In a Victorian funeral parlour in Wales…
Sue: The BBC are really good when it comes to period dramas like this. I feel like I’m in safe hands this week.
Suddenly, a corpse wraps its gnarled fingers around an undertaker’s neck, and Sue nearly jumps out of her skin.
Sue: Not for kids! Bloody hell! That gave me a fright! Jesus!
The corpse smashes its coffin to bits.
Sue: I remember this now. It’s all coming back to me. It’s really good, this. It’s proper Doctor Who – set in the past and full of scary things. Brilliant.
The writer’s name appears in the title sequence.
Sue: I bloody love Mark Gatiss. He’s a local lad, you know. From Darlo, I think, although I don’t hold that against him.
To quote the Uncyclopedia: “Darlington has a long-standing rivalry with Hartlepool, and it has been suggested that this rivalry stems from jealously at the superior amenities available to the people of Hartlepool, such as their town centre nuclear reactor and their world-famous monkey sanctuary.” Which is pretty funny if you live in Darlington or Hartlepool. Anyway…
Sue: I love the sound of the TARDIS flying through the space-time whatsit.
Me: The vortex.
Sue: Yeah, that. It looks bloody brilliant, too.
Meanwhile, on Earth.
Me: Who’s that, Sue?
The penny drops as soon as the actress opens her mouth.
Sue: Oh, it’s her! It’s whatsherface from Torchwood.
Me: Gwen Cooper. Or in this case, Gwyneth.
Sue: So she’s related to her?
Me: According to RTD, Gwen isn’t related to Gwyneth. She just looks like her because of spatial genetic multiplicity. Something like that, anyway.
Sue: What a load of bollocks. Of course they’re ****ing related! Don’t be so stupid, Neil.
Meanwhile, Rose is gazing dreamily into the Doctor’s eyes.
Sue: I’d forgotten how much these two flirted with each other. I thought she was saving herself for David Tennant. Hey, did she just slap the Doctor on his arse?
Me: No, she didn’t. It’s your filthy imagination.
The Doctor gives Rose the directions to the TARDIS wardrobe so she can change into something more appropriate. And no, I don’t mean some nice lingerie.
Sue: “Past the bins!” Brilliant.
It appears that Gwyneth has psychic abilities.
Sue: Can Gwen from Torchwood do that as well?
Me: THEY AREN’T RELATED!
Meanwhile, Charles Dickens is about to take to the stage.
Sue: He’s famous.
Me: Yeah, he’s Charles Dickens.
Sue: I meant the person playing him, stupid.
Me: Simon Callow was an expert on Charles Dickens. It was a bit of a coup when they cast him, especially as he didn’t know whether the new series would be laughed off the screen or not.
Sue: He must have liked the script. You can’t blame him. It’s by Mark Gatiss. From Darlington.
Unlike Rose, the Doctor hasn’t bothered to change into something more uncomfortable.
Sue: The lazy bastard. He could have made an effort. Still, at least he blends in. It’s not like he waltzed out of the TARDIS dressed as a circus clown. Because, you know, that would be stupid.
Unfortunately, the Doctor hasn’t brought Rose to Naples in 1860 like he promised. They’ve actually arrived in Cardiff in 1869.
Sue: He still can’t bloody steer the TARDIS! Un-****ing-believable! I thought he had complete control over it now. When the **** did that happen?
At least Dickens’ book recital is going down well.
Sue: This is the complete opposite of what happened to you in Guernsey, Neil.
Me: I’ve told you not to mention the G-word, Sue. I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
Sue: So do I. You were ****ing terrible.
A phantom appears in the theatre and the crowd go wild. Well, some of them do, anyway.
Sue: She looks like she’s running for an ice cream during the interval. She doesn’t seemed that arsed about the ghost. She just wants a choc ice.
Me: You pays your money and you takes your choc ice. Sorry.
Outside the theatre, Rose witnesses a corpse being packed into the back of a hearse. Gwyneth tells Rose not to worry about it. “Me and the Master will deal with it,” she says.
Sue: Is it –
Gwyneth’s master is the undertaker Mr Sneed. But before they can be properly introduced, Sneed attacks Rose with a fistful of chloroform.
Sue: So is he Jack the Ripper then?
The Doctor gives chase in a hansom cab. As luck would have it, the cab belongs to Charles Dickens and the Doctor is his biggest fan.
Sue: This definitely didn’t happen to you in Guernsey, Neil.
This isn’t to say that Charles is immune from criticism. At one point the Doctor tells the author: “I’ve got to say, that American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit, what’s that about? Was that just padding or what? I mean, it’s rubbish, that bit.”
Me: You could read that as a sly dig towards the Paul McGann TV Movie.
Sue: Don’t be ridiculous. Paul McGann was brilliant. You don’t half talk some shite, Neil. It’s probably a dig at the idiots who don’t like it.
When Rose regains consciousness, she finds herself in a room full of dead people. Dead people who are slowly coming back to life.
Sue: Ooh, this is pretty scary. A bit too scary, probably.
When Dickens tries to gain entry to the funeral parlour, Gwyneth tells him that the master is indisposed.
Sue: Are you sure he isn’t the –
Me: NO HE ISN’T! And she isn’t related to Gwen Cooper, either. Okay? Have you got that? Are we on the same page now? Jesus H Bidmead.
“What the Shakespeare!” declares Dickens. Sue rolls her eyes and silently mouths the word ‘Darlington’ at me. And then Rose asks one of the reanimated corpses if they’re feeling all right.
Sue: Has she never seen a zombie film before?! Shoot them in the ****ing head!
The Doctor comes to the rescue.
