The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

Well, there is certainly a lot to process here, having experienced this rather epic tale for the first time since broadcast. And I haven’t had to tag this many returning characters since The Five Doctors (or possibly Dimensions In Time). There are more notes to make than I have time; brace yourself for a fuckload of small to medium sized bullet points.

* This is essentially the entire four years of the revival thus far in one go. It’s a pleasantly nostalgic greatest hits package, celebrating a truly brilliant period in the show’s history, but the joy is slightly tempered by the knowledge that they’re going to do all this again in five episodes’ time.

* Well, Torchwood are less sweary and sex-obsessed than usual. They seem to be over Owen and Tosh already, which should save some time come Series 3. Over on the other spin-off, poor old Maria and Clyde weren’t invited to the party, but at least Mr Smith is better now. The last time we saw him, he was intent on killing Sarah Jane and destroying the world, but this was probably not the occasion to dwell on that.

* The obligatory RTD Episode 12 celebrity cameos: Richard Dawkins! Why is he there doing spacey sciencey stuff? He’s a biologist; it should have been Brian Cox or suchlike, but then Brian Cox isn’t married to an ex-companion. Also, Paul O’Grady! And his dog! Ianto’s a big fan, even if the rest of us aren’t.

* Usually when the human race is threatened by aliens, they all band together and look after each other. This time, they react by setting fire to shit and looting, to the extent that nobody notices Rose running round with a big space gun, at least not until she starts threatening people with it.

* Sarah Jane’s reaction to the Daleks nearly got me going. All four former companions were scared, but it was especially emotional when it was Sarah Jane, hearing those voices again after so many years. The sheer terror they inspire in these characters really sells them as a threat. It’s interesting that these days, the villains are shown to react like that upon realising they’re up against The Doctor.

* It’s a shame that The Doctor spends so long poncing around with the Shadow Proclamation while the exciting Dalek stuff happens without him. While he’s there, he says “someone tried to move the Earth before” – I assume he’s talking about Dalek Invasion of Earth, but does the fact that he said “someone” mean that they’ve retroactively decided that Davros was behind that? If so, excellent.

* Speaking of whom, Davros is utterly excellent. He’s got a metal hand! Within moments, he’s shown admonishing a Dalek for sounding proud, keeping their emotions in check. Considering how much they veered from their fundamental principles in their last appearance, it’s a good statement of intent now that their dad’s back.

* The spooky woman in the Shadow Proclamation who tells Donna that she’s “sorry for the loss that’s yet to come” – that’s a dickish thing to do. If you’re a soothsayer and you can see that something terrible is about to happen to someone, either come out with it so that they can prepare, or just say nothing. Don’t vaguely allude to it and then fuck off.

* So, bees are aliens, and they abandoned the planet when they sensed its impending destruction? The last ever bee message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to ingest nectar, process it and store the resultant substance in a honeycomb, but in fact the message was this: “So long and thanks for all the pollen”.

* I have SO MUCH TO SAY on the big Harriet Jones conference call. Highlights include:

  • Cribbins saying that webcams are “naughty”.
  • Sarah Jane telling Torchwood off for using guns, as it’s not suitable for Luke.
  • Martha’s mum getting a cameo for not particular reason, although it’s nice for her to get some closure on her abandonment issues from the fact that Martha subconsciously chose to teleport home.
  • The Mr Copper Foundation? Not sure he quite warranted a mention, but then everyone else from the last four years seems to be getting one.
  • Rose being jealous of Martha, in a neat role reversal.
  • While everyone’s firing up their supercomputers and their secret alien technology, Martha’s big contribution to the effort is forwarding on a phone number.

Wasn’t as keen on Harriet attempting to justify her Belgrano move on the basis that this latest alien invasion proves that you need to kill all aliens. However, her ultimate sacrifice does provide redemption her character deserved.

* When The Doctor joins the party, he says that “everybody except Rose” is there. Everybody? Has he forgotten the dozens of companions he had when his adventures were 4:3? Justice for Dodo.

* Then Jack fucks off to find the Doctor, abandoning Torchwood and leaving Gwen and Ianto to the Daleks, and then comes the big reunion. Despite not having been on board with the returned Rose thus far, it put a big grin on my face and nearly a tear to my eye. How perfectly tragic would have been if the Doctor actually regenerated at this point, so that she got so close but still never touched her Doctor again. The giant fuck-off “TO BE CONTINUED” that followed is a bit stupid, but kind of justified – it really is one of the greatest cliffhangers of all time.

* Sadly, the resolution to said cliffhanger is all very convenient, with each individual threat neutralised by a hitherto unmentioned safety net: Mickey and Jackie turning up (sans Pete, sadly), Torchwood’s magic bubble and The Doctor’s sneaky hand job. It’s not deus ex machina – very few people who use that term as criticism seem to know what it means – it’s just a bit of a shame. They got away with quick and easy cliffhanger resolutions loads in the old days, but that’s because there were at least three of them per story – with this one, the resolution would ideally have matched the epic nature of the set-up.

* A few random notes from the opening stages of Journey’s End: DALEKS SPEAKING GERMAN! It seems so right, for reasons obvious to anyone who’s watched Genesis. / The Doctor is not often this scared. This is good. / When Jack’s body got incinerated, how come his clothes didn’t?

