New Earth
Tooth and Claw
School Reunion
Rise of the Cybermen
The Age of Steel
The Idiot's Lantern
The Impossible planet
The Satan Pit
Love and Monsters
Fear Her
Army of Ghosts
New Series Season Two


A half of Tennant's by John Nor 8/6/06

With episode seven now aired, we are now halfway through the second season of New Series Doctor Who. Once again, like last season, we have an episode seven as a calm in the storm, an island sheltering us from the fairly radical new kind of stories that Russell T has been brewing.

I am going to review David Tennant's first season so far, from the viewpoint of this island, and to talk in general of what makes these new kind of stories new, and also to discuss these new-fangled "arcs". As I write it is 04 June 2006, and I plan to watch The Impossible Planet this Sunday evening. (For the first time in the New Series I have not watched it on transmission, so I could finish writing this review still on the "island"!)

In both of the New Series seasons so far, Russell T appears to have structured the stories so we can catch our breath in the middle of the run with a fairly simple tale. Perhaps also to reassure long time fans that at the heart of the season, it is still the same as the old Classic Who. Episode seven of Season One, The Long Game, was the most Classic Who of that season: the Doctor stirs up revolution in a repressive society, vanquishes the minion and the monster, then leaves in the TARDIS, job done. In The Idiot's Lantern (Season Two's episode seven) the revolution was on a more domestic scale, but still the monster(s) and minion were vanquished in a very Classic style.

As we have New Series Season One to look back upon, I will compare the structure of that season with the present one, to better review what has gone before in Season Two and to speculate on what is to come.

All of the New Series episodes so far can be viewed as "high concept" stories. By that I mean the story can be summarised in a sentence. Of course Classic Who could sometimes be viewed like this also ("The Doctor meets vampires!") but what makes the New Series different is that some of the time the most important thing for the Concept is Character not Plot. Also, by accident or design, the first six episodes of each New Series Season comprise of the same basic "high concept" episodes.

Both seasons begin with a tale that is firmly a character story of our two heroes: the Doctor and Rose. What plot there is hardly matters and is there to frame the relationship. The concept is: meet our heroes, this is what their relationship is. (Rose, New Earth.) Of course, the relationship is very different at the start of each season. These relationships are also significant in beginning the arcs of each season, which I will discuss later.

Later in the seasons, we also have that trusty plot template from Classic Who: the Victorian or Edwardian House of Horror. (Tooth and Claw, The Unquiet Dead.)

It's a bank holiday weekend and it's time for the return of a Classic Icon, with a new emotional spin and a focus on character! (School Reunion, Dalek.)

Each season has an episode where the Doctor's character is deepened through a poignant meeting with a woman (or tree!) aboard a Douglas Adamsesque spacecraft. (The Girl in the Fireplace, The End of the World.)

Each season in its first half has a two-parter with a strong plot concept: present day Earth (or "Earth") is invaded. (The Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel, Aliens of London/World War Three.) Character development still features as Rose's extended family are brought into each story.

(This can also describe the stand alone New Series Christmas Special, The Christmas Invasion. That story does exactly what it says on the tin.)

With episode seven in each, as described at the start of this review, the plot concept is: revolution is started, monster is deposed.

So, seven episodes, and because of the two-parters, six stories. On the whole, using the same six concepts, generally New Series Season Two just about has the edge over Season One, making slightly better use of them most of the time. Where does Season Two not better Season One? Well, with New Earth, so much energy is focused on character you are almost distracted from the shoddy plot, but not quite, making New Earth the only real disappointment of the New Series so far.

The Victorian episodes of each are both very good stories, each weaving fascinating actual historical elements (the reading tours of Charles Dickens, the Koh-i-Noor) into the plot mechanics. These stories are both fairly Classic in style, with the plots to the fore.

School Reunion (with the return of Sarah Jane and K9) is excellent, a triumph for the New Series, but then again so was Dalek. Both of these episodes highlight the continuation from the Classic series, while also highlighting the brand new character-focused aspect of the New.

With The Girl in the Fireplace, we have another triumph. It was amazing to watch the first four episodes week by week, as starting from the frankly iffy New Earth, each episode bettered the last. You may not immediately see the similarities between The Girl in the Fireplace and The End of the World, but the tone is very similar. In each, past conventions regarding the Doctor are ignored and the character is made more mysterious once more. With The End of the World, forget all that convoluted nonsense with Cassandra; the real story that was being told was that of the Doctor. He is the last of the Time Lords and he is lonely. That is why he shows Rose her planet dying. So she can relate. Chicks are suckers for the moody loners though, as Jabe the tree would agree. So, with The Girl in the Fireplace, we revisit this idea, and again with a backdrop that owes a lot to the late, great Douglas Adams. I don't have the space to go into detail about this here, so I will briefly mention "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" and the fact that the horse is called Arthur.

Why Adams for these type of stories? Is it because THE Adams story, City of Death, is a romantic romp around Paris?

I am focusing a lot on The Girl in the Fireplace here as it is one of the more significant stories for the arcs I perceive in New Series Season Two (which as I have said I will discuss later), just as The End of The World was significant for the arcs of Season One. The Girl in the Fireplace is a better story than The End of the World, because the plot of clockwork robots visiting pre-revolutionary France is so much more satisfying than the plot of Cassandra, and the character development for the Doctor is even more surprising and handled even more subtly and beautifully, and is integrated smoothly into the plot.

The Cybermen two-parter wins out over the Slitheen two-parter as it has fewer moments where you are jolted out of the storytelling by overt socio-political subtext, or ... farts, and the production design is just so damn good with the return of the Cybers.

Maureen Lipman and Simon Pegg are both star turns in their episode sevens, but Maureen Lipman is the icing on the cake of the enjoyable The Idiot's Lantern, while Pegg is the best thing about the otherwise dreary The Long Game.

So here we are on the island of episode seven again. A perfect place to view the arcs so far of New Series Season Two. Classic Who had arcs too, but they were very much plot-based, such as the Key to Time. (An exception is the wonderful Classic Season Eighteen with its abstract themes of change and decay.) New Series Who, with its sometimes character-based story concepts, has its arcs following the character development of the Doctor and Rose.

New Series Season One had the arcs for our heroes of "Lonely wounded wanderer is healed by traveling with Rose" and "Rose, by traveling with the Doctor, comes to see just how Fantastic life can be". What are the arcs for Season Two? As I mentioned previously, the concept for the first episode of each season is: meet our heroes, this is what their relationship is. In the case of New Earth, following from Season One, it is carefree and joyful travelers in time and space. Everything is now wonderful. The Doctor is now healed, he is New New, he is reborn. Rose is loving the traveling lifestyle, everything is Fantastic, and will be forever or so she thinks. Hmmm. This episode is fairly Edenic in more ways than one.

An apparently throwaway line in New Earth is one where Cassandra confirms that the Doctor has all the normal "parts" thank you very much, answering in a roundabout way Jackie's prurient question of the preceding Christmas Special "Anything else he's got two of?". So, unlike Action Man, the Doctor does not have a smooth pair of plastic underpants. Pay attention, this is important for later. Also of significance is Cassandra verbalising Rose's thoughts. Rose has the hots for the Doc.

How do the arcs progress, will they progress? Well, in Tooth and Claw, we see just how cocky the time-traveling twosome are getting, with Queen Victoria foreshadowing some sort of come-uppance by banishing them. I should say at this point that I have generally been avoiding, for the moment, all the acres of surrounding previews in the Radio Times, DWMagazine, and the various Doctor Who related BBC programming like Confidential. However, as an exception, I did watch The Idiot's Lantern Confidential, where at the end Russell T implied there would be some sort of nemesis to their hubris, but I quickly tuned out. There may well be a Radio Times preview out there which says something like, episode nine, the Doctor and Rose get their come-uppance, but I wouldn't know!

The publicity machine of Doctor Who is another thing that emphasises the two halves of this season. All the various previews that you could not avoid absorbing if you had the vaguest interest in Doctor Who gave us glimpses of the first six episodes well in advance. Anything beyond episode seven I am still blissfully ignorant about, partly because I have been trying to avoid the previews, partly because the publicity machine decided that the first six episodes were the ones it was going to publicise relentlessly by every media known to man. The one fact I do know is an alien planet is next.

Going back to the arcs and School Reunion, here we see depth being added to the Doctor-Rose relationship. So Rose is not the first companion she finds out. Companions come and go, but the lonely Doctor travels on.

The Girl in the Fireplace builds on the themes begun in the previous episode. The lonely Doctor learns to dance with another of Rose's potential rivals.

