nuWho 1×11: Boom Town

Maybe it’s just me, but this is an unassuming little title. It feels like it should rouse interest, but it doesn’t. Anyway, on with the actual episode.

The episode opens with, oh dear, a recap of the Slitheen two-parter. At least they avoided showing the really stupid bits.

It is now six months later, Earth Time. Gentle Scientist McFussy is gently telling Alien Lady (“Margaret”) that there’s a problem. His “readings” indicate that “the project” is just so dangerous that it’s as if someone must be trying to annihilate “the city”. Margaret’s stomach gurgles as she gently tells McFussy that of course she’ll shut the project down, she’s not a maniac, and, er, she won’t have to kill anyone else to hush this up will she? She unzips, the inevitable is about to happen, and we go to title sequence.

This gives us time to wonder about that stomach gurgle, because doggone it, someone’s still got some ‘splaining to do about all the flatulence “humor” that drove the initial two-parter into the ground nose-first. Did they reshoot after negative feedback from the first two episodes? They couldn’t have just changed the sound effect, because Margaret blames the gurgle on being hungry. So either someone went to the expense of a dinky little reshoot, or someone realized ahead of time how stupid the toilet humor would be, and altered it for this episode but not the first two. What gives?

Okay, enough of this. Let’s try to approach this episode with a fresh palate. McFussy looked to a model depicting several nuclear reactors and a lot of buildings, so we see where the title is likely to come in. IT IS A PUN HA HA. I for one am disappointed we aren’t in the American Old West, but I guess it just highlights how Britain-centric this first season is.

We join Mickey as he homes in on a blue police box randomly sitting in a plaza somewhere in scenic downtown Wales. But the man who answers his knock is not the Doctor! How embarrassing! But don’t worry, it’s Captain Jack Harkness. The Doctor greets Mickey cordially. Mickey has come to give Rose her passport, and also to see if she’s gotten tired of having all of space and time at her beck and call yet. But now there’s this new handsome guy in the room, giving off decidedly non-asexual vibes, and Mickey wants to know what’s up with that too. Instead we find out why the TARDIS is in Cardiff: that rift that was sealed to stop the ghost invasion force back in the third episode left behind a spacetime scar, and spacetime scars leak energy pus, and energy pus is what the TARDIS needs to get refueled. And all three time travelers high-five while Mickey takes them for fools.

I don’t remember the TARDIS ever needing refueling as if it were an ordinary Earth vehicle. KJ doesn’t either. Being drained of its power by some force, sure, that happens, but this? I wouldn’t care so much, but an episode that goes back to the Slitheen is already on close watch.

Mickey introduces the question of why the TARDIS always looks like a police box. (Mickey didn’t realize that police boxes were ever a real thing, which is likely a wink to younger viewers in the same position.) The Doctor says he doesn’t fix the chameleon circuit because he likes the TARDIS as it is. (We’ll later see that he leaves the parking brake on because he likes the wheezing sound.) “I love it,” agrees Rose, hugging the TARDIS probably a little too warmly for Mickey’s comfort. The Doctor leads them off to explore Cardiff, the safest place in the universe.

Cut to Margaret saying that the nuclear plant will be built in the middle of Cardiff. I figured this would be revenge against London for previous events, but no, the project’s in Cardiff. Anyway, she’s Mayor and she’s going to knock down a castle and build perfectly safe nuclear reactors, and absolutely nothing bad will happen, honest. She doesn’t want to be photographed, she doesn’t want to be interviewed, and she doesn’t want Cathy Salt, intrepid reporter for the Gazette, to tell her of whispers that the project is cursed with more than an indecipherable Welsh name.

Cathy says it’s “a bit odd” that so many have died during the construction of the project, which in this day and age probably means three or four tops. And then she starts her list with “the entire team of the European Safety Inspectors”, and it’s like, whoa, how is this project still going forward? The odd local engineer is one thing, but wipe out an entire unit of people devoted to rooting out dangers that others might try to hide, presumably sent by the European Union, and there are going to be Inquiries.

How long has she been Mayor, anyway? Can you even advance a nuclear reactor project within six months to where an international safety team wants to look things over?

Anyway, the reporter lists all the people who have died, and Margaret brushes them off one by one, going from probably illegal safety issues to “ice is slippery okay geeze”. You’d think someone must have noticed a pattern and called for a formal investigation, but apparently this is just one of those things that can only be pieced together by an attractive reporter chick, who then brings it to the attention of the attractive male lead, and then they try to tell the authorities but get the brush-off and have to have adventures to uncover the truth. Cathy says she’s found that the man killed in the teaser was concerned that the plant was deliberately designed to lead to a gigantic meltdown.

Margaret hustles Cathy off to kill her out of the public eye. Cathy goes along because, hey, all those other suspicious deaths happened to other people, and it’s not as if her little bitty newspaper could ever happen across anything, you know, actually serious. If Cathy came across Tony Blair sneaking out of the Treasury at midnight, guilty expression on his face, strange bulges in his British garments, all she would say would be, “Hello Mister Blair! Put on some weight, have you? Oh, while I’m here, do you have anything to say about reports that someone is embezzling large sums of money from the Government?”

Anyway, just as Alien Lady is about to kill Cathy to stop the information being released, Cathy mentions her fiance thinks she’s nuts. Alien Lady considers this angle, relaxes, probes this new line of thinking. The fact that Cathy is pregnant hits home with Alien Lady, and she softens. It’s rather a strange scene, deliberately so, with Alien Lady sitting in a public restroom stall, fully unmasked, chatting in a very human way about family with this oblivious girl. Alien Lady reminisces about her deceased family as much as she can do in public, concluding that maybe she is cursed. Cathy disagrees, adding that Alien Lady is “quite nice.” Alien Lady thanks her and sends her on her way, saying that she needs to be alone and perhaps I’ll kill you some other time?

Now we find the TARDIS Gang relaxing in a seaside restaurant, listening to a delightful anecdote Jack is telling. It’s a great little bit, and oh wow already? Here we are, immediately plunging into the exact plot device Alien Lady (and everyone else) saw coming: the Doctor recognizing her in a photograph in a newspaper . . . right under a big headline reading New Mayor, new Cardiff. Looks like she’s been mayor considerably less than six months, then.

Alien Lady isn’t cursed, the whole Slitheen storyline is.


The Gang heads straight for City Hall. Jack coolly outlines a basic, sensible plan to confront and bottle up Alien Lady. How can these episodes be so sane and yet so stupid? The Doctor corrects him as to who’s in charge, then after a moment’s thought accepts his scheme. Everyone flips out their cell phones, and in they charge.

The Doctor tells the Receptionist to tell the Mayor that the Doctor told the Receptionist that “the Doctor” would like to see her. “Doctor who?” asks the receptionist. (Ding!) There is a prompt clink as Margaret’s teacup hits the floor. The receptionist comes back out and tries to stammer apologies, to which the Doctor smiles knowingly and says, “She’s climbing out of the window, isn’t she?” The Doctor begins coordinating with the rest of his strike team, with Mickey continuing to look a little out of his depth (especially as he collides with a janitor and runs off with his foot in a bucket of toilet paper). At this point, the receptionist decides to defend the Lord Mayor from the Doctor. Fortunately, Rose and Jack drive Margaret back past the Doctor. She gets past Mickey’s exit before he can cut her off and she teleports away, but the Doctor teleports her back, now pointed in their direction, and smiles genially at her. Every time she teleports away, the Doctor simply returns her closer to them.

Reeling in the elusive Slitheen matronfish.

Back in her chambers, Margaret tries to pass off the nuclear plant as philanthropy, but the Doctor says that it’s designed to explode the moment it achieves full capacity. Jack adds that, being on top of that scar (he calls it a “rift”, but he himself helped establish it was sealed, so good job again episode), it would blow up the entire planet. Rose asks whether anyone noticed — noticed the design flaw, I mean, not the impossibility of the Doctor discovering such a design flaw from examining a public relations model the size of a coffee table.

