Did we like it?
It was a frantic, brilliant episode and so superbly paced that the holes in the plot larger the Medusa Cascade could be mentally glossed over.
What was good about it?
• The nerve-shredding cliffhanger that saw the Doctor in the full throes of regeneration. In one sense it isn’t really a cliffhanger at all, as once the Doctor has fully regenerated he’ll be able to lock horns with Davros once more (and it only took the Master about 30 seconds to regain his full faculties).
• The drama stems from this David Tennant persona of the Doctor not being able to emotionally consummate his relationship with Rose. However, we believe it isn’t going to happen. First, for the Doctor to be ‘killed’ by an arbitrary Dalek seems a little worthless – when Tennant’s Doctor expires it will have to be some Herculean act of self-sacrifice in the manner of Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee or Christopher Eccleston, not being zapped by Bob the Dalek.
• Second, early on in the episode the camera deliberately panned across the Doctor’s severed hand in a jar, which either indicates that he’ll use that to heal himself or, much less likely, that the Master will pop up and save him (possibly the ‘alternative’ Master from Rose’s dimension, as she was talking to someone from ‘home’ on her mobile).
• But there’s also this nagging sense that, well, he could regenerate leaving some other Doctor, not ‘our’ Doctor, to claim the triumphant glory rather like Cesc Fabregas weaving through the entire German defence only to be literally cut in two by a Per Mertesacker foul with the ball tricking to Fernando Torres to poke home a last minute winner. Glory for Spain, glory for Torres, but little more than woe and pity for Fabregas. And that’s why we’ll be back next week.
• Bernard Cribbins as Wilf. While family members have sometimes annoyed us, being little more than props to compel companions into otherwise senseless acts of valour, Wilf has been fantastic – in fact, if there’s a companion-shaped hole in the Tardis soon, we’d like him to fill it. In this episode, we marvelled as his efforts to repel the advance of a billion Daleks with a paintball gun, which was as courageous as it was funny. But his best line came when Rose was attempting to link up with the Doctor’s allies, “Have you got a webcam?” she pleaded. “No,” Wilf began sheepishly, “[Donna’s mother] says they’re naughty.”
• Julian Bleach as Davros, who made the evil genius the verbal equivalent of nails being slowly and deliberately drawn down a blackboard. Each word was picked over and delivered with exquisite menace, and this contrasted neatly with the soft, volatile lunacy of the insane but prophetic Dalek Caan. Davros’s most effective scene was when he jousted wits with the Doctor, even showing him a pre-watershed pushing glimpse of the open chest he has scavenged for cells in order to create his new army of Daleks.
• We still don’t know what Davros’ masterplan is, which perhaps has something to do with the disappearing star systems in Turn Left, which we had assumed to be the purloined planets.
• The evolution of the Daleks is a necessary step – the Supreme Dalek has been afforded some rudimentary emotions by Davros – as it’s impossible with cold-hearted cyborgs to generate anything other than flaccid macho dialogue; to endure there has to be a humanity about them to draw in the viewers – also see Cybermen, the Borg from Star Trek and Darth Vader.
• But there were also little things that demarcated their inherent alien malice, which was shown best in the scene when people were being herded into the street and were referred to as “males, females and descendants” as opposed to ‘children’. And this was followed by a defiant family being vaporised in their home – male, female and descendant.
• The pacing of the episode lurched magnificently from Earth under siege from a merciless, inexorable enemy to the almost sanctified tranquillity of the Shadow Proclamation, back to the Doctor’s allies formulating a plan to alert the Doctor to their location, Davros’ calculating stoicism and finally, and most starkly, the Doctor’s euphoria at Rose’s return cut with him being mortally wounded by a Dalek.
• David Tennant and Catherine Tate revelling in smaller roles than usual with Tennant’s highlight being the look on his face when he saw Rose, while Tate’s bolshy “Don’t get all spaceman, what does it mean?” to the Doctor echoed the audience frustration at the doctor’s esoteric explanation of the disappearing planets.
• Penelope Wilton as the heroic Harriet Jones, who sacrificed her life (another series theme) in order that the Doctor could home in on their signal. She also boldly claimed that she was right to destroy the Sycorax ship in the 2005 Christmas Special, as she did so as the Doctor wouldn’t always be there to defend the Earth – like now. Although she might not be dead.
• Even now, some hints are being seeded for future series’, or at least that’s what Russell T Davies would like us to speculate – the Mr Copper Foundation for example. But most intriguingly was mention of The Nightmare Child, which killed Davros in the Time War until he was rescued by the time-altering Dalek Caan, and why did the Doctor try and save him?
• Who was Rose speaking to? And we know Jackie and Micky are back for the finale, but why does her phone work across time, space and dimensions when Donna’s and Martha’s far more advanced phones won’t work across just space?
• One of the companions will die next week, the “most faithful” one. Donna is too obvious, Martha is too detached from the Doctor now, so it’s got to be Rose (we think).
What was bad about it?
• Too many bloody families involved, even if it will probably transpire that this is a central theme in the conclusion. It was enough of a contortionist’s act squeezing in all of the Children of Time without extraneous scenes with Martha’s mum and Sarah-Jane’s son, and next week Jackie Tyler’s back (but perhaps her presence will be valid in order to grieve for Rose). Hell, even Davros was going on about his ‘family’ like an overbearing mother engaging in a parental game of oneupmanship at Sports Day. Wilf, of course, is exempt from criticism.
• Some of the plot elements were so carefully moulded, and far too convenient, wrought just to crudely shunt the narrative along – the disappearing bees were aliens fleeing an oncoming catastrophe only they could sense, Harriet Jones’ subwave network was invisible to the Daleks, while the subwave signal was funnelled through the mobile phone network – this is flawed on two counts, why were celestial satellites far out in space transported with the Earth and why didn’t the Daleks knock out all Earth’s communications, which could have been achieved with a fraction of the technology of the transportation? Unless it’s all part of Davros’ plan to lure the Doctor to his doom (but if this is the case, why didn’t he make the planets slightly easier to find?).
• The 100bpm incidental techno music that still sits in the fourth series of Doctor Who as uncomfortably as it did in Rose.
• Torchwood is a goldmine of appropriated alien technology. With Jack taking the best shooter, are useless machine guns really the next best weapon available to stop the Daleks?
• Mobile phones playing a fundamental role in resolving a Doctor Who problem again, just as in the Age of Steel and Last of the Time Lords. Maybe next series, there might be a foe shaped like a mobile phone.
• Fifty-five episodes in and still only one enemy to rival the classic monsters – The Family of Blood. Perhaps new head honcho Steven Moffat will reverse and rejuvenate this worrying trend. The Racnoss, Ood, Slitheen and Vashta Nerada are all welcome but lie in the second division along with the Sea Devils, the Ice Warriors and the Autons et al.
• We hope the Doctor isn’t immobilised in Journey’s End like he was for most of Last of The Time Lords.