So the arcs so far are: "The reinvigorated Doctor is so reinvigorated by Rose he learns to dance, but will his dancing lead him away from Rose?" and "Rose discovers the flipside to the Fantastic life" and I am guessing that these will be developed further after episode seven.

The Cybermen two-parter doesn't continue the Doctor's arc much (apart from a jealous remark from Rose about a waitress) but does add to the downward spiral for Rose as she now appreciates that she can't always have a happy ending.

The Idiot's Lantern takes us off the emotional rollercoaster for a solid piece of Classic-style Who and here we are again on the calm island of episode seven, looking forward.

So question one is: (counting two-parters as one story) will the remaining four stories continue the trend and have the same sort of plot or character concepts as the last four of the last season? As the very next story is a fully-fledged alien planet (a new situation for the New Series) possibly not, but it will be interesting to watch out for this season's Boom Town, one that has minimum plot and maximum character.

Question two is: where do the arcs go from here? Just how bad will the flipside get for Rose? Will the reinvigorated Doctor dance again? Going by story titles alone, it looks like Love & Monsters might be significant.

I can't wait to find out. We are now casting off from the island towards The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit.

Supplement, 22/6/07:

I am writing this supplement on the afternoon before Smith and Jones airs on TV, which will begin the 2007 season.

I thought it was about time I answered the questions I set myself about the 2006 Season, as we are about to launch into the next.

In the first half of this review I asked...

Question one: "(counting two-parters as one story) will the remaining four stories [of the 2006 Season] continue the trend and have the same sort of plot or character concepts as the last four of the last [2005] season?"

Question two: "where do the arcs go from here?"

I also said: "just how bad will the flipside get for Rose? Will the reinvigorated Doctor dance again? Going by story titles alone, it looks like Love & Monsters might be significant."

Looking back at the 2006 Season now, Love & Monsters did indeed turn out to be significant, in more ways than one. Love & Monsters could be said to be the season's central theme.

Answering question one: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit can be compared to The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Both stories are the scariest of their seasons, but perhaps more importantly they both examine how the Doctor approaches his relationships with his companions. But which is the better story? Even though the 2006 Season story has one of the greatest moments ever in Doctor Who, as the Doctor discusses his beliefs while dangling over the pit, the sheer quality of every aspect of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, from the peerless script to the production design means that I suggest the 2005 Season story is even more wonderful.

Then, Love & Monsters. The counterpart from the 2005 Season for this one is Boom Town. They both push the envelope of Doctor Who, stretch an already elastic format, and both prove controversial with the fans. For its sheer audacity, I would say Love & Monsters trumps Boom Town.

Next, Fear Her. Although Father's Day attempts to be a much larger, more iconic story, at heart both stories examine the Doctor as father figure, one metaphorically, one literally, as Fear Her has a surprising revelation. I don't rate either of these stories massively highly, but I prefer Father's Day as Fear Her was slightly disappointing amongst the much stronger surrounding episodes.

So, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. Like Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, classic monsters introduced halfway through the season return for the finale. Daleks in the 2005 season. Cybermen in the 2006 season. Both stories were also an emotional goodbye to one of the season's leads. Which was the better finale? Army of Ghosts/Doomsday was, as it had the confidence to keep the pandering to a broad audience (e.g. Bad Wolf) to a proper level.

Question two: "where do the arcs go from here?"

To answer this question, I will sketch out a framework here, (for one interpretation), a framework that I will elaborate on in a further review.

The 2006 Season - a mythic reading.

Episodes 1 and 2: A Warning in Paradise.

New Earth is presented as an Eden for our couple. They are carefree and joyful. Tooth and Claw ends with a warning from Queen Victoria, who banishes them. But they are not quite banished from their Eden yet.

Episodes 3 and 4: Trouble in Paradise.

Both these episodes present Rose with the reality that she is Not The Only One. Trouble is brewing, as Eve meets her Lilith(s). School Reunion. The Girl in the Fireplace.

Episodes 5 and 6: Paradise Lost.

The TARDIS is cast out of the universe, along with Doctor and Rose. (Is this just a coincidence that it follows the Doctor's "knowledge" of Madame Pompadour?) The Doctor-Rose relationship is in turmoil as she runs to her Dad. After losing her Dad again though, and Mickey, who does she then run to? Her Mum. The Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel.

Episode 7: Travelling on (i).

Things are soon smoothed over, and this is a traditional Doctor Who adventure - the norm. The Idiot's Lantern.

Episode 8 and 9: The Doctor in the Wilderness.

Here the Doctor stops and questions his beliefs. Should he settle down? Confronting Satan helps him think.

Episode 10: Love, Monsters.

Stepping back to take in the big picture. Love & Monsters. The theme of the season.

Episode 11: Travelling on (ii).

Another traditional Doctor Who adventure - the norm. But will things stay the same forever? Fear Her.

Episodes 12 and 13: The End.

Rose's turn now to be cast out of the universe as she learn's that change is the nature of the world. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.

Russell T. Davies is not the only writer to get inspiration from the Old and New Testament, and he also seems to have read other writers who have (e.g. Phillip Pullman!) But there are deeper myths before the Old and New Testament which are reflected in these new Doctor Who seasons, which I will expand upon in a further review, as I have said.

This is just one reading of New Series Season Two. We have Russell T Davies to thank for bringing the Doctor back in such an enjoyable, multi-layered manner.

A Review by Tal Hazelden 17/8/06

28.0 The Christmas Invasion The return of Colin Baker's Doctor! Shake it up, Mr. Tennant! When I die, I want to be killed by a Christmas tree.

28.1 New Earth Some fun cat nuns.

28.2 Tooth and Claw We're not amused.

28.3 School Reunion I've waited for this story for twenty-four years, and didn't even know it. Good for you, Sarah Jane Smith! Is this plot Time and the Rani done right?

28.4 The Girl in the Fireplace Thank you, Stephen Moffat. You've brought magic, love and charming story-telling back to Doctor Who. Bless you.

28.5 Rise of the Cybermen "Just like you did with the Daleks." - Ace (1988) Should this not be titled Genesis of the Revelation of the Attack of the Rise of the Cybermen?

28.6 The Age of Steel Cybermen never looked cooler, but some sound like they're wearing flip-flops. When are these good iconic villains ever going to get a great story? When will the Cybermen shine?

28.7 The Idiot's Lantern Looks great.

28.8 The Impossible Planet Manichean fun survives exposition. Where's Maximillian?

28.9 The Satan Pit Feels like a big script that, after filming, was edited down to the bare bones. The Doctor questioning his beliefs was refreshing.

28.10 Love & Monsters How are we supposed to take a Who narrative seriously when the main characters don't? And there's no escaping this; a person transformed into a quadriplegic flagstone is never anything but tragic horror. It's like one big sick joke.

28.11 Fear Her A primer horror story for young folks with a twist. Not unwatchable. Cute even.

28.12 Army of Ghosts I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts, neither. Smells like fanwank.

28.13 Doomsday It is fanwank. Although, hoovering up Daleks is way cool.

A Review by Billy Barron 4/11/06

I came into this with New Series Season One being my favorite season in the history of Doctor Who, but that's a separate review. Unfortunately, I can't say Season Two topped it.

A few things stayed the same. The effects were great. The lighting remains the best I've ever seen on TV anywhere hands down. Jackie was the same ole Jackie. Everything else is different.

First, the Doctor himself. Tennant is a wonderfully wacky Doctor that is fun to watch. You never know what he is going to do/say next, which is great. But his weakness is that he seems like he is a fanboy playing the Doctor. This was especially true in School Reunion. Overall, he would rank somewhere in the middle of the pack (4th to 6th best Doctor) in my book so far in a grouping with Troughton and McCoy.

Now, let's hit the first big problem of Season Two: Rose. Her character was essential to Season One, but in Season Two, she turned into typical companion. The old Rose vanished for good after Tooth and Claw. After that, she and the Doctor would sometimes talk about their relationship, but I didn't see/buy it. The Doctor seemed to have a different love interest in The Girl in the Fireplace. Then basically from the last few minutes of The Impossible Planet through Doomsday, the Doctor and Rose had very little screen time together. That's almost half the season.

I think Billie Piper did fine as an actress. I blame this issue on the writing. I think the writing lost what the character was.

The episodes were very inconsistent:

The 2005 Children in Need special: not critical in the big picture, but a fun few minutes.

The Christmas Invasion: One day someone will write a really good regeneration story, but this one was like all the rest. Inconsistent. Still, it was above-average Doctor Who. The big button moment was a gas.

New Earth: Ho hum. 10 years from now, this will be an episode like Underworld, which though I've seen probably 3-4 times, I cannot remember.

