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.
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.