Doctor Doctor Who Guide

I am very happy to say that at last here was an episode which felt like an actual story, which was structured well, had very well-developed incidental characters, was truly frightening (especially the screaming lady walking towards us - the most scary scene in the series post-Gothic era; as was the lady glowering at Dickens in the theatre), and was very well directed, scored and realised. The Unquiet Dead is certainly worthy of the old Who cannon, and is, particularly due to Simon Callow's central performance, verging on a classic.

From the very opening scene this story reminded me of the old series - Horror of Fang Rock etc. - with the banter of two costume characters a little bewildered at events beyond their comprehension. Very nicely lit with excellent sets (or were they real places?) and a convcining atmosphere .

Mark Gatiss has provided is with the first truly memorable script in the new series. It is very well-written, with some extremely memorable and poetic lines and asides from Dickens - even the Doctor's slightly nerdish praise for him in the carriage proffers genuinely witty lines for those young viewers studying English Literature to pick up on: 'That American part in Martin Chuzzlewit....was that padding or what?' Hilarious. Equally erudite was the Doctor's reference to the ghost story, not Scrooge but the less well-known The Signalmen. Gatiss avoided pretention here by seeming to know what his characters were talking about, and this kind of didacticism, especially literary, is very welcome in a show which began as a partly educational programme, and is truly needed in escapist shows in this philistine day and age.

Gwenyth was an extremely well-developed character, which was quite extraordinary for an incidental character in a 45 minute story. Her visions of the future were poetically written, and her prudishness at Rose's sexual innuendos was authentically done. This was a very believable 1869 Cardiff. Certainly one could detect shades of Ghost Light in this story, though it offered a much more traditional and less precocious plot than Marc Platt's consumate but patchy and often infuriating season 26 tour-de-force. The zombies were realised in traditional Who-style - but my congratulations to the director for creating a truly terrifying and haunting series of moments regarding the Gelth-possessed old lady which almost reminds me of forgotten classics like The Woman In Black. This is just the sort of scariness the show seemed to lack post-Gothic era (bar Kinda) and is just what is needed to pull viewers in, especially the younger, rather than the trendy gimmicks of the previous episodes.

The Doctor was far more satisfyingly portrayed in this episode; of particular note was his very alien and slightly unsettling defence of the Gelth's right to possess human corpses to Rose, which one can imagine the early Tom Baker asserting with wide-eyed amorality. The seance was inevitable, fitting and brilliantly done. The effects for the Gelth are the best ever seen in the show regarding anything ethereal and the twist in their motives was satisfying.

Gwyneth's self-sacrifice is a very memorable moment and very well done. The finale was brilliantly exploited to include references to The Mystery of Edwin Drood - again, literate but not pretentious. The old Who cliche of bringing the historical figure into the TARDIS was nicely avoided (if only it had been so in the otherwise brilliant Black Orchid). The Doctor and Rose watching a bemused Dickens on the monitor seemed to make me believe more in the TARDIS than the previous episodes, perhaps because it harked back to old scenes - it is also quite nice to have the monitor on the console now. The ending was extremely well done and Dickens was convincingly re-energised from his pessimistic outlook on life by the end; a genuinely satisfying and moving conclusion; the protracted nature of the ending was also reminiscent of that of Talons of Weng-Chiang, and gave a highly satisfying closure to the story, which lingers well in the mind. Gatiss, being a writer by true vocation, inevitably put in the line of Dickens asking the Doctor, with visible trepidation, if his books will live on, and is elated to hear that they will 'live forever' - however long that is; this is made poignant from the fact that in the previous episode we saw the Earth explode - however, the Doctor obviously means 'forever' in the sense that his books live on his own mind, a time-traveller who, relatively speaking, possesses a sort of immortality. Brilliant and poetic. Any writer will relate to this egotistical question of Dickens's, as immortality of output is consciously or unconsciously what most writers and artists covet.

Any humour present in the script was underplayed and thus genuinely funny: from Dickens' hilarious dismissiveness as to the seance and his well-mannered sense of urgency on turning on the gas at the end to dispell the Gelth. Excellently scripted and an exceptional performance from Callow. The Doctor's line about having been in all sorts of times and places but now to die in a 'prison Cardiff' was excellently timed. Dickens' comment about the Doctor looking like a Navvy was very apt and describes this incarnation's sartorial appearance quite well given the period context.

Criticisms: ideally could have done with perhaps a second episode to really milk it and flesh it out, however, this is the first episode so far to succeed in structure in 45 minutes; the unleashed Gelth in the theatre do remind me of the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark a bit too much; though the scene ended up proffering some of the best lines in the episode via Gwyneth's vision, the earlier part of the Rose/Gwyneth parlour scene was far too long and inapproriate given the nature of the show and the episode itself, and I did cringe at Rose's 'smile and nice bum' line which felt to me completely out of place in Doctor Who - though one supposes that society having changed much in 16 years, we do have a much more sexually literate teen population. But this is all. These criticisms are relatively par of the course for any Who story - unlike those I divulged for the two previous episodes - and overall The Unquiet Dead is exactly what we need from the new show: a story which is properly developed and explained, with memorable characters and lines, genuinely frightening and compelling, properly explained by the end, and well concluded. If only the series could sustain this standard of story, I might eventually be tempted to say, Who really is back.

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television