New Who in conversation: Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (S02E012/13)

Watching New Who – in conversation with David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun! We have already talked about:

“Army of Ghosts / Doomsday” – Season two, episodes twelve and thirteen
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Mickey Smith – Noel Clarke
TEHANI:
There’s a cluster of Hugo-nominees at the beginning of this season (plus we wanted to talk about the Cybermen two-parter), then none until the season finale two-parter (which we’d review anyway), so let’s quickly recap the intervening episodes before we chat about “Army of Ghosts / Doomsday”…”The Idiot’s Lantern” – another monster of the week episode with not a lot to distinguish it, I didn’t think. I liked the strength of the mother at the end though.TANSY:
I liked “The Idiot’s Lantern” far more on the recent rewatch than I remembered. The Rose/Doctor vibe was bugging me by this point (oh, the smug, the glee) but I think the story about the family is an important one – and it feels like Gatiss is saying something (or rather, not quite saying something) about growing up different, with indications either that the son might be gay and/or that his father might suspect he is. I liked Ten’s interactions with the boy, which made me wistful for a solo male companion, something he never got! (well, apart from [SPOILER REDACTED])

TEHANI:
“The Impossible Planet” (concluded in “The Satan Pit”) – a lot creepier than we’ve really seen so far I reckon. We meet the Ood (remember them, David). I really liked the first of this two-parter, it’s nicely scary and science fictional, but the second part went to dumb places, I thought.

TANSY:
A solid piece of space opera science fiction, and it’s always a relief when they finally get the TARDIS away from Earth for a change, but I agree the second part was problematic. Once you bring the Devil into your science fiction, the shark has well and truly been jumped. I liked the crew a lot, though.

DAVID:
This is very much a tale of two parts, isn’t it? On one hand you have an atmospheric piece of space horror that works very well. The claustrophobic feel, all the cramped passageways and mysterious occurrences, is reminiscent of Alien or, funnily enough, of one of my all time favourite computer games, Doom (I swear they were using one of the sound effects – I had flashbacks to my teenage years and all the hours I spent playing it!). The crew are nicely fleshed out characters, we like them enough to care about what happens to them but there is also a bit of moral ambiguity with their casual acceptance of the Ood as a race fit only for service. The feeling of foreboding escalates nicely, building into a mounting sense of horror.

But, I can’t help but feel that the writers overreached themselves with the religious element and fell short. Some of the best science fiction I have encountered are stories that explore spirituality, after all, it is a big part of the human condition and therefore a worthwhile theme. But if you are going to do so you have to do it better than this, it’s clumsy to say the least. It’s also very much at odds with the existing mythos of the established Whoniverse.

Aside from the fact we have had come across creatures mooted as inspirations for the Devil before (Sutekh, the Daemons), the Doctor has encountered lots of beings with origins outside or before the Universe. Why would one more rock his belief system so violently? Obviously, if you are going to watch a show like Doctor Who you need to be able to suspend you disbelief a little, but I like internal consistency, too.

The discussions about faith and belief left me wincing a little. It’s not the fact that I am religious, it’s just that I have seen this sort of thing done before and in a much more sophisticated fashion – it was pretty average writing in parts (and we see this with some of the non religious scenes too, the writer doesn’t really do subtle emotional moments, but piles it on). I can’t help but think that they would have been better off making the Beast simple an ancient evil that can tap into race memory or archetypes, rather than leaning so heavily towards it being the actual Devil.

Still, I really enjoyed about eighty percent of this episode, so I will give it a pass!

TEHANI
When I first watched the end of this one, I thought the “her” the Doctor was talking about was clearly Rose. Second time round? Not so sure – could it have been the TARDIS?

TANSY
Well, we all know the TARDIS is his true love!

“Love and Monsters” – this one is a hugely divisive episode, a love it or hate it for many fans. It’s also the first of the ‘Doctor-lite’ stories which would become an annual tradition, made necessary by the gruelling film schedule. I like a lot of it – I would watch Marc Warren in anything, and his charisma pretty much carries the whole thing.

TEHANI:
The style is unusual – sort of Blair Witch-ish. It’s a bit silly in places, but that’s reflective of the style and the characters I think – it pretty much worked for me. And of course there’s Shirley Henderson, who is memorable as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films! And Jackie is awesome, which is nice after the “other-Jackie” in the Cyberman episodes.

