Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Invasion (1968)

doctorwhotheinvasionThe TARDIS gets stuck over the dark side of the moon where its crew spy a UFO. Before they can investigate, the UFO fires a missile at the TARDIS, but it teleports away to a farm in the English countryside at the last second. Because of a circuit damaged by the explosion, the TARDIS becomes invisible. The Doctor decides to go to London and look up their friend Professor Travers for help repairing the TARDIS’s circuit, concerned only that they might be in a time when Travers is an infant. Jamie, Zoe, and the Doctor hitch a lift with a truck driver, who is trying to get away from an industrial compound run by International Electrometics, the world’s largest electronics company which holds almost a global monopoly. After clearing a guard post, the truck driver forces the Doctor and his companions off at a field, and they end up having to hitch another ride. Unknown to them, the driver is pursued and detained by two IE guards on motorcycles, and shot to death. At Professor Travers’s townhouse, they find out that Travers and his daughter Anne are in the United States. The house is being watched by a former teacher of Anne’s, Professor Watkins, an electronics expert who happens to work for IE, and his niece Isobel, a photographer. The Doctor tries to call Watkins at IE’s London headquarters, but he has apparently disappeared. The Doctor and Jamie decide to go to IE’s office in person, only to find to his frustration that there’s no human staff, only computers. Eventually Jamie and the Doctor are brought to Tobias Vaughn, IE’s Managing Director. Vaughn assures the Doctor and Jamie that Watkins is working on an experiment and has demanded total isolation while promising to have his top engineers repair the damaged circuit. However, the Doctor is suspicious, noticing that Vaughn did not blink normally for a human.

After the visit, the Doctor and Jamie are taken to a landed jet where they meet the former Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, now a Brigadier. He explains that he’s been put in charge of a new organization, UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force), which has been investigating mysterious disappearances at IE. Jamie recognizes the truck driver from before among the Brigadier’s photographs of UNIT agents who have been investigating IE. Vaughn gets into contact with some alien beings through a device, which warns him that the Doctor is “hostile” and, while they have never been on Earth before, they encountered him previously on “Planet 14.” Then Vaughn is instructed to watch out for anything that might interfere with the planned invasion. Just at that moment, Zoe and Isobel show up looking for the Doctor and Jamie, but are ultimately taken by Vaughn’s goons, who use them as bait for a trap to capture the Doctor and Jamie, who have volunteered to go back to investigate for UNIT.

All of them are taken to IE’s compound, where the Doctor and Jamie are introduced to Watkins, who is being extorted into compliance with the life of his niece. Vaughn hopes to learn more about the TARDIS by spying on the Doctor and Watkins’s conversation, but the Doctor sabotages the surveillance camera with a magnet. Vaughn threatens to kill Zoe if the Doctor doesn’t give him information about the TARDIS, but Jamie and the Doctor escape.  When his security chief and co-conspirator Packer admits he is worried that he is taking a huge risk by refusing to follow orders to kill the Doctor in order to get the TARDIS, Vaughn confides that he’s having Watkins work on a machine that can broadcast emotions, which he hopes to use to control his allies after the invasion. Finding Zoe and Isobel, the Doctor and the others finally get out of the compound with the help of a UNIT helicopter. However, the Doctor doesn’t take long to sneak back into the compound when the Brigadier tells him that UNIT has been getting reports of UFOs for the past year. At the compound, the Doctor finds his suspicions confirmed:  Vaughn is working with the Cybermen.

Vaughn urges the Cybermen to rush forward their plans for the invasion. But at the same time he tests Watkins’ device on one of the Cybermen, driving it mad. Back at UNIT headquarters, the Brigadier wants to warn his higher-ups at Geneva about the oncoming Cybermen invasion, but realizes he needs photographic evidence. Isobel offers to help, but the Brigadier refuses, infuriating her and Zoe. Meanwhile Vaughn is disgusted when the Cybermen announce that they will convert all able-bodied humans into Cybermen and dispose of the “unsuitable” and vows he will no longer cooperate with the invasion unless they go with the initial plan of allowing him to rule Earth in exchange for giving the Cybermen the raw materials they need. The Cybermen appear to acquiesce and Vaughn knows they’re lying, but is confident that his technology will protect him from the Cybermen’s mind control.

Isobel  and Zoe goad Jamie into joining them on an adventure to the IE compound to gather photographic evidence of the Cybermen. In the sewers beneath the compound, they run into the mad Cyberman, but they are saved by UNIT soldiers sent to retrieve them. At Vaughn’s office, Watkins presents Vaughn with an upgraded version of his device and arranges to have them immediately mass produced, but not before testing it on Watkins. Enraged, Watkins threatens Vaughn, who mocks him by giving him a loaded gun…only for Watkins to find out the hard way that Vaughn has been given a cybernetic body by the Cybermen. With the help of Watkins, who UNIT rescued from IE, the Doctor pieces together that the Cybermen will use chips secreted into all devices manufactured by IE to amplify a mind-control signal broadcast from their ship on the moon. Also the Doctor thinks he’s invented a circuit that can block the signal. Unfortunately, it’s too late. The signal brings human life to a standstill across the globe while Cybermen emerge from London’s sewers with more on the way from outer space.

Only the Doctor, his companions, and the Brigadier’s branch of UNIT are saved from the signal in time. The Brigadier works out a plan to convert a Russian spacefaring rocket into a missile that can be used to take out the Cybermen’s mothership, which is generating the signal, but it would take time. In the meantime, the Doctor decides, with a wire supplied by UNIT, to confront Vaughn. The Doctor tries to warn Vaughn that he can’t outsmart the Cybermen, but Vaughn is coolly confident, and guesses the Doctor is playing for time. Back with UNIT, Zoe manages to calculate the best way to use the missiles available to UNIT to create a chain reaction of explosions that take out most of the Cybermen invasion fleet. As the Doctor watches, the Cybermen blame Vaughn for this catastrophe and decide to use a bomb to wipe out all life on Earth in order to just strip mine it.

The Doctor enlists the help of a now half-deranged Vaughn to disrupt the homing signal the Cybermen are using to bring the bomb to Earth.  Using the weapon Watkins developed against the Cybermen that have swarmed IE headquarters, the Doctor with Vaughn and some UNIT soldiers destroy the source of the signal, but not before Vaughn is unceremoniously killed by a Cyberman. Later the Russian missile is able to take out the mothership, since the ship was forced to get into the Earth’s orbit thanks to the destruction of the homing signal. With the Earth saved and the circuit finally repaired, the Doctor sets off again.

Sign of the Times

Isobel calls the Brigadier “anti-feminist” for refusing to let her go help photograph a Cyberman. Of course, Isobel is still the one to serve tea to everyone.

Choice Quotes

“Don’t look so worried. Fancy a cup of tea?”
-The Brigadier to Zoe, at the height of the Cybermen crisis

Continuity Notes

It’s the first time the Brigadier is, well, Brigadier. It’s also the first appearance of his right-hand man, Corporal (later Sergeant) John Benton.

