Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
|Production Code||Series Two Episodes Twelve and Thirteen|
|Dates||July 1 and 8, 2006|
With David Tennant, Billie Piper
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Graeme Harper
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: It's the battle to end all battles... and there will be casualties.|
Note: The one-year spoiler rule will be strictly enforced. No exceptions.
Fjord Perfect! by John Nor 17/8/06
Wow. This two-parter has a great beginning. Or rather the end is great; we get a glimpse of the end at the beginning. You know what I mean. It's a tried and tested narrative tool: give the viewer a peek at the end and they are glued to their seats to watch how the rest of the story will get them there. Rose tells us this the story of her death. Wow. What could follow that? How can they follow that? Well, Russell T and co will certainly try over the next two episodes.
And do they succeed? Absolutely.
Tools of the trade used at the last season finale (Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways) are used here too: stunt casting; epic return of iconic monsters.
Stunt casting: instead of Anne, Davina, Trinny and Susanna to generate tabloid headlines and publicity, we have Peggy Mitchell and Chrissie Watts. Except Chrissie isn't Chrissie. She's Tracy-Ann Oberman. Well that's the actress. I mean... (You really have to have a working knowledge of Eastenders here. There is an elaborate joke involving this piece of meta-casting and Dennis Watts appearing on the Tyler's TV set which would need a whole other review to describe.)
The whole Eastenders element was kept mercifully short, and this really felt like a solid joined-up two-parter, with Bad Wolf with its relentless spoofing feeling slightly separate from its following episode.
The epic return of the enemy is more successful than before as it was genuinely surprising. I sorta guessed what the "ghosts" actually were as the episode progressed. The whole of the episode of Army of Ghosts was a fine spectacle. It all looked great, as polished as Tracy-Ann Oberman's hair-do. She, as the Torchwood Boss, did a great job of following in the footsteps of Harriet Jones and Queen Victoria as tough women opposing the Doctor over the past year. There was something of the Iron Lady about her (ho ho.)
With the next episode Doomsday, you could imagine Russell T pulling his own levers behind the scenes ("Script online - now!") as we went into emotional override. However, the turbulent heartfelt scenes were matched by the sheer excitement of the very first battle. It started off bizarrely but quite amusingly with bitchy put-downs, but once the jokes were out of the way there was something quite stirring: you believed them and you were secretly rooting for them. They are just cooler.
In between we had the forces of Torchwood: as well a great finale this was a great set-up for the spin-off.
Even better, amazingly, was the gripping story of how the Doctor and Rose are heartbreakingly parted. This was the exemplar of New Series Who, a cracking science-fiction yarn with an wrenching emotional core.
This was a wonderful goodbye to Rose, a wonderful character portrayed wonderfully by Billie Piper. Any doubts any of us had when we first heard of that surprise casting have been thoroughly dispelled over these two years.
This was a real epic, a real satisfying ending to all the plot strands that have been flowing across this New Series Season Two.
The problem is: how do they follow that?
I have every confidence in Russell T.
Thank you Russell!
A Review by Mike Morris 4/9/06
A couple of months ago Doctor Who Series 2 was back, and it was bright and shiny and new, and even if the first episode wasn't much cop the second one was (voice of that bloke from the Fast Show) brilliaaaaaaaaaaant and all was well with the world. Now it's over, and the season could have been largely summed up as well-not-as-good-as-the-first-but-still-bloody-good, with some isolated highlights that didn't quite mesh into a great whole (Tooth and Claw; The Cybermen 2-parter; Love and Monsters). But in July, just before Zinedine Zidane nutted some whining Italian bloke and upset all sorts of people who bleat about role-models, a far greater form of vandalism took place on British television in front of millions of eyes and no-one even noticed. I refer to the final episode of the series, which was titled - appropriately as it turns out - Doomsday. Indeed.
Doomsday is the worst Doctor Who episode ever broadcast. Actually, hang on - just read that again. Believe me, I mean it. I've given this a lot of thought, I've calmed down since I first saw it, and I have watched it on two more occasions. And this is my sober judgement, from which I get no joy. I'll repeat it; Doomsday is the worst Doctor Who episode ever broadcast. Unfortunately, people are under the impression that it's good, and that can't go on. It had whizz-bang explosions and it had old favourites blowing each other up, that much is true. What it didn't have was a story. I've often bleated about how Doctor Who's brilliance was in its morality and its messages and its ideas and its imagination, but I forgot the obvious one - simply because it's so obvious.
Doctor Who is about narrative. Storytelling, if you want to call it that. The art of assembling events so that one event leads to another, in an interlinked chain where character actions and logical events knit together to form an overall whole. You know, that thing. It's a programme whose strength lies in its narrative cohesion, with maybe two exceptions: Resurrection of the Daleks, which is a glossy mess with an incoherent plan (although there is some thematic cohesion there); and The Awakening, where the cutting down of the story from four episodes to two leads to explanations being glossed over and a huge reliance on coincidence. Doctor Who has always, always, done narrative well (and to clarify, narrative doesn't have to be event-driven although with Doctor Who it usually is. It can be character-driven, as with Father's Day, or concept-driven, as with Warriors' Gate). Historically it had to, because it didn't have the resources to rely on spectacle and needed engaging stories/concepts/characters to keep the audience interested - and what's been so wonderful about the new series has been how well it understands this, how it hasn't just given us flashes and bangs to keep everyone happy, but has produced stories that had structure, imagination, wit and emotional power. Ultimately it's about the kids, and when kids see stories actually developing - really developing, where subtle events lead to greater occurrences - they start to understand sequence, and consequence, and character, and how complex chains of circumstance and emotion can lead to great and/or terrible things. It's a pretty basic supposition, but it's got to be said so here goes; storytelling makes people smarter. Both emotionally and intellectually. That's why it matters.
But on The Black Day, Doctor Who stopped being the programme it always has been. It stopped being about constructing a story and understanding the nature of - oh, sod it, everything. It became something I barely recognised, and what I usually think of as The Enemy.
But I'll stop the Doomsday-centric ranting here, if only for a paragraph or two. This is a review of the season finale, and that includes Army of Ghosts. Which was great, really really great. It's a slow-paced but perfect set-up to the finale, introducing the various parties with skill and precision. As usual, Russell uses the trick of taking something to which he's given an enormous build-up and making it quite banal and unmenacing. On the surface, that is, although it is bloody menacing really. To put it another way; Torchwood really works. There's a lot of elements to bring into episode one and the story does it perfectly, without ever seeming contrived. Whatsername from Eastenders gives a lovely performance, and Tennant is on the top of his game. Some scenes are wonderful (the breaking glass, the bit where he dares Yvonne to proceed) and the conclusion is obviously thrilling.
But: it's a set-up. It introduces the rules and the players, rather than doing anything with them. So you can still argue that the finale of Doctor Who on The Black Day went like this: A bunch of people called Torchwood showed up. A bunch of people from somewhere else showed up. Two bunches of aliens showed up. They shot each other. Some people acted emotional. And then it finished.
I'm going to try and be fair again here. There's some more good points, so here goes: Tennant is outstanding throughout; "this isn't an invasion, it's a victory" is a great line; there are some good visual moments; and I liked "You are better at dying" a lot, although given who said it you could argue it's so out-of-character as to be almost a bad thing.