DAVID:
While some of this didn’t quite hit the mark (Bit too silly in parts for my taste -the corridor scene was a bit Stooge-ish, the monster a bit too Austin Powers – get in my belly!), you can put me in the “love it” camp. It is always great to see then try something a little different, it’s a risk but it injects a touch of freshness. Elton is obviously the star of this, and the performance by Marc Warren is enough to cover a multitude of sins (and hasn’t this season had some strong guest appearances?!). I have to admit, by the end of the episode I was a bit depressed at all the things he had been through and it was nice that there was a happyish ending for him and Ursula (note I say “happyish”).

TANSY:
I do love Marc Warren, and they were clever to get in such a charismatic character to take the lead in this episode. Love and Monsters also gives us a fascinating insight into Jackie when Rose and the Doctor aren’t around, and I’m really glad they addressed her vulnerability and sadness without bringing emotional blackmail into it. How wonderful when Rose smacked him for upsetting her Mum! Sweet in parts, but I disliked all the gross out bits of this episode, which let it down.

TEHANI:
It’s got that darkness at the end, when Elton muses on how touching the life of the Doctor can destroy goodness. Right before he credits the Doctor with the hopeful part of Ursula’s “sort-of” existence (a bit icky, really).

DAVID:
I think anyone who has been a member of a small group of any sort can identify with LINDA and the way that often the original purpose becomes almost secondary to the social bonding and how one difficult personality can have such an impact on a group like that. There were lots of fun, sweet moments that I enjoyed about LINDA, which made some of the darker moments even more affecting.

I agree completely about how interesting it is seeing Jackie without Rose and the Doctor around, and it gives us an idea of the price she pays for being left behind (an idea that they have explored in a number of ways, and with a number of people, this season). While on a superficial level they seem to be playing her semi seduction of Elton for laughs, it is actually showing how desperately lonely she is, and how abandoned she feels. That’s a powerful scene between her and Elton at the end.

I also like seeing how the impact of the Doctor’s interventions doesn’t finish when the TARDIS dematerialises, and the effect he has on the lives of those who, as Elton says, touch him even briefly. And it makes sense that people would notice the Doctor cropping up at the scene of so many events, reminded me a little of Clive in “Rose”, actually. So, certainly not the weakest episode of the season. This season has actually me a much greater appreciation of Jackie, both the character and the actress.

TANSY:
One of the elements I really like about the RTD era of Doctor Who is the acknowledgement of the consequences and personal fallout of all these Earthbound adventures and invasions – something rarely done in the old days apart from by some of the professionals in UNIT in the early 70’s.

“Fear Her” – ughhh. So very ordinary, one suburban horror too many for the season, and some really dodgy bits. It amuses me that there is a campaign to get David Tennant to light the 2012 Olympic torch, but otherwise supremely forgettable.

So … the main event! I have always had a soft spot for “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” and felt it was the most effective of all the finales of the RTD era (edging out the Eccleston “Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways”) but was surprised on this recent rewatch just how much I liked it.

TEHANI:
I liked the juxtaposition of the “ghosts” scenes interspersed with the Torchwood scenes, cutting back and forth. We still don’t know exactly what is going on, but we know more than the Doctor does, for a while at least!

TANSY:
The Doctor seems to have a renewed energy here, inventing new catchphrases, romping around in 3D glasses and breaking windows for the sheer hell of it.

DAVID:
I thought the 3D glasses were a very nice touch, a bit of a throwback to Classic Who, with things like a bag of jellybeans or a stick of celery being half affectation, half way of saving the world.

TEHANI:
This is one of the things about watching New Who back to front – I started with Matt Smith, and thus adore him as the Doctor. However, someone (I think Helen, or possibly Terri!) once told me that they thought Smith was riffing far to heavily on Tennant’s Doctor, which I pooh-poohed at the time, but the more of the Tennant era you watch, the more you realise that that is, to a point, true. Smith does, I think, still bring his own stuff to his incarnation, but yes, there is some hangover from Tennant’s take on the role. And in turn, that’s a carry over from every other incarnation!

TANSY:
Hmm I don’t think I would say that at all – I think the two of them are very different Doctors, and it’s easier for me to spot the influence of Classic Doctors like Baker and Troughton in Matt Smith’s performance – though of course, Tennant is likewise influenced by the old gang. They are making some very different choices about Eleven which we will talk about WHEN WE GET THERE, TEHANI, but I’ll agree there is a similar manic energy through all three modern Doctors. Let’s mooooove on.

