Monday, 11 February 2013

Review: Doctor Who 2.12/13: Army of Ghosts and Doomsday
Torchwood makes its first appearance. And it's cool.
Doctor Who - Season 28, Episode 12/13 - Army of Ghosts and Doomsday
Written 25/1/13

I could get in a lot of trouble here. Fear Her, the Idiot's Lantern - no-one cares what I say about those episodes. They're old news, they're unimportant. But this finale, and Doomsday in particular, is considered by some in the NuWho section of the Doctor Who fandom to be one of the most heart-wrenchingly potent moments in modern television. One's position in said fandom, and the divides within, goes pretty much hand in hand with your particular opinion on this episode, and on how sad you are at the loss (for now) of Rose Marion Tyler. As you may have been able to tell, while I'm getting to like Ten a bit more overall, Rose is still not exactly a character that I am enamoured with.
     I am not someone, however, who particularly cares about having unpopular opinions any more. As long as I'm not talking complete mouth-farts, I think that I can keep some dignity and say that while the structure of the two-parter is well-done, the execution of the epic concept at its heart is less than satisfying. And, behind the buzzwords, what I basically mean is that you're either here for Rose's exit or the monsters. And I was most definitely here for the Monsters. This is the first (and so far only) time that the Daleks and Cybermen have identified with and fought each other in the entire 50 year history of the show. If you're centring an episode around that, I expect it to be a little more than a one-sided cop-out. After the fans put the new Cybermen down in their opening story, it really didn't do them any favours to appear in massive numbers as nothing more than ray-gun fodder.
     Perhaps that's more childish than I realise. There's so much more to this two-parter than monsters shooting at each other, and a lot of it is relevant to the overall plot of the season. Like the previous series, Season 28 had an arc, although one that was much less obscure. The launch of Rusty's new Torchwood spin-off (which I'll be finishing off in April) was punctuated by a series of references in Doctor Who that led up to this story, which takes place mainly in the headquarters of Torchwood's London branch. They're led by the wonderfully characterised Yvonne Hartman, played by a Tracy-Ann Oberman who is enjoying herself immensely. It was very interesting to see that concept explored in the first half, even if it got shoved to the side for our emotional finale. (Which I'll get to at the end, I promise, this is gonna be like the End of Time review but slightly less foamy at the mouth.)
The Daleks are in this. Spoilers, I guess.
     For what its worth, the sheer unexpectedness of the main elements of the story as they're introduced in Army of Ghosts makes the story quite interesting for the first half. The idea of ghosts leaking through into our world through a hole in spacetime, following a mysterious golden sphere, had us all on our toes. While the reveal of the Cybermen wasn't too surprisingly, their subsequent invasion of the Earth and the final, shattering reveal of four Daleks gives the story one of the best cliffhangers in NuWho. (One which caused my mother, in fact, to emit a high-pitched scream that still haunts me to this day.) It felt like the perfect build up to a perfect finale to what was a less than perfect season.
     As I have likely discussed elsewhere (and likely discuss far too often), the main problem that occurs quite often in Rusty's writing is the extraordinarily good build-up that then gets a shitty pay-off. He's always been better at extracting every last ounce of emotion from the viewer, even if that means distorting the characters and plot to suit. An example would be Rose's change from independant and feisty 19-year-old woman to love-sick teenager who makes inappropriate jokes every few minutes, in order to make her loss in this episode more powerful. I'm skirting on the edge of that subject again, so I'll get this paragraph back on track - Army of Ghosts was building up for a really, really powerful story and then we sorta threw too many things into the pot at once and Davies wrote himself into an impossible situation. We have six billion Cybermen roaming the world's streets, with even more Daleks flying above them, killing us and each other. Davies' solution of a magical interdimensional hoover is as laughable as it is implausable, especially considering the fact that the TARDIS and a few Classic companions have crossed dimensions and we don't see them being sucked in too. And we'll not even talk about Pete Tyler's amazing omniscience.
     Right, onto Rose. I'm pretty much sick and tired of talking, rather inexpertly, about the reasons why I found her character a bit saddening by this point in her history. She had once been a symbol of such confidence during NuWho's beginnings, but her character really just got mangled for some reason into a caricature of her former self. Don't get me wrong - Billie Piper is a wonderful actress that I really quite respect, and it's the writing that forms the crux of my problem with Rose in her second series. Your opinion on Doomsday is very much gonna depend upon whether you like Rose or not, because if you do then it's the most heart-breaking thing in the world, and if you don't then it's a rather underwhelming send-off to a character you didn't much care for in the first place. Seeing as I'm in the latter camp, all I can give you is my perspective.
"My name's Rose Tyler, and this is my overly
dramatic voiceover."
     I might talk about this more when I get to the reviews for Series Four, but it deserves to be said here. NuWho during Rusty's era began to use Rose as a crutch, and a lot of the souring of her reputation from certain parts of the fanbase has come from the fact that once she left, we never really got rid of her. The character was mentioned quite frequently in the next series, with brave new companion choice Martha getting sidelined as "not-Rose". Then in Series Four, she's back again and guiding the series towards its messy conclusion. I'm not blaming the character of Rose for all of my problems with RTD's Who, but I am saying that her almost constant background presence made it almost impossible for our main characters to develop a lot of emotional grounding.
     Ok, so those two paragraphs were a bit of a tangent. Never mind me. Rose Tyler's time on the show has come to an end, for now, and while I wasn't particularly moved by her admittedly poignant exit, I was excited by the first half and Rusty's general ability to create a decent build-up around a set of great concepts. I enjoyed the Dalek v Cybermen action, because that's fanboy gold, and I enjoyed some of the more intimate moments with Rose's family reuniting in the parallel world. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday is not a bad story by any means, and is one of the most impressive of this season. But it doesn't tug on my heartstrings as much as it does for other people, and that's something that a lot of you probably won't forgive me for.


P.S. As to why I can write a long article like this in one night while a Lost review takes a couple of days... make of that what you will.

NEXT TIME: I take a week break from Doctor Who for my half-term break, returning with Smith and Jones in the new half-term.

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