Timestamp Supplemental #5: Full Circle (E-Space Trilogy, Part 1)

Doctor Who: Full Circle (E-Space Trilogy, Part 1)
Earth Station Who: Episode 208

 

I traveled to Earth Station Who one more time. This time, I joined Mike Faber and Mary Ogle for a discussion of Full Circle, the first part of the E-Space trilogy and a story that I previously covered in Timestamp #112.

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 #177: Rise of the Cybermen & The Age of Steel

Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen
Doctor Who: The Age of Steel
(2 episodes, s02e05-06, 2006)

 

A classic enemy finally returns, but in a slightly different way.

Opening in a laboratory shrouded in darkness, a wheelchair-bound man named John Lumic gazes upon a new creation with pride. The scientist in charge, Dr. Kendrick, voices his ethical objections to the project, and Lumic orders the creation to kill the scientist. Lumic tells his staff to set sail for Great Britain as the Cyberman electrocutes Kendrick.

I have no problem just admitting that the monster is a Cyberman. That surprise is lost during the opening title sequence. No one looked at “Rise of the Cybermen” in the red vortex titles and said, “Hey, I wonder if this episode is about the return of Aggedor.”

Anyway…

On the TARDIS, the Doctor and Rose laugh about their adventures as Mickey keeps a switch on the console depressed. He could have let go a few minutes before, but the Doctor seems to have forgotten him. Mickey’s irritation is sidelined as the time-space vortex dissipates, tossing the TARDIS all about, and pretty much destroying the console. The TARDIS is dead, but they appear to have touched down in London.

Unfortunately, it’s not their London. In fact, the fleet of zeppelins in the air means that it’s not even their world.

Oh, and Rose’s dad? He’s alive here.

The Tylers don’t live in an apartment complex on this Earth. Pete has done quite well with his food schemes and has a large mansion. He arrives home with a bouquet to a grumpy wife. Jackie is preparing to celebrate her 40th – although she claims it’s her 39th – birthday, and the banner is all wrong. Jackie snuggles with Rose, her dog, while she tries out her new EarPods. Pete calls Lumic to thank him for the EarPods, and moments later Lumic activates them, overrides Jackie’s brain, and gets himself an invite to the party. He also orders his henchmen to gather up some extra staff, which turn out to be the local homeless population with a promise of free food. One of them refuses and films the events as the others begin screaming inside the truck.

Rose takes a walk on this new Earth as Mickey and the Doctor stare at the dead TARDIS console. She sees a broadcast from Lumic and Cybus Industries on her mobile. Meanwhile, the Doctor explains to Mickey that the TARDIS draws power from the universe, but this universe is incompatible. It was apparently easier when the Time Lords were in power, but now there’s no one to help. His spirits rise when he sees a single green glowing light under the console, giving them approximately twenty-four hours. Mickey and the Doctor find Rose with their news, but she’s depressed because she doesn’t exist in this universe. Mickey and Rose decide to split from the Doctor: Mickey wants to find someone who values him more than the Doctor, and Rose wants to see Pete Tyler. Reluctantly, the Doctor gives them twenty-four hours and chases after Rose.

The players get in position: Pete meets Lumic’s airship as it touches down; Mickey discovers military checkpoints and a curfew; Rose tells the Doctor about Mickey’s history before wandering into a crowd of drone-like people all wearing EarPods. Those people are all receiving a daily download from Cybus Industries, including news, lottery numbers, and a funny joke. Now that there’s a mystery afoot, the Doctor is interested in meeting Pete Tyler.

Mickey ends up at his grandmother’s house. In his reality, he was abandoned by his parents and raised by his grandmother until she tripped and died on the stairs. Mickey meets her counterpart in the new universe, and after promising not to disappear, beating him over his lack of contact, and calling him Ricky, she welcomes him in for a cup of tea.

The Doctor and Rose have really been taking him for granted.

Before he can settle in for his tea, however, a blue van drives up and takes him away. The occupants, part of the resistance, believe that Mickey is their Ricky, a man who is London’s most wanted. As night falls, they arrive at their hideout to find Ricky, leaving Mickey in a tight spot.

Pete Tyler and the President of Great Britain meet with Lumic to hear his proposal on how to extend human life by capturing the brain in a cybernetic suit. The President turns down the project and Lumic dismisses Pete before checking in with his henchman Crane. Lumic orders the project to proceed without permission, and Crane begins processing the homeless victims, drowning out their screams with The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

It seems that the band Tight Fit exists on this alternate Earth too.

Rose and the Doctor arrive at the Tyler mansion and pose as waitstaff to crash the party. After all, if you want to know what’s going on, work in the kitchen. The Doctor fills Rose in on all the scuttlebutt as they work the floor, only stopping as Pete Tyler presents Jackie to his assembled guests. Rose is a bit miffed that she shares her name with the dog.

As Lumic prepares his metal soldiers to begin their invasion, Ricky’s crew investigates the mystery of Mickey. Ricky’s crew – Jake and Mrs. Moore – take Mickey with them as they tail the Cybus truck to the Tyler estate. At the estate, the Doctor does some poking into an open computer as Rose gets her moment to talk with Pete. After things get a little personal, the conversation turns odd as Pete feels a strange connection with Rose and veers off to talk to someone who works at Torchwood. Rose later finds Jackie and has a moment with her, but it turns sour as Jackie takes offense to Rose’s comments on her personal life.

The truck arrives and deploys its malicious cargo. Rose watches the march of the Cybermen as the Doctor uncovers the truth. They meet up as the Cybermen literally crash the party, and as the President confronts Lumic, the Doctor explains who they are. The Cybermen offer to upgrade the party guests, but the President refuses. The Cyberman kills the President in response, and then begin to slaughter the party guests. Jackie is trapped in the cellar as Rose, Pete, and the Doctor run. Our heroes find Mickey and the rebels, and the Doctor offers their surrender.

