This article covers the episodes Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, which together form a single Doctor Who story.
The idea of an encounter between Cybermen and Daleks is one that has lived in the minds of fans for a very long time. The nearest the series has ever come was with The Five Doctors, in which they both featured in some measure but never met. Here at last they finally arrive on Earth at the same time, in the dying seconds of Army of Ghosts…
Except this isn’t quite the epic battle between Daleks and Cybermen that the fans have always been looking for. The reason for that is that it probably is not actually a particularly interesting idea. The Daleks view the Cybermen as so inferior that it is merely “pest control” to kill them, and the Cyber weapons have no effect on them. The idea that one Dalek is capable of destroying an army of Cybermen is great for building up the impact of the Daleks, but doesn’t say much for the Cybermen. Crucially, these are not actually the real Cybermen, and this is even flagged up by the Daleks, who describe them as “resembling the inferior species known as Cybermen”, but this doesn’t help a huge amount because, well, they pass the duck test.
When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck. (James Whitcomb Riley, 1849-1916)
Like all genre series that feature Big Bads, there is a tendency to cheapen them over time. For example, Strax has rendered the Sontarans off the menu as a main antagonist for probably a decade at least. This comes perilously close to doing the same with the Cybermen, and when they do return they need considerable reinvention.
This season was written with the launch of the spinoff Torchwood in mind. Throughout the episodes the institute has been name-checked several times, in much the same way as Bad Wolf last year, with Tooth and Claw showing us the origins of the organisation. Here we get to actually see the place, and very impressive it is too, cheekily located at Canary Wharf. In charge of Torchwood is Yvonne Hartman, played by Tracy-Ann Oberman. If her casting was anything whatsoever to do with her name being a hair’s breadth from Tracy-Ann Cyberman then it worked out fine anyway, because she is brilliant.
It is great to see Mickey back again, and something that, along with the Daleks, the Doctor Who team managed to keep fairly secret (at least until the Radio Times cast list spilled the beans!). Noel Clarke really has been a huge asset to Doctor Who over the last two years and with the imminent departure of Rose there is a sense of the end of an era here. The Doctor, Rose, Jackie and Mickey have become a Doctor Who ‘family’ in much the same way as UNIT in the Seventies. The difference here is that this team gets a fantastic final bow, whereas UNIT just slowly faded away.
Talking of UNIT, there are parallels to be drawn also with Torchwood, as both are secret organisations that investigate aliens. It is tempting to say that the difference is that UNIT had a strong moral core, although it wasn’t always quite that simple. Torchwood is irresponsible, although it does not seem to be evil as such, just morally complex. The word started life as a deliberate anagram of Doctor Who, and as such holds up a mirror to the series. Torchwood is Doctor Who with the Doctor removed, and the result of that is an organisation that blurs moral lines because that appears to be the only way to emulate what the Doctor does without actually being the Doctor. The consequences of this are saved for the spinoff itself, and along with that the Daleks and Cybermen plot is eventually sucked out of the narrative in favour of something far more interesting: the Doctor losing Rose.
We are kept guessing until the last minute about the fate of Rose, and the “story of how I died” always seemed like it might be a red herring. Ultimately, the outcome is a wonderful choice, a good balance between feel-good and tear-jerker. It pulls on the heartstrings without leaving the audience feeling depressed, because the Doctor has actually fixed something here: reassembling a broken family. It seems in many ways like a greater victory than anything that could have happened with Daleks or Cybermen. And although it all seems pretty final, it does leave the door open for Rose’s return.
