Christopher Eccleston

Doctor Who (2005) s01e13 – The Parting of the Ways

This episode just ought to be called Deusest Ex Machina because it turns out everything this season has been building towards is a giant reset for the series. Which does make sense, given the Doctor gets reborn whenever they recast, but it completely dismisses the idea of Christopher Eccleston having a significant role. It invalidates him over and over, even before the angel saves the day; in other words, if you’re okay with this Parting of the Ways nonsense and you gripe about “Battlestar”’s finish… you’re lying.

Worse, Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri are back. There’s an awkward conversation between Rose Piper and Coduri about the father’s death because Coduri doesn’t remember meeting her daughter in the past because… “Doctor Who”’s time travel logic is utter nonsense.

Shouldn’t matter, obviously, and if it weren’t just more awkward badness from Coduri and Piper it’d be fine.

See, once Eccleston resolves the previous episode’s cliffhanger in the cold open (or close to it), he sends Piper to the past so she’ll be safe from the alien invasion. Eccleston and John Barrowman have to try to save the day, which gets less and less likely as they fend off alien invaders. There’s some really weird stuff, like Barrowman apparently lying to a bunch of volunteers about how to fight the aliens. Then again there’s also the “Bad Wolf” resolve and it’s really, really bad. It’d be even worse if it wasn’t what drags Piper away from Clarke, who’s trying to wiggle his way back in when she thinks she doesn’t get to be a time traveller anymore.

There’s a little bit more with Jo Joyner as Eccleston’s lady friend of the week and Nisha Nayer and Jo Stone-Fewings have more to do as future humans. They’re all right. I mean, Joyner’s great, the others are all right.

It’s a Joe Ahearne directed episode so it could be a lot worse. And the vast bad CGI shots are… fine. I guess. They’re proofs of concept.

Russell T. Davies’s script has to do a whole bunch—send off Eccleston and resurrect the character, resolve the “Bad Wolf” thing, deal with the alien invasion, deal with the Piper arc. It’s a lousy send-off for Eccleston. Inglorious to the extremest.

It’s probably an impossible group of things to make run well but… Davies still manages to fumble it.

I wonder what next season’ll be like.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e12 – Bad Wolf

At least it’s got Joe Ahearne directing. I mean, it’s not terrible. Guest star Jo Joyner is a nice “romantic” interest for Christopher Eccleston, which is this standard thing where Eccleston and Rose Piper go to some time period and don’t spend any time together and Eccleston has this chaste but sincere connection with some lady. In this episode, they’re split by reality television and Joyner’s in Eccleston’s “Big Brother” house.

The episode opens with a flashback to the Simon Pegg episode and that White kid Piper replaced her brown boyfriend-in-name-only with for two episodes—and I spent the thirty seconds terrified White guy would be back.

He’s not. It’s a setup to this game show future—Eccleston, Piper, and John Barrowman all wake up in game shows not understanding what’s going on. Though Eccleston’s got a watch telling him what time he’s in and he doesn’t check it until after he’s been there for a while, because it turns out they’re in the Simon Pegg future, just later on.

Eccleston’s on “Big Brother,” where you get vaporized if you get thrown out, Piper’s on “Weakest Link,” where losing contestants get vaporized, and Barrowman is on an extreme makeover show with horny robots. Turns out whatever Eccleston and Piper did in the Pegg episode somehow made the future worse.

The episode’s Eccleston, Piper, and Barrowman all contending with their shows’ dangers—Piper’s got to contend with playing to win competitor Paterson Joseph, Eccleston’s got to escape (with housemate Joyner), and Barrowman’s got to… keep his head. Literally. Extreme makeover.

It’s all fairly compelling, though future humans Jo Stone-Fewings and Nisha Nayar go from unlikable “just following orders” characters—Eccleston’s got a great response to that line—to sympathetic a little fast.

