Timestamp #204: The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth
Doctor Who: Journey’s End
(2 episodes, s04e12-e13, 2008)

 

The return of a long-dead enemy and the rise of a family.

 

The Stolen Earth

The Doctor and Donna race back to Earth to find that everything is fine. It’s a calm Saturday, but the Doctor knows that the walls of the universe are breaking down because Rose has been able to travel between realities. When they return to the TARDIS, the planet begins to shake. When the violent tremors subside, the Doctor and Donna look outside to find themselves in space.

The TARDIS is in the same place, but the Earth has been stolen.

Far across the universe, Martha Jones wakes up in New York with her UNIT team. In Cardiff, Torchwood Three are picking up the pieces. On Bannerman Road, Sarah Jane Smith and Luke dust themselves off before Mr. Smith tells them to look outside. Sylvia and Wilfred look upward as well.

The planet Earth is among twenty-six other stolen planets, all of them visible in the sky above, and Rose Tyler has just arrived with a big freakin’ gun.

Back in Earth’s orbit, the Doctor and Donna puzzle over the mystery before setting a course for the Shadow Proclamation. On Earth, Torchwood Three discovers that the planet still maintains atmosphere and heat. Both Torchwood and Mr. Smith detect a space station and a fleet of ships. UNIT spools up their alert status as the two hundred ships enter orbit.

As rioters swarm the streets, Rose stops a pair of looters before using a stolen laptop to get an update.

Martha calls Jack as the planet intercepts a single repeated signal: EXTERMINATE! It rattles all of our heroes to their very cores as Dalek saucers open fire on Earth. The Supreme Dalek declares that they are now the masters of Earth.

The TARDIS touches down at the Shadow Proclamation and is greeted by a squad of Judoon. The Doctor meets with a member of the Proclamation and learns that twenty-four planets have been taken. Donna reminds the Doctor that Pyrovillia and Adipose 3 are missing. Adding the lost moon of Poosh, they have twenty-seven planets taken out of time and space and formed into an engine. The Doctor recalls that someone tried to steal the Earth a long time ago, but it can’t be…

The UNIT forces decide to activate Project Indigo, their top-secret project that Jack doesn’t think will work. Martha puts on a backpack apparatus, is handed something called the Osterhagen Key, and teleports away using Sontaran technology. Jack believes that she is scattered into atoms because the technology lacks coordinates and stabilization.

On the Dalek station, the Supreme Dalek orders the fleet to commence landing and rounding up of humans for “the Crucible”. A familiar-looking form asks about the Doctor, warning the Supreme Dalek about his pride and that Dalek Caan has an uneasy prophecy: The Doctor is coming.

Donna is deep in thought when a member of the Proclamation gives her sustenance. She knows that something was on Donna’s back and is sorry for the loss that’s about to come. The Doctor asks Donna what he’s not thinking of and she reminds him that the bees have gone missing. The Doctor says that it means that they were going home to the planet Melissa Majoria before the Earth vanished. The Doctor uses that to trace the planet’s course – an act that forces the Proclamation to order him to join their war fleet, which he declines – and the TARDIS is off to the rescue.

On Earth, the humans in Wilf and Sylvia’s neighborhood resist. The Daleks respond by destroying their homes. Wilf uses a paintball gun to try blinding a Dalek, but it doesn’t work. Before the Dalek exterminates Donna’s family, Rose rescues them by destroying the Dalek with her gun.

The TARDIS materializes in the Medusa Cascade, a place that the Doctor hasn’t visited since he was ninety years old. They’re in the middle of a rift in time and space, but there’s no trace of the missing planets.

Torchwood and Bannerman Road listen as the United Nations surrenders the planet to the Daleks. Their sorrow is interrupted by a mysterious (familiar sounding) signal from a “subwave network”. The caller is Harriet Jones (former Prime Minister) and she links Torchwood, Bannerman Road, and Martha Jones (who materialized at her mother’s house). Rose can only listen in since Sylvia considers webcams to be “naughty”.

Introductions are made around the table – Jack admires Sarah Jane’s work, but Sarah Jane has been staying away because of all the guns – and Harriet Jones warns that they will not use the Osterhagen Key under any circumstances. Rose is a bit jealous.

Using a sentient computer program from the Mr. Copper Foundation, the subwave network can boost the signal to reach the Doctor. Sure enough, the Doctor’s Army pools their resources and opens a channel, but the Daleks are hot on their trail. The TARDIS locks onto the signal as the Daleks blow a hole into Harriet’s home. She transfers control and faces them down before they exterminate her.

The TARDIS materializes in the middle of the missing planets, now one second out of sync with the rest of the universe. The Doctor opens a channel and makes contact with everyone but Rose. Moments later, Davros breaks into the signal and reintroduces himself to the Doctor. The Doctor saw him destroyed in the first year of the Time War, but Davros was rescued by Dalek Caan after the mad Dalek hybrid shifted through the time lock and rescued him. Davros returned the favor by donating his own DNA to rebuild the Dalek Empire.

The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to Earth while Dalek Caan predicts death for the most faithful companion. Jack uses Martha’s coordinates to fix his vortex manipulator and teleport to her location as the Daleks descend on Torchwood. Ianto and Gwen mount a defense.

Sarah Jane leaves Luke in Mr. Smith’s care as she races to the TARDIS’s landing point. Rose also teleports away with a wish of luck from Donna’s family, appearing behind the Doctor and Donna on a street full of abandoned cars. The Doctor and Rose race to each other, but a Dalek rounds the corner and shoots the Doctor. Jack appears and destroys the Dalek, but they’re too late.

Rose, Jack, and Donna take the Doctor back to the TARDIS. Rose and Jack know what’s coming, but Donna has no idea. The Doctor’s hand begins to glow.

Sarah Jane is trapped by Daleks. Torchwood is under assault.

The Doctor begins to regenerate.

 

Journey’s End

The Doctor channels the regeneration energy into the hand in the bubbling jar, leaving his companions baffled. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is rescued by the surprise appearance of Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler, and Torchwood’s certain doom is stopped by a strange bubble in time. It’s a time lock developed by Tosh before her death, but it means that Ianto and Gwen are trapped in Torchwood HQ.

The Doctor used enough regeneration energy to heal himself, but refused to change his face. The Daleks surround the phone box and place it in a temporal prison before transporting it to the Crucible. Sarah Jane warns her saviors to put down their guns before they all surrender to the Daleks, intent on being sent to the Crucible. Martha uses Project Indigo, but only makes it as far as Germany.

Rose tells the Doctor about the coming darkness and how all the timelines are converging on Donna. The loss of power on the TARDIS also means that the capsule is as fragile as the wooden doors that it resembles. These are, after all, the Daleks that fought the Time Lords. The TARDIS lands at the Crucible, but Donna is lost in thought once more. The Doctor and his companions exit the TARDIS, certain of their fate as they face the Supreme Dalek, but Donna doesn’t leave the ship.

The TARDIS door closes and the Daleks eject the time capsule into the heart of the Crucible. The Doctor fears that it will be destroyed and begs for Donna’s life. On the TARDIS, Donna is enthralled by the hand in a jar, and she reaches for it, it glows with regeneration energy and explodes into a fully formed duplicate of the Doctor.

The new Doctor – the Metacrisis Doctor – pushes a button and the TARDIS vanishes. Everyone in the Crucible above believes it to be destroyed and Jack opens fire with his revolver. The Daleks exterminate him and lead Rose and the Doctor away as Jack revives and plays possum.

The Metacrisis Doctor fixes the TARDIS and bonds with Donna, discovering that he only has one heart. He’s a human-Time Lord hybrid, and he believes Donna to be special. They’ve been heading to this moment from the very beginning, from the runaway bride to the convenient parking of Donna’s car near the TARDIS during the Adipose incident. But time or destiny or fate or whatever is not done yet.

Martha arrives at a castle, one of the Osterhagen bases. The caretaker threatens her by gunpoint not to go through with the plan, but Martha presses on.

On the Crucible, Jack escapes disposal and is free to find his allies. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane and her new friends arrive. The Doctor and Rose are put in confinement beams and converse with Davros, who the Doctor calls the Daleks’ pet. Davros reveals Dalek Caan, the last of the Cult of Skaro, and says that the Supreme Dalek is afraid of the mad hybrid’s prophecies about the Children of Time. Davros revels in the darkness with the Doctor, but the Time Lord puts it away as quickly as it surfaced when he learns about the secret weapon: A reality bomb.

As the prisoners are processed, Sarah Jane and Mickey escape with her sonic lipstick. The Daleks test their reality bomb on the prisoners, using the neutrino energy channeled through the aligned planets as a weapon. Just as it’s about to fire, Jackie’s teleporter recharges and she escapes as the prisoners are vaporized. They literally vanished from existence.

Davros plans to destroy the entirety of creation, every single corner of reality in every universe. The only thing to remain will be the Daleks.

Jack meets up with Sarah Jane, Mickey, and Jackie. Jack and Mickey share a manly hug as Sarah Jane produces a warp star – a warp fold conjugation trapped in a carbonized shell, or an “explosion waiting to happen”, gifted to her by a Verron soothsayer – to destroy the Crucible. On Earth, Martha makes contact with the other Osterhagen bases and opens a channel to the Crucible, threatening to use a chain of twenty-five nuclear warheads around the globe to destroy the planet. Jack also makes contact, threatening to use the warp star to destroy the Crucible, and Davros is pleased to see Sarah Jane once again.

Davros is pleased that the Doctor, a pacifist, has honed his companions into weapons ready to kill. He asks the Doctor – the man who keeps running because he dare not look back for fear of the shame – to consider how many others have died in his name. The drama is a distraction as the Supreme Dalek locks onto all of the Doctor’s allies and teleports them to the Doctor’s location.

The Daleks then initiate the reality bomb.

One the TARDIS, the Metacrisis Doctor and Donna rig a device to cause the reality bomb to backfire. The TARDIS materializes in the Crucible and the Metacrisis Doctor races out, but Davros strikes him with an electrical charge before trapping him. Donna picks up the device and is similarly dispatched before Davros destroys the weapon. Unfortunately for the Daleks, Donna stops the reality bomb, Davros, and the Daleks with knowledge that she shouldn’t have.

The creation of the Metacrisis Doctor was a two-way street. It created the Doctor-Donna, which was sparked by Davros when he shot her.

The Time Lords and humans send the missing planets home and round up the Daleks. Davros asked why Dalek Caan couldn’t see this coming, but the truth is that Dalek Caan put everything in motion to end the Dalek reign of terror. The Supreme Dalek tries to stop them, but Jack destroys it. As the Doctor rushes into the TARDIS, the Metacrisis Doctor decides to send a surge of energy into the entire fleet to prevent the Daleks from attacking the universe.