I suppose I could go into more detail at this point. I could enlarge about how plot consists of the events in the story (like points on a map) and narrative is how we navigate from one point to the other; I could talk about how real storytelling skill comes when the explanation and exposition of one plot point leads organically to the next, when all the events are shown to be linked to a single point of departure. But really, what's the point? If anyone watches Tooth and Claw (the werewolf one) and then watches Doomsday, it's just obvious. And it's worth pointing out that the two stories are written by the same bloody person, and you don't produce a story as beautifully structured as Tooth and Claw and then hand in Doomsday for the season finale, thank you very much.
So I'll just say this; all that you can say about this 45 minute story is that a bunch of stuff... sort of... happens. You might be able to come up with a sort of summary of the story's events, but not why they mean anything or what they're for. The central whirlamagig that we first see at the end of Army of Ghosts is given a one-line dialogue of explanation, but we aren't told where it came from, how it came into possession of its owners, or why it exists at all when it flatly contradicts what we've been told since the new series started (and this story actually refers to some of those previous stories, so I'm not being a continuity-hound here). Things just drop into the narrative and sink to the bottom, like stones sploshing into the middle of a lake.
There's a perfect thread to summarise all this - the ultimate fate of Yvonne (takes a deep breath and tries to discuss without spoilers). It's bad enough that overriding this process goes against everything that's been established about it so far, without any explanation at all. Bad enough that suggesting you can override it with a bit of strength of will undercuts everything that made it so terrifying in the first place. But then, nothing's done with this. The only effect of this event is to stop some bad guys climbing some stairs. There's no reason for this to happen, since (in storytelling terms) all it actually achieves is the same effect as a big steel door at the top of the stairs. And it doesn't develop or go anywhere. PLONK it goes into the story, and then nothing.
Spoilers prevent me from citing more examples, but there are many. Things are just randomly thrown in, and the result is a mess. After going to all the trouble to introduce a whole host of disparate parties, the story doesn't actually do anything with them. They don't do anything bar shoot at each other. Zap. Zap. Zap. And at the conclusion some levers are pulled and they all go away again. Leaving the viewer wondering (well one thing the viewer wonders is how the hell they all happened to get sucked in through a convenient window, but besides that), what the hell was all that for? There's no fallout, no development, nothing. Is it about the whizz-bangs and the visual effects? Or was this all to give us that cliffhanger? Is this what we've come down to - sacrificing any sort of story logic for flashes and bangs?
At this point I'm worried about sounding like an RTD-basher, and people might be saying "yeah, well, he doesn't do tight plots anyway." This is nonsense. Some of Russell T. Davies' stories have their problems: Boom Town is misjudged, Aliens of London/World War Three suffers from bad pacing, and New Earth is a hodge-podge, although the explanations are there if you look hard enough. They sometimes read like he's working without a script editor, which allows him to indulge himself too much. But the point is that generally, Russell T. Davies stories are fantastically coherent. It's a brand of SF for people who don't like SF, which doesn't explain every technical detail and instead concentrates on the broad strokes and the little people. You can never fail to tell what a Russell T. Davies story is about. Thematically, character-wise, emotionally, and even in the way he uses dialogue, they are honed and express everything they want to say.
By contrast, this story is interspersed with Big Emotional Scenes and Big Dialogue Scenes. I'll look at the latter first.
The story has the usual RTD wit, yes. But the dialogue is simply appalling. It's bursting with scenes where characters say Big Important Things in a way that quickly becomes tiresome. Rose boasting of her Parting of the Ways feats of Time-Vortex-manipulation is annoying enough - hey, wasn't she supposed to have forgotten all that anyway? - but by the time I heard the fiftieth speech about How Great The Doctor Is, I wanted to throw things. Given the subtlety with which Russell usually sneaks in his themes, to have people make Great Big Statements every two minutes is so bombastic it defies belief.
Now: emotional scenes.
(Sighs in quiet horror)
They are uniformly dreadful, and the scene with Jackie running down the corridor about halfway through was the point at which my disbelief clattered to the floor and stopped believing the thing was going to get any better. It's so cheesy I feel a craving for crackers even thinking about it. But if we're talking emotion we're talking the much-heralded Rose-departure, gleefully flagged by the production team and built up as something you'll never forget, a real shocker, all that. It's tricky to discuss without spoilers, so again I'm going to go back to first principles.
Rose's departure is not a gut-wrenching emotional scene or a great Doctor Who moment. In terms of companion departures it's just about better than, oh, Dodo. Real emotional scenes happen when they are linked thematically to the main storyline, or grow organically from it; where they express something we always knew about the character, in a new way that makes it all clear. The best example is Father's Day, which is all about Rose's relationship with her Dad; we actually see her belief in him being shattered and then rebuilt, so that he's not just a bloke called "Dad" at the end who we're supposed to like because Conventional Family Wisdom dictates we must; he's someone brave and resourceful and wonderful who will lay down his life even though he's scared to do so. Or you can talk about the double-whammy of School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace; the Doctor talking about humans' mayfly lives in the first story (which is all about change and loss), and then we actively see him hopping through a single person's life in the next. The conclusion is moving because of the work that's gone into it: we've been put at a point where a bloke reading a letter is really, really touching (and we assumed that was going somewhere this season, didn't we? Oh well). And it's worth clarifying again at this stage: Russell knows this, he does this all the time. He can make incoherent speeches in a chipper seem like the most moving thing in the world. If he's a master of anything, it's character.
Rose's departure is a six-minute epilogue. There's no ground work done in the story beyond those contrived, clunking "This is the story of how I died" at the start, and a bizarrely incoherent discussion with Jackie halfway through ("you won't be you anymore") which isn't ever developed anyway (PLONK). The story isn't about Rose and the Doctor. Rose's character has completely stagnated this year in any case, and the smug, giggling cliquey edge to their relationship hasn't been developed or subverted as I expected (because it was so bloody annoying, so I assumed Russell had a reason for not fixing it). But after this whole season, at the great conclusion at the end, we discover... that Rose loves the Doctor! No, really? Gosh! Might I suggest that if this wasn't crystal-clear in The Parting of the Ways, it certainly was by the time School Reunion had finished? This isn't new or surprising or moving, it's tired and dull. And irritating. And manipulative. And contrived. And - of course, because this applies to everything in the story - it has no narrative build-up, it's entirely contained in a six-minute epilogue that might have worked had it been expanded into a 45-minute story, but as it is... agh. All that "follow the voice" stuff is unbelievably bad, but when you're getting what's effectively a six-minute story synopsis it's hard to see how it couldn't be stupid. I like emotional scenes, but this is nothing of the kind: it's Nutrasweet. It's a hollow way of making the story seem like it's been really Deep and Meaningful even though it has said nothing that has any meaning at all, like those Van Morrison songs where he's trying to convince everyone he's a poet and uses words like "rapture" to cover up the fact that he's not actually saying anything at all. I watched some of Series One a few days after seeing Doomsday, and was suddenly reminded how invested I used to be in Rose. And yet all I could think as I sat through the tear-drenched finale was "Oh, shut up and fuck off."
Right, let's get this straight. This is a hollow, empty, nasty story. But worse, it cuts against everything that makes Doctor Who great. It's a glossy mess, in a world that's full of glossy messes: where videogames are turned into plotless films for the sake of it, where Pirates of the sodding Caribbean features people sailing from place to place to no real purpose beyond hey, let's make Johnny Depp the king of some cannibals. Narrative is important, and narrative is dying. And Doctor Who - previously a real bastion against gosh-wow-bang - has suddenly joined in the lynching.
Which is why I'm so... well... motivated about this. Bad stories happen, but I hate to think of this approach being validated. If people continue to applaud this kind of thing, if they clap their hands and hope we'll have more like it, they're not just wrong; they're making it more likely that it will happen again. And again. And again. By applauding this we're actively damaging the greatest programme ever made.