Unfortunately for him, that tactic will not work on this Earth. These are not the Mondasian Cybermen that the Doctor has encountered in his normal universe, and the interlopers are considered inconvertible. Thus, the travelers are inferior and subject to maximum deletion.

So, an explosive resolution presents itself.

The Doctor pulls out the TARDIS crystal and channels its energy into the Cybermen, vaporizing them and allowing a chance for Mrs. Moore to rescue them in the van. The crystal will recharge in four hours, giving the resistance time to regroup and strategize. They find out that Pete Tyler is Gemini, their secret informant inside Cybus Industries, and the Doctor warns that talk of executing Pete will make the resistance his enemy. They don’t want that. The Doctor takes charge and promises to end the threat tonight.

Back at his factory, Lumic deploys the EarPods and starts bringing all of the citizens (including Jackie) to him for conversion. The resistance finds a group of stumbling drone-people, but they cannot remove the EarPods for fear of destroying their minds. The Doctor mentions the Cybermen of his normal universe, drawing the conclusion that these Cybermen are attempting to start their own Mondas from this ground zero. The Cybermen march on them, so the team splits and runs. In the chase, Ricky is killed in front of Mickey by the Cybermen. He brings this news to the assembled resistance, and Jake is furious with grief.

Crane comes before Lumic after having ditched his EarPods, requesting an upgrade. Crane disables Lumic’s life support chair, and after killing Crane, the Cybermen begin the upgrade process on Lumic. Across the river, the resistance plots their assault, and Pete and Rose decide to go in the front door with fake EarPods. The Doctor tasks Jake with destroying the EarPod transmitter, then teams with Mrs. Moore to enter through the cooling tunnels. Mickey refuses to be the tin dog and accompanies a reluctant Jake on his explosive mission.

The Doctor and Mrs. Moore find the cooling tunnels lined with dormant Cybermen. Mrs. Moore used to work at Cybus Industries as Angela Price, but she was apprehended for reading about the plans for Cybermen. When she escaped, she joined the resistance and took her alias. As they move through the tunnels, they trip a motion sensor and awaken the sleeping army. They barely escape into the factory. Moments later, they are confronted by a Cyberman and Mrs. Moore disables it with an electromagnetic grenade. The Doctor investigates the Cyberman’s construction and finds the emotional inhibitor. Unfortunately, it was broken in the confrontation, and the human side of the encased brain dies a frightened death as the Doctor disables the electronic heart. The two discuss the morality of killing the entire cyber army before Mrs. Moore is ambushed and killed. The Doctor is escorted away to Cyber Control.

Out front, Rose and Pete join the line of drone citizens marching toward upgrade. They witness the operations firsthand as unwitting victims are cut apart and transformed. When one Cyberman recognizes Pete, it confronts him and reveals that it was Jackie Tyler. Pete and Rose and taken to Cyber Control.

Jake and Mickey find the airship guarded by two men, and Mickey demands that they should not be killed. They disable the guards and enter the airship, finding what they think is a display Cyberman on the bridge. Mickey sets to work in hacking the ship’s navigational systems. The Cyberman comes to life and is tricked into destroying the transmitter. The citizens are awakened, and they run in terror.

In Cyber Control, the Doctor is reunited with Pete and Rose, and together they meet Lumic, the new Cyber Controller. The Cyber Controller tells the Doctor that he is too late, and that even if he is thwarted here, his factories around the world will take humanity by force. The Cyber Controller challenges the Doctor about his emotions, and the Doctor responds by sending Mickey (the “idiot”) a coded instruction to disable the emotional inhibitor. Mickey sends the disable code to Rose’s mobile, the Doctor plugs it into the mainframe, and the entire cyber army selfs destructs under the pain of their restored emotions and souls.

With the factory falling apart at the seams, Mickey takes command of the airship – he learned to fly on Playstation – and directs the Doctor, Rose, and Pete to the roof. He lowers a ladder and the heroes climb to safety, but the Cyber Controller grabs the ladder. The Doctor tosses his sonic screwdriver to Pete, and in Jackie’s name, the elder Tyler cuts the rope and sends Lumic to his demise.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and installs the charged crystal, bringing the TARDIS back to life. Outside, Rose and Pete say their farewells, and Pete decides to destroy the remaining factories as part of the resistance. He’s also unable to process the fact that Rose is his daughter in another universe. Mickey and Jake return, and the Doctor tasks Jake with telling Mrs. Moore’s family about her sacrifice. Mickey also reveals that he is staying behind as this universe’s Ricky. He acknowledges that his relationship with Rose has been broken since she started to travel with the Doctor, and the Doctor reminds both of them that they can never return.

The Doctor wishes Mickey luck, proud of what he has chosen to do. The two humans say their tearful farewells, and a reluctant Rose boards the TARDIS one more time. Mickey and Jake watch the TARDIS disappear, and then set their sights on Paris.

The TARDIS rematerializes in this universe’s Tyler apartment, and Rose rushes to her mother’s arms. Meanwhile, a universe away, Mickey remarks that he once saved the universe in a big yellow truck, so using a van is no challenge at all.

 

As noted before, the tension surrounding the return of the Cybermen was spoiled within minutes by the opening titles. It doesn’t seem like a big deal nearly thirteen years later, but it is obvious from the cinematography – blurred backgrounds, tight shots, the air of mystery around the monster – that director Graeme Harper (the first and only classic era Doctor Who director to cross over to the revival era) intended to make the reveal into a big deal.

In terms of the mythos, this return was a big deal. It’s the first full return for the Cybermen (excluding the quick nod in Dalek) and was a (sort of) 40th-anniversary celebration of their premiere in The Tenth Planet. It was also a return to form, restoring the iconic teardrop to the Cyberman masks after a 31-year absence.

