Category Archives: Doctor Who

nuWho 2×01: New Earth

It’s a new season and a new incarnation, so we ease in with the Doctor powering up the TARDIS while Rose says her goodbyes. She gives Mickey an extra-long kiss on the lips but he doesn’t seem comforted in the slightest. He knows full well where he ranks.

The Doctor takes Rose to AD 5 billion and a bit, to what he claims is a planet called New Earth in another galaxy. But what they step out into is clearly a “futuristic city” level in a racing car game.

Player 1 presses Spacebar for nitro boost.

Rose bounces with excitement and tells the Doctor how much she loves running around spacetime with him. The Doctor smiles (no Eccleston smirk here) and says he loves it too.

But what’s this? A scaly-tattooed crazy-eyed dude has spied the duo in his crystal ball! He gasps at Rose’s perfect, er, blood, and sends a flying monkey a little tentacled droid to spy on her. The Doctor is shaking out his new chatter routine. He tells Rose about how the Earth blowing up finally got humans to care about it long enough to find and settle on this planet, which is as near a carbon copy of the original Earth as you can find without serving under James T. Kirk. Rose wants to tour New^15 York City, but the Doctor has business at a nearby hospital, having been sent an invitation via his psychic paper.

The chemistry between Tennant and Piper is already, dare I say, in full bloom. The Tenth Doctor just wants to pal around the cosmos with Rose, rather than show off to her.

A female voice near Crazy Cardassian gets all het up over Rose. It’s Cassandra!? She decides that Rose’s visit must be a fated chance for revenge. The Ironic Foreshadowing Of Next Companion continues, with the Doctor telling Rose that he doesn’t like hospitals. He does like hospital shops, and while he comes to terms with this place not having one of those, Rose adjusts to the nurses being catpeople in silly big hats.

There’s an amusing bit as the two take separate elevators and Rose finds out the hard way that “disinfectant” is a three-course meal of full-body shower, powder, and hair dryer. But Crazy Cardassian has rerouted her to his grungy little floor, and beckons her with a creepy inflection and body language. Rose, ever improving at self-preservation, picks up a shank before following.

Meanwhile the Doctor has had a run-in with the Duke of Manhattan, or rather his personal assistant. Apparently viruses have been playing D&D to get new ideas for keeping up with humans, because the Duke is turning to stone. The Doctor’s escort nurse presses him to forget Dukes and hospital shops and find whoever he’s supposed to be visiting. The Doctor has already zeroed in on his correspondent: the Face of Boe. Boe came up in two episodes last season, “The End of the World” and “Bad Wolf”, so points for worldbuilding via a recurring background character.

The Doctor’s new escort nurse, Hame, has a very human voice. I don’t know how else to put it. The catface CGI/makeup is just fine, but that voice clearly does not go with that face. Anyway, the Face is dying of old age, mercifully free of the ravages of arthritic limbs.

Rose finds an old-school film projector. It’s showing faded film of a tuxedo party. Rose recognizes Cassandra’s voice and shallowness in one of the people onscreen, and wheels around to find herself flesh-to-face with the villainess!

Cassandra introduces Crazy Cardassian as Chip, a clone who is devotedly faithful and faithfully devoted to her. I’d wonder if this was a setup for a betrayal but I just don’t see Chip doing it. Cassandra’s brain and eyes somehow survived her death, and she had some backup skin from her back, so, well, here she is again! That’s a big brain way over in the nearby vat. How does she control her mouth and eyes?

Anyway, Cassandra tries a woe-is-me, last of my race line of talk, but Rose isn’t having any. Cassandra then tells Rose that the nurses are hiding something, come close and I’ll whisper in your ear. Rose wants none of that either, but blunders into the wrong spot and Cassandra transfers her own mind into Rose’s body using the mind-transference device she had tucked away in that corner. Just in case a sufficiently pure human ever came along, I guess. Rosy!Cassandra is initially excited, but gets a good look in a mirror and realizes that she’s a “chav”. She also demands that Chip moisturize her, but to the disappointment of the male audience there is no white T-shirt to be had. She does unbutton her top and admire her upper and lower curves, so we’re getting served a full helping of fanservice this week, boys.

Meanwhile Hame shows her fascination with FoB. The two plot bits she reveals are that Boe-face is the last of Boe-kind and that just before dying he will tell someone like him (guess who) a great Boe-secret.

Cassandra says in so many words that Rose is still in her body too, then gleans from her memories that she’s still travelling with the Doctor. Cassandra is not pleased that the Doctor survived his own death. And then the thing in her pocket rings. The Doctor ignores her attempts at Cockney rhyming slang, then finds that the Duke is healed and credits the Doctor’s presence for it. The Doctor is alarmed that the hospital could cure stoneitis, but Matron Cusp assures him that it was merely the “tender application of science” that did the trick. The fact that she needs to acknowledge that “primitive” people would consider it magic, in a place where we’re all hyper-advanced friends here, is rather a heavy bit of foreshadowing. Then a nurse whisks her away to deal with a problem: someone woke up during a “perfectly normal blood-wash” and got upset. It becomes clear the nurses are meddling in cat-God’s domain, and the malfunctioning patient is incinerated.

The Doctor shows Rosy!Cassandra a few more patients who ought to be dead instead of cured. It’s marvelous, but why are the cats being so secretive? He also gets concerned about Rose’s new voice. (I’m surprised that he can hear the change too, and it’s not just a meta thing like Star Trek aliens’ lips forming the English their speech is translated into.) Cassandra tries to convince him everything’s normal before pulling him down for a liplock. The Doctor lets it happen, then, a little flustered but uninterested in pursuing the matter, concludes that he’s “still got it.”

Cassandra, who is genuinely curious about what the cats are up to, helps the Doctor break into the computer system with technical advice beyond a 21st century department store clerk’s capacity. They discover the secret ICU and enter. The ICU is your standard industrial stairs leading to your standard pit with thousands of glowy-green stasis pods lining the walls. The Doctor opens a pod randomly, finding a man who’s turning into the Thing from the Fantastic Four. The Doctor whispers his empathy for the man’s suffering before gently closing the pod back up. He tells Cassandra that the pod people have been infected with every disease in the galaxy, so try not to touch them. His anger quietly builds up as he reflects on the horror of creating people to serve as “plague carriers”, then vents it at Hame when she appears to defend the setup. She can’t see the pod people as actual beings, just as things created for a purpose.

As Hame recounts how the cats were driven to this scheme out of desperation, the Doctor freely shows his horror at what he’s hearing. Which is a good move to get the audience to like him, as the Ninth Doctor’s empathy was a bit lacking at times. Eccleston would tell Hame why she’s wrong with a few sharp appeals to principles. Tennant simply tells her she’s wrong with his face. (Meanwhile, Cassandra is reminding us that she’s not Rose with very un-Rose-like, detached, look-at-me body language.)

“But this is horrific.”

“Yes, yes. Hmm. Do you think I should luncheon at the country club, or skip it and fill up at the Marquis’s cocktail party tonight? I do have a figure to maintain for my adoring public, you know.”

The Doctor sweeps aside Hame’s argument that happy people justify these means and declares that he is the highest authority, and one more thing: put Rose’s compassion back in her head or I shall get angry.

Cassandra reveals herself to the Doctor, then knocks him out with her perfume, sends Hame away, and triggers an alarm. The Doctor wakes up in a pod, with Cassandra gloating over finding such a superb way of killing him. She promises to discard Rose’s body once she finds someone more worthy of herself. Three minutes to live and no friends nearby — how will he survive this time?

Well, Cassandra tries to blackmail the Matron and when Cusp reminds her that they can claw a mere human to pieces, Cassandra has Chip open all the nearby pods with a single lever. Not a very safe system. The Doctor and all the “lab rats” get out, and the lab rats all shamble around in zombie mode. One zombie tells the Matron very lucidly that they’re going to put a stop to things, and he shorts out a conduit that opens all the pods. One of the cats (I really don’t know how to tell them apart) can’t escape the fatal touch, and gets nastyfied in seconds. The other enacts a quarantine. Some zombies have already entered the public spaces and started desperately grabbing people.

