Series 4 (Feb 28, Mar 14 - Mar 26)

February 28: "Time Crash" / "Voyage of the Damned"
March 14: "Partners in Crime"
March 15: "The Fires of Pompeii"
March 16: "Planet of the Ood"
March 17: "The Sontaran Stratagem"
March 18: "The Poison Sky"
March 19: "The Doctor's Daughter"
March 20: "The Unicorn and the Wasp"
March 21: "Silence in the Library"
March 22: "Forest of the Dead"
March 23: "Midnight"
March 24: "Turn Left"
March 25: "The Stolen Earth"
March 26: "Journey's End"



February 28: "Time Crash" / "Voyage of the Damned"

The fifth and tenth Doctors. ("Time Crash") ©BBC
It's 16 November 2007, which means it's time once again for Children in Need -- and Doctor Who is there to help the cause again, with another specially-filmed mini-episode.  But this one is particularly special, because we get Peter Davison back; Doctor Who is explicitly referencing its 20th-century past with this 8-minute vignette, set in the middle of the last scene of "Last of the Time Lords".  And yes, of course Davison looks older191, and his voice has changed a bit (although this is less surprising to anyone who's listened to his Big Finish plays), but it's still genuinely thrilling to see him here, in his costume and dashing around the TARDIS console.  Of course, in fine multi-Doctor tradition, the tenth Doctor gets some snarky remarks in (such as when Davison turns down the sonic screwdriver: "you liked to go hands free, didn't you, like hey, I'm the Doctor, I can save the universe using a kettle and some string.  And look at me, I'm wearing a vegetable."), while the fifth Doctor also gets some nice moments ("What have you done to my TARDIS?  You've changed the desktop theme, haven't you?  What's this one, coral?", and the way he mistakes the tenth Doctor for a fan).  It's a joy to see these two Doctors together, and while the resolution of the problem is a bit silly (a supernova and a black hole cancel each other out?), David Tennant is exhibiting such clear joy at being on screen with Davison that it's easy to forgive any flaws.  It's short and sweet, and you sort of wish Davison could have stuck around a little longer, but "Time Crash" does what it set out to do with great style.

That said, Murray Gold's brief use of an old synthesizer to give us that early '80s Doctor Who feel might be the best thing here.

And then it's Christmas 2007 and time to get a proper start to Doctor Who's fourth series, with "Voyage of the Damned".  It opens with a new arrangement of the theme tune (mainly distinguished by electric guitars and more prominent drums), and then it's into Doctor Who's take on disaster movies.

I have to admit; when it first came out I couldn't really see the appeal of this story.  "Voyage of the Damned" wants less to subvert the disaster movie and more to respect it, to follow in its footsteps -- and it's never quite clear why this is a good thing.  But after rewatching it a number of times, its virtues become more apparent.  There's quite a bit that this story does well.

The cast is one of those areas.  Kylie Minogue is really quite wonderful as Astrid Peth, portraying her as optimistic and hopeful and generally sweet.  (Minogue, incidentally, becomes one of the rare people who's been mentioned in Doctor Who (in "The Idiot's Lantern") and then subsequently appeared in it.)  Bernard Cribbins (last seen on the show (sort of) as PC Tom Campbell in the film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., and last heard in the 2007 McGann audio story Horror of Glam Rock) has a great little cameo as the man in the newspaper booth, and the ever-unflappable Geoffrey Palmer, true to form, shows up on Doctor Who just so he can be killed (see also Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Mutants).

The Doctor's party discover their next obstacle. ("Voyage of
the Damned") ©BBC
But really everyone here is lovely -- you really grow to like all the survivors in the Doctor's party (well, except for Rickston Slade, but he's designed to be awful -- and Gray O'Brien does a great job with the character, making him totally unrepentant), and it's a genuine tragedy when they start dying off, as Davies has taken the time to make these characters seem like real people, rather than just ciphers.  Even if the direction makes at least two of the deaths look unnecessary.  (All right, maybe Astrid couldn't jump out in time -- but why does Foon lasso the Host and pull it with her when she could have just pushed it?  All right, she's decided to commit suicide -- but then why do we get a shot of the rope falling off the Host as Foon falls, and why didn't the Host just fly back up at that point?)  And other characters, like Midshipman Frame (as played by Russell Tovey, who was reportedly Russell T Davies' favorite for the eleventh Doctor), also do their part with considerable style.

It's not a total success, though; I'm not sure if the Host's resemblance to the robots in The Robots of Death is intentional or not, but it does lead to comparisons between the stories that "Voyage of the Damned" doesn't win.  Meanwhile, George Costigan as Max Capricorn has decided to overplay much of it, and while this generally works, the part where he discusses how the women of Penhaxico Two are fond of metal tips it into Austin Powers' Dr. Evil territory.

But there's enough here to enjoy to make "Voyage of the Damned" worth your time.  It looks fabulous, it moves at a nice clip, and there are enough gems in the dialogue to keep you entertained.  It's even a bit self-aware at the appropriate moments ("One of these days it might snow for real," the Doctor comments, after Mr. Copper mentions how he thinks the snow is actually the Titanic's ballast).  Not bad for the BBC Wales' version's highest viewing figure to date, at 13.13 million viewers.

(And it's rather sweet how this is dedicated to the memory of Verity Lambert, Doctor Who's first producer.  One wonders what she would have made of this episode.)



March 14: "Partners in Crime"

It took me longer than it probably should have to realize "Partners in Crime" is meant to be a farce.

In retrospect, all the signs are there.  There are definitely genuinely funny moments in this -- the mime between the Doctor and Donna is truly wonderful (and Miss Foster's dry interjection -- "Are we interrupting you?" -- is superbly delivered), and there are tons of funny moments and lines scattered throughout.  The first clear sign that this is meant to be less than serious is the way Donna and the Doctor keep just missing each other in the Adipose Industries office.  The whole episode has moments like this as a result -- and in particular, Miss Foster's fate (where she remains suspended in the air for a moment before falling) looks incredibly strange without this piece of information.

Donna gives the Doctor a second pendant. ("Partners in Crime")
©BBC
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that "Partners in Crime" isn't only a farce -- there are also more serious emotional moments as well.  Donna is redefined as a more nuanced character than she was in "The Runaway Bride" -- she's thankfully significantly less shouty and abrasive than she was there, and her interactions with the Doctor are far more varied as a result.  Her conversation with her grandfather (as played by national British treasure Bernard Cribbins, last seen in "Voyage of the Damned") is really lovely -- even if I'm utterly sick of parts of this speech, thanks to them being in the series 4 trailer that I've been seeing off and on for fifteen months now.  Nevertheless it's still a nice conversation, and both Cribbins and Catherine Tate do a great job with the material.  (Oh, and it's nice how the episode is dedicated to Howard Attfield, who played Donna's dad in "The Runaway Bride" and started to film scenes for this episode before he died.)

