Timestamp Supplemental #7: Warriors’ Gate (E-Space Trilogy, Part 3)

Doctor Who: State of Decay (E-Space Trilogy, Part 3)
Earth Station Who: Episode 210

 

Taking one more trip to E-Space, I traveled to Earth Station Who to joined Mike Faber, Mike Gordon, and Mary Ogle for a discussion of Warriors’ Gate, the third part of the E-Space trilogy and a story that I previously covered in Timestamp #114.

This is an interesting discussion for me. When I first saw the serial in May of 2017, I focused a lot more on what the writers and showrunners attempted to tackle with limited resources. As such, the story got a rather high rating from me. For the ESW discussion, I was able to take a second look and the ratings show it.

Spoiler: I nearly fell asleep while watching it for this recording.

My voice is also a little ragged in this episode of ESW due to seasonal allergies. My apologies, and thank you for your patience.

As always, I recommend visiting their site and listening to their podcast. They cover everything from the Doctor Who franchise, from the classic and new televised episodes to the Big Finish audio and everything in the middle. During the regular seasons, they review the new episodes on a weekly basis, and during the off-season, they take a look back at some of their favorite (and not so favorite) adventures in time and space.

If you enjoy what you hear, leave a review in all the regular places, and also consider joining their fan community on Facebook. The ESW crew has built a fantastic community of fans, and it’s far more respectful than a lot of places on the internet. They are fans who love the series and want to share that love with fellow fans worldwide.

Earth Station Who is a podcast in the ESO Network, which includes the flagship show Earth Station One.

 

 

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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Timestamp #182: Army of Ghosts & Doomsday

Doctor Who: Army of Ghosts
Doctor Who: Doomsday
(2 episodes, s02e12-13, 2006)

 

This is how Rose Tyler’s journey with the Doctor ended. This is how she died.

The TARDIS materializes on a playground near the Powell Estate as Rose makes a brief stop to visit her mother. Jackie has a surprise for Rose in a visit from Prentice, Jackie’s long-dead father. At ten past the hour, a non-descript ethereal form arrives in the kitchen. The Doctor and Rose rush outside to find the same figures everywhere, disappearing as rapidly as they arrived, and according to Jackie, just like clockwork.

In the Torchwood Institute, a group of scientists adjust a large lever and are congratulated by project director Yvonne Hartman. Their actions are felt around the world according to Jackie and the news. Jackie is upset that the Doctor is ruining the magic by investigating, but the Time Lord is unconvinced that the supposedly beneficial footprint is not one from a jackboot.

Deeper in the Torchwood Institute, a group of scientists led by Dr. Rajesh Singh investigate a large metal sphere that should not exist. Meanwhile, two Torchwood workers, Adeola and Gareth, step away for a clandestine romantic rendezvous. They choose an off-limits area that is under renovation, but the interlude is interrupted by a Cyberman.

Rose and the Doctor play Ghostbusters by setting up a containment field to determine the origin point by triangulation. As the scientists of Torchwood start the next shift – Adeola and Gareth have returned, each with a second rapidly blinking Bluetooth earpiece – Jackie talks to Rose about how the young woman has changed in her travels. The shift occurs, and a 3-D bespectacled Doctor traps a ghost for analysis. That effort disrupts Torchwood’s systems, forcing them to locate the TARDIS by CCTV. As the police box disappears with a hearty “Allons-y,” Torchwood prepares for the Doctor’s arrival with rifles and soldiers.

Oh, and Jackie came along. Not willingly, of course.

The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS, eliciting a round of applause from Hartman and the soldiers. Hartman demands to see his companion so the Doctor snags Jackie to pose as Rose, and the group goes on a tour of Torchwood. Hartman shows off the advanced technology that they have secured in order to enforce their borders, reminding him that they were responsible for destroying the Sycorax on Christmas Day. They also take the TARDIS for their archives, and Rose develops a plan of attack.

Adeola lures another co-worker, Matt, to his doom. Elsewhere, Hartman briefs the Doctor on the history of Torchwood and his status as their enemy. She takes him to the sphere, an object that intrigues the Time Lord as he identifies it as a Void Ship, a vessel designed to exist outside time and space in the emptiness between universes. Whatever resides inside is safe from the universe around it. Hartman shows the Doctor where they found the sphere. It is a spatial disturbance, the hole in the fabric of reality where they also can tap into the ghosts. The rift is in the sky above Canary Wharf, so Torchwood built a tower to reach it. The Doctor warns them that the rift has the power to fracture this universe like a cracked pane of glass, but when Hartman refuses to listen, the Doctor settles in to watch the fireworks.

His stubbornness scares Hartman into stopping the shift and asking for more information. Unfortunately, the newly-Cyberized workers covertly restart the countdown.

Rose leaves the TARDIS, snags a labcoat disguise, and finds the sphere room. She tries to use the psychic paper, but Singh has training and can avoid the ruse. She also spots Mickey Smith working in the room as Singh reports her to Hartman. The Doctor reveals the truth, but the countdown pulls them all away as the ghost shift begins.