* All these years later, I’m still not sure what I think about the Meta-Crisis Doctor. I mean, it’s a complete waste of a regeneration, considering he thinks it’s his penultimate one, but it’s kind of cool to have a double dose of TV’s greatest hero. That is until he starts talking like Donna. The only thing more annoying than Catherine Tate doing comedy is David Tennant impersonating Catherine Tate doing comedy.

* Davros wants to destroy reality itself. This is certainly in keeping with the core principle that every non-Dalek life-form must be destroyed, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory. Destroying all matter as well as all life would make them supreme masters of absolutely nothing.

* Other than that, absolutely everything Davros-related is amazing. The moment where he recognises Sarah Jane is even better than when she recognised him. On an intellectual level, I think Davros betters The Doctor for the first time; the argument that his companions turn into weapons is not something I would have necessarily agreed with, but Davros convinced me. His final victory indeed. The montage of all the people who have died in The Doctor’s name was RTD going all JNT on our ass.

* It’s the perfect build up to a big climax, with all the ex-companions’ individual plans failing one by one, and the TARDIS rising from the ashes. But then the day is saved by Donna suddenly becoming magic. I know I didn’t complain when it was a magic version of Rose fixing everything, but this is why this blog is a document of an experience, rather than a series of objective reviews – it may not be fair, but it’s how I reacted. I just don’t like Donna very much. And the only thing more annoying that David Tennant doing smug is Catherine Tate impersonating David Tennant doing smug.

* Which is a bugger, because everything else is very good indeed: Sarah and Rose exchanging pleasantries while shoving a malfunctioning Dalek around; Captain Jack’s cheery suggestion of a multi-Doctor orgy; Dalek Caan turning out to be a traitor. I actually shouted “YES!” when K-9 popped up to say hello.

*The Meta-Crisis Doctor is faced with the old do-I-have-the-right dilemma, but he presses the button without thinking twice. That’s not The Doctor. The proper Doctor offers to save Davros, and he’s right to later chastise Pretend Doctor for committing genocide. In his defence, he was forged in battle, like The War Doctor before him. Perhaps the process extrapolated and personified all the worst, most dangerous aspects of The Doctor, like the triplicator in Red Dwarf, or Richard Herring playing himself at snooker.

* Can you imagine the ecological damage that’s done by dragging the Earth from one end of the universe to the other? Nevertheless, it’s a joyous scene to end the episode… except that there’s still ten or fifteen minutes to go. We then get a long sequence of long goodbyes. Why exactly does he drop off Sarah Jane, Jack and Martha all in the same park? Ealing is nowhere near Cardiff.

* I’ve been trying to figure out whether Rose’s return diminishes the impact of her initial departure. I don’t think it does – I still cried like a baby when I rewatched it recently. It’s like how people complain that a cover version “ruins” a song, or a remake “destroys” a movie – no it doesn’t, because the original still exists. However, the beautiful tragedy of these two soulmates being forever separated is certainly altered by Rose being given a Doctor-shaped sex doll. It’s just all a little grubby – he’s not The Doctor, not the same man she fell in love with, but she’s happy to make do with a lookalike, even though he’s out there continuing his life without her? Nah. At the very least, we should have got to finally hear him – either of him – say “I love you” to Rose. That would have at least provided some level of genuine closure for the audience, if not the characters.

* Sadly, if predictably, the “a companion will die” prophecy turns out to be bullshit, as it was before and has been since. The memory wipe isn’t even a particularly stable metaphor for death – it’s actually saving her life. I found the sight of The Doctor enacting the procedure without her consent, while she’s pleading with him not to, a little disturbing. I mean, he’s doing the right thing, but Moff dealt with this issue a lot better with Clara.

* But at least this deed is a promise that Donna will never come back. Wilfred is damn right when he says “she was better with you” – he must be gutted to have to live with the old Runaway Bride Donna again. The permanently miserable Sylvia can do one and all, but Cribbins is just the best. Despite the high levels of emotion throughout, his goodbye to The Doctor was the only moment that made me shed a tear. Seriously, he’s one of the best actors the show’s ever had. Ever.

* Favourite Dalek lines: “The abomination is insane.” / “The males, the females, the descendants.” / “My vision is NOT impaired.” / “Exterminate Torchwood.”

So, what to make of all this, after comfortably the longest post in the history of this blog? Well, The Stolen Earth is one of the best episodes ever, but Journey’s End not so much. As has been the case for much of Series 4, I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to look past the faults now that so much time has passed – it’s not the “current” show any more, it’s just one brief chapter in a long history. Rather than having to worry about what state the show is in, or which direction it’s heading, I can just judge it on its sheer entertainment value. On that level: massive, massive win.

RATING: 9

And so I come to the end of a series that I thought I hated, but then when you look at the scores…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: 30 of 35.58
  • Stories watched: 198 of 269.67
  • Individual episodes watched: 751 of 834

…the average rating is actually higher than Series 2 (although admittedly, Fear Her is a massive statistical anomaly). I dunno. I still dislike Donna, and I’m definitely starting to go off Tennant by this point, but again, with so much water under bridge, I can now look past those annoyances and see what else each episode has to offer. I guess the conclusion is that there’s very little Doctor Who that’s without a significant amount of merit, but sometimes it’s just a case of taking a few steps back before you can see it.

