Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Having been subjected to intense and prolonged mockery from my wife before March 26th about how useless Doctor Who is and how pathetic I am for being excited about it, the tables have now turned to an almost paranormal degree. There was hardly a squeak out of her for the entire 45 minutes of 'Rose', and we have both now been forced to agree that 'The Unquiet Dead' is the best thing we've seen on TV for a long, long time.

As other reviewers have pointed out: malfunctioning TARDIS, spooky Victorian setting, duplicitous aliens, famous historical figure, frights and atmosphere. In a sense it WAS Who-by-numbers -- but I think older fans needed a dose of that, and this was the right point in the series to do it.

I appreciate RTD's attempts to pep up the Doctor, but I think he's gone too far, and I think Eccleston went too far in the opening episodes. Mark Gatiss's script, on the other hand, was both new enough and Who enough for Chris finally to become the Doctor, 100%. For the first time, I'm actually sad that he's leaving rather than just a little miffed. Here he was occasionally manic, but also grave, with that sense of unbreakable moral fibre that marked the best of the Tom Baker era.

The Ninth Doctor's morality, though, hides something deeper: guilt. Others have already noted that earlier Doctors wouldn't have fallen for the Gelph's deception, but the present incumbent clearly feels he has reparations to make for something (he almost got clobbered by the Nestence Consciousness for the same reason). Here his mistake results in several deaths. This is serious stuff for Doctor Who and I look forward to further repercussions as the series progresses. I also like the idea of alien incursions possibly having been CAUSED to some extent by the Doctor's actions. There's a depth to that backstory that balances the brevity of the individual storylines. They shouldn't get too bogged down in 'continuity' -- that's been the death of many a decent show (the X-Files springs to mind).

I can hardly fault the production of 'The Unquiet Dead'. The CGI was perfect: slightly unreal, echoing all those old fake 'ectoplasm' photos. You knew the Gelph's betrayal was coming, and you knew pretty well how it would look (after Gwyneth had described them as 'angels'), but it still worked for me. Suspense is scarier than mere shock, as everyone from Hitchcock to Val Lewton knew. The BBC's ability to recreate Victorian Britain is a given, but here they excelled themselves with glowing, cinematic photography.

All the performances were superb. Piper is a constant surprise and delight. She is a natural 'reactor' -- first requirement for Doctor's companion -- but is increasing proactive as the series progresses. The girlt-chat with Gwyneth (Eve Myles) was magnificent, taking numerous unexpected turns. Top marks to Gatiss for taking so much time over it in a 45-minute story. Myles was captivating and moving, taking uncalled-for trouble over a 'genre' show -- which was not always the case in the old days, when top actors often saw Doctor Who as a chance to camp it up. Also resisting camp heroically was Simon Callow, revelling in a deeper, darker Dickens. There will be those who think his performance as hackneyed as Dickens's own tired stage act at the start of 'The Unquiet Dead'; they should watch it again.

But congratulations must go to Ecclestone finally, who after all has the hardest role of all. If we like to think of the Doctor as intelligent, brave, infuriating, unpredictable, occasionally getting it wrong and basically being the most human alien imaginable, then he IS the Doctor. For now.

So, another 45 minutes of rapt viewing. Not perfect, but I think you'll find the classic series wasn't either. So good it made me wish I had kids!

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