I ain't even bovvered! by Thomas Cookson 1/12/06
I think that this is going to be my last attempt at trying to sum up my feelings about the New Series and how the finale of Season Two left me not so much hungry for more as malnourished. I am not looking forward to Season Three but I will watch it, despite what I said in my Love & Monsters review. I've come to realise that watching Doctor Who as something current can be equally rewarding and demoralising because of its blend of the good and the bad. As a fan whose only experienced the show through reruns and video, I must say I was completely surprised and unprepared for this and at just how strongly Doctor Who could get under my skin.
As a finale, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday isn't quite the pits of The Twin Dilemma but it's not in the greats category of Inferno, Talons of Weng-Chiang or Logopolis.
It's just there really, nothing special.
Last year Parting of the Ways had been at once a spectacular finale and a subversive puzzle box of deeper themes and emotional power with new wonders revealed every time it is rewatched or reconsidered. Army of Ghosts and Doomsday should have had the right ingredients to do likewise, with a season of themes to wrap up, a big-budget spectacle of war on Earth and a poignant crisis point for the Doctor and his companion. But it fell flat on both for me.
Parting of the Ways represents for me the point where I think I finally really grasped Russell T. Davies' approach to the New Series and the payoff. Where the derivative and throwaway political references of World War Three and The Long Game became wrapped up into something of epic proportions and high density. Where the insufferable Mickey and Jackie suddenly become very important to the show's themes of making a difference and coming of age (it even made Boom Town count for something when you notice how much Rose has grown since then). The story also showed how Russell T. Davies' populist approach could work for the show's soul rather than against it by using the Big Brother segment to really say something about the Doctor's character and his moral integrity to the point where "Do you think anyone votes for sweet?" becomes one of the most crucial lines of the new series.
My perfect reading on Parting of the Ways is that it had resolved the season's themes, allowing Season Two to spread its wings and start a fresh new slate, getting away from Earth and escaping the Powell estate for good. Sadly it wasn't to be, and by the time we've got to the finale, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday has proved that the new Doctor Who just going nowhere fast.
In my last review, I said of how "Season Two hasn't felt quite as penetrating as Season One or Classic Who". For the record I can accept average and simplistic stories that don't 'penetrate' the viewer and don't try to, but what I found unforgivable about Season Two is that it could have been very penetrating on its own merits, and somehow it wasn't. It's as if they were deliberately downplaying the awe and the imponderables, as if they were determined to keep the show in the shallow end, and sadly the season finale is the most disappointing, and yet in some ways refreshingly honest, example of this.
In this finale, the show plunges the world into a devastating interplanetary war. It all starts when the Doctor and Rose return home with a bag of washing for Jackie. Naturally there are strange things going on, and naturally since this is the finale this is happening on a global scale, but everyone seems perfectly happy with it and things are hunky dory. But in the pre-titles sequence we were warned that doom was looming all over the planet. So far so good: a story that's aiming for a dark tone should start with an equilibrium that's disarmingly jovial and light before plunging us into darkness.
Part one seems to go in the right direction, as the Doctor and his friends meet Torchwood properly for the first time, and they come across a disturbing anomaly much like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even this usually over-chirpy Doctor is frightened by this and turns all serious, even chastising his own curiosity and declaring "Don't try and open it. Send it back into hell", so it seems like we're in for something really good. His reverse psychology manipulation of the foolhardy heads of Torchwood is also a highlight and even at his most Jim Carrey, David Tennant plays the scene to perfection, I just relish that foreboding manic 'we're all going to die!' grin of his.
I'm still not happy with the domestic side of the series. But of course this is an important final story for Rose so appropriately we have to return to the bloody estate. I'll say that one thing in the old series' favour is that even when it was at its worst, it still seemed like it was always going to take the viewer on an adventure, but new Who always seems to end up back at the same old Powell Estate, and apparently this isn't going to change in Season Three. Old Doctor Who never seemed that obsessed with such a redundant aspect. Would this story further flog the dead horse and be similarly insular and the antithesis of Doctor Who's vision of exploration and imagination and of creating a whole universe out of four cheap studio sets?
Well part one suggested that maybe a view of the world meeting catastrophe from Jackie's gogglebox might actually work and branch the show out. It does actually suggest a sense of global scope to the story through the use of TV world news. The random channels on the remote and in-jokes involving Trisha Goddard and Eastenders really work here and are an amusingly cheeky send up, unlike the Eastenders references in The Impossible Planet that were just gratuitous and intrusive, bringing a space adventure crashing down to banal reality. Actually the Doctor references Ghostbusters here at high pitch, which again reminds me that now and again I have to turn myself numb to the cringeworthy, irritating, desperately-trying-to-be-cool moments (again this sense of being made audience-conscious and the need for self-induced numbness now and again is why Season Two has frequently failed to be 'penetrating' stuff for me). David Tennant hasn't really settled as the Doctor and remains too much of a carbon copy of Eccleston's Doctor and many of his mannerisms and quirks seem equally contrived.
For the most part, little else goes wrong, or at least not majorly. There's a nice build-up to jeopardy, sinister events happen and the dead bodies start falling. Actually there is a very daft scene where a policeman makes a televised plea for the people to stay in their homes. The acting is pretty poor there and although I've always admired the efficiency and density of the faster paced new stories, this just comes off as an implausible fast forward of events. Furthermore there is again that sense of Russell's arrogance and his rather sneering perception of the masses as cartoonish incompetent idiots. But otherwise it feels like it's going to be gritty action-adventure as we wait for the invasion to begin, and then as the first part reaches its cliffhanger we get yet another surprise!
But as we get into Part Two I realise that it was a good idea executed terribly. It starts promising when the invaders take over the Torchwood base and we get treated to one of the nastiest death scenes. "You didn't need to kill him!", "Neither did we need him alive". The aliens really do come across as evil, vile and sadistic, making me fear the worst about what will happen when they manage to fight their way out the building and the public are all at their merciless mercy. The Doctor gets in a great moral outburst "You're on every street, you're in their homes, you've got their children! Of course they're gonna fight!", plus the 'handbags at dawn' moment always gives me a sugar rush. But too many elements are introduced and ultimately that sense of danger, evil or ideology of both camps gets lost in the shoot 'em up. Basically too many cooks spoil the broth.
But even that might not have been so bad in an indulgent kind of way. It could have been a very entertaining bit of kill-crazy anarchy, like an Eric-Saward's-greatest-hits tribute episode. Unfortunately, once that initial horror fades, it quickly turns weak. This season has been rather softened and the violence and horror has been more toned down compared to last year and much of the action here is subject to too many cutaways. We barely glimpse the carnage and bloodshed on the streets (we see just enough to fill a four second teaser trailer) and we see absolutely nothing of the aftermath for the people at ground level, no corpse-strewn pavements or weeping widows. For an episode titled Doomsday this is nowhere near as apocalyptic as it should be, given the global feel of part one this seems like a major regression, and there's almost a sense that the carnage isn't even supposed to matter.
There's also the problem of how easily the Doctor is able to vanquish the enemy with just a bit of jiggery pokery, or rather yet another deux et machina. Combining the deux et machina with a story that is so bloodless that it feels inconsequential and you have a terrible recipe. I also think that the problem is that the Doctor never actually leaves the Torchwood building, even whilst the carnage is errupting. Therefore he is able to deliver this solution whilst the invaders completely ignore him. Now if he had actually been driven out of the building by the invasion, and has to risk getting back in before he can implement the deux et machina solution, that would have been something. We could have seen him more directly involved in the carnage, having to walk over a hundred dead bodies and avoid being shot at.