It's this blend of styles, though, that makes it difficult at times to see what "Partners in Crime" is trying to do.  It's not as much of a problem as it was in Torchwood's "Something Borrowed" -- though that's possibly because the jokes are better here, and everyone is more committed to making them work.  Catherine Tate obviously excels here, but even a character like Penny Carter194 works well by actress Verona Joseph being fully committed to her role.  But nevertheless the seriousness of some scenes, and the bizarre horror of the Adipose being formed from people being fully converted into Adipose children, does mean that the juxtaposition can be jarring, and the farcical nature of the episode isn't as strong as it was intended to be.

Still, repeated viewings lessen that jarring sensation, and what's left is a very entertaining season opener.  "Partners in Crime" does well with what it's given, and the end result is very satisfying.



March 15: "The Fires of Pompeii"

There's a part of me that hoped, just for a minute, that this would be a straight historical about the destruction of Pompeii, à la the Big Finish audio The Fires of Vulcan.  Alas, it wasn't to be; the aliens (rock creatures who live in Mount Vesuvius) show up pretty quickly.  Still, shouldn't blame episodes for not being something they're not trying to be.  And there are some nice jokes scattered about, like the recurring "I don't speak Celtic" bit, or the reference back to "The Empty Child" / "The Doctor Dances": "We're in Pompeii.  And it's volcano day."  Oh, and an offhand reference to The Romans: "Before you ask, that fire had nothing to do with me.  Well, a little bit."

But what's up with the cast of this episode?  I don't mean the performances -- they're generally rather good (even if the efforts to make Caecilius's family seem "just like us" feel a little strange and out of place -- it's like they don't think we can relate to a family unless they behave like a modern one195).  No, there must have been something in the air, as we get not just a future companion (Karen Gillan, who will be Amy Pond, is the first of the Sibylline Sisterhood that we see), but also a future Doctor, as Caecilius is played by Peter Capaldi.  It's initially a bit difficult to get past that, actually, as you notice mannerisms that will become more familiar as twelfth Doctor ones, but you get used to it soon enough.  Oh, and as long as we're discussing production things...  Look!  It's our first overseas filming of the 21st century (well, except for some brief background plates shot in New York for "Daleks in Manhattan"), and it's really wonderfully impressive to see what the team did in Italy.  There are some shots that were definitely not taken in Cardiff, and the episode is better for it.

Metella, Caecilius, and the Doctor look at the obliterated
Pompeii. ("The Fires of Pompeii") ©BBC
As far as the actual content, though, there are some minor problems.  The discussions between the Doctor and Donna about whether or not the people of Pompeii can be saved are really nice, and we get some small insight into what it's like for the Doctor as he travels: "Some things are fixed, some things are in flux.  Pompeii is fixed."  "How do you know which is which?" Donna asks.  "Because that's how I see the universe," the Doctor replies.  "Every waking second, I can see what is, what was, what could be, what must not."  (This also seems to be the episode where the term "fixed point" really gains traction as a convenient way to wave away the problems with changing history (or not).)  Donna just wants him to save the people, even though the Doctor knows he can't.  I do like how it turns out that it's the Doctor's actions that cause established history -- it's a good move that doesn't happen often enough (except as a quick joke/reveal, frequently at the end of an episode -- see, for instance, The Romans or The Visitation).  It's a bit odd, the "everyone has to die" dilemma though, as the fatality rate for Pompeii, while high, wasn't 100%.  (Oh, and while we're quibbling: the Romans had seen volcanoes before Vesuvius erupted, so the word wasn't created on 24 August 79.)  Still, it gives us a nice dilemma that shows that Donna does have an effect on the Doctor.  "You were right," he tells her afterwards.  "Sometimes I need someone."

But when you take out the main "condemning everyone to die" part, the rest is rather weak.  I've mentioned the concerns with Caecilius's family, but the stuff with the Pyroviles also feels awkward, as if we need a monster in this story just for the sake of having an alien monster.  There's only the thinnest veneer of motivations given, in order to force the Doctor to doom Pompeii -- and the reasoning behind the accuracy of the Sibylline prophecies is also just technobabble and unsatisfying as a result.

Still, there's not much actually wrong with the episode -- much that could have probably been done better, but few actual missteps.  There's enough that's right with "The Fires of Pompeii" to maintain your interest, even if it's not likely to be one of your favorite episodes of the show (or even of series 4).  And it's fun to watch Capaldi in Doctor Who before he became the Doctor, so there's that at least.



March 16: "Planet of the Ood"

Hooray!  Another alien planet!  That makes four of any note since the series came back in 2005.  Perhaps Russell T Davies finally thinks the audience won't disappear if we spend a week somewhere other than Earth.  Oh, and another Hartnell reference, as we learn that the Ood Sphere is close to the Sense-Sphere (The Sensorites).

But I'm not quite sure what this story wants to be.  In some ways it wants to be a straightforward action story, with evil guards against the righteous Doctor.  There's even a (frankly silly) sequence where the lead guard, Kess, tries to play a giant version of the crane game with the Doctor.  But it also wants to be a pointed commentary about the Ood, to explicitly address the problem of slavery that was brought up and then set aside in "The Impossible Planet" / "The Satan Pit".  But because it wants to be both this and the action plot, it ends up pulling some of its punches.  So of course all the humans are generally terrible people -- the bit with the PR representative Solana calling the guards over rather than helping the Doctor is a nice reversal of how these things normally work, with the Doctor completely failing to win her over, but it does lump her in with the rest of the nasty humans.  Commander Kess literally cackles with delight at the thought of killing the Doctor and has no qualms with gassing the red-eye Ood, and even Halpen appears to be looking forward to the thought of killing the main Ood brain and starting over in another business, with no second thoughts about the fate of the Ood.

