Season 28 Episode 13 – Doomsday, by Russell T. Davies

May 10, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

Doomsday has been and gone, and we’re still here, so let’s be glad.

I mean that in fact. I’ll give Russell T. Davies credit here, as the two-parter is his only decent story of the season. It’s still got plenty of flab and mushy dialogue, but it’s a tighter script than, say, New Earth ever was. And yes, I was quite moved when Rose said goodbye. (It seems she won’t even get the chance to go and have that tea with Sarah Jane.)

The enormous, Earth-shaking (literally) war between the Daleks and the Cybermen is not handled perfectly; it sort of turns into background fill while the Tyler gang say their final farewells over and over, which seems strange and unconvincing. In fact, the Cybermen have all-but-vanished from the storyline long before the battle is over. (On that note, the Cybermen are shown to be utterly helpless here, far too weak to be taken seriously any more. Although it may be that Cybermen from the Parallel Earth are just an inferior model to the Cybermen of Mondas.)

The opening exchange between the Black Dalek and the Cyberleader is too witty and cutting for me to slag off, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s between two robots who – especially the Dalek – are behaving completely out-of-character. Such macho, “My-army’s-tougher-than-your-army-no-my-army’s-tougher-than-yours” taunting is just not how Daleks or Cybermen would behave. To be fair, the Kaleds were a little like that, and as they’re what the Daleks evolved from, I suppose you can stretch yourself to believe it. But if you want to believe it, you have to stretch yourself, which is just not right. Equally, the Cybermen’s bitchy taunt about the Daleks lacking “elegance” sounds like an exchange between Alexis Colby and Crystal Carrington lifted from Dynasty. The Dalek’s line about the Cybermen being superior at dying was a good one though, and more in keeping with how a Dalek would speak.

The Genesis Ark sounded like a really classic sorcerer’s wand of a plot device when it was mentioned in last week’s teaser, and I was fearing the worst for it. As it turned out, a Gallifreyan prison ship is actually a neat idea, which came as something of a relief when it was revealed (strange though that may sound, seeing how scary the scene was). But it’s questionable whether the Time War was the kind of conflict in which either side could afford to take prisoners, and so at that point the idea starts to look shakier. It could be argued that the Time Lords taking prisoners rather than choosing to be ruthless might have been why Gallifrey was destroyed. But it does also make you wonder how many times the Doctor can declare the Daleks extinct and then find he was wrong. Did he really just not know that “millions” of Daleks had been taken prisoner and survived?

Oh, and a time-traveller/dimension-hopper just making contact with the prison ship is all it takes to prime it? If that’s their idea of top security, it really is no wonder the Time Lords lost! I ain’t buying it…

And why was it called the Genesis Ark? Did the Time Lords call it that? Strange name for a prison ship. Did the Daleks create the name? Too poetic for Daleks, surely?

The reunion with Pete neatly ties up a number of plot threads laced throughout the last fifteen months (too many to list), although once again the mushy dialogue was laid on thick at times. But it was a good touch that he finally stopped denying that Rose was, in any way that matters, his daughter, and so went back to save her.

The plot resolution is probably the best one that RTD has managed to think up for a story so far; not saying much, I know, but still worth saying. Using this ‘void radiation’ to syphon back visitors from parallel universes still veers a little towards deus ex machina, but I choose to look on the bright side there, as he could easily have resorted to layer-on-layer of meaningless technobabble. FOr instance, he could have had the Doctor opening a trapdoor in the TARDIS, declaring, “If I can invert the polarity of the neutron flow in the negative-ion particle acceleration circuit, while interfacing the TARDIS’ engines with the laser containment field of the Dimensional rift, I can give the TARDIS the power increase it needs to haul all the Daleks and Cybermen back out of the physical Universe and grind them to dust in the Eye Of Harmony!” And then he pulls a single lever and… hey presto! (Which, let us not forget, isn’t all that far from the inexcusably lazy get-out RTD used at the end of the Eccleston season.)

The scene where the Daleks and the Cybermen were defeated was, undeniably, spectacular, even if it provoked a few unintended laughs. But it was littered with some very silly logic errors that really damaged it.

Firstly, the Daleks were the only ones that were hauled back through the rift. Not one Cyberman was seen to pass through it. (Yes, I know we saw them getting lifted off the ground, but nothing happened to them after that.) And yet, from what the Doctor said later, the Cybermen were clearly gone. This is even more problematic when you consider that some of the Cybermen, like Yvonne, were not from the parallel Earth (although maybe the armour suits were). Also, there didn’t seem to be that many Daleks falling through the rift, and yet thousands – maybe millions – were supposedly released from the prison ship.