The rift glows and the sphere activates, but the Doctor stops the assimilated workers by disabling their earpieces. The Doctor tracks the source of the transmission with his sonic screwdriver and uncovers the Cybermen, the advanced guard from Pete’s World. They take the Doctor, Jackie, and Hartman prisoner before turning the shift up to full power. A legion of Cybermen march through the rift into the tower, millions comprising an invasion force around the world.

Meanwhile, in the lab, the sphere opens to reveal a completely different threat. The sphere punched through the rift, the Cybermen followed the sphere, and the sphere brought the Daleks.

After forty-three years, Doctor Who finally gets a battle royale between the Doctor’s two biggest adversaries, and the Earth is the battleground.

Rose calls to the Daleks, momentarily confounding them as she reveals her knowledge of the Time War. She demands that they keep the three of them in the room alive, and the Daleks agree as they initiate something called the Genesis Ark. They demand to know which is least important, and Singh offers himself. He is sacrificed moments later.

The Cybermen address the planet as the Doctor promises Jackie that he will keep Rose safe, but the Earth refuses to surrender. They then investigate the strange technology in the sphere room. The Daleks emerge and the Doctor is beside himself in shock. As the two powerhouses exchange insults, the Doctor calls Rose’s phone and listens in. The Cybermen fire on the Daleks to no avail and the Daleks easily exterminate the drones. They plan to take on the millions of Cybermen with only four Daleks, but they step back when they learn of the Doctor’s presence.

Jackie and Hartman are taken away for upgrading along with the rest of the Torchwood staff. As Hartman is assimilated, a new group comes through the rift and destroys the Cyber Leader. Jackie’s upgrade is halted as a new Cyber Leader is christened, and the Doctor is reintroduced to Jake Simmonds from the Pete’s World resistance force. Jake takes the Doctor through to the alternate Torchwood, which the Resistance destroyed, and finds Pete Tyler. The Cybermen were able to break free of the Resistance and cross the boundary to the Doctor’s universe. Elsewhere, Mickey reveals that they can travel through use of disc-like devices, and Rose tells him about her history with the Daleks.

They also learn that the Genesis Ark is not of Dalek design. They stole it from the Time Lords.

During Pete’s discussion with the Doctor, the Time Lord learns that Pete’s World is collapsing due to the extreme amount of universe jumping. Pete asks for the Doctor’s help in defeating both invasions and saving his world, and the Doctor agrees. They all return to the normal universe, the Doctor sets Pete on a mission to save Jackie, modifies Jake’s rifle to affect polycarbide, and then surrenders to the Cybermen.

The Daleks force Rose to open the Genesis Ark, but she stalls by telling them about the Dalek Emperor’s fate. Moments later, the Doctor arrives. They verbally spar for a moment before the Doctor figures out that these four Daleks are the Cult of Skaro, Daleks with names and individualized purpose. He distracts them long enough to explosively open a door for the Resistance and the Cybermen, but during the fight, Mickey touches the Ark and activates it. Since it needs thirteen square miles of space to operate, the Daleks move it outside.

While on the run, the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey hook up with Pete and save Jackie. The initial meeting – a reunion of sorts for Jackie – is touching and funny, and despite not being from the same universe, they still feel a mutual attraction.

As the Daleks plow through the Cyber forces, the Cyber Leader orders all units to converge on Torchwood Tower. The Daleks open the storage bay’s roof and fly the Ark into the sky. When they open it, an entire legion of Daleks emerge.

The Ark is Time Lord science. It is bigger in the inside. The Earth is screwed.

As the Daleks swarm and begin exterminating everything below, the Cybermen open fire. Pete prepares to take his team (and Jackie) back through the rift, and the Doctor reveals that his 3-D glasses can see the remnants of “void stuff” contaminating everyone who traveled through it. He’ll be able to target those remnants and ship the Daleks and the Cybermen into the void, but Rose and everyone who has crossed the breach has to go through to Pete’s World.

Rose refuses to go without the Doctor, so he tricks her into going. She uses the disk to come back, and Pete strips the rest of them from his side, leaving Jackie upset at losing her daughter. Rose refuses to go back, so she and the Doctor set a pair of gravity clamps and activate the machine. The Daleks and Cybermen are pulled into the void – the lead Dalek executes an emergency temporal shift to escape – but the rushing winds pull one of the levers out of position. Rose lets go of her clamp to fix it, but the void threatens to pull her in. When she lets go, Pete arrives at the last moment and teleports her away just as the breach is sealed behind them.

Rose beats on the wall in Pete’s World, desperate to find the Doctor again. Both travelers rest their heads against their respective walls in a moment of solidarity, and then the Doctor walks away solemnly.

For all intents and purposes, Rose and Jackie Tyler are dead in our universe.

Some time later, Rose hears the Doctor calling her voice across the void. She tells her family of the dream, then follow it to Bergen, Norway, on the coastline of Dårlig Ulv Stranden. Loosely translated: Bad Wolf Bay. There, she finds the image of the Doctor, transmitting from the TARDIS by way of a supernova that the Doctor is using to power the signal. He called her here to say goodbye.

