A Casual TV Fan's Guide
Doctor Who: Series One, part two
Rated: N/A :: Air dates: 2005
By Dan Toland
03 April 2008 — Russell T. Davies' reintroduction of the Doctor to British television caused a minor sensation. A show famous for its wobbly sets and substandard effects was back with modern production standards, but the biggest thing it had going for it was the cast: former child pop star Billie Piper surpassed everyone's expectations as Rose, a working class girl who found herself swept away into a world of danger and exploration; Camille Coduri was great as her decidedly crass mother Jackie; Noel Clarke displayed a lot of range as Rose's boyfriend Mickey, a good man with little drive, who floats in and out of her life; and of course, Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor himself. The relationship between the Doctor and Rose was unlike any Doctor / companion pairing before; there was definite heat between the two, and it was difficult to figure exactly how they saw each other — Rose always seemed to go from seeing him as a love interest, to a father figure.
Having laid the groundwork in the episodes we covered last week, this is the point in the season where the story arc really gained steam. What follow are some of the best episodes the revival has produced.
The Long Game
Writer: Russell T. Davies
Guest starring: Simon Pegg as the Editor
The Plot: Something is amiss on Satellite 5, a news-broadcasting platform orbiting Earth in the year 200,000. What is on the 500th floor?
Good Stuff: Simon Pegg (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead) is here as the Editor, which gives the Doctor the first real opportunity he's had so far to go one-on-one with an evil-genius type (if we lump Cassandra in with the monsters). He's appropriately oily as the middleman who runs Satellite 5 on behalf of the big bad of the episode.
Tamsin Greig (Black Books, Green Wing) is on hand as a nurse who fits Adam with a data implant allowing him to interface directly with the computer system. Tamsin Greig is truly odd, made of awesome and I would move to London tomorrow if I thought she'd have me.
Not So Good Stuff: The big bad is the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe (Davies gets paid by the letter, apparently — for example, the Slitheen are from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius). Anyone who says that the Jagrafess doesn't look like a giant clit with teeth is lying. Brrr!
Random Observations: This episode is the last appearance of Bruno Langley as Adam Mitchell. (That didn't last long.)
Overall: This isn't a bad episode, but it's not especially a great one either. It's a little blah; most of the supporting cast (with the exception of Pegg and Grieg) is dull and going through the motions. However, the episode sets things up for later in the season, and it feels like it's concentrating on that at the expense of the actual story: 6 out of 10.
Writer: Paul Cornell
The Plot: In 1987, Rose prevents her father from dying when he should have, and the fabric of time is being torn apart by parasites as a result.
Good Stuff: Shaun Dingwall gives a really touching portrayal of Pete Tyler, Rose's father. He's a scoundrel who tries (somewhat) to be a better person and has gotten used to failing at it, and finds himself in a situation where he has to be truly selfless for the first time in his life. On the other side, Rose gets to meet the father who died when she was a newborn, and finds out that he's not necessarily the candidate for sainthood her mother always claimed him to be.
This may be the best performance Billie Piper gives the whole season. She's outstanding.
The Reapers are well-designed, wonderfully executed monsters.
The Doctor's reaction to his companion unexpectedly changing history and causing the utter destruction of time? So pissed.
Comforting a bride and groom while they all hide in a chapel, the last place the Reapers have yet to destroy, the Doctor distracts them by asking the couple how they met. Then: "Who said you're not important? I've traveled to all sorts of places, done things you couldn't even imagine. But you two! Street corner, two in the morning, getting a taxi home. I've never had a life like that — yes. I'll try to save you."
Not So Good Stuff: Nothing's really leaping out.
Overall: This is an excellent story with a lot of really heartbreaking moments. A season highlight: 9.5 out of 10.
The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances
Writer: Steven Moffat
The Plot: Landing in London during the Blitz, the Doctor finds danger with a group of homeless children who live in fear of something that was once one of their own. Meanwhile, Rose meets Captain Jack Harkness, a charismatic Time Agent from the 51st century.