As the Daleks explode, the Doctor is appalled at the bloodlust of his duplicate, and he rushes his allies into the TARDIS. The Doctor offers sanctuary for Davros, but earns the name “Destroyer of Worlds” in return as his offer is declined. The TARDIS takes off but cannot break free of the time bubble, so the Doctor contacts Torchwood and Bannerman Road – including K9! – to break free with every companion on the console.

Just as the TARDIS is meant to be flown.

The time capsule tows the planet Earth back to its rightful place in our solar system. As they arrive, having saved the world in epic fashion, the console room erupts in a celebration that bleeds onto the planet below.

The Doctor bids farewell once again to Sarah Jane, who tells him that he has the biggest family on Earth. Mickey decides to stay behind in this reality as the Doctor disables Jack’s vortex manipulator. Jack and Martha walk away with Mickey in close pursuit.

The Doctor takes the TARDIS to Bad Wolf Bay in Rose’s parallel universe. Jackie tells the Metacrisis Doctor that she needs to find her husband and son, and the Doctor tells Rose that he’s leaving his clone with her. The Metacrisis Doctor is exactly how Rose found the Doctor, full of anger and fury, and he needs Rose’s influence to grow and change. The big difference is that he is part human and will grow old with her.

She asks the Doctor what he was going to say on the day he left her behind in Bad Wolf Bay. The Metacrisis Doctor whispers the answer to her and they kiss as the TARDIS vanishes from sight.

As the TARDIS flies, Donna’s Time Lord knowledge begins to overload her brain. She wants to stay with him, but if she does, the metacrisis will destroy her. She cannot be with him forever as she wanted. She begs him not to leave her behind, but he has no choice but to say goodbye as he wipes her mind.

He delivers her home and makes Wilf and Sylvia promise that she can never remember anything about her travels with the Doctor. If she remembers any thread of it, she will die. Wilf is understanding but angry, and he takes solace in the fact that she saved so many in her travels. For one shining moment she was the most important woman in existence. Sylvia says that she still is. The Doctor reminds her to tell Donna every once in a while.

Donna awakens and rushes in, but she doesn’t remember any of it. The Doctor bids her farewell as John Smith, and Wilf promises to look up to the stars on his behalf every night. The Doctor walks away in the rain takes flight in the TARDIS once more.

Time Lord victorious. Time Lord alone.

 

It is no secret that this story earns every last bit of a high rating.  The balance of action and dramatic tension as all of our heroes from the last four years come together to defeat one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies is masterful. They all bring strengths and weaknesses, and they leverage all of them together to save the world. The universe. All of creation.

The cinematography was quite impressive. I was blown away by the beautiful dichotomy between the close shots of the celebrating family and the long shots of the Doctor alone and somewhat defeated.

There’s also a great deal of attention paid to the franchise’s mythology, both old and new. It’s important for them to do so because, hey, it’s the Daleks. We met Davros in Genesis of the Daleks and watched him lose his hand in Revelation of the Daleks. UNIT gets another crack at the Daleks after their first encounter in Day of the Daleks. The Daleks tried to steal the Earth before in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which is also where we first encountered a Supreme Dalek.

We last saw Davros and the Supreme Dalek in Remembrance of the Daleks as the Dalek Civil War came to a close, and that’s a really interesting dynamic: Davros commanded the Imperial Daleks and the Supreme Dalek commanded the Renegades. After the Time War, it seems that bygones are bygones as there is only one faction of Daleks now.

Of course, in the post-Time War era, we’ve seen the Cult of Skaro. Survivors of the Time War, it adds a twist as a hybrid helps give birth to the new Dalek empire before destroying it.

In more comical callbacks, we’ve seen Daleks disabled by attacking their eyestalks – The DaleksPlanet of the DaleksResurrection of the DaleksRevelation of the DaleksThe Parting of the Ways – often screaming, “My vision is impaired!” This time, the trope was flipped to both humorous appeal and heightened tension.

The Doctor has been shot by a Dalek before, but this is the first time it was effectively lethal. When the Third Doctor took a hit from a Dalek cannon in Planet of the Daleks, he was only paralyzed for a short time.

In terms of the missing planets, the theft of Earth is nothing new since it was stolen by the Time Lords (and renamed Ravolox) in The Trial of a Time Lord. Earth’s twin planet Mondas was moved and became home to the Cybermen.

We heard about Adipose 3, Pyrovillia, and the Lost Moon of Poosh through this series. We’ve never seen Shallacatop or Jahoo, but three others have been mentioned in one way or another: Clom was the home of the Abzorbaloff (Love & Monsters), Woman Wept was the site of an off-screen adventure for Rose and the Ninth Doctor (Boom Town), and Calufrax Minor could be in the same vein as the miniaturized Calufrax from The Pirate Planet.

Then we get to the Children of Time.

I know that Rose is a fan favorite, but I stand by my assessment that Martha was superior in every way. Rose is a liability to the Doctor, almost costing him his life in the middle of a war. Sure, the reunion was touching, but her jealousy was nearly intolerable.

It’s a little ironic that an avatar resembling her will be the key to saving the Doctors, the Time Lords, and Gallifrey down the road.

The consequences of the Rose and Doctor relationship also gives us the notion that Time Lords have some degree of control over their regenerations.

Martha, Sarah Jane, and Jack continue to bring their strengths to bear in a conflict, each tackling the problem with their unique skillsets. I had the biggest grin at Sarah Jane’s line about Torchwood using their guns too often, and Jack’s fanboy nature over Sarah Jane was adorable.

Gwen (who gets the callback to The Unquiet Dead) and Ianto holding down the fort at Torchwood makes sense, particularly since they’ve never encountered Daleks before. The same goes for Luke and Mr. Smith. I was also pleased to see Mickey (“Us Smiths gotta stick together!”) and Jackie following Rose through the breach and, in a natural evolution since their debut, fighting for their planet.

That leaves us with Donna. Oh, Donna. Her departure is heartbreaking, particularly since she wanted to travel with the Doctor for the rest of her life. She considered him to be her destiny, and she was correct thanks to Dalek Caan. Now she doesn’t remember any part of her adventures with the Doctor, even though the universe remembers her.

Donna Noble was the Doctor’s conscience, saving him with her direct nature and wide-eyed innocence more than once. She reminded him of his empathy, which Davros tries to use against him by reminding him of those who sacrificed themselves for him and those he couldn’t save – Harriet Jones, Ceth Ceth Jafe, the Controller, Lynda Moss, Sir Robert MacLeish, Angela Price, Colin Skinner, Ursula Blake, Bridget Sinclair, the Face of Boe, Chantho, Astrid Peth, Luke Rattigan, Jenny, River Song, and the hostess – and how easily any of his Earth family could join those ranks.

None of the Doctor’s companions physically died to save the world, but the Donna that he knew is gone. She didn’t love him, but she loved everything about him. She believed in him. She saved him.

And he saved her in turn.

I’m going to miss her.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Series Four 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 #203: Turn Left

Doctor Who: Turn Left
(1 episode, s04e11, 2008)

 

What could have been if not for a Noble companion?

The Doctor and Donna have stopped in a bustling marketplace on an alien world. While mixing it up with the locals, Donna wanders away to explore and finds herself in the company of a local fortuneteller. Offered a free reading since she’s a redhead, Donna takes a seat. The fortuneteller talks to her about the Doctor and Donna recounts her first meeting with the Time Lord.

While a mysterious scurrying occurs behind her, she flashes back to her time as a temp with H.C. Clements and the offer she turned down businessman Jival Chowdry. The moment of decision for her entire future was sitting at an intersection with her mother. She turned left…

…but what if she had turned right?

A large insect latches on to her back and the fortuneteller convinces her to turn right. She does.

The next time we see Donna Noble, she’s at a Christmas party celebrating her recent promotion with a round of drinks for her friends. One of her friends, Alice, almost sees the creature on her back, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of the Racnoss Webstar. The invading spacecraft is destroyed by UNIT and the Racnoss queen was killed, but the Doctor drowned in the assault. He was unable to regenerate.

Donna walks away by is soon met by none other than Rose Tyler. She came so far but was too late to meet with the Doctor, but she spots the insect on Donna’s back before vanishing into thin air.

Due to the closure of the Thames, Chowdry’s company has been losing money and Donna has been fired. Simultaneously, the Royal Hope Hospital has vanished into the sky. When it returns, there is only one survivor: Medical student Oliver Morgenstern. He was saved by Martha Jones, but she died as a result. Sarah Jane Smith and the Bannerman Road Gang were there as well, but they died while trying to stop the incursion. Wilfred is convinced that aliens are to blame, but Donna wants to hear none of it.

Donna takes a walk and finds Rose again as she emerges from loud flashes of light. The insect comes up again before Rose asks her about Christmas plans. She suggests that Donna and her family take a holiday, using the winnings from a future raffle ticket to afford it. Donna warns her to stay away and Rose vanishes again.

Sure enough, next Christmas, Donna’s family travel to the countryside. On Christmas Day, they watch as the Titanic smashes into Buckingham Palace. As a mushroom cloud rises over London – and Donna nearly spots the insect in a mirror – the terror and shock set in as they realize that everyone they know is dead.

Now refugees, her family is forced to relocate to Leeds to escape the radiation. Meanwhile, France has closed its borders to refugees, but the Nobles are allocated a house with two other families. The United States offers monetary assistance, but they are forced to withdraw their support when sixty million Americans are killed and converted to Adipose. Every major world city is affected as well.

The Nobles bond with their housemates, but they’re interrupted by soldiers firing at cars. The Sontarans have activated the ATMOS system and covered the planet in a poisonous fog. One of the soldiers spots the insect and takes aim at Donna, but he can’t find it later. Donna follows the flashing lights to find Rose in a nearby alley.

The two companions sit on a bench and talk about the crisis. The sky lights up as the gas burns away, courtesy of Torchwood Three. Gwen and Ianto died in the attempt, and Jack was taken to the Sontaran homeworld. Rose talks about the Doctor, how he saved the world from all of these events, and how Donna traveled with him in another reality. Had she been there to save him from himself under the Thames, the world would be in a better place. Rose has come to warn the Doctor of a darkness that threatens both of their universes, calling Donna the most important woman in the whole of creation.

Rose asks her to come along, finally settling on a time three weeks from now. She vanishes with an ominous prophecy: Donna Noble will die.