The moment of separation for Rose and the Doctor is such an important moment that the episode does it twice. Firstly there is the physical separation, with the metaphorical/physical wall and the rotated perspective to form a mirror between two of the same room. Notably, it is the Doctor who drags himself away from the wall first. He moves on: it’s what he does. Secondly he gets to say his goodbye to Rose, and here we are into completely uncharted territory for Doctor Who. No companion has ever told the Doctor she loves him, and it has only happened twice since then (he married one of them). How he is really feeling in this moment is wide open to interpretation. In some ways the “quite right” and the delaying tactics (he is well aware that his time is limited to get those words out) feel like a fobbing off, but then there are genuine tears in the TARDIS. Is he crying because he didn’t get to finish telling Rose he loves her, or is it because he is so broken that he is incapable of saying it? But in the midst of all this there is one little speech that sums up Doctor Who beautifully, and it is this:
Here you are, living your life day after day. The one adventure I can never have.
It reminds us of the tragedy of the Doctor’s existence, his inability to ever experience true happiness, and it also reminds us of the wonder of our own. Because all those things we silly little humans do, living with our families, making friends, getting married, having kids, all that stuff that seems so normal, it’s actually a wonderful, huge adventure, and even a superbeing like the Doctor just looks at us in awe. RP
The view from across the pond:
It’s hard to write about Rose Tyler’s final story without hearing that stunning track playing in my head; I could talk about that track for hours. But alas, one must first look at Army of Ghosts and build up gradually.
Army of Ghosts is far better that the previous season’s penultimate episode. In that, Bad Wolf (or as I like to call it, “Plan 9 from Outer Skaro”), the Daleks decided to spend hundreds of years building up a force in secret and only wait for the Doctor to be available to hatch their dastardly scheme. In Army of Ghosts, there is a pre-established world colliding with our own, in preparation of an invasion. This is a more strategic approach to invasion. The problem is that the episode cannot be effectively evaluated without the second half; it’s too much of a prelude to the main event. What we can say is that the acting is spot on. Camille Coduri has become a highlight companion, bringing quite a bit to the show whenever she’s on. Although, she does make a point that really is worth taking a moment to look at. When the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to break the Cybermen’s hold on the people in Torchwood, she says “You killed them!” Candy coat it however you’d like, the fact is, he ends their life presumably for the greater good. He explains that they were no longer human, but that doesn’t change the fact. In retrospect, this bothers me: it implies that it’s ok to kill non-humans. Furthermore, Rose’s acceptance of this offers additional material for exploration: is each generation growing more and more accepting of death? 24-hour news stations can probably do that to us, but just in my youth, shows like The A-Team had bullets flying by the hundreds and the one time a character was shot, they made a huge issue of it; it was a heartbreaking moment when BA thought he’d lose Murdock! What does that mean for the next generation? And in light of my previous review, it should make the Cybermen even more frightening; they truly are too close for comfort.
Doomday, while the stronger half, does open with a fault. Rose tells the Daleks to “keep us alive if you want to know [about the time war]” but it is clear the Daleks don’t have to keep her alive to get information from people, they can simply sucker the knowledge out of her as they do the lead technician. It’s atypical and illogical behavior for the Daleks but it isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme. The thing is, after this, the episode just starts firing on all thrusters. The Daleks and the Cybermen finally facing off, a fan’s dream come true, is handled brilliantly.
Dalek: This is not war. This is pest control.
Cyberleader: We have five million Cybermen. How many are you?
Cyberleader: You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?
Dalek: We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek.
And that’s the bottom line: Russell T. Davies’ writing is the writing of someone who cares about and understands the character of the Doctor. He writes lines like someone who knows the Doctor can be deep (“I was there at the fall of Arcadia. Someday I might even come to terms with that…”), comical (“I knew you when you were dead”) and inspiring (“What, close the breach? Stop the Cybermen? Defeat the Daleks? Do you believe I can do that? … Maybe that’s all I need!”).
And Russell clearly cared about giving his characters a happy finale as well. Pete saving Rose, even though that’s not his daughter, is great. But it’s the reunion of Pete and Jackie that takes our breath away. Russell’s writing may have the occasional hole in it, but it never fails to deliver on emotion.
