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Following an escapade on board the starship Titanic, the Doctor is reunited with one-time runaway bride Donna Noble. Together they embark upon a voyage in which they meet strange and deadly creatures such as the Adipose, the Pyroviles, the Odd, the Sontarans and the Vashta Nerada, and allies old and new, including Martha Jones, Captain Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler, Sarah Jane Smith, UNIT, Agatha Christie, River Song and even the Doctor’s “daughter”, Jenny. It is a journey that will culminate in a battle against the Daleks and Davros to prevent the destruction of reality itself...
This box set contains the whole of Series 4, including the 2007 Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned. Not that that’s necessary a good thing...
The TARDIS collides with the Titanic, an alien cruise liner on a voyage to Earth. On board, the Doctor meets a waitress called Astrid Peth. Together they battle against saboteurs and killer robotic angels in an attempt to avert the ship’s collision course with Earth...
Voyage of the Damned is my least favourite Doctor Who Xmas spesh to date, and I’ve been trying to work out why.
Part of me feels that I ought to prefer the relatively coherent plot of this 72-minute episode to the structurally flawed The Christmas Invasion (in which the sinister Santas and killer Christmas tree seemed merely grafted on in order to provide the yuletide theme and extend what could have been a regular-length episode to one hour) and the frequently nonsensical The Runaway Bride (with its over-elaborate villain’s scheme, all that confusing business about Huon particles, and a bore hole to the centre of the Earth that managed not to cause a catastrophic eruption of lava, not to mention Stahlman’s gas).
In their favour, however, The Christmas Invasion and The Runaway Bride boasted endearing or at the very least memorable characters such as Jackie Tyler, Mickey Smith, Harriet Jones and Donna Noble. The best that Voyage of the Damned can offer us in this area is the conker-headed Bannakaffalatta (Jimmy Vee) and a cameo appearance by Bernard Cribbins as a world-weary newspaper seller (who, thank goodness, comes back in the 2008 series as Donna’s grandfather). Kylie Minogue gives a decent performance as Astrid, who is very much a companion that could have been, but the role itself is surprisingly “unstarry”.
Russell T Davies’s story can hardly be described as original. I don’t mind the homage to disaster movies such as Titanic and The Poseidon Adventure. Doctor Who has a long history of borrowing from classic and/or popular works of fiction. Nor do I mind (quite the opposite, I quite like) the jokey off-the-cuff references to narratives as diverse as Max Headroom, Passenger 57 and The Apprentice. However, instead of the killer robot Santas from the last two Christmas specials, what do we get? Killer robot angels! In appearance and action, the Hosts are rip-offs of the deadly servitors from The Robots of Death, with their deceptively pleasant faces and voices, their repeated vows to “Kill... kill...” and their habit of removing one hand when it gets stuck in a door.
The effects are good, and, though I initially didn’t like Murray Gold’s souped-up new arrangement of the theme music, it has grown on me. (Why is his older version still used on the DVD menus?) Other than that, I’m sad to say that my favourite part of Voyage of the Damned is the teaser for the 2008 series at the end.
In modern-day London, a brand-new diet pill is being tested by the mysterious Adipose Industries. Donna is determined to find the Doctor again - even if it means braving the villainous Miss Foster and her hordes of sinister Adipose...
Things pick up enormously with Partners in Crime, which gets the 2008 series off to a flying start. Some others I have spoken to hate this episode, and Catherine Tate and the Adipose in particular, but I loved them.
I was already a fan of Tate, through her sketch show and her debut as Donna in The Runaway Bride, so it took me no time at all to bond with her. The character’s more abrasive edges have been softened by writer Russell T Davies, in order to make her more palatable to less easily convinced viewers, though her role in this episode remains a largely comedic one - the highlight of which is the miming sequence halfway through the show, in which the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna notice each other for the first time, having repeatedly missing each other up to that point.
Having said that, when she mishears the Doctor and mistakenly believes that he just wants “to mate”, I did wonder whether she was about to launch into her Derek Faye “how very dare you?” routine from The Catherine Tate Show! This is a recurring theme, as you will see from my comments on Planet of the Ood...
And talking of recurring themes, the brief appearance of Rose (Billie Piper) took me completely by surprise. I knew she was coming back in this series, but not so soon. I had my doubts about the notion of bringing her back, but it is well handled in this instalment.