The Doctor tries to herd a wailing Cassandra and Chip to safety, but Chip gets cut off. The Doctor apologizes to him before chasing after Cassandra. The Doctor tells her to get out of Rose, right now, and Cassandra obligingly breathes herself into his body. Tennant proceeds to do a very happy drunk impression, getting in Rose’s face about her attraction to Ten, but then the zombies figure out how to open the door and Doctor!Cassandra panics.

The two head up a ladder in an elevator shaft, joined soon by I guess the Matron, who rants at them for destroying everything. And then the Matron seems to grab Rose’s heel with a veiny hand, but apparently it was a zombie grabbing the Matron, and she screams and twirls and hurtles miles and miles to her death, terminal velocity all the way. Rose takes Cassandra back into herself so that the Doctor can sonic their way to safety. But the Doctor won’t do anything until Cassandra leaves Rose, so Cassandra bounces back into the Doctor and thence into a zombie. Don’t worry, she hops back into Rose as the door closes behind the Doctor and Rose. But she’s a little reflective now, saying that the zombies are desperate just to be touched so they can feel less alone. The Doctor reaches down and helps her to her feet in response.

They find themselves back in the room with Boe. The Duke’s assistant charges to attack them with a roar. She’s focused on escape without regard for the quarantine. The Doctor accepts this; what’s one more opponent at this point? He gets all the curative IV fluids roped to his body, then uses a pulley thing to lower himself down the elevator shaft . . . after Cassandra is persuaded to join him. At the bottom, he pours all the curatives into the disinfectant spray container, then coaxes all the zombies in the lobby to join him and get cured. Cassandra thinks he’s killing them, but instead it’s hands held and hugs all around as they apparently pass the cures to each other by touch. Which doesn’t make any biological sense to me, but at least it ties in with their loneliness.

The cats are arrested and taken away, including a sad Hame. I expected her to help the Doctor in the last pinch, but appreciate the plot twist that was a lack of that particular plot twist. Sometimes nice people just do not-nice things, and can’t be made to understand an outsider’s point of view that they should really stop doing those things. If you need her to “redeem” herself to justify her presentation as a nice person, maybe you don’t understand human history. Or cats.

Anyway, the Doctor remembers that the Face of Boe is probably on his way out, now that the miracle cures have been cured. So he goes to see him again, but the Face Boe-forms him that the Doctor’s influence has given him a fresh interest in life. FoB refuses to tell the Doctor anything more except that they will meet again, and teleports out, as the Doctor observes, enigmatically.

Cassandra is the last plot thread to be tucked back into place for the day. She’s driven to (crocodile?) tears at the idea of finally letting go of life, but Chip comes up, having survived in a pod, and volunteers himself as a host. Alas, his clone body has been through too much, and Cassandra finds herself in a dying body. But now, suddenly, she’s reconciled to her fate, despite the Doctor suddenly wanting to give her a new body. Her last request is to be taken back to the tuxedo party, where she tells her younger self that her younger self looks beautiful. Then Chip!Cassandra collapses, and the younger Cassandra — a made-up snob who had been prattling pretentiously about something only a minute before — is the only one who cares, clasping Chip’s body to her as others ignore her pleas for help. Cassandra does not die alone, finding final humanity in her younger self of all people . . . and one wonders how long it had been since her younger self had received any genuine warmth of feeling, and whether it would ever happen again, given the circles she moved in.

This is a good episode without being anything amazing. Cassandra isn’t the greatest villain, but her personality is taken full advantage of here to give some color to an episode that takes place in a sterile hospital. Everyone does a fine job of playing her. This is also the first “regular” Tennant episode, and as I said, it’s made clear that the Doctor has a new personality now, one less preoccupied with his superiority over others.

The loneliness motif feels . . . not fully executed. No problem there, but I do wonder if Boe was originally intended to give his Big Reveal in this episode, and that was only pushed back to a later story at the last minute.

Rating: 3 zombies and catgirls

Favorite dialogue: Hame: He’s thousands of years old, some people say millions, although that’s impossible.
The Doctor: Oh, I don’t know. I like impossible.

Pooky’s rating: purrrrrrr purrrr purrrrrrr purrrr purrrrrrr purrrr

Cutesy almost-cusses: 2

Form over function: Hospitals of the distant future use pointy glass ice cream cones as water cups. Just in case there’s any sensitive equipment that needs spilling on.

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nuWho: The Christmas Invasion

Not unlike “Rose”, we pan from the Moon down into Jackie Tyler decorating her Christmas Crimbo tree. It’s white and gold with pastel lightbulbs, the better to blend in with the room. Then she picks up her present for Rose and looks at it with concern. Some naughty prop artist has underlined her name on the tag with a Jesus fish. Religion in a Christmas episode? What do you think this is, EWTN?

Anyway, she and Mickey both hear the TARDIS materializing, impressive since Mickey’s immersed in Automotive Repair Foley and bad British Christmas covers. They reach the usual landing spot, and the TARDIS appears overhead and they scrunch waaay down a good few seconds before it actually heads at them. It bounces off a few buildings but manages a two-point landing, and a strange man pops his head out. He has loud body language and accosts Rose and Mickey physically as he tries to recall what he needs to tell them. He announces “Merry Christmas!” and falls over unconscious.

Rose pops out next, and announces that this isn’t a spacetime hobo, it’s the Doctor. “Doctor who?” a befuddled Jackie insists, and with that ding! we’re off to the intro. The green and red have been toned down, just in time for Christmas, to pink and lime. That reads sarcastic, but it’s much appreciated.

The Doctor is now in a comfy bed in the Tyler residence. Jackie has “borrowed” a stethoscope from another flat, but she thinks what the Doctor really needs is a hospital, with a proper doctor in attendance. Maybe next companion, Jackie, as Rose has visions of alien dissections dancing in her head. Upon hearing the Doctor has two hearts, Jackie immediately wants to know if he also has two . . . anything else. One imagines she wondered the same thing about Spock back in the day. The Doctor exhales a drop of golden regeneration energy, and we get to watch it whisper its way into space.

Rose is teary-eyed about having to get to know a new Doctor. But she quickly decides her mother’s sex life is more interesting. You’re all alone on that score, Rose.

Then Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister, talks to the press on the telly. Remember when the Doctor said Harriet Jones would preside over Britain’s Golden Age, which was at least a different flavor of dumb in a generally dumb episode? Well, for whatever reason, PM Harriet is getting written out this episode, and it’s not like last season repeatedly told us “history can change”, so we’ve got to prove the Doctor right. So Jackie declares that her wages have gone up and that everyone is already calling Jones’s reign Britain’s Golden Age. That’s asinine, even in this day when everything must be labeled right away. Generation Y, indeed.

Rose is also all alone in recalling the Slitheen episodes fondly, but she did good there so it’s understandable. Meanwhile Harriet Jones is defending her space program on grounds of national pride, but it’s a probe to Mars. I expected a cheap satellite broadcasting “HELLO WORLD” or aiming a Fisher-Price telescope at the stars, but no, this sucker’s preparing for descent, destination Mars as they speak. It’s Mars — don’t you wait until the probe disappears before you start bemoaning the cost? I sense subtext. I think the “waste of money” must refer to bloated budgets and maybe a no-bid contract or two, and Jones just avoided the issue with a “YAY BRITANNIA.” Will it actually do any science, Prime Minister? Whose palms are being greased here?

Anyway, Guinevere One promptly smacks facefirst into a moon, which turns out to be an artificial construct that sucks it in. Wow. Mars expeditions peaked under Queen Victoria and it’s been downhill ever since.

Rose is out with Mickey, who joshes at her for talking about nothing but her TARDIS adventures. Their romance is still on the rocks, but they can laugh and accept each other better now. Rose tries to just enjoy herself, but notices the street music is being played by people covered by identical Santa Claus masks and robes. This is creepy when you’re in Doctor Who. And then they all lower their instruments and stare at Rose. This is creepy wherever you are. And then one strokes his trombone and it blazes forth Yulefire at her, which is a universal red flag. The other Santa Clauses (Santa Clausi?) also open fire, and everyone screams and runs away.

