The thing to bear in mind is that although the production team, especially Russell T Davies were making lots of press comment about the casting process during the pre-publicity for the Christmas show, the senior members of the production team were totally changing, so despite the seemingly random names RTD was throwing about, the decision was made by Steven Moffat – RTD was told once the casting had been made, but had no input. The whole Paterson Joseph story seems to have started as a name amongst many, and his name in particular, partly thanks to his skin colour rolled up with events across the pond took off such that one bookie stopped taking bets on him as the new actor.
Throughout all of this, Stephen Moffat kept quietly out of the limelight, and pretty much as expected made his own decision, casting the person that he thought really nailed the part, Matt Smith, a rising star who whilst his work has impressed, hasn’t figured large with most of the general public. He is unknown enough that BBC News has done a special â€œWho on earth is Matt Smith?â€? item.
So what are my thoughts? I’m certainly inclined to trust the judgement of Stephen Moffat – they apparently saw Matt Smith second in the process, but carried on seeing a number of other actors, always coming back to Matt. Also, let us not forget that David Tennant certainly wasn’t a big star when he took the part, and earlier still Tom Baker was working on a building site when he got the part. Although well known actors have got the part in the past it is certainly not unusual for it to go to someone relatively unknown like Matt Smith.
Anyway, what about the rest of the episode? I’d mentioned last week my fear that it would be a return to a traditional Russell T Davies episode in that all the numerous guest stars would crowd out elements such as the plot. Certainly from the blink-and-you-miss-it nature of the opening titles, plus a further list of names captioned over the opening scenes, it was clear that there were a lot of big names to fit in. But to some extent, looking back at the episode as a whole although there were a lot of strands there wasn’t really that much of a coherent plot, indeed although we establish that it is the Daleks who have Stolen Earth, by the end of the episode we really have no idea of why the planet has been taken, it having taken most of the running time of the episode for the Doctor to even find where the planet has been taken.
To do this he first heads off to visit the Shadow Proclamation. After being mentioned throughout the series over a number of years, their appearance was frankly rather a disappointment, after a great looking external shot the actual location looked like an office foyer. From an action point of view the Doctor and Donna effectively explain the back story that has been building up, so we get a list of missing planets which alongside several from the new series includes Calufrax Minor, the name being familiar to people who remember the Douglas Adams story The Pirate Planet. Ultimately it is the missing bees, which have been mentioned in throwaway lines that leads the Doctor to a way to locate the missing planets, and takes the TARDIS to the Medusa Cascade, referred to in Last of the Time Lords as the location of a time rift sealed by the Doctor during the Time War. However when the TARDIS arrives, there is no sign of the missing planets and the trail goes cold, leaving a despondent Doctor.
Most of the action is occurring on the Earth, with Torchwood, Sarah Jane and Martha ultimately being brought together through a secret communications network by Harriet Jones in an attempt to contact the Doctor. (It’s worth noting at this point that in a surprising lapse the BBC have missed a trick by not having the phone number used linked to something – 24 for example linked up a special surprise for people who phoned Jack Bauer’s number after it had appeared on screen.)
Once the signal is boosted enough to break through to the TARDIS and Harriet Jones is discovered by the Daleks and apparently exterminated – although note that we don’t see her die. Torchwood again are discovered by the same means, and Sarah Jane ends up face to face with two Daleks too. However it seems that the Daleks are well aware of the Doctor’s allies. Davros it is revealed has been saved from his death during the Time War by Dalek Caan who having escaped at the end of Evolution of the Daleks has broken the time lock around the Time War to save his creator, albeit at the cost of his sanity. Davros however has kept him alive as he now seems to be able to predict the future – making vague predictions about the arrival of the Doctor, the death of his most loyal companion, and the arrival of the Dark Lord.
The one factor that doesn’t seem to have figured in the plans – and indeed is someone never seen by the Daleks is Rose, who despite the Earth being shifted is still quite able to transfer in and out of the stolen Earth at will. She and the Doctor finally meet again at the climax of the episode, shortly before the Doctor is floored by a glancing hit from a Dalek gun, and the apparent regeneration process begins.
So what is going on? There are lots of strands to connect, and quite a few throw-away lines that I’m sure will come back to be significant – in particular the mysterious Osterhagen Key that Martha is given as she escapes New York, but later told never to use by Harriet Jones. The fact that Dalek Caan has broken the time lock around the Time War may yet prove to be significant, along with the stolen worlds being hidden outside the normal flow of time. I’m sure that there will be some more significance to some of the things that Dalek Caan has said too.
In all it was an enjoyable episode, but with some classic Russell T Daviestechno-babble to hurry the plot along. I’m more inclined to credit the crisp direction from the highly experienced Graeme Harper that rose above the script for the final result. It wasn’t only the good director that made it enjoyable, there were also some fabulous performances from the extensive guest cast – Julian Bleach being a particularly creepy Davros, and some great moments from Bernard Cribbins reliving his earlier encounter with the Daleks with some well aimed paint gun pellets. The crossover elements relied somewhat on knowing the other programmes, and certainly there were lines in those scenes that would be totally lost on people who hadn’t watched them, however nothing that really required that you had watched. As you can no doubt gather from my comments further back, the ending was a real surprise, and certainly if David Tennant isn’t leaving I hope we don’t get a total cop-out of a resolution.
