Review: Doctor Who – 4×12 – The Stolen Earth

Who is it?

The Stolen Earth

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

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?

  • Fantastic review 🙂 And oh I loved it, of course I did – the bigger, dumber and more emotionally manipulative the better for me…!

  • Phoenix

    (Haven’t read actual post yet, watching episode now)

  • MediumRob

    It was two in the morning and my auto-complete was enthusiastic!
    It’s all fixed now. Ta!

  • MediumRob

    Ta, too!

  • Kev

    Well, my flabber is well and truly ghasted after that one. I’m currently erring on the side of this being a real regeneration. The reasons being…
    1. It seems to fit RTD’s modus operandi. He wanted a surprise regeneration at the end of series one but it didn’t quite work out. This seems to be his last chance to pull a fast one on the fans.
    2. I can imagine that David Tennant would be up for the long con too. Turn up in costume for a few days filming and get the pics mysteriously released; refuse to deny Series Five rumours.
    3. It looked like a real regeneration! Same spot in the console room as both Nine and the Master both regenerated withh all the same effects
    4. For it to not be a real regeneration you’d need the kind of techno-babble nonsense excuses that RTD seems to dislike so much.
    My initial reaction is up on my blog but I’ll be posting my full review after giving the episode a second viewing later tonight

  • I’m sure RTD has something big up his sleeves, but I can’t believe that’s the end of DT’s Doctor – it’d be a bit of anti-climax after three year’s of service!

  • Poly

    In the immortal words of a certain someone: “What? What?! WHAT?!!”
    It’s impossible to know whether I liked this episode. It gets overwhelmed by the last five minutes and it got me into a state but I don’t like bad surprises, so a surprise regeneration doesn’t sit well with me. If they have me worried over nothing, I ‘ll love it. If it’s for real, I ‘ll hate it.

  • Phoenix

    “Is his magic hand affecting things?”
    They do conspicuously focus on it at the beginning of the episode, as if to remind us that it has been there all along…

  • Nonsense. There have been way too many spoiler pics of DT filming next week’s episode and the Christmas special. Furthermore, DT has mentioned in a recent interview that he’ll be returning to Cardiff in January to film more of the DW specials.
    I have a crackpot theory (ahem, ahem) which is mine and that is what it is too. Anyone see Sylvester McCoy in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him interview in the Confidential? Didn’t his costume seem rather odd to you? I think (ahem) that DT’s Doctor will regenerate into McCoy’s Doctor (as opposed to Dr McCoy — “He’s not dead, Jim”). This will be the very first “degeneration” on Doctor Who, and some equally crackpot way will be found to restore the Doctor to DT delectability. So he can battle the Dalek-tables. So there.
    I’m not a Martha-basher, so I enjoyed Freema’s performance. (Sorry.) I was also thrilled to see Harriet Jones vindicated. I was always ticked off with the Doctor for knocking her out of power (for a very understandable, if morally questionable, response to what she knew about the Sycorax), therefore allowing Saxon to get in. I was just sorry to see her minced by the Daleks. We need her no-nonsense approach in the midst of an RTD finale.
    Lastly, because you can never get too many Monty Python/Doctor Who hybrids, I want a closing chorus of “Eric the Half-a-Bee” sung by the Daleks as the bees are restored to the universe, laced with Dalek DNA. It could happen. You know it could.

  • Weeellll, I’m not sure. As you might have noticed.
    Supposing you were the producer of Doctor Who. You wanted to surprise everyone with a regeneration they weren’t expecting. How would you do it?
    1) Say that he wasn’t regenerating – a lot – and that he’d signed up for the next series (because I wouldn’t be adverse to lying, given I’ve done it a lot already).
    2) Since fans are always turning up and taking pictures of filming, I’d set up a few extra scenes in which the current Doctor appears.
    3) I’d have him appear in read-throughs for the next story and put them in Doctor Who Confidential
    4) I’d get him to lie a lot in interviews.
    5) I’d make sure that the blurb on the next episode was suitably ambiguous “The entire universe hangs in the balance as the Daleks activate their masterplan. With the Doctor helpless and even the Tardis facing destruction, the only hope of survival lies with his secret army of companions – but as they join forces to battle Davros himself, the prophecy declares one of them will die.”
    6) I’d make sure it happened at the moment you’d least expect in dramatic terms
    So it’s possible that it might actually be true.
    On the other hand, the prophecy of the “trifold man”, coupled with the collapsing universes coupled with Donna’s sacrifices, coupled with the Dawkins spoiler, suggests to me that he might well be regenerating but into multiple Doctors, a Doctor we’ve seen before, or into a new Doctor but one who’ll be undone and replaced by DT thanks to a time-travelling, universe-bending sacrifice by Donna.
    UPDATE: Not much to be gleaned from the latest trailer