It’s like the Slitheen sweat plot holes, or something.

“I further deduce that this model was constructed by a left-handed man of average height whose wife has ceased to love him.”

Margaret bitterly says that London doesn’t care what happens in Wales, then declares in shock that she’s gone native — sounding like a Welshman, ugh. Okay, that’s funny, but it doesn’t count as patching that particular plot hole. You can do better than that, Russell T. Davies.

Or maybe you can’t. Because I just, what is this. It’s Mickey’s turn to get a line, so he asks why she would blow herself up (uh, remember she’s got a teleporter?) and gets alien-racist, and in response the Doctor pulls the central portion out of the model and flips it over, revealing what looks kinda like a color-coded circuit board. Looks like she put her evil plans into a model where anyone could find them. I bet she puts her secret lair’s self-destruct code under the doormat when she goes out for the evening, too. Jack is practically drooling over whatever this impressive hardware is supposed to do, but he also points out that it should be beyond her capabilities. I suspect a “Bad Wolf” moment is coming by way of explanation.

Essentially, the technobabble doohickey would surround her in a protective bubble, then use the energy from the planetary explosion to surf her back to a properly civilized planet. And the circuit board is the doohickey itself, not a representation of what’s to be buried under the plant. I actually respect that more. She’s keeping her doohickey close to her, in a natural place for her to be at the crucial moment, in an elegantly relevant place that, honestly, nobody’s likely to look. It’s much more sane than “I will tell the model builder to include all that weird underground stuff I should be keeping secret.” I will award this style points.

Margaret is tight-lipped about how she came by the doohickey, then tells the Doctor that she chose “Blaidd Drwg” for the project name for no particular reason. The music gets eerie-sad ooo-oo-y as the Doctor announces that it’s Welsh for “Bad Wolf”. Okay, well, half-credit for me, I guess. Rose and the Doctor are both weirded out, having caught on that the phrase is “following” them around, but the Doctor snaps out of it and announces plans to take Margaret home. Margaret stonily informs them that the planetary government would execute her if she returned. The Doctor simply replies, “Not my problem.” That’s cold, and comes out of nowhere. He seriously won’t drop her off on another planet that she could have travelled to anyway after he took her home?

Maybe the whole Roxycolecofallopian thing breaks writers’ minds. The word overflows a neuron somewhere in their brains, and they just can’t take the episode they’re writing seriously. Maybe if the Slitheens’ planet were called “Sturm” or “Dirk” these would be among the best early episodes of the series.

Anyway, Margaret gushes over the TARDIS, calling it technology of the gods. The Doctor responds that he’d make a bad god. The fact that he wouldn’t allow his followers days of rest could hint at his suppressed ego (my preference), or just that he doesn’t believe in taking a break from doing whatever it is he would have his followers do. Jack is trying to siphon some energy from the doohickey into the TARDIS. Margaret tries to make them feel guilt over taking her back to die. Mickey tries not to have any of it, but nobody can meet her gaze.

Eventually, Mickey steps outside to get away from the tension in the TARDIS. Rose follows to make eyes at him, and Mickey takes the chance to get her to himself for the night.

In the TARDIS, Margaret goes to work on the Doctor. It just slides off of him. So Margaret asks for a last meal, at a nearby restaurant she claims to have come to appreciate. Jack warns that she will try to escape, to which Margaret lashes out bitterly that she can’t escape the Doctor. She challenges the Doctor to eat with someone he’s about to kill. The Doctor says he could totally do it but brushes her request aside, to which Jack now volunteers his futuristic handcuffs that should keep her from escaping. The Doctor grins and accepts her challenge. He’s mood-swingier this episode than everyone was in Cry Wilderness put together.

Eating with other people tends to be a community thing for humans, a thing done among friends and those who are about to become more friendly toward each other as a result of eating together. It’s probably something in our brain chemistry. That there would be similar connotations among aliens is a leap in logic, but a plausible one.

In the restaurant, Margaret works on the Doctor, trying to force him to see her as a person rather than a problem to be disposed of. She also dumps iocaine powder in his wine while his back is turned, but he turns back and trades their glasses with a smile. Then she manifests a goofy-sounding poison dart from her finger, but he catches it. Then she breathes poison at him, but he blocks it with breath freshener spray.

I want to take this man vs. woman struggle seriously, I genuinely do, but you cannot just dump this goofy stuff RIGHT IN THE THICK OF IT and expect not to break the mood. Rrrgh. Let’s see what Rose and Mickey are up to.

Rose is telling Mickey about visiting a planet that was much colder than the brisk Welsh summer night they’re experiencing. The planet is called Woman Wept, when they could have just called it Maine. She’s gushing about her amazing experiences with the Doctor when it should just be her-and-Mickey time. It’s understandable but rude, and it shows in Mickey’s face. He finally says that he’s seeing someone else. Mickey confronts her with what he’s gone through. “You left me! You make me feel like nothing!” he shouts. “Am I just supposed to sit here for the rest of my life waiting for you, because I will.”

Margaret describes the slow torture that she’ll be put through upon return home, which finally gets the Doctor to break his oblivious facade and get down to brass tacks. He won’t take her to another planet because she’ll just start killing people again. (And she couldn’t have left Rampartcalaminefurious after you dropped her off because . . . ?) He points out, “You’re pleading for mercy out of a dead woman’s lips.” As evidence that she can lead a quiet life, Margaret tells the Doctor about not killing Cathy. The Doctor dismisses it as a whim. Margaret turns on him again, accusing him of playing God with other people’s lives and leaving the wreckage behind forever. (This, obviously, is more of that darker look at the Doctor’s career we’ve been getting this season.) And the Doctor falters just a bit.

Margaret is trying the “bad home life” defense on for size when the rumbling starts. The Doctor deactivates the handcuffs for convenience, or something, and Margaret assures him that she has no desire to wander off. Meanwhile, Mickey is asking Rose to give him some sort of commitment. But electrical things explode, people scream, and Rose takes off without an answer. Mickey gets mad and shouts after her that she’ll always choose the Doctor over him.

The Doctor finds the TARDIS is the focal point of a discharge of basic VFX: the rift is opening again, and it’ll tear apart the planet! It looks like Jack got the doohickey plugged in a little too well. Rose rushes in, demands an update, and gets collared by a gloating Margaret. Margaret explains that this was all according to backup plan: anyone capable of stopping her would have technology that her doohickey could feed off of.

Margaret is ready to surf her way to freedom, but then a bright light comes from beneath the TARDIS console. The Doctor informs her that it’s the Heart of the TARDIS, pouring out from the ship’s soul. She gazes at the light and begins to smile at how shiny it is. She finally tells the Doctor “Thank you” and is gone.

After the TARDIS blows a few more circuits and everything gets settled down, they investigate and find a tentacled egg inside the Margaret skin. The Doctor tries to rationalize how the TARDIS could make her physically regress to her childhood, but I don’t think even the writer bought what he’s trying to sell us. Rose remembers she has a boyfriend and rushes off to see if he’s safe. Mickey sees her return, clearly looking for him . . . and walks off into the night.

Rose returns Mickey-less. When the Doctor inquires, she simply says he’s fine and he’s gone. The Doctor says Alien Lady can look forward to her second chance at life, to which Rose says, “That’d be nice.” On that note of wistful regret, we’re finally done.

This was less painful than either of the first two Slitheen episodes, but no way it gets the same score as the news spacestation one.