Good Stuff: Regardless of your opinion of Torchwood, Captain Jack is the balls. It would be really easy to screw up the Doctor / Rose dynamic by adding a third character, but Barrowman eases in perfectly.
It really shouldn't work. That little kid in a gas mask should be the most ludicrous thing on television. But damned if it's not really freaking creepy. The tension that builds throughout the first episode is palpable.
The Blitz scenes look amazing. It's not photorealistic; it actually looks like an oil painting. It's a really interesting take and it works.
Steven Moffat is the writer behind Coupling and the new Jekyll series, and he brings the same wit here. The dialog is peerless.
Not So Good Stuff: Nothing. This is practically perfect.
Random Observations: Jack Harkness becomes a regular for the rest of the season.
Overall: The best story of the season, and of the entire revival. Hell, it's one of the best of the entire series — going all the way back to 1963. Every year Moffat writes one of, if not the best episode of the season. He gets this show like no one else; arguably not even its own production team. Watch this one with the lights off: 10 out of 10.
Order disc three. Order it now. That's not a suggestion. Do it.
Writer: Russell T. Davies
The Plot: The Doctor captures the new mayor of Cardiff — Slitheen Margaret Blaine in disguise — and prepares to bring her to justice.
Good Stuff: In a very short span of time, Jack has totally gelled with the rest of the TARDIS crew. The three of them are operating as a unit, which is thrown into relief with the arrival of Mickey, who is clearly the odd man out.
Christopher Eccleston is walking around wearing a headband with a big red blinking light on it. This is awesome.
The scene of the Doctor and his gang apprehending Margaret is a great one.
The Doctor and Margaret sit down to dinner, and Margaret forces the Doctor to face some of the realities of his life; he may not go around killing his enemies, but his hands are by no means clean. He comes into a situation, causes chaos, allows monsters to be destroyed and walks away without stopping to make sure all the loose ends are tied up. This is a fairly powerful scene.
Not So Good Stuff: Mickey gets a little whiny in this episode, but he has good reason; Rose is really treating him like garbage. She's keeping him around just in case things don't work with the Doctor. It's pretty reprehensible. Realistic, but not pleasant.
Overall: This is a fairly quiet episode to let the audience catch its breath between two major two-parters. Quiet does not mean boring, however, and this is a good story with a lot of great moments: 7.5 out of 10.
Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways
Writer: Russell T. Davies
The Plot: The TARDIS crew are divided and forced to partake in reality television programs. However, this relatively bizarre situation quickly escalates into a war in which the Doctor faces the only enemies he never thought he'd see again.
Good Stuff: The look on the Doctor's face when he plops down into the chair in the Big Brother Diary Room is absolutely priceless.
Over the course of the two episodes, the situation keeps getting ratcheted up further and further until a parody of reality television becomes a tense, hopeless situation in which literally hundreds of lives are lost. At no point does the viewer get the slightest feeling that the Doctor can win.
Time out to praise Eccleston some more: when everything starts to go wrong, something happens that just devastates the Doctor. For the next few scenes, Eccleston puts on an acting clinic: the Doctor withdraws completely, staring into the distance, not hearing anything happening around him, allowing himself to be led along by the surrounding forces. It's heartbreaking.
Mickey really comes through here.
The "next time" trailer at the end of "Bad Wolf," advertising "Parting of the Ways," is unbelievable. I watched it at least five times the first time I saw this episode.
Not So Good Stuff: "I think you need a doctor." Ow. Groan. Bad, bad, cheesy line.
Random Observations: Not only is this the end of the Christopher Eccleston era, David Tennant is briefly introduced as the Tenth Doctor.
Overall: What a way to end a season. After a season of writing the steady, middling episodes and leaving the flashier stuff to the guest writers, show-runner Russell T. Davies pulls out all the stops and comes up with a tremendous pair of episodes: 9.5 out of 10.