The Nobles bid farewell to their Italian housemates, courtesy of a new law that evicts all immigrants from England. They’re going to labor camps, which Wilf recognizes as the first step to fascism that he fought against before. Later that night, Wilf and Donna relax by the fire as he looks through his telescope. While trying to find Orion, the stars vanish from the night sky. Donna finds Rose and tells her that she is ready.

They hitch a ride with UNIT to a warehouse filled with computers, mirrors, and the TARDIS. The police box was salvaged from the Thames wreckage, and when Donna goes in, she finds it cold and dark even though she’s amazed. The ship is dying but still trying to muster the energy to help.

Using that energy, Rose is able to show Donna the insect with a circle of mirrors. The beetle feeds off time, specifically from decisions not made. By turning right instead of left, Donna has given the beetle a temporal smorgasbord. Rose recognizes that both the Doctor and Donna are necessary to stop the stars from going out. Scared out her mind, Donna asks what she can do to help.

Rose tells her that Donna needs to travel through time.

After a quick briefing, Donna steps back into the mirror circle – which is actually a homemade time machine – with the intent of changing her car’s direction. The machine is activated, but Donna has the revelation that she still has to die to save the world.

She materializes on a sidewalk in Sutton Court, half a mile and three minutes from her destiny. She starts running but soon realizes that she won’t make it in time. With the revelation echoing in her mind, she understands what she has to do.

She steps out in front of a truck, sacrificing her life to cause a traffic jam. As Donna dies, Rose whispers two words in her ear as a message for the Doctor, and Donna Noble turns left.

The insect falls off as the reset button is pushed. The Doctor comes in as the fortuneteller runs off, and Donna wraps him in a hug. They examine the insect as they talk about Donna’s adventure and her knack for finding parallel worlds. The Doctor wonders about the coincidences in their travels together, and when he calls her brilliant, Donna remembers Rose.

Except she never knew Rose’s name.

But she does know two words: Bad Wolf.

The Doctor rushes back to the TARDIS, seeing “Bad Wolf” everywhere. Inside, the console room is bathed in red light and the Cloister Bell is ringing.

The end of the universe is coming.

 

This “what if” story is a great dark tale that is really just a setup for the season finale. We get the greatest hits of the Tenth Doctor’s saves of Earth without seeing much of David Tennant at all. He was filming Midnight while Catherine Tate was engaged on this “Doctor-lite” adventure, one in a similar vein to Love & Monsters and Blink, but with a much darker direction.

It’s also a tease for the all-star cavalcade to come with nice touches for each mention: Martha’s theme and a pop of the Torchwood theme accompany their non-appearances, and the news report surrounding Sarah Jane’s heroic death mentions her employment with the Metropolitan, which is where she mentioned working to the Third Doctor in Planet of the Spiders. Rose obviously gets her theme throughout.

Catherine Tate sells this story, from Donna’s depression as the planet falls apart around her to her abject terror when she finally sees the time beetle on her back, which finally pays off the prophecy from The Fires of Pompeii. Her acting skill is just amazing and is showcased by not being overshadowed by or in competition with Tennant’s energy.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth and Doctor Who: Journey’s End

 

 

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 #202: Midnight

Doctor Who: Midnight
(1 episode, s04e10, 2008)

 

All that glitters is death.

It’s time for a vacation. The Doctor wants to visit a sapphire waterfall, but Donna wants nothing more than to lounge poolside with drinks and sunbathing (in X-tonic radiation with is immediately lethal without proper shielding). So, the Doctor goes alone. What could possibly go wrong?

The Doctor ends up on a tour bus of sorts, traveling four hours each direction with a cheerful allons-y. His fellow passengers include the Cane family – Val, Biff, and their bored teenage son Jethro –Professor Hobbes and his assistant Dee Dee Blasco, and recently-divorced businesswoman Sky Silvestry. The bus is a little empty and will be taking a slight detour because of a diamond fall on the normal path.

It’s also annoying as hell due to every entertainment option playing at the same time, but a subtle wave of the sonic screwdriver results in silence that the Doctor fills with small talk amongst the captive crowd. Among other things, we find out that there was no life on Midnight before the leisure resort arrived.

The trip is delayed while the bus experiences mechanical problems. The Doctor uses his psychic paper to access the control compartment and assess the situation. A rescue truck is on the way, and the Doctor convinces the drivers to open the window for a couple of minutes to take in the breathtaking view. The mechanic spots an odd shadow before the shields are restored and the Doctor is sent back to his seat.

The passengers start to speculate on the problem, but it soon rises into a panic. The Doctor calls for silence, but the calm is broken by a knocking on the hull. The silence becomes deafening as terror takes hold and panic rises again. The knocking moves around to each of the airlocks, mimicking Biff and the Doctor as they knock in return.

It intensifies, knocking the bus around as Sky screams that it is coming for her. The lights go out and the entertainment system comes on briefly – Rose Tyler (“I had a friend who went a different universe.”) screams silently as the screen goes out again – before the chaos settles. Sky is cowering in her seat, which is dismantled, and the cockpit is missing. The drivers are dust and only a single door shields the passengers from the lethal radiation. The control circuits in the bus have also been severed.

The Doctor tries talking to Sky, but she’s not herself anymore. She echoes every word that the passengers say and moves with bird-like precision, almost as if she’s absorbing everything around her. Panic rises again and the cacophony of repetition becomes unbearable. It ends as the backup power systems engage.

Sky has moved from repetition to predictive mimicry. The Doctor settles the passengers and then continues his examination of Sky. Jethro and the Doctor both conclude that Sky is not Sky anymore. The Doctor moves everyone else to the back of the bus and asks them for patience over the next fifty minutes as they wait for rescue.

The tour attendant suggests throwing Sky off the bus, which Professor Hobbes continues to believe is a lifeless planet beyond. The passengers start to follow that path of logic, but the Doctor vehemently protests. The passengers turn on him as their hysteria and paranoia rise, picking apart his alien nature and threatening to throw him out as well. They demand to know his name but don’t accept the “John Smith” pseudonym.

The mood is broken as Jethro notices a change in Sky’s demeanor. She’s only copying the Doctor now, and he’s intrigued that she’s chosen his voice… or perhaps, his cleverness. She advances to predicting his voice, and as Sky comes back to life (but still not as herself), the Doctor becomes more and more rigid.

Sky asks the professor to help her up as the Doctor remains behind. Sky appears to have returned to normal, and soon rallies the passengers to turn against him. Dee Dee thinks that Sky is still the intruder, but the rest of the passengers are fully onboard with the whispers. Sky orders the Doctor’s execution and Biff and the professor try to drag him to the airlock.

The tour attendant realizes that Sky is talking with the Doctor’s voice when she uses his odd phrases – allons-y and molto bene – and takes action to save the Doctor’s life. She wraps Sky in a hug and activates the cockpit door, blowing the two of them into the diamond death beyond.

The passengers calm down as they realize what came over them and what they were about to do. As the rescue vehicle approaches, the Doctor asks what the hostess’s name was. None of them know.

The Doctor returns to Donna and suggests that the resort will have to move, leaving Midnight to spin in silence. Donna says that she cannot imagine the Doctor without a voice, and he replies with a forced smile and a molto bene. Donna repeats it, but that’s just too much for him to bear.

 

This is one creepy, edge-of-the-seat episode. It’s a “companion-lite” story, which is a first for the franchise. We’ve been down the road of stories without companions and stories without the Doctor before, but this is a milestone of sorts. It’s also a TARDIS-free episode, which is a bit more common in the franchise — Mission to the UnknownDoctor Who and the SiluriansThe Mind of EvilThe DæmonsThe Sea DevilsThe Sontaran Experiment, and Genesis of the Daleks — but is a first for the revival era.

Finally, it is the first televised story in franchise history that does not reveal the villain.

The Medusa Cascade gets another mention after The Fires of Pompeii and The Sontaran Stratagem, this time in concert with the names Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Donna Noble.

The guest stars did a considerable amount of the dramatic lifting in this one, and while they were all amazing, two stood out. First, Jethro was played by Colin Morgan, who shocked me as a moody teenager since the last time I saw him was as a wide-eyed innocent sorcerer in Merlin. Second Professor Hobbes was portrayed by David Troughton, son of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, and a Doctor Who alumni in his own right from The Enemy of the WorldThe War Games, and The Curse of Peladon.

All of that just adds spice to an excellent and thought-provoking tale.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Turn Left

 

 

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 #201: Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library
Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead
(2 episodes, s04e08-e09, 2008)

 

Seriously, though, who turned out the lights?

 

Silence in the Library

We open on a therapy session with a little girl and Doctor Moon. She describes an immense library in her dreams, a place devoid of all human life. Her vision is interrupted by a pounding at the library door. The door bursts open to reveal the Doctor and Donna. They barricade the door with a book and ask if they can stop for a bit.

Okay, let’s rewind.

The TARDIS materializes in a 51st-century library, which is actually an entire world of books. It’s not a Sunday, the Doctor claims, as Sundays are boring. Donna picks up a volume, but Doctor tells her not to spoil her future. He’s also perplexed as the Library is silent.

Dead silent.

The worldwide computer system only detects the Doctor and Donna as humanoid lifeforms, but registers a million million lives in other forms. That’s one trillion souls, or roughly 125 times Earth’s population in early 2020. Donna presumes that the books may be alive before seeking out a courtesy node to unravel the mystery. There they find a message from the head librarian to run. A second message tells them to count the shadows if they want to live.

The Doctor is intrigued and warns Donna to stay out of the shadows.

They move into the stacks where the Doctor reveals that he was summoned to the Library by a message on the psychic paper. They are chased out by the approaching darkness as the lights switch off. The Doctor sonics the door – not the wood part, obviously – before Donna takes matters into her own soles and kicks the door down.

We’re back where we started, except the little girl is a floating camera. The Doctor analyzes it, which causes the girl pain as the sonic buzzes, but she’s able to warn the travelers that “others are coming.” Donna asks the courtesy node in the room for help – distracted by the human-like face which was donated to the Library like a memorial park bench – before the Doctor notes the moving shadows without origins in the room with them.

The door blows open and people in spacesuits arrive. One of them turns on her face-lamp and smiles at the Doctor with two words: “Hello, sweetie!”

The expedition is staffed with archaeologists who remove their helmets but pretty much ignore the Doctor’s warnings until he points out that the way they came is now shrouded in darkness. The expedition is funded by the Lux Corporation, and one of the team members – Strackman Lux – is a descendant of the family that built the Library.

