Patchy, melodramatic and a huge anticlimax.
But enough about the England match, what about Doctor Who?
Well it was patchy and melodramatic, but I liked it anyway. There was the usual helping of OTT humour and OTT Tennantisms, but broadly it worked very well and kept up a rattling pace. Characterisation suffered, but that’s okay in part one of a season finale. It would be less forgiveable in part two.
Torchwood were effective but just ever so slightly too caricatured to be effective. Secret bases run by arrogant scientists are all well and good, but this one was too low on the menace, too high on the smirking. Also if the Doctor could put the pieces together about Bad Wolf – which, frankly, were un-put-togetherable since he wasn’t even present for most of them – then he should have been able to spot the clunkingly obvious references to Torchwood scattered through the season. That said, Bad Wolf as a season arc was so subtle as to be non-existent, providing continuity to the stories only for those who were tipped off, and even then contributing precisely nothing to the unity of the season (except in retrospect). Torchwood at least was more easily spotted by the audience, and was more clearly identifiable for what it was. In many ways it was actually more successful in providing a linking thread between episodes.
The main reason that Torchwood worked reasonably well for me is that the idea of mad scientists “wotting” of things best left alone is the good kind of cliche, and the mysterious sphere was very well-realised. The idea of the ghosts having become integrated into Earth culture was also a cute idea. Quite why the ghosts weren’t marching around like robots on caffeine until just before they fully materialised is a question best left unasked. When they did finally appear (which would perhaps have been more surprising if it hadn’t been massively spoilered in the previews) the Cybermen were nothing more than two-dimensional bogeymen, but they do work well in that role1. While this episode was equally as light on depth as their previous appearance, it had the advantage of not relying solely on them for its interest. Despite some rumours the Daleks were less spoilered for me (unless I looked away for that bit of the preview) and had the added value of creating a real “Oh crap” ending.
Tennant and Piper were largely very good, but Tennant’s delivery of “Who you gonna call?” was just horrible. It was an ill-conceived line to begin with but it fell even flatter in the execution2. (I did like the 3D glasses, though. A lot.) Having Jackie along made for some fun moments, but I didn’t appreciate her lecture to Rose; it may be fine from her character’s point of view, but I do hope we’re not meant to take it as authorial intent that Rose is losing herself. This does seem to fly in the face of everything we’ve seen her become over the last two years. I can accept that she’s become a little cocky, a little too strident, but on the whole her development has been entirely into a stronger, more fulfilled person. While it’s true that there’s nothing “wrong” with working in a shop and that it’s possible to be fulfilled in a “normal” life, there is a great deal wrong with accepting a bland status quo and squandering your potential. The only place that Jackie’s concern rang true for me was in the picture she painted of a much older Rose accompanying an ever-changing, ever youthful Doctor. It’s the same issue that was raised in School Reunion, and this at least has a kernal of truth.
Mickey’s reappearance was unsurprising once the basic idea of the parallel worlds became clear; I’m sure we’ll get some explanation of how he managed to get through ahead of the main invasion force – perhaps with the advance guard. His arrival, coupled with Jackie’s presence, does raise the uncomfortable possibility that Rose’s Dad is indeed going to be reunited with them next week. It’s not inherently bad drama, but it does smack of the kind of cheap “nothing is permanent” plotting that blights TV science fiction.
In all honesty this episode was solid rather than spectacular, and it certainly made much less of an impression than many episodes this season. There were no strong themes, no interesting supporting characters: it was just runaround action. On the other hand it was the equal of last year’s Big Brother-inspired penultimate instalment. As always in a two-parter, and most especially in a season finale, the real test will be the conclusion.
1 And a fannish “Yay!” for them slashing their way through polythene. You can’t have Cybermen who don’t slash their way through polythene.
2 It was so much better when Spike used it in Buffy.