Saturday, 21 June 2008

Left in no doubt

Well, it was the Doctor-Lite one… but otherwise this was as heavy, bleak and brilliant as anything ever done under the Doctor Who banner. It was almost… ach!.. too good

Doctor Who’s always been about death, see, really; something about death. Not morbidly, but courageously: it champions life - grabbing at movement and sensation and change - because it understands that death is always the favourite in the big race.

Writer Russell T Davies certainly understands that - and what a brilliant, long game he’s playing with the viewers. First the showman’s tricks, the feints, the misdirections; ‘This season will be the ‘lighter one’(!)’. And then this.

Yes, perhaps this season has lacked gravity at some points - only suddenly that doesn’t seem at all true, after watching recent events replayed with the happy endings rubbed out. Just this once, nobody lives, the Doctor’s presence never felt more massively that by his absence.

Even the fairly fluffy Voyage of the Damned was suddenly the prelude to Threads (I know I’m not the only one flashbacking on that mushroom cloud; imagine if the Christmas Day episode had ended like that!), while the formerly-cutesy Adipose ate America, and Donna and family ended up in the desolate streets of Peter Watkins’ War Game. Martha dead. Sarah Jane and gang dead. The only bright spot was Torchwood copping it, too.

I’ve said it before, but, well: everything else is kids’ TV. Despite what the other inmates of Watcher Towers might have you believe, your correspondent isn’t actually aged eight, mentally. So I ask: how is this heavy stuff going down in the longest-day living rooms of the nation? The show’s always been scary, but some of the ideas here - labour camps, noble sacrifice under the wheels of a truck, moving to Leeds - are troubling in a way that, say, murderous giant vegetables just weren’t. Are the spawn sticking with it all?

The script was well served by director Graeme Harper too; ace with action, he handled the intimate stuff confidently. RTD has always loved the domestics - back-chat and hard home truths - and here it’s beautifully woven through a vast notion: death in excelcis, The End of Everything. Harper had something to offer every idea.

But the actors, of course, stole it. Bernard Cribbins’ cameos until now have been sketches of lovely, warm wonder; here his old soldier, all rheumy eyes and haunted heart, made the apocalyptic streets a terrible notion, not just sci-fi set dressing. And what a shame we haven’t seen more of Donna’s mum, Jacqueline King - fine actress.

But what we thought would be Rose’s night was Donna’s - I’ll stick my neck out and say Catherine Tate should make Bafta space on her mantelpiece (if that’s okay with Ant, Dec and Robbie Williams). How far she has brought the character from that first Christmas outing, a Donna any right-minded individual would queue up to push under a van. Now she’s funny and sad and brave and scared at the same time; she’s true. The scene in the time-thing where she suddenly understands that she really has to die… well, as I say, put her name on the plaque now.

Loving the new Rose, too - Rose the revenant, a ghostly, hardened time-hopper in the Doctor’s image, glib because she’s seen it all now, and words can’t convey how bad it’s going to get.

Oh, and the Bad Wolf stuff! Up there with the ‘Professor Yana checks his watch’ in the need-a-wee! stakes, as far as we’re concerned.

If we were giving out stars, it would be the big five - but the stars are going out of course…

Anyway, next time: look who they’ve wheeled out…