Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 1x03: "The Unquiet Dead"

Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Euros Lyn

I’ve sat through 63 episodes of Six Feet Under and have seen many unique, silly and heartbreaking depictions of death as well as many a fascinating discussion of how it affects the people who lose loved ones but this episode offered a rather new interpretation on the manner of ghosts and corpses.

Last week we got to see the future, this week it’s the past and adhering to the BBC’s love of period dramas, it seemed more than appropriate that our latest trip would be in 1869, Cardiff on a particular Christmas Eve with Charles Dickens no less. Rose isn’t exactly impressed with being in Cardiff but there is more than meets the eye in this impressive outing.

It seems that a spectral like creature called the Gelth are missing physical form and have been trying to amend for this by taking over the deceased bodies owned by funeral director Gabriel Sneed and servant girl Gwyneth, who is almost quickly established as having psychic abilities.

Their attempts of hiding the numerous living dead gets more complicated when the latest body snatcher causes a commotion at the theatre while Charles Dickens is on stage and after being kidnapped by Sneed, Rose herself is placed in the peril of the Gelth, until The Doctor and Dickens come to her rescue.

An episode of Doctor Who featuring Charles Dickens could’ve had the makings of a farce but what saves it from being so are many things. The casting of Simon Callow as Dickens is a masterstroke in genius as is the wonderful interplay between him and Christopher Eccleston and Gatiss makes use of his wonderful actors and sharp dialogue in more ways than one.

Dickens’ scepticism versus The Doctor’s optimism on the nature of spirits and séances is not only a highlight throughout the hour but it also enhances the episode thematically and plays wonderfully into several other interactions including The Doctor and Rose, who take very different stances on the Gelth’s use of dead bodies as vessels or even using psychic Gwyneth as a means of closing the rift that the fallout of the legendary Time War has caused.

On this scope I sided with Rose more than I did with The Doctor. The Doctor doesn’t realise or maybe chose not to acknowledge that the deceased bodies still may have very alive loved ones who would freak out if they knew their former loved ones are being used for other spirits to inhabit.

Even if she did feel a little superior to Gwyneth, Rose acknowledged that fact and felt that a girl who has been treated like a second class citizen all her life shouldn’t be used as a means, even if it is for the greater good. That being said, Gwyneth made the decision despite the fatal outcome you could see coming a mile off. Great performance from Eve Myles though.

As baddies go, the astral like Gelth were suitably scary, especially given the almost child like mannerism they displayed. Props have to go to the wonderful CGI for our blue ghosts. I expected the seemingly benevolent spirits to turn bad but it still shocked anyway when they started killing Mr Sneed and were planning to do the same to our heroes. It’s a good job that a newly swayed Dickens thought of asphyxiating the funeral home in order to save the day.

With Gwyneth sacrificed and the Gelth held in their place, the last few minutes of the episode saw a rather optimistic Dickens happily skipping off in the snow while The Doctor tells Rose inside the TARDIS that there’s one story Charles won’t be writing about anytime soon.

The Doctor and Rose’s relationship got nicely touched upon again in a similar enough manner to last week. Rose certainly doesn’t have a problem with questioning The Doctor’s motives but I’m wondering if this keeps happening, will there be a big fallout from it, like an error in judgement or Rose being sent home?

Still though it is plausible that she asks questions and it’s nice that in such a short space of time they’ve grown rather attached to each other, which got demonstrated in a particularly touching scene before Charles’ heroics.

Also in “The Unquiet Dead”

There was no “Previously On” bit for this episode and the opening scene didn’t feature either The Doctor or Rose.

The Doctor: “It’s not Naples.”
Rose: “I don’t care.”

The Doctor: “It’s Cardiff.”
Rose: “Right.”

The original place the TARDIS was supposed to take them was Naples, 1860.

The Doctor: “That a boy, Charlie.”
Charles: “No-one calls me Charlie.”

The Doctor is a fan of Great Expectations and Oliver to name a few. It’s still Scrooge for me.

Rose: “Who’s your friend?”
The Doctor: “Charles Dickens.”

Rose (to Sneed): “And don’t think I didn’t feel your hands having a quick wander, you dirty old man.”

The Doctor complimented Rose on her Victorian look and even Charles Dickens took a fancy to her. Rose’s attire was also mentioned by Gwyneth as well; who I think envied her free spirit approach to life.

Charles: “I saw nothing but an illusion.”
The Doctor: “If you’re going to deny it, then don’t waste my time and shut up.”

Gwyneth (re butcher boy): “Such a lovely smile on him.”
Rose: “I like a nice smile. Good smile, nice bum.”

Although Mickey and Jackie don’t appear, Rose mentions her mate Sherene again and Gwyneth reveals that she’s been thinking about her dead father.

The Doctor (re Gwyneth): “Don’t antagonise her, I love a happy medium.”
Rose: “I can’t believe you said that.”

The Doctor: “I’m so glad I met you.”
Rose: “Me too.”

According to, Mark Gatiss got the date Charles really died wrong. He died on June 8th 1870, not December 1869.

With two brilliant first outings to start the series, our new Doctor Who hits its first classic episode with this instalment. “The Unquiet Dead” was spooky and slightly silly but Mark Gatiss delivered a powerful script and sterling performances from everyone concerned. Like Russell T Davies, he is a true fan and it reflects in the writing.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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