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.

Turn Left

* It’s hard to reconcile my residual dislike of Donna with the acknowledgement of her importance to The Doctor. My first reaction to the idea that he’d be dead without her is to scoff, but when I think back to The Runaway Bride, I have to concede that her function in that episode, when she was intended to be a one-off, is to snap the Doctor out of his post-Rose funk. It makes the question of whether it’s Donna that’s important, or if it’s just the Time Beetle, an interesting one, as you could interpret her original appearance as a case of being in the right place at the right time.

* In an episode all about the consequences of Donna never meeting The Doctor, one of the worst side-effects is her reverting to her pre-Series 4 personality for half an episode. And in an episode that revisits the recent past, it’s amusing that Donna’s beetle backpack evokes memories of Sarah Jane’s spider backpack. There’s also the return of Chantho, this time as a psychotic fortune teller, and the circle of mirrors being kinda like Kinda.

* I do like a big continuity-based romp, and it was easier to do back when there were only four series’ worth of things to remember. It’s always worth reiterating just how many times, and in how many ways, The Doctor has saved everyone’s arse. This episode tells us that also saves the lives of his former companions just by being around – he shows up to deal with the really dangerous stuff, so that they don’t have to put themselves at risk. Without him, they have to deputise, and they really don’t last very long.

* The depiction of a post-apocalyptic dystopia is stunning, adding an extra layer to prevent the episode from being just a continuity-based filler. Rather than just leaving it at bad things happening to characters that we know, it was great that they took the time to explore what happens in the aftermath of these disasters. It was grim stuff – people had to move to Leeds. It’s kind of how I picture the real UK will be after Brexit and five more years of Tories, and that was before they started rounding up immigrants. That was the darkest and most affecting part of the show, and it was neat how they didn’t need to explicitly state what happened at the labour camps, but you totally got it. Cribbins was amazing – his reaction should be shown to far right groups, as a warning of where their nonsense leads. Do you really want to make Cribbins cry? Do you?

* Lovely to see Rose, but why can’t she talk properly? She seems so different after just two years away, and it’s a bit sad – I can’t tell whether she’s supposed to have changed and developed off-screen since we saw her last, or whether it’s Billie not quite remembering how to play her. Rose has existed as an unattainable ideal for the last couple of series, so it’s hard to live up to the legend on her first reappearance. I tell you what though, that Bad Wolf stuff at the end was amazing – it was on the Pull To Open sign and everything!

RATING: 8

The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky

* Selling an episode around the concept of “sat-nav gone bad” feels deeply rooted to the time when the technology was relatively new, and therefore still being greeted with suspicion. It was less than ten years ago, but it was still before we all started carrying around Google Maps in our pockets. However, the sat-nav thing is just window dressing in this story; the main selling point of Atmos is as a means of reducing carbon emissions, which seems more relevant today, with hybrid and electric vehicles becoming more and more mainstream. It wouldn’t require a huge rewrite if this episode was being made today – just replace the contemporary sat-nav fear with stuff about driverless cars, and you can still have people being driven into rivers.

* You can’t help but grin as Martha is reintroduced, despite the fact that it was only a week or so ago that I last saw her. I like the idea of having roving ex-companions in the field; people who are doing The Doctor’s work in his absence, and who are there if he needs them when he’s in the area. I also like the decision to make Martha and Donna get along, thus avoiding a retread of School Reunion but with a more annoying incumbent. It ties in with the conscious effort to make current companion relationship more platonic and grown-up than the last one, which I applaud, but then again I didn’t dislike the old way of doing things. It’s good to do something different just to keep it varied, it’s not that the the previous dynamic was a problem that needed fixing.

* I’m still not entirely comfortable with UNIT being repositioned as the bad guys that Torchwood used to be, but I guess that even in the Pertwee days, there was always the suggestion that they were too eager to resort to combat. The idea of Martha working from within to improve the organisation ties in with this – I suppose UNIT can be a force for either good or bad, and their moral stance changes depending on the personnel. They need someone like the Brigadier, or Martha, or later Kate Stewart, to keep them on the straight and narrow. The Doctor has been away for so long that they’ve forgotten the principles he taught them in the 70s (or was it the 80s, etc). But at least they’re still using “greyhound” and “trap” as their call signs.

