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Doctor Who - Army of Ghosts

Why wasn't there a whole episode built around this scene?
Possibly the most gorgeous image of series two.

I've thought long and hard about this one. For obvious reasons - which will be gone into in immensely spoilery fashion below - I was a gibbering wreck at the end of this episode, as Russell T Davies finally made happen the thing that just about every Doctor Who fan in their right mind has wanted to happen for about forty years. My immediate instinct was that this was an utterly incredible episode, and that it was easily deserving of the first five-star review that NTS has given out for the second series.

And then I stopped for a moment. Was I just being blinded by those staggeringly good - and almost unbearably tense - last ten minutes? Were they a cunning act of smoke and mirrors, to mask a disappointing episode - nay, a disappointing series? Certainly, this episode's counterpart last year, Bad Wolf, benefited from a similarly wonderful closing act, leading to fonder reactions than such an admittedly good, but not brilliant, episode would have otherwise garnered. So I thought for a bit about everything that had happened in the preceding thirty-five minutes or so. And then I watched the episode again. And I thought, fuck it. This was brilliant. As an all-round piece of TV, I'm not sure it quite matched up to The Girl In The Fireplace as the best of series two, but as an insanely gripping piece of dramatic sci-fi guff, it was about as good as it gets.

Second Opinion

As someone who managed to lose interest in this season of Dr. Who about the same time the main characters turned into giggling idiots who spent the majority of each episode fawning over one another, the stakes for this episode were incredibly high. After a series-full of episodes that by all accounts ranged between forgivably and not-so-forgivably flawed, it was nice to see something that was a damn near perfect slice of Dr. Who.

Between Torchwood, Cybermen, Daleks and best of all, the return of Mickey, there was barely a moment in this episode that didn't leave my head spinning. What started out as a slightly tedious-looking paranormal thriller suddenly metamorphosised into one of the best episodes of the revival. The mysteries of the voidship, the paranoia about the ghosts, the truth about what was happening - reveal after reveal after reveal all leading up to not one, but TWO beautiful twists that as much as they affected me, probably left more hardcore Dr. Who fans an incoherant wreck. Every character, from the Torchwood crew to Jackie to The Doctor came across in full force. This was intense and gripping television that exceeded the limitations of its budget in a way that almost forgives some of the dodgier special effects used this year.

One of Dr. Who's more endearing traits is that it doesn't take itself too seriously - the repeated use of the 3D glasses was hilarious every time, as was The Doctor's repeated confusion about how to react to Torchwood's claims that they had captured him. One of Davies' less endearing traits, however, is his willingness to pepper the series with pop culture references that feel painful enough now, so god knows what they'll be like in 10 years. The Eastenders moment was cute, but the Ghostbusters reference was overacted, even for as flamboyant an actor as Tennant, and the score at that point was ...misjudged.

Small flaws, though, for an episode that's got me coming back next week for certain. Given the BBC's repeated tendency to spoil its own plot twists, I'm half-surprised the Dalek reveal didn't get plastered all over the TV pages a few weeks ago. As it was, after an already brilliant moment ("This isn't an invasion ... it's a victory") I was hooked even before I saw those Daleks. It's 5-star television from me, that's a given, and if I've learnt anything from TV, it's that a situation is never so bad it can't get much, much worse. Roll on the finalé.

God knows this second series has flattered to deceive at times, but this episode was a classic example of hitting almost every single note absolutely dead-on, right from the word go. For starters, how about that pre-credits sequence? For me, that was the best opening lead-in in twenty-six episodes so far - with a shiver-inducing flashback to Eccleston, an incredibly ominous but perfectly-judged voiceover from Rose, and - to boot - a breathtaking shot of a beautiful alien landscape (with what appeared to be giant underwater creatures, swimming in the air) that simply made you wonder why we didn't get a whole episode set there instead of, say, New Earth.

The first act of the episode was then littered with comedic moments that, by and large, worked pretty well. Glossing quickly over the Ghostbusters bit - I didn't hate it the way some did, but it could have done without the music - the "channel hopping" sequence was an absolute joy. As series two has gone on, the light-heartedness has annoyed many, but it's clear that it's been building to a sense of overconfidence that will surely come to have serious repercussions; and in this instance, it was clearly going to be the last such segment before things really kicked off. As it was, anyway, the Eastenders bit was bloody hilarious - far, far funnier than it had any right to be, in fact.