Trying to give the Cybermen a coherent continuity in the “classic” series may not be quite the hopeless task that doing so with Dalek continuity is, but…well, this series really makes a hash out of the Cybermen’s first appearance, The Tenth Planet.  In that story, the Cybermen’s homeworld Mondas comes into contact with Earth again for the first time in millennia. Even if it’s the case that some Cybermen attacked Earth before Mondas returned to the solar system, which some of Tobias Vaughn’s dialogue seems to suggest, then why aren’t the Cybermen recognized? Or at least why do the Cybermen of that story look less advanced than their “Princess Leia hairbun” counterparts here? Of course, the answer is “They didn’t really care that much about continuity on TV shows in the Pre-Internet days!”

Still, this serial alone has given fuel to many a nerdy debate about continuity. One reason boils down to the Cybermen’s claim that they encountered the Doctor before on a mysterious “Planet 14,” which leads any fan into a collision course into the questions raised above. Probably the best “answer” came from famous comic book writer Grant Morrison, who out of the whole mystery spun a Sixth Doctor yarn in the comic book Doctor Who Adventures where Mondas is Marinus in the far future.

But the big one is that this adds to the big snaffu that is UNIT’s continuity. Basically dialogue from “The Web of Fear” suggested that story took place sometime around 1975 and it’s confirmed “The Invasion” unfolds four years after that. It’s pretty clear that UNIT stories take place at least a couple of years in the viewing audience’s future, but how far is unclear, to say the least (it’s infamous enough that it was made into a joke in the “new” series). I’m sure I’ll note it some more when it comes up, but for now let’s just say that the Cyberman invasion of the Earth took place sometime in the early-mid ’70s.

Comments

You can say the same for a lot of Second Doctor series, and I know I’ve said something very similar before, but this one really feels like a ’50s b-movie. A bunch of scientists (including the Doctor) and military leaders are in a room full of tech equipment and discuss a slowly unfolding invasion or crisis or whathaveyou?  Classic! Also, in spite of the obvious budget limitations, this story does feel like an epic in the same vein as The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  Like that one, it’s a cinematic serial, and the plot just feels like there’s more at stake than in most of the Doctor’s other adventures. This is another episode I’d peg as a big influence on Russell T. Davies and his oft-tapped alien invasion sagas during his era of the “new” show.

But it’s really the characters that make this serial work. The exception unfortunately is Isobel, who dates this story badly. As noted above, she calls the Brigadier out, but her plan, carried out to prove she is a Strong Independent Woman, does cause the deaths of a police officer and a couple of UNIT soldiers for the sake of photographs that don’t really help the Brigadier avert the invasion at all. The rest of the time she’s obsessing over fashion photography, flirting with John Benton, or serving tea. Ironically, it’s Zoe, who never feels compelled to assert her Strong Independent Woman-ness, that becomes the better feminist model, by being the one who actually does help UNIT defeat the Cybermen – with math, no less.

The characters who do make this work naturally include the Brigadier. In a show where authority figures are usually one monster invasion away from turning psychotic, the Brigadier is a welcome and complete inversion. He has a stern edge and dominates the room, but is also kind to a fault and willing to listen to good advice no matter the source. Then there’s the real villain, Tobias Vaughn, who is one of the best, if not the best, human villain the show has produced so far. He’s an oddly believable type of lunatic, who is the model of decorum and respect – until his desires are frustrated, in which case the raging psychopath underneath finally reveals himself. It’s really a shame he didn’t become a recurring antagonist, or at least was killed off so casually.

Finally, it’s worth nothing that fans have yet to speculate on the connections between the Doctor and the mysterious Kilroy…

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear (1968)

weboffearAfter Salamander falls into the time vortex, the TARDIS is spinning out of control, but Jamie manages to reach the control panel and stabilize its movement. Elsewhen in 1970s (probably?) London an elderly Professor Travers, accompanied by his daughter Anne, a scientist living in the United States, confronts a collector named Julius.  Travers regrets bringing back the robot Yeti he found from Tibet and selling them to Julius, and angrily demands that Julius let him buy back the Yeti. Anne tries to reassure him, but Travers admits that while experimenting with one of the spheres that control the robots he reactivated it and now it went missing. Just as Julius throws Travers and Anne out of his house, the sphere appears and reactivates the Yeti, which promptly kills Julius. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor sees that the TARDIS is suspended in outer space, literally caught in some kind of fungus. He manages to rig the TARDIS controls to escape, causing it to land in an unused tunnel in the London underground near a station for Charing Cross. While searching the tunnel for clues as to what trapped the TARDIS, Victoria and Jamie are captured by soldiers preparing to destroy the tunnel and brought to an underground bomb shelter where the Professor and Anne Travers and military officers are working together to stop the Yeti, which have taken over the subway tunnels. Meanwhile the Doctor comes across two Yeti who are guarding a pyramid like the ones from Tibet.

Victoria and Jamie are reunited with Professor Travers, and Jamie volunteers to accompany some soldiers into the tunnels. When it turns out that the explosives were sabotaged, the one journalist allowed by the British government to cover the story, Harold Chorley, accuses the Doctor and his companions of being the ones behind it. Anne is convinced, finding it odd that the Doctor was present both times Prof. Travers came across the Yeti. After overhearing the Travers’ conversation, Victoria decides to return to the tunnels to look for the Doctor herself. In the tunnels, several soldiers find out the hard way that the Yeti are bulletproof and armed with deadly guns, which disable the explosives by generating the same fungus-like substance that trapped the TARDIS and is spread throughout the tunnels.  In the shelter, the Travers observe that the fungus is rapidly expanding on its own across the tunnels. Jamie, who has set off on his own with a soldier named Evans, is trapped by the fungus.

Evans destroys the pyramid but it doesn’t stop the fungus. Victoria finds the Doctor with Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who had been sent to take over the mission. The Brigi…I mean, the Colonel signs off on a plan to use explosives to seal the shelter away from the fungus, but it’s too late. The Doctor realizes that someone is working with the Great Intelligence, which is why he’s less than happy to learn that Victoria blurted out everything about the TARDIS to the erratically behaving Harold Chorley. Reunited with the Doctor, Jamie and the rest, while looking for Harold, instead find a distressed Anne, who has discovered that her father was taken by one of the Yeti. Learning about the TARDIS, the Colonel is not all that skeptical, but decides it is their last hope to escape the fungus and sends a squad to find it. Unfortunately, all of them except Evans and seemingly one other soldier are killed trying to cross through the fungus.  The rest of the soldiers fare no better: they go up to London to protect the Doctor as he retrieves electronic parts needed for a device Anne has created, but most of the soldiers are slaughtered by the Yeti, leaving the Colonel alone to escape back to the shelter for his life.

There’s no safe refuge for our heroes anymore, however, as the shelter is invaded by the Yeti who are being led by Prof. Travers, who has been possessed by the Great Intelligence. Cornering the Doctor and the others, the Great Intelligence declares that the whole scenario was a giant trap for the Doctor. In exchange for the Doctor’s companions’ lives, it wants to use a device to absorb all the Doctor’s knowledge. The Great Intelligence takes Victoria and drags her into the tunnels, with Jamie, the Colonel, and Evans following. The Doctor and Anne finish Anne’s invention, a remote control that can override the commands sent to one of the Yeti’s control spheres, but it only works in short range. Victoria and Prof. Travers, now free from the Great Intelligence’s possession, are led to a control room where there’s a larger pyramid where eventually they are joined by all the other survivors, all seized by the Yetis. The Doctor surrenders and everyone discovers that the Great Intelligence had taken over the corpses of one of the officers killed by the fungus, pretending that the man had barely survived. At seemingly the last minute, and despite the Doctor’s protests, Jamie uses Anne’s remote control to cause the “rogue” Yeti to break the pyramid and destroy the Great Intelligence’s corporeal body. An aggravated Doctor explains that he had crossed the wires in the pyramid, which would have let the Doctor absorb the Great Intelligence, meaning that the Great Intelligence has only been broken off from contact with Earth rather than destroyed.

