The Cybermen have invaded Earth, but the Doctor and Torchwood are about to confront an even greater threat.
When Army of Ghosts was first broadcast in 2006, I was not a Doctor Who fan. That being said, I knew almost every plot beat thanks to two friends at Sunday School the next day who recounted every moment leading up to the cliffhanger and the Daleks emerging from their Void Ship crashing into the titles. I can still vividly remember being told about the ship opening in awestruck tones. Little did I know that I would be watching the concluding part, Doomsday, just one week later. But more on that later.
Planet Earth. This is where I was born. And this is where I died. The first nineteen years of my life, nothing happened. Nothing at all, not ever. And then I met a man called the Doctor. A man who could change his face. And he took me away from home in his magical machine. He showed me the whole of time and space. I thought it would never end.
How long are you going to stay with me?
Forever. Well, that’s what I thought. But then came the Army of Ghosts. Then came Torchwood and the war. That’s when it all ended. This is the story of how I died.Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor
Part of the first part of this series finale focuses on how far Rose has changed since she met the Doctor. Jackie mentions how much she’s changed to even look like the Doctor, mentions her fears that Rose won’t come back once she has died and will eventually be a ghost of herself if she keeps travelling with the Doctor, which is one of the best parts of this episode. It is this sense of nothing lasting forever that has made up some of the best episodes in an uneven series, whether this is a ghost of the Doctor’s past cropping up in the shape of former companion Sarah Jane Smith in School Reunion or the Doctor’s flirtation with Madame de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace. But part of the problem with Rose’s speech is watching it knowing the culmination of Rose’s arc, both in this series and Series 4, which in my opinion, cheapens the impact of her departure at the end of this story’s second part but I will talk about that more when we get there. I think it frustrates me more that, despite the two examples that Rose has experienced relatively recently in her travels with the Doctor, she still seems to think that she is the exception to the rule and that she and this incarnation of the Doctor are somehow immune to the machinations of the wider universe.
I think one of the best elements of this story is the fact that Jackie is not treated like an idiot for believing that the ghost is one of her loved ones. Given the experiences that she has had of the Doctor’s world, whether it be Slitheen or Sycorax, ghosts are not a huge leap in her mind, and whilst the Doctor and Rose debunk it, they don’t make a huge fuss about how foolish she is to believe in it. They and the story treat her, and by extension all the other people who believe that the ‘ghosts’ are their loved ones with respect. The writing of characters, whether they are part of the main or guest cast, is one of Russell T Davies’ strengths and this story is no exception, with even minor characters, like Adeola and Gareth, given bits of dialogue and interaction to make us care about them and their fates in this story.
The organisation behind the ghost shifts is the mysterious and shadowy organisation that have followed the Doctor and Rose through their adventures in time and space this series. Here we get some answers as to what Torchwood are, even if their depiction flies a bit too close to the ideas of imperialist exceptionalism, perhaps understandably considering who founded the organisation, Queen Victoria in Tooth & Claw. They appropriate alien technology (“if it’s alien, it’s ours”) and their work is to support the British Empire. This branch is led by Yvonne Hartman, who is modern management personified, down to ensuring that she knows the names of her staff. She is very well played by Tracey Ann Oberman, a role where she is almost sickly sweet at times, but a leader who knows how to play to her audience. She plays up to the Doctor’s ego perfectly, applauding him when the TARDIS materalises. However, an organisation like this with a sense of ownership over everything alien seems to be complacent about alien threats, not seeing the harm in the ghost shifts but being more concerned about the sphere that came through at the same time. The Cybermen are ultimately able to use this complacency to burst through to ‘our’ world from Pete’s one. I’ll talk more about the Cybermen in my review of Doomsday, as they have a bit more to do there, but they certainly seem to have an unassailable position before the Daleks arrive.
David Tennant is on top form here and even if this is a story that is a lot more serious than his last couple of television stories. The way his Doctor is able to get Yvonne to cancel the next ghost shift by using reverse psychology and that whole interaction, including where he shatters the Torchwood branded glass in his demonstration of how the walls between universes are breaking down, is superbly acted and directed by Graeme Harper. He has truly found his groove as the Doctor by the end of his first series and plays this seemingly arrogant and almost all-knowing Doctor well, which we would see developed into the idea of the Time Lord Victorious later down the line.