Rose and Mickey flee using fruit stands for cover without knocking any over, which I needn’t tell you violates basic rules of storytelling. Then a Claus launches a TUBA missile at them, knocking a tree over onto himself. No witty one-liners, no tomatoes flying everywhere. This episode is sinking fast.

^
“Santa got SLEIGHN!”
“Jolly old Saint DEADolas!”
“Looks like he’s PINING for the fjords now!”
“O Christmas Tree, O NOT THE FACE!”
“Hey, Santa’s really SPRUCED himself up for the holidays!”
“O come, all ye FATALITIES!”
“Deck the Claus with boughs of FOLLY!”
“Are you sure it isn’t Halloween, cuz you just got TRICK-OR-TREE-TED!”
This isn’t hard. I
even made a tree.

Rose and Mickey race home to Jackie. Rose is practical, wanting to go to ground far away, but is distracted by a standard green Christmas tree in the corner of the room. The tree waits politely for them to figure out it shouldn’t be there, then lights up and whirls at dangerous speeds and advances upon them. If you know exactly where a Time Lord is, just send a spinning tree to kill his buddies, and then send some Santas to comb the city for them because apparently you don’t know exactly where they are.

I know, it’s a silly Christmas episode, doesn’t mean I can’t poke fun at it.

Anyway, Mickey (per usual) tries to fend the tree off to cover their escape, but Rose won’t leave the Doctor, so they wind up barricaded in with him. Desperate, Rose puts the sonic screwdriver in the Doctor’s hand (remember this is when you had to have some clue about how to operate it), then leans over and whispers that she needs help. The Doctor pops up as if he’d been faking all along and explodes the tree. He then leads them outside to find several Clausia holding the tree’s remote control. They back off and teleport away, because you don’t mess with a Time Lord before his new regeneration has woken up properly.

The Doctor says the Santae were attracted to the tremendous regeneration energy he’s radiating. The Doctor mentions a “neural implosion” resulting from being awakened early and says he needs something, at which Jackie rattles off painkillers and food until he tells her to shut up. The Doctor warns them that there will be something bigger coming, then collapses into a pained sleep.

The Doctor gets tucked back in, looking worse for wear, and the humans all shaky-cam watch a press conference about the Mars probe, starring a stammering nerd that someone cruelly promoted out of his natural habitat. This being a Christmas episode, Mickey spells out the “sharks following pilot fish” thing the Doctor mentioned again, then we get probe footage of a bony, red-eyed, wolfish, snarling visage.

I’m guessing this is our bad guy.

Anyway, the world is flipping out, and Over-Promoted Nerd confers with UNIT and Harriet Jones. Penelope Wilton puts a strong personality into Jones starting right now, forceful and practical without any coldness. You’d hate to let her down on a professional or personal level. They all watch a scary red blip leave Mars for Earth. Rose and Mickey watch along on a laptop, because I guess “buffalo” is still the password for everything everywhere. And then the aliens cut in and rhapsodize in Huttese.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality?

Rose is upset that the TARDIS isn’t translating the Huttese for her, because the only explanation is that the Doctor is “broken”. Rose’s descent into despair never takes over the episode, but is a vital part of its emotional core, and she pulls the viewer down with her to be properly receptive when the Doctor makes his grand entrance at the end.

Meanwhile the U.S. President wants to take over from UNIT, and we all know the only thing Americans do with things that scare them is pew pew. So Harriet Jones tells the President off, then confers with a UNIT officer. No report of the Doctor. No thought of tracking down Rose. Torchwood comes up for the second time. Harriet allows nobody is supposed to know about Torchwood, but she does know, and she’s willing to activate them on her authority — clearly A Drastic Step.

The translation arrives: the Sycorax own Earth and its inhabitants, so surrender or watch ‘them’ die. Jones sends back a message of peace or begone.

The Sycorax response is to activate a blue light around the heads of billions of people around Earth. These people just blankly walk around, until they find a high spot where they’re one step away from plummeting to their death. It’s a frightening process, with people seeing their loved ones stripped of their selves and put into a clear hostage situation. Rose, who has moved on to the “frustrated inadequacy” phase of the grieving process, tells Mickey that “there’s no one to save us. Not anymore.”

But O.P. Nerd has figured something out: the K-Mart people must all have A+ blood. The Sycorax have done something with the blood sample from Guinevere One. Uh, I don’t see the point of having stuff meant for aliens onboard a Mars probe. Mars is dead as far as Nerd knows. Frankly, it’s an unacceptable contamination hazard.

So P.M. Jones goes on the telly and asks the world for calm, then begs the Doctor for help because she has no idea what to do next. Rose breaks down, taking the Doctor’s condition personally, telling Jackie that “he left me, Mum.”

But there’s no time for that, as the Sycorax (great alien race name, btw) enter the Earth’s atmosphere, producing a glass-shattering sonic wave that murders whatever that glass pineapple thing is. O.P. Nerd has a very GIFable take, rising into the shot, delivering his line with his eyes focused desperately at the cameraman’s thumb, then sliiiding his eyeballs to the side to look at . . . who knows?

Outside, the spaceship glides into view like an asteroidal leaf on the wind for all the extras to stare at, and stare at, and stare at some more. This episode certainly likes to set its own pace. It works, but one notices it. Rose looks long and hard at the ship, and comes to a decision. They’re going to take the Doctor into the TARDIS and just hide there.

Meanwhile the Sycorax beam Harriet & co. up. Remember the Santas beaming up? Feels like an entire episode ago. Anyway, the humans materialize in the Klingon court from ST: VI, which isn’t very reassuring. A Sycorax removes the wolfish helmet to reveal what looks like bone and muscle underneath. I’m with Nerd: put the helmet back on, please. Nerd tries to sort of inverse-Picard speech some mercy out of the Sycorax, but the alien flays the meat off him with an energy whip. The UNIT chief protests that that was a bad show, old fellow, and gets skellified in turn. Harriet Jones identifies herself, to which the Sycorax becomes the third person to tell her that, yes, he already knows who she is. He also tells her that she has a choice between letting half of Earth be enslaved or letting the third that has A+ blood die. Nasty choices indeed. Incidentally, what are the A+ infants doing?

In the TARDIS, Mickey and Rose fiddle with the central console’s screen dealy to see if they can pick up a broadcast. Somehow their fiddling is heard in the alien ship, and the Sycorax get paranoid and beam the TARDIS onboard to see what the Earthlings are hiding from them. Rose wanders out to see what Jackie is up to and gets nabbed immediately. Her scream brings Mickey out and he gets nabbed too. All that’s left safe in the TARDIS are the Doctor and Mickey’s Thermos, which drips tea onto a blue mushroomy bit of machinery.

Harriet recognizes Rose. Rose tells her that they’re on their own, then they all get lined up in front of the TARDIS for a photo I guess. The lead Sycorax decides that since Rose has the shiny box, she’s the one in charge. Despite having felt useless, Rose accepts the responsibility: “Someone’s got to be the Doctor.” Split between fear and bravery, she invokes Article 15 of the Shadow Proclamation blah blah blah, but the Sycorax just laugh it off. The lead Sycorax calls her a child, but his words turn to English as he nears the end of his monologue. Everyone turns dramatically as the camera zooms in on the TARDIS, and 41 minutes into the episode, the doors open and the Doctor appears at full tea-empowered strength. He smirks just a bit and asks, “Did you miss me?”

The Doctor yanks the energy whip from the lead Sycorax’s hand, breaks his other weapon over his knee, and immediately begins to assert his full personality in classic style, telling the lead Sycorax to just stay put for the moment. It may be significant that the first thing he does is give Mickey a delighted greeting. No residual disdain here, thank goodness.

Anyway, he intensely asks Rose how he looks, and after being disappointed at not being ginger he tells her off for giving up on him — but then acts a little surprised at how “rude” he’s being. Then he reassures Harriet that he is the one and only Doctor and begins to catch up with her. All of this, of course, without regard for their circumstances. The lead Sycorax demands to know who this person is, which is of course the very hook the Doctor needs to go off on a ramble about all the things he might be, but doesn’t know about yet . . . and then the Doctor catches sight of the pink jewely orb that the lead Sycorax has been standing by most of the time.