But of course that's not what the episode is about. This is Rose's final story so the episode is about the Doctor's relationship with Rose, and Rose's relationship with her mother, so they have to remain somewhere stationary so they can all have these redundant emotional discussions and touching dialogue scenes to pull at the viewers' heartstrings. So in a way, the action and killing outside really is irrelevant and the relationship between the leads is treated like the most important thing in the world. I think we've reached a new level of crassness here.
Last year Parting of the Ways had seen the Doctor and Rose become fully developed characters, Season Two made them both start regressing quickly and inexplicably. I think Steve Cassidy is right when he said that because Rose's story was completed last year, this year she has developed character traits that are more contrived and artificial. I agree to a point that she has become quite obnoxious too. School Reunion brought forward a nasty jealous streak in Rose, and though I loved the fact that Rose and Sarah Jane quickly became friends after their bitch spat, it didn't change the fact that the 'let's be friends' moment was still done completely on Rose's own terms. In The Idiot's Lantern and Love & Monsters, Rose's mean spirit and bunny-boiling nature began to really muddy the waters of the series.
Of course if we're talking about Rose's obnoxiousness, then we're talking about her insecure posessivenes over the Doctor and the new life he's shown her. Mike Morris and Terrence Keenan both described this story as being a dismal failure in storytelling, and in many ways I see that as a consequence of trying to write Rose out of the series. Because Rose as a character has become so determined to stay with the Doctor, the story ultimately has to go far out of its way to get rid of her, making the episode come across as contrived, poorly thought out and not a little nasty for its efforts. Apart from anything, there was no reason the Doctor and Rose couldn't have gone back to the TARDIS for sanctuary, and instead the plan they did rely on seemed to defy logic in the worst, no-brainer kind of way in which they expected to be safe from a worldwide effect.
On the one hand I think that Rose was a character who needed to stick around until she had naturally outgrown the Doctor and decided to settle down and return home. On the other hand her behaviour has been so obnoxious this year that I really became glad to see the back of her (even though there was the nagging sense that her more obnoxious moments had been contrived and were rather out of character for her). But there were better storylines during this season that could have seen her out without seeming so calculated about it. Rose could have decided to stay at home at the end of The Age of Steel after the emotional ordeal she went through, or she could have been separated permanently from the Doctor in The Satan Pit. Either would have been preferable, I think.
As a character, she is fairly likeable here, and to be completely shallow for a moment, she does look damn sexy in that blue jumper. This is somewhat offset by some of the dialogue she has to deliver. "Mum, I've had a life with you for 19 years, but then I met the Doctor, and I've seen all the things he's shown me, all the things he's done." It really is that bad, and sadly even a precociously sublime actress like Billie Piper can't save it. Another moment that comes off terribly is Rose's bragging of her Bad Wolf feats, which somehow manages to be performed with a straight face and it is the most contrived, desperate-to-be-cool moment of the series and it probably is the first step to how this story utterly spoils its own tension.
Then of course is the Doctor. I think that David Tennant is a good actor and has potential to be a good Doctor, but he's being written so inconsistently that his best moments rarely surface. Most complaints abound about his hyperactiveness, as though playing the Doctor as a child who suffers from ADD. At first this wasn't such a problem for me, as it came off naturally and seemed plausible for a character who had just regenerated and was experiencing what could be called a birthscream burst of life. But by now he should have settled down and hasn't; and sadly his over-emotive, forced comedy has often made him seem like a shallow cipher beneath the superficial (and irritating) mannerisms.
I would definitely say that the writers had the misconceived notion that Tennant would be a good copy of Eccleston's Doctor. But here's the thing: in Season One the hyperactive Doctor was actually part of what made Season One feel so darn dangerous. That we were dealing with an aggressive, reckless, foolhardy and belligerent Doctor who had a habit of forcing his enemies' hands and getting people around him killed. Tennant's season however has been far too safe for that; in fact, from the resurrection of Cassandra in New Earth onwards, this was a season that was practically defined by 'chickening out'. By the time we got to The Idiot's Lantern, the Doctor has suddenly become Jim Carrey; and at this point the Doctor, whilst conjuring his plan to defeat the aliens is so full of his own smugness and glee that he comes across as just as superficial and as callous about the ongoing bloodshed as the story itself. One thing I really miss about Christopher Eccleston is that I think his Doctor would be genuinely frightened by the chain of events happening here and he'd let it show.
Then of course is the matter of his relationship with Rose, and incidentally his relationship with the overbearing mother-in-law. It has got to be said that the Doctor has been reduced to a doormat by both of them. I think Rose briefly reached a point in Parting of the Ways where she became on the Doctor's level, and at that point she was a plausible love interest for the Doctor, but since then her attitude has become slightly repellant and self-absorbed and I have a hard time imagining what the Doctor sees in the spiky bunny boiler now.
In my Love & Monsters review, I may have misinterpreted the scene where the Doctor seemed to be playing chauffeur to Rose and had given her a free taxi ride to Elton in the TARDIS just so she could pick a fight. However I think the crucial point is that through the season the Tenth Doctor has danced to every whim of the demanding Rose, and that by this point I actually could believe that the Doctor would behave as Rose's live-in waiter and slap her on the back for her mean hi-jinks, and I'd believe the worst of both of them by now. That is as strong a testament as any to how low my opinion of the lead characters has sunk.
It's got to be said that I really miss the Doctor's old natural authority, because by this point the Doctor has become a very emancipated doormat to his girlfriend and her mum. In the first part he's actually rather more Doctorish with his classic cynicism kicking in and as highlighted above, his manipulation of the Torchwood staff is brilliantly done. His curt line "I think it's horrific" is disappointingly lacking in elaboration though, as if the show is simply relying on self-justifying conventional wisdom. But then he feels the need to apologise to Jackie when she gets spiky with him for spoiling her complacency with the truth and he no longer seems like an authorative alien at all, but like some inept apologetic bloke in a chick flick. His rudeness to Jackie later on is in some ways a nice alternative to this but then it goes a bit too far to the other extreme and again comes across as un-Doctorly. Then come part two and suddenly he's been reduced to the doormat again. He gives a technobabble explanation to Jackie and then bites his tongue when she tells him "Oh you can shut up", and somehow I don't even think Peter Davison's Doctor would have been that self-effacing.
There's almost a sense that the Doctor's character is being treated like a joke this time and Tennant's awful line "I don't have guns which makes me the better person. They can shoot me dead, but the moral high-ground will be mine" springs to mind about this. But more than that, the Doctor is the means whereby the character of Rose gets spoilt rotten by this story and she is treated by the Doctor as though she and her esteem are the centre of the world.
The final moments between the Doctor and Rose are actually on the cusp of recapturing the rawness of Season One. Both actors pull off a superb joint performance and for a while it feels like the episode has actually presented us with something real and something that matters. But to put it in the context of the story it's in, that scene actually really frustrates me when I think back on how everything else in the story was ignored. Maybe it's because there's no integrity in the narrative that only the final scene of this story seems to matter at all. The horrific death at the start of Doomsday ends up standing alone rather than making this episode feel like the stuff of nightmares. The episode also falls short of digging into some thematic content concerning overtones of British imperialism and communism (this habit of dabbling in politics but then switching them off again is something all too common in Russell's scripts). The Doctor's double-take horror at learning that things are happening in two's, and his reaction to seeing the genesis ark opening, disappears quickly and he reverts inexplicably to the chirpy 'look how exciteable I am' persona.