Sign of the Times

Anne has this exchange with one officer:

“What’s a girl like you doing in a job like this?
Well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d be a scientist…so I became a scientist.
Just like that?
Just like that.”

Continuity Notes

This is the serial that introduces Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, better known as “the Brigadier” (although he’s not quite the Brigadier yet!), who despite not being an “official” companion is as much a beloved staple of the classic series as Sarah Jane Smith. Sadly, the actual episode where he first appears is missing, even after most of the serial’s episodes were discovered in 2013.  It’s still not the debut of UNIT, although honestly it might as well be.

Also, at the risk of invoking the series’ most notorious continuity snafu way too soon, I couldn’t help notice that if you look at the time frame this serial’s prequel, “The Abominable Snowmen”, was supposed to take place in and Prof. Travers’s claim that he hadn’t seen the Doctor in “over 40 years”, this serial can be said to take place in the early ’70s. Keep that in mind when we get to the confusion over when exactly the “UNIT years” take place…

Anne Travers actually raises a good point, even though the episode does begin with the Doctor being forced to appear in this particular time and place: why does the Doctor show up when there’s trouble? This does get answered much later in “The Doctor’s Wife,” where it’s pretty much spelled out that the TARDIS consciously at least some of the time takes the Doctor to where he’s needed.

Comments

A threat represented by foam and lit-up plastic sheets, a solemn fight sequence between British soldiers and shambling robot Yeti, people running around corridors…now this is “classic Who.”

It’s hard to judge this serial in retrospect, since it lays out so much of what would define the show in the Third Doctor era, and not just by bringing in the (soon to be) Brigadier. Even with the recovered episodes – or perhaps partially because of them – I do wonder if the presence of the Brigadier does give the serial more of a reputation than it otherwise would have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good, and watching Nicholas Courtney as the stoic yet not stereotypically cold military man Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart alone explains why he became a mainstay for a show that runs through countless other characters as a matter of course.  But it’s telling that in a story where robotic Yeti and a foamy fungus invade the London tubes the goofiest thing is the overacting of the actor playing Evans (and I think there’s more than a little bit of anti-Welsh stereotyping there too).  It doesn’t help that it feels like he’s practically in every scene.

But for all that this is generally the sort of thing people think about when they wax nostalgic about old-school “Doctor Who.” At the very least it can give you an education on how frightening foam can be.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – Power of the Daleks (1967)

Polly and Ben are confused and frightened when they see a completely new person lying where the Doctor was and debate over whether or not he still is the Doctor. They get close to the truth (or the truth as eventually established in the series) when Polly comments on how the Doctor mentioned how his body “is wearing a bit thin” and Ben asks, “So he gets himself a new one?” After shouting in panic and experiencing hallucinations, the “new” Doctor gets up and, completely ignoring Ben and Polly, starts piloting the TARDIS. Ben notes that the man not only doesn’t look like the Doctor but doesn’t have any of the same mannerisms. Things get more confusing when the Doctor starts referring to himself in the third person, but he eventually acknowledges Ben and Polly’s existence and claims that he’s been “renewed.” On a whim he starts playing a flute and suggests he, Ben, and Polly go out “for a stroll” and Ben has to remind him to check to see if there’s even oxygen outside.

On the “stroll” through what turns out to be a rather inhospitable planet with pools of mercury across the surface the Doctor, well ahead of Polly and Ben, stumbles across a murder scene. The victim was an examiner from Earth, sent to inspect a human colony on the planet which isnamed Vulcan. The Doctor pockets the dead man’s badge, which accords him total access to the colony, but is quickly knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant. Meanwhile Polly is overcome by mercury fumes coming out of the planet’s surface. Luckily the Doctor and his companions are rescued by Quinn, deputy governor of the colony, who mistakes the Doctor for the examiner. While the Doctor and the companions are recovering, they are confronted by Governor Hensel, who accuses the “examiner” of being sent to meddle in how the colony government has been handling an ongoing rebellion. In spite of his hostility, Hensel does ask the “examiner” to draw up a report on a long-buried space capsule that had been discovered by the colonists in a nearby mercury swamp.

Dr. Lesterson, who has been put in charge of studying the capsule, is nervous that the Doctor will interfere. Hensel is afraid that the capsule will contain something dangerous, but Lesterson seems determined to get in and exploit the capsule’s technologies. Still, Hensel asks Lesterson to keep the “examiner” distracted with the capsule. The Doctor pretends to finish his investigation for the day, but returns secretly at night and makes his way into the core of the capsule. Polly and Ben follow the Doctor in, where he invites them to “Come on in and meet the Daleks.” Inside are two immobile Daleks and Polly spots a tiny, tentacled creature escaping into a shaft. The Doctor guesses that Lesterson had lied about never reaching the core of the capsule before and has already been experimenting on the Daleks. Getting out of the capsule, the Doctor is confronted by Lesterson and realizes that Lesterson has been trying to reactivate a third Dalek that had been hidden in his lab. The Doctor, playing up the role of “examiner,” heads off to the governor to demand that the Daleks be destroyed, but unfortunately the governor is off on a tour. Later Ben and Polly learn that the Doctor had been constantly playing the flute and talking in near-gibberish because their room had been bugged. In the meantime Lesterson revives the Dalek in his lab, which then promptly kills one of his assistants. Undeterred, Lesterson merely disarms the Dalek.

The Doctor tries to contact Earth for special authority to order the Daleks destroyed in the governor’s absence, but discovers that the communication network has been sabotaged. Quinn is arrested for the sabotage and attacking the Doctor and is brought before Hensel himself, who suspects him of being a rebel sympathizer, but Lesterson barges into the meeting to show Hansel the revived Dalek, who claims, “I am your servant.” Ben finally becomes convinced that they’re still with the Doctor when he realizes that the Dalek recognizes the Doctor. Hensel is impressed and gives Lesterson permission to continue his experiments over the Doctor’s desperate protests. When Quinn’s trial is continued, he tries to avert the suspicion of murder by confessing that he asked the examiner to come in order to help deal with the rebellion. Hensel only has Quinn imprisoned and appoints the chief of security, Bragen, as the new deputy governor. Unfortunately, Bragen happens to be a rebel and is responsible for the death of the real examiner. When the Doctor and Ben sneak into Lesterson’s laboratory, the Dalek reveals its true nature to the Doctor, but is still disarmed. Unfortunately, they run away when they find that the Dalek has revived its peers and they just happen to be armed and ready. The Doctor and the companions return, only to be threatened by Bragen, but the Doctor manages to force Bragen into a stalemate by pointing out that there is no way for Bragen to expose him as an impostor without arousing suspicion that he is the real examiner’s killer.