She tells him she’s working to defend the Earth through the newly rebuilt Torchwood, as well as that Jackie is pregnant. She’s sad that she’ll never see the Doctor again, and she tells him that she loves him. The Doctor nearly says the same, but time runs out before he can get the words out.

A tear runs down his face as he is once again alone.

He sets a new course for the TARDIS, but is interrupted by a bride standing in the console room. He’s confused, she demands to know where she is, and the credits roll.

 

I have always loved this one for its quick pacing and snappy dialogue. Rose and the Doctor have a lot of fun together, and their chemistry is undeniable. It gets even more fun when Jackie gets involved because of how she plays with the Doctor and deeply cares about her daughter.

That said, it was high time for Rose to leave the TARDIS. I don’t have any issue with the Doctor falling in love, even with a companion, but it seemed that their relationship was being dominated by that connection. Rose never wanted to leave, and in fact, told the Doctor that she planned to stay with him forever. As such, her growth had stagnated and (as Jackie noted) she was being consumed by the journey. The only way she was ever going to leave the TARDIS was by force, and she’s now using her expertise in a different way as a consultant for Torchwood. She’s free to move on with her life.

The events are still emotional – I found myself tearing up as our heroes said their farewells – but I wholeheartedly believe that this was the best thing for the characters and the show, especially one explicitly driven by the concept of change.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Series Two Summary

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #181: Fear Her

Doctor Who: Fear Her
(1 episode, s02e11, 2006)

 

Fighting the monster of abuse.

It’s a bright and beautiful day as London prepares for the 2012 Olympic Games. The mood turns mysterious and somewhat ominous as Maeve Griffiths, an elderly woman, tells Dale and Tom Hicks to get inside. The boys look to their father and continue playing as Maeve tells them that “it is happening again” and “it likes it when they’re playing.” Across the street, a girl sings to herself as she sketches Dale, and the boy vanishes into her picture, screaming wordlessly for help.

Later on, the TARDIS arrives – with a quick adjustment to the parking job – on the day of the opening ceremonies. As the Doctor muses over the Olympics, Rose notices a man putting up missing posters for children. The street’s citizens are scared and the Doctor notes residual energy at Dale’s soccer goal. Rose watches a car stall out and helps to push it along. She also meets Maeve as she learns that the street is supposed to host the ceremonial torchbearers. The Doctor spoofs a police officer’s identity as the neighbors fight over their paranoia, and Rose spots the child artist, Chloe, in the window.

The Doctor and Rose investigate, chasing residual energy and a strange smell. Rose meets a ginger cat who disappears inside a cardboard box as Chloe the girl draws it into Dale’s picture. Chloe sees that Dale is scowling in anger, and she tried to cheer him up with the cat, but he’s still unhappy. So are all the other people in her drawings.

While wandering down one of the estate’s streets, Rose hears a noise from a garage and investigates. When she opens the doors, a creature looking like Chloe’s furious scribblings rushes out and attacks her. The Doctor deactivates it with his sonic and deduces that it is alien in origin, despite being made of graphite. They trace it back to Chloe’s house and meet with Trish, her mother, while spoofing as representatives of Child Services.

Trish explains that Chloe is secluded and quiet, mostly due her abusive father who recently died. Rose heads upstairs to Chloe’s room and sees all of the pictures. The scowling images point her to the closet which contains a hand-drawn image of Chloe’s father, effectively trapping the girl’s psychic demons in the dark. Downstairs, the Doctor meets Chloe and offers her a Vulcan salute, but the girl is not impressed. Rose calls in distress and the Doctor helps close the closet door before investigating the drawings. Trish tries to dismiss all of it, but the Doctor convinces her that he needs to look inside Chloe’s subconscious to find answers.

The Doctor hypnotizes Chloe and discovers that she is housing an Isolus, an alien life-form with four billion siblings who befriended Chloe when she discovered it drifting on the wind. The Doctor invokes the Shadow Proclamation to get more information: The Isolus has psychic powers, hence the trapped children in the drawings, and Rose wonders what the Isolus wants. The Doctor suggests that all it wants is a surrogate family. Unfortunately, because it is a child, it is effectively throwing a tantrum and unwilling to accept its wrongdoing. Since it is hungry for companionship, the Doctor warns that the Isolus will use the billions of people watching the Olympic opening ceremony to replace its family.

It’s not evil, just lonely and ignorant.

The Doctor and Rose return to the TARDIS to locate the crashed Isolus pod, but Chloe follows them and sketches the TARDIS and the Doctor, trapping them both and forcing Rose to solve the mystery on her own. She confronts the Isolus but gets nowhere, so she searches by rationalizing that the pod is following heat. She asks Kel, a councilmember who is repairing the street about his patches, digs up his most recent pothole with a pickaxe, and finds the pod. Meanwhile, Chloe has sketched the entire crowd at the Olympic stadium and trapped them. Her next target is the entire planet.