He investigates, tastes the blood in the dish underneath, identifies it as human A+. That’s one Time Lord ability I could have done without knowing about, but it puts him on the right trail. “I haven’t seen blood control in years!” he exclaims delightedly. Then, talking about how he just doesn’t know how he will react to a “great big threatening button that should never ever be pressed,” he grins maniacally and pushes down on it.

That frees the A+ people. With the lead Sycorax trying to save face, the Doctor explains that blood control can’t actually force anyone to kill themselves. It was all a bluff. The Doctor tries to persuade the Sycorax to leave humanity alone to realize its potential, and accidentally starts quoting “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. When that doesn’t seem to have any effect, he challenges the lead Sycorax to a duel. “You stand as this world’s champion?” the alien roars. “Thank you. I have no idea who I am, but you’ve just summed me up,” the Doctor replies.

They fight with longswords. Just basic longswords. Or broadswords maybe. Not an expert, but the Sycorax’s form doesn’t impress me. I know, Christmas episode. Anyway, the Doctor is getting the worse of it, so he heads outside for a change of venue. That doesn’t work so hot either, as the Sycorax quickly cuts the Doctor’s sword hand off, then turns away to roar his victory to the onlookers. But the Doctor grows a new hand into existence, then when Rose throws him another sword, declares it to be a “fightin’ hand” and goes on the attack.

The Doctor wins and the lead Sycorax swears to leave Earth alone forever. He hugs Rose and walks away chattering about the fruit he found in his borrowed houserobe. Upon hearing the Sycorax come up behind him to kill him, however, he throws the fruit at a button that causes the “ground” to retract from under the alien (why?), leaving the dirty cheater to plummet to his doom. “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man,” the Doctor grimly says.

He goes back inside to deliver a warning to the Sycorax assembly: stay away and warn others to stay away. They’re all teleported tellyported back down to Earth and get to watch the Sycorax ship fly away to the sound of triumphant music.

On being asked, the Doctor tells Harriet Jones that, sure, there are thousands of alien species out there, and they’re noticing Earth more and more! He clearly means it as a “chin up and have a blast” sort of message, but Harriet takes it the other way. On hearing that Torchwood is ready, she sadly, reluctantly gives an attack order. Death Star beams lance out from London and destroy the Sycorax ship.

The Doctor is of course angry, calling it murder. Dead UNIT Guy would agree. Harriet insists that it was necessary, to prevent word about Earth spreading to others who might plunder the planet while the Doctor was not around. He refers to the human race as monsters, and she wonders whether she will have to protect the Earth from him. He threatens to end her ministry with six words, and when she doubts him, whispers in the ear of her sidekick, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” . . . and simply walks away with his Tyler retinue, freaking Harriet out.

The rest of the episode is Christmas and wardrobe festivities, Harriet sliding down the slope of public opinion, and festive meteors and snow-ash falling from the sky.

The main takeaway about Tennant’s Doctor from this episode is his dominance. When awake, he dominates every frame he’s in. He dominates the screen when he’s loud or soft, when he claims to be at a loss or when he knows every letter of what he’s doing. He strides regally onto the balcony to confront the Santa Claus aliens. When he catches himself drifting into Disney song, he never loses any intensity. He dominates the lead Sycorax from beginning to end . . . well, we’ll call the swordfight a tie. Harriet is built up to be forceful and charismatic, but her PMship is sacrificed so that his personality can steamroll hers the moment she moves against his wishes. I think this was done so that “Is the show still worth watching?” was answered not by his looks or personality, but by his sheer force of presence. You may not actively like this Eccleston replacement, but he demands your attention . . . and meanwhile the other characters you love are still around. And that grants Tennant the time to grow into a Doctor you do like.

Rating: 3 Sycorax wolf masks

Favorite dialogue: Mickey: That’s fascinating, because I love hearing stories about the TARDIS. Ooh, go on Rose, tell us another one, ’cause I swear I could listen to it all day, TARDIS this, TARDIS that.
Rose: (grinning) Shut up.
Mickey: “Oh, and one time the TARDIS landed in a biiig yellow garden full of balloons!”

Me and my big mouth: thinking I’d never have to talk about the Slitheen mess again, back in the S1 summary

Featuring bits from: ST III, ST VI, SW V

Shoutout to: The late Adams Douglas Adams, when the Doctor mentions meeting Arthur Dent

Christmas rankings:
1. The Christmas Invasion

nuWho Season 1 wrap-up

As the first part of a relaunch of a beloved series that had lain fallow for nearly a decade, this season had its work cut out for it. It succeeded by knowing its universe, using the canon and its rules to good advantage, showing a genuine appreciation for the material, and above all by just being really good television. Hopefully the Star Trek: Discovery people have taken notes.

Christopher Eccleston plays a very mercurial Doctor, and I think that’s appropriate. It gives him unpredictability without having to mystify the plot or technology or anything else central to understanding the show. And there should be a level of unpredictability here, to keep new viewers tuned in long enough to fall in love with the show. He’s also a menacing Doctor, physically intimidating, one who is not afraid to throw his full presence or intelligence around when there is need. He gives a strong performance in every single episode, and any worries he might have had about hurting his career never seem to cause him to hold back. I’m glad we got John Hurt for the anniversary special, but I can understand that fans would be anxious for Eccleston to have another turn in the role.

Before this rewatch started, I didn’t get the love for Rose. I figured she was just the first companion, forever to be missed, who apparently had some romantic subtext to get the ‘shipping types excited. After watching the whole season, Billie Piper has won me over. I’m looking forward to her dealing with this new strange person the Doctor has become.

Mickey, as I mentioned in an earlier review, was also just sort of a bit character who popped up in a few episodes I’d seen. Noel Clarke plays him well: not the brightest or most ambitious, so a suitable character to stay behind. But he’s a sound chap (as the British totally still say), and devoted to Rose, so that her rejection of him is painful to watch for his sake. And yet, as we see by the last episode, one can’t entirely blame Rose for leaving him, as she’s far outgrown him.

Jackie started as a bit of an annoyance (intentionally so) and likewise rounded out into a proper character by the end of the season, when her daughter’s life and happiness are on the line and there are no annoying facades to be raised. Full points to Camille Coduri for taking a relatively small role and putting so much life into it.

Jack Harkness . . . I’m still not sold on. He’s likable enough, he just doesn’t feel like he fits as fully in this universe. John Barrowman plays him a little more broadly than the other main and secondary characters, and that might be part of the issue. The other part is that I am simply not the intended audience for The Romantic Antics of Omnisexual Han Solo. And that’s okay. I don’t want him to go away, and he works well enough in his plot threads, I just don’t perk up and lean forward when I see him onscreen.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this season, for me, aside from the characters, is how detailed every episode feels compared to some of the much later series. There are a lot of what I call “wrinkles”: bits of set dressing, throwaway facial expressions, background activity, minor plot curveballs, et cetera that either aren’t necessary to the plot or contort the plot in little ways to make it feel more of a real story, a real world, to draw one in. The music, likewise, shows a lot more effort than in the Matt Smith years. I think Matt Smith’s first season is great (spoilers!), but I can understand people, shall we say, not feeling satisfied with how the program was progressing by that point without regard to whether they liked Smith’s take or not.

What about the “Bad Wolf” story arc? Well, it wasn’t really a story arc at all. The structure itself is pretty weak. However, Bad Wolf is a fairly unsettling phrase to have following one around through space and time, and it wasn’t pushed as more than some bit of weird trivia until the last few episodes, so it was executed about as well as could be hoped . . . aside from Rose’s silly sweeping gesture in “The Parting of the Ways”.

It falls to the last episode to properly wrap the season up by itself, then, and it does so in two ways. One is by completing Rose’s character arc, as she takes it upon herself to save the Doctor regardless of cost to sanity and life. The other is by drawing in details from many of the earlier episodes without regard to the “Bad Wolf” meme — “The Empty Child”, “Father’s Day”, “Boom Town”, and naturally “Bad Wolf” off the top of my head. These are alluded to in minor but significant ways, and it’s enough to feel like the season is all coming together properly. Enough to feel like it was worthwhile having the story arc in the first place.