And now, a short break for a wedding, to coincide with the first of revived Doctor Who‘s short breaks. Join me again in a few days to begin another voyage through a whole bunch of spin-offs and specials.

Army of Ghosts / Doomsday

Tardisodes: The first is the best one yet – a young journalist pieces together clues about Torchwood, before getting too close and ending up being taken away by men in white coats. The second is an emergency news bulletin detailing the Cyberman invasion, in which everything starts blowing up around some poor newsreader, who then gets exterminated by a Dalek. A very strong end to the noble Tardisode experiment, and overall they’re a fun and worthwhile venture. It’s a shame that, save for the occasional online prequel during the Smith years, such a thing didn’t continue.

* We’re entering a phase where I have really clear memories of when and where I first watched these episodes. Army of Ghosts went out just after England had lost on penalties to Portugal in the World Cup Quarter Final. I was emotional, angry at Cristiano Ronaldo for winking after Rooney’s red card, and pissed as a fart. For the finale, two of my very best friends came round to watch it at my student house, after they’d spent the day hunting for the flat where I’d end up watching most of the next series. By the end, the scene was of three young men who knew each other quite well, but not as well as we soon would, sitting next to each other on three rickety chairs in front of a tiny portable TV, with none of us daring to break eye contact with the screen in case the others saw us crying.

* It’s odd to revisit the original incarnation of Torchwood, considering how little it resembles Captain Jack’s gang of ne’er-do-wells. These guys might be sinister and selfish, but at least they’re vaguely competent, and at least Tracy-Ann Cyberman isn’t the worst woman from the second series of Big Train to appear in this episode. There are little flashes of the Torchwood theme in the incidental music when the Doctor is ghost-hunting, not that we’d have known it at the time. Speaking of the ghost-hunting, why in the name of FUCK does Tennant say a line from Ghostbusters in a Scooby Doo voice? That has been irritating me for over a decade now.

* Hey look, it’s Martha Jones! Flirting with a bloke over MSN, like a early-to-mid-00s idiot. If this was the classic series, she’d survive the story and leave in the TARDIS at the end, rather than the team going to the effort of inventing a new character for a guest actress they liked.

* This is the first finale to contain the briefly traditional raft of celebrity cameos. D’you remember Trisha? I seem to recall she was a bit old hat even by 2006, having moved to Channel 5 and been replaced on ITV by Jeremy Kyle. Barbara Windsor is the highlight, although her (well, Peggy’s) joke about spirits doesn’t quite work – if the only spirits allowed in the Queen Vic are gin, whiskey and vodka, then that’s a shit bar.

* I love the gratuitous little scene of the kid running upstairs, only to find a Cyberman waiting for him. That’s always stuck with me as something that would have terrified me if I was ten years younger. Even though I knew what was coming, I had a HUGE grin on my face as the Daleks descend from the void ship. I jotted down “best cliffhanger ever” in my notes – I was wrapped up in the moment, clearly, but even now I’m struggling to recall a better one.

* RTD may well be the best writer of Dalek dialogue of all time. With the combination of this writing, the vocal performance and the brilliant props, everything is just right – they’re great when they’re being menacing, but the functional dialogue amongst themselves also shines, and Russell is able to make them humourous without detracting from any of this. The bickering with the Cybermen is just extraordinary.

* It’s astonishing just how many returning characters there are. That one from Byker Grove didn’t have much to do, other than over-enunciate “and so did we”, and point out the existence of lifts. It was genuinely nice to see Mickey again, and apt that he got one last chance to fuck everything up for everyone when he activated the Genesis Ark. The Jackie and Pete reunion was the first time I cried, but luckily there was a sharp jolt into some massive pitched Dalek vs Cybermen vs Torchwood battles, so I was able to compose myself temporarily.

* You can take it as read that I enjoyed everything Dalek-related, and most things Cybermen-related – even though they’re not proper Cybermen, and I still don’t think they’re a patch on the originals, they’re better here than they ever were in the 70s or 80s, perhaps because the Daleks are around to pick up the slack. The one bit that I’m really not sure about is when Tracy-Ann Cyberman turns up again, and repeats her new-found catchphrase whilst crying oil. I’m not necessarily opposed to a converted human regaining control of their Cyber body, but I found it a bit jarring in the moment, and the tear was daft.

* Predictably, I was a big blubbering mess by the end, perhaps more so than I was the first time, given there was no need to disguise it. This is despite knowing that the big goodbye isn’t quite as final as seems, and that the “this is the story of how I died” motif is a bit annoying when you know how misleading it is. But the whole thing is just so deeply sad. They’ve been ripped apart and they love each other, but The Doctor can’t even say it. Rose has annoyed me in recent episodes, but you never forget your first companion, and she was mine. I loved her too.

* Nearly eleven years later, I once again found myself croaking “fuck off, Catherine Tate” through a veil of tears. I didn’t like her as a performer then and I don’t now, but I’m going to do my best to re-assess Donna with an open mind when the time comes. But regardless of any of that, that final moment is horribly misjudged, and it damn near undermines the whole ending. I wish they’d have had the nerve and the confidence to end on a sad note, without feeling the need to add a hook to get people to come back. They would have done anyway – you’ve created this brilliant, thrilling, emotional climax, so just let it breathe.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Torchwood refuses to go metric.” / “Neither did we need him alive.” / “Social interaction will cease.”

