Doctor Who comes back to television screens for the first time in essentially 16 years and for 13 weeks, it’s a hit again. Then, BOOM! The lead actor turns into a different guy at the end. Whether or not people were pleased about Christopher Eccleston leaving and David Tennant taking his place, the change forced new viewers to deal with the idea of regeneration right away. And, lucky for viewers, there was a chance to get used to this new weirdo with admittedly excellent hair in the form of a Christmas special, which would become a staple of Doctor Who since the return. Some are Christmassier than others, but few have as much to do narratively than The Christmas Invasion.
Making a crash-landing back at Rose’s homestead, the new Doctor falls out of the TARDIS and passes out. He’s going through a regenerative crisis, which is pretty common, and needs to go to Jackie Tyler’s flat to recuperate. Rose is understandably upset by just having seen her friend turn into another person. Santa robots and evil Christmas trees attack them, and the Doctor springs back to wakefulness to ward them off. He’s still not out of the woods, though, and his constant exhaling of regenerative energy is attracting all kinds of baddies, including the Sycorax, who now want the Earth to surrender.
To ensure their victory, the Sycorax hypnotize everyone on the planet with Type A blood and they all stand somewhere dangerous so that if Earth does not concede, all of the people will jump to their doom. The new Prime Minister, Harriet Jones (Prime Minister), recruits Rose to help, but the Doctor is still out of commission. Eventually, the Doctor does wake up and face the Sycorax leader in a sword fight, wherein he gets his hand cut off (VERY IMPORTANT FOR LATER) but he regrows it thanks to his regenerative state. Anyway, he gets them to leave, but Harriet Jones (Prime Minister) gets Torchwood to fire on them as they’re leaving, and they’re destroyed. The Doctor is unhappy about this.
In many ways, “The Christmas Invasion” is more important than any of the previous episodes because it has to introduce people to the first new Doctor of the new series. In much the same way that if Patrick Troughton hadn’t been accepted, the show might not have lasted, if Tennant had not been accepted, we wouldn’t still be talking about Doctor Who. It’s also a gamble in that we don’t get to see too much of the Tenth Doctor because he’s in a coma, but Rose is the audience surrogate anyway, so it’s all right. I think some of Tennant’s dialogue during his reemergence from the TARDIS is a bit hokey (especially the Lion King bit), but you can’t argue that he didn’t have charisma right away.
It was four months before audiences were able to see the Tenth Doctor for anything more than this fleeting instance, but in April of 2006, the proper Series 2 began.
Series 2 – 15 April 2006 – 8 July 2006
Now, a lot of people love Series 2, mainly for the relationship growth between the Tenth Doctor and Rose. Many even lay the initials “OTP” on them, which I can only imagine means Ontological Train Platform. While I generally don’t have a problem with the idea of the Doctor being a romantic or even sexual being, I always feel like he’s just beyond it and doesn’t really care one way or the other. As such, I’m not a particular fan of Series 2, because I never really bought Tennant and Piper together. She was much better with Eccleston, I thought. Anyway, I know that’s not a popular belief, but it’s my belief nonetheless.
As far as episodes go, I think Series 2 only has about 5 really terrific ones, a few that are fine, and a couple that are very dumb. And yet, for some people, it’s their favorite Tennant year. I mean, it’s fine.
We start with New Earth, in which the Doctor takes Rose to a completely different planet, which is a brand new concept for the new series. In all of Series 1, the Doctor only took Rose backwards and forwards in time on or around the planet Earth. Here, though, they get to go to a planet that isn’t Earth, but is called New Earth. Step in the right direction, I guess. This episode sees the return of The Face of Boe and Lady Cassandra from “The End of the World,” and the first appearance of cat nurses. There are decent elements to this one, and the Doctor is pretty great, but I can’t stand all the body-switching stuff with Cassandra’s brain in Rose and the Doctor. Dumb.
Next, they pair go back in time to Victorian Scotland for Tooth and Claw, an episode that bravely claims that the royal family are all werewolves. That’s a pretty cool idea. The whole thing about lycanthropy being somehow linked to alien something or other has never made sense to me, nor has the idea of a cult of wolf-worshippers. The action is pretty good, though, as is the CGI werewolf which looks a lot better than it might. However, I think Rose is really irritating in this episode. Also, in this episode, we see the beginning of Torchwood, which was created by Queen Victoria as a means of keeping the British Empire safe from alien invaders.
