‘Not as daft as they look, for two batty old pensioners and a bunch of ASBO kids.’ This is the kind of thing 1990s fans, indoctrinated against the twin evils of fanwank and Season 24, can barely believe exists: an episode steeped in continuity with the Doctor battling puppet vultures with past companions – broadcast on BBC One. It’s RTD’s final Doctor Who script for 12 years, and plays like it: a kiss goodbye to the show he resurrected using the characters he loved himself as a kid.
But it’s also absolutely part of Matt Smith’s first year as the Doctor: he’s got a more substantial role in the story than Tennant in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, and having worked out his performance in Series Five, he’s brilliant here. Guarded, when Sarah Jane asks him about the last regeneration; apologetically rude to Colonel Karim; typically vague about his clever plans, and comforting Jo when she has a moment of personal crisis. RTD is clearly writing for Smith’s Doctor, inserting nice little touches like, ‘Come along, Smith’ and ‘I’ve got the original here. You can have it if you let them go.’. The episode even fits thematically with Series Five, as RTD crafts the climax around the companions realising if a thing can be remembered it can be brought back and escaping death inside a box made for the Doctor (the coffin looks comfier than the Pandorica).
The series continues to attract brilliant actors in the secondary roles: future Doctor David Bradley voicing a Shansheeth and Footballer’s Wife Laila Rouass both add class to the production. The budget really only shows through in the Shansheeth costumes (it’s a shame they couldn’t have one, better lead puppet and two cowled acolytes – like the Cat Nuns or the helmeted Judoon), and in the dodgy shot of the Snowdonia base. The fate of other companions is nice, but who saw Dodo setting up a multi-billion fundraiser?
Dr Who will return in A Christmas Carol
Next Time: The Empty Planet