Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Another fine episode and from a production point of view one of the most atmospheric pieces of television ever filmed. The gorgeous location work, chilling and subtle effects and beautiful lighting combine to make this is an absolute treasure on the eyes. 

Any doubts that others writers than RTD could pull of his unique style of Doctor Who are quashed with this glorious historical episode. You have everything that the first two episodes had, the fantastic production, the witty lines, the mentions of the ‘War', the engaging narrative but this episode has the bonus of being the closest to what we fans recognise as Doctor Who. Rose clearly borrowed wholesale from Spearhead from Space and various other Doctor Who stories and was truly Doctor Who but its modern day setting gave it a new edge. The Unquiet Dead has to compete with gems such as Talons of Weng-Chiang and Curse of Fenric as Doctor Who has always had a great track record when popping back to the past, historical re-enactments being the BBC's greatest triumph in my eyes. To Mark Gatiss' credit he has delivered a smashing story, expertly squeezed into fourty-five minutes without squandering his location or period or any depth a historical can offer. This is everything Mark of the Rani should have been and half the length at that. 

It is shocking just how out of place Christopher Eccleston's Doctor is in the Victorian era considering how perfect his previous selves have fitted it. It is another layer to this intriguing new Doctor that marks him out as something very different to what we are used to. My friend Matt is having troubles with his accent, this very northern sounding Doctor proving a bit normal to be totally believable but I am finding his portrayal more and more interesting every week. Gone is the grinning loon from Rose as Eccleston grows into the role and discovers what the show is capable of and he is replaced by a far more balanced character, one who is capable of growing very angry suddenly (these sudden bursts are shocking and accentuate the fact that this is an alien we are dealing with), who can turn on the charm (“You're brilliant, you are!”), make quick decisions (as he does here with the future of the Gelth) and remain very humane (“I'm so gold I met you…”). He dashes about Victorian Cardiff (the location itself involved in a number of brilliantly time jokes at its expense), every inch the hero right up to the touching climax. 

I hope Rob Shearman was not too pissed off at Gatiss stealing wholesale his idea of the ‘little person' saving the world from Chimes of Midnight? It is so important that the new series is concentrating on characterisation over special effects. Oh you can have as much spectacle as you want but you can fill the screen with as many pretty pictures as you want but if there is no story to follow or characters to care about you will lose your audience as soon as the eye candy wears off (and trust me that high can lose its novelty very quickly…ever seen The Phantom Menace?). Wisely, Gatiss populates his episode sparsely and takes each of them on a journey, which climaxes in very different ways (murder, suicide and life affirming glee!) but which satisfies in each case. 

Whilst Dickens is clearly the centrepiece for the episode I found Gwyneth even more interesting because it was somebody I knew nothing about. Cute references aside, we all know Dickens story (and his stories…) so it is easy to predict just where his character is going (as touching as that was) but Gwyneth surprised me a lot. In one superb scene she looks into Rose's mind and has a frightening look at the future and the tone of the scene shifts several times. First, its hilarious girl chat that highlights the difference in culture between the two women which is then deepened when Gwyneth spots the cars and planes and noise of the future and then it gets REALLY scary as the Doctor reveals her part to play in this crisis. A great scene. Her relationship with Rose takes on real depth when it becomes clear that she is vital to the climax and Rose's firm admonishment to the Doctor (“She's not going to fight your battle!”) shows you how close they have become in such a short time. It was Rose's reaction to her death that affected me the most, as she starts to learn the responsibility of time travel and the fact that you cannot save everybody. 

If Rose's relationship with her spotlights Gwyneth it is the Doctor's slack jawed reaction to Dickens that reminds you meeting this man is an EVENT. And what a disappointment he is. At first. Simon Callow plays up his scepticism to such an extent he would make Dana Scully proud and yet retains the dignity and good humour of the character. You really want to shake the man and tell him this is really happening and to pull himself together! But his vital role in the climax redeems him totally and his final line and little swagger just make the episode. The Doctor's invasion of Dickens' life is given real weight and Rose is afforded a look at just how their adventures can change peoples lives for the good (Dickens) and the bad (Gwyneth). What I loved about Callow's performance was the humour he injected into it, his immediate turn around in opinion about the Doctor's character when he starts raving about his books is hilarious and his drunken speech summing up the truth about the Gelth similarly chucklesome. And his line when he is surrounded by zombies at the climax must rank as one of the best lines in the series yet. Having such a big name gives the episode real weight but it is the performance that counts and Callow does a predictably wonderful job. 

It's Christmas! The TARDIS landing at Christmas! Dontcha just love it when Rose steps in the snow as if to confirm all this magic is real. The Beeb have pulled of a real Victorian Christmas with fantastic detail and I was clapping so loud when I first saw the TARDIS land I woke the dog up! There is something wonderfully atmospheric about a ghost story at Christmas it is real shame it couldn't have been shown then (maybe they'll repeat the episode over the festive season…I'd watch it!) and my advice is to tape it and watch it again with all the lights off when its dark. Brrr…it takes a whole new level of creepiness…

Was it too scary? I doubt it, kids are used to so much nastiness on telly these days but this mix of spookiness and the fantastical might catch those of the more faint hearted. The pre-credits sequence was excellent for grabbing the attention and preparing us for the episode ahead but my personal favourite scare came at the end when the corpses started springing up en masse… it was like something out of Shaun of the Dead except it look really stylish! The theme of the dead rising is always a winner and I am more interested in hearing what the adults thought because I fairly certain the idea of corpse possession would affect them more. 

This was an excellent spooky fantasy, which probably would just be pipped by The End of the World if it wasn't for that gorgeous production which pushes it into a league of its own.

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television