Army of Ghosts
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
|Production Code||Series Two Episode Thirteen|
|Dates||July 8 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: "This is the last story I'll ever tell. This is the day I died."|
The End by Joe Ford 12/8/06
Possibly the cruellest Doctor Who adventure ever filmed, certainly the most emotional and easily one of the best.
With all the hype building up around this last story I thought it could not possibly manage to live up to everything that was expected of it but to my surprise (and boy was I surprised throughout this story), it achieved something far greater than the explosive finale I was expecting, it managed to subvert all of my expectations and proved that the show can achieve more than what we have already seen. Emotionally and psychically, Doomsday never stopped pushing until I was quite exhausted in the finale few minutes. Thought Parting of the Ways was hard work? What until you get to the last five minutes of this story!
This story is not really about Daleks crossing Cybermen and having a bloody battle, it is about the classic Doctor Who approach and Russell T Davies' Doctor Who approach colliding to see which is more important to us now. I think to Russell's credit (both in strength of writing the script and driving the series) that Tyler family drama overshadows everything else in this story. Can you believe that? The fricking Daleks are firing away at the Cybermen, an awesome sight to be sure but the first moment to give me chills was when Jackie was confronted with her dead husband. Where does the drama lie within Doctor Who these days? Is it between robots shooting away or is it genuine human drama? Is one for the kids and one for the adults? It pleases me to announce that the marriage of the domestic approach (the Tyler family trying to stay alive and save the world) and the action adventure approach (the Daleks pouring from the Genesis Ark and declaring all out war on the Cybermen) works beautifully and blended together makes a superb, dramatic feast of a story which sees season two go out on a massive high.
Firstly, let's deal with the Daleks and Cybermen which was an idea that could have sunk the show had it not been pulled off well. I thought one or the other would be belittled by this script but when it comes down to they seem about as powerful as each other. I should hate the bitch off between the two species (I kept getting flashbacks to Rose and Sarah-Jane!) but I just kept making handbag gestures! Simon and I both loved it when the Dalek swung around and said, "This is not War! It is pest control!"
The Cybermen are the ones, which come out as the best tacticians, not just because of their scheme to automatically plant themselves all over the world ("This isn't a war, it's a victory.") but because they can see the potential in an alliance between the Daleks and themselves. Their line, "Daleks and Cybermen, together we could upgrade the universe" is absolutely terrifying because when you think about it, yep, they have a point. Unfortunately (and very true to character) the Daleks are the most prejudiced race in the universe and cannot even imagine joining forces with anybody to subjugate the human race. So here is a chance for the show to prove just how bloody exciting it can be these days with lots of shoot-outs and explosions! Who doesn't love that?
What impressed me most was the scale of the fight. I thought that everything would be contained in Torchwood, which would have been more than adequate for four Daleks and a bunch of Cybermen to tear each other to pieces. Personally, after Russell's comment in one confidential that because he thinks of budget all the time it limits his imagination I did not think he had it in him to bring the fight out onto the streets. So, when the Daleks start pouring out of the Genesis Ark and swooping over London and the Cybermen stomp through the streets in swarms and start firing at each other, my chin had hit the floor. Make no mistake people, this is event television but even better than that, it is event Doctor Who. And thanks to the talents of everybody involved it is visually stunning, worthy of a movie on a television budget and that might sound like a throwaway phrase but when you think about it it means something very special about the efforts the technical crew put into this show.
We have all known for a while now that it was going to be Billie Piper's last appearance in Doctor Who. This ex-pop singer who we cringed at the thought of appearing in our favourite show to start off with who has won our hearts, won awards and won the respect of the public through her intimate and definitive portrayal as Rose Tyler. What Billie has achieved is no mean feat; she managed to bring a human element to the show like no other whilst still maintaining the role of the companion, asking the right questions, fighting the monsters, etc. She managed to make Rose a extremely rounded character, one who loves adventuring, has a strong moral sense and has a strong sense of curiosity and yet still manages to be flawed, getting viscously jealous, remarkably selfish at times and a bit smug too. It has been a pleasure to join her as she has learnt all about the Doctor, the Daleks, the Time Lords, etc and made our favourite hero a very happy man indeed. Her chemistry with both Chris Eccleston and David Tennant has sparkled; making that transition of lead actor was only possible because Billie was so secure in her role to make the crossover almost effortless.