* Around half way through the first episode, I wrote in my notes: “Donna wants to go home again, wah wah wah. Goodbye speech and everything.” And then seconds later: “Ah, it was a gag.” Does the fact that I took it at face value say more about me, or about how Donna has been written so far as being so self-centered and flighty? It’s me, isn’t it? But still, I don’t care about her having sad flashbacks to things that happened a maximum of three episodes ago. Literally the only good thing about Donna in this episode is getting to see Cribbins again. Sylvia’s shtick of being the nagging, Doctor-hating mother has been done to death by now, but Wilf being so excited for Donna, urging her to continue adventuring despite his fears and worries, is something new, and it’s lovely.

* I do like me a Sontaran, and Mike Thecoolperson makes a great commander. It was fun to see massed ranks of them in battle, and amusing that they still have the same old problem that you can only have one or two of them without their helmets on at once. The one that wasn’t Christopher Ryan was Dan Starkey, and it was a little bit odd so see him playing a Sontaran who wasn’t Strax, but then again, clones obvs. It was mostly a faithful and successful revival of an old villain, with the exception of the added “Sontar-ha!” chant, which was just annoying. It seemed mandatory at this stage that every monster needed a repetitive catchphrase for the kids to copy in the playground, but after four series, it’s starting to feel contrived.

* I have no particularly strong opinions on the episode as a whole – it’s one of those that just kind of exists. I’d remembered Rattigan as being absolutely awful, but he’s mostly fine until near the end when he starts throwing a strop about how clever he is. He’s a villain with no particular motivation other than entitlement and attention-seeking, and is probably the worst thing about the story, which is otherwise a perfectly serviceable mid-weight two-parter.

RATING: 7

Partners In Crime

Ah, Series 4. I’m nowhere near as familiar with this series as I am with the previous three. For one reason or another, Who became a slightly smaller part of my life around this time – since the last series, I’d left uni, moved in with my partner and started full-time work, plus my Who-loving friends had moved out of the flat we watched most of Series 3 in, and scattered across the country. Also, I was less than enthusiastic about the announcement of the new companion, having hated Donna in The Runaway Bride and developed a strong aversion to Catherine Tate, whose piss poor sketch show was ubiquitous at this point.

When the series arrived, I found myself disliking the majority of the episodes – my memory is that it didn’t pick up until really close to the end – and as such I didn’t rewatch it on DVD nearly as much as the first three series. As always, I’ll be doing my best to approach these viewings with an open mind, and re-evaluate as I go, which should be aided by the fact that most of the details are long forgotten.

Turns out I quite like how Donna is written in this episode. I’m always intrigued as to how one-off encounters with The Doctor change people, and having Donna turn into a freelance alien investigator – like a pound shop Sarah Jane Smith – is a neat idea. I assumed at first that she was doing this because she’d been inspired by The Doctor to improve herself and live the best life she could, but the reveal that she was just doing it to try and hunt him down works just as well.

So yeah, I like how she’s written, just not necessarily how she’s performed. It’s been dialled down a notch or two since the previous Christmas, and it’s clear that Catherine Tate is a fine actress, but I just don’t get on with her as a comedy performer, with her exaggerated mannerisms and the all-pervasive am-I-bovvered tone of voice. She’s actually great in the smaller, more dramatic moments, but every time there’s a joke, no matter the quality of the writing, her delivery is always the same – shrill, over the top and way too big. It’s like nails down a blackboard for me.

The miming reunion scene isn’t as bad as I’d remembered – I don’t think the wah-wah comedy music helps, but the moment when they realise Sarah Lancashire is watching them is very good. On the other hand, “you want to mate?!” is absolutely piss-poor. It’s a rubbish joke and I’m not sure it even needed to be said – just show us that the new Doctor-companion dynamic is different over the course of the first few episodes, you don’t need to treat it like a mission statement.

Comedy was at the heart of this episode – it’s present in every episode, but the balance was definitely tipped here. It’s a bold choice for a series opener, and obviously good to mix it up after four years, but I’m not sure it paid off. The Adipose are a great visual effect, but ultimately forgettable as a Who alien, were it not for the subsequent raft of merchandise. The lack of a scary enemy made it hard to feel like much was at stake, and I found the digs about Britain being a nation of fatties a bit distasteful. And I’m not on board with Sarah Lancashire pausing mid-air to make a face, like she’s Wile E Coyote.

On the plus side, and it’s a very big plus, Cribbins continues to be utterly adorable. It’s almost worth having Donna in every episode just so we get to see Wilfred every now and then. He’s the perfect grandfather figure, and his reaction to seeing Donna in the TARDIS was a moment of pure joy.

Lastly, there is soooo much foreshadowing in this episode. You’ve got the Adipose planet being lost, an “Atmos” sticker in the window of a taxi, and a reference to the bees going missing. And then, of course, BLOODY ROSE. Despite the knowledge of what’s to come, hearing that music again sent shivers down my spine, even now. It’s a great moment.