The Doctor identifies the problem as the Vashta Nerada, carnivorous creatures who hunt in the shadows. The team sets to work as River pulls “pretty boy” Doctor aside. She’s the one who called him, but he doesn’t know who she is. She consults a TARDIS-styled diary and asks him about milestones in his life, but the Doctor hasn’t yet encountered them. In fact, this is the first time that they’ve met. Well, the first time that he’s met her.

The team is interrupted by the ringing of a phone, which is happening in the point-of-view of the little girl. Her father ignores it because he can’t hear it, so she eventually reaches for it. The ringing stops as soon as she touches it. Moments later, the Doctor hacks into her television and makes contact, but the link is soon lost.

The Doctor tries to re-establish contact, momentarily reaching for River’s diary before she tells him that his own rules forbid it. Books fly about the room as the little girl presses buttons on her remote, and Donna consoles Miss Evangelista, Lux’s assistant and the expedition members who is alienated because she’s the stereotypical pretty and dumb one.

The Doctor spots the word CAL on the monitor and asks Lux about it, but he won’t speak about it since the Doctor didn’t sign the expedition contract. River didn’t sign it either, and she shares the confidential bit with him: “4022 saved. No survivors.”

There were exactly 4022 people in the Library when it went silent.

While they discuss the message, Miss Evangelista is ignored and wanders off. Her scream draws the rest of the team, but she’s already been reduced to mere bones. Moments later, she “ghosts,” which is her last moment trapped in the neural relays of the suit communicators. It lasts for an indeterminate amount of time after death until the footprint on the beach fades in the tide.

Donna takes it especially hard since Evangelista asks for her specifically. The Doctor implores Donna to help her pass, and soon the pattern degrades into a loop and she’s gone. River pulls the plug as the Doctor consoles his companion.

River wants a word with the predator that killed one of her crew, and the Doctor offers to introduce them. Using a lunch from River’s pack, he hunts for the Vashta Nerada while River talks to Donna about her relationship with the Time Lord. River recognizes her as Donna Noble, but specifically by her absence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Moon tells the little girl that, given the difference between the real world and her nightmares, her nightmares are the reality and only she can save the team from the shadows.

The Doctor finds the Vashta Nerada and throws a chicken leg into the darkness. Only a bone remains. They are everywhere, like the dust in a sunbeam, but the only way to survive them is to run. Donna spots a potential way out, but the Doctor stops them. It seems that one of the team members, Proper Dave, has two shadows, one of which is being used to keep him fresh. The Doctor has the team don their helmets and alters their suits. River helps with her own advanced sonic screwdriver.

The Doctor uses a teleporter to send Donna back to the TARDIS, but her signal is intercepted. Meanwhile, the second shadow has moved into the victim’s suit. His visor goes pitch black – “Hey, who turned out the lights!?” – before he’s consumed from within. His helmet light is restored to reveal a skull as he attacks the Doctor. The team is cornered as the swarm in a suit expands its shadows, and River blows open a wall with a “squareness gun” to escape.

The little girl has a message: “Donna Noble has been saved.”

The team takes a rest and the Doctor amplifies the lights in the stacks. He notes that River’s sonic is similar to his, and she tells him that she got it from him. The Doctor realizes that Donna never reached the TARDIS, and he finds a courtesy node with her face on it.

In horror, the node repeats “Donna Noble has left the Library. Donna Noble has been saved.” The tension ratchets as the lights go out and the swarm in the suit approaches.

 

Forest of the Dead

River blows a hole through the stacks and the team escapes as the little girl watches their progress on her television. She also watches a medical show where Donna is taken by ambulance and rehabilitated over two years by Dr. Moon. In this reality, the facility is named CAL and the adventures were only a dream. Donna meets man named Lee, gets married, and has two kids over the next seven years. The image is interrupted as the Doctor tries to break through the signal.

The survivors find a new room. They’re surrounded by the Vashta Nerada, and as the Doctor scans for a way out, Donna professes her faith in the Doctor to get her team out of this scrape. When the Doctor’s screwdriver isn’t enough, River offers hers. It precipitates an “old married couple” squabble before River whispers something in his ear to prove herself.

Energized, the Doctor tries to figure out what new signal is interfering with his screwdriver. They determine that the moon – the “doctor moon”, a planetary anti-virus – is the source. While the Doctor tries to figure it out, team member Anita gains a second shadow. They’re suddenly visited by Proper Dave’s animated corpse and are back on the run.

In Dr. Moon’s reality, Donna tries to figure out what’s going on. She’s visited by a cloaked figure who leaves a letter stating that the world is wrong and asking her to meet at a local playground. Donna goes the next day and learns that time progresses differently in this dream state. Her visitor is what remains of Miss Evangelista. They are the Dead of the Library.

On the run, the Doctor tries to reason with the Vashta Nerada, asking them for a dialogue. They typically hunt in forests, but hatched in the Library. The Doctor argues that there are no trees in the Library, but then realizes that they’re standing in a forest of dead trees. The Other Dave is consumed, but the Doctor escapes from a trap of Daves by using a trap door as sunset approaches.

River laments that the Tenth Doctor is not her Doctor. This version isn’t yet done cooking, but hers could make armies run with a glance and open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers. The Tenth Doctor arrives with a word – “Spoilers!” – and figures out what saved means in the context of the Library.

At the moment of the Vashta Nerada hatching, the Library evacuated the 4022 survivors in the only way that it could. It saved them to the hard drive, ready to be transmitted when the time was right. Donna is in that same condition, but Evangelista gained considerable knowledge when her signal was warped on transmission. Evangelista brings up the word CAL, but the little girl fights to keep that secret, including removing her father from the world and setting the planetary autodestruct. That act could “crack the planet like an egg.”

Dr. Moon tries to talk her down, but the girl deletes him as well. Luckily, Lux offers to take them to the secret of CAL at the planet’s core. The team of four descends on a gravity platform.

Meanwhile, Donna’s world is fragmenting.

When the team reaches the core, they hear the computer – the little girl – asking for help. The Doctor tries to wake it up because it is dreaming of a normal life. Lux reveals that it is driven by a courtesy node with the girl’s face, and her name is CAL. Charlotte Abigail Lux, Mr. Lux’s grandfather’s youngest daughter, was dying of an incurable disease. She was preserved in the Library with an imaginary world of every tale ever told to live in.

Now she’s suffering from four thousand people in her mind.

The Doctor proposes building another processor to transfer the consciousness into, deciding to use his mind as the vessel despite River’s protests that it will burn him alive without hope of regeneration. He also notices that Anita has been eaten. The Doctor threatens the Vashta Nerada, telling them to look him up in their forest. They withdraw for one day.

Then River sucker punches him.

He wakes up handcuffed, out of reach of the sonic screwdrivers with River on the transfer platform. He trusted her because she knew his real name – it was what she whispered in his ear – and she tells him about their last night together in a future incarnation. About all of the time that they spent together. That they will spend together.

But she refuses to tell him anything else. The countdown ends and she completes the circuit. Four thousand twenty-two people are saved, rematerialized in the Library, but River Song is dead.

Later, the Doctor and Donna are reunited, both mourning lost loves that they barely knew. They take hands and walk to the balcony where they discuss Donna’s future over River’s diary. Together, they decide that peeking at the end would be spoiling the adventure, and they walk away.

“He just can’t do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can’t give up.”

River’s diary and screwdriver are left behind, but only for a moment until he realizes that her echo remains in the sonic. He grabs it and dives into the planet’s core, sprinting to the computer and plugging in the sonic. River’s essence is uploaded into Dr. Moon’s virtual reality and she is reunited with her expeditionary team.

Triumphant, the Time Lord returns to the TARDIS. He opens the doors with a snap and a smile, and River reads her children a bedtime story with a happy ending: It was a special day, one where the Doctor came to call. It was a day when everybody lived.

 

So much energy, so much talent, so much fun. This is the episode that makes me just a little bit scared of the dark.

The acting and the story are an elegant concert with this story. We have Donna’s joy as her dreams become reality in Dr. Moon’s virtual space, contrasted by her anguish as they disintegrate before her eyes. River tries to balance the conflict between her confidence and faith that the Doctor will triumph, even considering the looming foreshadowing of her own death, and her sorrow that he’s not quite the man that she knew. The Doctor has to keep his own scales in check between saving the innocent and solving a mystery of his own future.

Every one of those plates keeps spinning as the tension continues to ratchet. The two twists in this well-crafted tale – the supposedly useless character becomes a critical piece of the puzzle while the young girl’s story is really at the core of the entire thing – were well concealed underneath the character drama.

We get a lot of nods to the history of the franchise hidden in the stacks: There was an operating manual for the TARDIS, Origins of the Universe, The French Revolution, A Journal of Impossible Things, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (written by former writer and script editor Douglas Adams), Everest in Easy Stages, and Black Orchid.

We also get another crack at the Doctor’s true name, a question that hearkens back to the early days of Doctor Who and has threaded throughout the years in An Unearthly ChildSilver NemesisThe Girl in the FireplaceThe Shakespeare Code, and The Fires of Pompeii thus far.

This continues Steven Moffat’s theme of childhood fears – Blink had statues that came to life, The Girl in the Fireplace highlighted monsters under the bed, and The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances tackled the fear of war – but we also get a taste of what’s to come from his upcoming run as producer with reference to River as a clever girl. That word is one of his favorites in this universe.

It also highlights his pattern of not letting characters die. That will come back to haunt his run.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Midnight

 

 

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 #200: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp
(1 episode, s04e07, 2008)

 

The mystery meets the mystery writer.

The TARDIS materializes to the scent of mint and lemonade in the air. If the vintage car in the drive is any indication, it’s the 1920s and Donna’s excited to attend a party with Professor Peach, Reverend Golightly, and the butler Greeves. The Doctor produces his psychic paper, meaning that invitations are all taken care of.

Unfortunately, the party will be one short Professor Peach falls victim to the lead pipe in the library. The suspect is a giant wasp.

The Doctor and Donna are greeted at the party by Lady Clemency Eddison. They also meet Colonel Hugh Curbishley (Lady Eddison’s husband), their son Roger (who flirts with Davenport, a servant), Reverend Golightly, socialite Robina Redmond, Miss Chandrakala, and the famous mystery writer Agatha Christie.

It’s a regular game of Clue.

The Doctor notes the date of the newspaper: It’s the day of Agatha Christie’s disappearance. Her car will be found abandoned and she’ll resurface ten days later with no memory. Her husband has recently cheated on her, but she’s maintaining a stiff upper lip.

Meanwhile, Miss Chandrakala finds Professor Peach, and the Doctor stands in as a police officer with a plucky assistant to boot. The Doctor finds alien residue – Donna’s beside herself that Charles Dickens was actually surrounded by ghosts at Christmas – then teams up with Christie to question the guests while Donna looks about with a magnifying glass from the Doctor’s endless pockets.

