Category Archives: Season 27 (Season 1)

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 Perhaps worse in some ways, as the Big Brother / Weakest Link game show stuff is no longer current or modern, so these scenes have dated.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.

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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.

Father’s Day

If any further evidence were needed that this new series of Doctor Who is more about Rose than it is the Doctor, then Father’s Day is the ultimate proof. Why did Rose rush into the Tardis upon learning it’s also a time machine at the end of the first episode? No, it wasn’t just a joke, she had a serious motive and a plan, somewhere in her head, to see her dad before he was killed in a tragic car accident. Foreshadowing, again, done right!

Rose ensures her father doesn't die alone this time.

Rose ensures her father doesn’t die alone this time.

Father’s Day is filled with drama and sentiment. It tells a heartwarming story of family reunion and concludes it with a brave sacrifice. Characters grow and learn and it’s all very emotional. It makes us care for these characters and learn a little more about them. In that respect, it’s a successful episode. The flip-side to this is that it doesn’t really make much sense.

Giant CGI bats appear in the sky because... erm...

Giant CGI bats appear in the sky because… erm…

Apparently, the Time Lords used to step in and stop wounds in time from happening, but now that they’re all gone, this sort of accident can happen. And yet, it’s never happened since, and it doesn’t really explain how it happened or why. We must simply consider it a freak accident and let it slide. This story portrays time as a kind of magical realm with guardians and destiny, rather than a scientific dimensional concept. Why does the Tardis turn into a normal phone box? Magic. Why do all the phones start picking up the first ever telephone message? Magic. Why does the car keep appearing and disappearing? Magic. Why does the nature of Pete’s death change but nobody remembers Rose being there or the world ending? Magic. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. Brush it under the carpet and move on.

A classic example of the problem. Future Rose saves her dad, so why do 'Two Minutes Earlier' Doctor and Rose disappear? They must still exist to be able to become the future versions who save Rose's dad!

A classic example of the problem. Future Rose saves her dad, so why do ‘Two Minutes Earlier’ Doctor and Rose disappear? They must still exist to be able to become the future versions who save Rose’s dad!

The empty Tardis was, admittedly, very cool.

The empty Tardis was, admittedly, very cool.

I like to think you can mix an emotional character-driven story with a solid grasp of time travel logic. Doctor Who manages it occasionally, but this particular story is weighted too heavily towards the former with not enough consideration for the latter. Still, purely as a piece of drama, it’s rather effective. Pete is an endearing character, and although Rose initially learns that the reality doesn’t live up to the stories, she finds a man she is proud to call her father anyway.

The Long Game

Whether it’s on Earth or in orbit, this series has yet to leave the vicinity of our little blue sphere. There’s even a shot of the planet’s surface through an observation window that is very reminiscent of the one from four episodes prior. And we’re aboard another orbiting satellite, only this time the human race is very much alive and well, but something isn’t quite right.

It's very flashy (and a bit gross) but that cannot be a particularly efficient method of data transfer.

It’s very flashy (and a bit gross) but that cannot be a particularly efficient method of data transfer.

This is the first episode to fail to leave any sort of impression on me. I vaguely recall seeing it before but only because I remember Simon Pegg being in it and the weirdness with the head hatches opening up. It is a fairly forgettable story and it didn’t win me over this time around either.

Skip to the end.

Skip to the end.

I think the problem is that the drama of the situation relies too much on fairly abstract concepts. We’re told that the human race is being controlled, that information is being manipulated, but we don’t see the evidence of it. We only get the story from the point of view of a couple of workers aboard the satellite and have to take the Doctor’s word for it that this weird new world is the wrong sort of weird. It’s very difficult to care.

The 500th floor wasn't so good a promotion for Suki after all.

The 500th floor wasn’t so good a promotion for Suki after all.