An unprocessed Ood with his hindbrain. ("Planet of the Ood") ©BBC
As such, there's no question whatsoever that humanity is in the wrong.  I'm not trying to argue that slavery is ever a good thing, but it might have been more interesting to have had a race of beings who genuinely wanted nothing more than to serve others (which is sort of what "The Impossible Planet" / "The Satan Pit" was getting at) -- what then would be the answer?  Would the Ood be better off with their freedom?  But I suppose there wasn't enough time in a single episode to explore something more nuanced, so instead we get evil humans and oppressed Ood.  And while there's an effort to be pointed in the commentary ("Who do you think made your clothes?" the Doctor asks, after Donna says she doesn't have slaves), they back down -- Donna gets snarky and the Doctor apologizes.  All this and weird alien biology to boot.  (They have a second, exposed brain that they have to carry in their hands?  How did they possibly survive on their own with something like this?)

The other thing to note about "Planet of the Ood" is how little the Doctor and Donna's presence actually matters.  Nothing they learn is a revelation to the people in power or to the Ood, and none of their actions make any difference until the very end -- and even then, it's not like Ood Sigma couldn't have deactivated the bombs and shut off the telepathic barrier around the big shared Ood brain.  The events we see here were set in motion before the Doctor and Donna arrived (i.e., Dr. Ryder's actions and the slow conversion of Halpen into an Ood... er, yes...) and almost certainly would have happened without them running around.  And yet Ood Sigma says "the Doctor-Donna" will be revered forever because of what they did there.  Hmm.

It's not a bad episode -- there's a lot that this does right -- but it never quite gels into the story that it should be.  It's not exciting enough to work as an action story, and it's too straightforward to work as a political drama.  It's a good effort, but "Planet of the Ood" never quite makes it to the place it wants to end up at.



March 17: "The Sontaran Stratagem"

Back to contemporary London for our first two-parter of series 4, and so far it's shaping up to be a good one.  The title, of course, means it's not exactly a secret that the Sontarans are returning, for the first time since 1985's The Two Doctors, but director Douglas Mackinnon has some fun just showing a gloved hand here and an off-screen voice there, until he reveals them in their redesigned glory.  It's mainly the uniform that's changed, looking more like plate armor than before and with a generally bluer tinge -- the "potato head" is more or less the same, albeit more natural-looking (thanks to advances in makeup and latex over the past 24 years).

Commander Staal gives orders to his hypnotized minions. ("The
Sontaran Stratagem") ©BBC
It is nice to see the Sontarans back in action, even if they're skulking about rather than making a glorious attack or anything like that.  (Although, come to think of it, every time we've seen them they've been devious and subtle and willing to use other races as patsies/servants, despite what the Doctor says about "typical Sontaran behaviour".)  Christopher Ryan's voice is immediately identifiable as Mike from The Young Ones (or, if you're like me, Kiv from the Colin Baker story Mindwarp), and he does a great job of giving Staal just the right amount of bombast and arrogance.  The Sontarans all seem much shorter than before, though.

There are also lots of jokes scattered throughout, which are really lovely.  The scene where the Doctor says goodbye to Donna is both touching and funny, and I utterly adore the part where the Doctor and Jenkins rush out of the jeep before ATMOS explodes, which does so with a tiny fizzle ("Oh, was that it?" says the Doctor, somewhat disappointedly).  It's also great to see how Donna's granddad Wilf reacts to Donna's stories, and then to the Doctor when he finally shows up at the Noble house.  Oh, and some more offhand references to past stories: Martha is described as having a weak thorax, just like Sarah Jane in The Time Warrior, and the Doctor describes the UNIT of the '70s ("Or was it the '80s?" he wonders, for the handful of fans still holding on to late '70s/early '80s dating) as being more "homespun" than what we see here, which is true.  UNIT here is a lot more disciplined (and, frankly, intimidating) than they were during the Pertwee era.  Oh right, and Martha Jones is back, working for UNIT and having called in the Doctor to help with this ATMOS device.

Actually, this leads to the one major problem with "The Sontaran Stratagem" (well, this and the fact that everything looks purple for some reason -- but that's clearly a design decision), and that is the character of Luke Rattigan.  He's bratty and snotty and basically the television stereotype of the wunderkind, which makes him intensely unlikeable as a result.  (Still, at least he's intended to be unlikeable -- so we're still ahead of Wesley Crusher and the rest of his type.)  As such, it's rather entertaining to watch the Doctor get the better of him: "If only that was possible," Rattigan says, after the Doctor points out he could colonize a new planet with the technology he's developing.  "'If only that were possible.'  Conditional clause," the Doctor corrects him.196  Rattigan tries to get his own back, but it comes off as weak and petulant, as he tries to criticize the Doctor's use of "ATMOS System".  "It's been a long time since anyone said 'no' to you, isn't it?" the Doctor says mildly (and, somewhat ironically, using the wrong verb -- "isn't" instead of "hasn't").  This is the weakest part of the episode, and one does wonder a bit what's going to happen in the second part.

But so far, "The Sontaran Stratagem" has been an entertaining, solid episode.  The only real hesitation here is that "Daleks in Manhattan" (Helen Raynor's last Doctor Who story) was much the same way and then turned into a damp squib in its second half, "Evolution of the Daleks".  But if this story can avoid the sins of the past then they'll be in good shape.



March 18: "The Poison Sky"

So I remembered not being terribly impressed by this story, the first few times I watched it.  This time around, though, I found myself reasonably entertained.  It's not the greatest story out there, and it's not even necessarily anything more than an average tale, but then again it's not trying to be clever or inventive.  No, what "The Sontaran Stratagem" / "The Poison Sky" wants to do is tell a fun action story that reintroduces the Sontarans, and at that it succeeds quite well.

Yes, there are some problems with "The Poison Sky" in particular.  Luke Rattigan went from annoying to downright distasteful in this second part -- it's incredibly hard to have any sympathy for him even before he starts pulling guns on his students.  You sort of get the impression that they want this to be like Tobias Vaughn getting his revenge on the Cybermen in The Invasion ("They destroyed my dream", if you remember), but Ryan Sampson is no Kevin Stoney.  Not that that stops the episode from trying really hard to make you care about Rattigan and his fate.  Oh, and speaking of strange things like this... why do the script and episode really want us to care about the death of Martha's clone?  It's like they flip a switch from having her doing covert things for the Sontarans to suddenly being a real person dying in front of us.  (Well, actually, dying in front of the real Martha, which makes it even stranger.)  Never mind that she's been working for the enemy -- because she looks like someone we like, we should care.  (Under this logic, some viewers are going to be very upset rewatching this episode and seeing Dan Starkey die just because he looks like Strax.)  And some minor quibbles: it feels odd that the Sontarans are so vulnerable to bullets -- though admittedly, there's nothing in any of their previous appearances, to the best of my knowledge, to suggest they're not -- because you'd think that armor they're wearing would do something.  And I wonder about a device that ignites the toxic gases in the atmosphere but not anything anywhere else.  Or did a huge number of wildfires spring up in the American West (say) that we just don't hear about?

