New Series Review: The Waters of Mars

And, we’re back! Temporarily at least. I mentioned recently that I’m taking a hiatus from my regular reviews, mostly due to burnout. With this entry, I’m not promising an immediate and full return; but we’ll see what happens from here.

It’s been quite a while since we looked at the television series in these reviews. When we left off, I had just completed Planet of the Dead, the second of four specials leading up to the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration into the Eleventh. Today, we’ll continue with the third of the four specials, 2009’s very popular The Waters of Mars. Written by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford, this episode features no regular companion, but includes one-off companion Adelaide Brook, played by Lindsay Duncan. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched this special! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Still traveling without companions, the Tenth Doctor arrives on the planet Mars. Specifically, he has arrived just outside Sanctuary Base 6, humanity’s first colony on Mars. He is collected by a robot from the base—“Gadget”, as it is called—and escorted to the base commander, Adelaide Brook. When he realizes who she and her crew area, and what the date must be, he is alarmed, and tries to leave. The date is 21 November 2059; and history records that the base exploded on this date, killing the crew. The Doctor senses that it is a fixed point in history, and wants nothing to do with it, though it pains him to let them die.

Before he can leave, a new crisis presents itself. A member of the crew, Andy Stone, is no longer himself; an unknown entity has taken him over, and he is emitting large amounts of water from his body. He attacks another crewmember, Andy Cain, and knocks her out in the access corridor to the colony’s biodome. When the crew discovers this, Adelaide takes the Doctor’s spacesuit under the assumption that he is the source of the infection. With no choice, he goes with her to investigate, along with Gadget and the colony physician, Tarak Ital.

Conversing with Adelaide on the way, the Doctor becomes impressed with her drive and her thoughtfulness about the colony and its mission. However, he slips and speaks of her in the past tense, making her ponder his words. Meanwhile they find Maggie, who is unconscious with a cut on her head. Tarak summons the company nurse, Yuri Kerenski, who brings a medi-pack and a stretcher. Adelaide’s deputy, Ed Groom, arrives as well, having realized that Andy was the only other person present. If this wasn’t an accident, then it means Andy has gone berserk; but Adelaide dismisses Ed’s concerns and sends him back. However, shortly thereafter, Technician Steffi Ehrlich runs Andy’s growls through the computer, and determines it was Andy’s voice. She warns Adelaide by comlink.

Adelaide, the Doctor, and Tarak enter the biodome. The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to reactivate the lights, making Adelaide wonder at him again. Meanwhile, back in quarantine in the colony sickbay, Maggie awakens with no memories; however, she is unknowingly carrying the virus. Yuri refuses to let her out until twenty-four hours have passed. Tarak finds Andy, who pours water on his head, infecting him with the virus. Tarak quickly becomes zombielike, as Andy has already been. Meanwhile, changes suddenly come over Maggie, transforming her into the same type of creature. The virus, speaking through her, expresses a desire to possess Earth with all its water. Yuri reports Maggie’s condition to Adelaide, and says she is exuding water from her mouth and body. Seconds later, the Doctor and Adelaide find Andy and Tarak, and discover their transformation. The Doctor and Adelaide run, managing to get back through the dome door and seal it; Andy sprays it with water and slams himself against it, trying to break through. In sickbay, Ed arrives to find Maggie doing the same thing in an attempt to escape quarantine. He confirms to Adelaide that Maggie is contained; Adelaide warns the survivors not to drink or touch the water. The Doctor reiterates that he must go and can’t stay to the end. However, Andy and Tarak attack the door and break through; the Doctor hotwires Gadget for increased speed; he and Adelaide ride it to safety, leaving a trail of fire behind them (and shocking Roman Groom, Gadget’s operator, in the process. They seal themselves inside the command dome, but the Doctor is not reassured; as he insists, water is patient, and always wins.

The Doctor and Adelaide rejoin the others in sickbay, and examine Maggie. He speaks a bit of ancient Martian, and Maggie seems to recognize it. Adelaide explains that they get their water from an ice field; the Doctor realizes the infection came from the ice, and is ancient indeed. The crew plan to escape in their shuttle, but the Doctor grimly tells them that they could be secretly carrying the infection, as it has proven that it can hide in a host until it’s ready to mutate them. All it would take is one drop to infect the Earth. Adelaide decides to inspect the ice field to try to learn more before they evacuate; against his better judgment, the Doctor follows her. Meanwhile, in the now-evacuated sickbay, Maggie steps up her efforts to escape; she takes out the security camera before escaping, and screams, provoking a reaction from the infected Andy and Tarak.

The Doctor tells Adelaide a bit about the Ice Warriors as they overlook the ice field in its dome. As they analyze the ice, Adelaide confronts him about his knowledge; the Doctor hedges a bit, but finally tells her about fixed points in time, and that the base is one of them. However, he denies knowledge of the base’s fate, and redirects her by mentioning something from Adelaide’s past: an encounter with a Dalek, and the deaths of her parents (during the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, fifty years earlier). That story, which she has only told to her daughter, will inspire her granddaughter to lead humanity’s expansion to the stars—but only in the presence of Adelaide’s death on the base. When she asks why he is telling her this, he says it is as consolation.

They determine that the water was fine until the filter broke, allowing the virus in, just that morning. But, it would only have infected the biodome; the rest of the water would not be exchanged for another week; this means the others are not infected, and can leave. This prompts the Doctor to admit to Adelaide that it is their deaths that constitute the fixed point—she must die here, today, and he cannot interfere. This is something the time-sensitive Daleks would have sensed, as well, which is why it let her live in childhood. Angrily, she sends the Doctor away with his spacesuit.

However, before the crew can leave in the shuttle, Andy and Tarak climb the outside of the main dome and begin flooding it from above. As the water pours in, it infects Steffi Ehrlich, and then Roman. Roman warns the others to run, just before he transforms. Ed preps the shuttle for takeoff, but Maggie manages to infiltrate it and infect Ed. Before he can transform, he tells everyone goodbye, and triggers the self-destruct system. The shuttle explodes, trapping the virus, but also trapping the survivors. The Doctor escapes the blast, but is tortured by the suffering behind him…and he makes a fateful decision. He decides that, as he is the last of the Time Lords, the laws of Time belong to him—and he can make his own rules. He returns to save the crew.

Only Adelaide, Mia, and Yuri remain, and the base is collapsing. Adelaide tells him to save himself; he remarks about the prophecy of “four knocks” preceding his death, and insists it won’t be here and now. At that moment, Andy begins slamming his fist on the door; but after three knocks, the Doctor electrifies the door, cutting him off. The Doctor decides to heat the environment and boil the water, killing the virus. Adelaide reminds him of his own words about their deaths; he declares that the laws of Time will obey him.

An explosion destroys the environmental controls before he can act. His suit is damaged in the impact. He plans to get another from storage, but finds that section flooded. Maggie heads to the ice field and screams, cracking it; realizing the final death of the base is at hand, Adelaide activates the nuclear failsafe device under the base, planning to destroy the Flood even at the cost of their lives.

Taking his final chance, the Doctor deploys Gadget to the TARDIS, and remotely pilots it to the base. Just before the explosion, the Doctor brings the TARDIS inside and gets the survivors inside. Just after they escape, the explosion destroys the base, taking the Flood with it.

The TARDIS lands on Earth, near Adelaide’s home. In shock, Mia and Yuri run off. Adelaide demands to know what will happen to humanity’s future now, and the Doctor tries to justify his actions; he states that she can now inspire her granddaughter in person. He insists that he didn’t survive the Time War; he won it, and that makes him the “Time Lord Victorious”. He claims this new power will allow him to save influential people such as Adelaide, and also little people like Yuri and Mia; Adelaide rebukes his arrogance, insisting that he can’t decide who is important. She enters her house. The Doctor thinks all is well; but as he turns away, a laser blast is heard inside the house, and he realizes she has killed herself, undoing his changes. The fixed point, it seems, has reversed itself; though history records that Adelaide died on Earth, her granddaughter will still lead the way to the stars, based on stories of Adelaide’s heroism as told by Mia and Yuri.

The Doctor is struck with horror at what he is done, and knows there will be consequences. He sees a vision of Ood Sigma, and questions whether it is time for him to die. He stumbles in to the TARDIS, and hears the cloister bell ringing. He activates the controls, defiantly trying to put off his own death.

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The Waters of Mars was something quite different from the average Doctor Who episode, and it shows in the reception: the episode won a Hugo Award in 2010 for its writers. (I’m not making commentary there; I think the show in general is great, but it doesn’t usually win Hugos.) While it wasn’t the first story to mention fixed points in time, it was perhaps the first in the television series to explore the concept so deeply. As a consequence, it also introduced a new (and mercifully brief) direction for the character of the Tenth Doctor: the much-debated “Time Lord Victorious”. Interestingly, it’s also a Mars story that doesn’t deal with the Ice Warriors, although it mentions them in passing.

Prior to rewatching for the sake of this review, it’s been a few years since I last watched this episode. I had gotten impatient with it in the interim, and developed a fairly negative opinion of it. Chiefly that is due to the Time Lord Victorious arc. This is a subject that falls into the category of “small issues that get an undue amount of attention”, at least in my opinion; and I was frustrated with the way that it seems to be such a popular subject for debate, when it essentially begins and ends within ten minutes of a single episode. Now, rewatching, I realize that it’s unfair to judge the episode badly for that reason, when in fact it’s a great story, with a great presentation. I do remember being very impressed with it the first time I watched it, not long after it premiered. It’s one of the best examples of the base-under-siege format in NuWho; it layers body horror atop that format, which is usually a good strategy; you have attack from without and from within at the same time, thus upping the tension. (For reference, compare The Seeds of Doom in the Fourth Doctor Era, which does the same thing via the Krynoid.)

The episode is an early example of a companion being the voice of reason over an out-of-control Doctor. This is something that we’ll see a little more under the Eleventh Doctor; but it becomes a prominent theme with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald (though I hate to admit it, because I can’t stand Clara in that time period—it kills me to admit she may be right on some occasions). The Waters of Mars is more remarkable yet, because it has the companion doing so at great personal cost, not from a sense of heroism, but simply because it’s what must be done.

My only real complaint about the episode is that it serves as a hasty patch for an issue the production team likely didn’t see coming. I can’t verify, but I suspect that Russell Davies formulated the ending he wanted for the Tenth Doctor’s era (as we’ll see in the final special), and then realized that it was going to require considerable setup. There wasn’t enough time left to execute that setup properly, and so it was squeezed into a single episode. The Time Lord Victorious arc was a good innovation (all debate about it aside, anyway), but it really needed more development time in order to set up for the next story. With a little more time, we could also have seen a little more of the aftermath of this choice, in the Doctor’s attempts to put off facing his death. Another minor issue: at this point, we had reason to think that the Doctor still had two more lives (having not discovered the War Doctor yet), and so his reluctance to regenerate seems less warranted than it would ultimately prove to be. Admittedly, this is partly because the Tenth Doctor’s life had been particularly short compared to his other lives, but it would require some studious observation to realize that fact.

Some continuity references: Fixed points have been referenced in too many stories to mention; however, the concept in a more generalized form dates back at least as far as The Aztecs, where the First Doctor was reluctant to tamper with history. That was his general stance on all historic events, but with good reason, knowing that some events MUST not be changed. The Doctor mentions his visit to Pompeii (The Fires of Pompeii; he has been there many times, but is almost certainly referring to this episode). Adelaide Brook encountered a Dalek during the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. “Knock four times” is a reference to the prophecy revealed in Planet of the Dead. The Doctor’s space suit was first seen in The Impossible Planet. The Doctor mentions the Ice Warriors, first seen in the serial of the same name. He previously electrified a bulkhead door in The Ark in Space. Adelaide mentions an “oil apocalypse” (The Infinite Quest). The Doctor sees a vision of Ood Sigma (Planet of the Ood). The Time Lord Victorious arc continued in an alternate timeline in the comic Four Doctors. The cloister bell rings to represent the Doctor’s impending death, something last seen in Logopolis. The Doctor’s line about the laws of Time—“And they will obey me!”—is reminiscent of the Master’s frequent “and you will obey me!”.

Overall, I think it’s a fantastic episode, and the high point of the “year of specials” leading up to the regeneration. (Or perhaps the low point, from the Doctor’s point of view.) Unfortunately, in terms of argument, it gets a bit overshadowed by the next special, the much-debated The End of Time. It’s still very much worth a watch, however, especially if you’ve never seen it.

Next time (whenever that may be): We’ll wrap up the Tenth Doctor’s era with The End of Time, a serial that’s either loved or hated. After that, we’ll look ahead to the Eleventh Doctor’s era with The Eleventh Hour. See you there!

Please note that all previously-cited links to Dailymotion have been removed by the user at that site. Doctor Who may be viewed on Amazon Prime and Britbox.

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A New Earth and an Old Evil: New Series Rewatch, Series Two, Part One

In doing some site editing, I discovered I somehow never posted this when it was due.  I need it for the aforementioned editing project, so, here it is; just know that we’ve passed this point in our rewatch now.  ~Timewalkerauthor

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week we checked out the first Christmas special, The Christmas Invasion, and got a proper introduction to the Tenth Doctor. Today we begin Series Two, looking at New Earth and Tooth and Claw. We’ll also take a look at the related TARDISodes, the mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of two or three episodes each for the sake of length.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen this episode!

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New Earth gives us the Tenth Doctor’s first excursion to another world. The planet is called New Earth, and the year is 5,000,000,023, twenty-three years after the events of The End of the World. I don’t reference that episode lightly; we’ll wrap up some threads from that episode here.

The Doctor and Rose view the city of “New New York”, actually the fifteenth after the first. He then reveals that they haven’t come here by accident; they were summoned via psychic paper. Their summoner is unknown, but he can be found in a nearby hospital, which stands outside the city. The Doctor and Rose go inside, and find it is run by the Sisters of Plenitude, a religious order composed of a catlike race of genetically altered humans. The Doctor explores a bit, sending Rose on ahead to Ward 26, the source of the summons; but she is diverted into the basement. Meanwhile, the Doctor arrives at Ward 26, and finds something remarkable: a range of deadly diseases, all subject to near-miraculous and instantaneous cures.

Rose warily enters the basement, and gets a shock in the form of an old enemy: Cassandra O’Brian dot Delta Seventeen, the last pure human. She has survived her apparent death on platform one, and received a new skin interface. Now, however, she and her servant, the forced-growth clone named Chip, capture Rose, and transfer Cassandra’s mind into her body. She goes in search of the Doctor.

The Doctor and Cassandra-in-Rose meet their summoner: The Face of Boe. However, he too is dying, and can’t speak to them. As they start to leave, Cassandra—still undetected—leads the Doctor to find the intensive care section. Inside, they discover to their horror that the hospital’s miraculous cures have a sinister side: The Sisterhood has grown a multitude of clones, then infected them with every known disease, for use as lab rats. They believe their clones are insensate, but this isn’t the case; they are quite alive, and aware. The Doctor confronts the Sisterhood, and also accuses them of altering Rose somehow; they deny it. Cassandra ultimately tires of it, and—facing attack by the matron of the Sisterhood—she sets off an alarm, and unleashes the clones.

The clones flood the hospital, chasing the Doctor and Cassandra to the higher floors. The Doctor forces Cassandra to leave Rose’s body, causing her to possess him instead. After some debate, Cassandra finds she can inhabit the clones as well, and discovers that they are not hostile, but horribly lonely; they just want to be touched. Unfortunately, their touch is deadly. The Doctor is forced to a solution: He takes all the cure solutions and places them in a tank which feeds a chemical disinfection chamber…and then he invites the clones in. Soaked in medicines, they spread the cures like wildfire among themselves, and are cured.

With a new form of life—pure humans, in the form of the clones—now filling the hospital, the police arrive and arrest the sisters. The Doctor meets with the Face of Boe, and finds him also miraculously recovered; he tells the Doctor that he has a final message for him, but this is not the time. They will meet one more time. The Face of Boe teleports away.

Cassandra is still inhabiting Rose. The Doctor orders her out, and she admits she has nowhere to go, and does not want to die. However, Chip appears, having hidden from the clones, and offers himself to her. She accepts, and joins him in his body. Being force-grown, however, he has only half a life, and the strain of the day is about to kill him. She makes a final request.

The Doctor takes her back in time to a point in her own life prior to her conversion to a skin form, a moment at which a stranger at a party called her beautiful, then died in her arms. It is a treasured memory for her. Now it becomes apparent that the stranger was Chip, or rather, Cassandra in his body. The Doctor gives her a final moment of peace, and she passes away.

Tooth and Claw finds the Doctor and Rose traveling to 1979…only to be diverted to 1879, in Scotland. They are immediately captured by a guard unit, which is protecting an important person in a coach: Queen Victoria. The Doctor introduces himself as James McCrimmon, and via psychic paper, convinces the queen that he has been sent by the local lord to help protect her on the road. They travel to a nearby manor: the Torchwood estate.

