The Satan Pit

This is your freedom. Free to die! You’re going into that black hole and I’m riding with you!

The Tenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor faces off against an enemy that defies all of his beliefs, whilst Rose and the rest of the Sanctuary 6 base fight for survival against the Ood, possessed by the Beast.

Review

I feel that The Satan Pit does manage to live up to it’s preceding part, but on reflection it does have more flaws than The Impossible Planet. There are some great moments and the story does a lot really well, but there is some shaky characterisation for Rose and some strange directing decisions, but good guest cast performances save this one.

The writing and direction are largely good. Whilst The Impossible Planet was a lot of set-up without a lot happening, this feels much more like an action movie. Perhaps its the sequences in the service shafts that make me feel like that, which can only remind me of Die Hard. There are also the scenes with the Doctor and Ida discussing their beliefs about the existence of a devil, which are nicely written. I feel like I’m nit-picking to find flaws with this story, but I do have an issue with the sped-up effect of the guns shooting, which just looks a bit weird, and the eventual encounter with the Beast is a bit disappointing, as it would potentially have been interesting to see a showdown between the two with a fully powerful Beast. All in all, though, this is a very well written and directed episode, utilising the talents of its leads and guest cast well.

The Beast is a powerful adversary and harnesses the vocal talents of Gabriel Woolf to its full extent, and he is brimming with malice and trickery. Ultimately the Beast using the Ood against the crew of the Sanctuary Base makes a statement about humanity: even in the future they discriminate against other races. Zack notes that when his surviving crew are crawling through ventiliation system that he cannot trace the Ood as the Torchwood Institute who sent them on the expedition did not quantify them as a life form, a complacency that really has come back to bite them on this mission. Obviously this would be explored further in Planet of the Ood, but the Beast uses this to his full advantage. I have praised Gabriel Woolf, and it is only fair to also praise Will Thorp for his performance as Toby, especially when he is possessed. The moment in which his eyes briefly turn red as he tells the Ood to hold off is particularly creepy and he is good in the climatic scene as he, Zack, Danny and Rose are in the rocket escaping from the black hole.

Whilst I may have problems with the relationship between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, it doesn’t bother me very much here. Even the Doctor’s concluding speech to the Beast doesn’t make me want to scream, which can only be a positive. What does bother me is that Rose seems to undergo very inconsistent characterisation here, seesawing from a character in control of her environment to one who is constantly seeking the confirmation of the Doctor. There are two examples of this in the opening quarter of an hour. The first is where she immediately becomes simpering and helpless following the Beast’s first speech and turns to the Doctor immediately for assurance that Satan doesn’t exist. The second and, in my opinion, worst example of this follows the Beast’s speech to the crew of the Sanctuary Base, where Rose is told that she will die in battle very soon. Whilst this line is obviously meant to make the audience fear for Rose getting out of this story alive, the script has Rose ask the Doctor what the Beast means by this, when it is very clear to everyone. It does make me wonder whether there was a more convoluted or enigmatic line spoken by the Beast originally which was simplified, but Rose’s response to it was unchanged. It is an understandable reaction to be upset after being given such news, but Rose’s reaction feels forced to make her seem lovelorn and almost childlike, then she almost immediately flips to taking charge of the crew she is with. No matter what the circumstances, it doesn’t really give Billie Piper much to work with and is symptomatic of the problems with her characterisation throughout Series 2, which is perhaps particularly telling when compared to Series 1.

Whilst we’ve seen the Tenth Doctor with other characters in recent weeks – Tommy in The Idiot’s Lantern, Mrs Moore in The Age of Steel and Madame de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace spring to mind – his partnership with Ida feels a bit different, perhaps because they are completely isolated in the majority of their scenes together. This adds some intimacy to their scenes together as they discuss what their beliefs are whilst confronted by something claiming to be the origin of the stories of the Devil in established religions across the universe. When Ida tells the Doctor that she doesn’t want to die, it is a great example of a simple line being delivered effectively and you completely believe that they are in that situation. Claire Rushbrook and David Tennant deserve a lot of credit for these scenes, as they are entirely acted in those orange spacesuits and seen through visors, but these scenes still feel intimate and moving.

But I don’t want to die on my own.

I know.