Commander Skorr and his troops. ("The Poison Sky") ©BBC
So those are the problems.  But, balanced against this, we've got some great scenes in "The Poison Sky". It's great how the Doctor immediately works out that Martha is a clone, so that we don't have to worry too much about "oh no, there's a traitor in their midst" and can get on with business as usual.  The Doctor gets to be nice and moral, objecting to guns ("If I see one more gun," he says as he casually disarms Luke and throws the gun away without missing a beat) and insisting that he give the Sontarans a choice between death and retreat, even though he knows they'll choose death.  And while there aren't quite as many little jokes in this episode, there are still fun moments such as Donna sneaking out of the TARDIS to knock out a Sontaran guard, or her continual mispronunciations of the word "Sontaran", with emphasis on the first syllable instead of the second.  (And this is an in-joke as well, reflecting conversations between Kevin Lindsay and director Alan Bromly about the pronunciation during the first Sontaran story, The Time Warrior.)  It's also really lovely how Wilf is firmly on the Doctor's side, telling Donna to go with him over Sylvia's objections -- it's a nice change from family members being firmly anti-Doctor.

But ultimately this is a relatively uncomplicated action story, and while it's not doing anything spectacular, it's telling its tale in a largely entertaining way.  As I said, it's not perfect (even if he's meant to be a prat, what were they thinking by including a character like Rattigan?), but it's definitely an improvement over Raynor's last tale.

And an interesting cliffhanger (the TARDIS suddenly takes off, with Martha still inside with the Doctor and Donna), and a very intriguing trailer for next time, as we meet... the Doctor's daughter?



March 19: "The Doctor's Daughter"

Oh, what a letdown.  That fun build-up at the end of last episode is completely squandered before the credits even roll here, and we learn Jenny is the Doctor's daughter by way of technobabble rather than anything more meaningful or interesting.

The last time Stephen Greenhorn wrote for the series, we got "The Lazarus Experiment", which looked more like the general public/lazy critics' version of Doctor Who than what usually happens.  This is better than that, a bit, but it still has some major problems.  Full marks for another alien planet, though, and a conflict between humans and the alien Hath who are occupying the same space.  It's not exactly original, but it is the sort of thing we haven't seen nearly enough of as of late.  It's also nice to have an alien species who aren't immediately hostile and/or evil and can, in fact, be reasoned with.

Donna shows the Doctor that Jenny has two hearts. ("The Doctor's
Daughter") ©BBC
But the major problems with "The Doctor's Daughter" start early.  The script and direction really want us to like Jenny, even though we're not given much of a reason to -- indeed, it's easier to side with the Doctor and his misgivings about how she has the knowledge of a soldier but not a Time Lord in her head.  (Oh, and while we're here... Georgia Moffett is the daughter of fifth Doctor Peter Davison (real name Peter Moffett) -- so the title is both technobabble and an in-joke.)  It doesn't help that we're not allowed to draw our own conclusions, forced instead to watch her do clever and amazing things and have that, it seems, be enough.  Then there's the huge problem lurking at the center of this: the (superficially nifty) twist that the war has only been going on for one week.  It's a nice idea, but if you think about it at all it falls apart rather spectacularly.  It's not just the matter of General Cobb being played as someone far too old for this to work (which suggests that either he came out of the machine really old and they made him their leader, or that all these clones are subject to highly accelerated aging and they'll all be dead in a few days anyway -- or that he's been alive the entire week and just really hates the Hath), but that this idea requires the complete and total annihilation of something like twenty generations of soldiers in the space of a day or so (so that nothing but myths and legends survive).  At the very least, what happens to all the bodies?

(There's also the matter of the Hath travelling with Martha who falls into some quicksand and dies, even though it's not breathing the outside air in the first place.  To be fair, someone's realized this and placed a smashing glass sound over the shot, even though there's no good reason why the Hath's respirator would have been destroyed in the first place.)

On the plus side, many of the performances (particularly from the regulars) are very good.  You can see the hurt and confusion on David Tennant's face as he grapples with this new "daughter" of his, and he does a great job of selling scenes like the one in the prison cell, where he talks a bit about the Time War, that don't actually provide us with any new information.  The scene where he watches Jenny die, and then points a gun at Cobb's head, is also really powerful, and you get the impression that he might actually pull the trigger, even though he subsequently says he "never would".  Catherine Tate is also good as the Doctor's foil, teasing him about becoming a father and working out what the dates mean (even if the description of this ("like it is in America") is strange, as Americans don't put the year first -- and why does Donna think the first two numbers in "60120724" are some sort of space date and not simply the 61st century?), and Freema Agyeman is great working with the Hath.  Georgia Moffett also does the best she can with the material she's given, even though the script largely requires her to be doe-eyed and innocent, even when she's shooting at people.

But it's not enough.  Despite some interesting bits here and there, there's a sense of tiredness about "The Doctor's Daughter", as if it's acceptable to go through the motions once they've come up with their plot twist.  It even ends the way you might expect, with Jenny coming back to life (thanks to terraforming gas, though, not regenerative energy -- note the colors) and heading out into the universe for a sequel-hunting exit.  Not that anyone has taken them up on this.197  This is easily the weakest episode of this series so far, and generally not worth your time.



March 20: "The Unicorn and the Wasp"

I dunno.  I understand that "The Unicorn and the Wasp" wants to be silly and absurd and fun, without too much angst or drama getting in the way, while it pastiches the murder mysteries that Agatha Christie is famous for.  I even think it does a good job with them.  I just don't find it particularly funny.

The nice thing about this episode is that it imagines to be both a trip back to the 1920s, with some elements of flappers and large estates throwing parties thrown in just like we've seen on TV in other shows (or Black Orchid, if Doctor Who is the only thing you ever watch), and a loving tribute to Agatha Christie's novels (along with some of the dafter installments of the Doctor Who strip that TV Comic put out in the 1960s, in case you're wondering what giant wasps have to do with Roaring '20s England).  We also get Felicity Kendal, Christopher Benjamin, and Fenella Woolgar, and a host of other actors who've been in period pieces like this before, so they hardly put a foot wrong as they go through this unusual murder mystery.  And it is a lot like an Agatha Christie mystery -- deliberately, we later learn -- with guests being bumped off in isolated circumstances and everyone keeping secrets from each other.