They have now released a trailer for next week – needless to say it doesn’t really give that much more away:
Years ago when Star Trek: The Next Generation did a two part episode, it seemed to be almost a given that part two would be a bit of a letdown, that the exciting cliff-hanger built up in part one wouldn’t go anywhere much in part two. Steven Moffat on the other hand seems to produce second parts that whilst they aren’t more of the same, are still equal to the first part.
Take his episode of Doctor Who shown yesterday, Forest of the Dead, the conclusion of Silence in the Library. Whilst it continued from the end of the previous episode, the focus was rather different. The major focus last week had been on the Vashta Nerada, who this week were there as a threat, but with little further exposition, indeed by the end of the story they had not been defeated, but instead the Doctor had negotiated a truce with them in order to give him the time to rescue the four thousand people who had been saved by the central computer when the library had originally been taken over.
This time the main focus of the story was on Donna, who had been saved by the computer, and was starting to live within the virtual reality within the computer itself. We also discover that the girl seen previously is in actual fact the preserved consciousness of a dying child, who had saved the occupants of the library, but was now struggling to keep the four thousand personalities in check. The mysterious Doctor Moon is in actual fact a representation of the moon of the planet, an artificial satellite placed in orbit to maintain the computer core.
Whilst Donna is trapped in this virtual world, in the real world the temporal paradox around the Doctor and River Song is deepened when in order to persuade the Doctor that he should trust her, River reveals that she knows his real name – one of the longest running mysteries in the series (the title of the show is actually a question – Doctor who?) – needless to say it doesn’t get revealed to us the viewer. However the revelation is enough for the Doctor to trust her, to the point that he is caught out when she knocks him out in order that she might sacrifice herself to save the saved people of the library, rather than the Doctor. All is not lost however as thanks to the temporal paradox, the future Doctor knows when River is going to die, and has rigged the sonic screwdriver he gives to her to save her consciousness, allowing his past self to transfer her into the data banks of the computer.
Despite River spending most of the episode carrying around a book of spoilers – stories of the Doctor’s future, he doesn’t look. The most he gets is a description of the last time River met the Doctor, and the knowledge that the TARDIS doors will open if the Doctor snaps his fingers, something he tries out at the end of the episode. The Doctor deliberately leaves the book behind as he leaves, although we the viewer, if you are quick with the pause button get a little glimpse at the very end of the episode as we look over River’s shoulder as she reads from the book…
So after a tour-de-force from the new lead writer of the series, for the last four episodes we are back with the current lead writer, Russell T, with firstly a pair of lead character light episodes, Midnight being mainly the Doctor, and Turn Left being companion focused featuring Donna and the much anticipated return of Rose.
I think perhaps it was a mistake to air the first part of the new series of Doctor Who quite so soon after the last part of Torchwood as it really marks out the differences between the two programmes. After a dire episode of Torchwood we get a great opening to the new series of Doctor Who – and Donna was nowhere near as annoying as I thought she would be either!
The plot of the first episode, Partners in Crime, revolved around a new alien called the Adipose. Through a front company they are marketing themselves as a miracle diet – except the diet pills are essentially alien eggs that absorb fat from the host species – in this case humans – and as the company adverts say, â€œThe fat just walks awayâ€?. However, it’s not totally foolproof – if the process goes wrong, Adipose can form themselves from any biological matter in the host, reducing them to nothing.
At the beginning of the episode, both the Doctor and Donna are separately investigating the company, and through the early part of the episode you get the two characters narrowly missing seeing each other on a couple of occasions, in a sequence reminiscent of numerous comedy routines over the years. Ultimately they spot each other, just at the wrong time, when they are both outside the offices of Miss Foster, the person running the whole operation. All of those sequences work fantastically thanks to having two good actors in the form of David Tennant and Catherine Tate to pull it off.
The story is interesting in that it could be argued that there isn’t really a ‘baddie’. The cute little Adipose are quite happily breeding, and in fact are a benefit to their hosts in that they are consuming something the humans want to get rid of – the point where one host totally decomposes is actually caused by Donna herself, who by fiddling with one of the pendants that the Adipose use to mark the hosts that she has stolen, interferes with the breeding process. Indeed the final mass birth is only triggered because the Adipose have been discovered by the Doctor the implication is that had they not been discovered, things would have carried on and nobody would have noticed. This is definitely one of those episodes where you wonder whether the interference of the Doctor was actually for the best. An ethical question to ponder no doubt.
After watching the Adipose leave, Donna and the Doctor head for the TARDIS – stopping only to pick up her suitcases from her car, Donna being one of the few companions to have packed in advance for her trip with the Doctor. At this point, Donna has to get her car keys back to her mother which she does by hiding them, and then giving a cryptic message to a woman waiting in the crowd. Now if you’ve managed to miss the pre-publicity for the series, when the woman turns around it will be a total curve ball, as the woman is none other than Rose Tyler – even more perplexing as she walks away she seems to fade into nothing. No explanations on that, but I’m sure all will become clear in a few weeks time…
All in all it was a great episode with which to kick off the new season, a good crowd pleasing story with a nice mix of comedy and action, and one Rose Tyler shaped mystery to tantalise for the weeks ahead.
Thoughts from, and the lives of a Canadian and a Brit living in the UK.