Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth / Journey's End

The Stolen Earth

“Rose is coming back. Isn’t that good?”

The sight of a milkman shows us things are about to happen, Survival-style…and then immediately we’re straight into the Big Things Happening. Earth has disappeared! Martha’s back, with UNIT, in the USA! Torchwood! Sarah Jane and Luke. My, even RTD himself is getting a bit irritated with that fanfare of Mr Smith’s.

Things pretty much go on like this, really. More than any other episode this one is constantly “up”. This is what happens when an episode of Doctor Who gets a sugar rush. We get Wilf and Sylvia. Rose! The Shadow Proclamation. Ooh. Thing is, it’s nice to see the Judoon again but the whole Proclamation is a bit disappointing, little more than a “posh name for police”. Still, we learn the truth behind all this season’s missing planets, sort of. “Someone tried to move the Earth once before. Long time ago.” So the Daleks are trying to attract the Doctor’s attention by means of continuity references to The Dalek Invasion of Earth? Well, why not…

The excitement keeps on coming. Davros! Dalek Caan! And he’s utterly doo-lally, courtesy of a particularly great performance by Nick Briggs! Not all bees are aliens, apparently. Good to know. And I love Wilf’s paint gun. “My vision is not impaired!”- this is RTD’s last chance to play with the Daleks and he’s bloody well going to have fun with them. Quite right too. And the Doctor was taken to see the Medusa Cascade when he was “a kid, about 90 years old”.

Things now get serious. Donna has to reassure the Doctor that things are going to be ok. Harriet Jones (yes, we know who she is) heroically sacrifices her life to bring the Doctor to Earth. Rose can’t manage to become anyone’s friend on Space Facebook.

We’re told Davros died in the Time War. The Doctor is devastated to see him again. He’s now played by Julian Bleach, who is fantastic, instantly better than anyone since Michael Wisher. The mask in particular is far superior to anything we’ve seen before, with facial muscles and everything. It seems Dalek Caan managed to get into the Time War, time locked though it was, but at the cost of his mind. And Davros created a whole new race of Daleks from his own cells, Kaled cells, so they’re pure-blooded Aryan Daleks. Urgh. Of course, Dalek Caan predicted all this. In no way will these predictions rebound on the Daleks in an ironic way. Oh no.

We end with the Doctor and Rose running towards each other’s arms, but the Doctor is shot by a passing Dalek. And we end with the ultimate cliffhanger. So who’s he going to regenerate into next week? My money’s on that Simon Cowell fellow.

Journey’s End

“This is a fully-fledged Dalek empire at the height of its powers. They can do anything.”

…Well, well, well. That cliffhanger resolution was simultaneously an inspired work of genius and an utter cheat. Plus the Doctor starts acting vain again. Grr. Still, Mickey and Jackie are back. Yay! And, er, there are no Daleks on Francine’s street, apparently. How convenient.

But… Donna touches the Doctor’s magic hand in a jar and creates some kind of half human “Doc 2”. Er… sorry, but this is silly. Still, at least this presumably gets rid of the hand forever. It was starting to outstay its welcome. After a bit of exposition the two of them take a break from the story for a bit so they can tread water until their next appearance on stage in the final act. Meanwhile, Jack escapes from captivity by cunningly getting himself killed.

Surprisingly, the talk about Donna’s “destiny” sort of works; a human / Time Lord meta-crisis is a big space / time event which sends ripples backwards as well as forwards. It’s also an interesting twist that Davros, confined to the vault, is not in charge and is merely kept around for amusement by his somewhat ungrateful offspring! Also intriguing is Dalek Caan’s insistence that “One of them will die!” This will be followed through, right?

There follows an extremely interesting scene in which Julian Bleach is outstanding. Davros draws together a lot of the thematic threads of this season as the Doctor’s companions start threatening the Daleks with weapons of mass destruction. Who exactly was it that made them like this? Why exactly is it that Martha is working for an ethically dubious military outfit in the first place, for that matter? “The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.” Thing is… genuinely brilliant this exploration of the Doctor’s character though this is, I tend to think it’s based on a misunderstanding of the Doctor’s character that has been growing for a long while, perhaps even since McCoy. In the ‘60s and ‘70s the Doctor would occasionally use guns when he had to, without any qualms. He’s never been a pacifist. He didn’t used to think that weapons were unethical if used in the right cause, merely that they cramped his style. Far cooler to walk around unarmed and defeat the baddies through cleverness and wit. And blow them up at the end, of course.

The Doctor’s perceived ethical faults are thrown into sharp relief by the Daleks’ plans, of course. With the Reality Bomb they intend to destroy the entire universe outside their own little bubble in which they are somehow apparently going to survive, thereby ethnically cleansing the entire universe. Nasty.

Still, Sarah Jane and Davros get a touching little reunion. How nice.

Anyway, Doc 2 and Donna emerge, and Donna saves the universe. I love this bit. Unfortunately the TARDIS towing the Earth back to its rightful position is exactly as silly as people keep saying it is, and these overcrowded TARDIS scenes feel uncomfortably like fanwank. There are some insights here, though- Sarah Jane so misses the point in telling the Doctor that he’s “got the biggest family on Earth” immediately before they all bugger off and leave him alone. Mickey, by now a real action hero, returns to “our” Earth, following Jack and Martha, while Jack and Martha say goodbye with a salute, interestingly in the light of what Davros said earlier. It’s particularly interesting that Jack is trying to persuade Martha to leave UNIT.

And then we have Bad Wolf Bay. I can see the cleverness in how this is done, but I really don’t like it. It’s such a cop out for Rose (who’s been somewhat neglected, inevitably) to settle with a half human ersatz Doctor she knows deep down isn’t the real deal. Yes, it’s clever of RTD to try and tell us that this Doctor is vengeful, as he was when he and Rose first met, and needs Rose to make him into a better person as she did with the real Doctor, but emotionally this feels very wrong to me.

As for Donna, I’m not sure about this either. Yes, it’s sad, but frustratingly so rather than tear-jerkingly so. The character deserved better. She was magnificent.

Still, aside from some unsatisfying character departures and a little too much of a fanwank feel towards the end this is epic Doctor Who at its best. 4/5.

As for the season- better than remembered. It joins four other seasons in joint eighth with exactly 4/5.

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