And let's not forget all the other elements that Rose has brought to the show: namely Mickey, Jackie, Pete and the Powell Estate. Together they have given the series a sense of family and place on Earth for the Doctor to return to. From the start of series three the show is going to have to totally re-invent itself again into something entirely new, making these first two years a unique block of Doctor Who all on its own. Jackie has always been a delight, her down-to-Earth attitude and willingness to stick her oar in with the awkward questions that nobody wants to ask marked her as one to watch and enjoy. Mickey is an absolute babe who made the transition from coward to hero realistically over two years, Noel Clarke's performance improving each time he appears to a point in this episode where he is giving the performance of the show. And Pete, whilst the least seen, completes the family unit here and brings everything full circle in a very satisfying manner.
Honestly, could there have been any other way for this bunch to leave? It feels different from the beginning of the episode; before, Jackie's insistence that Rose is kept safe has seemed like an overly protective mother but with these two alien races standing between them suddenly her protestations seem very real and serious. As Jackie is dragged away by the Cybermen screaming, "You promised me!" Simon covered his mouth in shock and whispered "Oh God that's horrible." Rose standing up to the Daleks is one of her all-time best moments, as she steps right up to its eyestalk and does not bat an eyelid and negotiates their survival. There are lots of scenes where Russell plays about with the possibility of Rose's death (where the Daleks and Cybermen are shooting across the room especially) and it almost seems a shame that he doesn't go through with his (apparent) promise. It would dismiss all ideas of ever seeing this character again. But what we get is much, much crueller, so emotionally cruel it reminded me strongly of Jamie and Zoe having their memories wiped at the end of The War Games (having all their adventures with the Doctor taken away from them bar one).
The solution to the Dalek/Cyberman war is ingenious and allows Rose to save the day and be separated from the Doctor at the same time; the way it all falls into place is inevitable but brilliantly dramatic. All this stuff about hanging on for dear life as the Daleks and Cybermen are sucked into the void is a fabulous SF conceit and allows them to pull off an almost-death for the character as she is sucked inside in slow motion (with an almost agonisingly painful scream from David Tennant). It probably would have been easier for Rose than being saved by her father and forced to live her life in another universe, trapped and isolated from the man she loves. Billie's performance when she realises she will never see the Doctor again is devastating, slapping the wall screaming "Take me back!" is a new emotional high for her character. The coda to this adventure that sees her with her new family (Jackie, Mickey and Pete all holding hands in a tender scene) travelling across the world to follow the Doctor's voice is beautiful; it is lovely to see that these people will all have each other and will be there to heal Rose's bruises. How would you fit everything you have to say in two minutes? The Doctor and Rose's goodbye really tugs at the heartstrings, tears flow and we finally hear those words that we knew all along. Tennant and Piper have always clicked well, but this is electrifying.
After re-watching Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel I was awed by Graeme Harper's astonishingly visual direction but less convinced by his ability to capture the emotion of the situation but Doomsday elevates him to a true A-list Doctor Who director. His ability to marry the emotional and exciting here makes for an intoxicating brew; he provides the gob-smacking visuals that we crave but still leaves room for the actors to have their moment and prove why they are such a vital part of the show. There are so many little touches that I love; the lighting shift as they jump universes, seeing the Dalek and the Cyberman from each others point of view, the tear of oil that slips from one Cyberman's eye, the Doctor's slow-motion scream, the entire sequence on the bridge, the Cybermen marching in formation around the corner shot from such a high angle... and how the show drops the pace entirely to give the characters adequate time to say goodbye. The last five minutes proves without a shadow of doubt that Harper is just as good at human drama with some glorious location work. Murray Gold's music during these sequences is all the better for being understated and it is easily his best work on the series to date, Rose's choral theme is used to superb emotional effect.
