THIS EPISODE TAKES
EPISODES "TURN LEFT"
AND "JOURNEY'S END."
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE FOURTH
SERIES' HMV EXCLUSIVE
DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD
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heroes assemble to
fight the New Dalek
Empire. But aN old
enemy waits in the
PREVIOUS (SARAH JANE ADVENTURES)
28TH JUNE 2008
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 3)
After watching The Stolen Earth – twice! – last night, I was tempted to wait until after next week’s season finale to write this review. But then that would be cheating, wouldn’t it? For better or for worse hindsight can be a potent thing, and so, irrespective of what may or may not happen next week, now seems like the proper time to pass judgement on what may well go down in the history books as the single greatest episode of Doctor Who ever.
Despite the customary glut of pre-season hype, this year one thing remained shrouded in mystery – the title of the series’ twelfth episode. Anxious that it would “give away too much”, the production team waited until just a fortnight ago to reveal that episode twelve would see the Earth ‘stolen’ in the most ambitious story of Doctor Who’s forty-five year existence.
“Someone tried to move the Earth once before, a long time ago…”
Indeed, I don’t think that it could be reasonably argued that any other story in the canon has as many hooks as this one does. For starters, the stakes here are impossibly high – the walls between parallel universes are breaking down, meaning that the entire multiverse (in effect, every universe) is in danger. What’s more, the Earth itself has been taken by the series’ most notorious alien aggressors, the Daleks, and hidden a second out of synch with the rest of our universe inside the Medusa Cascade together with twenty-six other missing planets for some (as yet) unknown purpose. Thirdly, we have the return of the Daleks’ self-professed Lord and Creator, Davros, seen for the first time on television in nigh on twenty years. And fourthly – but by no means finally – we have the biggest troupe of companions and even companions’ companions assembled on screen since The Five Doctors aired twenty-five years ago. There were so many names on this episode’s title sequence that
they flew past too quickly to be read, but even that wasn’t fast enough. For the first time in
the history of the series, the ‘starring’ part of the opening titles spewed over into the main body of the episode.
“There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry. We’re dead”.
I think what works best about this episode is the way in which it gets across the horrendous ramifications of a Dalek invasion of Earth without pulling any punches. Seeing UNIT forces desperately scrambling about in New York city is one thing, but having Jack gently kiss both Ianto and Gwen on their foreheads before apologising for their impending deaths truly shows just how grave the situation is. What really gets me though are Sarah Jane Smith’s tears as she hugs her son, Luke. “Oh my God. You’re so young!” she cries, utterly powerless against the oncoming storm. These are the world’s greatest heroes but, without the Doctor to help them, against the sheer might of the Daleks they are completely impotent.
Russell T Davies doesn’t stop there though. Of all his Dalek scripts to date, this is perhaps the one that demonstrates the evil of the Daleks most obviously. Whereas the 1964 classic
Dalek Invasion of Earth depicted the subjugation of the human race by the Daleks, The St-olen Earth shows us an actual invasion in progress. We see the Earth being ravaged, as opposed to once it has been ravaged. And, most powerfully of all, this invasion is ostensibly taking place in our time (or at least thereabouts), as opposed to in 2157 or even 200,100. Davies shows us a normal, suburban family being massacred by the Daleks, perishing in flame. How much more harrowing can you get? It’s little wonder that the masses take to the streets looting and what have you, boozily commemorating the world’s end.
The Stolen Earth also resurrects another recurring icon from Dalek history – the Supreme Dalek. In the classic series, the various Supreme Daleks were gold or black, or sometimes even a fusion of the two, however as the grunts of the Dalek army are now all perilously close to being gold, it’s little surprise that the production team opted to set their new head honcho apart by making him dark red, controversial though it may be.
I’m sure that most casual viewers will be surprised to learn that a red Dalek never appeared in the classic series, and even their appearances in Doctor Who’s spin-off media have been extremely limited. Most notably, the two 1960s Dalek movies starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor featured red Daleks, as did John Peel’s brace of eighth Doctor novels. In these, the red Daleks were shown as being a warrior caste bridging the gulf between the grunts of the Dalek army (which were grey in the days before the Time War) and the black Daleks. It looks like red is the new black…
Personally though, I found the twisted ruin of Dalek Caan far more captivating and far more disquieting. Superficially, of course, an exposed Dalek mutant is altogether more revolting than one encased in a metal war machine, but all the same it does seem to go deeper than that with Caan. Nicholas Briggs has done a remarkable job with the begotten monstrosity’s voice; whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘musical’, it does have a haunting, harmonious quality to it - something exacerbated by Davies’ unsettlingly lyrical dialogue.