Overall the season was consistently good, except when the Slitheen got involved. As I said in the “World War Three” review, that’s frustrating, because the Slitheen are mostly competent opponents and their visual design is, well, fantastic. And these episodes have good ideas and good bits in them, too. They just have too much stupid bogging them down.

Final scores:
4: (3) The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Parting of the Ways
3.5: (1) Father’s Day (adjusted up)
3: (3) Rose, The End of the World, Dalek
2.5: (1) The Unquiet Dead
2: (2) The Long Game, Bad Wolf
1.5: (2) World War Three (adjusted down), Boom Town
1: (1) Aliens of London

Average rating: 2.69 out of 4
Number of “watch it again” (3-plus) episodes: 8/13
Number of “never again” (sub-2) episodes: 3/13
Number of episodes set in the UK: 8/13

Least favorite episode: Yeah, still “Aliens of London”.
Favorite episode: I will give “The Empty Child” the edge over “The Doctor Dances” if I must choose a single episode. The first one feels like it has a lot more going on and is super-spooky, whereas the second has the beautiful ending.
Worst episode: After rereading my summaries, I will stick with “Aliens of London” being worse than “World War Three”. I could make a list of points about each episode and see which sticks out the worse, but they’re such a bewildering mix of good and idiotic that I will spare myself the headache. If you need a reason: “World War Three” develops Jackie a little and has less obnoxious foley. There, I even used a fancy word, now it’s over and I never have to talk about the Slitheen mess again.
Best episode: Basically the same list as for favorite episode. The Child Dances two-parter stands above everything else. “Parting” is up there, and gets difficulty points for tying the season together, but doesn’t have the plot to match.
Disappointing episode: “The Unquiet Dead” just didn’t deliver all the fun I wanted. It’s partly on me, because sometimes I want ghosts to be ghosts and monsters to be monsters. Let me soak in the supernatural creepiness a while longer before you whip off the mask to show that it was Old Man Alienface the whole time. This show simply is not interested in following that route (see “Vampires of Venice” preview and Capaldi’s haunted house episode). But this episode could also have been a little stronger in the plot.
Surprise episode: “The End of the World”. I don’t like blowing significant bits of the planet up (one reason of many I’ve never liked ID4), but this episode worked hard to win me over. It might get a 3.5 score if I were less chary with half-points.

Things Doctor Who has made scary forever:

  • Mannequins
  • Children wearing gas masks

nuWho 1×13: The Parting of the Ways

Bad Wolf II: Delta Wave Boogaloo!

A Dalek demands that Rose tell them what the Doctor is up to. Naturally, Rose declines, but listening to the Daleks obey the Rule of Three is always fun. “Predict! Pre-Dict! PREDIICT!” Anyway, the TARDIS comes spinning toward the fleet, missiles come hurtling out to greet it, it’s all tense as Rose informs us that the TARDIS has no defenses against this, and then there’s a spectacular explosion. But then we cut to Jack in the TARDIS talking about using the transmat laser gun to generate defenses. And then the Doctor sloooowly materializes the TARDIS around Rose and her jailkeeper Dalek, Jack shoots the jailer before it can do more than singe the interior, and the first item on the Doctor’s list is crossed off.

Jack still doesn’t understand how the Daleks can exist, when they already vanished from all of Creation. The Doctor puts on his angsty face and tells him that the Daleks left their war with the rest of the universe to fight a different war, the Time War. In that war, the Time Lords died but took all the Daleks with them . . . or so he thought. He adds, “I almost thought it was worth it. And now it turns out they died for nothing.”

The Doctor swaggers out to meet the Daleks and engage in his favorite tactic of getting his opponent to tell him everything he needs to know. For once, the Daleks shoot on sight, but the TARDIS’s forcefield stops their shots cold. He tells the Daleks that they fear him, the Oncoming Storm. The deep Dalek voice from last episode offers to tell him everything he needs to know.

Lights go up and it’s the Emperor Dalek, in a big mechanical thing that has logic in its construction but definitely does not conform to Earth sensibilities, so points to the prop department. The Emperor Dalek’s ship got hit by a stray bolt of red protomatter or whatever and fell through the cracks of time, falling, falling, falling, falling . . . . The Doctor tells him to get on with it, and when the Daleks take offense, snaps at them so fiercely that several actually back away from him.

The Daleks have been abducting humanity’s unwanted outsiders for centuries, coldly pulping their bodies and sifting through the result for the one stray cell in a billion that they deem worthy of developing into a Dalek. But suggesting the result is half-human, as Rose blurts out, is blasphemous, as the Emperor insists he purged everything human from the organic material. The Emperor calls himself a god for creating life from lifelessness, and the Daleks agree. This strikes the Doctor as insanity (because their worldview was oh so wholesome before). The Doctor decides that they all hate themselves for being grown from humanity, and that that hatred makes them even more dangerous. Despite all the Dalek protests, he walks back into the TARDIS, then leans his head against the door as he listens to the hated cries of “EXTERMINATE” outside, evidently mourning the failure and loss of the Time Lords anew.

Back on the Game Station, the Doctor is surprised to find Lynda (Pigtails) still aboard. She says there weren’t enough shuttles to evacuate everyone, and there are still about a hundred people on the station. This includes Rodrick, the Weakest Link winner last episode, who is currently watching people helplessly mill around as he yells for someone to give him his prize money. This is so people who missed last episode won’t mind when he gets his comeuppance for being a Jerk. Earth has responded to the station’s warnings by revoking their broadcast license.

The Emperor-God Dalek sends the fleet to the station, announcing his desire in Earth-religious terms that the Earth be wiped clean for Dalek use. Meanwhile, the Doctor is pulling large showy bundles of wire out of the station’s walls. He plans to send a delta wave at the Dalek fleet to fry their brains. The problem is that it will take him three days, and the fleet will arrive in less than half an hour. No matter: he pulls the last foot of the wire out and grins.

Jack lays out the defense scheme: the station has shielding now, so the Daleks will have to invade in person. He’s super-shielded the top six floors, so the Daleks will have to invade lower and work their way up. He and several others (the Doctor promptly calls dibs on Rose’s assistance) will have to use security’s guns to defend floor 500 as best they can. And yes, it’s dumb of the Daleks to provide humanity with weapons that work against them, but as long as humans are content to kill each other, who cares how they do it?

Lynda gives the Doctor a little farewell speech and handshake. Rose skunk-eyes the whole thing. She’s mollified when Jack gives her a goodbye kiss. Then he gives the Doctor a goodbye kiss and says he’s become braver as a result of meeting the Doctor. Uh, I guess he has? Maybe sorta? He didn’t seem particularly cowardly in “The Empty Child”, just a conman on the make. He doesn’t seem to be Jack the Undying yet, that’s for sure.

Rodrick gets upset when Jack calls for volunteers to fight off the Daleks, insisting that he get to be as big a jerk as possible so that the audience will actively cheer for his death when it comes. Jack gets snippy when only one more person steps forward, telling the rest to head below the Daleks’ likely invasion point and stay quiet. So we know how Rodrick will get himself killed now. It’s all coming together!

Alone with the Doctor, Rose prods the idea of travelling back in time to warn about the Daleks, without much hope. The Doctor confirms that it wouldn’t work, then prods her for any interest in escaping. Rose simply says that, well, he wouldn’t want to escape, then brushes aside the point that she hasn’t asked to escape by saying she’s too good a person to think of leaving. This scene shows how life with the Doctor has changed Rose, as her admiration for the Doctor has led her to become more like him.

