DOCTOR WHO: The ARMY OF GHOSTS Bring DOOMSDAY and Another Invisible Plot Wall

“ARMY OF GHOSTS” and “DOOMSDAY” – Series 2, Episodes 12 and 13, Story 177 – Written by Russell T Davies; Directed by Graeme Harper – And just like that, it’s the end of Rose Tyler’s time in the TARDIS. The Doctor and Rose pop in for a visit with Jackie Tyler to find that ghosts are appearing all over the world. Jackie thinks it’s her dad, but she’s delusional, as is the rest of the world. Concerned by what he sees, the Doctor investigates and this leads him to his first contact with the Torchwood Institute, who Davies has been seeding in all season long. Torchwood isn’t yet the cool Captain Jack version, but a more bureaucratic, corporate group that’s got a big ball in a lab and is controlling the arrival of the “ghosts.” For such a supposedly well-run group, Torchwood doesn’t realize that the ghosts are actually Cybermen and the Void is actually a ship containing Daleks. Whoopsie. This is all end of the world stuff, and all of the people supposedly trapped behind Davies’ last Invisible Plot Wall are back: Mickey, Pete Tyler, and that blonde guy with the spiky hair. Everyone’s invited. Because It’s Good-bye To Rose Time.

I’ll say this for Davies – he packs a hell of a lot of story and emotion into the two-part goodbye to Rose Tyler, and ARMY OF GHOSTS and DOOMSDAY succeed wonderfully in tossing up some emotional fireworks to deliver a very satisfying finale to the Most Important Person in the World’s time in the TARDIS.

If you’ve been reading along with these reviews, you know I’m generally a fan of Rose. She’s had her missteps along the way, but on the whole I’ve liked having Rose around. I think she’s a fantastic character – although some of what makes her a great character makes her a tough watch because she is going to be occasionally bratty or whiny or spoiled.

By the time DOOMSDAY has ended, however, and the Doctor leaves Rose crying on a beach in Norway, it’s hard for me to think of any companion that’s had this kind of emotional arc from entrance to exit, and I applaud Davies for creating this character and for making so much of the relaunched series about her.

ARMY/DOOMSDAY is clearly Rose’s story. From her opening narration telling you about how this is the story of her death to the ending narration, with her explaining the twist ending to those words (she lives on Pete’s Earth, but is listed as dead in her own), this two-parter is about Rose more than it is the Doctor, the Cybermen, the Daleks, or Torchwood, despite the large amount of screen time given over to that plot. Indeed, that’s the main plot but because of the opening narration the focus is much more on “how will this affect Rose” more than “how did the Cybermen jump realities?”

Oh, yes, the Cybermen and Daleks. Together as enemies. Leave it to Davies to think there wasn’t enough emotional stuff going on, he had to go and toss the Cybermen and Daleks into the same story and pit them against one another. Frankly, it hurts the story a bit although the visual impact of seeing the two most iconic enemies on screen together and arguing is pretty cool.

ARMY/DOOMSDAY derives much of its upbeat thrills from Surprise! moments: the returns of the Cybermen, Mickey, the Daleks, Pete Tyler, and Jake. For the most part, they work. It’s nice to see them again, although their presence hurts the ending – we’ve already sealed Mickey and the rest off from the regular world once, supposedly to never see them again, so when we have to seal them off a second time, it’s hard to imagine this is the last we’ll ever see of Rose, or that Rose and the Doctor will ever see of each other.

For all of the Tenth Doctor’s pronouncements about “never seeing this world again” during Tennant’s tenure, he’s really not very good at these predictions, is he? It makes me wonder (though not enough to figure it out right now) if the Tenth Doctor is the dumbest Doctor in the regeneration line, or if he’s simply the most given to melodrama (although the Sixth Doctor could maybe give him a run for that title).

The Tenth Doctor’s fatalism is different from the Ninth’s; Eccleston’s Doctor was all about weepy fatalism while Tennant’s is about emotionally blocked fatalism. That is, Tennant’s Doctor seems to make these bold pronouncements in order to protect himself emotionally. It’s a defense mechanism – when he seals off these worlds it allows him to seal off his emotions. It didn’t take him long to get over Mickey’s absence, after all, and by the end of the episode, when Donna Noble makes her first appearance by appearing inside the TARDIS in her wedding dress, you can see on Tennant’s face that the Doctor is ready to move on to the next mystery.