So there you have it, the end of a rather impressive era. It sucks that we will never see these characters again but it pleases me to see them go out in such style and in such a satisfying manner. The Tyler family were a great contribution to the Doctor Who mythos, they allowed us to see stories that we have seen a million times before in a brand new light. Jackie's mouth will be missed, Mickey's growth too. But most of all I will miss the exciting and warm partnership between the Doctor and Rose.
Everything is coming up Doctor! by Steve Cassidy 13/4/07
Doomsday is a very hard adventure to review.
It tries to do so many different things. It has to pit the pepperpots against the silver giants, it has to be significant conclusion to the rather good Army of Goats, er, sorry - I mean Ghosts, and it has to write out a memorable companion convincingly. It achieves most of these things and is an enjoyable adventure that provides a suitable climax to series 2. It's not as good as the aforementioned adventure and the last ten minutes are so slushy it resembles an advert for fabric softener' but it's an entertaining piece, though not a classic by any means.
With the audience hooked on the cliffhanger from last week, RTD has to ratchet up the action. And, to be frank, the man thinks big and has a big enough budget behind him to envisage what he writes on the page. When he writes "millions of Daleks shoot through the London sky raining laser bolts down on civilians", he is lucky enough to employ enough extras and more importantly computer generated imagery for that to happen. For there are some astonishing images in this one. As Jackie, the Doctor et al look down from Canary Wharf the whole of the City and Docklands is raging with explosions and fire. The sight of hundreds of Cybermen not just stomping down a suburban street but breaking into people's houses and terrorising them is a harrowing one for the children. Never mind the Yeti on the toilet in Tooting Bec, 5 million Cybermen in Rotherhithe is just as scary.
Director Graeme Harper understands how to use the Cybermen, but they are outmatched by their new foes. Some controversy has been generated by the fact that not only are the Cybermen soundly thrashed by the Daleks, but they don't even manage to scratch a single one of them; personally, I have no issues with this. The Daleks have always been portrayed as more technologically advanced than the Cybermen, which have often been depicted as desperate scavengers on the verge of extinction, and lest we forget these are not the Mondasians of old but a new breed of Cybermen from a contemporary parallel Earth. This has the benefit of allowing Davies to up the stakes mid-way through the story; the appearance of the Cybermen in this story was well-signposted in advance, but their mass invasion of Earth makes for an impressive and awesome threat, as the Doctor grimly notes, "It's not an invasion, it's too late for that. It's a victory."
And yet just as the odds seem overwhelming, Davies increases the sense of menace as the Void Ship opens at the end of Army of Ghosts and four Daleks appear from within. I had read enough speculation prior to watching the episode to be expecting this, but it still makes for a fantastic cliffhanger, the tension building rapidly as the Doctor puzzles that the sphere is beyond the Cybermen's technological abilities and the Cyber Leader informs him, "The sphere is not ours", prompting the alarmed, "Then what's inside it?"
With the Daleks unleashed, Davies then gets to showcase the differences between them nicely; we have the ruthlessly logical Cybermen, who suggest an alliance with the Daleks, with the cringe-worthy line, "Together we could upgrade the universe!" and who subsequently side briefly with the humans and the Doctor when faced with a more powerful mutual threat once the Daleks refuse. I'm not convinced Davies is a great writer of Daleks; he understands them, yes - ie the picking of the three (Mickey, Rose and Raj) who is the least use (I'd have picked Rose myself) when they first arrived. But some of his dialogue for them is terrible. The Cyber Leader's, "You have declared war on the Cybermen" is countered with the queeny putdown, "This is not war. This is pest control!" Yeah - whatever, girlfriend.
But despite the flash-bang wallops of the real crowdpleasers, RTD concentrates more on the Rose saga. We knew she was going since the start of the series and we have been teased repeatedly with "This is the story of my death" and looking suitably miserable and windswept on a wintry beach. The more imaginative of us thought this was heaven or a place of the afterlife but we should have guessed it was the alternative earth (complete with an alternative Norway, or Wales pretending to be Norway). And that the companion who is defined more then any other by her relationships with family leaves in an appropriate way surrounded by the people she loves. Because Rose has been rather unloveable this series only returning to the caring loving girl of series one in Fear Her. And as expected her goodbye scenes with the Doctor are laden with emotion.