“Everlasting death for the Doctor's most faithful companion...”
But what really takes the biscuit is what Caan has somehow done; the enormity of it leaves his madness and the horror of his form in the shade. Caan did what no other creature could ever do – somehow, someway, he got broke through the time-locked barrier and travelled back to the first year of the Time War, rescuing Davros’ command ship from the “…the jaws of the Nightmare Child” at “the Gates of Elysium”. And in doing so, he gave his creator yet another chance to rebuild the Dalek race and forge a new Dalek Empire.
As for Davros himself, it’s difficult to be anything but impressed. He may have acquired a new metal hand since last we saw him but, this one prosthesis aside, the transition from Terry Molloy to Julian Bleach has been as seamless as it possibly could have been. I was gratified to see that the production team decided to put Davros back in his chariot; there
is something so iconic about that silhouette that to portray him in any other way would’ve been dicey in the extreme. Director Graeme Harper has clearly taken great pleasure in shooting those beautifully ominous scenes of Davros lurking in the shadows, and whilst
I’m sure that most viewers will have known who Davros was (second hand, if not first), it
still made the big reveal all the more rewarding.
“I gave myself to them quite literally…”
The masterstroke though is in how they have managed to show Davros’ progressing, horrific degeneration whilst keeping the basic design in tact. Back in the day, it made a refreshing change to have Davros take up residence inside his Emperor Dalek casing, but in my view having what is left of him exposed is far more disturbing, particularly when he opens up his tunic to reveal how very little of him is actually left. Had I seen Davros’ innards as a child, I wouldn’t have slept for weeks.
The only possible complaint that I could have concerning Davros is that the part has been recast needlessly. For me, Molloy will always be the definitive Davros. His performances
on television in the 1980s were incredible enough, but his star turns in certain Big Finish audio plays since – the eponymously titled Davros, The Juggernauts, Terror Firma and
the I, Davros miniseries especially – really saw him make the part his own. Now I’m not
for a moment criticising Bleach’s terrific performance – far from it – but all the same, I’m confused as to why the production team would take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude towards the character, only to recast the part.
However, The Stolen Earth has to be
praised for its stunning visual effects.
I’ve been so spoiled by the Mill’s efforts
that I often take their sterling work for
granted, but when something as mind-
bogglingly awe-inspiring as two hundred Dalek saucers razing New York city or twenty-six new celestial bodies (including Callufrax Minor, from The Pirate Planet; Clom, from Love & Monsters; Woman Wept, from Boom Town; Adipose III, from Partners in Crime; Pyrovilia, from The Fires of Pompeii; and the Lost Moon of Poosh, from Midnight) appearing in the Earth’s skyline come along, I really do have to take my hat off to them.
And a lot of the episode’s bellicose atmosphere is thanks to Murray Gold’s distinctive score. Although many recurring themes from the past four seasons rear their heads throughout this episode, it is the resounding, Haka-like march to war that I think will forever be synonymous with The Stolen Earth.
“The children of time are moving against us, but everything is falling into place.”
At heart though, what really makes this story so relentlessly brilliant are the characters which drive the plot forward. Anyone with a big budget and a half-decent scriptwriter could make a blockbuster movie about an alien invasion of Earth, and it might well be good, but it couldn’t be exceptional in the same way that The Stolen Earth is exceptional without characters that the audience have invested in over many years; characters that they care about. And we’ve had four years to care about most of the characters on parade here; forty-five years in one notable case. But even those relatively new to the world of Doctor Who – those like Sylvia Noble and Wilfred Mott – still have a poignant part to play. Wilf’s bravery, for example, when he shoots a Dalek in its eyestalk with a paint gun is absolutely inspiring. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – Bernard Cribbins (now a veteran of two Dalek invasions of Earth – who else can say that?) is absolutely fantastic.
And even when things are looking at their most grim, who turns up to unite Earth’s greatest heroes using her “outer-space Facebook” but Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister of Great Britain? I’m delighted that the character has finally been given a chance for redemption after the events of The Christmas Invasion. I love how Davies portrays as her as having stuck to her guns - she doesn’t come crawling back begging for forgiveness or anything of the sort; she stands by what she did then and what she is about to do now. It’s almost as fitting an epitaph for her as the “we know who you are” joke turned out to be.