Rating: 1.5 nuclear plants astride a rift

Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: You let one of them go. But that’s nothing new. Every now and then a little victim’s spared. Because she smiled. Because he’s got freckles. Because he begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction . . . you happen to be kind.
Margaret: Only a killer would know that. Is that right? From what I’ve seen, your funny little happy-go-lucky life leaves devastation in its wake. Always moving on because you dare not go back. Playing with so many people’s lives, you might as well be a god. And you’re right, Doctor. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes . . . you let one go.

Credit where credit is due: The rift that brought the TARDIS there to “refuel” was the same plot point that attracted Alien Lady to the location. Efficiency in plotting. Even if it’s stupid plotting.

nuWho 1×10: The Doctor Dances

Okay, so we left our heroes cornered by hive-mind zombies intent on infecting them with gas masks. Just your standard cliffhanger. The Doctor tries telling the hospital bunch that he’s angry with them and they should go to their rooms. All of them, plus the Child, adopt identical dejected body language and shuffle away. The Doctor is happy the threat is over: “Those would have been terrible last words.”

While Nancy sobs for her lost brother, Jack and the Doctor expand upon a few plot points from Part 1. Jack protests that his con game is fun for all ages and he’s not to blame for any of this virus stuff. As you can guess, the 9th Doctor is angry with him, possibly for trying to deflect blame (it’s become a theme this season) as much as for what his actions have led to.

Nancy suffers a jump scare as she’s leaving the house, as the Child steps out from around a corner! But it’s just the resident boy wearing a normal gas mask. His parents capture Nancy and bundle her back into the house, presumably so the mother can administer boiling-hot justice via her coffeepot.

The Doctor leads the way up the hospital’s stairs to look at Patient Zero. He lets Jack neutralize the lock on the door so he can get a good look at Jack’s sonic blaster (not a euphemism). Continuing this Doctor’s theme of being a walking disaster magnet, Jack mentions that the facility that made his gun was destroyed. The Doctor agrees: “Like I said, [I was there] once.” The fact that bananas are now grown there now is also implied to be his doing. One might further infer that he’s messing with Jack deliberately. The gun’s shooty visual effect is kind of cheesy but fun. Rose likes it too.

The room beyond is half lab, half bedroom, and all a mess. Jack surmises that something strong and angry escaped, but the walls are covered with childish drawings of stickmen. Playing back an interrogation recording yields what the viewer expects: One question after another is met with a childish voice repeating variations on “Are you my mummy? I want my mummy!” Grim, the Doctor sees that the stick figures all represent a woman. One thought permeating this child’s mind: to find his mother. As a new father, I’m reminded that a young child’s need for his or her parents is a primal desire, an instinct that can override all other emotions when the urge strikes. Not even proximity is enough sometimes.

As the recording provides an eerie backdrop, the Doctor demands to know why the monkeys around him can’t feel “it” emanating from the walls. “When he’s stressed he likes to insult species”, Rose tells Jack, which is as good an explanation as any. The Doctor reasons through what must have happened: children all over London, looking for food; the spaceship crashes; someone gets altered; then — what? “It’s afraid,” the Doctor says as the recording changes to “I’m he-ere!” “The power of a god, and I just sent it to its room”, he grins. But then it sets in that the tape ended and the voice is still talking. “And this is its room”, he concludes, and spins around — and the background music, respectfully absent for a while, now jumps in to punctuate the sight of the Child on the other side of the table, blocking their escape.

Jack pulls his gun to shoot the Child, but finds he’s holding a banana. The Doctor grins and uses Jack’s gun to remove part of the wall. They jump through, Jack reverse-guns the wall back into existence, the Child starts punching through the wall, and they flee, only to run into the other patients. Trapped, Jack starts enumerating the uses of his blaster. “What’ve you got?” he asks the Doctor. The Doctor proudly pulls out his screwdriver and announces, “I’ve got –” then realizes how lame it would sound and finishes with “– never mind. It’s sonic, okay, let’s leave it at that.” Finally, pressured further, he admits it’s a screwdriver. This is the best contender yet for Favorite Dialogue. We all know what will win, yes, but honorary mentions all around.

Anyway, Rose finally shoots the floor with Jack’s gun and they fall through to the next floor. (Spock raises an approving eyebrow at her three-dimensional thinking and Han mutters about maybe beginning to like her.) Jack asks, “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ooh, this could be a little more sonic?” and the Doctor says defensively, “What, you’ve never been bored? Never had a long night, never had a lot of cabinets to put up?” They find they’re in another room of the Living Gas Masks and, upon finding Jack’s gun is spent (not a euphemism), the Doctor just opens the door himself and sonics it locked behind them. Jack complains about the Doctor blowing up the gun factory, to which Rose responds, “The first day we met, he blew up my job. It’s practically how he communicates.”

The Doctor calls for a list of assets, to which Jack snarks about the lack of same, to which the Doctor asks Rose where she found this romantic interest. A bit of banter more, and Jack disappears with a teleporty sound.

Nancy has blackmailed her way out of her citizen’s arrest and picked up wirecutters, a torch, and food into the bargain. She finds her boys and scolds them for reusing a hideout. One of them, blissfully ignoring logic, is illiterately typing a letter to his father, whereabouts currently unknown. Nancy tells them they have to think for themselves in case she never comes back. She’s headed to the “bomb site” to try to solve the mystery herself. One of the boys protests that she keeps them safe, to which she responds that the Child keeps homing in on her, and as long as they are with her they will never be safe. As evidence, she points out that the typing SFX have continued even with nobody near the typewriter. Spooky!

Jack phones back to the Doctor and Rose by activating the hospital’s broken radio, using his fancy spaceship’s capabilities. The Doctor notes that the Child can do the same thing, to which the Child singsongs, “And I can hear you. Coming to find you”, which just makes it creepier.

The Doctor sets about the time-honored task of loosening the bars in the window of their effective prison cell. You know, just in case the self-centered con man from the future doesn’t come back for them. Rose says she trusts Jack because he’s like the Doctor except he also knows how to get a girl’s heart racing. The Doctor, rather than take umbrage at the implication that he too would run a con and then shrug off the collateral damage, protests he can totally dance. (The Doctor Who wiki says there is one instance of the Doctor dancing in the old show.) Rose calls his bluff, and he steps toward her with a very unfamiliar look of trepidation on his face, one of being at a loss as to what to do next. Were I a Doctor/Rose ‘shipper, I’d say he’s only now realizing the depths of Rose’s feelings for him *siiiigh*. Anyway, he catches sight of Rose’s healthy hands, and wants to know where the burns from that barrage balloon rope are. Rose explains about Captain Jack Harkness’s Patent Cure-All NanobotsTM. This works to get an important plot point reintroduced for this episode while seeming to just be a way to progress the, uh, interest triangle centered on Rose. As they start to dance, not impressing Rose in the least, Jack pipes in to inform them that he teleported them aboard unawares.

The Doctor recognizes this as a Chula ship too, only more functional than the derelict. Accordingly he snaps his fingers, causing a glowing swarm of nanobots/”nanogenes” to appear around his hand and fix a burn. He patters about them some more, but if you’re really super-detective you probably picked up on the “genes” part of their name, connected it with the re-writing DNA comment from the end of last episode, and went hmmm. He then, not at all euphemistically, tells Jack he needs to see Jack’s “space junk”. There’s also a bit of backstory for Jack, as he used to be a Time Agent, only to discover they’d removed two years’ worth of his memories.

Nancy has gotten herself captured at the crash site. She’s chained to a desk with a soldier sporting the hottest new injury everyone’s wearing this season. Nancy begs the commanding officer to detain her somewhere else, but being Nancy, she never tries to explain why. Even when the CO catches the soldier calling him “Mummy”. She then tries to tell the soldier to let her go, with no results.

