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.
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.
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.
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 Slitheentwo-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.
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.
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.
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.
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