Revisiting Doctor Who: Series 3, Episodes 1-7

I have to say, I was really looking forward to revisiting Series 3, because it features several of my favourite episodes of the revived show, some of the strongest in fact in the series’ entire history in my opinion.

Episode 1: Smith and Jones

Alas, this is not one of them, but that has proved to be pretty typical of first episodes. The pilot was enjoyable but nondescript (if it had been anything other than Doctor Who, we mightn’t have bothered) and the New Earth stories, including the one which kicked-off Series 2, were dull.

But the Doc needs a new companion, so we have to bear with it. The abduction of an entire hospital and its relocation to the Moon particularly impressed the Lad, as did the Judoon and their childishly funny monosyllabic language. Florence Finnegan does a nice turn as a vampiric alien criminal in hiding, the Judoons’ target (and I got a little chuckle from the name of one of the hospital consultants – Mr. Stoker). But of course all eyes are on Freema Agyeman as she débuts as Martha Jones, a near-qualified doctor on staff. I think she does a nice job, and her education and self-confidence contrast interestingly with her predecessor’s qualities.

Episode 2: The Shakespeare Code

Well, series 3 hits its stride pretty quickly though, as this episode is a cracker. The Doctor, having promised Martha a single “thank you” jaunt in the TARDIS, takes her to Elizabethan London, 1599 to be precise. There they meet none other than William Shakespeare (a light and energetic performance by Dean Lennox Kelly, playing the character in a way that  entertainingly defies expectations) who is being influenced by a trio of witches – in reality Carrionites, aliens from the “Dark Times” whose “technology”, built on words rather than numbers, resembles magic. Their kindred banished to the Void aeons ago by the Eternals, the three remaining Carrionites seek to use Shakespeare’s literary genius to release their kind.

The Lad recognised the Globe Theatre, having visited it, and greatly enjoyed both the three witchy sisters and the humourous appropriation of expelliarmus from Harry Potter – he loved this episode, as did I. The performances are excellent, with Agyeman’s Martha getting into her stride with aplomb. Various Shakespearean in-jokes and a cameo by Queen Elizabeth herself are brilliant touches. A classic.

Episode 3: Gridlock

Sigh. Another “New Earth” episode. They just don’t do anything for me. This one has the Doctor trying to rescue Martha, who has been kidnapped by a desperate couple who need a third person to give them access to the fast lanes of the planet’s horrifically congested highway system (where family units spend decades in never-ending traffic jams). To be fair, there are some nice ideas played out, and even I had to do some research to find out more about the obscure Patrick Troughton-era monsters which were lurking underneath the freeway. But the Lad was disappointed that there was no real climactic encounter with said beasties, so found the whole episode frustrating.

But it was nice to see the Face of Boe, even if for the last time (sort of… oops, sorry, spoiler!!!!). And his enigmatic pronouncement definitely piqued my interest… more on that later.

Episodes 4 & 5: Daleks in Manhattan, Evolution of the Daleks

The great irritation of Dalek episodes is they often insist on giving their appearances away in the episode titles. Oh well.

New York, the Great Depression, and the down-and-out camping in Central Park are being abducted. Enter the Cult of Skaro, having escaped the Battle of Canary Wharf via emergency temporal shift, they are now using human subjects in their eugenic experiments. Their goal: to revitalise their species with an injection of human creativity and drive… by creating Dalek/Human hybrids. The Cult’s leader, Dalek Sec, “sacrifices” his own genetic purity by grotesquely absorbing a high-potential human lickspittle, transforming himself into one ugly mahfah with a Brooklyn accent and a bad suit.

An excellent pair of episodes, featuring intriguing interplay between creatures so often portrayed one-dimensionally (giving Daleks more personality and depth, and some great lines, has been one of the outstanding features of their appearances in the revived series). The Lad had a great time, though it has to be said there is some mass extermination at the climax of Evolution of the Daleks which worried me a little in terms of its age-appropriateness – not the Lad mind, just his father.

Episode 6: The Lazarus Experiment

The Doctor takes Martha to visit her family, which is a little fraught because her parents are separated or divorced (but seem to care about what each other is up to rather more than they should, hint hint) and her mother is a fairly dominating, opinionated woman forever seeking to direct her children’s lives and seemingly unable to smile (I can see why Mum and Dad were having marriage problems!). But Martha’s sister Tish has a new job working for Professor Richard Lazarus, a brilliant but elderly scientist with a God-complex, and so they tag along to the black-tie unveiling of the mad professor’s great new invention. Naturally, it all goes pear-shaped…

A fine episode made so by well-portrayed Jones family dynamics, an enjoyably camp performance by Mark Gattiss as Lazarus (he is just great) and some not-too-shabby CGI. And elements of the series’ story arc begin to slot into place, as we continue to come across the name of “Mr. Saxon”, a background figure who funds Lazarus’ experiments and whose agents begin to drip poison into Martha’s mother’s ear…

Episode 7: 42

Responding to a distress signal, the Doctor and Martha land in a spaceship plummeting helplessly into a star – they have only 42 minutes to save the day!!! A task made worse by a series of deadlocked doors cutting off the human crew from the control deck… and by the inhuman entity which is possessing one of their number, menacingly inviting its victims to “burn with me” as it picks them off one by one…

Another absolute cracker of an episode, the near-realtime pacing ratchets up the tension, ably assisted by some superb musical scoring by Murray Gold. Tennant’s performance when the Doctor is himself possessed by the murderous alien mind is shouty and frenetic, but justifiably so and yet another element which contributes to an absolute nail-biter of an episode. There are some superficial similarities to The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit from Series 2, but I enjoyed this one so much that I really  didn’t care.

The Lad couldn’t take his eyes off the iPad, especially when the Doctor began to warn that he might be about to regenerate…

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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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