Doctor Who #804: The Stolen Earth

"Oh you know nothing of any human, and that will be your downfall."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.28 2008.

IN THIS ONE... The Daleks steal and invade the Earth, and all the heroes of the past four years team up to fight them.

REVIEW: Yeah, the physics are insane, no way Earth would survive being disconnected from its moon and sun like that (nor would the system be intact when it came back), and RTD sure introduces a lot of MacGuffins to make his story work - the Indigo Project, the Osterhagen Key, the Subwave Network, the Sontaran base code somehow restoring Jack's vortex manipulator, alien bees providing a traceable frequency back to the Medusa Cascade, and he's not done yet - but how exciting is it to have all these characters from all three Whoniverse shows, featured together in the same episode? The opening credits are HUGE and then the recognizable names keep going at the bottom of the screen. It's Davies big blowout farewell to his era (see Versions) and immensely satisfying from a casting perspective. Obviously, it's also got to have Daleks as the big bad, some gorgeous matte shots and effects (a trademark of Series 4) and the return of an old enemy, Davros himself (plus Caan for good measure, playing mad poet/failed Bad Wolf; or do the Daleks use the word "Abomination" lightly?). So many players, it can't help but create some fun and dramatic combinations. Jack gets to flirt with new people, Gwen can think the Doctor's pretty fit, Sarah Jane can freak out at the sound of Davros' voice (she hasn't seen a Dalek in decades, and plays that shock very well).

And of course, there's Rose in there, the great lost companion, all grown-up but she hasn't changed much. Just compare how Donna sees her return as a good thing, while Rose herself gets catty at a computer screen, jealous that Martha took her place. The universe can't have Rose and the Doctor back together (again, see Versions) because she would never ever leave him, which wouldn't make sense for Billie Piper herself. So he HAS to regenerate just when they're about to be reunited. It's got to be TRAGIC. And it is. For those couple minutes. More on that tomorrow. However, THE stand-out tragic sequence, at least for me, is Harriet Jones coming back into the fold and sacrificing her life to get a message out to the Doctor. Her old gag is back (you know the one I mean), and while you're laughing, you're also weeping, because she goes out fighting. It's a great moment, and quite the arc for Penelope Wilton's little character.

There's a lot of cool finale stuff here - and thankfully, they've kept the number of real-world cameos way down this time - from Mr. Smith's fanfare revealed to be diagetic to the Doctor spouting Judoon to our finally seeing the oft-invoked Shadow Proclamation. Wilf attacking a Dalek with a paintball gun. The Daleks repeating they are the masters of Earth like in the old Peter Cushing movie. Their not accepting Sarah Jane's apology. The lack of previews to keep the suspense way up. There's so much stuff here that it easily hides the plot problems, even on repeat viewings.

THEORIES: Earth has moved and the Doctor jumps to the conclusion it might be the Daleks because they once tried to move the planet. That was in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, where they wanted to put a motor in the Earth's core and use it as a spaceship. It seemed ridiculous at the time, but if the Daleks have had, for at least that long, the technology to harness gravitational energies from planetary systems like the one created at the Cascade, it starts to make some sort of sense. The Earth as a spaceship seems impractical, but moving worlds so they can be balanced to give incredible energy outputs could be worth the effort.

VERSIONS: Unorthodox, but let me expound on RTD's missed opportunity here, instead of any real version put to paper or film. Because Davies really missed the boat here. Or because what I'm gonna say goes against normal production constraints, he led us down the wrong path, creating expectations he couldn't and didn't try to meet. Here's what SHOULD have happened as a result of this episode. If Rose and the Doctor can't ever be together, then the most satisfying result of his getting zapped by a Dalek is that he would regenerate into a Doctor uninterested in loving her. THAT is the ultimate irony this couple would face. Imagine if he had. How surprising it would have been that the Doctor Who offices had kept the next Doctor under wraps so brilliantly. How crushingly sad for 'shippers. And it would have prevented a lot of the hogwash that mars Journey's End - one of the biggest cliffhanger cheats ever, Rose's dismally depressing final fate, the bafflegab surrounding Donna's metacrisis. I'm not saying there aren't any perfectly nice Tennant moments over the next year, but the Series 4 final two-parter feels like such a goodbye to an era, it's a shame that era should then continue and do those same beats, those same goodbyes once more. The Year of Specials is when I get a little sick of Doc10, and I think that may be in part because he's LITERALLY outstayed his welcome.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A lot of great moments and the sheer joy of a big character reunion from across the modern Whoniverse, it's enough to forget the massive plot holes the Daleks drive planets through.

