Reviewed by Cliff Homewood
Russell T Davies (RTD) likes to provoke a controversy per episode it seems, thinking it’s dragging our minds into the 21st Century. Is casting a white actor as a famous black person ok? No? Then it’s double standards to do the reverse. Yes, there aren’t enough minority roles. Create them or use a probably black character like Jesus. Doctor Who was originally created to educate children, children still watch so it has a responsibility to accuracy, otherwise you may have a child identifying with Isaac Newton as a fellow minority and getting bullied by more knowledgeable kids. I enjoyed the scene; Nathaniel Curtis did a fine job and was surprised they didn’t end with him biting into the apple. Although the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in ‘The Pirate Planet’, written by the great Douglas Adams, already laid claim to dropping the apple on Isaac’s head.
At the beginning of the episode the Doctor’s obviously got a dragon in the TARDIS given the size of flame that emerged. Why didn’t they just have that setting fire to a bush and then revealing Moses? Voila a famous ethnic figure for a comedic pre-credits scene. Perhaps the obsession with always showing England got in the way. Yasmin Finney, the trans actress from ‘The Star Beast’ was good, I wonder why she isn’t the new companion instead of another blonde, white girl? Just casting bit parts feels like tokenism, however I am looking forward to seeing Ncuti Gatwa in the role of the Doctor.
Then the fact the TARDIS was portrayed as being stuck in a tree. Such depictions of the TARDIS in Nu Who has always been detrimental. If you are not going to have the TARDIS feel real with heft it becomes a piece of fancy, of flimsy. If you are not going to respect elements of your show and ride it like a skateboard, how do you expect the audience to? It’s the current showrunner calling it fantasy as an excuse instead of SF, where we demand respect.
But enough about the pre-credits sequence!
The main story is a mystery which I enjoyed, the effects struggled somewhat with the script’s ambition however they did their best. David Tennant and Catherine Tate really sell it and help create an atmosphere. The story felt pleasingly alien, like RTD trying to do Neil Gaiman with its sense of otherness. The script is clever as the characters worked things out, and it was nice to see our heroes win via thinking. RTD states this is the scary episode and the next is weird, but I thought this was pretty weird. The writing is convenient in places, RTD magically whips up what he needs when he wants it as usual, salt for instance. Russell T Davies, Chekov would like a word*. The emptiness of the ship’s locale is never fully explained, the script is just concerned with how the Big Bad is banished. Walls flip around like an old Universal Horror, a perfunctory reason given. There is a suitable dramatic ending followed by a fond sadness with Bernard Cribbins’ last filmed scene and the episode is tributed to him at the end.
Another enjoyable romp, scaring children as Doctor Who is wont to do, and quite right too!
*No not that one! The famous playwright that Trek’s Chekov was named after coined the term Chekov’s gun, a rule for writers. If a gun was fired in the last act, then it should be seen in the first act otherwise the audience feels cheated. How hard would it have been to have included eating a meal at the beginning and the Doctor pocketing a salt shaker? Although he has always famously had pockets full of everything.