Season 2

Reviews by Kevin Mitchell and Chad Colvin.

2.0 — Children in Need Special — 4 stars

As a special for Children in Need, this episode was a great little introduction to the new Doctor. It’s nice to see both a canonical story for this, as well as getting a look at how a companion might not react altogether positively to seeing the man they know suddenly change. Rose is understandably dubious about the claims of regeneration, and Billie Piper pulls it off brilliantly along with a fantastic David Tennant.

2.1 — The Christmas Invasion — 4 stars

Difficult one this. The first half of the episode shows what happens when bad people show up and the Doctor is not around to stop them. It’s sobering and dramatic, and the Prime Minister’s televised plea for the Doctor to help was a fantastic moment (though in fairness a Prime Minister in the time of crisis probably shouldn’t go on TV and announce that she doesn’t know what to do, someone help or we’re all doomed etc.). The real star though, is David Tennant. The moment that the Sycorax started being translated and we realised the Doctor was back- that whole scene had me jumping up and down like a little kid. Pretty much every single thing to come out of David Tennant’s mouth for the subsequent 20 minutes was sheer brilliance. He did not waste a single second before making sure we all loved him from the start, and there is not a shadow of doubt after this episode that this is a legendary Doctor in the making. Funny, silly, confident, and brave. Like me, only able to speak really fast.

Still not five star though. The writing is still off, some of the dialogue is still iffy. Rose’s band of losers insist on wasting more screen time, and the snowman robots don’t seem to have any purpose other than to make this a Christmas episode. A great episode that I love to rewatch . . . but only the parts of the episode with Mr Tennant in them. He makes the episode good, but wow does he ever. The quality of a Doctor is the key factor in making an episode transcend beyond just a TV show to the lofty heights that Doctor Who can so often reach. David Tennant is just such a Doctor that can do that very thing.

I want to love this episode. I really, really do. And if I’m just watching the episode, I can enjoy it for what it’s worth. Ask me to critique it, though, and it’s impossible for it to not lose some of its luster.

This installment marks David Tennant’s debut, and for how much screen time he has, he knocks this out of the park. One of my biggest gripes when you put the Eccleston year and Matt Smith’s first year alongside Tennant’s first year is that, for all intents and purposes, Tennant’s first year is strongest. Not because the scripts are any better or worse (while Tennant can make bad scripts much better, he isn’t miraculous), but because from this very first episode, he knows his Doctor. While the writing staff would flesh out other personality quirks, ticks and the like over the next few years, David Tennant IMMEDIATELY had a command on how he wanted to play this role and make it his own. Chris Eccleston found his stride . . . as he was walking out the door. And while I’m a big fan of Matt Smith’s portrayal now, his first year I found his characterization to be lacking and indistinct. It’s a topic we’ll hit down the road. Bottom line — it’s Tennant’s gusto and panache with the role from the start that saves this episode from being one to skip. Weak debut episode saved by a strong new lead actor.

The Sycorax are intimidating enemies, until Rose and Company get onboard their ship. What starts as a frightening menace capable of making a sizable percentage of the world commit mass suicide devolves into a group of interplanetary thugs that threaten and scowl like they just graduated from a university course entitled “How to Destroy a Planet 101”. The swordfight on top of the ship is also laughably bad, EXCEPT for being the location of the genesis of a plot point that will develop from it within a few years. What saves the entire scene? “No second chances.” Absolutely wonderful. As is the beginning of this new season’s “Bad Wolf”-type foreshadowing: Torchwood.

I’d hammer on a bit about Billie Piper’s performance in this, as the weepy girlfriend who’s not actually one and is so daft she assumes that even after all she’s seen and done that this is it — she’s been abandoned. But that’s not Billie’s fault, it’s in the script. She does what she can with what is written for her, but no amount of skill can save the dialogue she got saddled with here.

