The Randomiser - 50 Years of Doctor Who Stories - Part 5
The final day of our journey. Here are three stories from the three Doctors of the 2000’s. Expect scares, laughter and a bit of wood.
The Unquiet Dead
It’s arrived! Doctor Who has arrived! That was the thing most people took away in 2005 after The Unquiet Dead first aired. Yes, Rose and The End of The World were okay, but this episode really forced Doctor Who, and what it was about, home to millions of new viewers. I should know, I was one of them.
It’s funny, whilst watching this again, I thought back to that first series and think about how average some of the episodes were. I think if the same episodes were aired during Series 2 or 3 they wouldn’t have gone down as well, but despite that first series being chaotic from a production point of view, it was all new, so it’s still held in high esteem. For me though, The Unquiet Dead, along with a few others from Series 1, will go down as a bone-fide ‘new series classic’.
The story sees The Doctor and Rose appear in Cardiff in 1869, just as Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) is in town. At a local Funeral Home however, they have a problem. The dead are rising and killing the living…
It’s a great story, which zips through 45 minutes in seemingly no time at all. The idea of The Gelth was a clever one and it follows the tradition of Doctor Who explaining things that appear to be ‘magic’ (or phantasmagoria, as Charlie Boy calls it) with science. This is Mark Gatiss’ first script for the series and you can tell it’s something that he was probably planning for years.
Simon Callow was great as Charles Dickens, the line "I thought you was a fan?" when The Doctor criticises one of his books, could have been aimed at Who fans! Similarly, I thought that this was one of Eve Myles’ strongest performances in the Doctor Who ‘universe’ – as we know, on the strength of this, she went on to play Gwen Cooper in Torchwood. And speaking of which – this story is the start of ‘The Rift’, which attracts all sorts of alien attention and brings them through onto the streets of Cardiff! The later episode Boom Town investigates this further and of course, the job of the branch of Torchwood in the spin-off series was to monitor The Rift. It’s a clever idea which serves many purposes, the main one being to explain why Cardiff is constantly a setting in the show!
I don’t want (and can’t) say any more – but if you ever need a fun and scary 9th Doctor episode – this one is perfect. Which is a good job really, as he’s only got the 13 episodes!
The Unicorn and The Wasp
This is an episode that I feel is something that divides fans. It’s not quite on the same scale as the love-it-or-hate Love and Monsters (for the record - I like them both) but it’s not far away. The Unicorn and The Wasp is basically a light murder mystery. Like Murder, She Wrote! (But without the old lady batting her eyelashes at any elderly Gentleman she meets).
The story sees The Doctor and Donna gatecrash a high-society garden party, laid on by Lady Eddison (Felicity Kendal). Many guests turn up, including famous crime novelist Agatha Christie (Fenella Woolgar) just as someone turns up dead in the library, smacked with some lead piping. There’s a Cludeo-style mystery afoot!
Maybe it could have been the beneficiary of an extra couple of minutes, just so time could be taken to explain how The Doctor and Agatha came up with their conclusions, at a slower pace, so we could take it all in! Otherwise, it’s an enjoyable story with plenty of laughs and references. The actors make this and all the cast are on top form. It was great to Christopher Benjamin (Sir Keith Gold in Inferno and unforgettably – as Henry Gordon Jago, originally from the Tom Baker classic The Talons of Weng-Chiang) again and he had a few good lines as the wheelchair-bound Colonel. Fenella Woolgar, at the suggestion of David Tennant, plays Agatha Christie and she portrayed a woman, despite her brilliance, doubted herself both professionally and personally. The explanation of her real-life disappearance was well done and despite my earlier complaint of the conclusion being too rushed, this felt fine as actions take no time at all to transpire. As Agatha says, the joy is in the chase, never the capture.
Donna made me laugh when she was sitting there, listening to The Doctor whilst he was summing up the case like Poriot, asking him if such-and-such was the murderer, whilst she was eating. It’s exactly like us watching a murder mystery and wondering whodunit, sat in the comfort of our homes. The Doctor being told off by Agatha for ‘taking joy’ in the case (when people are being murdered) was well played and basically summed The Doctor up. I do wish the series would play more on this aspect of The Doctor sometimes – in some stories, he seems to enjoy himself when death and destruction is all around.
The Unicorn and The Wasp is a nice little ‘romp’ that will be enjoyed by people into their Murder Mysteries. There’s even a reference to Dickens and The Unquiet Dead! For those who don’t like it, just think, it could have been worse. Murder, She Wrote had a few stinkers too!
The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe
You know, when I drew this out, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I think I’ve only seen it twice and being a Doctor Who fan, that isn’t enough. I just remember not being entertained at all by it. Times change and almost 2 years on, I think better of it.
Okay, it isn’t exactly the best piece of Doctor Who since 2005, nor is it even the best Christmas Special. The problem I think it has, is that it’s tagged ‘Christmas Special’. In these episodes we expect big, massive, enormous stories with story arcs converging and playing out. The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe just isn’t that. It’s a Christmas adventure that subtly tries to do something different. The Doctor Who hype machine and fans alike tend to build things up and build things up and all the attention just doesn’t suit what the episode was. It isn’t the greatest thing ever, nor is it the worst. It’s just alright.
The story sees The Doctor crashland on Earth and after a local woman, Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) helps him to find his TARDIS, he decides to repay the favour by treating her and her family to a Christmas ‘they’ll never forget’.
I think the episode showed a few sides to The Doctor, namely him being naive by leaving something as dangerous as a time portal out of his sight, alarm system or not. But I think it showed how lonely he had become. He did the right thing in trying to repay Madge, but you could argue that he only did it because he had nothing else to do and nobody with him to impress. But with The Doctor’s life, he tends to lead people into danger and I didn’t really feel that there was any real threat in the story. Maybe that’s the problem this story has, something to get you off the edge of your seat. It’s just a nice watch, a comfy watch.
I don’t really mind the whole ‘Mother knows best’ aspect of the story and the lack of screen time for other guest stars in this, which were the two biggest criticisms that I read about. I enjoyed the Androzani shout-out (though no camera asides by any of actors – that would have been hilarious!) and the story of Madge had shown that she was a strong woman, at a time when everyone needed to be strong. She had purposely hid the news of the death of her husband because she didn’t want to spoil Christmas. Telling Children news that like must require great strength. The solution was about the lifeforce of the trees being carried by a childbearing being, so I don’t really see anything there that needs to be picked at.
The ending was undoubtedly great though. The Doctor going back to the Pond’s and wiping away that tear of happiness when he learns that they always set a place for him. “I couldn’t feel those things anymore” he told Madge earlier. Now he does. Class ending in a story that rattled along nicely without hitting any real heights (or drops) Think of it like a ride on a train, rather than a rollercoaster (unless you’re travelling on your local train company’s service).
So our random adventure through 50 years and 11 Doctors comes to an end. Thank you for reading and enjoy whatever is you’re doing tomorrow. For our next issue we’re looking for contributions from people, telling us what they did for the big day. Anything you’re doing, from watching it at any events you may be going to watching it at home. Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org