The Doctor faces the Vespiform.  ("The Unicorn and the
Wasp") ©BBC
The culprit of this mystery, however, is an alien wasp called a Vespiform which can take human form, and which formed a psychic link with its human mother while she was reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  It's an odd and silly idea, but as it's deliberately designed to be absurd it's hard to be mad at it.  Plus they do a nice job with their CGI wasp -- the Mill certainly have come along since "The Lazarus Experiment".

But for me, at least, it never fully coheres into a unified story.  There are definitely funny moments (Colonel Curbishly admitting he's not crippled is a good one, but I also really like the moment where the Doctor chases the Vespiform down a hallway: "There's nowhere to run!  Show yourself!" the Doctor cries, only for six people to emerge from various doorways), but they never feel like they're part of the main event -- rather, it's like an interlude before we get back to the main plot.  (It doesn't help that a couple of the jokes -- like Donna giving Christie ideas -- were used before in Roberts' last Who script.)  And by necessity, the resolution has to be more serious in nature, which does weaken the more good-naturedly silly bits.

I know a number of people who quite adore "The Unicorn and the Wasp", and while I can admire what it's trying to do, it just doesn't come together for me the way it should.  For me, it tends to look a lot like someone trying to be clever and not quite pulling it off.  You can applaud the attempt, but you wish it had gone better.



March 21: "Silence in the Library"

(In the interest of disclosure, it should be noted that "Silence in the Library" / "Forest of the Dead" is the story I wrote about for Outside In vol. 2 -- the only wrinkle being that, as of the time of writing, that book's not actually out yet (should be later this year!).  Still, like Terror of the Zygons, I'll do my best not to cover the same ground here as in that, but some similarities will inevitably occur.  So, with that said...)

The Doctor and the Lux expedition speak to the little girl
through her television. ("Silence in the Library") ©BBC
This starts with, seemingly, two storylines.  The first involves a little girl (apparently in contemporary times, judging from the technology and surroundings) who imagines a giant library that she can explore -- only for the Doctor and Donna to suddenly appear inside her dreams.  The second involves the Doctor and Donna heading to a planet-sized library at the behest of a mysterious note on the psychic paper, only to find the place completely abandoned.  It's not immediately clear what the little girl's doing in this story (although the part with Doctor Moon near the end -- "The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real; the Library is real" -- is a good clue), and, intriguingly, it isn't laid out for us immediately at the start.  (Compare with, say, "The Doctor's Daughter", and note the difference.)  This is a good move.

This episode is also really good at creating a creepy mood.  We've had some creepy moods in Steven Moffat's previous efforts, but this one is wonderfully effective, as the Doctor explains to us reasons to be afraid of the dark beyond the "you can't tell what's hiding in the shadows" one -- it's not just what's concealed in the shadows, it's the shadows themselves.  The Vashta Nerada -- literally (albeit in an unknown language) "the shadows that melt the flesh" -- lurk in the shadows and allegedly can be seen as dust motes in sunbeams.  (Though presumably not all dust motes are Vashta Nerada.)  It's a creepy idea that lends a nice sense of dread to the proceedings, as characters try not to have their shadows touch and an extra shadow means you're marked for death.  (Creepy and easy to realize.  Nice work, Moffat.)  We also get some creepiness with the data ghosts, after Miss Evangelista is killed by the Vashta Nerada.  Plus it gives us another catchphrase to scare people with: "Hey, who turned out the lights?"

Of course, I'm dancing around the big event in this episode: the introduction of Professor River Song.  It's a really nice idea, having someone meet the Doctor out of sequence for him (i.e., from his future), that's somewhat surprisingly only really been explored once before, in 1989's Battlefield.  It's used very effectively here, in the way that River is so comfortable with the Doctor and affectionate toward him, and the scene between the two where River tries to work out where they each are in their relationship, only to learn that this is the first time the Doctor has ever seen River, is really nice.  "He hasn't met me yet," she tells Donna later.  "I sent him a message, but it went wrong.  It arrived too early.  This is the Doctor in the days before he knew me.  And he looks at me, he looks right through me and it shouldn't kill me, but it does."  It's a great conceit that also serves a practical purpose: it means the expedition is willing to listen to the Doctor without too many "why should we pay any attention to you?" speeches.

So, a great start to this two-part story, with a creepy monster, a cool location (although, that said... there were only 4022 people in a planet-sized library the day it sealed itself off?), and a fascinating figure from the Doctor's future.  So far this looks like another winner from Steven Moffat.

(Oh, and nice move in the "next time" trailer, not showing us any scenes with Donna after she's apparently "saved" by the little girl.)



March 22: "Forest of the Dead"

We open with Donna adjusting to a different life, one that seems to jump in time like a dream, but with Doctor Moon helping her.  "And then you remembered," he tells her each time she notices one of the jumps.  This new life is set on (roughly) 21st-century Earth, which is why the girl we saw last time was in that same time period.  Donna seems almost fully "integrated" into this life when glitches start appearing -- such as the Doctor in place of Doctor Moon, or a strange woman dressed all in black, leaving her cryptic notes.  Donna has already started to work out that something is wrong, but that woman (the data ghost of Miss Evangelista) confirms it for her, even though she doesn't want to believe it.  These scenes are directed well -- I really like the edits as time jumps -- and have some imaginative moments, like when we see that all the children playing on the playground are copies of the same two kids, but I think my favorite part is Murray Gold's score, which plays some of the score backwards to really reinforce the sense that something's wrong.  It's a great touch.
"Forest of the Dead" isn't quite as tense and scary as "Silence in the Library" was, but that's because it's more concerned with action and explanation than simply establishing the mood.  The reason the Vashta Nerada appeared in such large numbers in the Library is a clever moment, and the way the Doctor achieves a temporary truce with them at the end ("I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the universe.  Look me up") works a lot better than it has any right to.  And there's still lots of running up and down corridors and dodging shadows and moving spacesuits full of Vashta Nerada, so it's not like it's completely action-free -- it's just that we get a couple moments where the Doctor actually confronts the Vashta Nerada for explanations.

