THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Doomsday
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
BBC
Army of Ghosts

Story No. 186 They're bleeding through the fault lines. Walking from their world, 
across the void, and into yours,
Production Code Series Two Episode Twelve
Dates July 1 2006

With David Tennant, Billie Piper
Camille Coduri, Noel Clark
Written by Russel T. Davies Directed by Graeme Harper
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: The ghosts have been appearing all over the world for months now. Fortunately, Torchwood's here to keep us all safe.

Note: The one-year spoiler rule will be strictly enforced. No exceptions.


Reviews

Wartime... by Joe Ford 7/8/06

Is this the script where Russell T Davies has finally sold himself out to the fans? I would say yes and no with an emphasis on the no. But more on that later...

Season Two has been such an odd beast. Personally I think it has been stronger than year one, but not in the ways that I thought it would be. I thought by the latter half of year one that the series had found its groove but certain episodes this year have proven that there is still a lot for Doctor Who to learn in its new format. Certainly they seem to have mastered the new episode length with very few episodes this year feeling rushed or crammed (New Earth is probably the only exception to that rule but that for me is a bleed-over from year one). The episodes I thought I would LOVE, I have been a bit indifferent about (New Earth, The Idiot's Lantern, The Satan Pit) and the episodes I thought would pass by unnoticed have turned out to be real new highs for the show (School Reunion, Love and Monsters, Fear Her). I have already re-evaluated my opinions on some episodes; The Girl in the Fireplace has proven extremely re-watchable and, given its mix of SF and history, to be one of the best examples of its kind with a genuinely sumptuous production; and Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel are not quite as brilliant as my initial impression, being basically a huge action-adventure, but I will still champion its outstandingly visual direction. And astonishingly my absolute favourite of the year is still Tooth and Claw, easily my favourite episode of the series so far, tensely written, beautifully performed and with possibly the best direction Doctor Who has ever seen; this is an astonishingly good piece of television.

So how can Army of Ghosts possibly live up to all this excitement? It doesn't really but then it is only part one of two and as a build up to an explosive climax it certainly tops last year's Bad Wolf. There are a lot of plusses to this episode that I feel I should mention simply because they have never been done before and yet are such obviously winning ideas. Having Jackie travel in the TARDIS is fabulous and Camille's gorgeous portrayal of this most ordinary women is (as ever) treasurable. Her reaction to being kidnapped ("If we end up on Mars I'm gonna kill you!") is genius and the Doctor passing her off, as his deluded, aged, rubbish-at-tea companion is worth the admission price alone! Jackie reminds me a lot of Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (no I don't mean you can get her off by tickling her ears!). Quark played such an important part in that show because he was the only person who pointed out the flaws and faults of the optimistic, jolly, nobody-can-beat-us Federation. Jackie fulfils a similar role in Doctor Who, asking the questions nobody wants to answer. Will my daughter survive this life? Can you guarantee her safety? In Army of Ghosts Jackie has an uncomfortable moment with her daughter when she confronts her with how much she has changed, how much she acts like the Doctor now and how if she continues this life of hers she will no longer be Rose Tyler. It is another (unsubtle but well-written) sign that Rose is on her way out and I hope when the next companion steps into her shoes there is a Jackie to point out these very real dangers with travelling with the Doctor.

There was something gloriously off-kilter about all the early scenes, which is deliberate thanks to the ghosts and their effect on society. The idea of the Doctor and Rose returning to London to discover something is amiss and has been happening for a while is not a new one (Invasion of the Dinosaurs springs to mind) but works a treat at making the Doctor feel uncomfortable. Flicking through the TV channels didn't really work that well. I did like the mental Chinese women and the ghost weather report but I wasn't that impressed with Barbara Windsor or Trisha Goddard's contributions. They really did feel like RTD going "Look how cool we are!" What was exceptional is how he sets the stories on such a grand scale with ghosts swarming about across the globe. Since the show has come back it is no longer just London that sees the brunt of alien invasion. Like The Christmas Invasion, this convincingly puts events on an international scale which makes it seem all the more real.

Nobody who has been following the show could have missed the Torchwood references and now at last we get to see inside the institute. I can understand that fans are cross because this secret organisation has never been mentioned before and yet it has supposedly been under the noses of UNIT and the Doctor throughout all of his adventures. Come on guys, if they are going to keep this show running they need to keep on adding new elements and this is the sort of conspiracy-cum-government organisation that really could have been kept a secret. Visually, it wasn't as impressive as I was expecting, being little more than a hangar and a control room, but the ideas behind the organisation more than make up for it. Following on from Tooth and Claw's inception of Torchwood it is wonderful to see that Her Majesty's ideals have been nurtured and abused by this organisation. Yvonne's suggestion that its sole purpose is to exploit alien artefacts and weapons to ensure Britain's independence as an Empire is terrifying (but very interesting). The fact that Torchwood seems to be under the impression that it is better than the general public is also slightly worrying, as Yvonne says to Jackie the knowledge they have gained from alien effects are for their benefit alone. Nice continuity with the mention of the destruction of the Sycorax spaceship too.

