The Unquiet Dead

charles dickens

I saw the Fall of Troy! World War Five! I pushed boxes at the Boston Tea Party, and now I’m going to die in a dungeon…in Cardiff!

Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Rose, along with Charles Dickens, encounter the Gelth in 1869 Cardiff who are possessing dead human bodies. Can the Doctor help both parties, or are the Gelth not to be trusted?
Review

doctor and rose

With this story taking place during Christmas 1869, sadly, this is most likely to be the closest we’ll ever get to a Christmas episode starring Christopher Eccleston. The story is not overtly festive, despite various references to arguably Dickens’ most famous work, A Christmas Carol, and Mark Gatiss’ story focuses more on the gothic atmosphere and a ghost story for most of its run. The story is aided by the casting of Simon Callow as Charles Dickens, with this inclusion allowing us to see a more enthusiastic and joyful side to the Ninth Doctor amid an alien threat possessing the bodies of the dead plot.

Can it be that I have the world so wrong?

Not wrong. There’s just more to learn.

Charles Dickens and the Ninth Doctor

It has to be said that casting an actor as well known as Simon Callow for the revived show’s first ‘celebrity historical’ would have been an enormous coup for the show at the time. A widely well known thespian, Callow has also appeared in critically renowned films such as Four Weddings and A Funeral. It is also to the show’s advantage that he had played Dickens numerous times before, and the actor states that he believes that this characterisation is one of the truest to the real Dickens, which is a credit to Mark Gatiss’ writing. Dickens here is presented as being quite similar to arguably his most famous character, Ebenezer Scrooge, at the start of the story and is initially disbelieving of the situation that he finds himself in. In fact, Charles acts almost like a second companion in this story, and as a counterpoint to Rose. Whilst Rose is used to aliens from her previous adventures, she has not travelled back in time before, whilst Charles is the complete opposite. Both require the Doctor to help them through this alien experience. His adventure with the Doctor and Rose leaves him sufficiently and believably changed into the new man, and like Scrooge, he leaves to make amends with his friends and family, inspired by his encounters with the Gelth. It is a credit to Callow that in a relatively limited time, we care enough about Charles as a character by the end of the story that the fact that he dies the year afterwards does render an emotional punch. Gatiss cleverly ties this into Dickens’ unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edward Drood, with the author stating that an extra-terrestrial influence will be the resolution of his novel. Of the remaining guest cast, Eve Myles stands out as the maid Gwyneth, the channel through which the Gelth attempt to enact their plot. Myles is quite convincing in this role, and it is easy to see why she was asked back to play Gwen Cooper in Torchwood.

Speaking of Mark Gatiss, this is one of the strongest stories he contributed to televised Doctor Who. Gatiss clearly loves the Victorian era – he goes on to revisit it in The Crimson Horror and Empress of Mars – and this period certainly suits the gothic tone here and it’s evident that he understands how to make a Doctor Who story chilling and effective. He also easily incorporates an important element of historical stories by establishing in the modern continuity that events the Doctor and his friends experience are in flux and so their actions can have unintended consequences, including their own deaths. This enables this story and those set in the future to have a feeling of stakes. This story also features some really lovely scenes, with one particular highlight being the conversation between Rose and Gwyneth. This scene seems quite light and frothy at the outset, with Rose learning what life was like for Gwyneth and trying to draw comparisons between their lives, despite living centuries apart. However, this scene goes on to explore Gwyneth’s power to see things through the Rift, such as knowing that Rose’s father has died and hinting towards the Bad Wolf arc of the series. This is effective as it builds slowly up to this revelation rather than giving them away straight away, which adds to the power of the scene.

Gelth.png

The Gelth are also quite a good one off villain, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing to begin with, they manage to manipulate two of the central characters. They are able to play on the Doctor’s survivor’s guilt regarding the Time War, as they claim that their species were victims of the universe “convulsing” as a result of this. This makes the Doctor feel a personal responsibility in ensuring their ultimate fate, which does ensure that he comes up with a more sustainable plan than leaving them in the bodies of the deceased. They also manipulate Gwyneth, as she states that they have been calling to her since her childhood. When it is revealed that they are actually not the weak children that they have been presenting themselves as in the story so far, and especially at the seance. They are quite an effective one-off antagonist for the Doctor and effective for this initial historical story.