They are received by the estate’s owner, Sir Robert MacLeish; but they quickly find that he is under duress, and the estate has been taken over by an odd order of monks. The monks have a singular purpose: they want the throne.

As the full moon rises, the monks reveal their secret. They have brought a man to the estate, but he is no ordinary man; under the moon, he transforms into a werewolf. He pursues the Doctor, Rose, the queen, and Sir Robert through the estate, killing several servants, until they barricade themselves in the library. Inside, in the books, they discover that a spaceship crashed to Earth in the area sometime in the past, and the wolf originates there. It is a sort of parasite, surviving by moving from host to host. Now, it wants to infect the queen, and create an Empire of the Wolf.

The queen reveals that she is carrying a valuable treasure: the Koh-i-Noor diamond. She is taking it to the royal jewelers to be recut. Seeing it, the Doctor concocts a plan, but he needs time. Sir Robert sacrifices himself to buy him that time. The Doctor realizes that Sir Robert’s father new about the wolf, and planned for this. He built a telescope, but with too many lenses. The telescope is actually a light chamber, designed to magnify the moonlight; and the diamond, which his friend Prince Albert had cut down, is the final piece. The wolf may live on moonlight, but too much will drown it.

The wolf breaks in, and is caught in the light in the nick of time, and dies, reduced to nothingness. Still, there is one disconcerting remnant: the queen is bleeding. She denies that she was bitten, but Rose later speculates that perhaps the royal family are werewolves in her time. The Doctor acknowledges that it is unknown how haemophilia entered the family line.

The next day, the queen knights the Doctor and Rose…and then banishes them. After sending them back to the TARDIS, she declares the founding of a new institute, named for the estate, which will exist solely to counter strange and wonderful things from outside the world, things such as the Doctor himself. That estate will be called Torchwood.

New Earth was an early new-series episode for me, though not my first (I missed Series One in its first run, and began with The Girl in the Fireplace, then quickly started catching reruns of missed Series Two episodes). As such I remember enjoying it quite a bit; and it still holds up well, in my opinion. It has the distinction of being the first new series episode set on an alien world, something that I missed in first watch; all of Series One is set on Earth or near it via space stations. It links back to The End of the World by bringing back Cassandra and the Face of Boe, though the setting is of course different; and the city of New New York will—and the Face of Boe—will reappear in Gridlock, which wraps up this loose arc. (He’ll also appear in Utopia/The Sound of Drums, but only in flashback.) It also introduces the cat people, and specifically the Sisters of Plenitude, who will reappear as well; interestingly, these aren’t the first race of cat people the Doctor has encountered, as the Seventh Doctor and Ace met a similar race in Survival.

This episode is Doctor Who’s take on a zombie story. While the plague carriers aren’t zombies in the traditional sense—or even quite in the Walking Dead sense—they function essentially the same way; they shamble along with reduced intelligence and crave the contact of the living, and though they may not eat them, they certainly kill them. It’s a uniquely-Doctor Who approach; everyone else wants to exterminate them (no pun intended—no Daleks here!), but the Doctor has compassion on them and wants to save them. He does it, too, even if the science stretches credibility a bit. He has compassion on Cassandra as well, at the end, although he was more than willing to let her die at first; the show handwaves that by giving him lines about how her time is up, but essentially he’s condemning her to death. It’s been a huge but quick step from the Ninth Doctor’s “Just this once, everybody lives!” to the Tenth’s cold willingness to let someone die. Still, he makes up for it at the end, and lets her die—not at his hand, but against his will—with dignity; and in doing so, he sets the course of her life prior to this, by creating a very formative experience. It’s not quite a paradox, but it’s poetic at least.

The Face of Boe sends a message via the psychic paper, establishing a property of that item which will be reused again in the future. His mysterious illness is not explained, nor is his recovery. I keep saying “he”, because the other characters seem to consider him male, but I’m not forgetting his pregnancy as announced in The Long Game; there’s a lot we may never know about the Face of Boe.) Other diseases mentioned include Marconi’s Disease (a play on the inventor of radio), Pallidome Pancrosis (which kills within minutes of infection, establishing a basis for the instant deaths we see later in the episode), and Petrifold Regression (which turns its victims to stone). The Doctor states he dislikes hospitals; which is understandable, as he once died in one (see the television movie).

Outside of this story’s previously-mentioned arc, there are not many references to be had here. A few other planets have been called New Earth, but that hardly counts as a reference, as they are unrelated. Petrifold Regression is mentioned in the novel The Stone Rose, which also involves Ten and Rose and therefore refers back to this mention; Amy Pond will believe she has a similar-but-unnamed condition in The Time of Angels.

The TARDISode for this episode is fairly simple; it constitutes a television advertisement for the medical services of the Sisters of Plenitude.

Tooth and Claw is a significant episode, in that it formally introduces the Torchwood organization. Torchwood would make its television debut six months to the day after the release of this episode; this story would establish its origins in 1879 Scotland. (One wonders why the Scottish branch isn’t referred to as Torchwood One instead of the London branch…) Although Jack Harkness should be on Earth at this point, he does not appear, being recruited sometime after the turn of the century by Torchwood. It’s interesting that Torchwood exists specifically to counter the Doctor (and other threats like him); in the 21st century, UNIT seems to have taken up that mission, maintaining contingency plans while also keeping a good working relationship with the Doctor.

Queen Victoria, thus, becomes a very significant character for the future of the series, though she doesn’t appear again (to my knowledge, at least). However, the Doctor has met her before, offscreen; in The Curse of Peladon, the Third Doctor admits to having been at her coronation. She doesn’t seem to remember it here, or at least she does not connect it with the Tenth Doctor, and he doesn’t mention it either. She knights him, and Rose as well; it isn’t his first time, having been knighted in The King’s Demons, but that time was a sham, having been perpetrated by an impostor king. He’s wanted to be knighted as far back as The Crusade, when Ian Chesterton was knighted by Richard the Lionheart.

We get more references here. The obvious one is the assumed name of “James McCrimmon”, which is a reference to Second Doctor companion Jamie McCrimmon. (Playing the role, David Tennant used his real-life Scottish accent, the only time he does so as the Doctor; Queen Victoria later comments on his accent changing when he reverts to his usual English accent.) Werewolves have appeared in several stories across varying media; on television they appeared in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, though those werewolves did not appear to be related to this one. The wolf refers back to The Parting of the Ways when it sees Rose; it says it sees something of the wolf in her, and that she burns like the Sun. There is another new aspect of the psychic paper, which we will see again: the Doctor himself doesn’t always know what people see on it.

The related TARDISode gives us a bit of backstory, involving the spacecraft crash that brought the werewolf cells to Earth in the first place. It ends with the wolf’s first murder.

Overall, not a bad start for the Tenth Doctor, and for Series Two! With these early episodes, there isn’t much to dislike. Next time: School Reunion, and The Girl in the Fireplace! (Although my goal is to have three episodes whenever possible, The Girl in the Fireplace is immediately followed by a two-parter which I don’t want to split up.) See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Tardisode 1

New Earth

Tardisode 2

Tooth and Claw

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Messiah Figures and Angels: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Three, Part Four

I didn’t finish in time to post this on Friday. Sorry about that.

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Today, we’re nearing the end of Series Three, with three of the Tenth Doctor’s most highly-regarded episodes. We’re looking at the two-part Human Nature and The Family of Blood, and the introduction of the Weeping Angels in Blink. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!

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In Human Nature, the Doctor and Martha are being chased through time by a violent but unseen enemy. The enemy is using a stolen vortex manipulator to track the TARDIS, meaning they cannot be outrun. Therefore the Doctor executes a desperate plan: he uses the TARDIS’s chameleon arch…and makes himself human.

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Hiding on Earth in 1913, “John Smith” is now an instructor at a secondary school for boys. Martha works as a maid, keeping an eye on him. She remembers the truth, but he does not; but he carries a fob watch that contains all of his memories, his personality, his biodata—everything that makes him the Doctor. Without it, he is just a man—a man, that is, who is falling in love with the school’s nurse, Matron Joan Redfern, much to Martha’s consternation.

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Secretly, Martha uses the TARDIS, which is in low-power mode, to watch for the enemy that drove them here. They are the Family of Blood, a group of four non-corporeal aliens with short life spans. If they can capture and consume a Time Lord, they will gain his life span; otherwise, they will die less than three months from the time their chase began. Elsewhere in the school, a schoolboy named Timothy Latimer is tormented by another boy, Baines. Latimer has some psychic ability, and gets flashes of the future, but has learned to conceal it.

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At night, Martha and a friend witness a meteor crashing to Earth. Martha suspects it may be their pursuers, and she is right. Elsewhere, Baines encounters the meteor in the woods, and finds it is a spaceship. Inside, he is possessed by one of the Family, Son of Mine. The family then proceeds to take other hosts—Father of Mine, a local farmer; Daughter of Mine, a young schoolgirl; and Mother of Mine, Martha’s friend Jenny. They begin to infiltrate the school, leaving Father of Mine to assemble an army of animated scarecrows.

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Smith is overseeing the school’s defense training, where the boys train in military skills, including weapons. Later, he asks Joan to the school’s dance that evening. Martha, realizing that the Family have arrived, runs to get the watch and get the Doctor to open it; but it is missing, as—unknown to everyone—Timothy has been drawn to it, and has taken it. He can hear the Doctor speaking to him from inside it. Smith doesn’t believe Martha’s claims, and ridicules her, as does Joan.

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At the dance, the family invades in force, using the scarecrows to control the students. They pull energy weapons against Smith, and order him to change back to himself; if he doesn’t, they will kill either Joan or Martha, and the choice is up to him.

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The Family of Blood picks up immediately. At the besieged dance, Timothy briefly opens the watch, disorienting the Family and allowing Martha to snatch one of their weapons. Smith is able to evacuate everyone, though Martha loses the gun to one of the scarecrows. Smith and Headmaster Rocastle organize the students to defend the school, while Daughter of Mine—who had not participated in the invasion—arrives to spy on them. Joan is beginning to believe that Smith is really the Doctor, and she is unhappy—but more than that, she doesn’t want him to lead the students into battle. Daughter of Mine encounters Timothy, who opens the watch to expose her to its light; this allows the rest of the Family to track him. They send the scarecrows to attack, and the boys shoot them, but are relieved to see that no one is inside. They attack again, and Timothy again uses the watch to disorient them, allowing the boys to escape. Daughter of Mine shoots and kills the headmaster, along with a few others.

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The family find the TARDIS and move it to the school, and taunt Smith with it. They begin bombarding the school with their ship’s weapons. Martha, Smith, Joan, and Timothy hide in a cottage, and Martha recovers the watch, which still says to Timothy that it is not time. She tries to get Smith to open it, but he will not, although he gets flashes of the Doctor’s personality from it. He realizes it is all true, but he doesn’t want to change back; he considers it death for himself if he becomes the Doctor. He and Joan have a vision of his remaining life if he doesn’t change, but he seems unconvinced. He decides—to Martha’s horror—that he will give the watch to the family.

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Smith goes to their ship, and gives them the watch as they mock his humanity as he falls against the console. However, when they open the watch, they find it is a fake; he has already opened it, and is the Doctor once more. And they just allowed him to set the controls to overload. The Family and the Doctor escape the ship—but they cannot escape him.

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Son of Mine narrates the family’s fates at the hands of the Doctor. He trapped Father of Mine in unbreakable chains; Mother of Mine in the event horizon of a dying galaxy; Daughter of Mine in mirrors; and Son of Mine in a scarecrow. None of these fates allow them to die, giving them what they want, but in horrifying fashion.

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There’s considerably more about this story than I will have room to say here. It’s based on a Virgin New Adventures novel, Human Nature, by Paul Cornell, in which the role was played by the Seventh Doctor rather than the as-yet-nonexistent Tenth, with Bernice Summerfield as the companion of the day. I unfortunately haven’t read this novel yet, though I have a copy; I should get there in about seven months, and we’ll revisit at that time, hopefully. This episode (and presumably the book as well) introduces the chameleon arch, a bit of technology which can turn a Time Lord into another species on both physical and mental levels, storing the original memories and biodata in a token object, in this case a fob watch. The fob watch will be a sort of recurring motif, as we’ll soon see a similar one in the season finale; but I’ll discuss that when we get there.

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It’s a very different performance for David Tennant. The human John Smith is most definitely NOT the Doctor. He’s a good man, and strong in his way, but he’s also panicky and subject to denial; and at the end, although he ultimately does make the right decision, he’s very close to making the wrong one, and doing so willfully. This is a story about character: not the literary kind, but the moral and ethical kind. Is he still the Doctor when he lacks the TARDIS, the two hearts, the sonic screwdriver, and the technical knowledge? What MAKES him the Doctor? I propose that it’s his character, and I believe the series agrees with me on that. It will be borne out some years later when the War Doctor—along with this same Tenth Doctor—explains the nature of the Doctor in his own words:

Never cruel nor cowardly,

Never give up; never give in.

If all that is true, then this is truly a crisis of identity for the Doctor in more ways than one. Beyond just “human or Gallifreyan”, he has to decide if he will keep that promise or not (though he doesn’t remember literally making it). John Smith has his cruel moments, when he sends the boys out to die; his cowardly moments, when he’s desperately searching for a way to avoid opening the watch; his moment of giving up, when he is tempted to stay and be human forever with Joan; and his moment of giving in, when he decides to give the unopened watch to the Family. But, he overcomes it all, and opens the watch, and becomes the Doctor again.

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If I may expand on this just a bit: it’s a little bit of a Christ parallel. Using the arch is his death; he’s even visibly hanging from the thing, as if on a cross. He is resurrected when he opens the watch, and he does it offscreen, just as the Bible doesn’t literally show us the actual moment of Christ’s resurrection through the eyes of witnesses. And, the events of the Family’s battle at the school are his temptation. (That event is not in the correct order for the biblical account, but we can forgive that, I suppose.) All of this is going to matter immensely in the series three finale, when he is clearly portrayed as a messiah figure—more on that next week.

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There’s some exploration of racism here, but I feel like it is not so much commentary as a simple depiction of how it would have been in this time period. Martha’s means of displaying her physician training (listing the bones of the hand) is a bit silly, and really is unnecessary; at this point it doesn’t matter if Joan believes her or not. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to put up with such prejudice after coming from a future where it’s just not like that anymore; but Martha handles it with aplomb, most of the time anyway. However, the depiction of the race issue here is useful in the greater story arc for one thing: it highlights Martha’s growing feelings for the Doctor. I remember at this point thinking “oh no, she’s turning into Rose!” But we’ll see in a few episodes that there’s a different end in mind. Still, she actually voices her feelings here, though she downplays them later. That TARDIS is getting a bit uncomfortable, I imagine.

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Some references: The big one is John Smith’s sketchbook. It includes sketches of the first, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth Doctors; the console room, the sonic screwdriver, a Dalek, Moxx of Balhoon (The End of the World), Autons (Rose, also in flashback in Love and Monsters), Rose, the Clockwork Droids (The Girl in the Fireplace), a Cyberman (Cybus variant, last seen in Doomsday), Jack Harkness (last seen in DW in The Parting of the Ways), a Slitheen (Boom Town), a gas mask (The Doctor Dances). (Yes, I copied that list from the wiki, but with annotations added.) Notably, the book is also the first visual representation of past (i.e. pre-Ninth) Doctors in the new series, although they were referenced in School Reunion. The Doctor mentions perception filters, which figure prominently in Torchwood (Everything Changes) and will soon appear again on Doctor Who (The Sound of Drums). When the watch is opened, the Doctor’s voice says “You are not alone” (among other things), which were the last words of the Face of Boe (Gridlock), and will soon appear again (Utopia). His conversation with Joan about the location of Gallifrey is a reference to a similar conversation in The Hand of Fear. Chains made of dwarf star alloy also appeared in Warrior’s Gate. There’s also a meta-reference, which I have mentioned in other posts; when John Smith talks about his family, he says his parents were Verity and Sydney, which is a reference to Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, the creator and first producer of Doctor Who.

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In Blink, we meet photographer Sally Sparrow. While photographing an old house, Wester Drumlins, she finds a message behind the wallpaper—a message aimed directly at her, from the Doctor, dated 1969. Freaked out, she visits a friend, Katherine Nightingale. In Kathy’s apartment, she sees a strange video of a one-sided monologue from the Doctor, whom she doesn’t know. The video belongs to Kathy’s brother, Larry. In the morning, Sally and Kathy return to Wester Drumlins, where they see a statue of a weeping angel—and Sally says it has moved from the last time she saw it. On the way out, Kathy vanishes. Minutes later, Sally is met by a young man, who gives her a letter from his deceased grandmother…who proves to be Kathy. Sally doesn’t believe it, but then she finds more angel statues, and one of them has a key—the TARDIS key—in its hand. She takes the key. In flashback, we see Kathy arrive in 1920, beginning a new life.

