Army of Ghosts / Doomsday
review


Holistic Review: A nice balance between action and character moments, notable largely for its powerful ending and the match-up that fans have been wanting to see since around 1967.


There's really only one place I can begin a review of this two-parter: the magnificence that is Billie Piper. I'm not even sure that it's hit me yet how very much I'm going to miss her. I mean, Rose was never one of my favorite companions, but much like Lis Sladen, Billie was definitely one of my favorite companion actresses. I mean, just look at the way she delivers the very simple line "No, don't!" when Rose tries to persuade Singh not to give himself up to the Daleks — it's a nothingness line, but Billie delivers it extraordinarily well, giving it whole layers of emotion that even RTD probably hadn't thought of. I also love her "Sorry. Hello!" over the vidcom link, which seems to have become a typical great Rose line. It's really impressive the way Rose instantly takes control of the Dalek situation, figuring out exactly what will keep them alive, but remaining defiant and unintimidated even when she thinks she's going to be exterminated. Watch her acting her heart out in the scene in which Jackie and Pete reunite — you can tell how deeply Rose wants them to be together again, willing it to happen as she waits in the background. And, just like always, she cries so convincingly that she gets me going too ("How long have we got?" and "Am I ever gonna see you again?" being only two of her many achingly-sad moments in this story). No doubt about it, Billie is one of the major factors in the success of new Who, and I'm sure all of fandom will be forever grateful to her for helping to resurrect the series so effectively. And I have to say that, even though Billie never got another outfit that I liked quite as well as her cool purple patchwork blouse in New Earth, she has rarely looked prettier than during that cold-looking shot in the teaser.

Although it's distressing to have to say goodbye to Billie so soon — I was really hoping we'd have her for at least half of season three — I have to say that overall, I'm quite satisfied with the manner of her departure. RTD had me really afraid that he actually was going to kill her off, and probably Jackie too. There were so many hints over the past few episodes, and within this one (like Rose ominously telling the Doctor she was going to stay with him "forever"). Not to mention all that in-your-face stuff about "this is the story of the day I died" (which again made me feel slightly reassured), and the several times they made us think that Rose was about to buy the farm (being exterminated by the Daleks, or falling into the Void)... I guess either the Doctor was right and the Beast was lying when it said Rose was going to die in battle, or it was being vague about what it meant by "die", or it was all a massive bluff and RTD was hoping we wouldn't notice. The important thing is, the Beast wasn't literally correct. Had RTD gone ahead with it, it would have been a great heroic death, but I prefer a good happy ending. So, even though it's painful that she's been permanently separated from the Doctor against her will (especially after her freak-outs in The Parting of the Ways and The Satan Pit, not to mention her comments at the end of Fear Her that now make so much sense), I can't find it in me to be totally heartbroken for her, and her farewell isn't quite as tearjerking as I had feared. After all, she's reunited with her family, including a man who's practically identical to her dead father, meaning that for the first time since she was a baby, her family unit is whole again. And, even though it's actually more heartbreaking, I really like that Rose didn't choose to leave the Doctor. She's really such a perfect companion, picking up the Doctor's time-travelling habits in a way that only Sarah before her had, yet being enthusiastic about TARDIS travel in a way that Sarah never was. (And like Sarah, Rose would absolutely have continued travelling with the Doctor if circumstances hadn't made it impossible.) For that alone, I do adore her to bits and I'm so glad that she went out on top, still wanting to stick by the Doctor's side for ever and ever, and perfectly willing to sacrifice her life to save the Earth. What a classy, admirable woman, and what a great role model for the kids. I just hope that she's not feeling unfulfilled in her Torchwood job (which is awfully cool otherwise), and I hope that being together with her whole family gives her a sense of belonging and peace. But knowing Rose, I'm afraid she's being eaten up inside that she's stuck in a completely different universe from her best friend and universe-saving partner. And I guess her being stuck there means that she (a) has no chance for a reappearance in future, and (b) will never get to take Sarah up on her offer of a chat, unless there's a parallel-universe version of Sarah that's travelled with a parallel-universe version of the Doctor... and how strange could that get? In short, Rose was an awesome companion, and Billie was a phenomenal actress, and they'll both be missed.