Taken as a whole, the episode has some grand ideas, and nice sequences . . . but it really doesn’t hold up if you shine any amount of light on it. What would be a two-star episode for me gets a bit of a boost strictly because of its new lead actor’s (stellar albeit brief) performance and — in hindsight — the promise of the fantastic era for the show that is beginning to gelatinize here.

2.2 — New Earth — 3 stars

It’s a brand new series/season of Who with a brand new Doctor, and how does Rose and he celebrate? By spending some quality time with one of the first year’s most inconsequential villians.

But, WAIT! That isn’t a bad thing in this case, as the return of Cassandra is played for laughs more than anything and it works in the script’s favor. The scenes in which she inhabits the Doctor’s body may be the biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the series to date. And we get the welcome return of The Face of Boe for the second, and apparently next-to-final time.

My biggest niggle? Cassandra’s coda at the end. The Doctor takes her back to see herself when she was actually human and for current self to convey to past self that she was truly beautiful. It’s a great sentiment and all, and a nice way for the character to finish its arc. But I didn’t feel it was earned. Far better characters have left us over Who’s history. Some companions weren’t allowed send-offs AT ALL, let alone proper ones. Yet Cassandra, who never really made a dent as a character to begin with, gets to have that type of closure? Don’t get me wrong, it’s done well. But the lack of feeling most of the audience has for the character works to its disadvantage . . . at best making it feel false and at best completely unnecessary.
Still, it’s an enjoyable kick-off for the new year . . . and an episode whose sum is better than its parts might have you believe.

The way that the episode plays out is great. The discovery of the truth, the threat of the diseased, and the responses by all involved work really well. Cassandra’s possessions require the actors to do impressions of each other, and it is hilarious. I just want it to feel like a far away planet in another galaxy.

2.3 — Tooth and Claw — 2 stars

Earth again, and nothing that really makes this episode ‘Doctor Who’. There are also inexplicable Kung-fu monks (in Scotland no less), which is only a marginally less stupid idea than a donkey in a top hat. Redeeming features? The Doctor.

The first few episodes of Season 1 weren’t great, and there seems to be the same pattern here, but the difference now is that the 10th Doctor can single-handedly carry the show. He is brilliant in this episode, and his banter with the other characters is wonderful. Rose also gets one of the funniest moments of the episode, when she attempts to speak with a scottish accent. Hoots Mon!

I didn’t really like the wolf, but the Doctor was great. The show as a whole deserves and needs better, and for someone to use the TARDIS properly before it shrivels up due to inaction.

2.4 — School Reunion — 4 stars

Ha! It’s there is indeed a pattern. This episode is Season 2’s ‘Dalek’.

Set on Earth again,*internal groan* . . . but no, it seems even that can be fun, as long as the writer is talented. This episode brings back Sarah Jane Smith so that we can see what happens to left-behind ex-companions, and how they get on with the new ones. David Tennant’s reaction upon seeing Sarah Jane was fantastic, but shortly thereafter upstaged by Sarah Jane’s reaction when she bumps into the TARDIS. Imagine what that must be like, after all these years. Her initial icy relationship with Rose turns into an understanding friendship between them, which in itself is great to watch, but the way they gang up on the Doctor like an ex-wife who gets on great with the new girlfriend is hilarious.

Brother Lassar is excellently scary. The pool scene with the Doctor is electric, the two of them turning menace and intimidation up to maximum. He is brilliant throughout, and ‘Never mind the shooty-dog-thing’- classic.

So the episode is fantastic already, but just to show off writer Toby Whithouse decided to do the impossible and make me like Mickey. Again, there is no need for him to be in the episode at all, but with some decent dialogue and character-awareness, he’s really good in this episode. His sulking at being left in the car is comedy gold, as his the realisation that he is the tin dog.