Outside, Jack distracts “Algy”, the CO, while the Doctor cheerfully tells Rose about humanity going out into the galaxy and dancing with all the aliens they can find (this is a euphemism). Rose isn’t sure what to make of this. Jack isn’t sure what to make of Algy — his posh demeanor has degenerated into childish body language and a preoccupation with the word “mummy”. After the inevitable transformation, the Doctor announces that the whatever-it-is is airborne now (how would he know?), and there are only hours left to save the human race. An air raid siren sounds the alarm, and Rose remembers that a bomb is supposed to hit here soon.

Our heroes stop by to rescue Nancy, who sang her soldier to sleep, then look over the derelict ambulance. It looks like it could hold two, maybe four humans if they held their breaths. Jack tries to open it, but trips emergency crash protocols that involve a siren and a blinking red light. Probably not a good thing then? All the Gas Mask people wake up and head for the crash site. Not a good thing. The Doctor tosses Rose his screwdriver and tells her which setting will close up Nancy’s hole in the fence. It’s setting #2000-odd, which suggests an awful lot of long, bored nights.

“Be sure you don’t use setting 2,428E by mistake. That turns barbed wire into Mr. T action figures. I was on an ’80s kick at the time, all right?”

Rose and Nancy talk about the future as they repair the fence. (Rose makes it easier for the VFX people by making the screwdriver glow extra-bright as the wire repairs.) Nancy finds it hard to believe that any future exists beyond this war that doesn’t involve Germans goose-stepping all over Britain.

Jack has gotten the ambulance open and declares it empty. The Doctor counters that it contains enough nanogenes to “rebuild a species.” The nanogenes found a dead child wearing a gas mask, healed and brought it back to life as best they could guess, then used the result as a template to “fix” all the rest of the humans they found. Which will be everyone in the world. Since the derelict is designed for the battlefield, it added on standard Chula warrior features, which covers all the supernatural things we’ve seen the victims do. Such as them now converging on the ambulance to defend it.

As the bombs get closer, Jack kinda-sorta-doesn’t really apologize for having to leave them in the lurch, actually apologizes with his eyes, and then teleports out. Meanwhile the Doctor has looked up Nancy on IMDB and realizes that she’s old enough to in fact be the Child’s mother. As the Child marches forward with his army, the Doctor urges Nancy to tell him the truth. Tragically, there isn’t enough Jamie left to understand Nancy’s answer, so she finally tells him she’s sorry and gives him the physical contact she’s been afraid of the whole story, embracing him as the son she’s been afraid to admit to his whole life. And then the nanogenes kick in and create a cloud of glowy love around them. It’s touches like these that win Hugos.

As the Doctor looks on in hope, the nanogenes recognize Nancy’s DNA as similar to Jamie’s, then reconstruct him properly based on the new information.

Jack flies by and tractors the bomb before it drops on the happy reunion. The, uh, “special” effects strike again here. I’m guessing the FX people were at a loss as to how to stage this bit, so they had someone’s five-year-old come in and show them how to do it with toys. And . . . uh . . . Jack is riding the bomb now. Huh. The Doctor tells him the bomb isn’t necessary — he must have told Jack to let the bomb drop and wipe out the infection, back while the barbed wire was being repaired — and Jack says goodbye before teleporting himself and the stasis’ed bomb into the ship and flying away.

That, uh, that happened.

Then the Doctor calls down the nanogenes onto his hands, apparently reprograms them with a twiddling of his fingers, and, beaming, flings them at the Gas Mask Army. “Everybody lives!” he shouts, and sure enough, everyone gets up with their proper faces on. He compliments Dr. Constantine, who may not remember the whole freaky zombie thing, and leaves him to deal with a lady whose leg has grown back. “There is a war on, is it possible you miscounted?” Dr. C. asks her.

The ambulance is set to self-destruct once nobody is nearby, the nanogenes are set to deactivate once everyone is cured, and the Doctor is ecstatic. “Ask me anything!” he declares, so Rose wants to know why Jack said goodbye. Well, that’s a downer.

We find Jack in deep space, trying to figure out how to get rid of a bomb before it eats through stasis. Finding no way out, he sips booze to remain upbeat and reflects on previous times he was doomed to die. It seems we’re about to witness a brave man meeting his end . . . but then the TARDIS appears in the back of the ship, with Rose urging him into the control room as she instructs the Doctor in dancing. Rose invites Jack to cut in, but the Doctor suddenly remembers his dance moves and the episode ends with Jack watching with approval as the Doctor and Rose strut their stuff.

Honestly, I could have done a “top ten dialogues” list for this story and have had plenty of material left over.

Rating: 4 square-shaped sonic blaster bolts

Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: Come on. Give me a day like this. Give me this one.
[He removes the mask from Jamie, then laughs.]
The Doctor: Twenty years to pop music, you’re gonna love it.
The Doctor: Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once! Everybody lives!

Things from this episode also appearing in the Matt Smith run: I dunno, four at least?
Things even more pointless than a sonic screwdriver: sonic carpenter’s level, sonic lockpick, sonic eyebrows

nuWho 1×09: The Empty Child

Great title, huh? The teaser isn’t much on plot, though, as we find the TARDIS chasing a mysterious distress signal–emitting cylinder that is headed for London by way of a mess of time tracks (the space equivalent of the Underground). Rose is wearing a Union Jack shirt for no apparent reason other than this being a very British episode.

Having landed in nighttime London, the Doctor re-introduces the psychic paper, again as a device to let him go around asking people about the weird thing of the week. Structurally, this introduces the idea for when Jack pulls his own paper out later on. But between that and Rose’s dramatic outfit and a few other details, I wonder if TPTB sensed this two-parter would be something special, and made certain it would do the job as a First Episode. As the Doctor breaks into a building to see who’s playing music in it, Rose is distracted by an eerie, childish voice calling for its mother. She then sees an eerie, childish figure in the distance and decides that’s more interesting than asking somebody about big metal cylinders by way of Stravinsky. This is all good dialogue, by the way.

The Doctor finds himself in a nightclub, with a lady in big furs singing “It Had To Be You, Wonderful You”. He waits out the song appreciatively before commandeering the microphone to ask “Has anything fallen from the sky recently?” The audience finally decides this is a funny question, not a stupid one, then shuffles out of the room as sirens sound. It becomes clear that the TARDIS has taken them to WWII London, during the Nazi air raids.

Meanwhile, Rose has tracked the figure down. It’s a child in a suit who’s decided to accessorize with a gas mask. It’s currently looking about from atop a scary-tall building. Rose catches hold of a rope that a stagehand is enthusiastically waving about and begins to climb up to him. Unfortunately, the rope is attached to a blimp of some variety, which lifts Rose off into the thick of an air battle before she’s pulled herself more than a few feet off the ground. The compositing in these wide shots is . . . not impressive. The rest of the effects — and there are many — are good, especially for the time and on a TV budget, but you’d think they could spare a few last dollars for a merely passable composite shot of Rose drifting across the screen.

The Doctor mentions to a cat that after nine hundred years in the TARDIS, the one thing that could still surprise him would be a travelling companion who doesn’t wander off. Then the fake phone on his fake phone booth rings, which understandably confounds him. A girl with a hard expression appears out of nowhere just long enough to warn him not to answer his TARDIS phone, that the call is not for him. Very spooky! Nancy looks . . . fifteen at the oldest, let’s say, but the actress playing her was about twenty-one at the time the episode aired.

The girl having vanished, the Doctor looks the most indecisive we’ve yet seen him, but finally picks up the phone gingerly. The eerie child’s voice, asking for its mummy, turns the Doctor immediately serious. (As comes up later in the series, the Doctor is friend to all children.) He can’t get anything more out of it, however, and the phone goes dead. He follows a clatter to find a family headed into their bomb shelter, the father less scared than he is frustrated that he can’t finish a proper supper these days. The Doctor catches sight of the mysterious girl slipping into the freshly abandoned house. He finds her inside, feeding homeless boys on the family’s dinner.