Tooth and Claw: the absolute highlight of the season. Going into this episode, I was expecting complete disaster: Queen Victoria, Kung Fu Monks, werewolves. Talk about a bad combination on paper, but wow it worked. Tennant/Piper's chemistry at its peak. Scary, exciting, laughs and plenty of fun. Might rank it in the top 10 episodes of all times; definite top 20.

School Reunion: Tried to cram too much into too little space. Every part of it didn't get adequate attention. Though I love Sarah Jane and K9, another ho-hum episode.

The Girl in the Fireplace: Didn't work for me. If Rose and the Doctor are so tight, then why he is having an affair? I'd rather not dwell on the other half-dozen things I didn't like. I won't be rewatching this episode.

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel: The Cybermen have a great marching sound. The parallel universe aspect was played well. One of the better stories of the season.

The Idiot's Lantern: Another forgettable story.

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit: The Impossible Planet had the best setup of the season. Tense, interesting, and all the characters were well designed and acted. Too bad The Satan Pit didn't deliver. I swear I've fought Satan in that exact pit in some video game before (Gauntlet?). Still, on the whole, the second-best story of the year.

Love and Monsters: Possibly the most daring story in the history of the show. I'm just not sure it was a Doctor Who story. Jackie was just great. Fun to watch once, but I'm not sure I'd watch it again, since I know its wacky angle on things. The last scene hinted a little too much into the weird sex category for Doctor Who. This isn't LEXX!

Fear Her: Hmmmm... Didn't I just see this when it was called The Idiot's Lantern? Still this was a much-improved version.

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday: I can't believe I'm complaining about this on a Doctor Who story, but this thing is nothing more than a bunch of plot holes strung together. I'd love to discuss them but won't due to the no-spoiler rule. Still, the trash-talking scene is absolutely brilliant.

So in the end, I found this season to be an average Doctor Who season. Two great episodes (Tooth and Claw, The Impossible Planet) and then a host of so-so ones. On the plus side, there was no The Ultimate Foe, The Web Planet or The King's Demons level of awfulness.

I'm hoping getting a new companion will help with Season Three because it was clear that the writers didn't know what to do with Rose. Also, if they are going to do subtle story arcs, the Bad Wolf one was brilliant (if you ignore the time paradox issue) but Torchwood was a complete dud.

A Review by Mike Morris 12/1/07

There was a point, just after the broadcast of New Earth, when I thought it was all over. A Doctor Who story had been broadcast with a smug, camp edge that fell apart into incoherence in the last fifteen minutes, more through a crowd-pleasing desire to throw as many elements as possible into the mix rather than anything else. It seemed cataclysmic, an example of the programme becoming smug and cosy that suggested that the New Series was already on the decline. Dear oh dear.

As it turned out, the next few stories firmly dispelled my fears, but I now feel the same sense of trepidation as The Runaway Bride approaches. It's entirely possible that it's Going To Be Great, but for the first time in a while I'm worried by new Doctor Who and I'm not actually looking forward to the next episode. Hmm.

Series Two has a number of fantastic episodes and it would be silly to claim otherwise. As one of those I Heart Love & Monsters people, there was a positive spike towards the end for me, and up until The Idiot's Lantern it was all going rather swimmingly. But, in the final analysis, there seem to be some creeping trends in the programme that are becoming more and more problematic.

Series Two's boundaries are a little vague, but I'm going to stretch the definition backwards to include The Christmas Invasion. Technically correct, perhaps, although actually The Christmas Invasion is a rather strange beast that manages to bridge the gap between the two series very effectively. It's effective in the way that it rounds off the themes of Series One and uses them to set up something obviously new; the clearest example being the way that Tennant, at the conclusion, sits down to dinner with the Tyler family (as opposed to Eccleston refusing to do so, point-blank, at the end of World War Three). The Doctor notes at the end of the episode that "I haven't seen any of them before, not with these eyes." If Eccleston was the jaded Doctor, Tennant's been reinvigorated and - quite literally - reborn. More impressive, and so well established, was the duplicitous and untrustworthy side to him; his nasty stripping of Harriet Jones' power (which does make me want to childishly point to my review of Aliens of London/World War Three and say see, see, told you so), largely by having a "quiet word with the boys" behind her back, was an indication that this Doctor was hard on the inside (and brilliantly played by Tennant, bringing to mind his weaselly performances in Harry Potter and Secret Smile).

In fact, The Christmas Invasion is an impressive piece of work. Cartoonish it may be, and it would have been nice if we got some indication of what those pilot fish were (it may follow this year), but the ease with which it rounds off one series and sets up the next is impressive. Just as he did in The Parting of the Ways, RTD removes the most important character from the story entirely until the conclusion - this time by having the Doctor unconscious for what's essentially the guts of a standard episode. Clever.

One of the disappointments, then, of New Earth is how it fails to capitalise on these threads. Hindsight's a wonderful thing, and many of the elements that seemed to be going somewhere turned out to leave to nothing and hence be baffling by comparison. When Rose started telling the Doctor how she loved travelling with him it looked like it had to be leading somewhere, because otherwise it made no sense - this is a new Doctor who she hardly knows, and she's already getting lovey-dovey? As a whole, the story seems to assume that we already know Tennant - we've had fifteen minutes in his company at this point - and rides roughshod over the sneakiness he exhibited in the last story.

There were a lot of reviews about New Earth which went along the lines of It's Great Until The Last Ten Minutes, but these were fundamentally misguided. New Earth has enormous problems from the start, it's just that they don't become apparent until the last ten minutes, as the disparate plotlines are revealed to be going nowhere. The thumbnail view of the story is that there's far too much going on - there's an interesting ongoing theme of death and what's necessary to avoid it, but this is never adequately honed to really say anything on the subject. It's a confused story, shifting from the body-horror of the Infected to the campery of the Cassandra-led body-hopping, with random Face Of Boe gibberish chucked into the mix, that ends up with a well-it-can't-be-that-easy conclusion that reads like Russell's trying to copy Stephen Moffat and failing miserably. There should probably be something affecting about Cassandra's final acceptance of her fate, but as it is the viewer's just left going "huh?" In short, it's a self-indulgent disaster that received a far too easy ride from its critics. And the alien planet is distinctly underwhelming - after waiting fourteen episodes to see somewhere new, the place we've got is somewhere that isn't a future Earth but might as well be. And I couldn't tell the cats apart. It's a mess.

Tooth and Claw is a different matter. Russell T. Davies shows that he can do structure, and very well too. In terms of pure storytelling, it's by far his best script, in which every loose end is tied up and the whole story devolves from a single, central event (nasty thing gets stuck in Scotland) in a hugely satisfying way. The past-setting largely reins in the Davies clever-cleverness, and it's a genuinely frightening story that - and here's a clear sign I'm getting old - had me actually wondering whether it was fit for a 7pm timeslot at all. Its portrayal of Queen Victoria is also surprisingly sympathetic, and her reaction to the mention of her husband is touching and treated with respect. Impressive - except for the portrayal of the Doc and Rose. At the time I assumed there was somewhere for this to go, but their smug, giggling relationship is fundamentally unlikeable and turns out as one of the season's prime problems.

School Reunion / The Girl in the Fireplace almost functions as a double-whammy, possibly more by coincidence than anything else. School Reunion was a universally popular story that had many positive attributes, even if it wasn't actually as good as all that. If there's a decent way to describe it, it's Boom Town done right; a thin-to-poor plot that serves to back up some intriguing character studies. Much of what's in School Reunion turns out to underpin the series; Mickey joins the TARDIS crew (an apparent follow-up to the now irrelevant Powell estate) and the Doctor has that "you wither and you die" speech which serves to set up the real character study of the series (insofar as there was one). It's then hit home with The Girl in the Fireplace , which actually shows us the Doctor hopping through the life of someone who's stuck on the slow path; we see the effects of the Doctor actually allowing himself to care, and the conclusion was another moment that actually made me cry. Again. But maybe I'm getting old. I cry at everything, these days.

Not that either story is without its problems. The Krillitane plot of School Reunion is embarrassingly perfunctory (a shame, because the aliens themselves are quite clever) and degenerates to lots of purposeless running about, with the Godmaker idea being far too silly to swallow. Oddly for a kid's programme, Doctor Who doesn't tend to actually handle children very well; their inclusion here simply doesn't work. But dammit, the "we are in a car" bit is the season's funniest moment. What damages The Girl in the Fireplace , meanwhile, is the glib edge to Moffat's scripting. There are more long-winded comedy sequences and that whole dance-as-sex thing cropping up again. We even get the banana reprise (even if, since then, I have always brought bananas to a party. It's sort of my thing. You can put the skin over your face and pretend it's a parasitic alien sucking out your brain, and that's always fun). Stephen Moffatt does seem intent on showing us that he's smarter than the series he's writing for, and it can get wearisome. And many of the scenes aren't well edited, which tends to lead to people talking for five minutes while in deadly situations. Oh well.