I appreciated the fact that this made the Cybermen scary again by restoring the tragic nature of their origins. Throughout their existence, they have evolved from the almost-human species of The Tenth Planet to little more than a marauding horde of sentient robots. By playing with both Jackie’s assimilation and the emotional inhibitors – Sally Phelan’s death in the cold Cyberman armor was particularly poignant – the underlying empathy of the unemotional menace was restored.

Of course, since I originally started watching Doctor Who in the revival era and have seen what’s to come, rewatching this story reminded me that (in my opinion) this is as good as the Cybermen will get until the Twelfth Doctor’s finale.

Finally, I was impressed with Mickey’s sacrifice for the greater good. He fully admits that his relationship with Rose has been rocky since she first met the Doctor – This is another link in her continued dependence on the Doctor: Is she losing her humanity as she immerses herself without question in the Doctor’s universe? –  and decides to fulfill his counterpart’s mission while spending time with Ricky’s grandmother in an attempt to heal his own emotional wounds. I admire him for stepping up, and I credit his evolution to his discussion with Sarah Jane Smith.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Idiot’s Lantern

 

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 #176: The Girl in the Fireplace

Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace
(1 episode, s02e04, 2006)

 

“Godspeed, my lonely angel.”

Under a starry night sky, the occupants of an ornate estate run from clockwork monsters as a woman laments a broken clock and calls to the Doctor through the fireplace. Three millennia later, the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey arrive on a spaceship. Mickey is excited as Rose and the Doctor investigate the abandoned control room. The ship is drifting in space, but the power cells are at full capacity. They are interrupted by the smell of cooking roast and an eighteenth-century fireplace. The fireplace is against the outer hull in this time, but it is linked to a little girl’s room in 1727 France.

When the Doctor flips a switch, the mantle rotates and delivers him into Reinette’s bedroom in France, but weeks have passed since they first spoke. The Doctor points out that the mantle clock is broken, and it scares him. It is the only clock in the room, it is broken, but there is a pervasive ticking sound all around them. The ticking is too big to be a clock, which the Doctor confirms when he looks under the bed and is attacked by a silent clown-like being in period dress. The clockwork monster tells the Doctor that the girl is incomplete, and when the Time Lord points the sonic screwdriver at it, the monster attacks him with a blade. The Doctor reassures Reinette, telling her not to worry because even monsters have nightmares – Brilliant retort when asked what they fear: “Me!” – as he wheels the robot back to the future spacecraft and disables it with a fire extinguisher. After its true form is revealed to the travelers, the robot teleports away.

The Doctor tells his companions not to go in search of the robot while he spins back to Reinette’s room. The companions don’t listen – of course, they don’t – and the Doctor finds that Reinette has grown into a lovely young woman. After a few moments of back and forth, the inquisitive woman gives the Doctor a kiss, which he seems to be quite into, and leaves. The Doctor puts the pieces together as he realizes that he just kissed Madame de Pompadour.

Yes, the famous “actress, artist, musician, dancer, courtesan, and fantastic gardener!”

Returning to the future, the Doctor finds a white horse – whom he christens Arthur – while his companions find corridors equipped with eyes and a human heart. The Doctor opens another door with the horse, emerging into the yards at the estate as Reinette strolls with her friend and exchanges news of the king’s ill mistress. When he returns, he finds his companions watching the King of France and Reinette through a window. The ship has windows to parts of her life scattered throughout its passageways. As Reinette is attacked by the robot assassin, the Doctor springs into action and saves her with a fire extinguisher.

Reinette orders the robot to answer the Doctor’s questions, revealing that it a maintenance android and that the ship is in need of repair. Since they didn’t have enough spare parts, the robot used the crew’s organs to fix the systems. That Sunday roast? Yeah, it was barbecued crewman. The android requires one last part to get the ship underway, so it has opened multiple time windows to scan Reinette until she is complete. Reinette orders the android away, and the companions are sent in pursuit as it teleports away. They are ambushed moments later by more androids and strapped down for harvesting.

The Doctor telepathically accesses Reinette’s memories, hoping to figure out what the androids are looking for. This also gives her access to his memories – “A door, once opened, may be stepped through in either direction.” – and asks about his real name – “Doctor? Doctor Who?” – before inviting him to dance with her.

Does she mean dancing or dancing? Either way, the Doctor later waltzes into the room where the companions are strapped down, high on life and claiming that he may have just invented the banana daiquiri. Always take a banana to a party, after all. He has determined that Reinette’s brain is what the androids need, dropping the ruse as he frees Mickey and Rose while disabling the robots. When they receive a message that Reinette’s brain is ready, they teleport away to the opening teaser. The Doctor sends Rose to warn the Madame, although she is five years early.

Reinette demands that Rose tell her the story behind the scenes, amazed that her life is bound by the spaceship, like chapters in a book. When Mickey brings word that they found the time window of the attack, Reinette runs through the door to the future and hears her voice from the night of terror. Rose reassures Reinette and she returns to her own time. The Doctor and his companions prepare their assault, but the portal is locked.

The Doctor is unable to break through – the TARDIS cannot go since they are now part of the events in motion and that would mean crossing their timelines – but Reinette buys time by confronting the androids. The Doctor breaks through the window, riding to the rescue on the white horse, which seals him in the past and breaks the link to the ship, much to the frustration of Mickey and Rose. Fortunately, the androids run out of energy since their purpose is now gone, and Reinette is saved. Unfortunately, the Doctor and his companions are now separated by 3000 years.