Lesterson turns against the Daleks – and becomes more than a little unhinged – once he realizes with the Doctor’s prompting that the Daleks are “reproducing” and have been lying about their activities. Finding a secret message directed to the rebels, the Doctor and Ben spy on a rebel meeting and find that the rebellion is interested in using the Daleks as a weapon. They’re discovered and imprisoned by Bragen, who has also had Polly taken as a hostage and has assassinated Hensel via Dalek. The Doctor manages to escape, but he’s too late to stop the Daleks, who are now numerous enough to drop the pretense and to start their mission to “exterminate” the colony. The rebels quickly find that Bragen simply exploited them in order to usurp the governorship, but before he can really do anything his army is occupied, and then essentially slaughtered, by the Daleks. While the Daleks guarding the capsule are killing an insane Lesterson, the Doctor sneaks into the capsule and destroys the Daleks by overcharging their power supply, seemingly wiping out all the Daleks on Vulcan. After that, the rebels kill Bragen and agree to work with Quinn. As the Doctor and the companions make their way back to the TARDIS, Ben kicks one of the damaged Daleks. As the TARDIS teleports away, however, the “dead” Dalek’s eye turns to the TARDIS…

Second Doctor’s First Words

Slower! Slower! Concentrate on one thing! One thing! It’s over. *sinister chuckle* It’s over.

Continuity Notes

Of course, the really important thing is that this serial has the first appearance of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor (well, technically he first appeared in “The Tenth Planet,” but only his face and only for a few seconds.) Still, this is the serial that has the job of introducing the first “new” Doctor and setting the tone for the Second Doctor’s era.

Along with that, this is the first time the concept that would eventually become known as “regeneration” is laid out. Eventually it would become well-established that the Doctor, along with every other Time Lord, is able to fully recover from the effects of old age and from life-threatening illnesses and injuries, but at the cost of completely changing their appearance and even, to an extent, their personality. Here, however, the original idea was that the Doctor was simply making himself younger. Weirdly enough, though, the dialogue from Polly and Ben actually better supports the idea that the Doctor is becoming more or less a new person than that he’s just becoming young, with Ben remarking that seemingly everything about him, not just his looks, has changed.

Also it’s the first time a Dalek outside its armor is explicitly shown. A naked Dalek does sort of show up in “The Daleks,” but it’s mostly covered up.

Speaking of the Daleks, none of the humans on the Vulcan colony recognize the Daleks or even know the name, even though, judging from the fact that this serial takes place on a distant planet colonized by the Earth, this serial has to take place after “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Again, it’s best not to try to make sense of the history of the Daleks, or at least chalk everything up to the Daleks messing around with their own history.

Comments

The showrunners were obviously invested in revitalizing the show in a big way. Not only do we get a new Doctor that’s less irascible and more kinetic, but also we have the return of the Daleks, who go through a bit of a renewal themselves as the writers approach them from a different angle. Instead of being an army of ruthless invaders who crush the opposition through force, the Daleks spend almost the entire serial taking a different strategy that is nonetheless still consistent with their earlier portrayals. They are perfectly devious beings, able to exploit the very worst aspects of human nature even if it means, just for the moment, completely humbling and degrading themselves until their goal is within reach. As one of the Daleks in the serial says, “Weunderstand the human mind.” Also it’s a nice touch how, throughout the serial, the way the Daleks pronounce “We are your servants” becomes more and more strained.

Back to the Doctor, even though the Troughton era is unfamiliar territory for me, the writers do manage quite well in providing an introduction to the Second Doctor, better than when Vicki was introduced in “The Rescue.” He’s clearly meant to be a somewhat different character, meant to have the “old” Doctor’s eccentricities and unconventional style of heroism yet also be overall a more physical and humorous presence (in spite of Troughton’s rather menacing voice!). That’s not to say that Hartnell’s Doctor couldn’t be funny, especially in serials like “The Romans” or “The Time Meddler,” because Hartnell actually did, in spite of the reputation of his Doctor, have fantastic comedic instincts when the script called for them. However, I couldn’t quite imagine Hartnell’s Doctor would on a whim challenge his companion to a tongue twister based on “Lesterson listen.”

Another core difference is that it’s established that this Doctor, while still an avuncular figure, is less of a reliable beacon of authority. In fact, a couple of plot points hinge on the Doctor being underestimated, by his companions and his enemies, because he seems scatterbrained and inept. Plus there’s an ambiguity over how much of what the Doctor does is the result of deliberate and careful planning or is dumb luck. It’s an interesting new take that works right away and really makes the Doctor, who is already more active in the plot than Hartnell’s Doctor, an even more unconventional hero.

Unfortunately, like quite a few Troughton serials, “Power of the Daleks” exists only in stills, fragments, and the soundtrack. Worse, while I was able to find a recon, I couldn’t find one that tried to fill in the gaps in the action with narration or subtitles. Still, it’s to the credit of the serial that it still works very well, not only as the beginning of the Second Doctor era but as a new way to use the Daleks as antagonists. Although I already miss the diversity in the First Doctor serials, where you actually had plots other than the Doctor fighting aggressive aliens, it does make up for the weaknesses of the later Hartnell period and leaves me looking forward to the serials to come.

(Incidentally, I first “met” Patrick Troughton, before I even watched “Doctor Who,” as the Duke of Norfolk in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” So it was a strange disconnect for me, but probably not as much as it was for people who saw Troughton as the fun, bumbling version of the Doctor and then as the ruthlessly pragmatic uncle who had his niece Anne Boleyn killed for crimes he knew she didn’t commit.)

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet (1967)

It’s 1986, and the release of “Crocodile Dundee” isn’t the only thing that’s noteworthy. An international space agency has just launched the “Zeus IV” rocket on a routine mission from its base in Antarctica. Afterward the base’s crew are shocked when they spot the Doctor, Ben, and Polly sightseeing the wasteland of Antarctica. They have them brought to the base and detained. The official in charge of the base, General Cutler, wants to interrogate the Doctor, but is distracted by the mission Zeus IV is on, especially once the crew on board spot a brand new yet strangely “familiar” planet that’s near Venus and the ship suffers an abrupt and unexplained loss of power. The Doctor proves his credentials by accurately predicting exactly what the scientists will discover: a planet that resembles Earth, but Cutler is still hostile and skeptical. While the base’s crewmen investigate the TARDIS outside, they are killed by a group of cyborgs who then disguise themselves with the crewmen’s coats.

The Doctor tries to warn the scientists about the danger the crew of Zeus IV are in and about invaders from the twin Earth, but they’re too busy trying to save the ship to listen or notice as the disguised cyborgs effortlessly take over the base. One of the cyborgs explains that his race are the Cybermen. They come from Mondas, a planet that shared Earth’s orbit millions of years ago but some cataclysm caused it to drift into deep space. In order to survive, the surviving human-like Mondasians, the Cybermen’s ancestors, had to use “spare parts for their bodies.” Another improvement made by the Cybermen was in removing all emotions. By threatening to break off all contact with Zeus IV, the Cybermen force the base’s scientists to tell the space agency that nothing unusual is happening at the base even though knowledge of the existence of Mondas has become public and power across Earth is slowly being drained. Ben tries to grab a gun and attack the Cybermen, but only ends up locked in a room. The crew can only talk to the crew of Zeus IV as the ship is pulled into Mondas’ orbit and explodes. The Cybermen coolly explain that what happened to Zeus IV is also happening all over the Earth; Mondas, which has been dying, is draining Earth’s energy, but before the Earth dies the Cybermen will “save” humanity by bringing them to Mondas and converting them into Cybermen. Meanwhile Ben manages to use the equipment in his prison to devise a makeshift weapon which, to his horror, he uses to kill a Cyberman. Still, Ben hands the weapon to General Cutler, who uses it to kill the Cybermen and take back control of the base. Cutler gets into contact with the international space agency in Geneva and learns that they just sent his son on a mission to save the doomed Zeus IV.

