Did the Earth move for you?
I'm still undecided about The Stolen Earth. On the one hand, RTD's just piled on as many returning characters as he can, together with the Daleks and Davros, and a handful of thrown-away references from earlier in the series, in the belief that this will magically resolve itself into a story. Perhaps next week it will. On the other hand, after four years' practice it'd be almost impossible for the Who team to get any of this wrong, mechanically speaking - the look is good, the directing is good, the Daleks are of course Daleky. But even after three viewings - one at a friend's birthday party, one late at night, and one to finally hear what was going on - I still haven't found enough of a story to really get my reviewing teeth into. So instead I present a series of impressions of bits of the episode - a string of loosely connected set pieces, if you will. Which is almost a comment on the episode in itself.
Dalek Caan - the best thing about the whole episode. How did we ever get by in the days when Dalek stories didn't include a raving, giggling lunatic Dalek? All this stuff about "the threefold man" and "the dark lord" seems quite promising, and even if it doesn't have any bearing on later developments, at least it makes for good solid gibbering. Still 'n' all, it's a bit of a shame when you bring back every companion, spin-off star and barely-cared-about character you can think of and they're all upstaged by a static, helpless prop.
Harriet Jones, one-note joke - speaking of barely-cared-about characters. Here she is again, now doing her Margaret Thatcher impersonation - at least, that's what I took it for, because I choose not to believe that Penelope Wilton could ever speak that flatly and woodenly without trying. "I've asked my conscience whether I was right to sink the Belgrano, and funnily enough my conscience said not to worry about it." All this business about following her name with her profession was fine back in 2005, because you could accept that an aspiring MP might do that in the hope that the Prime Minister would remember her later. As soon as she became Prime Minister it became ridiculous, but the "Yes, we know who you are" response gave it a new comic twist - the first time, anyway. Now it's all just plain tiresome. When even the Daleks yes, know who she is, you know it's gone too far. And what's that ID she keeps flashing? Is there a Former PMs Club that she's joined that she wants everyone to know about?
The Shadow Proclamation - sounded pretty impressive at first, didn't it? Mysterious and that. Who could've guessed it'd turn out to be two albino goths in a leisure centre? And the Judoon, of course, because this is transparently RTD's Greatest Hits and there wasn't any easy way of using any of his other animal-aliens. I expect they'll show up again next week, but here it seems their sole purpose is to remind us of the gag that they only speak in monosyllables ending in "o", so that the Doctor can amusingly respond in kind. Ho, ho.
Davros - kudos to RTD for resisting bringing him back until now. The old schtick, wheeled out again in this week's DW Confidential, is that the Daleks need a spokesman because they can't hold a conversation themselves. Which just shows how little attention people pay to the '60s Dalek stories - or to their four previous appearances in New Who, for that matter. Ironic too, considering how he usually just ends up ranting. Still, here he is again, yer old mate Dave Ross. He's looking good, the mask looks less rubbery on a second viewing. He's a strange mixture of continuity and fresh start, though - they've given him a robot hand in deference to the fact that the real one got shot off in 1985, but they've ignored the loss of most of the rest of him in 1988, and by going back to the original look of 1975 they've thrown out all subsequent development of the mask. Bonus points to actor Julian Bleach for not saying "Doc-tor", to my surprise and delight.
One thought - why has he picked his own chest clean to clone a new Dalek army when he's got Dalek Caan? The wriggly little feller's obviously too dangerously mad to be trusted with a working Dalek casing, and even if Davros likes listening to his conversation (and we sure do), well... he's got a few tentacles to spare. It'd even save time mutating the new Daleks once they've started growing.
I could digress into a couple of paragraphs on what's wrong about Davros at this point, but the mighty Ben Jeapes has already done that.
Rose - she's still back. Seems to have got those teeth a bit more under control. Nice touch that she isn't invited into the Old Companions Club - she is supposed to be locked away in a parallel universe after all (or officially, dead). Heigh-ho, she's got a big gun - I wonder if the Doctor will comment this time on how all his ex-companions seem to end up carrying guns. Also a slightly dubious message in that looting scene that the best way to deal with troublemakers is to flash your gun at them. (Still, there's the American sales to think of.) It is kind of nice to see her back, although I'm still waiting for a proper explanation of how she's able to come back at all - next week, presumably.
Playing pool with planets - come on, who else is thinking Red Dwarf? But here's the thing - the Shadow Proclamation's computer is primed to holographically rearrange the 27 planets of your choice into "the optimum arrangement" without prompting. I'd say that's a useful function to have on your computer, but it's hard to see what use it would actually be, beyond explaining the plot this one time. It's just a bit of hand-waving, an absurd convenience to move the episode along. But not as bad as...
The Archangel network - oops, sorry, the subwave network. I did say this was RTD's Greatest Hits, and oh look, there's a scene of people fervently praying to the Doctor through a global mobile phone network. Luckily no fairy dust or magic flying Doctors were involved this time. And if it's silly that the Shadow Proclamation's futuristic computer should spontaneously guess Davros' plan, it's a magnitude sillier that this "sentient software" should fall into the hands of Harriet Jones, Former Prime Minister. Retirement gift from UNIT? Apparently it's been developed using a trust fund set up by kindly old Mr Copper, the most robbed Companion Who Never Was since Will Chandler (The Awakening, 1984). What the hell's she doing with it? How the hell does she know how to use it? How can you wave away so much plot convenience with the mere claim that it's "sentient"? (The same, but less, applies to the allegation that Martha's transmat backpack "read her mind".)
The Time War - apparently the whole thing is time-locked. So who the hell did that? Did the Doctor do it after he'd finished burning the Daleks and the Time Lords? Did someone else come along and do it? What's the story there? Because if someone else has the means to do it - which seems the likelier explanation - then there's something more powerful and more interesting than the Daleks that we haven't seen yet. This mention of "the Nightmare Child" is pretty intriguing too. The Lovely Jo reckons the Daleks and Time Lords were fighting together against a third party, which seems plausible.
The darkness - is it still coming? I'm leaning now towards the belief that it wasn't some bit of foreshadowing in Turn Left for the finale, but just a way of representing all the off-Earth havoc that would have resulted if the Doctor hadn't been around to sort it out. But could it still be coming? It doesn't seem to be anything to do with Davros - his plan involves moving the Earth across space, quite specifically the Earth and 26 other planets, and since that didn't happen in Turn Left, the darkness can't be his doing. (I'll feel cheated if it is.) If we hear nothing about it next week, assume it was an episode-specific metaphor.
The reset button - you know it's coming. I'd like to give RTD the benefit of the doubt again, but he's set up his options already. (And besides, it's his Greatest Hits, so there'd have to be a deus ex machina or a reset - maybe both? We had both last year.) Will it be the Haagen-Dasz key that Martha's been entrusted with? Will it be another invisible time beetle? I'd've said this time last week that Dalek Caan might have one on his back, but it looks like they've discounted that and gone for a Double Beetle on Donna. Or maybe the Haagen-Dasz key opens a safe that contains UNIT's very own time beetle, for use in emergencies?
My overall thoughts on The Stolen Earth aren't too positive, looking back at what I've written. It's a watchable episode, with a couple of interesting moments and some nice performances - Dalek Caan's the stand-out - but none too solid if you start poking at it. It's all about the spectacle and not much about the story, which is at least something the three previous finales got right. It'll stand or fall on what happens next week.