That the Doctor is less affected than his companions at their parting isn’t surprising – he’s been through it countless times by now but for them it’s always a first – but this time the parting is devastating for his companion.

Rose gives voice to what we’ve known for a long time now – she’s in love with the Doctor. In a solid bit of set-up, Davies has Jackie question Rose about her future. There’s a whole bit of nonsense about how the traveling Rose will wake up one day to find out she’s no longer the real Rose Tyler (what Jackie means, of course, is that she won’t be the Rose her mother remembered), but the larger question of what her future holds is a very real one.

Rose has no intention of ever leaving the TARDIS and no intention of wanting to share the Doctor with anyone else. Amidst all the silliness of FEAR HER, there was one fantastic bit where Rose and the Doctor were arguing about children and the Doctor tells her (whilst working on a gadget), “I was a Dad once.”

“What did you say?” Rose asks, blood rapidly draining from her face, but of course the plot gets conveniently in the way and the question goes unanswered by the Doctor.

Here, she insists she’s never going to settle down because the Doctor will never settle down, and so she’ll just keep traveling forever. It’s a great bit of character insight. Rose still has a lot of little girl in her and her romantic fantasies are finally becoming intermixed with a bit of adulthood. She knows she’s not going to get the life with the Doctor she might ultimately like, but she’s more than happy to simply remain his companion, especially since their bond is strengthening instead of lessening.

Like many of Davies’ stories, the emotional storyline trumps the plot storyline, but he tries to give us a double whammy with the first full introduction of Torchwood, the return of the Cybermen, the return of the Daleks (with personalities, to boot), and some big honking Cybermen vs. Daleks war, and it largely works.

Unlike the previous series’ ending two-parter (BAD WOLF/PARTING OF THE WAYS), Davies has delivered a much more satisfying story to coincide with the parting of Rose and the Doctor, but it’s still hard to spend too much time worrying about the Cybermen vs. Daleks vs. Torchwood firefight when you’re waiting to find out about Rose’s promised death.

There’s so much here that works, including:

- The existence of the Void ship works splendidly, right down to the revelation that Torchwood built their Tower around the Void ship.

- The dialogue between the Doctor and Yvonne Hartman, the director of Torchwood, crackles with her sharp, corporate attitude contrasted nicely by the Doctor’s exuberance.

- The return of Mickey Smith shows a matured, confident Mickey to us. He’s still in love with Rose, but it’s matured, too. He’s not her lapdog anymore, but he’s not remotely cold to her, either.

- Rose’s verbal battle with the Daleks shows that she’s matured, too. Jackie has a great line about Rose is “just like him” when she sees Rose in action, alluding to how she’s changed, and we’ve seen glimpses of that throughout this season. This is the first time, however, where Rose is not only treated as something akin to an equal by the Doctor, but acts like it, too. When the Doctor is told by Torchwood to bring his companion with him, he reaches inside the TARDIS and pulls out Jackie instead of Rose, leaving Rose in the TARDIS to continue to work on the mystery. It’s a shame that Davies short fuses this new Rose as he has her plan to employ the Doctor’s psychic paper fall apart, but it’s a nice attempt by Rose to grow up and take charge.

- The epilogue, where Rose narrates how she gets on with her new life until she hears the Doctor calling to her in a dream. Whether it was Davies’ script or Graeme Harper’s direction, the choice to have Rose narrate over scenes of her, Mickey, Pete, and Jackie preparing to follow Rose’s dream is absolutely spot-on.

- The Genesis Ark is a trip. It’s held inside the Void ship alongside the Cult of Skaro Daleks and the Daleks tell the Doctor that it’s Time Lord science, which the Doctor eventually realizes means “it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside” as Dalek after Dalek come spinning out. “It’s a prison ship,” he says, and then postulates it contains millions of Daleks. It’s a rightfully chilling moment.

- The whole army of ghosts bit works, too, at least as far as the mystery involving who these shadows are that keep popping up like clockwork.

