Category Archives: Jack

The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

Journey’s End is everything that is wrong with modern Doctor Who all rolled into one. I was torn over whether this is worse than Voyage of the Damned, but I think it has to pip it. It… is… terrible! It’s a melting pot of ideas thrown together and stirred until it’s nothing but fanboy pulp; it’s Russell T Davies writing from the point of view of a ten-year-old playing with his Doctor Who action figures and going “and then Jack turns up and then the Daleks fight them and then Torchwood and Sarah Jane help them and then Mickey comes back and then Martha and she teleports and then they explode and then there’s two Doctors and then-…”. There is no restraint shown, it’s just trash. It’s hard to believe this is the same writer coming from Turn Left and Midnight.

It's telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s simultaneously overblown and boring. It’s full of rambling exposition and ridiculous technobabble. It even makes fun of its own technobabble, but continues to use it to solve the plot anyway; meanwhile, interesting setups (like the Osterhagen key) go literally nowhere. A bluff amongst other bluffs with no consequence. Devices work and break and work again, people teleport in and out. Despite the two parts and extended length, the cast of characters is still too huge to get enough screen time. Even previously satisfying conclusions, such as Rose’s farewell in season 2, are undone, like prodding at a corpse to make it twitch. Rose now comes back then returns to the parallel world for really poor reasons, with a half-human double of the Doctor to spend her life with, just to thoroughly undermine one of the few good things about Doomsday.

She's back, and she's got a great big gun.

She’s back, and she’s got a great big gun.

As for the Daleks, I think they’ve given up any pretence that they’re an endangered species now. Time War? Void ships? Pah! Despite Rose eliminating “all Daleks” from existence with her godly powers, there’s somehow another army of them, grown from the cells of Davros himself, with enough power to move entire planets and destroy the Universe. No, not just the Universe, that’s not big enough anymore. We have to go bigger. All Universes! All parallel worlds, alternative timelines, past, present and future. All of reality and unreality and everything in between. The Daleks will destroy all of it. Don’t worry, though, the duplicate Doctor presses some buttons and all the Daleks are destroyed.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks' Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks’ Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

I hated pretty much everything about this. Every little cliché that all the “big event” episodes have. All those TV news reports from around the world, celebrity cameos, disastrous events having no apparent consequences on everyday life, big fleets of CGI things swarming over the Earth while overbearingly bombastic music plays, the Doctor running about shouting plot things at people, and so on. There’s even a ratings-grabbing tease of a cliffhanger as it seems like the Doctor is going to regenerate (ooh, they kept that a secret!) but actually he comes back as David Tennant again because… yeah. The planet Earth being carried through space by the Tardis is the giant cherry on top of a very cheesy cake, and not in a good way.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose's mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose’s mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

It’s not all bad, but it almost is. Admittedly, amongst all the running around, there’s some nice moments between the reunited characters. Wilf is good, as he always is. Doing a crossover with The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood is an interesting idea, and I’ve been keeping up with both shows in parallel, so the events line up properly, but I can’t imagine the average viewer doing the same, given the target demographic for them. The return of Davros is a big moment and he is as bonkers as ever and looks disgusting, as he should. Oh, and German Daleks. It’s almost worth it for German Daleks. “Exterminieren!” Aaaaand… that’s it. That’s basically the extent of anything good in this finale.

Davros' new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Davros’ new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Even Donna has to leave, and to make sure she can never come back, there has to be some memory-enabled killswitch in her head, because in modern Doctor Who, you can’t just part ways like ordinary people. Donna has, frankly, been fantastic, and she deserves a better end than this. She has been the moral compass for the Doctor on more than one occasion, and the best decision they made was in removing any possibility of romance right from the start so that she could have balanced motives and behave in a more human fashion. She will be missed.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna's memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna’s memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Season 4 has been really good, so it’s a shame that it had to end on such a duff note. This is the ultimate lesson in why “less is more”.

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Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

On Saturday the 16th of June, 2007, I was over at some friends’ house. They were Doctor Who fans, in a stronger sense than I. I had only been watching the last couple of seasons, casually but with growing interest. As I recall, there were rumours at the time of a particular character returning to the show, so as we sat down to watch Doctor Who that evening, there was an air of anticipation. I’d never watched the programme in a group before then, nor, sadly, since; but there was something special about that night, an excitement in the air that hasn’t been repeated. As Professor Yana looked up from that old pocket watch, into the eyes of his former assistant, and mouthed those four immortal words, a great cheer erupted from the room. It led into the best twist this show has ever thrown out, something it had been saving up for the right moment to have the biggest possible impact. That moment was now, and whether it was the atmosphere of that room or simply a work of great suspense, it left with me an affection for this thing called Doctor Who that I have not felt since. Those four simple words, as delivered superbly by the great Derek Jacobi, were: “I… am… the Master.”