Recently, because of my Love & Monsters review, I finally reached the point where someone described me as an emotion-hater (guess it had to happen sometime). I've always felt there was something of a 'soul' to Doctor Who, particularly in emotional stories like Evil of the Daleks and Logopolis. Doctor Who to me is fundamentally about compassion, morality, spiritual well-being and health, and about the clash of humanist virtues, good and bad. In a strange way this actually made the 'damaged Doctor' of Season One more traditional than I think people realise. For the Doctor to have been disillusioned in his old morality and then gradually manage over the course of the season to find his compassion again meant that the series really was about the Doctor's spiritual integrity.
I actually really liked the emotional side of Season One, and it's strange to compare how much more real and naturalist the emotional dialogue in Season One was to how it is now. Watch End of the World again and you can see the contrast. Here the Doctor and Jackie are on the phone to Rose whilst she runs into the aliens downstairs and Jackie remarks "She was terrified of them. What have they done to her, Doctor? Is she dead?" and it just reads as the worst kind of 90's American telemovie material, and the worst episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
And that's the thing, when the emotions are done well they have a boundless charm about them. In Parting of the Ways, Rose's speech about what the Doctor means to her can mean a thousand different things. But over the course of Season Two, this emotional aspect has become hammered and bogged down to being about one thing, reducing the Doctor and Rose's bond to that of a simple relationship. It lost its potency for me, it stopped being something out-reaching. It stopped being about humanistic virtues and boundless compassion when the Doctor and Rose began acting in a cliquey way and Rose became jealous of any woman who talked to the Doctor. It became insular, and exclusive and I think this story is the worst and the most honest example of this. It basically revisits Rose's speech in Parting of the Ways and reduces it to mush about how "I'm never going to leave you."
I can see Series One as having that 'something for everybody' charm, where it blended the sci-fi with the domestic and romantic side of things. My problem with Season Two is that in the effort to be 'something for everybody' it has sometimes felt a lot more schizophrenic as though it is wrestling with its two sides of the space adventure and the love story, particularly in The Impossible Planet. I think when we got to this story, Russell finally decided what the show was really about and made no pretences that the alien invasions are important, that it's all just window dressing for what is basically a chick flick, full of contrived romance and patronising 'daddy's girl' stuff. My mum (who is only a fan of the New Series) also got the sense that stories like The Christmas Invasion and Doomsday lacked the moralistic aspect of Eccleston's stories and that the show was becoming more of an action film.
I think the most telling point about the quality of this story is that I'm not even that angry about it; it has finally ceased to be something I care about. As I said before, Doctor Who is a tough love for me. It has been great and awful, it can impress me or frustrate me but nothing else gets under my skin quite like it. I suppose we all have that frustrating knowledge that Doctor Who can sometimes be perfect but is so frequently awful, and that it only really gets so close to consistent perfection during the Hinchcliffe era, and oddly enough, in Season One.
I've had reservations about if Russell T. Davies was the right guy for the job as chief writer ever since I was disappointed by World War Three and The Long Game. But if Parting of the Ways was the point where I think I learned to understand Russell's vision for the New Series and love it for warts and all, then Doomsday was the point where I just accepted that I was wrong and that Russell's vision for Doctor Who was something very shallow and bland and something I had nothing in common with. Put it another way, and to use the crude vernacular of RTD, if Parting of the Ways was the orgasm of the New Series, then Doomsday was like premature ejaculation.
So what is my overall verdict on this? Mike Morris said in his review that he thought Doomsday was the worst Doctor Who story ever broadcast. I would go one further than that and say I don't even think of it as Doctor Who. For the record, I promised myself that I would never say that about a new episode, but Doomsday really isn't Doctor Who, it's just a chick flick with Doctor Who's iconography and (a lot of) fanwank as a convenient side show. Doctor Who is a series in which heroism and saving worlds and seeing beyond our own little world are important things (something even Love & Monsters seemed to acknowledge). In this story, a relationship is the most important thing. Rose's happiness and her demanding whims are the most important thing and everything else - aliens, tyranny, destruction and death - are all peripheral and irrelevant.
And now that I've admitted that to myself, I actually find Doomsday fairly entertaining. As much as it is not Doctor Who, it's not awful Doctor Who either. I can watch it several times and still find plenty in it to entertain me, whether it be moments, one-liners or just eye candy. I can't say that about Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity or Love & Monsters now, can I? Hell, if I can watch it all the way through even once it's got to be far better than The Twin Dilemma. So yes, this story reveals an appallingly shallow direction for the New Series and I actually admire the fact that it is honest about that. I enjoy viewing this even though its got plenty of irksome moments that I've learned to numb myself to and there is no real substance in its style. But I think style is enough for me.
A Review by David Rosenthal 5/3/07
I like this finale to the new Doctor Who's second season. Rose narrates the beginning giving us little spoilers on something; more on that later. David Tennant is a great Doctor and I think his relationship with Rose is handled better with him and her rather then Eccleston and her. Overall I just prefer him as the Doctor. He is funny and grinning at the right times and serious when he needs to be. Eccleston could never handle that quite as believably because he was just trying to fake being happy and grinning because he was suffering after trauma from the time war. Billie Piper as great here as Rose. The Doctor arrives at Torchwood following the ghosts apearing in England. The Doctor and Rose are able twart the war but he loses Rose. The Doctor is crying when a lady in a wedding dress appears . The Doctor is surprised and thinks "What?" A great end to a great season. David Tennant is one of my favorite Doctors. Farewell to Rose Tyler. 10/10.
A Review by Finn Clark 26/6/07
It's more fun than a barrel-load of monkeys. It's punch-the-air cool and full of great jokes to boot. "They can shoot me dead, but the moral high ground is mine." Army of Ghosts rocks as hard as Bad Wolf last year, which is enough rock for an asteroid belt. I'd had the cliffhanger spoiled for me before I watched it, but oddly this didn't hurt the episode at all. On the contrary, I had a ball watching all the pieces come together. It plugged straight into the "Doctor Who is so cool" part of my brain and had me roaring like a caveman. And as if they'd made it just for me, they even had someone speaking Japanese.
Jackie Tyler gets to be the companion and it's great. The Doctor's so rude to her! I laughed. Is that meant to be a sarcophagus from Pyramids of Mars? I don't even mind the risible acting from the family cowering as the monsters break in. Somehow it feels like Russell T. Davies let off the leash. Army of Ghosts roars along with the kind of joi de vivre one associates with City of Death as it throws in every kind of gag, surprise and fan reference that might be cool. It's the season ender! More importantly, it's only part one. As usual in New Who, the first half of a two-parter has the fun of doing the build-up while the second half must struggle with the burden of resolving the story.
And make no mistake, Doomsday struggles. Russell T. Davies does better than any other writer of a New Who two-parter, but he can't do justice to his own material. There's not enough story space. He wants to write out Rose, and not just in a last-minute throwaway. He wants emotional material for Jackie, Pete and the rest. He wants to do justice to his guest stars. All this he does... but it leaves little room for a plot. The resolution in particular is yet another magic button, or rather in this case a lever. Theoretically there's no reason why New Who's endings couldn't satisfy on a plot level as well as an emotional one. The Girl in the Fireplace managed it. Unfortunately, here the resolution seems convenient. Our heroes don't have to work. (For example wouldn't it have been better had the monsters managed a counterstrike at the end, thus damaging the field instead of just having it turn off by itself?) Even gibberish like the 1996 TVM understood this point. The TVM's finale is complete horse poop, but at least it feels like a dramatic climax. There's something unsatisfying about Doomsday's lever.