Both Piper and Coduri are superb in their conversation about how much Rose has changed over the course of her travels with the Doctor and Jackie’s concern that her daughter will not return to Earth after she has passed away. Both are on the top of their games here, but I want to talk about Coduri here, as she may well get lost in my review of Doomsday and she has been with the show since the 2005 revival. I think that Jackie Tyler is possibly the best example of the companion’s mother in the Russell T Davies era and that is no small part down to the actress, who gives the character so much heart and energy that you can’t help but like her. This is not something that can be said for the deeply mistrustful Francine Jones or the occasionally downright nasty Sylvia Noble, who both feel underwritten to the point of pantomime villains at some point. I know some fans feel that the show has never eclipsed Rose Tyler as a companion, but I think I’m in the camp that thinks that Jackie is a greater loss.
You’ve changed so much.
For the better.
Mum, I used to work in a shop.
I’ve worked in shops. What’s wrong with that?
No, I didn’t mean that.
I know what you meant. What happens when I’m gone?
Don’t talk like that!
No, but really. When I’m dead and buried, you won’t have any reason to come back home. What happens then?
I don’t know.
Do you think you’ll ever settle down?
The Doctor never will, so I can’t. I’ll just keep on travelling.
And you’ll keep on changing. And in forty years time, fifty, there’ll be this woman — this strange woman, walking through the marketplace on some planet a billion miles from Earth. She’s not Rose Tyler. Not anymore. She’s not even human.Jackie Tyler and Rose Tyler
Verdict: Army of Ghosts sets up a hell of finale with the Cybermen and Daleks coming to wage war on Earth. 8/10
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman), Raji James (Dr Rajesh Singh), Freema Agyeman (Adeola), Hadley Fraser (Gareth), Oliver Mellor (Matt), Hajaz Akram (Indian Newsreader), Anthony Debaeck (French Newsreader), Takako Akashi (Japanese Newsreader), Paul Fields (Weatherman), David Warwick (Police Commissioner), Rachel Webster (Eileen), Kyoko Morita (Japanese Girl), Maddi Cryer (Housewife), Derek Acorah (Himself), Alistair Appleton (Himself), Trisha Goddard (Himself), Paul Kasey (Cyber Leader), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek/Cybermen Voices) & Barnaby Edwards, Nicholas Pegg, Stuart Crossman, Anthony Spargo, Dan Barrett and David Hankinson (Dalek Operators).
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Graeme Harper
Original Broadcast Date: 1 July 2006
Behind the Scenes
- The working title for this story was Torchwood Rises.
- Russell T Davies has stated that he would have rewritten the story so that Adeola, played by Freema Agyeman, could have survived the story if he had been to set during filming. However, by the time he realised that he had found the next companion, her death scene had already been filmed.
- Murray Gold’s theme for Torchwood makes its debut here.
- This episode reintroduced the rank of Cyber-Leader, last seen in Silver Nemesis.
- Tracy-Ann Oberman has reprised the role of Yvonne Hartman in Big Finish’s Torchwood range, including as an alternate universe version of this character.
- Freema Agyeman is one of four actors to play another role before portraying a different role as the Doctor’s companion, along with Peter Purves, Ian Marter and Karen Gillan.
- Oliver Mellor also played Private Taylor in No Man’s Land, part of the Big Finish Monthly Range, and Egan Fisk in Dalek Empire IV: The Fearless.
- David Warwick previously played Kimus in The Pirate Planet.
I think it has to be the arrival at Torchwood and the interactions between the Doctor, Jackie and Yvonne.
But here she is, Rose Tyler! Hm, she’s not the best I’ve ever had. Bit too blonde. Not too steady on her pins. A lot of that. And just last week she stared into the heart of the time vortex and aged 57 years. But she’ll do.
Deluded. Bless. I’ll have to trade her in. Do you need anyone? She’s very good at tea. Well, when I say “very good” I mean not bad. Well, I say “not bad”—anyway, lead on. Allons-y! But not too fast. Her ankle’s going.
I’ll show you where my ankle’s going!The Tenth Doctor and Jackie Tyler
Previous Tenth Doctor review: Cold Vengeance
Previous Tenth Doctor television story: Fear Her