There’s a big finale reveal—though not too big of a reveal because it was in the previous episode’s “Next Episode” teaser—also the “Bad Wolf” thing gets a lot more play again. The future TV company brainwashing the planet Earth is called “Badwolf.”

The cliffhanger’s rather effective, giving Eccleston a nicer “star” moment than he usually gets.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e11 – Boom Town

This episode is easily writer Russell T. Davies’s best so far. Maybe it helps he’s got Joe Ahearne directing, who’s even able to weather the Noel Clarke storm.

Though it’s a new Noel Clarke. A moody one who’s not hanging on Billie Piper’s every word hoping for a kiss. In fact, they suggest a physical intimacy foreign to their relationship.

But it’s not about Clarke and Piper, it’s about surviving Raxacoricofallapatorian villain (Annette Badland) from a two-parter about five episodes ago. Badland survived Christopher Eccleston taking out her fellow villains and set herself up as Cardiff mayor. Cardiff, once again getting crap from the show….

Anyway, she’s trying to get a nuclear power plant built for some reason and local reporter Mali Harries is suspicious. Well, more Harries notices anyone who opposes Badland ends up decapitated. Because Badland’s still doing her giant baby doll head alien monster eating the human thing. Cardiff’s not super busy apparently.

Eccleston, Piper, and John Barrowman are in town to “gas up” on Cardiff’s inter-dimensional rift (discovered in another episode this season) and Piper calls Clarke, then Eccleston notices Badland in a local paper and tracks her down. So it goes from a very odd—Clarke’s dynamic with Eccleston and Piper plus Barrowman—vacation day in Cardiff to something of a psychological showdown between Eccleston and Badland. Because long portions of the episode are the two facing off about morality and whatnot.

Badland was a farty joke in the previous episodes, so it’s a big surprise she’s absolutely phenomenal this time. There aren’t as many fart jokes this episode—there might not even be any (there are a few gassy jokes). But Badland’s awesome. Makes the episode.

Meanwhile, Clarke’s pissy about being Piper’s booty call or something.

Eccleston and Piper also discover the words “Bad Wolf” have been following them through the season, which is some hammer to the skull foreshadowing.

The ending’s a little too deus ex machina but it’s also at least thoughtfully resolved. And the show promises, once again, Clarke is gone for good this time. I’d say good riddance but I don’t believe he won’t be back next episode.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e10 – The Doctor Dances

It’s a disappointing conclusion. It’s not a bad episode, but it’s a fairly obvious, kind of silly finish to the much stronger first episode. Partially because the show never really finds its footing with Christopher Eccleston and John Barrowman, who are now in a pissing contest for a number of things but also for Billie Piper’s attention. The show really leans on the idea Piper and Eccleston have some palatable chemistry and… they don’t.

Meanwhile there’s a little bit of Bi-shaming from Piper, which is a little less than when sweet teen samaritan Florence Hoath blackmailing a gay guy who’s in the closet. It’s… an odd scene and writer Steven Moffat doesn’t make it work.

There’s also a big reveal at the end, in the middle of the big reveal involving the gas mask people. It’s fairly cheap stuff, just letting Moffat and the show get away with some loose writing. The episode’s got a decent budget for a “Who” so it’s not like they ran out of money on the way to a better conclusion… Moffat just doesn’t have a very good conclusion to his story.

It messes up Hoath quite a bit, taking her from a potential Doctor protege to an eye roll of deus ex machina. Eccleston gets some more special powers during the deus ex so it’s an even cleaner finish.

Barrowman’s got a nice arc in the conclusion, with an excellent wrap-up, even if it again relies on Piper and Eccleston’s pseudo-chemistry.

There are some decent action sequences—Eccleston, Piper, and Barrowman on the run from the gas mask monsters—and James Hawes’s direction is fine. It just doesn’t pay off with anything.