Ida Scott and the Tenth Doctor

I feel that I would be remiss not to mention some other guest cast members, namely Danny Webb and Shaun Parkes. These two actors do such a good job with these parts. Jefferson almost seems to fit stereotypically into the turncoat role in Classic Who, but here he is fundamentally a force for good, ultimately sacrificing himself to buy the others time to escape the advancing Ood. It is made all the more effective that the audience never finds out what dark secret lurks in his past, as we are allowed to judge him purely based on his actions in these two episodes. Equally, Zachary Cross Flane is a character who, despite a frankly awesome name, would be all too easy to be portrayed as either too competent or unsuitable for his command and Parkes treads this line to perfection. The scene where he has to have Rose subdued in order to evacuate the base could come across badly, however, here it is perfectly portrayed. Parkes encapsulates the character’s conflicted feelings about going against Rose’s explicitly stated wishes combined with his feeling of responsibility for everyone still alive on that base to get away as quickly and safely as possible. Ultimately he takes the decision that he believes is right and his statement afterwards is one that would not seem out of place coming out of the Doctor’s mouth in other stories:

I have lost too many people. I am not leaving you behind.

Zachary Cross Flane

Verdict: A strong conclusion to a good story, The Satan Pit is a highlight of Tennant’s first year as the Doctor. 9/10

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Danny Webb (Mr. Jefferson), Shaun Parkes (Zachary Cross Flane), Claire Rushbrook (Ida Scott), Will Thorp (Toby Zed), Ronny Jhutti (Danny Bartock), Paul Kasey (The Ood), Gabriel Woolf (Voice of the Beast) & Silas Carson (Voice of the Ood).

Writer: Matt Jones

Director: James Strong

Behind the Scenes

  • This episode was originally broadcast on 06/06/2006.
  • The closing scene was Billie Piper’s final scene as a regular cast member as Doomsday had been filmed as part of an earlier production block.
  • This story nearly featured the return of Davros as the production team were not sure who should be at the bottom of the titular pit.

Best Moment

It’s a small moment, but the reveal that the mind of the Beast is still possessing Toby after Rose, Danny and he manage to escape the Ood is subtly handled and really well done.

Best Quote

There it is again. That itch. “Go down, go down, go down”.

The urge to jump. Do you know where that comes from, that sensation? Genetic heritage. Ever since we were primates in the trees. It’s our body’s way of testing us. Calculating whether or not we can reach the next branch.

No, that’s not it. That’s too kind. It’s not the urge to jump, it’s deeper than that. It’s the urge to fall!

The Tenth Doctor and Ida Scott

Previous Tenth Doctor review: The Impossible Planet

Further Reading

The Age of Steel

The Idiot’s Lantern

The Girl in the Fireplace

The Doctor Dances

The world doesn’t end because the Doctor dances.

Rose Tyler

Synopsis

The Doctor, Rose and intergalactic con-man Jack Harkness are trapped in an abandoned hospital by an army of those infected by the Child’s plague. Will they get to the site of Jack’s supposed space junk and discover ground zero for the plague?

Review

The Doctor Dances ultimately sticks the landing and maintains the feeling of fear, whilst successfully bringing Moffat’s debut story for televised Doctor Who to a great conclusion. This, along with Dalek and the finale, really stand out as examples of the best stories of the first series of the revival and obviously were important in securing a future for the show.

Go to your room! Go to your room! I mean it, I’m very very angry with you. I’m very very cross. Go to your room!

I’m really glad that worked. Those would have been terrible last words.

The Ninth Doctor

From a writing standpoint, the story really works well even if it does have a ‘love saves the day’ conclusion, which I feel works here. Even the resolution to the cliffhanger works, which nine times out of ten it probably wouldn’t. The script is full of good and quotable lines, some of which are quite funny, without detracting from the feeling of threat and menace that the Child has built up over the the preceding episode. There are moments in this episode where the writing and direction combine to create unsettling and nerving moments, such as the scene in the Child’s room, where the reveal that the tape that the Doctor, Jack and Rose have been listening to has run out and the Child is actually in the room works really well. This is a great example of the Doctor’s pride coming back to hurt him – he is proud that his ‘go to your room’ gambit worked, without realising the consequences of this until it is too late. Equally, moments like the transformation of the Zombies remains unsettling, especially in the scene where Nancy is handcuffed at the crash site to a soldier who has been infected. There are other moments where the Child isn’t on screen but still feels present, like when the Doctor and Rose are trapped in the Albion Hospital with his voice carrying over the speaker, or the typewriter scene. The direction is pretty solid, and I particularly enjoyed the pullback into the TARDIS from Jack’s ship at the end of the story.