The episode also boasts excellent dialogue, exciting Bond-movie-style action sequences and incidental music, and the irresistibly cute little Adipose. Who says all aliens have to be scary?
One possible criticism of Partners in Crime is that it rehashes the basic plot of the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Invasion of the Bane, with the splendid Sarah Lancashire as Miss Foster standing in for Samantha Bond’s Mrs Wormwood, breeding alien progeny in the process of selling a new product to an eager and unsuspecting public.
Apart from that, though, it would be a crime to miss this episode.
The Doctor and Donna arrive in Pompeii, AD79, where psychic powers and stone beasts are running riot - and it’s volcano day! Donna challenges the Time Lord like no one has ever done before. Can she dare the Doctor to change established history...?
Whereas Partners in Crime is a largely comedic episode, the next two instalments embrace more serious matters. The Fires of Pompeii features a moving performance by Tate, as Donna tries to persuade the Doctor the save the doomed people of Pompeii. He explains why he can’t, clarifying along the way why he is sometimes able to intervene in historical events (after all, even our future is somebody’s past) but sometimes isn’t.
I approached this episode with some trepidation, since Big Finish Productions has already tackled this setting in the superb Seventh Doctor/Mel story, The Fires of Vulcan, which presented the same “we’ve got to save them”/“no we can’t” argument, but without the fiery monsters. However, I don’t think Vulcan is necessarily invalidated by the events of Pompeii. We can just assume that the Tenth Doctor visits a different part of the city than the Seventh Doctor did. Interestingly, the Tenth Doctor is keen to leave straight away as soon as he realises where he is, even though the eruption isn’t due until the next day - perhaps he wishes to avoid bumping into his former self. If you’re not convinced that the two stories can occupy the same timeline, The Fires of Pompeii has a handy built-in alternate timeline explanation...
ORIGINAL TIMELINE: this is the timeline visited by the Seventh Doctor and Mel. The eruption of Vesuvius causes a rift in time and space, which echoes back through history, allowing the Pyroviles to create an...
ALTERED TIMELINE: this is the timeline brought about by the Pyroviles and visited by the Tenth Doctor and Donna. Vesuvius does not erupt in this alternate timeline. The Tenth Doctor’s actions restore the original timeline.
The Doctor is going to have to make a note to himself for the future, though. After the insubordination of Mel in The Fires of Vulcan and Donna in The Fires of Pompeii, he should refrain from taking fiery redheads to Pompeii - they’re just too argumentative!
As well as The Fires of Vulcan, this story borrows, either consciously or unconsciously, from a couple of other Who serials. The fire-worshipping Sybilline Sisterhood are reminiscent of the Sisterhood of Karn from The Brain of Morbius, while the possessed High Priestess (Victoria Wicks) who hides her true form behind a curtain is a variation on Padmasambhava in The Abominable Snowmen.
Despite the relatively serious subject matter, there are still plenty of lighter moments, especially when the TARDIS’s translation circuits convert the local dialect into modern English speech patterns, including such terms and phrases as: “Lovely jubbly”, “Sunshine” and “Give us a break”. This could actually explain why the speech patterns of peoples encountered by TARDIS travellers in any given era of the show usually reflect the period in which the programme was made - the TARDIS translates the local language into a vernacular that is familiar to the Doctor’s human companions.
The Fires of Pompeii is an exciting and visually pleasing episode, which throws up some interesting ideas.
The Doctor takes Donna to her first alien world - and it’s freezing! The icescapes of the Ood-Sphere reveal some terrible truths about the human race. On meeting the Ood again, the Doctor is determined to find out the facts about their servility...
Following a couple of unusually long episodes, each of which tops 48 minutes, Planet of the Ood is a compact and bijou 43 and a half minutes long (though there are some substantial deleted scenes that were cut for reasons of pacing). It is snappily directed by Graeme Harper, and kept me riveted throughout.
Writer Keith Temple builds upon what little we already know about the Ood from The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit to explore how the creatures became servants to humanity (though I’m not sure that a species being dependent upon a single giant brain is any more believable than a species being born into servitude). The script deals with slavery (a subject that is curiously never touched upon in The Fires of Pompeii), along with more topical issues such as the exploitation of Third World labour and the inhumane treatment of livestock.
The unofficial back-story about the Ood-Sphere occupying the same solar system as the Sense-Sphere (from The Sensorites) is confirmed in this episode, which features an appropriately retro-style space rocket.
