby Who, even with kind of an unmasking of the werewolf at the end! The charge might be argued for New Earth, with the gang on the run from zombies. Intentionally or not this is a bit of a motif for this season. Another is the Doctor's being separated from his friends. Which brings us onto:
School Reunion. Everything was back on track for me with this one.
A great idea and one I really hadn't expected to see in this new Doctor Who series for a good few years. Yes, bringing back old and popular monsters, they could hardly have avoided that without a critical mauling - Doctor Who has always had recurring villains, ever since the Daleks proved so popular to be brought back in 1964. The Brigadier (and occasional multi Doctor stories) aside it doesn't really happen that old companions return. There was never any point, companions were basically interchangeable, they just have to get into trouble and ask the right questions at the right times.
The old series didn't really concern itself with the emotional reality of the Doctor and his companions' lives. So even in those few rare occasions when a guest reappearance did occur, the old companions usually simply made some remark about the Doctor having changed his appearance, then they'd have a normal adventure and finally split up again with a 'good bye Doctor, it was good to see you again'. That's because the old Doctor who was about the monsters. We may have enjoyed particular actor's performances as the Doctor or his companions but there really was little depth to it all (and, let's be honest, a large proportion of them couldn't really act all that well) but it didn't matter all that much back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. TV has changed and such panto acting just wouldn't be tolerated by today's audiences, rightly so. That's why there was such a despairing outcry when Billie Piper was announced as the companion for the new series, there were immediate fears of the bad overacting of yesteryear. Of course all our fears were completely unfounded and I think Billie Piper did more to rebuild the reputation of Doctor Who than anything else - those hammy Doctor Who performances (at least from the regulars) were a thing of the past. That's what made the decision to invoke the memories of the old series companions so, er, courageous.
Their choice of Sarah Jane (and Elizabeth Sladen) was an excellent one, I can't imagine the likes of Adric or even Romana being able to bring the depth and realism required to fit in with this new Who. I can't claim to have seen every story of Sarah Jane's but I have no doubt that never has the character felt more human, real and alive. The only time I can think of with old Who that the reality came even close was Jo Grant's exit and that was very atypical for old Doctor Who.
I can't praise the Sarah Jane subplot enough in this episode, everyone gave 100% and you'd have to be pretty dead inside for it not to bring a tear to your eye and empathise with Sarah Jane, the Doctor and even Rose. The Doctor: "You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can't spend the rest of my life with you. I have to live on. Alone." How has Doctor Who never explored this before? That's what makes this episode so good.
The rest of it didn't work so well, for me at least. The threat of the Krillitanes, the setting of the school, even the exploits of K9 (at least until the end when K9's fate has an impact) are nothing more than window dressing. Anthony Head was excellent as the school headmaster and chief baddie but woefully underutilised. The rumours that he might be the Master were apparently dashed, which is a shame as based on that he'd do a great job in the role. Hopefully we'll see him again in Who.
Sarah Jane overshadowed everything else, rightly, so I can't really complain about the rest. On the whole an excellent story to my mind. It also really highlights the biggest theme running through this year of Doctor Who - Rose's future with the Doctor. This is the setup to Billie Piper's departure, right there for all to see, and I, for one, didn't realise it at the time. Which bring us onto:
The Girl in the Fireplace. A fan favourite, as they might call it.
I don't know why but it didn't quite work for me, though. It was a bit... silly. Revolving fireplaces onto a spacecraft, a horse, clockwork robots (why clockwork? Anyone?), the Doctor acting (or possibly being) drunk. The whole thing with the Doctor falling for Madame de Pompadour felt forced. Yes, their minds connected during that 'mind meld' (and I have no problem with that, we've seen before the Doctor has psychic abilities, this particular incarnation appears more willing to most to use them one-to-one, that's fine). That mind meld might be enough on paper for each of them to feel they know each other completely and fall head over heals for each other. In practice, on screen, it doesn't feel enough in the rushed episode - they just don't seem to spend enough time together for it to feel real.
Like School Reunion the rest of it is there to add colour and interest but the driving part of the plot is the Doctor/Reinette thing and that, for me at least, wasn't enough to save the episode. Some great concepts in there, the time portals into Reinette's life and the potential stranding of Rose and Mickey to almost certain death on a derelict spacecraft (which was tragically shortchanged). The Doctor's grief and sudden loneliness at the end was a great foreshadow of things to come.