Meanwhile, a British officer named Jack uses Luke Skywalker binoculars to investigate an object dangling from a blimp. It’s Rose, still trying to avoid the spectacular battle CGIing around her. He compliments her rump, then when another officer suggests he make himself useful, compliments his rump too. When Rose finally loses her grip on the rope, Jack catches her in a tractor beam and pulls her to safety.

The Doctor ingratiates himself with the home crashers and asks why they haven’t been all evacuated from London. Some were, but landed in abusive situations (a sad historical fact) and headed back to the city they knew. He then gets serious with Nancy, who is defensive. He asks about the phone, Rose, and the cylinder from the teaser, with no results.

When nine hundred years you reach, sketch as well you will not, hmm?

Hearing a tapping and the voice asking after its mummy, he finds the eerie child on the other side of a window, looking in, its hand pressed against the pane. It saw several of the boys and followed them here. Nancy hurries around and bolts the door before it can get inside. A wounded hand comes through the mail slot. Under stress, Nancy tells the Doctor that “it isn’t exactly a child.” As she evacuates the house from a child who is evidently worse than a bombing run, Nancy warns the Doctor not to let it touch him, or he will become like it: “empty”.

And then the phone by the Doctor rings. When Nancy takes it from him and puts it back on the cradle, other things start being triggered. The radio starts playing, and a wind-up monkey clashes its cymbals in time with the child’s “Mummy, mummy” chant. It’s basically a twisted inversion of the “toys” plot thread in Close Encounters, with the child still the focal point, but now being the source of the wrongness. (In fact, there’s an ape-with-cymbals toy here, too.)

The Doctor talks to the Child (it’s capitalized now), telling it its mummy isn’t around, but can get no further information except that it’s afraid of the bombs. He tells it he’ll let it in, but when the door is opened, the Child has vanished.

Meanwhile Rose is overtly attracted to her rescuer (and vice versa), who introduces himself as Captain Jack Harkness. He’s got a fancy spaceship with a tractor beam and a cloaking device and psychic paper and healing nanobots and probably even a stash of Oreos somewhere. As we learn later, he also has an infinite lives cheat, and he’s omnisexual and so are his pheromones. Much like Mickey before I started this rewatch, I’ve seen little of him, and like Mickey before this rewatch I can take or leave him. We’ll see if Jack can similarly elevate himself. So far his dialogue delivery has chafed, although it improves once he decides Rose is a Time Agent.

They go out on top of the spaceship and have a drink, right in front of Big Ben, in the middle of an air raid. As they dance, Jack offers her a Chula warship for sale — if she’s authorized. Rose isn’t sure she likes pretending to be an Agent, but she likes the whole flirting thing. Deciding that he won’t get any money from her, Jack searches for her companion, by doing “a scan for alien tech” — which is what Rose wanted to see the Doctor do earlier. “Finally, a professional,” she declares, beaming.

The Doctor catches up with Nancy, and amid the commentary on his protuberant facial features finally gets the location of the cylinder out of her. The armed forces have it quarantined. Nancy, ever reluctant to give any direct information herself, urges the Doctor to talk to a doctor in a nearby hospital first. The Doctor reflects on the bravery of Great Britain in stopping the Nazis, then sends Nancy on her way to “save the world”.

Inside the hospital, the Doctor finds rooms lined with patients in their beds. All of them wear a gas mask. The doctor, Constantine, is not in the best of health. Constantine tells him there are hundreds of such patients. At his invitation, the Doctor examines a patient and finds head trauma, a collapsed chest cavity, and a hand wound. (Remember, the Child had a prominent gash in its hand as well.) Also the gas mask has inexplicably become fused to the face. The Doctor checks other patients, and all of them have those same features.

Over the Doctor’s protests that this is all impossible, Constantine relates that the cylinder killed only one person initially, but his injuries spread rapidly throughout the hospital like a plague. Stranger still, despite the absence of life signs, none of these patients are dead. To demonstrate, he raps a refuse can, and the patients all sit to attention. This is all slowly paced, with dialogue leading the viewer along, to draw out the suspense and horror. Constantine says he expects that the hospital will be exploded to eliminate the plague, but adds that it has spread around London.

As his coughing worsens, Constantine tells the Doctor where to find Patient Zero, then says it’s Nancy’s brother and that Nancy knows more than she lets on. (The latter is obvious to anyone, especially given that Nancy let on that her brother died from a more normal bomb.) As the Doctor watches in horror, Constantine strains to say “Mummy . . .” and a gas mask grows out of his mouth to cover his face. Gross. Imagine something that size forcing itself out between your jaws.

At this point Jack and Rose arrive to join in the fun. The Doctor takes the news that he’s a Time Agent without the slightest twitch, but being called Mr. Spock, after Rose got on his case for not “Spocking it up” earlier, annoys him. The Doctor demands to know what kind of Chula warship Jack has, at which point Jack drops the rakish air and admits that there’s no such thing, the cylinder is just a space ambulance with nothing useful in it, and he was hoping to sell it to the Agency and then destroy it before they could find out they’d been had. Also, the fabled Oreo stash is just store-brand oatmeal raisin. Also, he threw the cylinder in their way in the first place, in order to get their attention, and you people aren’t actually Time Agents are you?

The Doctor explains the mechanism behind the plague: the victims’ DNA are being rewritten. But the results seem pointless. It isn’t killing them, it isn’t healing them, it isn’t enhancing them, it isn’t mind-controlling them to any useful purpose. Why would anyone invent such a virus?

Meanwhile, Nancy has gone back to the banquet house for more food, but is trapped in the dining room by the Child. She makes a break for the door, but the Child uses its Force powers to slam the door shut. As it advances on her, ignoring her attempts to identify herself as its sister, the patients around our other heroes come to life and entrap them with the same haunting question.


The dark, often creepy atmosphere lifts this episode immensely. Cramped alleyways, the small nightclub, muted colors, and the bewildering turns of events combine for a story that encloses our heroes tightly even though the action, in principle, ranges across London. Even when Rose is first lifted into the sky, her view is blocked by walls of balloons and aeroplanes. It goes without saying that the use of gas masks to remove the main humanizing feature, the face, while making the enemy/victim instantly recognizable as such was a smart move. And the soundtrack has been on-point as well. The odd thumping when the Doctor is deciding to let the Child in, after Nancy and the children have fled, or the “finally reaching the source” music when the Doctor unlocks the hospital gates and heads inside, for example.

This episode shows the inhabitants of London finding ways to maintain a sense of order in their lives. People visit nightclubs; the father’s irritation reflects the loss of horror at being bombed; Nancy insists on good manners from her boys. Jack feels out of place in this regard, at least until it turns out he started the whole plot. He’s an intrusion, like the Doctor and Rose, but in mood as well as time. All this stuff about time agencies and used warship salesmen and ropey spaceship innards works well enough, but it feels thematically at odds with the Doctor’s half of the story, and I think that is what ultimately rubs me wrong about Jack’s part of the episode. It’s not nearly enough of a blemish to lower the rating, though.

Rating: 4 creepy children in gas masks

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: So that’s what you do is it Nancy? Soon as the sirens go, you find a big fat family meal still warm on the table, with everyone down in the air raid shelter, and bingo! Feeding frenzy for the homeless kids of London Town. Puddings for all, as long as the bombs don’t get you.
Nancy: Something wrong with that?
Doctor: Wrong with that? It’s brilliant. I’m not sure if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical.

I’m not heading straight on to “The Doctor Dances” because: I got Close Encounters for Christmas and I’m gonna watch it.

nuWho 1×08: Father’s Day

We open with a flashback to Rose’s childhood. Jackie is telling her about how wonderful Rose’s father, Pete, was, and how he would have liked to have seen her. Little Rose is listening seriously, as children will do . . . for maybe forty seconds . . . before they start fixating on some minor detail or return to playing Pokemon. Seriously, though, this adds a bit to the history of the bond between Jackie and Rose.