The London Blitz is great for self-cleaners. Pompeii’s nice if you want to make a vacation of it though. But you gotta set your alarm for Volcano Day.

Captain Jack Harkness

Equally, the resolution surrounding the origins of the Child and the Nanogenes feels organic. The Nanogenes seem to be introduced innocuously enough in the first part, but when it is revealed that they have caused the mutation of Jamie into the Child it seems logical. It is set up quite well and makes sense within the confines of the story as to why they are converting the other humans. Jack’s con seems almost too good to be true until it is revealed that the Chula vessel is a hospital ship containing the healing sub-atomic robots, whilst the Doctor realising how he can use them to fix the problem that they have created is quite a nice way of tying the story up.

This story can be seen to be the start of a change in the Doctor-companion relationship. In the original run, while companions like Susan and Leela left the TARDIS to get married, there was little to no hint of sexual tension between the Doctor and his companions, whilst in the TV Movie, the Eighth Doctor kissed Grace Holloway, a controversial moment at the time. Here, with the metaphor of dancing, the Doctor is made to feel romantically accessible for the first time. Whilst I am not a fan of the execution of this going forward, especially when it comes to the Tenth Doctor and Rose, I can see why the production team wanted to do something like this, to reflect changes in television in the intervening sixteen years. Ultimately, the resolution of this story addresses taboos about sex, single parenthood and teenage pregnancy in the 1940s, and the story also does talk about how sexuality has changed over time, with Jack being an example of how it has evolved between the 21st and 51st Centuries, whilst Nancy uses prejudices at that time to blackmail Mr Lloyd.

The cast do a great job here. Eccleston plays the Ninth Doctor perfectly, and even though he looks awkward when he has to dance, it feels in character for the Doctor. Whereas David Tennant feels as though he is comfortable in romantic situations, Eccleston is much more like Matt Smith, feeling as though he is uncomfortable with them. Equally, the Doctor’s relationship with Jack is good, and unlike Adam, once Jack realises that he is culpable for the problem he takes steps to resolve it. Billie Piper is good as Rose here, and keeps a cool head to get her, the Doctor and Jack out of some tight corners in the Albion Hospital. Nancy continues to demonstrate that, if circumstances were different, she would be a perfect companion, with her resourcefulness evident when she gets the tools necessary to break into the crash site.

Verdict: The Doctor Dances wraps up a great story, full of horror elements combined with some great moments of humour. 10/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Albert Valentine (The Child), Florence Hoath (Nancy), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Luke Perry (Timothy Lloyd), Damian Samuels (Mr Lloyd), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs Lloyd), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Robert Hands (Algy), Martin Hodgson (Jenkins), Richard Wilson (Dr. Constantine), Vilma Hollingberry (Mrs Harcourt), Noah Johnson (Voice of the Empty Child) & Dian Perry (Computer Voice).

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: James Hawes

Behind the Scenes

  • The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances won Steven Moffat his first Hugo Award working on the show. By the end of his run, he would have won four Hugo Awards and been nominated a further nine times.
  • The first single-story episode since Doctor Who and the Silurians where the titular character’s name appears in the title. This happened infrequently for episode names in the Hartnell era (eg: The Death of Doctor Who (The Chase) and A Holiday for the Doctor (The Gunfighters). Since this episode, it has featured frequently with the next occasion being The Doctor’s Daughter.
  • Dancing is used as an innuendo for sex here, a motif that Moffat would reuse in The Girl in the Fireplace.
  • This story was originally going to be followed by an episode written by Paul Abbott in which Jack would learn that the Doctor has been manipulating Rose’s life to create the perfect companion. This would have shown the circumstances behind Rose receiving the red bicycle for Christmas, however, Abbott proved to be unavailable to write this story.
  • The second cliffhanger to be resolved in the pre-credits sequence. The first was in World War Three. This practice largely fell out of favour, with the pre-credits sequence generally being a recap of the first part.
  • Early drafts featured Jamie’s father, who would appear to silently and anonymously assist Nancy and the orphans. His identity would have been revealed in the climatic moments of the story, revealing that he was German, giving an alternative reason for Nancy to be ashamed.