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Sally finds Larry, who works in a video shop. He tells her that the video of the Doctor is an Easter egg on seventeen different DVDs, and he gives her a list. She can’t explain it all, so she goes to the police. There she tells her story to a detective, Billy Shipton, who shows her a garage of vehicles left by missing persons—and one of them is the TARDIS. He also asks her out on a date. She gives him her number, and leaves. Billy is then touched by another angel statue, and vanishes. He arrives in 1969, where he is met by the Doctor and Martha. The Doctor explains that the angels sent him here, and he is without his time machine. He wants Billy to give Sally a message—but it requires going the long way around.

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Sally gets a phone call, summoning her to a hospital. There she meets Billy, now aged and dying. He delivers the Doctor’s message—“look at the list of DVDs”, which coincidentally are all the DVDs Sally owns. He admits that he went into publishing, and video publishing, and was responsible for placing the Easter egg. He dies thereafter, but with no regrets.

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Sally meets Larry at Wester Drumlins and watches the full video. She finds that it interacts with her, word for word; Larry writes down her words, creating a transcript. The Doctor admits to having a transcript with him, as well. He explains about the weeping angels: quantum-locked predators that feed on the potential time energy of living creatures. To access this energy, they send the individuals back in time, thus negating their remaining life in their own time; otherwise, however, they do not harm anyone. All that is required is a touch. They are inhumanly fast, but they can only exist when unobserved; if you look at them, they turn to stone. Therefore, when facing them: “Don’t blink.” And unfortunately, they have the TARDIS.

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Sally and Larry are interrupted by four angel statues. They try to not let them out of sight, but it’s nearly impossible. The creatures chase them into the cellar, where they find the now-relocated TARDIS. As Larry desperately tries to watch the statues, Sally tries the key, and they get inside, locking the door. A hologram appears, and says they are carrying a control disk; Larry puts the DVD in the console, and the TARDIS dematerializes, headed for 1969—leaving the two of them behind. They are terrified of the angels outside—but they suddenly realize that the disappearing TARDIS left the four angels facing each other. Now observing each other, they are all quantum-locked forever, or at least as long as they are not moved.

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A year later, Sally and Larry are now operating the video store together. She has a folder with everything from her adventure in it. She sees the Doctor and Martha run by in the street, and she stops them—but realizes they are from an earlier point in their own history, and for them, it hasn’t happened yet. She gives them the folder, and tells the Doctor to make sure he has it on him when, one day, he is trapped in 1969.

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Here we have it: possibly THE most famous episode of the revived series. Often people will cite Blink as the episode they show to non-fans to get them interested in Doctor Who; that seems strange to me, as it’s very different from most episodes. Still, whatever works, works, I suppose. This is Series Three’s “Doctor-lite” episode (and companion-lite, too, now that I think of it), allowing filming of two stories at once by two different units. It also introduces one of the most popular and controversial modern villains: the Weeping Angels. (Interestingly, Sally is the one who calls them that here; while the Doctor will confirm the name later, what a coincidence!) The angels are simply terrifying here; it’s the only, and I do mean only, episode of modern Doctor Who that has ever scared me. Others are tense and suspenseful, but I’m nearly forty years old, and jaded about television; but this one, in my first viewing, got to me. (Well, I suppose I was younger then, but you get the idea.) For better or worse, the angels are not as scary in all subsequent episodes. It’s what I jokingly call the M. Night Shyamalan Effect: Once you know the twist, it’s not scary anymore. It can only get you once. Here, though, they are at their best, and it’s glorious. I remember thinking about the sheer beauty of the resolution—yes, Sally and Larry got left behind, but the Doctor, without even being there, trapped the angels into looking at each other. It’s a work of art.

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There’s a bootstrap paradox, but a weak one. Sally and Larry record the Doctor’s words into the transcript, which is why he knows what to say…where did the words originate? It’s not as egregious, though, as some other paradoxes we’ve seen, and besides, it’s not complete; Sally’s words originate with her, onscreen. It’s only the Doctor’s words that are impossibly scripted.

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I’ve heard it suggested that Sally Sparrow should be a companion. It’s a fair point; she has all the makings of one. Still, I’m glad she isn’t. I like the thought that there are companion-worthy people in the Doctor’s sphere who get to go on being normal, especially since companions tend to have their lives upended in spectacular fashion. I don’t know anything else about Carey Mulligan, who plays the role, but she is perfect for this part; Sally is a great character. My favorite one-off character, though, is Billy Shipton, the detective who flirts with Sally before being caught by an angel. He’s played by Michael Obiora in his younger version, and by Louis Mahoney in his elderly version; both actors play the part so consistently that you would believe they really are the same person. ( I suppose I should admit that Old Billy’s accent is a bit thicker, but that’s not unreasonable over five decades.)

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There aren’t many references to speak of. The “Timey-Wimey Detector* will appear again in a couple of novels, Ghosts of India and Touched by an Angel (actually a different model in the latter). Sally successfully takes a photo of the angels, but this will be retconned in The Time of Angels, where it’s a supremely bad idea to do that. However, this episode gives us two of the most famous tenth Doctor quotes, ranking right up there with “Allons-y!”:

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.

Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good luck.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll leave it there for this week. Great episodes, all around.

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Next week: We’ll wrap up Series Three with a three-part finale, involving my favorite villain, the Master! Join me for Utopia, The Sound of Drums, and Last of the Time Lords! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Human Nature

The Family of Blood

Blink

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Smith And Jones: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Three, Part One

We’re back, with our New Doctor Who rewatch! Last week we looked at the second Christmas special of the series, The Runaway Bride, which gave us the first appearance of future companion Donna Noble. This week, we begin Series Three with three episodes–Smith and Jones, The Shakespeare Code, and Gridlock. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!

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Martha Jones, a medical student, is en route to work when the Tenth Doctor bumps into her, making a point of showing her his tie. He thinks nothing of it, until, while making student rounds at Royal Hope Hospital, she sees him there as a patient named John Smith—but he doesn’t remember the earlier meeting. What’s more, he appears to have two hearts. Martha also encounters a leather-clad biker entering the hospital, and a salt-deficient patient named Florence Finnegan. Elsewhere, Martha’s family is planning her brother’s birthday party for the evening. While Martha is on the phone with her sister, a sudden rainstorm happens only over the hospital—and suddenly, it vanishes from Earth, and reappears on the moon.

The Doctor reveals himself to Martha, whom he sees as very resourceful and unintimidated by the situation. They learn that a dome of air is shielded around the hospital; but with as many people as are present inside, the air won’t last long enough. They then see ships land, and aliens emerge and invade the hospital. They are Judoon, a form of interplanetary police. Elsewhere in the hospital, Miss Finnegan is joined by the biker and another just like him. Together they hold down the head physician on duty, and kill him—by way of Miss Finnegan drinking his blood (through a straw, no less). The Judoon begin scanning everyone for species, looking for a nonhuman; the Doctor knows they may kill everyone present as accomplices if they find the criminal they are looking for. He tries to help them by checking the records for anomalies, but they have stupidly wiped the records. Martha goes in search of her head physician for help, but catches Finnegan in the act, and has to run, taking the Doctor with her. The Doctor alters an X-ray machine and uses it to kill one of the bikers, which he calls a Slab—not a true life form. The radiation doesn’t harm the Doctor—his physiology can handle this kind. However it destroys his sonic screwdriver.

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He realizes Finnegan is a plasmavore, a blood-feeding creature (though not exactly like a vampire—nothing supernatural, just alien). She is feeding now so that she can assimilate human DNA from the blood and pass the Judoon scan—meaning they are searching for her. He discovers she has gone to the MRI room. He kisses Martha, then leaves her to distract the Judoon—they will detect traces of non-human DNA on her, and be held up assessing her. He goes to find Finnegan. Finnegan is rigging the MRI to blow up, killing everything in a 250,000 mile radius—which includes Earth—except her, as she will shield herself in the controller’s booth. Then she will take a Judoon ship and escape. Knowing she will be scanned again, she “tops up” her DNA by feeding on the Doctor, leaving him almost dead.

Martha leads the Judoon to the MRI lab, where they scan Finnegan again, and find she is alien—she did not know the Doctor was not human, and now she has absorbed his blood. They charge her with the murder of a princess on another planet, and she admits it. They kill first her second Slab, then her—but there’s still the MRI, and the Judoon choose to leave instead of helping. Martha saves the Doctor, doing CPR on both hearts, and he in turn shuts down the MRI. Before leaving, the Judoon return the hospital to Earth.

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At the party, Martha’s family fights due to her father’s girlfriend. Martha slips away and asks the Doctor to explain himself, which he does; he asks her to come with him, and tells her about Rose. To prove he is a time traveler, he momentarily goes back to that morning, and shows Martha his tie, then returns. He agrees to take her on one trip, and she leaves with him.

This story introduces us to new companion Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman, who previously appeared as Adeola in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. That references is accounted for here, as Martha states that Adeola was her cousin. At this point, Martha isn’t particularly different from Rose with regard to her character and behavior, though she is older by a few years (as evidenced by her position as a late-year medical student). She will distinguish herself later, however, by refusing to let her feelings for the Doctor dictate her path as Rose did. Her first few episodes will include some tension with the Doctor as he continues to grieve over Rose, leaving Martha feel shortchanged in comparison. Unlike Donna in the previous episode, Martha remembers various alien incursions, including the Slitheen ship that struck Big Ben in Aliens of London, and the Battle of Canary Wharf. We also get a good scene where the Doctor subtly puts Martha to the test, judging her suitability as a companion; it’s not as clinical as I make it sound, but it’s very obvious.

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We have two villains here, in a manner of speaking. The Plasmavore is the main villain, and a creepy one at that; vampires are one thing, but drinking blood through a straw is one step too far. We also get the first appearance of the Judoon, who, while not evil, are villains by negligence here. The Doctor says they are police for hire, but the next time we see them, they will be working solely for the Shadow Proclamation. In a possible nod to Star Trek, they have a form of universal translator; meanwhile, their own single-vowel, mono-syllabic language becomes a sort of running joke. Another running joke, which we’ve already seen once, is the Doctor’s obsession with the “little shops” in hospitals, previously seen in New Earth. We also get the groundwork for an unintentional tertiary villain, in the form of Martha’s family; while they aren’t evil either, their dysfunctionality is going to cause problems down the road. It’s almost enough to make you miss Jackie Tyler. Almost.

While the Doctor can absorb Roentgen radiation without lasting harm, the Sonic Screwdriver isn’t so lucky; it’s destroyed, but he replaces it at the end. (Behind the scenes, the prop was upgraded at some point, and though I couldn’t confirm, I suspect that that switch occurs here. It’s a subtle change, though, and not easily noticed onscreen.)

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References are thin on the ground here, except for the obvious references to Rose’s departure. Slabs will reappear in The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Sonic Screwdriver has been destroyed before, onscreen in The Visitation and in the comic story The Flood. Martha’s first scene in the TARDIS is a mirror of Peri’s in Planet of Fire, a possible deliberate nod; it won’t be the last time there are parallels between the Fifth and Tenth Doctors, and in fact the next major one will happen immediately after Martha’s exit scene (Time Crash). In fact, it was also the Fifth Doctor whose screwdriver was destroyed in The Visitation, and he too mourned its loss. With regard to the series arc, there are background references to the Saxon campaign for Prime Minister, but nothing stated aloud. Overall, a decent episode, but nothing to write home about; mostly it lays the groundwork for the series ahead. Moving on!

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The Shakespeare Code opens with a girl named Lilith, who is serenaded on her balcony by a lute-player. When she invites him in, he discovers that she is really an ancient hag, and two more like her are there—and they kill him. They discuss their impending freedom, and the death of Earth.

The Doctor takes Martha to 1599, where—to her delight—they attend a showing of Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare at the Globe theatre. He announces a sequel for the next night, called Love’s Labour’s Won; the Doctor knows it from a list of works, but in Martha’s time, it’s nonexistent. Intrigued, he takes Martha to meet Shakespeare and talk about it; the meeting goes well, and Shakespeare is enamoured with Martha. They are interrupted by Lynley, the Master of the Revels, who furiously refuses to let the new play be performed. However, Lilith is nearby, and overhears this; she steals a strand of Lynley’s hair and uses it in a voodoo doll of sorts, and with the other witches, she uses the doll to cause Lynley to die in the street. The Doctor is alarmed to see that he dies while drowning, but without any water source. He secretly tells Martha that it is, in fact, witchcraft that killed Lynley.

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They take a room in the inn where Shakespeare lives, and he bids them goodnight, and goes to finish the ending of the new play. In their room, the Doctor appears to flirt with Martha, but then switches to talking about Rose, whom he is clearly not over. Elsewhere, Lilith uses another doll to control Shakespeare, ensuring that the ending of the play uses words of her choosing. She unintentionally kills the landlady, allowing Martha to see her fly away, visibly as a witch.

In the morning, talk with Shakespeare leads them to Peter Streete, the architect of the Globe, who is now mad in an asylum. They deliver the new play to the actors, and then visit Streete. He explains that he was forced to build the 14-sided theatre to “their” satisfaction. One of the witches realizes this is happening, and goes to stop them; the Doctor deduces their identity and names them: Carrionites! Using the name causes her to disappear, but not before she kills Streete. The Doctor explains about the Carrionites; they are ancient creatures that vanished long ago, but clearly these three survived. Their magic is actually a technology based on words. They have manipulated the play so that it will bring back the rest of their species, who will then destroy humanity and build an empire from Earth. The Doctor sends Shakespeare to stop the play, which is just beginning, and he takes Martha to confront the witches.

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Two of them are already at the play. When Shakespeare bursts in, they use their power to render him unconscious, and the play continues. The Doctor confronts the third Carrionite, but she escapes, stopping the Doctor’s heart—not knowing he has two. Martha restarts his second heart, and they return to the theatre. It’s too late; the play is just ending, and the portal is opening. Only Shakespeare can stop it; the Doctor gets him to improvise a new ending, ruining the spell, which he does, with Martha’s help. The three Carrionites—and all copies of the play—are sucked into their own crystal ball, where they are trapped. The Doctor takes it to store in the TARDIS.

The next morning, Shakespeare flirts with Martha; but they are interrupted by guards escorting Queen Elizabeth I, who wants to see the play from last night…until, that is, she sees the Doctor. She declares him her sworn enemy, and wants him dead, forcing him to flee with Martha back to the TARDIS. The trouble is, he has no idea why she wants him dead!

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It seems strange in hindsight, but this is actually Shakespeare’s first real onscreen appearance (except for a cameo on the viewer in The Chase, and a comic appearance written by the same writer as this episode, Gareth Roberts; the Fourth Doctor also stated in Planet of Evil that he had met Shakespeare). It follows in the footsteps of Charles Dickens’ appearance in The Unquiet Dead; and thematically, it’s very similar to that episode, with displaced, supernatural, and ill-intentioned aliens trying to break through from another place and take over the world. This isn’t a good thing, in my opinion; personally I don’t care for stories that mix historicals with supernatural monsters, for reasons I can’t really explain. (I’d also include Tooth and Claw and next season’s Vampires of Venice in that category, with Tooth and Claw being the best of the bunch.) still, this is a clever and well-done episode, I have to admit. It’s Martha’s first trip in the TARDIS, and her reactions are great; there’s a subtle reference to a possibility of racism toward her, history not being kind to people of color, but the Doctor successfully brushes it off, and it works out for her here. (She won’t be quite as lucky later in the season, with Human Nature.)

There’s a lot of playing with cause and effect here. The Doctor several times drops lines and phrases from Shakespeare’s work, which Shakespeare boldly says he will appropriate; but then, the Doctor got them from Shakespeare, so where did they originate? It’s a bootstrap paradox, but we’ll let it slide, because the episode does. In particular, the Doctor mentions the Sycorax, referring to the aliens; Shakespeare will later use that word in The Tempest. Martha also argues that the world didn’t end in 1599, mirroring Sarah Jane’s comments in Pyramids of Mars; the Doctor explains that time can be changed. There are a number of references to Harry Potter, with the Doctor commenting about reading book seven (which was only released two months after this episode’s air date), and Martha supplying the word “Expelliarmus” to Shakespeare for his altered ending. There’s a reference to the Eternals having trapped the Carrionites in the distant past; the Eternals last appeared in Enlightenment.

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Most interesting is the appearance of Elizabeth I at the end, where she tries to have the Doctor killed. He had met her as far back as his second incarnation; the Third Doctor mentions having met her in The Mind of Evil, but he had not been able to travel in that incarnation, so it must be an earlier Doctor that met her. However, future episodes will reveal that it’s the Tenth Doctor she knows and hates. It will be a very long time before we learn the full story, however.

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In Gridlock, the Doctor takes Martha to the year 5,000,000,053 and the city of New New York, last seen in New Earth, which was thirty years prior in local time. He had promised her one trip, but now he stretches it—one to the past, one to the future. He describes Gallifrey, and then admits to having brought Rose to New Earth, prompting Martha to chide him for being on the rebound. In the city, the Face of Boe waits with Novice Hame, formerly of the Sisters of Plenitude; he realizes the Doctor has arrived, and sends her to find him. The Doctor is intrigued by a reference to the Motorway, where most people are gone; he is shocked when a girl buys a memory-loss patch from a street pharmacist, and promises to shut down all the pharmacists.

