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 #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 #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.

 

 

Timestamp #182: Army of Ghosts & Doomsday

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Series Two Summary

 

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

 

 

Timestamp #181: Fear Her

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

 

Fighting the monster of abuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not evil, just lonely and ignorant.

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

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

The demon in the closet still remains.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Timestamp #180: Love & Monsters

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

 

This is the peculiar story of Elton Pope.

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

Or so he tells the video camera anyway.

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

Well, despite the Bad Wolf virus, anyway.

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

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

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

Oh, and Bridget mysteriously vanishes along the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Fear Her

 

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

 

 

Timestamp #179: The Impossible Planet & The Satan Pit

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impossible and ominous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Love & Monsters

 

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

 

 

Timestamp #178: The Idiot’s Lantern

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

 

Grandma was right after all.

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

Some things never change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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