Back in the present day, Rose convinces the Doctor to take her to see her father. The Doctor asks if she’s up to it emotionally, then cheerfully starts the TARDIS off with the warning to be careful what she wishes for.

They end up at Rose’s parents’ wedding, where Pete steps in it by forgetting his bride’s middle name. Jackie and Rose both give him the kind of look you don’t want a woman giving you. The Doctor thinks it’s funny, while Rose protests that “I thought he’d be taller.” Fitting, because throughout the episode, Peter Allan Tyler is going to repeatedly come up short in Rose’s estimation.

We return to the flashback to find Jackie is now reminiscing about Pete’s death. Someone ran him over and left him to die alone. Guess where we’re headed next.

They step out into 1987, home to Margaret Thatcher, Sylvester McCoy, and Wesley Crusher. One out of three isn’t bad in baseball. Rose again comments that everything seems so normal for the day her father dies. She narrates events as Pete gets out of his car with a vahhz, only to get rammed by the Murder Car. The Doctor squeezes her hand and tells her to run to Pete, but caught in the shock of the moment, Rose can’t do it. So, now behind a building out of sight, she asks the Doctor if she can try again.

The Doctor cautions Rose against attracting their previous selves’ attention — wait until our old selves leave before you run out there — and it’s notable that he takes it for granted that she understands. Much as when he asked earlier if she’d be all right seeing her father die, the Doctor is treating Rose as very nearly a peer, someone he doesn’t need to get all camera-zoom and emphatic with. In short, the Doctor now trusts Rose.

The deadly car turns the corner, and Rose breaks. She rushes out of hiding — crossing in front of their old selves, no less — and saves the vase, and also incidentally her father. The old D&R look at each other in bewilderment and vanish into nothingness.

Rose tells her father her name, clearly expecting him to recognize it, but naturally he doesn’t recognize her as the baby he has at home. Rose invites herself along to the wedding Pete’s attending, while the Doctor glares and the camera switches to a red, distorted overhead shot of London with discordant noises.

Pete takes them back home and prattles about milk. The Doctor nods and smiles politely while Rose enjoys every word out of Pete’s mouth. Left alone, the Doctor crosses his arms and glares at Rose, who puts her best reality-ignoring shields up and chatters satisfiedly about Pete’s trophies being out on display instead of tucked in the attic.

If a time traveler looks at you like this, run. Just run.

It’s noteworthy that Pete juuust missed out on advancing to the next tier of the bowling tournament. Pete does not look good for most of this episode. He hits on Rose while being married, he blusters, his inventions are dubious, he argues with his wife. The obvious view to come away with is that Pete may have had his quirks, but overall he was nobody special, maybe even a loser who struggled through life doing odd jobs. Jackie was simply cherry-picking her memories and not telling little Rose about all his faults, whether because she didn’t want Rose to think her father was a loser or because she didn’t want to face them herself. But between this, Pete’s intuition, and his decision at the end, maybe the intention was that Pete simply had hard luck and a weak character. Maybe there was something there, past the weaknesses, something substantial and good, that never found its place in the world.

Anyway, Rose finally pays attention to the Doctor’s glare and he spits out that she’s “just another stupid ape”, like Adam and (previously) Mickey. Rose protests that saving her dad was safe, that one person couldn’t make all that much difference. The Doctor replies that one single living person makes all the difference in the world. He changes history, yes, but he has the experience and knowledge to know what is safe to change and what is not. Rose, inexplicably, thinks the Doctor is jealous of Pete getting Rose’s attention, and the Doctor takes his TARDIS key back and leaves in a mutual huff. He finds that the TARDIS greenscreen has been deactivated and now it’s just the empty prop.

Meanwhile, whatever is viewing London in Red Insectoid Vision starts descending on people and making them drop whatever they’re holding. This could have come across as unintentionally hilarious, I’m just saying.

As they’re driving to the wedding, Rose tells Pete that Jackie calls him “the most fantastic man in the world”. Pete brushes that off with “Must be a different Jackie then.” Rose’s FutureFone beeps, and she pulls it out to hear the first message ever sent by telephone. Presumably, history has changed backwards so that no other message is allowed to be transmitted telephonically. As they turn a corner, the Murder Car following them keeps going and vanishes. Then it tries to ram them head-on as they pull up in front of the church. Then Jackie tells Pete off and accuses Rose of being “another” of Pete’s too-friendly friends, but the biggest shock for Rose is that Jackie’s hair is in curls. Jackie rails against all the “rubbish” that Pete brings home and denounces him as a failure. Poor Rose finally yells at them to behave.

A little boy who suddenly finds himself alone in a playground runs past them into the church, yelling about aliens. Then an alien runs up to Rose, yelling at her to get in the church herself. Rose smiles fondly when she sees it’s the Doctor, but then a monster bat with a mouth for a stomach appears out of thin air, and it and its buddies start squishy-crunching everybody in sight. You know it’s serious when the monsters are confident enough to stop sneaking around. Everyone bundles into the sanctuary of the church, where there is a large stained-glass window of Jesus on the cross that totally isn’t foreshadowing anything.

The Doctor covers the question of “why don’t they just teleport inside?” by saying that the church is old and therefore strong. I guess they time-travel to get around obstacles by going to a point in time when the obstacle didn’t exist? Maybe? What happens if that window was just installed last month? He relishes shouting Jackie down, then says that the scary bat things are sterilizing a wound in time, and nothing in the universe can hurt them. The Murder Car goes by, and when Pete asks about it, the Doctor tells him to pay it no mind. I have to think the Doctor knows that Pete getting himself properly killed might set things straight, but, even in this situation and as dark as this incarnation can get, he isn’t going to tell Pete to give himself up.

Pete has pieced enough together to make the leap to confront Rose as his daughter, and they get to know each other more frankly. Meanwhile, the Doctor reassures the bride and groom that they are important, that he’ll do his best to save their lives, and comments that he’s never lived a life quite like theirs. This could have been just filler, but wound up reinforcing the idea of “common” lives being valuable. Maybe in another episode, the Doctor could have told Pete to buck up and get himself killed, but not this one. Well, he probably wouldn’t say that to the father of any of his companions in any episode, but you know what I’m getting at.

The Doctor moves on to telling baby Rose that she mustn’t destroy the world. Whether he can speak Baby yet is uncertain, but Baby Rose just looks at him frightened. He warns grown-up Rose not to touch Baby Rose because that would be a “paradox”. Presumably that’s the Human concept that gets nearest whatever the Time Lord understanding is, because I can touch myself right now and that doesn’t create a paradox. The Doctor didn’t warn Rose not to breathe on her second try earlier, because that would change the air currents around her earlier self and create a paradox. I’d rather he just said something about an energy discharge if a person overlaps herself in time and space, if this has to be a plot point. I’m pretty sure this rule isn’t adhered to in the future anyway.

The Doctor and Rose start arguing again, but the Doctor apologizes (and Rose soon follows suit). He has no idea what to do: aside from a few buildings here and there, all of humanity has been wiped out by now. It’s a grim moment, made grimmer by the reminder that the Time Lords are wiped out too. Fortunately the TARDIS key is discovered to be glowing, so the Doctor takes the pulpit (inevitably) and tells everyone that he can use the shiny thing to regain access to his time machine and everyone will be saved from the huge bat monsters. The groom’s father’s portable phone comes in now as a power source, having served a previous purpose by letting the Doctor listen in on A.G. Bell’s first phone call. I approve of plot devices that don’t look like plot devices.