The Doctor is reconciled to taking the slow path to the future with Reinette, wondering how he’s going to make in the past. She shows him her secret: The fireplace from Versailles through which they first met. Since she moved the fireplace, that doorway was offline when the link was severed. One tweak from the sonic screwdriver later he spins the mantle and returns to the future. He asks Reinette to pack a bag, intent on taking her in the TARDIS, but when he returns to the past, she has just left for Paris. The King delivers a letter and the sad news that Reinette has died, hoping to see the Doctor one last time before illness took her. The trip to Paris is her last, due for interment.

The Doctor returns to the future, the TARDIS, and his companions. Mickey and Rose give him a moment alone while he reads Reinette’s final words. With sadness in his eyes, he disables the last link from Reinette to the ship by extinguishing the fireplace. The TARDIS dematerializes as they move on to the next adventure.

The reason that the androids wanted Reinette’s mind is revealed to the viewer alone: The ship is the SS Madame de Pompadour.

Like the Doctor, it truly drifts alone.

 

This is another example of why Steven Moffat is a great Doctor Who writer. We’ve seen him twice before (The Curse of Fatal Death and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) and each time has been fun. The themes exercised here are a fantastic exploration of the Doctor, especially in light of the tragedy and redemption we’ve seen so far. The Doctor falls in love (a Moffat trope to be sure, excluding the TV movie) and is devastated when his very domain, time and space, defeats his desire.

We also get a bit more education for Rose, removing further the notion that she’s special as the companion, and playing off the revelations from Sarah Jane Smith.

The big quibble I have is the resolution of the Doctor’s grand sacrifice. He’s content to spend the rest of Reinette’s life with her, returning to the TARDIS and his companions the long way around, but his way out is pure coincidence. Sure, it was touching and moving, but it was also a fortunate function of the plot.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen and Doctor Who: The Age of Steel

 

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 #175: School Reunion

Doctor Who: School Reunion
(1 episode, s02e03, 2006)

 

The curse of the Time Lord is always having to say goodbye.

While walking the halls of Deffry Vale High School, Headmaster Finch notices a student waiting outside his office. She has a headache, but she can’t go home since she lives in an orphanage. Finch notes that no one will miss her and invites her into his office. The door closes, wings flap, and the girl screams.

The Doctor is posing as a teacher named John Smith. He asks a series of questions, each escalating in difficulty, and each answered by a student named Milo. Rose, on the other hand, is working in the cafeteria serving chips. She’s unhappy about the previous two days where they’ve been under cover based on a tip from Mickey. They note that the chips taste funny, but that the menu has been specially selected by the headmaster. Another teacher, Mr. Wagner, selects a student named Melissa for a top class. Another student, Kenny, is not allowed to eat the chips, and Finch is watching like a vulture from above.

In the kitchen, Rose watches the other kitchen staff bring in a barrel while wearing gloves and face masks. Mickey calls her with news of UFO activity in the area, but notes that he is being blocked by something called Torchwood. The barrel spills and one of the staff members is burned by the contents. The head cook stops Rose from calling an ambulance, even as Rose hears screams and smoke billows out of the side room.

In the mathematics classroom, Mr. Wagner subjects his top students to a Matrix-style computer program with alien symbols. Meanwhile, the Doctor is reunited with Sarah Jane Smith, now working as a reporter who is writing a profile on the headmaster.

I nearly cried at the reunion. I know it gets better.

Strange events are afoot: The students have taken a quantum leap in knowledge since Finch arrived; the day the headmaster arrived, several teachers disappeared under mysterious circumstances; and Kenny notices an alien creature snacking on a student. The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey investigate the school after hours, Sarah Jane finds the TARDIS, and the Doctor finally reconnects with his former companion.

She chastises him for not coming back after leaving her in Aberdeen (not South Croydon), and he reveals that all of the Time Lords are dead. The team comes together when Sarah Jane meets Rose and Mickey, and the two women clash while Mickey ruffles the Doctor’s feathers. They also discover that the teachers are actually bats that roost in the headmaster’s office. When the Doctor tries to take the oil sample back to the TARDIS, Sarah Jane shows him a faster way to analyze the sample.

K9! Mark III, to be exact! In Sarah Jane’s car!

She explains that the tin dog stopped working one day and she couldn’t repair the advanced technology. They don’t notice that they are being trailed by Headmaster Finch as they retire to a nearby café. The Doctor repairs K9, Mickey teases Rose about her jealousy, and Sarah Jane asks the Doctor if she did something wrong since he never came back for her after his visit home. The Doctor tries to brush it off, saying that she was getting on with her life, but Sarah Jane replies that the Doctor was her life. The hardest thing was adjusting back to mundane life after seeing the wonders of the universe.

K9 returns to life and recognizes the Doctor. He analyzes the sample and reports that it is Krillitane oil. The Krillitanes are a composite species who take the best physical parts of other species they conquer, and they’re doing something to the children.

As they leave the café, Rose is struggling with the realization that she’s not the first companion while Sarah Jane relates Mickey to K9, effectively the tin dog of the modern companion set. Rose is troubled that the Doctor has gone through so many companions, but the Doctor retorts that he doesn’t age. The curse of the Time Lords is regenerating and saying goodbye while everyone else ages around them.

The revelation of the Doctor’s identity frightens Mr. Finch, and everyone knows who everyone else is. The team returns to the school the next day. Rose and Sarah Jane investigate the computers, Mickey and K9 act as lookouts in the car, and the Doctor has a word with the headmaster, really a Krillitane named Brother Lassar. The human form is a morphic illusion, and Finch refers to the Doctor as a pompous, dusty senator, afraid of change and chaos and now all but extinct. The Doctor quietly replies that he had much more mercy when he was younger, and he offers a single warning.