Martha is kidnapped by a young man and woman, who drag her into their hovercar—they are going to the Motorway, and need three people for the carpooling fast lane. The Doctor chases after her, making his way on foot to the Motorway—a deep track under the city, full of hovercars and smog on many levels. He makes his way to a car owned by a cat-man named Brannigan and his human wife, Valerie, and learns that people have been in the Motorway for years, trying to escape to a better life. In twelve years, Brannigan has only traveled five gridlocked miles. Meanwhile, Martha’s kidnappers head down to the bottom level, the fast lane; cars have allegedly disappeared from there, but they go anyway.

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At the bottom, they are attacked by massive crablike creatures that can hardly be seen for the smog. They flee, but are nearly killed. Martha realizes the creatures hunt via vibrations and light, and has the car shut off. It works, but affords them only eight minutes of air without the recirculation system. Meanwhile the Doctor goes car to car until he gets to the last level above the fast lane. He activates enough ventilation to clear the smog and look down, and sees the crabs. They are Macra, once-intelligent and telepathic creatures, but billions of years have made them beastly and brutal. Novice Hame catches up to him, and teleports him up into the city, where he meets the Face of Boe again. She explains that she was assigned to the Face’s care as punishment, and has since repented of her past crimes. She further says that years ago, the street pharmacists accidentally unleashed a virus that killed the entire planet in a matter of minutes; the Face of Boe managed to seal the underlevels and the motorway, saving everyone there. He then arranged for them to be sent gradually into the motorway so they would survive; there is in truth no goal, it just circles, though no one knows it. How the Macra got there, no one knows; but there is no power left to bring everyone back, even though the virus is long gone. The Face asks the Doctor to save them all.

Martha’s car has to power up, but that puts them back in the claws of the Macra. The Doctor tries to power up the city, but can’t; the Face sacrifices the last of its own life energy to provide power. The Doctor then unseals the motorway, giving everyone a way out, and summons them to the city. Clearing the way allows Martha’s car to escape as well. As the people begin to reoccupy the city—where they will be able to repair and rebuild—the Face of Boe is dying. As promised once before, it gives the Doctor its final message: “You are not alone.”

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Back at the underlevels, the pharmacists are gone. Martha refuses to leave until the Doctor explains what the Face said. He tells her about the Time War and the death of his people—but even he doesn’t know what the Face meant.

This is the final story in the very loose New Earth trilogy, which began with Cassandra O’Brian’s appearance in The End of the World. It brings back the cat people and the Face of Boe, and we get the promised last meeting between the Face and the Doctor. (I personally still favor the theory that the Face is an evolved Jack Harkness, but what do I know?) The Face’s last words, You are not alone, provide the second thread in the series arc, and won’t be explained until the end. More interesting to me are the pure humans that are abundantly present here. The preceding episodes firmly established that Cassandra was the last pure human, and this is only thirty years later; so where did they come from? While I believe that humans still exist elsewhere in the universe, I suspect that these humans are the Flesh clones liberated by the Doctor in New Earth, and also their descendants (many of them are younger than thirty). Mostly, however, the show seems to be simply distancing itself from its past statements about the lack of humans; which is fair enough, as that creates a difficult situation for the writers.

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The Macra are an interesting villain. The first time I watched this episode, I hadn’t seen The Macra Terror; since then I have, and it’s almost sad to see them so devolved. As yet we haven’t seen them in any other episodes. Interestingly, with the Macra reduced to the status of a force of nature, there really is no villain here; the Doctor makes a gesture at considering the pharmacists the villains, but it’s not really carried through.

Some references: The Doctor describes Gallifrey twice here, and refers back to the Time War; his description is very similar to Susan’s in The Sensorites. The episode is clearly immediately after the previous story; in addition to the Doctor’s statements to that effect, the arrow that stuck in the TARDIS in that episode is removed here. There’s a subtle Bad Wolf reference; it appears on a poster, but written in Japanese kanji.

Overall, this is not a bad start. I consider Series Three to be one of the most consistently strong seasons, and it’s hard to find a flaw. My least favorite episode is The Shakespeare Code; it’s all moving upward from here.

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Next time: This entry ran long, but next time we’ll look at just two episodes: the two-parter Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Smith and Jones

The Shakespeare Code

Gridlock

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Monster Movie Tributes: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part One

I owe everyone an apology; while doing some research, I discovered that I never posted this entry.  I put it on Reddit, where these entries are cross-posted, but somehow failed to post it here.  Therefore, a few weeks later, here it is: the beginning of Series Two.  Thanks for reading!

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week we checked out the first Christmas special, The Christmas Invasion, and got a proper introduction to the Tenth Doctor. Today we begin Series Two, looking at New Earth and Tooth and Claw. We’ll also take a look at the related TARDISodes, the mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of two or three episodes each for the sake of length.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen this episode!

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New Earth gives us the Tenth Doctor’s first excursion to another world. The planet is called New Earth, and the year is 5,000,000,023, twenty-three years after the events of The End of the World. I don’t reference that episode lightly; we’ll wrap up some threads from that episode here.

The Doctor and Rose view the city of “New New York”, actually the fifteenth after the first. He then reveals that they haven’t come here by accident; they were summoned via psychic paper. Their summoner is unknown, but he can be found in a nearby hospital, which stands outside the city. The Doctor and Rose go inside, and find it is run by the Sisters of Plenitude, a religious order composed of a catlike race of genetically altered humans. The Doctor explores a bit, sending Rose on ahead to Ward 26, the source of the summons; but she is diverted into the basement. Meanwhile, the Doctor arrives at Ward 26, and finds something remarkable: a range of deadly diseases, all subject to near-miraculous and instantaneous cures.

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Rose warily enters the basement, and gets a shock in the form of an old enemy: Cassandra O’Brian dot Delta Seventeen, the last pure human. She has survived her apparent death on platform one, and received a new skin interface. Now, however, she and her servant, the forced-growth clone named Chip, capture Rose, and transfer Cassandra’s mind into her body. She goes in search of the Doctor.

The Doctor and Cassandra-in-Rose meet their summoner: The Face of Boe. However, he too is dying, and can’t speak to them. As they start to leave, Cassandra—still undetected—leads the Doctor to find the intensive care section. Inside, they discover to their horror that the hospital’s miraculous cures have a sinister side: The Sisterhood has grown a multitude of clones, then infected them with every known disease, for use as lab rats. They believe their clones are insensate, but this isn’t the case; they are quite alive, and aware. The Doctor confronts the Sisterhood, and also accuses them of altering Rose somehow; they deny it. Cassandra ultimately tires of it, and—facing attack by the matron of the Sisterhood—she sets off an alarm, and unleashes the clones.

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The clones flood the hospital, chasing the Doctor and Cassandra to the higher floors. The Doctor forces Cassandra to leave Rose’s body, causing her to possess him instead. After some debate, Cassandra finds she can inhabit the clones as well, and discovers that they are not hostile, but horribly lonely; they just want to be touched. Unfortunately, their touch is deadly. The Doctor is forced to a solution: He takes all the cure solutions and places them in a tank which feeds a chemical disinfection chamber…and then he invites the clones in. Soaked in medicines, they spread the cures like wildfire among themselves, and are cured.

With a new form of life—pure humans, in the form of the clones—now filling the hospital, the police arrive and arrest the sisters. The Doctor meets with the Face of Boe, and finds him also miraculously recovered; he tells the Doctor that he has a final message for him, but this is not the time. They will meet one more time. The Face of Boe teleports away.

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Cassandra is still inhabiting Rose. The Doctor orders her out, and she admits she has nowhere to go, and does not want to die. However, Chip appears, having hidden from the clones, and offers himself to her. She accepts, and joins him in his body. Being force-grown, however, he has only half a life, and the strain of the day is about to kill him. She makes a final request.

The Doctor takes her back in time to a point in her own life prior to her conversion to a skin form, a moment at which a stranger at a party called her beautiful, then died in her arms. It is a treasured memory for her. Now it becomes apparent that the stranger was Chip, or rather, Cassandra in his body. The Doctor gives her a final moment of peace, and she passes away.

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Tooth and Claw finds the Doctor and Rose traveling to 1979…only to be diverted to 1879, in Scotland. They are immediately captured by a guard unit, which is protecting an important person in a coach: Queen Victoria. The Doctor introduces himself as James McCrimmon, and via psychic paper, convinces the queen that he has been sent by the local lord to help protect her on the road. They travel to a nearby manor: the Torchwood estate.

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They are received by the estate’s owner, Sir Robert MacLeish; but they quickly find that he is under duress, and the estate has been taken over by an odd order of monks. The monks have a singular purpose: they want the throne.

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As the full moon rises, the monks reveal their secret. They have brought a man to the estate, but he is no ordinary man; under the moon, he transforms into a werewolf. He pursues the Doctor, Rose, the queen, and Sir Robert through the estate, killing several servants, until they barricade themselves in the library. Inside, in the books, they discover that a spaceship crashed to Earth in the area sometime in the past, and the wolf originates there. It is a sort of parasite, surviving by moving from host to host. Now, it wants to infect the queen, and create an Empire of the Wolf.

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The queen reveals that she is carrying a valuable treasure: the Koh-i-Noor diamond. She is taking it to the royal jewelers to be recut. Seeing it, the Doctor concocts a plan, but he needs time. Sir Robert sacrifices himself to buy him that time. The Doctor realizes that Sir Robert’s father new about the wolf, and planned for this. He built a telescope, but with too many lenses. The telescope is actually a light chamber, designed to magnify the moonlight; and the diamond, which his friend Prince Albert had cut down, is the final piece. The wolf may live on moonlight, but too much will drown it.

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The wolf breaks in, and is caught in the light in the nick of time, and dies, reduced to nothingness. Still, there is one disconcerting remnant: the queen is bleeding. She denies that she was bitten, but Rose later speculates that perhaps the royal family are werewolves in her time. The Doctor acknowledges that it is unknown how haemophilia entered the family line.

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The next day, the queen knights the Doctor and Rose…and then banishes them. After sending them back to the TARDIS, she declares the founding of a new institute, named for the estate, which will exist solely to counter strange and wonderful things from outside the world, things such as the Doctor himself. That estate will be called Torchwood.

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New Earth was an early new-series episode for me, though not my first (I missed Series One in its first run, and began with The Girl in the Fireplace, then quickly started catching reruns of missed Series Two episodes). As such I remember enjoying it quite a bit; and it still holds up well, in my opinion. It has the distinction of being the first new series episode set on an alien world, something that I missed in first watch; all of Series One is set on Earth or near it via space stations. It links back to The End of the World by bringing back Cassandra and the Face of Boe, though the setting is of course different; and the city of New New York will—and the Face of Boe—will reappear in Gridlock, which wraps up this loose arc. (He’ll also appear in Utopia/The Sound of Drums, but only in flashback.) It also introduces the cat people, and specifically the Sisters of Plenitude, who will reappear as well; interestingly, these aren’t the first race of cat people the Doctor has encountered, as the Seventh Doctor and Ace met a similar race in Survival.

This episode is Doctor Who’s take on a zombie story. While the plague carriers aren’t zombies in the traditional sense—or even quite in the Walking Dead sense—they function essentially the same way; they shamble along with reduced intelligence and crave the contact of the living, and though they may not eat them, they certainly kill them. It’s a uniquely-Doctor Who approach; everyone else wants to exterminate them (no pun intended—no Daleks here!), but the Doctor has compassion on them and wants to save them. He does it, too, even if the science stretches credibility a bit. He has compassion on Cassandra as well, at the end, although he was more than willing to let her die at first; the show handwaves that by giving him lines about how her time is up, but essentially he’s condemning her to death. It’s been a huge but quick step from the Ninth Doctor’s “Just this once, everybody lives!” to the Tenth’s cold willingness to let someone die. Still, he makes up for it at the end, and lets her die—not at his hand, but against his will—with dignity; and in doing so, he sets the course of her life prior to this, by creating a very formative experience. It’s not quite a paradox, but it’s poetic at least.

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The Face of Boe sends a message via the psychic paper, establishing a property of that item which will be reused again in the future. His mysterious illness is not explained, nor is his recovery. I keep saying “he”, because the other characters seem to consider him male, but I’m not forgetting his pregnancy as announced in The Long Game; there’s a lot we may never know about the Face of Boe.) Other diseases mentioned include Marconi’s Disease (a play on the inventor of radio), Pallidome Pancrosis (which kills within minutes of infection, establishing a basis for the instant deaths we see later in the episode), and Petrifold Regression (which turns its victims to stone). The Doctor states he dislikes hospitals; which is understandable, as he once died in one (see the television movie).

Outside of this story’s previously-mentioned arc, there are not many references to be had here. A few other planets have been called New Earth, but that hardly counts as a reference, as they are unrelated. Petrifold Regression is mentioned in the novel The Stone Rose, which also involves Ten and Rose and therefore refers back to this mention; Amy Pond will believe she has a similar-but-unnamed condition in The Time of Angels.

The TARDISode for this episode is fairly simple; it constitutes a television advertisement for the medical services of the Sisters of Plenitude.

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Tooth and Claw is a significant episode, in that it formally introduces the Torchwood organization. Torchwood would make its television debut six months to the day after the release of this episode; this story would establish its origins in 1879 Scotland. (One wonders why the Scottish branch isn’t referred to as Torchwood One instead of the London branch…) Although Jack Harkness should be on Earth at this point, he does not appear, being recruited sometime after the turn of the century by Torchwood. It’s interesting that Torchwood exists specifically to counter the Doctor (and other threats like him); in the 21st century, UNIT seems to have taken up that mission, maintaining contingency plans while also keeping a good working relationship with the Doctor.

Queen Victoria, thus, becomes a very significant character for the future of the series, though she doesn’t appear again (to my knowledge, at least). However, the Doctor has met her before, offscreen; in The Curse of Peladon, the Third Doctor admits to having been at her coronation. She doesn’t seem to remember it here, or at least she does not connect it with the Tenth Doctor, and he doesn’t mention it either. She knights him, and Rose as well; it isn’t his first time, having been knighted in The King’s Demons, but that time was a sham, having been perpetrated by an impostor king. He’s wanted to be knighted as far back as The Crusade, when Ian Chesterton was knighted by Richard the Lionheart.

We get more references here. The obvious one is the assumed name of “James McCrimmon”, which is a reference to Second Doctor companion Jamie McCrimmon. (Playing the role, David Tennant used his real-life Scottish accent, the only time he does so as the Doctor; Queen Victoria later comments on his accent changing when he reverts to his usual English accent.) Werewolves have appeared in several stories across varying media; on television they appeared in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, though those werewolves did not appear to be related to this one. The wolf refers back to The Parting of the Ways when it sees Rose; it says it sees something of the wolf in her, and that she burns like the Sun. There is another new aspect of the psychic paper, which we will see again: the Doctor himself doesn’t always know what people see on it.

The related TARDISode gives us a bit of backstory, involving the spacecraft crash that brought the werewolf cells to Earth in the first place. It ends with the wolf’s first murder.

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Overall, not a bad start for the Tenth Doctor, and for Series Two! With these early episodes, there isn’t much to dislike. Next time: School Reunion, and The Girl in the Fireplace! (Although my goal is to have three episodes whenever possible, The Girl in the Fireplace is immediately followed by a two-parter which I don’t want to split up.) See you there. [Note:  As I mentioned, I’ve accidentally had to post this out of order, so we’re past those upcoming episodes already.  The next post will wrap up Series Two with Fear Her, Army of Ghosts, and Doomsday.]

Split-Personality Demons: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Four

We’re back, with our New Doctor Who rewatch! Last time, we reviewed Series Two’s Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, which reintroduced classic villains the Cybermen to the series, and The Idiot’s Lantern, which laid the groundwork for several future episodes. This week, we’re looking at another two-parter, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, and finishing up with one of Doctor Who’s most reviled episodes, Love and Monsters! We’ll also look at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which served as preview teasers. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

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TARDISode 08 gives us some background on the episode and its secondary villains. We see the captain of the episode’s expedition receiving his orders, which include an ancient book. The book contains a map of sorts, drawings of a black hole, and strange writing in rune-like characters. We see an alien called an Ood standing by to serve him, and hear it issue a morbid comment about a Beast rising from a pit. This is the first appearance of the Ood in the series, kicking off a loose arc that will continue all the way to the very death of the Tenth Doctor in The End of Time.

The TARDIS lands inside a sealed base on a distant planet. Rose and the Doctor are immediately disturbed when they see the words “Welcome to Hell” written on a bulkhead, underscored by strange characters that the TARDIS won’t (or can’t) translate. They are met by several Ood, and a misunderstanding briefly results, but is quickly sorted out; then they meet the crew of the station. The Doctor recognizes the Ood, but doesn’t seem to have actually encountered them before. The crew’s captain (from the TARDISode) is dead, replaced by Acting Captain Zachary Cross Flane; also present are Science Officer Ida Scott, Security Chief Jefferson, Maintenance Officer Scooti Manista, and Archaeologist Toby Zed; a few unnamed crew also appear, mostly as security guards. An earthquake briefly interrupts them; then the crew reveals that they are orbiting a planet called Krop Tor, which should not exist. It is orbiting an enormous black hole at a distance that should have seen it fall into the gravity well long ago. There is a power source below the surface, placed there by a lost civilization, which keeps it orbiting—and the humans want it. Hence they are drilling a shaft down to it.

