Doctor Doctor Who Guide

This is the one. This is the episode, the story, the moment, where I felt at the end that the series was truly and completely back in all its former glory, and with much more besides. With this one, they complete the present-future-past cycle of the first three episodes, and they do it with tremendous style, with what I think is perhaps Mark Gatiss' best "Doctor Who" story he's ever written... the only one possibly better was his first, "Nightshade," and I can't be sure of that now since it's so long since I read that.

So, what was it that did this for me? Well, right out of the gate we have a tremendous pre-credit sequence leading into the electronic scream and the opening theme that was the equal of any of the best traditional cliffhanger endings, with an already scary-looking dead grandmother turning glowy-blue, snapping her grieving grandson's neck, the undertaker rushing in and trying to close the lid on her, her busting out of her coffin and then out onto an utterly perfectly designed Victorian-era nighttime street with snow all over the place, screaming straight into camera. Now _that's_ how you start an episode!

And then we have a nice and traditional story structure which Gatiss is usually very good at, where you take a few interesting elements, mix them together in the special Doctor Who mixing bowl, and out comes a delicious concoction. Here it's Victorian times (has the BBC ever done this wrong?), Charles Dickens played by Simon Callow (has he ever got this part wrong? (no)), a creepy undertaker, a young servant girl with second sight, and some aliens that look like they're ghosts. If these were all the elements of a book or a Big Finish audio, one such as myself might cry "cliche" or "we've seen it done before", but it's something else entirely to see it all realized on-screen in such a convincing way and by such tremendous actors. What might have been bad for the goose was terrific for the gander this time.

In fact, this was very, very much like watching a Big Finish story come to life before your eyes... like a cross between Gatiss' own "Phantasmagoria" (with the ghosts and the seance) and Rob Shearman's "The Chimes of Midnight" (with the servant girl and the class issues), and perhaps a bit of "Bloodtide" as well only with Dickens playing the part of the brilliant man in the middle instead of Darwin.

That's what made this a double joy to see. Oh, and "Medicinal Purposes" too probably, only with Christopher Eccleston instead of David Tennant. :)

If I have one teeny, tiny criticism of this story, it's that it was perhaps a bit too Big Finish-like in places. I say "teeny tiny" because the only people this affects are those who've listened to all the audios a lot, and specifically, the Eighth Doctor and Charley ones, because at times this seemed more like an Eighth Doctor/Charley story than the Ninth Doctor/Rose stories we've had so far. Specifically, I'm thinking of the scene where the Doctor talks with Dickens in his coach and blathers on and on and on about his books. He should be enthusiastic about meeting Dickens, but it seems like more of a McGann Doctor trait for him to keep running on and on and on with his sentences like this than an Eccleston Doctor trait to me. But again, this is probably just me! And a Ninth Doctor/Rose relationship that's a lot like the Eighth Doctor/Charley one is not something I should be complaining about really, since that will be a near guarantee of mainstream success, imho. (and the ratings for this week would seem to confirm that this is already happening)

As for the science fiction part of the story, I loved it to pieces. This is partly because in that slush pile story of mine I mentioned last week in the "Dreamtime" review (the one with the steamboat on the Mississippi), I had also planned to reuse the time-rifts-cause-hauntings-and-psychics device that Gatiss used here. (He beat me to it, the rotter. :) ) I say reuse because this was all Chris Boucher's idea back in '"Image of the Fendahl," that time fissures are to be found in every haunted place like Fetchborough, and was the reason Mother Tyler (oo! I hadn't spotted the name similarity till just now....heywaitaminute....) was psychic having lived on it all her life. (ooo... and could this somehow tie into this Big Bad Wolf thing that keeps getting mentioned? hmmm.) The rest of the idea, of the aliens being composed of gas, was not a million miles away from the situation in "Fury from the Deep," where the weed fed on natural gas, but sort of turned on its head, and glued together with the ghost and cadaver-possession theme, and like I said before, this new combination in the blender worked out really very well.

One brilliant touch to the storytelling was Gwyneth having already been dead when the Doctor offered to set off the explosion for her and the way that it was played. At first, you might just think that this Doctor let her do her self-sacrifice just because she asked to... but upon closer inspection on a second viewing, you can tell she really was dead (the glazed look on her face, her non-reaction to the poisonous atmosphere that forced Rose and Dickens out, and the Doctor checking her pulse) and he wasn't lying after all. But on that first viewing, you might just think that he was being a bit more selfish than usual... especially given the "damaged" issues we learn he's dealing with since last week. It's clearly that which motivates him to blunder in and help the Gelth even though all he knows about them is what they've told him... just the fact they're also refugees from the Time War was enough to turn on his pity bones and do what they asked of him. He clearly feels some responsibility for it, as this was probably also the reason he decided to give the Nestenes a chance back in "Rose" rather than just tip in the anti-plastic from the start.

And I really also love the farewell scene to Dickens, where he keeps stopping them and asking questions, and the Doctor gets to tell him his works will live on "forever." That's such a wonderful idea... imagine being able to go back in time and tell your favorite person in history how much they meant to you and to the future as a whole... like being able to show Abraham Lincoln Mount Rushmore or something. That was tremendous.

And now my extra-special mentions for some little details that I haven't seen remarked on much if at all yet. First is in the sound design, where if you now listen carefully to the interior TARDIS scenes, you can now hear the late 70s-to-80s-era original TARDIS interior humming sounds mixed in underneath the new more TVMovie-like sounds. This is especially evident during the Dickens farewell scene as the Doctor and Rose look at him on the scanner. They've also taken pains to play in the fully-restored TARDIS dematerialisation sound and let it play a good long while. That's also great. But best of all is a really, really, really neat touch from the special effects department.

Look carefully at the TARDIS as it's disappearing... look at the little bits of snow that've gathered on the sills of the panels on the police box... as the TARDIS fades away, that snow _doesn't_... it instead starts to fall to the ground, and then gets whipped up in a swirl by the wind! There's only one word for that: Fantastic!

My overall rating for this... 9 out of 10. I really want to give it a full 10, but I'm in that awful position already of having to hold off on using it as I suspect I'm going to need 10 later in the season. How about 9.2 for this one?

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television