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Review: Doctor Who - 4x12 - The Stolen Earth

Posted on June 29, 2008 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Stolen Earth

So what are we reckoning: biggest double-bluff in Who history or the most elaborate, best kept secret in television history?

Plot
Earth's greatest heroes assemble, to fight the New Dalek Empire. But a fearsome old enemy waits in the shadows...

Was it any good?
Is it possible for a trailer to get us over an in many ways average episode? Can the sheer thrill and coolness of what we know is coming up get us over a padded plot, inconsequential silliness, massive implausibilities and more than a few ropey moments and bits of acting?

Of course it is. Tell me you weren't sitting there, waiting for Jack and Torchwood and Sarah Jane and Mr Smith and everyone else you knew was turning up to arrive and make you go "Squee" with all your heart. Even when they did turn up then sat there blubbing like little kids at the thought that the Gripper Stebsen of the cosmos was coming to give them a galactic wedgie, you knew that better things were still to come.

I think I know you well enough by now to know what was going down around the country.

So in the greatest team up since the Hardy Boys met Nancy Drew and solved the mystery of the disappearing students at Eastlake University – I think we all remember that one – Captain Jack, Donna, Rose, Ianto, Gwen, Sarah Jane, Luke, Martha, the ever-changing cast of UNIT and Penelope Wilton* found their planet relocated – and wet themselves.

Which was a bit disappointing, but not unexpected.

After all, we're dealing with giant 1950s flying saucers full of Daleks, blasting people inefficiently. They can't be expected to be able to do anything except stay indoors and avoid budget over-spends and extra sets being built.

Apparently, the bees figured it all out though in their tiny little space capsules.

In the meantime, the Doctor and Donna are trying to find Earth, which has been hidden using the exact same trick the Sontarans used. Apparently, the bees figured it all out though in their tiny little space capsules.

So they take a trip to the rhino police, who aren't very helpful, before legging it as soon as the word 'war' is mentioned. Because when you're facing off against Daleks, the fewer heavily armed police officers on your side, the better, hey?

Back on Earth, the ex prime minister and one-joke wonder Penelope Wilton is trying to marshal the troops to fight back using a highly advanced communications network she built using a grant from the EU. It's something that hunts out people who know the Doctor. Apparently, Tegan, Ben, Polly, Liz Shaw, Jo Grant and every other former companion still on Earth is out of the loop on that one – as is Rose, because Donna's useless Mum couldn't be bothered to buy a Macbook with built-in webcam.

By all ringing the Doctor at the same time and using a bit of Welsh sculpture as an antenna, they not only manage to avoid the world's largest 'engaged' tone, they show him where they are. Which is a bit annoying it turns out because the second he turns up, the Daleks shoot him.

Oops. Why did no one else think of that before?

So the Doctor regenerates. 

Bluff or best kept secret ever?
Hang on. Isn't David Tennant signed up for the specials next year. And talking about the next series very confidently. And doesn't the Doctor have to get quite old and meet River Song? And what about those photos?

This is either the best kept secret in television history or one of the most memorable cliffhangers in Doctor Who history. And I'm thrilled to say that even though logic would dictate the latter, I'm not sure which it is. It's all a surprise!

How will they not regenerate him into Robert Carlyle or whoever when we see him regenerating before our eyes? How will we avoid Christmas Invasion style bedrest for an entire episode if he really is regenerating? Is his magic hand affecting things? Is this a mini-regeneration? Did that Dalek have a super-duper regeneration messing up gun left over from the Time War? Will there be some sort of timey-wimey weirdness that reverses it all? Will he regenerate into David Tennant, thanks to some Master after-effects or cross-pollination from Georgia Moffett? If he is regenerating into the new Doctor, isn't that a pretty rubbish way to end the Tennant era – and are we worried about a Twin Dilemma style end to the series?

Whatever it is, I have no idea and as a result, I"m looking forward to next week's episode a lot – with reservations because of all those worries.

Yes, Rob, but was it any good?
Pretty much. Most RTD two-parters are set-up in the first part with big thrills in the second. Here we have trademark padding and trademark idiocy. We have some good dialogue, we have some bad dialogue. We have Martha being pants, we have Dempsey from Dempsey and Makepeace being pantsier, we have Billie Piper remembering how to talk properly, we have Sarah Jane snivelling (why does she snivel so much?) and looking a bit out of place in her kids' show set-up amongst the backdrop of planet-wide invasion.

Davros was fantastic. Now that's a proper adversary. That was the Davros of the good old days, rather than the 7th Doctor "man in a dustbin" version we'd become accustomed to (which was better than the 6th Doctor's "head in a jar" version). It was good to see Sarah Jane recognising him. Let's see if he does likewise next week (assuming they meet up). Then'll there'll be a huge fangasm around the country, you mark my words.

And it was good to see the genetic purity of the Daleks being maintained in the most gruesome way possible. Continuity and ickiness, all in one. 

But really it was all a bit too much: so many characters, so little for them to do, although everyone – except Martha – had a good moment of their own (Gwen phoning home, Ianto jokes, etc). Nice to see the Daleks properly scary and Nazi again, since they're only proper scary and Nazi when they turn up in packs. But too little properly happening in the middle while the Doctor's trying to solve the mystery and some things that made no sense at all.

Ultimately though, this wasn't intended to be an episode that should be dissected. This was intended purely as an adrenaline rush, a rollercoaster from beginning to end (thanks to the god of "lots of energy… and Action!" Graeme Harper) where we go "ooh! aah!" almost every minute as something new and exciting and fan-pleasing pops up. On repeated viewings, it probably won't hold up. But as a piece of gripping Saturday night tele for all the family, it was probably the biggest crowd pleaser we've have in a long time. 

Other thoughts
1) Dalek Caan going mental – well, it was interesting, but after last year's finale's odd BSG parallels, it does look a bit suspicious that it's starting to talk like a Cylon 'hybrid'. What can all its bleatings mean?

2) As with previous two-part finales, the cameo count was strong this week, with Richard Dawkins and Paul O"Grady ruminating on why their houses prices had fallen now their planet had moved, something that was outside both of their spheres of knowledge, but you can't blame them for worrying.

3) It's surprising that at times of the year when John Barrowman is on the air for 95% of the television week, you can countenance the thought "God. It's John Barrowman again." But as soon as he's gone for a while, you realise television needs him and you're glad when he returns. Welcome back John. 

Doctor Who continuity
As well as references to just about every story this series, there was a brief mention of the planets Callufrax (The Pirate Planet in which it was also in perfect gravitational balance) and Klom (Love and Monsters), the Medusa Cascade, the Time War, Davros, Dalek Caan, and the Shadow Proclamation. There was some other stuff too.

Other reviews
Hidden a minute in the future are reviews from Dan and Stuart [with potential spoiler from Richard Dawkins]. If you, or your bees, have written a review, leave a link to it below.

Next week
Apparently, there was some plot about planets being nicked for some purpose or other and the Daleks have a plan for the humans they haven't yet killed. We might get an answer to that next week. Oh yes, and it's the final episode of the series and there might be a new Doctor. Brace yourself.

* Other intrepid fighters against intergalactic terror sent their apologies and sick notes and pointed out they'd booked their holidays ages ago and it was up on the roster if only anyone could get off their backside to look. Honestly, why did they bother sometimes?

Related entries

  • July 7, 2008: Review: Doctor Who 4x13 - Journey's End
    A review of the final episode of the fourth series of Doctor Who, Journey's End
  • May 20, 2013: Review: Doctor Who - 7x13 - The Name of the Doctor
    A review of the Doctor Who episode - The Name of the Doctor

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