The villains, of course, are another major element of this two-parter. I was really intrigued by the idea of the sphere and what might be lying inside it. I'd heard an early spoiler that the Cybermen were going to be joining forces with the Gelth, which I believed up until the ghosts looked nothing like the Gelth (which made me doubtful) and then when Rose actually asked the Doctor if they might be involved (at which point I was rendered clueless as to the identity of the Cybermen's partners). I wish I could remember now what possibilities were going through my head, but I certainly wasn't expecting the Daleks. Which is funny, because we saw that Dalek extermination blast in the trailer after Fear Her, and even before the season started, RTD teased us with the idea that we might yet see "a Dalek or two" this season. Still, it took me totally by surprise, and my jaw certainly hit the floor — particularly when I realized that, for the first time, we were actually going to get the Doctor's top two adversaries in the same story. I've never been a massive fan of either the Daleks or the Cybermen, so it wasn't a particularly deep fan-wish of mine, but I can't deny that it's really cool to see it finally happen. Their first meeting is really great ("You have identified as Daleks."), and I think it's super that RTD defies fan expectations by having the Daleks refuse to ally themselves with the Cybermen (which is truer to the Daleks' spirit anyway). Now we finally have the answer to that old "who would win in a fight?" stumper: unquestionably the Daleks, who gun down legions of Cybermen without being in even a small amount of danger themselves. Despite the very cool new Cyber-guns, which I'm very pleased to see have supplanted that questionable electrocution effect from their debut. Much more effective, and much more Cyberman-like. The scene of them marching in unison toward the bridge barricade is iconic; it just feels so right, like something straight out of the original series. And we get a Cyber Leader again. We even get to see a Cyberman slicing through plastic! And say "You will be like us"! And strangling someone!!! Yay! The Cybermen also seem overall more creepy this time; somehow their cyber-conversion process is much scarier when we don't actually see any part of it. Instead, we hear the blades buzzing, we hear the screams, and we can see how much it frightens Yvonne. Very well done. I'm also interested to see that they did bring back the parallel-universe Cybermen, rather than using Cybermen from our universe (as we had been led to believe would be the case). That was a nice move, because it ties the season together quite nicely, and the plot — with all its dimension-hopping goodness — draws together a lot of elements in a way that makes total sense, giving us a nice neat satisfying plot-package with surprisingly few holes. Plus they can still bring back the "original" Cybermen later! Their invasion plan on the whole is really clever; they come in through the back door, completely fail to arouse suspicions, and then boom, instant world takeover. With millions of Daleks also appearing on Earth, it's like The Invasion meets The Dalek Invasion of Earth, with all the intensity of both stories combined (even if their combined menace is taken care of rather quickly). The Cult of Skaro is a really interesting idea, even if they turned out to still just be your average everyday "exterminate everything" Daleks. It's still cool that they have individual names, and distinct voices (bravo, Nick Briggs!). And along with the return of the Cyber Leader, we get a Black Dalek! I love the way that once the Doctor is mentioned, the Daleks visibly back off. As Rose says, "Five million Cybermen, easy. One Doctor? Now you're scared." Writing in an "emergency temporal shift" for the Black Dalek was a brilliant move, since now we're guaranteed at least one more Dalek story down the line. I hope it won't be too soon, but I'll definitely welcome their eventual return.