The episode’s true highlight comes from Sarah Jane’s dialogue with the Doctor however. The scene in the cafe when she wants to know why he left her is brilliant, as is the emotional farewell. What really did it for me was the undertones too- by the time she leaves, she has not only her proper goodbye, but also she is able to move on. She gets on well with Rose, and is perfectly happy. Then she says to K-9 ‘He replaced you with a newer model! Yes, he does that’. Owww. In that one line she delivers the hurt and rejection that she will feel no matter how much she moves on. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

2.5 — Girl in the Fireplace — 4 stars

I’ve rewritten my review of this episode since seeing later seasons. I always liked the premise, the droids were freaky, the ship was cool, I liked the fractured time story. The whole idea was great. What I didn’t like is the love story. It makes no sense? How can the Doctor Rose, then suddenly up comes some posh tart, then next week he’ll be all about Rose again? Rubbish.

But like I say, I’ve rewritten my review. I still don’t like the idea of the Doctor going all gooey-eyed over some woman he only just met, and the love story didn’t have any base in order to make it convincing. It ruined the episode for me. It does now seems a little more understandable with regards to Rose though.

After seeing several seasons- including Season 5 with Steven Moffat at the helm- I have grown to love his scripts. He should have been in charge from the offset. Russell T Davies meanwhile has created this Mary-Sue character in Rose, that is acknowledged as perfect in every way and the love of the Doctor’s life, for no reason whatsoever other than that’s what Davies wants. I ask myself, what would I do if I could write an episode of Doctor Who around the time of Season 2? I’d throw in a half-baked love story, just to ruin the continuity of the sickeningly forced Doctor/Rose thing. And that’s exactly what this episode does. I don’t know if that’s what Moffat intended, but with hindsight at least it makes me smile.

2.6 — Rise of the Cybermen — 3 stars

The Cybermen are cool. Just like the Daleks, if done correctly they can be incredibly scary. This episode pulls that off, making parts of this episode good.

Unfortunately it’s Earth- again. 17 out of 18 episodes of the revived series has either been set on Earth, or on a spacecraft orbiting Earth. Sometimes it’s good, like ‘School Reunion’ or ‘Father’s Day’, not least because they need to be set on Earth. But this . . . the alternate origin story for the Cybermen falls flat, I suppose partly because it’s unbelievable that the technology exists on Earth (alternate or otherwise), and partly because the unknown element of being set on the strange alien planet of Mondas somehow makes it scarier. And allowing us to ‘relate’ to the origin of the Cybermen is wrong, wrong, wrong! I don’t want to understand and relate, I want to be scared of the unknown. Add some more Tyler family scenes into the mix, and all the tension in the episode is destroyed. Plus Lumic sounds like someone doing a bad Batman impression.

2.7 — The Age of Steel — 2 stars

This is the second part of the two-part Cybermen story, and unfortunately doesn’t go anywhere. The first episode suffered from not making the most of the Cybermen, and in this instalment it seems they didn’t really know where to take the already shakey story and instead it just limps along until the unconvincing finale. ‘Quick, send me a text message! Like all machines in the world, their defence systems have a mobile phone socket and a simple code will not only make all the Cybermen blow up, but the entire base will be inexplicably engulfed in flames too! Hurrah!’ I can’t even find a battery charger that connects properly with my phone, so don’t give me that rubbish.

Mickey leaves and no one cares, Pete Tyler has a hissy fit and no one cares, a bunch of stuff happens but it all takes place in an alternate reality- close relation to ‘the dream sequence’- so no one cares. It’s all a bit of a dud really. DELETE! Haha, funny.

2.8 — Idiot’s Lantern — 1 star

Earth again. Recent history again. A bunch of 1-dimensional supporting characters with modern solutions for 1950’s social problems. Again. Oh so dull. Which means, if last season is any kind of indicator, that we are due a fantastic episode next week.

2.9 — The Impossible Planet — 2 stars

This week’s episode is set on Earth again, and follows the trivial lives of Rose’s family. It’s set in the 20th century, and… wait. What? None of these things are true. And coincidentally, it’s also brilliant. And very, very ‘Doctor Who’.

