Doctor Who #833: The Eternity Trap Part 1

"I bet he made a mean balloon giraffe at kids' parties."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.5 2009.

IN THIS ONE... The team gets up to some ghost-breaking in a house haunted by a 17th-century alchemist.

REVIEW: I often find that haunted house stories kind of twiddle their thumbs plot-wise, showing varied manifestations of the haunting in various scenes that nevertheless make the same point, and that's the case here. It does manage a few spooky scenes, among them books fidgeting behind Sarah Jane and Professor Rivers' sudden abduction, but most of it is, not surprisingly, fairly tame. Donald Sumpter, lately of Game of Thrones, plays the "ghost" of Erasmus Darkening (is that really a proper name though?), and has a great face for it. And of course the series continues to play on the theme of child abductions, a recurring anxiety on the Adventures, though the twist is that these kids (and others) were taken centuries ago.

Sarah Jane perhaps protests too much that ghost and such are impossible and have no scientific basis, even though she admits "stone tapes" are a possible explanation. This is the woman who's dealt with Egyptian gods, gorgons, and astrology (twice!) and they've all turned out to have a "scientific basis". Rani is more open to the possibility, and clearly having fun with the concept, while Clyde hides his fears behind his trademark humor. Luke's not in this one - the actor was taking his exams - because he REALLY doesn't believe in this stuff. They make the best of it by having other eggheads around which might have been made redundant by his presence.

Of these, I was impressed with Adam Gillen as the asocial Toby who found a creepy, awkward performance just shy of caricature. It's not the type of character we're used to seeing on SJA, where young people tend to be precocious, charismatic and positive, and Sarah quickly divines he's got a personal stake in proving the paranormal exists, which hopefully will figure in the climax. I'm less enthused about Professor Rivers of the Pharos Institute, a recurring character that seems to be applied to any situation, like an all-purpose Emil Hamilton in the Superman comics, every time they need a scientist. What's her specific field of study anyway? And how does she still trust Sarah after she took a huge chunk off a priceless meteorite the last time we saw her? Her wide-eyed performance speaks to her existing in a kind of vacuum, ready to get plugged into any script and motivations be damned.

- A perfectly fine ghost story, but feels like we're counting the minutes until something important happens.



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