Rose tries to invent a future life for Pete’s pleasure. If I had to guess, she’s drawing on what she wanted as a child to have from her father. Saturday picnics are a bit specific, and she stresses the “being there to be relied upon” thing. Pete simply says that he isn’t who Rose describes. He catches on that he should be dead, but that Rose saved his life and wrecked reality and has been trying to hide it from him. “I’m so useless I can’t even die properly”, he says bitterly. Rose insists she’s to blame, but he responds, “I’m your dad. It’s my job for it to be my fault.” That’s leadership quality right there. Unfortunately, Jackie overhears, events eventuate, and baby Rose ends up in Rose’s arms (why did Pete put her there? baby Rose’s hair and eyes haven’t even changed yet) just long enough to allow a monster to make its entrance. The Doctor gets himself eaten up, and the monster promptly collides with the materializing TARDIS. Both disappear, leaving the key behind. Despite the Doctor having warned everyone not to touch it, Rose picks the key up and finds it cold.

The Doctor had said his fix would keep Pete alive. With that hope gone, Pete now sees there’s nothing left but for him to get run over. He has a last touching word with Rose and Jackie, this time agreeing with Rose’s belief that he would have been there for her. Pete then grabs the innocent vase and heads out, to be Rose’s dad, to be one ordinary man who makes all the difference in the world, to have a death that isn’t useless. The monsters disappear, humanity reappears, and Rose gets to be with her father at the end after all. There’s a flashback with Jackie narrating the revised events, to give the viewers a chance to get all those bits of dust out of their eyes before the next episode’s preview.

One is reminded of the bit in “Vincent and the Doctor” about a life being a heap of good things and a heap of bad things. Rose adds to her father’s heap of good things, even if the opportunity here came about through a moment of foolishness.

Rating: 3 time-fixing monster bat freaks

Favorite dialogue: Rose: But it’s not like I’ve changed history. Not much. […]
The Doctor: Rose, there’s a man alive in the world who wasn’t alive before. An ordinary man. That’s the most important thing in Creation.

Useless Fact: It turns out that the “paradox” is, in fact, supposed to be a release of energy. Okay then.

Fun Fact: This was KJ’s first modern Who episode, she was hooked, and so I started watching because she was, and now here we are.

nuWho 1×07: The Long Game

The Doctor has taken Rose to visit a large space station orbiting Earth in the year 200,000. Adam is technically present too. He’s a little overwhelmed. (I suspect nobody has bothered to explain anything about anything to him.) Rose teases him by expertly regurgitating everything the Doctor just told her, then they find a window to look down at Earth. It’s covered by a lot of squarish architecture that can definitely be seen from the Moon. Even the Borg would have to rate this as a “fair start”. The Doctor announces admiringly that the galaxy is at the height of the fourth human empire. Adam finally faints, which takes him out of the running for Rose’s affections.

The Doctor assures Adam that this is the era of humanity’s finest culture, at which point they slam into a street vendor in a Purina bandana selling “kronk” burgers. Apparently this is so very not-fine culture that the Doctor checks his watch to be sure he got the target era right. I guess some empires are just so awesome that even the lowest, scavengy-est street vendors deal in veal and caviar. Just think of it, a world where even the dumbest sitcoms don’t need laugh tracks to tell you when they’re trying to be funny. Adam wonders where all the aliens are, if this is an interstellar empire. The Doctor agrees that this bears investigating, which requires cuisine, which requires money. He hacks an ATM, then leaves Rose and Adam to fend for themselves despite Adam’s protests. My time as a companion would probably be like Adam’s thus far, except with less fainting and more “will there be time for a visit to the library please.”

The Doctor questions a couple of young women, Cathica and Suki, on his whereabouts, accepting their assumption that he’s a secret shopper sent by upper management to drill them on their PR skills. This is floor 139 of Satellite Five, and the two are hoping to advance to floor 500. They show no clear idea of what exactly is so great about that floor; presumably they can exit the dungeon with their loot and record a high score.

Cathica delivers a few news highlights, with yet another “Bad Wolf” thrown in randomly. There’s no sinister organization we know of that’s attached to the phrase, as there was with “the Silence”, so it’s just some bit of trivia at this point. Anyway, the pregnancy of the Face of Boe is either the most or least disturbing of the news of the day, with water riots and vicious sunspots disrupting things elsewhere. Cathica declares that Satellite Five is the news, which is arguably more disturbing than any of the news she mentioned. S5 broadcasts six hundred channels of news, and these two are among the journalists it employs.

A white-haired man in a monitoring room senses something off about the Doctor’s conversation and orders a deep security check. He says it’s something fictional, which, combined with the woman’s insistence that nothing happens without S5 knowing about it, says bad things about the ego of the people running six hundred channels of news media.

Rose has managed to find a beef-flavored slush puppy. Adam is still trying to cope with the sudden loss of everything he considered part of his reality, all vanished without a trace into his past. Rose offers him her supercellphone, frustrated that he wants instructions for it. You know, some people can just plunge into a strange situation, but others need a little handholding as they ramp up to “I’ve got a grip on this.” One approach is not intrinsically superior, it depends on the situation. And, keeping in mind his previous employer, maybe Adam has developed extra caution about breaking other people’s things he doesn’t fully understand. Anyway, his pet dog comes in and gets slightly whiny at the sound of his master’s voice on the machine, just to liven up the scene a bit. Adam leaves a message and the Doctor calls them over as “Mutt and Jeff” which I’m aware is a pop culture reference. (Turns out it’s a comic strip.) Adam makes a big show of keeping the supercell.

Grown-up Draco Malfoy continues to watch, insisting that he can “taste” that someone isn’t supposed to be there and calling for a second security check. I keep stopping short of saying he’s ordering people to do things; he’s very all-business, but personable in his demeanor and voice. Considering what it turns out he has hanging over him, that might be how he stays sane.

Cathica has collected an assortment of people in a sterile white room for a full inspection for the Doctor & co.’s benefit. Suki looks scared about the whole thing. Presumably she’s worked hard to get this high and doesn’t want to be sent back to Floor 57 where they’ve never been able to scrub the ketchupy odor from the air filters. Anyway, Cathica says that it’s company policy to be honest and unbiased in their news-gathering efforts, to which Suki adds that it’s the law. It’s subtle but apparent that internal policy is more important than legality, at least in Cathica’s mind. This gets better and better.

Everyone around the table interfaces with it. Cathica climbs into a chair in the middle and clicks her fingers, whereupon her forehead pops open to reveal a metallic cavity. She orders a “spike” and blue energy flows into her cavity, the Doctor saying that she’s basically downloading all the news of the day. Her brain interacts with the other employees’ to process and broadcast the news on all 600 channels, but it won’t retain any of it after the link is cut.

The security computer, having determined that someone in the room shouldn’t be there, and having presumably listened to the foregoing question-and-answer exposition, now takes several long, dramatic seconds to consider the Doctor & co. One wonders why it hasn’t just run a database of authorized secret shoppers by now. The Doctor announces something is wrong about this technology (which gets him and Rose grinning), and the background music changes from quiet long notes to excited crackles. Now the security camera focuses in on Suki, much to Draco’s satisfaction. Sure enough, Suki jerks away from the interface in pain, breaking the link. The sound effects indicate she was fired upon by a psychic photon torpedo. Something snarls unintelligibly at Draco, who makes profuse apologies to the top of a wall and promises to detain Suki ASAP.

A screen on the wall of the sterile room announces an incoming promotion. It’s for . . . waaait for it, let’s let Cathica embarrass herself a little more . . . Suki! She drew the “go straight to Floor 500” card! It takes a moment for this to sink in, as Suki protests that she didn’t really expect them to choose her application. She’s really tickled pink about it. Cathica just fumes about being passed over yet again.