Technology and concepts are introduced so quickly that the importance of them doesn’t have time to take hold. I get that the implants are a way to absorb everybody’s thoughts, but the way Cathica reverses it at the end seems to happen all too easily. The sub-plot with Adam trying to transmit future secrets could have been interesting, but he’s such a bland character that I didn’t care that he messed up, and I’m glad to see the back of him.

The Jagrafess, controlling human destiny for nearly a century. Defeated by turning the heating on for a few seconds.

The Jagrafess, controlling human destiny for nearly a century. Defeated by turning the heating on for a few seconds.

Pegg is pretty good on screen as the villain, the Jagrafess creature is disturbing, and some of the episode’s themes do sort of work okay in a broad sense, but, on the whole, this is the weakest episode of the revived series so far.

Dalek

You can tell tell the quality of an actor by putting them into a room with a puppet and watching them act out an impassioned scene. Without a doubt, the most memorable performance of Christopher Eccleston’s short stint as the Doctor comes from this episode, as he faces down the last of his old foes, a single Dalek soldier. Compassion turns to fear, fear turns to delight and then rage and disgust. I used to find Eccleston a little unpredictable and scatty as the Doctor, but it’s understandable, as he shows every side of the character within the space of a minute.

Another sign of a good actor is how much they spit when they shout.

Another sign of a good actor is how much they spit when they shout.

It was important to bring in new fans, who may not have known the history of the Daleks, but also appeal to the long-term viewers. The “time war” idea was a great way to wipe the slate clean and reset expectations, but I can’t help think that the reveal of the Dalek would have been more of a shock had they not spoiled it in the previous episode’s preview, or indeed in the name of the bloody episode!

Imprisoned and helpless, the Dalek is tortured.

Imprisoned and helpless, the Dalek is tortured.

Nevertheless, the intention was to make the Daleks threatening again for the 21st century, and this succeeds where more overblown efforts have failed. An army of Daleks invading Earth doesn’t have the same impact as knowing that just one rogue Dalek could single-plungedly wipe out millions of people itself, even if you don’t see it happen. Oh, this revised Dalek soldier is formidable on-screen, sure, but it’s the warning of what it might do, the terror in the Doctor’s eyes, that sells the threat.

The museum of alien artefacts, deep underground in Utah. Well, at least it's not Wales again.

The museum of alien artefacts, deep underground in Utah. Well, at least it’s not Wales again.

That the Dalek ultimately destroys itself, having been “contaminated” with Rose’s emotions, is perhaps the best end for the Dalek saga one could hope for. In the space of 45 minutes, we go from fear to pity, as this pulsating blob of a thing finally sets himself free, and the Doctor is brought back from the brink of becoming a monster himself. If this were the last ever appearance of the Daleks, it would have been a spectacular ending for them. Unfortunately, they were dragged back kicking and screaming before the first series was even over. A missed opportunity, but not one for which I can blame this episode.

Henry van Statten owns the entire Internet, apparently.

Henry van Statten owns the entire Internet, apparently.

While this is one of the best ever portrayals of the Daleks, the rest of the episode is merely okay. The idea of the alien museum is interesting (old-school Cyberman head!) but the characters fall flat or come across as silly, especially van Statten firing people for ridiculous things and having their memories wiped (this might have seemed plausibly futuristic at the time, but the episode’s setting of 2012 is now the past!). New tag-along Adam is so bland a character, I actually forgot he was even in this series. He claims to be a genius, but demonstrates no such quality just yet. He and Rose flirting seems inappropriate, given she only left Mickey waiting in the previous episode. Still, anything to shake up the status quo is fine by me.

Aliens of London / World War Three

Since coming back to these episodes, a few things have become apparent. Firstly, they’re actually a lot better than I remember. Secondly, Russell T. Davies writes “smaller” character moments better than anyone else in Doctor Who’s entire run. Thirdly, these “end of the world” type stories are almost always terrible.

The Slitheen's family car crash-lands in the Thames. An elaborate alien hoax, created by aliens. It's original, I'll give it that.

The Slitheen’s family car crash-lands in the Thames. An elaborate alien hoax, created by aliens. It’s original, I’ll give it that.