Tate gives another evocative performance, though it is slightly undercut by no fewer than three occasions on which she comes across like one of her characters from The Catherine Tate Show. In the opening TARDIS scene, she says “I dunno” in the same tone of voice as Sam from the Paul and Sam sketches. Later, when an Ood (voiced by Silas Carson) addresses Donna as “miss”, she is decidedly Lauren Cooper in her delivery of the question, “Do I look single?” She also has a bit of an Ally moment (the tactless woman who, inadvertently, always manages to offend people at parties) when she tries to speak into a dying Ood’s translator globe. Still, it could have been worse - just imagine:
DONNA: Woo, enjoying that spaghetti, aren’t you?
OOD: I am not eating spaghetti. These tentacles are part of my facial features.
DONNA: Hmm? What? Oh, those! God, yeah, no, god. No, I didn’t mean those. I hardly even noticed those...
All in all, Planet of the Ood is very gOod.
Martha Jones, now a member of UNIT, summons the Doctor back to modern-day Earth, but an old enemy lies in wait. With the mysterious ATMOS devices spreading across the world, Donna discovers that not even her own family is safe from the alien threat...
The two-part The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (which I’m reviewing as a single entity, as it’s all pretty much of a muchness to me) contains a pleasing number of returning foes and friends.
Most obviously, of course, the Sontarans are back. Christopher Ryan makes a good Sontaran, and the prosthetics people have done great work while remaining faithful to the original design - but does anyone else think that General Staal’s sticky-out ears make him look like a short version of Christopher Eccleston? I also find it strange that this asexual cloned race would make gender-based value judgements, as Staal does when he says: “Words are the weapons of womenfolk.” Maybe the creatures are now so familiar with species that reproduce sexually that such sayings have become commonplace for them.
I like the fact that Donna doesn’t know how to pronounce the word Sontaran. The first time I saw the word written down (on the front cover of the novelisation Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment), I thought it was pronounced son’tər-răn. (I also enjoyed the humour of Donna’s “I’m going home” scene.)
It’s good to see Martha (Freema Agyeman) back, and not pining for the Doctor at all.
And it’s good to see UNIT back again, in force, with more than half a dozen soldiers (unlike the old days)! They’ve got more troops and more funding, though they’ve dropped the United Nations part of the acronym, at the request of the real-life UN - now they’re called the UNified Intelligence Taskforce. Writer Helen Raynor neatly sidesteps and/or mocks the controversy surrounding the dating of the classic UNIT serials by having the Doctor refer back to “the ’70s - or was it the ’80s?” (Lawrence Miles did something similar in his two-part novel Interference). It’s a shame that the production team didn’t get Nicholas Courtney in to reprise his role as Lethbridge-Stewart, in a cameo at least, but he does get a name-check in The Poison Sky.
This serial has a lot going for it, but the plot doesn’t quite sustain two whole episodes. This is often the problem with new Who: single episodes tend to seem too rushed and/or over-run, while two-parters tend to feel padded out and/or run short.
The ending of the first episode suffers from the same “dragged out cliffhanger” syndrome as the end of Aliens of London. It seems as though the production team is elongating the peril until the running time is fulfilled: people are choking; Wilfred is locked in the car; the Doctor is helpless; the Sontarans are jubilant; people are choking; Wilfred is locked in the car; the Doctor is helpless; the Sontarans are jubilant; people are choking; Wilfred is locked in the car; the Doctor is helpless; the Sontarans are jubilant; repeat ad nauseam... Why is the Doctor so helpless? Why doesn’t he just use his sonic screwdriver to shatter the car window?
And more should have been made of the Rattigan Academy, either that or the geniuses should have been left out of the plot altogether.
The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky isn’t quite the glorious victory the Sontarans would have wished for, but neither is it an abject failure.
The Doctor meets the most important woman of his life on the planet Messaline, in the middle of an endless war. But as General Cobb threatens genocide, and Martha is kidnapped by aliens, the Doctor faces an even greater battle - can he find peace with his own child...?
What a tease the title The Doctor’s Daughter is! By the time this episode aired, I had been waiting weeks for it, intrigued by the potential inherent in its designation. However, within moments of the episode starting, it becomes clear that Jenny is only the Time Lord’s daughter in a genetic sampling kind of way, not some returning Gallifreyan relative or even Miranda from Father Time. Still, Georgia Moffett (daughter of Peter Davison) is good in the role. I imagine that she is cultured from the same part of the Doctor’s genetic code as his fifth incarnation. In other words, she is the fifth Doctor’s daughter. Look - she’s got his nose!