On the whole, a bit of a disappointment after the incredible Steven Moffat The Empty Child two parter last year. I know this was some people's favourite episode, so like all of this review this is my own personal take on it. I'm not so sure the next story features amongst anyone's favourite, though...
Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel. It could have been so much more. It should have been so much more. The original inspiration was Marc Platt's amazing Spare Parts audio play for Big Finish. The final product bore little relation to that inspiration and suffered terribly for it. Here's some of my edited random thoughts I posted on the Staggering Stories Forum after seeing the second part of this:
What was the point of that throwaway curfew scene? Without a more pervading sense of oppression it added nothing. There was certainly no implication around the President of fascist tendencies. Is this a hang over from a previous draft?
Mickey leaves. A good thing in my book, get back to just Rose and the Doctor. But why did he say he was staying to look after his gran and then immediately bugger off to Paris with that dreadful cbbc actor? Was Mickey lying to Rose? If so, then what was the point of the gran scene? Another hang over from a previous draft? Besides, was the implication here that Captain Jack's 51st century ways have, er, rubbed off on him? Are we seriously meant to believe this?!
Gemini. Why? Where did that come from? Another strand lost between drafts? Why would Pete do that? Why would he choose to leak to that band of misfits? Most wanted for parking tickets... Come on! Bad enough that it came completely out of left field and then disappeared again without explanation but it should have made at least some sense.
Any of these might have gone unremarked if an isolated incident but together their weight brings the whole story down. No story is perfect but a better story gets the benefit of the doubt. This one was just so sloppily done. It needed another draft or two. It wasn't ready to be filmed.
Other things that glared at me in an evil fashion: what are the chances that 'cybercontrol' had an interface to fit Rose's Samsung mobile phone? How many different models of phone are there, not mentioning the fact this is an alternate world - especially given mobile phones have been replaced by earpods... Let's no even go into the odds of Mickey managing to get a videofeed of cybercontrol up at the critical point and the Doctor realising this. Sloppy.
Overall not a patch on Spare Parts. It would have been a lot more powerful if the population as a whole were dying, instead of just one man. A culture of replacing diseased body parts would have given the 'ultimate upgrade' more oomph. One man trying to save his life by converting the entire population? More believable if he was obviously trying to perfect the procedure for his own eventual conversion. Incidentally, is it just me or did the cybercontroller appear not to have the 'anti-emotion chip' enabled?
Some nice bits in there, however. The cyberman who was about to be married was quite well done. Again, not as good as Spare Parts. In that we knew the young woman before the conversion and got to see her family's reaction when she wandered home confused after being damaged in an accident (as a cyberman). No need for contrived 'going to get married tomorrow' to create emotional impact. One thing that wasn't in Spare Parts, for obvious reasons, was the shot of the cyberman looking at itself in the mirror. That was a well done moment.
Rise and Age did have their good moments but it was when taken as a whole that it didn't quite work for me. I know RTD wrote the entire before opening titles sequence in Rise. I wonder what else he changed. The whole thing does feel a bit like someone has taken a script and sprinkled in their own ideas at the last moment without a feel for how it alters what was already there. The whole story felt a little slap dash. As I said, another draft or two to cover over the cracks would have helped immensely. A big crowd puller of a story like this really should have been a bit more polished.
Of course in retrospect this story is obviously setting up RTD's end of season finale, which no doubt explains why it felt like there were two writers battling over this script. Overall it was a disappointing return for my favourite Who monsters. It lacked the pathos and horror of Spare Parts and instead gave us automaton Cybermen doing Lumic's inexplicable dirty work.
The Idiot's Lantern. Mark Gattis restores my faith in Doctor Who with this traditional and low key feeling episode.
1953 London, still Earth but at least it isn't modern day and that period really gave this story a distinctive feel. The idea of a villain trapped in a TV set doesn't sound too promising but Maureen Lipman really does an outstanding job as the menacing BBC continuity announcer - only Brian Perkins could rival her! Some people have complained about the physics behind the victim's faces being sucked off and then returned with no obvious mechanism. I really couldn't care less about that, it worked for me in a dramatic sense and that's all I really care about (and why the likes of Rise of the Cybermen crashed so badly).