Rose realizes that she needs to offer the Isolus pod heat and emotion. The Doctor is able to send her a message by drawing the Olympic torch, and Rose responds by tossing the pod towards the torch as it is run down the street. Her gambit is successful and the Isolus leaves Chloe. All along the street, the missing children reappear, but Rose worries as the Doctor doesn’t follow suit.

The demon in the closet still remains.

Rose tries to help, but the demon has locked the doors. She tells Trish that love will stop the beast, and as Trish and Chloe sing together, the demon vanishes. The Doctor does not return to Rose even as the Olympic spectators reappear. Rose, Trish, and Chloe watch the television as the torchbearer approaches the Olympic Stadium and staggers, but the Doctor suddenly appears, completes the run, and lights the Olympic Flame. The heat of the flame and the emotion of the crowd power the Isolus pod, and the alien returns to the stars and its people.

Later on, the Doctor and Rose are reunited and decide to go watch the Olympics. Rose remarks that however hard the universe tries, nothing will ever split them up. The Doctor is not so sure: There is a storm coming and an ominous prophecy propelling them forward.

 

Fear Her is a fascinating story that plays some games in order to save money for the upcoming season finale. First, it’s almost a “Doctor-lite” episode – a story where the Doctor is not extensively featured in the narrative – like Love & Monsters before it. In fact, Love & Monsters and Fear Her were written specifically to be filmed at the same time, saving both time and money in a measure called “double banking.” Second, the sets and location shoots were very limited, relying on narrative progression through use of previously recorded video footage on the television.

This story also spotlighted the companion by incapacitating the Doctor, something we have seen before in the revival era (World War Three, The Long Game, and The Christmas Invasion) and to a lesser degree in parts of classic serials. This is something that will continue on.

Overall, I like the story and how it tackles abuse, a darker element of the human condition. The idea of trying to heal the psychic wounds inflicted by those closest to you by capturing people for companionship via sketches is fairly unique. The mystery was fairly well handled: Sure, we knew it was Chloe from the outset, but watching the range of paranoia, deflecting, and hiding added a thriller aspect to the narrative.

My big downside here is the unnecessary fan-service of having the Doctor finish the torch run and light the Olympic cauldron. It came across as cheesy, and while I like a great deal of cheese in science fiction, it distracted from the story for me.

 

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Army of Ghosts & Doctor Who: Doomsday

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #180: Love & Monsters

Doctor Who: Love & Monsters
(1 episode, s02e10, 2006)

 

This is the peculiar story of Elton Pope.

He starts his tale by racing across a rocky field to find the TARDIS. He follows the excited voices of the Doctor and Rose, comes face to face with a Hoix, and witnesses a whole Scooby Doo-style chase before he scurries away to the sound of the dematerializing TARDIS.

Or so he tells the video camera anyway.

When he was three (or four) years old, he first met the Doctor in his living room. He was one of the shoppers during the Auton invasion of 2005. A year later, he witnessed the Slitheen ship crash into Big Ben. Following the Christmas invasion, he started looking for information about the Doctor and documenting his journey.

Well, despite the Bad Wolf virus, anyway.

It’s during this investigation that he meets Ursula Blake, a member of the “My Invasion Blog.” Ursula introduces Elton to her fellow investigators Bliss, Bridget Sinclair, and Mr. Colin Skinner, and together they start the London Investigation ‘n’ Detective Agency. Better known as LINDA, for short. The acquaintanceship blossoms into a tight combination of friendship and support group until the arrival of Victor Kennedy, a (supposedly) wealthy gentleman who doesn’t make physical contact due to a skin condition.

Kennedy focuses the group’s efforts back toward the Doctor, courtesy of files from the Torchwood Institute. As Kennedy sends the team on various projects, Bliss mysteriously vanishes. The TARDIS arrives and Elton lives through the events from the opening teaser, though when Elton doesn’t produce the Doctor in the end, Kennedy gets angry. Luckily, Ursula stands up for him.

Kennedy focuses the team toward finding Rose Tyler. Elton does some detective work and runs into Jackie Tyler at the laundromat, eventually ending up at her flat to fix the washing machine. Jackie and Elton sit down for a cup of tea and a relationship develops. Jackie calls Elton for various odd jobs, all the while building up to romantic seduction. The mood is broken as Rose calls home and Jackie comes to her senses. Elton changes tactics by offering friendship instead of romance, driven by the realization that he truly loves Ursula. Jackie finds Rose’s photo in Elton’s jacket and tells him (in no uncertain terms) to leave her alone.

Oh, and Bridget mysteriously vanishes along the way.

Elton tells Kennedy that he has ruined LINDA, suggesting that the remaining members would be better off without Kennedy in their lives. Elton and Ursula leave for a dinner date, but Skinner stays behind after Kennedy tempts him with Bridget’s contact information. Ursula and Elton return in search of her mobile phone, but they find that Kennedy is really the Abzorbaloff, a being that has been consuming their friends and absorbing their essences. Their faces are plainly visible and able to speak on the creature’s flesh. Kennedy wants to absorb the Doctor, and when confronted by Ursula, consumes her as well. Elton pleads for her life, but the process is irreversible. Ursula tells Elton to run, and the Abzorbaloff pursues him into an alley.