Each of the guests has an extraordinary story of where they were at the time of the murder, but there are no alibis. Each is hiding something except for the reverend. The Doctor asks Christie about the paper she picked up from the murder scene, and together they discover the word “maiden” on it.

Upstairs, Donna finds an empty bedroom. Greeves informs her that Lady Eddison has kept the room shut for the last 40 years, after spending six months in it recovering from malaria following her return from India. Inside, Donna finds nothing but a teddy bear and a giant murderous wasp. She attacks it with the magnifying glass and the power of the sun, and the Doctor and Christie arrive to sample the stinger that it left behind.

Miss Chandrakala is murdered by a falling statue. When the Doctor, Donna, and Christie find her, the wasp attacks, but the Doctor cannot find it after it flies off. The guests convene in a sitting room and talk through the events with Christie, but she’s discouraged because she doesn’t know what’s going on. All they have is the clue in Miss Chandrakala’s dying words: “The poor little child…”

Later, she confides in Donna that she feels like the events are mocking her. They commune over lost loves before finding a box in a crushed flowerbed. The Doctor, Donna, and Christie examine the as Greeves brings refreshments, but the Doctor soon realizes that he’s been poisoned by cyanide. A short comedic scene later – complete with ginger beer, walnuts, anchovies, and a shocking kiss from Donna – and the Doctor has detoxed.

The cast gather for dinner, which the Doctor has laced with pepper to test each guest to see if they are the wasp. The lights go out, the wasp appears, and Roger is dead after being stung in the back. Greeves is cleared by being in plain sight during the murder, but Lady Eddison’s necklace (the “Firestone”, a priceless gem from India) is missing.

The Doctor encourages Christie to solve it, knowing that she has the ability. Christie works her way around the assembled guests, uncovering Robina as a thief known as the Unicorn. The Firestone is recovered, but the murderer is still at large.

Christie further (accidentally) uncovers that Colonel Curbishley has been faking his wheelchair-bound disability in order to keep his wife’s affections. She also discovers that Lady Eddison came home from India pregnant, with Miss Chandrakala as a maid and confidante, and had to seclude herself to hide the scandal and the shame.

But, as the Doctor discovers, her tryst was with a vespiform visitor from another world. The alien gave her the jewel and a child, who was taken to an orphanage, and whose identity was uncovered by Professor Peach since “maiden” led to “maiden name”. The Doctor works his way around the room, landing on the reverend who had recently thwarted a robbery in his church. He also notes that the reverend is forty years old, and pieces together that Golightly’s anger broke the genetic lock that kept him in human form. Golightly activated, and the jewel – a telepathic recorder – connected mother and son, including the works of Agatha Christie since Lady Eddison was reading her favorite, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

The reverend transforms in rage, and Christie leads the wasp away with the Firestone, believing that this whole thing is her fault. The Doctor and Donna pursue Christie to the nearby lake, realizing that the two are linked. Donna seizes the jewel and throws it into the lake. The wasp follows and drowns, and while the Doctor is aghast at its death, the three of them are relieved that the mystery is solved. Before the wasp dies, it releases Christie from the psychic connection, and the Doctor puts history in motion: The events of the night are erased from her mind and the mystery writer turns up ten days later Harrogate Hotel courtesy of the TARDIS.

The Doctor consoles Donna about the adventure, showing her that Agatha Christie’s memory lived on. She got married again, wrote about Miss Marple and Murder on the Orient Express (which Donna had mentioned during the night’s events), and even published a story about a giant wasp. The last one – Death in the Clouds, filed away after Cybermen and Carrionites – was reprinted in the year five billion, making Agatha Christie the most popular writer of all time.

Donna reminds the Doctor that Christie never thought that her work was any good. He replies simply:

Well, no one knows how they’re going to be remembered. All we can do is hope for the best. Maybe that’s what kept her writing. Same thing keeps me traveling.

With that, they fly onwards to the next adventure.

 

This story was a rapid-fire mystery, and the power of the acting mixed with the pace kept it entertaining throughout. Fenella Woolgar’s turn as Agatha Christie was well done, mixing her intellect and modesty about her craft with the pain and tragedy of her husband’s betrayal. I particularly liked Christie’s gradual awakening to the Doctor’s alien nature, best evidenced in the scenes where they interrogated the guests using each other’s strengths to unravel the mystery.

Combine that with the chemistry between Tennant and Tate bulldozing through a game of Clue and you have a rather entertaining (if not bloody) dinner party.

The final words that the Doctor uses to summarize his ethos remind me of quote from a recent episode of Outlander. While discussing last words and legacies, a certain character (whose identity I’ll not spoil for fans who haven’t seen the episode yet) said this:

I’d say let history forget my name, so long as my words and my deeds are remembered by those I love.

It doesn’t matter if anyone remembers my name so long as my life made an impact on the people who meant something to me.

Life lessons from the Doctor. Words and ideas to live by.

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Silence in the Library and Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead

 

 

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 #199: The Doctor’s Daughter

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter
(1 episode, s04e06, 2008)

 

It’s time to meet an impossible child.

The TARDIS topples wildly through time and space, tossing Martha and Donna about as the hand in a jar bubbles madly. As Donna learns about the hand’s origins and the time capsule comes to a halt, the team takes a look around before being captured. The Doctor’s hand is shoved into a device where a sample is taken.

His DNA is processed into a clone: The Doctor has a new daughter.

The humans are quickly overrun by an enemy called the Hath. The Doctor’s daughter blows up the tunnel, stopping the Hath advance, but not before Martha is taken by the beings. Donna chastises the Doctor’s daughter and the Doctor tries to find a way through, but the soldiers stop him at gunpoint. They’re headed to see the commander.

On the other side of the rubble, Martha offers medical assistance to a wounded Hath, gaining their trust through her compassion.

Donna and the Doctor find out that the daughter is pre-programmed with military knowledge and tactics, something that the Doctor calls a generated anomaly. From that, Donna offers the woman a name: Jenny.

Jenny likes it.

They arrive at a makeshift barracks, previously a theater, and meet General Cobb. Freedom of movement is restricted, but the Doctor wants to know more about the Hath. The general gives the team a quick briefing, although most of the history behind the place they call Messaline is lost to time. The general seeks something called the Source, a creation myth of sorts driven by a goddess. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to uncover a hidden layer of tunnels on the map, and the general gives his troops marching orders to explore them. The Doctor, meanwhile, is imprisoned with Donna and Jenny for his pacifism.

Meanwhile, Martha is taken to the Hath headquarters. She analyzes the same map and, when the new layers emerge, fears that she has started a war.

In their cell, the Doctor schemes while Jenny finds similarity in his every move to that of a soldier. He alters Donna’s phone to contact Martha, and they figure out that both armies are marching on the same location.

It’s a massacre in the making at the temple of the Source.

The Doctor refuses to allow Jenny to travel with them, but Donna uses a stethoscope to show the Doctor that Jenny is his progeny, a potential Time Lord though the Doctor refuses to admit it. As the Doctor’s theme runs under his sadness, he talks of the war, his part in it, and the destruction of his people. Jenny says that his situation then is pretty much their situation now.

Martha plots a path over the treacherous, radiation filled surface as Jenny wiles her way out of the cell. The Doctor’s team sneaks through the human base and Martha emerges on the desolate surface. As they move, Donna takes note of the random numbers scattered around.

The Doctor, Donna, and Jenny come to a tunnel filled with deadly lasers. The Doctor disables the laser net as Jenny considers her programming, finally using her rifle as a distraction. Unfortunately, the lasers turn back on, so Jenny tumbles her way through without a burn.

On the surface, Martha falls into a pit and is saved by her Hath companion’s sacrifice. The act devastates her, but she presses on to a large tower in the darkness.

Talking while walking, the Doctor offers to take Jenny on the TARDIS with him. Overjoyed, Jenny rushes ahead and the Doctor talks to Donna about his history as a father and the pain of losing all it. Donna believes that Jenny will help him heal, but the Doctor is skeptical.

Martha and the Doctor’s team enter the tower at the same time, discovering that it is a spaceship. Strangely, it’s still powered and functional. The Hath and the humans are not far behind. The Doctor finds a mission log that explains how the commander died of sickness and the crew divided into factions.

Donna discovers that the numbers are dates and that the war is only seven days old. Of course, the cloning machines can create twenty generations in a day. Martha reunites with the travelers and they continue their search for the source, coming across a giant arboretum along the way.

At the center is the Source, the matrix that terraforms planets.

The warring factions arrive simultaneously, and the Doctor offers them peace with the promise of a new world. He declares the war over with a crash of the terraforming matrix, and the factions lay down their arms in reply.

Unfortunately, Cobb wants none of it and takes aim on the Doctor. Jenny steps in front of the bullet to save her father, dying in his arms.

He begs his companions to wait for her regeneration, but Martha warns that it won’t come. Once again, he is the last of the Time Lords.

The Doctor’s fury rises as he picks up the general’s gun and holds it to the man’s head before shaking it, angrily telling Cobb that he never would. He begs the factions to make that their driving force: A society where a man never would.

The planet terraforms around them as the new civilization memorializes Jenny. She was an endless paradox, one that the TARDIS brought the Doctor to meet only to first create. The travelers return to Earth and Martha bids her friends farewell. Donna, on the other hand, wants to travel with the Doctor forever.

Back on Messaline, Jenny exhales with a golden-green energy – regeneration or the Source? – before waking up, taking a ship, and blasting into the sky.

She has lots of running to do.

 

There are a lot of things to love here, and those elements keep this otherwise by-the-numbers run-and-gun plot from falling into the just average pile. The subtle use of the TARDIS translation circuits as Martha drove her side of the plot was a nice narrative touch. I also loved that Donna had to teach the Doctor to accept his daughter as more than an anomaly, helping him to heal and declaratively find something to live for. After all, there’s always something to live for.

The fun part was seeing Jenny’s evolution as her nature overrode her programming (can we call it her nurture?).  We don’t definitively know if the physical Time Lord traits carried over or not since Jenny’s resurrection wasn’t explicitly a regeneration – remember that not all Gallifreyans are granted regenerations – but if we consider recent events in Doctor Who lore, she might have had the power regardless.

I do love how this show keeps us guessing!

Finally, the Doctor’s adamance about warfare and destruction gave birth to this brilliant retort:

You need to get yourself a better dictionary. When you do, look up genocide. There’ll be a little picture of me there and the caption will read, “Over my dead body!”

