Sunday, June 29, 2008

Doctor Who: 'The Stolen Earth' (4x12)

This episode was almost too much to absorb on a single viewing. Darting across the Whoniverse, Davies includes virtually every major character from all three series for the biggest Who episode so far. The episode felt almost like fan fiction, a delirious person going on about Rose coming back, then Torchwood appearing, and Sarah Jane and the Daleks, and the Daleks destroy the world, and everyone’s working together to fight back. I would compare watching the episode to eating a whole bunch of candy, it just so shamelessly gives the viewer what they want to see, I kind of felt like I shouldn’t be watching it, like I needed to mix some vegetables in with the sweets. But, there’s no vegetables here, it’s everything you could have imagined and more, an unprecedented huge crossover.

Even though I don’t like either Sarah Jane or Torchwood as much as the parent show, it was awesome to see those characters, and their little worlds, brought into the action here. If the characters constantly are facing these Earth shaking conflicts, it would make sense that they’d work together. Besides the coolness of getting to see those characters, it also raises the stake for the story. If everybody’s involved, and everybody is so worried, clearly this is something major they’re facing. I think Davies did a great job of giving all the spinoff characters some nice moments without letting them overwhelm the narrative.

The gradual assembling of the troops provided the major action for the first half of the episode. A hightlight scene here was Martha putting on the Project Indigo vest and Jack revealing that it blasts her into the atoms. It’s a throwaway line, but really imaginative and conceptually interesting. It’s the kind of thing you’d hear someone say in a Grant Morrison comic.

But, the best scene has to be Wilf, Donna’s grandfather, attacking a Dalek with his paint gun. He’s so brilliant, not giving up even in the face of so much opposition. The Daleks are as menacing as they’ve been since “Parting of the Ways,” this infection flooding into the world and destroying it. Luckily, Wilf is saved by Rose and her big gun. Rose spends the entire episode trying to get back into the action, and finally get back to the Doctor.

The four way video conference sequence was very effective, particularly the surprise return of Harriet Jones, former prime minister. She kicks off the formation of the Doctor’s time army, the group that’s destined to battle Davros and his army of Daleks. Jones signs off in this episode, but she goes out strong. The trailer for this episode spoiled most of the guest stars, but she was a surprise.

Speaking of guest stars, there’s two major people missing from this episode. One is Mickey and the other is The Master. I’m not expecting to see the Master next episode, it’d be cool, and this regeneration opens up the potential for him to return somehow, but it wouldn’t make much narrative sense for him to come back, and the last thing this story needs is another extraneous plotline. However, Mickey’s got to be coming back, right? I’m hoping he’s the ‘command center’ or whatever it is that beams Rose up when she leaves the Nobles.

If I have one complaint about the episode, it’s that we don’t get much time with the Doctor and Donna. The dynamic between the two of them has made this season great, and they’re on the sidelines for most of this one. I think that was necessary, to make room for all the other supporting players, but I hope that they’ll be back at the center next week. Big questions remain about the future of those two. The insane Dalek Kahn tells us that the Doctor’s most faithful companion will die. All series, we’ve been set up for Donna’s death, is this inevitable? I feel like they might do a twist and wind up killing Rose instead, but that would just be cruel after already denying us the reunion of the Doctor and Rose.

But, there was some interesting stuff with the two of them. Donna remains uncertain about her destiny, does she still have the bug on her back? Why is she hearing drums? There’s been so much buildup for Donna’s destiny over the past few episodes, I’m really curious to see how it plays out. If the Doctor is knocked out of commission by his regeneration, she may have to take over as field leader. “Turn Left” was as much about Donna’s importance to the universe as it was about the Doctor’s. Can she alone prevent the world from plunging into darkness?

I’d never seen Davros before, but he seems like a significantly evil foe for the Doctor to battle. He reminds me a lot of the Emperor from Star Wars, particularly with how he shows up at the end of the whole saga, and still has the gravitas to pull off his role as villain. The fact that he was saved from the Time War opens up some interesting possibilities. It would be fitting to Davies to end his tenure by going back to the Time War and saving the time lords, opening up some new storytelling possibilities for the next era of the show.

There was a lot in the episode, but as it ended, I was only thinking about one thing, the absolutely insane cliffhanger they dropped in the final moments. The more the Doctor and Rose ran towards each other, the more nervous I became, and the sudden appearance of a Dalek cut short their reunion in true Joss Whedon fashion. Happiness must be punished, and this was a pretty brutal punishment.

And, they top everything when he starts to regenerate. Is this the end for David Tennant’s Doctor? Who will he regenerate into? What does it mean that he’s the “Threefold Man”? This is the best cliffhanger of the series to date.

I absolutely loved the episode. This entire series has been fantastic, but everything since “Silence in the Library” has been on a new level of greatness. Things are so epic, so over the top and exciting, with every emotion and action taken as far as possible. That seems to bother some people, and it really surprises me that people are criticizing an episode as great as this, but if you go in looking to hate something, you’ll be able to easily. I love the craziness, and I think Davies is guiding things to a great conclusion. The show really does make me feel like a kid again, this is how movies used to feel to me, these massive action spectacles that shake the whole world. It’s how Star Wars feels, and it’s how this episode feels. It taps into something deep in my subconscious, and just cuts straight to the core of my emotion. At its best, nothing hits me like Who does. And, this is Who at its best.


crossoverman said...

You're right - this show proves to me I can still enjoy the sort of storytelling that makes me feel like a kid. The disappointing Star Wars prequels didn't make me feel like a kid again - but this show does. So it's not just because I've grown up, but that Davies is a far better writer than George Lucas (as if that needed saying).

Yes, it is candy but it's also set-up. I assume we'll get lots of pay-off next episode - with some more character moments amongst all the action.

I loved Sarah Jane's reaction to the return of the Daleks and also Davros' voice - one of the more famous Old Who episodes was about the Doctor and Sarah Jane at the creation of the Daleks by Davros and the Doctor thinks about destroying the entire Dalek race then and there. Sarah Jane was also tortured in that episode so there's a lot of backstory in that one moment. (I haven't seen a lot of Old Who, but I have seen that and another episode with Davros.)

Also the reference to someone trying to move the Earth once was another Dalek story in Classic Who.

I don't think Tennant is leaving and I've read some crazy theories about what happens next. But the cliffhanger is insane - and I'm glad you've got to wait through the same long week as the rest of us to find out what happens next.

The good thing about throwing everyone in the mix is that it's impossible to know what is going to happen. Although one suspects Jack and Sarah Jane will survive because they have spin-off series :-)

Patrick said...

I was looking up the Wikipedia history of Davros today, and came across that episode you mentioned. I'll have to check that one out, I've been wanting to see a vintage Sarah Jane episode anyway, and the bonus first appearance of Davros should put it over the top.

I don't think Tennant could be leaving either. I thought the whole reason for the year delay between seasons was so he could do Shakespeare on stage. But, who knows what will go on to bring him back. That's what makes the cliffhanger so great, I've got literally no idea what will happen next, or how they will get out of it.

crossoverman said...

Actually, apparently, the popular wisdom about the 2009 specials is wrong - the year off was planned first, so Tennant took advantage of that to take stage work.

However, unless the BBC has been lying to us, he's in this year's Christmas Specials and next years one-offs.

Patrick said...

Interesting, I guess they built in the year off for the showrunner transition? Is it known yet who's actually writing the specials? Is it still under RTD's watch or is Moffat taking over? I guess it'll all become clearer after the finale airs, we'll probably at least get some kind of cliffhanger tease for the first special.