Russell T. Davies

Doctor Who (2005) s03e03 – Gridlock

Really nice direction from Richard Clark this episode; really nice. It’s a strong episode overall, because it’s set out in space in the future, which are usually the best “Who” episodes (so far), but this episode manages to do it with a bunch of regular humans.

Well, not regular humans. 5 billion years removed new humans. This episode is another in the “The Face of Boe” subplot, which started in the first season with the Face of Boe (voiced by Struan Rodger) just appearing in background then figuring in last season (in an episode involving cat person nurse Anna Hope, who appears here again) and it finally gets something of a conclusion here.

But the Boe stuff is overarching—and seemingly for future episodes in at least the season—while the main action has Tennant deciding he’s not dropping off Freema Agyeman yet (with her consent) so they go to the far future and off to another world. Only it’s New Earth, which we didn’t get to see last time and this time it turns out it’s gone all dystopian and people are traveling on the freeway for years to go ten miles to the promised lands of the suburbs.

Pregnant young persons Travis Oliver and Lenora Crichlow kidnap Agyeman so they can get in the three-or-more lanes, which forces a panicking Tennant—he really does bring disaster to those around him—to travel through layers of flying cars. He’s got to drop between cars, which means introducing amusing supporting characters, and he’s got the cars he spends more time in, which means lots of good dystopian melodrama.

There are also kittens.

So it’s a very cute episode in some ways and terrifying in others, as Agyeman and Tennant discover the secrets of the New New York, which involve giant monsters.

Lots of good material for both Agyeman (who realizes the possible consequences of her time-traveling on a whim) and Tennant. And the way writer Russell T. Davies is developing their relationship is rather nice. Agyeman has to figure it all out on her own here, making her much more of a partner.

The thing about Tennant lying to Agyeman about his home planet being destroyed is a little bit of a stretch though. It’s like Tennant’s biggest concern—she’s going to die before he can tell her the truth, not she’s going to die.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e01 – Smith and Jones

New only-other-billed actor (but technically not the new companion yet) Freema Agyeman guest starred at the end of last season but is playing a different character here. Thank goodness. Agyeman is a medical resident, so it’s going to be the Doctor and a doctor going forward, which is a lot better than a vague IT tech (her previous role). She’s just trying to go about her very regular day—running into an energetic David Tennant on her way to work—and then finding him again when she’s doing her medical rounds. Only he doesn’t remember her.

Or does he remember her. It’s unclear. We’ve spent the episode setup with Agyeman—meeting her entire supporting cast, in what seems to be the show promising they’re going to be entertaining and not annoying like a certain someone’s supporting cast—and the episode does take a while to shift the narrative distance back to the familiar Tennant one. The much bigger emphasis is on Agyeman. And it’s great.

The show itself seems thrilled to have her. Meanwhile, Tennant’s still sad about Rose going—the episode’s an indeterminate period after the Runaway Bride special—but then the episode’s like, look how much more fun we can have with Agyeman and Tennant than we ever did with Tennant and Billie Piper. Why is Russell T. Davies all of a sudden writing a much stronger female character? Well, basically because it’s the character establishing and it’s a lot easier to establish a stronger female character than to build one up from “shop girl.”

The story’s also great—a bunch of intergalactic mercenaries has transported Agyeman’s hospital (including Tennant) to the moon so they can search it for a rogue alien. Presumably not Tennant. It could also be evil patient Anne Reid, who’s absolutely fantastic. The mercenaries are rhino-faced aliens, which works out awesome (especially the budgetary gymnastics).

Not great special effects but sometimes quite good direction from Charlie Palmer, and a great energy thanks to Agyeman—and to the more fun approach to the action.

Now, hopefully they can keep up the momentum.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e00 – The Runaway Bride

How does the Doctor (this time David Tennant) usually respond to his companion leaving the show for, presumably, their own projects? Does it matter if you inherent your companion from the last Doctor? Have English school teachers been reading themes on this subject for decades now?

I’m vaguely curious about “Who” canon stuff. Not enough to Google. I’m willing to go into it as tabula rosa as possible.

So I didn’t know there was a Christmas episode between seasons two and three and I gave myself a bit of a spoiler for next season (but not worse than the preview at the end of Runaway Bride).

