Friday, July 25, 2008

Doctor Who, "The Stolen Earth": Rose has got a gun

Brief spoilers for "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I find out why the Shadow Proclamation is so poorly-lit...

It's been a hallmark of -- and a source of criticism for -- the Russell T. Davies era of "Doctor Who" that each season ends with an apocalyptic showdown between The Doctor and one of his classic villains, with the fate of the Earth in the balance, and the threat level rising each year. So for his final finale, Davies ups the stakes yet again, with the Daleks (and their creator, Davros, last seen in the original series) relocate not only the Earth, but a couple dozen other planets from across time and space, and the threat is so big that all of The Doctor's allies from past seasons and present spin-offs -- Rose, Martha, Captain Jack and the Torchwood team, Sarah Jane and Luke, and even Harriet Jones (RIP) -- have to show up to help out.

And, as if that wasn't enough, Davies has to go and freak the whole world out by ending the episode with The Doctor getting shot only seconds before having a huggy reunion with Rose and starting to regenerate.

(And because of that cliffhanger, I'm going to put the usual warning about not discussing, or even hinting at, episodes that haven't aired in America yet, way up high. Do not, under any circumstances, make any reference to what happens in the season finale. I'm just going to delete any comments that are remotely suspect, and all you'll accomplish is annoying me.)

But what does all this noise, all these characters, all this danger really accomplish? Cool as it was to see Captain Jack hit on Sarah Jane, or Rose meeting Donna's parents, or The Doctor and Rose finally getting a good look at each other, this episode didn't have half the emotional impact for me of the stand-alone, FX-minimal, narratively-spare "Midnight" from a couple of weeks back. I know Davies loves these over-the-top finales, but I really don't think that's where his strengths lie.

I would ask for guesses on what's going to happen next, but I wonder if at this point there's anybody out there reading a blog entry about "Doctor Who" who hasn't already cheated and watched "Journey's End." If you exist, fire away, as there's an awful lot to speculate about.

One additional reminder: because the finale is extra-long, Sci Fi will start airing it at 8:30 Eastern next week, not 9. If you don't DVR it and intend to watch it live, plan accordingly.

What did everybody else think?


Grunt said...
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Nicole said...

I could have done without the slo-mo Rose and Doctor run to each other, but I suppose the Dalek zapping him quickly diffused that moment. (not a shipper and I will get into that more next week)

However, this was a great cliffhanger, and probably the first since Star Trek TNG "The Best of Both Worlds" where my reaction was "what? this can't be happening!"

As for actual plot, I completely agree that the BIG EARTH ENDING MOMENTS were rehashes from the last few RTD finale episodes and for me it was more about smaller moments with the Doctor's Army. Sarah Jane's absolute fear of the Daleks worked for me but then it helped because I was aware she had meet them before. Ianto and Gwen got short shrift, but then we only care about Captain Jack from that team anyway.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sorry, Grunt. I forgot to add the other important disclaimer: do not discuss anything from the promos. I had a feeling Sci Fi would screw this up.

Of course, I'm guessing everybody saw the promos, which kind of makes it impossible to not discuss the cliffhanger, but let's do our best, shall we?

Anonymous said...

this is why the BBC is better than Sci-Fi. After this episode aired in Britian there was no promotion for the next weeks episode. Usually there is a promo but they wisely removed it.

J said...

Seriously, bravo on the cliffhanger.

Also, realizing Davros was back (though every dalek story in the old series after "Genesis" always found some way to drag him in, and probably shouldn't have) was a big geeky splooge moment.

But about 1/4th of this episode (at least in its original form) consisted of people staring into their laptops. I get enough of that at work, thanks.

I can't believe Sci-Fi aired a promo. That's hilarious.

Nicole said...

I didn't see the promo, but Sci-Fi could have at the very least used the non-spoilery promo the BBC used keeping the cliffhanger intact. Because the BBC was smart about it, the last episode became the most viewed episode in Doctor Who history.

Now if they also revealed the final Cylon in that promo I will really be angry

Mapeel said...

I wasn't a Rose worshipper when she was on, but I love the primacy she has in the Doctor's heart. Loved how she got shut-out of the hookup, even though she was "there first."

I was afraid that the Doctor and Rose would KEEP missing each other, and was glad they did get their nanosecond together.