The third episode is where we finally get an episode that I like more or less without reservation, School Reunion, written by Toby Whithouse. In it, the Doctor and Rose go undercover at a school to investigate weird activity at the behest of Mickey Smith. The Doctor is pretending to be a science teacher and Rose a cafeteria worker, much to her chagrin. The Doctor notes how well behaved the children are and how abnormally intelligent. Someone else is curious about the school and comes to check it out, that being a journalist named Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). The Doctor is pleased to see his old companion, but, since she doesn’t recognize him, he keeps up the ruse of him being John Smith. This is all for naught when she discovers the TARDIS and realizes what’s going on.
She’s also brought K-9 with her, continuing on from the failed pilot for K-9 and Company from back in the early ’80s. Rose and Sarah Jane immediately form a rivalry, each thinking they were “special” in the Doctor’s travels, but really they’re just one of dozens. However, soon they start laughing at the Doctor for being so goofy. It happens. The headmaster at the school (Anthony Stewart Head) is actually a Krillitane, a species that absorbs and adapts from other species into its own, and he’s been smartening up the student body for use in their evil, computer-based plans. The headmaster tries to get the Doctor to join him, but that’s a silly idea.
The alien plot of this episode is not the most compelling, but the character interactions are all fantastic. They deal with the Doctor’s propensity to leave people behind and for picking up new people rather easily. The Doctor tells Rose that it pains him to see his companions get old when he merely changes and goes on. We also get Mickey realizing he’s the “Tin Dog” and wants to be a proper companion, which irritates Rose. And K-9 blows up, if only to be somehow rebuilt again and given back to Sarah Jane as the Doctor says goodbye, even though he does see her again.
Next up is Steven Moffat’s episode for the year, The Girl in the Fireplace, which is a fun timey-wimey adventure that works incredibly well on its own but doesn’t really fit in the context of the season, especially with Rose and her continually puppy-dog eyes for the Doctor at every other point in the series, yet here, she doesn’t really seem to mind that the Doctor cavorts with Madame du Pompadour. Regardless, the idea of a spaceship being somehow connected through time to Versailles, and, moreover, that clockwork robots think they need the organs of a famous French historical figure to fix the ship is a very interesting concept that works largely very well.
In this episode, we also get the thread that Moffat explores later during his time as showrunner of the Doctor meeting a person at various points in their life but never when he means to and always to the human’s detriment. It’s really the time traveler’s dilemma: you either take a person with you or never see them again, but popping in and out does neither party any favors. “The Girl in the Fireplace” is a great example of this, and for that I think it’s pretty tops.
After that is the series’ first two-parter, Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel by Tom MacRae. The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey end up in a parallel Earth when the TARDIS slips through dimensions. In this reality, Rose’s father, Pete Tyler, is still alive and is a telecommunications magnate. He’s still married to Jackie, even though they don’t really get along, but they never had any kids. Mickey has a doppelganger here named Ricky who is part of a rebel group trying to take down authority. Pete is working with Cybus Industries, the CEO of which is trying to get the President of Great Britain to sign off on a plan to upgrade people’s brains using EarPods.
Even though the president says no, Cybus is doing it anyway, and as such has created this universe’s version of Cybermen; they begin assimilating and deleting people by the bunches. Rose talks to this universe’s Pete, but he’s less than fatherly, seeing as he never actually had a daughter to begin with. This Jackie doesn’t like Rose, but it’s fine because she becomes a Cyberman anyway. In the end, Pete helps defeat the Cybermen along with the rebels. Mickey does his part, but Ricky is killed. Mickey decides to stay and take up where his counterpart left off.
I like this two-parter because it reintroduced the Cybermen, who remain my favorite monsters on the show, and it does something sort of new with the idea of parallel dimensions. I generally think alternate universe or alternate timeline storylines are a waste of time, seeing as we know there won’t be many lasting effects in the series, but here Mickey stays behind and Rose knows that a version of her father is alive, which gives the story more gravitas and yet still the freedom of being in another reality.
This is followed by The Idiot’s Lantern, by Mark Gatiss. It’s about an alien called “The Wire” which exists in televisions sucking people’s faces off while they watch the Queen’s coronation in 1953. There’s family stuff in it that’s quite good but ultimately this episode is pretty forgettable. In fact, there’s several episodes of this series that take place in the suburbs and none of them are particularly enjoyable for me; this one is probably the most watchable. Meh.
However, two episodes that I can ALWAYS watch are The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, credited to Matt Jones, but really probably done by Russell T. Davies. In it, the Doctor and Rose end up on a research station in deep space on a planet that somehow is orbiting a black hole without being sucked in. There is writing scrawled around that even the TARDIS’ translation circuits can’t read. The base has servants in the form of the Ood, strange-looking, tendril-covered aliens who have an orb connected to them from which they can speak. They apparently live to serve and keep the station working properly.