No, it means “fanatic”, “devoted to”. Mind you, I’ve gotta say, that American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit, what’s that about? Was that just padding or what? I mean it’s rubbish that bit.

I thought you said you were my fan.

Oh, well, if you can’t take criticism.

Ninth Doctor and Charles Dickens

Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is also great here, in a story where we get to see a slightly lighter side to this incarnation. This incarnation’s delight and slight incredulity at meeting Charles Dickens is really lovely to see and this new found levity on the part of the Doctor is part of an ongoing arc of development for both this and the next incarnation of the Doctor. We also see his survivor’s guilt tapped it into here, with his feeling of responsibility making him determined to find the solution that suits both humans and Gelth alike. There is a tiny moment which highlights why I like this incarnation so much. When the Doctor hears the screams coming from the theatre, his entire face just lights up and Eccleston has such a contagious smile, showing his insatiable desire for adventure and danger. I also like the dynamic relationship between Rose and the Doctor here, especially highlighted in the scene where the Doctor realises that they have not landed where they intended, and where the Doctor tells an ultimate dad joke. I much prefer this dynamic between them than the later relationship between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, and in a way it is sad that there, at the time of writing, is no prospect of ever getting Eccleston back in the role.

Now don’t antagonise her. I love a happy medium.

I can’t believe you said that.

The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler

Verdict: Mark Gatiss’s first story for the show is a fantastic Victorian horror story which establishes some important elements for the show. Great guest performances from Simon Callow and Eve Myles help the story along in an enjoyable romp. 8/10
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Alan David (Gabriel Sneed), Huw Rhys (Redpath), Jennifer Hill (Mrs Peace), Eve Myles (Gwyneth), Simon Callow (Charles Dickens), Wayne Cater (Stage Manager), Meic Povey (Driver), Zoe Thorne (The Gelth)
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Euros Lyn
Behind the Scenes

  • Eve Myles went on to play Gwen Cooper in Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood. In Journey’s End, the Tenth Doctor and Rose notice that the two characters look similar, but it is explained as being due to Gwyneth’s physical characteristics remaining as an echo in the Rift and eventually being imprinted onto Gwen, rather than the two being genetically related.
  • This is the first televised story written by Mark Gatiss.
  • This is the first story since Timelash to see the Doctor meet a historical figure.
  • The story also marks the first appearance of the Space-Time Rift in Cardiff.
  • This is loosely based on Mark Gatiss’s Big Finish play, Phantasmagoria.
  • Simon Callow would briefly reprise the role of Charles Dickens in The Wedding of River Song.

Best Moment

The Doctor’s enthusiasm at meeting Charles Dickens.
Best Quote

What are they?

Aliens.

Like foreigners, you mean.

Pretty foreign, yeah. From up there.

Brecon?

Close.

Mr. Sneed and the Ninth Doctor

dickens and tardis

Rose

Rose

Nice to meet you Rose.  Run for your life!

The Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

Rose Tyler believes that today is like any other.  But she’s about to meet the Doctor, which wil change her life forever.

Review

So, after almost sixteen years off air, apart from a brief outing for Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor in 1996, Doctor Who was back on television, rebooted and ready for action.  After the failure of the TV Movie to spawn a subsequent American run series, the production team seem to have learnt some lessons when making this introduction to the world of Doctor Who a success.

In Doctor Who in general, the companion is the vehicle for the audience to see the Doctor, and in Rose, we see Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor from Rose’s perspective entirely, with us seeing Rose’s day at work in the lead up to her meeting the Doctor.  This is particularly effective, especially aspects such as the two close-ups we get of Rose’s alarm clock, which allow the audience to establish both routine and monotony of her life.  Also, by not seeing the Doctor before they meet in the basement, it allows that scene when Rose is looking for Wilson in the basement all the more creepy, as the viewer isn’t sure when the Doctor will appear to rescue her.  As someone who works in retail, I can vouch for how eerie a dark and apparently empty stockroom can be! The introduction through the character of Rose allows the TARDIS to seem almost inconsequential.  We first see it when the Doctor is delivering the “turn of the Earth” speech, which is still one of the finest in the show’s history, and we don’t see the TARDIS dematerialise until Rose is actually in it later in the episode.

Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper also have really nice chemistry together – the scene in the elevator at Henrick’s where Rose is hypothesising that students are behind what she believes to be a prank is well played by both and helps to demonstrate that Rose, who may seem to be an ordinary shop worker has the potential to be a strong companion.  The supporting cast also helps the story, although Noel Clarke’s performance is a bit weak.  Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler is great though, and I especially love how she trots out some of her lines, especially about Rose getting compensation (“…I know she is Greek, but that’s not the point” makes me laugh every time).

It is also interesting to note how continuity-light this reintroduction is.  The use of the Autons as the main villain is a callback to Spearhead from Space, Jon Pertwee’s debut story and the first episode to be shot in colour.   Furthermore, it is interesting that when Rose meets Clive, although there are allusions to previous regenerations when Clive says that the title of the Doctor is passed from father to son, the only images that we see are of the Ninth Doctor.  This helps to ease new viewers into the show, and as chance would have it, the concept of regeneration would have to be dealt with by the end of the series anyway.

Plastic Mickey

Although this is a strong episode, there are some problems that I do have with it.  The main one is the whole Mickey becomes an Auton aspect, and that infamous dustbin scene, where the special effects wouldn’t look out of place amongst some of the worst of the Classic era of the show.  I also have an issue with the way that Rose does not notice that Mickey looks completely different once he has been converted to living plastic.  In Spearhead From Space, there is an Auton duplicate of Major General Scobie, who looks almost completely identical, and I find it baffling that the production team wouldn’t go in the same direction here.  I know that Rose regards her life as boring, which is her reasoning behind leaving at the end of the episode, but not noticing this shows that she is perhaps not quite so perfect as some later stories would like to make out.

Verdict: A strong reintroduction to Doctor Who, with a fantastic lead actor and a strong companion.  8/10

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Keith Boak

Starring: Christopher Eccleston (Ninth Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Mark Benton (Clive) and Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Nestene Consciousness)

Behind the Scenes

  • The first televised Doctor Who story since Doctor Who, the 1996 TV Movie.
  • Edgar Wright was offered the opportunity to direct, however, he was forced to decline as he was still working on Shaun of the Dead.
  • Four days after the episode was broadcast, the BBC issued a statement confirming that the show would return for a second series.  The same day a further statement was released, supposedly from Christopher Eccleston, stating that he would be leaving the show, however, they later confirmed that this statement had not been cleared by Eccleston.  It was swiftly confirmed that the BBC were in talks with David Tennant regarding taking over the role.
  • Until the broadcast of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, this story boasted the highest viewing figures of any debut story for a new Doctor at 10.81 million viewers.
  • The story marks the first appearance of the Nestene Consciousness and Autons since Terror of the Autons.  It also marks the first mention of the Shadow Proclamation and allusion to the Last Great Time War.
  • There is no televised regeneration between Eccleston and his predecessor, Paul McGann, a conscious decision by Russell T Davies to simplify the show for first-time viewers.  This gap was later utilised by Davies’ successor as show runner, Steven Moffat to introduce a new incarnation of the Doctor played by John Hurt in the run up to The Day of the Doctor in 2013, and McGann would return to film his incarnation’s regeneration into the War Doctor.
  • This was the second story shown in the Doctor Who: Lockdown! event held on Twitter.  Russell T Davies released a short story depicting a regeneration between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors, as well as a short sequel entitled Revenge of the Nestene.
  • The first story to feature a creator credit for a writer – in this case, Robert Holmes as creator of the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness.

Best Moment

The Autons breaking through the shop windows – another call back to Spearhead from Space, but this time actually showing the windows breaking.  This is something that the production team in the 1970s were disappointed they couldn’t do at the time, and one of RTD’s few problems with Spearhead.

Best Quote

Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It’s like when you’re a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it…the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go…That’s who I am. Now forget me, Rose Tyler. Go home.

The Ninth Doctor