But let's not forget that RTD is first and foremost a character writer, and he's been oiling his sledgehammer all series for the reuniting of Pete and Jackie, and Rose's departure. The meeting between Pete and Jackie was one of the most jarring moments of the whole series as the plot absolutely freezes dead, and starts again later - as I've said before, effective characterisation shouldn't require the sacrifice of other elements of the story. Rose's teary-eyed departure scene is better in the way it's integrated into the story, but it's overcooked to the point it starts to resemble a scene from "Beaches"; the second time I watched it it went on so long I was begging for the appearance of Katherine Tate. And Lordy, I never thought I'd think that.
So it ties up season 2. The ongoing theme of Torchwood is there (and Tracy Ann Oberman gets a terrific death scene - head held high doing it all for patriotism. Is she related to Trenchard I wonder?) Jackie and Pete live happily ever after as millionaires, Mickey has a purpose in life. And Rose? Her final goodbye to the Doctor is cloying, but hardly unexpected; after several episodes of avoiding the subject, she finally blurts out, "I love you". Mercifully the Doctor disappears before he can reciprocate.
Doomsday is enjoyable; nothing more, nothing less. We have to wait until Christmas for our next fix of Who. And it features a bizarre lovechild between a 43 year old science fiction programme and the current BBC darling commedienne. Will it work? Well, I bet we all watch to find out...
This is Doomsday indeed for Doctor Who by Benjamin Bland 14/7/07
Well Series 2\Season 29 whatever you want to call it of Doctor Who is over. David Tennant has given us a brand new brilliance to cheer about in his role as the Doctor. Billie Piper has continued to amaze us by actually being able to act and some silver C-3POs have popped up occasionally pretending to be Cybermen. Oh and the Doctor snogged Sophia Myles, Madame De Pompadour. The episode which prings the series to a close was the second part of the two parter beginning with Army Of Ghosts, a dreadfully slow piece of RTD writing which didn't do much except to prove that Jackie Tyler was a complete nitwit and introduce the Daleks in a mercifully rubbish storyline, I haven't even started on the Cybermen yet. I shall now press my points in numbered bullet points thingys.
A Guilty Pleasure by Hugh Sturgess 16/0/07
Well, the one-year spoiler rule on New Series episodes has expired, so, at last, I can say whatever I want. But for those who still haven't seen this episode, read on only at your peril: the spoiler demons will eat you all up. Of course, I'm just making that up...
If Parting of the Ways was the visual equivalent of a fruitcake - thick, dark and mostly delicious (and full of nuts, as well) - then Doomsday is logically a big pile of sugary cakes, on plates made of raw sugar with extra sugary coating served by waitresses made of giant pancakes. It has, as I'm sure we can all admit, a plot that makes the bare minimum of sense, is very shallow and blatantly gets its drama out of the sucker-punch moments like Dalek Thay bashing up Cybermen and Jackie meeting Pete. If there ever was an example of a Doctor Who story going for a crude commercial exploitative plot - in this case Daleks vs. Cybermen - this is it. Can we forgive it?
Well, Benjamin Bland, Mike Morris and Thomas Cookson - to name but three - obviously can't, and I can understand (though Tom makes the mistake of saying 'bovvered' in his review title: a tactical and strategic faux pas to rival the Tet offensive). Although I'm speculating wilfully, I'd say that those who persistently dislike Doomsday look more at the acting and the script than perhaps the ones that don't (that sounds nasty for the ones that like Doomsday, but I'll explain) and are outraged at the flagrant populism of the story's key concept. The ones that do like it, aside from those sad fan-boys who wouldn't say (for instance) 'I think Doomsday is a good story because it achieves a great balance between action and emotion' and would say (equally for instance) 'I think Doomsday must be a good story because the Daleks fight the Cybermen' instead, are looking at the holistic overview a bit more: the way the episode as a whole feels, in terms of design, acting, music, script, and so forth. And if Doomsday has one thing to recommend it, it is that it has what I will call, facetiously, the unity of vision. (Please note that, if you do look at the 'holistic view' and still despise or are mildly ambivalent at best towards Doomsday, I'm really very sorry and please tell me about it, I'd really like to know.)