The crew awakens an entity known as “The Beast” while they drill into the planet’s immensely powerful core and it infects the historian among the crew. He begins killing off members while the Doctor and a scientist go into the planet to see what is possibly the oldest thing in the universe. Anyway, long story short, the Beast takes over the Ood and they start attacking while the Doctor finds a massive creature that looks like Satan that has no mind, alluding to the fact that the Beast is no longer inside its body.
I really adore this two-parter, and it’s my favorite story of the year by a long shot. I love the ideas and how genuinely scary it is. It also introduces the Ood, which aren’t used particularly well later on, but here they’re still a very good idea, and a very effective threat. Plus, this is one of the best examples of the few times the show has tried to deal with the Devil and religious iconography. Many other stories visually pull from this one (the Doctor’s space suit especially), and it’s still the best use of them all.
Now, a lot of people seem to like Love & Monsters, the first in what became known as the “Doctor-Lite” episodes, a scheduling necessity which became a staple from here on out. This one is a first-person narrated pseudo-comedy about a guy who encountered the Doctor and who gets together with a group of people to talk about their experiences, and eventually they become friends, and a romantic relationship even blossoms between the guy and a girl in the group. However, the person who formed the group is actually an alien called an “Absorbolof” which sucks people up into itself. The monster was the product of a Blue Peter contest, by the way. I don’t dislike this episode per say, I just think it’s a bit silly and it purports that it’s okay for a guy to have a relationship with a girl who’s stuck in a pane of concrete. That ain’t okay, man.
The next episode, Fear Her by Matthew Graham, has the dubious distinction of being the only New Who episode I’ve only watched once, on my initial watch of the episodes back in 2009. It’s got something to do with a girl and a monster she created out of drawings. It’s also got to do with the London Olympics in 2012 and the Doctor, stupidly, gets to carry the torch and even light the thing. That’s literally all I remember. A lot of people thing “Fear Her” is the absolute nadir of Doctor Who, but I don’t. If it were THAT bad, I’d probably have watched it again at some point just as a cultural experiment. Instead, I nothing it. I have no reason to watch it again.
And we end the series on a high and low; high in quality and low in happy endings – Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. The Doctor and Rose return to London in the present and are fairly surprised to see that there have been ghost sightings throughout the world at various increments. The Doctor gets his handy 3D glasses out and some ghost-detecting device to try to figure it out. He and Jackie Tyler get picked up by Torchwood, which we finally find out is the clandestine alien-fighting/retrieval unit that picks up extraterrestrial technology to reverse engineer. Turns out, Torchwood is messing with the universes and is behind the ghosts. When the ghosts finally become corporeal, we see that they’re Cybermen from the parallel universe coming through.
Very bad stuff begins to happen but soon even worse stuff happens. Torchwood has a sphere which the Doctor calls a “Void Ship,” designed only to exist in the space between universes. However, when this ship opens, it’s got some damn Daleks in it. The Daleks have a device called the “Genesis ark” which can create more and more Daleks. Oh, no. Mickey and his pal Jake from the alternate dimension have come through the rift as well, using buttons around their neck which they got from their world’s Torchwood. Jake takes the Doctor to see Pete Tyler about sealing the breach before his universe is destroyed through heat.
The only way to stop the Cybermen and the Daleks (who are now fighting each other in the “Battle of Canary Wharf”) is to use Torchwood’s technology to suck them all into the void. The Doctor is able to do this, but Rose is being sucked in as well. The Doctor can’t reach her. Luckily, Pete zaps into this reality and zaps Rose out of it again. However, now the breach is closed and the Doctor and Rose can no longer see each other. Sad times. Rose has her father, her mother, and Mickey, though, which you’d think would make her happy. Using a holographic communiqué, the Doctor is able to say goodbye to Rose, but can’t return her confession of love. Probably because he’s 900 fucking years old and shouldn’t even have thought about falling in love with a 19 year old shopgirl from London. Anyway.
The series ends on a very sad note, followed by a very confusing one when Catherine Tate in a wedding dress somehow ends up on the TARDIS. Audiences would have to wait until Christmas 2006 to figure out what any of that meant. As for Series 2, it’s another mixed bag, but with some very excellent highs. All three two-parters are quite good and a couple of the one-offs are too. Nothing in it is really horrible, but there is a bit of blech for sure. David Tennant, in his first season, really comes on strong and is the Doctor without much time needed to get used to him.
He’d be in need of a new companion in the next series, and while I’m not a huge fan of that companion’s storyline, I think Series 3 is probably my favorite as far as writing and individual plot threads. Come back Wednesday to read why.