I couldn't help cheer myself as those last two words left Derek Jacobi's lips after a suspenseful pause. It was a memorable evening. Subsequent viewings have lacked the same impact, sadly.

I couldn’t help cheer myself as those last two words left Derek Jacobi’s lips after a suspenseful pause. It was a memorable evening. Subsequent viewings have lacked the same impact, sadly.

Things have changed since that night; I’m not the “n00b” I once was. I’ve now seen all of the old serials and know who this Master character actually is and why he’s so important. I know that he was last seen in the 1996 TV movie, falling into a time/space vortexy thing at the heart of the Tardis. I’ve also started watching Torchwood in parallel, so Jack Harkness’s sudden arrival at the start of Utopia now makes a bit more sense. Jack’s character has taken a turn for the dour throughout the first season of Torchwood, not unsurprisingly so, having been brought back to life, travelled back through time and forced to live on Earth for over a century. But as soon as he’s back with the Doctor, that brooding character evaporates and the Captain Jack from Doctor Who is back, full of life and energy again.

Jack Harkness, intergalactic flirt, comes back to life in more ways than one.

Jack Harkness, intergalactic flirt, comes back to life in more ways than one.

Utopia is ostensibly a standalone episode, before the significance of its plot becomes apparent towards the end of ‘part 3’. On its own, it’s an uplifting tale of human perseverance and longevity, of hope amidst despair, as the last ever human beings at the very end of a dying universe, jet off in a last ditch effort to find a new home. But at the time, this plot fell by the wayside next to the more exciting revelation of the Master, disguised as the human Professor Yana, using the same metamorphosis technique that the Doctor only recently used to become human himself (how convenient!). The whole history of Doctor Who is recited in an info-dump that would have been excessive were it not intercut with Yana dramatically hearing the words in his mind that he should not understand: Vortex, Time War, Daleks, Regeneration. The build up of the music, the professor’s expression, the flashbacks of the Face of Boe reciting those words, “you… are… not… alone”, as the B plot suddenly becomes the A plot, the rocket full of humans now insignificant next to this, it is one of the best dramatic sequences they’ve ever done. It’s also the end of this particular run of high quality episodes, which has, in my opinion, yet to be bettered.

The perception field overcome, Professor Yana finally opens the pocket watch and the Time Lord essence hidden within comes flowing out.

The perception field overcome, Professor Yana finally opens the pocket watch and the Time Lord essence hidden within comes flowing out.

Everything after this can only fail to live up to expectations. It’s not that The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords are necessarily bad, in fact this is probably my favourite of the three ‘finales’ so far, but it’s as totally overblown as finales always are. More so, frankly; the stakes are so ridiculously high this time that the planet Earth couldn’t possibly recover from everything that happens to it, so the big reset button has to be pushed, rewinding time to its previous state before the invasion of the spheres can even happen. That’s what you get when your plan to rule the world relies on a fragile paradox machine to keep everything held together, and then you let an immortal with a machine gun inside of it. John Simm is fine in his own (perhaps overly comedic) way, playing a version of the Master for the modern age, his exuberant personality and dramatic flair a mirror for the type of Doctor that David Tennant plays now… and yet, every time he’s on screen, I wish the role was still played by Derek Jacobi, who not only does a superbly menacing Master, but skillfully portrays the kindly human professor too. Still, had he stayed, the following episodes would have turned out quite differently.

Saxon says "yes" to gassing.

Saxon says “yes” to gassing.

Harold Saxon, of course, was the Master all along. Russell T. Davies must have been planning this as far back as The Runaway Bride when the name Saxon is first dropped. We never see him, of course, but everyone on Earth knows him, due to the telepathic field that the Master has managed to bounce off of satellites around the planet. For me, this is the best series arc yet. Better than clumsily name-dropping Torchwood everywhere they go; a better resolution than the Bad Wolf wizard turning up to wave its magic wand and save the day. This is the Doctor staring the Master in the face for more than a year without him even knowing it, finding him in the far future, and then being responsible for sending him back to the past to become the person that has been cropping up all throughout the season. It’s inspired, it’s superb, and it’s a shame that it has to have such a blow-out ending.