Except introducing Barrowman, which is a nice surprise. The show hasn’t been able to sustain a two-episode guest star who didn’t fail yet. Though it’s a two-parter so Barrowman did have some help I suppose.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e09 – The Empty Child

It’s a really creepy episode. Like, really creepy. Writer Steven Moffat comes up with a fantastic “villain,” this little kid in a gas mask who calls out, “Mummy,” over and over again. And then when he touches you, you get infected with something and eventually turn into a gas mask covered person.

Now, the gas mask is part of the new creatures’ structure. It’s creepy.

The setting is WWII London. The Blitz, which takes Christopher Eccleston longer to figure out than it took me to figure out. How did he not… grok it? Especially since the TARDIS can tell its location in space and time… can’t it? It’s like the show is anti-continuity.

Eccleston and Billie Piper are in town trying to help a crashed rocket in distress or something. While Eccleston is trying to find the rocket, Piper runs off after the creepy little gas mask kid and finds herself on a balloon in the middle of a Luftwaffe raid.

The CGI raid is… not amazing.

Luckily, time traveling scoundrel and dreamboat John Barrowman saves Piper and the two start doing some kind of pre-canoodling while Eccleston is hanging out with teen Florence Hoath. She’s carrying for all the homeless kids during the Blitz, sneaking into houses and getting them food and so on. She’s also got the answers about where the rocket landed.

But then so does Barrowman—he’s going to sell its location to Eccleston and Piper because he thinks they’re “Time Agents” and have money.

Lots of terrifying kids in danger sequences—both in danger in the Blitz (Eccleston remembers real quick because he’s surprised they haven’t been rescued or something) and then in danger from the little monster gas mask kid. Hoath’a really good.

The ending is really good. It’s a really good episode.

There’s a whole bunch of self-anglophila in the episode, an almost overbearing amount, and then some forced “Star Trek” references but they’re little bumps. Barrowman and Piper are great together, Eccleston’s excellent with Hoath and that subplot.

Even if there’s no consistency with the tech.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e08 – Father’s Day

I went into Father’s Day with high hopes; Joe Ahearne directing, Paul Cornell writing. I remember hearing about the episode (albeit vaguely) when it first aired because I knew Cornell’s comic book writing. So I went into the episode full of goodwill.

It’s all about the obvious kid going and saving their dead parent thing the show somehow pretends isn’t obvious. The episode opens with a flashback to Camille Coduri telling a young version of Billie Piper, played by Julia Joyce, about how her dad died when she was a baby. Then it cuts to this truncated cold open with Piper now asking Christopher Eccleston to take her to her parents’ wedding. Or something. To at least see her dad, played by Shaun Dingwall.

Once Piper’s seen the wedding, she wants to go hold Dingwall’s hand after he’s been hit by a car and is dying. Coduri’s already established Dingwall dies alone and it’s something Coduri’s really sad about her entire life apparently.

Except Piper’s not going there to comfort dying Dingwall, she’s going there to save him, which eventually results in time demons attacking London. The show hasn’t done the “don’t un-kill people” warnings, which has been kind of nice, but the pseudo-rift Piper’s action causes between her and Eccleston is one of the episode’s many fails. There’s a lot of crisis stuff with the cast, as Eccleston and Piper help the eighties folks barricade themselves into a church while Dingwall slowly comes to understand what’s going on.

But there’s also… Eccleston getting to needle Coduri in the past, which doesn’t play, Eccleston being nice to new bride and groom Natalie Jones and Frank Rozelaar-Green, which does play for some reason, in addition to Eccleston being mad at Piper, Piper being weird around Coduri (and Coduri hating Piper), and then the obvious Dingwall and Piper stuff.

It’s packed.

And none of the important threads connect.

The time demon sequence is intense and Dingwall’s excellent, but whatever they thought they were doing, they don’t. It should be a singular and instead it’s pedestrian.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e07 – The Long Game

This first half of this episode is really strong. The second half, not so much. Even after stunt guest star Simon Pegg gets better in the second half it’s not any better. Writer Russell T. Davies doesn’t have a good resolution for the episode’s intrigue and no matter how effectively executed the suspense gets—Brian Grant’s direction is quite good—it has a very soft landing.