The first half an hour is take-it-or-leave-it Doctor Who, with lots of nice scenes for everybody but really just marking time for the stunning last fifteen minutes. RTD has certainly learnt a thing or two about cranking up the tension because the climax to this episode is almost unbearably exciting. We all knew the Cybermen were coming back thanks to their appearance in last week's teaser, but that doesn't affect their sudden appearance behind the plastic sheet in Army of Ghosts. The design is so fantastic, isn't it? And Graeme Harper shoots them so damn well that even just one comes across as a real menace. So how much better is it when suddenly the ghosts are revealed to be the Cybermen army bleeding through the fault lines of dimensions? The shots of them materialising around the world and smashing their way through a family home and menacing them on the stairs is truly classic Doctor Who. Suddenly this feels much more important (and especially more deadly than The Age of Steel because this is our world). Cybermen clunking through the streets has been done before but not with a budget like this and finally an invasion can look as realistic as it can be.

Of course this being the lead-in to a season finale the surprises don't end here... oh no there are two more returns which are punch-the-air fantastic. Surprisingly it was the appearance of Mickey (looking so lickably gorgeous I want one!) that thrilled me more. I was devastated at the end of The Age of Steel to see him leave and genuinely thought it was the last I would see of him. He seems more confident, more sure of himself and much more ready to take on nasties than he did before. If you watch this season from beginning to end (including The Christmas Invasion), it is Mickey not Rose who receives the most development.

And, of course, there is that ending which half of fandom will be ecstatic about and the other half will want to crawl up and die. Cybermen and DALEKS? Is this the work of a producer who wants to deliver a genuinely classic slice of Doctor Who or a man who wants heavy ratings to continue by appealing to the very thing kids will salivate over? Personally I think they can pull it off, given what I have seen so far but I can understand the scepticism, this is after all the ultimate fan wank.

It could be great, it could be dreadful but by the look of the teaser - Daleks, Cybermen, Jackie, Mickey, Jake, Pete, Rose's departure - it certainly will be one to watch!


A Review by Steve Cassidy 27/8/06

There is no doubt in my mind that Army of Ghosts is very very good.

It's a bit of an old-fashioned tale. One which could have come straight from the Perwee era. In fact, I know RTD isn't a fan of the Pertwee era but his era resembles that famed one probably more then he is comfortable with. The whole setup - a British secret organisation formed to fight the alien menace or at least uses its technology to perpetuate the British empire - could easily fit into 1970-74. Quite frankly, the idea has been done before. But to its credit perhaps not with quite enough chutzpah and verve as we see in Army of Ghosts.

There has to be an idea. This one, to sell to the tabloids, is the confrontation between two favourite Doctor Who enemies. In many ways there was a good reason why they didn't do stories like this in the past or have The Five Doctors every season. It's just too contrived, too self-consciously spectacular. It's too much of what you love. It's done, the idea has been realised - what you have had in your head for the last twenty years is finally put onto the screen. So how is that going to be topped for the next season finale? Where are the Daleks going to appear next? Which enemy are they going to fight in season 3? Whatever you think it so far has been a massive improvement on Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. This episode starts with an intriguing mystery and builds and builds until the big nasties appear at the end. A round of applause must go to Graham Harper who certainly understands Who and gives the whole production a massive kick in the pants. He was certainly the right man for the right job.

And understanding Who is the key to this thing. Whatever Julie Gardner says at the BAFTA's about "emotional journeys" Who is and always was about monsters. Its core audience has always been eight year old boys who like explosions, Daleks, and people being killed by Cybermen. My friend said he hated season 7 at the time when he was ten because it didn't have Jamie and the Cybermen. If you want to get bums on seats then a monstrous threat is what you need. And this is why this adventure works, the threat is built up all the way through the episodes. What is behind the magic door? Was that a Cyberman hiding in the shadows? It doesnt stop for yet another RTD meaningful bit of dialogue - it just ploughs on with the story and carries you with it. The only exception is the bit in the TARDIS is where Jackie says "you're beginning to look like him now..." but as the scene is so brief it works along with everything else. When handled sparingly Jackie Tyler and the Powell Estate can work within a science fiction framework.

