"That's more like it!" my husband said at the end of this 2-parter. "That's even better than Firefly!"
Episodes 4 & 5 form the first two-parter, a refreshing change since Dr. Who has traditionally had 2 hour stories. The 45-minute format was starting to feel a bit cramped.
The Doctor and Rose return from their "first date". Supposedly they've only been gone for 12 hours. Actually they've been gone for 12 months -- oh that pesky glitch in the navigational system. Rose's disappearance has led to some pretty serious consequences for her family.
Some people have complained about the "soap-opera" aspect of this story arc, but it plugs a major hole in the Dr. Who meme: what happens to the Companion's family when they're gone? People have thrown conniptions about relatively minor continuity glitches, but I always wanted to know what really did happen when Sara Jane failed to show up in South Croydon? What did Teagan's aunt think when Teagan disappeared for so long? These issues were either not treated at all in the old series or they were treated as a joke. I like that they are taken seriously now.
Post World War I Modernist fiction had an orphan fetish. Every hero, from Hemingway's crowd to Superman, were supposed to be orphans. Orphans were supposed to be better, "purer", sexier because they had fewer messy entangling alliances with other people. This conceit hung on in series media far longer than it should have because it made characters simpler to write. Unfortunately real people without those messy connections end up with serious psychological problems. Thank goodness we're finally getting away from that conceit and showing people plugged into more realistic relationships. Science fiction and fantasy stories especially need all the realism they can get.
People have complained, "It's supposed to be escapism!" Yes well it's also supposed to be a children's show; and it's a good idea that children find out that cutting yourself off from all family ties is usually Not a Good Idea. Exceptions exist, but they are rare.
I didn't like Jackie at first, but what does she do when her daughter disappears for a whole year? She devotes herself to trying to find Rose. And what does she do when her daughter reappears with a scruffy nameless stranger who offers an extremely lame explanation? She slaps him into the middle of next week. I love Jackie for that blow. Many an earlier supporting character has wanted to do the exact same thing. Both Jackie and Mickie get a chance to develop as strong, intelligent, compassionate people.
The Doctor tells Rose he's 900 years old. Huh? 60 years ago he wa not quite 800. There's some missing decades in there somewhere. What was he doing then, and how long was he involved with this "Time War"?
The plot -- someone who shall remain nameless (but whose initials are RTD) has been watching too much X-Files. An alien crash-lands a spaceship in the Thames -- but it's a fake alien. UFO experts from around the world gather to look at it -- but it's a trap to kill them set by the real aliens, who have taken over the government. Mulder would feel right at home.
And what is the alleged goal? To get the Earth to nuke itself so they can sell off the radioactive bits. There's billions of dead worlds out there you can nuke and sell off. Why bother with all that subterfuge (which was uncomfortable for the aliens) just so you can nuke a live world? It doesn't work....
...unless, in true X-Files fashion, the plot with the real aliens is a cover for another plot with another set of aliens. The Slitheen were a family business. Maybe they weren't working on spec. Maybe they were working on a commission which included a generous side package. Maybe that signal wasn't just the announcement of a fire sale, but also a signal to their real client. I ran that idea past my husband.
"You know who its got to be then," he said. "There's only one set of Who villains with a habit of working through intermediaries."
"There's two out of the Big Three, but only one uses intermediaries AND conquers planets. We're speculating way ahead of data here, though. We'll see."
After all, if you're going to do X-Files "conspiracies within conspiracies", you don't stop at just one layer. You go all the way.
The acting was excellent, but the Doctor is seriously off his feed. As my husband put it, "Tom Baker's Doctor would have figured it out in time to tell everyone to take off their badges." Or at least stolen the General's suit.
I had trouble with the Doctor's reluctance to get involved. It's not his style to sit on the sidelines, and he couldn't keep it up for long. Why did he try in the first place? Is there some reason he wants to stay out of the interplanetary limelight? What kind of attention would he attract? But that's speculating in advance of data.
I had an easier time with his difficulty coming to terms with endangering Rose, because his trouble with figuring out when it is acceptable to be responsible for the death of another, friend, foe or neutral is an ongoing plot in this season.
There's a juvenile aspect to the story which involves farting aliens. *Deep sigh*. I feel like Jackie here, "I suppose somebody put you up to it, did they? Well, you've had your fun. Just don't do it again. Ever. You hear me?" It worked in this particular story, but you can only pull a stinker like that off once without getting too camp to watch any longer.