Thursday, July 02, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 2x12: "Army Of Ghosts"

Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Graeme Harper

Okay at the end of “Fear Her” last week my jaw literally hit the floor when I saw the trailer for this episode. Even though most of what I had seen, I already knew was going to happen thanks to the never ending tabloids and their relentless crusade to spoil everything and also I had kind of guessed one or two things as well.

That being said I had to give props for the tantalising trailer for a TV episode in the world and when it comes to examples on how to woo an audience in, here is a brilliant one with this instalment.

Whenever you open an episode of any show with one of your regulars talking about how her life changed when she met The Doctor while discussing her rather mundane existence up until then as she talks frankly about an epic war involving the long hinted at Torchwood and an army of ghosts, while dropping the not surprising bombshell of her imminent death, you’re hardly inclined to switch the channel over, are you? Make no mistake, Billie Piper has taken her last trip in the TARDIS and judging by the start of this two parter, fatality is the order of the day.

Once we get past the opening credits, the first five minutes start off rather trivial. Rose and The Doctor happen to be in London and naturally pop in to see Jackie, who greets The Doctor by almost kissing his face off. Well with a pretty face like David Tennant, I suppose you can’t blame her but The Doctor’s rather embarrassed reaction is nicely done (I take it that he’s never seen The Graduate then).

Rose is lucky just to get a hug as she does what many college/travelling kids do to the parents they leave behind – give them their dirty washing. You’d think given how big the TARDIS is that surely The Doctor would install a washing machine in there or at least visit a location with a functioning laundrette but apparently not.

However this nice little moment between all three in the Tyler residence is then marred when an over enthusiastic Jackie tells Rose that Grandpa Prentice is coming to stay which fills Rose with worry. Seeing as I only have a grandmother who I rarely see (she lives in America), you’d think Rose would be pleased but when she tells The Doctor that she fears for Jackie’s mental state, it’s not too long before you cotton on to Grandpa Prentice being dead before Rose spells it out. So what the hell is going on? Why would Jackie be excited to see a man who has been dead for ten years?

It appears since the last time we’ve seen Jackie (in the critically reviled “Love And Monsters” – two weeks on, do people still hate that episode?) the world has been hit by an army of deceased ghosts who stop at certain points during the day to meet up with the people they’ve left behind. It doesn’t take much to get The Doctor mighty suspicious and this scenario is enough to get anyone’s spidey sense twitching. I’m pretty ambivalent about ghosts myself, but even The Doctor has to ask why people aren’t freaking out over this recent development.

It’s not a stupid question to ask mind. For instance our “ghosts” are a little too silvery for my liking and seem to be all the same shape. It also looks suspicious how Jackie can say one of these silver entities is her own father, yet it doesn’t speak or do anything else to signify it being Grandpa Prentice. Even someone not as supernaturally savvy as Jackie should fin this suspect.

I’ve heard of society burying their heads in the sand over things they don’t understand or that are out of sync with what you take for granted but given how readily and easily the media and Jackie accept these “ghosts” is weird. I mean seriously, how can you really not be suspicious? I’m surprised The Doctor didn’t come with a “humans are stupid” comment like we’ve had him do a few times.

There is a good though as to why Jackie wants to believe that she sees her dead father as her loneliness and feelings of abandonment from Rose are touched upon. There’s a brilliant scene in the TARDIS where Jackie and Rose are alone together and Jackie quizzes Rose about her future and more or less warns her about her life and mortality while talking about herself at the same time. When you take in Rose’s opening narration and the massive press about Billie’s soon to be exit, the writing is most definitely on the wall here.

As for the “ghosts”, The Doctor still unconvinced that their presence is a good thing manages to ensnare one of them long to deduce that they are coming from another dimension but if he was thinking of tracing down the culprit, he need not have bothered as himself, Rose, Jackie and the TARDIS soon find themselves in Torchwood of all places.