And of course there is Torchwood. Little nuggets of information have been used through the series with the subtley of a sledgehammer. The new Torchwood series looks like it's going to be an earthbound group of individuals who all look and dress like supermodels. This is TV in 2006, Torchwood can't look like an old garage staffed by scruffy university proffessors but has to be a fashion magazine penthouse with nice views over Docklands. In fact there is something of Anna Wintour about Yvonne Hartman, a character who would have been played by Stephanie Beacham with massive shoulderpads in the eighties. I liked her, I think she was one of the best parts of the adventure. She was simply a professional who had worked her way to the top and got the job probably through efficiency and a massive streak of patriotism. The "British Empire" part was wonderfully telling, are the powers that be still aiming for greatness? Have they never forgotten we used to own a third of the world? Torchwood has a slightly sinister side which I approve of. As Tracy Ann Oberman says in Confidential - there is something of the pseudo-fascist about Yvonne Hartman. And office rule numer #1257 - anyone who mentions she is a "people person" so obviously isn't one.

The ghosts is a good lead intro and the CGI is well designed. There is a lovely part about how both sexes see their appearance. Jackie sees it as a good thing, an emotional plus as families are reunited. The Doctor looks at the big picture about how it upsets the natural balance of things and how it can only cause problems. The sense of scale we got with The Christmas Invasion is found here. And, whatever his faults, Russell T Davies writes BIG!! It was nice to see the symbols of internationally involved peril - the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. I would love to have seen what the Cybermen made of India. I've been to the Taj and they would have been a great way to deal with the hawkers and taxi drivers in Agra. One raised voice and zappp!!! And another British icon makes an appearance: Canary Wharf. With the government crisis centre in the Tower and Torchwood hiding up in Canary Wharf I can't but wonder what else is hidden away? A spaceport under Buckingham Palace? An alien infirmary under York Minster?

The production design and direction cannot be faulted. I noticed Harper gives an extra push to the proceedings allowing Oberman and Tennant to get a bit more bite into their roles. I still haven't warmed to Tennant - I think he is an OK Doctor not a great one. And I am aware that he is self-consciously "acting" the role. He is not a natural eccentric, he has to "act" it. And sometimes when he is doing it such as the "Can I have a cup of tea" scene it can take you out of the story. The enforced wackiness sometimes doesn't work; he is much better at the serious stuff such as warning them about opening the "Genesis Ark". His actions enforce the sense of foreboding about the sphere. It certainly is much better then the "ghostbusters" impression at the beginning. Yet another contemporary reference inserted in there. And what is it with RTD and Eastenders? The Peggy Mitchell/Den Watts part is thankfully brief and probably means nothing to anyone outside the United Kingdom. And Barbara Windsor, fan that I am of her, delivers her few lines atrociously.

The regulars are rather good. If someone had told me last year that I would have enjoyed Jackie Tyler tagging along I would have laughed in their faces. But here she is a pleasure, the jokes at her expense are genuinely funny and she provides a good balance to the overly pretentious Yvonne Hartman. And Rose is back to being Rose, a slightly useless but caring twenty year old who loves being part of the Doctor's operation. Gone is the supercillious and bitchy girl who was with us from Tooth and Claw to The Idiot's Lantern. The caring, down-to-earth Rose of season one seemed to come back in Fear Her. And for her penultimate story she works wonderfully and played with a certain likeability. The others do well too: Noel Clarke's return as Mickey Smith doesnt seem as contrived as it could be. In fact considering the number of people who are coming over with the Daleks/Cybermen from the alternative universe, my worry for the climax is that Torchwood Tower could become more than a little crowded as RTD shoehorns in as much season 2 continuity as he possibly can.

Less clever, and in fact a rather dubious piece of scripting by Davies, is the idea that this ultra-secret alien-bothering organisation could allow some building works to be going on right in their midst without anybody having the slightest clue that the Cybermen have set up camp down there and are snaffling up Torchwood employees as they head off for their coffee-and-kissing breaks. One wonders if this is what the Torchwood series is going to be like: gorgeous people getting off with each other and occasionally doing a bit of sci-fi. Well, there you go - what can I say?

Army of Ghosts is a good all-rounder. People have criticised it for being a "greatest hits" package. RTD lines up the cast/monsters to do their piece while everything builds for the cliffhanger. I have no problem with this. There's a reason that the Daleks and Cybermen keep coming back - they are lip-smackingly good. And to have two together battling over London is a fanboy's dream. The spectacular finale we were hopeing for. Which begs the question...

Just where do they go from here?