The Unquiet Dead

Region 1
box set

Region 2
box set
Region 2
3-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 163, starring Christopher Eccleston)
  • written by Mark Gatiss
  • directed by Euros Lyn
  • produced by Phil Collinson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 45 minutes
Story: The Doctor, Rose, and a disbelieving Charles Dickens investigate the supernatural when a number of corpses walk out of a mortuary and create havoc in Cardiff on Christmas Eve 1869.

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Audio commentary by Simon Callow (Charles Dickens), writer Mark Gatiss, and director Euros Lyn.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: TARDIS Tales (11 min.) with Gatiss, Lyn, Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose),
    executive producer Russell T. Davies, producer Phil Collinson, production designer Edward Thomas,
    director of photography Ernie Vincze, make-up designer Davy Jones, and visual effects producer Will Cohen.
  • "Waking the Dead" (18 min.) video diary of Mark Gatiss, with fellow writers Steven Moffat, Robert Shearman, & Paul Cornell.
  • "Laying Ghosts" (8 min.) interview of Mark Gatiss.

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Rather predictably, the new Doctor Who production team early on try to balance their previous present-day and futuristic openers with a story in a historical setting. "The Unquiet Dead" often seems to be trying to capture the feel of previous stories like "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (story no. 91) and "Ghost Light" (story no. 157), both of which seemed to be fairly popular with British audiences. Of the two of them, only Robert Holmes' enjoyable characters from "Talons" (particularly Henry Gordon Jago) did anything for me. The characters of "The Unquiet Dead" seemed considerably watered-down by comparison, so it was not off to a great start with me in its main content.

Add to that a tendency in Mark Gatiss's writing to take up a lot of screen-time being self-indulgent, dialogue that's not great and muddles into misunderstood time-theory, and a plot that does not satisfy with heroics on the Doctor's part. The sum total is a story that will not rank very high in my list of season favourites.

But all is not lost. The TARDIS is treated most fairly in this one, the first story of the new production to give us all proper materializations and dematerializations, lots of interior scenes, and even hints at the wardrobe room deep in the interior maze. Very nice. The Doctor and Rose are also very easy to get to know and like from this episode alone, which works great.

But a little too much time is taken in such a short story to introduce all the guest characters before the next interesting event takes place. Most of the material surrounding Charles Dickens is far too self-indulgent for my tastes, and most of the other olde English characters also fail to capture my interest when they get screen time to themselves. It seems to be just the sort of thing of which the BBC churns out way too much, and I find myself waiting impatiently for an interesting plot element to kick in.

The one guest character that works for me is Gwyneth, who gets to detail her very interesting period perspective on the events and phenomena at hand, and what she believes her own role in that is. Even then, her early one-on-one scene with Rose seems to go on too long.

But, all things said and done, these characters work much better than those of "Ghost Light", all being solidly anchored in reality until or unless the writer specifically demonstrates to us otherwise.

As much as I find the mindpower/interdimensional stuff interesting and worthy of exploration, these elements still disappoint by seemingly being included more to freak the audience out than anything else, letting down all the fine, beautifully balanced moral arguments that set much of it up.

Normally, there would be room to build a decent plot around the Galth, one or two story beats with a direct and gripping struggle, with twists and shifting strategies. But the self-indulgent character bits have squeezed such things out of the limited time the episode has.

Without getting into as many details and plot spoilers as you will find in the In-depth Analysis version of this review, let's just say that this story's climax and conclusion leave a lot to be desired.

Then follows a lengthy self-indulgent coda that just won't move forward and end. The dialogue also expounds some beliefs about time which don't add up, and go unchallenged. This 2005 writing team really seems to like to muck their way through incongruent time-theory without really knowing what they're doing, and flaunt it to a worldwide audience. Bizarre.

Well, although I'm not too impressed with Mark Gatiss's first writing of an actual Doctor Who TV episode, do check out the "Global Conspiracy" featurette he wrote and starred in on "The Green Death" DVD (story no. 69), which I thoroughly enjoyed. The self-indulgent style works much better in this documentary parody, where it can combine with humour and really cut loose. I think humour may be Mark's forté, and the more he can tastefully inject into his actual Doctor Who scripts, the better his stories may be all round.

This story has become available on DVD:
DVD NTSC Region 1
13-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
13-episode box set
for the U.K.
DVD PAL Region 2
3-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The 13-episode box sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The 3-episode volumes only feature the plain episodes.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Aliens of London"

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