Review: Doctor Who – 2×12 – Army of Ghosts

Army of Ghosts

And thus season two of the new Doctor Who begins to crank itself up for the finale, while simultaneously winding itself down. There was good, there was bad, there was ugly. But, in contrast to the last few episodes, there was far more good than there was bad this time.

Doctor and Rose return to Earth in the “present day” and drop in on Rose’s mum, Jackie. As it happens, Jackie’s waiting for the scheduled appearance of her dead father. As you do. Needless to say, when a ghost turns up as predicted, the Doctor isn’t totally convinced he’s what she thinks she is and tries to work out what’s actually going on.

He eventually narrows down the source of the ‘ghost’ activity to Canary Wharf and Torchwood, the launch site of the new spin-off TV series a top secret government institute that investigates alien artefacts. There we find a ‘Void Ship’ of mysterious origin and before you know it, a bunch of cyber agents who have infiltrated our universe from the parallel universe we saw in The Age of Steel. Using the hole in the universe created by the arrival of the Void Ship, the cybermen manage to bring their entire army over into our reality. The world is theirs.

But wait! The Void Ship isn’t cyber-technology. Inside are… a bunch of Daleks. Cue end titles.

So all in all, very exciting. The usual RTD hallmarks were on display – cameos by people from other TV shows (not all of which were awful); movie references; ‘typical’ teenage behaviour (Here’s me washing, Mum!); very sly continuity references (“The Eternals call it ‘the Howling’.” Those would be the Eternals from the Peter Davison story Enlightenment and also from the 2005 Doctor Who Annual), etc, etc. But while the Ghostbusters bit was excruciating, the rest of it was actually kind of fun and forgivable.

David Tennant was giving a relatively calm performance this time round and Billie Piper had a return to form, finally getting something to do that was all about Rose. Graeme Harper did a reasonable job of directing but not outstanding – I don’t feel he’s quite had the dark story he needs to really show off his stuff. Murray Gold still can’t do incidental music. Oh well. But all in all, pretty good.

Now for the niggles. The plot was full of holes, which can be forgiven. But… Torchwood built Canary Wharf to investigate to the anomaly in the sky. So where the hell was the Void Ship all this time? Just lurking there in the sky? Funny, I’m pretty sure most of London would have spotted it. Or did Torchwood somehow manage to carry the ship back up to the top of Canary Wharf (even though they can’t touch it) once they’d built it, with presumably the Void Ship lurking in East London in a pub or something until it was time to come up. And how come Torchwood was telling everyone when it was going to conduct its experiments so there would be ghost forecasts? Renovation work on Canary Wharf? It’s not that old and wouldn’t Torchwood’s director know about it. And wouldn’t the Cybermen have come through the anomaly and be spotted? And, and…

But any Who plot has problems when exposed to the cold light of day, so let’s not get too caught up in that.

The Cybermen. Obviously going to turn up so no surprise there, but they’re still just not as scary as they should be. They’re too friendly looking. You want something that has a stench of the graveyard about it, really. Instead, we get flares and a friendly face. Not good. Still, there’s enough of them to be frightening: one cabbage patch kid isn’t frightening; 10,000 cabbage patch kids coming to get you – very frightening.

So actually a pretty good episode. Could have been better, but actually not bad. Now for a few notes:

Mickey: Nice to see him back. I had a vague inkling we were being led up the garden path on that one. Consider this. The return of the Cybermen was inevitable. They wouldn’t be this universe’s Cybermen, so it would have to be the new-look Cybies. That means there was a way for Mickey to come back. Couple that with the fact that in the Mickey send-off retrospective, Doctor Who Confidential didn’t once ask Noel Clarke what he was going to be doing next and there’s been no media blitz at all on that subject (unlike Piper) and it just suggested to me that he might be coming back. Mickey for the new companion anyone (now that whatserface that The Sun suggested has been dispatched into the sky)?