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp

 

 

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 #198: The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem
Doctor Who: The Poison Sky
(2 episodes, s04e04-e05, 2008)

 

The Undefeated meets his match on Earth.

 

The Sontaran Strategem

Reporter Jo Nakashima is physically thrown out of Rattigan Academy by Luke Rattigan and his students. Jo threatens to find someone who will listen to her about the threat posed by the ATMOS system, which is installed on her car and others around the globe. As she drives to UNIT Headquarters, Rattigan recommends to a hidden boss that she be terminated.

Sure enough, the ATMOS system leads Jo to her final destination: A body of water where her sealed car drives itself into the depths.

Meanwhile, in the depths of space and time, Donna is driving the TARDIS and trying to avoid putting a dent in the 1980s. The Doctor receives a call on a special mobile phone only to find Martha Jones on the other end. She’s bringing him back to Earth.

The TARDIS materializes in an alley near Martha. The Doctor and Martha embrace each other, check in on her family, and discuss her engagement to Tom Milligan. Martha and Donna hit things off right away, and Marth introduces the Doctor to her new job at UNIT as they storm an ATMOS during Operation Blue Sky.

A familiar three-fingered figure watches the festivities from a remote location.

Martha takes the Doctor and Donna to meet her boss, Colonel Mace. Mace salutes the Doctor, impressed by what he’s read in the files of the Time Lord’s service in the ’70s – or was it the ’80s? – but Donna likens it to how the Americans run the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Mace tells the Doctor of fifty-two simultaneous deaths worldwide, all linked to ATMOS. Since UNIT can’t figure out how the system killed so many people at once, they called in their expert scientific adviser on the hunch that it might be alien tech.

In the depths of the factory, two UNIT soldiers find themselves in a restricted area. When they investigate further, they find mysterious technology and a humanoid creature in a crypt-like box. The soldiers investigate the embryonic form before being introduced to a Sontaran.

The cordolaine signal in the room renders their weapons useless. The soldiers are disabled and sent for processing. Their assailant is General Staal of the Tenth Sontaran Battle Fleet, better known as Staal the Undefeated.

Well, there’s a bit of foreshadowing if I ever saw one.

The Doctor takes the ATMOS system apart and investigates it piece by piece, impressed by Martha Jones but warning off the UNIT troops and their guns. Donna finds the HR files on ATMOS personnel sick leave, or rather specifically how none of the workers ever take time off.

While Donna and Martha look into the personnel issues, the Doctor learns about Luke Rattigan, the child prodigy developer of the ATMOS system. Martha talks to Donna about family matters and how she needs to be careful with them and her travels.

The Doctor gears up to visit Luke Rattigan, but Donna wants to go visit her family. The Doctor misunderstands, thinking that she’s leaving him forever, giving her a good laugh. As they depart with a UNIT escort named Ross Jenkins, Martha examines a factory worker named Trepper with strange results.

The UNIT soldiers, Privates Harris and Gray, are hypnotically programmed to further the Sontaran stratagem before Staal returns to his ship via transmat. Harris and Gray watch the Doctor and Donna leave before escorting Martha to what she thinks is a meeting with Colonel Mace. Instead, she’s locked away in one of the Sontaran cloning vats.

Donna returns home, thinking over her adventures so far with the Doctor, before sharing an embrace with her grandfather Wilfred. Donna tells him all about the Doctor, but she refuses to tell her mother about the experiences.

The Doctor and Jenkins arrive at Rattigan Academy, scoffing at ATMOS the whole way there. Rattigan gives them a tour, and while the Doctor is impressed at the science lab he is skeptical about the technology’s origins. He recognizes that it’s been a long time since anyone has told the boy no, but he also recognizes the teleport pod in Rattigan’s office. It takes him to the Sontaran ship and back, and he’s followed by Staal before he disables the teleport with a wave of the sonic.

Jenkins refers to the general as a baked potato in armor, but the Doctor displays the Sontaran’s weakness by ricocheting a racquetball into the armor’s probic vent. While the Doctor and Jenkins run, Skaal and Rattigan repair the teleport and return to the ship. Skaal orders Commander Skorr to begin the invasion of Earth, which involves visiting Martha Jones and the cloning vat.

Sure enough, he’s breeding a clone of Martha.

Rattigan suggests using ATMOS to kill the Doctor, and Skaal links the name to the survivor of the Last Great Time War. He relishes the thought of killing the last of the Time Lords. Sure enough, the UNIT jeep drives itself to the river, but the Doctor uses a logic trap to stop the jeep and blow the UNIT in a not-so-spectacular pop of sparks.

The Doctor finds himself on Donna’s doorstep. As he examines Donna’s car, he meets Wilf for the second time (but the first time proper) and tries to warn Martha, unknowingly calling the clone instead. Martha’s mother, Sylvia, recognizes the Doctor from Donna’s wedding as he unlocks the ATMOS unit. This triggers a Sontaran battle group to head for Earth as the travelers figure out that ATMOS means to poison everyone on Earth.

Wilf ends up locked in the car as every ATMOS vehicle starts gassing the planet. The car is sonic-proof, the planet is choking, and the Sontarans are chanting.

It’s a perfect place for a cliffhanger.

 

The Poison Sky

Sylvia saves Wilf using a totally low-tech option: An axe through the windshield!

UNIT is on high alert, unaware of the mole in their midst as the Martha clone accesses the NATO defense system. She transmits the information to the Sontaran ship as Donna rushes off with the Doctor and Jenkins to fight the Sontarans.

The travelers return to the UNIT mobile headquarters, and the Doctor hands Donna a key to the TARDIS as he rushes off. Donna finds fresh air in the time ship, the Doctor beckons Clone-Martha to follow him, and the mole dispatches Harris and Gray to steal the TARDIS and transmat it to the Sontaran ship.

Donna figures out her predicament as Rattigan returns to Earth and the Doctor figures out that his TARDIS has been stolen. He laments being trapped on Earth (again) before returning to the command center. The UNIT forces find the Sontaran ship and the Doctor makes contact with them. Donna rushes to the monitor, just missing Rose, to catch the transmission as the Doctor handles the Sontarans and ruffles their feathers about the war with the Rutan Host. He also sends a secret message to Donna, asking her to contact him, but she doesn’t know how yet.

She calls home instead to check in with her family. She promises that the Doctor will save them. The Doctor has his own problems as he puzzles over the gas and UNIT spools up the world’s nuclear arsenal to attack the Sontarans. Even though the nuclear missiles wouldn’t even dent the ship, they stop the launch, and the Doctor begins putting the pieces together about Martha’s identity.

The Sontarans storm the factory, killing the UNIT troops in their path including Ross Jenkins. The Doctor is downright furious and Colonel Mace finally starts listening to him. The Time Lord wishes that the Brigadier was there, but Mace states that Sir Alistair is stranded in Peru.

He’s been knighted! Good for him.

Rattigan outlines his plan to take his students off-world and restart the human race. His students are unimpressed with his plan, including his mating program, and they abandon him. He reports back to Staal and finds out that the students would have been sacrificed. Rattigan’s plan was a Sontaran ruse, and the boy returns to Earth to avoid being shot down. The Sontarans lock down the teleport system.

The Doctor borrows a mobile phone and calls Donna, calling her his secret weapon and asking her to go into the ship and re-open the teleport link. He walks her through how to disable a Sontaran with the probic vent and open the ship’s doors before he’s interrupted by Mace’s battle plan.

The Doctor heads outside with a gas mask – “Are you my mummy?” – while ignoring Mace’s briefing. He’s sure that it will not work, after all, but still marvels at the Valiant‘s arrival. After all, he remembers it from a year that never happened even if no one else does.

The UNIT “helicarrier” clears the air with its powerful turbines before attacking the factory. The UNIT troops storm the facility as the Doctor and Clone-Martha follow the signals to the cloning facility. He finds Martha’s body and reveals that he’s known about Clone-Martha all along by her off smell. He removes the memory transfer device from Martha’s head, which disables the clone, and opens communications with Donna again.

While Martha consoles her clone, the Doctor with Donna to fix the teleport. The clone tells Martha that the gas is clone feed, set to convert the planet to a massive cloning facility. Remarking on Martha’s soul brimming with life as the character’s theme takes on a military air, the clone dies.

The Doctor saves Donna by teleporting her and the TARDIS back to Earth. He then teleports Donna and Marth to the Rattigan Academy, throws Luke’s gun from his hands, and uses the boy’s colonization tech to build a device to ignite the planet’s atmosphere.

As the atmosphere burns, the Doctor begs for the plan to work. It’s quite the parallel as his planet burned to death, but the Earth burns to life. The air is clean again and the world rejoices, but the Doctor’s job is not done.

The Sontarans level their weapons on the planet below. The Doctor runs to the teleport and bids farewell to his companions, planning to sacrifice himself to end the Sontaran threat. He heads to the ship to give them a choice: Leave or be destroyed.

The Sontarans refuse to yield. Staal is eager to end the Time Lords and humans once and for all. But the humans get the last laugh as Rattigan swaps places with the Doctor, yells “Sontar-HA!”, and presses the button.

The Sontaran ship is destroyed and the threat is done. Donna heads home to share the moment with her family, and Wilf tearfully tells her to go see the stars. She kisses him goodbye and returns to the TARDIS. Martha is there to say goodbye, but before she can leave the TARDIS slams the doors and takes flight on her own accord.

As the TARDIS rocks, the Doctor’s hand bubbles away happily in the jar.

 

As I write this in the year 2020, Doctor Who fandom is beset by complaints that the show has become too political and too obsessed with “social justice”. One thing that I’ve learned over the course of the Timestamps Project is just how much Doctor Who has been political and socially conscious since 1963:

  • Unchecked capitalism’s effect on ecology (Planet of the Giants);
  • The rights of indigenous peoples (any story with the Silurians and/or Sea Devils, starting with Doctor Who and the Silurians);
  • The debate over nuclear energy (most notably Inferno) and nuclear war (starting with The Daleks);
  • Peace and war (permeates the entire series, once again starting with The Daleks, but especially The War Games and The Caves of Androzani);
  • The role of the military and the threat of the military-industrial complex (any episode with UNIT, particularly Robot and Battlefield, and while we’re at it, anything to do with the Sontarans);
  • Environmentalism, destruction of resources, and ignoring scientific warnings for personal gain (most notably, Inferno and The Green Death);
  • Membership of the European Economic Community and labor strikes (The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon);
  • Sexism and feminism (particularly Jo Grant’s and Sarah Jane Smith’s tenures);
  • Genocide (most notably, Genesis of the Daleks);
  • The responsibility and power of the media (The Long Game);
  • Taxation (The Sun Makers);
  • Margaret Thatcher (The Happiness Patrol and The Christmas Invasion);
  • LGBTQIA+ representation (the revival era gets quite a few props for this, but (despite the classic era’s hands-off approach to the topic) give some deep consideration to the queer-coding with The Rani, Ace and Kara in SurvivalThe Happiness Patrol, and The Curse of Fenric)
  • Racism and xenophobia (the entire series as the Doctor relates to every alien species he/she encounters);
  • The threat of technology overtaking humanity (any episode featuring the Cybermen);
  • Nazis, including intolerance, xenophobia, genocide, racial purity, racial supremacy, totalitarianism, and everything that evil regime stands for (literally any episode featuring the Daleks).