The Doctor checks how long it would take the delta wave to reach full functionality and looks despondent. Rose starts to commiserate, but the Doctor jumps up and excitedly kisses her on the forehead (‘shippers cheer), declaring her a genius. He can cross his own timestream and make things go faster. He hustles Rose inside the TARDIS and tells her to hold a switch to disable “the buffers” while he goes back out and checks on things there. He rushes out of the TARDIS and comes to a stop, all his excitement gone, apprehension in its place. He then turns and triggers the TARDIS with his sonic screwdriver. As the TARDIS leaves, “sad-heroic things are happening” music plays and Rose catches fright and tries to get out.

Instead she gets a holographic Christopher Eccleston, who tells her that the real him must see no chance of personal escape and has sent her away to live a good life, with the TARDIS to be allowed to quietly gather dust wherever it lands. Rose starts working the controls, getting frantic once she’s found it’s landed her in her neighborhood, but the levers and switches all clack limply as if they were simple props with nary a foley artist to be found.

Meanwhile, Mickey comes racing around a corner, having heard the TARDIS from several blocks away. His attitude is neither that of a boyfriend, nor of an enemy, but just an associate. Rose hugs him before she can do something un-British like crying in public.

Jack calls up to Floor 500, wanting Rose to read him some data. Probably also simply wanting to talk to her one last time. He catches on that the Doctor sent her out of trouble, then changes the subject to the delta wave. At this point the Dalek Emperor reveals that he took a “spy on the heroes” feat, breaking in to gloat that there is no time to alter the delta wave so that it only kills Daleks. “All things will die . . . by your hand.” And the Doctor, staring at the Emperor on the screen, stares that truth in the face, even as Jack tells us what we could have guessed, that the wave will hit all of Earth.

(If this were a Slitheen episode, the solution would be that all the reality TV has degraded humanity’s nervous systems too much to be affected by the wave.)

The Doctor intends to proceed: there are human colonies elsewhere, and wiping out the Daleks properly is more important to the universe. His grim face cracks for a moment as he tells Jack that this is his decision, he owns it, and he would rather people die human than live Dalek. With Rose out of danger, Jack gives the Doctor his blessing.

The Dalek Emperor declares, on his honor as a genocidal megalomaniac, that he had nothing to do with the “Bad Wolf” motif that’s followed the Doctor around. I thought that was supposed to be the Controller’s work? Maybe it will turn out Rose did it . . . somehow. For reasons.

Speaking of Rose, she’s sitting in a restaurant, while her mum and Mickey try to distract her with banal gossip.

“I said to my girlfriend just the other day, ‘Gee, I’ll bet pizza parlors are innnteresting,’ I said, ‘I bet you meet a lot of innnteresting people there,’ and she said, ‘Well, I happen to know a pizza parlor,’ and I said, ‘My stars, does it carry pizza?’ and she said, ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘Yes, it does,’ and I said, ‘But does it deliver?’ and she said . . .”

Rose gets more and more upset, thinking of the Doctor getting killed five seconds ago, now, millennia in the future, while a sterile ‘rat race’ future stretches before her. Jackie and Mickey try to convince her that it’s okay to live an ordinary, unambitious life, but Rose gets more upset. The Doctor has taught her that she can make a difference, she says, that she should fight for what’s right, and it drives her mad that she cannot. In a final burst of anguish, she runs out the door. Rather than stretch this review out even further, I’ll just note the religious ideas in this scene and leave it at that.

A Rose-less Jack is making do with Lynda (not a euphemism) when the Dalek fleet arrives. I can tell it’s CGI, but it’s pretty okay, especially for a TV budget and a TV screen. These shots are “big finale” stuff right here. Daleks come marching, well floating, out of their ships in dozens of sixteens.

Mickey is telling Rose to forget the Doctor and lead “a proper life” when she spots BAD WOLF chalked on the blacktop, right in front of their bench. There’s also a brick wall that has BAD WOLF repeatedly graffitied along its length. Rose reasons thus: the words are a sort of connection between the present and where the Doctor’s future is, therefore the message is that she can find a connection to get her back to the Doctor. She heads back to the TARDIS, telling Mickey that the ship is telepathic, which means it’s alive and she can talk to it.

This is what it looks like when Fate stops being subtle.

This is actually something I just realized a minute ago: the utter lack of personification of the TARDIS. As far as I know, that trend really only started with Matt Smith’s run. During this season, the TARDIS is just a machine, a machine with a mind of its own to be sure, but a vehicle to get the Doctor places.

Anyway, Rose decides that if she can access the Heart of the TARDIS, she can convince it to override the Doctor’s command. Mickey is afraid she’ll die. Rose accepts that possibility sadly, telling Mickey, “There’s nothing left for me here.” Mickey isn’t happy to hear that, naturally, but accepts her choice.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have landed and Lynda is tracking their movements all by her lonesome. The defenders try to spring a trap, but find the Daleks have disabled everything of that nature. Also, the defenders’ bullets are vaporized by the same sort of shield we saw back in Utah. And then the Daleks start killing them. Their day just keeps getting worse.

But then the Daleks’ day gets worse when they run into Anne Droid, who disintegrates three of them before the next knocks her block off. I’m, uh, not used to seeing the good guys in charge of the minibosses. Anyway, the Daleks then head downwards to achieve the sidequest of EXTERMINATING Rodrick and his dismal band. We don’t actually watch him die after all, just a few seconds of terror and then we cut to poor, sweet Lynda announcing that the deed is done. Oh, and the EXTERMINATION of Earth is proceeding too.

Mickey tries to haul the top off the Heart with a chain attached to his little British car, which must look really weird to any passersby, but the chain finally snaps. Jackie tells Rose to give up, but Rose insists she’ll continue to fight, it’s what Dad would do, and Jackie says no it isn’t, Rose says yes it is and I know because I met him. She tells Jackie about how she was the one who, in the revised timeline, held Pete’s hand as he died. Jackie doesn’t want to hear about it and flees the TARDIS.

Mickey is now trying to keep Rose’s spirits up, wishing for a bigger tow vehicle, when an actual British tow truck-ish thing pulls up with Jackie at the wheel. Jackie tells Rose that she’s right, Pete was nuts enough to keep trying, so go nuts yourself.

Back with the last defenders, Jack says that now would be a good time to aim for the Daleks’ eyestalks, and if the scriptwriters like you they might let you survive getting shot because the shields totally extend inside the station too. The Daleks appear, and it’s hard shooting but eventually one’s eyestalk goes dim. Segue Woman cheers and gets zapped, to which Headset Man goes all “NOOOOOOO” and mercifully stands up and gets himself zapped. Meanwhile, Lynda gets to watch one Dalek blowtorch its way through her bulkhead, then turns around to see a Dalek float up and destroy the window separating her from space. Soon Jack is retreating alone, and the Doctor redoubles his efforts.

The TARDIS puts up a fight, but the tow truck is strong enough to pull off the hatch guarding the Heart. Rose gets in position and, with her hair blowing in the Dramatic Wind, the Heart starts beaming glowy light straight into her eyes. The TARDIS takes off. As Rose races to the rescue, Jack announces a 20-second doomsday timer for the Doctor to get his work done. This is another episode where the music stands out, and here it rises tensely to the climax, as everyone converges toward the Doctor. Jack runs out of ammo and gives himself up, and all three Daleks oblige him. The Doctor is surrounded by Daleks just as he finishes his preparations.

He tries to use the threat of the delta wave to ward death off, but the Dalek Emperor tells him, “I want to see you become like me. Hail the Doctor, the Great Exterminator!” Little does he know, eh? But the Fourth Doctor was no genocide, and ultimately, despite the darker tone of this incarnation, the Ninth isn’t either, choosing the title of “coward” over that of “killer”.

The Dalek Emperor declares the Doctor too “heathen” to become a Dalek, so the Doctor gives himself up to extermination. But then the TARDIS materializes behind him, and Rose steps out from a bright glowy interior. She stops a Dalek’s EXTERMINATE beam Vader-style, and declares herself the Bad Wolf: “I create myself.”

Well, in accordance with conservation of plot, Rose did do the Bad Wolf thing herself, and the reasons are that she was sending a message to herself to not give up. The somehow is that, by looking into the Heart of the TARDIS, she looked into the time vortex that the TARDIS travels through, and anyone knows that once you have time powers you can do anything. Then she starts disintegrating the Daleks with Heart-fire Heart-burn. When the Dalek Emperor declares himself immune, she calls him “tiny” and burns his whole ship into nothing.