The Doctor becomes severely ill, so ill he becomes unconscious. Meanwhile Cutler plans to use the Z-Bomb, a literal “doomsday weapon,” on Mondas, now that a Cybermen invasion force seems to have been launched from Mondas. Even though Cutler’s superiors and one of the base’s scientists, Dr. Barclay, are concerned that blowing up Mondas with the Z-Bomb will cause a wave of radiation that would kill much of Earth’s population and Ben tells Cutler that the Doctor was certain that Mondas would absorb too much energy and become destroyed, Cutler is determined to see Mondas obliterated. Polly convinces Barclay to turn against Cutler and he then tells Ben how to sabotage the Z-Bomb. When the bomb fails to launch, Cutler immediately blames the Doctor, Barclay, and the others. A conscious but still ill Doctor appears and defends Polly and Ben. After one more broadcast reveals that his son’s ship is almost out of power and is drifting toward Mondas, Cutler goes insane and threatens to murder the Doctor. Suddenly Cybermen invade the base again and, when Cutler tries to attack, he is killed. The Doctor tries to warn the Cybermen that Mondas is doomed and offers to let them live on Earth. As a guarantee the Cybermen take Polly hostage and promise to return her once the Z-Bomb is taken underground by Ben and Barclay. The Doctor figures out that the Cybermen really want to use the Z-Bomb to destroy the Earth in order to save Mondas and manages to warn Barclay and Ben about the Cybermen’s real intentions.

Ben figures out that the Cybermen are reluctant to handle the Z-Bomb themselves because they are vulnerable to radiation and tries to threaten the Cybermen with the bomb. In retaliation, the Cybermen take the Doctor hostage. Ben and Barclay use radiation rods taken from the base’s energy core as a weapon against the Cybermen and get a front row seat as Mondas literally disintegrates. This has the handy side effect of killing all the Cybermen on Earth. Ben rescues Polly and the Doctor, who has fallen unconscious again, from the Cybermen’s ship. The Doctor desperately demands that Polly and Ben take him back to the TARDIS “at once.” Polly and Ben are locked out of the TARDIS, but a very weak Doctor barely manages to open the doors. As soon as they reach the console, the Doctor collapses on the floor and his body flashes with light as the TARDIS teleports, leaving behind a younger and seemingly new man.

Continuity Notes

There are a couple of big ones here; the biggest is that we have William Hartnell, who originated the role, leaving the show and the first regeneration, which is probably the ultimate example of television necessity becoming a major plot point. Naturally the showrunners had no inkling that “Doctor Who” would keep running until the year depicted in the serial and beyond, but they knew they at least had to find a way to work in the Doctor’s replacement. According to interviews, the original idea was that Mondas’ energy drain on Earth had the side effect of causing the Doctor to revert back to youth, but once we had a third Doctor it was retroactively declared that the Doctor regenerated here as well. This does leave open the question of why exactly the Doctor needs to regenerate in this case. Despite the old suggestion, which isn’t conveyed clearly at all on screen, that Mondas itself is the culprit, the usual fan explanation seems to be that the First Doctor simply needed to regenerate due to old age.

The other big one is that it’s the first appearance of the Cybermen, who are undoubtedly second only to the Master and the Daleks in the Doctor’s rogues gallery.

Like quite a few things in this episode, it isn’t made clear, but if you squint your eyes you might see the writers hinting that the Doctor was involved in whatever event threw Mondas out of orbit. At the least you could argue that the episodes show that the Doctor encountered the Cybermen or their Mondasian predecessors before.

Choice Quotes

The Doctor: “I don’t like your tone, sir!”
Cutler: “And I don’t like your face. Or your hair.”
The Doctor: “Hmph!”

Sign of the Times

Once he realizes that he’s in 1986, Ben asks if people have been to the moon yet. Unfortunately, the answer he gets suggests that expeditions to the moon happen frequently.

During the tense scene where Cutler tries to get the Z-Bomb launched against Mondas, Polly helpfully offers to make coffee for everyone.

Days of Future Past

First off, in 1986 there is a fully functional space base in Antarctica, capable of sending ships to at least the moon. Also there is an international space agency with its headquarters in Geneva. Plus, given that the head of the space agency is Russian and is working well with General Cutler, who is American, the Cold War is apparently long over.

The Last Words of the First Doctor

The Doctor: It’s over, it’s all over. That’s what you said. No, but it isn’t all over. It’s far from being all over! […] I must get back to the TARDIS…immediately! […] I must go now.
Ben: Don’t you want to go back and say goodbye or anything?
Doctor: No, no, I must go at once.
Ben (handing the Doctor his cloak): Oh well. Better wear this or you’ll catch your death of cold.
Doctor: Oh yes. I forgot…keep warm.

Comments

To be honest I never really liked the Cybermen. They just seemed like a reiteration of the emotionless, psychotically pragmatic Daleks. Still, I was pleasantly surprised with these episodes. Somehow the Cybermen are more effective in their most primitive form in ’60s sci-fi glory, with simply distorted and silly yet vaguely menacing voices, still recognizably human mouths and eyes, surgical bandages wrapped around their heads instead of sleek helmets, and unrecognizable, chaotic mounds of metal and plastic on their chests. It really drives home the idea of these as designer cyborgs, created not methodically but by a desperate people looking down at darkly slim odds of basic survival. Also I have to admit they got quite a nice introduction. When Polly asks them why they don’t care about the lives on Zeus IV, one Cyberman simply retorts that “there are people dying all over your world right now and you do not care about them.”

As for the story itself, it is sublimely ridiculous, even by ’60s “Doctor Who” standards, from digging up the old idea of there being a Counter-Earth to the weird idea that Mondas is somehow draining power from Earth to the unexplained plot holes (like how and why Mondas came back into Earth’s orbit in the first place). Admittedly it’s a bit much, especially if you have a low tolerance for camp, but the whole serial just captures the very essence of a ’60s sci-fi film so well it almost feels like you’re watching something that came out of a young Roger Corman’s studio. The impression is definitely sealed by the inclusion of General Cutler, who represents one of sci-fi’s most beloved tropes, the barking military man. The fact that he’s basically a bundle of American stereotypes naturally makes him even more fun to watch. I simply enjoyed this one, and it probably does the best job of tapping into a cinematic atmosphere since “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.”

