Oh joy. Another earth-bound story. Yippee.
I’m of two minds about “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday”. On the one hand, it continues the execrable trend of setting almost every modern Doctor Who episode on Earth. And it links with the “Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel” two parter that was, in the end, rather disappointing. On the other hand, it does make good use of the characters and situations developed for the parallel Earth scenario, including the faux-Cybermen of that world. It’s very entertaining if you don’t actually analyze it too much (which I will do for this review). And merciful heavens, it finally writes out the Tyler clan! Hallelujah!
Much like “Fear Her”, if the story is divorced from the rest of the season the setting is reasonable, especially as the viewer finally gets the payoff for the end of “Tooth and Claw”. The Torchwood organization itself is a solid concept in the Doctor Who universe, though it seems as if UNIT would occupy much the same “evolutionary niche” as it were. I suppose Torchwood is parochial and British-centric while UNIT is international in scope. Torchwood also seems geared towards exploitation of alien tech, while UNIT is oriented towards defense against hostile aliens.
Regardless, Torchwood collects, studies and develops any alien technology that has made its way to Earth. Given the many incursions by aliens over Doctor Who’s history, it makes sense that someone would scavenge the remains from these incursions and use them. It does make me ask where this group was during the third Doctor’s exile and why they didn’t attempt to capture him then. They seem understaffed, much like UNIT was. They also seem rather unprofessional, with management allowing office romances to carry on while the participants are on the clock. Of course, all concerned pay the price for the lax state of affairs in their office when the Cybermen set their plans into motion.
The faux-Cybermen from the alternate Earth of “Rise/Age” return, having crossed the dimensional barrier to escape certain defeat on their own Earth. Freed from their cliched origin story they fare better here than they did previously in “Rise” and “Age”. Indeed, they behave as the Cybermen often traditionally did, hiding in the shadows and manipulating humanity to achieve their goals. However, the extreme gullibility of humanity in allowing it to happen is difficult to swallow. “Ghosts” all over the world, and no attempt is made to study the possible dangers of the phenomena? To stop it? People just accept these ghosts as dead relatives? Torchwood merely views the ‘ghosts’ as a harmless byproduct of their use of the dimensional breach as an energy source? Not to put too fine a point on it, but what a bunch of unbelievably careless fools they all are. The plot hinges on human greed and stupidity on a mass scale. Still, they get what they deserve in the end and get their heads handed to them as the Cybermen take over the world in an instant. The scenes set inside the family home and outside Great Britain are effective in demonstrating the total infiltration of Cybermen everywhere.
Then the stakes get upped and every fanboy’s dream is finally realized as the Daleks emerge from a weightless, massless sphere that Torchwood is examining, which turns out to be a Time Lord ship designed for travelling in the void between universes. And thank goodness it’s not the emperor Dalek with his delusions of godhood, but an honest-to-goodness black Dalek. But (and there is always a “but”) as thrilling as it is to see the Daleks reappear, the ugly spectre of coincidence rears its head again. Out of a vast universe and uncounted eons of time in which to appear, the Daleks land on 21st century Earth, in Torchwood, at exactly the same time and place as invading Cybermen. Riiiiiiight. That enormous coincidence just about sinks the credibility of the whole story. It’s bad enough that aliens seem to be drawn to Earth like moths to a flame in every other story these days, but the last Daleks in the universe just happen to go to Earth as well? There is no logical reason for this, they just need to be there in story terms so they can fight Cybermen. At least the Cybermen have the excuse of trading one Earth for another and of following the Daleks (somehow) through the dimensional barrier. The Daleks have no good reason to be where they are.
At least the “time traveller DNA” incident from “Dalek” is finally explained. I was glad to see that.