This could have been a cheap deus ex machina, since the time powers come out of nowhere and neatly wrap up a huge, unsolvable problem just like that, but it isn’t really. The episode has been building up to Rose’s return, with the magnitude of her new powers validated by her selfless attitude, determination, and love for the Doctor. The TARDIS certainly contains great temporal powers, and we saw a hint of weirdness in “Boom Town” when Margaret was given her life to live over again. Overall, it feels like an appropriate, organic extension of the preceding drama, and indeed season. If it is a D.E.M., it’s an earned one.

It also doesn’t actually wrap things up neatly. Rose has chosen to play God, and that power comes with a price: the vortex is burning her up, and the temptation to hold on to the power is too much. The Doctor tells her to stop, that the Daleks are gone, but Rose returns Jack to life and is awestruck at the sight the vortex grants her: everything that was, is, or might be. The Doctor says that’s what he sees too, and offers his help. The tableau changes from Frodo claiming the Ring for himself, to Decker and Ilya at the end of TMP, as the two embrace and kiss. (And the ‘shippers go wild!) The Doctor receives the glowy from Rose, then sets her down and exhales it back into the TARDIS.

Poor Jack gets left behind as the Doctor sets course for points unknown. Rose is foggy about what just happened, and meanwhile the Doctor notices himself glowing in unusual places. He gets a little manic as he breaks it to Rose (and to the ‘shippers as they clean their drinks off their couches): the time vortex dealt a mortal wound to every single cell in his body, so he needs to regenerate (the word is not actually used), and whatever form he takes afterward, life with him will not be the same. Rose is understandably scared about this, especially with phrases like “I’m never gonna see you again” thrown about, but bears up womanfully. The Doctor gets in one last good line and turns into a volcano, and a moment later, he’s David Tennant!

The first thing the Doctor does in his new body is check his teeth, and the second thing is to reassure everyone he’s the same person by saying “Where were we?” and referencing Barcelona from the conversation a few minutes before. In those few seconds, he’s already recognizably the Tenth Doctor.

Christopher Eccleston rides triumphantly off into the sunset, assured of not being forever typecast as the Doctor, and we head off toward our first Christmas episode!

This is largely Eccleston’s episode to shine in, and he does so. His aggressive visit to the Daleks is probably the high point of the Ninth Doctor’s glory (to continue using theological language), and throughout the episode things revolve around his emotions and the very simple, but ultimately fatal, task he must carry out.

Billie Piper also has a lot of acting to do to carry her branch of the plot, and she also delivers. She has to sum up a season-long character arc and do a lot of emoting, often muted expressions of deep feeling. So props to her as well. Everyone else also turns in great performances.

It’s curious to me that (I’m pretty sure) the only hint this season that the Doctor ended the Time War himself comes from the Emperor Dalek here. (Edit: There was also a brief exchange in “Dalek”.) I had figured that was established from the get-go. It makes for a very different viewpoint on this Doctor.

Further comments on the resolution of the Bad Wolf arc go in the season round-up. As for this episode by itself, it’s fast-paced with big ideas, big action scenes, big stakes, big consequences, big character growth, big emotions, and still has time for quiet moments when they’re needed.

Rating: 4 delta waves of deadly doom

Favorite dialogue: The Doctor: If I’m very clever, and I’m more than clever, I’m brilliant, I might just save the world. Or rip it apart.
Rose: I’d go for the first one.
The Doctor: Me too.

PO-LICE AND TRAFFIC CON-TROL SYSTEMS ARRE UN-NECESSARY: LIVING IN A DAHHH-LEK PARA-DISE

Sorry (not sorry): for the Heart-burn thing

RIP: Lynda the Pig-tailed. You were too sweet for this world.

nuWho 1×12: Bad Wolf

We quickly recap “The Long Game”, which I never expected to hear about again. But the Doctor’s comment that humanity’s progress should resume is used as a plot hook to propel us another hundred years into the future, where the Doctor wakes up disoriented in a changing room. It’s disorienting for the viewer, too, helped along by the aggressive techno dance soundtrack. A young blonde woman, Pigtailed Rose, rushes over to help him up.

We gather (aided by the subtitles) that the Doctor has been dumped into a garish version of the Big Brother TV show that I thankfully haven’t heard of in years. Also in the room are a black woman wearing loud pink and a man in a bootleg Rolling Stones shirt. He complains that eviction (which we all know is code for “someone’s gonna die”) is just five minutes away, what’s with dropping someone new on them now? Black Rose agrees that if “the rules” keep changing like this, she might just repaint the walls as an act of defiance.

Given that her color scheme is just as loud as the house’s, I’m not sure what kind of threat that is.

“You see that bit of white wall over there? I’ll paint it day-glo green. DAY-GLO! And if you really make me mad, I’ll paint it a blinding yellow, and then deep purple, and then beige on top of that just to really tick everyone off.”

The Doctor is promptly led off to a private room to tell the audience how his day is going. Meanwhile, Real Rose comes to looking into the face of a man who tells her that the android is the Law. I hope it flies around eating frogs, because that sounds more appealing than what I expect from the House O’ Roses. The Weakest Link is as sordid as I care to get in the reality show genre.

Oddly enough, Rose is led onto a Weakest Link set. I honestly did not know that was coming. The android is an Anne-droid with red hair and red eyes and actually says this is The Weakest Link. Either the BBC owns the British version, or the parody laws are very strong across the Atlantic.

Meanwhile Captain Jack Harkness finds himself on Robot Eye for the Omnisexual Guy. The robots in question remove his clothing for the edification of millions of viewers. Jack confidently responds that “your viewing figures just went up.” Not sure how this scenario is supposed to lead to deadly peril, but at least we’re getting a variety of shows.

The Doctor is back in the House, sonicing his surroundings to find a way out. Pigtailed Rose (who claims her true name is Lynda) pesters him to tell her what the viewers think of her. The Doctor pleases her by telling her everyone thinks she’s sweet. Then he remembers how he was captured: a white light emanated from the wall of the TARDIS and sucked everyone in. The inside wall of the TARDIS, while they were in 1300s Japan saving the locals from Cyberkaiju or something. That’s quite a feat, too much of a feat for their abduction to be anything other than deliberate. He looks into a camera screen and delivers the typical Doctor warning.

A man listening in lowers his headset and moves closer to a bank of computers. Like in “The Long Game”, but the operators aren’t zombies. He tries to get a woman’s attention, but she’s busy segueing us back to Rose, who decides she’ll win a trivia game based on popular culture several hundred years into her future. Fortunately, there are enough simple questions that she doesn’t lay a total egg. We learn that Torchwood (who?) became famous and is now destroyed. This cracks Rose up. Headset Man and Segue Woman are concerned by this: “I think she knows.” Headset Man says the Doctor just appeared without explanation: “It’s like the game is running itself.”

The fashion robots have replaced Jack’s white shirt with a different white shirt, and well, that’s about the extent of their ambition thus far. One robot tells Jack he should “do something about that face”, to which Jack agrees that he’s considered cosmetic surgery and cups its crude plastic boobs. Okay then. But just when it seems Jack’s storyline is going smoothly, the other robot reveals that it’s equipped with a chainsaw and a Death Star torture kit.

Speaking of pain, Annedroid is making small talk with Rose. Annedroid burns her by asking how she has money to dye her hair, then asks why she voted for Fitch. Rose says Fitch (who looked distraught when she got a biology question wrong, to let us know who would lose the round) got a few questions wrong, to which Annedroid replies with a bit of venom, “And you’d know about that.” Meanwhile Fitch is starting to blubber, because naturally getting voted out means death here too. Instead of a trapdoor, or even eye lasers, however, Annedroid sticks out her tongue and disintegrates Fitch.

Rose declares that everyone is sick in the head and she won’t play anymore. So the actual weakest player, Broff, breaks down and declares he won’t play anymore, so that Annedroid can shoot him down to railroad Rose back into the plot.