That’s a pretty amazing progenation machine, though, isn’t it? It not only adds clothing (which makes sense, as the fighters on Messaline would want their soldiers to be combat-ready) but also ties back hair and applies immaculate eyeliner!
It’s unfortunate that we have another anti-war/cloning story right after the Sontaran two-parter. Once again, the Doctor goes off on one with his pacifist preaching - but the writers are going somewhere with this. The Time Lord has used violence under certain circumstances, even the Tenth Doctor (for example, the sword fight in The Christmas Invasion), but this doesn’t necessarily mean inconsistent characterisation. His participation in the Time War has left him emotionally scarred, and this comes to the fore in The Doctor’s Daughter and again in Journey’s End.
The pace of this episode is a little problematic. Whereas the Sontaran two-parter seemed padded out, The Doctor’s Daughter feels rushed. Martha’s grief over the death of the Hath Peck (Paul Kasey) is unconvincing after so short an acquaintance, and the fighters lay down their weapons rather too swiftly at the end.
The bubbling Hath are great creatures, though, and the plot is a nice basic twist on an old idea. Usually the shock revelation in this kind of sci-fi tale is to do with how long the war (Star Trek: A Taste of Armageddon) or isolation (Full Circle) or whatever have been going on for. Here the revelation is how little time has in fact passed.
The Doctor’s Daughter is not without its problems, but its hearts are in the right place.
In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for ten days. Was it amnesia? A nervous breakdown? Or a giant alien wasp..? The Doctor and Donna join forces with the world’s most famous crime novelist, to encounter a body in the library and a Vespiform seeking revenge...
Though The Unicorn and the Wasp shares many similarities with one of my favourite episodes from the previous series, the brilliant Shakespeare Code (the same writer, Gareth Roberts; the same basic idea of meeting a famous English writer in a historical setting; and the same “No, no, don’t... don’t... don’t do that” routine, which is now a standard feature of the “celebrity historical”) I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. This is possibly because I’ve seen/read more Shakespeare than I have Agatha Christie. Having said that, just a basic knowledge of Cluedo will get you through the amusing pre-credits sequence.
This episode has been hailed as the first pure comedy Who story since The Romans and The Myth Makers back in the Hartnell era. However, I don’t consider any of these stories to be pure comedies. There’s always some drama. City of Death and Love & Monsters have just as high a comedy quotient, in my opinion. That’s not to deny that The Unicorn and the Wasp has plenty of successful comic moments, including references to many Christie titles, the chair that makes people have flashbacks, and the Doctor’s reaction to being poisoned with “sparkling cyanide” (which, in a pleasing bit of coincidental cross-series continuity, is similar to the Sixth Doctor’s solution to aspirin poisoning in the audio drama The Condemned).
The episode’s notions of amnesia and of anger arousing dormant characteristics have thematic connections with the series finale.
But is the production team being deliberately retro with its rather poor “transformation into wasp” effect (a cloud of smoke and a lighting effect)? Perhaps they blew the effects budget on the CGI wasp.
The Unicorn and the Wasp didn’t give me quite the buzz I was expecting, but it still warrants investigation.
The Doctor and Donna find themselves in the universe’s greatest library, but they are alone. One hundred years ago, the Library was sealed off with only a cryptic warning left behind as explanation: “Count the shadows.” Now the shadows are on the move again...
WARNING - CONTAINS SPOILERS!
If you’ve already seen the two-part Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, you’ll know that it contains spoilers within the actual context of the story. Indeed, the term becomes a recurring motto as the Doctor encounters the mysterious River Song (ER’s Alex Kingston), a woman who already knows him, though the Time Lord has never met her before. Strangely for a show about time travel, this is only the second time that the TV series has truly embraced this concept (the other occasion being the Sylvester McCoy serial Battlefield).