Which brings us to the departure of Rose. As Rose hangs on by her fingertips, to avoid falling into the void, the music stops for a moment and the viewers’ breathing stops. Then her grip loosens. Tennant cries out a heart rending “no” and Piper screams a blood curdling death scream. This is where we go from acting to art. The music begins and not a word is needed, the music carries all the feeling. The fact that they are universes apart and Rose knows the Doctor is there, feels him through infinity, just shows the bond they developed. Russell could have let that be the end of it, but instead he takes us further into the realm of heart-ache. The Doctor calls to Rose. And Rose finally gets to tell the Doctor she loves him. It’s powerful, heartfelt, and beautifully acted.
Credit for the episode should also go to Murray Gold. Since the reboot of the series, he’s given us a number of great pieces, but he blasts it out of the water with this one. The choral piece for the Daleks couldn’t be more impressive and awe-inspiring and the Cybermen get a harsh, depressing piece which suits their teary-eyed strength. And the most amazing thing is that, as stunning as this piece of music is, he will eventually write even better!
One silly blunder worthy of note:
During the scene where the Doctor is seen first standing next to Jackie, then on the scanner as the Dalek and Cyberleader talk, the Dalek sees the Doctor pacing in the background and registers him as a threat, but when the camera pans back to the Doctor, he is still standing right next to Jackie. It was a forced way to get the Doctor in the Daleks sights, but cinematically didn’t work.
This is the first big finale for a companion and one of the most heartbreaking. Goodbye Rose. You’ll be missed!
(Until you turn up again…) ML
The voice from the balcony:
For the past six-ish years I have been hounded by my good buddy Mike Loschiavo to watch Doctor Who. To appease his daily assaults, I would watch an episode here and there that he would tell me was really amazing. The first episode I ever watched was Blink. I really enjoyed the episode but I still wasn’t ready to raise the white flag over my rampart just yet. Lord Persistence kept on going and so I watched a few more episodes here and there to assuage him. Finally one day the white flag of defeat was raised and Eccleston was playing on my laptop. This brings us to Rose…
If Mike mentioned Rose those six-ish years ago, I may be writing something a little different right now. I love Rose as a companion. She’s quirky, street-smart, caring, and cute. I thought she was great through Eccleston’s reign as the Doctor and she was even better with Tennant. I would even go so far as to say she is my all time favorite companion. It is important to note that I have not watched all of Amy Pond’s adventures yet and I havent even started on Clara Oswald’s companion but from what I am told, Clara takes a bit of getting used to.
Enough babbling from me, onto the show! Army of Ghosts, part 1, and Doomsday, part 2, mark the last episodes of Rose Tyler. While I weep uncontrollably for the rest of this review, please note this is a damn fine two-part story. Army of Ghosts starts out with a haunting narration from Rose about how she died. The story unfolds to Rose and the Doctor visiting Jackie. Jackie is excited that Rose arrived in time see her granddad. Rose is concerned by this as he has been deceased for ten years. A blurred ghost figure appears in Jackie’s kitchen. When Rose and the Doctor go outside, they come across more “ghosts” and the British citizens seem OK with this.
Strange gets stranger as the TARDIS transports them to Torchwood Tower. The Doctor is met by the usual British blighter who tries to take the TARDIS for themselves. Things go from bad to worse as Cybermen show up in their usual shiny attire. It is also discovered that a large Kinder egg is resting in the depths of the Torchwood tower. The first episode ends when Daleks emerge out of the “kinder egg”. Talk about a crappy toy!!
Episode two begins with Rose talking to the Daleks and fooling the Daleks into letting them go. A fight breaks out between the Daleks and the Cybermen. That being said, I am going to stop right here. This is an incredibly powerful episode and my words really won’t do it justice. I hope after reading this review, you decide to watch the episode and enjoy it as it is truly an amazing story full of strong emotion, action, and suspense. Please come back to this review and leave me a comment below about how you felt about the episode. I’d love to hear from you.
The one thing that I really like about Doctor Who and I’ve only found it a few other times in television shows are the intense companion finales. This two parter had me filled with all sorts of strong emotions and it was joyous and wild ride which I was truly sad to see it end.
Rose, you will be missed. PR