  • Electric Dragon

    Phew. Rusty threw everything except the kitchen sink into that one. And it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a kitchen sink in next week. It was a bit hyperactive, wasn’t it? I think someone added too much tartrazine to his orange squash.
    As for the question du jour – well, who knows? But I thought the whole point of merely doing the specials next year was so Tennant could essay the gloomy Dane and still fit in the filming for DW.
    My idea would be to solve the crisis with Jack – he gets rid of that surplus TARDIS energy he’s still carrying, thus a) preventing the Doctor from needing to regenerate and b) sacrificing his immortality.

  • Ah but then DT would never be able to leave (shame!)….
    I loved it for all the reasons everyone else did and am about to do the most shamelessly overexcited blogging I have ever done for Dr Who. Would have been even more ott except I didn’t have time to write it straight away.
    I do wonder how much teasing they’ve been doing, but the pics do show the scene where DT gets to roll on a mattress as was shown in Confidential last night, so maybe all the other pics are right too.
    It is so much fun NOT knowing and I have now read so many theories about it I really haven’t a clue what’s going to happen.
    My theory is the Master is going to feature somewhere (possible regeneration maybe?), sorry Persephone, but I do hope you’re wrong about Sylvester McCoy! (Though I do like the idea of degeneration….)
    Rob I did my Race for Life today and took ten minutes longer then a certain Miss Page, but a) I’m a lot older then she is and b) I was having to gee a ten year old along the way…

  • PS Dalek Kaan going mental – my kids were in hysterics throughout…

  • PS Dalek Kaan going mental – my kids were in hysterics throughout…

  • PS Dalek Kaan going mental – my kids were in hysterics throughout…

  • The Doctor regenerates into someone REALLY ugly and Rose flees back across the galaxy just to get away from him?
    Fucking brilliant cliffhanger. Rest of the epsiode was a bit pants but I care NOT ONE JOT.
    Review here:

  • Dalek Caan sounded very much like Dalek Spike MIlligan… and wasn’t Julian Bleach great?
    Fantastic cliffhanger. I reckon all is not how it seems, and there’s something going on with The Hand.

  • I’m now hoping for David Morrissey as a future Doctor, David Tennant as the current and Paul McGann released from a time lock, thanks to the messed up universes colliding together and messing up the rules of regeneration. They all link up together through the power of the hand and at the end, DT has to help all the others get back to their proper time streams with Morrissey hanging over until the specials, thus explaining the publicity shots.
    It’s possibly the least likely of all my conspiracy theories, which is saying something, but I loves it.

  • The Morrissey did get to wear a very Doctor-esque frock coat in those Christmas Special set photos. Actually it crossed my mind that he might be the next Doctor then, but not with enough conviction to do anything useful about it, like place a bet, or mention it on my blog so that I could link back to it and prove how clever I am. Never mind…

  • Rev

    “I’m now hoping for David Morrissey as a future Doctor, David Tennant as the current and Paul McGann released from a time lock, thanks to the messed up universes colliding together and messing up the rules of regeneration.”
    I dunno, Paul McGann isn’t really the right choice imo. He just hasn’t had enough exposure as The Doctor compared to others. Peter Davies has been done, Colin Baker – well, there are few who remember his run fondly and Tom Baker – that would be a coup, but there’s been no whiff of him at all.
    On the other hand Mccoy was in the confidential episode for a really short time dressed like this.
    And he’s one of the most popular Doctors of all time.
    The big problem is, dropping another Doctor (or two) in at this point would overload the cast. It’s bursting at the seems anyway.
    Side point: Where’s Mickey? He’s awesome, an official companion, Noel Clarke appeared in the publicity shots of all the “Children of time” but hasn’t made an appearance yet. Hopefully he hasn’t ended up on the cutting room floor and gets to be utterly awesome just like he was at the end of series 2.

  • “And he’s one of the most popular Doctors of all time.”
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
    Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
    That one just snuck out. Couldn’t stop it. Sorry. Last I looked, he wasn’t in the top five.
    Paul McGann at least looks the right sort of age, whereas McCoy and Baker have aged considerably (Time Crash time differentials to one side for a moment). Plus McGann was the Doctor who fought the Time War so there’d be a valid reason for his return, now that Davros is out. Plus, and this is an all-important nu-Who consideration, he’s the only one who’s fanciable.
    I’m just hoping. It’s not going to happen. It would be fun, though.
    “Where’s Mickey?”
    He’s in the next episode. You can see him in this clip. You could see him at the read-through in Saturday’s Doctor Who Confidential, too.