Sarah Jane and Rose argue about who has had more experience with the Doctor – references include Pyramids of MarsThe Time WarriorRobot, The Sontaran Experiment, Revenge of the Cybermen, The Android InvasionThe Five Doctors, Death to the Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks, Planet of Evil, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Terror of the Zygons, The Unquiet Dead, Aliens of London/World War Three, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and Tooth and Claw – and Sarah Jane gets the upper hand with the Loch Ness Monster. They bond over their compared notes about the Doctor – he still strokes parts of the TARDIS! – and the Time Lord is confused by their laughter when he enters the room.

The Krillitanes are rallied to their final phase as Finch seals the school, recalls the students to their hyper-processing class, and offers the rest of the staff as a lunchtime snack. The Doctor finds that the mainframe is fixed with a deadlock seal which the sonic screwdriver cannot breach. Meanwhile, Kenny, the only student not enthralled by the computers, attracts Mickey and K9 for help. While Mickey looks for a way to break down the door, K9 reminds him they are in a car.

Oh, K9. I have missed you.

Rose, Sarah Jane, and the Doctor watch the symbols flash on a large screen. The Doctor works out that the Krillitanes are trying to solve the Skasis Paradigm, the Universal Theory. Whoever solves it can control the building blocks of the universe and all of time and space. The oil is boosting the children’s intelligence, focusing them as a giant processor. Finch arrives with an offer for the Doctor to join them, to change the universe, to save everyone, even restore the Time Lords. In true Sarah Jane fashion, she acts as his the Doctor’s conscience: Pain and loss define them as much as happiness or love; Everything has its time and everything ends, whether a world or a relationship. The Doctor smashes the screen and they all run as Finch rallies the Krillitanes.

Mickey crashes through the front doors with Sarah Jane’s car. K9 springs to the rescue and shoots down one of the bats with his blaster. The Doctor tells K9 to hold them off while they retreat, even though his battery is failing. The Krillitane ignore the “shooty dog thing” – hello, Joss Whedon – and pursue the Doctor. The Time Lord realizes that the oil is the solution, and the Krillitanes have changed their physiology so often that even their own oil is toxic to them now. Mickey goes for the kids while the Doctor stuns the bats with the fire alarm.

The barrels have been deadlock sealed, and K9 notes that he can destroy them with one shot from his blaster. Unfortunately, K9 must remain behind to strike the blow. The Doctor protests, but then bids his old friend farewell – “You good dog.” – and leaves. He takes Sarah Jane’s hand to stop her from going back for the robot dog and drags her to safety.

Finch and the bat brethren enter the kitchen in search of the Doctor. K9 shoots the barrel, and Finch snarls: “You bad dog.” K9 replies with, “Affirmative,” as the school explodes. The students cheer, hailing Kenny as the hero who saved the day as Sarah Jane weeps over K9’s sacrifice.

Later on, Sarah Jane finds the TARDIS in a park. The Doctor suggests that she join them, but Sarah Jane declines. It’s time, she says, that she found a life of her own. Mickey asks if he may join the TARDIS, ready to see the universe. Sarah Jane gives him her blessing, one Smith to another, and the Doctor agrees. Rose isn’t as pleased.

Sarah Jane wants to stay, but some things are worth getting your heart broken for. She tells Rose that if she ever needs to, Sarah Jane is there to talk. She thanks the Doctor for her time with him, and he asks if she ever found someone special. She tells him that there was one man with whom she traveled with for a while, but he was a tough act to follow. She asks him to say goodbye this time and he does – “Goodbye, my Sarah Jane!” – with a tight hug. She walks away as the TARDIS dematerializes, but when she looks back she finds a present: A brand new K9 with the Mark III consciousness installed.

Happily, Sarah orders her new companion home. They have work to do.

 

This was a magnificent episode. We get to reunite with two classic companions, we get connections between the revival series and the classic series that officially link the mythology together, and we get David Tennant getting comfortable in his skin as the Doctor. The first time I saw this episode, I also was very pleased with guest star Anthony Stewart Head, who I had only seen as Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I love him as a bad guy.

I especially loved seeing Elisabeth Sladen once again. Her performance brought tears to my eyes, and I really do miss her as the incomparable and irreplaceable Sarah Jane Smith. I’m looking forward to The Sarah Jane Adventures when they roll up in this project.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace

 

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 #174: Tooth and Claw

Doctor Who: Tooth and Claw
(1 episode, s02e02, 2006)

 

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. However, what makes you stronger can also kill you.

Upon the Scottish moors, a group of monks walks to the Torchwood Estate. Their leader, Father Angelo, takes the house by force from its owner. They chain everyone, including Lady Isobel MacLeish, in the cellar with a mysterious cage. When she sees what’s inside, Lady Isobel screams.

Oh, does she scream.

Meanwhile, the TARDIS soars through space-time as the Doctor tries to steer the capsule to 1979 Sheffield through some fun mechanical agitation. Instead of The Muppet Movie, they find guns in their faces (and Rose’s terrible Scottish accent) in the year 1879. Identifying as Scottish doctor James McCrimmon, the travelers are introduced to Queen Victoria. She believes that the Doctor is assigned as her protector, and she invites them to accompany her to Balmoral Castle. En route, they arrive at the Torchwood Estate where the Queen plans to spend the night.

Despite Sir Robert’s hints that not everything is well at the house, the Queen insists on spending the night since it was a favorite of her late consort, Prince Albert. Captain Reynolds, chief of the Queen’s guard, stows a small box in the safe as the Queen and the travelers tour the house’s observatory. The Doctor analyzes the telescope designed by Sir Robert’s father, noting the surplus of prisms as the Queen muses about the local tales of a mysterious wolf. Before Sir Robert can relay the tale, Father Angelo suggests that dinner may be in order.

