Sunday, April 10, 2005

Doctor Who - The Unquiet Dead

Before I start ... here be spoilers. You have been warned. Mark Gatiss' The Unquiet Dead is, for me at least, the best thing I've seen on television for such a long time. The fact that it is also Doctor Who is a massive bonus, and it firmly cements the diversity and effectiveness of the Doctor Who format. So far in the 2005 season we have seen the Doctor and Rose enjoy an adventure on contemporary Earth, and then travel into the far future to witness the destruction of said planet. Now we travel back into the past - the Doctor is aiming for Naples, December 24th 1860 but arrives in Cardiff, 1869, instead. But as usual the TARDIS seems to have chosen this period as no sooner have the Doctor and Rose started enjoying the wintry atmosphere than screams and shouts from a local theatre alert them to the fact that something is up. 'That's more like it!' exclaims the Doctor with familiar enthusiasm and the time travellers are thrown into the mystery of the walking corpses. The handling of the themes of this episode are very cleverly carried out. Gatiss has ensured that there is a high quotient of horror here, and the opening scenes where Mr Redpath is killed by his reanimated 86 year old grandmother are very spooky. As is the shot leading to the opening credits where she walks towards the camera moaning and glowing with internal light. Other moments of terror include where the Gelth manifests behind Gwyneth at the 'seance' and also where the reanimated dead stalk, first Rose in the locked room, and then the Doctor, Rose and Dickens in the morgue. The make up and CGI effects for the zombies is very effective indeed, and evokes a chill down the spine. Mr Sneed's death is unexpected and somewhat brutal, as is his immediate reanimation as a walking corpse ... overall the horrific elements of the story work very well indeed and provide for some impressive moments. Of the cast, all are uniformly superb. From the somewhat bemused Mr Sneed to Gwyneth, and especially to Dickens - a role which Simon Callow plays with relish and which is supremely watchable and enjoyable. Gwyneth has 'the Sight' as Sneed puts it, and can sense the minds of others. This leads to some brilliant performances as Gwyneth senses that Rose has 'come such a long way' before seeing some hidden terror in 'the Darkness ... and the Big Bad Wolf ...' which leaves Rose confused. Gwyneth is a fabulous creation. Simple and yet sensitive ... someone who you feel sorry for, and yet who manages to steal every scene she is in through underplaying the role and simply by being honest and caring to all those she meets. As Rose says at the end: 'She saved the world ... a servant girl no one will ever know.' Callow's Dickens is likewise a masterful creation, being world-weary and depressed at the start, to being given a new infusion of life and joy de vivre at the end. I loved his 'What the Shakespeare's going on?' line (even though it is a little corny), and using him to realise that the Gelth can be drawn from the corpses by filling the house with gas was a nice idea. As for the Gelth ... they seem somewhat underused here, and the twist that they are actually evil was pretty predictable. Interesting that they know about the Time War (referred to in The End of the World) and that they claim that this wiped them out (which would seem to be a blatant lie). Other things I loved about this episode included Rose's leaving the TARDIS for the first time, hesitating to step out into another time, and then leaving a hesitant footprint in the snow ... Rose's accepting 'Okay' when the Doctor tells her that their companion is Charles Dickens (I am growing to love Rose more and more, and her natural asides and almost resigned accepting of what the Doctor explains and shows her are very endearing) ... I even appreciated the small detail of the fallen snow being left behind when the TARDIS dematerialises at the end, being blown in the wind ... it's the small things which make it all so enjoyable and perfect, and I for one really appreciate them. The episode ends with a superb explosion ... a fitting end to a superb story. Generally the lighting and direction throughout has been exemplary. I loved the use of muted colours, and the warm oranges and reds used for the humans compared with the cold blues and violent reds of the Gelf. Moreover, The Unquiet Dead has a good, linear plot which can be easily followed. It doesn't seem too rushed, and everything hangs together perfectly. My only gripe - and this is a very minor comment - is that the Doctor never saw Rose being chloroformed by Sneed and placed in the hearse ... so when he leaves the theatre with Dickens, how does he know she is in the vehicle being driven away? The Unquiet Dead has an excellent plot, and when combined with top-rate acting, some dazzling dialogue, and impressive and atmospheric effects, it is quite the best way to spend 45 minutes that I can think of.


David K said...

I agree with you, David. If this is what the new Doctor Who can be, then it is very promising. I was somewhat disappointed by the previous two outings, but this one had a lot more going for it. Two scenes stood out for me: it was a stroke of genius to portray the Doctor as an awestruck fan upon meeting Charles Dickens, and their dialogue in that scene is witty and well acted. It is very touching when, at the end of the story, Dickens asks the Doctor if his books will outlive him, and the Doctor's response is exhilerating. Great stuff. Apparently, some people have criticized this episode re: the Doctor's ineffectiveness against the menace of the week, but he infuses Charles Dickens with a postive new outlook on life, which seems pretty heroic and worthwhile to me.

The Co-ordinator said...

Yes it was a good episode - no doubt about that. However, I do feel it was not quite as good as some people are saying, viz a viz one of the greatest of all time. I think the problem remains that the single 45 minute story does not allow for enough character or plot development, let alone sub plots.

As just one example David, and knowing how much you love "Talons of Weng Chiang" (something about which I totally agree by the way) can you imagine how much better "Unquiet Dead" would have been if we had spent more time behind the scenes at the theatre!

Nonetheless I don't think any of us could have expected things to go as well as they have: great reviews from the press, the most watched programme on TV on Saturday, (beating a Royal Wedding, The Grand National and Casualty, not to mention Ant & Dec), a Christmas Special, a new series next year....and of course 10 more episodes to look forward to in the next two and a half months, during most of which time the opposition on ITV looks like being Celebrity Wrestling!

Happy Days indeed!!!