In the tradition of the original Doctor Who series, a science-fiction episode is followed by a historical one. (Thankfully, this is not a tediously dull four-part serial where the Tardis gets stolen or trapped.) It’s 1869, it’s Cardiff, and the Doctor and Rose meet Charles Dickens on a trip from London. Remarkably, that’s not the most memorable aspect of their trip. Gaseous ghosts are inhabiting the bodies of the recently deceased, and they either need to be helped… or stopped.
Even when I first watched this, the idea of aliens reanimating dead bodies was hardly a new idea, although I confess it reminded me most of a terrible episode of Star Trek: TNG. ‘The Unquiet Dead’ mixes some horror tropes with some quirky characters and actually manages to pull off a surprisingly decent episode. Such is the nature of this new format that the story is a tad rushed. I would have liked to have learned more about the Gelth. Turning from blue to red to signify their evilness is terribly clichéd, too. And just how trusting and/or daft is the Doctor to believe them in the first place? Side note: the Time War is mentioned again and is made out to have been a devastating galactic conflict (rather than some Dalek ships attacking Gallifrey). This is also the first mention of the “big bad wolf”. Foreshadowing done right.
As Rose is still new to this time-travelling lark, the story has a sense of wonder and mystery about it that later episodes will sadly lose. Even the very notion of being here in this time and place, stepping out onto hundred-year-old fresh snow, is such a big deal. Time travel should be a big deal – that excitement has been lost somewhat lately. It’s also nice to see Rose is a reasonably realistic portrayal of a person, asking the right questions and objecting to the bizarre solutions the Doctor conjures up. And it’s only their third story together, but they seem to have become fast friends, holding hands while facing down death.
This has been a nicely varied and refreshing bunch of episodes so far. I’d forgotten just how much the tone and pacing of “NuWho” had changed even after just eight years. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but these episodes are straight-forward, standalone, no-nonsense fun with a good sense of humour. A shame it’s about to get worse…