The meal is prepared, the guards are drugged, and Rose finds a housemaid in the closet as she looks for a suitable dress. Rose takes Flora to find the Doctor, but they are both taken by the monks. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Captain Reynolds, and the Queen listen to Sir Robert’s tale at the dinner table: Over the last three centuries, livestock has been slaughtered during every full moon. Once a generation, a boy goes missing and a werewolf is spotted in the wilderness. Coincidentally, the cage in the cellar contains a boy with pitch black eyes. The boy is possessed by an alien force that plans to inhabit Queen Victoria and begin the Empire of the Wolf. He also feels the power of the wolf that burns like the sun within her.

Sir Robert believes that his father had communicated with the beast and nearly learned its secrets, but was stopped by the Brethern. The Monks expose the caged being to moonlight and it transforms into a wolf as Father Angelo begins his assault on the Queen. After six attempts on her life, she’s packing a small handgun, and Father Angelo is soon dead. The Doctor and Sir Robert break into the cellar just in time to watch the wolf escape. The Doctor evacuates the prisoners and locks the door. The wolf breaks free, and despite their best efforts, it kills all of the estate’s working men. The women, however, are inexplicably spared.

The Queen retrieves the box and attempts escape with Sir Robert and the travelers, but they’re soon cornered. They run up several flights of stairs and seek refuge in the library after Captain Reynolds gives his life to slow the wolf down. The wolf refuses to break through the barricade, offering its prey a chance to breathe and look for the item that’s stopping it. Sir Robert apologizes and the Queen demands an explanation.

In the kitchen, Lady Isobel notices that the monks guarding the perimeter are wearing mistletoe. The Doctor notes the same in the library, which he muses is filled with the greatest arsenal in the world: Books. They discover that a spacecraft crashed to Earth in 1540 near the monastery and the creature that grew within decided to establish an empire. The Queen interjects that, if she is to die this night, she must find a safe place for the contents of her box. It is the Koh-i-Noor, a large diamond with a supposed curse, that is intended to be cut to the perfect shape.

The Doctor connects the dots as the wolf breaks through the glass skylight, and our heroes are saved by Lady Isobel and a pot of mistletoe. The Queen and the travelers take refuge in the observatory as Sir Robert faces the wolf. The Doctor installs the diamond in the telescope, which is really a trap for the wolf designed by Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father. Once aligned, the light chamber focuses the moon’s rays and suspends the wolf in mid-air. The human form emerges and asks the Doctor to increase the intensity so he can be free. The Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform is soon destroyed.

For their efforts, the Queen bestows titles upon the travelers – Sir Doctor of TARDIS and Dame Rose of the Powell Estate – and then banishes them from the Empire because their world is steeped in terror and blasphemy, yet they consider it fun. The Queen is not amused – Rose wins her bet! – and the travelers return to the TARDIS while they muse about the nature of hemophilia in the royal bloodline.

Maybe the Queen is a werewolf after all. Ah-wooooooo!

Back at the estate, Queen Victoria tells Lady Isobel that her husband’s sacrifice and the ingenuity of his father will survive. She has seen that the Empire has enemies beyond imagination and has decreed that an institute will research and fight these threats. It will be known as the Torchwood Institute.

If the Doctor returns, he should beware, because Torchwood will be waiting.

 

A Russell T. Davies story, this was a breakneck experience well-mixed among action, humor, and drama. We get the typical alien-of-the-week threat, but there’s an additional layer with a bystander who calls things based on how I imagine that most people in these adventures see the Doctor and companions. Honestly, it’s very much a reflection of Tegan’s second departure from the TARDIS.

The difference is that Queen Victoria has the power to literally banish the travelers from her realm. For all the good it will do, given that Rose is a native of the modern day and the Doctor isn’t even native to this planet. She also has the power to establish a planetary defense agency, the Torchwood Institute, which has been referenced twice to this point and will likely be a large part of the story going forward.

Overall, this was an enjoyable adventure harkening back to the classic roots of the franchise.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: School Reunion

 

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 #173: New Earth

Doctor Who: New Earth
(1 episode, s02e01, 2006)

 

The adventure continues with a rather pointless return.

Just after saying goodbye to her mother and Mickey, Rose Tyler joins the Doctor in the TARDIS as they go further than they’ve ever gone before. They end up on New Earth, a planet similar to its long-dead namesake in the year 5,000,000,023, located in Galaxy M87. Their arrival is witnessed by a spider-drone, which (of course) belongs to Lady Cassandra.

There’s no surprise in that reveal at all.

Following a message on the psychic paper – “Ward 26. Please come.” – Rose and the Doctor visit the New New York Hospital. They find nuns that look like cats, an extensive disinfection protocol, and a diversion named Chip that splits companion from Time Lord. The Doctor talks with Sister Jatt, a member of the humanoid feline Sisters of Plentitude, before reuniting with the Face of Boe. It seems that the Face is dying of old age, which is something that the Sisters cannot cure.

Rose explores the basement, pipe in hand as a weapon, and encounters Lady Cassandra. She was reconstructed from another piece of her former body’s skin – see: plot armor – and as she tells her story she traps Rose and transfers her consciousness into the woman’s body. After a phone call from the Doctor, Cassandra stuffs a small vial in her new cleavage and heads upstairs.

The Doctor sits with the Face of Boe and Novice Hame. The attendant relates a story that the Face has lived for thousands, perhaps millions of years and that he will give his dying message to a lonely god, a wanderer without a home. Surely she means the Doctor because the look on his face and the lingering camera tell us so. While he waits for the Face to awaken, the Doctor investigates the medical ward and the mysterious rash of miracle recoveries. He’s also suspicious of Rose’s return with her strange voice, the knowledge she shouldn’t have of the hospital’s inner workings, and some lusty kisses beside. Together they hack their way into the intensive care unit and find patients infected with every possible disease in the universe. These patients exist as human lab rats, a farm from which to harvest cures for the greater good.