As quick as he joins, Mickey's gone. It happens in the next story, the rather wonderful Cybermen two-parter that met with a surprisingly lukewarm response from the old fanbase. There were a lot of unfavourable comparisons to Spare Parts, but I certainly felt that this was Spare Parts with things like dramatic focus, narrative tension, social relevance, and real body-horror. Roger Lumic owes more to Davros than is comfortable, yes, but this tale struck me as a well-crafted telling of a story that fans have imagined but haven't really seen told. Linking the Cybermen to mobile phones is obviously brilliant - telecommunications, rather than mechanisation, is the current cyber-ification of our society - and the sheer darkness of the subject matter counts for much amid the big-budget action-movie plot. It effortlessly establishes the parallel universe as a staple. It crystallises the Rose-Mickey relationship in a meaningful way. And the Cybermen are bloody scary (my flatmate's comment that "They make the Daleks look like pets" sort of brought that one home) in that marvellously impersonal way. As Douglas Adams said, they're deadly, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly. I thought this was a magnificent piece of work. Oh, and welcome back to Graeme Harper, too.

It's also the tailing-off point for the season. The Idiot's Lantern is a diverting piece of horror that completely falls apart in the last fifteen minutes, and features Rose and the Doctor at their smuggest and most unlikeable. They waltz into someone else's home and instantly start telling them what to do, they bully their way through the supporting cast, and then at the end tell the kid that he should go and be nice to his dad anyway before saying "cheers" in the manner of those horrible TV presenters who shame random members of the public in order to make them thin. I could live with that, and I could even live with the jarring direction from Euros Lyn (Doctor Who's own Mr Unpredictable, who this time had taken his Dutch Angle pills and decided that horizontal cameras were completely infra dig), if the story bothered explaining to me who The Wire was and what she was for. Instead there's no real development - you can explain the entire plot of this story in two sentences - and it ends with an embarrassingly low-budget fight on a tower that leaves you wondering what it was all for. It's a shame - but there are atmospheric moments, the basic horror image is strong, it's still the better of Mark Gatiss' two Doctor Who scripts, and the early stuff is genuinely creepy.

The next two parter is very much a focal point which ultimately turned out to be disappointing. The Impossible Planet is a spectacularly successful episode, establishing an alien planet peerlessly, and gleefully shopping through past Doctor Who stories for all its best bits. Wearing your influences on your sleeve isn't something which really bothers me, provided you choose the influences well. Here we have Pyramids of Mars (nasty trapped devil, replete with the same voice artist), The Curse of Fenric (the ancient alphabet), Inferno (drilling), The Robots of Death (the Ood) and Frontios (the design, the outpost, the TARDIS being lost) even before you start counting the base-under-siege setup. But it's a spectacular blend, and Suki's death is the season's most frightening moment. It's The Satan Pit where the disappointments start: having had a wonderfully twisty first episode, the second just sort of resolves all the issues without adding any complications. It also falls into the trap of talking about religion in order to look deep and, predictably, these turn out to be the moments where the story's shallowness are shown up all too clearly. That's not to say it isn't any good, but it certainly doesn't follow through on its promise and the loose ends are tied up far too easily.

Then there's Love & Monsters .

In many ways, Love & Monsters is irrelevant. It's a sidestep that divides opinion, and understandably so. I loved it, but I can see why others would object. Ultimately, I thought it was a lovely spike in the season that worked far better than it had any right to, before we got back onto the serious business. And yet for all that, it's where the season's theme seems to me to be expressed clearest: ultimately it's about the Doctor as a lonely god, who has no idea of the effect he has on other people when he's gone. Love & Monsters is about the detritus, the mess he leaves behind. It's also very sweet, with a bunch of people who might be described as losers if they weren't so utterly winning.

The problem with it - if indeed it has a problem - is that it's so very kiddish. I don't think that fans would have a problem with the concept of examining "those left behind", in fact it's been a fascination of fans ever since the New Adventures started - the notion of writing these stories that inhabit the cracks left by a larger narrative, and the side-by-side implication that it's these cracks and sidesteps that are actually what's important about the series. But whereas these have been hitherto imagined as something dark and adult - or at least adolescent - Love & Monsters is overtly playing to kids; it's got a monster designed by a kid, for heaven's sake, and a Scooby Doo chase sequence at the start. What won me over, though, is how sweet the whole thing was, and how easily RTD had me caring for these people. I have intentions to review this one in full at some stage so I'll try not to shoot my bolt here, but what I liked about it was how it got me rooting for a bunch of people who play ELO (badly) in a basement. And again, bearing in mind the audience it's aiming for, the "so much darker, so much madder and so much better" speech had my inner eleven year-old jumping for joy.

As for Fear Her - well, you don't care, really, do you? There's a silly minority voice that holds this as some sort of crime against Doctor Who, but - if you ignore that vomit-inducing scene with the Olympic Torch, which is quite simply the worst moment of the new series so far, and actually features in my list of the worst moments in the whole of the Doctor Who canon - it's perfectly fine and at some points it's actually rather good (particularly the stuff with the Dad). The main problem I had with it is that, while I found the drawings rather creepy, by the time we get to the episode's centrepiece I just watched the screen and thought "Sorry guys, but I've seen The Exorcist too. It is one of the greatest, most frightening, most affirming and beautiful films ever made. With the best will in the world, this is a semi-acceptable child actress whispering in a bedroom. Better luck next time." To be fair, the script itself is (Olympic nonsense aside) really rather good, but this time Euros is wearing his "well not bad exactly but sort of flat and uninteresting" hat and the whole thing ends up looking like Brookside. If a few Dutch Angles had been taken from The Idiot's Lantern and put to use here, someone had turned the lights down a bit, and they hit on the bright idea of doing something slightly creepier with the kid's voice than having her whisper, it might have worked.

The main issue, though, is that it's obviously flanelling. If you count the conclusion of this (and I've seen The Terminator as well, guys) and The Satan Pit, plus the "those left behind" speech in Love & Monsters , Doomsday actually has a four episode build up. Nowt wrong with giving your climax a decent setup, obviously, but you don't have to hold off on the stories to achieve it. There's something lazy about the season's conclusion, and interesting themes and ideas from earlier episodes aren't picked up or resolved as they should have been. In fact, you could go straight from The Age of Steel to Army of Ghosts and in storytelling and characterisation terms, you wouldn't have missed anything. That's a problem.

The other problem is that the season finale is shockingly, depressingly bad, but that's something I've talked about at length so I won't reproduce the diatribe here. Suffice it to say that I'm right, and everyone who disagrees with me is wrong, and my dad's bigger than your dad, et cetera. There. Now. Overall.

Rob Matthews commented to me in an email that the season had a touch of the difficult second album about it, and it remains the most apt comment I've heard on the series as a whole. As Noel Gallagher said, you've got twenty years to think up songs for the first album, and six months for the second. The second series of Doctor Who smacks of that problem; the first managed to circumvent the occasional dodgy story by virtue of a real thematic drive, a well-crafted emergence of themes about the majesty of ordinary life that reached a perfectly-judged climax; it felt like Russell was constructing a series he'd dreamed of for years and years. Series Two, on the other hand, doesn't really have the same sense of purpose. There's a mish-mash of undeveloped themes: the Doctor's loneliness doesn't resurface after the fourth episode, the theme of "those left behind" pops up sporadically, and the hard question of whether it's actually good for Rose to travel with the Doctor is never addressed. It's all summed up by Jackie's "you won't be you any more" scene in Army of Ghosts, which is a bizarrely incoherent speech that just doesn't make any level of sense; it's symptomatic of the confusion of the series as a whole, which can't figure out exactly what it wants to say.