Piper: Still not sure she’s leaving. Still convinced this is a bluff, although the return of Mickey does make it more unlikely. After all, if she’s dead yet mysteriously on a seashore, how can she be narrating? Or is she in Heaven? Or, as Marie suggests, on the other side of the portal? She’ll be back at some point. Maybe she’s in Hell, as suggested by The Satan Pit. Maybe it’ll be like Search for Spock next year, with the Doctor trying to find a way back to the other universe.

The Daleks: Saw them coming. Sorry. A fun cliffhanger all the same.

Now there have been some complaints about the Daleks coming back. But they Daleks had to feature, I’m afraid. Here’s why:

Firstly, every Doctor has to meet the old enemies as soon as possible or else you end up like Jon Pertwee, Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston and not get a single Cyberman story – or, indeed, like Paul McGann and not get a Dalek story at all (see Footnote 1). With CE buggering off ASAP last year, getting DT to meet the Daleks was vital.

Secondly, the Daleks are the Doctor’s arch nemesis. You can only be an arch nemesis if you turn up regularly, despite all previous attempts to kill you. Otherwise, you’re rubbish. And since we’re looking at a new generation of kids who don’t really know that the Daleks are the Doctor’s arch nemesis yet because they’ve only had one series to work with, the Daleks absolutely had to be in this series as well to make kids understand all other enemies come second to the Daleks.

The important third point is that they’re necessary for the plot – or what I imagine the plot to be. If you think I’m likely to be on to something with my theory (which given my track record is unlikely), that it won’t be blindingly obvious and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further.

Footnotes

1) Technically, Paul McGann did get a Dalek story since they appear in voice over at the very beginning of Doctor Who: The Movie. Also Pertwee meets the Cybermen in The Five Doctors. Plus there are all those Big Finish audios where Paul McGann meets both Cybermen and Daleks. But they don’t count really. It’s just not the same, I tell you.

So the plot as I see it is this.

Doctor fights Daleks in great big Time War. As a final desperate act, he wipes the Time Lords and the Daleks out of history altogether. No more Daleks. However, the Daleks saw this coming and prepared themselves. They build the Void Ship so they’d be outside the universe when the great wiping takes place. Off they go, together with a Genesis Ark (bit Biblical for Daleks, isn’t it?) which contains all the necessary tech and breeding material to make new Daleks, just in case their worst fears are realised.

The Doctor wipes the universe. Goodbye Daleks.

Moving on a bit, the TARDIS comes across the hole that the Daleks created leaving the universe and falls through it into the alternative reality where the Daleks landed. The Daleks are still in their Void Ship because they have their own little universe with its own time inside. TARDIS leaves. When the Daleks are good and ready, they leave too, punching new holes in the alternative reality and our reality that the Cybermen use to come through.

So basically these are Daleks from our universe, not alternative universe Daleks. And they were needed as a good way to get the new Cybermen into our storylines.

I get the suspicion though, that the Cyber/Dalek alliance will be temporary at best since RTD will be wanting to illustrate the racial hatred of the Daleks and the extreme logic of the Cybermen. What do you all think?

  • Torchwood didn’t build Canary Wharf around the Voidship –?Ǭ�Yvonne Cleavage said they’d built it around an anomoly, which the Voidship came through two months before the Doctor arrived.
    And I reckon you’re right with the Cyber-vs-Dalek thing –?Ǭ�especially as these are Time War Daleks, not the religious maniac reborn Daleks of the end of last series, and therefore (presumably) totally xenophobic.
    I think we now know that next series’ finale will feature The Master, because not even RTD would be so lazy as to bring the Daleks back three times.
    (By the way, Just because Whatserface died doesn’t mean she won’t be the new companion, because her alternate form could come through the breach with the rest of the Alterna-Verse gang. But I doubt it.)

