Doctor Who #940: The Custodians

"Apocalypse averted... but only just."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 17 2010.

IN THIS ONE... A VR game turns Britain's kids into comatose alien telepaths.

REVIEW: Custodians are the VR experts who run 2050's version of prisons, including some juvie halls Starkey's spent time in. And where better to hone their craft than with VR games? Their latest is a secret (read: Thorne) Department co-production using the last member of the universe's most powerful telepathic race, a game that looks retro-ridiculous and puts kids - including Jorjie and (who cares?) Darius - in a trance state. So it's off to the "Green Room" to get answers. The sole Custodian we meet, a stereotypical computer nerd, initially speaks and acts like he's software, and with the surreal, minimalistic sets in that place, I thought for sure he'd turn out to be artificial. Not so. As usual, the show can have good ideas, but can't manage to follow up.

I do appreciate the series of double-crosses that results. Thorne is of course interested in mind control, but the unforeseen side effect of turning kids into little green men convinces him to shut it all down. The Custodian will, but at a price. Bankrupt the Department, or save June's daughter? Tough choice. But it doesn't matter in the end because the alien telepath broadcasting the game signal has plans of his own. He's the one turning kids into members of his lost race, repopulating Earth with his reborn species. Three layers of threat, which is pretty unusual for a 24-minute show, and they each get a different fate. Thorne gets to continue as usual; the Custodian is arrested and will taste his own medicine; and the alien is turned by June and dies, though his mental energy is seen to survive in some form. It's kind of nice. Still, these sequences aren't perfect. I've got major issues with Thorne telling June her clearance isn't high enough to know anything about this, and then proceeding to tell her all about it. Come on, K9 the Series! Try to be a little consistent!

With two of the cast in a coma, it does give others a chance to shine. Not Gryffen or Starkey though, they're as plain as usual. K9 does alright, his "end of days" intimidation shtick particularly amusing (at least, the first time they use it), and he shows his usual flashes of arrogance, which you may or may not find endearing. It's June who steals the show however, bringing real emotion to her mother's appeal for her daughter. I like her as a more active member of the team, if only because she's played by the other good actor in the cast, next to Jorjie. So props to Robyn Moore, and hopefully, the last week's worth of episodes will feature her more.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- A watchable episode thanks to its emotionality, though the plot, design and world-building is a little hit and miss.

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