By Ross RuedigerDoctor Who Season Two (or Season 28, depending on your anal-retentiveness) has been a string of entertaining highs and lows, in terms of both quality and intensity. It's been a season of returns, renewals and reinventions. We've met Cybermen, a werewolf, clockwork robots, Queen Victoria, Madame du Pompadour, and at the edge of the universe, maybe even Satan himself. We visited a current parallel Earth and also a New Earth in the year 5,000,000,23. There were trips to 1953, 1879, 2012, and the 51st century—a time that led to a tour of 18th century France. Sarah Jane Smith came back to us and Mickey Smith said goodbye. K-9 was blown up and put back together. Jackie Tyler died, but Pete Tyler lived. Throughout the adventures, there were only three constants: the Doctor, his TARDIS and Rose Tyler—at the end of the two-parter "Army of Ghosts" & "Doomsday", we bid a gut-wrenching farewell to one of them.
Rose Tyler: "Planet Earth. This is where I was born. And this is where I died. For the first nineteen years of my life nothing happened. Nothing at all. Not ever. And then I met a man called The Doctor. A man who could change his face. And he took me away from home in his magical machine. He showed me the whole of time and space. I thought it would never end. That's what I thought. But then came the Army of Ghosts, then came Torchwood and the war. And that's when it all ended. This is the story of how I died."
The two-part finale had an awful lot to live up to, especially after Season One's "Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways" big finish, which was nothing short of resolution perfection, and for better or worse, my initial basis for comparison. The Bad Wolf story was embedded into Season One with a nearly flawless weave. Season Two attempted something similar with Torchwood, but the ongoing references dropped into each storyline managed to draw attention to themselves more than create any kind of mystery (then again, I don't suppose they were intended to.)
This season's finale is, from a writing standpoint, the reverse of the first season. "Bad Wolf" was a mildly goofy setup for the ideal "Parting of the Ways". Here, "Army of Ghosts" offers up a fairly intense 45 minutes of intrigue and a cliffhanger to put all others to shame. "Doomsday", however, delves into an awful lot of fanboy silliness on the part of "the war" aspect (more on that later). That said, the dramatic, soulful parts of "Doomsday" work splendidly and I've lost count of how many times I've watched the Doctor and Rose say goodbye to one another on that overcast beach—the name of which translates to Bad Wolf Bay.
"Army of Ghosts" begins with Rose's voiceover monologue above - portents of a bitter end it is, too—set against almost nostalgic imagery. They've even got the smarts to throw in an Eccleston clip! Credits...and then the Doctor and Rose arrive at the Powell Estate for a typical check-in with Jackie. But things aren't typical, and only the time travelers seem to notice. The planet's gone ghost crazy, and as Russell Davies did with "Bad Wolf", we're presented with more of a statement than a reality - but it's a statement worth going for. If such a seemingly harmless phenomena occurred, I'd imagine this is how it might go down. Yeah, the premise is absurd, and Torchwood oughtta have its license to experiment revoked—but once you get past that, the notion of humans basking in a conveniently affirmed afterlife isn't terribly hard to swallow. The Doctor deflating the wind in Jackie's sails is just sooo Doctor Who. No time for fairy tales and romance—shit is going down and he's gotta get to the bottom of it.
And so the Doctor is finally introduced to the ubiquitous Torchwood, and all logic flies out the window. What's funny is that it happens so fast, there really isn't time to think about stuff like the immense amount of alien tech available to these people, and how the government fails to monitor any of it. Yeah, I know I said it was an intense 45 minutes—and it is. This story makes no attempts to play by any rules other than its own. Hop onboard the rollercoaster or admit you're less than 4 feet tall. The Doctor is our main character, and he's gotta be the one to point out how rotten things are in Denmark.