The plot itself of this particular story is something I really enjoy – the collision of alien drama with kitchen sink ordinariness. I thought the reveal about the ghosts and the way everyone has just adapted to this new thing while the Doctor and Rose were away works very well, and as with “Aliens of London” I really like the use of flipping TV channels to show how pop culture is soaking up the weird. The bit with Barbara Windsor bitching out the supposed ghost of Dirty Den in EastEnders will always be dear to me.

This whole idea of humanity coming to terms with aliens on the 6 o’clock news is a story I love and that they told very well on several occasions in this era – I only regret that they didn’t take it further rather than pulling back each time and pretending that it was mass hallucination or whatever. Eccleston’s glee about this being the day humans met the universe back in “Aliens of London” was infectious, and I always wanted to see that version of the world developed – but of course there are problems with that too, and the show runs into them at various times (something to look forward to, David!) and they eventually unravelled the idea altogether.

Both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, which are set in more consistent timelines, address the societal implications of semi-regular alien invasions, but Doctor Who was far more uneven in this, constantly raising and then dashing my hopes that they would do it properly.

Still, this is my favourite invasion of Earth since the Dalek one back in 1965!

DAVID:
This is a really strong finish to the Season, and tied up a lot of the arcs we had seen in a rather satisfying fashion. The initial setup didn’t really grab me as I wasn’t sure where they were going with the whole ghosts thing. The idea of the psychic link and people projecting their memories on the ghosts was clever, but they seemed to just drop that and not mention it again. But, the fact we had Cybermen AND Daleks meant that I really didn’t care, I just caught up in what I found to be a very satisfying combination. You really haven’t lived until you have heard a Cyberman and Dalek trying to talk smack to each other.

TANSY:
It’s publicity gold, of course! Cybermen versus Daleks, one of those genius moves that you can’t believe was never done in the classic years.

DAVID:
Lots of character moments that worked really well for me. Rather surprisingly, I thought, one of the deepest comments came from Jackie when she is warning Rose about losing her identity in her relationship with the Doctor. Pretty spot on, as the Doctor is such a strong, charismatic personality and you can really see that as a distinct possibility. It may sound cruel, but their goodbye was probably for the best as you would think that, especially after the discussion with Sarah Jane earlier in the season, that the inevitable result of them continuing to journey together would have been heartbreak for Rose and at least this way they part on a good note. It was a really powerful moment, and I really felt for her.

TANSY:
The best thing about that Jackie conversation is that it could be any woman warning her teenage daughter about the dangers of losing her identity with her strong personality older man boyfriend. It reminds me as well of a brilliant short story by Karen Joy Fowler (in the Subterranean YA issue in 2011) called “Younger Women” which is from the point of view of a woman whose daughter is a vampire.

I am certainly uncomfortable with the idea of the game plan being to travel with the Doctor FOREVER, considering how young Rose is, and I think it’s to the show’s credit that they don’t make Jackie a bitch for introducing the seeds of doubt, they show her as a deeply sympathetic character, as compared to in “Rose” where she thought her daughter had acquired “airs and graces” merely from working in a shop. She has acclimatised to this older, more confident and happy Rose, but that doesn’t mean she’s not still worried about her.

TEHANI:
Now you both know I’m not a huge Rose fan, and rewatching this helped remind me of why – she’s so YOUNG! A teenager still, and young enough to think that this wonderful, mercurial, incredible older man is the only person she will and could ever love. Okay, so he IS the Doctor, and thus pretty amazing, but gah, nineteen year olds! It actually bothered me a bit, particularly second time around, her age, and is perhaps one reason I adored Donna, in later seasons :) No spoilers David!

TANSY:
So very young, yes.

DAVID:
I’m not a huge fan of parallel universe storylines but they made it work in this finale. I was a bit shocked by Pete’s coldness to begin with and, as in the “Age of Steel” episode, we were reminded that he isn’t the same Pete that we loved from “Father’s Day”. However, by the end we see that their essential nature is the same and there were some lovely moments with Jackie, and I absolutely loved it when he saves Rose. Almost got a little teary! I love the “new” Mickey, too, saying goodbye to Rose was probably the best thing that could have happened to him and he comes across as a much more centred person, and while he obviously still cares for her a great deal he isn’t defined by his dependence on her the way he had been earlier.