Now I just have to talk about the First Doctor’s final appearance (well, sort of, but we’ll get to all that). I plan to write up a retrospective on the First Doctor era, but I have to say I am disappointed that William Hartnell didn’t get more of a send-off. I suppose, if the stories about Hartnell’s health problems are true, it was inevitable, and a quiet, subtle close to the First Doctor’s era does fit it best. However, Hartnell’s Doctor always worked best when he was facing off against a rival mastermind, as in “The Time Meddler,” “The Celestial Toymaker,” or, in a way, “Marco Polo,” or when simply poking around and getting into trouble in some alien or historical milieu. In action-oriented stories of alien invasions like this, which seem to belong more to the Pewtree era or even to the coming Troughton era, Hartnell was a bit more out of place. So while it is nice that the Hartnell took a bow on a strong note, especially after a couple of mostly lacking seasons, it did leave me with the feeling that the “real” end of Hartnell’s time on the show had already long passed. Nonetheless, even if it is mostly from hindsight, there was something rather sad, and very appropriate, in the First Doctor’s muddled last words.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Smugglers (1967)

The Doctor is furious when Polly and Ben show up in the TARDIS and tries to explain to them that they’re now stuck with him indefinitely because he still can’t control where the TARDIS lands. They end up somewhere on the shore of Cornwall. Although they’re shocked to be so far out of London, they still don’t believe the Doctor when he tells them that they still don’t know when they are. They go to a church where a man threatens them with a blunderbuss. From the man’s clothes, the Doctor deduces that they are in the seventeenth century. They learn that he’s a churchwarden named Joseph and he’s afraid of a pirate crew that served under a man named Avery. Unfortunately, they also learn that the TARDIS will be submerged in the tide. In gratitude to the Doctor for fixing his dislocated finger, Joseph gives him a strange clue, telling him that the “Deadman’s secret key” is “Smallwood, Ringword, Gurney.” After they leave for the local inn to wait out the tide, Joseph, who was a pirate himself under Avery, is killed by men sent by Samuel Pike, Avery’s successor as captain and who is after Avery’s hidden treasure. Pike’s goons had seen the Doctor and the others and suspect that Joseph sold the secret of Avery’s treasure to them. The pirates abduct the Doctor and wound Ben. Worse, the local squire ends up arresting Polly and Ben on suspicion of Joseph’s murder.

The Doctor manages to charm Pike out of some charitable treatment, as Polly and Ben use twentieth-century technology to convince their jailer that they serve a warlock and escape. After doing their own investigation at the scene of Joseph’s murder, Polly tries to present evidence they found to the squire, only to stumble across Pike and the squire, who has been running a smuggling ring, making a business deal. Meanwhile in the church Ben comes across Josiah Blake, a government revenue agent, but before they can leave the squire shows up with Polly. When the squire accuses Ben and Polly of working for Pike, Blake, who came to investigate reports that the squire was corrupt to begin with, pretends to believe him and takes the Doctor’s companions into his custody. After escaping from the ship, the Doctor comes across Ben, Polly, and Blake, who leaves to get a militia for help. The Doctor figures out that Joseph’s clue referred to names in the local graveyard, but one of Pike’s men, who wants the treasure for himself, arrives and forces the Doctor to tell him the clue. Pike shows up and dispatches the traitor, and tells the Doctor that if he doesn’t help him find the treasure he’ll start massacring the locals. Just as the treasure is found, Blake’s militia appears and successfully fights the pirate crew. Blake and the squire, who was of course betrayed by Pike, defeat and kill Pike. As the battle wraps up, the Doctor, Polly, and Ben slip away back to the TARDIS. After the TARDIS teleports again, the Doctor announces that they’ve arrived at the “coldest place in the world.”

Continuity Notes

Actually a production note, but regardless it’s worth pointing out that this is the first “Doctor Who” episode to be filmed on location. The interior shots were still done at the London studio, but the exterior shots were actually filmed in Cornwall.

This is also, as the penultimate serial in Hartnell’s run, the last regular serial to star the First Doctor from beginning to the very end.

Comments

When I started off with the recaps, the historicals quickly became the episodes I looked forward to watching the most. Now I anticipate them with a little dread. I think I’ve said before that I do wish the 2005 series would bring back the “pure” historicals, but seeing their decline during the First Doctor era I can understand why the production crew did away with them in the first place and why there hasn’t been a revival in all the decades the show has been on. To be fair, if you’ve been following along with me, you’d probably agree that the problems aren’t entirely inherent to the historicals; since the original production team and supporting cast left, there have been other wider drops in quality as well. Overall the rich and surprisingly complex writing in the early episodes has largely vanished. The hints at backstory, attempts at world-building, and in-depth characterizations of even secondary characters that made the early First Doctor era such a pleasure are mostly if not entirely gone, and that has especially damaged the historicals, which once exhibited the sturdiest scripts.

However, while “The Smugglers” doesn’t live up to the strong, early historicals like “The Aztecs”, it does represent a small leap in the right direction. Even though the story is built on broad cliches, it doesn’t aim for mostly comedy like “The Romans” and isn’t as egregious as “The Gunslingers.” There’s even a couple of nice nods to the historical backdrop, like Polly having to pretend she’s a man all throughout the story and Ben constantly getting in trouble for lacking reverence toward authority. Also the story is nicely paced, even though it does get obvious that the showrunners didn’t quite know how to make the story entertaining without some action scenes. Since like so many of the later First Doctor episodes the episodes only exist on tape, stills, and seconds of footage recorded for Australian censors, it is hard to tell how effective the action was, though.

The one thing the better or at least the more entertaining historicals had in common was that they always had a broader plot or theme that worked in the premise of the show. “The Aztecs” brought up the question of changing history, “Marco Polo” had the Doctor and crew have to maneuver to get the TARDIS away from actual historical figures, and “The Reign of Terror” was built around the idea of time travelers stuck in a volatile period of time. Unlike those, by the final scene, “The Smugglers” is just a paint-by-numbers pirate story with the Doctor and his companions filling the role of the usual protagonists. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the Doctor popping up in a completely different genre, and in fact some brilliant episodes come out of that sort of thing, but – and maybe this is just personal taste – I think the writers had a tough assignment in making a pirate story interesting.

Speaking of the Doctor, these episodes are known in “Who” lore as the episodes that convinced the showrunners that Hartnell’s health was bad enough that he could not be relied on to carry the role of the Doctor much further. Despite that, Hartnell, as is usual with the historicals, puts in a good performance that hits its heights when the Doctor plays up the role of a seventeenth century gentleman and tries to get on the good side of Pike. There are still a few hints, however, like Hartnell looking exhausted in the last scenes of the episodes (which was covered with a bit of dialogue from Polly) and the fact that the scene where the Doctor is dragged out of the inn by the pirates doesn’t feature Hartnell at all but a dummy poorly disguised as Hartnell.

“The Smugglers” is by no means a must-see, but, like with “The War Machines,” there are small signs that the production crew is finally hitting the mark once again. While it’s good that the First Doctor era is ending with an uptick, it’s a shame that we’re not wrapping up with the same level of quality we saw in the days of Barbara, Ian, and Susan – or will we?

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters (1966)

Looking around their next surroundings for a dentist to help with the Doctor’s toothache, Steven and Dido find out that they’re in the town of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory. Dido and Steven are equally excited, which only irritates the Doctor, still complaining about his tooth. Right away, Steven and Dido get a little too involved with their settings and Steven’s outlandish gunslinger clothing gets everyone arrested by Wyatt Earp, who is trying to keep any potential violence at a minimum since the Clanton brothers are in town and looking for revenge against Doc Holliday.