The Doctor and Rose wants to leave, but find that the earthquake collapsed the storage area where the TARDIS was parked—it is now lost inside the planet. With no alternative, they join the crew. Meanwhile, Toby is hearing a malevolent voice; others are hearing similar things, including Rose when an Ood tells her that “The Beast will rise”. After hearing the voice, Toby finds the ancient runes all over his skin. Rose then gets a similar voice over her phone, saying “He is awake”. The Ood then start to say similar things. It is revealed that they are a low-level telepathic race; their telepathic field usually sits at a reading of Basic 5, but now it has risen to Basic 30.

Toby, now possessed, goes out onto the surface, which has no atmosphere. Covered in the symbols, and possessed by something, he breaks a window, causing Scooti to be sucked out and killed. He returns inside, just in time for another quake. The group sees Scooti floating overhead, being pulled toward the black hole; Zach enters her death into the log.

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The drill has reached the core, which seems hollow. The Ood are confined for the next phase of the mission, and the Doctor volunteers for the expedition down the shaft, along with Ida. The lift takes them down to an enormous, ornately carved cavern. Inside, they locate a large disk in the floor, which seems to be a door—but it is sealed.

The telepathic field has reached Basic 100, which should kill the Ood, but doesn’t. The Doctor asks Toby if he has translated the symbols, which are repeated on the door in the cavern. Toby’s possession manifests again, and he says they are the words of the Beast. The symbols leave his face and enter the Ood, whose eyes turn red, and they advance on the humans. Toby passes out and is dragged along. The Ood call themselves the legion of the Beast. They kill one guard via electrocution, and the others run. Underground, another quake occurs, and the door opens. The planet begins to fall toward the black hole, and the crew is backed against a sealed door, with the Ood approaching. The Doctor and Ida hear a voice proclaim “The pit is open, and I am free!”

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TARDISode 09 gives us an early scene from the expedition. An unidentified crewmember sorts the dead captain’s belongings, and finds the book with the ancient runes. It burns to ash in his hands, and then hears lines about the Beast rising. He is then found by another crewmember, possibly dying, but with a few symbols on his face. Neither person is seen in the episodes, so presumably both die offscreen.

The Satan Pit opens with the crew killing the three Ood that are advancing on them. In the control room, Zack discovers that the orbit has stabilized. The rest of the Ood continue to advance, killing another guard on the way. Some approach the control room; Zack has no weapons, only a bolt gun with a single bolt. He orders “Strategy 9”, which involves gathering everyone in a safe place, and opening all the airlocks, sucking the Ood out of the base. Accordingly, he orders the Doctor and Ida back to the station; they return to the lift. Rose saves Toby from execution, as the possession seems to have left him for the Ood. The power fails briefly, and the Beast speaks through the Ood and the displays. It claims to be the source of all devil myths, and says it was imprisoned before this universe by the Disciples of the Light; it brings up everyone’s hidden fears to try to weaken them. It breaks the ten-mile-long lift cable, stranding Ida and the Doctor and cutting off their communications, leaving them with just 55 minutes of air. With no options, they rig the cable to abseil into the pit, and the Doctor insists on going down.

With no power, Strategy 9 won’t work. Zack borrows power from the station’s rocket, and approves a plan to disable the Ood with a telepathic flare from their control monitor; but the monitor is in the Ood habitat unit. He sends the others through the airless service tunnels to get there, using emergency bulkheads to pump atmosphere into the successive sections. Along the way, they lose Jefferson when he is cut off. The Ood follow, and nearly get Toby, but he shows them that he is still possessed, and he escapes with Rose and Danny. The Ood nearly get Zack, but are disabled when Danny activates the flare. Zack joins the others.

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The Doctor reaches the bottom of the cable, and—to Ida’s horror—disconnects himself and falls.

The crew and Rose head for the rocket. They cannot save the Doctor or Ida now, and intend to escape and make sure no one can come here again. Down below, the Doctor has survived his fall; he finds a record of the Beast’s history, and decides its claims are true. He then finds the Beast itself, chained to a wall. However, he realizes that it’s only the body—the mind has gone somewhere else. He finds two jars that not only maintain the atmosphere in the pit, but maintain the gravity field keeping the planet in orbit. Unaware that the crew is escaping, he doesn’t want to destroy them, as it would let the planet be destroyed with Rose on it. However, he decides that Rose is no victim, and he believes in her—and he smashes the jars.

The planet begins to fall in, and the Beast’s body bursts into flames. However, the rocket begins to be pulled in too. Toby is fully possessed by the Beast. Rose grabs the bolt gun, tells the Beast to go to hell, and shoots out the cockpit glass, then unclips Toby’s harness. He is sucked out, toward the black hole. Zack raises the emergency shield, saving the rest of them—but they are still being pulled in.

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But all is not lost. The Doctor returns to the cavern to find it collapsing—and finds the TARDIS, which has fallen this far. He rescues Ida, then tows the rocket to safety, and reclaims Rose. The episode ends with Zack recording the final log entry, with the names of all the dead—including the Ood.

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This two-parter is a great story, in my opinion. It’s one of the earliest episodes of the new series that I saw, and it’s probably the first one that I took seriously (The Girl in the Fireplace, my first episode, is a bit on the fluffy side, and I didn’t see the Cybermen two-parter until later). The idea of a historical source for demonic ideology is not new; we’ve had it as far back as The Daemons, and in other places as well; but rarely is it done this convincingly. If New Earth was Doctor Who’s take on a zombie story, and Tooth and Claw was its werewolf, this is its take on the entire horror genre, complete with jump scares and possessions. The horror-movie tropes are actually a bit overplayed here, almost to the point of parody, but there’s good reason for that: it makes the twist near the end, where the Beast is seen to be split into two entities, that much more brilliant. You think you have it all figured out, but then you find out just how wrong you are. I know nothing about Matt Jones, the writer of the episode, but I give him credit for that.

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We are introduced to the Ood here, or rather, in TARDISode 08. Their appearance is rather bizarre; and I can’t help wondering how much of their future arc was planned in advance, as their spheres would eventually be revealed to be artificial second brains. They’re quite different as both villains and allies; as individuals they are all much the same, but as a species they exhibit a lot of variety in characterization over the course of the series. They appear in a number of Tenth Doctor episodes, and get a mention in the audio Babblesphere, which I reviewed yesterday, when the Eleventh Doctor lists them with other villains. They will eventually be revealed to hail from the same planetary system as the Sensorites from the serial of the same name; they appear to be somewhat related, as there are definite similarities in appearance, abilities (both are telepathic), and even planet name (Ood-Sphere versus Sense-Sphere).

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman - dvdbash.com

The Beast could easily have been a stock villain (aside from its split nature, as I mentioned); but it is distinguished by its technique of turning its victims’ own internal doubts and guilt against them. It’s brief and unsuccessful here, but it goes a long way toward making this villain frightening indeed. A similar thing occurs in the audio The Shadow of the Scourge, which I reviewed on Monday (I promise the timing was not planned, but it seems to be a good week for it).

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Some references: Rose mentions having been a dinner lady, seen in School Reunion. The Doctor refers to the TARDIS suffering indigestion, mirroring a line from the television movie. The Beast has a son, Abaddon, which appears in Cardiff in the Torchwood episode End of Days. The Beast itself returns in the comic story The Beast is Back in Town. Draconia gets a mention; the Third Doctor visited it in Frontier in Space, and it has been referenced often since. Daemos is mentioned, having been referenced in The Daemons. The Kaled God of War is mentioned as well. The TARDIS tractor beam appeared twice in the classic series (The Creature from the Pit, Delta and the Bannermen). The Doctor claims the Time Lords invented black holes, echoing claims in The Three Doctors and other classic stories. There’s a reference to the Beast being from a time before this universe, along with its ancient enemies the Disciples of Light. The more references I get to that time, the more fascinating it gets; eventually I’ll compile a list of pre-universe entities, both verified and possible. This also gives me my only complaint about this story, and it’s a logical one: Why would the Disciples of Light go to the trouble of creating such an elaborate trap, when they could have just let the Beast fall into the black hole and ended it? Also, when did they do this—before the universe? Then how did the planet and black hole exist? But then again, who can predict the logic of pre-universal beings?

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TARDISode 10 shows us a glimpse of the villain of the upcoming episode, as he researches the Doctor, and finds the minor detective group called LINDA. He then is interrupted by his secretary, who brings him tea—and catches him at a very bad time. She appears to be killed offscreen.

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Welcome to Love and Monsters, one of the most hated and reviled episodes in all of Doctor Who! We’ll take a look at why—but first, the plot.

We meet a young man named Elton Pope, who is in the middle of a life-changing event: He sees the TARDIS, then meets the Doctor and Rose Tyler. They are pursuing a monster called a Hoix; and the Doctor seems to recognize Elton. Elton runs away.

A scene cut reveals the frame story of this episode: Elton is recording a series of videos, narrating his story. He met the Doctor once before, while a child; the Doctor appeared in his house on the night his mother died. He then recounts other strange happenings; he recalls the Autons, the crash of the Slitheen ship into Big Ben, and the Sycorax ship over London last Christmas. The one common thread is the Doctor. His investigations introduce him to other people who are intrigued by the Doctor: Ursula Blake, her friend Bliss, Bridget Sinclair, and Colin Skinner. They form a group, with regular meetings, and call themselves “LINDA” (London Investigation ‘n’ Detective Agency). Eventually, with their investigation tapering off, they transform into a social group, exploring other interests.

They are interrupted by Victor Kennedy, a strange man with an aversion to physical contact. He muscles in and takes over, calling them back to their quest for the Doctor; he makes them work harder toward that goal. After their first meeting with Kennedy, Bliss disappears.

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Elton finds the Doctor—in the encounter from the beginning of the episode—but runs away. Kennedy changes tactics; now, they will search for Rose instead, as she is associated with the Doctor. Elton is able to do so with ease, and meets Jackie Tyler, who quickly takes a liking to him. Over several visits, he learns more about Rose, and Jackie begins to flirt with him. This brings out his love for Ursula; but he is exposed when Jackie finds a picture of Rose in his coat, and throws him out. Meanwhile, Bridget has vanished.

Elton confronts Kennedy, saying he has destroyed the group; he also asks Ursula out. They leave, but Skinner, concerned about Bridget, stays behind; he then disappears too. However, Ursula has forgotten her phone, so they return to the meeting room. Inside, they find that Skinner has disappeared, and Kennedy has transformed.

He is revealed as an unsightly monster, who is responsible for the disappearances; he has absorbed the others, leaving only their minds and their faces on his skin. Elton calls him an Absorbaloff, which he likes. He wants to absorb the Doctor, in order to gain access to his mind and memories. He absorbs Ursula, and chases Elton into the street.

In an alley, he is about to kill Elton; but the TARDIS appears. The Doctor and Rose emerge, and—ignoring the alien—Rose confronts Elton for upsetting her mother. The Absorbaloff demands that the Doctor sacrifice himself to free Elton, but the Doctor refuses; he offhandedly remarks that the others might have something to say about that. The victims throw their effort into stopping the Absorbaloff, and he drops his cane; Elton breaks it. The Absorbaloff collapses into slime. The Doctor reveals that the cane was emitting a field that held him together; now the absorber is being absorbed into the earth.

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The Doctor explains about his first meeting with Elton; he was hunting an elemental shade, and caught it, but not before it could kill Elton’s mother.

Later, Elton tells the camera that meeting the Doctor is dangerous; but he credits the Doctor with saving Ursula, sort of. He was able to separate her from the dying Absorbaloff, but not from the paving stone in which she was absorbed. Her face remains, and she now “lives” with Elton, in the best relationship they can manage. Elton is a bit depressed in the end, but reflects that the world, with all its problems, is better than he thought.

Few episodes have been as maligned as this one (though we’ll get another next week!). It’s hated mostly for its silly and ridiculous monster, as well as other humorous aspects. I’ll go ahead and say up front: I actually love this episode. However, that’s because I’m fine with occasional humorous stories, even if they are ridiculous. Such stories haven’t been entirely unheard of throughout the show’s history, and in all media; they’re usually a breath of fresh air to me, and a nice change. It’s mocked, as well, because the show had begun to take a more serious turn in Series Two; this story would have been at home in Series One, which is often derided for its silliness. I’m okay with that, though. I don’t particularly enjoy very grim stories, and more so in Doctor Who; if you think at all about the implications of the Doctor’s actions, you’ll find there’s enough darkness already built in without adding any.

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That brings me to the theme of this episode (and yes, it does have one!). It asks the question: What’s it like for the Doctor’s bystanders? The answer appears to be “terrible”. LINDA was composed of innocent people, but their association with the Doctor, however tangential, got most of them killed. No one was untouched, not even Elton, who just had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and at an age when he could hardly be responsible, too. However, his summary at the end says what we as fans often say: that no matter how difficult the universe may be, and even when the Doctor is part of the difficulty, it’s better with him in it. It’s a theme we’ll see again and again; but this was, as far as I can tell, the first time it appeared on television. (We’ve had similar ideas from companions—Tegan, in particular, left because of the death she kept witnessing—but rarely if ever from a bystander.)

This episode introduced two concepts that continue to this day: The “Doctor-lite” and “Companion-lite” episodes. (This episode qualifies as both.) The idea was conceived to increase the number of episodes that can be produced; with the Doctor and/or companion mostly absent, two episodes could be filmed at once. While this episode is not considered great, it was successful enough to continue the concept, giving us future masterpieces such as Blink, Midnight, Turn Left, and Heaven Sent.

For an episode that is mostly disconnected from the series arc, there are a surprising number of references. Elton remembers the Auton attack (Rose), the Slitheen spaceship crash (Aliens of London), and the Sycorax ship (The Christmas Invasion). Kennedy mentions the Bad Wolf virus, which the Doctor gave to Mickey (though not by name) in World War Three, and which subsequently corrupted Torchwood’s files. The Hoix would later appear in Torchwood’s episode Exit Wounds. Jackie mentions Mickey Smith, and says that he is gone now (The Age of Steel). The Absorbaloff hails from Clom, the sister planet of Raxicoricofallapatorious, which is one of the stolen planets in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. He is therefore similar to the Slitheen, in much the same way as the Ood are similar to the Sensorites; even Rose comments on it (although: why would he know them as the Slitheen, given that that is a family name?). And, most interestingly to me, LINDA will in the future be referenced…by the Fifth Doctor, in *Time Crash, indicating that other incarnations were aware of them (although they only ever encountered Ten). Though that minisode was played for a little humor, I’m fine with accepting it as canon.

I personally don’t have any complaints, but it’s worth mentioning some of the things for which others have complained. The scene with the Hoix has a door-running scene reminiscent of Scooby-Doo, which is rather silly. There are a number of pop culture references, sometimes accomplished with momentary cutscenes. The dialogue can be silly at times, especially from Elton and Ursula; and the veiled reference to their sex life at the end is just creepy. And of course, the Absorbaloff itself is truly ridiculous, though again, I’m okay with occasional forays into ridiculousness.

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Next time: We’ll look at another oft-hated episode, Fear Her; and we’ll finish out the season—and say goodbye to Rose Tyler—with Army of Ghosts and Doomsday! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

TARDISode 08

The Impossible Planet

TARDISode 09

The Satan Pit

TARDISode 10

Love and Monsters

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Enter the Cybermen: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Three

I usually post these on Fridays, but I’m deviating this week for the sake of another post to be made. We’ll be back on schedule next week.

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last time, we reviewed Series Two’s School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace, which reintroduced some old friends, and gave us a new look at the progress of time. Today, we’re checking out three episodes: The two-part story Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, and also The Idiot’s Lantern. We’ll also look at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

TARDISode 05 gives us something exciting: a transmission via internet from an unknown person to a radical group called the Preachers. It orders the Preachers to take down a man named John Lumic before the project he is heading can be finalized.

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Rise of the Cybermen opens with the aforementioned John Lumic, a wheelchair-bound mad scientist in bad health (there’s really no other fitting description). A scientist on his staff, Dr. Kendrick, reports to Lumic about a robotic form, declaring it to be alive; but then Kendrick says that if it is life, they must report to the authorities in Geneva. Lumic orders the robot to kill Kendrick; then, he departs for Great Britain.

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The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey are in the TARDIS, reminiscing about a past adventure, and generally making Mickey feel left out. Something goes wrong with the TARDIS, and it lands violently, then loses all power. The Doctor declares it dead, and says they have fallen into another universe. The TARDIS draws power from the universe, but this alternate universe is incompatible, like diesel in a gasoline engine. He is shocked, then, when Mickey finds that they are in London. It’s not the same, though; there are zeppelins in the sky, and everyone wears strange electronic pods—earpods—in their ears. Rose discovers that her father, Pete, is still alive in this universe; but the Doctor warns her not to meet with him.