Why not? Russell and company have spent the last eleven episodes throwing hints left, right and centre about the institute and by October time this year; Captain Jack Harkness will be shaking up the dynamic but for now the face of Torchwood belongs to Yvonne Hartman and hey, what a face?

Played by the woman who actually bumped off Dirty Den in one of EastEnders better plots, self confessed Doctor Who fan Tracy Ann Oberman is not only an excellent piece of casting but somehow she manages to make the role of Yvonne pretty much her own, which is strange because so rarely are former soap actors that good after they leave a soap behind but she’s quite wonderful. Put it this way, you won’t agree with Yvonne but you’ll like her enough to count.

If you were expecting Yvonne to be a complete and utter bitch/insane lunatic like John Lumic, then you’re in for a disappointment. Her first reaction to seeing The Doctor isn’t to shoot him on site but to get her soldier and herself to excessively clap so loud and smile so wide, it’s almost like she’s OD’d on Prozac, you just can’t but be taken aback. Even The Doctor thought “what the heck is she on?” judging by his facial expressions.

Yvonne is a very clever lady. Not only does she run Torchwood (we can thank/blame her for the “ghosts”) but she’s well versed in The Doctor’s history so much that our Time Lord has Jackie masquerade as Rose while the real one does some much needed snooping. The flip side of Yvonne knowing about The Doctor and given his history with Torchwood? Well that would be the TARDIS taken away to be stripped down (presumably) and The Doctor reduced to a prisoner rank Still though at least Yvonne doesn’t chuck him into a dingy dungeon, after all she’s just nabbed herself the most useful man in history and Yvonne isn’t exactly a girl to not look away at her advantages.

It turns out that the “ghosts” that Torchwood are responsible are a side effect of using some kind of energy and technology for the Institute’s advancement in science and defence purposes but more than that in the lower decks, there is a sphere that Yvonne and Dr Rajesh show The Doctor and Jackie. The sphere looks like a steal out either Angel or even Stargate SG1 but the revelations about it are in fact fascinating.

For starters, it doesn’t actually exist in this world. It’s there and it generates a strange feeling which Jackie picks up on but The Doctor then turns around and reveals that it’s a void ship which can be used to cross between worlds but it can also destroy worlds as well. Being the thing that essentially contains nothing is a lethal thing, so it’s not surprising that Yvonne and The Doctor then clash over it.

To be honest, Yvonne doesn’t strike me as a crazed fanatic in any way. Unlike Lumic, the traces of humanity within Yvonne are apparent. She treats her employees like equals and even jokes about two of them, Adeola and Matt trying to conceal their relationship and despite any conflict of interest she does actually listen to The Doctor’s advice about not doing another “ghost shift”, even if she does grudgingly follow his orders. There’s also a part of me that thinks she wouldn’t have killed Rose either after The Doctor is forced to fess up abut the real Miss Tyler.

Poor Rose, her attempts this week of going all undercover and uncovering the big bad this week wasn’t her most successful to date. Who would’ve thought that the usually reliable psychic paper would fail to work on Rajesh as she discovered the creepy looking sphere? Well I didn’t so points to Rajesh for appearing smart until one of his assistants turned out to be Mickey.

Yes another delicious surprise in what is essentially a consistently surprising episode, Mickey’s return is done in such a subtle moment that even though I knew it was going to happen (thanks for the spoiler Dreamwatch), it still caught me off guard. It turns out that Mickey managed to get through to this dimension even though The Doctor has told us in “The Age Of Steel” that getting back to the alternate Earth was an impossibility.

As Mickey points out, The Doctor was wrong once again and Rose’s delight in seeing her former boyfriend is similar to my own. So if Mickey has managed to get into this world, then it doesn’t take a big leap of faith to deduce that something else has as well. Come on, you didn’t honestly think we were gonna see this lot just the once, did you? I know I didn’t.

After all, our “ghosts” in this episode are a little too silvery and are of the same shape? Plus Torchwood employees Adeola, Matt and Gareth all conveniently disappear and re-appear with funky new earplugs. Enough prick teasing people, it’s the Cybermen who are our ghosts and they are not here to help but to “upgrade” people and as soon as our converted Torchwood employees set up the latest ghost shift, millions of Cybermen are raiding the world, killing people in sight and holding Torchwood hostage but in another wave of surprises, they may very well be the calm before the storm.