The Doctor is incensed. He confronts Novice Hame, but the nun insists that the artificial humans are nothing more than mere flesh. He turns the tables, demanding to know what happened to Rose. Novice Hame says she has no idea, and Cassandra drugs the Doctor with the perfume vial she secreted away. The Doctor awakens in one of the pods, on the verge of being pumped full of the disease cocktail. Cassandra attempts to blackmail Matron Casp, the leader of the hospital’s order, but they refuse with the threat of claws. Cassandra turns to Plan B and releases all of human slaves, which promptly turn on their feline captives with gruesome results. Matron Casp escapes and quarantines the facility as Cassandra, Chip, and the Doctor run for their lives. Well, Cassandra and the Doctor do after the former fleshy trampoline leaves Chip behind.

The Doctor confronts Cassandra and demands that she return Rose. Cassandra obliges by jumping into the Doctor’s body in a humorous fashion. They continue to run as the diseased horde breaks through, and Matron Casp is killed by her own creation as they climb. Upon reaching a locked elevator door, Cassandra bounces from the Doctor to Rose and one of the infected – quickly learning about their life of loneliness – as our heroes escape. Cassandra returns to Rose as they reach Ward 26, and the Doctor hatches a plan with a quick descent down an elevator shaft with a large batch of the intravenous cures strapped to his body. He fills the disinfectant tub in the elevator with the solutions and lures the infected into the empty car. The spray cures the horde, and the Doctor celebrates with a confused and enlightened Cassandra in tow.

As the police arrive, Matron Casp is taken away, and the Doctor finally communicates with the Face of Boe. The Face promises to meet the Doctor for the third (and last) time and also promises to share his secrets at that meeting before teleporting away. Apparently, they ran out of time for that plot thread. The Doctor turns to Cassandra and orders her to leave Rose. Cassandra refuses until Chip (miraculously) returns, upon which time she jumps into her willing slave. Unfortunately, Chip only has a half-life and is dying, but Cassandra accepts this as her just end.

The Doctor offers Cassandra one last gift: He takes her back to the party she was watching on film, allowing her the chance to tell her past self – a fully human self – of her beauty before collapsing. With that, the Doctor and Rose say farewell and return to the TARDIS.

 

On the plus side, both Tennant and Piper are amazing in their performances. It is plainly obvious that they’re having a ton of fun as they explore their new chemistry as series leads. Also on the production side, the cat makeup is fantastic. Storywise, the ending is poignant and continues the Doctor’s character theme of redemption over vengeance.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story doesn’t meet those high points. There’s a clear lack of villain here, and the plot spends too much time on Cassandra’s plans for revenge than on the abuses of the Sisters of Plentitude. That element is resolved too quickly with a chemical shower that comes across as more miracle than anything else. It would have worked if more time was invested in the story, but there was no empathy, and that made the story boring.

 

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Tooth and Claw

 

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 #172: Born Again & The Christmas Invasion

Doctor Who: Born Again
(1 episode, Children in Need, 2005)

Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2005)

 

New teeth. New hand. New Doctor.

 

Born Again

After a brief recap of Bad Wolf and the Ninth Doctor’s farewell, we meet the Tenth Doctor. He plots a course for Barcelona – the planet where dogs have no noses – before taking stock of his new looks, all the while ignoring Rose’s confusion and apprehension. She’s skeptical of this new face, not recognizing him because regeneration is a whole new deck of cards for her.

After discounting nanogenes, Gelth, and the Slitheen, the Doctor assures her that he is still himself by recounting the day they met. Rose is still not convinced, and the Doctor offers her the choice to go home. He changes course to London on Christmas Eve, but soon suffers a bout of irrationality as the regeneration goes wrong. It’s so bad that even the Cloister Bell begins to sound as they TARDIS barrels through the vortex, almost out of control.

 

The Christmas Invasion

On Earth, Jackie trims the Christmas tree as Mickey works in the garage. The sound of the TARDIS brings them both running just in time to see the police box materialize in mid-air, bounce off a few buildings, and skid to a stop. The Doctor pops out of the box to meet Jackie and Mickey, collapsing just after he wishes them a Merry Christmas. Jackie and Mickey look on in confusion as Rose explains that this is now the Doctor.

The Doctor ends up resting in the Tyler home, sport a new set of pajamas that belong to Howard, Jackie’s current boyfriend who stashes random fruit in his pockets. Rose is examining the Doctor using a (shall we say) borrowed stethoscope and Jackie is amazed that he has two hearts. As they leave the room to wait for him to recover, the Doctor breathes out a wisp of regeneration energy. They watch newly elected Prime Minister Harriet Jones as she headlines a press conference on the unmanned Martian probe Guinevere One, launched by the British Rocket Group. That probe is soon lost to a giant island-like spacecraft.

Rose goes out with Mickey to do a little Chirstmas shopping, but their date is interrupted by a group of masked Santas wielding brass instruments as weapons. Our two lovebirds run and grab a taxi back to the flat, assuming that the Santas are chasing them to get to the Doctor. When they get there, they find a new Christmas tree that was recently delivered, and it tries to kill them. Rose, Jackie, and Mickey take refuge with the sleeping Doctor as the tree tears the place apart. Just as the tree bursts into the bedroom, Rose whispers “Help me” into the Doctor’s ear, and the Time Lord snaps into action to destroy the threat. He then points his sonic screwdriver at the Santas on the street below, forcing them to transmat away.