Swarms/fleets attack the Earth again. Yawn.

Swarms/fleets attack the Earth again. Yawn.

A giant rift, presumably unrelated to the Cardiff rift, and indeed the visually similar 'crack in the universe', opens in the sky above the implausibly high-tech aircraft carrier, Valiant.

A giant rift, presumably unrelated to the Cardiff rift, and indeed the visually similar ‘crack in the universe’, opens in the sky above the implausibly high-tech aircraft carrier, Valiant.

It’s great that Martha gets to save the world, seeing as this is her final regular appearance, but “the power of love” saving the day is such a lame and overdone thing now, and would Martha really be able to traipse across the whole planet in just a year? And still look so clean and pretty at the end of it? The Doctor temporarily gaining invincibility is too similar to the end of The Parting of the Ways. Yes, it is sort of set up in advance by the whole psychic satellite thing, but the details don’t have enough time to sink in, so the resolution feels very much like “winning with technobabble”. Just once, I’d like to have a low-key finale, a plot that doesn’t involve “huge swarms of invading things”, big CGI set-pieces and ridiculous levels of peril. I will give it bonus points, however, for the correct use of the word “decimate”.

Why does the Doctor turn into Dobby from Harry Potter when he's super-aged? This is very silly.

Why does the Doctor turn into Dobby from Harry Potter when he’s super-aged? This is very silly.

There were some nicely “big” moments that did work for me. All of the flashbacks to Gallifrey, complete with colourful costumes and big collars, were nicely done. We hardly ever learn anything about Time Lord society, but here we get a short history lesson about 8-year-old Gallifreyans looking into the Time Vortex as part of their initiation into the ‘Academy’ (whatever that is). It’s suggested that the Master has been hearing the drums in his head all of his life, but this is the only time it’s ever been mentioned. It’s worth noting, however, that the drum rhythm (da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum) is the same as the baseline in the Doctor Who theme, a rhythm directly associated with the Time Vortex at the start of every single episode. I’d never noticed before now, but that’s clever. There’s also an in-joke where the Doctor scoffs at Martha’s suggestion that he and the Master are brothers (this almost happened for the third Doctor’s finale, but the death of Roger Delgado meant it was written out). The story ends with another jokey suggestion that the almost immortal Captain Jack is in fact the Face of Boe himself – however, whether this should be taken at ‘face’ value (har!) is open to debate. It’s certainly a fun theory, but it could equally be Jack’s idea of a joke.

I think he'd have to have a lot more work done to end up looking like a giant head in a jar. I wouldn't put it past him.

I think he’d have to have a lot more work done to end up looking like a giant head in a jar. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Martha leaves us as a regular now, returning to the family that needs her, the only people on Earth who will remember the events of the ‘missing year’. Martha makes the decision to move on from the Doctor for the sake of her own feelings. I don’t like the fact that Tennant’s version of the Doctor has to be this heart-throb angsty wanderer that everyone keeps falling for, however I absolutely prefer this way of companions leaving of their own accord, and not through contrived set-ups, magic gateways and overblown emotional music.

But where would a finale be without some twist of an ending, whether it be a mysterious hand finding a ring at the Master’s burning remains or… the Titanic breaching the wall of the Tardis? What?

Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways

Much of this series has been better than I remember it from the first time around. However, with Bad Wolf, this is not the case. It is exactly as bad as I remember it. Perhaps worse in some ways, as the Big Brother / Weakest Link game show stuff is no longer current or modern, so these scenes have dated. It’s hard to imagine a future where they’re inexplicably brought back along with android versions of hosts who were briefly popular.

It's all fun and games until people start getting disintegrated. "You are the weakest link - goodbye!"

It’s all fun and games until people start getting disintegrated. “You are the weakest link – goodbye!”

Speaking of androids, ‘Anne Droid’ is a terrible pun. Much of the humour misses the mark here, particularly Jack Harkness standing around in the buff, literally pulling a gun out of his arse. It tries to be satirical about reality TV (ha-ha, contestants are killed!) but it’s really broad satire with none of the bite. I dare say it was done better in the Colin Baker story, Vengeance on Varos. What I will say in its favour is that the comical game shows set certain expectations which are then blasted away when the Daleks turn up, and you realise that this is not such a daft throwaway story after all. That is at least an effective twist (or would have been at the time, assuming you didn’t watch the preview).

The Dalek fleet approaches Satellite Five and Earth. Decent visual effects.

The Dalek fleet approaches Satellite Five and Earth. Decent visual effects.

