Huw Edwards: It’s more than a flame now, Bob. It’s more than heat and light. It’s hope. And it’s courage. And it’s love.
Production Code: 2.11.
Doctor Who Season: S28 (Ep11).
Story Number: 176.
A common criticism that has been levelled against Russell T’s resurrection of Doctor Who is that the stories never stray too far from Earth and that there is little travelling to alien planets…
The scale of the series is too small they say.
Russell T has previously stated that he wanted to avoid stories set on Planet Zog, meaning that he wanted people to be able to relate to human situations. With this episode, like The Idiot’s Lantern, the scale of the story is set at a single street and more specifically a single household.
This story shares certain plot elements from that earlier episode. The sinister goings-on are limited to the one street and are set against the backdrop of a national celebration. An unhappy family is the focus of the story. This episode continues the motif of unhappy families which has been appearing in some of the episodes of this season: Love and Monsters showed us a melancholy Jackie; Rose not quite being reunited with her “father” in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel; The Idiot’s Lantern with its monstrous father. In this episode the “father” is literally the monster of the episode.
This was a good solid story, with a great portrayal of the Doctor from Tennant. The Tenth Doctor’s character trait of irreverent exuberance turning on a dime to seriousness was nicely illustrated here by the actor. The idea of drawings coming to life and vice versa was well done on screen and the scribble was a bit of fun. The nod to The Shining was amusing too.
The “small scale” of the episodes such as this, which deal with human emotions, far from making the show smaller actually broaden the horizons of the programme, as the universal themes reach out to anyone alive.
While the episode was entertaining, the really interesting elements were the ones that fitted into the New Series as a whole. In Season One a regular motif was the plight of a lonely alien which mirrored the Doctor’s situation of being the last of his kind. This motif appears in this episode again, but in a way which examines his relationship with Rose at this stage in the New Series. The Doctor is still lonely, and Rose wants to help but will he let her?
This episode had various symmetries to the New Series opening episode Rose. The mention of “The Shadow Proclamation”. Then, Rose unsure as whether to travel with the Doctor; now, Rose is sure that she wants to travel with the Doctor forever. Most subtle is the image of the Doctor holding out his hand for Rose at the beginning of the episode Rose, which is reversed here: when the Doctor mentions about the loneliness of the alien and the need for a hand to hold, Rose jokingly grabs his hand. Jokingly, but not joking.
Although there was an oblique reference in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances to the Doctor’s family (he says he knows how someone feels when they say they used to be a father and grandfather), this episode has a real surprise. The discussion of families in this episode prompts the Doctor to boldly and directly state he “used to be a father”.
This jolts Rose out of her assumptions about the Doctor just as much as the revelation in School Reunion that there have been other companions before her.
At the end of the episode we have an echo of how we began the Season in the optimistic sunshine of New Earth, with Rose talking about traveling with the Doctor forever. The Doctor sidesteps the conversation again: he feels there is a storm coming. Foreshadowing has been steadily increasing over the last half of the season; the Beast’s ominous prophecy; Elton ruminating on what happens to people who are too close to the Doctor.
Where is this all leading? The episode titles of the next two-parter add to the gloom.
(While knowing nothing of what those episodes contain, the titles remind me of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and conjure up in my mind a image of the Doctor being confronted by apparitions in the manner of Banquo’s ghost, but a whole army ghosts. The Time Lords. Katarina. Sara Kingdom. Adric. Instead of proclaiming “Do not shake thy gory locks at me!”, I imagine him saying “Sorry. I’m so sorry.” This is just a guess!)
We will find out what happens next in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.