There are moments that don’t work, too, although they tend to be smaller moments, speed bumps that barely slow the ride down. These moments include:

- The Dalek vs. Cybermen war. It’s pretty pointless. It’s kinda neat to see Cybermen and Daleks talking to each other, but Davies plays it mostly for laughs at first and then we see massive swarms of Daleks and Cybermen fighting but it’s all going on away from the emotional action so it’s just window dressing, and something this big shouldn’t just be window dressing.

- The emasculation of Mickey continues. Despite all the obvious growth he’s undergone, he’s still rendered pretty useless throughout the two-parter.

- I like that Davies keeps trying to bring a real world element to DOCTOR WHO by tying in the media and other British programs, but like last year’s dive into reality programming, the whole GHOSTWATCH idea here doesn’t work for me.

By far, however, the most problematic part of the episode (forgetting the Invisible Plot Wall) is Davies’ and the Doctor’s insistence that Pete and Jackie Tyler are somehow perfect for one another. It’s creepy and it’s wrong to think that Jackie and Pete can simply replace their Pete and Jackie with these alternate versions. It’s just weird.

While not as good as some of Davies’ other scripts, ARMY/DOOMSDAY is a fine ending to the tenure of Rose Tyler and a really solid, really emotional story. I can’t say that I love the two-parter

I could’ve done without the arrival of Donna Noble at the end, but the message it sends is as resounding as it is clear: there’s always another adventure coming for the Doctor and as much as he might miss his individual companions, there’s no stopping the next adventure from piquing his interest.

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8 thoughts on “DOCTOR WHO: The ARMY OF GHOSTS Bring DOOMSDAY and Another Invisible Plot Wall

  1. I’ve never liked Rose Tyler. Everybody else (Jackie, Rose’s dad & Mickey) were okay by me but Rose…meh. When I watch DOCTOR WHO I think I’m entitled to have the show be able the character it’s named after. I’m not against an occasional episode highlighting or spotlighting a Companion but not entire seasons. If Davies’ wanted to do a ROSE TYLER show then he should have gone ahead and did one.

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    • He almost did. ROSE TYLER: DEFENDER OF THE EARTH was almost taken into pre-production, but Davies (or someone higher up) decided that it was a step too far and nixed it.

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      • Hilarious. I actually think the scriptwriters can do whatever they like with the companions and highlight them as much as they want. However, I never really warmed to Rose either. Something about that brattiness and her..style?…just didn’t appeal to me at all. I even preferred martha, who admittedly wasn’t much of a character in comparison. Also, the notion that Rose is so much more important than any of the other companions seems a bit baseless. It’s not as though others weren’t around at the point of a regeneration.

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  2. I’m just opposed to the idea of romance between The Doctor and his Companions on principal. I mean, he’s an alien with immense powers over Time and Space itself as well as being over 900 years old. Isn’t him being sexually attracted to a human female kinda like a 30 year old man having sexual feelings toward a 5 year old child?

    If The Doctor absolutely MUST have a romantic relationship then introduce another Time Lady. Or if it’s GOT to be a human female then give us one like Madame Pompadour, a human female who in her own way is as unique and as extraordinary as The Doctor himself.

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  3. I think having the Doctor sleep with companions is a bad idea, but if he occasionally develops feelings for them, I’m okay with that. I think Rose has to be kept in context of what the Doctor just went through – the Time War. He’s seen his whole species wiped off the map (thanks to him) and he ends up back on Earth with this working class girl who’s as completely removed from time and space and war as you’re going to get. And she loves his world and loves him and never wants to leave him. It’s not hard for me to imagine him developing feelings for someone like Rose in this situation. We can see with THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE, though, what real sexual attraction looks and acts like for the Doctor, and his previous big romance was with Romana, another Time Lord. I think his falling for Rose caught him by surprise and is definitely atypical, which is why it doesn’t bother me.

    I think Rose was simply the right person at the right time for an unexpected attraction to develop.

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  4. In general, though, I do agree with you Derrick that a romance between the Doctor and his companions is a bad idea. He’s not James Bond and if he had a string of romances – or even just sexual encounters – that changes the character in a bad way.

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  5. Pingback: Doctor Who Review: The Bells of Saint John | Earth Station One

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