Doomsday

Posted in Episode by - April 17, 2016
Doomsday

Aired 8 July 2006

It’s probably fair to say that excitement leading into an episode of Doctor Who hasn’t been this high in decades, possible ever. Certainly any story featuring the likes of the Daleks or Cybermen will generate interest, but as the first on-screen meeting between the two (they did briefly appear separately in ‘The Five Doctors’), ‘Doomsday’ certainly has a lot of expectations to fulfill on that front alone. Added to the broken barriers between universes and the statement by Rose that this is the story of how she dies, and ‘Doomsday’ threatens to collapse under its own narrative weight before even airing.

Fortunately, ‘Doomsday’ has a very clever story to tell; regarding the epic confrontation in the wings, Russell T Davies scripts it perfectly, capturing a sort of childhood innocence in the midst of the threats of dominance. While the Cybermen ultimately have a rather poor outing in terms of how easily they are ultimately bested by the Daleks and ultimately defeated, the initial conversation with the Daleks in which the Daleks speak of pest control and their ability to defeat anyone with just one Dalek is fascinating, made even more so by the Cybermen who look beyond the threat and suggest the very logical proposal of allying with the Daleks. When this proposal is met with opposition and the Daleks begin asserting their might, the Cybermen then choose the logical alternative and suggest an alliance with the humans who they themselves had overrun. It’s a completely logical switch in motivations, and one keeping perfectly in line with the Cyberman characterization.

The introduction of the Genesis Ark as stolen a piece of stolen Time Lord technology is also cleverly done, instantly opening up a massive potential for ideas and concepts. Admittedly, it is just a touch underwhelming that it ends up being a prison ship housing countless Daleks, bypassing the potential for Gallifreyan knowledge to enter the scene, but it is immensely clever to have its foundation built upon the ‘bigger on the inside’ concept that the TARDIS has made so famous. Ultimately, the Genesis Ark ends up increasing the odds stacked against the Doctor even more but in a way not nearly as daring or risky as in ‘Bad Wolf.’

Skipping the main events of the story, the biggest other talking point is, of course, the departure of Billie Piper’s Rose. She had set the expectation for her death with her speech at the beginning, but this marks the first time in the modern era of Doctor Who that a companion has left, and so Ruseell T Davies has the opportunity to show what kind of programme this will be- one that is unafraid to show the dangers of and sometimes ultimate sacrifices needed when traveling with the Doctor or one that creates an escape clause from certain death for its characters. The Doctor had earlier promised Rose that he wouldn’t leave her and that she was different, but companions’ tenures rarely end on perfectly amenable terms.

However, part the two must at the end of the story, and the means by which they part as well as the fallout of that separation are truly heartbreaking, easily the most emotional material of the series. Compared to the Ninth Doctor who became almost paralyzed when the thought of any harm coming to Rose arose, though, the Tenth Doctor casually admits that his plan to save both Rose and the entire world will require Rose to stay trapped in the parallel universe forever. This not only speaks volumes of the how different the mindsets between the two regenerations are, but it’s also a stark reminder of how alien the Doctor is and how dangerous being around him can be. Even though his love for Rose remains unstated and he almost seems content with not getting a final goodbye until Rose prompts it because a life without the Doctor is not a life she wants, there’s never really any question as to how true it is. Not needing that final goodbye and sometimes even choosing to end his time with his companions is oddly coherent with many of his previous companions as well- going right back to the First Doctor locking Susan out of the TARDIS while giving a harrowing speech- and this truly does seem to be the only means by which Rose could stay alive and end her time in the TARDIS since she clearly would never voluntarily do so.

And although those farewell scenes, especially at Bad Wolf Bay, are so heartbreaking, it’s impossible not to wonder what will become of the Tenth Doctor now that Rose is gone. It’s clear that these two characters work very well with each other, and even though they are still there to save the day like the Doctor and his companion always have been, their actions have always been quite cliquey and screened through their feelings for each other. The Tenth Doctor, at least on the outside, seems much more human than his predecessor, and it’s easy to see why Rose would fall in love with him. However, she was unquestionably written to be beside the battle-hardened Ninth Doctor suffering from survivor’s guilt as she was unafraid both to stand up to him when needed but also help him shed his self-doubt. The regeneration has led to a Time Lord who not only isn’t as overtly hardened but also to one who has regained his sense of confidence and conviction, one without Rose there to guide since she was in a sense complicit in these changes. It’s fitting that the traits that make Rose such a beloved character lead to her eventual entrapment in the alternate universe so that the overarching narrative of the Doctor and his adventures can carry on.

As for the resolution itself, it certainly flows much more coherently than in ‘The Parting of the Ways,’ and though some may still call it a cop-out or deus ex machina, all of the evevnts were set in place very early in the story. The 3D glasses seem like a bit of an oddity when the Doctor first appears wearing them, but it’s clear from the start that he is seeing something important, and the eventual visualization of the ‘void stuff’ is nicely incorporated. It’s completely appropriate that Torchwood and the parallel universes would come into play to solve the alien incursion and, with how dangerous travel between the universes is continually stated to be, it gives Pete’s timely appearance right at the end to save Rose all that more meaningful. In fact of all of the scenes not involving Rose directly, the initial scene in which Jackie and Pete- one from each world- meet is played stunningly perfectly by Camille Coduri, Shaun Dingwall, and David Tennant, balancing emotion and humour perfectly and setting into motion the reformation of Rose’s family alongside her. It doesn’t always happen, but when the Doctor is truly able to change his friends’ lives for the better, it’s an immensely satisfying experience that speaks to the heart of the character himself.

The second series was certainly a rocky one, but the lower points are all the more sufferable knowing that the payoff is this fantastic two-parter. A lot of work went into showing how much these two characters care for and respect each other, and the argument can easily be made that the turbulence of the episodes mirrors the turbulence of these characters’ developing relationship. However, it’s certainly worth holding out hope that the writers will offer a bit more streamlined experience both in terms of overall quality and in terms of the specific writing and tone for David Tennant now that he’s had some time to work on his characterization and to show what he is truly adept at delivering.

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