Doctor Who #737: Army of Ghosts

"They're all sort of blurred, but they're definitely people." "Maybe not. They're pressing themselves into the surface of the world. But a footprint doesn't look like a boot."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.1 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Ghosts in modern day Britain turn out to be Cybermen, and it's all Torchwood's fault.

REVIEW: It's finale time (part 1), and as with the previous season, RTD uses the first act to squeeze in some celebrity cameos, y'know, to give things a celebratory feel and to give the audience a bit of fun before the heavy emotional stuff happens. That's nothing new, but the episode does feature a lot of firsts. Torchwood finally makes an appearance after a year of build-up, including the theme that will become the spin-off series' (I hadn't realized it wasn't composed for that show). The Doctor starts saying "Allons-y!", something that will become overused in time (I'd say it's unnecessary after he achieves his dream of saying it to an Alonso in Voyage of the Damned). It's Freema Agyeman's first episode, but only as Martha's cousin Adeola, who becomes an icky victim of the Cybermen. It's the first actual mention of the Void, from which so many threats will come in the future (though we've heard of variations on this in the classic series, and the Doctor name checks the Eternals from Enlightenment). And it's also an episode of returns. The Cybermen were spoiled in the trailer, so I don't know how it's any kind of shock when they turn out to be the ghosts, but it's a bit of a double-bluff. Reveal the Cybermen to surprise the audience with the Daleks. Mickey returns as well, and he has eyes only for the Void ship, so he's truly over Rose and living his new life.

Putting a damper on what seems like an epic mix of first and return engagements is that the script cheats. It starts on narration from Rose saying she died and mentioning a war. Well, as we'll find out, she didn't actually die, and you even the Battle of Canary Wharf is only ever called a "battle" after this. I guess she IS a bit of a drama queen, but still, neither she nor her writer are playing fair with their audience. "The last story [she'll] ever tell" is also only the second (Father's Day was the first), and it isn't really that either. To take our minds off the obvious Cyberman-Ghost connection, they make the ghosts move entirely unlike the Cybermen (just look at the one Jackie thinks is her dad and how smooth its motions are), and the psychic link used to pacify humanity is unlike anything in the Cybermen's arsenal, either before or later. The psychic paper confounding a photo-eye? Come on. TV shows reacting to the increase in ghosts? When they did they have time, when it all happens in real time for us? The whole Void ship situation (and its surprise contents) and the Doctor's cool demonstration of the universe cracking apart (and subsequent reverse psychology standoff with Yvonne) are much better moments, setting things up and paying them off without resorting to cheap tricks designed to hide an over-obvious truth or cover a plot hole.

Thankfully, the characters breathe real life into the story, and one might even find a way to excuse Rose's smug portrayal throughout the second series because her mother can't quite recognize her anymore. Rose has decided to travel with the Doctor forever (which is why something tragic has to happen to separate them, or else Billie Piper would be attached to the show in perpetuity), and like the long-standing companions of the extracanonical works (where contracts as much of a factor, or not at all, so think of Ace in the NAs or Charlie in the BF audios, of Fitz in the EDAs), this can change a person irrevocably. The fate Jackie predicts for Rose isn't so far-fetched. Already her daughter is acting like a little Time Lady, a snob about her low-born origins and oh so proud of herself. Rose Tyler will "die" no matter what if this keeps up. If Rose's new, irritating attitude was planned, it takes the sting out of our finding it irritating. Jackie herself goes from stealing kisses off the Doctor to resenting his jokes about her age (a small revenge), and gets a very short trip in the TARDIS. It's amusing, though it's clear she's not having fun, no doubt realizing just how dangerous Rose's life is (that, and he's destroyed her illusions about her father's ghost). Jackie would rather be blind and happy, than know everything and be miserable because of it. The comedy works in part because Torchwood is such a silly place as well, thanks to Yvonne Hartman, a kind of pastiche of Gen X management style, asking for forced applause and making sure she knows every "little person"'s name. This sort of cheer in the face of danger is closely related to the Brigadier's stiff upper lip and unflappability, and perfectly in line with the idea of the Imperial Britain Torchwood seems keen to restore. And given the allowances she makes for subordinates having sex on the job, Torchwood 1 appears to be just as libertine as Jack's little group.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The TARDISode follows young journalist writing a story about Torchwood and coming across the Ghost Shift project (and strangely, pictures of the Doctor in 1879 Scotland), so Torchwood snatches and detains him.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Shame about the plot holes (no, I don't mean the ones the Cybermen come through) because the characters do make the exercise worthwhile.


jheaton said...

The Cybermen were spoiled in the trailer, so I don't know how it's any kind of shock when they turn out to be the ghosts

"Army of Ghosts" was the first episode of New Who I ever saw, and I hadn't seen the trailer, so that's one way how.

Siskoid said...

Obviously, but I mean from the production's point of view. They PLAY it as a surprise, but also edit a trailer that spoils it.


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