If I had to make one criticism of Tennant's first year, it would be the two-parters. They seem uncomfortable with their length. Tom MacRae and Matt Jones didn't even try to use the format, instead writing scripts that feel like extended one-parters, full of spectacle but not complexity. Russell T. Davies gives us more twists and turns, but he doesn't have space to do justice to his high concept. The traditional cliffhanger reveal is halfway through the story these days, while a big chunk at the end is entirely given over to Rose. Should New Who do three-parters? Or perhaps they should tell the guest writers to pretend that they're writing three-parters and then edit down the results to two?
So the story's a bit simple. That's my only cricitism. The monsters may not get showcased in a nice twisty plot, but they certainly get to be bastards. There are some enjoyably nasty deaths and a nice battle with the human soldiers on the bridge. I liked the conversion with its great gouts of sparks. The script also never forgets the essential nature of its monsters. They're not just robots. There are plenty of reminders of the organic things inside, which isn't just cool but vital. We even get body language. Look at that little backwards move. I also love the judder on the enforced repetition of "Which of you is least important?"
Then there's the trash-talking, which is one of the funniest things ever. "This is not war. This is pest control."
Then there's the emotional content. Personally, I liked "I did my duty for queen and country", although the tear was perhaps overkill. (I've seen any number of fascinating fan theories about that, by the way.) That's just one of several scenes which might feel syrupy, although I'm sure different viewers would have a problem with different scenes. (If your personal crunch point was the last ten minutes about Rose, I can only sympathise.) They're all well-written scenes and there's nothing objectively wrong with them, but it's a lot of emotional content for a monsterfest. But folks, it's Russell T. Davies. What did you expect?
In particular, was the Doctor's farewell to Rose ever going to be just an afterthought? Would that really have been better? Despite the claims of certain fans, it simply wasn't an option to dump her like a piece of old baggage that should have been dropped from the cast list months ago. There are also those who found the ending hard to watch for... okay, let's be blunt. For personal reasons. We all bring our own baggage to what we watch, but personally I have little sympathy for some of the more extreme readings I've seen of the finale.
One must squint to make this story fit with Rob Shearman's Dalek, in its 2012 in which no one knows about aliens and Henry van Statten runs his own private Torchwood. However, much though I dislike the idea, there are hints that the history that the Eccleston Doctor knew was from the alt.universe. "Ricky", "Harriet Jones's Golden Age", etc.
Oh, and it's established that Eastenders is fictional. I never saw the second half of Dimensions in Time, but even so I had palpitations when I heard this was going to be an Eastenders crossover. Fortunately my fears were unfounded.
Overall, I don't think this year quite stands up to Eccleston's. The writing can feel a tad formulaic. It's hard to imagine three 2006 Doctor Who stories taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) of the Hugos, as happened with The Empty Child, Dalek and Father's Day. 2006's scripts don't seem to be trying as hard. There were also fewer story interweavings, compared with last year and the Slitheen, the time rift, Bad Wolf, the Time War backstory, Eccleston's personal character arc and our return visits to Satellite Five. However, on the other hand, this year had a much broader scope of space and time, with the TARDIS travelling further than ever before in three completely different ways. It's a richer mix of stories than it looks, but unfortunately the season goes through phases: (a) the "emotional story arc with a female guest star" stories, (b) the "visually spectacular but slightly dumb monster-bash" stories, etc. With all due respect to Mark Gatiss, it might have been better to put a thoughtful story between the big two-parters. Fear Her might have been a nice change of pace.
I have quibbles with this particular story, but it does everything it had to do and more. It's another triumphant season climax that ends the year on a high. It has nice character scenes, a plot that seems to be going places and a commanding Doctor who's been given heavyweight opposition for once. I'd also note that it has two second episodes... the real one and the one that plays in your head when you see part one's "Next Episode" trailer. A lot hangs on these season-enders and all credit to Russell T. Davies. Twice in a row he's given us something comparable with Inferno or Talons of Weng-Chiang instead of The Time Monster, Time-Flight or The Twin Dilemma. It's emotional, at times it's nasty and it's just a whole barrel o' fun.
The Shippers have taken over... maybe for good by Terrence Keenan 12/9/07
Shippers is a term I learned from the handy dandy Completely Unofficial Encyclopedia. Roughly, it means fans who are far more concerned about the relationships between lead characters (love and shagging) than anything else about the series.
And in the big two part finale of New Who Season 2, where the great fanboy spectacle of Daleks v Cybermen actually happens... Russell T Davies feels more compelled to whack us over the head with the notion that Rose loves the Doctor. And decides that this, plus a Pete and Jackie coupling, are far more important than things like, say, telling a coherent story.
I don't even know where to begin. Well, here's one small point that helps illustrate the bigger problems with AoG/D. Yvonne Hartman's final moment, as a Cyberman, who is supposed to be completely cyber-tized (which is irreversible, according to the rules established), yet there she is, bleeding oil, yammering about Queen and Country, and zapping a herd of Cybermen.... FOR NO BLOODY REASON, except to manipulate the emotions of the viewer. "See, even that Yvonne bint can do some good in the end. Hooray!"
Why, Rusty, why?
It's not like Davies can't structure a good story. Look and Tooth and Claw. That's just about perfect in terms of telling a story. It just boggles the mind.
There are bigger sins. Take the big fanboy element: Daleks v Cybermen. Everybody's been wanting this since fanboys came into existence. And it starts off all right, with a nice little verbal confrontation. Then they start blasting each other... well the Daleks engage in pest control and start wiping the floor with the Cybes. But, it's rushed, then gets put into the background so Jackie and Alt Pete can fall in love and hug. Finally, there's the Davies ex Machina (another Completely Unofficial Encyclopedia term ) which takes both armies out in the most trite of fashions, insulting both sides by saying "oh you're just the rubbish that needs to be swept out of the way, so we can see more of Billie Piper's makeup run down her face while she cries... again."
Oh, forgot, there's a third threat in this tale.
What a load of bollocks they were. Nationalistic boobs with a ton of alien tech. This is the great season-long buildup we've had? I cheered when they started getting killed off, mainly because they annoyed the crap out of me. Torchwood is just a catalyst for the carnage to come, and is no different than any other scientific organization we've seen a billion times before, on a bunch of different shows.
Say, like, the Initiative from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which is a good time to play Spot the Buffy Lifts. We got Torchwood/Initiative out of the way, but the bigger theft is the climax of Becoming part 2, the Season two Buffy ender. What happens to the Doctor and Rose is eerily similar to what happens to Buffy and Angel (if you'd like to know, ask your hardcore Buffy fan to explain it to you).
And there are speeches galore. Everyone's flapping their gums about in this one. All sort of long-winded talks about love and longing and "This is the day I died," nonsense. The worst of these speeches/talks comes in the useless and overkilling epilogue. That scene with the Doc and Rose on the beach almost made me launch the TV out the window. Why? Simple, we had a perfect and powerfully emotional ending in the scene with Rose crying and pounding the wall saying "Take Me back," over and over. There's your ending right there. But no, we have to have the big I love you/I love you too scene. Which ends up being a big cop out anyway.
I should say something positive about this. Despite the appalling dialogue, performances all around are quite solid. I mostly liked Tracy Ann Oberman's smug performance because it fit the character. Billie Piper was good when she wasn't bawling her eyes out. Tennant was rock solid. Noel Clarke was good as well. We also would be remiss if we didn't give big ups to Graeme Harper for his direction.
But, my goodness, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday was awful. It's bad television. Not just bad Who. That makes it inexcusable.
