The Creeping Death

Posted in Audio by - May 20, 2019
The Creeping Death

Released May 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As the franchise with quite possibly the widest breadth of storytelling opportunities given the immense abilities of the TARDIS to travel anywhere in time and space, Doctor Who particularly excels when revisiting a known historical incident on Earth, often adding in an alien element but always focusing on the true humanity of those living it. In Roy Gill’s ‘The Creeping Death,’ the Doctor and Donna unwittingly find themselves trapped in the Great Smog of London, a period of cold weather combined with an anticyclone and still air that collected coal-borne air pollutants and generated a thick smog over the city for five days in December 1952 that claimed some twelve thousand lives, and there’s something even more dangerous living within the mists of the fume-choked streets.

Although each of the Tenth Doctor’s companions is determined and capable, unafraid of challenging the Doctor’s viewpoints and reminding him of the preciousness of an individual life, Donna’s sheer emotion and candidness very much assures that nobody ever overlooks her. Within this box set, ‘The Creeping Death’ affords the Doctor and Donna the most time together, and the nuances that differentiate their well-meaning efforts as the Doctor focuses on the creatures within the smog while Donna never lets him forget those around him in worsening conditions is written and delivered spectacularly. There are allusions to the similar plight they faced in ‘The Fires of Pompeii,’ but rather than retreading familiar ground and conflict, this story instead focuses on how much the mindsets of both characters have already been changed by traveling with each other as they work more cohesively towards their common goal. This is a time when Donna still believes herself to be indestructible, but her insistence to an exasperated Doctor in this setting that humanity tries its best even if it sometimes gets a bit messy is a fitting sentiment to which anyone at any level can relate.

Of course, Donna is correct in pointing out to the Doctor that this event is a tragedy as people tried to cope with the cold by adding more coal to their fires for heat and making the conditions exponentially worse. Yet despite the bleakness of the environment and the continued encroachment of an alien swarm within the smog that has been drawn to the air pollution that the Industrial Revolution introduced to the world, it’s still the brightness of the human spirit that shines most as the individuals in the small group featured look both to fight back against the Fumifugium danger they could never have known existed and to follow their hearts no matter the pressures facing them. This is a time period when gay relationships were prosecuted, but the subtle shows of emotion between Kieran Bew’s Richard Cooper and Theo Stevenson’s Terry Hopkins add yet another mature human element to this story that speaks to the persistence of the human condition no matter the danger and potential cost. Indeed, with both the Doctor and Donna receiving their own de facto companions for a brief time, Lauren Corenelius likewise makes an instant impact as the charismatic and determined usherette Ivy Clark whose incredibly strong will and trusty torch prove vital to the story.

The chemistry between not only the leads but among the supporting cast is flawless throughout, and the oppressive tension of the smog-ridden environment comes alive as another character in its own right. The Tenth Doctor wastes no time in confronting the threat and bluntly telling them that the Earth is not right for them; although he is for brief instances written just a bit too manically, his abilities to improvise and to take the ideas of others to craft an ever-changing plan are highlighted wonderfully throughout, even as the threat surprisingly escalates to the scale of including a dinosaur of sorts. There may be some conveniences taken with the plot as the Doctor at one point hopes to create a vacuum and just happens to find himself in the presence of a vacuum cleaner salesman, and the insertion of a line about Donna having something on her back is too quick and random to deliver maximal impact, but ‘The Creeping Death’ as a whole is a testament of the beautifully evolving relationship between the Doctor and Donna and a strong concluding point to this set that again proves how well this era can continue to flourish within the audio medium.

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