Rose's character is the greatest casualty. Initially, it looks plainly as if Rose is being set-up for a fall, as if the Doctor's apparent niceness is going to turn sour (as happens at the end of The Christmas Invasion) - but this doesn't go anywhere. Nor does the smug, giggly cliquiness that early on seemed destined to end on tragedy, or the increasingly petty jealousy and clinginess she exhibits. The easy way to look at this is to say that Rose Tyler had effectively played herself out by the end of Series One, and had nothing more contribute to the show. This might be the obvious conclusion, but it's not entirely true; in fact it's more of a reflection on the lack of direction for the series. There's no reason that Rose-is-jealous or Rose-is-tragically-doomed or Rose-can-no-longer-be-a-normal-human or Rose-is-betrayed or even Rose-degenerates couldn't have worked, and given the character something new to say; the fault is that the show's writers didn't really decide which of these should happen, so they sort of all happen, but not to any great effect. There are bizarre scenes which would have worked had they been shackled to anything, but instead they just sort of float around in the mix; take, for example, her Let's Move In Together speech in The Impossible Planet, which is odd just because it's so hard to interpret why it's there. In short, it's not that the character had inevitably played out, but that she's the first casualty of the Series' creepingly smug security. In Series One, Rose and her transformation is the programme and her journey is the same as the audience's; an average anybody, going about her day, living an unremarkable life without thinking about what matters, and gradually awakening to the fantastic and dangerous events that lie outside her own concerns. In Series Two she's a smug, giggly, clingy busybody who's nowhere near as clever or as astounding as she thinks she is, and ends up nowhere particularly different to where she started off.

TennantDoc, on the other hand, has moments of sheer brilliance in the lead role. Again, the problems mirror the difficulties that Series Two has overall. His countless "oh, look, how quaint, it's (insert item here), I haven't seen that for ages" is a reflection of the show's worryingly smart-arsed winks to the audience; his comparative safeness when compared to EcclesDoc bespeaks the show's decreasing edge; the obviously embarrassing comedy-overacting bits are a symptom of the programme trying to be goofy and kool to appeal to kidz. Doctor Who doesn't generally react well to sending itself up, and there are times when Series Two gets the balance all wrong. One of Doctor Who's main assets is its naivete, and while that can survive a certain level of nod-wink it doesn't bear overacting for the sake of it. Fact of the matter is that the drunk-Doctor scenes are cheap, pantomimesque humour that just jolt the viewer out of the story - and yet they seem to be presented as something clever. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about the show's writers trying to prove they're smarter than the show, an affliction which is also hitting every Hollywood digimation that hits cinema screens these days, and it's a sort of postmodern smartarsery that I don't like in children's entertainment. As I said, I'm getting old.

This isn't to say the Doctor doesn't have his moments. Tennant is a fine actor and his performance is generally impressive. There are scenes, most notably the confrontation with Anthony Stewart Head in School Reunion, where his performance manages to make poor-to-middling dialogue pack a real wallop. There's a darkness to him which makes the character work, and if he does misjudge some scenes (his shouting over Mr Connolly, for example) there's no doubting that he's well-equipped to play the character. The main drawback was that he was, essentially, predictable; whereas Eccleston was the kind of Doctor who might let you down, who really might get Rose killed, Tennant is much more the straight hero. He exhibits what we once called "Doctorishness" in the belief it was a good thing, but if Eccleston should be lauded for anything, it's for the ease with which he showed how limiting it is to always have a Doctor who does what we expect.

Other niggles:-

The lack of alien planets is starting to bite now. Yes, there are budget concerns, but it still irritates. Series One had a thematic reason for basing itself on Earth: it was essentially about the fat, indolent, inward looking morass that is Western society, so bringing the danger to us did make sense. Now, it's becoming wearisome, particularly when we constantly have alien planets being name-dropped in fantastic off-screen adventures. And then, when we do finally get to go to an alien world, it's one that's specifically chosen to be exactly like Earth! If a programme is about the wonders out there, it becomes a problem when we consistently don't see them. Time and Space, Russell. Come on.

There's a worrying lack of new mythologies (which is being shown up, in particular, by Torchwood). The most memorable villains to date have been... Daleks and Cybermen. Impressive reinventions, yes, but still. Beyond them you have the Slitheen, who were perfectly fine within the confines of one story but don't exactly deserve the return visit or the several name-drops. And then there's... um... well... huh. The chief problem is a consistent failure to explain what the hell anything is or where it comes from. List the other out-and-out monsters we've had so far; Gelth, Jagrafess, Reapers, Sisters, Werewolf, Krillitane, The Wire, Absorbaloff... yeah, um, they're just the bad guy of the week, aren't they? Monsters work when they have a nature that taps into something primal and relevant. The Daleks are about repression and xenophobia. Cybermen are (now) about communication and how they dehumanise us. The rest... only the Krillitanes really seem to have actual chops as a monster but wound up being a bunch of bat-things which just chased people around for no real reason, and many of the rest are just bad guys with no background at all. Who's the Wire? What's the Jagrafess? Why are they doing what they're doing? Something new, of the same stature as Daleks/Cybermen, would be nice.

All this might give the impression that I didn't like the Series Two. This really isn't true, and if you'd found me after The Age of Steel I'd have been jumping up and down for joy. It's just that it revealed itself to be a touch purposeless, and ended up disappointing. Admittedly, much of my reaction is shadowed by my absolute and unwavering hatred of Doomsday, which casts a shadow back over the rest of the season. It's just that there's a safeness and a security creeping into the show; it doesn't have the drive and relevance of the first, even though the themes are repeated every now and then like a hollow mantra. And as the year ends I'm surprised to say that my favourite programme this year, in the final analysis, has not been Doctor Who*.

It comes down to whether they're trends or blips. The greatest review of the new series remains Lawrence Miles' review of Rose, in which he effectively reviewed Series One after seeing one story, and it concluded with a reaction to the news of Tennant's casting; "I smell the frock-coat of McGann... we may only have a year to enjoy this." I'm hoping that his foresight failed, but there are signs that Doctor Who is getting a touch too comfortable. Possibly Series Three will show these to be blips, not trends. But my one-word reaction to Series Two, in spite of some superb moments and fine individual tales, has to be:


*It's Life on Mars, by the way.

Fun and Games after the Funeral by Mike Heinrich 14/2/07

There's a number of things that I'm tired of hearing about the second series of New Who because, valid as it is for everyone to have their own personal opinion about the episodes in question, there's quite frankly a lot of commentary out there that either A: Seems to be based on a dislike for the fundamental message of the stories which frames the argument as "I don't like the message 'don't-stick-a-fork-in-a-toaster', therefore any program exploring non-fork-in-toaster-sticking-issues is bad and poorly made and everyone involved in making such a thing are bad people" or B: It's not exactly the same as the old series and yet had some elements that were similar to the old series which only points out to me how it's not exactly like the old series and therefore it's bad because the inclusion of similar elements MUST mean that they were trying to make it exactly like the old series and failed. (I'm thinking specifically of the discussion in some quarters of how Tooth and Claw had a few similarities with Talons and yet somehow failed to be an exact remake of Talons, or Impossible Planet/Satan Pit had a bit of a Pyramids of Mars-y feel about it but somehow failed to be exactly like Pyramids of Mars so therefore, bad.)

Not that I'm saying that season 2 (new series measurement) was perfect. There's been quite a bit of perfectly valid criticism about various elements of the series that makes some valid points about various missteps and missed opportunities along the way. I'm thinking in particular here about Mike Morris' lament over Army of Ghosts/Doomsday which makes a few points I don't entirely agree with, but overall makes its case extremely well and is, refreshingly, based not on subjective response to the episodes but on objective principles of dramatic structure and theme. And, overall, it's hard to disagree with the points made there. And that's just one example. There are many other equally valid negative reviews of the series to be found.

The thing about most of the comment on series two (new series measurement) that gets me, however, is that there really is a clear umbrella theme to be found here and yet it gets consistently missed. Certainly, there were cases where the theme was put forward awkwardly, or in some case just flat-out poorly. There were cases where the theme shot itself in the foot for a variety of reasons and was presented as something ugly and elitist. There were cases where the pursuit of the theme overwhelmed cohesive storytelling. And there was at least one case where the theme just presented itself too late in the episode, too quickly, and thus became a hallmark commercial in which the Doctor gives Rose a new refrigerator with a Big Red Bow. All of this is true. But nonetheless, I really think (in my subjective opinion) that any discussion of Season Two (NSM) has to be based on the acknowledgement that the umbrella theme of the series was rooted in one thing.