RATING: 10

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 28 of 35
  • Stories watched: 177 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 723 of 827

That’s actually a lower average rating than most of the original run, but that’s mainly due to Fear Her, and to compare a new series to an old season is not like-for-like anyway. But still, not as good as the first series, but a damn sight better than what’s coming next. Brace yourself. I know I am. Expect weevils and bollocks and shit.

Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel

Tardisodes: First up, an intelligence briefing about John Lumic / Cybus that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the fact that he’s building Cybermen. It’s then revealed that the broadcast is being watched by Mickey, although it’s actually Ricky, except we don’t know that yet.

Secondly, an update from Cybus Industries urging people to upgrade from flesh, and lots of footage of some Cybermen marching about. Which I guess would have been exciting at the time, but I’m used to footage of Cybermen marching about by now.

* Urgh, new Cybermen. I don’t mind that there’s a new origin story – it’s a parallel world, it doesn’t affect our universe, so it’s fine. The problem is – and it’s something that I feel like I’ve mentioned every time the Cybermen have appeared from the 70s onwards – the concept that originally made them so scary seems to now be permanently lost. They work best when they’re recognisably human-but-with-extra bits, because the horror comes from how similar they are to us. When you make them uniform and regimented, they’re just generic robots – toy soldiers for The Doctor to knock down.

Transferring a human brain into a completely artificial metal suit just doesn’t cut it. A biological blob in a weaponised travel machine isn’t the Cybermen. They’ve basically just made shit Daleks. Besides which, if they’d have gone for the traditional augmentation of existing human bodies, it would have fitted much more neatly into the tech upgrade element of the parallel world.

* And then Trigger made a face. John Lumic is a ridiculous character, and Roger Lloyd Pack didn’t stand a chance with dialogue such as “and how will you do that from beyond the grave?” in the pre-titles. I quite liked a broad villain in the old days, but it doesn’t work with the gritty reality of the new series. He’s no Tobias Vaughn.

* Fishing a newspaper out of a bin to find out the date. They really don’t mind a tired old cliché, do they? But good things about parallel world include Rose being a dog (and The Doctor laughing about it), Lumic’s clever use of the ear pods to steal information, and the presence of an International Electromatics lorry.

* The Geordie boy from Byker Grove with the mid-00s haircut is rubbish. He seems like he’s having a lovely time pretending to be a big hero, but it’s not particularly convincing. Don Warrington as the President of Great Britain is a lot more like it, though you have to question why his character decided to go gallivanting off to a birthday party at such a crucial time for the country.

* Mickey has a point that The Doctor cares more about Rose than him, but a) Rose has been there longer, b) you invited yourself on board in the first place, doofus, and c) Rose is just nicer than you. His journey in this episode actually makes a lot of sense thanks to the dead nan element, and it’s in keeping with the progress he’s already made, but that line towards the start about “looking out for a better offer” just makes him sound ungrateful as fuck.

* Actually, rather than shit Daleks, when the ear pods activated and people started voluntary walking into the factories, I realised that what Lumic is actually making are just more advanced Robomen from Dalek Invasion of Earth. I must admit I do have a soft spot for the Lion Sleeps Tonight bit though.

* I like that Alternate Pete feels a connection with and an inherent trust in Rose, in exactly the same way Past Pete did last time. Alt-Jackie is a bit of a dick, though, with ridiculous knockers. More could have been done with her post-conversion; I seemed to recall a bit where she regained a modicum of control and aided Rose and Pete, but I might be mixing it up with a similar moment in a later episode.

* The Cybermen’s attack on the party and resultant cliffhanger is pretty bloody good, but it raises the question of what exactly constitutes “maximum” deletion. There’s no “next time” preview to be seen, either before or after the credits, which is a big improvement. The resolution, however is a pile of shit – The Doctor pulls out a magic weapon and the Cybermen are conveniently vapourised. It’s not a deus ex machina – the criticism that’s been misused so badly by Doctor Who fans that it’s become meaningless anyway – because we’d already established that he had this bit of TARDIS on him, but its newfound zapping ability had never been mentioned before, so it’s still a complete cop-out.

* Quite a lot of the second episode seems to concern lengthy scenes of people walking quite slowly. It’s not terribly exciting – an early example of something that’s plagued a handful of modern two-parters whereby the scene-setting and the build-up are a lot more fun than the main action.

* What’s the point of being the Cyber Controller if you’re still confined to a big wheelchair when you’re doing the controlling? The rest of the climax is better than I remembered, to be fair. The Doctor pleading his case by extolling the virtues of emotion is a pleasingly old-school method, and the stuff with the emotional inhibitors at least acknowledges that the traces of humanity within the Cybermen are where the interesting material lies. I seemed to remember thinking that the Doctor fixing everything by jamming Rose’s phone into a handy docking station was another cop-out, but it didn’t bother me at all this time – maybe it’s because we have NFC and wireless docking now, but the technologies being universally compatible made sense.

