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.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers Guide version instead.

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 in the theatre. 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 since much of what she says can't really be appreciated without having seen the stories that follow in the season, and so much more of what they talk about seems a bizarre subject for two strangers to bring up after having met in such suspicious circumstances.

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.

This also seems to be the first story of the season to mention the "Time War" by name. Hindsight informs us that the name may have been read out of the Doctor's mind via Gwyneth, and used to try to guilt him into siding with the Galth.

As much as I find the mindpower/interdimensional stuff interesting and worthy of exploration, and the séance idea rather pedestrian but everyday believable, 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 preceded it.

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.

In the end, the Doctor is made to appear both foolish and heroically negligent, himself and Rose trapped and needing rescue during the story's conclusion. Dumb. The guest characters rule the conclusion, although the Doctor's influence earlier in the story has helped prod them on. The body count remains too high to satisfy though.

Then follows a lengthy self-indulgent coda that just won't move forward and end. It's very bizarre how the Doctor thinks he's changed history slightly, and yet also believes he knows exactly how things will work out. 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.

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Die rastlosen Toten"

Magyar: "Testrablók"

Français: "Des morts inassouvis"

Русский: "Беспокойный мертвец"

Italiano: "I morti inquieti"

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 In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Aliens of London"

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