Elton nearly surrenders until the Doctor arrives in the TARDIS. Rose bursts out of the time capsule, eager to confront Elton over Jackie, and the Doctor takes the opportunity to interrogate the Abzorbaloff. The creature is from Clom, the twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius, and the distraction is enough for the members of LINDA to defeat the threat. The absorbed humans pull the creature in multiple directions and Elton breaks the cane, which was really a limitation field that held the Abzorbaloff together. The creature melts away into the ground, taking the absorbed members of LINDA with it.

The Doctor and Rose sit with Elton, and the Doctor explains why he was in Elton’s childhood home so many years ago: A living shadow had escaped its home dimension and the Time Lord was hunting it. He caught the being, but not before it killed Elton’s mother.

Elton muses that meeting the Doctor is a moment fraught with danger. He had a special group of friends in LINDA, but their pursuit of the Time Lord led to their demise. Death and destruction are what happens to one who touches the Doctor’s world, and Elton wonders how long it will be before Rose and Jackie pay a similar price.

Elton also understands that it wasn’t directly the Doctor’s fault. In fact, the Doctor did save Elton one last time. Using the sonic screwdriver, Ursula is partially restored as a face in one of the paving stones where the Abzorbaloff liquified. Together, they have some happiness despite the trauma, living by a quote from Stephen King: “Salvation and damnation are the same thing.”

It turns out that the world protected by the Doctor isn’t all it seems. In fact, it’s better.

 

This story has a lot of echoes to themes we’ve seen since Rose, including conspiracy theory websites and (especially) the tales of those the Doctor leaves behind. Mickey is gone and Jackie is lonely without her daughter and best friend by her side. Her story, particularly the idea that no one cares about her, runs contrary to the feelings of hope that the Doctor and the TARDIS typically inspire.

This episode is also a great self-aware moment for the franchise with respect to fans. All of us, this humble writer included, continue to chase the inherent value of Doctor Who: Sometimes we find truths and inspiration, sometimes we find friendship and love, and sometimes we get taken astray. But we all still find something to capture our passions and imaginations.

Since this story is Earthbound and not explicitly focused on the Doctor, we get an impressive amount of modern culture: Regresa a Mi as covered by Il Divo, The Riddle Song, Brand New Key by Melanie, a snippet of Daniel by Elton John, and a ton of Electric Light Orchestra with Mr. Blue Sky, Turn to Stone, and Don’t Bring Me Down. We also get a notable guest star with Shirley Henderson as Ursula, who I cannot listen to without immediately thinking of Moaning Myrtle because that’s where I was first introduced to her acting talent.

The biggest downside I have for this story is within the last segment where Elton reveals Ursula’s final fate. His revelation of their sort-of love life was true to character and sincere, but it was something I truly did not ever need to know.

Otherwise, it was a fun ride and a well-crafted adventure.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Fear Her

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp Supplemental #6: State of Decay (E-Space Trilogy, Part 2)

Doctor Who: State of Decay (E-Space Trilogy, Part 2)
Earth Station Who: Episode 209

 

Remaining in E-Space for another episode, I traveled to Earth Station Who to joined Mike Faber, Mike Gordon, and Mary Ogle for a discussion of State of Decay, the second part of the E-Space trilogy and a story that I previously covered in Timestamp #113.

As always, I recommend visiting their site and listening to their podcast. They cover everything from the Doctor Who franchise, from the classic and new televised episodes to the Big Finish audio and everything in the middle. During the regular seasons, they review the new episodes on a weekly basis, and during the off-season, they take a look back at some of their favorite (and not so favorite) adventures in time and space.

If you enjoy what you hear, leave a review in all the regular places, and also consider joining their fan community on Facebook. The ESW crew has built a fantastic community of fans, and it’s far more respectful than a lot of places on the internet. They are fans who love the series and want to share that love with fellow fans worldwide.

Earth Station Who is a podcast in the ESO Network, which includes the flagship show Earth Station One.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #179: The Impossible Planet & The Satan Pit

Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet
Doctor Who: The Satan Pit
(2 episodes, s02e08-09, 2006)

 

“I shall become the manifest.” Er, I mean, ah… welcome back!

The TARDIS reluctantly materializes in a tight room, and while the Doctor is concerned about the capsule, he and Rose laugh at the idea of going somewhere else. After all, since when have they ever cut and run from something unknowable? They explore the area, traversing a corridor to an large chamber. The Doctor identifies the station as a sanctuary base, and after Rose spots “Welcome to Hell” on the bulkhead, the Time Lord is puzzled by text that won’t translate with the TARDIS matrix. That means it’s really, impossibly old. They prepare to leave when they are cornered by tentacle-mouthed aliens holding glowing orbs, repeating a single phrase: “We must feed.”