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Pete Tyler, as it turns out, works for John Lumic; his own health-drink company was bought out by Lumic’s Cybus Industries. As such his star has risen, and he is acquainted with the President of Great Britain (yes, president—different universe), who will be attending Jackie Tyler’s 40th birthday party that night. In the meantime, Lumic meets with the President, promoting his system of “upgrading” humanity (i.e. the robotic forms seen earlier), but is rejected.

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The Doctor finds a single remaining power crystal in the TARDIS, and literally breathes new life into it (using regeneration energy—he claims to have given up ten years of life). In 24 hours, it will be able to power the TARDIS enough to go home. Mickey takes advantage of the situation and runs off to explore. Rose, meanwhile, taps into the local internet—which is run by Cybus—and learns that everyone gets daily downloads straight into their brains via the earpods, which are also a Cybus product, and practically ubiquitous. She also researches her parents, and finds out about Cybus, and about Jackie’s party. Now intrigued, the Doctor takes her to infiltrate it.

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Mickey visits his grandmother, who in his own world is deceased (he is otherwise an orphan). She recognizes him, but calls him “Ricky”. He is abducted by two people in a blue van, who also mistake him for his counterpart in this universe, Ricky. They take him to meet the real Ricky, who is their leader after the loss of their previous leader. They prove to be a resistance group called the Preachers, which is opposing Cybus’s plans, although they don’t know exactly what those plans are. They do know that Cybus—via a dummy company called International Electromatics—has been abducting the homeless; they have an informant inside Cybus. And tonight, they will be crashing the party to try to get to Lumic.

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Rose and the Doctor have infiltrated the party, and Rose has unsuccessfully conversed with both Pete and Jackie, whose marriage is on the rocks. They are interrupted when a group of the robots crash the party, kill the president and others, and begin rounding up the guests. The guests will be converted into robot forms themselves. The Doctor, Rose, and Pete escape, and meet up with Mickey and the Preachers, but are intercepted by the robots, whom the Doctor recognizes: they are Cybermen.

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TARDISODE 06 flashes back briefly, to show John Lumic issuing an order for his Cybermen to commence upgrading of the entire population.

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The Age of Steel picks up immediately from the cliffhanger. The Doctor uses the power from the TARDIS power crystal to destroy the Cybermen detaining them, and the group escapes. This won’t stop the crystal from recharging, but will set it back by four hours. In the Preachers’ van, the group compares notes; the Doctor explains about the Cybermen, which originated from another source in his universe—a parallel evolution of sorts. Pete wants to rescue Jackie, but can’t. He also reveals that he is the mole that has been giving information to the Preachers. The Doctor declares that the Cybermen will be stopped tonight. Lumic has a cyberconversion factory inside the former Battersea Power Station. There, he broadcasts a signal which will initiate cyberconversion of all of London. It won’t require force—the earpods will take control of their users and cause them to come to the factory. Jackie is among the victims.

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The Doctor’s group splits up to escape. Mickey and Ricky run together, but are cornered by Cybermen, and Ricky is killed. Eventually, the group meets again outside the factory and sees the crowds entering for conversion. Rose suggests removing the earpods, but the Doctor declines; it will kill the users.

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Inside the factory, Lumic’s chief assistant, Crane, has removed his earpods before the signal. Lumic questions him, and he claims a malfunction, but it is only a ruse to get close to Lumic. He damages the life support systems on Lumic’s chair, sending him into shock. The Cybermen kill Crane, and then take Lumic—against his will—to be converted.

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The group splits up again to infiltrate the factory. Rose and Pete go in the front door, disguised as earpod victims, to find Jackie. The Doctor and Mrs. Moore, one of the Preachers, go in through the cooling tunnels beneath to try to sabotage the conversions. Jake, the remaining Preacher, is sent to Lumic’s zeppelin to cut off the signal broadcast. Mickey once again is ignored by the Doctor; but this time he refuses to stay behind and be “the tin dog”. He chooses to go with Jake.

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Mrs. Moore tells the Doctor her real name—Angela Price—and that she has a family. She once worked for Cybus, but saw plans for the upgrades, and fled, hunted by Lumic. She joined the Preachers to fight back. The Doctor reveals that the Cybermen have emotion suppression technology; otherwise they may go insane at what has been done to them. He realizes that they can be defeated by overriding the suppression and releasing their emotions; this requires a code, however. They are then confronted by Cybermen, and nearly escape; but Moore is killed, and the Doctor is apprehended. The Cybermen detect his Time Lord physiology, and take him Cybercontrol to be examined. Pete and Rose are also apprehended; but the Cyberman that captures them is revealed to be Jackie, now converted. She takes them to Cybercontrol.

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Lumic is revealed to be the new Cyber Controller. Meanwhile, Mickey and Jake successfully cut off the transmission, allowing the unconverted humans to escape. Lumic is undeterred; he has factories around the world, and will force conversion on everyone. The Doctor is aware that Mickey is watching by monitor, and makes a monologue that contains clues obvious to Mickey; Mickey takes the hint and breaks into Lumic’s computer, and finds the code that will unlock the emotion suppression. He sends it to Rose’s phone, and the Doctor activates it, destroying all the Cybermen in the area. The factory is damaged in the process, and set afire. The group flees to the roof and up a rope ladder to the zeppelin; but Lumic follows them. The Doctor gives Pete—the last in line—his sonic screwdriver; Pete uses it to break the ropes, sending Lumic falling to his death.

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Later, with the TARDIS temporarily restored, Rose tries to persuade Pete to join them, but he refuses, and rejects her as his daughter. Mickey also chooses to stay. He has found purpose here—there are more Cybermen to be destroyed—and his grandmother is alive as well. Rose no longer needs him, as she has given her heart to the Doctor. The Doctor warns him that they can’t return for him; the hole in the universes must be repaired when they leave. He leaves Rose’s phone with Mickey, for the code in its memory.

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On the original Earth, the TARDIS materializes in Jackie’s apartment, and Rose reunites with her mother. In the alternate universe, Mickey promises Jake that he is not Ricky, and won’t try to be him; but will remember him by fighting in his name. They leave for Paris, where another cyber-factory waits.

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I can’t overstate the importance of this story to the new series. First, it reintroduces the Cybermen to the series, much as Dalek and Bad Wolf did with the Daleks in Series One. These aren’t your father’s Cybermen, though; the original Cybermen came from the planet Mondas (and later Telos), the rogue twin of Earth, as far back as the First Doctor’s The Tenth Planet. Interestingly, we will see later that the Cybus Cybermen, once established in the main universe (or N-Space, to borrow the classic series terminology), will eventually encounter and merge with the Mondasian Cybermen, yielding the version we see in Nightmare in Silver. These Cybermen lack the oft-exploited breathing apparatus of the classic series; their primary weakness is in their emotional suppression. Mondasian Cybermen share this feature (as seen as far back as The Invasion), but it is much more emphasized here. The use of electricity as a literal hand weapon dates back to Tomb of the Cybermen. As well, International Electromatics is a reference to The Invasion, where a company of the same name was used by the Cybermen; it is unclear whether this is the same company, or just a reference for the audience.

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Second, this story sets the groundwork for Rose’s eventual departure. I won’t say too much, as we’re approaching that story soon; but this is not the last we’ve seen of Pete Tyler or his universe. It also sets the groundwork for every Cybermen story for the next several seasons, as all future appearances are either Cybus Cybermen or the hybrid version I mentioned earlier. Interestingly, it’s not actually the first we’ve seen of them in the new series; a Mondasian Cyberman head was seen in Henry Van Statten’s museum in Dalek, and Rose comments on it here.

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This is Mickey’s goodbye story, as he chooses to stay behind. It’s the fulfillment of his character growth from the whiny coward of Rose, to a strong and capable man and—dare I say it?—warrior. When next we see him, he will be an accomplished hero. It’s unfortunate that he was never able to get respect from the Doctor—he certainly deserves it—but this is a good route for him, and a great exit. (It’s also the culmination of the running “Ricky” joke from Series One—turns out he really is Ricky, in a sense.)

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Torchwood gets not one, but two references, implying it exists in Pete’s world as well. That’s odd, as there are no Time Lords, and Torchwood was (in N-Space, anyway) established in response to the Doctor. On the subject of Time Lords, the Doctor states that travel between universes was once possible, but that with the death of the Time Lords, the walls of the universes closed, and now it is mostly impossible. This is also the first story since Black Orchid to feature no extraterrestrial elements other than the Doctor and the TARDIS, given that the Cybermen here originate on Earth. There’s also a reference to The Five Doctors; the Doctor refers to approaching the factory “above, between, below”, which is a reference to the nursery rhyme about the Tomb of Rassilon in that story. The Doctor asks if he has the right to destroy the Cybermen, echoing a similar dilemma with the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks; there’s a further similarity with that story as well, in that John Lumic very much resembles Davros, with regard to his physical condition and his goals.

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This story was directly inspired by a Big Finish main range story: Spare Parts, #34 in the main range, written by Marc Platt (author of Ghost Light and the novel Lungbarrow). That’s not to say the ideas were stolen, however; Platt was paid a fee for the reuse of his concepts. That story covers the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen in N-Space; and I think it’s worth a look in comparison with this episode. Therefore, my plan is to review that audio drama tomorrow, with an eye toward comparing the two.

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TARDISode 07 shows us an elderly woman, whose face is stolen by a strange energy from her television. In the episode, she will be revealed to be Mrs. Connolly’s mother. The Idiot’s Lantern takes us to London, 1953, the day before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. A brief flashback introduces us to Mr. Magpie, owner of Magpie Electricals, a failing electronic shop that specializes in televisions. Mr. Magpie is attacked by an energy from the television; it seems to be alive.

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The Doctor and Rose, expecting to land in New York for the Ed Sullivan show, instead find themselves in London. They witness a blanket-wrapped person being swept into a car by several men in black. They follow the car, but lose it at an apparent dead end, leaving them bewildered. Meanwhile, Mr. Magpie is seen in his shop, and is unharmed; but the announcer on the screen is speaking to him, saying her time has come.

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The Doctor and Rose pose as royal inspectors, and return to the home of the Connollys, neighbors of the kidnapped person. Mr. Connolly is something of a bully, and verbally assaults the Doctor; the Doctor outmatches him, and forces Mr. Connolly to allow him to see the old woman in the attic—who has no face. They are interrupted when the men in black return and force their way in, stealing the woman away. The Doctor chases them, and this time finds his way into the place where they have gone; inside, there are a large number of faceless people locked in a cage. He is suddenly captured by the men in black, who are police investigators.

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Rose has seen something strange from the Connollys’ television. Mr. Connolly ejects her from the house, but not before she sees the Magpie label on the television. She goes to Mr. Magpie’s shop and confronts him; but he allows her to be captured, and her face stolen, by the thing in the television, which calls itself “the Wire”. It feeds on brainwaves; the face theft is a side effect.

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The inspectors question the Doctor, who turns the interview around and convinces them that he can help. However, Rose is brought in at that time; the Doctor swears to get to the bottom of it. They return to the Connollys’ house, where Mr. Connolly’s son, Tommy, reveals that his grandmother was watching television when her face was stolen. They go to Magpie’s shop, and find him absent. The Doctor finds a bank of televisions, which display the missing faces. Magpie returns, and the Wire appears; it states it was executed by the people of its world, but survived in this energy form. Now, it wants to absorb enough mental energy to reconstitute its body—and the televised coronation will give it the opportunity, courtesy of the altered televisions that Magpie has been selling at discount prices. It tries to absorb the Doctor, Inspector Bishop, and Tommy, but flees when it detects the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver; it realizes he is also an alien, with superior technology. However, it absorbed Bishop before fleeing.

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Magpie transfers the Wire to the television broadcast antenna at Alexandra Palace, so that it can absorb all the coronation viewers. The Doctor hastily assembles a device that can stop it, but he must get there. At the antenna, he climbs its tower, and confronts the Wire; it has already killed Magpie. With Tommy’s help, he traps the wire on a Betamax cassette tape (which is thirty years ahead of its time). With the Wire defeated, its victims are freed and restored.

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The Doctor tells Rose he intends to record over the tape, ending the Wire forever. Meanwhile, Mrs. Connolly has had enough abuse; she reveals that her mother, rather than her husband, owns the house, and kicks him out. However, Rose encourages Tommy to forgive his father and go to him; if the boy can save the world, perhaps he can save his father, too.

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While this story is usually not rated highly—and indeed, it’s not particularly great; I’d call it average at best—it does establish some concepts that will be revisited. The idea of wirelessly absorbing people will be used to greater effect in The Bells of Saint John, where the true villain is the Great Intelligence. Magpie Electricals will long survive its founder, appearing in a great number of stories, such as The Magician’s Apprentice; Before the Flood; The Runaway Bride; Day of the Moon; The Sound of Drums; Voyage of the Damned; The Beast Below; and the audio story Hunters of Earth, as well as The Sarah Jane Adventures. In fact, it becomes something of an inside joke for the crew, as the Magpie label appears in ever more unlikely places.

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We have a secondary villain in Mr. Magpie, though it can be argued he’s more victim than villain. More interestingly, there’s a tertiary villain in Mr. Connolly. While he himself is a rather sad figure, he does give us the prominent “I AM TALKING!” line, which will be used to far greater effect by the Eleventh Doctor in The Pandorica Opens.

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Overall, not a great episode, but not terrible, either. My main complaint is that there’s no logical reason that the faceless people should be restored when the Wire is defeated; it would be akin to having the Absorbaloff from the upcoming (and much-maligned) Love and Monsters regurgitate its victims upon death. Still, it’s a decent story with a fair bit of human interest.

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Next time: Tomorrow, I’ll post a review for Spare Parts (out of order, but relevant). Next week, we’ll look at two of my favorite episodes: The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit; and if there’s time, we’ll check out the aforementioned Love and Monsters! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

TARDISode 05

Rise of the Cybermen

TARDISode 06

The Age of Steel

TARDISode 07

The Idiot’s Lantern

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Tin Dogs and Clockwork Robots: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Two

I made my last post early; this one is late.  Although I got it written on Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holidays, I wasn’t able to get it posted that day.  My apologies; hopefully we’ll be back on schedule this week.

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week, we reviewed the first two episodes of Series Two: New Earth and Tooth and Claw, which took Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor into the past and the future, and to another world. Today, we’re looking at School Reunion, which reintroduces some old friends (and also sets up for another spinoff series), and The Girl in the Fireplace, with a new enemy! We’re also looking at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of two or three episodes each for the sake of length.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

School Reunion’s TARDISode, #4 in the series, finds Mickey Smith on the internet, where he’s researching strange happenings at a nearby school, Deffry Vale High School. He’s stonewalled by Torchwood’s software at one point (and again during the actual episode), but he finds enough to call Rose and the Doctor, and ask them to investigate. We end with a glimpse of one of the show’s monsters.

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The episode finds Rose and the Doctor already on scene, having infiltrated the school via some time-travel-related shenanigans a few days earlier. The Doctor, in his John Smith persona, is acting as a physics teacher, while Rose is filling in for a lunchroom attendant (and eating an exorbitant number of chips). The Doctor immediately discovers that certain students are exhibiting intelligence and knowledge—especially computational skills—far beyond the level they should have obtained.

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The headmaster, Mr. Finch, introduces the staff—including the Doctor—to a journalist who has been assigned to write a profile about him: one Sarah Jane Smith. The Doctor immediately recognizes her; she has aged since he last saw her, but is still the same to him. She doesn’t recognize him, however. Meanwhile, he discovers that a total of fourteen staff—including the headmaster and seven teachers—were recently replaced, prior to his arrival with Rose. At the same time, a child named Kenny enters the wrong maths classroom, and glimpses a batlike monster…which seems to become one of the teachers.

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Sarah Jane, being Sarah Jane, is here for more than what she says. She breaks into the school that night, unaware that the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey have done the same; the Doctor sends Mickey to investigate a rumor about the maths classroom and its odd computers. They meet, and introductions are made; immediately there is tension between Sarah Jane and Rose. Together, they then discover something horrifying: thirteen batlike creatures, asleep in a classroom. One of them awakens, unseen, and follows them out.

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Rose has discovered there is something sinister about the oil in which the food is being cooked. The Doctor says they will need to return to the TARDIS to analyze it, but Sarah Jane calls him off; she has something that will help. In her car, she reveals another old friend: K9 Mark III, now deactivated. He lived with her for years, but eventually broke down, and she lacked the parts to repair him. The Doctor does so, and K9, now reactivated, determines the oil is Krillitane oil—a byproduct of a biologically-composite race called Krillitanes. The Doctor also talks with Sarah about why he left her behind long ago; in the process, he reveals he is a Time Lord. The lone Krillitane, watching, relays all of this to Finch, who is their leader.