There are plenty of hints but no definite answers as to what River’s relationship with the Doctor will be, except that it will be a very close one. There appears to be a big clue in the next episode, Forest of the Dead, when Strackman Lux (The League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton) accuses them of “squabbling like an old married couple.” Whatever the nature of their relationship, it seems to be an on-off thing, with the Doctor and River leading independent lives between their encounters (like with Martha Jones) rather than continuous companionship as fellow travellers in the TARDIS. Their encounters appear to have covered several of the Doctor’s incarnations, not always in chronological order, with the earliest incarnation involved being the Tenth. Early on in the story, River says, “Where are we this time? Going by your face, I’d say it’s early days for you, yeah?” She recognises the Tenth Doctor, but can tell from his eyes that he is “younger than I’ve ever seen you.” The concept of River Song is made all the more intriguing by the fact that the story’s writer, Steven Moffat, is replacing Russell T Davies as head writer of the next series, so it’s likely that he has plans for River to reappear sooner rather than later. However, keeping the character looking the same age or younger could prove to be a challenge for production teams in the longer term!
Add to this an implacable new foe (the flesh-eating Vashta Nerada), a creepy new catch phrase (“Hey, who turned out the lights?”) and the mystery surrounding the connection between the Library and the world of the Girl (the brilliant Eve Newton) and Dr Moon (Colin Salmon - hey, how about him as the first non-white Doctor?), and it all adds up to a great first episode. I have to admit that I guessed the nature of the Girl’s world, though many viewers didn’t - it’s more guessable if you’ve seen The Matrix.
But does the second part live up to the first...?
As the shadows rise and march, the Doctor forges an alliance with the mysterious River Song, but can anyone stop the Vashta Nerada? While the Doctor discovers long-buried secrets about his future, Donna must uncover the truth behind the horrifying data ghost...
Well, yes it does, just about. This is a consistently good two-parter, one of the best stories of Series 4 in fact. However, before we get overly reverent, let’s admit that the plot is not without its faults.
For one thing, Moffat cheats with his depiction of the monsters. In Silence in the Library and in interviews, he builds up the Vashta Nerada as a mindless force that cannot be reasoned with - but in Forest of the Dead, that’s exactly how the Doctor deals with them.
Also, fellow Who writer Lawrence Miles has a point (in his blog) when he accuses Moffat of rehashing his own ideas. Put a skeleton in an empty spacesuit and give it a creepy catch phrase, and you recapture the sinister appeal of the gasmask-wearing boy in The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances. Mash up the scenes of the Doctor addressing the young Reinette through her fireplace in The Girl in the Fireplace and the Doctor addressing Sally Sparrow through a DVD in Blink, and you get the scene in Silence in the Library in which the Doctor appears on the Girl’s television. And, as in The Doctor Dances, everybody lives (sort of).
Doctor Who novel readers may wonder what the Doctor’s evident disdain for archaeologists (“I’m a time-traveller, I point and laugh at archaeologists”) says about his former incarnations’ relationship with Professor Bernice Summerfield. And surely the Doctor could have survived using his brain to increase the storage capacity of the computer core, since he managed to store the entire contents of Gallifrey’s Matrix there between The Burning and The Gallifrey Chronicles (albeit with the resulting loss of his own memories) - but then, River Song wasn’t to know that.
None of the above is to deny that Forest of the Dead is an effective and affecting conclusion to the story. Even though no one dies (sort of), the tragic ending for Donna’s “husband” Lee (Jason Pitt) is very sad. And that’s not the last bit of tragedy that will revolve around the character of Donna Noble before this series is over...
The Doctor is trapped, powerless and terrified, on the planet Midnight. Soon, the knocking on the hull begins. Only a woman called Sky seems to know the truth - but as paranoia turns into a witch-hunt, she turns the Doctor’s greatest strengths against him...
Midnight is a very interesting experiment, in a couple of ways.
First of all, this year, rather than having a Doctor-lite episode that is also companion-lite (as was the case with Love & Monsters and Blink), the production team has elected to separate the Doctor and Donna, so that Tate is mostly absent from this episode and Tennant appears only briefly in the next one, Turn Left. Having the two of them separated for most of Forest of the Dead may have helped the production team too. However, this logistical exercise might have been less obvious if the episodes concerned had been broadcast farther apart across the season, separated by a least one regular “Doctor and Donna” episode.
The subject and tone of the piece also differ from the norm. Confined rather than epic in scope, this is a decidedly grown-up episode, with no actual monster to be seen, only heard through bangs on the exterior of the shuttle’s hull and the phrases that are repeated by the apparently possessed Sky Silvestre (Clocking Off’s Lesley Sharp). The terror exists in the human passengers’ reactions to events, in terms of both their fear and the actions they consider taking in order to save themselves.