Our travelers try to leave what looks like an alien buffet, but it turns out that the extraterrestrial speech technology is glitching. One of the aliens hits its orb and the message turns to one of hospitality. The Doctor and Rose don’t get any time to celebrate no longer being on the menu. The station’s human crew – surprised to see guests in their midst – arrives just in time for an emergency, and the travelers are escorted to a control center. The humans prepare the station for a series of impact tremors, still baffling the Doctor at every turn.

Oh, and the aliens? They’re called the Ood, and they are an empathic species who act as servants and laborers. They’re born and bred to be slaves.

After the tremors, introductions are made around the room before the Doctor and Rose are shown that the planet is in orbit of a black hole. That makes this location an impossible planet – ding, there’s the first title – since the laws of physics demand that they should all be dead. The black hole is K37 Gem 5, and the planet is known in scripture as Krop Tor. That same scripture references a demon in the depths of the planet, coincidentally located near a gravity funnel that’s keeping them all alive. The Doctor is stumped. Running some calculations – Time Lords invented black holes, after all – he determines that the gravity field would require a power source with an inverted self-extrapolating reflex of six to the power of six every six seconds.

Yes, you heard that right: Six, six, six.

Impossible and ominous.

And the humans are here to find it to help power their civilization.

Of course, the fact that the explorers were curious enough to plumb the planet’s depths really excites the Doctor. The feeling is short-lived when he finds out that the tremors collapsed several storage sections, sending them and the TARDIS into the depths of the planet.  The Doctor and Rose are trapped on the impossible planet, and the crew cannot spare the resources to rescue them.

The team goes back to work, but archaeologist Toby Zed begins to hear voices. The voices spread among the crew – “He is awake.” – and Rose hears some strange stuff from one of the Ood: The Beast will rise from the Pit to make war against God. Toby gets the worst of it as he is possessed by a mysterious presence that causes the old symbols to take up residence on his flesh.

As the power flickers, the crew and our traveling heroes watch as an entire solar system is consumed by the black hole. The crew moves about as Rose and the Doctor watch the maelstrom. Rose considers calling home, but her new superphone doesn’t get a signal here. The dynamic duo discusses their future without the TARDIS, and the Doctor reveals that he has failed Jackie by not being able to get Rose home.

Then the phone rings. A voice says, “He is awake.” Rose tosses the phone to the deck.

The Doctor and Rose rush to the Ood and ask Danny about their telepathic skills. While they are there, the Ood monitors go ballistic, and when Rose repeats the message – “He is awake.” – the Ood reply in harmony, “And you will worship him.”

Maintenance officer Scooti Manista visits Toby’s quarters to drop off a report, but she finds that the archaeologist has gone outside without a spacesuit. Moments later, Toby breaks the pressure glass and kills Scooti via explosive decompression. The breach rocks the base and the crew rushes to fight the casualty. More sections are lost but the base is saved. Scooti is found on the glass above the lounge, slowly drifting into the black, and a once-again normal Toby joins the remaining crew as the security chief Jefferson recites from Horatius by Thomas Babington Macaulay.

And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods.

The drill stops, presumably having reached the planet’s core, and the crew prepares to investigate. The Doctor tags along, convincing Captain Zachary Flane that he needs every bit of help he can get. Danny orders the Ood to stay put as the Doctor and Ida Scott dive into the depths. They emerge into a massive cavern filled with ancient sculptures. The power source is guarded by a large circular disk in the floor of the cavern, which the Doctor believes to be a trap door or a seal.

Oh, and the Ood are experiencing another spike in mental activity, a level which should immediately kill them.

The Doctor and Ida cannot translate the words on the disk, but Toby can. In fact, it’s written all over his face as he rises against the surface team. Communications are disrupted as Toby taunts Jefferson before the presence is transferred to the Ood, now identifying as the Legion of the Beast. The Ood recite demonic verses as they advance on the crew, killing one of the guards in the process. The rest of the crew run as the circular door opens and the planet is pushed out of orbit.

From the depths of the pit, laughter echoes as whatever lies beneath is finally free.

Jefferson orders his team to open fire on the Ood. Rose tries to contact the Doctor as the rest of the crew fights for their lives. Jefferson recommends “Strategy 9” and Zach agrees. Rose finally reaches the Doctor and the Time Lord reports that everything is now eerily quiet in the cavern. Ida ignores the order of Strategy 9 – opening all of the airlocks and purging the base – and asks the Doctor what to do. He ponders the temptation but ultimately decides to withdraw. As the team heads back to the lift, Rose saves Toby from execution, but something prevents the lift from returning.

Zachary addresses the presence as a representative of the Torchwood Archive, opening a dialogue with the being. The Doctor interrogates it, and it claims to be the evil in every faith in every civilization in every time. The Disciples of Light defeated it and chained it in the pit for all eternity. It addresses the Doctor as the “killer of his own kind,” and predicts that Rose will soon die in battle.