The Doctor is bursting with regeneration energy, and that energy could power the alien spacecraft for a long time. The incoming spaceship detected the energy as the Doctor continued to bleed it off, and the Santas were scavenger-like “pilot fish” leading the way for the larger predator. As he collapses again, the Doctor warns that something is coming and tries to ask for an unknown food item. His condition continues to deteriorate as the humans watch a news conference by the probe’s lead scientist, Daniel Llewellyn. The first images beamed back by the probe show a snarling alien face, a visage that spurs the world into action. Llewellyn is escorted to the Tower of London by UNIT where he meets Harriett and her aide Alex. Llewellyn is shocked to know that both the United Kingdom and United Nations are familiar with extraterrestrials, and analyst Sally Jacobs reveals that the signal came from an incoming ship.

The inhabitants of that ship contact Earth, but no one can understand them. UNIT applies a translation program while Rose (watching from Mickey’s hacked access to UNIT systems) laments the lack of the TARDIS translation circuits. The crisis builds as the translation program works and Jackie watches over the Doctor, and Harriett asks Major Blake of UNIT about Torchwood’s ability to handle the invasion.

Apparently, Harriet Jones shouldn’t know about Torchwood.

The translation program decrypts the transmission: The Sycorax are coming for Earth and its resources, and they demand a total surrender. Harriet refuses the demands, and the Sycorax respond with a signal that reprograms select humans on the planet to act like drones. The drones, now spread all around the world, all climb to high points like tops of buildings and prepare to unwittingly jump to their deaths. UNIT records show a genetic link among those affected, and they all share a blood type: A-positive. Guinevere One had a sample of humanity aboard – music, literature, and so on – including a vial of A-positive blood, and the Sycorax have used it to their advantage.

Harriet Jones continues to work the Torchwood angle as she broadcasts a plea to the Doctor, wherever he may be, to help them in their hour of need. Rose sees this broadcast and weeps for the dying Doctor, and her grief is broken as the incoming ship creates a sonic wave upon entering the atmosphere that shatters glass across the city. Soon enough, the island in the sky is hovering overhead. Rose rushes to the bedroom and moves the Doctor to the TARDIS as a last resort. Meanwhile, the Sycorax transport Harriet, Major Blake, Alex, and Llewellyn to their ship and demand their surrender. When Llewellyn begs for mercy, the Sycorax leader kills him and Major Blake. Harriet is faced with a terrible choice: One-third of the population dies or one half is sold into slavery.

Rose, Jackie, and Mickey get the Doctor to the TARDIS, and as they fiddle with the scanner, the Sycorax detect the advanced technology. After Jackie left to fetch a tote of food, the Sycorax teleport the TARDIS to their ship. Rose and Mickey are taken hostage, and a dropped container of tea drips onto the components below. The steam and smoke from the dripping tea rouse the Doctor as Rose is called forward to speak for humanity.

She attempts to bluff her way through a declaration, but fails miserably.

Lucky for her, the Doctor arrives in time to save everyone. The cup of tea, or rather the vapors from it, are exactly what he needed. Tannins are apparently good for the mind.

A brief round of introductions (and a lament about not being a redhead this time around) later, the Doctor springs into action. He quickly deduces how the Sycorax are controlling the humans below, and he decides to press the big red button. Instead of killing everyone, it releases the control. Blood control acts like hypnosis, and the instinct to live is too powerful for hypnotic suggestions of suicide. He tries to sway the Sycorax with The Lion King before challenging them to ritual combat for control of the planet.

The sword fight commences, eventually leading to the decks outside. Moments later, the Doctor’s hand is cut off, tumbling away ala The Empire Strikes Back, but the Time Lord uses the rest of this regeneration cycle to regrow his hand. Declaring it to be a fighting hand, he defeats the Sycorax leader and demands that the ship leave immediately. When the Sycorax leader attempts to double-cross the Doctor, the Doctor dumps him off the edge. This incarnation doesn’t believe in second chances for betrayal.

That’s a bit of an interesting twist, since the Doctor has only survived because of redemption.

The humans, the Doctor, and the TARDIS are returned to the planet’s surface as the spacecraft departs in a hurry. They celebrate as the Doctor warns Harriet that the planet is being noticed. They should expect more visitors. The Prime Minister receives word that Torchwood is ready, and she orders them to fire. Moments later, a beam of energy lances upward and destroys the Sycorax ship.

The Doctor is downright furious, and rightfully so. This has echoes to Doctor Who and the Silurians.

Harriet defends her actions, pointing out that the Doctor isn’t always there. He threatens to bring her down with six words, which he whispers to Alex: “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, demands to know what the Doctor said before muttering an apology as he walks away.

The Doctor retreats to the TARDIS to pick out a new wardrobe – a pinstripe suit and trenchcoat ensemble – before joining Rose and her family for Christmas dinner, and the Time Lord watches the news as Harriet is faced with a vote of no confidence. They go outside in the freshly falling snow, which just happens to be ash from the ship. The Doctor prepares to leave and invites Rose to join him. He consoles Jackie and Mickey before preparing for their next adventure.

 

This episode begins a new tradition for the franchise in regular Christmas specials. The last time an episode was aired on December 25th was A Feast for Steven, the seventh part of The Daleks’ Master Plan, aired thirty-nine years prior. This story was different since is was specially produced for the holiday.

While it lacks in substance, it does have quite a few things going for it: The dramatic tension on the UNIT side is good, and the callbacks to elements of the franchise’s history keep the story grounded in its overarching identity. I mean, everything else that has been mentioned aside, the wardrobe scene is a veritable Who’s Who of Doctor Who history:

Sadly, all of that is not quite enough to overpower the long stretches of maudlin Rose and a comatose Doctor. Tennant’s superior acting kicks things into gear, but that energy doesn’t arrive until late in the game.

Until then, it’s a rather boring slog that takes full advantage of the Project’s regeneration handicap. Thankfully, it gets better in the future.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: New Earth

 

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.