The Parting of the Ways is an improvement in that it ditches most of the game show stuff and focuses on a siege against the Dalek invasion. However, as is so often the case, a lone Dalek is more threatening than an army of them. They’ve been overused already within the first season! How do you deal with a threat this big? You have to invent a weapon that’s even bigger. The deus ex machina involves Rose becoming an all-powerful god (the Bad Wolf) and literally thinking the Daleks out of existence. Every single one, wiped out, erased, and Captain Jack brought back to life (but nobody else who died, oddly). One has to wonder, if Tardis hearts have the ability to do that, even at the expense of a life, why didn’t the Time Lords use this power before? I really hate that sort of thing; it’s a thoroughly unsatisfying ending.

Bad Wolf Rose thinks the Daleks out of existence, but what's more impressive is that she also makes herself not a chav.

Bad Wolf Rose thinks the Daleks out of existence, but what’s more impressive is that she also makes herself not a chav.

The “Bad Wolf” foreshadowing throughout this series has been more subtle than, say, massive cracks appearing at the end of every episode, but the message it was supposed to convey is… questionable. If you had total control over time and space and could send messages back through time to your past self, why would you choose a message that merely describes what you will temporarily call yourself in the future? It’s not instructional or useful. I guess the fact that it worked anyway means that she knew it would work, which is why she did it… a self-fulfilling prophecy? You could go a bit mad trying to wrap your head around it. Once again, I have to feel sorry for Mickey, who Rose treats very badly in this episode. He needs to let her go, for both their sakes.

The Dalek Emperor. Somehow survived being destroyed many times in the past and rebuilt his Dalek army over hundreds of years. It shoulda been Davros, though.

The Dalek Emperor. Somehow survived being destroyed many times in the past and rebuilt his Dalek army over hundreds of years. It shoulda been Davros, though.

But it’s the ninth Doctor’s time to go now. Draining the vortex energy from Rose (with a kiss, *roll eyes*) is too much for his cells to take and he dies, forcing a spectacular regeneration… and a confused companion. I suppose I should comment generally on Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, which I enjoyed more this time around. What I didn’t like so much was how weirdly unpredictable he could be, but I think that impression was formed from this episode, which demonstrates what I mean. When he’s talking to the Daleks and their emperor, he goes from cheery smiles to angry shouting at the drop of a hat. It’s sort of what he does in the Dalek episode, but more ‘zany’ this time and makes him come across as unhinged.

Melodramatic goodbye messages, it all started here, unfortunately.

Melodramatic goodbye messages, it all started here, unfortunately.


On the whole, however, it’s clear to me now that this style of Doctor is based on past performances from several different actors. Eccleston’s portrayal is more cheery in general, but I get the sense that it’s a cover for the feelings of guilt he has over what he’s done in the past. He’s often frustrated with humans (“another stupid ape!”) but at the same time utterly fascinated by them and admires their tenacity. He can be fierce and threatening, but when it comes down to it, he will not kill or become another monster himself. He’s clearly incredibly clever but likes to have fun and thrives on sharing that fun with others. More than any of the other Doctors, I suppose, he is a lonely wanderer.

Flashy.

Flashy.

It’s a shame Christopher Eccleston didn’t want to come back, even for the anniversary, but he had his chance to shine and now it’s time for David Tennant to give us a different interpretation.

—–

As for my favourite ninth Doctor episodes, I would have to go with The End of the World, Dalek and The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances… which were pretty much my faves the first time around too. However, this series is very inter-connected, with references to all past episodes sprinkled throughout (the Cardiff rift, Rose’s dad, the Face of Boe, Satellite Five, Slitheen, etc.). It’s not so easy to exclude a poor episode without missing something important. Well played, Russell T. Well played.

Boom Town

I didn’t remember much about this episode and, after watching it again, I realise why: not much actually happens. It must have been a cost-cutting episode, keeping the budget low to save money for the finale. It conveniently coincides with the Tardis needing to recharge its energy cells by parking over the now closed dimensional rift in Cardiff, where a Slitheen survivor is, also conveniently, planning a devastating explosion to get herself away from Earth. So, yes, it’s another story set on Earth. This might not be so bad if Rose didn’t start bragging about all the exotic planets they’ve been to on their untelevised travels.

The rift is "accidentally" re-opened.

The rift is “accidentally” re-opened.