A Review by Ron Mallett 25/9/07
Really, it was like watching all the fan fiction you wrote when you were 11 come to life on screen. The Cybermen and the Daleks invading Earth... come on!
It's very difficult to maintain any suspension of disbelief when in a single episode, you have it explained to you that in the process of transforming people into Cybermen they cut out your brain and put it in a body shell and then you see one of them crying... how? Don't you need tear ducts? Why does reading someone's brainwaves involve them being completely - what would you call it? - dehydrated? The whole thing is very, very silly.
The attempts to explain how the "last" Dalek was reanimated in Dalek, simply came across as even more lame than when there was no real reasoning behind it. The interaction between the Daleks and the Cybermen was embarrassing to say the least.
Actually I heard my wife give a sigh of disappointment when it became clear we'd been cheated and Rose was going to live. She wasn't alone. What made it worse was the visual image of her mother and father going at it that was delivered to us at the end of the show in the obligatory "soap opera" section of the show, where, yes, we got to see the Doctor cry. I'm afraid the champagne went back into the fridge.
"Burning up a sun just to say goodbye" by Colm Kearns 3/4/12
From afar, by way of reviews and trailers, Doomsday seemed like nadir of the vacuous blockbuster Who finale with which I have so many issues. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how much I liked in the Season 2 finale when I actually watched it in full. A good part of this can be attributed to the wonderful Army of Ghosts, but Doomsday was not without redeeming features. However, its overall effect was to leave me cold, and in a story which seems so desperate to wring the tears and cheers from its audience, that can only be deemed a major failure.
But to address first its successes; there's much to be admired in Army of Ghosts. The notion that unusual and extra-terrestrial events occur on earth when the Doctor isn't around is a good one, and quite well developed. The idea that, after multiple attempted alien invasions, earth society would normalise the situation by absorbing the first seemingly benign paranormal event into its popular culture is rather convincing (bolstered by the very funny television snippets). Torchwood thus functions as the smug, sinister underside to earth's newfound familiarity with the unearthly. The scene in which Yvonne dismisses Jackie's light-hearted quip about shopping with the contemptuous assertion that "All of these devices are for Torchwood's benefit, not the general public's" characterises the organisation perfectly. It's exhilarating therefore, to see the Doctor dismiss their authority, pointing out their folly with a combination of contempt and armour-piercing sincerity.
On that point, Tennant is terrific for great swathes of the finale. His calm as he calls Yvonne's bluff concerning the ghost shift, his seriousness when dealing with the Cybermen and his contemptuous hatred of the Daleks are all moments in which he shines. He's still wont to the odd spot of hyperactive rambling, but, to be fair to him, it's hard to imagine the "Allons-y Alonso" scene being done any better. He even manages to be admirably restrained in the melodramatic epilogue.
This brings us to Billie Piper, who, likewise, continues to do a fine job as Rose, though the character rather suffers at the hands of the script. She's competent and resourceful while sneaking around Torchwood and dealing with the Daleks, but it's the beginning and end of the finale that rankles. Piper, to her credit, does a good job with some rather melodramatic lines others would have fumbled, but it can't disguise that it all feels rather hollow. More on that later, but first, to address the story's biggest talking point.
There's an undeniable thrill in seeing the Daleks and the Cybermen together; the fulfilment of a hundred fanboy fantasies. They both convey a suitable sense of menace (and it's nice to see the Cybermen display such cunning in their plan for world domination), a great deal of which can be attributed to the peerless direction of Graeme Harper. When these two perennial Who foes meet at last, their bickering exchange provides some hit and miss dialogue, but is rather entertaining overall. Then comes the utter slaughter of the Cybermen courtesy of the Daleks. Personally, I think it's a shame given what a terrific job the revived series had done in reinventing the Cybermen and restoring their threat. All the more so, given how superfluous the one-sidedness of this battle is to the overall plot. There's nothing that happens in Doomsday that demands a Dalek massacre of Cybermen, rather than a back and forth battle between the two. Therefore, it feels a rather indulgent decision, one which, in my view, spoils what should have been a truly memorable moment for the series.
Therein lies the central problem of the finale; there's a sense of the gratuitous and the indulgent about Doomsday. Too often it eschews narrative structure to provide a grandiosely dramatic moment that seems to be deemed necessary for a season finale. The examples of this tendency towards self-indulgance are numerous. The nonsensical effort at making the Doctor look cool by having him foreshadow Jake's entrance, only to be utterly surprised when he appears. Rose scaring the Daleks by recounting an event she was supposed to be unable to remember. The pointless redemption of the odious Yvonne Hartman, further undermining the Cybermen for the sake of a cheesy would-be tearjerker of a scene.
Yet, in spite of this conscious attempt at constructing a 'blockbuster' (or perhaps, because of it) there's a distinct lack of dramatic tension. Oodles of spectacular events occur and the Doctor ultimately does nothing more than watch. Then, in what we might describe as the third act, he suddenly formulates a plan and saves the day. Admittedly, it's a plan that makes sense within the parameters of the story, but his relative ease in devising and executing it makes the story's conclusion seem rather underwhelming. It also should be noted that it too has more than a whiff of the gratuitous; if the Doctor could see the void residue through his glasses the whole time, why didn't he come up with the plan earlier?
Of course, this is directly related to another contentiously indulgent aspect of the story; Rose's exit. It certainly packs an emotional punch and, given the character's importance to the revived show, a big farewell is no more she deserved. However, the full final nine minutes is pushing things somewhat. It is after all, an epilogue to the story; an epilogue whose duration means the resolution of the actual plot feels hopelessly rushed. Then there's the massive copout with regards to her 'death', foreshadowed in The Satan Pit and directly promised in Army of Ghosts' pre-credits sequence. I have no sadistic desire to see Rose killed, but if it's promised then I assume the show will have the integrity to follow through; anything else is simply cheating the audience. It could also be argued that, while the scene may raise a few tears, it is a rather unfitting end for what was (for the most part at least) a wonderfully complex and engaging character. The revelation (if one can deem it such) that Rose loves the Doctor doesn't really feel like a satisfying end to a character arc which has seen her go from the Powell Estate to parallel worlds and alien planets. It's a failure that's characterised by Jackie's garbled "you won't be you anymore" speech in Army of Ghosts. A moment which doesn't really seem to lead anywhere, but instead attempts to create a vague sense of tragedy to substitute for the emotional and thematic coherence absent in Rose's exit.
So how then, to account for this enigma; lauded in the mainstream media and certain fan circles, yet utterly derided in others? I can't help but feel it's down to a question of expectations; those who enjoyed Doomsday just don't have as high opinion of Doctor Who as I do. I reject any accusations of inverse snobbery thrown my way, fannish fantasies like Daleks battling Cybermen excite me no end, but they're no excuse for sacrificing narrative structure and thematic coherence. There's no reason why Doctor Who can't be spectacular and thought-provoking and fun and emotional all within one well-plotted, coherent story. Is this asking a lot? The show has certainly done it before; Caves of Androzani, Curse of Fenric and the revived series' Cybermen two-parter to name just a few. It has gone on to do it again with Human Nature/The Family of Blood and The Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone. So when I deride the spectacular bereft of the coherent, it's because I firmly believe the show can do better and truly treasure when it does. Conversely, I can't shake the suspicion that those who laud this story for its blockbuster credentials do so because they consider it a guilty pleasure, as 'dumb but fun' TV they regard with patronising goodwill. And that's an opinion they're entitled to, but it's one I hope the show doesn't pay too much attention to. After all, why content yourself with the moon when you can reach the stars?