And that, without the slightest hint of hyperbole, is just barely scratching the surface. After all, we just tackled assimilation and slavery last week. Let’s face facts: The Doctor has been what is disparagingly known today as a “social justice warrior” since 1963.

And here we are again, tackling ozone depletion, air pollution, and technology to reduce both. Tangentially, this story also hits on carbon emissions and the environment, as well as the social justice implications of detainees and unchecked military power. I mean, Donna’s mention of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is square on the nose.

Doctor Who has been politically and socially conscious from day one. The show was even co-created and helmed by a woman, and directed from day one by a gay man of Indian descent. Come for the monsters, stay for the moral at the end of fable.

[Inadvertently (but equally) right in the snout is my watching this end-of-the-world pandemic during the COVID-19 crisis, but I digress.]

 

On top of all of that – and by the gods, it is a lot to digest – I deeply enjoyed the return of both Martha Jones and the Sontarans. Freema Agyeman is a delight, and the Sontarans are a force of nature. Add to that the emotional depths of Donna’s relationship with Wilf – one of my absolute favorite family members and the embodiment of every child who’s ever looked at the stars and wanted to fly among them – and this story just rocks.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter

 

 

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 #197: Planet of the Ood

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood
(1 episode, s04e03, 2008)

 

The revolution is at hand.

Mr. Bartle, the executive of an organization that is selling Ood, reviews a commercial for his operation and is then electrocuted by his personal Ood servant Delta Fifty. The Ood’s eyes glow red as he takes joy in the act.

The TARDIS dances as the Doctor randomizes their destination. When they touch down, Donna goes from excited to chilled as she opens the door into an arctic landscape and blowing snow. The Doctor is pleased to finally see snow (as opposed to the last three snow events), but his joy is interrupted as Donna steps back inside the time capsule and retrieves a parka.

An incoming ship, which Donna compares to a Ferrari against the Doctor’s “box”, contains Klineman Halpen. The arrogant man is set to replace Bartle, and his briefing includes a discussion on “red eye” syndrome from Dr. Ryder and a PR rep named Solana. They also discuss Delta Fifty, who has since gone to the snowy plains and died after being shot. The Doctor and Donna are there when he dies, having followed the Ood’s telepathic song. Delta Fifty’s last words were “The circle must be broken,” which accompanied the red eyes and his last breath.

The Doctor tells Donna about his first encounter with the Ood before they crest a hill and spot the facility in the distance. They join a buyers tour, using the psychic paper as their credentials, as another Ood succumbs to red eye and is nearly executed before displaying new symptoms. Halpen orders Commander Kess to take the Ood to Dr. Ryder.

As the Doctor takes stock of where they are – even mentioning the close relationship between the Ood and the Sensorites – Donna muses about being in the year 4126 and how humanity has survived global warming and the disappearance of the bees. Donna interviews one of the Ood and it mentions the circle before being taken away. The Doctor and Donna decide to abandon the tour and venture on their own.

Halpen examines the renegade Ood and orders an autopsy. The troops comply by shooting it.

The Doctor and Donna watch as the Ood are driven like cattle. They note Halpen’s trek across the compound to Warehouse 15. Inside the warehouse are an awful stench and a red glow emanating from an unknown source. Solana reports that the Doctor and Donna do not belong at the compound and Halpen heads back to his office.

The Doctor and Donna enter a different warehouse and find containers packed with Ood. They ask about the circle and the Ood reply in unison that it must be broken so that they can sing. Donna asks about the Ood being treated as slaves and the Doctor muses that they still exist in Donna’s time. After all, who made her clothes?

The guards find Donna and lock her in a container with three Ood. Meanwhile, Commander Kess plays the crane game with the Doctor before Solana intercedes. When Donna is released, the three Ood attack. As the Doctor, Donna, and Solana run, the rest of the Ood join in. The Doctor demands that Solana help them stop the red eye, but she betrays their position instead.

Kess reports to Halpen – who has been going bald and drinking “hair tonic” this entire time – and the boss orders them gassed.

The Doctor and Donna find the Ood conversion facility, the place where the natural-born Ood are converted into servants. They find a cage with a small group of these Ood, and the Doctor’s mind is flooded with the Ood’s Song of Captivity. He uses his telepathy to share it with Donna, opening her eyes to their plight, before opening the cage and joining them. One Ood shows the Doctor and Donna a brain in his hands, and they discover that conversion means cutting out their brains and replacing it with the translation ball.

The Doctor and Donna are apprehended soon after and taken before Halpen. The Doctor is furious to find out that the entire lot has been ordered to die. While the execution countdown begins, every Ood in the facility shares the song and attacks the assembled buyers. The Ood swarm the facility as the humans fight back. Commander Kess is trapped in the gas chamber as the countdown ticks to zero.

Halpen and Ryder try to escape, followed by Halpen’s Ood, Sigma, who hasn’t turned. They leave the Doctor and Donna to the rampaging Ood, but they are saved as the natural-born Ood telepathically tell the revolutionaries that Doctor-Donna-friend. The travelers run through the battlefield and find Ood Sigma as Ryder and Halpen enter Warehouse 15.

Halpen intends to destroy the mysterious red light with explosives, knowing that if it dies, all the Ood die. The Doctor and Donna arrive and discover that the red light is emanating from a giant brain, surrounded by a circular telepathic dampening field. When the Ood hindbrain is removed, the external brain assists with its continuous song.

The reason that the Ood have turned is due to Ryder’s association with a pro-Ood activist group. Ryder turned the circle down as low as possible. Halpen executes Ryder by tossing his over the side. Halpen turns a gun on the Doctor and Donna, but Sigma reveals that he has been poisoning Halpen over time with an Ood graft suspension. In short, it has transformed Halpen into an Ood, and Sigma says that he will now take care of the Halpen-Ood.

The Doctor disables the telepathic dampener and unleashes the song. The Ood end their rampage and join into the song that resonates across the galaxy. All of the Ood are returning to the Ood Sphere to be led by Ood Sigma.

As Sigma sees the travelers off, he remarks that Doctor-Donna will never be forgotten in the songs of the Ood, even though the Doctor’s song is soon to end.

 

This is a solid story about the revolution and the emancipation of slaves. The common thread of the song is a beautiful addition, linking the proliferation of song to the absolute freedom of the Ood. It’s also a nice bit of social commentary about modern-day slavery in sweatshops and poor working conditions.

Besides the nod to The Sensorites, we also get ties to Time and the Rani (use of a giant brain by the antagonists), Torchwood‘s Meat and Reset (exploitation of alien life for human benefit), and the potential mass extermination of a group of alien beings (Doctor Who and the Silurians).

The downside is the plethora of gunplay and violence, but we do get more threads laid for the future in a story that develops Donna, the Doctor, and their evolving relationship as they careen through time and space.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem and Doctor Who: The Poison Sky

 

 

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 #196: The Fires of Pompeii

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii
(1 episode, s04e02, 2008)

 

Just one act of kindness can make all the difference.

The TARDIS door opens on what the Doctor calls ancient Rome. Donna is enamored, particularly by the translation capabilities of the time capsule. She tries a bit of Latin, but it comes out as Celtic with a Welsh flair. He also mentions that he had nothing to do with a certain great fire in Rome, but we all know that to be a lie.

They round a corner, muse about the missing landmarks, and glance to the horizon as the ground starts to shake. There’s a volcano ahead of them. It is Mount Vesuvius, which means that they are in Pompeii, and it is eruption day.

While the travelers run for the TARDIS, a red-hooded woman reports back to her fellow sisters and the High Priestess of the Sibylline Sisterhood that the “blue box” has arrived as written in prophecy. Speaking of the TARDIS, it has been sold by a local shopkeeper to a marble merchant named Caecilius. The merchant considers the box to be a lovely piece of modern art, and his family is very superstitious. His daughter, for instance, is training to be a seer in the Sisterhood, and spots an irregular being in the vent leading the magma below.

Donna wants to save everyone in Pompeii, but the Doctor tells her that it is an impossibility. The event is a fixed point in time and cannot be altered. The Doctor and Donna find Caecilius and pose as both Spartacus and marble inspectors. Donna tries to tell them about the volcano, but the locals don’t even have a word for it.

Lucius Petrus Dextrus, the chief augur of the town, arrives and gives the Doctor praise during a verbal sparring match. Caecilius has developed a piece of art for the augur, which looks just like a circuit board, and Caecilius’s daughter Evelina arrives to shed light on the travelers. Both Evelina and Lucius see though the travelers, prophesy her return, and speak of Donna’s future.

Later on, Donna visits with Metella as she cares for Evelina. The girl is sickly and her arm is turning to stone. Meanwhile, the Doctor consults with Caecilius about the creature in the vent and how the vapors from the geothermal exhaust have enabled the soothsayers to predict the future with uncanny accuracy.

The Doctor and Quintus make a midnight trek to Lucius’s home where they find a wall of the circuit engravings. Lucius declares that the gods are using them to gift him the future, but the Doctor decrypts them as an energy converter with an unknown purpose. Lucius declares that the Doctor should die, and the Doctor escapes with Quintus after revealing the augur’s stone arm.

Lucius responds by sending the creature underground in pursuit of the time lord.

Donna continues her visit with Evelina, revealing the future of Vesuvius, which is transmitted to the Sisterhood as a new prophecy. The High Priestess declares that Donna must die for her foresight.

As the Doctor and Quintus return to Caecilius’s home, the creature erupts from the vent. The family treats the being like a god, but turn on it when it kills a man by dousing it with water. In the commotion, the Sisterhood kidnaps Donna.

He tracks Donna to the Temple of Sibyl and rescues her just before she’s murdered. He tells the Sisterhood about Sibyl, noting that she would be ashamed of them. The High Priestess demands to speak to the Doctor and reveals herself as nearly changed to stone. The Doctor recognizes that the people are being seeded by an alien species and demands that they reveal themselves. The being declares itself as a Pyrovile, a species that arrived a millennia ago and were awakened by the 62 earthquakes. The Pyroviles are a psychic race that can see through time. The Doctor holds the High Priestess back with a water gun as Donna opens the hypocaust and they escape into the volcano.