In addition to saying goodbye to Rose, we also have to say goodbye to her extended family: Jackie, Mickey and Pete. It's kind of strange to think that this new ethos of Doctor Who, that we get to see how a companion's departure affects her home life, is most probably over. Will they really try to do the same thing with Martha? I somehow doubt it; how do you replicate the idea without repeating yourself? (Then again, I'd have said the same thing about Anya in Buffy, and look how that turned out. Great writers can figure out a way to do anything, it seems.) So it's odd to wave goodbye to an entire major plot arc from the show, and it's really difficult to lose such a great group of actors along with our wonderful stalwart companion. I have just thoroughly enjoyed Camille Coduri's Jackie... she's irritating in such an endearing way, and she's a really cool mom who obviously cares so deeply for her daughter. Her first scene, being overjoyed at her reunion with Rose and even snogging the Doctor affectionately, is really charming. Also love her frantic cluelessness when she shrieks "They tried to download me but I ran away!" — she really gets some of the best lines in this story. It's also nice that we get a bit of extra background on Jackie, namely some information about her father. I'm thrilled that the Doctor ultimately was able to keep his promise to Jackie, and not only kept Rose safe, but also reunited them when Rose's time in the TARDIS was over. And how cool is it that she not only gets to travel in the TARDIS for the first time, she also becomes the Doctor's surrogate companion! What a great way to wrap up Jackie's story.

What a delight it was to see Noel Clarke again. You know I'd been hoping for a return Mickey appearance, so when he turned around out of the blue and grinned at Rose, I was just so tickled. Now he's all confident, "defending the Earth", pulling guns on Cybermen and actually hanging back in the middle of a Dalek/Cyberman firefight... this is the same guy who went scrambling to safety behind a garbage dumpster in Aliens of London? It's really quite sweet that, after all their ups and downs, Rose no longer takes him for granted, and can recognize how very much Mickey has changed, and the two of them end up together after all. I really hadn't seen that coming. But as great as it was to see Mickey back, it was even cooler to see Shaun Dingwall back. At one point, I had idly wondered if the return of parallel-universe Cybermen might mean a return of Pete as well, but I hadn't really thought it would happen. I really wish they hadn't spoiled his return in the trailer, because otherwise I would have been totally surprised and blown away by his reappearance. His reunion with Jackie was just superb, both of them clearly carrying deep feelings for one another. Jackie fights it at first, not allowing herself to believe that it could possibly be real, but we can clearly see the moment when she begins to accept it, and the hope that lights up within her. And then Pete takes a step back, and tries to keep a level head about it all... but finally they both just give in, and Jackie lets out a little sob, and they hug, and it's so wonderful. One of my favorite moments of the season, actually. I love seeing happy endings like that, and this one was a long time coming... plus one that we never thought could happen. One episode Jackie is trying to find love again with Elton or one of a dozen other guys (don't you love Mickey's look when she tells Pete he was the only man for her? ha!), the next she gets her heart's wish and the love of her life back. Wonderful.

Tennant gets some great moments in this two parter. I particularly love this Doctor's apparent tendency to force people to do things his way by using reverse psychology on them: here, he switches from demanding that Yvonne stop the ghost shift to plopping meekly into a chair and smiling at her compliantly. And it works! Brilliant. I also love the demonstration he gives to Yvonne on the effects of the ghost shift, shattering her glass wall in a most effective manner. The Doctor's attempts to set Pete up with Jackie ("Her husband died. Good match.") are really sweet. There's also something about his hair when he's sitting in Yvonne's office that I really like... it's wild yet really cool. Love that trademark wonky grin after "Maybe that's all I need.", and his "are you crazy?" laugh when the Daleks demand that he open the Genesis Ark. ("The Doctor will not!") His relationship with Rose is pitched just right here — when Rose finally tearfully admits that she loves him (which isn't necessarily presented as one lover to another, but between two very close friends), his perfect response is a sad smile and "Quite right, too." Even though he didn't get the chance to return the sentiment, Rose undoubtedly knew what he was going to say. And at the end, he shows his true emotions — standing in the console room, alone, with tears falling down his cheeks.