Because it seems that either Russell is either to outdo himself as a writer or is indulging in pure fan fiction but either as The Doctor, Yvonne and Jackie are captive by the Cybermen and Rose, Rajesh and Mickey are trapped downstairs, it turns out the inactive sphere is a ruse. The Cybermen aren’t intelligent or ambitious enough to cause all this mayhem and disruption.

No, they have assistant and when the sphere opens up to reveal a bunch of Daleks (one of them being black as well), Rose’s simple “oh my god” doesn’t even come close to conveying the shock you get from seeing this bunch. There is going to be blood on the walls in a huge way by the end of this. Even The Doctor is unhopeful over this turnout and he’s unaware of the Daleks at this point. Just wait until he sees them – again!

Also in “Army Of Ghosts”

Thanks to the BBC for not deciding to delay this episode for news due to the World Cup. It was bad enough that RTE 2 did that with the Lost episode “Two For The Road” but for the Beeb to do it with this would’ve annoyed me to no end.

The Doctor: “How long are you going to stay with me?”
Rose: “Forever.”

I liked that opening shot of Planet Earth. It was a great way of opening up this episode.

Peggy Mitchell (to Den Watt’s ghost): “The only spirits I’m serving in here are gin, vodka and whiskey, so get out.”

Jackie (re “ghosts”): “Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”
The Doctor: “I think it’s horrifying.”

Obviously learning something from “Bad Wolf”, the parodies this year got less screen time and therefore were less annoying (even the EastEnders skit), although short of gagging him, one Cyberman made sure that Alistair Appleton won’t be talking for a while.

Jackie (to Rose): “She’s not even Rose Tyler anymore, she’s not even human.”

Rose (re Torchwood): “They’ve got guns.”
The Doctor: “And I haven’t which makes me the better person.”

I noticed that Rajesh is played by another ex-EastEnders. If it’s not a former Corrie actor, then someone from EastEnders. What are people from Hollyoaks and Emmerdale not good enough for Doctor Who? Just kidding!

Jackie (to Yvonne): “I’m 40.”
The Doctor: “Deluded.”

The Doctor: “If I’m the enemy, does that mean I’m a prisoner?”
Yvonne: “Oh yes but we’ll make you perfectly comfortable.”

Some Torchwood stuff: Yvonne mentioned the Queen Victoria origins as well as responsibility in gunning down the Sycorax ship. All the weapons they have are not for personal use and everyone is on a first name basis as part of company moral and professionalism. Oh and Jackie pointed out about Torchwood being Canary Warf as well.

Yvonne (to The Doctor): “They did warn us about you. They did say you liked to make a mess.”

Yvonne (re Rose): “She one of yours?”
The Doctor: “Never seen her before in my life.”

Did the 3D glasses that The Doctor wore a few times really have a point?

Rose: “The Doctor said that was impossible.”
Mickey: “Not the first time he’s been wrong.”

The Doctor’s name for the sphere included the “howling”, “the end” and “hell”.

Jackie: “What are they?”
Cyberman: “We are the Cybermen.”

The trailer for “Doomsday” was placed after the end credits to this episode. I think I would’ve preferred not seeing it like with “Rise Of The Cybermen”/ “The Age Of Steel” earlier on in the season.

Rose: “Oh my God.”
Dalek: “Exterminate.”

Standout music: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was used again when Gareth was being converted.

Well despite a rather incredibly fast pace and no Captain Jack (I really do want him now given everything else we got here), “Army Of Ghosts” is an explosive prelude. With all the returns from old friends and enemies and the introduction to Torchwood, combined with a genuine sense of terror and thrills, we are in for hell of an ending that will have all discussions boards ranting for weeks on end. Remember that thing I said about blood on the walls? In seven days you’ll understand why.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

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