Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead

Ten Things About Who: The Unquiet Dead

And a very Merry Christmas to you! Yes, it’s technically midsummer outside, which naturally means the threat of rain hangs overhead. But in the world of Ten Things About Who, we’re simultaneously back in April 2005 and Christmas 1869.

God bless us, every one!

1. The stiffs are getting lively

And so we get the first real emergence of the pre-credits sequence as it has become used. A peril, often Doctor-less, that sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Here, Mr Sneed’s “Oh no” when faced with a revived brings with it a weary familiarity that tells us that while we are in a story from the past, this is not your average historical story.

League of Gentlemen fans will, of course, have known of Mark Gatiss’ delight in lacing elements of historical horror with humour. It’s a vein he’s returned to, of course – most recently with The Crimson Horror. It’s when he steps away from this template (Cold War, and The Idiot’s Lantern, which is horrific but in a very different way) that things go awry for me.

2. I’m sorry, could you read that again?

Post-credits, there’s an exchange of dialogue between the Doctor and Rose that has annoyed me more than anything else in this entire first series (yes, even more than the Trinny and Susannah robots in Bad Wolf). On paper, the exchange makes perfect sense:

Doctor: Hold that one down!
Rose: I’m holding this one down!
Doctor: Well, hold them both down!

Absolutely fine, isn’t it. There are two control, Rose is already holding one of them down, the Doctor tells to hold the other one down too.

That’s because we intrinsically read the emphasis in Rose’s reply as being:

Rose: I’m holding this one down!

So she tells the Doctor she’s referring to a different control, and his mention of “both” makes perfect sense.

But on screen, it’s a different story. What we actually get is:

Doctor: Hold that one down!
Rose: I’m holding this one down!

Not “I’m using a different control”, more “I’m already doing it, you berk”. Which is fine as an interpretation of the Doctor/Rose interaction. It just makes the Doctor’s next line make no sense – if they are both talking about the same control, why would he possibly refer to “both”?

Writer and director Julian Simpson has written a brilliant, brilliant blog post about how directors and actors should interact. In one of his gobbets of advice, he says:

  • NEVER EVER EVER give line readings to actors.

Unless the way they’re currently reading it directly contradicts what the script is clearly saying.

I know it’s a small point. To be honest, it annoys me more that I get so annoyed by it.

3. Past the bins

In this incarnation of the TARDIS set, we only once saw beyond the console room (in The Christmas Invasion, as David Tennant chooses an outfit in a wardrobe room that happens to look exactly like the console room). But in one piece of dialogue, it’s established that this new TARDIS isn’t just as big as the control room on the inside – it expands way beyond what we see.

Not that there was even as much a door constructed in the set to imply where Rose would go off to find her outfit. Personally, given the metal walkways in Ed Thomas’s design don’t stretch to the outside walls, I always imagined a metal staircase heading downwards into the bowels of ship instead. With the console room’s sloping roof reaching an apex above the time rotor, it looks like at could be at the very top of a bulbous craft.

4. Stepping out

Rose’s delight at setting a foot out into historic snow is a wonderful moment, as is her previous speech about how only the Doctor can travel back and see days that have gone forever. For a new audience only just acclimatising to the limitless powers of storytelling that TARDIS travel can portray, it’s a glorious introduction to the wonders of travelling to the past.

5. Gwyneth

Ah, Eve Myles. It’s actually hard to see her in a subservient role here after four series of Torchwood, a turn in two series of the (bizarrely never networked across the UK) BBC Wales drama Baker Boys and even the packed-to-the-gunnels-with-Doctor-Who-alumni nursing drama Frankie.

Her character here is a lot more demure and innocent than we’ve come to expect from Myles – but delivered with such commitment that it’s little wonder she’s become a television fixture.

In a 2012 interview with SFX publicising her appearance in West End play All New People, she said of her audition for Gwyneth:

So I did the audition, and it went okay, I think. My boyfriend picked me up and he said, ‘You have changed, haven’t you, since the audition? Do you know what you’re wearing?’ I looked down, and I’d auditioned for Gwyneth, this lovely, sweet girl who saves the world and speaks very lovely Welsh, wearing an, ‘I Support Nudist Colonies’ T-shirt, with two naked women making out. I just went, ‘Well, I’ve blown that.’

6. The big bad wolf

As Gwyneth peers into Rose’s mind (using a form of telepathy that, unusually for Doctor Who, is not explained in a scientific way), she recoils from

the things you’ve seen… the darkness… the Big Bad Wolf!

This is the first real, in-the-clear mention of the Bad Wolf repeated meme, after The End of the World’s brief mention by the Moxx of Balhoon.

But now we know where the whole Bad Wolf thing was heading, what Gwyneth saw inside Rose’s head doesn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense in reference to the Bad Wolf Corporation.

Indeed, if she’s seeing Rose’s future, then maybe it’s nothing to do with Bad Wolf at all, but she’s sensing Tooth and Claw’s werewolf?

7. Author! Author!

There’s one group of people that writers sometime seek to venerate more than any other, it’s… other writers. Policemen can be saints and sinners, computer experts are often (and sometimes accurately) portrayed as friendless geeks… but writers tend to be portrayed in high regard.

One exception to this is Radio 4’s Ed Reardon, created by Chris Douglas and Andrew Nickolds. Reardon is vain, dismissive, usually highly unproductive – and far more like most writers than we would care to admit.

I certainly don’t begrudge the run-in with Charles Dickens here, though. Simon Callow – no stranger to Dickens, of course – plays him in considerably better health than the real writer was at this stage in his career, thank goodness – who’d want to see a near-dead man career around Cardiff?

8. Fan theory

For the second time in three episodes, we get a riff on the concept of the fan. Where Clive in Rose personified the obsessive collector, here we get the effusive fanboy. Complete with the misguided self-belief that being a fan entitles one to be rude and snarky without remorse.

Mind you, the Doctor is right about the American chapters in Martin Chuzzlewit. As with his other works, Dicken’s novel was published in serial form – and the lead character’s move across the Atlantic was an attempt to compensate for poor sales.

That’s what happens when you let commerce get in the way of creativity.

9. Bodies of gas, heart of stone

The Doctor’s seeming nonchalance in allowing the Gelth to take over human corpses is another, effective way of forcing us, as humans, to question our morality. When Rose pleads that we should respect bodies in death, we tend to agree.

But we don’t, in life, imbue what makes a person into their physical being. Does an amputee become diminished? Of course not. When we die, what has made us who we were in life is gone. Whether or not you believe it moves on elsewhere, when we say we are respecting the body they leave behind, we are really respecting the memory of life.

Unless you’re Gwyneth. In which case, once you’re dead, you can still rummage through your pockets and find the matchbox that will close the rift.

10. It’s impossible for me to die, isn’t it?

Well of course it isn’t Rose, don’t be silly. Your life is all linear at this point, it just happens to have travelled along the fourth dimension in ways that the rest of us haven’t. Now, if you’d crossed your own timeline… but no. That would be too dangerous and silly a thing to do. Wouldn’t it?

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