Looks like RTD intends to end his four-year run on Doctor Who with a bang. And for all the criticism I and others have justifiably directed at him, I have to admit that he’s produced an enjoyable episode here, even if it is a bit crowded with characters, as the opening credits will attest.
The concept is simple enough so far. The Daleks have stolen the Earth (hence the title of the episode), literally removing it from time and space, along with 20-something other planets of various sizes and shapes, for an as yet unknown reason. There are some great visuals of the sky filled with other planets as the recurring characters look up in shock and disbelief. And there’s a very nice reference to “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” where the Doctor muses that “someone tried to move the Earth before”, as indeed the Daleks were trying to do in that episode.
So of course, they come down and terrorize the population of Earth, with the apparent intention of converting suitable humans into Daleks. They ruthlessly kill any number of others, and in an episode filled with fannish fun, it’s great to hear the Daleks say “exterminate UNIT” or “exterminate Torchwood” as they prove more than a match for Earth’s forces that normally deal with aliens quite effectively. The regulars and guest stars really sell this with their acting, as both John Barrowman and especially Elisabeth Sladen give an impression of sheer horror at the knowledge that the Daleks are doing what they’re doing to Earth. A very nice continuity touch is when Sarah hears Davros speak and protests that he should be dead. She saw him shot down by the Daleks at the end of “Genesis of the Daleks”, and I wondered if the show would reference that. Thankfully it did. All would not be right with the universe otherwise.
Yes, Davros makes a return in this episode, and the actor playing him does a darn good job with the voice and performance. He’s not too dissimilar from Michael Wisher and Terry Molloy, and the updated appearance is close to the original design while improving on it as well. At one time I’d have been unhappy at yet another return for Davros, who I feel really watered down the effectiveness of the Daleks in the original series. But after three seasons of Dalek stories that return them to a level of respectability on their own, I’m actually glad to see Davros again. It’s revealed that he cloned Daleks from the cells of his own body, and in a rather gruesome scene, he reveals that so much tissue is missing from his torso that his heart and ribs are visible. Nasty. But it’s something I can see the utterly insane and obsessed character doing.
I mentioned that this was a crowded episode. In addition to the Doctor, Donna, the Daleks and Davros (look at all the Ds!), Sarah Jane Smith and Captain Jack both make appearances. So do Rose and Martha, meaning every major travelling companion of the RTD era (bar Mickey and the short-lived Adam) play a part in the story. Harriet Jones also makes a return appearance, and so do the cast and location of Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures. In addition to all of these characters dealing with the Dalek invasion, we also finally learn what the Shadow Proclamation is, and it’s linked with the Judoon. What all of this adds up to is dragging a ten minute plot out into a 45 minute episode. While I might complain about this in some instances, I really enjoyed seeing all of these characters interacting for the first time, and so I don’t really mind very much that there’s more character interaction than story.
And in a completely unexpected moment the Doctor is mortally wounded by a Dalek and is forced to regenerate, a process which begins in the last few seconds of the episode. The end result is not shown. Does it need to be said that I expect something to disrupt this, or expect it to be undone somehow? As far as I know Tennant will be back next year. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting turn of events, and it makes me wonder if saving the day will be left to the various companions rather than the Doctor himself. Time will tell.
Story flaws: well, again, let me fall back on my tired old refrain: the story is set on 21st century contemporary Earth. Now at least this is mitigated by the fact that the setting is necessary to allow many of the characters to appear, and by the line about “moving the Earth” that refers back to DIOE. That alone makes up for a lot. Of course, there’s a bit of a retread here since we’ve seen two Dalek invasions of Earth already in this series. See “Parting of the Ways” and “Doomsday”, which was also set on contemporary Earth! How many times can the Daleks invade the same planet? And of course, how many other races have invaded or landed on Earth since the new series began? The Gelth, Slitheen, the Sycorax, the werewolf, the Krillitanes, clockwork robots, the Wire, the Cybermen… on and on it goes. I’d wager three quarters of the new series episodes involve aliens coming to Earth. Does every planet in the universe get this much attention? Even for a show as out there as Doctor Who, this trend badly strains credibility.
Overall, whatever flaws the episode has are made up for by the sheer spectacle of events and the interactions of the characters, at least in my view, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy “The Stolen Earth” quite a bit. I’m really looking forward to seeing how events are resolved in the next episode. I hope (but expect it will happen anyway) that some magical quick fix solution won’t present itself in the last five minutes of the episode. I hope we’ll still have David Tennant as the Doctor when this is all over.