Tracy-Ann Oberman is wonderful as Yvonne, and she looks more than a little like Bonnie Langford (something about the eyes, mainly, I think), so I was immediately biased in her favor. She does a great job of seeming friendly, even sweet and thoughtful, surprisingly warm, competent, patriotic, and occasionally iron-willed and slightly unscrupulous. It's a lovely performance — you know Yvonne is supposed to be the enemy, but she never feels like the enemy, and you can't help but like her. Oberman does a great job of conveying Yvonne's fear during her breathless and queasy synopsis of how the Cybermen "upgrade" people, and her final moments ("I did my duty. Oh God... I did my duty!") are utterly convincing and really chilling. So is her touching reappearance at the end ("You will not pass." and the solitary black tear running down her Cyber-cheek). I'm also tickled that we get to see Freema Agyeman as Adeola, almost a full year before she's due to make her first appearance as Martha (which, I have to say, is nowhere near as cool a companion name as Adeola! sniff!). I quite liked her in Army of Ghosts, and at the time her new-companion position had only been rumored, not confirmed. Adeola, at least, seemed very sweet, and we also know that Freema can do good menacing / creepy (that dispassionate look as she leads her victim to the Cybermen). Plus she gets her first two (unofficial) screams! And she really goes for it! And it's interesting that Freema is going the Lalla Ward route, mere weeks after I assumed that Shirley Henderson would be unable to do the same. (And, almost like Lalla Ward, her non-companion appearance and her official companion appearance are going to be practically back-to-back.) The other actors are good, if unremarkable — I like Raji James' curious and brave Singh, and Andrew Hayden-Smith was good as Jake, although he still didn't really get enough to do to swing me over into the "love him!" camp.

Yet again it's nice to see Graeme Harper behind the camera. Lots of nice shots here: the beautiful alien world with flying animals (would love to see more planets along these lines, but I guess it costs a lot), the aforementioned gorgeous shot of Rose standing on the beach, Jackie framed by the support struts as she sits on a shelf in the TARDIS, and lots of beautiful shots of the countryside as Rose and family trek to Norway.

I think that for the third time this season, Murry Gold has turned in a score that I really can't criticize. It's not my all-time favorite, and it's unusual, but I think I rather like the music that predominates in Army of Ghosts. There's some really sweet music accompanying Rose's great monologue at the beginning. Then there's the wonderful sad theme in Doomsday once Rose and the Doctor have been eternally separated... it's very catchy and emotional, and fits the scenes really well. So, bravo, Murray. More like these three next year, please!

Effects time. The "ghosts" look quite good overall, although the one that walks past Jackie moves a little too fast to look natural, and interestingly, if you look closely, the ghost that Peggy confronts in Eastenders looks like it has handlebars! (so, the "they're all Cybermen!" bit wasn't a complete shock to me.) But no matter what Rose says, they really don't look human. She should know by now that "humanoid shape" and "human" are very different things. The bit of drippy brain matter (or Cyberman nerve bundles, whatever) that comes out along with the earpiece is really nasty and therefore highly effective! Singh's dessicated corpse looks really good, especially the way it flakes off into dust when the Daleks release it. Icky. The anti-Cyberman guns get a great effect when they fire, which contrasts nicely with the Daleks' blue rays and the red orbs of the Cybermen. Very convincing shots of the Daleks gliding through the sky, whether it's just one or millions. I think it's pretty nifty that they even included a few 3-D shots... wonder if anyone ran to dig out their 3-D glasses from The Dimensions in Time? Heh. And a great swirly effect as the breach closes, so basically no effects clunkers here. As is, these days, the norm!

Minor points:

And it's farewell to Billie Piper, not to mention Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke and Shaun Dingwall. If there's ever an opportunity for them to make a return appearance, I'd be over the moon. In the meantime, this is a solid story, pretty well plotted, with a great villain matchup and one of the best cliffhangers yet. It's interesting, the second season has felt more even than the first — although there weren't any stratospheric highs (like Father's Day, in particular), there weren't any real lows either (like Aliens of London). Everything was just solidly entertaining and consistently above average. It's a great track record, and I'll be quite happy for more of the same next season.


Back to Army of Ghosts / Doomsday.

Back to the episode guide.