* Mickey’s departure was another staple of the classic series being dusted off – staying behind to help rebuild a world that they’ve been in for five minutes. If only the line about Ricky and Jake being a couple hadn’t been cut, he could have gone the whole hog and married a bloke he’d only just met. I did enjoy the dynamic of having a third traveller for a few episodes, but overall Mickey has been less likeable than I remembered, and I’ve just about had my fill of him. The timing was right for him to go.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Or maybe Lucy’s just a bit thick.” / “Well, it could be that Cybus Industries have perfected the science of human cloning, or your father had a bike.” / “I once saved the universe with a biiiig yellow truck.”

RATING: 6

The Girl in the Fireplace

Tardisode: An unnamed generic spaceship enters an ion storm, and then the crew are attacked by unseen assassins who make a ticking noise. It’s a teaser for an entirely different type of episode, but then what could you do that wouldn’t give the game away? But then, rather than ending on a reveal of the villain, as is the custom, it cuts to a clock on a mantlepiece breaking, as if it’s something mysterious and threatening. Obviously I know the significance now, but god knows what I thought at the time, before I’d seen the episode.

* This is the best example so far, including the entire classic series, of Doctor Who using time travel as a plot device. I love this type of story-telling – Moffat has taken it to further extremes during his era, and this now feels like the first fledgling step into new territory, in the same way, say, The Web of Fear preempted the UNIT years.

* I mean, what happens with Reinette is basically a more gradual (and ultimately more tragic) version of what happens with Amy in The Eleventh Hour, with the Doctor being mistaken for an imaginary friend who then shows up, unchanged, when the little girl becomes an adult. Except this time, he ends up shagging her. “Dance with me”, indeed. Saucy.

* Other little moments that reminded me of later stories: The Doctor and Rose being separated by an impenetrable time barrier (this time it was only for a few hours, but it’ll be a lot worse come the end of the series); and The Doctor having to take the slow path with the woman he loves (this time it wasn’t through choice and it got resolved fairly quickly, rather than a voluntary 20-odd years with River).

* Reinette has got to be one of the all time great guest characters. Right from the very first time she turns up as an adult, her dialogue is great; she’s not just a confused or scared victim, defined by her relationship with the Doctor and the threat of the clockwork droids. She’s funny and confident, she’s got a life of her own, and she knows herself. Her lines about the Doctor being worth the monsters struck a chord. It is Valentine’s Day after all.

* Watching this back to back with School Reunion, it’s weird that none of Rose’s resentment regarding Mickey joining the crew has carried over – she’s happily guiding him through his first adventure, sharing the experience in quite a heartwarming way. It instantly makes Mickey better when he’s not a minor antagonist, and I much, much prefer this approach – again, something Moffat would later do with Amy and Rory.

* Although I have many favourite lines, foremost among them “have you met the French?”, these are the favourite lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Just a routine fire check… hope you enjoy the rest of the fire.” / “Mickey, what’s pre-revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get some perspective.” / “And so’s your dad.” / “We do not require your feet.”

RATING: 10

School Reunion

Tardisode: Mickey Smith goes to a cyber cafe to do some more of his l33t hax0ring, only to be stopped by a big flashing “Torchwood – Access Denied” message. You know, that super secret organisation that the Prime Minister isn’t supposed to know about. Of all the companions with the surname Smith to give us a bonus episode with…

* In the pretitles, Finch eats a child, and thinks he’ll get away with it because she’s an orphan from a children’s home. “No parents – no-one to miss you.” Pretty sure orphanages keep records of who lives there, and where they go to school.

* “Happy-slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones”. Between that and the giant VDUs in the classrooms, I think I’ve just pin-pointed the moment at which the mid-00s became “the past”.

* But anyway, Sarah Jane. Brilliant brilliant Sarah Jane. She hadn’t changed a bit, really – a few years older, but instantly recognisable as the same character. Her initial meeting with The Doctor, where she doesn’t know who he is but he’s absolutely delighted, is beautiful, and then I got goosebumps as she stumbled upon the TARDIS. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but there really wasn’t anyone else they could have brought back, was there? The Brig is the only one who can match her, but the story required a direct parallel with Rose, plus Sarah’s departure was tragic and needed to be addressed. For most companions, it would be “yeeeeah, I really should have stayed with you instead of marrying that bloke I’d just met, shouldn’t I”?

* And of course, K-9. Weird to think that if it wasn’t for a failed spin-off pilot a quarter of a century earlier, Sarah and K-9 would never have met, and therefore he wouldn’t have been in this episode or the subsequent more successful spin-off. Understandably considering the other returnee, K-9 sort of got short-changed for screen time, but having now watched his original tenure, that’s kind of fitting. Leaving him in the car with Mickey is just like what the Fourth Doctor used to do with him whenever the adventure featured a location with an uneven surface.

* Why does the big confrontation between The Doctor and Tony Head take place either side of a swimming pool? I’m sure it seemed cool at the time, but it just struck me as odd watching it tonight. It’s also weird that all the Krillitanes can switch between human and bat forms apart from Finch – he’s the boss, genre convention dictates that he should turn in to some sort of giant megabat.

* I found myself fighting back tears when Sarah-Jane and The Doctor said goodbye and I’m not sure why. I know that they’ll meet again, and that I’ve got a hell of a lot more Sarah Jane still to watch, which I’m looking forward to immensely. Obviously, it’s partly to do with the wonderful Lis Sladen no longer being with us, but also I think that this is what long-term fans must have felt when this episode first aired.