Why did the lever on the Dimensional mechanism start sliding towards the rift? It appears to have been pulled on by the rift itself, but I was under the impression that the rift would only have a ‘syphon’ effect on objects that had crossed the void.

I’m also doubtful about how Rose kept the rift from collapsing. Firstly, she was being hauled in the direction of the rift. She grabbed the lever, and pushed it in the opposite direction from the rift. How could she push against the direction she was moving in, if the only thing that was keeping her from flying off altogether was the very thing she was pushing?

Maybe the lever was lighter than it looked? Well okay, but that leaves a follow-up problem. As she was holding onto the lever to stop herself from falling into the rift, how did her weight not cause the lever to start tilting back towards the rift again? The only answers to that would be that the lever was heavy, or tightly-slotted into the mechanism. Except, that brings us full circle; how did she manage to push it back into the ‘on’ position to begin with, when she was being pulled towards the rift?

How come air was being hauled into the rift as well? Surely the air doesn’t come from the Void! (By definition.)

Pete emerged at the last instant to stop Rose from tumbling into the rift. The timing and positioning of that move appear to be an outrageously lucky guess on his part; why did he decide that he should cross back over, and why at that particular moment; how did he know the exact position where Rose would be? Furthermore, he’d crossed the void, and more than once. So how come he wasn’t hauled into the rift the instant he appeared?

The plan as a whole has its doubtful side, with several self-contradictions. In Army Of Ghosts, when discussing the voidship, the Doctor says that the Void is absolute nothingness, that there is nothing within there whatsoever; no matter, no energy, no radiation, not even time. Yet the power that he and Rose tap into to draw the Daleks and Cybermen out of the physical universe is described as ‘background radiation from the Void.’ Oh. So the Void does have something in it after all. And how come the Doctor chose to steal two magna-clamps during the firefight in the hangar, when it’s established here that he was planning to open the breach on his own?

I’m sure the Black Dalek survived, by initiating some kind of ‘temporal shift’ on itself. Although this is another of those MacGuffins where you wonder, “If they can do that, why have they never used it before?”

Those 3D glasses were really irritating, weren’t they? Other than that, this two-parter was clearly David Tennant’s most authentic performance as the Doctor so far. Still got a lot of room for improvement, but he’s getting there.

Rose’s goodbye scene had to be pretty long I suppose, but it did start to drag on after a while. Nonetheless, it was very touching, and only now it’s over do we fully appreciate that Rose did bring quite a bit to the series. She may have run out of steam fairly early in this season, but she was a much deeper character than most of the Doctor’s previous companions, and certainly far-better acted than all but a handful. I suspect she’ll meet the Doctor of the parallel Earth at some time.

As I said in the notes, I hated that last moment with Catherine Tate. So she’s appearing in the Christmas Episode is she? Am I bovvered? Am I bovvered? Do I want turkey and Tate for my Christmas meal? Do I? Am I bovvered? Do I want cheap plugs for the Christmas special? Am I bovvered about the Christmas special when it’s still flippin’ July? Am I bovvered? No. No I ain’t. I ain’t bovvered. I’s tellin’ ya, I… ain’t… bovvered!!

But I was very ‘bovvered’ that she was thrown in at that moment, as it cheapened the effect of Rose’s farewell enormously.

From all these faults I’ve highlighted, it might appear that I really despair at the episode again. And to be honest, by the standards of some other writers who have contributed to the series, it’s still very flawed and a bit confused. The plot doesn’t really flow, a lot of the events appear to happen at random, instead of developing naturally from the storyline, and in some ways it feels less like a coherent narrative than a series of set-pieces.

But, I repeat, RTD has done far, far worse things on Dr Who than this, and at least this story was exciting, well-paced, and iconic. The best strengths of this story may still be a bit fanw*nky, but it had a proper beginning, a proper middle, and a proper ending, one that was reasoned, rather than wave-a-magic-wand junk. There weren’t too many ‘whacky’ moments, nor was there any sense of a series parodying itself. And it was an emotional and worthy send-off for a good character who had hung around a bit too long.

I give the two-parter 7 out of 10. On its own, this episode also gets a respectable 7.

P.S. Have you noticed that Torchwood didn’t get mentioned very often in this episode, even though they actually appeared in it, and most of it took place inside their HQ? That makes all the gratuitous references to it throughout the season look even more unnecessary and superfluous.

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