We are back with just Rose and the Doctor, no other Tylers, Smiths or Poissons. That really is no bad thing in this case. It has the Doctor and Rose break into a family's domestic life, in a somewhat similar way to Fear her in a few episodes time. I think it works better here than it does in that later story as you have the good bully father character for the Doctor to put in his place.
I'm not sure what else to say about this one - a good episode but not fantastic. Very enjoyable but didn't strike me as a potential classic in the way Gattis' first story, The Unquiet Dead, did.
The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit. Our second two part story this year and the Fear Factor is again right up there.
I tried not to get my hopes up this time after the dashing they got with Tooth and Claw. With the exception of the earlier Cyberman two parter the pattern was always the first part is better than the second (yes, I even slightly preferred Bad Wolf to Parting of the Ways) and this story kept that pattern.
The Ood were great creatures, really Lovecraftian in look and they, along with the general Aliens feel to the sets, really help with the atmosphere. We are away from Earth. This isn't even New Earth. We're trapped on a asteroid 'island' above a big scary black hole. The loss of the TARDIS is, I think, something the new series has tried to avoid as it is a tactic overused in the past. Here, though, it is essential for them all to be trapped together and there is a great scene with Rose and the Doctor contemplating being stuck in one time and settling down with a mortgage!
Some of the scares in this story were very well done, notably the tension filled scene in Toby's room where there is just him and a sinister voice "Don't turn around, Toby". Very well done, indeed. Who needs CGI to give someone a fright? Talking of CGI, I thought the Devil in a cave bit at the end was rather weak. It just lacked the tension of the earlier base scenes.
As I said, the first part was better than the second. Much was made, in Doctor Who Confidential, Totally Doctor Who and the podcast commentary, of the underwater work used to represent floating in space. It did look good on screen but I'm not sure the brief appearances of the effect quite warranted the attention I am now perpetuating!
One other thing that grated a little at the time was Tennant's Tom Baker aping while he was dangling in the space suit. He did the classic Tom Baker big eyes open mouth look and I despaired. That's my only complaint about Tennant's performance, occasionally (and not too often, thank goodness) he'll seem to be doing an impersonation of another Doctor. You can kind of understand why, his character has all these other characters in there somewhere, but please just be your own Doctor! I'm hoping such tendencies will vanish next season as he feels more comfortable in the role (though, worryingly, this two parter was actually the last thing they shot for season 2...)
That aside, the general claustrophobia of the story, the great grungy sets and some decent acting from the guest stars made this a worthy story. Could have been better again but overall nothing to seriously complain about.
Love and Monsters. Possibly the most controversial Doctor Who episode in the world.
It has been suggested it should instead have been called Love or Hate, as this really polarised opinion. I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved it but I certainly didn't hate it either.
A little slow in places but it was an experimental episode. It could have been better and, for me at least, could have been a lot worse, too. I think it would be a great shame if the general fan reaction to this put an effective end to experimental stories. Formulaic, tired and uninventive Who will stay dead a lot longer than uneven, sometimes excellent sometimes rather less so, Who.
Given the lack of Doctor and Rose was a production necessity due to two episodes being filmed at once (thanks to the addition of the Christmas episode) it will be interesting to see what happens in the equivalent episode next year, particularly as they are less likely to have a character like Jackie around, I suspect. A Torchwood based episode instead, perhaps? A bit like they did in X-Files a couple of times with the Lone Gunmen and little or no Scully and Mulder?
Anyway, back to this one. I thought the whole LINDA group was amusing (and a little close to home for the Staggering Stories team - we don't sing, though!) and well played by the actors, notably Marc Warren and Shirely Henderson. Peter Kay was good, if a little over the top, as Kennedy but, for me, a little too far over that line for the Absorbaloff. Okay, yes, it was a panto villain.
Nonetheless the story as a whole was light hearted and amusing and I rather liked the idea that this group of people were looking for the Doctor. It rather tied in with Clive from the opening episode, Rose. Clearly they were trying to do a budget episode and I've nothing against that, often budget constraints help the writers be more creative.
Talking of Scooby Who (as I was so many paragraphs back!) this episode has the quintessential Scooby Doo moment of Rose and the Doctor chasing/being chased through a number of doors along a corridor. That was, to put it mildly, a little silly. Then there was the paving slab. We have got to wonder how much of this episode is seen directly through the eyes of Elton and just how sane he might be.