The promo was stupid beyond words, and I really haven't looked or read ahead. But the title "Journey's End" is that Sherriff play set in the trench. Lots of associations there, including that 2 important characters in the play die.

Anonymous said...

Heh, the grunts are always the first to go...

All the planets in the sky was a really effective image, I thought. Did they increase the special effects budget this year, or have they just gotten a lot better at creating these virtual worlds? Between this and the Library Planet, the show has looked amazing this year.

And can I just say that I did NOT ever get tired of the "Harriet Jones, [fill in job title here]" joke? She was so great.

("Stop pointing those Daleks at my mom!" First one to name the reference gets... nothing.)

Grunt said...

Sorry Alan, assumed that like TWoP the promos were fair game. Won't make that mustake again.

Karen said...

I agree, Alan-this episode just felt like a lot of set-up and screaming to me. And, I guess, the Daleks have shown up so many times in the new series that their appearance doesn't have the same juice for me that it once did.

The promo truly sucked, as it took away all the mystery of this episode. I'm hoping, regardless, that next week will justify this week's setup.

dark tyler said...

Ha! I liked that one! A big, noisy, dumb thing of course, but one that had us all counting down the minutes until the season finale aired in a week's time. Every scene featured a big, noisy fanboy moment and the episode had me clapping all the way through. And the cliffhanger? Wooboy.

By this point in the run of the series I've learned that RTD is all setup, with lousy finishes, so I just enjoyed 'The Stolen Earth' for what it was, without worrying too much about next week. If it sucked, business as usual. If it didn't, we all win!

Looking forward to next week's commentary. But again, this episode? Fun fun fun, even in a Bruce-Willis-gathers-his-space-drillers sort of way.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"Fun fun fun, even in a Bruce-Willis-gathers-his-space-drillers sort of way."

Yep -- the companion stuff struck me as the RTD equivalent of "The Five Doctors," down to the number of companions involved.

Anonymous said...

I agree with nearly everything you say: "Midnight" was a better, more thoughtful episode, and this one was mostly big and dumb. I'd even add a few criticisms: I found Rose whiny and irritating, and I'm not sure I like the direction they're taking Donna. (She's my favorite companion of the new series, but I'd rather have her biggest strengths be her understanding of the doctor and his weaknesses, her force of personality, and whatever skills she picked up as a temp, not... whatever big mystical role the fortune-teller from "Turn Left" suggested that she'd end up playing.)

Still, I think the episode is better than you suggest. A big part of the show's audience is children, after all, and I feel confident saying that if I were nine years old, I'd think that this was the best episode ever. Even now, as a thirty-one year old with no exposure to the original series, there were lots of moments that really worked for me. I loved Wilf explaining why he didn't have a webcam and shooting the Dalek with a paint gun (a moment that was hurt by the Sci Fi network's editing). I loved seeing Rose, Wilf, and Sylvia desperately trying to help out by calling the Doctor on their cell phones at the same time that Torchwood was magnifying the signal. I loved seeing the look of horror on Sarah Jane's face as she heard Davros's voice. I was delighted to see Harriet Jones come back, since Penelope Wilton does a brilliant job portraying her as a comic character you can still take seriously as prime minister. In fact, I enjoyed practically all of the interactions between different past companions, and I thought the episode's pacing was mostly quite good.

Don't get me wrong: I don't want to suggest that this is a kids' show and that you're taking it too seriously, or that this episode was one of the series's high points. What I would argue, however, is that one of Doctor Who's strengths is that it balances a lot of different styles, tones, and genres in a way designed to appeal to several different audiences at once, and that this two-part season finale was a good approximation of the average experience of watching Doctor Who for a season. Yes, I'd have preferred to see a little more of the thoughtfulness we can expect from Steven Moffat, and I'll have some criticisms of the finale next week, too. But I'd say that this was a better-than-average episode that provided fans with some really cool moments and worked quite nicely overall in the context of what Russell Davies has set out to do with this show.

Joe B. said...

Okay, another comment on the existence of the promo, not the content thereof.

I was surprised, too as the promo rolled at the end, because it was all so hush hush in the UK.

I think it just indicates that SciFi knows that many of us do know what goes on next. And even with that, I'll be tuning in, if only to see it on my 40" Sony.

Eventually, we'll all see the same shows at the same moment and be able to have that shared experience again, albeit not live around the watercooler at work but rather this blog and others (and hopefully mine, just click my name above to get there).