So how about the Dalek/Cyberman confrontation? What there was of it was mostly good. I cannot buy the taunts back and forth between the two, at least not from the “emotionless” Cybermen. Since when did Cybermen care for aesthetics? The Dalek taunts however were quite good, with the line “This is not war, this is pest control!” being particularly funny and in character for a Black Dalek. The typical Dalek arrogance where one Dalek claims to be enough to kill five million Cybermen brought a big fanboy grin to my face. The mass scenes of Cybermen and Daleks firing at each other were great action scenes, what little there were of them. Then of course the ending with the “void stuff” (which would be what? Isn’t a void by definition *nothing*?) is just another magical solution that allows the Doctor to save the day with ease and affect a final separation between the Doctor and Rose.
Of course, this being Russel Davies’ version of Who, the episode that finally gives us a confrontation between Doctor Who’s two biggest antagonists almost ignores it in favor of emotional slop. I’ve long since become far too annoyed with RTD’s vision for the show to really care about the characters, with the exception of Mickey who has grown tremendously and hasn’t outstayed his welcome. I really enjoyed seeing him turn up disguised as one of the Torchwood staff, ready to take on whatever was in the sphere. Never liked Jackie, didn’t much care for alternate-Pete, and liked Rose last year but not so much this year. Thankfully they all seem to be locked away in the alternate universe now and inaccessible to the Doctor. Hopefully being seperated from domestic life will restore the dignity of the character. Then again, RTD is still in charge, and I have this horrible feeling that until he’s gone, the show will continue to dredge the depths it manages to hit whenever he sits down in front of his word processor. I’m complaining like this, because the Tyler reunion gets far more weight and screen time than the Doctor Who heavyweight villains, and that seems like a wasted opportunity to me.
And of course, Rose departs the TARDIS in this story, though not by choice.
I hate to say it, but thank goodness Rose is gone. She was really good opposite Eccleston, but the character hasn’t really worked with David Tennant’s Doctor. I think they seem too similar in age, and too much like a couple of kids out on a lark. In fact, I think I gave a similar opinion when I reviewed “Tooth and Claw”. There just isn’t the friendly distance between them or the student/mentor relationship that the Doctor usually has with his traveling companions. I’ve never approved of the idea of Doctor/companion romances. It weakens the Doctor’s character as the perpetual alien outsider who looks like us but isn’t one of us. It drags him down to human level when the goal should be to make him more alien. Listen to some of the second/third season Paul McGann audios to see just how the character dynamic is affected by a even an unrequited romance involving the Doctor. So the unspoken romance between him and Rose has just irritated me from day one, and I’m glad it’s finished. I hope a new traveling companion will bring out some better qualities in the tenth Doctor that have been lacking so far.
Don’t even get me started on the ending at Bad Wolf bay. I almost feel sorry for Rose, but since I’ve grown tired of the character and don’t approve of Doctor/companion love affairs, I’m happy about the turn of events, not sad. Thank goodness the Doctor doesn’t say “I love you too”. Thank goodness for the coda with Donna so that we can move on and not dwell on the sappiness.
I’ve spent the whole review picking this thing apart, which isn’t entirely fair because I did enjoy it on first viewing. It is certainly full of action and interesting ideas. I will say that this pair of episodes is the first time I felt that Tennant really nailed the Doctor’s character right the way through the story. Well, apart from pining for Rose at the end, but that’s the writing and not his acting. And apart from the embarassing “who ya gonna call?”. Ack. Gag. He doesn’t go into “Mr. Shouty” mode or make a lot of self-aggrandizing statements, at least not that I can remember as I’m writing. He does stand there and talk to the Daleks which gives them plenty of time to shoot him, but of course they don’t. He talks a lot, he listens and learns and he plays his cards close to the vest until he has the information that he needs to solve the problem. Bravo Mr. Tennant. I’m optimistic about your part in season three.
To sum it all up, this is a story that is pretty enjoyable as long as you don’t think to hard about the problems with the plot. Just go with the flow, and it’s an emotional, epic ending to two years of modern Doctor Who. Think about it too much, and it starts to come apart at the seams, with all the lost potential and misplaced priorities becoming very apparent.
And with that, season two wraps up. In some ways it improves on season one, but I am absolutely sick and tired of Earth-based storylines. That alone is making me tempted to just skip season three and hope RTD leaves and things improve. His vision of Doctor Who simply falls flat in far too many ways.