Especially thanks to Bruno Langley, who’s back from last episode as Billie Piper’s “love” interest. Given the episode starts with her deciding he’s not a suitable love interest, it’s hard to see why Piper would care if he’s around. Especially after she and Eccleston team back up, meeting future humans—the year 20,000 or something—Christine Adams and Anna Maxwell Martin. Eccleston thinks he knows where they are in the future, but things don’t seem to be just right. Humanity’s not meant to be living in crappy conditions on satellites with data ports built into their brains to broadcast the news or whatever. They’re supposed to be all about the arts.

The most successful plot thread involves Eccleston upset Adams honest care more about her profession and tries to get her to think like a reporter; Adams is good. She and Eccleston have the chemistry Piper and Langley need.

Except then it turns out Langley’s got a subplot of his own, involving second stunt guest star Tamsin Greig, and Langley proves to be just as much of a drag solo as when in a group. The subplot’s entirely predictable and sort of surprisingly well-intentioned but it’s a not executed well. Langley’s either miscast or Davies doesn’t have the story down.

The ending is pretty funny though.

Not the big action-packed resolution—which is visually a fine spectacle, though it does seem like a distraction from the lack of a good story—but the postscript, where it turns out Davies has been building up to a joke most of the episode.

It’s uneven, which is frustrating; it’d have been a lot nicer if it’d been in pieces at the beginning and put itself together for the end instead.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e06 – Dalek

Okay, this one requires some disclaimers. First, when I watched the last episode and saw the preview of this one, I thought it looked terrible. Like, rolling my eyes terrible. Second, I was visually familiar with the Daleks from growing up in the eighties and whatever. I thought they were silly and decidedly not cool.

Having now seen Dalek, I can confirm they are decidedly not silly as well as not cool. They’re also a terrifying, phenomenal alien villain race. And astonishingly bad-ass. The episode’s great—going into Christopher Eccleston’s hatred of the Daleks when unexpectedly confronted by one while Billie Piper’s got sympathy for the alien, so there’s a lot of great character development and so on—but it’s also got a series of amazing action sequences with the Dalek. Even on the reduced budget (director Joe Ahearne does a fantastic job, with the same director of photography, Ernest Vincze, who’s light the worst episodes now doing fine), the Dalek attacking soldier after soldier and person after person… it’s also horrifying. So good.

The entire episode. So good. Robert Shearman’s script is outstanding, finding just the right balances with the Dalek stuff–including humor—and stays strong all the way to the finish.

Eccleston and Piper get thrown off course at the start, finding themselves six years in the future—2012—and in a sort of museum of alien objects. American businessman Corey Johnson—imagine a macho version of Mark Zuckerberg, but filtered through 2006 Steve Ballmer–it’s not entirely successful but it’s interesting while it’s not successful and then once Johnson’s working against his own survival, it’s awesome so it’s all fine.

The “it’s all fine” elements include Anna-Louise Plowman not being able to keep her American accent—new Piper love interest Bruno Langley gets to play a Brit even though it’s set in Utah. The show doesn’t seem to have Piper’s romantic life figured—she’s got zero chemistry with Langley and roll her eyes whenever Eccleston jokes with her about it. But it doesn’t matter because once Piper runs into the Dalek, it just gets great.

There are optics to Piper replacing brown-skinned former boyfriend with nerdy White guy Langley but Piper was so chemistry-free with the last one and even more so with Langley… if it was intentional, it was a fail.

Anyway. So good. Eccleston’s amazing, Piper’s great… Nicholas Briggs is awesome as the Dalek.

Dalek aims high and succeeds over and over. Just fantastic stuff.

Writer Shearman, director Ahearne, Eccleston, Piper, Briggs, they do some superior work here.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e05 – World War Three

Digital video in the mid-aughts was still very rough. Around the time World War Three came out, some of the best DV cinematography wasn’t being done in film or television but in art and technical schools, as creatives were figuring out how to best light for the medium.