Best Moment

I really enjoy the “Everybody Lives Moment” – a moment of pure joy for the battle-damaged Ninth Doctor.

Best Quote

Who has a sonic screwdriver?

I do!

Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks “Ooh, this could be a bit more sonic”?

What, you’ve never been bored? Never had a long night? Never had a lot of cabinets to put up?

Jack Harkness and the Ninth Doctor

Previous Ninth Doctor review: The Empty Child

The Impossible Planet

We are the Legion of the Beast.

The Ood

Synopsis

Separated from the TARDIS, the Doctor and Rose find themselves stuck on a planet orbiting a black hole with the crew of a space base. However, an evil entity is awakening, causing trouble for the crew.

Review

The Impossible Planet is possibly one of the first glimpses of revived Doctor Who I ever had. I have a distinct memory of seeing the crew seeing Scooti’s body floating towards the black hole when my brother was re-watching this episode – or possibly channel hopping. It is certainly a stronger two-parter than the rather limp Cyberman double-hander in the same series, giving us some great moments of fear and unease and (takes a deep breath) some actual decent moments between the Tenth Doctor and Rose. I think the majority of the guest cast do well and they feel like lived-in characters.

No signal. That’s the first time I’ve gone out of range. Mind you, even if I could…what would I tell her? Can you build another TARDIS?

They were grown, not built. And with my home planet gone, we’re kind of stuck.

Well, could be worse. This lot said that they’d give us a lift.

And then what?

I don’t know. Find a planet. Get a job. You live a life the same as the rest of the Universe.

I’d have to settle down. Get a house or something, a proper house. With…doors and carpets. Me, living in a house. That, that is terrifying.

You’d have to get a mortgage.

Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor

I’ll start by talking about the Doctor and Rose. If you’ve read any of my other reviews of David Tennant’s first series, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of this pairing, however, the writing seems a lot better. The scene with the Doctor and Rose discussing the implications of losing the TARDIS, especially for the Doctor, is one of the most mature and well-dealt with conversations that I think that these two ever have. It’s interesting for the Doctor to have this discussion, considering that Russell T Davies seems to like forceably separating the Doctor and the TARDIS. I might be wrong but can think of several occasions this happens in his era, and this might be mind playing tricks on me) but I can only think of two occasions since 2010 that this has happened (Cold War and The Tsuranga Conundrum). This story moves to ground their relationship and actually makes me see that David Tennant and Billie Piper do have decent chemistry together. There are little moments like Rose kissing the Doctor’s visor before he goes down in the drill capsule with Ida that sell the idea of this relationship being something more than the standard Doctor-companion relationship. Perhaps because the Doctor feels quite out of his depth, with the language that the TARDIS can’t translate means that they can’t be as smug and cavalier as usual. We do get some of the inconsistent Rose that has been around since Tennant’s debut in New Earth rather than the strong individual we saw when she was with Eccleston, especially in the moment she tells Ida and the Doctor to keep breathing when they are in the diving bell.

The story certainly fits into the category of base under siege, with the interesting added threat of the black hole. I’m reliably informed by my research done in the course of writing this blog that a planet in orbit around a black hole is not as impossible as the Doctor states, just highly improbable, but otherwise this story is well written. Matt Jones goes down as another writer who has written one solitary adventure for the revived series, although Russell T Davies had to do a lot of work on this two-parter, which might explain why he never came back. The story does create a terrifying atmosphere, with the scenes with Toby Zed on his own, with Gabriel Woolf’s voice is really scary. I love the idea of the planet being ‘the bitter pill’, which is a lovely piece of dialogue. The story also presents some uncomfortable truths about humanity with the inclusion of the Ood, revealing that even in the future, humans will still feel the need to subjugate species. The story also benefits from the direction of James Strong who helps the story feel claustrophobic and threatening when it needs to. The shot of Scooti floating in space is beautiful, and even knowing how it was filmed thanks to Doctor Who Confidential, it still blows me away every single time.

In the scriptures of the Valtino, this planet is called Krop-Tor, the bitter pill. And the black hole is supposed to be a mighty demon, who was tricked into devouring the planet only to spit it out because it was poison.