River Song prepares to sacrifice herself to save everyone else.
("Forest of the Dead") ©BBC
But it's not just them we're getting explanations from; we also learn what CAL is and why Lux is so determined to protect his secrets -- it's not because of a patent, it's so that his aunt isn't turned into a freak show.  "This is only half a life, of course," Lux says.  "But it's forever."  It's a surprisingly sweet moment from a character who, up to this point, had only been something of an irritation, and it does make us revise our opinion of him.  CAL had saved everyone in the library from the Vashta Nerada, but now something's gone wrong and the place is going to self-destruct.  This is where we see River sacrifice herself to save everyone, in what's a surprisingly distressing moment (surprising because we've really only just met River).  "Funny thing is, this means you've always known how I was going to die," River tells the Doctor, who's handcuffed and unable to intervene.  "All the time we've been together, you knew I was coming here."  It's a rather tragic idea but a interesting one as well, to learn that the Doctor has (almost) always known how River would die, every time he sees her.  This also gives them a chance to have a sad ending, as the Doctor has lost River and Donna lost her husband in the computer world.  "Are you all right?" Donna asks him.  "I'm always all right," the Doctor responds, echoing what he said at the end of "The Girl in the Fireplace".  But Donna sees through that immediately: "Is 'all right' special Time Lord code for really not all right at all? ... Because I'm all right, too."

But they also then have a chance to have a (somewhat) happy ending, as the Doctor realizes he gave River his screwdriver in his personal future to save River: there was a (presumably special) neural relay in the screwdriver to save River's consciousness.  It's not a complete victory, because the Doctor can't bring her back into the real world, but it is something.  And this is where it turns out that this story is doing cleverer things than you might initially realize.  Because it is a little odd, having Charlotte Lux appear to be in contemporary times, but that's because the production team is trying to leave us with one last lingering question.  We've seen Charlotte watching the Doctor's adventures on her television -- she's essentially watching Doctor Who, just like the viewers (and note how the incidental music changes with the images as she changes channels), except that at one point the Doctor starts addressing her directly from inside the television.  River is now also in the computer, living her virtual life forever, and the final shot of the episode is of her directly addressing the audience: "Sweet dreams, everyone."  Given that that's exactly what happened to Charlotte, the programme seems to be saying to us, can we really be sure we're not inside the Library computer too?

It's clever, it's fun, it's got great characters and direction...  It's not as neatly packaged and presented as Steven Moffat's other stories thus far have been (where it's almost like solving a puzzle rather than experiencing a story), but that's actually one of the strengths of "Silence of the Library" / "Forest of the Dead".  There's a sense of a universe beyond what we're shown -- this world doesn't end just because the story does, and that's a good quality to have.  It's not as brilliant as "The Empty Child" / "The Doctor Dances" or "Blink", but there's a more subtle wonderfulness at work here.  This is why this story is one of the most satisfying tales we've had in Doctor Who.

(This entry is dedicated to the memory of Chris Tremlett, a friend and Doctor Who fan who lost her battle with cancer earlier today.  The universe is a little more sad and a little less mad without her.)



March 23: "Midnight"

As you've no doubt realized (if you've been following along with this blog), one of the things that has given Doctor Who such longevity is its versatility, its ability to be just about any sort of story you want it to be.  That's why the show can be a surreal children's nightmare, then a comedy Western, and then a contemporary thriller -- and that's just three consecutive stories from season 3.

Part of the way Doctor Who is so versatile is by taking other genres of stories and then inserting the Doctor, to see what happens.  Invariably, the presence of the Doctor serves to distort the story, to send it off in a new direction by virtue of his being there.  Take a story like Pyramids of Mars, which should be a story about an ancient Egyptian god returning to unleash his vengeance upon the planet -- except the Doctor turns up and starts asking questions about Sutekh's origins and intentions.  Or Vengeance on Varos, which is a nasty violent dystopian tale of the sort popular in the early/mid '80s -- but then the Doctor arrives, gets most everyone except the villains on his side, and turns the whole thing into a critique of the genre.  The point is that the presence of the Doctor distorts stories -- he gets people on his side via his personality and confidence and sends stories off in a new direction as a result.

Why bring this up?  Because "Midnight" is the one story where this doesn't happen.

You can see it almost start to happen; it starts out as a tense "possession" thriller, but because the Doctor is there things can go in a different direction.  He has experience with this sort of thing, after all.  He almost calms everyone down, but then the hostess advocates throwing the possessed Sky out of the broken-down shuttle and things start to spiral out of control.  Instead of the Doctor being listened to as the voice of reason, the others turn on him in their hysteria, demanding an accounting of him that he's unable to satisfactorily give.  Instead of distorting the story, he's subsumed by it, unable to affect the changes he normally would; he's now a victim like everyone else.

The others watch as the Doctor examines the possessed Sky.
("Midnight") ©BBC
This would be a terrifying move even if "Midnight" weren't so well directed, but director Alice Troughton (no relation) does an outstanding job of laying the tension on thick, with odd angles and cuts and lighting choices all combining to create a genuinely scary experience.  We also get a superb cast, including David Troughton (Patrick Troughton's son, last seen on the show in The Curse of Peladon) as Professor Hobbes, Colin Morgan (soon to be the main character on Merlin) as Jethro, and Lesley Sharp (from a number of earlier RTD productions) as Sky.  This is a very strong cast, but it might be Lesley Sharp who stands out the most as the possessed Sky.  Russell T Davies takes the simple childhood annoyance of repeating what someone says and turns it into something scary, and Lesley Sharp absolutely delivers in her performance -- even David Tennant can't quite match it when it's his turn to play possessed, and he's hardly a slouch in this.

The end result is an episode that gets tenser and more claustrophobic until it approaches breaking point, and the Doctor is powerless to do anything about it.  No one on the shuttle is a bad person -- the scenes at the beginnings show that these are all "normal" people -- but when they're thrust into this situation their worst nature comes out and they're unable to rise above it.  Once again we see that humanity's worst enemy is itself, and it's only the actions of the hostess (who no one knew the name of) that stops the others from murdering an innocent man and inadvertently letting this strange creature go free.  "Midnight" is a powerful, extremely well-crafted story -- even if the points it raises makes it one of the most depressing stories the series has ever done -- and one of the best stories the show has ever done.



March 24: "Turn Left"

Having given us the "companion-lite" episode last time, this time we get the "Doctor-lite" episode.  "Turn Left" provides us with an interesting thought experiment: if Donna had never met the Doctor in "The Runaway Bride", how would things have turned out differently?  Quite a bit, the answer turns out.

