Doctor Doctor Who Guide

I knew this would be good. As far as I could tell, only a very small contingent of fans had outright hated The Unquiet Dead. After its UK broadcast, even those who’d sneered at the first two episodes had conceded that this was better quality. I did my usual thing, first watching it with the family then by myself in the dark. On both occasions, I could very quickly tell I was watching something special.

The pre-title sequence blew its predecessor out of the water – the traditional Holmes/Hinchcliffe opening we’ve missed so much. And of course, the BBC keeps up its tradition of making the Victorian era look spot-on, even in the new Millennium. Director Euros Lyn pulled off last week’s The End of the World with panache, but has surpassed himself with The Unquiet Dead. And Mark Gatiss… what a wonderful writer! I’ve heard plenty of shocking things about Russell T. Davies’ writing style, and though I’d defend him to the hilt after The End of the World, in my opinion he still doesn’t come near Gatiss’ clear understanding of how to write for Doctor Who. I mean, he just got it so perfectly right! Let’s have a look at the evidence, shall we?

Well, I’ve already mentioned the pre-titles sequence, haven’t I? Well, in classic Who tradition, we then move the action into the TARDIS, for a bit of Doctor-Rose banter. And of course the ship’s gone off-course, it’s the sodding TARDIS, innit? Some modern thoughts have been injected into the script, such as Rose’s contemplation of turning back the clock, but soon we’re out in Victorian Cardiff… and doesn’t it look superb. Hard to believe this was filmed in Summer. This is the BBC in its element. When we enter Charles Dickens’ dressing room, we are treated to what is possibly the most sober scene in Doctor Who so far. Even the “turn of the Earth” scene in Rose and the plumber scene in The End of the World were faster-paced. And it’s refreshing. Simon Callow as Dickens clearly relishes this role, and is taking his time with his delicious lines.

Then, after a beautiful recital of an excerpt from A Christmas Carol, we’re straight into the action, with a packed theatre terrorised by a gaseous creature. In their own characteristic manner, the Doctor and Rose slip into the action… and Rose is very quickly kidnapped. I let out a cheer – Rose has had her first kidnapping scene! Welcome to the growing family of Who companions, my dear. So the Doctor hijacks Dickens’ carriage – with Dickens inside – and “the chase is on”. What wonderful dialogue Gatiss has written for the two of them. And what wonderful chemistry they have together. Once we’ve reached the undertakers’, we’re treated to a brief reprisal of the previous episode’s “Rose trapped in room with evil thingy” scene. (There was sort of one in Rose, too – is this becoming a running gag?) Once she’s rescued, we have a discussion in the drawing room that immediately evokes memories of Ghost Light. For me, that’s a good thing. Rose’s conversation with Gwyneth expands on her conversation with the plumber in The End of the World… but gives us so much more. Gwyneth is psychic… there’s a darkness inside Rose’s mind… she’s seen the Big Bad Wolf… I suddenly adore Eve Myles.

If you didn’t think this episode could be more Hinchcliffe-esque, check out the séance, and the first appearance of the Gelth. This scene gives both Eve Myles and Simon Callow another chance to shine. And more references to the “Time War”. I got goosebumps when Rose and the Doctor shared a glance. I thought, they know. So the Gelth need to survive, and Rose can’t grasp the concept of “recycling” dead bodies. Here’s a very interesting moral debate, unheard of in Doctor Who of old. And a very intriguing notion, whatever your stance. Gwyneth, of course, wants to go along with it, and we all cheer, because we can see the Gelth deserve a chance.

When Gwyneth stood beneath the arch, suddenly I got a chill. I had a horrible feeling something was about to go very wrong. I jumped when the Gelth became a demonic creature and began to multiply. This was the most frightened I’d been while watching Doctor Who since the “Ratkin” scene in Ghost Light. And that was a long time ago. When Charles Dickens saved the day, I knew this was exceptional writing – Gatiss had brought this character on a full journey. Rare for a “celebrity cameo” (both cast member and character), especially in Doctor Who. Gwyneth’s sacrifice – and the Doctor’s revelation to Rose that she was already dead – almost brought a tear to my eye, as did the news that Dickens was not long for this world. When we came to Dickens’ closing line, I felt like applauding. Even my cynical Who-hater of a younger brother (sixteen) blurted out, “That was a really good episode.” I know countless people have already mentioned their family and friends saying things like this, but this was the first time my brother had been positive about the show. So that was nice.

Even after only two viewings, The Unquiet Dead definitely goes on my Top Ten list of favourite Who stories. Pretty high too, I’d say. Kudos to the production team – writer, director, cast, crew – for creating such a piece of perfection. Hinchcliffe, Holmes… eat your hearts out.

Filters: Series 1/27 Ninth Doctor Television