Sue: I love how he kicks the door in. None of that messing around with his sonic – he just kicked it in! Ha!
Rose accuses Sneed of copping a feel while she was unconscious.
Sue: That’s a bit close to the bone. In fact, this episode feels like it should be on after the watershed. I’m surprised they got away with this. It’s a bit full-on, don’t you think?
Sneed’s stiffs are getting restless and he can’t keep them down.
Sue: Yeah, he’d know all about that. The dirty old man.
Sneed’s funeral parlour is built on a rift in time and space.
Me: What happens here later, Sue? Do you remember?
Sue: Yeah, it’s the crack in Amy’s bedroom.
Me: Try again. We’re in Cardiff. What happens in Cardiff?
Sue: Not a lot. They make Doctor Who there.
Me: And what else did they… Oh I can’t be bothered with this… Torchwood!
Sue: Oh yeah… So they knock his house down and build Torchwood on it later? Was that planned in advance? Is that why Gwen and Gwyneth are related to each other?
The Doctor figures out that the aliens are made from gas. And since dead bodies produce a lot of gas.
Sue: Fart monsters. Lovely.
Me: Don’t worry, Sue. It’s not as if RTD will make a habit of it.
Thankfully, Sue is too spellbound by Simon Callow to worry about farting monsters.
Sue: He’s amazing, isn’t he? You can tell that he’s really into this, and he isn’t just hamming it up because it’s Doctor Who. It’s proper serious drama, this.
Gwyneth and Rose get to know each other in the pantry.
Sue: The script is excellent. This is such a lovely scene.
However, when Gwyneth peers into Rose’s one-track mind she sees… The Big Bad Wolf!
Sue: Ooh, that becomes very important later on. You see, Neil, it’s all planned out. Everything connects at the end. Russell is a genius.
The Doctor organises a séance so he can communicate with the aliens on the other side of the rift.
Sue: I bet the kids must have loved this. They’ll be getting the Ouija board out next. Actually, this scene makes me feel uncomfortable. My mam always used to warn us about messing with spiritual things like this. She said we’d go to hell if we meddled with things “on the other side”. I feel guilty just watching this.
The aliens, known as the Gelth, are refugees from the Time War.
Sue: The Time War still happened though, didn’t it? It’s just how it finished that the Doctor’s got wrong. Am I right? I hope I’m right.
Me: Yes, the Time War happened, Sue. Billions of sentient lifeforms still died.
Sue: Thank God for that. Otherwise this wouldn’t make sense.
The Gelth want to cross over to our universe using Earth’s dead. The Doctor agrees without hesitation, but Rose has some reservations to put it mildly. I pause the DVD.
Me: Who’s right, Sue? The Doctor or Rose?
Sue: It’s complicated. Of course they should help the aliens. And the Doctor probably feels bad about it because he thinks he’s responsible, somehow. So there’s that. I see where Rose is coming from, though. You wouldn’t want to bump into your dead mum when you were out doing the shopping, especially if she didn’t know who you were and stank to high heaven. No, they’d have to take them somewhere else, where they couldn’t bump into their relatives all the time. Then it might work. It’s an interesting moral dilemma. The story is great; it really makes you think.
Gwyneth agrees to create a psychic bridge across the rift, so the Gelth can enter our universe.
Sue: Awww, I do love a happy ending.
Rose thinks it’s too dangerous.
Sue: Gwyneth’ll be okay. She has to be okay. She has to give birth to Gwen’s grandmother at some point.
Oh no! The Gelth are actually EVIL!
Sue: Oh ****. This can’t be good.
I pause the DVD.
Me: So the refugees are evil, Sue. I dunno, coming over here, stealing all our corpses.
And then I tell her about Lawrence Miles’ infamous blog post, which basically accused Mark Gatiss of being “a bit UKIP” because the aliens turned out to be the bad guys, after all.
Sue: Yeah, like that never happens in Doctor Who. What a load of bollocks. I know I get on my high horse from time to time, but there’s no way Mark Gatiss thinks like that, even if he does come from Darlington. He’s just writing old-fashioned Doctor Who. For ****’s sake. Get a grip.
The Doctor doesn’t want to die in Cardiff.
Sue: This is just funny enough not to be too scary for the kids. But at the end of the day, it’s still a zombie film at tea time.
Gwyneth offers to sacrifice herself if it means repelling the Gelth.
Sue: Hang on… If she dies, she must have had a baby illegitimately at some point. It’s the only way Gwen from Torchwood will be born in the future. Unless she has a twin sister.
Me: For the last time, Sue, it’s spatial multiplicity genetics!
The Doctor doesn’t stand in Gwyneth’s way.
Sue: Bloody hell. He didn’t even try to talk her out of it. Rose will go mental when she finds out.
The Doctor didn’t have a choice; Gwyneth was already dead.
Sue: He’s lying. He’s just saying that to make Rose – and himself – feel better. He completely ****ed that up!
Dickens escorts Rose and the Doctor back to the TARDIS.
Sue: He has to let Dickens have a quick peek inside. He has to!
The Doctor assures Charles that his books will be remembered for ever.
Sue: Awww. How sweet is this? And I bet your talk in Guernsey will be remembered for ever too, love. Just not for the reason you’d like.
Sadly, Dickens will die in less than a year.
Sue: Great! Thanks for that!
Dickens watches the TARDIS dematerialise.
Sue: Is this what kills him? Is it the shock of seeing the TARDIS disappear? Does he have a stroke?
Sue: I bloody loved that. It was a bit grim for the kiddies – the zombies were bloody terrifying – but it looked amazing, and the cast were fantastic, too. What’s not to love?
Sue: And next week looks even better!