There's no question that life is a lot worse without the Doctor around (his having died during the events of "The Runaway Bride"), but Russell T Davies seems to take some delight in showing us just bad things would get.  And so we get both Martha Jones and Sarah Jane and her gang killed during the events of "Smith and Jones" (with Sarah Jane being the one responsible for stopping the Plasmavore's super-charged MRI scheme; intriguingly this suggests that Sarah Jane, Luke, Maria, and Clyde were all present during the events of "Smith and Jones", and that they simply never crossed paths with the Doctor), the starship Titanic crashing into Buckingham Palace and irradiating southern England, half of America converted into Adipose, and Torchwood sacrificing themselves to stop the Sontaran plot to turn Earth into a breeding world.  Each event makes life worse and worse for the Noble family, but what's most interesting is how Davies has some people making the best of it (such as Rocco Colasanto and his family), even when things turn really nasty with the "England for the English" policy.  Donna, meanwhile, has grown up, albeit in a different way from when she met the Doctor.  There, she had her eyes opened; here, she's just had to hunker down and try to make the best of things, even when there's no realistic way to make that happen.

Rose talks to Donna as Donna prepares to travel back in time.
("Turn Left") ©BBC
But even though we don't have the Doctor around, we still need a Doctor figure, which is where Rose Tyler comes in.  After having been making quick cameos here and there throughout series 4 (mostly on monitor screens that the Doctor isn't looking at), she finally appears here to help guide Donna toward the right path, the one that will set the universe back on track.  She's incredibly Doctor-ish in her dialogue here, which is actually something of a hindrance -- Rose (or possibly Billie Piper) frequently sounds like she doesn't quite believe what she's saying, and it weakens these scenes as a result.  Rose is best when she's empathizing with Donna, not when she has to deliver technobabble.

This is definitely a dark episode, and it's interesting to see just how bad things can get when humanity has to rely on each other instead of the Doctor.  But while it's put together really well and does all the things a story like this should do, I find that "Turn Left" is, for me at least, an easy story to admire but a hard story to actually enjoy.  Maybe that's because it's ultimately a bleak look into an alternate history, with little to redeem things here.  But still, it's a story worth doing, and as a way to define the Doctor by his absence, it would be hard to do better than this.



March 25: "The Stolen Earth"

Wow, that sure was a lot of excitement for what's essentially little more than a set-up episode!

Because when you think about it, little happens in "The Stolen Earth" beyond moving all the pieces into position.  The Earth disappears before the credits even roll, and everything else involves getting everyone to where they'll need to be for the cliffhanger.  Still, it's really quite exciting seeing not just Martha Jones and Rose Tyler, but also Sarah Jane and Luke and what's left of the Torchwood team -- and being familiar with the spin-off shows does give these guest appearances more impact.198  It's genuinely exciting to see Sarah Jane's attic and the Torchwood hub on Doctor Who -- and it provides a nice sense of interconnectedness among the three shows, rather than the one-way street it had been.

But because we're tying in three shows, Russell T Davies has to devote quite a bit of time to each one, to give just enough detail for those viewers who haven't been watching all three shows to know who these people are and what's going on.  That does take up a lot of time, and while the process is hurried along by the return of former PM Harriet Jones, who has them all talk to each other via her own version of Skype, it still does slow things down.  Fortunately, Davies has realized that this would happen, so he keeps interspersing these sequences with waves of Daleks attacking the planet while the Doctor and Donna pop off to the Shadow Proclamation (which is, oddly, an organization rather than an announcement) to work out that various instances of planets going missing are related.  "Someone tried to move the Earth once before.  Long time ago," the Doctor recalls in what's most likely a reference to The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

But, because there's so much maneuvering involved, it does take a while before things get started, but once they do, they hardly let up.  After Harriet Jones gets everyone talking (except for Rose, who's frankly a bit bitchy when she sees and hears about Martha), we get Harriet exterminated, the Doctor and Donna involved in the action on Earth, and an onscreen confrontation between the Doctor and Davros.  Davros, it seems, fought in the Time War but was pulled out by Dalek Caan (last seen "emergency temporal shift"-ing in "Evolution of the Daleks"), and has now devised some new plan that involves 27 planets.  They've done a really good job with Davros in terms of make-up and design -- other than a robot hand, he basically looks the same as he's ever looked, and Julian Bleach turns in a great performance which recalls the control of Michael Wisher's turn in Genesis of the Daleks.  Even if all he gets to do in this episode is basically sit there.

The tenth Doctor regenerates. ("The Stolen Earth") ©BBC
But what an episode ending!  Finally, after two series, the Doctor finally sees Rose again, but he's shot down by a Dalek before he can make it to her.  It's a shocking moment, but it's really well done -- we get the Doctor dying in Rose's arms, while Captain Jack (who's teleported to the scene) gets them to bring him into the TARDIS.  Where we watch as he begins to regenerate...

So "The Stolen Earth" is an episode that spends an awful lot of time in a holding pattern, waiting for everyone to get to where they need to be, but thanks to some great direction from Graeme Harper and a script that keeps moving, you still find yourself entertained.  It's not perfect (the return of the joke of Harriet Jones introducing herself to everyone isn't funny, and there's the aforementioned jealousy Rose displays -- and why is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins talking about astronomical topics?), and there's an awful lot depending on how well "Journey's End" goes, as this has given us almost nothing in terms of actual storyline -- but as a Part One "The Stolen Earth" is a very solid effort indeed.



March 26: "Journey's End"

26 March 2005 was the debut of "Rose"... so the BBC Wales version of Doctor Who is ten years old today!  It's therefore somewhat fitting that today we've reached "Journey's End" and the final major appearance of Rose Tyler (though not of Billie Piper).

So.  How do you wrap up your two-parter (and series 4) when your first part was mainly running in place?  Well, the way "Journey's End" chooses to do it is to add an extra 20 minutes to its running time -- so this is rather like an old five-parter then.  Except that the majority of that hypothetical Part Five is saying goodbyes and dealing with the after-effects of what we see here.

Davros confronts the Doctor. ("Journey's End") ©BBC
Still, what we get here is surprisingly compelling -- surprising because, in a way, "Journey's End" is just as motionless as "The Stolen Earth" was.  After the Doctor ends up not dying by redirecting the regeneration energy to his severed hand199, he's locked up for the majority of the episode, taunted by Davros in the bottom of the Daleks' Crucible ship, and one by one his companions get locked up too.  But what makes it so watchable isn't just Graeme Harper's direction; it's also designed to be a character study of the Doctor and what he does to others.  "The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun," Davros taunts him.  "But this is the truth, Doctor.  You take ordinary people, and you fashion them into weapons.  Behold your Children of Time, transformed into murderers.  I made the Daleks, Doctor.  You made this."  It's an interesting argument that never actually gets refuted or qualified in some way -- indeed, the Daleks are ultimately stopped because the meta-crisis Doctor (the one who spawned from the Doctor's hand) ends up killing them all to stop them from terrorizing the universe, which doesn't look very good if you take Davros's point of view (as he points out: "Never forget, Doctor, you did this," he cries as the Crucible explodes around him.  "I name you forever!  You are the Destroyer of Worlds!").  This is, in fact, the reason why Davros is in this story.  Because, let's face it, there's nothing inherently inventive about the Reality Bomb (which oddly looks an awful lot like the insanely deadly weapon from Star Trek Nemesis -- right down to the green glow), nothing that really says "Davros" about it.  No, Davros is there to challenge the Doctor, to provide the Daleks' viewpoint and declare that the Doctor is no better.  (And also to get in a couple good rants, worthy of Michael Wisher and Terry Molloy.)

