Category: Episode by Episode

Doctor Who episode 721: Boom Town (4/6/2005)

‘But they were French. It’s not my fault if “Danger Explosives” was only written in Welsh.’ My favourite RTD episodes are the ones that don’t have to “do” something – open or close a series; celebrate an event; change the regular cast. Boom Town is the first of a select group that also includes Love & Monsters, Gridlock and Midnight. Conceived to be budget-conscious ahead of the finale, necessitating more dialogue, less action, RTD picks up the gauntlet thrown down by Moffat and writes the funniest episode of the series.

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Doctor Who episode 720: The Doctor Dances (28/5/2005)

‘The world doesn’t end cos the Doctor dances.’ The elegance of this story is that everything established in the first episode is neatly resolved in the second, in one of the most satisfying pay-offs in the show’s 42-year history. This is phenomenally good, maybe even dishearteningly so: it must have been daunting for Steven Moffat when his first go was near-universally recognised as the best Doctor Who story in at least 16 years, and there’s probably a tiny element of trying to relive this one’s glory (particularly the audacious, hidden-in-plain-sight solution) in every subsequent script for RTD.

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Doctor Who episode 719: The Empty Child (21/5/2005)

‘Finally, a professional.’ After a dress rehearsal for Comic Relief, Steven Moffat makes his debut with what were, at the time, hailed as the stand-out episodes of the revival. 16 years later, and with the benefit of seeing where Moffat took the show, it’s interesting to look back and spot some of the emerging themes he kept returning to for the next decade. These include the idea of lonely childhood: ‘It’s never easy being the only child left out in the cold’, which recurs all the way through his work from Reinette, Amelia, River, Grant Gordon, even the Doctor himself in in The Girl in the Fireplace and Listen. Here, it’s employed in the service of 1970s style creeps as Jamie haunts Nancy and her kids, querulously demanding, ‘Are you my mummy?’ via the phone or gramophone and eventually everyone he’s infected. He’s a figure of dread, pointing accusingly, refusing to lie down and die. He’s also a lost little boy, and a lot of the power of this episode comes from this heartbreaking juxtaposition.

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Doctor Who episode 718: Father’s Day (14/5/2005)

‘Now, Rose you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you?’ I suggested that in future years World War Three was the kind of story they might do in The Sarah Jane Adventures. I reckon if it had been 18 months later, Father’s Day would have been a candidate for Torchwood. It’s noticeably heavier than the rest of the first series (this wild variation in pitch is one of the few giveaways that in 2004 no-one was exactly sure who the audience might turn out to be be). It’s dialogue heavy and lacking much in the way of chases or action sequences, and with a script laced with introspection, incest and infidelity.

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Doctor Who episode 717: The Long Game (7/5/2005)

‘We have absolute proof that the facts are being manipulated. You are lying to the people.’ An episode that has, if anything, become more relevant in an era of “fake news”, “culture wars” (immigration has been reduced because of ‘all the threats’) and increasingly pervasive social media. Nowadays, the villain would be a Mark Zuckerberg type CEO rather than a news editor, but the basics could largely be the same. The society of the year 200,000 is hooked on 24/7 content; everything is gamified (promotions are announced like the winners of a reality show), and the news defines the political agenda rather than vice versa.

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Doctor Who episode 716: Dalek (30/4/2005)

‘Doctor…? The Doctor…? Exterminate!’ This must be one of the most picked-over Doctor Who episodes ever: the first new series Dalek story and the first explicit adaptation of tie-in media (Robert Shearman’s 2003 Big Finish audio Jubilee). It was a stroke of genius to hold back the Daleks (or Dalek) until Series One’s mid-point, and it really does act as the linchpin of the season, suddenly bringing the background detail of the Time War into sharp focus, revealing that the Daleks and the Time Lords were both wiped out in the final battle, and that the Doctor ‘made it happen.’ He’s not just the survivor, he’s got more blood on his hands than anyone else in the universe. No wonder it’s a touchy subject.

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Doctor Who episode 715: World War Three (23/4/2005)

‘They have found massive weapons of destruction capable of being deployed within 45 seconds.’ This is clearly political, albeit picking an easy target of the unpopular Iraq War, then two years in. There are (non-existent) massive weapons of destruction; the Blairite Prime Minister gets killed and shoved, unmourned, in a cupboard, and Harriet Jones MP declares, ‘I voted against that.’ Implausibly, it turns out the UK has abdicated operational independence of its nuclear weapons to the UN (which makes no sense given a second’s thought), and so the Slitheen have had to manufacture an alien invasion crisis to convince the UN to pass a resolution. This is an incredibly awkward stretch just to make the allegory work. The other unfortunate bit of plot expediency is the Doctor having an all-access password that allows him to take control of the Royal Navy. The show frequently seems to pluck endings out of the air, but this particularly takes the biscuit.

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Doctor Who episode 714: Aliens of London (16/4/2005)

‘Aliens are faking aliens. Why would they do that?’ This, even more than Rose, establishes all the standards of the RTD years. The Earth invaded in plain sight as BBC News and Blue Peter react; the monsters invading the companion’s home; Trinity Wells; not-so-veiled jabs at contemporary politics: it’s all here, and pretty much fully formed. For the first time the TV series has a budget that means ideas can be realised on screen rather than as noises off, and the result is giddily ambitious. Even so, once RTD has got the money shot of a spaceship demolishing Big Ben before crashing into the Thames everything takes place in confined locations (Albion Hospital, Downing Street, Jackie’s flat) without massive crowds of extras.

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Doctor Who episode 713: The Unquiet Dead (9/4/2005)

‘She’s not fighting your battles.’ On the surface, after two episodes of reinvention this comes across as the first “trad” episode, consciously evoking Hinchcliffe’s House of Horror: the Victoriana, classic horror story tropes given a sci-fi polish, the companion in period costume, even a warning that ‘time is in flux’ and Rose’s present, like Sarah Jane’s in Pyramids of Mars, is not immune. Plus, it’s the first Christmas episode since The Feast of Steven. Everything about it is reassuringly cosy, like a comfort blanket for the old fans who might have been discombobulated by Rose and The End of the World.

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Doctor Who episode 712: The End of the World (2/4/2005)

‘I’m the last of the Time Lords.’ Essentially Part Two of Rose, this focuses more on the new Doctor, including his first scenes without Rose as he instead partners with Jabe to investigate sabotage on Platform One. This means Rose spends a lot of the episode fulfilling the more typical companion role of getting menaced by the monsters and locked up in mortal peril, but even this feels like part of her character’s story: initial culture shock and uncertainty about what she’s got herself into. If this were a George Lucas production, Rose was all about her ordinary world, the call to adventure, meeting the mentor and crossing the threshold, this is her facing tests, allies and enemies.

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