As the beast signs off in a jump scare, initiating a panic in the crew, the Doctor calms everyone’s fears. His motivational speech is interrupted as the lift’s cable snaps, destroying the car and trapping the exploratory team in the deep with only an hour of air. With the power outage, Strategy 9 is no longer an option. As the Ood cut through the door, Rose rallies the troops. Zach bypasses the rocket to provide temporary power and Danny develops a plan to disrupt the Ood telepathic signals. The downside is that the telepathic flare has to be broadcast from the Ood habitation monitor.

Rose and her team navigate the maintenance shafts as Zach follows them with an oxygen bubble. The Ood pursue them in a claustrophobic action sequence during which Jefferson is left behind. The security chief is given a merciful death on his own terms. The surviving humans have little time to grieve as they are immediately pursued by more Ood, forcing them to go up, but not before Toby secretly reveals his possession to their pursuers. They end up in the Ood habitat and Danny initiates the telepathic flare. The Ood fall to the deck.

Ida gathers the fallen cable for a descent into the pit. The Doctor volunteers to go as Ida remains above to support the cable, and the Time Lord descends into literal wall-to-wall darkness. As he muses with Ida on belief and metaphysics, the cable runs out. The Doctor takes a leap of faith and detaches the cable, falling the rest of the way to the bottom with an unfinished final statement for Rose on his lips.

Rose and Zack restore communication with Ida, but there is no other way to reach her before abandoning the base. Danny, Toby, and Zach start preparations to leave, but Rose elects to stay behind. Zach decides for her by knocking her out and ordering the team to the rocket. The rocket lifts off as Rose wakes up. She threatens Zack with the bolt gun, but the threat is empty. The ship rockets toward safety on Earth.

The Doctor wakes up on the pit floor with a shattered helmet. The walls are decorated with pictographs depicting a battle against the Beast, and the Doctor finds two jars in front of the creature itself chained in a deeper pit. The Doctor pieces together that the Beast’s intelligence has been transferred to someone else, leaving this shell behind. The Doctor considers destroying the prison, but that act would disable the gravity field and plunge the rocket into the black hole. That’s the trap: Killing the beast kills Rose.

But the Doctor has none of it. He believes in his companion, and thus shatters the jars. As the planet and the rocket plummet toward the black hole, the Beast emerges in Toby one more time. Rose picks up the bolt gun, breaks the cockpit window, and releases Toby into the abyss. The humans and the Ood accept their fate, but the Doctor finds hope in a perfectly positioned big blue box.

The Doctor rescues Ida Scott and the rocket, but he regrets not being able to save the Ood as well. Time Lord and companion are reunited, and the humans are sent along their way to Earth. He also tells all of the humans that he doesn’t know what it was that he found in the pit, but they defeated it, and that’s what matters.

As the survivors of Sanctuary Base 6 file their final report, including the humans and Ood who were lost, the travelers – “The stuff of legend.” – fly on to the next adventure.

 

When Doctor Who plays with mythology, it is always a bonus for me. But this story excels because of a pace that never relents. It is a horror story at its core, and the tension is palpable and almost smothering. Even the Doctor is off his game because he’s not the smartest guy in the room this time. In fact, our heroes very nearly get outsmarted by the enemy, and those kinds of stakes really make this story sing.

The big downside for me is the budding Rose/Doctor romance. I’m not adverse to the Doctor finding love, and the relationship with Rose has taken a very natural arc as they have grown closer and closer. But I feel that we have crossed a line at this point: Rose has lost the ability to function when the Doctor is not around or is in danger. She’s lost her independence and adaptability after leaving her relationship with Mickey, two key elements for a companion in the TARDIS, and it’s becoming annoying.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Love & Monsters

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #178: The Idiot’s Lantern

Doctor Who: The Idiot’s Lantern
(1 episode, s02e07, 2006)

 

Grandma was right after all.

An electrical storm rages over Magpie Electricals as the owner, Mr. Magpie, despairs over his financials. An arc of red lightning strikes the roof, turning on the television and addressing Magpie before sucking him into the device. Nearby, a family is watching television as the father muses about the coronation and leaves the house in a suit and medals.  The grandmother – guest star Margaret John – tells her family that the television will rot their brains.

Some things never change.

The Doctor and Rose emerge from the TARDIS all decked out for an Elvis Presley concert in Las Vegas, ready to race to The Ed Sullivan Show on a scooter. They are dismayed to find out that they are actually in London, circa 1953. Rose notes that there are a lot of television aerials as they meet Magpie on the street as he delivers a new television. Coming back to that family from before – the Connollys – they’re living in fear of the grandmother and something that happened to her face. Another neighbor is taken away, drawing the attention of the Doctor and Rose who learn that the abductions are happening all over. They pursue the car on their scooter, but the “men in black” get away.