The Doctor tells Earp and Sheriff Behan that he and the companions are a traveling theater trope, but adds (truthfully) that they are just stopping by to see a dentist. The Doctor reluctantly lets Doc Holliday (who actually was a trained dentist) treat his toothache while Steven and Dido check into the local salon, where the Clantons overhear them talking about “the Doctor” and assume they’re working with Doc Holliday. When one of the Clantons, who have no idea what Doc Holliday “invites” the Doctor for a drink, Doc Holliday overhears and tricks the Doctor into dressing up like him and taking his gun. As the Clantons force Dodo and Steven to perform, the oblivious Doctor walks in, but quickly realizes what’s going on when he recognizes the name “Clanton.” The Doctor tries to talk his way out of it but Holliday’s lover Big Nose Kate is there to protect the ruse – but also to help the Doctor hold the Clantons at gunpoint. Breaking up the fight, Earp arrests the Doctor again to protect him, but later the Clantons whip up a riot in the town against Earp, with Steven as a scapegoat in case they can’t get Holliday. In the meantime Holliday plans to escape from town with Dodo as a hostage.

Earp rescues Steven from the mob just as he’s about to be lynched. The Doctor and Steven are prepared to leave when they found out that Holliday had taken Dodo. Away from the town, Holliday promises to take Dodo back to Tombstone, but is impressed enough when Dodo tries to force him to leave at gunpoint that he decides to take her back right away. However, Steven has already left to track down Holliday with Johnny Ringo. Over the passionate objections of the Doctor, Earp deputizes him, as events escalate toward the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. After the gunfight’s over, the Doctor and Dodo say farewell to Doc Holliday, arriving at somewhen the Doctor claims is “on the brink of an age of peace and prosperity.”

Choice Quotes

“And lastly, sir, your humble servant…Doctor Caligari.”
“Doctor who?”
“Yes, quite right.”

Comments

Rumor has it (or maybe it’s an actual fact, I don’t get paid for these so don’t expect me to do more than Google-level research) that “The Gunfighters” is the reason why the showrunners stopped doing historicals altogether. I don’t quite believe it; after all, it can’t be a coincidence that the historicals started to fizzle out around the same time the showrunner regime changed for the first time. But it is true that this serial does have a really bad reputation among not only fans, but apparently the audiences who first watch this serial reacted by, to quote Thor, bellowing, “I say thee NAY!”

I wish I could be a contrarian with this like I was with “The Web Planet”, but I have to admit watching this was a bit of a slog. For one thing, there’s this bizarre, awful, and bizzare-ly awful faux-Western ballad that overtakes the action of the serial every three minutes (you only wish I was exaggerating), sometimes repeating the very same lyrics that were sung just three minutes ago. For another, well, the Doctor and his companions are completely useless here. It was fun seeing Steven and Dodo react like thrilled tourists for once, especially since the show’s start the Doctor’s companions have seemed relatively nonplussed about the prospects of time travel, but the thrill of seeing the Old West must have also caused their minds to shut down. Worse, the Doctor seems completely passive and inept, almost as if this isn’t a series about someone who gets out of sticky situations with his wits alone. By the time we do get to the O.K. Corral shoot-out, our main crew really are little more than observers who occasionally step in only to move the plot along.

I should admit there are bright spots. Anthony Jacobs plays a good Doc Holliday, conveying him as a character that’s mischievous and reckless but dangerous all the same. And the first half of the serial, where Holliday sets up the Doctor to take the fall (even if it does involve the Doctor acting more clueless than we’re used to), is kind of fun, before the writers decide that they want to do something halfway approaching a serious take on the legend of the Wild West instead of a Western pastiche. At the very, absolute least, if you can get past the horrors of the infinite ballad it’s rarely boring, which is more than can be said for the last historical the new regime attempted.

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"New" Who, Non-Nostalgia Reviews

Thoughts on the ‘New’ Who Series: Journey’s End

Let me start by reminding everyone that I am not out to bash Russell T. Davies. It’s taken as a truism, even among his fans, that the second parts of his two-part season closers tend to be let-downs, but I’ll admit from the start that “Journey’s End” is not that bad. It’s not that good either, but as far as Davies’ finales go it’s no “The Last of the Time Lords,” which infamously gave us an ending cribbed from Care Bears 2: A New Generation. And how can you have such a cheesy, bubbly ending with Doctor-Christ like that after you had this story about most of humanity getting wiped out and the survivors left to a post-apocalyptic environment so hellish you would wish you were living in a standard-issue Romero zombie apocalypse and where it’s revealed that the final fate of humanity is facing suffering and insanity in a void at the end of the universe with no life and no hope? The answer is you can’t, Russell T. Davies, you just can’t!

Where was I? Oh yeah, “Journey’s End”!

As I think I was writing before the pills kicked in, Russell’s epic closers were infamous even among his fans for never living up to the potential his hooks promised. What people don’t discuss so much is Davies’ love for the bullshit teaser. Example: the Doctor starts the episode regenerating, but instead his regeneration energy goes into the hand he lost in “The Christmas Invasion” because…uh, I don’t know, some Time Lord vitamin supplement the Doctor has been taking. And thus we get a bullshit teaser, showing a regeneration that most of the audience knew wasn’t going to happen yet. And does this mean that the Doctor used up one of his thirteen allotted regenerations on a silly, pointless little fake-out to the fans? Oh well, as long as the sooner-to-come “thirteenth regeneration” means we’ll get a story that will bring the Time Lords back, I’ll be happy. (Oh yeah, I’m one of those fans. What of it? And, by the way, anyone want to see my fan script for how to bring back The Rani?). Actually, what gets me isn’t so much that one bullshit teaser, because at least it was kind of a natural one given that the media had been reporting that David Tennant would be leaving, even if it did potentially create continuity problems for future writing teams. It’s really that this episode gets more than one, which really strains the camel’s back, with the Doctor-Donna, the fake “clues” that Donna is a bona fide Time Lord, and with Dalek Caan prophesying, “one of the Doctor’s companions will die!”, which doesn’t quite happen, at least not in the literal sense.

But I’m skipping ahead. Let me try to sum up where all the various subplots (I don’t think there is a “main” plot to speak) are going. Davros, who seems to be barely in control of the Daleks, has invented something called a “reality bomb” that he plans to use to destroy everything in all creation except the Daleks themselves. He and the Daleks are guided in their bizarre scheme by Dalek Caan, the sole survivor of the Cult of Skaro, who became an insane prophet after retrieving Davros from the time-locked Time War. Torchwood is saved from a Dalek attack by a “time lock” device made by a deceased colleague, trapping them in their home base and miraculously making their appearance in this storyline even more pointless than it already was. The TARDIS is transported to the Daleks’ space station, the Crucible, and the Doctor, fearing that these Daleks are advanced enough to even penetrate the TARDIS, surrenders with Captain Jack and Rose, but before she can leave the TARDIS the doors suddenly slam shut on Donna. Suspecting the Doctor is planning some type of ruse, the Daleks drop the TARDIS into their station’s plasma core. Sarah Jane teams up with Rose’s ex-boyfriend Mickey and mother Jackie, and convinces them to surrender to the Daleks in order to find the Doctor, but instead they witness first-hand the horrifying ambition of the Daleks’ plan. And Martha, under the orders of UNIT, is sent to stand by with other UNIT agents from across the world to potentially activate the Osterhagen Key, a device designed to trigger planetary suicide in the event of an alien invasion and occupation so brutal humanity itself would be condemned to a fate worse than death.