(N.B. Here, I'm only talking about grown-ups, naturally (that's a mental and psychological state: children can be grown-ups and vice versa - for instance, Craig Hinton is (or was) a big child). Most children would like this story. For God's sake, come on, the Daleks meet the Cybermen! Hooray!)
Watched again, the following spring, it was still as exciting and as punch-the-air good as the first time, if not better. It's vastly inferior to Parting of the Ways, and Last of the Time Lords is arguably a more accomplished script (yet let down with some ill-advised music, which sounds like a silent-movie pianist trying to do it on an organ), but it manages to hold its own simply because of one important factor: the unity of vision. Everyone here is at the top of their game: Russell writing plenty of good dialogue and a solid flow to the script if not substance; Billie, Noel and Camille giving performances so good you realise just how much you'll miss them (I have to say I miss Jackie most), and David doing a surprisingly subdued portrayal for his shaky first series. Tracy Ann Obermann is sublime as Yvonne Hartman, mixing benevolent-yet-super-efficient-boss with crypto-fascist (and her response to the Cyberman's reference to a 'central world authority' - 'oh, do some research: we haven't got a "central world authority"' - is just so brilliant), and her upgrading really is quite horrific, simply due to the power of her performance: full of fear, full of horror and full of guilt and yet still maintaining the fanaticism of the patriot-fascist (effectively synonyms anyway). She confidently walks right into the Cyber-saw, repeating that she 'did her duty for Queen and country'. An amazingly subtle character, for all the Dalek vs. Cyberman stuff going on. And, for possibly the last time, Murray Gold's music is fab.
The script is so competent - no, that's doing it an injustice: Doomsday is driven by such a well-timed, well-executed dynamic that you can see the structure of the story even if you have the sound off. The commentary podcast on the BBC website has Russell talking about the geography of the story ('the "L" shape to the story') and how he constructed the story (deciding where to stop to talk about voidstuff and his cringe over the way the story suddenly stops when Jackie meets Pete), as well as immediately saying 'how are you, Phil, keep you clothes on' afterward, so it's not all plot mechanics. The commentary really helps you see the way the story has been constructed, and that story has, surprisingly, perhaps, been put together so well that the structure - the aforementioned 'L' shape - should be enough to win awards. It may be exploitative - with heartstrings and Dalek-Cyberman punch-ups in consecutive scenes - but it is also so super-aware of the conventions of Doctor Who - and television itself - and, more crucially, how the viewer responds to those conventions, that even the otherwise syrupy and cack-handed Jackie-meets-Pete scene makes some kind of sense even if it's almost inept at the same time.
No review of the 'holistic view' could be complete without a look at the previous week's cliffhanger, which must stand as possibly the best cliffhanger in the show's history, simply because of the same well-timed, well-executed dynamic. We see the Voidship splitting open like a ripe fruit and Rose, Mickey and Rajesh ready to face whatever is inside; then the CyberLeader telling the Doctor that the sphere isn't theirs and its origin is unknown; then Mickey saying 'that's not Cybermen'. This, in itself, would be a great cliffhanger, but it continues from there. With the best 'apocalypse' choral music Murray Gold has done (and, unless he recovers his honour and aesthetic judgement, ever will), four Daleks emerge from the sphere (Rose (totally horrified): "Oh my God.") bristling, buzzing, swivelling with fury. Even the otherwise cliched 'exterminate' chant manages to be dramatic.