Ida Scott

The guest cast here for the most part feel quite lived in and three dimensional, with the exception of Scooti, who is dispatched quite early on by Toby. Zach is thrust into a reluctant leadership position by the death of the previous captain of the mission and it is encouraging to see how he is supported by his fellow crew members, making the best of a bad situation. The only character who seems to be lacking characterisation who survives the run-time of this first part is Toby, who seems to be classed as a bit weird and a loner, also known as perfect possession material. I’d like to reserve special praise for the work of Silas Carson and Gabriel Woolf, voicing the Ood and the Beast respectively, as both are key here. Carson makes the Ood’s calm responses chilling when they start reciting the messages of the Beast and Woolf is suitably sinister – when Radio Free Skaro did a commentary episode for it a few years ago, they slipped a clip of his dialogue in unannounced, and save to say it felt as though my heart stopped for a second!

Verdict: The Impossible Planet does a good job of creating a terrifying atmosphere thanks to a strong script and direction, as well as a good guest cast. 9/10

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Danny Webb (Mr Jefferson), Shaun Parkes (Zachary Cross Flane), Claire Rushbrook (Ida Scott), Will Thorp (Toby Zed), Ronny Jhutti (Danny Bartock), MyAnna Buring (Scooti Manista), Paul Kasey (The Ood), Gabriel Woolf (Voice of the Beast) & Silas Carson (Voice of the Ood).

Writer: Matt Jones

Director: James Strong

Behind the Scenes

  • Matt Jones wrote the Seventh Doctor Virgin New Adventures novel Bad Therapy.
  • The story originally featured the Slitheen Family until the production team realised that the cost of repairing the costumes was equivalent to creating new ones.
  • First appearance of the Sanctuary Base space suit, which would be worn on multiple occasions and by multiple incarnations of The Doctor.

Cast Notes

  • Gabriel Woolf previous played Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars.
  • Danny Webb was in the audio plays The Girl Who Never Was and The Dark Husband.
  • Claire Rushbrook went on to appear as Tula Chenka, sister of Eighth Doctor companion Liv Chenka, in Escape from Kaldor and the spin-off series The Robots.
  • Will Thorp has appeared in the Big Finish audio plays 100 BC and Bedtime Story.

Best Moment

The scene where Scooti discovers the possessed Toby out on the planet’s surface, especially with the creepy computer voice.

Best Quote

Well, we’ve come this far. There’s no turning back.

Oh, come on! Did you have to? No turning back, that’s almost as bad as “Nothing could possibly go wrong” or “This is gonna be the best Christmas Walford’s ever had!”

Ida Scott and the Tenth Doctor

Previous Tenth Doctor Review: The Idiot’s Lantern

Link:

Radio Free Skaro’s Commentary for The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

The Tsuranga Conundrum

The Empty Child

Are you my Mummy?

The Child

Synopsis

The Doctor and Rose encounter a mysterious object in the Time Vortex which they pursue to 1941 London in the midst of the Blitz. While Rose meets Captain Jack Harkness, The Doctor encounters a group of children who are being terrorised by a child wearing a gas mask.

Preamble

I’m going to go off on a slight tangent before starting my review. I’m writing this on the day that Big Finish announced that Christopher Eccleston would be reprising the role of the Ninth Doctor in four boxsets starting in May 2021! Eccleston returning to the role is something that I never thought would happen, and it’s safe to say that I’m very excited about this happening. As I am approaching the end of his first and only televised series, I was making plans for what I would be doing for this slot next year, which now will be pushed back a little bit, but that’s no problem when we’re getting more of Eccleston!

Review

The Empty Child kicks off a rather strong end to the first series of the revival with a story that doesn’t become less creepy the more it is watched. Those who have read reviews on here of Steven Moffat’s other work will know that I greatly enjoy his writing and his stint as show runner, but I did try and watch this as it would have been seen in 2005. This first part of the story presents us with a Doctor and companion at the peak of their powers, a character who would go on to be a fan-favourite and one of the best one-off villains of all time, coupled with one of the most haunting deliveries of a relatively simple line. Moffat delights in taking the mundane and everyday and making it frightening – here, it is the traditional image of the World War Two gas mask.

