Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Broadcast on Sunday 15th-November-Day, and coming after the last two holiday specials, the above Radio Times cover inevitably made this upcoming episode look like a late-run Halloween edition.

In fact it was neither, being set on 21st November and about the now everyday invasion of Earth by zombies.

This time everyone's being taken over by the water.

Using internet news-pages as exposition is an interesting idea, whether or not they are flashbacks of pages that the Doctor has earlier read, but hardly smart for a story set in the year... 2059. There are also flashes of pages from many years after this episode, and the layout still looks identical.

I guess they must actually be shots of some unchanging foreign-language pages in the future, or some alien computer-system complete with Earth-dates, both of which would be consistent with Doctor Who's usual English translation-convention.

Anyway, the actual plot goes nowhere, and for that reason is an unusually good one. All the overwhelming emotional content is new Who is often at the expense of the plot's cohension, so for that reason I think the simple tales tend to fare better. Here it all gives David Tennant the time to do some deeper stuff with the character.

This is a Doctor Who story in which the Doctor fails. He knows that he's going to fail at the outset, and that everyone is going to die. He could try to save their lives, but in this instance that would seriously mess-up humanity's future. (it never seems to occur to him that different humans might just go on to explore space instead)

There's a terrific long sequence in the middle when he tries to leave the doomed Bowie Base One on Mars and let history run its course. For quite a while he just stands in the background watching everyone else losing the battle for their lives.

Doctor: (to himself)"...ohhh... I really should go..."

The Doctor has always been a great moral character, always committed to doing the right thing. Even Colin Baker once said in an interview that his tetchy Doctor was always driven by the 'rightness' of things.

Never has this been better portrayed in this episode, when the Doctor is confronted with two right courses of action, but just can't decide which one is the righter.

His logic is telling him that he should leave, while his emotions / instincts are telling him that he should stay. He's standing still because taking either decision would mean not doing a right thing. The heaviness of his ambivalence is compelling.

Does he stay or go, do they live or die?

At enormous length, his instinct wins.

When he at last gets stuck in and tries to save those few who are still left, once again the emotional content chokes the actual story, as the tightness of the episode's editing becomes the enemy.

The Doctor doesn't have enough time to save the remaining three colonists, but in the final scene back on Earth, he has somehow managed to get them all into the TARDIS in no seconds at all anyway. Not much point in putting that countdown in there then, was there?

And then it all falls apart, right at the very end.

Yes, yet another guest-character sacrifices their life, for the flimsiest of reasons. If I might point out the obvious, taking your own life takes ENORMOUS motivation, rather more than just a few words from some complete stranger. Had Adelaide been a guest-character for a whole series or something, then she might have built-up the necessary faith in the Doctor's claims, but hardly on the same day as meeting him. Good grief - none of us would make it past 20.

However this ending also promises great things. (and I'm not just talking about the peace of no incidental music for an entire one minute and 50 seconds) Flushed with success at having both saved the three survivors and hopefully kept history intact, the Doctor goes a bit mad.

Doctor: "Yes, because there are laws, laws of time, and once upon a time there were people, in charge of those laws, but they died. They ALL died. Do you know who that leaves? ME. It's taken me all these years to realise, the laws of time are MINE, and THEY WILL OBEY ME."

At last - I've been waiting for this to sink in ever since Father's Day. It would be great if we now had a set of episodes with the Doctor exploring this freedom and discovering what he can now get away with doing to time.

But he'll probably just keep on meeting zombies.

Overall though, a fantastic episode.

Lastly, would you like to see just how far gone BBC Presentation now are?

Yes, those credits are now in a box in a box in a box in a box.

Now that's scary - maybe they meant to show it on Boxing Day?

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