It turns out that Magpie is being driven by the woman in his television. In fact, the message is burning into his brain. At the Connolly residence, the son tries to check on his grandmother, but the father stops him in anger. The berating lecture is interrupted by the Doctor and Rose, posing as government officials. The Doctor provides Mr. Connolly a lesson in gender equality and Rose adds a little spice with a lesson on the Union Jack. As Mr. Connolly works, the rest of the family talks with the travelers about the grandmother. Mr. Connolly tries to bluster about being the master under his roof, but the Doctor has none of it, unleashing his dark side in order to uncover the menace that is plaguing them.

The son takes the travelers upstairs to meet the grandmother. Her face is completely missing, but the investigation is cut short as the men in black arrive, abduct the woman, and knock the Doctor for a loop with a helluva right hook. The Doctor pursues the men in black on the scooter as Rose notices the red lightning around the television. She notes the manufacturer – Magpie Electricals – and departs with one last jab at the Connolly patriarch.

The Doctor chases the car up to a staged roadblock, forcing him to sneak in a back way. He finds a cage filled with faceless victims, but they soon swarm around him like a mindless horde. The men in black soon apprehend him. Meanwhile, Rose interrogates Magpie about his bargain televisions and the business boom for the pending coronation. The intelligence inside the television tells Magpie that it is hungry, and the proprietor obliges by feeding it. Unfortunately, the Wire’s next meal is Rose.

The men in black, actually the local police, interrogate the Doctor. He points out the Detective Inspector Bishop’s team is simply sweeping the victims off the street in order to keep things quiet before the coronation. When Bishop –  “It’s written in the collar of your shirt. Bless your mum.” – admits that he has no idea what’s going on, the Doctor joins the team. Their discussion is cut short when a newly faceless Rose is brought in as the newest victim.

The Doctor gets angry. Very angry. Okay, downright enraged. There is nothing now that can stop him.

As the new day dawns, the Connollys gather around the television to watch the coronation. The Doctor and Bishop arrive at the Connolly home, and the patriarch blusters as his son Tommy sets him straight. Mr. Connolly values his reputation and image above everything else, flaunting his military service and standing in the neighborhood as his shining attributes. His wife, however, is disgusted to learn that he turned the grandmother over to the authorities, calling her husband a monster as she tells Tommy to help the Doctor.

Tommy leads the Doctor and Bishop to Magpie Electricals. The Doctor discovers the alien influence as the televisions all light up with the captured faces of the Wire’s victims. When Magpie returns, the Doctor is introduced to the Wire and learns that it is looking for energy to restore its corporeal body. The coronation is the perfect time to feed with millions of faces glued to their television sets. It attacks Tommy, Bishop, and the Doctor, but the threat of a sonic screwdriver causes it to release the Doctor and Tommy early. It jumps to a portable receiver and Magpie takes the Wire on the road.

The Doctor and Tommy leave a faceless Bishop at the shop and rush to the rescue. The Doctor builds a device from parts in the shop before tracing the Wire to Alexandra Palace, the largest transmitter antenna in the area. They arrive to find Magpie climbing the transmitter and spoof their way in as the King of Belgium. The Doctor leaves Tommy with the gadget as he climbs the tower with a spool of wire, but Magpie beats him to the top. As the Wire begins its feast, Magpie begs the Doctor for help and the Wire attacks the Time Lord. The Wire vaporizes Magpie, leaving the Doctor open to connect his device. Unfortunately, it short-circuits but Tommy comes to the rescue and defeats the life-sucking menace.

All of the victims have been restored to their normal selves, and the Doctor reveals that he trapped the Wire’s essence in a Betamax tape – presumably pulled from the Doctor’s infamous bottomless pockets since it wasn’t available until 1975 – effectively inventing the home video thirty years early. Families are reunited and Mrs. Connolly kicks her abusive husband out of the house. It’s in grandma’s name after all. The Doctor and Rose take advantage of the coronation party in the street to enjoy history, and the Wire will be taken care of by simply taping over her.

That’s a deep cut given the BBC’s history of erasing tapes!

The Doctor leaves his scooter to Tommy and Rose encourages the boy to make amends with his father. New monarch, new age, new world, but there is always time for kindness and love. Our travelers raise glasses of orange juice in a toast as the adventure comes to a close.

 

The highlight of this episode is the dark Doctor. His ruthlessness, when pushed to the limit of his patience and mercy, is an artifact of the Ninth Doctor, something that makes sense given that this episode was originally written for Series One. The enemy was both menacing and humorous and reminded me of the killer plant in The Little Shop of Horrors.

On the downside, there were far too many Dutch angles for my liking. I get why they’re an important part of cinematography – they are a visual representation of unease, disorientation, tension, and so on – but there seemed to be a lot of them. There was also a missed opportunity to highlight the Doctor’s fear of heights at the transmission tower.

Otherwise, the mystery and the action really kept this one going.

I’ll wrap up with two trivia notes: First, Margaret John returned to Doctor Who after thirty-eight-years since her last appearance in Fury from the Deep; Second, the Doctor seems to share a fandom with Michael French, a friend of the Timestamps Project, as he quoted “Never Too Late” by Kylie Minogue.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet & Doctor Who: The Satan Pit

 

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.