RATING: 7

Voyage of the Damned

* Firstly, apologies for the increasing infrequency of this blog. It’s been a busy few weeks, and it’s taken me a while to find enough time to watch a feature-length episode. It probably doesn’t help that I’m entering a period that I’m not particularly fond of – quite aside from the fact that I’ve got more Torchwood coming next, I don’t think much of this period of proper Who either. But I’m reassessing as I go, and this one wasn’t quite as bad as I’d remembered, although still far from great, for reasons we’ll get to.

* The Titanic crashing into the TARDIS was a hell of a cliffhanger, and how was it resolved? Oh, The Doctor presses a button and everything’s fine within seconds. Meh.

* New theme tune! It’s better than the current one, but not as good as the one it replaced. Every new iteration throughout the revived series has added new elements over the top of Ron Grainer’s composition, and it’s diluted the impact of the fundamental bassline and melody. It’s basically followed the same pattern as the original series, but over a much shorter space of time.

* Kylie Minogue! “Stunt casting” is a term that always gets bandied about with negative connotations, but you’ve got to admit that this one’s a hell of a stunt. It’s clear from the start that The Doctor wants her as a companion, and so because she’s Kylie Minogue, and therefore unlikely to commit to a full series, that means she has to die, especially after The Doctor promises he’ll get her out of there. I quite like Astrid though – having the companion view everyday Earth in the same way most companions view alien worlds was a fun new dynamic.

* The rest of the guest cast are not bad either. Geoffrey Palmer! A man so loveable, you really don’t mind him willfully killing billions for money. Russell Tovey! Thankfully only exhibiting small glimpses of the squeaky voice acting that’s dominated most of his other roles, despite spending most of the episode bleeding out from a gunshot wound. Clive Swift! Mr Copper is pretty good, but I can’t separate the performance from that shitty interview he gave to DWM. Tit.

* The disaster movie ensemble provides mixed results. It’s hard to know what to make of Foon and Morvin at first, but they emerge as the most likeable and well-intentioned characters of the bunch. There’s clearly a good socialist message in there, as you compare this ordinary working class couple to the merciless and selfish posh cunt, who is absolutely loathsome and irritating to watch. I get Mr Cooper’s point that you shouldn’t be able to choose who lives and dies, but come on – it’s Christmas, let us see him get what’s coming to him. The whole thing is deliberately unfestive at times; there’s a very high death count, and a lot of heroic sacrifices in quick succession.

* But never mind all those accomplished actors and musical icons. Get you a guest star who can do both. IT’S BERNARD CRIBBINS. This is not quite the same Wilf that we’ll soon come to know and love – he’s slightly more of a cheeky cockney, and less of a wise old man. While later developments would add more significance to his scene in retrospect, it also continues RTD’s slow-burning arc that the human race have acknowledged the existence of aliens, and are increasingly aware of the dangers. Moffat has since undone that with a few big resets, and it’s entirely at his discretion to do so, but I liked the period when Who was set in a ever-so-slightly different version of the world to our own.

* Tennant delivering that line about who The Doctor is, with the sparks firing behind him to punctuate every clause in the sentence, is cheesey as fuck, but it really works in context. The big bank holiday movie feel provides a fun and thrilling ride, and while it’s not particularly complex or intellectually stimulating, it’s a decent episode… until Max Capricorn turns up and ruins everything, with his stupid gurning face and ridiculous pronunciation of the word “metal”. He doesn’t look like he belongs in this episode; it’s like he’s been dropped in from the JNT era, and his presence completely takes you out of the drama.

* And it’s at this point that everything just gets a bit out of hand – my one criticism of RTD’s tenure was that he sometimes got a bit overexcited and chucked absolutely everything at the screen at once. This certainly felt like he lost his discipline before the end. There’s a lot of pomp to The Doctor these days, but he couldn’t just leave it at the aforementioned cheesey-but-effective speech – the Messiah metaphor gets invoked again as he’s carried to the heavens by angels, then next thing you know, The Queen shows up to thank him, then he’s snogging the ghost of Kylie Minogue. At least some of this could perhaps have been reigned in.

* The Doctor tells Mr Copper that the £1m in his bank account is equivalent to 50m credits. Earlier on, Foon tells Morvin that she spent 5,000 credits on entering the competition, which is therefore equivalent to £100. And that’s going to take them 20 years to pay off, is it? She must have borrowed it from Wonga. Also, if Mr Copper wants to buy a proper house with a garden with his million quid, he’ll have to move out of London.

RATING: 7