DVD Extras (box sets only) include:
But... it's going to be England. Again. Seventh story in a row within Earth's orbit. This setting would be far more palatable if it had been preceded with more variety, including the alien planet setting that long time fans crave and have grown to expect from the show, and which new audiences have yet to get to know the show for. Ah, well. Bring us England then. But make it GOOD!
A wedding, and nearly as entertaining as that of Ross and Emily of "Friends". There's something about weddings in England that seems to mess people up. Hmmm.
But we're off through time again, staring with apprehension at an inside out police box door where there used to be an airlock to help us explore the alien planets we miss. Well, at least the ominous mood makes up for the fact that the police box's materializing exterior isn't being shown for any of the many trips it's making. Not a bad trade off, in the end.
Then the Doctor and Rose stand on the street corner, resigned to do nothing about 1987 history like a couple of rejects from the teething troubles of the Hartnell era of the show. There's an emotional reality to it that keeps it from being silly. It's perfectly understandable in fact. Okay, I'll buy it.
"Can we try again?" Rose asks. And they do. This part sent chills up my spine. Paul Cornell could be writing the best story of the season, by tackling such an interesting temporal dynamic. Then again, this could be the stinker if he proves he's got no clue what he's doing. I was on a knife edge, wondering which way my first impression of Cornell would fall.
Two versions of Rose and the Doc, nicely demonstrated with careful direction by Joe Ahearne. Nice. Our current Rose now gets infected with the kind of heroism that the regressed, Hartnellized Doctor can't seem to muster, and jumps right in past her other self. Yes! Awesome conundrum escalation.
Only when the prior version of Rose and the Doctor disappear in a magical effect did it become apparent that Paul Cornell in fact did NOT know what he was doing, and was guiding the Doctor with his own ignorance.
Damn! Never before in 26 years of television had England's great time traveling adventure series shown time being "changed" by special effects on screen. You might have had characters talk about the potential, and in some cases believe it had happened, but characters can always be wrong, and the visuals supported this duality. Star Trek, on the other hand, had used its larger special effects budget to screw up time-travel visually on-screen within its first year, and happily continued to do so more and more often as the franchise grew. How sad to see Doctor Who now start to slide down that slippery slope.
What Paul Cornell really, really doesn't seem to get, is that the history Rose grew up hearing from her mother occurred in her "home" universe, for want of a better label. She and the Doctor stand on the corner watching in a second universe, whose history could go another way, and must at least slightly thanks to their added presence. She takes heroic action in yet a third universe, and the other Doctor and Rose standing on the corner are not the two of them from earlier on, but in fact their doubles from earlier on. By "doubles", I mean that in the same sense as the word is used in the series "Sliders" - not just past, but parallel. This is obvious since our Doctor and Rose don't remember a second Rose jumping ahead of them when they stood on the corner doing nothing. And because the Doctor and Rose standing on the corner in the third universe are parallel, not past, they are free to continue to exist there, confront our Doctor and Rose, talk to them, and move forward normally and be the characters that they are.
By making them disappear, Cornell, as a writer, seems to be stuck for a way to make his conundrum work in a perceived arena with only one timeline, which can be changed but mustn't be. And so he cops out and takes them away with a magic wand. We may as well write a story about what happens when a ship sails off the edge of the Earth. Back in medieval times, they'd buy it too. Tighten the emotional dramatic turns with great performances and they'll rave over it. But, bring it to modern audiences today, and they'll laugh. Unfortunately, most people today don't seem to appreciate how ridiculous it is to try to protect a past timeline as if it's the only one in existence, and will let the boogeyman out of the closet if it's messed with. You can experience as many other versions as you can time-travel back to, and it would be nearly impossible to make all the "right" choices to re-live any of them exactly as you remember them.
So the Doctor, sadly, makes an ass of himself trying to defend Cornell's model of time, and rightly gets tripped up when Rose confronts him for being hypocritical about the heroics he proudly displays in almost every other setting he lands in. Good for you, Rose, keep it up! The Doctor can only offer the really lame remark that he knows what he's doing, when he's got me completely convinced of the opposite. Where do you want to draw the line, between the heroics that are acceptable to "time", and the heroics that are not? This is fuzzy territory that need not bog us down at all, if we wake up to the model of time with unlimited parallel choices. Perhaps the upcoming release of "Inferno" (story no. 54) on DVD will help remind us all of the Doctor's revelation of something more than he's arguing for here. Unfortunately, Paul Cornell controls the universe of this story, imbibing it with as much illogical magic as necessary to drive his points home melodramatically.
I did take heart when other people started disappearing from the setting as well, hoping that this might be the explanation for the disappearance of the "other" Doctor and Rose that Cornell couldn't continue to account for. Sadly, the boogeymen responsible for this are demonstrated to be another side effect of the temporal magic that we have witnessed, rather than one of its causes. They seem to be cousins of the Kronovore from "The Time Monster" (story no. 64), much better realized on screen, but not near as well fleshed out in the script.
The Doctor contradicts his own explanations of their motives, furthering my disbelief that he or Cornell know what they're doing. One minute, they are likened to bad bacteria, taking advantage of the wound in time to feast as they want. This could work nicely, considering the mayhem they cause, and could work even better if their machinations were the cause of the magic rather than the effect. But at another point, the Doctor also describes them as good bacteria, trying to "sterilize" the wound in time. Presumably, that would mean trying to make this version of time look as much like the one Rose remembers as possible. That would mean each person they "eat" makes this version of time more different, which is supposedly what they're working against. That explanation doesn't fit with their actions at all, and makes the episode's plot logic more and more frustrating to try to follow. (What? Oh, they're falling over the edge of the Earth. All right, let's indulge Paul Cornell for the rest of the hour then.)
One can only shake one's head in disbelief, and sit back and enjoy what really does work in this story, which is Rose's family history. Shaun Dingwall gives a remarkably moving performance as Rose's Dad, Pete Tyler, who is really well written for. Also, you've got to love Camille Coduri as Rose's mother in this one. Her character grows far beyond the ditzy blonde we saw in previous episodes, and gets to demonstrate an entire range of emotions and depth of character. Great stuff. Billie Piper does some of her best emotive acting opposite her father in this one, and the Doctor also has a great little scene with the bride and groom of yet another wedding. Lots of good stuff.
The TARDIS decides to do some extra magic as it tries to reappear. It doesn't really make any sense, but it looks nice and remains enjoyable.
Both the Doctor and the final heroics of the story are pretty lame. The Doctor states that our interdimensional boogeymen are essentially invincible, and complains that the Timelords used to have laws to prevent such atrocities. Well, that law can only work if it's enforced. So, whatever the Timelords did to enforce it, that's what the Doctor needs to do. Maybe he'd be able to if the TARDIS would finish arriving already. But I do miss watching Doctors like Jon Pertwee cobbling some wires and components together to drain the energy of otherwise mystical creatures, or trap them in crystals... you know, being resourceful with whatever is at hand. Eccleston doesn't prove very resourceful in this story, and most often offers his advice when it's already too late, with a side-order of recrimination.
So we end up with a very predictably silly final climactic act. Then suddenly, all the mayhem and carnage that the boogeymen inflicted disappears with a sweep of Cornell's magic wand. The Doctor's right, whether you want to quote this one from this episode, or Tom Baker's Doctor from "City of Death" (story no. 105). Those who don't understand time shouldn't be messing with it. Or writing it.
This story has become available on DVD:
Note: The 13-episode box sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The 4-episode volume only features the plain episodes.
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