And things only grow darker from there. “The loss that is yet to come…”
One of the pitfalls of being such an ardent Doctor Who fan is that little surprises you. Even
on the scant few occasions where you manage to avoid the spoilers, there are some things that you know will never happen and some things than you know can never happen. Now one thing that I firmly expected to see at some point in either The Stolen Earth or Journey’s End was to see the Doctor and Rose run into each other’s arms. One thing that I resolutely did not expect to see was the tenth Doctor being cut down by a Dalek just a second before he would have held Rose in his arms.
And Harper captured the moment so very beautifully. The slow motion. That blazing moment. The upper-half of the Doctor’s body lit up translucent green; his internal organs burning. Any human being would have died right there, but not a Time Lord. However a mortal wound is, ultimately, a mortal wound.
My heart was in my mouth as I watched this episode live. It sounds ridiculous, but it felt like someone had died. Someone real. That sense of grim realisation was sickening. And I’ve watched Doctors perish before, but each and every time I had been ‘ready’ for it, as it were. It was “Doctor Who is coming back for a twenty-fourth season, but with a new Doctor” or “they’re doing a Doctor Who movie with a new Doctor” or even “Christopher Eccleston will be bowing out after just one season”, yet David Tennant has always been tight-lipped about when his tenure would conclude. My understanding had been that Tennant would stay on for this year’s Christmas special and the four 2009 specials at least; indeed, I thought that was the point of the BBC holding off on the full-length fifth season – to keep Tennant for just that little bit longer. And so to say that the climactic regeneration shocked me certainly would not be overstating things – if anything, it would be playing it down tremendously. I was in shock.
“I’m sorry. It’s too late. I’m regenerating…”
There has to be a but... surely? The Doctor’s face doesn’t
change (I freeze-framed the closing moments of the episode
and I’m certain that it doesn’t change in the slightest). Fair
dues, if I were to introduce a new Doctor in my season finale,
I’d make the audience wait a week to find out who would be
playing him – it would be one sure-fire way of winning the Saturday ratings war! – but even
so, I still don’t believe it. Until I see a new Doctor emerge from that old brown suit I refuse to believe it. I’m in denial.
Not irrational denial though, I feel. After all, someone would surely have noticed a new Doctor on the streets of Cardiff when BBC Wales shot the Christmas special earlier this year – the Cybermen were certainly spotted quickly enough. But on the other hand, if he isn’t in the suit,
then how would anyone identify him as being the new Doctor? And Journey’s End could be construed as being rather a telling title. The question is, whose journey…?
Whatever the outcome, Davies has certainly scripted the series’ single greatest cliffhanger. Whether it will be to witness a cop-out or otherwise, the audience for next week’s sixty-five minute season finale is sure to be mammoth.
Ultimately, the only criticisms that I have of The Stolen Earth are very minor indeed. Firstly,
I thought that the until-now mysterious Shadow Proclamation were a bit of a let down; “posh name for police” and a troupe of Judoon doesn’t really do justice to such an evocative name. Slightly more troublingly though, as with last year’s season finale, matters have got so out of hand that when writing Journey’s End Davies must have been tempted to press the reset button again in order to get all of his toys back into the box. I sincerely hope that this year at least, the effects of what happens here will be felt, whatever the consequences may be for Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Nevertheless, irrespective of what may happen next week, The Stolen Earth surely can’t be regarded as anything other than a resounding success in its own right. I have been itching to use the word ‘epic’ somewhere in this review, but somehow it just doesn’t seem superlative enough. If this one does prove to be Tennant’s swansong, then he couldn’t have asked for a better script, and I certainly don’t think that the audience could have asked anything more of him (or indeed of any of his plentiful, big-name co-stars). One of the very best.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story re-introduces the character of Dalek creator Davros, who is portrayed here as he was seen in the television series in the 1970s and early 1980s. Davros’ last televised appearance in Remembrance of the Daleks suggested that there was little left of him beside a head by that point; however, this is plainly not the case, and so we must assume that there was a torso lurking somewhere beneath that Imperial Dalek casing!
Furthermore, Davros was apparently disintegrated at the end of John Peel’s novel War of the Daleks, though the author did build a ready-made retcon into his narrative in the form of the Spider Dalek loyal to Davros that attended the execution. We must assume that this Spider Dalek somehow reversed the process in time for Davros to lead the Daleks into battle in the Last Great Time War...
When is now? These events take place between The Sontaran Stratagem two-parter (late April 2009) and Planet of the Dead (Easter 2010). This accords with dialogue in The Waters of Mars, which is set in 2059
and refers to the Dalek invasion of Earth happening fifty years prior. However, someone in The Waters of Mars’ design team clearly didn’t get the memo, as Adelaide Brooke’s obituary refers to “the Dalek invasion
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