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The next day, they return to the school. The Doctor sends Sarah Jane and Rose to look more closely at the computers, and puts Mickey on sentry duty outside with K9. The Doctor goes to confront Finch. Finch reveals himself to be a Krillitane called Brother Lassar, and admits he has permanently adopted human form, unlike the others. He says that the Doctor will soon join him. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane have an argument over the Doctor, but quickly realize their foolishness, and begin to get along better.

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Lassar and the Krillitanes lock down the school with the children inside, moving to the final phase of their plan. They then devour the remaining human staff. The Doctor finds the computers are all deadlocked sealed. The Krillitanes get the students working on the computers, deciphering a strange formula that the Doctor recognizes as the Skasis Paradigm. If solved, it will grant its user godlike powers over reality, space, and time. Lassar tempts the Doctor, saying that with it he could resurrect the Time Lords. The Doctor is tempted; but Sarah Jane talks him down, and he leads Sarah Jane and Rose to try to escape.

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K9 persuades Mickey to use Sarah Jane’s car to break through the doors and into the building. He and Kenny run to get the other students out, shutting down the program. As the students flee, Mickey and Kenny meet up with Rose, Sarah Jane, the Doctor, and K9 in the cafeteria, where K9 holds off the Krillitanes, but dangerously depletes his power. The others hide in a lab. The Doctor realizes the oil is the key; the Krillitanes have evolved so much that their own oil now harms them. He gets everyone out except K9. K9 volunteers to ignite the oil, but he knows it will be a sacrifice; he will have to be close when it explodes. The Doctor says his goodbyes, calls him a good dog, and leaves. As the Krillitanes and Lassar arrive, K9 shoots the barrel of oil, detonating it and destroying the school, himself, and the Krillitanes.

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Sarah is heartbroken for K9, but she acknowledges his sacrifice. Later, at the TARDIS, the Doctor offers her the chance to travel with him again, but she declines, choosing to find her own life instead. However, Mickey asks to go instead; this time, the Doctor accepts, though Rose is not happy with it. As the TARDIS leaves, Sarah sees something left behind: A brand new K9, with the memories of the old, but updated systems. Overjoyed, she takes him home—after all, they have work ahead of them.

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I will unashamedly say that this is one of my favorite episodes of new Doctor Who. This is mainly because I’m a huge classic series fan, and Sarah Jane and K9 were some of the earliest companions I recall from my childhood; but the episode is good in its own right as well. It was one of the earliest NuWho episodes I saw (though not the first—that honor goes to the next episode), and I’ve been delighted with it ever since. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing old favorite characters again after so many years; I felt something similar when the Master returned (albeit in a different body) in Utopia and when the Brigadier (albeit dead, sort of) made a cameo in Death In Heaven).

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This story is littered with references, so I’ll try to be brief. Most of them come from Sarah Jane’s argument with Rose: Mummies appear in Pyramids of Mars; robots from a variety of episodes, but most notably Robot; Daleks from Genesis of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks; anti-matter monsters from Planet of Evil; dinosaurs from Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and the Loch Ness Monster from Terror of the Zygons. Rose counters with ghosts (The Unquiet Dead), Slitheen (Aliens of London/World War Three), the Dalek Emperor (The Parting of the Ways), zombies (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances), the year five billion (The End of the World), and werewolves (Tooth and Claw). The Doctor mentions the year 5000 in connection with K9 (The Invisible Enemy), and the Sycorax ship (The Christmas Invasion). The TARDISode and the episode both show Torchwood software blocks on Mickey’s computer, a reference that will later play into the spinoff series. Sarah Jane makes reference to the car she drove in K9 and Company, the failed spinoff which established how she acquired K9. She hints at adventures that were never seen onscreen; the Doctor also says he has seen Krillitanes before, in a different form. He says he has regenerated a half dozen times since he last saw her (though some spinoff materials contradict this, as does The Five Doctors); this would naturally not include the War Doctor, whose memory he has suppressed. The Skasis Paradigm seems very similar to the Block Transfer Computations used by the Logopolitans; indeed, the techniques the students use to decode it, though executed via computer rather than by hand or verbally, seem very similar to those of the Logopolitans. Finch is aware of the Time Lords, and that the Doctor is the last, but doesn’t seem to know about the war; he still thinks of the Time Lords as peaceful and indolent, as they were before the war. K9 recognizes the Doctor despite his regenerations. There were also several tie-in websites in the real world; both Deffry Vale High School and its fictional surroundings had sites, as well as Mickey’s website, which featured tie-in material in an in-universe style. Most of all, though, this episode sets up for the eventual spinoff, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

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Some great lines: “Oh my god…I’m the tin dog!” from Mickey; this realization prompts him to take a more active role and travel with the Doctor, which will cost him soon. He gets another great line when Sarah Jane and Rose are arguing: “Oh! The Missus and the ex. Every man’s worst nightmare!” The Doctor calls K9 a good dog just before his death, and he replies with Affirmative; moments later, Finch calls him a bad dog, and he gives the same reply, smugly, I might add. Sarah Jane’s farewell speech is also an emotional moment; she tells K9 that the Doctor replaced him with a new model, and then reflects, “He does that”. The Doctor tells her earlier in the episode that the reason he left her is because humans age and die, but he never does, and he can’t watch that over and over. It’s a harsh and well-done line, but a terrible reason.

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The Girl in the Fireplace picks up shortly thereafter; Mickey comments that this is his first time traveling with the Doctor. It is the 51st Century, and the TARDIS has landed aboard a heavily-modified spaceship; but no crew are to be found. They quickly find a curious anomaly: an 18th-century French fireplace, leading…somewhere off the ship. A child appears on the other side; her name is Reinette, and she says the year is 1727, in Paris. She is surprised to see the Doctor, and more surprised when—weeks later from her perspective, but only minutes later from his—he comes through and awakens her. He finds a menacing, clockwork android under her bed; it wants to kill her, but says she is not complete yet. He tricks it into returning to the ship, then freezes it with a fire extinguisher. It soon recovers and teleports away.

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The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey begin to investigate, with the Doctor periodically returning through the fireplace. Time is moving on the other side, but very quickly, covering years in what amounts to minutes on the ship; each time, he finds that she has aged by a number of years, and is now a young woman. He learns, too, that she is not just any woman; she is Reinette Poisson, the future Madame de Pompadour, future mistress of King Louis XV and uncrowned queen of France. She is also falling for him. To her view, she has known him all her life.

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He finds that in addition to the fireplace, which allows time to progress for monitoring of Reinette’s life, there are various “time windows” on the ship, leading to different points in her life. When the droids find the correct one, they will come for her. Rose and Mickey find that the ship is riddled with human organs, serving as replacement parts. The Doctor deduces that something happened to the ship and crew; the droids are repair droids for the ship, who butchered the crew after the accident to use them as organic spare parts. They lack only one part: a brain for use as a processor. For this, they want Reinette…but why her? And why must she be a certain age?

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That age is 37. The group finds a window leading to that moment; but so do the droids, who move in to claim Reinette. The Doctor sends Rose through another window, five years earlier, to warn her; but she follows Rose back onto the ship, and is duly alarmed by what she sees and hears. She chooses to return and wait. Meanwhile the Doctor finds that the ship is 37 years old, hence the correlation in age—but still, why Reinette?

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He finds the window to the correct time closed. He can break through, but doing so will break the connection to the ship for all the windows, and will trap him there. And, because he is already part of events, he can’t use the TARDIS to infiltrate the time stream. He chooses to go anyway, using a horse that wandered aboard ship to break through, interrupting a party at which the droids are attacking. He tells them they are trapped as well, and have failed; with no purpose left to them, they deactivate.

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Later, while talking with Reinette, he admits that he chose to be stranded so as to save her. Then, she reveals that she has kept the fireplace from her childhood, and transported it to the palace in one piece. Moving it broke its link to the ship, prior to his destruction of the windows…he is able to reactivate it and return. Before he goes, he offers to take Reinette with him, and she accepts.

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He returns minutes later…but it is too late. From Reinette’s perspective, five years have passed…but history records that she died of an illness at age 42. He misses her funeral procession by five minutes. She left him a letter, though, saying goodbye, but pleading for him to return while there is time. He cannot do so.

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On the TARDIS, he severs the link between times, closing the fireplace. As the TARDIS dematerializes, we see what the Doctor never knew: a portrait of Reinette on the ship’s wall, and outside, the name “SS Madame de Pompadour” on the hull. This is why the droids considered Reinette to be the same as them; the ship was named for her.

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The TARDISode gives us a flashback to the event that damaged the ship, and shows the droids beginning to cannibalize the crew.

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This episode is the first NuWho episode I saw, though I missed the ending at the time (I was running late for something). It was great then, and I still think it’s great now, although it’s a bit of a disaster for internal continuity (seriously: That fireplace portal is absolutely inconsistent regarding the passage of time! Two minutes at the beginning equate to a few months of Reinette’s life, but at the end, an equal time equates to about five years. Also it synchronizes with Reinette’s flow of time when he is speaking through it, but only then. This sort of thing happens continually.)

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This episode is the first historical for the Tenth Doctor, although perhaps that’s overstating it, given its split time periods. It does, however, involve an actual historical character, in Madame de Pompadour, which adds some credibility. It also plays havoc with the idea that the Doctor can’t go back and change events he is part of; he says he can’t take the TARDIS back to France, but there seems to be no reason for that to be true. He can’t go back and change things already established further back in Reinette’s past, certainly, but he should be able to go to the moment of the party at the end, given that he hasn’t been there or done anything to contradict its events. Fortunately, this aspect of the “part of events” rule seems to have been discarded in later episodes. Clearly this is an episode that is better for the sake of story, but demands that you not look too deeply into the technobabble.

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Reinette’s story is a sad one; although the Doctor saves her, he loses her in the end, and more to the point, she loses him. It’s our first indication that the Tenth Doctor is far from perfect, and indeed, makes mistakes quite well, a theme that we will see come to a head in The Waters of Mars a few series down the road. Indeed, sometimes I think his entire run is setting up for that story, in small ways; in the last episode, we had him drawing a distinction between himself and humanity for Sarah Jane, setting up for his eventual “Time Lord Victorious” moment. Here as well, he calls himself “the lord of time”; it’s tongue-in-cheek now, but foreshadowing worse things to come. This is a very fallible Doctor we are dealing with.

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We are lacking in references here, perhaps making up for the glut of them in School Reunion; but Rose does reference the TARDIS translation circuits, last discussed in The Christmas Invasion, and calls the Doctor the Oncoming Storm (The Parting of the Ways). The Doctor mentions using Zeus plugs as castanets; these items appeared in The Hand of Fear, incidentally the final Sarah Jane episode of the classic series (with the exception of The Five Doctors). He mentions Cleopatra, but his encounters with her have been offscreen thus far.

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Overall, both episodes are good, and I don’t have many complaints other than the fireplace’s issues. The Clockwork droids will appear again in slightly different form in Deep Breath; the Twelfth Doctor clearly connects them to this incident. Sarah Jane and K9, as well, will soon have a spinoff, and will appear again here in crossover format. These are well worth your time.

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Next time: A two-parter gives us the return of the Cybermen in Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel; and if we make it there, we’ll also cover The Idiot’s Lantern! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

School Reunion

TARDISode 3

The Girl in the Fireplace

TARDISode 4

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A New Doctor for the Holidays: New Doctor Who Rewatch, "The Christmas Invasion"

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week we finished up Series One, with the Ninth Doctor. Today we begin the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, with the 2006 Christmas special, The Christmas Invasion! We’ll also take a look at the brief Children In Need charity special which bridged the gap between Series One and the Christmas special. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of approximately three episodes each for the sake of length. Today is an exception, as we’ll look at the Christmas special by itself.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen this episode!

The Children in Need special opens with a recap of the regeneration scene from The Parting of the Ways. The Tenth Doctor arrives—marveling at his new teeth—and tries to pick up right where the Ninth Doctor left off, setting course for the planet Barcelona. Rose isn’t having any of it, though; regeneration is a brand new concept to her, and she doesn’t believe that this is still the Doctor. She suggests he was switched out, or transmatted away, or even that the new Doctor is a Slitheen in a skin suit. He explains quickly, and to back up his claims, he reminds her of mutual memories of their first meeting. (This is a little unusual; typically regenerations have left him with at least a minor amount of memory loss, if only temporarily.) While this sets her mind at ease, she is still in shock, and wants to go home. He sets course for December 24, 2006, and heads for the Powell Estate (Rose’s apartment building). However, he suddenly starts to act erratically; regeneration energy wisps out of his mouth, and he seems to be in some pain and mania. Rose suggests finding Jack Harkness to help, but the Doctor brushes it off, saying Jack is busy rebuilding Earth after the Dalek attack. He throws the TARDIS into high speed, and warns her it is crashing. The cloister bell sounds, giving weight to his assertion.

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The Christmas Invasion picks up immediately, on Earth. Mickey and Jackie each here the TARDIS arriving and come running; it does crash, though not catastrophically. The Doctor stumbles out and greets them, then passes out; they don’t recognize him until Rose explains, and even then they find it just as hard to believe as she did. They set him up in bed in Jackie’s apartment to recover.

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Meanwhile, Britain is making history. Its Guinevere One space probe is on approach to Mars. Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister by a landslide victory, is making a speech about it—but is interrupted when the video feed cuts off. The probe has been intercepted by an unknown alien race. Harriet goes to UNIT—the agency’s first appearance in the new series, though it was mentioned in World War Three–and begins to oversee efforts to deal with the crisis. She summons help from an agency called Torchwood, of which she is not supposed to be aware. The feed is re-established, and they get their first glimpse of the aliens, who call themselves the Sycorax—and declare humanity their property.

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While the Doctor recuperates, Mickey and Rose go out for some last-minute Christmas shopping, and discuss—or rather, dance around—their future and relationship. They are interrupted by an attack by androids dressed as Santa Claus; they flee back to the apartment in the chaos. As they explain to Jackie, Rose notices a Christmas tree that wasn’t there before. Jackie tells them it was anonymously delivered—and suddenly it comes to life and goes on the attack. Rose manages to awaken the Doctor just in time for him to destroy it with his sonic screwdriver. Outside, he sees the Santa robots watching, then disappearing in a transmat beam. He explains that they are like pilot fish, accompanying a larger threat; they have come for him, because he is brimming with regeneration energy, which they could use to power their technology. However, Rose has awakened him too soon, and he is still sick from regeneration; he passes out again.

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Harriet confronts the Sycorax, via a rough translation program worked out by UNIT. She warns them that Earth is armed and will not surrender. In retaliation, the Sycorax take control of a third of the population, sending them to the tops of buildings and other structures and preparing them to jump off. UNIT works out that it is done via blood control, and only affects type A+ blood, of which a sample was included among other items on the Guinevere probe. Harriet makes a public broadcast about the situation, and implores the Doctor to come to Earth’s aid. Watching it on television, Rose realizes that the TARDIS is not translating the Sycorax footage, because the Doctor is unconscious and therefore out of the circuit. Harriet and her associates are then transmatted aboard the Sycorax ship to discuss surrender.

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Rose, Mickey, and Jackie get the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, but are unable to pilot it. The Sycorax have discovered the TARDIS, however, and transmat it to their ship, leaving Jackie behind. Rose steps out—unaware of the transmat—and is captured, as is Mickey, who spills a container of tea onto the machinery by the Doctor’s unconscious form. The Sycorax take her for the owner of the TARDIS, and decide that she will speak for Earth. She tries to bluff, making them ridicule her—but suddenly, the TARDIS begins translating again, and Rose realizes the Doctor is awake. He throws open the doors of the TARDIS and joins them.The Doctor takes charge of the situation, and explains that nutrients from the vaporized tea aided his recovery. He quickly figures out the blood control situation, and shuts it down, freeing the hostages on Earth. He then orders the Sycorax to leave; and when the leader refuses, he grabs a sword from one of the guards, and challenges the leader to formal combat.

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The Doctor is no slouch with a sword. He forces a change in venue, taking the combat onto the outer deck of the ship, overlooking the city. It appears he will lose; the leader cuts off his hand. However, he is still close to his regeneration, and the residual energy causes a new hand to grow. Stunned, the leader is taken aback, and the Doctor presses the attack, and defeats him. He offers the leader a chance to live, and again tells him to leave the Earth and never return. The leader agrees; however, as the Doctor walks away, the leader tries to stab him in the back. The Doctor forces him off the edge of the ship, and he falls to his death. There will be no second chances.

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With the humans and the TARDIS transmatted back to London, the Sycorax ship departs. However, Harriet orders Torchwood to destroy it; they carry out the sentence with a large superlaser. Enraged, the Doctor turns on Harriet, and after castigating her—much as he once did the Brigadier, when UNIT destroyed the Silurians—he tells her he will destroy her career with just six words. He walks away, but whispers into her aide’s ear, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” This sets off a storm of controversy that soon—within days—results in her downfall via a vote of no confidence regarding her health.

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The Doctor celebrates Christmas with Rose, Jackie, and Mickey; but then he must leave. It looks as though Rose will stay behind; and then, having fully accepted that this truly is the Doctor, she chooses to go with him.