To describe what I mean, we have to take a quick glance back at Series One (NSM). There the theme was clearly along the lines of Battle not with Monsters. The Doctor, having committed what appears to have been a fairly significant - well, one hates to use the phrase 'War Atrocity'. Let's just say that, for the best of motivations, the Doctor has committed what might look to the casual observer like double genocide. When we first see him in Rose, he's closed off emotionally, roaming around fighting monsters in a fairly businesslike and emotionless way. The first series was in equal parts about him coming to terms with what he's done and figuring out what exactly his way forward is. Is he a man who does what has to be done, regardless? Does he believe that the ends justify the means now? Which is why I believe so many people miss the point of series one and complain that the Doctor spends half the episode building a machine that he never bothers to use and that Rose saves him in a great big Deus Ex Machina (literally). Both of those things were exactly the point. The Doctor spends half the episode preparing to commit genocide AGAIN. And not just of the Daleks but quite possibly the human race in the bargain. And then he looks the Dalek Emperor in the eye, sees that by continuing to fight monsters while closing himself off emotionally he's very nearly become exactly the monster he's been fighting against, and chooses to die a good man rather than live as a monster. And immediately on the coattails of that Rose arrives and saves him, just as she's done metaphorically over the series, specifically because it was Rose that showed him how to feel again - the very ability that prevented him from taking that final step into monsterhood. So: she saves him, he saves her, the 'heart of the TARDIS hangs around clearly to be a metaphor for the rebirth of the soul given from her to him, the old man dies and in a nicely Buddhist moment the new man is born only to find to his delight that he has never existed, or words to that effect.

Of course, one of our complaints at the time was that nobody seemed to be having much fun, that they never went to amazing alien worlds, and that there was too much hanging around Earth. 'Everything has its time and everything dies' is a worthy sentiment to explore, but let's be honest: it can be kind of a downer to watch somebody really process that.

So. We enter season two (nsm) and with its proliferation of zombies it repeatedly bangs over the head with life after death discussion. Specifically, finding the joy and wonder in the world around you after you get through your old issues and are spiritually reborn to see the world anew.

Season two was, as far as I can see, SUPPOSED to be about finding the fun again. Going out and looking at things as if for the first time and taking the time to appreciate how amazing the universe around us really can be.

Like I said, I think that that was supposed to be the idea. Unfortunately, the execution frequently hosed up what, at its base, was a very nice idea.

First we had New Earth, which with its earnest whirlwind of fun and amazing ideas simultaneously sets up a 'Well, now you're dead. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?' thing by setting itself 15 years after The End of the World on a whole reborn new world and aims for a breathless air of 'look at all this cool and amazing stuff!' Rose flat out says 'I love traveling with you' which I suspect was supposed to be a mission statement about really exploring the joy in the universe but unfortunately came off as a lovey-dovey teen romance moment. I suspect it would have read better if the Doctor's line about 'That was our first date' had been replaced with something about there being so many things in the universe to see. But that's just a personal opinion. In any case, New Earth's intentions are good, but ultimately it does itself few favors with its pace. We're given a million and one amazing things: cat nuns! body swapping! elevator shaft action!, etc!, which I like to think was meant to carry a tone of 'look how many amazing things there are!' but unfortunately it also made the story feel crowded, with too many ideas competing for space. And without the setup of Rose and the Doctor just really enjoying traveling (as opposed to enjoying each other) reading properly, it feels like a lack of focus instead of a whirlwind of joy.

And then we had Tooth and Claw (which I should say I like quite a bit, despite what I'm about to say about it). Apparently this was originally described to Phil Collinson (who, judging by the MP3 commentaries, seems to be an absolutely lovely man) as "Queen Victoria, a werewolf, and Kung-Fu monks!" So clearly, it seems to me, the idea again was to show wonder and fun and just a lot of cool things that would be neat to see. So far, so valid. And this seems to be the page that the Doctor and Rose are working from throughout the episode. They're clearly just traveling around having a fantastic time and finding everything they encounter terrifically funny. Not really unlike Tom and Lalla, except in one key aspect which I'll get to in a moment here. The problem the theme of finding joy in the Universe has here is that the story itself really calls for a very different tone. It continues the 'After the Funeral' theme set up in New Earth by showing Queen Victoria after the loss of Albert. The ultimate problem being that Victoria, after the loss of Albert, is in no way going to be a figurehead for 'finding the fun'. The episode really calls for a tone of somber respect for what the Queen is going through. And I even think that it's possible that the Doctor and Rose could have shown her that while still showing themselves to be enjoying their travels and reveling in the wonder of it all. It would have been a tricky but fascinating balance. Instead we get one of the endemic problems of the season. Everyone else is behaving very somberly, going through difficult times and having their spouses ripped to pieces by werewolves. They're all taking the situation seriously and showing Victoria the respect and grieving woman should be given. But the Doctor and Rose are still operating on their remit of having an absolutely fabulous time rediscovering the joy of the universe which, when it's put smack up against Victoria's grief in the same scene, makes them frankly look like a couple of self-obsessed pricks. For God's sake, the woman's grieving. Maybe it's time, out of respect, to give up on your Fun Little Game of trying to bait her into spouting a catchphrase, yeah? Tom and Lalla, for as much as they were enjoying every second of their travels (which is the real feeling that this season was trying to evoke, as far as I can see) would never EVER have displayed this level of insensitivity toward the feelings of the people they encountered.

So, competing thematic material which doesn't mesh together terrifically well would be my summation of that situation. Still lots of good stuff to be had, but tonally the Doctor and Rose come across as unlikable, which is a pretty big problem. It's at this point actually that we as a people began to believe that the whole season was going to be about Rose and the Doctor getting too big for their britches and getting a holy heck of a smack down from the universe. Because, frankly, there seemed at the time to be no other explanation for their complete disregard for the feelings of people around them.

In School Reunion the After the Funeral aspect was Sarah Jane herself. After her time with the Doctor, this is what happened. Her life went on, and she found a way to continue. The only thing that was really keeping her from finding her joy after that time of her life was done was the lack of proper closure, which she finally got here. Rose and The Doctor are still for the most part in 'Gosh Wow Isn't Everything AMAZING?' mode, but it works here for two reasons. First, they aren't in direct contrast to the tone of everything else in the episode, and second because both of them let the fun stop at key moments to show the very real sadness and fear that can exist just underneath. The Doctor is experiencing his time with Rose with joy despite the fact that underneath it he knows it's going to end. Rose comes to understand that she can do the same with the Doctor, despite the fact that she has to accept that one day he will leave her and move on. Which makes their ability to enjoy the wonder around them a bit more noble and almost heroic, in a way. They're appreciating today because they know that one day they won't have a tomorrow. That this might be all they get. There's something nice about that. It gives some validity to their determination to enjoy their time together.

I want to come back to The Girl in the Fireplace in a moment.

In Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, the opposite card is played. The Doctor looks at the alternate world and sees only danger. In contrast, Mickey looks at it and sees wonder. So it's no surprise that at the end of the day it's Mickey who's really grown over the course of the two-parter. In contrast, the script completely ignores the joy and wonder aspect for Rose, instead putting her back into Season One 'I miss my daddy' mode. Because we had thematically dealt with his loss already, and because we completely ignore the season's theme of what it means to appreciate how wonderful the world really is, we're left with Rose not being able to grasp that these people aren't her parents. Which just makes her look stupid. Obviously, looking at it realistically, if this were real of course you'd still want to connect with your parents, parallel or not, but what's good realistically and what's good dramatically are very different things. These episodes are guilty of looking at Rose through the Season One theme and ignoring the Season Two theme, which cripples its ability to really resonate as part of a greater whole.

The Idiot's Lantern has the same problem as Tooth and Claw. The Doctor and Rose continue to have a wonderful time enjoying things long after they should have noticed that everyone around them is actually having a pretty crappy time. And as a result the accusation that Rose and the Doctor come across as smug, self-righteous bullies is perfectly valid. At a moment when they could have been a breath of fresh air for what's-his-name-you-know-the-kid by showing him how bullies are best just ignored they instead embrace the idea that you beat bullies by being a bigger bully, which is exactly the sort of thing that the end of Season One was about not doing.

Impossible Planet/Satan Pit is about the Doctor encountering things he doesn't believe in, giving the old 'More things in heaven and Earth than are found etc. etc.' aspect to the wonder thing. In fact, the Doctor explicitly states that this is why he travels. To be amazed by things he didn't think could exist. Which is a wonderful summation of what the entire season intended to be about. Unfortunately, it's undercut completely by the fact that they stay bogged down by the completely mundane aspects of their situation, so that instead of two solid episodes of the Doctor and Rose being absolutely blown away by the sheer enormity of all the impossible things they see, we get them moping a bit about being stuck there, a discussion of mortgages (and I can tell you - I work at a mortgage company; there is no more mundane topic than mortgages) and then everything resolved far too easily. The TARDIS should only have been returned after a lengthy internal battle on the Doctor's part along the lines of 'These things can't exist. This can't be happening. This doesn't fit into my view of the word. Oh my God, this is exactly why I travel, isn't it? There IS so much more than I know about. And maybe, just maybe, I don't know yet what is and isn't possible.' At which point, after resolving his internal dilemma, he's thematically rewarded with the return of his freedom. They could even have kept the (somewhat predictable) 'find the TARDIS in the big hole' plot point because in this case what would be important is the Doctor's emotional journey to understanding that enjoying the wonder of the universe doesn't just mean wandering around smiling at things, but is actually rooted in having your preconceptions challenged and changed. As it is, the emotional journey is 'Oh no, we're trapped. How sad. Hey look, the Devil! Oh, and the TARDIS. Thank God. I guess the universe is a pretty big place, isn't it?' Which is... less satisfying.