This story separates the Doctor and Rose early on and gives the Ninth Doctor some great characterisation. Throughout the first series, we have seen glimpses of just how battle scarred this incarnation is, but here we get clear confirmation of the impact of the Time War on him. We get the exchange between him and Doctor Constantine, a lovely appearance by Richard Wilson, where we appreciate the sheer scale of what the Doctor has lost, making Wilson’s brief cameo particularly effective and memorable. We also get a mention of the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey.

What’s this, then? It’s never easy being the only child left out in the cold, you know.

I suppose you’d know.

I do actually, yes.

The Ninth Doctor and Nancy

We also get to see the Doctor interacting with children, something I feel that we haven’t seen this incarnation do a lot of – going forward, the Eleventh Doctor in particular spends a lot of time interacting with children. We also get a good moment that feels as though any Doctor could say it – the scene with the cat, which feels as though any Doctor could have said it. In my case, I can especially picture that scene with Peter Davison!

Rose? (A cat meows, the Doctor picks it up) You know, one day, just one day, I’m going to meet someone who gets the whole don’t wander off thing. Nine hundred years of phone box travel, it’s the only thing left to surprise me.

The Ninth Doctor

Billie Piper is great here, too, and separating her from the Doctor gives her an opportunity to explore the setting of wartime London and stumble across a renegade Time Agent Jack Harkness, before being reunited with the Doctor shortly before the cliffhanger to tie the plot together. Having begged the Doctor for some more ‘Spock’ as she calls it, she falls quite literally into the hands of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness, someone who is all about gadgets and showing off and she falls under his spell. She’s particularly good in her moments of outrage, like when Jack tells her to switch her mobile off, pointing out the absurdity of the situation. She also show initiative, trying to imitate a Time Agent whom Captain Jack is trying to con, and obviously does this effectively enough to get Jack and The Doctor to meet.

The story really doesn’t let up, starting with a bombastic and frenetically paced cold open which establishes the basis for the story effectively and economically as the audience is in no doubt as to what is happening and what the problem is. After the opening credits, Steven Moffat uses some horror tropes to create an atmosphere of fear and dread, such as the Child, the sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Nancy and the phone call to a disconnected phone. The script really crackles with some great dialogue, some humour and is recognisable as a Moffat story. In more recent times, I have developed problems with the idea of romanticising World War II, and for the most part this story depicts something close to the grim reality of the Blitz. The Doctor does have a speech that, in the wrong hands could have rubbed me up the wrong way, but it’s a testament to the writing, directing and performance by Eccleston that it doesn’t rankle.

Amazing.

What is?

1941. Right now, not very far from here, the German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it. Nothing. Until one, tiny, damp little island says no. No. Not here. A mouse in front of a lion. You’re amazing, the lot of you. Don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me.

The Ninth Doctor and Nancy

James Hawes’ direction also adds to this story and the feeling of unease and fear, with scenes like the ones in the hospital towards the end of this episode really well done. The scene with the reveal of Doctor Constantine’s scar on his hand, his subsequent transformation into one of the gas mask creatures is nicely done and all of the other affected patients sitting up in their bed are all creepy.

The Child is one of the creepiest antagonists to the Doctor and this is in no small part down to the performances of Albert Valentine and Noah Johnson who make this character so eerie and iconic. The voice sends shivers down my spine, and the direction and appearance of the Child make simple gestures like pointing effective. Nancy, his sister, is also good and she proves herself to be capable of providing for the gang of children without the Doctor’s help. Unlike Rose, she is utterly blunt with him, rather than hanging off every word. Otherwise, John Barrowman is good as Jack Harkness, coming across as a lovable rogue, even if he is ultimately responsible for the problem that the Doctor and Rose find themselves trying to solve.

Verdict: The Empty Child is one of the best examples of what Doctor Who can do. A creepy child and a sense of dread and fear make this one into an absolute classic. 10/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Kate Harvey (Nightclub Singer), Albert Valentine (The Child), Florence Hoath (Nancy), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs Lloyd), Damian Samuels (Mr Lloyd), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness), Robert Hands (Algy), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Brandon Miller (Alf), Richard Wilson (Dr. Constantine), Noah Johnson (Voice of the Empty Child) & Dian Perry (Computer Voice)