  • Can’t have been paying enough attention re: void ship then. However, how did it get into that room? Did it just go through the walls until it found a nice place to hover, 600 metres or whatever above the ground? And what created the anomaly? Unless the ship created it then came through later. Erm, 20 years later. It’s time travel, but… More plot holes I tell you!
    RTD says he hates The Master and won’t bring him back because he has no proper motivation. But he’s said a lot of things that have turned out to be wrong. Personally, I loved Gary Russell’s idea of doing “The Five Masters” – that would be cracking.
    Considered alternative universe lady as possible get-out clause, but when you’re dealing with a new companion, you normally don’t want to have to spend an episode building up one version of her, only to have to spend the next episode building up another version of her. Suspect any new companion will show up next year. Assuming Billie’s not back and it’s not Mickey, of course. Maybe it’ll be a variable list of companions for most of the season “in memory” of Rose…

  • Cleavage said that the anomoly appeared, they built the lab around it, and then the sphere suddenly arrived when they started firing particle engines at it (which also created the ghosts). At least, that’s what I think she said. It’s possible I’m applying mental nerd polyfilla. See as the Daleks were monkeying around from the void –?Ǭ�which exists outside space and time –?Ǭ�the pre-shocks of it coming through could have appeared at any time, presumably.
    Me, I’m just wondering where the hell UNIT have got to.

  • I want it to be Mickey. New Mickey rocks. “It’s not the first time the Doctor has been wrong…” But he probably needs to go back into the alternative reality with Rose. Given that she seems to fancy him again now he’s all rock hard (and who can blame her), this may be a bit of a consolation prize for us watching her go off into the ether: at least she’s going to be getting the shags in.

  • I just can’t imagine them going into a new series without a female companion. Rose has been so successful in getting young girls watching the show (my nieces are hooked, and they’d never have bothered with the old boys-y DW) that they need to keep the dynamic going.

  • The sphere suddenly appeared in a handy “Sphere examination room” 600 metres in the air – not right in front of the anomaly or closer to the ground? Bah!
    UNIT is probably still a smudge-mark on the floor of Downing Street, despite Christmas appearances to the contrary. You know how hard it is to recruit new leaders for covert teams.
    I’m sure Mickey will keep many girls going for a while, but they’ll pick up a new Rose at some point. They’ll be milking the process for all it’s worth, I’m sure. Assuming Piper’s not back. I dunno. I just have this kind of suspicion…

  • My thoughts: Rose and Mickey back through the portal when Jackie dies and Rose needs time to mourn without wandering the universe.
    But I’d love Mickey to be the new companion…
    Was I the only one who didn’t know the Daleks were coming back, or do the production team need massive kudos for keeping that quiet? Whatever, me and my mum let out a huge ‘OHMIGOD’…!

  • They did try their level best to keep things quiet, but the Internet being what it is, the news leaked out pretty quickly.
    I’ve just been sitting through the podcast (it was my lunchbreak) and among the little interesting facts I picked up were the following:
    1) They actually didn’t include the Daleks on the preview tapes they sent out, in order to keep the Daleks a secret.
    2) RTD was talking about Mickey’s story-arc “this year” and there was no finality in his tone, suggesting Mickey will be back at least a bit next year. However, he was still talking about Noel Clarke not being on a fixed contract, which suggests that Mickey is not going to be a regular regular next year.
    3) RTD does say at one point “Ooh look, there’s Freema” (or something similar). He’s on first name terms anyway which suggests she’s at least going to be in the next episode – or that’s he worked with her reasonably often. Maybe alternative universe Freema will be in the next episode and the new companion after all…
    4) He calls John Barrowman “the most handsome man in the world”
    As with all my theories, assume they’re wrong though. You can download the podcast from the BBC site, incidentally.
    It looks like there’s going to be daily trailers for Doomsday as well.

  • Anna, I think my brain was strategically ignoring the glimpse of Dalek fire in the trailer last week that seemingly EVERYONE else spotted (apart from you). So am actually rather relieved that I wasn’t alone in screeching “holy cow!” at the TV when that bloody void opened up. Nope, like you I was “I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING!” Somehow I kept myself spoiler-free, and as Rob says that’s no mean feat on the internet-thang these days.

  • I can see the new companion being introduced in this year’s Christmas episode, to be honest, ready for a full run next spring/summer.
    There is a rumour, though, that an announcement re: the companion will be made this week. If that’s the case, it means we may see him/her in next week’s episode…