Series 1, Episode 2
After the triumphant return of Doctor Who, the next adventure took us all the way to the end of the world. Would it be a flawless follow-up or a case of tricky-second-album syndrome?
Having spent an episode in contemporary London, it was clearly time for a journey in time and space. New viewers were still to see the TARDIS in action, so we were duly whisked to an observation platform somewhere in the vicinity of our solar system, some 5 billion years from now.
The Doctor springs straight into action pumping a rather steam-punky TARDIS through time. The interior is far more ’96 movie than ’89 episode and it’s none the worse for that. We’re off to a good start.
We soon reach our destination. It inevitably looks more like a 21st Century conference suite than its 5 billion AD counterpart might be expected to. It’s a nice set enough set, though and the backgrounds are good. Any concerns about the scenery are soon put to rest by the appearance of Simon Day who is wonderful as the unnamed steward. We have our first view of psychic paper, something that seems to have gone out of fashion lately, and boing! As if by magic, the budget appears.
There are, apparently, 203 SFX shots in this episode. It’s a sizeable chunk of the season’s budget that we’re about to witness.
Several groups of guests are announced in quick succession. The resulting procession of aliens is a little like Romana’s regeneration scene – a fashion show for the costume team. Some of these creatures will figure later in the piece, others will not. It all feels a little extravagant.
Last to be introduced, however, is the piece de resistance, the villainous Cassandra played with a wonderfully slimy iciness by Zoe Wanamaker. The whole execution of the character is superb – good concept, great effects, fine acting.
We also get our first glimpse of the Face of Boe. The disembodied head became a semi-ongoing enigma with a view to some never-occurring Torchwood tie-up. He can probably claim the honour of being the first loose thread in Nu-Who. He may be back one day, of course, but it’s starting to feel a little unlikely.
Rusty manages to get a disco joke in there, which is fine, but the two subsequent ones are at least two too many. Mention of iPods threatens to give the whole thing a spot of premature ageing. The Doctor flirts with a beautiful tree, and it’s all a bit Restaurant at the End of the Universe meets the bar in Star Wars for a while. Then we are treated to some rather wonderful scuttling robots and it’s on with the story. With the obvious exception of K-9, these are possibly my all-time favourite bots.
Then things get a little bit weird. Rose, somewhat upset that The Doctor hasn’t told her that the TARDIS has to enter her brain in order to translate things, berates The Doctor for not warning her. The Doctor proceeds to get aggressively defensive about his history and it’s all a little ugly. It doesn’t take long for them to makeup and Rose is soon talking to her mum on a Nokia 3310. It was a moment that jagged a little. We hadn’t seen a Doctor being that rude since Colin Baker was suffering from the post-regeneration heebie-jeebies.
As with the preceding episode, the story is somewhat slight but it’s enough to give us a good chase around and Euros Lyn does a nice job with the action scenes. In the course of it, we get a fair old hint that it’s no longer business-as-usual on Gallifrey – something that will be confirmed later on.
The climactic scene of the action segment is something of a moral poser. I’d love to hear what others feel about this passage. I’m not entirely easy with The Doctor’s fatalistic acceptance of the situation. I recall that being the case at the time and it’s still a bit uncomfortable when I watch it now.
We skip through a rather Poirot-esque reveal that doesn’t have a great amount of revealing to do. The Doctor is in sparkling form.
Then it’s on to the face-to-face encounter with the bad guy. Now, okay, it’s all lined up with the stellar metaphor happening outside but what do we make of The Doctor’s actions here? This isn’t The Doctor from Genesis of the Daleks, that’s for sure. Does The Doctor need Rose to become his conscience?
We have a little more reveal about Gallifrey and the whole Time Wars kerfuffle and that’s about it. The trailer is for something spooky and Victorian. It looks quite promising.
If I divorce myself from my inner-canon, I think it’s rather good. Not a stand-out but it doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed. If I don’t, it stirs up a bit of a maelstrom. It veers away from my inner-Doctor. On first viewing that would have been a conglomeration of the first seven Doctors. By the time of this viewing, of course, other regenerations have passed into that composite – not least this particular one. Yet, to me, even today, it still feels a little out of phase. That’s a purely personal reaction, of course, but it is interesting to find that the intervening years haven’t really changed my perception of it. There have been quite a few Doctors since.
Fun fact – if you include a plot element, there are three references to Voyage of the Damned.
Pedantic quibble – no security system worthy of its name can be deactivated with a single keypress.
Sonic screwdriver factor – As good as it gets! It’s used once. It fails. We all chuckle. There is no indication of the horrors to come.