Through the microcosm of one iconic companion and her life with and without The Doctor, it’s a small scale celebration of the classic series and a moment of closure – a chance to finally say goodbye, but to move on to something new. Sarah Jane Smith effectively passes on the baton to Rose Tyler, and that’s huge. When I first watched this episode, I loved it because it gave me a glimpse of what the old series meant to people. Now that I am one of those people, it gives me so much more.

* That said, The Doctor leaving behind a new K-9 for Sarah, revealed when the TARDIS
dematerialised… what if she’d have taken him up on his offer and decided to travel with him again? Was K-9 just going to be left on his own on 21st Century Earth? Poor bugger.

RATING: 9

New Earth

* Each Series 2 episode was preceded by a minute-long “Tardisode”. As this project covers everything, I will of course be watching those alongside each main ep. I hoovered these up at the time – this was the period where I was really into consuming as much Who as possible; I was at university and therefore had an incredible amount of free time. I even watched every episode of Totally Doctor Who on Friday afternoons. Anyway, this Tardisode was a little sales pitch for the hospital, and seemed to hinge on the notion that the cat people are scary. They are in fact just big old cats.

* I hadn’t realised just how many episodes Jackie and Mickey appear in, even if it’s just for a few seconds at a time as it is here. My memory was that they just turn up whenever the episode is set in the present day, but there’s constant reminders of Rose’s roots throughout other stories too.

* This was a self-consciously funny episode, which is code for not very scary or interesting or important. I liked the Doctor’s obsession with little shops, and the substituted swearword gags, but despite a decent performance by Billie Piper, as soon as Cassandra jumped into Rose’s body, it all felt a bit forced and self-indulgent. The kiss feels somewhat gratuitous, like they just wanted to have Tennant and Piper snog at the earliest opportunity after the minor hoohah when it was her and Eccles.

* This is also the episode where the Face of Boe is established as being all knowing and a bit magic, and they set up the big secret that he has to pass on. I lapped this stuff up at the time, but now that we know how it ends, why is it his big secret that The Master is alive? The way the cat nurse talks about the legend, it sounds like it should be a secret about Boe himself, but instead his identity is tossed off as a gag at the end of the following series. Maybe. Also, it was very rude of The Face of Boe to bugger off like that at the end of their conversation. It reminded me of the Cobbles victim from Look Around You.

* It’s just all a bit meh this episode, almost like a series of vignettes and set pieces with nothing holding it together. It’s the kind of thing that was done every now and then in the classic series where you’d have lots of little bitty plots going on, none of which would be substantial enough to sustain an episode on their own. It’s not awful – there are far worse episodes coming up this series – but it’s not one I’m ever likely to revisit again.

RATING: 6

The Christmas Invasion

* Christmas innit! Doctor Who has been the centrepiece around which the rest of my day is planned for over a decade now, and I’ll always remember how special the first time felt. I don’t think there’s been a better Christmas episode since – there have been good ones, maybe even great ones, but it’s hard to top the impact of the first time traditional Who idiosyncrasies were mixed with traditional festive ones.

I adore the killer Christmas trees and the flame-throwing tubas, but the joy is that the same show also contains 70s-flavoured spine-tinglers like the genuinely creepy blood control and the brutal murders of a UNIT major and a beardy civil servant. All on prime time BBC One in the most family-friendly slot of the entire year.

* Examining the trauma of regeneration from the companion’s perspective is yet another new avenue for the show to explore, and Billie is fantastic throughout. Mickey is still being a bit of a prick about it all, but he finally seemed to come to terms with things by the end, which tallies with my memories that he becomes a much more sympathetic character between series.

* It’s weird that “Torchwood” was subsequently used as an ominous and mysterious arc word in the same vein as “Bad Wolf”, considering that its nature and its purpose were quite categorically set up in the Christmas Special. It appears to be an all-powerful, scary, superweapon-wielding militia, and it’s odd to think of the organisation in such a way, considering the version we’re now more familiar with are nowhere near competent enough to bring down the Sycorax. They’d have accidentally hit The Moon or something, while at least two of them shagged and Captain Jack looked moody on a tall building.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “There’s an act of Parliament banning my autobiography.” / “Did we ask about the Royal family? Oh.” / “Blimey, it’s like This Is Your Life.”

* It’s certainly a gamble to have the new Doctor sleep through the vast majority of his introductory episode, but when he finally comes round it pays off beautifully. Rose misses him, the world misses him, and the audience misses him, until he bursts into life and is immediately brilliant. He’s rude and not ginger, he quotes The Lion King and he can sword fight like a little skinny Pertwee – that’s what kind of man he is. With hindsight, “no second chances” is such an apt motto for the incarnation who ended up as the Time Lord Victorious.

* “Oh, I haven’t seen X in years!” became a catchphrase in our friend group, thanks to this episode and Charlie Brooker’s subsequent impersonation in Screen Wipe. I loved Tennant throughout his original tenure, but given that I love Smith and Capaldi even more, I don’t remember his time quite as fondly these day. It’s therefore really nice to be able to revisit these episodes with an open mind, and be reminded of how positive I felt at the time.