Down-time isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These episodes are often so fast-paced that you can miss out on the little things like characters having fairly long conversations about their lives. This episode is all about that, with the Doctor and Blon’s dinner scene taking up the bulk of it. Rose and Mickey also have a frank discussion about her disappearing all the time and him not waiting around for her anymore, which further develops his character and is a good performance by Noel Clarke. This show needs more Mickey.

Mickey drops in on the Tardis crew (now including Capt. Jack).

Mickey drops in on the Tardis crew (now including Capt. Jack).

Beyond that, the episode is fairly lighthearted. Although the farting is toned down, “Margaret” murdering her construction workers and critics is almost played for laughs, as is the chase from her office and the teleport gag. Don’t get me wrong, I like the humour in Doctor Who, but here it’s bordering on the silly. I liked how the Doctor finally realises that the words “Bad Wolf” have been following them around on their travels, but dismisses it as a coincidence, at which point the foreboding musics stops in its tracks and everything carries on as normal. Imagine if that was the actual reveal and it was never mentioned again – it would have been some epic trolling!

Amongst other things, the dinner conversation revolves around the Doctor's right to take Blon to her death at the hands of her own people. If only there was some convenient way for the Doctor to not have to make that decision...

Amongst other things, the dinner conversation revolves around the Doctor’s right to take Blon to her death at the hands of her own people. If only there was some convenient way for the Doctor to not have to make that decision…

Boom Town is a little bit boring, unfortunately. Russell T. Davies gets the characters right and the dialogue is natural and raises some interesting moral dilemmas, but there’s not a lot more to it and these issues aren’t resolved nor do they amount to anything. Still, given his big plots are usually full of holes, perhaps sticking to a story that’s purely focused on the characters having some down time was a good choice. Things are going to get very strange from here on.

The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

Before he took over the reins as head writer and executive producer, there was a time when Steven Moffat wrote fantastic episodes that didn’t hinge on bizarre coincidences or plot revelations spewed out at the last moment, when his female characters weren’t just pretty plot devices, and when he could really stir up some evocative imagery and create iconic foes. His first story is the perfect example and still remains one of the best.

"Are you my mummy?"

“Are you my mummy?”

What Moffat does brilliantly is make monsters out of ordinary things and wrap them up in mystery. Creatures dressed as clowns, disguised as statues, hidden in space suits or, in this case, wearing gas masks. These aren’t snarling monsters, they aren’t scary in a conventional sense. If anything, they kill with love. A small boy who just wants his mummy, but his touch will turn you into an empty shell just like him. It’s terrifying, and being set against a backdrop of the blitz adds so much to the atmosphere.

Richard Wilson makes a brief appearane as Dr. Constantine, before turning into another masked creature.

Richard Wilson makes a brief appearane as Dr. Constantine, before turning into another masked creature.

Like any good mystery, the clues are there to pick up on, and the conclusion actually makes sense. The medical ship, the nanogenes, the crash, the girl and her “brother”. The mystery unravels with excellent pace and suspense, too, and still has time for some genuinely funny lines between the characters. This is of course the first appearance of Captain Jack, the fast and easy ex-Time Agent turned con artist. Say what you will about him, but he absolutely lights up this story, adding a new dynamic to both Rose and the Doctor. Normally, a complicated plot like this would sideline the characters, but not here. Being a two-part story gives it the space it needs, and for once, next week’s preview comes AFTER the credits, preserving the suspense for those who choose to switch off before. Of course, I watched them back to back, because it was so bloomin’ gripping.

The sonic screwdriver scene is very amusing.

The sonic screwdriver scene is very amusing.

This is probably the first Doctor Who story since its revival that is properly scary (The Unquiet Dead was relatively tame and the Slitheen are just too silly). Doctor Who should be scary now and again, and this has some spine-tingling moments throughout – the hospital full of masked bodies that all sit up at the same time, the ringing phones, and of course several instances of “you didn’t notice that he wasn’t at the typewriter anymore” / “we didn’t notice the tape deck had finished” and you’re still hearing the thing happening and everybody stops talking to look at it. Yeah, it’s a little clichéd, but it’s brilliant and still got to me.

"Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once - everybody lives!"

“Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once – everybody lives!”

It’s not just the scares, but this is everything a Doctor Who story should be. It’s got creepy monsters that aren’t really monsters, a science-fiction element within a historical setting, dripping with atmosphere and mystery, really good writing, humour, and developed characters, and an ending it thoroughly earns. It won’t be the last time Steven Moffat knocks it out of the park either – his upcoming stories have remained my favourites – but it shows that he was at his best when he didn’t have to run the whole show too.