Runaway Bride does not feature a new companion for Tennant, rather a done-in-one sidekick, in this case the Bride (who’s not actually running away), played by Catherine Tate. The episode does not feature any appearances by anyone left behind last season, but it does take place immediately following the climactic events. So Tennant’s in a seriously bad mood this episode. Presumably. Again, we don’t get any idea how he’s experiencing the loss, not really.

But Tate’s the perfect foil for his mourning. We get to see Tennant acting opposite a much fuller performance than usual, getting to see that the Doctor and the guest star chemistry only with the companion. Tennant’s did his best with sidekick slash love interest slash ward slash protege Billie Piper but the show never delivered on the pair’s initial promise.

So it’s an inglorious postscript farewell to Piper.

Like she got her farewell two-parter and it was nice and all but give them a few months and writer Russell T. Davies is showing the promise of a stronger female character opposite Tennant.

Tate and Tennant are great.

The story’s about her getting transwarp beamed from her wedding to the TARDIS. Tennant gets Tate back to groom Don Gilet all right—albeit a little late—and then it turns out there’s a giant star-looking space ship (you know, for Christmas) attacking the Earth and Tennant’s going to need her help to save the world.

Bad villain though. It doesn’t seem to be Sarah Parish’s fault as much the part itself. Parish’s an energy vampire. Might have to do with the special effects too.

But a good, fun episode. The show’s got a much less lethargic tone than it did towards the end of last season, lot more slapstick. Davies has finally decided it should actually be fun instead of pretending to be fun.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e13 – Doomsday

The BBC does market research, don’t they? I’d love to see what their “Doctor Who” market research says as far as target audience. For instance, this episode—the momentous, earth-shattering (literally?) season finale, which will change the Doctor (David Tennant) forever–has the many experienced heroes, including ostensible eccentric space and time genius Tennant, completely flummoxed over an object.

Over a Dalek-shaped object.

It’s like writer Russell T. Davies remained really confused over the beginning of Superman: The Movie into adulthood instead of asking about it when he was… oh, geez, he was fifteen. No, no, not much chance there.

Hopefully he’s just trying for the tween male viewership.

Though it is the first “Doctor Who” to confuse me… I’m still not sure if the Cybermen and the humans team up to fight the Daleks. If so it’s a very short team-up. Maybe it was a coincidence.

Anyway.

The episode’s less about the (limited budget) invasion of the planet Earth from extra-dimensional aliens and more about getting the pieces in order for a cast change. But what kind of cast change… even though the episode still has Billie Piper narrating her last adventure, there are always possibilities.

Wait, wrong franchise.

We also learn it’s been three years since Piper and Tennant left Noel Clarke in an alternate reality where he could feign macho convincingly. It was like four or six episodes ago? The second half of season two has a three year present action. Is there a chart for the timelines? It’s like the show’s made for rerunning out of order.

Shaun Dingwall’s back because the alternate universe is back but he’s a drag in the alternate universe and continues to be a drag this episode.

Piper gets to face off with some Daleks.

Then there’s the big finale, which is effective and surprising and then Davies keeps beating the stick against it until you’re just relieved when it’s all finally over, who cares the casualties.

And then there’s an immediate setup for the next season.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e12 – Army of Ghosts

One Earth episode without Camille Coduri was clearly too much so she doesn’t just appear in this one, she also pretends to be daughter Rose (Billie Piper) and play companion to David Tennant. Coduri and Tennant don’t grate as sharply as one might’ve feared (hard to imagine her and Christopher Eccleston stuck together so much for an episode subplot)….

But I’m forgetting the most important part—the episode opens with Piper narrating. This story is the last one she’s ever going to tell (not really, because there’s a cliffhanger, so she’s referring to a two-part story). During the resulting flashback montage, Eccleston shows up for about two seconds (and not his face); does all “Who” ignore previous Doctors or is it just with Eccleston? If so, rather inglorious.

After the intro montage and narration setup, Tennant and Piper go to present-day Earth so Piper can visit Coduri and get her laundry done. Sleeping arrangements and laundry facilities on the TARDIS… are they ever discussed?

Right away, Tennant and Piper know something’s wrong because the Earth is now visited on a regular basis by ghosts. Investigating leads them to the mysterious Torchwood Institute, run by a game but too thinly written Tracy Ann Oberman, who are actually causing the ghosts by punching holes in the universe or something.

Doesn’t matter. What matters is Tennant knows they’re not ghosts—doesn’t say how he knows, “Who”’s de facto atheist, after all—and he tries to get Oberman to knock it off and do some investigating.