The Doctor is very bored with playing along and impatient to get back to clicking on objects so he can solve the puzzle and escape the room. When Black Rose is evicted, the other two embrace her tearfully while the Doctor flops down on the couch in irritation. “We’re going to get you!” the announcer voice announces gleefully, and soon Black Rose walks into a clean white box and is zapped into powder.

Meanwhile, Headset and Segue mention a rumor that something is concealed “under the transmissions”, possibly something that the Controller can’t see, even though she should see everything. Well, this took a hard U-turn straight back into “The Long Game”. We meet the Controller: a woman with lots of tubes and fiber optic cables coming out of her, her eyes staring at something and nothing, her mouth gibbering uncontrollably. The visual and music combine to be horrific.

The Doctor learns that Big Brother contestants are chosen at random, the winner is happy to escape alive, and nobody (in an admittedly small pool of respondents) seems inclined to question this status quo. But hey, there are only sixty Houses right now because of cutbacks. He sonics a camera to death so that he can be evicted, escape death, and then find Rose.

While the others stare their mortality in the face, Jack has decided that this white tennis outfit just isn’t him. The robots zap that off and announce that they will proceed with the “face-off”. “I think you’d look good with a dog’s head!” one of the robots declares, and they proceed to get more inventive, again with a little venom. Jack shoots both their heads off.

A fairly obvious inference by now is that someone or something blames the Doctor & associates for not sticking around to set things right in “The Long Game”. The temporal teleportation powers remain unexplained.

Rodrick tells Rose he’s keeping her alive so he can beat her in the finals, then says the Bad Wolf Corporation is behind all this Television To Die For. Cue the sad oo-ooo-y music as Rose remembers all the times we’ve seen Bad Wolf crop up, with an overlay of the Time Vortex for spice. We’ve seen all this, we remember enough of it, especially given it was pointed out just last episode. Show us something different, like Pretty Samurai Moon using her Sparkling Bad Wolf Justice Strike against Cyber-Mothra.

The Doctor pumps his fists excitedly on hearing he’s been evicted. The disintegrator powers down, no worries: whatever brought him here wanted him alive. Because nobody ever wants to see an enemy die ironically, or humiliatingly in front of millions . . . but this is standard Doctor Who logic, so we’ll let it go. He breaks out of the Death Room, then tries to break through his fellow occupants’ conditioning so they’ll follow him to safety. Pigtailed Rose obliges.

He recognizes his new environment as Station 5, and humble-brags to Pigtailed Rose that he helped solve a little problem here a century ago. She rattles off all the death-oriented TV shows that Bad Wolf produces and says well, naturally everyone watches them. She finally has enough of the Doctor being strange and wants to know who he is. The Doctor brushes her off with possibly the biggest fib he’s ever told: “All I’m after is a quiet life.” She asks if she can tag along on his travels, he likes the idea, gentle music is playing, and she’s just doomed herself to a gruesome end. The Doctor can afford one chick at a time, Lynda, the production budget isn’t infinite.

The Controller tells Headset to ignore the “no one” contestants wandering around the Satellite’s innards, then tells Segue that she’s not allowed to look inside Archive 6 to figure out what’s going on. Clearly the Controller is in on it.

The Doctor now finds that Earth is super-polluted to death and everyone just passively watches each other die on game shows. Pigtailed Rose tells him that when he shut down the news, society plain fell apart. The Doctor is just a little horrified.

Jack has made a laser rifle and tracked down the Doctor, who is stressing out over a balky computer. He finds evidence of the extra transmission thing, but more importantly they find Rose is facing death from Annedroid. Off they go, while Rose tries desperately to win the final round. She puts up a respectable fight but loses by one point, then starts to lose all her composure. The Doctor comes rushing in, but too late: Rose gets turned to ash as she runs toward him. Well, good thing he’s got a spare after all! Jack starts waving his gun around (not a euphemism), and Security comes in and arrests everyone. The Doctor hardly notices.

He remains blankly silent through the frisking, grilling, and sentencing. But when the last guard turns his back, he signals Jack and the guards are dispatched. Up to Floor 500 they go! Headset tries, but can’t evacuate anybody before an angry time traveler shows up with an angry man with a phaser rifle.

The Doctor points a gun at the Controller and demands answers. The Controller continues to drone on about a solar flare. The Doctor aims at Headset as thanks for offering advice, then scoffs at his fear before tossing him the gun. An amusing bit follows with Headset being very uncertain of what’s expected of him now. Then Jack barges into Archive 6 and finds the TARDIS waiting for him.

Segue tries to get the Doctor to let the staff go free, but the Doctor has no sympathy for the feelings of people who murder hundreds every day, even if they are “just doing their jobs.”

A solar flare causes the room to go eerie blue, and the Controller drops her distant facade to talk to the Doctor. She’s been using the flares to hide her messages to the Doctor so that her “masters” won’t detect them, finally bringing him to her station to speak to him in person. She can’t bring herself to name these masters, who have been ruling Earth from the shadows for centuries. Jack comes in with a demonstration he put together with the TARDIS’s help. He disintegrates Rose 2.0, then reforms her, to demonstrate it’s actually just a transmat beam. Presumably the one that whisks random people away to be the next contestant on The Price Is Death looks different.

The Controller gets zapped away for telling the Doctor Original Rose’s coordinates. The Controller herself finds herself blissfully free of body horror, but surrounded by Daleks. She happily accepts her death, certain that the Doctor will end her tormentors.

The Doctor explains to Headset and Segue that “someone’s been playing a long game,” someone behind the Jagrafess and Annedroid, someone waiting patiently until the end of the series to air this sequel. Continuing the layers upon layers theme, he finds that the main extra signal cloaks something hovering over Earth. Disabling it, he finds an entire fleet of half a million Illuminati! Er, Daleks. They call him up and demand he stay out, because look at our hostage. The Doctor simply says no. It quickly becomes an angry no as the Doctor’s hackles raise at the reappearance of his hated enemy.

The Doctor signs off, and the Daleks announce that this means war. The episode ends with random Daleks floating off of the floor as dozens more crowd into the shot.

I expected this to be a message episode, a harsh send-up of reality shows. In fact, I put this episode off partly because I half-expected to be beaten about the head with it. But no — the Doctor even shares a warm memory with Lynda about an ursine reality show. There are a few ideas touched upon — unintended consequences, news is important, maybe people are the sheepiest sheep ever after all — but none dominate.

This is a good enough episode, it just doesn’t stand out for me, and the subject matter isn’t something I find fun. I’ll round down, but I may regret it.

Special mention to the occasionally startling camera work, and to the actress playing Lynda (Pigtails). She manages to convey, just here and there, that there is an undercurrent of, well, sweetness within while still being just another conditioned member of this dystopia. And perhaps that is the best takeaway for this episode. Sometimes dystopias don’t contain total wrecks of people, and rarely do they contain heroic people who valiantly fight just the way we think heroes should fight, their flame unquenched beneath a layer of grimness and dirt. The true tragedy of a dystopia is the untapped potential for good, and for better, in its downtrodden citizens.

Rating: 2 nonexistent gardeners

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: I said no.
Dalek: What is the meaning of this negative?
Doctor: It means no.
Dalek: But she will be destroyed!
Doctor: No, ’cause this is what I’m going to do. I’m gonna rescue her. I’m gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I’m gonna save the Earth. And then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!
Dalek: But you have no weapons. No defences. No plan.
Doctor: Yeah. And doesn’t that scare you to death.

Supplementary favorite dialogue: The Doctor: Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what reality television is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. You’ve made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it. And you’ve had it for five hundred years. Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew and my ship, I’m going to end it for you, one way or another.

Silliest future name: Broff. He died as he was named: pitifully. Nope, it’s Strood. There must have been a fad in the next few hundred years where people started naming their babies after food.

One wonders: whether The Weakest Link is the new standardized test to which schools feel obligated to teach?

My electronica ’70s cover band is named: Crosbie Lynda and Strood, except we’re never going to cover “Judy Blue Eyes” because the goal of a band should not be to put audiences to sleep. Actually, nobody would want to be Strood, so scrap the whole idea.