Once the action shifted to Torchwood, it was the old rather than the new elements that proved to be most effective - although Tracy-Ann Oberman played the calculating, "I'm in control" uber-bitch with clear relish - with the return of Mickey and the growing menace of the Cybermen the real highlights. In the case of the former, it's sure indication of how far he's come since being the annoying twonk who got eaten by a wheelie bin in Rose that his return was such a joyous and significant moment. No-one could say they didn't predict it, but the quick reveal and "Sssh!" gesture were neatly handled. Mickey has shown real growth as the series has gone on - arguably more than Rose has - and his metamorphosis into an Ace Rimmer-style heroic version of his previously cowardly self somehow hasn't felt awkward at all.

As for the Cybermen, they were everything that they should be - and everything that they weren't in their earlier, underwhelming two-parter. I commented around the time of Rise... that we could have done with plenty more sequences of Cybermen invading ordinary streets and overwhelming ordinary folk, and we got them by the bucketload here (with more resonance, too, since they were now in "our" world). The moment where one Cyb burst through a suburban front door, only for the fleeing family to be confronted by another at the top of the stairs, is destined to go down as an all-time classic "That bit gave me nightmares as a kid!" moment for future generations. The reference to Tomb of the Cybermen, meanwhile, as the metal monsters ripped through plastic sheets, was a welcome yet subtly-done touch. I can't have been alone in figuring out the true nature of the ghosts - from the Doctor's "a footprint doesn't look like a boot" to the evidence of handlebars atop the shadowy heads - but given later revelations, this didn't feel like it was something that necessarily needed to be a huge surprise.

For the final fifteen minutes or so, the tension just didn't let up for a second. With the Cybermen on full-on terrifying form, the stage was set for yet another classic "How will they get out of this one?" invasion sequence (with even the Doctor, for apparently the first time, taking an utterly defeatist attitude). But there was, of course, one final sting in the tail. Personally, I wasn't sure if I ever believed the rumours that the Daleks might show up in the finale - even that gun effect last week seemed like the ultimate red herring. And indeed, with the growing Cyber-menace, it became easy to simply forget about what might be in the sphere, or at least simply assume it was the great Cyber-weapon. Until it became apparent that whatever was in there had to trump everything we'd seen before. And there's only one thing that can one-up the Cybermen. Still, though, I couldn't quite bring myself to believe it until that familiar sound-effect and shape began to emerge... and it's at that point that words simply can't do justice to the swell of emotion felt. Truly, this will go down as one of the all-time great episode endings, one of the finest ever cliffhangers - not just in the history of Doctor Who, but in the history of television itself. I feel for those who had it spoiled beforehand, I really do. Special kudos must also go to the often-lambasted Murray Gold, incidentally, for spending the second half of the episode turning in, for my money, the best piece of score that either series has seen to date. The building menace of the pounding Cybermen theme helped to ratchet up the tension still further, and the segue into the choral Dalek theme from last year at the crucial revelatory moment was spot on.

The best ending in the history of ever. Ever.

Quibbles, then? Well, not everything was perfect. I was a little perplexed by how small and cloying the main Torchwood office was, particularly given the over-the-top nature of Yvonne's character. It felt like a small set without much beyond it. In addition, after how great she was in Love & Monsters, it was disappointing to see Camille Coduri veering back towards "annoying Jackie" mode. But these were minor issues, minor enough that I didn't feel they detracted from my enjoyment of an immensely good adventure.

And then, of course, there was the "next time" trailer. Usually, such a thing shouldn't be worthy of discussion in an episode review, but damned if it didn't leave us enough to discuss! What's in the "genesis ark" (I'd say it couldn't possibly be Davros, but after this, what can you take for granted?) What is going to happen to Rose? And what's this talk of an "alliance"? Since when have the Daleks ever bothered allying themselves with "inferior" races? This is, surely, something that no officially-sanctioned Who story ("canon" or otherwise) has ever done before - Daleks. Versus. Cybermen. We may only be getting a handful of Daleks, and a battle in a single building (rather than the millions, and the war in space, of last year), but this could still be the finale to trump all finales. A promise worth the price of admission alone, irrespective of whether or not it came after forty-five minutes of bliss. Which, happily, it did.

