Timestamp #172: Born Again & The Christmas Invasion

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

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

 

New teeth. New hand. New Doctor.

 

Born Again

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

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

 

The Christmas Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently, Harriet Jones shouldn’t know about Torchwood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: New Earth

 

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

 

 

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Timestamp #165: Aliens of London & World War Three

Doctor Who: Aliens of London
Doctor Who: World War Three
(2 episodes, s01e04-05, 2005)

 

That one time that a family of fart monsters almost destroyed the world.

Rose and the Doctor return to her home at the Powell Estate, presumably a mere twelve hours after she left. When she runs up to the apartment, she’s surprised to find out that it’s been twelve months and that her mother Jackie has been searching the entire time.

The Doctor has never been a reliable TARDIS pilot.

As a tagger leaves the words BAD WOLF on the TARDIS, Jackie calls the police and berates Rose for her absence. I mean, she’s really running Rose through the wringer. When the Doctor takes responsibility for the missing time, Jackie slaps him before taking a moment with her daughter. Rose confides in the Doctor that she can’t reveal the truth and the Time Lord refuses to take Jackie on his travels. Their discussion is interrupted by a crashing spacecraft that sails over London, smashes through Big Ben, and splashes into the river. The Doctor and Rose run to the crash site but can’t get through due to the gridlock. The whole scenario is brand new to the Doctor, and Rose suggests that if they can’t see it in person, they can watch it on television.

The world is in emergency response mode, and as Jackie’s neighbors convene to watch live, the news reports that a body has been found and taken to Albion Hospital. It’s unknown if UNIT is still in operation, but the military has already arrived. General Asquith examines the body, noting that experts are on their way and that the Prime Minister is missing.

All sorts of important figures converge on 10 Downing Street, including Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North. In case you missed it the first time, she’ll remind you every time she says her name. The acting Prime Minister, Joseph Green, gets a hasty turnover while experiencing some gas problems, and once behind closed doors, he laughs with some associates in a mysterious (perhaps evil) manner.

The Doctor departs the Tyler apartment, leaving Rose a TARDIS key. Mickey Smith sees him enter the TARDIS and gives chase, but he doesn’t catch up before the TARDIS dematerializes. The ship gives the Time Lord a little trouble as he navigates it to the hospital. When he arrives, after a brief run in with a detachment of soldiers, he finds that the alien has awakened and escaped from the morgue. The Doctor spots the pig-like creature but cannot catch it before a soldier fatally shoots it.

Harriet Jones continues to work her way onto the agenda but is continually rebuffed. She sneaks into the Cabinet Room and takes a peek at the emergency protocols. She’s forced to hide in a closet when Green trio returns with General Asquith. The gassy trio unzip their foreheads, expose their true forms, and kill the general.

The Doctor examines the the alien corpse and determines that it is a fake. He takes the TARDIS back to the Powell Estate as Mickey finds Rose for the first time in a year. Mickey reveals that he was suspected of murder, and the word that the Doctor left shocks her. Rose, Mickey, and Jackie convene outside in time to see the Doctor return, which exposes Jackie to the truth. Rose invites Mickey and Jackie inside, but as Mickey and the Doctor spar, Jackie runs away. Moments later, she calls the hotline in fear and reports the Doctor to the authorities.

That sets off a whole new set of alarms.

As Mickey and Rose make up, the Doctor connects local radar signals to the console. They discover that the spacecraft originated from Earth and that the landing was faked. They also see that UNIT has been called in, but the Doctor decides not to contact them since they might not recognize him. Meanwhile, the aliens take over the general’s body before being alerted to the Doctor’s presence. The military surrounds the TARDIS and takes the Doctor and Rose into custody as Mickey escapes. Jackie is taken back to her apartment to be interviewed, but the official in charge is one of the aliens.

Rose and the Doctor are taken to 10 Downing Street to consult on the emergency. Everyone convenes in a briefing room except Rose and Harriet Jones since neither of them have clearance. The women uncover the truth about the aliens and their skin suits. The Doctor takes charge of the briefing and discovers the trap.

The police officer interviewing Jackie unzips his head. Rose and Harriet are confronted by Margaret Blaine. The Doctor watches Asquith and Green as they use the ID cards to electrocute everyone at the briefing and announce who they really are.

They are the Slitheen.

Since the Doctor is not human, the electrocution doesn’t work on him. He attaches his tag to the Asquith alien and the energy somehow affects all of the Slitheen. Rose and Harriet run, Mickey rescues Jackie, and the Doctor brings the soldiers to fight the threat. After Green stops the energy, he convinces the military to chase the Doctor instead. The Time Lord escapes into the elevator and the chase continues.