  • Sylvester McCoy is definitely in the top ten most popular Doctors of all time.

  • Just narrowly beating Michael Jayston as The Valeyard, Richard Hurndall, Peter Cushing, The Watcher, William Hartnell’s robot stunt double and a hat stand. It was close though.

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    Tennant’s going nowhere. All other evidence aside, there’s simply no way RTD would give him an exit line as limp as “I’m regenerating.”

  • Just stopped laughing after Marie’s comment.
    Ooh I’d like Paul McGann too – I think he’s eminently fanciable and I really liked that one off film that was made with him.
    I did wonder about David Morrissey from the photo shoot too.
    I would be sorry to see DT go obviously, but I kind of think if they really have pulled the wool over our eyes it would be pretty neat.

  • I’m tempted to say ‘are you nuts Rob?’ – that was truly and completely awful from beginning to (two minutes from the) end. Even by Davies’ low, low standards that was bangs and flashes and sod all else, with a barely coherent script hamstrung by sub-standard directing and am dram acting.
    But it turns out you were totally right about The Sandbaggers (I was up until half three this morning compulsively watching the first three episodes), so maybe I’m talking out of my hat about The Stolen Earth.
    [Sandbaggers is unreal – bleak and misogynistic enough to make Survivors look like Pipkins. Absolutely brilliant television – I’m already gutted that there are so few episodes.]

  • I think Stolen Earth is a bit like Earthshock in that it relies on surprises and thrills to get it through its allotted span. It won’t bear up to repeat viewing (although Earthshock still isn’t half bad), but if the surprises and thrills are surprising and thrilling enough to you, then it’ll get you over some of the poorer bits – of which there were quite a few.
    As for The Sandbaggers, it doesn’t take a genius to realise it’s brilliant. In fact, if you don’t watch an episode and think to yourself “Surely, this was the best TV programme ever made” by the end, there’s not much hope for you. So I cannot claim to have any special insight to have praised it so highly.

  • Episode 3 of Sandbaggers, which I watched last night (‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’) contained the single most unexpected death I can remember on telly – and then ratcheted the misery up by about another ten points in the very next scene.
    The only flaw so far is that the comparison to be drawn between what Burnside is prepared to do if required and what the other side are condemned as evil for doing is a little obvious. But that’s a pretty minor criticism.

  • I won’t spoil it for you, but drawing conclusions this early on is probably unwise. Wait until It’s fairer to say that The Sandbaggers’ message, at least as far as spy services are concerned, is that they’re all as bad as each other. And you’ll have to wait until All In A Good Cause for the single most mind-blowingly intricate and cleverly plotted episode of British television in recorded history.

  • “The Sandbaggers’ message, at least as far as spy services are concerned, is that they’re all as bad as each other”
    That’s what I meant – up until now the suggestion that they’re all the same bad b’stards has been a little bit unsubtle.
    Nice to see Diane Keen last night!

  • See, my reading of most “hard core” spy shows is that there’s the good guys and there’s the bad guys. Sometimes the good guys have to stoop to the same levels as the bad guys – but that’s the name of the game and they’re still the good guys at the end of it.
    The thing I like about The Sandbaggers is there’s no suggestion that the Russians are “bad” – they’re the opposition, playing the same “great game” as everyone else. And there’s no real suggestion that we’re “good” – we’re the protagonists, but that’s something different. More to the point, the Sandbaggers tend to use far worse tactics than the Russians are ever shown to use and Burnside and co are never that regretful about having used them – there’s no “we can’t do that, we’re the good guys” about it, most of the time. They know they have to do what they have to do, they’d just rather not.
    So I know what you’re getting at, I just think the message is subtler than what you’re suggesting.

  • “It won’t bear up to repeat viewing”
    You’re right! I watched it again last night, thinking I’d pick up on lots of little elements I’d missed first time round. I didn’t…

  • [Rob, you’re right!] Now why didn’t I think of that quick comment before?

  • espedair

    Not too many things to pick up if you watch it the 2nd (or 3rd….) time around.. except Donna.. on the stairs… hearing.. the drums? Or maybe just a heartbeat.. hum…
    Top ep. I’m am really quite anxious for the next one… oh yay……

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