(Tardisodes: first, communications between Gemini and Preachers; second, Cybus taking over the world.) I had forgotten just how good Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel actually is. The visuals are superb – the Zeppelins over London (and the spectacular Zeppelin scenes at the end), the marching Cybermen, Battersea Power Station as slaughterhouse. The story doesn’t shrink from killing off sympathetic characters – Jackie, Ricky, Mrs Moore. Sure, some plot elements are lifted from Genesis of the DaleksThe Five Doctors.)
I have written previously comparing the politics of the parallel world here with that of Inferno, which ended Pertwee’s first season. But another aspect that makes the parallel world story effective is that both Rose and Mickey find that their loved ones are still alive in Pete’s World; and yet it is far from being a perfect place. (I do hope that they nailed down that carpet before going to Paris.)
Mickey is the first companion in New Who to leave the Tardis of his own volition. (The only other one is Martha. By contrast, it was more usual than not in Old Who for companions to apparently decide for themselves that their time was up.) I cannot be alone in finding the Doctor’s mockery of him, especially in Season One, rather uncomfortable viewing; it’s not enough to steal the guy’s girlfriend, you have to rub it in as well? But Mickey is much better served by his Season Two character arc: he comes to the realisation that he is no more than Junior Sidekick (as he puts it, “the tin dog”) to the main characters, expresses his distress, gets nowhere and decides to do something else with his life. It is a more compelling story than most Doctors get, never mind their companions.
(Tardisode: the Wire consumes Grandma’s face.) I liked The Idiot’s Lantern more on this viewing than previously, but that is not saying a lot. The concept is good, and the faceless people are genuinely horrific; the Doctor and Rose, liberated from caring about Mickey, are on top form; and Euros Lyn shoots a lot of it from tilted cameras to keep us watching. Maureen Lipman is not given a lot to work with but doesn’t with great gusto, and I also liked Debra Gillett as Rita Connolly.
But the Connolly family subplot doesn’t work for me. This is not a Very Special Who episode of Doctor Who about mummy and daddy not loving each other any more; the presentation of the parents’ relationship is both clichéd and unrealistic (how fortunate that the house is in Grandma’s name!), and for me the story is the weakest since New Earth as a result.
NB that there is no such person as the King of Belgium. Our head of state is the King of the Belgians, and presumably has that on his business cards.
(Tardisodes: two linked pieces about Captain Walker, a book found by the Galis expedition, and the Ood. Apparently they still have MacBooks in the future.) I fear this is becoming a boring refrain, but I had forgotten how good The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit actually is. I think it is our first proper base-under-siege story in New Who (perhaps arguments can be made for The End of the World or Dalek, but I won’t) and perhaps it’s a return to that comfort zone of Old Who, with the difference of a more diverse base crew than Old Who would have had (the black guy would never have been in command in the old days, and the smart woman would never have been chief scientist). The scarily different bit is not so much the monster – though it is well done, both the descent to the pit and the technical realisation of a superhuman incarnation of evil – but the Ood, who are very creepy indeed. Having a slave race never works out well in Who, but here the message is that by exploiting the Ood, humanity has opened a potential route for its own destruction. Terrific stuff.
(Tardisode: Kennedy, played hereby a different and presumably less expensive actor, tracks down LINDA and eats the woman who makes his tea.) Love and Monsters is one of the most daring episodes of Who ever. Paul Cornell has written a spirited defence of the story as an episode about fandom, about the show Doctor Who rather than its central character, and he makes a good case. But the fact is that this had not been done before in New Who, and only really in passing in Old Who (most notably in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, though talk of fans of the Doctor goes back to The Savages). The episode is doubly daring in that it is the first of the Doctor-lite episodes that we now accept as a regular event in New Who. It is a bit bizarre, and it doesn’t fit with the previous run of the programme at all, but I think it’s OK for Who to be experimental occasionally and that it more or less works.
(Tardisode: a Welsh bloke appears to be doing a children’s version of Crimewatch in a London street. It is rather bad.) I was a bit surprised to be reminded that Fear Her was by far the lowest rated episode of New Who in the DWM top 200 stories poll a while back. It is a simple low-cost story, thrown together at the last minute because Stephen Fry’s script didn’t work out, but it is tremendously effective at what it does. It addresses dysfunctional families and child abuse far more effectively than The Idiot’s Lantern from only a few weeks earlier, and Nina Sosanya is simply superb as Trish (and young Abisola Agbaje very impressive as Chloe). It has a couple of weak points – poor Huw Edwards gets given an awful lot of info-dumping, and the emotional climax goes on for a bit too long – but I feel this one is unfairly underrated. Note the Doctor’s casual reference to having been a father once… Also, this story, like Dalek, is set in 2012, which seemed safely distant at the time of broadcast but now feels so last year.