That the ghosts turn out to be Cybermen is probably not a shock; Mickey Smith's (Noel Clarke) sudden reappearance and the cliffhanger Dalek manifestation probably are. I'll never again experience the initial orgasm of the moment the Daleks descended from the void ship, and yet I'll always remember the realization: Daleks vs. Cybermen—every Whovian's wet dream. If an old-school Doctor Who fan tries to tell you otherwise, they are lying. And so, Russell T. Davies, now that you've gotten us here, what do you intend to do with it?
With "Doomsday", Davies does what really is the only sensible thing to do with the oft-imagined Dalek vs. Cybermen scenario: He has fun with it—anything else would be masturbation. And he goes for the only other logical bit of drama: Daleks whooping Cybermen ass. This isn't King Kong vs. Godzilla; there's only one way to play it. Those of you who said the Cybermen were merely second rate Daleks were sorta correct, and "Doomsday" confirms the verdict.
But enough of that. An engaging piece on 'bots battling 'bots isn't in the cards, as it would eventually lead to bagging on the fact that for some inexplicable reason only Daleks are seen being sucked into the void—there's nary a Cyberman in sight. Or perhaps I'd hit on the Deus Ex Machina to end all DEMs—two levers which conveniently fix this most dire of situations? Or how about Pete Tyler appearing in the right place at the right time, so Rose doesn't get sucked into the void? If it seems like I'm on the fence with this 90 minutes of fanwank, that's simply not the case. No matter what happened throughout the story—the low point being Cyber-Yvonne Hartman's oily teardrop—I forgive it: The reunion of Pete and Jackie Tyler and Rose's exit make it all worthwhile. The former was an unexpected bonus; the latter a painful necessity.
The idea that Rose's travels with the Doctor in some bizarre way brought her family back together is potent stuff. The initial scene between Pete and Jackie in the corridor makes my heart swell—and that shortly thereafter they manage to slip back into bickering mode is priceless. Maybe only Doctor Who can do this, and if it asks too much of you to submit to such romance, you might be watching the wrong show.
Rose risks everything and all to be with the Doctor. Maybe life has no meaning without him? Her speech at the beginning of the story has a dual interpretation. Yes, "Rose Tyler" is dead on Earth at the tale's conclusion—but is that the singular truth of "This is the story of how I died"? Rose's future seems sound, and she's a strong enough individual that it likely will be...but her feelings for the Doctor are of such intensity that she'll always have a hole in the center of her being. Rose may be "the defender of the universe", but a longing will accompany her until her last breath. Nothing she experiences will equal or even come close to what she had with the Doctor. Echoes of such feelings were seen through Sarah Jane in "School Reunion"; now we get the real deal.
I don't know when or where, but Rose Tyler—like Sarah Jane before her—must encounter the Doctor again. Rose is as much a part of the new Doctor Who as the Doctor himself, and it'd be dramatically irresponsible to not come back to her at some point—cruel even. I look forward to Freema Agyeman's Martha Jones and the change her character will bring to the dynamic, but Rose Tyler can't and shouldn't be replicated. Billie Piper may be headed for other projects, but I (perhaps foolishly) believe she will return to the role that put her on the map.
THIS WEEK: The Sci Fi Channel broadcasts "The Christmas Invasion", David Tennant's first story, on Christmas Day at 3PM (EST).
Doctor Who DVD Recommendation: Got a sneak peek of the Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series DVD box set and it does not disappoint: All 14 uncut episodes spread across five discs; commentary tracks for every episode—five of 'em are "InVision" commentaries, where a box appears in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen allowing viewers to see the participants ramble; video diaries from both David Tennant and Billie Piper; over 15 minutes of deleted scenes (unsweetened, but still great fun); an amusing outtake reel several notches above the current standard for that sort of thing (for instance, see a Cyberman take K-9 for a walk in the park!); the 7 minute Children in Need special set in the TARDIS immediately after the 9th Doctor's regeneration and before "The Christmas Invasion"; lastly, a sixth disc is devoted to cutdown episodes of the documentary series Doctor Who Confidential. The box streets on Jan. 16th.
Ross Ruediger is a San Antonio-based critic and columnist, a contributor to The House Next Door, and publisher of The Rued Morgue.