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: James Hawes

Behind the Scenes

  • Working titles included World War II and An Empty Child, a reference to An Unearthly Child.
  • The first contribution to the show by future showrunner Steven Moffat.
  • This story introduces the character of Captain Jack Harkness, who would go on to have his own spin-off in the shape of Torchwood and would return on numerous occasions, most recently in Fugitive of the Judoon. Although Barrowman would stay with the show until the end of the first series, his name would not appear in the opening credits until he came back in Utopia in series 3. It was intended in Russell T Davies’ original pitch that the character’s real name would be Captain Jax.
  • The first revived story to feature a child as being responsible for the bizarre goings on in the story.
  • The name Chula for the warship is a reference to a restaurant in London, where Moffat, Robert Shearman, Mark Gatiss and Paul Cornell went to celebrate being commissioned to write for the first episode since the revival.
  • This two-parter won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form in 2006.

Best Moment

There are too many to mention, but I think my favorite might be the conversation between the child and the Doctor in the hallway of the Lloyd’s house.

Mummy? Please let me in, mummy. Please let me in.

Your mummy isn’t here.

Are you my mummy?

No mummies here. Nobody here but us chickens. Well, this chicken anyway.

The Child and the Ninth Doctor

Best Quote

Before this war began, I was a father and a grandfather. Now I’m neither, but I’m still a doctor.

Yeah. I know the feeling.

Doctor Constantine and the Ninth Doctor

Previous Ninth Doctor Review: Father’s Day

The Idiot’s Lantern

Men in black? Vanishing police cars? This is Churchill’s England, not Stalin’s Russia!

The Tenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Rose arrive by accident in London in 1953 on the eve of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II where something is lurking in the televisions sold by Mr Magpie

Review

Series Two of Doctor Who really frustrates me because it varies so widely in terms of quality. So far on this blog, I have revisited the high points (School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace) and the lows (New Earth) and there are more of both to come in this series. Sadly, The Idiot’s Lantern falls at the lower end of the series and continues to contribute to an uneven debut series for David Tennant. Equally frustrating from my point of view is the fact that I know that Mark Gatiss is a better writer than this. For evidence of this, you need look no further than Gatiss’ first script for the revived show, The Unquiet Dead, or Big Finish stories like Invaders from Mars, and there are other stories in the future for this blog which are far better than this.

I will praise the work of the set dressers and others who worked so hard on making sure that this story really evoked the feel of the post-war period. There is fantastic attention to detail to ensure that the story looks right, whether this is costumes or the appearance of the street party at the conclusion of the episode. Gatiss has clearly set out to create a feeling of nostalgia for the post-war period and specifically the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II for a backdrop for his story and the production team deserve a huge amount of credit for bringing this to life. Of course, Gatiss goes on to show us that the perceived idyllism of the post-war period isn’t as rosy as it would first appear, and this has been subtly alluded to by the shape of the television aerials being similar to that of swastikas, setting up the eventual plot point that Eddie Connolly has been informing the authorities about the people whose faces have been taken by the Wire. I find the direction really strange here, though, as it feels as though Lyn (who is generally quite decent) is afraid to tone down some of the more over the top performances and the majority of shots are shot at an angle that it makes me feel as though the camera stands were all broken.

The drama of the Connolly family certainly forms the B part to this episode, with the patriarch, Eddie Connolly being abusive towards his wife’s mother, his wife and his son. I must admit that I haven’t seen Jamie Foreman in anything else but I’m sure he is a good actor. Sadly, the character of Eddie is such a one-dimensional Hitler-allegory that it does Foreman a disservice and really means that the story hits a bum note in the conclusion when Rose encourages his son to try and build bridges with his father, especially considering how he talks about beating Tommy for being homosexual or his emotional abuse of his wife Rita, telling her to put a smile when her mother has been taken away. The rest of the Connolly family are good and we certainly sympathise with their treatment at the hands of Eddie, and Debra Gillett is particularly good in the scene where she sends Tommy off with the Doctor and kicks Eddie out. Tommy is a good companion of the week, and Rory Jennings and David Tennant have some good chemistry together, and I particularly liked the moment where Tommy is reunited with his grandmother at the conclusion of the story.

I’m the Wire, and I’m hungry!