* Aside from Tennant, the best thing about this episode is clearly Harriet Jones. She’s so funny, and such a strong leader to boot, that it’s almost a shame that she did what she did, as it must have been tempting to use her as a recurring Brigadier-style character. The key moment obviously parallels Thatcher and the Belgrano, but the lack of subtlety is justified by the show being bold enough to make a resolute statement that it was A Bad Thing. Which is not to say that I don’t sympathise with Jones’s decision – certainly a fuck of a lot more than I do with Thatcher’s – but I also agree with The Doctor’s retribution. No second chances.

* Fucking Song For Ten! I adore Song For Ten. All the old costumes in the TARDIS wardrobe, along with the earlier subtle callback of seeing Big Ben in scaffolding. And the orchestral theme tune! And the middle eight! Yes, the sheer joy of these moments came flooding back to me as I relived the euphoria of Christmas Day 2005 all over again, beat by beat. I love Doctor Who, especially when it’s this good.

RATING: 10

Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways

* Ah, Big Brother. When I first watched this episode, I was an obsessive fan, having not missed an episode since I discovered it in the second week of the first series, five years earlier. Since then, my relationship with the show has changed somewhat, having spent seven years working on it – that’s why so many entries in this blog were posted at two or three o’clock in the morning during past Summers and Januaries. I’ve since moved on, but needless to say after seven years, it will always represent something very special and important to me, so revisiting the time that it crossed over with another big part of my life was a joy. I love Big Brother, and I love Doctor Who, and fuck anyone who sneers at either.

* Naturally, I’m somewhat of an expert on the format, and the depiction here is more or less perfect. The guard of honour for the evictee is a fantastic observation, and the subversion of “I’m coming to get you” becoming “we’re going to get you” is testament to both RTD’s more subtle talents and the cultural impact of Big Brother‘s iconography. It was glorious to hear the full Oakenfold mix of the theme again, but the pedant in me wishes to point out that tension beds and crowd noise would have been a more accurate portrayal of an eviction night. Oh, and hindsight tells us that “the one where they all walked out” was much earlier than Series 504.

* Interesting that Big Brother is the only survivor of the formats portrayed – The Weakest Link finished in 2011, and How What Not To Look Like bit the dust within two years of Bad Wolf. I love the Anne-Droid, by the way – her cruel and slightly-too-personal banter was spot-on. But I got to thinking about what shows would be used if this episode were made today. I doubt it would be Big Brother, because it doesn’t quite have the same hold on the public consciousness as it once did. Instead, The Doctor would be in the Bake Off Tent, with a demonic Paul Hollywood urging him to make cakes for his survival. Rose would find herself with The Osmonoid on Pointless, and Jack would perform for a panel of robotic judges on Bad Wolf’s Got Talent, hoping to avoid the dreaded buzzer-saws.

* Anyway, this story is doing the “consequences of a previous adventure” thing again, for the second time in a row. However, this is obviously on a much, much bigger scale than Boom Town. The Doctor causes “one hundred years of hell” after destroying the Jagrafess, and by the end of this adventure, despite Rose’s time vortex antics, a hell of a lot of people stay dead – the Daleks destroyed continents at a time. And poor old Lynda With A Y. She was lovely, but she was cursed to death the moment she asked The Doctor if she could join him, about twenty minutes into a two-parter.

* Guest cast spotting: The Johnson! The man who would soon be touted as a potential Doctor for every subsequent regeneration – he’s probably being touted as we speak. Jenna Russell! Now finding fame on Eastenders, but for a number of us she’ll always be the woman who sings the Red Dwarf theme.

* Fave lines that I’d previous forgotten: “They’ve had to cut back. It’s not what it was.” / “He’s a plant, they’ve only brought him in to stir things up.” (these two are comments I read thousands of times on Twitter over those seven years) / “Rodrigo. He owes me a favour. Don’t ask why.”

* The Doctor’s reaction to Rose seemingly being killed by Anne Robinson – shutting down with grief as the chaos around him fades down in the mix – has always stuck with me, and it still brings a tear to my eye. “And with that sentence you just lost the right to even talk to me” is another one that’s never left me, nor his rant at the Daleks at the end of the first ep, complete with another reference to Davina’s old catchphrase. This is so, so good.

* And the Daleks are just brilliant too. The familiar heartbeat we hear inside their spaceship. The POV shot closing in on Rose, echoing their first ever appearance. “THEY SURVIVED THROUGH ME”. “DO NOT BLASPHEME”. The silent “EXTERMINATE” as they kill Lynda With A Y. Shivers down my spine on all of these.

* Eccleston is awesome as The Oncoming Storm. I love the way the Daleks recoil from him – he knows his enemies so well, and just for a moment he seems to be all-powerful, all-knowing and unstoppable. Then he locks himself in the TARDIS and has a little moment to himself, thus remaining relatable as the flawed hero we know and love. Like all the very best Doctors, you sometimes don’t know which way he’ll go when faced with a dilemma, but the “coward every time” line really landed. Oh, Chris. You *were* fantastic.

* For the record, Jack saying his goodbyes was the first time my lip wobbled during The Parting of the Ways tonight. Then it was the conversation about using the TARDIS to escape, and how it had never even occurred to Rose. Everything about Emergency Protocol One is just eternally sad, and by the time Rose was talking to Jackie about Pete, I was gone.

