Monday, 10 June 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: The Unquiet Dead

Doctor Who s1e03: The Unquiet Dead

Cardiff, 1869; and Charles Dickens is about to learn that ghosts are very much real- a discovery that will change the rest of his life.

Many 'first's with this episode for New-Who.  First episode set in the past, first featuring a famous person, first written by Mark Gatiss, first to explicitly mention Bad Wolf, and first mention of the Cardiff Rift.  Also the first episode I properly enjoy of Christopher Ecclestone's run, and the first one I can tolerate Rose in, though there are moments...

I shall get the Doctor and Rose out of the way quickly.  The Doctor was more like a 'classic' doctor in this episode, only offering advice when needed and letting others save the day, as well as offering a logical point of view that counters the humans' self-imposed ethical ideas.  Rose, for the majority, was tolerable as she wasn't sure how to deal with the completely different society of the past and raised some interesting philosophical points.  However, she still has a complete lack of sympathy as shown by her pressing Gwyneth into revealing details she's clearly not comfortable about, and more importantly at the end when she is told Dickens will only live one more year, to which her response is a shrug and an 'aww'.  Compare to the van Gogh episode, in which Amy is visibly heatbroken by a similar revelation.

What the Dickens?
I am a fan of any historical episode of Doctor Who, much preferring them to ones set in present day London.  However, generally speaking, I am not such a fan of episodes involving historical figures... There was a law passed recently in China that forbade any time-travelling stories lest they tarnish the reputation of respected figures, which I am somewhat sympathetic to (though making a law against it is a little extreme).  That being said, this representation of Dickens is very well done and remains respectful to the author- a joint effort between Mark Gatiss and Simon Callow, who has said he cringed when he heard Dickens was going to be shown in Doctor Who and refused to perform the role unless he was represented fairly.  Dickens is shown as a man who has grown increasingly weary with life, but upon being shown there is more to this world than meets the eye he gains a new lease on life- enough to keep him going for at least one more year.  However, I see Dicken's involvement as unneeded; the only reference to Dicken's life was a couple of throwaway gags, and any other character could have easily had the same involvement, compared to the Shakespeare and van Gogh episodes where the 'celebrity' cameo actually makes sense.

The supporting cast do well, even though their accents probably sound fake to a foreign audience- that's just the nature of the Welsh accent.  Eve Myles plays Gwyneth, a servant who possesses the 'sight'; a suitably ambiguous ability that can be used to look into a person's timeline and generally connect them to paranormal activity.  For the record I am opposed to any assumed existence of 'magic' or actual supernatural activity in Doctor Who, where everything should be scientific and related to aliens- much like the common opinion on Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull- but letting that slide, she does a good job and has a well developed character.  She's not bright, but she won't accept Rose thinking her stupid.  She serves for Mr. Sneed (Alan David), who is being swept along the current of supernatural events.  He acts like a deranged psychopath a lot of the time, but how else would you act if you worked in a morgue and the bodies started coming back to life?

This is a scene from Doctor Who?
This brings me on nicely to the villains, the gaseous Gelth.  To be honest, there's not an awful lot I can say about them... They were threatening but not particularly memorable.  They raised an interested moral dilemma (they can live if we give them human corpses which is unethical- but we're not using the corpses so where's the problem?) but any interesting questions raised are quickly glossed over as they inevitably turn traitorous.  Aside from that they give a little more exposition on the Time War and the Cardiff Rift.  Looks-wise, I thought they were quite impressive as although they were wholly CG they were subtle enough to not date as much as, say, the Slitheen... Which I will be covering in the next review.

On first impressions, this is a good episode that has interesting dilemmas despite a not-so-interesting enemy.  Dickens being involved is neat but doesn't add anything to the story.
In hindsight, Vincent and the Doctor dealt with similar issues and was much better at it.  But that doesn't stop this from being a good episode.

Next review: Aliens of  London/ World War Three

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