And since I find myself writing of Doctor Who at another blog, again, let me once again remind all of you who dismissed the casting of Catherine Tate that she has been remarkably good. So, nah nah nah nah nah nah.

Billie's teeth? That's quite a different story. I hear it now. In fact, it's all I hear.

Taleena said...

I am one of those mythical viewers who has not scene Journey's End, Alan.
El Hubby and I watched all the other new Who seasons on Torrent and for one reason or another missed and have been watching this season on Sci-Fi.

I disagree with those who think this is a kid friendly show (I have heard it described as "accessible for 8 year olds). I certainly wouldn't want my 8 year old to be watching oh any of the Stephen Moffat episodes for example.

I watched the Doctor as a kid but you could see the duct tape on the monster costumes and you couldn't take it any more seriously than Godzilla or Manos: Hands of Fate.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea who Davros was, so the big reveal had very little effect (other than seeing the Doctor himself freaked out.)

Of course, why a time traveler wouldn't have ever heard that at one point the Earth was kidnapped seems odd as it would be in every history book... but that's a quibble.

I did think this episode was one of the very worst of the series, with characters spouting all sorts of sci-fi gibberish with very little emotional punch (when all your characters star in their own series, you know they'll pull through.)

The only thing that I did like was the jokes about Captain Jack hitting on everyone and seeing Rose and the Doctor run towards one another at the end. The joy on the Doctor's face was wonderful.

And I liked how Davros is using his "children" to destroy the Earth, while the Doctor's "children" were there to save it.

Anonymous said...

The 'big bads' in the original DW series never did much for me: Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, etc., I can take them or leave them. So the appearance of Daleks didn't do much for me. But the reaction of the long-term companions, who've dealt with Daleks before, was chilling. Captain Jack, who was kinda killed by them before he became immortal, particularly.

Davros wasn't adequately explained for American audiences, but I think that anybody living in Britain would know about Davros,so really no need for explanation.

Loved the opening credits, with all the companions listed.

Was a bit surprised to see Richard Dawkins, author of the recent popular anti-religion screed, but yes, that's really him. Apparently, he's Lalla Ward's husband.

Great to see Harriet Jones, Former Prime Minister again. I loved that character, and never tired of the flashing the badge gag. In fact, we laughed out loud when even the Daleks said they know who she is.

And who can resist Captain Jack hitting on everything that moves?

The UNIT guy's American accent was less than plausible, though probably better than my British one.

And ... since when is a "proclamation" an organization?

Anonymous said...

Was a bit surprised to see Richard Dawkins, author of the recent popular anti-religion screed, but yes, that's really him. Apparently, he's Lalla Ward's husband.

They were introduced by Douglas Adams, because all cool famous people know each other.

Anonymous said...

"The UNIT guy's American accent was less than plausible, though probably better than my British one."

Michael Brandon? He's from Brooklyn!

Anonymous said...

"Michael Brandon? He's from Brooklyn!"

Seriously? Has he been out of the country for a long time? Because my brother lived in Australia for several years and his American accent now also sounds implausible. (grin) But seriously, his accent was in and out.

Anonymous said...

Heh! Well, UNIT is an international organization so perhaps the good general has been seconded to non-US branches on his way to the top.

Anonymous said...

THE Michael Brandon, of "Dempsey and Makepeace"? Yikes! I had no idea-er, thought he was like some of the "Noo Yokkers" from the Daleks on Broadway of 1930 episode...

Michael Hickerson said...

My biggest problem with Stolen Earth is the same one I had with Bad Wolf in season one...namely that not much happens in the first thirty or so minutes of the story. Once the Earth is taken, a lot of time is spent treading water and having the characters all sit about wringing hands, waiting to find a way for the Doctor to show up and start saving the day. The big reveal of Davros takes far too long and Davies is trying to have us connect to the paranoia and emotion of the event of Earth being moved rather than having the Doctor arrive to start doing something about it. Also, the Doctor having to wait for others to help him do his thing reminded me a lot of the Eccleston Doctor in series one where you had the companions being the active instruments of change and essential to the plot's resolution as opposed to the Doctor being the one who brought about the change and resolution to the plot.

Once Davros shows up and we find a way to bring in the Doctor, the story starts to move along a bit more and picks up some momentum, building to what could be, arguably, one of the biggest cliffhangers in the history of the show.