Unfortunately, we—the audience—know the Cybermen are back as they’ve slowly been taking over Oberman’s staff, principally Freema Agyeman and Hadley Fraser, who are conspiring to do something. Will Tennant be able to save the day, even though he’s got Coduri at his side so Piper can investigate on her own?

Not sure, because it’s a cliffhanger. It’s also a bit of old home week for Piper, because the Cybermen aren’t the only ones back from another dimension….

Noel Clarke’s back, playing tough again.

Clarke’s not good tough, but he’s a lot better tough than whiney.

Better than I was expecting direction from Graeme Harper, on par writing from Russell T. Davies (on par for Russell T. Davies, I mean).

The bookend is annoying and the cliffhanger reveal’s a trope.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e10 – Love & Monsters

It’s a not bad concept episode (written by Russell T. Davies, which seems weird but whatever) about a regular bloke (Marc Warren) who records a video diary on his digital camcorder to upload at 160×120 to his FTP server to share his story about the Doctor. I mean, it’s a YouTube doc before anyone knew there’d be YouTube docs. At least Davies knew where the format was going.

And once it’s clear the Doctor (David Tennant) isn’t showing up as a principal, the episode’s fine. It’s always amusing—Davies goes for more smiles than laughs and the episode’s mostly well-cast so the cast quickly endears.

When Warren was a kid he saw the Doctor in his house. As an adult, he lives through the alien invasions of the last two seasons and joins a group of other alien enthusiasts and they soon get talking about the Doctor. Eventually, they become a family, which is great until a government agent (Peter Kay) takes over their group and sets them about Doctor-hunting.

If Kay were good, it’d be great. Instead, he’s not, and it’s a not bad concept episode. It’s zany. There’s not a lot of Tennant and Billie Piper, as they’re guest stars in Warren’s life, but when they show up it’s fun and funny. Slapstick. There’s slapstick. The slapstick’s really cute.

The plot eventually involves Warren stalking Piper through Camille Coduri and an attempted seduction scene as we get to see what life’s like for Coduri when Piper’s not around. Also Mickey’s not around, which is another sadness for Coduri. It’s… the best Coduri’s been in a while. There are asterisks, but more relating to Davies’s writing and Dan Zeff’s direction.

Zeff’s okay. Better than a lot of “Who” directors without being one of the good lot.

Shirley Henderson plays the girl in the group who Warren’s crushing on. It’s a not exactly a cameo but kind of like an extended one. Maybe she’s a “Who” fan?

It’s cute, at least until the punchline, which is incredibly problematic if you give it much thought.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e02 – Tooth and Claw

Tooth and Claw opens in nineteenth century Scotland, where a bunch of royals get attacked by a group of monks who know wire fu. Is it good wire fu? No. But it’s odd enough to get one interested and then it’s only a few minutes before David Tennant and Billie Piper find themselves in the same castle as guests of Queen Victoria (Pauline Collins).

Tennant and Piper have stumbled onto a very complicated, very elaborate plan to attack Collins and they’ve got to contend with the wire fu fighter monks as well as the giant werewolf they’ve brought with them.

There’s a number of solid action chase sequences—director Euros Lyn does an excellent job keeping up the tension and making the werewolf, which is CGI and fake but in the right way fake, a constant threat.

See, the monks, led by Ian Hanmore, have got lord Derek Riddell’s whole household held hostage in the basement with the werewolf—the human part played by Tom Smith, who isn’t exactly all human because there’s this whole “werewolves are from outer space” thing. It’s complicated as well though. Russell T. Davies’s script never dwells too long on it and it passes fine because there’s enough suspense and action.

So while Riddell’s trying to convince Collins and Tennant there’s nothing wrong—with Tennant getting more and more suspicious—Piper finds herself in the basement with Smith and the lady of the house, Michelle Duncan.

Adding to the aforementioned successes of suspense and action are the characterizations and performances. Collins is great as the Queen, who’s very much a thoughtful leader in a crisis situation. Collins plays the part with resolve and humor. And then Duncan’s absolutely awesome, discovering some of the werewolf’s weaknesses—it’s kind of like Die Hard in a manor house with a werewolf as Alexander Godunov—while rallying all the other “helpless” womenfolk.

And the ending’s got a rather neat, albeit downbeat, twist.

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) 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) 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.

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