As you can hopefully tell, there’s a bit too much going on in this one episode. I can understand Russell T. Davies wanting a true capstone to his run (which doesn’t explain at all why he did it again with “The End of Time”, but…well, we’ll get there when we get there), but there really was no need to include characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures for longer than brief cameos, especially since Sarah Jane and Captain Jack are already integrated into the story. There’s an even bigger problem with Martha’s role. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Osterhagen Key was the strongest and freshest idea to come out of this storyline – it’s nice to see Russell T. Davies actually considering the implications of having the Earth invaded every two months, for one – and it really deserved to have an episode or two centered around it. Instead it’s just another subplot out of many that ultimately, besides giving Martha an excuse to run around and adding a couple of dramatic scenes, does nothing. Now you can say I’m being unfair, that it did more than including the Torchwood gang who almost literally get locked out of the plot, and that’s true to a point. It’s just that, in the end, the dramatic weight of Earth’s governments consenting to the most desperate option imaginable is handwaved away by both the Daleks and the Doctor, in a way. All we really get out of it is a tense scene between Martha and a minor character, a German woman, who we’ll never see again.

But the Osterhagen Key isn’t what you want me to talk about…no, it’s Donna. Well, dear readers, let me take a moment remind you of the clusterfuck…I mean, questionable creative choices Russell T. Davies made with her. Trapped in the TARDIS and sent to a fiery grave, the regenerative energies in the Doctor’s hand merge with Donna, causing a second, half-human Doctor to grow out of the hand and making Donna half-Time Lord (but we’re not supposed to know that yet). Human-Doctor pilots the TARDIS out of the engine core without the Daleks noticing while the Doctor’s various companions threaten to disrupt the Daleks’ plans through various kamikaze tactics. This prompts Davros to brag, “The man abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth Doctor, you take ordinary people and fashion them into weapons.” The Daleks easily take the wind of the companions’ sales by teleporting them into Davros’ lair with Davros, Rose, and the Doctor. Human-Doctor appears and tries to stop the Daleks, but fails. However, Donna, her Time Lord knowledge activated in the chaos, manages to use the Daleks’ own equipment against them and stop the reality bomb just as it’s on the verge of being detonated. Meanwhile the Doctor deduces that Dalek Caan, who was horrified by what he saw across time and space about the Daleks and their actions, had been manipulating time itself, allowing Donna to be in the position to ruin Davros’ plans. Afraid that the Daleks would still have the power to wreak havoc on the universe, Human-Doctor destroys the Crucible and kills all the Daleks in a stroke, horrifying the Doctor so much he practically banishes Human-Doctor to Rose’s parallel universe. Everyone flees, with the Doctor offering to save Davros, but he refuses to be saved, screaming that the Doctor is the true “destroyer of worlds.”

I mean, I can forgive Davros, because he’s a few mad scientists short of a supervillain team, but why does the Doctor look pained by Davros’ accusation? How the Doctor should have responded was with, “Um, whoever just tried to annihilate almost all reality, raise their hands!” What’s with the “reality bomb” anyway, besides being a bit too much like the Solaranite from Plan 9 from Outer Space? Again, I can get Davros thinking it’s a good idea, but you would think even the Daleks would balk at the thought of existing in an infinite void on a space station without any planets with resources around.

Well, this really gets at the weird and frankly confused ethics of this episode. I do understand what the viewer is supposed to get out of all this. We’re meant to see the Doctor fully finding himself after the hellish traumas of the Time War and turning his back on the occasional ruthlessness he had been exhibiting. Honestly, though, his treatment of Human-Doctor’s actions comes across as more than slightly dickish. In the early Ninth Doctor episode “The Dalek”, the Doctor, driven by vengeance, tortures a helpless, imprisoned Dalek and barely hesitates to sacrifice a companion to prevent the Dalek from even having a chance to escape. Here the Daleks, far from being at anyone’s mercy, have the technological capability to go anywhere in time and space, abduct entire planets and civilizations, and wipe out the multiverse. There’s about a galaxy’s worth of distance between the two scenarios. Really, the episode would have worked so much better without the whole “reality bomb” premise. Giving Davros and the Daleks the power to destroy everything only eliminates any chance that the viewers will actually see any type of moral dilemma for the Doctor here. Just having Davros single-handedly build a new and potentially even more dangerous Dalek Empire would have been enough and made for a more convincing ethical split between the Doctor and his half-human doppleganger, but I suppose such a premise just wouldn’t have been epic enough.

Now with all that aside, we come to what really made this episode controversial: the final fates of Donna and Rose. The Doctor leaves Rose, Jackie, and Human-Doctor in the parallel universe, and practically fixes Rose and Human-Doctor together (Rose, being Rose, still pouts about everything). The only way Rose’s ending could have been more double-plus good was if it spelled out that Rose and Human-Doctor would parent a new race of Time Lords (although a cut scene does have the Doctor giving Human-Doctor the means to “grow” a new TARDIS…). Donna, however, is dying from being unable to house the mind of a Time Lord, forcing the Doctor to telepathically erase all her memories of her time with the Doctor. He leaves Donna with her family, as shallow and self-loathing as she was before she met him. To be honest, when I first watched it I defended the ending to a couple of irate fans, because I thought that it was a genuinely tragic fate for one of the Doctor’s companions. Having watched it again, I’ve changed my opinion more than slightly. It’s still a good ending…but for Rose, not Donna.

See, Rose was confident and assertive even before she met the Doctor. True, she did learn and gain a lot in her travels, but her time with the Doctor was mostly defined by the fact that she bridged the impossible gulf between their two species by falling in love with him and making him at least consider the fact that he was in love with her too, something that hadn’t happened since Jo. This makes her losing those memories as much a tragedy for the Doctor as for her. For Donna, on the other hand, it wasn’t even really about the Doctor, but their travels. She learned empathy, confidence, and that the significance of her existence wasn’t defined by her job but by what she herself made of things. This ending just renders her entire character arc and her intense growth as a character (portrayed beautifully by Catherine Tate)  null and void. It’s unfair enough that Rose gets the Good+ ending and Donna has the Bad+ ending, but the fact that Donna was underused throughout the entire season and the huge discrepancy between what Rose and Donna get in the end makes it even harder to swallow. So, needless to say, I’ve changed my opinion quite a lot.

And yet…I really enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it. Now it hasn’t held up well to repeated viewings for me, but like I wrote I think it’s still one of Davies’ own better season closers. There are more than a few good ideas here and seeing Tennant’s Doctor go up against Davros is a rare treat, but Davies ends up juggling too many characters and too many subplots for the episode’s own good. Worse, Davies is showing signs of being too self-indulgent, but as we’ll see it’s only the beginning…

Oh, yeah, and just in case I haven’t made my opinion clear:  screw you, Russell T. Davies, Donna was the Tenth Doctor’s best companion.   

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