Friday, September 9, 2011

"Doomsday"

Doctor Who (2005) - Series Two
Airdate: July 8, 2006
David Tennant, Billie Piper
Written by Russell T Davies
Produced by Phil Collinson
Directed by Graeme Harper

I don't have any special insights into the mind of Russell T Davies. I haven't even read his book, "The Writer's Tale". But when I watch an episode like this, I get the distinct impression that he starts with the ending and works backwards. And by "the ending", I don't mean the resolution of the plot. That's important. In this case, the ending is Rose, alive and well but trapped in the parallel universe along with Pete, Jackie, and Mickey. This episode, on one level, is just a sequence of events designed to get us there.

But let's back up. Rose doesn't "die". All of that foreshadowing turns out to have been a bit of a wind-up. Well, sure. That's not a shock. But wait, what about that voice-over narration that opened the previous episode and was repeated for this episode where Rose herself tells us that this is the story of how she died? Well, you see, you can't hear air-quotes. This is the story of how Rose "died", according to official records compiled in the aftermath of this episode's events. Is that a cheat, or at least a little on the cheap side? Arguably. It's not an argument that particularly interests me, however.

Frankly, I don't think it matters much at all if Davies was playing fair with his use of foreshadowing. What matters is that Rose is in one universe and the Doctor is in another. What matters is that heartbreaking scene on the beach of Bad Wolf Bay (and Piper's extraordinary performance). What matters is what these events mean to these characters.

But that's not the entire episode, of course. That's just the last scene (not counting a nice little surprise tease for the 2006 Christmas special, introducing Catherine Tate as "the bride"). There's a whole episode leading up to that last scene too, and it's pretty good. There are some plot problems, particularly relating to how Davies manages to get everyone on the right side of the divide between universes, but there's also lots of wonderful bits that I adore. To be honest, I remember rolling my eyes a bit at the prospect of a Dalek v. Cyberman showdown because it's such a cliche. But I love the spin that Davies put on it. Not only are five million Cybermen no match for just four Daleks, but the Daleks are complete dicks about it too. They don't need to be dicks, but they are, and that's great!

But I suppose since this is Rose's last episode, we should say something about Rose. I never appreciated it enough before, but this really is a great episode for her. In yesterday's episode, Jackie made the point that her time with the Doctor was changing her, and in this episode we see just how true that is. Rose has never been short on bravery, but she's no Doctor. Remember her desperate effort to deal with the Sycorax on her own in "The Christmas Invasion"? First she tried to hide in the TARDIS, and when that didn't work... well, she tried her best, didn't she? But she acquits herself very well here. Granted, it's a bit annoying that she goes so far as to ape the Doctor's mannerisms, but on the substantive side of things, she's got her shit together. Of course, Rose has always been more than just a screaming female for the Doctor to rescue. But here she faces up to the Daleks, taunts them over the destruction of the Emperor, and manages to keep herself and Mickey alive. And, though I rarely see it mentioned, if she hadn't insisted on staying behind to help the Doctor close the gap between universes, the Doctor would surely have been pulled into the Void.

As the first companion of the new series, Rose was a very tough act to follow. Years later, she's still the one that new companions inevitably get judged against. Davies even proposed a spin-off for her, which came very close to getting made. In fact, it would have been made if Davies hadn't decided that two spin-offs ("Torchwood" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures") were enough. Piper did fine for herself anyway after leaving "Doctor Who", landing the lead role in "Secret Diary of a Call Girl", which ran for several years. And she deserves enormous credit for the role she played in making "Doctor Who" such a huge success.

5 comments:

xipuloxx said...

"I remember rolling my eyes a bit at the prospect of a Dalek v. Cyberman showdown because it's such a cliche. But I love the spin that Davies put on it."

Bizarrely, my reaction was just the opposite! I loved the idea, but disliked the execution. Specifically, I disliked that this "battle royale" was so one-sided. The cybermen could see their guns weren't affecting the daleks; why didn't they try a different tactic? It makes them look stupid, and therefore far less scary.

Still, I do like your review! This is an episode I've found hard to like for a number of reasons, and your positivity makes me want to watch it again and try to see it from a different perspective. Thanks, Drew! :)

Drew Vogel said...

No, thank you, xipuloxx! I'm always happy to get other perspectives. Feel free to pop back after you watch again and give us your latest thoughts. My views often change with time, and I enjoyed Series Two overall much more than I expected to when I began preparing these posts.

Ben Willans said...

I for one loved the fact the Cybermen got their assess handed to them. Never much liked them and there's no way I would have bought the modern time-war daleks loosing out to the most primitive model of Cybermen seen since The Tenth Planet.

My abiding memory of this episode is seeing it at my aunt and uncles house. I was there with them and my dad. They have all given me plenty of stick about my love for Doctor Who (since I became a fan with the 30 anniversary celebrations). So to watch them - (1) being totally psyched about the battles and flying daleks but trying to appear not to be so and (2) going very quiet and basically trying not to blub during Bad Wolf bay - was fantastic, especially since I had even by that stage sussed they would bring Rose back in season 4.

jsd said...

You should really read The Writer's Tale. I thought it was incredibly fascinating. I tore through the whole thing in a few days, and this was the super-extra-long 2nd edition!

It seems to me from reading it that RTD doesn't start at the beginning OR the end... he just comes up with dramatic moments and then figures out how to work them into a script.

AoG/Doomsday was pretty awesome. Too bad they destroyed its legacy later on, but I guess that's a comment for another post.

xipuloxx said...

@Ben: No-one's saying the daleks should have lost to the cybermen. I'm saying that by making it totally one-sided and having the cybermen not even try a different tactic when their guns clearly weren't working, it wasn't an exciting confrontation, it was the slaughter of one villain by another.

Which isn't really what I expect when I hear "Cybermen vs. Daleks!"