5 Stars

About this entry


I increasingly have no idea what anybody else in fandom is on about.

It was OK. I was really hoping there wasn't a Dalek in that sphere. There was a Dalek in that sphere.

I really, really object to this parallel universe crap. He's got a TIME MACHINE, why do we need these weak hand-waving alternate reality explanations? If you want to bring Pete Tyler back (and why-oh-why-oh-why-) then all it needs is "Looks like some bloody monk has been meddling with the timeline" Sting! Diggerdydum, diggerdydum etc etc.

Really, am I the only one with any ideas ?

By Andy M
July 05, 2006 @ 12:21 am

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If you want to bring Pete Tyler back (and why-oh-why-oh-why-) then all it needs is "Looks like some bloody monk has been meddling with the timeline" Sting! Diggerdydum, diggerdydum etc etc.

Really, am I the only one with any ideas ?

Yes, what a great idea, take away and interesting new as[pect of the Who mythos and replace it with a shit back-reference that only a handfull of people will get.

As for the episode, I thought it was utterly wonderful. It was helped immensely by the shock of not actually knowing the final twist (I didn;t even work it out before hand, as I is fick).

By Cappsy
July 05, 2006 @ 12:38 am

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I have never seen this show. Is it good?

By Philip J Reed, VSc
July 05, 2006 @ 12:47 am

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It's better than good, it's dangerous!

By Cappsy
July 05, 2006 @ 12:51 am

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I increasingly have no idea what anybody else in fandom is on about.

Clearly you're just a Grumpy Old Man, Muffin. You're Old Tommy in Early Doors, you are ;-)

Actually, while I utterly loved this, I'm amazed by the reaction it's had, even on Outpost Gallifrey. But you just can't second-guess Who fandom, I s'pose.

By Seb Patrick
July 05, 2006 @ 12:56 am

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> It's better than good, it's dangerous!

Well then, let's get d...

No, I can't do it. I just can't...

By Somebody
July 05, 2006 @ 1:11 am

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To be fair, I don't consider myself particularly a Who fan, I'm far less forgiving of it than most. I only watched the first series because I think Eccleston is great, and before that all my Dr. Who knowledge came from a board game and the gay Daleks of TV Offal, but I still loved this episode because it was just great television all round.

As a Sci-Fi fan, too, I don't have any problem with alternate dimensions. What does surprise me is that from everyone's reactions, it seems like they've never shown up in Who before...

By James H
July 05, 2006 @ 1:16 am

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No way did this episode deserve 5 stars! Sure, the Cybermen appearing everywhere and then the Daleks coming out of the sphere were friggin' sweet moments, but most of the episode was tedious (the Cybes converting employees who happen to wander into the worksite) and full of cheese like the red face-inducing applauding of the Doctor, Canary Wharf really being Torchwood Tower, the all of 3 people who seem to work for Torchwood despite it being a massive orginization. I could go on (Tennant doing a Scooby-Doo impression in the Ghostbusters part) but I won't because I'm being a miserable bastard over what WAS a good episode overall.

Doomsday, on the other hand, looks to be fucking incredible. Rose will NOT die though. There's no way they would do a voiceover from beyond the grave thing. She'll just be trapped in the alt-universe with alt-Pete and Jackie (if she survives). This is how they'll get around the Doctor never bumping into Rose again, and she would never leave him unless she was forced.

By performingmonkey
July 05, 2006 @ 1:37 am

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Yes, I think there's this false impression that hardcore fans love New Who, and nobody else can see what the fuss is about. Wheras in fact there is a broad spectrum of opinion across hardcore fandom, and indeed everywhere else.

FWIW, i loved it. There was the odd problem (the actual reveal of the Daleks was pretty shoddy CGI, sadly) - but overall, fantastic. I even loved the Ghostbusters bit, which it seems a lot of people hated, but what can I say - I just love silly jokes.