In other words, I understand why cinematographer Ernest Vincze shoots such an ugly hour of television. I don’t understand Keith Boak’s direction. Like, seriously, an out of focus foreground or background character in crappy DV… But I do get Vincze’s limitations.

The episode is full of them. The aliens go from disquieting giant suits to terrible CGI. You can even see the models reused in different effects shots. Vincze doesn’t even have the budget—or, let’s just say it, ability—to light the composites well. World War Three takes a big swing and a big miss as far as the visuals.

The story’s not much better. Christopher Eccleston resolves the previous episode’s cliffhanger quite perfunctorily and then there’s a lot of chasing—there are aliens chasing Eccleston, aliens chasing Bille Piper and Penelope Wilton (who almost makes the episode worth it), and aliens chasing Piper’s mum, Camille Coduri. Sadly, Coduri teams up with Noel Clarke and they work remotely to help Eccleston save the world.

Coduri’s not great. Her character’s bad but she’s also not great. Clarke’s real bad. So having Coduri around him the whole episode doesn’t help. Though the terrible subplot about Coduri wanting Eccleston to assure her Piper is safe as his companion is all on Coduri. And writer Russell T. Davies. It’s not quite a “Martha” moment but it’s in the same vending machine. Davies’s resolution to the dilemma is an eye roller.

The episode hinges on various deuses ex machina to get to its conclusion, which is sort of an extension of the first episode. It’s kind of a real stinker, thanks primarily to Boak and Clarke; Corduri is collateral damage.

The ending, which resets the stakes to where they were before the two-parter with a little change—oh, also—we find out Piper’s phone accepts incoming calls, which means the entirely twelve months she was missing, neither Corduri or Clarke tried calling her. Like… what.

Anyway. The ending threatens to make things worse, then returns them to the status quo.

I really hope Boak takes next episode off. I can’t handle any more Boak right now.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e04 – Aliens of London

Director Keith Boak is back and it’s obvious from go some of the problem with Boak-directed episodes is Boak’s a bad director. Some of the problems are budgetary, but Boak and cinematographer Ernest Vincze even make the non-effects stuff look like bad digital video. There’s an anti-suspense suspense sequence involving sympathetic coroner Naoko Mori, who finds herself trapped in the morgue with an alien. Vincze throws all these goofy lights at her to cover for Boak’s complete inability to direct the sequence.

The episode starts with Christoper Eccleston bringing Billie Piper back to “the present” (meaning Piper’s present) so she can check in with mum Camille Coduri. We immediately discover last episode wasn’t a fluke and Eccleston really can’t control when the TARDIS jumps in time. Later in the episode he does a fairly precise teleportation, so the problem seems to be fourth dimensional, not first through third. It’s kind of obnoxious watching them goof off with the absurdly silly navigation system on the TARDIS—has it been updated since 1963. Is it a series trope? Like the Enterprise crew “spinning” 360 degrees?

Eccleston gets Piper home a year late, after Coduri has given up hope for her safe return and after Piper’s boyfriend, the just-as-charmless-as-last-time Noel Clarke, has been a suspect in her disappearance. Cue drama. Cue more drama once Coduri finds out about Eccleston.

But Piper and Coduri having a showdown isn’t the episode, the episode is an alien spacecraft crash-landing into the Thames. The government response involves a missing Prime Minister, an inquisitive Penelope Wilton (who makes the episode given how bad everything else works), and a flatulent replacement PM, David Verrey. In fact, most of the melodrama hinges on… fart jokes. Lots and lots of fart jokes.

Really bad CG aliens eventually show up and everyone’s in danger. Cue cliffhanger.

It’s occasionally well-acted and Wilton’s a delight, but the bad direction and photography, Clarke being an energy vampire, and so on….

It’s needlessly tiring.

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