The guest cast playing the all too flawed humans also includes David (son of Patrick) Troughton (The Curse of Peladon, A Very Peculiar Practice) as the conceited Professor Hobbes and Lindsey Coulson (EastEnders, Clocking Off) as the venomous Val Cane.
I wonder whether some kiddies in the audience will object to the lack of monsters, and I myself didn’t enjoy this episode that much the first time I saw it. However, upon my second viewing for the purposes of this review, I find that it has grown on me enormously.
Donna’s entire world collapses, and there’s no sign of the Doctor. Instead, she finds help from a mysterious blonde woman, a traveller from a parallel universe. But are Donna and Rose Tyler too late to save the whole of creation from the approaching darkness...?
David Tennant’s brief appearance in Turn Left is turned into a crucial plot point, as writer Russell T Davies explores, in an It’s a Wonderful Life stylee, what the universe would be like without the Doctor, who is erased from existence when Donna alters a small but pivotal decision in her own past. Neat tie-ins with episodes from the last couple of series demonstrate that, even though the Doctor causes a fair amount of mayhem whenever he’s around, things would be a lot worse without him, thus countering the very valid criticism that has been levelled against the Time Lord (and is levelled against him once again in Journey’s End) that he does more harm than good. Here we discover that multiple realities are under threat unless the timeline is restored and the Doctor brought back into being.
From a character and storytelling point of view, though, we hardly miss him at all, as Tate carries the show with an emotive performance, ably supported by the returning Billie Piper as well as astonishing turns by Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King as the rest of the Noble household. However, what has happened to Piper’s voice? She didn’t used to talk like thish - at least, not to the extent that can be heard on this disc.
In addition to It’s a Wonderful Life and Sliding Doors, the episode’s influences include the Who stories The Evil of the Daleks, for its use of mirrors to effect time travel, and Planet of the Spiders, for its use of a giant creepy-crawly on a companion’s back.
The Time Beetle itself looks rather plastic, but otherwise there are lots of great visuals here, including flashbacks to the chaos and destruction of the last two Christmas specials, a nearly dead TARDIS and a cliffhanger ending that leads directly into the next episode...
Earth’s greatest heroes assemble in a time of dire need - but can the Doctor’s secret army defeat the might of the new Dalek Empire? With battles on the streets and in the skies, the Doctor and Donna must brave the Shadow Proclamation to find out the truth...
The concluding two-parter, The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, packs in even more elements from the past than usual for a season finale. As well as Rose, The Stolen Earth sees the return of Martha Jones, her mother Francine (Adjoa Andoh), UNIT, the Torchwood team, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and her son Luke (Thomas Knight), former Prime Minister Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton), the Daleks (voiced, as ever, by Nicholas Briggs), Davros (Julian Bleach) and the Judoon. Journey’s End adds Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri) and Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) to the roster.
Davros’s voice and mask are spot on, reflecting the original depiction of the character in Genesis of the Daleks, and Bleach is excellent in the role - but why recast him, when Terry Molloy (the ’80s Davros) is still alive and kicking? Meanwhile, Sladen’s weepy acting is rather pathetic at times, and though it’s great to see the Judoon again, the once mysterious Shadow Proclamation seems mundane now that it has been revealed to be a mere police force.
However, in all other respects, this is a great payoff for loyal viewers who have been with the show for the last four years - or longer. Who can blame the production team for coming over all celebratory? This season marks the programme’s 45th anniversary and is the end of an era for the show. When it returns as a full series in 2010 (following a handful of specials in 2008, 2009 and early 2010) it will be without producer Phil Collinson and executive producer and head writer Davies.
As the writer, Davies does show some restraint, though. Think of all the characters who don’t reappear here: the Ninth Doctor, the Master, the Cybermen (though they are in a deleted scene from the very end of Journey’s End), the Sontarans, the Slitheen, the Autons, Pete Tyler, Tish Jones, Leo Jones and Clive Jones, and Maria Jackson and Clyde Langer from The Sarah Jane Adventures.
All in all, this is a magnificently strident episode, which ends with another cracking cliffhanger (which makes up for the surprise we were denied at the end of Series 1).
The entire universe is in danger, as the Daleks and Davros activate their master plan. The Doctor is helpless and even the TARDIS faces destruction. The only hope lies with the Doctor’s secret army of companions - but a prophecy declares that one of them will die...