* The regeneration feels like an actual death, which is kind of the way it should be, but it hasn’t been since the Fifth Doctor carked it. After witnessing the various ways that regeneration manifested itself in the classic series, I like that this episode established the “arms stretched, explosion of energy” method as the way that regenerations work in the new era. A great moment to end a near-perfect series. It was enough to make me go from an interested observer to a devoted fan twelve years ago, and despite being in SD and some of the CGI starting to show its age, the stories, dialogue and performances are timeless, and still as enjoyable as ever.

RATING: 10

Ooh, it’s been a while since I did one of these:

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.4

  • Seasons/Series watched: 27 of 35
  • Stories watched: 166 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 709 of 827

Boom Town

* I’ve always been a staunch defender of Boom Town. It’s obviously nowhere near as exciting as the pair of two-parters either side, but if there’s one thing that this experiment shows, it’s that Doctor Who can be absolutely anything at any given time, and it certainly doesn’t require a minimum level of action or effects in order to remain entertaining for 45 minutes at a time.

* This is the new series doing what I like to call The Monoid Manoeuvre, exploring the aftermath of a previous adventure, Peladon style.  The emotional impact that being thwarted has on the monster is a new avenue, and it’s a psychological thriller at times, made possible by an excellent performance from Annette Badland. The dinner scene gets the drama and the comedy absolutely spot on.

* Ah look, it’s all the places I visited yesterday! We went to Cardiff for the weekend, primarily for the Doctor Who Experience, which was very good fun indeed. We also went to the Ianto Shrine, which is mental, and then to the very spot where the TARDIS lands in this episode, between the big watery monolith and the building with all the writing on it. I only wished I’d rewatched this episode before the trip, so that it would have occurred to me to go to the same restaurant as The Doctor and Margaret.

* It was fun to see the new series addressing the whole Police Box thing, and Mickey not knowing that such a thing was once a common sight in Britain. Sadly, that was about as good as Mickey got in this episode. I get that his role is to be resentful of Rose’s new life, but he goes beyond that to being completely unreasonable about it. Of course she’s going to run off to find The Doctor when Cardiff starts tearing itself apart – it’s not about you vs him, it’s her trying to save the world, you fucking plum.

* The bit where The Doctor finally notices “Bad Wolf” reminded me of how fun it was at the time to spot all the clues, explore the supplementary websites, and to speculate about what it all meant. Him dismissing it all as a big coincidence was very nicely done.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “What are you captain of, the innuendo squad?” / “It was a very icy patch.” / “She’s climbing out of the window, isn’t she?”. There was probably more, but I stopped jotting them down halfway through, as it was all pretty fresh – it’s not one that you’d particularly make a point of revisiting, and I evidently haven’t all that much over the years, but it’s a nice little pit stop before the big finale.

RATING: 7

Father’s Day

* I didn’t manage to write down many notes – I was too busy just watching. And crying. I adore this episode, and I remember being astonished back in 2005 that this silly little sci-fi show was powerful enough to elicit such a strong emotional response. It doesn’t surprise me any more, but after Rose showed me how much fun the series could be, and Dalek showed me how thrilling, Father’s Day was the one that established this whole other side, and cemented Doctor Who‘s place in my heart.

* Following on from the possible foreshadowing a few episodes back, I’m still not sure whether or not Rose planned this all from the start. I think the evidence points to the pre-credits scene here being her finally plucking up the courage to ask The Doctor for this favour that’s been on her mind for a while, but that at this stage, she only wants to be there for him. I think you can pinpoint the moment it occurs to her that she can save him – after she watches him getting hit by the car, and realises that he’s already dead, she decides she wants to go back again and change things. So it wasn’t *completely* spur of the moment, but she certainly hadn’t been planning to save his life since the moment she heard “time machine”, IMO.

* The Doctor disowning Rose is harsh and shocking, but can you see where he’s coming from. Much like with her motives, there’s a certain ambiguity as to whether he would genuinely have left her there if it wasn’t for the emergency. I kind of think he would – he feels like he’s been conned, just as he was learning to trust someone again, and since the Time War he has zero time for that shit.

* The TARDIS interior disappearing is a great moment of shock. I love the little indications that the world of 1987 is breaking down, although it’s a sobering thought to consider that Don’t Mug Yourself is almost as old now as Never Gonna Give You Up was in 2005.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “The past is another country. 1987’s just the Isle of Wight.” / “Sometimes a duffel coat is just a duffel coat.” / “Now now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you?”

* Tiny Mickey’s mum got eaten by The Reapers. No wonder the man’s a fucking mess. I know it all gets undone in the end, but it’s a grim story at times – the cuts to empty prams and child’s shoes in the street are Threads levels of dark.

* While I’ll never not find it weird that he shares his name with a friend of mine – especially considering said friend actually worked on this series – I love Pete Tyler. He drives this story by always being a step ahead of everyone else from 1987. The moment when he figured out who she is was the first time I welled up.

* Then, after the Doctor is gone, Pete figuring out what he had to do is when I stopped welling up and starting welling out. Doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen this episode, the story of a man sacrificing his life to save the world, and his daughter having to stand back and let him, is always going to make me cry when it’s this well written and performed.

RATING: 10