What these two stories tackle rather brilliantly is the effect the Doctor has on the people around him. Rose going off on adventures through space and time sounds like a jolly fun lark, but a slight miscalculation can cause grief and harassment for the people she loves. This is something that Doctor Who never tackled before, or simply didn’t care to. I really felt for Mickey in particular, having to deal with accusations and police investigation, and still be asked to forgive, forget, and save the world. He may come across as comic relief a lot of the time, but the writing and performance here is stellar.

The bad wolf stuff is not so subtle now. More to the point, shouldn't the Tardis be paint-proof?

The bad wolf stuff is not so subtle now. More to the point, shouldn’t the Tardis be paint-proof?

Sadly, these two episodes are more likely to be remembered as “the ones with the farting aliens”, which has also been the lasting impression it has left with me for the last nine years. The Slitheen giggling at their own flatulence sets a silly tone, but more than that, it says that these so-called aliens are not very alien at all. For all the cutting edge prosthetics and CGI, they’re basically just a greedy amoral family who find the whole thing jolly amusing. A nice ruse (and the misdirection with the “pig” is nicely handled) but, by the end, it paints the universe as being a thoroughly ordinary place filled with people who are just exaggerated versions of us.

"Why won't they call?!!"

“Why won’t they call?!!”

Where these types of stories usually fall down is in providing a satisfying resolution and portraying the scale of events. News reports fill in the “big picture”, but one has to wonder about the specifics. How did the Slitheen provide this “proof” of the alien mothership in orbit? Did the UN not verify it? Is it really possible to launch an RAF missile using a web browser and a single password? Just how incompetent is the British government anyway? The Doctor’s comment that humanity sees what it wants and ignores the facts in front of its face is amusing, but it stretches credibility an awful lot. And would he really not know when Earth made its first contact with extraterrestrials? Would that not be quite a famous date for such a big fan of Earth history? Moreover, wouldn’t this technically have already happened decades earlier with the many alien attacks that UNIT has had to deal with (the Zygons’ Loch Ness Monster springs to mind).

The Slitheen slip out of their human disguises. This happens approximately 679,834 times in part 2.

The Slitheen slip out of their human disguises. This happens approximately 679,834 times in part 2.

It’s the details that nag away at me and makes me wish these stories would stick to the smaller scale stuff. For all the criticism of the Tardis spending too much time in modern day London, I have to admit, these scenes are the strongest dramatically, but there’s only so much you can do here before it becomes boring. That said, any scene with the Doctor having to deal with Rose’s family or modern day life is very funny indeed. I’d forgotten how much humour was in these episodes, and Christopher Eccleston’s delivery is… fantastic. I can’t fault him, really; and his solemn moments round off the character, my favourite being when he simply says “sorry” to the dead secretary whose name he didn’t know.

Harriet Jones, MP, rises up to the challenge.

Harriet Jones, MP, rises up to the challenge.

Part 1 ends with a classic cliffhanger just as the Slitheen reveal themselves, harkening back to the old days. It’s an effective moment that seems impossible to resolve, and I don’t begrudge the magical solution in itself (“ha-ha, I’m immune to your attacks! And also, I can zap you all because you’re all connected for some reason!”). No, the worst thing about this is how totally undermined the cliffhanger is by the immediate preview of the next episode showing that everybody is fine. A post-credits scene is excusable, but these are absolutely, unmissably, immediate. Perhaps this was a management directive rather than a directorial or editing decision, but it’s still awful.

These sequences would have been infinitely more threatening accompanied by some Benny Hill music.

These sequences would have been infinitely more threatening accompanied by some Benny Hill music.

A mixed bag, then. Most will only remember this as the one with the farting aliens and I would have too, but I’m glad to have given it a second chance and found the character drama, and those unique moments that focus on the life of the adventurer, kind of make up for it. But let’s steer the Tardis clear of Earth for a while, yeah? Give it ten seconds, at least.