Doctor Who, The Complete Specials (2009)


Our rating: 4 out of 5

Rated: TVPG

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Christmas is never quite normal when one is hanging around the Doctor (David Tennant). The last of the ancient race of Time Lords, with his space machine known as the TARDIS (currently stuck in the form of a blue police box), he discovers adventure wherever he goes -- in this case, Victorian London. It begins innocently enough, a nice stroll down a pleasant side street littered with vendors and scrappy street children. But then someone screams "Doctor!" in that familiar voice and he bounds to the rescue -- only to discover another Doctor is on hand to assist in chasing down a monster. Determined not to be left behind, our Doctor latches onto the rope behind the other Doctor (David Morrissey) and goes for the ride of his life. It seems his old nemesis the Cybermen have returned -- but of even greater interest is his replacement. The "new" Doctor remembers nothing he should -- not anything about his life or companions, nor does he recognize an earlier version of himself, which makes the real Doctor rather suspicious.


His curiosity is temporarily thwarted when a diabolical plot is revealed to dominate all life on earth. Leading the charge is the beautiful but lethal Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan), who has had quite enough nonsense and simply wants to make use of London's children for a dark purpose. Once the Doctor amends this mess and saves the world once again -- this time with a hot air balloon and plenty of cheek -- it's off to a dead planet through a space hole, with a jewel thief in tow -- then into a sticky situation on Mars and finally back to London to face the resurrection of a fellow Time Lord (John Simm) who is... well, just a bit mad, really.


If one thing can be said about this collection of five episodes (the last the famous finale that nearly brought about the return of the Time Lords and introduced us to the newest incarnation of the Doctor) in the franchise, it is that it will make you laugh, certainly -- but also cry. It appears at times that the show's writers have bitten off a bit more than they can chew but overall the episodes are solid, thought-provoking, and give the chance for popular BBC actors to make guest appearances -- including a terrific Timothy Dalton as one of the Lords of Time, Catherine Tate as the Doctor's tragic former companion, and Lindsay Duncan as a scientist who doesn't always approve of his methods. The Victorian tale is a marvelous Steampunk adventure (Steampunk is the blending of Victorian situations and scientific advancement, such as the Cybermen, hot air balloons, and so forth), "The Planet of the Dead" involves giant flies and fun banter between a literal Lady with sticky fingers and the Doctor, "The Waters of Mars" is guaranteed to give children nightmares for weeks, and "The End of Time" sees the return of the Master.


The fun and games we are accustomed to whenever dragged along on the Doctor's grand adventures are present, as are the interesting social analogies, primarily that we should not assume "different" is essentially evil. There is a flying bus (yes, really), the Doctor showing the utmost disrespect to a precious golden artifact (well, he needed to use it to save everyone, so who is complaining?), and genuine angst in Tennant's departure. (I cried for days and sulked for months. That's just how it goes.) It's also fairly mild in terms of content, since it is aimed at children -- however, parents may want to screen episodes first since several of them do have intensely frightening situations. Water creatures inhabit human hosts and transform them into sinister, creepy-looking creatures, as well as try to drown individual characters. One episode touches on suicide (we see someone enter a building, and then hear a gunshot); another brings about several near-deaths. Secondary figures perish in different ways -- through electrocution, etc. The Master is resurrected from death and takes over all of humanity, transforming everyone on the planet into his likeness (including our current president). There's a momentary reference to Jesus' death ("well, what really happened...") as pertains to Easter, but we never know what the Doctor actually witnessed. Mild homosexual references appear in a couple of the episodes (throwaway lines pertaining to a man having a "boyfriend"; the Doctor also "sets up" his bisexual friend Jack Harkness with a man at a bar); an old woman places her hand deliberately on the Doctor's backside while a portrait is being taken.


The conclusion of these specials brings about a lingering sense of sorrow blended with anticipation, since the final scene makes us laugh in spite of having just torn our heart in two. In many respects it is the end of one era and the beginning of another, because it is David Tennant's final appearance as the infamous time-traveling alien and our first glimpse of Matt Smith in the role. Momentarily, we return to various companions and learn what has become of them. It is, in all respects, as much a tribute to the show's re-imagining through Russell T. Davis as a farewell to its leading man. Martha and Donna have moved on with their lives, and Rose is about to embark on her greatest adventure. Though not without occasional absurdities, it is a worthwhile set of episodes and our chance to bid a final farewell to arguably the most popular Doctor of all time.