Nonetheless I enjoyed this episode - it was a change of format but that worked, for me, for this episode.
Fear Her. Matthew Graham's (of Life on Mars, Spooks, Hustle, The Last Train fame, and more besides) near future episode about a girl who draws pictures.
Not the most promising sounding premise and it was another clearly budget conscious story. It worked well enough, though.
Light, bright and clean are obviously the features we have to look forward to in 2012 (not much over five years away from now, as I write this) but nothing much has really changed.
Like The Girl int the Fireplace this is a bit of a concept story, with a girl able to trap people in hand drawings, somewhat Sapphire and Steel in ideas but nothing like it in execution. I think it would have worked better if set in a cold wet winter evening as this setting robbed it of the darkness the concept needed. Presumably the production team thought they had had enough night shoots and frightener stories this season - they do try to give each one a distinct feel.
As I mentioned before the walking into a family thing had already been done in The Idiot's Lantern, along with the abusive father. That's a shame and a surprise RTD didn't pick up on this and change it. Despite this it was a decent story, nothing outstanding in either the good or bad category.
Army of Ghosts and Doomsday. Could this be another two parter with a better second part than first? Yes, I just think it might be.
"This is the story of how I died." There it was, this really was to be Rose Tyler's send off from the series. This is where the entire season has been heading. The foreshadowing of School Reunion, the devil's comment about Rose dying in battle, Torchwood, the whole Rise of the Cyberman two parter. It was all there if we had known to look.
Last year we lost the ninth Doctor, with little or no send off, and this year we lost Rose but this time we did get a send off. An excellent send off. Before that, though, we saw the return of the Cybermen.
Following the pattern from last year of introducing an old enemy about half way through the season (obviously a Dalek last time) and then having them return for the big finale, we have the steel (not silver, steel) giants back.
This time there was no Cybercontroller, no Lumic, pulling their strings. Finally the Cybermen seemed to have minds of their own, ironically lacking last time we saw them considering how much was made of them being human brains in robotic bodies.
What's not quite so clear is why they had decided to up and leave the alternate universe that gave birth to them. Yes, I know, the script called for it! This time there also appeared to be more Cybermen. In the Rise of the Cybermen two parter they did a pretty poor job of giving the illusion they really had more than ten cybermen - marching in close formation across massive fields will tend to do that... Lessons clearly had been learned. There were also nice touches with Cybermen looming over cowering people in their own homes. There really was a sense of a wider threat this time.
Torchwood was interesting but a little conventional feeling. They have all this alien tech but, what, stick it in their warehouse with a few paramilitary guard types? Very different to the Torchwood of the upcoming series (I'm happy to say, Torchwood of the series sounds a lot more interesting).
So, we end up with not just the Cybermen wanting to take over the world but also the Daleks. Battle royale. What's the rather impolite term used for this kind of thing? Daleks vs Cybermen. Fan wank, isn't it? When you think that pretty much all the writers (RTD especially) and even much of the cast and crew are such big fans of Doctor Who, having been so since childhood, it does make you worry when you hear Cybermen vs Daleks. In actual fact it was quite well done.
The Cybermen are completely outclassed but given this series upgrade of individual Dalek's power and these new Cybermen are build from little more than modern Earth tech (the alternate Earth didn't appear that far in advance of us) it was always going to be a cyber-massacre. That's a bit of a shame as I was just starting to like the new Cybermen, too! There were some humourous exchanges between them, though. Go to youtube.com and search for "Cybermen Daleks" and you'll no doubt find the scenes in question. The actual battle scenes don't really deliver, though, mainly because it is such a one sided battle.
The real interest in this story isn't that historic meeting between the Daleks and Cybermen, it is Rose's fate. I have to give credit to Russel T Davies for engineering such a good exit for Rose. Never before has a companion had such a good send off (and it may not happen ever again, either). The pieces were all put into place and the ultimate move executed perfectly. From the moment she goes the whole episode changes and those last few minutes are done to perfection. The music, the direction, the writing, the lighting, the staging and, most of all, the performances are incredible. We all lost something in Bad Wolf Bay. The Doctor never got the chance to say those three words to Rose but he didn't need to. Poor Doctor, all alone. Except... "What? What? WHAT?!"
Roll on Christmas!