9 comments:

Nikolas Marinakis said...

Love your blog! Found it a couple of months ago and have been devouring all Doctor Who related content since then. I haven't yet taken the plunge to Classic Who but I might do it during the long hiatus until season 8 and if that happens, I will be sure to read up on your thoughts for those eps as we'll.
Now, about the episode in question. I'd already watched all of NuWho before getting my girlfriend to do the same. She'd always been disappointed by how the whole Bad Wolf thing was handled but let me tell you, this 3-parter had her chomping at the bit! I had been let down when I watched this as well but I couldn't get why she was so upset until she explained her "She is returning" idea which I think blows RTD's out of the water:
In her desperation to get back to her Doctor, Rose is tearing down the walls of reality between her universe and his. We finally get some thematic reasoning behind the Bad Wolf name (huff and puff and blow your house down) because her reckless behaviour is threatening to destroy all reality and it's up to the Doctor to stop her with the help of all his previous companions (cue shot of all of them flying the TARDIS which is all that RTD wanted out of that episode anyway).
The way to end it after that IMO would be for Rose to go all Dark Phoenix. The Doctor regenerates while stopping her and we got into the Smith era without a couple of years of shuffling feet. You could even have him blasted into the past so he sees the true Rose one last time as in End of Time before doing the whole Oods in the snow scene.
If only.

F. Douglas Wall said...

It seems like this was the first of a couple of regeneration fakeouts. I think rumors had started getting around that David was leaving, so they played with it as long as they could. First the fakeout regeneration here, then "The Next Doctor" as the title of that year's Christmas special.

Anonymous said...

Nikolas -- I love that "Big Bad Wolf" idea! Why the hell wasn't your girlfriend running the show?

Siskoid -- I find this episode nearly unwatchable, the one after it as well. To me it really really plays out like poorly-edited fanfiction. Harriet Jones for instance: her conversation with Martha (I think it was Martha) reads more like a question-and-answer session where Martha is a stand-in for the reader and Harriet is articulating the author's justification for unexpected character behavior. A better fanfictioneer would rely more on show and less on tell, maybe dismiss the question altogether with Harriet saying "this isn't about me, this is about the survival of the earth".

Is this the episode where Jackie blew a Dalek apart and then did a badass action hero pose? Ye gods.

As one NSFW thought, it's a shame Peter Capaldi wasn't facing off against Davros, because wouldn't you love to hear the Doctor say exactly this to him:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9arSotadmY

Siskoid said...

Nikolas: Glad to have you on board! Nice Bad Wolf remarks too.

Douglas: And you had Catherine Tate letting "the cat out of the bag" re: his departure, as if by accident, yeah.

Anon: Sorry it doesn't work for you, not that you're wrong about the way exposition and MacGuffins are used in the story. And yet, it gives me all the feels. It talks to my heart if not to my head.

Craig Oxbrow said...

One thing I did like was the "To Be Continued" instead of a trailer, and the adverts all avoiding showing whether it was true or not. We knew it wasn't (partially thanks to people saying DT on location for the special) but still...

Craig Oxbrow said...

My biggest problem with the episode is, and always will be, the no-budget version of the Shadow Proclamation we got after years of references and the original plan to show just about every alien from the series in one room...

Siskoid said...

Yeah. The giant Adipose and baby Blon Slitheen would have been keen.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"I'm not saying there aren't any perfectly nice Tennant moments over the next year, but the Series 4 final two-parter feels like such a goodbye to an era, it's a shame that era should then continue and do those same beats, those same goodbyes once more. The Year of Specials is when I get a little sick of Doc10, and I think that may be in part because he's LITERALLY outstayed his welcome."

This encapsulates my feelings on the Tennant era SO perfectly. At present, the 10th Doctor is my lest favorite, #11 of 11 (and unless Capaldi REALLY screws up, soon to be 12 of 12). And I know it wasn't that way when I was watching this season. I know back then, I didn't fully loathe him. (There are definite RTD-isms with the selfishness, the arrogance, the attitudes that pushed me that way once in a while, but not enough to fully hate the character as I do now.)

And I think it was the Gap Year that did that... combined with this absurdity, it wore the Doctor so thin that instead of overlooking the flaws and faults in the writing, they started to become all I could see. And tonally, this finale- including review of past companions- was utterly appropriate, rather than the tacked-on redux of End of Time, which tries to bring in the same elements completely unorganiclly.

Siskoid said...

Well said Andrew. The End of Time's goodbyes are very much "tacked on".

 

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