The Doctor and his friends fly the TARDIS together. ("Journey's
End") ©BBC
And that's one of the most impressive things about "Journey's End": the way it cons you into thinking you're watching a big action-packed story, but when you stop and think about it you realize it was a character study.  Of course, we do get action at the end, as everyone drags Earth back to where it supposed to be200, and while it is an exciting moment (even if it's also incredibly daft), the episode chooses to focus on the goodbyes for longer.  In many, many ways, this really feels like the end of an era -- so much so, in fact, that's frankly strange we've still got a year with five episodes left.  But the whole gang is back together (even K-9!) to give this Doctor one last triumphant send-off.

This is not to say that it's perfect, though; there are in fact two glaring problems with "Journey's End" that both manifest at the end.  The biggest one is the return of Rose Tyler.  There were really only two options available for bringing Rose back: have her stay or kill her off.  But Billie Piper's not returning and Davies wasn't about to kill off the darling of (particular teenaged girl) fandom, so they settle for a deeply unsatisfying middle ground.  It makes our Doctor look like a bit of a git, as he essentially says, "Yes, I know you traveled through multiple dimensions to get back to me, but I'm taking you back and then heading back home -- but here's someone who looks just like me that you can have instead.  Only he's a bit genocidal, so you'll have to watch him."  (And once again, I'd just like to point out just how well the story of the Valeyard'a origin matches up with what we see in this story, when coupled with the knowledge that the tenth Doctor we see from "Journey's End" to The End of Time is the twelfth incarnation of this Time Lord.)  It's trying to have it both ways, and it really doesn't work, no matter how much Murray Gold's music tries to convince us otherwise.  Still, at least Rose finally gets a proper kiss from someone who looks like the Doctor, at least.

The other problem is in a similar vein, and that's the fate of Donna.  At the time this also felt like Davies trying to have it both ways -- killing off Donna but not really.  Now I'm not so sure.  It's still an incredibly cruel act, taking all the character growth we'd seen and chucking it away in favor of "The Runaway Bride" version of Donna (in fact, it's probably crueler than just killing her off would have been), but I do wonder if Davies really was trying to tug on the heartstrings, rather than just avoiding killing off main characters (as it seemed at the time).  I still think killing Donna would have been the better ending, and the way things play out is incredibly vicious for the audience (and for the characters: "But she was better with you," Wilf laments), but it's no longer quite as cowardly an act as it seemed at the time.

Still, those problems only really make themselves known at the end, and everything up to that point is surprisingly good.  We're not deus ex machina-free, of course (in fact, this one seems to have more than ever before -- meta-crisis Doctor, the DoctorDonna, the TARDIS dragging Earth across space...), but they're delivered with such gusto that it's hard to get truly upset with this.  It's not perfect, but it is a tour de force, and ultimately that's what they set out to deliver -- so you can hardly blame them for succeeding.

And that, of course, wraps up series 4.  This is a series that has aged rather well; as time has passed its virtues have become more apparent.  One of the biggest virtues is Catherine Tate, who provides a fun, realistic companion in Donna Noble -- someone who's changed for the better by what she sees, and who's interested in seeing the universe, not in making out with her travelling companion.  It's a refreshing change -- not that I'm knocking Rose or Martha here, but it's nice to have a purer motivation for travelling in the TARDIS.  We also get a strong performance from David Tennant; in fact, it's interesting to watch him as he moves from series 2 to series 4, as he visibly gets better and better in the role (and it's not like he was bad to begin with).  All this and a reasonably strong run of stories (yes, there are some rough patches, but there are also some standout tales -- plus we get more variety in styles and locations, which is also a bonus) means that series 4 is as much of a success as the previous three were.

(After "Journey's End" I watched "Music of the Spheres", which aired three weeks later as part of the  Doctor Who at the Proms special.  It's an entertaining bit of fluff, and it was probably really fun to be there at the Proms in person and seeing the interactive moments, but it's hardly required viewing.  It's on the disc of "The Next Doctor" if you're curious though.)









Footnotes

191 We get a nice explanation for why the fifth Doctor looks older that can be retroactively applied to things like The Two Doctors.  However, this means that the tenth Doctor isn't sure where in the fifth Doctor's lifespan they're meeting -- although given that he's wearing the shirt and pullover from his first two seasons combined with the season 21 trousers, this has to take place, from the fifth Doctor's point of view, between Warriors of the Deep and The Awakening.
194 Before Catherine Tate agreed to come back to Doctor Who Russell T Davies created a provisional new companion named Penny Carter, although her character didn't get very far before Donna Noble was confirmed.  But the character's name lives on.
195 The family comes from the Cambridge Latin Course -- although in that Caecilius and Metella die in the eruption, and only Quintus survives.  (Evelina is a new creation for this episode.)
196 The Doctor is technically correct, but Rattigan is actually just part of the linguistic trend that's getting rid of the subjunctive were in counterfactuals.  Or, in other words, having was there is becoming increasingly acceptable.  For instance, I'll bet you didn't even notice it until the Doctor pointed it out.
197 All right, except for a brief appearance in IDW's Prisoners of Time comic book and a brief mention in the in-universe reference book The Doctor: His Lives and Times.  That hardly counts, though.
198 In fact, one of the main factors for my deciding to include the spin-offs in this marathon was knowing that this story was coming up.
199 In a move that led to lots of online discussions at the time as to whether or not the Doctor had used up one of his twelve regenerations by doing this -- of course, now we know (thanks to "The Time of the Doctor") that the answer was "yes".
200 My brother mentioned, in regard to the previous entry, that the Doctor might have also been thinking of The Ultimate Foe, where the Time Lords moved Earth a couple light years using a magnetron (presumably not like the one in your microwave).  Here the Doctors and Donna use the Dalek magnetron to move the planet back, which suggests that RTD was also thinking of The Ultimate Foe.