TEHANI:
I *did* get teary. A lot, through the final episode. I didn’t the first time around, but I think there’s a resonance that comes with knowing what’s ahead that makes many of these final scenes even more poignant.

TANSY:
I agree that Pete feels cold and that’s a shock, but utterly realistic and follows on from the end of Age of Steel where he dealt badly with realising who Rose was (as compared to our world Pete, who dealt with it AWESOMELY when he realised his baby girl had turned into a glamorous teenage traveller, I think I would have freaked out more). The scene where he and Jackie reunite is gorgeous, so rich with emotion and restraint and awesome comic timing.

Mickey’s character arc has also been a great thing about these first two seasons – they could have so easily kept him as the rubbish comic relief character, but he’s all badass and grown up now. I’m glad that he and Rose still love each other as friends. And oh, that scene where he turns up unexpectedly is a brilliant surprise – where we just see the back of his head as a random Torchwood scientist and then hear his voice and he turns around, and Rose’s reaction! That absolutely made my love the episode, far more than the crazy big gun or the arrival of the Daleks at the end, though they were both also very cute.

DAVID:
Character stuff aside, the story itself is pretty strong too. After a little bit of a slow start it really gets moving and there is a lot to like. However, I found the Torchwood stuff a little over the top, and I’m not sure that there has been a convincing “conservative” character in New Who yet. The director is too much of a caricature to really impress me, and they didn’t seem to trying to really push the serious aspect of Torchwood that much, I can only assume that changes in the spin off series.

TEHANI:
I think I disagree to a point – certainly in the beginning the director was over the top, but I think as she realised she really was in over her head, she demonstrated strong character, in the face of danger and her own culpability and fear. And I loved her final scene – very appropriate.

TANSY:
Is she Conservative? I would have thought New Labour (grins). I wasn’t keen on her on my first watch but appreciate her more as a character now – I’ve got to the point where I rather like someone (especially a female someone) getting one over on the Doctor, and I enjoy him being out of his depth when he’s first introduced to Torchwood. I also felt her exit (Queen and Country!) was appropriate to her character. There’s a lot of grisly deaths in this one!

As for Torchwood the series, well, you’ll have to see for yourselves just how serious it is. (snerks)

DAVID:
Oh, I meant conservative with a small “c”, rather than the party, but fair point. :-)

I really liked the character of Dr Singh, and I thought both his and the director’s deaths had a nice degree of pathos (as you say, her death was very appropriate, and there was something rather noble about the way her sense of duty proved more powerful than the Cyber conditioning). There were actually a few *very* dark scenes scattered through these two episodes, I thought the part where the two lovebirds are walking through the plastic sheeting was suitably ominous, the Doctor apologising to the Cyber victims sad and chilling, and the bit where one of their brains gets pulled out pretty repulsive!

TEHANI:
I really liked Dr Singh too – in fact there were some very good secondary characters here, in minor roles. Some you might see again, but perhaps we won’t talk about that here…

DAVID:
As Tansy said, the Cyberman/Dalek combo is a surefire winner and really leaves you wondering why we haven’t seen it before. As much as I prefer the Mondasian Cybermen, the parallel earth aspect of these ones has been utilised really well, I liked the idea of them latching onto the void ship to cross universes and I loved the the freedom fighters from Pete’s world following them, taking the battle to them. It reminded me a little of “Day of the Daleks”, actually.

TEHANI:
See this is where my status as newbie fan shows – I’ve not seen any other versions of the Cybermen so had assumed the way they were presented in this season was just revisiting where they came from (ie: Earth science created, not alien), and I thought Daleks and Cyberman, as regular arch enemies, would surely have teamed up before! As you know, I’m not really a fan of Cybermen, but I did enjoy this.

TANSY:
I think that while “The Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel” two parter had some flaws, the follow up in this story works very well and makes that story retroactively a whole lot more interesting and important. The comparison to “Day of the Daleks” is very apt – might have to put that one on our shortlist to show Tehani when we’re done with the new lot!

DAVID:
Speaking of the Daleks, I really enjoyed the Time War references and the concept of them using Time Lord technology they didn’t really understand. I’m very excited about seeing where the Cult of Skaro stuff goes (I have managed to avoid spoilers to a large extent, though I have an idea it’s not the last I will see of them!). Watching this and reading some of the Dalek novelisations, I was actually thinking about how the rich history of the Daleks using time travel in Classic Who and the resulting skirmishes with the Time Lords makes a full scale, apocalyptic conflict eminently logical, and of course their use of time travel goes a long way to explaining their extremely convoluted timeline!

