Timestamp #164: The Unquiet Dead

Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead
(1 episode, s01e03, 2005)

 

An undead Christmas carol, being a quest for redemption stymied by a bait and switch.

In the Sneed and Company funeral parlor, Mr. Redpath grieves over the casket of his grandmother. He takes a moment alone, leaving him open to attack as the corpse reanimates with a blue glow and snaps the man’s neck. The undertaker rushes in but cannot stop the undead from walking into the snowy night and wailing. Sneed summons his servant girl, Gwyneth, and makes a plan to deal with the walking dead.

Meanwhile, while hurtling through time and space, the TARDIS shimmies as the Doctor and Rose try to pilot the capsule to Naples, 1860. The TARDIS materializes and Rose gets a wardrobe change – avoiding a riot over her modern clothing – before taking part in Christmas. The Doctor calls her beautiful in her new attire, all things considered: She is human after all, and not particularly attractive to this incarnation.

Gwyneth uses her clairvoyant abilities to track the corpse to her last living desire, which was to see a Charles Dickens reading. At the theater, despite being jaded and weary, Dickens still decides to put on the reading of A Christmas Carol. His performance is interrupted by the zombie, and the screams attract the Doctor. The blue glow exits the corpse, leaving it to fall lifeless as the gas screams and swoops into a nearby lantern. Rose, however, is kidnapped by the undertaker as Sneed and Gwyneth recover the body, and the Doctor gives chase – with considerable fanboy charm – alongside Dickens in the writer’s carriage.

Rose awakens in the funeral parlor, as do more corpses with the blue gas from a nearby flame. The Doctor and Dickens arrive, determine that something is living in the gas pipes, and rescue Rose from the dead. The Doctor interviews the corpses and reveals that they are dying because the Rift is failing. The vapors are released and the corpses are lifeless once more.

The Rift, eh?

Moments later, the Doctor and Dickens interrogate Sneed as Gwyneth uses her powers to pour perfect cups of tea. The Rift is a growing crack in spacetime and the entities have traveled from across the universe. Dickens investigates the corpses and the Doctor fills in the gaps: When a body decomposes, it releases gas and leaves space for these gaseous beings to inhabit. Dickens is dismayed that his view of the world is wrong, but the Doctor assures him that it’s just limited and expanding by the minute.

Rose makes friends with Gwyneth over their similar occupations and upbringings, but Gwyneth sees the full scope of Rose’s past/future in her mind. Gwyneth exposes her clairvoyance to Rose – she mentions the Bad Wolf, which was also a throwaway line at the end of the world – and the Doctor surmises that her power is growing due to the expanding Rift. Gwyneth is the key, and the Doctor suggests a séance.

Surrounded by the key players (including a skeptical Dickens) Gwyneth summons the creatures. They descend on the round table, identifying themselves as the Gelth, a species whose bodies were destroyed in the Last Great Time War. They want to take over corpses to live again, and want to use the power of the Rift to let them through to Cardiff. Rose is repulsed by the idea, but the Doctor (quite aggressively) wants to help. Gwyneth stands up for herself and tips the scale, eager to assist the Gelth.

Rose is sure that the plan will fail because the dead aren’t walking in the future, but the Doctor reminds her that time is constantly in flux. Gwyneth channels her powers and opens the Rift, but the Gelth have tricked everyone by hiding their true numbers. As billions of Gelth swarm through the Rift, Sneed is killed and converted, and the march begins to destroy humanity and live in their corpses.

Dickens flees the funeral parlor as Rose and the Doctor are trapped in a corner. The Doctor apologizes to Rose for her pending death, but Rose is willing to accept it because she wanted to come. They choose to go down fighting, but are rescued by Dickens who snuffs the lanterns but leaves the gas running. The natural gas displaces the Gelth and forces them out of the corpses, leaving the Doctor open to convince Gwyneth to send them back. Unfortunately, she cannot, but she can hold them long enough to burn them as she strikes a match and ignites the gas. The Doctor mourns her sacrifice, another victim in the Time War, with two words: I’m sorry.

The Doctor explains that Gwyneth was dead from the moment she stepped into the arch. Rose doesn’t understand, but Dickens does via Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Rose realizes that a mere servant girl, someone with no more power than she, has just anonymously saved the world.

As the Doctor and Rose prepare to leave, a newly rejuvenated Dickens lays out his plans for family and the future, plotting to warn the world through his works, which the Doctor assures him will last forever. Dickens watches in wonder as the TARDIS dematerializes, then walks the streets with a wish for the world of a merry Christmas.

 

The theme of the damaged and haunted Doctor continues here with his drive to make things right after (presumably) destroying his entire species. Here, he even goes against his companion to “save” the Gelth because they’re victims of the Time War and he feels personally responsible for their supposed genocide. The great part is that he learns from this mistake; there is no easy route to absolution, and in his emotionally-clouded desperation, the Doctor is prone to being fooled.

Rose continues to be the gateway to his redemption as she sees that Gwyneth, a servant girl who is realistically no different than her, can save the world. One person can make a difference no matter who they are, and the Doctor seems inspired (though saddened) by this revelation.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Aliens of London and Doctor Who: World War Three

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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