I'll come back to Love & Monsters as well.

Fear Her makes the mistake of leaving the sense of wonder too late, instead focusing on some neat crayon drawing effects and a little girl who's just not quite charismatic enough to carry as much of the episode as she needed to be able to do. As a result the sense of wonder is relocated to the last few minutes with a thoroughly cheesy 'Doctor runs the Olympic Torch, isn't it breathtaking?' moment which even the Hallmark corporation might have had serious thoughts about using.

And Army of Ghosts/Doomsday... well... there's very little I can say about it that isn't either spoiler protected or said earlier and better in Mike Morris' lament, which I mentioned earlier. Suffice it to say that the sense of wonder came at the expense of plot, making it less satisfying. I like it. I don't think it's a harbinger of the imminent destruction of storytelling, but I concede Mike's points about plot vs. spectacle.

I love Girl in the Fireplace and Love & Monsters. They're hands down my favorite episodes of this season by at least three or four country miles. And it's because each of them is a perfect use of the theme of wonder, in different ways.

One review declares that the only theme in GitF is that a woman can get quite far on her back. Now, leaving aside the disturbingly sexist undertone there, here's why I disagree: Girl in the Fireplace is, beginning to end, about encountering amazing things. Mickey's overjoyed to have gotten a spaceship on the first go! Pre-Revolutionary France is on a spaceship! And so is a horse! The Doctor is amazed to discover girls! (that last one comes from Stephen Moffat in the mp3 commentary track as his stated view of the episode.)

Yes, 'that' scene is unfortunately played as drunk, instead of as 'The Doctor has just had the most amazing night of his life' (again, S. Moffet- mp3 commentary track), which makes it seem silly instead of a moment of reveling in just how great life is. But the whole thing is summed up by Reinette really. The Doctor is worth the monsters. And one may suffer a world of demons for the sake of an angel. What she's really saying, thematically, is that opening your eyes to really look at the world around you is inevitably going to result in your seeing some truly terrible, horrible things. But the wonderful things that you'll also see make it worth doing. And that's Girl in the Fireplace in a nutshell. And I love it.

As far as Love & Monsters goes, there's one criticism frequently leveled at it that's completely unfair. A lot of people have criticized it for not including the Doctor and Rose nearly enough.

As has been noted in plenty of different sources, Love & Monsters exists because the crew had to make 14 episodes in a 13 episode schedule due to The Christmas Invasion. As a result, one story needed to be made that only featured the Doctor and Rose peripherally, and to a very limited degree. And so they designed a story in which the Doctor and Rose only appeared peripherally, and to a very limited degree. Criticizing it for that is basically the same as criticizing the latest episode of Heroes for not having enough Doctor and Rose in it. Of course it doesn't. It never planned on doing so. (As a side note however, hasn't Christopher Eccleston been fantastic on that show? Sorry. Not relevant to the topic at hand.)

Love & Monsters has what is currently my favorite moment in the entire history of Doctor Who (Old Series Measurement and New). And that is Elton's final speech. Which sums up both the episode and the goal for Season Two in a nutshell. There's so much more. It's so much madder. It's so much BETTER. You just have to take the time to look.

So yes, the Absorbaloff is a bit silly. The Doctor/Rose/monster chase is a bit silly (although it could be argued that this is a perfectly valid way to show the events since what we're actually seeing is what the Doctor and Rose's adventures look like to Elton, not how they actually are.) And yes, I admit: I don't think I would have included the line about having a sex life with a paving stone. But I still love it because it goes for the basic concept of realizing that the world is both a terrible and a wonderful place and worth being a part of. And it goes for it with teeth.

And so that's my personal, subjective view of Season Two (NSM). It was a good theme, and it deserved its time to be explored. Unfortunately undone in many case by too much plot, too little plot, incompatible moods, or being left too late in the episode or forgotten altogether. But if you look it was always there, whether or not it was allowed to flourish. And from it we got two nearly perfect episodic expressions of how the world is worth living in, regardless of the monsters or the flaws.

Going nowhere fast by Thomas Cookson 4/5/07

Doctor Who is a program with the capacity to go anywhere and run forever and with an infinite capacity for stylistic diversity within itself. To me the fact that Doctor Who is once again a phenomenal popular success is down to the fact that it is Doctor Who. The trouble is the show is being ran by a smug egotist who is convinced that the show has to constantly pander to the mainstream in a very constraining, insular, unimaginative, desperate and haphazard way in order to remain popular.

Series Two was the big indicator of this. The show could either progress itself and push its remit further than Series One, or it would stick to its old formula and do the same thing again, with the handicap of having this time not moved an inch from its starting point.

We've ended up spending half of the season yet again on a council estate that was getting old last year. We've had stories frequently come to a complete standstill for yet another relationship discussion. The adventure is dying, the stories are getting boring, circular and redundant and I have lost interest.

David Tennant is the new hip and cool Doctor. I would argue that the character is inherently flawed and unfortunately Tennant did not pull off the role like Eccleston did. This Doctor regurgitated all the worst elements of the new series, the desperate, the artificial, the insular, the sneering and the adolescent. I don't know what it is but Tom Baker could be an eccentric man-child and play with a yo-yo in any given scene without it seeming out of character, or like a dent to his intellectual power. There didn't seem anything pandering about it. But compared to David Tennant's wackiness, his all-showy 3D glasses and singing along to Ghostbusters at the kind of high pitch makes the show seem as desperate as it really is.

This Doctor no longer seems alien and, worse, he doesn't seem the least bit enlightened. David Tennant's Doctor however seems obsessed with pop culture, whether it be Eastenders, Kylie or Ghostbusters. All to hammer home the fact that the Doctor is as common as the rest of us, but that being the case, what's the point of him being an alien, what's the point of him being the Doctor if he's just another one of us? Is this the Doctor or Number Johnny Five we're dealing with here?

But of course I'm only skimming the surface, because extending from the Doctor's "coolness" is his ridiculing of the uncool. So much so that I have become disillusioned, not just because the character is mean, but because we are being invited to join in with his meanness. I've highlighted before the opening scene in Rise of the Cybermen, but no scene of the new Doctor has felt more wrong to me and felt more like a betrayal of everything the character stands for than the one in Army of Ghosts where the Doctor tells the people at Torchwood "When you write my memoirs, please don't put that I travel in time and space with my companion's mother. I have a reputation to uphold." Is this really a 900 year old alien traveller who has mixed with people from the highest highs to the underdogs and who believes that ridicule is nothing to be scared of? Suddenly he has turned into an ageist, self-conscious, bullying prick, so afraid of ridicule that he cowardly mocks the closest person to him as deflection.

But of course a case could always be made that Rose was simply a bad influence on him.

I actually quite like the flirty chemistry between the Doctor and Rose in New Earth. I liked this new sense of confidence to Rose's character. Then comes along Tooth & Claw, which set us up for the new cliquey and sneering Doctor and Rose team. I actually didn't have a problem with this at the time. Rose's mocking of Queen Victoria seemed a teasing in fairly good spirit, and whilst other fans described her as insensitive for keeping up the ridiculing after several people have been eaten by a werewolf, I actually believed that her behaviour in light of the deaths was a form of denial or rather like shock laughter and in that I found it quite interesting and edgy. I didn't see it as out of character for Rose to ridicule Princess Anne (and I quite liked the "what if the royal family are werewolves?" open ending for the kiddies), though it was very much out of character for the Doctor to slag off Thatcher completely out the blue.

But in any case, in and of itself I had no problem with the story and didn't go along with fan complaints about the behaviour of the two leads, except that by the end of the season I realise that Tooth & Claw had been the beginning of a relentless journey of the Doctor and Rose travelling time and space simply to mock and ridicule everything and everyone in sight. And again it is through watching the old series that I realise that awe and wonder has been replaced with a more sneering and narrow minded outlook, pathologically so.

The worst of Rose's behaviour was in School Reunion, but at least that story acknowledged that she was being mean and childish. Unfortunately, nothing progresses from there. She just keeps being mean and sneering. The aforementioned "You upset my mum" moment in Love & Monsters is a ghastly moment for her. More than that, it is the most stupid, disastrous and absurdly petty collision of the domestic and the otherworldly in the series, and a moment like that seems like it was tragically inevitable from Rose onwards.