This is not war! This is pest control! by Evan Weston 8/10/14
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
Overall, Russell T. Davies was astonishingly good for Doctor Who. Let's not forget that he's the primary reason that Doctor Who is part of the Beeb's programming lineup today. He is also the most passionate writer to ever work on the new version of the show, and Russell at his best (see Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, Midnight, pretty much all of Series 3) is unbeatable. His creative ambition is rivaled by no one, and he seems to have this unquenchable thirst to top himself, which is generally a good thing. He keeps going bigger and bigger, reaching higher and higher, and when he succeeds, it's phenomenal.
However, Davies seriously overestimates his capabilities once in a while, and the results are always disastrous. Because here's the thing: he's not all that good at telling stories. Oh, he's great at giving us wonderful characters and showing us who they are and why they're important, but when it comes to actual plot, Davies is a bit lacking. His most successful plots are almost all in Series 1, and it goes mostly downhill from there. His non-stop ambition and creative fervor heightens this problem by giving him more opportunities to fail. I have yet to rewatch Series 3 and 4 in their entirety as of this writing, but I can tell you right now that Army of Ghosts/Doomsday is the biggest failure of Russell T. Davies career. It's an absolutely dreadful episode, certainly among the worst in the new series and probably within the bottom 20 or 25 when you include the classics as well.
Fortunately, the reason for this catastrophe is quite clear. Davies crafted a terrific ending for the Rose Tyler character, and the last 10-15 minutes of the episode are actually pretty good (with one glaring exception, but we'll get to that). I can see Davies spitballing out loud, "we'll have Daleks flying out of this thing in the middle of London, and they'll be battling the Cybermen, and then Rose has to sacrifice herself to stop them and oh she'll get stuck in another world and then we'll have a great good-bye scene and it's gonna be fantastic." Overall, that stuff works. The final battle is really cool (if a bit short), with Daleks zipping through the skyscrapers and the Cybermen blasting lasers at them - I imagine those would have been useful in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, hmm - and Rose's touching devotion to the Doctor rings very true. The final goodbye is also done tastefully, and, though there's a bit too much blubbering going on, it works really well. I always choke up a bit when the Doctor can't say "I love you too."
Of course, Russell didn't realize when he wrote this that he had to fill 75 minutes of television before he could go for his ending, and the resulting story is utterly awful. It's difficult to know where to begin with a story this bad, so I guess we'll talk about the plot itself. The Doctor and Rose come home to find London infiltrated by ghosts. We soon learn that they're being controlled by Torchwood, which as it turns out is stationed in Canary Wharf and has been running the British government since Tooth and Claw, and also the Doctor and Rose go there with Jackie and this woman Yvonne gives us plot details for about ten minutes, and oh there's this sphere that's causing all the problems and it doesn't exist, and oh yeah there are Cybermen in the construction area and they kill Martha Jones I mean Addie, and... you see what I'm driving at. There's so much damn exposition and so much information is being thrown at us, but nothing is actually happening. There's about one scene of meaningful "action" in the first 35(!) minutes of the story, and that's so we can get the Doctor and the Tylers inside Torchwood to keep the exposition coming. I had trouble not turning it off.
Finally, the Cybermen come through the breach (which they totally could have done months ago, by the way) and everything starts going to hell, which would be cool if we hadn't seen this already five episodes ago. Oh look, Mickey! I guess that means everyone can get through, wow, what a convenient plot device! And then we somehow get the best moment of the entire two-parter - the Daleks' emergence from the sphere - and it's genuinely shocking, not just because it's Daleks coming out of the sphere but because you've had literally nothing to care about for the entire episode. It gets you interested enough for Doomsday, but the fun doesn't exactly start. We get all the characters from the mid-season two-parter back, but there's just a lot of running around and more exposition.
The plot holes really start to stack up here. There's absolutely no reason for the Cult of Skaro to leave Rose alive. They're clearly pretty advanced Daleks if they survived the Time War in a ship that even the Doctor thought was impossible, and they only need one of Rose or Mickey to activate the MacGuffin - sorry, the Genesis Arc - so why not kill the more competent of the two? And then the Doctor shows up and starts babbling and they still don't kill anyone! Of course, the only explanation is that Russell can't kill the main characters. In Dalek, the titular character was insane, and it still fires at Rose at the first opportunity. In Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, they actively try to kill everyone immediately and can't because of the TARDIS forcefield. Here, there's no rhyme or reason to it. This isn't even the greatest sin of the story, though. Yvonne gets turned into a Cyberman and, as the Doctor and Rose are activating the void, she turns on her comrades and starts killing them. There is no way Yvonne could take over control of the Cyberman's function, because once she's been converted, she's dead. This is the laziest plot hole Davies ever delivers in his entire time running the show, at least until The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, and it always sticks in my craw.
We also get that insanely hokey Pete and Jackie scene that feels both incredibly forced and like a missed opportunity. That could have been a really great dynamic, a couple who has dealt with the death of the other and is suddenly confronted with a new version of the mourned, but instead they run and hug each other (and apparently get knocked up by the end, blergh). Really, everyone acts out of character here. Rose is back to the smugness from Tooth and Claw until the ending, Jackie is shockingly competent, and the Doctor... ugh. Tennant is sleepwalking through the entire episode, with those stupid 3D glasses and not a care in the world. He's terrible and the role is written so poorly, you have to see it to believe it. But don't see it, because it's awful.
I guess I should mention the Daleks-Cybermen fight, because while the final battle is cool, the Daleks are so obviously superior to the Cybermen in terms of pure combat that it's almost boring. The impact of the Cyber occupation is immediately stripped away by the Daleks' utter dominance, lessened even more by the lack of a strong CyberLeader, unlike in Rise/Age when Lumic was in charge. The confrontation between the Cybermen and Dalek Sec over the video link was good for a laugh, but overall the fanboy wet dream is wasted. This episode also marks the decline of both monsters in terms of effectiveness. While the Daleks have rebounded nicely in Asylum of the Daleks, the Cybermen have yet to be really threatening again.
There's no way around it; Army of Ghosts/Doomsday is horrendous. And that's almost forgivable, because Russell isn't trying to suck or be self-indulgent - he's just bitten off way more than he can chew. Where I take offense, though, is that this is Rose Tyler's final episode (as a primary companion, at least), and her ending is ruined by the utter failure in which she's forced to take part. Rose is my favorite companion of all time; she's smart, sexy, troubled yet confident, and she has the most convincing love for the Doctor that I've seen. Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor owes her everything, and the Tenth was the proper extension that would turn the relationship into a deep love that stretches literally beyond the stars. We get a good bit of that in Series 2, particularly in the phenomenal The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, but the finale was the place to really bring it to the fore and give Rose and the Doctor a proper send-off. The final scene is heartwrenching - and it's the only time Tennant tries in the whole episode - but there's nothing that builds up to it. I walked away aching for Rose to come back so she could get a better good-bye. Of course, she did, and it ended up being even worse, but that's for another time.
I'll end this review with Billie Piper. She's got a really interesting life story, and her autobiography is well worth a read. Beyond that, though, she's a terrifically talented performer, and she's often the best reason to watch the first two series of this show. While I'm disappointed that her end was weak, I can't ignore the incredibly impressive run she has on Doctor Who, and she is still sorely missed. While there have been better (and even worse) finales since Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, there hasn't been a better companion. Ever.
Ranking the Stories - Series 2
Ranking the Supporting Characters - Series 2
Ranking the Villains - Series 2
SERIES GRADE: B-