So we’ve have an episode set in the present and one in the future, so can you guess the style of Episode Three?
Give yourself a coconut if you said the past, because that’s exactly where the Doctor and Rose go next, to 1869 Cardiff for The Unquiet Dead.
Doctor Who – The Unquiet Dead Review: What’s This One About?
While planning to take Rose to Naples in 1860, the Doctor accidentally ends up in Cardiff 1869 at a time where Charles Dickens is doing his “An Audience With…” tour and aliens are living in the gas lamps of an Undertaker’s house.
Not THE Undertaker’s house, even though that would have been a lot cooler.
Thoughts – Now We’re Beginning To Cook With Gas (pardon the pun)
So the first two episodes were really just to set up the premise of the show, and while this one is also used to expose Rose – and through her, the viewer – to travelling in time to Earth’s past, it also stands on its own two legs.
Yes, there’s an element of explanation of how this all works – i.e. that what they do in the past can influence the future – but mainly this is a story that works on it’s own merit.
The Unquiet Dead also properly begins the launch of a couple of important story arcs; plots that run throughout the course of the entire season and beyond. We’ve got the first Bad Wolf reference that is intended to get the audience’s attention, and of course the first mention of the Rift which becomes an important part of Doctor Who and its spinoff show, Torchwood over the next few years.
And I think that RTD deserves a lot of credit for this, because he’s dragging the show- which used to be so disjointed between stories that you’d have companions dying at the end of one episode and then everyone happily reading the paper in an airport departure lounge at the beginning of the next – into the 21st century.
Some people don’t like it – I’m acutely aware that there are plenty of Doctor Who fans who struggled to make the adjustment from “Classic” to “Modern” – but for me, this is a far more well thought style of storytelling.
The Story Itself
As to the self-contained narrative of the Unquiet Dead? It’s good; it’s fun.
We’ve not had a “Historical” that actually involves well-known figures from history for…actually, not since the Colin Baker era and Mark of the Rani. I thought it was going to be more impressively The Highlanders, but sadly not.
Mind you, I’m not entirely sure how many children really knew nor cared who George Stephenson was so maybe my point stands. This might be the last time I get to have a dig at Pip & Jane Baker, but considering they thought everyone knew the story of Solomon, they probably thought children would get really excited about a 19th century civil & mechanical engineer. Oh we’re in better hands now…
Anyway, the point is that involving Charles Dickens – a recognisable character that viewers young and old will know enough about – it lends this story an extra sense of interest and credibility.
Even the Doctor is excited to see him, and I love how his fawning of Dickens appeals to Charles’s vanity to the point where he’s willing to help.
Of course, there are limits to what you can do in the space of 45 minutes, so the storyline with the Gelth is done and dusted fairly quickly, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.
The resolution is also good as it doesn’t really compromise the timeline of Dickens himself, being that the events of this story occur shortly before his death.
So all in all, a decent effort.
- I read that Dr Who Book writer Lawrence Miles came out with a suggestion that it’s anti-Immigration, but people who try to find that level of subtext just so they can have a bitch and a moan really piss me off.
- Even though it’s probably done to explain the concept of Time Travel to idiots, how could Rose possibly think that because she’s from 2005, she can’t die in the past? I mean where does that even begin to make sense? Sure, I can understand why she might say “I know that there weren’t aliens travelling around in dead bodies back in the 1860s”, as that’s a valid point to make, but her other one? Deary me.
- I like how the show right now blends comedy and serious drama. And it’s good comedy too, not the crap that we saw back in Season 22. Little lines that are actually amusing rather than embarrassing. Christopher Eccleston does a great job of this as he’s able to turn on a sixpence between being deadly serious and delightfully quirky. He really is doing a terrific job in the role.
- But then, I think everyone is doing a great job at this stage. There are no poor performances in the acting department whatsoever.
- In my “Classic” Who reviews, I would often compliment a story set in Earth’s past for it’s authentic look. Here, I think it should almost go unsaid. The standards of production are fantastic and the use of location and studio filming is almost never a let-down.
- I like that the Doctor feels a sense of disgust at the prospect of being killed in a cell in a Cardiff basement, considering all the things he’s seen in life. I also note that as far as new viewers would be concerned, it’s not in any way hinted at that he could regenerate, just as Clive never mentioned any of the Doctor’s past selves in his research. That’s good forward thinking writing, so it maximises the impact for when it first happens.
- Clever line alert: Dickens declaring “What in Shakespeare” as opposed to “What the Dickens”.
- Unlike most Classic Who, effort is now being made to establish the bond between Doctor and Companion. I dare say the relationship between the Doctor and Rose is now the strongest one since the almost paternal one between the Third Doctor and Jo Grant (which makes the rumours that they were at it off set in the 70s highly unpalatable).
- I love that the Doctor has a real sense of excitement at the prospect of something bad happening.
- But why was he wanting to go to Naples in 1860 anyway?
- I’m not sure how a frail old woman could break a bloke’s neck with one hand while holding on to his throat, even if she did get extra power from being possessed.
- And the one aspect that made me think “Oh come on”, was at the end where Dickens walks off into a happy Cardiff street on a Christmas Night, rather than walking off while crowds of people stand watching a house burning down in awe and despair.
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #54
Doctor Who – The Unquiet Dead Review: Final Thoughts
So all in all a solid 45 minutes.
I dare say that ranking it as high as #54 might be exaggerating its standard a little bit but it’s still worthy of praise.