Following the build-up of the last couple of episodes, it was almost inevitable that Journey’s End would disappoint to some extent.
The Daleks’ plan of destroying the whole of creation is innately stupid. Even bearing in mind their xenophobia and the fact that they have a means to protect themselves against the effects of the reality bomb, surely they need the resources of other species and planets in order to survive. I can accept this crazy plan from Davros and Dalek Caan, as both are clearly as mad as a box of slythers, but the rest of the Dalek fleet are in on it too.
The Doctor’s averted regeneration also lacks sense. I have listened to the Time Lord’s explanation of it several times now, and I’m still not convinced. I expected the severed hand to play a part, but I would have thought a more sensible use for it would be as a means of reasserting the current incarnation’s genetic structure, not as a “handy bio-matching receptacle” for his “regeneration energy”. How come he can use the regeneration energy to heal himself without changing, when the change has always been a part of the healing process? Does this mean that he’s used up a life, even though he hasn’t changed, or not? Maybe he wasn’t that badly injured after all.
Davies’s script doesn’t specify, though Tennant himself has provided some clarification in Doctor Who Confidential (the broadcast version, that is, not the cut-down version presented in this box set), in which he states his belief that a full regeneration wasn’t necessary. The actor is less certain about whether or not this means the Doctor has used up one of his lives. He suspects that this is something fans will debate for years to come. Here’s a thought: the Second Doctor was forcibly regenerated into the Third at the end of The War Games, with no life-threatening reason, so perhaps that regeneration didn’t use up a life. So maybe the Tenth Doctor’s averted regeneration makes things even!
The Doctor’s dialogue also skirts around the fact that he is already half-human (or at least according to Paul McGann’s Doctor in the TV movie).
Still, all of the above technobabble leads to the creation of the Doctor-Donna, an exciting and funny idea.
The episode runs to nearly 65 minutes, though the extra 20 minutes are mostly taken up with farewells to various characters, many of them very moving. Mickey stays behind in our universe, presumably to join Torchwood. Rose gets her man - sort of. But the parting of the ways for Donna and the Doctor is one of the most tragic ever, even though her prophesied “death” is as much of a cop-out as Rose’s was back in Doomsday. It’s a very downbeat ending - though it’s better than the traditional-style “What? What?! WHAT?!!” scene that was recorded and would have led into the 2008 Christmas special (and is presented among the deleted scenes).
Journey’s End almost collapses under the weight of its own baggage as it waddles towards the finishing line, but it just about manages to bring four years of story arcs to a satisfactory conclusion.
In addition to the regular episodes, each of which is accompanied by an audio commentary by the cast and crew, there are the usual teasers and trailers, including the superb cinema trails for Voyage of the Damned and Series 4, cut-down versions of Doctor Who Confidential and a 30-minute retrospective on the last four years of the show. There are couple of David Tennant’s video diaries, but only for Voyage of the Damned and The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, as he didn’t record any during the bulk of Series 4’s production.
An essential inclusion is the 2007 Children in Need mini-episode, Time Crash, guest starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, who meets Tennant’s incarnation. Short and sweet, it contains numerous nods and winks to the eras of both Doctors, and, for the first time, provides a canonical explanation for why returning actors appear visibly older whenever they reprise their roles in multi-Doctor stories (though it doesn’t explain why they never seem to remember the events of such encounters with future selves, as the Doctor so crucially does here). I would say that Davison steps effortlessly back into the role as if he’d never left it, but then he’s been doing just that for Big Finish Productions since 1999, so he’s well and truly kept his hand in (Tristan Farnon pun not intended). Writer Steven Moffat’s reverence for the Fifth Doctor is a little sycophantic, but who can blame him - Davison was my Doctor too.
The 2008 Music of the Spheres mini-episode (from the Doctor Who Prom) isn’t here - hopefully it will be included in a box set of the 2008-10 specials or something.
However, the most exciting special features as far as I’m concerned are the deleted scenes, which include substantial material cut from Partners in Crime (including all of the scenes recorded with the late Howard Attfield as Donna’s dad, Geoff Noble), Planet of the Ood, The Unicorn and the Wasp (including an entire frame narrative involving an elderly Agatha Christie on her death bed) and Journey’s End.
BBC DVD have Donna good job with this Noble release.
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