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Although there are some minor plot weaknesses—the Santa droids, for one, could just as easily have been eliminated with no change to the overall plot—I always felt that this story constituted a good, strong introduction for the Tenth Doctor. David Tennant is an excellent choice for the role, and indeed, for many fans, has become the definitive version of the Doctor. Like many of his predecessors (and also Matt Smith after him), he needed no adjustment period; there was no series of shaky early episodes leading up to him owning the role. He simply WAS the Doctor, from the very first moment. The story also establishes an excellent tradition: the annual Christmas special. It’s been argued that the First Doctor had the true first Christmas special, with The Feast of Steven, episode seven of The Daleks’ Master Plan (now unfortunately lost to history, although reconstructions exist); I can agree with that, but this is where it became an annual tradition, as the classic series had no other such episodes. A second tradition began here as well: that of Doctor Who’s involvement with the Children in Need fundraising efforts. The brief interlude that precedes the Christmas special adds only a little to the story, but adds much to the social impact of Doctor Who. Also, beginning with this episode, David Tennant is credited as “The Doctor” rather than “Doctor Who”; this change was at his request, and mirrors a similar change in the classic series under Peter Davison.

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Several running jokes occur in this story. Jackie makes the classic “Doctor who?” joke upon seeing the Doctor’s new face, although she says it in earnest. The TARDIS crashing has become a bit of a running joke, occurring in connection with every new series regeneration with the exception of the War Doctor’s regeneration into the Ninth Doctor (as far as we know anyway; we don’t see the immediate aftermath of that regeneration. However, the TARDIS even crashed with Eight’s regeneration into War, though admittedly not under its own power). The Doctor for the first time (of many) expresses his desire to be ginger. Most conspicuously, there’s the running joke regarding Harriet Jones; every time she introduces herself, the listener responds with “Yes, I know who you are.” This includes the Sycorax leader, albeit via the translation software. This will continue through her final appearance and death in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

Yeah, it's...not going to end anytime soon.

Yeah, it’s…not going to end anytime soon.

Rose’s reaction to the regeneration is perfectly understandable, given that the Doctor only told her about it seconds before it happened. In this moment, the companion is truly an audience surrogate, as many fans who had not seen the classic series would not have known what was going on. Her eventual acceptance of the new Doctor is not assured until the end; unfortunately, her choice of the Doctor again, here where it seemed like she should give him up, only serves to drive a bigger wedge between herself and Mickey, who is not as over her as he previously led us to believe.

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There are a number of connections to other episodes here; some of them are connections to future stories which had not yet been written. “Sycorax” is the name of the witch in The Tempest; the Doctor will later unwittingly give Shakespeare the idea by name-dropping the Sycorax. He can analyze blood by taste; he has previously demonstrated the ability to analyze substances in this way, although the blood is a first. He is a skilled swordsman, as were the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors before him; we last saw this in The King’s Demons, against the Master. Harriet makes a meta reference; she says the video signal may have been hijacked by kids, which is an allusion to the Max Headroom Signal Intrusion incident in Chicago in the 1980s. During that incident, a showing of Horror of Fang Rock was interrupted and hijacked. UNIT is re-introduced, after being referenced in Aliens of London/World War Three; it was last seen in Battlefield, and seems to have had a budget increase since then. The TARDIS’s translation ability was introduced via the Fourth Doctor long ago, but is expanded on here. The Santa droids will be used again by the Racnoss Empress in The Runaway Bride. Torchwood gets a very direct reference, which will lead into its introduction onscreen later in the series, and its spinoff as well. The Doctor’s severed hand will be seen again on Torchwood, as well as in Utopia and Journey’s End. The Doctor mentions a “great big threatening red button” which he is compelled to push; this will eventually resurface as a reference to the Moment in The Day of the Doctor, adding some depth to his offhanded comment. There are parallels between the Sycorax and Faction Paradox, especially with regard to blood control and the wearing of bone; however my knowledge of Faction Paradox is too limited to comment further. As well, a recently-released short story, The Christmas Inversion, takes place in the midst of this story, in which Jackie Tyler meets the Third Doctor.

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman - dvdbash.com

Most interestingly, this story sets up a chain of terrible events which will continue all the way through the Tenth Doctor’s life. The severing of his hand, and his deposing of Harriet, will eventually lead to the rise of the Master as Harold Saxon, and to the eventual death of the Tenth Doctor at the end of the Master’s plans. For more information, check the continuity section of the TARDIS wiki’s entry for this story.

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Overall, I liked this story. I felt it has something for everyone—plenty of classic references, the beginning of a new story arc, a good follow-up to Series One, and a hopeful introduction to Series Two, as well as a fair bit of setup for Torchwood. While there have been more popular specials, this one still holds its own.

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Next time: We launch into Series Two with New Earth, Tooth and Claw, and School Reunion! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Children In Need Special

The Christmas Invasion

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Parting of the Ways: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series One Finale

We’re back with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Today we’re finishing up Series One, with the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler; if you’d like to catch up, here are the entries for Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts for the sake of length. Today we’re looking at the series one finale, episodes twelve and thirteen. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

The episode is titled Bad Wolf, and we open cold on the Doctor, Rose and Jack. They awaken to find themselves with slight amnesia, and find they have been incorporated as contestants in several futuristic game shows. (The shows are intentional takes on shows that were popular at the time of broadcast, notably Big Brother (here featuring the Doctor), The Weakest Link (Rose), and What Not To Wear (Jack). They are mostly unchanged, with the exception of robotic versions of their real-world hosts—which, coincidentally, are voiced by said hosts.) They are stunned, but quickly recover, only to find that losing contestants don’t go home—they are vaporized.

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Their intrusion isn’t unnoticed. The staff that are controlling the broadcasts have taken note of their presence, and presented their findings to the Controller—a human woman who is wired into the system to control the data. She has been there since she was five years old, and knows no other life; she only sees the data, not the individuals. She tells the staff to continue working as though nothing had changed; and she cuts off access to the nearby Archive Six.

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After some adventures in their respective shows, the Doctor and Jack escape, taking another contestant—Lynda—with them. The Doctor suddenly realizes where they are: They have returned to Satellite Five, and it is the year 200,100, one hundred years after his previous visit. The satellite is now called the Gamestation; it no longer broadcasts news, but now broadcasts more than 40,000 channels of high-stakes entertainment. They try to find Rose, but are too late; losing her competition, she is disintegrated. Enraged, the Doctor and Jack head for Floor 500. There they confront the broadcast staff, and the Controller, just as a solar flare temporarily takes down the broadcast.

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Under the protective silence of the flare, the Controller addresses the Doctor directly. She tells him that she serves hidden masters, but she cannot tell him who they are—they have programmed her not to reveal their name. She states that they manipulate and oppress humanity for their own ends, growing in power in the darkness of space. She tells him that they fear him, and so she has brought him here to destroy them. (How she did it is not explained, however. She somehow managed to locate the TARDIS and pluck it and its occupants from flight, all without any obvious means of time travel.) The solar flare prevents them from reading her thoughts, allowing her to privately pass this message. However, the flare ends before she can tell him where to find her masters.

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Jack breaks into Archive Six, and finds the TARDIS there. He uses the equipment aboard to determine that the contestants aren’t being killed; they’re secretly being transmatted away, meaning that Rose is still alive. The Controller breaks her secrecy to reveal the coordinates to the Doctor, and is immediately transmatted away to her masters, who kill her for her betrayal. Rose, too, is there, and discovers the terrible truth: The masters are Daleks.

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The Doctor locates the coordinates at the edge of the solar system, but nothing is seen there. He cuts off the cloaking wave that the station is broadcasting along with its signal, and a fleet of two hundred Dalek warships is revealed. Each contains a few thousand Daleks, bringing their total force to nearly half a million. The Daleks contact the Doctor, and threaten him to stand down or they will kill Rose; he refuses, and says he is coming to rescue her and destroy them.

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The Parting of the Ways picks up immediately, with the Doctor and Jack racing to the scene in the TARDIS. They use the extrapolator from Boom Town to create a shield around the TARDIS, which allows them to materialize around Rose, then step out and speak to the Daleks with impunity. They discover that the Daleks are led by the Dalek Emperor, who somehow survived the destruction of the last day of the Time War and fell through time to come here. He has since built up his forces over a few centuries by using human dead to create new Daleks. He now considers himself the Dalek god.

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The Doctor and the others escape and return to the station to stage a defense. He organizes a perimeter defense under Jack and some of the station’s crew; behind the lines, he begins to establish a Delta wave, a form of energy burst that will fry the brains of every Dalek. However, the emperor contacts him and reveals that it will be indiscriminate; it will also kill every human in its range, including those on Earth. The Doctor is willing to sacrifice Earth to destroy the Daleks; he states that humanity on its far-flung colonies will survive, but the Daleks must die here. The Daleks compare him again to them, calling him the Great Exterminator, which rankles him.

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Rose and Jack are also willing to die. However, the Doctor tricks Rose into leaving in the TARDIS using an emergency program. She is returned to her home time, with Mickey and Jackie. On the station, the battle begins; the Daleks invade and slaughter everyone they can find, until only Jack and the Doctor are left. They also begin killing vast swaths of the population of Earth (offscreen, thankfully).

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In 2006, Rose admits defeat. However, she suddenly realizes she is seeing Bad Wolf graffiti everywhere. She takes it as a warning, and tries to get the TARDIS to move. Remembering her experience with Blon, she reasons that she can open the heart of the TARDIS to somehow spur it to action; and with Mickey’s help (and a yellow truck) she does. The heart invades her body, and takes her over; she becomes a powerful entity that takes the Bad Wolf name, and forces the TARDIS back to the station. She arrives just as Jack is killed, leaving only the Doctor. He is horrified; she has absorbed the power of the vortex, which is too much for anyone to survive.

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The entity destroys the Daleks, turning them all to dust. It scatters the Bad Wolf words through time and space, creating all the references that led them here—thus, creating itself. It restores life to Jack (and much more, as we’ll later see). Then, before Rose can be consumed by the power, the Doctor kisses her, drawing it into himself, and releasing it back into the TARDIS. It will be his final act.

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Jack arrives just in time to see the TARDIS leave, stranding him here. Inside, the Doctor tells Rose the damage is too much even for him, and he will die. He explains about regeneration, when he will change to a new face. He says his goodbyes…and transforms into the Tenth Doctor.

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This remains one of my favorite series finales, if not my absolute favorite. As humorous and (sometimes) off-balance as the series could be, it takes itself seriously here, even while making jokes about reality television. All season the Doctor has been venting his emotions as if he can’t control them at all; here, we see it come together, and get an idea of how truly fearsome he can be. And yet, even with that, it’s Rose who is truly to be feared, as she recklessly absorbs the vortex and becomes the Bad Wolf. For all the Doctor’s anger, it’s his sense of self-sacrifice that saves the day, as he dies to save her.parting-of-the-ways-7

I had previously mentioned that Satellite Five had a ridiculously low number of channels for the future. That’s overcompensated here, with over 44,000. The game show parodies were cleverly done, with puns and inside jokes, even if they seem dated now. There’s a reference to Torchwood here, as the Great Cobalt Pyramid is said to stand on its ruins. And of course, there’s the obvious Bad Wolf reference, in the name of the consortium that runs the station (secretly under the Daleks, of course).

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The Doctor, Rose, and Jack mention having come from Raxicoricofallapatorius (having dropped off egg-Blon as promised), then having had one more adventure, in 1338 Kyoto, from which they narrowly escaped. Thus there is no time for additional adventures involving the three of them—sorry, fanfic writers. It was good while it lasted. Jack’s sexuality is played up again, though not as jokingly as in previous episodes; I also do not want to know where he was hiding his gun, though.

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman - dvdbash.com

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman – dvdbash.com

The Daleks have an established history of using human children as “controllers”, dating back to Day of the Daleks; this isn’t quite the same, but close, and again, their subject betrays them. We also get a connection with the transmats leaving dust behind; this happened previously in The Twin Dilemma. The Face of Boe is mentioned again, in the trivia questions. A control panel on the Dalek ship is the same as one dating all the way back to The Chase–a small but interesting connection. The Doctor tells the Daleks that their legends call him the oncoming storm; this name will recur several times in the new series, but actually dates to a Draconian phrase in the VNA novel, Love and War. (Another VNA reference is seen in the trivia questions; the planet Lucifer gets a mention, having originated in the novel Lucifer Rising.) Most interestingly, Jack recognizes the Daleks and their ships; this makes for interesting questions about the Time War. Some are answered in part two, when he explains that they were the most feared race in the universe, but suddenly vanished; the Doctor explains that they left to fight a bigger war, the Time War, which Jack implies was just a legend.

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The line “And for my next trick”, seen in part two, is later reused in The Day of the Doctor. The Daleks here are post-war Daleks, making them very powerful indeed, and it’s probably that had Rose not intervened, they would have won. The Doctor faces the same choice—kill innocents to destroy the Daleks—that he faced in the war, but here he makes the other decision, and stays his hand.

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The Dalek emperor is the same as in the war, but appears to not be the same as any others we have seen mentioned. The concept first appeared in The Evil of the Daleks, all the way back to the Second Doctor; Davros also called himself the emperor. As with Davros’s Imperial Daleks, the Daleks seen here are bred from human stock, and thus inherit some of the characteristics of humanity, in this case religious inclination. That part doesn’t surprise me; the only oddity is that the Emperor, who is a pure Dalek of Skaro origins (presumably), buys into it. It’s very curious, but then, we’ll see this sort of leader-worship again, if not so explicitly. As to the human stock: This issue will also reappear in the Eighth Doctor Adventures audio drama, Blood of the Daleks, where it is initiated by the human Professor Martez.

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This is an incredibly bloodthirsty story. Every incidental character dies, including all the humans on the station and all the Daleks. Though it happens offscreen, the Daleks are stated to be killing off large portions of Earth’s population. As well, Jack and the Doctor both die, though both live again (Jack by resurrection, the Doctor by regeneration). Only Rose, Jackie, and Mickey survive (and, I suppose, any background characters in the 2006 scenes, though they hardly bear mentioning). Jack is the fifth companion character to die onscreen, joining classic companions Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Adric, and Kamelion. (Apparently it doesn’t pay to have the letter K in your name…)

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The Doctor tricks Rose into leaving in the TARDIS, by activating an emergency program. The Eleventh Doctor will later do the same to Clara Oswald in The Time of the Doctor, complete with a similar holographic interface. Clara will take equally extreme actions to return to him, as she clings to the outside of the TARDIS while in the vortex.

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For the second time in this series, a Dalek compares the Doctor to the Daleks; the Emperor calls him the Great Exterminator. He doesn’t care for the comparison. The emperor states that this act of extermination will make the Doctor like him; however, the joke’s on him—he already did it once, although we haven’t yet had the specifics revealed to us. As I mentioned, he makes the opposite choice here, and chooses not to kill.

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The Bad Wolf entity is fascinating. It’s set up as a parallel to the Dalek Emperor, in that both established themselves as a kind of god. However, where the Emperor merely boasted of godhood, the Bad Wolf demonstrated it, by displaying a ridiculous amount of power. Being possessed of control over time, it creates itself, by scattering the “Bad Wolf” words throughout time in such a way as to lead Rose and the Doctor here, to this moment. (This makes the entire series, to me, reminiscent of the episode Turn Left, where the point is that a myriad small choices lead up to momentous things–Doctor Who’s take on the butterfly effect, if you will.) The entity also kills the Daleks by reducing them to dust; and it brings life by command, reviving Jack from death. This will have consequences, of course, as later episodes (and the Torchwood spinoff) will show that he is now immortal, and a sort of mobile fixed point in time. At the end, the Doctor leaves him here; and it will later be revealed that this was because he finds Jack’s new nature abhorrent, offensive to his time sense, although he still respects him personally.

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This is, as far as I’ve seen, the first mention of regeneration in the new series. The Doctor explains it briefly to Rose before it happens; and really, he’s explaining it to the fans, as well. New fans who missed out on the classic series would likely have no idea that he can change; and as it had already been announced that he would be leaving, it no doubt left some viewers wondering about the future of the show. This regeneration would have resolved that uncertainty, as we see the Tenth Doctor for the first time. Also, this is the first new-style regeneration, with the now-characteristic energy explosion, although we have since learned it dates back to the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration into the War Doctor. I do find it interesting that Rose seemed to maintain the vortex energy better than the Doctor; she holds it for some time before it begins to kill her, but the Doctor appears to be mortally hurt by it after just a moment—after all, he releases it back to the TARDIS almost instantly after taking it in.

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And so, with that, we say goodbye to the Ninth Doctor, and hello to the Tenth. It’s been a fun ride, and far too short. Still, without the Ninth Doctor, we never would have had the good things to come; and we wouldn’t be eagerly awaiting Series Ten today. For that, though Christopher Eccleston’s time in the TARDIS was short, we thank him.

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Next time: The Christmas Invasion! And possibly the beginning of Series Two. See you there!

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Bad Wolf

The Parting of the Ways

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