General Asquith orders the upper levels to be quarantined before escorting Green into the elevator, ditching their skin suits inside. They meet with the Margaret Blaine alien and nearly get Rose and Harriet before the Doctor rescues them. The Doctor stops the Slitheen with a bluff of port in order to interrogate the aliens, who are actually the Slitheen family instead of members of the Slitheen species. The Doctor notes that they are standing in the Cabinet Room, which was outfitted as a panic room. He triggers the blast doors and locks the Slitheen out, but in the process locks him and his companions inside.

More of the Slitheen (in skin suits) arrive at 10 Downing Street while Jackie and Mickey end up at his flat. In the Cabinet Room, the Doctor apologizes to the bodies of the Prime Minister and his assistant Indra Ganesh before looking for an escape. Rose discovers how the Slitheen fit into their skin suits – their collars generate a compression field (maybe something like the Master‘s technology?) that causes gas to build and escape – before receiving a message from Mickey on her souped-up mobile. While the Doctor ponders why Harriet’s name sounds so familiar, he helps Mickey access the UNIT database for information.

Harriet explains that the UK’s nuclear launch codes are in the United Nation’s hands, so the Slitheen can’t be looking for the missiles. The UNIT site reveals a signal coming from the North Sea, but the Doctor can’t interpret it before the police officer Slitheen invades Mickey’s flat. The Doctor, Harriet, and Rose use the facts to deduce the destination of the Slitheen signal – the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius – and help Mickey and Jackie defeat their invader with vinegar – the acetic acid reacts with the creature and causes it to explode.

Acting PM Green senses the death of his brother and speaks to the media, telling them a story of invading aliens to get access to the nuclear arsenal. The Doctor releases the blast doors and confronts the Slitheen outside, knowing that once the Slitheen decimate the planet’s surface with nuclear holocaust, they will sell the remnants for raw fuel. As the Doctor vows to stop them, he triggers the panic room once more, a sinister darkness crossing his face that shakes the Blaine alien.

As morning dawns, the Doctor reveals that he has one option, but he can’t guarantee Rose’s safety. Jackie pleads with the Doctor to keep her safe, but Rose knows that the world’s safety is worth more than her life. Harriet steps in as the only elected official in the room and orders the Doctor to act. The Doctor and Mickey access the Royal Navy’s systems and launch a Harpoon missile toward Downing Street.

The United Nations releases the nuclear codes to the Slitheen, but the incoming missile prompts the evacuation of Downing Street area. The Doctor, Rose, and Harriet ride out the ensuing explosion in the cupboard of the panic room, but the Slitheen are not so lucky. When the panic room door opens, Harriet takes charge, and the Doctor remembers how he knows her: Harriet Jones is the future Prime Minister, elected for three consecutive terms, and architect of Britain’s Golden Age.

Rose returns home to her mother as the Doctor returns to the TARDIS. Rose convinces her mother that the Doctor isn’t so bad after all, and Jackie offers to cook a proper sit-down meal for the three of them. The Doctor cancels the Slitheen signal and refuses dinner for the wonders of the universe. He extends the offer to Rose, prompting her to pack a bag much to Jackie’s dismay.

As the boy who tagged the TARDIS scrubs his handiwork away, the Doctor gives Mickey a virus to remove the Time Lord’s presence from the internet. Jackie accompanies Rose to the TARDIS, and Mickey turns down to chance to travel (for which the Doctor takes credit to save Mickey’s reputation). Jackie demands that the Doctor take care of Rose, and Rose says she could be home in ten seconds.

The TARDIS dematerializes and Jackie waits ten seconds, but they don’t come back. She walks away sadly as Mickey stands watch over the street.

 

This episode has a high body count, and while that’s not particularly great for Doctor Who, it does show us a hint of what darkness the Ninth Doctor is capable of. Especially when he’s backed into a corner. He’s still the Doctor, and we still get that sense of exploration and compassion that the show is known for, but we also get more clues here about how broken he is over the Time War.

I also want to highlight Camille Coduri and her portrayal of a worried mother. Jackie Tyler tends to fluctuate between compassionate and irritating, and here she absolutely sold the heartbreak over her concern for Rose’s safety. That last scene – ten seconds – was heart-wrenching.

The character moments alone keep this set of stories firing on all cylinders.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Dalek

 

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.