As they walk on, Donna asks about the fixed points. The Doctor replies that he can see them because that’s how he views the universe as a Time Lord. She’s still aghast that he will not save the people of Pompeii, but he cannot break a fixed point.

They reach the heart of Vesuvius, which is inhabited by the Pyrovile in their adult form. They spot the circuitry of an escape pod and recognize it as the same pattern that the augur has been coveting. Speaking of, Lucius reveals their presence. During the standoff, Lucius reveals that the Pyrovile homeworld is missing, and the creatures want to take Earth for their own. Donna and the Doctor dive into the pod and figure out that the Pyrovile are using the energy of Vesuvius to advance their plan. To save the world, the Doctor must allow Pompeii to be destroyed. It’s a question of 20,000 people versus the entirety of Earth, and Donna helps the Doctor choose.

They choose to save Earth.

Pompeii erupts around the pod, destroying the Pyrovile and ejecting the pod into Pompeii. The travelers rush to the TARDIS as the villagers panic and the Sisterhood is lost. Donna tries to help the people, but it is no use. With a heavy heart, she begs the Doctor to save Caecilius and his family, but he starts the TARDIS dematerialization sequence.

As they take off, she levels her fury at the Time Lord. Her frustration gives way to sorrow, and the Doctor tells her that he cannot save the people of Pompeii anymore than he can save his own people. Donna reasons that he can save just one family.

So he does.

In a burst of light, the TARDIS rematerializes and the Doctor extends a hand of salvation.

They all watch from a nearby hilltop as the town is destroyed. Caecilius takes solace in the thought that Pompeii will be remembered, giving the name “volcano” to the carnage. Evelina has lost her power of sight, but the family is united in strength through sorrow.

Donna and the Doctor sneak away. She thanks him and he tells her that she was right: Sometimes he needs someone, and she’s welcome to be that companion.

Six months later in Rome, Caecilius’s family is happy and healthy. Quintus is studying to be a doctor, and before he leaves for the day, he gives thanks to the household gods. The relief reveals them to be the Doctor, Donna, and the TARDIS.

 

This story hits the mark on every level. The dialogue is quick and witty, but also serves to propel the plot forward instead of simply being clever. The setting is well crafted and makes Pompeii feel large even though it’s obviously the same street set redressed a few times over. Donna’s pleas and the Doctor’s internal battle tug at my emotions every time I see it.

The franchise mythology is on full display here, from the past (mentions of Gallifrey, identifying the Doctor as a Lord of Time, citing the Shadow Proclamation, nodding to the classic era while exploring the mysteries of the revival era’s Last Great Time War) to the future (the Doctor Who debuts of Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan, laying some groundwork for the rest of this series as well as the future of the franchise, and beginning the lore of fixed points in time).

That “fixed point” business? It’s always been there, all the way back to The Aztecs when the First Doctor told Barbara that she could not change a single thing (“not one line”) in history without suffering dire consequences. The trick is making a difference in history without changing history. Thus, the blessing and curse of the Time Lord.

Some of the more obscure trivia about the episode includes the TARDIS as modern art, which is a nod to City of Death – one of writer James Moran’s favorite classic stories – when the Fourth Doctor parked the time machine in an art museum. The humor Mary Poppins gets a bit of screentime here with the “positions!” scramble to save breakables from the rumbling. We also get a nod back to Barcelona, which is where the Ninth and Tenth Doctors wanted to take Rose.

The Fires of Pompeii is a masterful episode of television.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood

 

 

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 #195: Partners in Crime

Doctor Who: Partners in Crime
(1 episode, s04e01, 2008)

 

Only this diet plan can help repopulate a society.

After the introduction of a new electric theme mix, we find Donna Noble walking down the street toward a high rise office building. The Tenth Doctor is also arriving, though he breaks in through a back door instead of the lobby. Both of them are posing as officers from Health and Safety, and they crash a press conference presented by Miss Foster of Adipose Industries.

Penny Carter, a science journalist from The Observer pushes for more details while our heroes independently make their way through the call center, inspect the gold pill-shaped necklaces presented as subscription gifts, and look to the printer for a copy of the client list.

The duo track down separate Adipose clients. Donna chats with Stacy Campbell while the Doctor interviews Roger Davey. At 1:10am every morning, Roger wakes up to the burglar alarm but there’s no movement in the house. The Doctor presumes that the cat flap (but not cat people) has something to do with it. Meanwhile, Donna gets personal with the problem as Stacy’s fat literally pops off into an adorable little blob.

The incident triggers a tracking device in the Doctor’s pocket as Miss Foster initiates full parthenogenesis after Stacy witnesses the creature’s birth. In short, she dissolves into a herd of the little guys who jump out the window. Miss Foster’s security team arrives at Stacy’s house to capture the little guys as Donna and the Doctor search for them in a series of near misses. Neither of them catches up to the security van.

Miss Foster reviews the security footage and figures out that they have a spy in their midst. The necklace that Donna took triggered the event. Meanwhile, Donna goes home and suffers through nagging lectures from her mother. Donna takes her leave and joins her grandfather Wilf as he stargazes with his telescope. The pair are great together, and Donna makes Wilf promise to let her know if a blue box appears in the night sky.

She’s never told her family about what happened at her Christmas wedding, but she knows that she’s waiting for the right man.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is talking to himself as he analyzes the necklace. He’s a lonely man, still missing Martha.

The pair return to Adipose Industries, both in blue vehicles, and make their way upstairs. Donna hides out in the restroom and waits for the office to close. The Doctor does the same, but in a utility closet in the basement. While Donna waits, she’s interrupted by Miss Foster and her hit squad. They find Penny Carter and take her to the corner office for interrogation.

The Doctor and Donna both follow, one outside on a window washing rig and the other just outside the main entrance…

…and then we come to one of my favorite scenes in the revival era of Doctor Who as our heroes cast their gaze on the pill that gives rise to the creatures of living fat.

Let’s leave this comedy gold to the shooting script:

The Doctor lifts his head up… looking left, to the desk.
Donna lifts her head up… looking right, to the desk.
Then the Doctor looks straight ahead, seeing –
Donna looks straight ahead, seeing –
The Doctor!!!!
Donna!!!??!
Big long moment, both just boggling, open-mouthed. Then, all shot through the glass, in silence, big gestures:

The Doctor: Donna???
Donna: Doctor!!!!
The Doctor: but…what? Wha… WHAT??!?
Donna: Oh! My! God!
The Doctor: but… how???
Donna points at herself! It’s me!
The Doctor: well I can see that!
Donna: oh this is brilliant!
The Doctor: but… what the hell are you doing there???
Donna’s just so thrilled, she waves! Big smile!
The Doctor: but, but, but, why, what, where, when?
Donna points at him – you!! I was looking for you!
The Doctor: me? What for?
Donna does a little mime: I, came here, trouble, read about it, internet, I thought, trouble = you! And this place is weird! Pills! So I hid. Back there. Crept along. Heard this lot. Looked. You! Cos they…

And on ‘they’, she gestures and looks towards Miss Foster.
Who is staring at her. As are the guards. Penny, too.
Donna freezes. Oops.

Miss Foster sics her goons on the duo, so Donna and the Doctor run. They rendezvous in the stairwell and head to the roof where the Doctor rigs the window washing crane while Donna talks about her efforts to track down the Time Lord, the Titanic buzzing Buckingham Palace, and the disappearance of bees.

The Doctor and Donna descend, but Miss Foster uses a sonic pen to sabotage the car and break the cables. The Doctor and Donna dangle during feats of derring-do as he disarms Miss Foster and takes her sonic pen. He opens a window, dives inside, and rushes down to rescue Donna and free Penny.

The Doctor and Donna run into Miss Foster – who is really Matron Cofelia of the Five-Straighten Classabindi Nursery Fleet, Intergalactic Class – and learn about the adipose. She’s been hired by the Adiposian First Family to breed the next generation from the people of Earth after losing the breeding planet. When Foster threatens to kill them, the Doctor uses both sonic devices to stage a diversion.

They rush downstairs as Foster captures Penny and accelerates her plan. After all, the Doctor has notified the Shadow Proclamation of her illegal plan to seed a Level Five planet. The Doctor hacks the building’s induction core while he and Donna discuss Martha, Rose, and Donna’s quest to find him.

A series of miscommunications result in Donna being invited to travel on the TARDIS. Meanwhile, one million customers across Great Britain start decomposing into adipose. The human witnesses look on as the adipose march through the streets toward their wet nurse. As Foster doubles the power of the signal, Donna comes to the rescue with her necklace and disables the inducer.

In the end, ten thousand aidpose walk the streets as Foster’s ride arrives to take them all home.

Hilariously, Wilf is listening to music and looking in the opposite direction as the nursery ship enters the atmosphere.

The nursery ship uses levitation pulses to take the adipose aboard. The Doctor recognizes this and runs with Donna to the roof, refusing to blow up the ship with all the children aboard. Martha has done the Doctor well, Donna remarks. Unfortunately, he knows that the First Family plans to eliminate Foster to cover their crime. Sure enough, they cut the levitation beam and she goes splat.

The Doctor drops the sonic pen in the trash as he and Donna head to the TARDIS. Donna begins pulling luggage from her car – she’s been planning on this since Christmas – but loses her head of steam as the Doctor looks on with a forlorn gaze. He draws a line in the proverbial sand: He just wants a mate.

No, not to mate, Donna! A friend. A traveling partner.

A companion.

Donna agrees and rushes off to leave the car keys for her mother. She finds a trash bin and phones her mother, leaving instructions with a nearby observer.

That observer is Rose Tyler. She vanishes just after Donna leaves.

Donna’s first request is a fly-by over Wilf’s hill. She waves at him as she leaves on her trip through space and time.

After all, she’s finally found her man.

 

This episode fires on all cylinders. The humor keeps an otherwise by-the-numbers plot entertaining – particularly the classic comedy trope of characters missing each other by fractions of a second, just like the companions in The Romans, and the aforementioned miming skit, which echoes the Third Doctor and Jo Grant in The Sea Devils – and Donna Noble’s obvious homage to sneaky investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith is a nice nod. Donna has a bucket load of character development here, and it’s refreshing after the last two companions.

Donna doesn’t want a relationship with the Doctor. She wants an adventure with the Doctor.

And with these two and their amazing chemistry, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii

 

 

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.