By John Hoare
July 05, 2006 @ 8:56 am

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Got to admit I don't care about new fans or old fans moaning at each other.

I like it, fuckin' bollocks to every else :D

By Matt
July 05, 2006 @ 10:36 am

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> Clearly you're just a Grumpy Old Man

It's true - I hate fun.

Yeah, OK, it was a good episode, but I'm still not happy about this 'Frankenstein Meets The Wolf-Man' route they're going down by throwing these two together.

And I was joking about the monk. But not about parallel universes. And it's not new - it was done before in Inferno and (kind of) the E-Space trilogy, but then it, y'know, had a point. A point beyond trying to give some bloke you got on with when making the first series another job.

By Andy M
July 05, 2006 @ 11:07 am

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Just think, if Simon Pegg had played Pete Tyler (as was originally planned), we probably wouldn't have got the alternate Earth, as he probably wouldn't have been available for this series thanks to Hot Fuzz...

By Seb
July 05, 2006 @ 11:22 am

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Hmm. A pretty average episode redeemed by a great final ten minutes. Really don't like the pop culture references (The Trisha thing was a shameless steal from SOTD, which in turn was a shameless steal from Austin Powers: TSWSM and so on..). The Ghostbusters thing was embarrassing, but atleast it wasn't quite as cheesy as the Big Brother and Weakest Link stuff from last year.

The supporting cast were as reliably awful as ever (did we really need so many Eastenders actors?) and I'm alarmed that one of them will be back next year as a regular.

Anyway, probably a stronger part one in comparison to last year's final two eps. The Dalek ending was a great shock. However, I wasn't expecting it because I assumed that they were resting them this year. Certainly, bringing them back is a little desperate and rather undermines the Cybermen. Ditto for Micky being back so soon after his heartfelt goodbye.

That said, I'm looking forward to Part2.

By Pete Martin
July 05, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

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> and I'm alarmed that one of them will be back next year as a regular.

Give her a chance. They cast her for a reason. Also about the Daleks undermining the Cybermen, I don't think many people will mind because it's the alt-Cybermen that are gonna get their ass kicked. We'll probably see real world Cybes in a couple of years or so, more badass than ever.

By performingmonkey
July 05, 2006 @ 5:01 pm

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4/5. It was a good episode. A few niggles maybe with the execution of the ghosts. Before the episode the idea of relatives being brought back to life seemed very scary and weird and so on but all we got where transparent humanoid CGI things. Which was fine really but life-like recreations of people would have been more effective perhaps.

As with bringing back the Daleks... I didn't mind. If anything it's a good moneysaver what with the Dalek's redesign already taken place which can be re-used here. It left me really excited at the end.

And nah, I don't think Billie is gonna die. Not really.

By Rad
July 05, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

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Which was fine really but life-like recreations of people would have been more effective perhaps.

It might have been more effective... but, erm, it would also have defeated the entire premise of the episode, like.

By Seb
July 05, 2006 @ 5:38 pm

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The story could clearly have been rejigged here and there to allow that to happen, for some representation of actual people to happen whether it work along the same lines of psychic paper creating that impression and Rose, the Doctor and a select member of the Torchwood folk not being able to see it blah blah it doesn't matter. I'm sure RTD would be able to find some reason to do it. But really I never found this a big problem, I felt it was fine, I did say so. It worked well enough for the episode. The 'very good, not perfect' rating of 4 was more a general feeling I had, even though that's how it appears in my post, I didn't mean to give the impression I subtracted one star for the ghosts.

By Rad
July 05, 2006 @ 10:11 pm

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Personally, I think people would be more freaked out at the prospect of ghosts of the dead appearing than the Cybermen themselves. Russell was really pushing it in regards to people accepting the ghosts. But it reminded me of The Second Coming so I don't care.

By performingmonkey
July 06, 2006 @ 1:46 am

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Apropos of nothing: German Dalek!

See, that's what happens when you don't put money or talented people into a dubbing project.

By John Hoare
July 06, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

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That's funny. What the hell made them think helium was a good idea?

By performingmonkey
July 06, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

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