The Daleks, themselves, are fantastic. The best thing about the Daleks in the New Series is their characters. The Cult of Skaro here, at least, feels like a bunch of characters, even more so than the Dalek in Series 1. The dialogue between the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Doctor manage to be soulless, crazy and funny, all at once. And, in the mythology of the New Series, it is so appropriate that the Daleks comprehensively quash the Cybermen, almost as an afterthought. In the old series, the Daleks had lost so much of their power by the end that making them having a civil war (which is, admittedly, an interesting concept) was possible, but here it would be so demeaning and inappropriate if they were even slightly inconvenienced by the Cybermen. Instead, they destroy them without even breaking a sweat. When the Cult bursts into the main Torchwood's hangar and the Ark activates, they basically glide straight into the Cybermen / Torchwood's biggest stronghold, SIMPLY SO THEY CAN GET INTO THE OUTSIDE WORLD. They have so little regard for the Cyber-horde that they don't even confront them, so to speak. To say that it's 'Daleks vs. Cybermen' is inaccurate: the Daleks are superior to the Cybermen on every level (except, as Dalek Sec says, dying) and they know it. It is no more a Dalek-Cyberman war than humanity could declare war on gravity, or the colour blue.
I have to say that the Daleks are my favourite characters. Almost every line they are given to say is quotable, most particularly the initial Dalek-Cyberman tete a tete and then Sec paying out the CyberLeader. They are post-modern (Thay, rather self-consciously, admits that 'Daleks have no concept of elegance'), funny ('this is not war, this is pest-control') and even achieve that particular kind of humour/cool achieved only by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sigorney Weaver ('you are superior in only one respect: you are better at dying'). Against these hard bastards, the Cybermen - who can only say 'delete' and explode when they feel anything - don't have a chance. After their first meeting, Thay feels able to declare the 'Cyber-threat' is irrelevant, and he's never proved wrong.
Despite the way the story stops at points to allow moments of emotional stuff (most notably Jackie's meeting with Pete) and the commercialised way that the story has been conceived, it has a strong idea about how stories should move and overall manages to keep moving, even with Jake stating the obvious in a macho way (he tells his troopers that the Cybermen download files from one into another, when surely they should know that already) and Shaun Dingwall overplaying every line. The only exception is the much-mentioned Jackie-Pete scene, as the previous scene ends with people running away and it all stops. Then the scene after that, it's the Daleks absorbing the Cyber-firepower and casually shooting them, and the Doctor's party act as though they haven't wasted all this time chatting.
I haven't really discussed the departure of Rose at all, so I will here. Despite all the chat about Rose dying (especially from the Beast, who had presumably seen the end of Doomsday and knew what was going to happen, the tease), I doubt that many people genuinely thought Rose would die. It's the wrong feel for this series. How could anyone kill Rose Tyler? I'm sure everyone in the audience was expecting some cunning and ingenious way for Rose to escape her fate, only to find that the 'death' is dealt with in a throwaway line at the end. The ultimate fate of Rose is rather like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. At the conclusion, the two main characters are forced to separate and live in separate universe to protect the whole multiverse. The only thing I have an issue with is that it isn't like it enough. The Doctor and Rose are separated by accident, which just seems a bit random, a bit ad hoc. If they'd had to choose to separate, to protect the universe over their love for each other, it would have been perfect; so agonising, so cruel, so powerful. Instead, this feels a bit like a gratuitous piece of chance, something that could so easily have been avoided. If it had seemed inevitable and inescapable - like death itself - I would have had more than just mild ambivalence for the conclusion.
And, as a final word on the story, the twist at the end. People have said that it doesn't live up at all to Russell's promise of a 'colossal cliffhanger', but I have to assume that Russell was really talking about the cliffhanger to episode 12, and got a little confused, the silly old duffer. Then again, his worst fears might have been realised, and the production team, indeed, couldn't get it all on film.
Next season, 42 would try to lift itself above the other sci-fi dross of its ilk by including a 24-style ticking clock, but failing because they chronically misunderstood that what makes 24 exciting is the pace, not the clock. The Shakespeare Code tried to be a romp, but ended up just being a flat and boring stage-set, and 42 ends up much the same. 24 'works' because it is consistently breathless and has a genuinely modern idea as to what 'adventure' is. No one watching 42 would find any of this consistently breathless or remotely adventurous. Instead, Doomsday shows what 'breathless' and 'adventure' mean. It was, and remains, a guilty pleasure.