The domestics had worked initially. They'd felt real. I didn't have a problem with Mickey and Jackie back in Season One but familiarity bred contempt for me, and by the time of The Christmas Invasion I was sick of the council estate and I could feel that it really had all gone flat.

I grew quite fond of Mickey again in School Reunion and Rise of the Cybermen. It was nice to see him getting over Rose and becoming more of a laughing and joking character. It's true to how we all reminisce on how down we used to be over our significant other, and we realise just how little fun we were to be around and how we're compensating nicely now with a hop and a skip. Although his rather macho turn in The Age of Steel didn't quite feel as right to me.

My issue with Mickey in The Age of Steel is that he is so cruelly insulted and treated as a worthless coward by Jake, and so he decides to prove himself in the fight against the Cybermen and puts his Playstation skills to use. Ultimately, when the rebels win, thanks to Mickey's courage, and they defeat the Cybermen, I don't know whether to be happy or not, because I'm left feeling that Mickey's fight was more about proving his manhood by picking on an enemy to be daredevil with, than about valuing what he was fighting for, and I find it hard to take as an 'hooray for our side!' kind of ending because it seems to me that it might as well depict one tyranny of conformity being overrun by another.

Of course many fans say that it was really Mickey who achieved a successful emotional journey, and not Rose.

Russell's whole remit has been to focus the show on "emotional journeys", though they've tended to be more emotional roundabouts. Remember the days of that Whose Doctor Who documentary when the kids were fascinated with Leela, her past and her volatile violence and her way of learning about civilised customs, and didn't care about any emotional journeys or boyfriend troubles? In the end there wasn't much progressive about Rose and her endless blubbathons, and ironically it had become so easy to pick dozens of female companions from the past who showed how far back the companion role had stepped.

But it seems rather strange the way that the show's emotional side and its sneering side have co-existed. But unfortunately it is symptomatic of our womanist, metrosexual culture, that we suffer this blend of empathy and bitchiness. How the recent Celebrity Big Brother has shown how quickly modern insecure women can go from compassionate to cut-throat. Why the emblem of our empathising culture, emo culture is far from revered and is delegated as the tragic dog of an underdog, despised by chavs and metal heads alike. The fact is that we like to think of empathy culture as something compassionate, but beneath it all, it's actually a rather undignified emotional exhibitionism. It is on display to be mocked and sneered at, rather than taken to people's hearts.

So that's how the new Doctor Who blubs and bitches in equal measure.

And what is it with this whole jealousy business? The Doctor and Rose are so belligerently jealous of anyone who shows the slightest interest in their significant other. I don't like it. Y'know, going back to the Graham Williams era, I could happily accept on a subtextual level that the Fourth Doctor and Romana had a romance tinged relationship, but that never presented a problem to their behaviour and the way they interacted with others.

But the jealousy of the current team is completely against the show's all-embracing remit for me. The team becomes exclusive and cliquey, and prone to unpleasant jealous behaviour. I don't know about you, but my idea of the Doctor is of someone who's ashamed of our current modern cliquish society (cliques are nasty in whatever form they take, leading to the worst kind of hostile behaviour whether it be culture wars or sexual harassment), and despises jealousy and the way it is used to excuse the nastiest, most bullying, abusive and even psychotic behaviour.

But this isn't "my" Doctor anymore.

There's something else that bothers me about the emotional journeys. When Doctor Who was an adventure series, from 1963 to 1989, it was aimed at being boundless in its adventure, taking us from the furthest reaches of the universe to the beginning and end of time, and the darkest recesses of the human mind. Even when the series was Earthbound in the Pertwee era, it still was wrapped up in global affairs and took the occasional trip to alien worlds, or even parallel universes.

Replace that with the emotional journey and it stops being boundless. It becomes trite and constrained, covering the same redundant emotional ground again and again. There is a way to make a journey through the emotional side of people into something magical and boundless, and for that you need look no further than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I would really love to see the writer of that film come onboard the new series and write up another Mara story. But Russell is not that kind of emotional writer, he is a writer of conformist, populist trash that never breaks ground.

To stick with the earthbound issue, I would say that one thing about Series One is how it took the modern council estate and subverted it, made it part of a symbiotic whole with the adventure. But for me the council estate got really stale by The Christmas Invasion and Series Two never really worked the same way because that symbiosis was lost. The second season begins on New Earth and visits back to the council estate are less frequent but feel far more like a let down for it. It just seems ludicrous to me why anyone would want to go back to visit Jackie having experienced an adventure with the forces of evil in a demonic planet on the edge of a black hole. Who could possibly be interested in such redundancy after a high like that? The direction of the second series was useless, if you ask me.

There are various reasons why this insular view of the series and its lack of alien worlds bothers me so much. As I said, Series One worked thematically because it was Earth-bound. Series Two is perhaps more frustrating because the visits to alien worlds were tantalisingly brief and yet the constant revisits to Earth felt pointless. Doctor Who finally has the budget to do convincing alien worlds, and yet Russell T. Davies taunts us with remarks that he isn't interested in them and neither is the mainstream audience.

His remarks on the "planet Zog" hypothesis are ones that I find pretty insulting as a fan. So the mainstream audience wouldn't be interested in the fate of weird looking aliens on some distant planet. Let's just keep it human so the commoners can relate. Well let me say this, I was very much interested in the fate of alien civilisations in the series and I was only 11 years old. That's what kept me watching the show, to build up a sense of this vast and dangerous universe where Dalek empires obliterated any civilisations they felt like. It was mind-expanding and scary and at 11 years old I empathised with those many alien cultures. It was reassuring to learn of enduring alien cultures in this savage universe. That's why I loved seeing the Doctor save the Earth, because I was aware of those thousands of other worlds out there that weren't so lucky. That scope is something that unfortunately the new series doesn't have anymore.

Season Two failed mainly because it wasn't a team effort. Russell was tampering with the work of other writers and inserting the kind of dialogue that really lacked his old naturalness and instead took a nosedive into the artificial, overemotional triteness of the average chick flick.

The worst thing is he blotched what could have worked for the season. Apparently he had an idea somewhere of linking Tooth and Claw to the idea of the parallel universe by bringing in the idea that in one version of history, Queen Victoria is killed by the Werewolf and so Britiain goes Republic, hence fascist alternative Earth and Cybus Industries. That was a wonderful idea and it would have really given the series a sense of roots and direction that it sorely lacked. The trouble is Russell chucked it in the bin for being something that might alienate the mainstream viewers by being "too sci-fi"... well, I mean duh.

I would say that if there was one major blotched job, it was the story of Rose, which if handled well and had the dots been joined properly, might not have been the annoying regression for the character that it became. Rose of Season Two is quite jealous, clingy, insecure and malicious. Now here's how that could have worked. Rose has seen things that few humans ever have, and she has seen some terrifying things and some traumatic things, such as watching her father die, then meeting him again. Linking it to Rose's disturbing smirking in the face of death in Tooth and Claw, or her bunny boiler behaviour throughout the season and there's something about Roses's last scene in Doomsday that hints briefly at the idea that maybe Rose as a person is actually damaged goods.

I feel it could have said something abstract and profound about how there are some experiences and wonders that some humans should turn away from because it will change them forever and really affect them badly emotionally. The idea that humans aren't meant to reach a proper state of nirvana because they will always find imperfection in it and become insecure and afraid of coming down from the high. That could have spilled out well into Rose's insecure jealousy. It could have done laces through the story of Sarah Jane Smith who has never gotten over that experience, through the story of the alternative Jackie and Pete who are in a rich marriage yet are inexplicably unhappy, and the humans surveying a black hole remarking how the sight of it drives some people mad.

But no, it had to appeal to the masses so it had to get bogged down to that of a soppy love story between Rose and the Doctor. How pathetic, and so all these suggestions get drowned out by dumbed-down dialogue of how much the Doctor means to Rose since she met him. And, of course, the jealous, mean streak of Rose never gets to say anything profound about human insecurity and folly because it is promoted as something cool and bitchy to join in with.

The New Doctor Who is not stupid in the way that, say, Season 24 was. But the show is plagued in my eyes with a sense that it is ashamed to be seen as clever, as though in an adolescent, sulky, attention-seeking way, it is too cool for clever. I seriously doubt it will ever impress me again. It doesn't reach for the stars anymore. And, quite frankly, its remit of "no matter where you go, there you are" only appealed when the characters were endearing.

It seems like all that is here to stay as a winning formula that will never evolve because it has no cause to. And here's the thing, Russell's vision of Doctor Who has made me want to turn off. It has made me wish that Doctor Who's neverending story would just come to a damn end, and that should just never happen.