Suki hugs her “lucky charm”, the Doctor, who agreeably says that he’ll hug anyone. Adam was really freaked out by the forehead thing, and wants to find a quiet spot so he can decompress. He heads for an observation deck, with Rose giving him a TARDIS key and puffing and pouting the whole time. He comments as he leaves that it’ll take “a better man than me” to divert Rose’s attentions from the Doctor. Suki now exits the scene via elevator, with Cathica glad to see her go, explaining that nobody ever returns from Floor 500.

Suki is about two steps below spazzing out as the elevator rises. She steps out on a wintry wasteland of a room, complete with falling snow and one of those circular table interfaces. It’s got skeletons in the seats. She finds another room, which leads to the security room, where Draco waves at her.

Suki, still freaked out, approaches Draco, who introduces himself as The Editor. He replays the biography she submitted with her job application, calling her a liar meanwhile, then calls her by her true name and appends a resume of her as a terrorist. At the mention of her true name, Suki finally starts to drop her facade. She pulls out a gun, demands to see his superior, and insists she has proof that S5 is distorting the news. See, this is the kind of customer feedback that keeps the news media honest. He introduces Suki to her boss, who’s been her boss “since the day you were born.” Her boss descends upon Suki, who demonstrates that Energy Bullets Won’t Stop It before spending her last few seconds screaming into the camera.

Cathica complains about the Doctor’s continued questions, saying she’s only allotted 20 minutes for “maintenance” (because cogs in a machine don’t get “free time”). She decides the Doctor isn’t actually an S5 employee, at which the Doctor snarks, “At last, she’s clever!” Cathica now protests complete ignorance, but the Doctor gets her to drop little details, details that mean nothing to her but build a picture of an empire beginning to crack. The Doctor insists that everything’s wrong, that the current technology should be obsolete by now. Turns out, it’s as old as S5, which is good enough to indicate proximate cause in an hour drama.

Adam has taken my advice and accessed a library. Now he tries to transcribe advancements in the microprocessor onto his parents’ answering machine, but the system detects something’s fishy and displays “Floor 16” — the place where Cathica just said she got her forehead doohickeyed. Ruh-roh! He heads down of his own volition and winds up paying for a not–brain surgery with the hacked money the Doctor gave him. The not-surgeon cajoles him into taking the full info-spike doohickey.

The Doctor is messing around in what Cathica calls the mainframe, over Cathica’s objections. His trains of thought are baffling to her, in large part because she accepts everything she’s told without question, as she cannot conceive of anything being rotten in the state of S5. For example, Rose questions why the mainframe area is so hot, and Cathica dismisses it as just something to do with a turbine, she never inquired as to details.

Cathica doesn’t come across as being brainwashed or indoctrinated, just a normal person who has chosen her life’s ambition and is going with the general flow of society on her way there. This makes the episode more effective. It’s easy to write a sci-fi story about a totalitarian regime that controls its populace through obedience devices or staring at a hypnotic screen or constant PSAs about Our Glorious God-Emperor. That’s a story about brainwashing, about those helpless people over there in that society that doesn’t resemble ours. This is more about normal people of free will, living with a corrupted source of news that proclaims transparency and a lack of bias even as it distorts galactic events as it sees fit. It’s about the Cathicas who accept the values of society, and the information that the press gives them, as implicitly true. It’s about the Sukis who fight for a press that will genuinely report honestly and with humility, because that is something that matters. It’s about deciding for yourself what matters, rather than accepting water riots as no big deal because the media treats it as just another news story. And it’s about questioning what you are told and thinking for yourself. All of that is something that has more to say to the viewer about the viewer’s own life than “don’t let the evil genocidal tyrant stick a dolled-up hair dryer on your head.”

Anyway, The Editor is still tracking the Doctor and Rose, and nibbles the scenery a bit about how the computer could possibly have no record of either of them. (Suki is now a zombie helping to run security checks.) He schedules them for a trip to Floor 500, sending the Doctor’s hacked interface the appropriate elevator code. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Rose have worked out that the vents and pipes on the station are working very hard to draw heat out of the top of the satellite, so they both want to go up and see what the source is. Cathica repeats that she wants no part of this, and the Doctor cheerfully writes her and Adam off.

You know it’s a bad haircut when even your forehead looks ugly.

Adam has begun to cautiously explore the use of his info-spike, and as I write this sentence I realize why he’s named Adam, as he’s gone against his better judgement for the sake of gaining knowledge that he hopes will make him like unto a god. Anyway, he heaves and vomits (honestly, my stomach is turning a bit), only to find that Not-Surgeon Lady also gave him nanotermites that freeze any regurgitated food. A special package deal for such an excellent client as yourself, and would sir also like a 24k gold foie gras slushie for just five million more?

The Doctor steps out on Floor 500 and suggests Rose retreat while he looks around worriedly. She comes along, of course, and The Editor captures them so he can learn who they are. He introduces them to his boss, who appears to be just a slimy, ribbed blob of flesh with a head that has spiky teeth in it. Not very inspired, but it’s not a spider so I won’t argue. The Editor explains that the Jagrafess has controlled humanity’s ambitions and actions via control of their news, which answers the viewer’s question of “Why should we care what the news media does?” Because people distorting the news generally do it for reasons you may not agree with, selfish or ideological or otherwise, and by doing so they keep people from behaving in accordance with the truth of any given matter and eventually stunt the growth of society. This episode takes a positive view of humanity, incidentally, implying that people will advance properly when given the truth and encouraged to think for themselves, rather than needing the “right” person at the head to steer them this way or that. Which shouldn’t be surprising, given that the Doctor isn’t too fond of authority figures in general.

The Editor talks more about the Jagrafess’s manipulation of media, just in case viewers don’t get the point. He says that being able to see inside people’s brains allows him to squelch any dissent before it begins . . . at which point Cathica strides out of the elevator, having begun to doubt while The Editor was distracted with the Doctor. She overhears the exposition about the Jagrafess letting people have a herd mentality while it stays cool at the top of S5. Meanwhile Adam has found a chair and is transmitting data to his parents’ answering machine so hard that the blue stream somehow travels along the signal and envelops the machine. The Doctor, with himself and Rose under torture, admits who he and Rose are, but The Editor is now drawing information from Adam’s brain. You knew Adam’s info-spike would be a plot point sooner or later, right? Anyway, The Editor can levitate the TARDIS key from out of Adam’s pocket remotely. It’s more original than having thugs capture and search him, at least.

Cathica uses the abandoned chair to drop the safeties, cut Adam’s stream, and cancel the heat sink mechanism. The Doctor is pleased, being surprised at this awakening in her. The Editor tries to cut her stream, but she blows out the controls at his end. The Doctor and Rose escape before the alien explodes. The Editor tries to escape too, but there’s enough of Suki left that she grabs him and keeps him there.

The Doctor leaves Cathica in charge while he deals with Adam. He takes Adam, who is blubbering excuses throughout much as van Statten did in front of the Dalek, and plops him back in his home. The Doctor then destroys the answering machine, scolds Adam, plays with Adam’s spike to drive home his utter lack of sympathy for Adam’s plight, and leaves. Rose tries to play peacemaker but can’t resist triggering the spike herself, and when Adam asks her to let him come along, glares at him and leaves. Adam’s mother comes home, very surprised and tickled that he’s there. She happens to click her fingers, which Adam never changed from being the spike trigger, and makes a very “eccch” face as we go to the end credits. He’ll have fun explaining that one!

Adam can be seen as a warning against abusing special knowledge for one’s own ends, but we had that last episode. He’s more important as an example of why the Doctor doesn’t let just anyone come along.

Objectively this is probably another 3, but I believe I would think nothing of skipping over it in a binge-watch. And since these are subjective scores . . .

Rating: 2 beef-flavored slush puppy drinks

Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: The thing is, Adam, time travel is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guidebook. You’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double, and wind up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?