The setting feels isolated. Claustrophobic. It has freaky fore-shadowing with the nice docile Ood that occasionally give a prediction about a slaughter. Supporting characters that have a bit of story to them, but don’t bore us with too many details. And a feeling of emptiness from a Doctor who has lost his TARDIS.

Overall, it would be great, minus the fact that it disagrees with my Christian values.

2.10 — The Satan Pit — 2 stars

I don’t like the fact that they’re implying that this alien thing is the devil. Other than that, it would have been a terrifying monster and a great episode. I can even stand the Doctor/Rose thing.

2.11 — Love and Monsters — 1 star

I hated this episode. I’ll get that out of the way now. This episode seems to split people down the middle, depending on whether you think that the unconventional angle of the story is enough to make up for the dismal characters, plot that makes no sense, awful humor and that stupid rubber suit on Peter Kaye.

I hear people praise it for being brave and fresh, and it is . . . so it gets 1 star. It’s execution is pitiful however, so it gets no more stars. Plus the dancing around the main guy does (whatever his name is, I couldn’t care less about his character), the Scooby Doo parody, the potty humor, all finished off nicely with the weirdest monster in creation.

There should be more episodes that try something new like this one. Just not by Russell T Davies.

2.12 — Fear Her — 1 star

Bo-ring! This episode holds the dubious honor of being the only episode I almost fell asleep through. Complete rubbish. They had a great idea, but ruined it with no monster, just a mildly scary crayon drawing. I wanted to hurt this episode. It did however have some brilliant lines in it, which is the only reason for that one little lonely star up there.

2.13 — Army of Ghosts — 3 stars

Just to let you know, I’m about to have a gripe-fest. Before we start, though, I’m going to say that overall, this was a good episode, just not a good finale. These are individual problems, as a whole, the episode was acceptable, not great, but acceptable.

The first part of the season finale, and we are taken back to the Powell Estate on Earth for more present-day snoring. Ghosts are appearing all over the world, and noone seems the slightest bit concerned. A few pop culture references here and there with Coronation Street and Ghostbusters, and the episode is turning me off. It’s just not Doctor Who- I feel Davies wishes he was writing something else, because that poor TARDIS is gathering dust.

Cybermen appear again, as do the Daleks, as does Mickey Smith, as does Jackie Tyler, I’m sure we’ll see Pete Tyler soon, perhaps even a Bad Wolf reference. Is the show really that bankrupt of ideas already? After the sheer brilliance of some of the episodes, episodes such as this are a huge letdown. The past two seasons have been ridiculously up-and-down, and this is one of those episodes that sits right in the middle.

2.14 — Doomsday — 3 stars

I rated this episode as average. How good it is will depend on what you want from a Doctor Who episode, and how much you hold on to what the show could and should be (Impossible Planet).

Cheap light entertainment? If thats what you want, then this delivers. Loud fighting, comedy from the Daleks, a touching love scene at the end, with a bitter sweet taste. I was upset at the end, and I laughed when the Daleks argued with the Cybermen. Nice CGI too.

If you want Doctor Who, then you won’t enjoy it. I remember when the very sight of the Daleks was enough to send a shiver up your spine, Cybermen would keep you awake at night as a kid. To see them both reduced to a slapstick comedy routine was shameful. The Daleks are completely and utterly neutered in this episode. The episode also makes little to no sense (3D glasses to see ‘void stuff’? The void sucks in Cybermen all the way from India but not the Doctor who holds on to a clamp right next to the fissure? A computerised portal system that suddenly needs an unreliable handle in order to work as soon as we need an excuse for Rose to vanish? How did Pete know how/why/when to appear and save Rose? The Doctor appears to Rose in a dream to give her directions does he? Why Bad Wolf Bay, other than to shoe-horn in the name? Gah.). The love story is protracted, contrived, and un-doctorly. And please, please let Rose’s band of merry chavs stay lost in that other universe forever.

It kind of works on some levels. It’s just not Doctor Who. I cried during the ‘Rose leaving’ scene, but I do sincerely hope this frees the show up to move away from soap opera and become a sci-fi show again.

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