TANSY:
Anything I say in response to this would be far too spoilery. We shall resume this conversation at a later date!

Now is the time to confess that, having rewatched most of this and the previous series with my six year old daughter, I was distracted with other tasks, and left her to watch the last episode on her own while I did things in the other room. BIG MISTAKE. I came back in to find her sobbing her little heart out over the Doctor and Rose being separated. I had forgotten what an emotional end it was, and felt soooo guilty. She loves Rose so much.

Later I did rewatch it myself, of course, for blogging purposes. As David said earlier, I like the way that Pete rescues Rose, it makes sense she wouldn’t choose to leave the Doctor, but it’s pretty clear that this is the choice that the Doctor would have made for her, if he was in charge (which he usually is). However chuffed he looked that she chose to stay on his side, it was a deeply uncomfortable choice for her to have made, and a lot of pressure on the relationship (which I still believe, for all David Tennant’s sad face, has always been more important to her than to him).

TEHANI:

I’d forgotten that the Doctor cried! It was much sadder this time around. His reaction to Rose leaving/staying/leaving was odd though – caught up in the emotion of the episode, it all seemed appropriate, but in the cold light of day, it is more problematic, as you say Tansy. After all, he KNOWS that companions always leave, and no matter what his feelings (whatever they are), he KNOWS it’s not going to be FOREVER. He’s so delighted she’s back, despite what he’s just said, and then so sad (apparently) when she’s gone again (despite his pragmatic approach to getting rid of her earlier). I was pleased that Rose took matters into her own hands and defied them all to come back (particularly after the cavalier way Pete and the Doctor conspired to take her away), even if it was pointless in the end.

TANSY:
So how do you both feel about the ending? Sad to see Rose go? And what’s this bride in the TARDIS business all about?

TEHANI:
Tansy, that’s an unfair question! So. Much. I. Can’t. Say!!! I was not sad to see Rose go – I’ll acknowledge it was sad, particularly first time around, because I’ve never loved her, but, as with any companion leaving I guess, it’s always a bit emotional. Not sad. No. Emotional – there’s a difference! Can we come back to discuss this later. Much later…

DAVID:
I found the farewell scene between Rose and the Doctor very moving, and handled powerfully, so it isn’t as if I wasn’t sad to see Rose go, but I can’t help but thinking that it was time. I’d been really impressed with the character development we had seen over the course of the two seasons, and even more impressed with Billie Piper’s acting. I have to admit, at the start all I knew of her was that she was some sort of teen pop star and I assumed that she had been cast as some sort of attempt to capture the youth demographic, to make the New Who a bit more relevant. I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from her, but she put in some incredible performances, and proved me completely wrong.

TEHANI:
And here I’ll acknowledge that yes, she did grow on me, and by the time I’d rewatched I didn’t mind her at all – but she’ll never be my favourite.

DAVID:
But, I am not sure where there was for the character to go. There is something almost cruel about the idea of Rose tagging along with the Doctor forever, infatuated with someone I don’t think was ever going to give her what she wanted, getting older and losing more of herself each day. There was also a real risk of the dynamic of the show getting stagnant and something had to change to bring a bit of fresh air. And, of course, there is only so much URST you can have in a TV show before something has to happen, so the conservative Classic Who fan in me was a little relieved that this was the change they went for!

TANSY:
I’ll always have a soft spot for Rose because of the context in which she arrived – that first season was such a revelation, coming out of nowhere, of my old favourite show revamped for a new generation. I very much preferred her in Season One than Season Two, though, mainly because the rather soppy honeymoon element between her and David Tennant’s Doctor was less appealing to me than the restraint in dealing with the tensions between her character and the older Eccleston model. I always enjoy Season 2 more than I remember, but I do think they could have benefited from putting more strain between Rose and the Doctor, and perhaps taking longer for her to trust and love him so wholeheartedly. I certainly think it was time to move on, and it was for the best for both characters to make a break at this point – it’s a very powerful final moment, and I am glad they didn’t kill her off the way they implied at the beginning of this episode.

DAVID:
As for the bride in the TARDIS? I have no idea! I am sure that the Christmas special will be very illuminating.

TEHANI:
Indeed! Shall we away?

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