The Wire

Speaking of the one-dimensional fascistic Eddie Connolly, we have another one-dimensional villain in the shape of the Wire played by Maureen Lipman. The idea of televisions taking people’s faces feels as though it should be a classic Doctor Who idea – taking something so prevalent and usual in this modern culture and making it scary. However, the Wire is so one dimensional and irritating that it means that this doesn’t really work. Lipman’s performance at the beginning, but she starts to gain power, it becomes almost unbearable. It is a running joke between my wife and I that we will screech the line above at each other around meal times. Ron Cook’s Mr Magpie, who is manipulated by the Wire into selling the affected television sets, feels largely wasted in this story, but he does well with what he is given. The effect of the ‘stolen’ faces on the actual people looks really unpolished and cheap, whilst, conversely, the effect of the faces on the television screens in the shop is rather effective and unnerving.

I am talking!

And I’m not listening!

Eddie Connolly and the Tenth Doctor

Now to address the Doctor and Rose. It is clear through this series that the intention was to establish the fact that the newly regenerated Doctor and Rose are perhaps overconfident throughout this series, but sadly for me it largely across as them being smug. This is not a problem that is exclusive to this story, but in a story that is quite poor anyway it really stands out. It is interesting to see the Tenth Doctor and Rose separated as this hasn’t happened a lot since the start of the series and Tennant is good in the scenes where he can be a bit quieter, like the interrogation scene where he flips the scenario on Detective Inspector Bishop. In contrast, the louder scenes, like the one the quote above is taken from are so hideously overacted and cringe-worthy. Since The Christmas Invasion, the production team have been hinting at this rage bubbling under the seemingly amiable face of the Doctor, but here it just across as he is a bit of a bully, especially in the scenes with Magpie. There is also the fact that the Doctor doesn’t seem to be too interested in solving the mystery until it directly affects him when the Wire takes Rose’s face. As a character who is supposed to stand up against the wrongs of the universe regardless of how he is impacted personally, this is really glaring. Rose is pretty poor too for the most part, reduced to a shadow of how she was in Eccleston’s series as the Doctor to an obnoxious and lovelorn character. We do get a hint of what the character like last series when she investigates Magpie’s shop though.

Verdict: This story really does flounder with one-dimensional villains and the central cast aren’t good enough to raise this one. Kudos on the production design though. 3/10

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Maureen Lipman (The Wire), Ron Cook (Magpie), Jamie Foreman (Eddie Connolly), Debra Gillett (Rita Connolly), Rory Jennings (Tommy Connolly), Margaret John (Grandma Connolly), Sam Cox (Detective Inspector Bishop), Ieaun Rhys (Crabtree), Jean Challis (Aunty Betty), Christopher Driscoll (Security Guard) & Marie Lewis (Mrs Gallagher).

Writer: Mark Gatiss

Director: Euros Lyn

Behind the Scenes

  • The working titles of Mr Sandman, Sonic Doom and The One-Eyed Monster.
  • Mark Gatiss originally wrote this episode for Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor, and it was originally intended to be broadcast as the ninth episode of Series 2. It also contained a sub-plot about Tommy having a crush on the Doctor, but Rose mistakenly believing that he had a crush on her.
  • Magpie Electricals is a brand that would reoccur throughout the revived series, including Martha’s television in The Sound of Drums, a microphone in Voyage of the Damned, some parts of the Eleventh Doctor’s first TARDIS and a shop is seen in The Lie of the Land. The brand has been retrospectively inserted as an Easter Egg in several animations of Patrick Troughton episodes, including The Power of the Daleks.
  • The street on which the Connolly family lives is Florizel Street which was the original name for long-running soap opera Coronation Street. Coincidentally, Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson went on to be producer of Coronation Street from 2010 to 2013, whilst Russell T Davies had previously briefly been a storyline editor in the 1990s.

Cast Notes

  • Margaret John holds the record for the longest gap between appearances at 38 years, having previously appeared in Fury from the Deep.
  • Rory Jennings played teenage Davros in I, Davros: Innocence.

Best Moment

It’s always hard to choose these with an episode that I don’t particularly like. Probably Rita finally kicking out her abusive husband.

Best Quote

Twenty years on the force, I don’t even know where to start. We haven’t got the faintest clue what’s going on.

Well. That could change.

How?

Start from the beginning. Tell me everything you know.

Detective Inspector Bishop and the Tenth Doctor

Previous Tenth Doctor Review: The Age of Steel

Reviews mentioned:

The Christmas Invasion

New Earth

School Reunion

The Girl in the Fireplace

Invaders from Mars