Where does he get these wonderful ideas? Wouldn’t you just give anything to have the creativity of Steven Moffat? Everything he writes seems to have some concept designed purely to scare the crap out of kids – and adults – that no one’s ever thought of before.
The man’s a genius.
All the same, as brilliant as the first part of this two-part Doctor Who story was, it wasn’t complete perfection. And there were several guilty culprits.
The Doctor and Donna enter a world of terror inside an abandoned library. They’re given only one warning: ‘Count the shadows’.
Was it any good?
Oh yes. In oh so many ways. The script obviously was a tour de force from our Steven, a melding of old Who, nu-Who and Moffat-Who (as it will be know as, once RTD moves on to pastures new).
Essentially, we have Tomb of the Cybermen for the nu-Who generation, in which a team of plucky space archaeologists composed of idiots, red-shirts and the slightly more clued up enter a space tomblibrary and come across something horrible that the Doctor helps them overcome. Better still, the Doctor once more returns to being the angry, wise, cold space alien of yester-year, without a rushed line in sight. You’ve got to love it.
Added to that, we get the standard nu-Who tropes, some of which are becoming a bit formulaic, admittedly – Donna feeling when all the other space people have long since stopped caring, then having a little snivel; a small child being involved in the action; relentless references to modern culture.
Then we have the Moffat touches: the Doctor meeting his own future; the Doctor on tele; scary arsed stuff; 51st century sexual freedom; a possible romantic engagement for the Doctor; decent dialogue; laughs (proper Dave and other Dave, the diary scheduling, etc). The usual high quality stuff that you expect of Moffat.
And it all comes together ever so nicely.
We also get some new additions from Moffat. Although RTD has taken us to the future in a variety of not desperately impressive stories (The End of the World, The Long Game, Gridlock), this is the first time we’ve been taken to a future that really feels like something out of our experience, rather than a variant on our own time. We have face donations, hygiene taboos, data ghosting and the customs associated with it, and more. This, dare I say it, was proper sci-fi at times and it looks like there’s more to come next week.
There were some proper scares, too. The vash… vish… piranha things in the shadows are the kinds of monster that will be scaring kids for decades to come and stopping them going out at night, assuming they understood what was going on and ever remember how to pronounce them. There was the walking skeleton. Donna’s disappearance from the TARDIS accompanied by her screams was genuinely surprising and horrifying – as was her reappearance. The psychologist’s revelation towards the end was equally disconcerting and unexpected. And Donna’s fate is looking equally bleak (especially if you believe the rumours).
Then there was Alex Kingston’s character. While the “another girlfriend for the Doctor” routine is getting a bit old – although we can always hold out hope that it’s misdirection and Kingston is merely a forgetful older version of Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter – it does give us a mystery to puzzle until next week, a clever way to point out that Donna’s allotted span is a short one, and a way to signal that bloody Rose isn’t the be all and end all of bloody everything. Thank God. Or Steven Moffat.
But Moffat wasn’t the only one working overtime. The sets were fantastic. The lighting was fantastic. Euros Lyn, who’s never really impressed me much before, had me convinced Graeme Harper had finally been allowed to unleash his talents properly (cf Star Cops‘ Other People’s Secrets).
But, as I said, this wasn’t quite perfection. For starters, we had a severe attack of the mumblers. Now, let’s not head back to the bad old days where everyone spoke RP, but don’t they teach actors how to enunciate their lines so you can hear them any more? Either that or I’m getting old and need to fiddle with my tele’s sound settings.
There were a few duff moments where things started to drag – I’m thinking of the flying books here – and there were a few duff actors, including the child, the PA, other Dave (who was still amusing at least) and proper Dave (who wasn’t) and even the usually reliable Colin Salmon, who was clearly having a bad day. While there were a couple of decent Donna moments, she was a bit of a pastiche at times. And such was the focus on ramping up the tension, there wasn’t quite enough time spent on making you give a monkey’s about most of the red shirts.
It was also ever so slightly uninvolving: it was almost like something terribly, terribly beautiful that you can admire but never touch. Maybe a tad more vulnerability from David Tennant and a few more sympathetic lines for Donna towards the Doctor could have helped out there.
Then there was Murray Gold. Please, why won’t somebody stop him? If Steven Moffat doesn’t fire him in 2010 for what he did to tonight’s episode, clearly society has become a lawless wasteland where crimes are no longer punished – pure anarchy will set in. A P45 with “Gold, M” stamped on must be on its way soon, surely, if civilisation is to thrive.
When Gold’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he drowns out everything and totally ruins it. While there were a couple of good points in the incidental music, did we really need him to derive the rest of it from the Harry Potter movies? Was that appropriate in any way? No.
And finally, am I alone in thinking the Doctor (and Donna) were both bloody slow for time travellers in working out that Alex Kingston was from the Doctor’s future. Seriously, could that have been laboured any more?
All the same, these were minor blemishes in an otherwise wonderful piece of work. Roll on part two!
Next week: Steven answers our bloody questions. Please, Steven!
Who continuity references: Blessed be. There were none. Well done Steven.
Other reviews: Lurking in the shadows are reviews from the following fine folk: Anna, Marie, Rullsenberg, and Stuart. Rosby missed it. If your review is busy data ghosting somewhere, leave a link below to let us know.