(Tardisodes: a journalist gets scrobbled while investigating Torchwood; another gets scrobbled by Cybermen while reading the news.) David Tennant’s first season finale has a lot of good bits and some less good bits. While the ghosts themselves are rather intriguing, the means and motivation for the Cybermen to disguise themselves in this way are never explained (as often with RTD episodes, we invest in a very detailed set-up referencing contemporary culture which then turns out to be irrelevant); and much though one’s heart melts for Rose and the Doctor, perhaps the final scenes in Canary Wharf go on a bit. But this isn’t actually a pair of episodes about plot; it’s a series of dramatic reveals – Mickey’s reappearance; the Daleks’ reappearance (which had us and even some visiting non-fans on the edge of our seats when first broadcast); Pete and Jackie’s reunion; Yvonne’s survival; and the parting of the ways again. And all of those, with a partial reservation about the last, are done very well, and it looks good, and you believe that ten square metres of plasterboard in a studio is a gateway between dimensions at the top of a skyscraper. And New Who turns a corner, having replaced its main cast within two years of starting; Old Who didn’t completely change the guard until two stories into its fourth season. It is important to demonstrate that the show can go on even if the faces change, and now we have got there.
(And I was completely unaware of Catherine Tate’s existence before seeing her at the end of this.)
I was uncertain about whether I should do a separate write-up for Jackie. But her appearance in Love and Monsters convinced me; this is actually someone whose life is in general worse off because of the Doctor’s intervention. Just as Mickey reasonably resents the man with the blue box stealing his girlfriend, Jackie hates him stealing her daughter, and the show is often more sympathetic to her than the title character. Jackie is a reminder that while the Doctor may be saving worlds, his effects on people at the micro level can be pretty destructive. (Sarah Jane Smith, of course, actually comes out and says this.)
I’ve just finished the second volume of Philip Sandifer’s Tardis Eruditorum collections of essays, and he has some particularly interesting things to say about Victoria, as the first Old Who girl companion picked who was already a child star, and that making her a “female peril monkey” rather than the audience identification figure is a very big and unexpectedly successful step. RTD (and Bilie Piper, of course) made Rose the audience identification figure, but gave her two things a companion had never had before: non-Tardis travelling friends and relatives who we see in their first story who don’t immediately die, and a strong romantic relationship with the Doctor. It is a considerable report of the show’s treatment of Its regular characters, and it grated a wee bit for some of us Old Who fans who remembered nostalgically the days when companions appeared out of nowhere, enjoyed travelling with the Doctor platonically and left as abruptly. But we were wrong and RTD was right.
And the bat-shippers therefore do have a point. The first two seasons are as much about Rose
as about the Doctor. She’s not just an audience viewpoint figur who has to have stuff explained to her; she’s not just (indeed, hardly ever is) a screaming peril monkey; she’s someone who goes on
adventures with her exciting new best friend, who she would quite like to be more than a best friend – not so much audience identification as audience wish fulfilment. The show has never had a companion like that, and Piper does it very well.
The Tardisodes have been largely forgotten since 2006, and on the whole this is fair. The best one is the prequel to The Girl in the Fireplace, which briefly and effectively shows us the fate of the Madame de Pompadour and her crew. The later ones look like cheap afterthoughts, trailers for a slightly different show. The prequels of the Moffat era have generally been better conceived.
Overall this is a decent run. The closing two-parter isn’t actually as good as the two previous two-parters, but it’s still good enough. The Idiot’s Lantern Is weak, but much of Old Who was worse. Most importantly, the show demonstrates that it can one again triumphantly survive a change of lead actor, and Rose gets the best departure arc of any Who companions before Rory and Amy. And she deserves it.
OK, on to Torchwood…
< The Curse of Fatal Death | The Webcasts | Rose – Dalek | The Long Game – The Parting of the Ways | Comic Relief 2006 – The Girl in the Fireplace | Rise of the Cybermen – Doomsday | Everything Changes – They Keep Killing Suzie | Random Shoes – End of Days | Smith and Jones – 42 | Human Nature / The Family of Blood – Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords & The Infinite Quest | Revenge of the Slitheen – The Lost Boy & Time Crash | Voyage of the Damned – Adam | Reset – Exit Wounds