Disc four is really good. "Boom Town" is a quiet, palate cleanser of an episode before the truly outstanding "Parting of the Ways" two-parter. Disc three is better — just — but this is amazing.
There's also a fifth disc, which is devoted to special features; primarily, a chopped version of the Doctor Who Confidential show that originally aired after each episode. It's a really well-made making-of, with lots of interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff. It's interesting if the show catches your interest; personally I lap this sort of thing up.
Final Verdict: While it got off to an uneven start, the first season of the revived Doctor Who would be an unmitigated success on the shoulders of its lead actor alone. I really like his replacement, David Tennant, and I probably like Tennant's portrayal of the Doctor more than Eccleston's, but Eccleston is just one of the most amazing actors working today, and the craft he brings to the role is artful. I would personally almost recommending buying this outright, except that it goes for $99.99 (even marked down, it's tough to find below $75). I'm actually going to break my own rule and recommend that you order both discs three and four; there's just too much good stuff. If you really only want to try one, then start with disc three.
Okay, so because of the extra two-parter, this week's entry is a little on the short side. So, in an effort to both satisfy my latent obsessive-compulsive tendencies and to encourage the good readers of Earth-2.net to kick it old school, I bring you the super-deluxe bonus review of:
City of Death
Writer: David Agnew (from an original outline by David Fisher)
Starring: Tom Baker as Doctor Who, Lalla Ward as Romana and Julian Glover as Scarlioni
Episodes / DVDs: Four episodes on one DVD (with an additional DVD of bonus material)
The Plot: The Doctor and Romana are on holiday in 1979 Paris, where they uncover cracks in the fabric of time, seven Mona Lisas, the original Flying Spaghetti Monster and shards of a single man scattered throughout history.
Good Stuff: Oh, Christ, were to start? First and foremost "David Agnew" was a pseudonym used by Graham Williams and Douglas Adams. Adams was script editor of Doctor Who at the time, and was at the height of his abilities; having just finished the first radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the novels weren't far off. This is both absolute topnotch science fiction (with some concepts that I've personally never seen before or since), as well as being absolutely freaking hilarious. This is an insanely brilliant, almost diabolically clever script.
And some really talented actors bring it to life. Julian Glover (General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back, and Walter Donovan from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) is suitably charming and menacing in his role as the chief bad guy; Tom Chadbon does a great job as Duggan, possibly the world's thickest detective; Lalla Ward shines as Romana, the Doctor's companion and fellow Time Lord; and Tom Baker himself as the Fourth Doctor, radiating intelligence, arrogance, humor and possibly a slight mental illness. (There's a curious phenomenon with Doctor Who; whoever was the first actor you saw when you got into the show becomes your Doctor. You might appreciate, even really like, other actors in the part, but nothing will shake your conviction that your Doctor was the best. I know people who really like what David Tennant is doing, but still can't get over losing Eccleston. Tennant is brilliant, but he's no Tom Baker. Squee!) They're all having tremendous fun with a script that will probably be among the best any of them ever see — and they know it.
And as if that's not enough, John freaking Cleese turns up.
Not So Good Stuff: Some of the special effects are pretty cheap. Even by 1979 standards, they weren't that great.
They found money in the budget to film in Paris — and boy, do they get their money's worth. The first third or so of the first part is a virtual travelogue of the city in which Baker points out interesting things to Ward.
They left K-9 in the TARDIS! Alas!
Random Observations: This was just a fact of life for British TV of the time, but it can get distracting: all studio scenes are shot on videotape, and all location work is on film. You get used to it after a while, but it's pretty jarring at first. Another fact of the time is the pace; it's much slower than anything that would be made nowadays. Today this would probably be made as a single 45-minute episode.
On the other hand, I love the format. The cliffhangers at the end of every 25-minute episode were a big part of what hooked me in the first place. Also, the title sequence, while dated, still rules.
Overall: A top contender in "Best Episode" polls, "City of Death" is a virtually flawless example of the original series: 10 out of 10.