Sunday, June 22, 2008

One-way ticket to hell and back

Well, the Darkness are coming. Billie Piper said so.

When word got out that this episode would show what would have happened if the Doctor had died before meeting Donna, there were a number of things that I could see it doing, and I hoped it would do at least some of them. It met and exceeded my hopes.

They say (and the trailer confirms) that the season finale will be stuffed to bursting with familiar faces, in a way that seems to suggest a desperate attempt to outdo all previous finales - as if there were a need for outdoing, and as if the way to go about it were simply to throw more and more "surprise" revenants into the mix. Here at least there's a genuine need, a compelling reason to bring back all manner of characters and monsters, yet for the most part they're restricted to throwaway lines and cut-in effects shots, so the whole business of revisiting the last two years of "present day" stories is nicely underplayed. Bonus points for that whole side of the story, especially for the subdued effect and music when London is atomised.

The one comeback they couldn't underplay was Rose, and... yes, she did have trouble finding that accent again, didn't she? Billie Piper's good here, but she's completely out-acted by Catherine Tate, which is probably just as well considering who's the focus of this episode. But blow me, now we've seen Tate out-act Piper and Agyeman! Will the delightful revelation of Catherine Tate's acting never end?

There's just one problem I can see here, and that's the fortune teller. Who is she, and why is she so particularly keen to lure Donna in and stick a beetle on her back? How does she know about the Doctor? Perhaps she's been put up to it and we'll find out more next week, or perhaps she's just good at spotting juicy meals for the beetle. Then again, perhaps there is no explanation.

But she's such an incidental part of the story that it's easy to let this go. Overall, this episode is stunning. So many well-played moments, such good music, such good acting from all concerned. Such good writing, of course - if we consider these last four episodes of the season as RTD's swansong (and I think we may, with next year's specials being more of a lap of honour), then he's certainly rising to the occasion.

Next week, it's the New Who apocalypse. Death to the spin-offs! (Except, uh, they've all been recommissioned, so presumably none of them are actually in any danger. Or at least, danger that can't be undone with a last minute reset.) But for now, before the inevitable Daleks fly in and the screen is swamped with returning characters, let's give this episode the full 10.


Mags said...

My brain helpfully suggested she was Madame Xing from Michalowski's Halflife (aka Compassion). I am resisting that intepretation...

Ben said...

And it's not just Tate. Has Bernard Cribbins ever been called upon to express such emotion in his entire acting career? Has he?

I eagerly await the new spin-off series, "The Adventures of Granddad".

I don't think the fortune teller was that important - she simply provided the crisis from which Donna needed to be rescued by Rose so that the Doctor was available for the real crisis. (This being the reality where Donna did meet the Doc and doesn't have anything on her back, why did the guy back in Pompeii say she did?)

Also, I found strange, but probably inconclusive and coincidental, echoes of "Planet of the Spiders" and the Doc's invisible spider. A distraction, at worst.

Overall I entirely endorse your 10.

Sarah said...

I will agree with your 10/10. It was a very good drama. Though I have to admit I missed that 'twinkle' that DT brings to it.

John Toon said...

Oh now, Mags, now you've gone and raised the spectre of Faction Paradox in my mind. And this episode is a rather good fit. (Next time: Davros vs "Cousin T-Junction"...)

I quite favour the Mara interpretation myself - someone on t'forum's pointed out the resonance of the image of the circle of mirrors with Kinda. And yes, I know Evil of the Daleks is the "correct" association, but I like Kinda. I especially like the idea that, if I squint hard enough, I might be able to weave one coherent idea out of all three stories.

Ben - you're not wrong. Has the Cribb been called upon to express this much emotion in the rest of the series to date? To think, he pulled out that bit of ham at the end of Partners in Crime and I immediately thought "Tom Campbell - OBE!" But look at him now. I think the stand-out moment was in the scene where they take away the immigrant family (were they Italian? I'd thought Greek for some reason), before he even said a word. The look on his face told you exactly what was going on. Eye-misting stuff.

Re the guy in Pompeii, I think he was just saying sooth. That said, there's a theory doing the rounds of an enormous Time Beetle double bluff. But I'm not holding my breath on that one. It'd be a pretty daring twist if it was right, though.

Sarah - I think the story twinkled enough in his absence. Still, he's back again next week.

Doloras LaPicho said...

I assumed they were Italian because Donna called the father "Mussolini", but that don't necessarily signify,

Andy said...

Seems like no-one else watched "the Sarah Jane Adventures' or this week's Doctor Who Confidential. In a throwaway line the Doctor says that the fortune teller is one of the minions of The Trickster, a character who was manipulating time in an episode of Sarah Jane. (I missed the line in the actual episode, but they focused on it during the documentary.)