Revisiting Doctor Who: Series 2, Episodes 10-13 and the 2006 Christmas Special

Here we go, the downhill slide to the end of Series 2. Tennant has proved himself worthy, the Lad is a convert, and we’re both hooked (well, I was already, but hey-ho).

 Episode 10: Love & Monsters

An unusual episode told entirely from the point of view of Elton, an ordinary London bloke played by Marc Warren, alongside a pleasing ensemble cast of familiar faces playing other ordinary people. The Doctor and Rose are barely in it, forming instead the back story which links this group of mundane folk together. For this reason, the Lad wasn’t overly impressed, but it was a fun, light-hearted antidote to the previous two-parter, helped along nicely by a funny turn by Peter Kay as The Bad Guy. There’s a touch of sadness at the episode’s heart though, which serves to add even more depth to the characters and remind us that the Doctor impacts real lives as he rampages through time and space.

 Episode 11: Fear Her

Perfect timing for this one, which we have watched not long after the end of the real 2012 London Olympics, which form the setting for an episode first screened six years earlier.  The Doctor takes Rose to a London housing estate, Dame Kelly Holmes Close, on the eve of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Though the Olympic torch-bearer is due to pass through the neighbourhood, instead of excited anticipation there is an air of worry due to the inexplicable disappearances of several local children. The Doctor and Rose trace the source of the mystery to a twelve-year old local girl who seems to be in possession of strange powers.

The Lad quite liked this one, and it was indeed specifically aimed at the programme’s younger fans. For me, it felt a bit flat, a bit of a filler, and the ending was especially cheesy. It did remind me of Jerome Bixby’s classic short story “It’s a Good Life”, but I was somewhat annoyed that the inspiration that tale offered, which could have driven an outstanding Doctor Who episode, has now been “taken”.

Episodes 12 & 13: Army of Ghosts, Doomsday

“This is the story of how I died…”

So begins the first part of the two-part series finale, with Rose hinting at the heartbreak to come.

The Doctor and Rose return to contemporary London to visit Jackie. But they walk straight into a bizarre wave of paranormal activity which has broken out across the planet – millions of translucent, indistinct but humanoid silhouettes, or “ghosts”, have for several months been appearing at regular intervals. Many people believe they are the ghosts of their lost loved ones, but the Doctor ascertains that they are the images or impressions of beings trying to force their way through from another universe. He tracks their source to One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, which turns out to be the headquarters of the London branch of Torchwood.

Torchwood is experimenting with an invisible breach in the fabric of space-time (having discovered it floating hundreds of feet above Docklands, they built the office tower solely to be able to reach it!) and also with the mysterious spherical object which has come through it. The Doctor declares the sphere to be a “void ship”, a vessel designed to traverse the Void between universes. Against his pleadings, the Torchwood director initiates a new “ghost shift” – this time the “ghosts” fully materialise and reveal themselves to be Cybermen (from the parallel Earth).

At the same time, Rose discovers Mickey operating undercover in the void ship lab, having returned to has native Earth in pursuit of the Cybermen, who had mysteriously vanished from his adopted home universe. But even as they enjoy their reunion, the void ship opens and reveals its crew – a quartet of Daleks.

Army of Ghosts ends on a cliff-hanger and leads straight into Doomsday, an episode which has been one of the most popular of the revived series and competed with Episode 4 (“The Girl in the Fireplace”) for a Hugo Award (it lost). It is a right rip-snorter, with an all-out conflict between Cybermen and Daleks erupting in the skies above Canary Wharf while Mickey’s friends from the alternate world (including Rose’s “father”, Pete) join forces with the Doctor to try to defeat both armies.

This is the first time the Cybermen and the Daleks appear on screen together, in direct conflict, and it is enormous fun – the Lad was glued to the screen uttering exclamations of awe at appropriate moments. Passing over his head somewhat, but bringing at tear to my eye, was the heralded departure of Rose as she finds herself trapped in the parallel Earth with Jackie, Mickey and Pete. United with her family, but sundered from the Doctor, the final scenes between the pair were deeply touching.

Unfortunately the mood is prematurely ruined by the sudden materialisation of a woman in full bridal dress – played by Catherine Tate – inside the TARDIS. On its own merits, it is a funny scene, but it just wasn’t justified merely to lead into the Christmas Special, and it really did bust a moment of unalloyed melancholy that, in tribute to Rose, should have been left alone. However…

2006 Christmas Special: The Runaway Bride

What is a Time Lord to do when a bride named Donna – a loud-mouthed bolshy bride at that – impossibly appears in one’s TARDIS? Well, he has to put aside his oh-so-recent bereavement, act as though nothing has happened and embark on a new adventure straight away. To be honest, this is my only gripe with both the ending of Series 2 and the Christmas Special, though in fairness there are one or two touching references to Rose, and one or two melancholic expressions on the Doctor’s face here and there.

The episode introduces another semi-Lovecraftian “Dark Times” alien, the Racnoss (half-spider, half Grace Jones), which is extremely well rendered, and also treats us to an edge-of-the-seat “car chase” as the TARDIS pursues a car-jacked black cab down the motorway. What makes this episode really sing though is a slew of excellent performances, from Tennant’s emotionally wounded Doctor to Donna’s caricature of a mother (a pitch-perfect Jacqueline King). But though her premature introduction irritated me, Tate’s performance as Donna is brilliantly enjoyable. She and Tennant zing off each other in a way we have never seen between the Doctor and a companion before, and if Tate’s characterisation of Donna is somewhat familiar to those who have seen her sketch shows, who cares? She was funny and brilliant (thanks to some excellent jokes) and I enjoyed the episode hugely – as did the Lad.

But Donna chooses not to join the Doctor on his travels, so who will try to fill Rose’s shoes…?

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About Mark Winter

Dark Fantasy novelist (INFERNAL PREY). Blogging on politics and current affairs (GibberLog), science and history (BlatherLog), sci-fi, fantasy & horror (WittlerLog), business, product development & start-ups (MutterLog). View all posts by Mark Winter

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