mummery I strive to unmask. Seances?
but luminous tambourines and
concealed between the knees..."
24 December 1869, and the Doctor meets his hero, Charles Dickens.
there is something in the air. The Gelth.
Britain will never be the same again.
EPISODE THREE REVIEW Spoilers
I hated THE
Unfortunately, the series producers
have made a regrettable mistake with Mark Gatiss’ com-zom story (‘comedic-zombie” story).
Why do it?
To schedule this production that
sublimely eclipses the most perfect THE
END OF THE WORLD hot on its heels.
exquisite dramas that zings on the tongue like Space Dust candy, and makes the £126.50
TV Licence worthwhile. Two gems set so closely together that they bedazzle all
round them; ROSE looks like a charming 1970s Children Film Foundation, and I’d
hate to guess at the mediocrity of ALIENS
UNQUIET DEAD is
to join the list of ‘classics’, and
why not? A truly crafted masterpiece, that ratifies the DOCTOR
WHO format and
mystery for those who have joined the great unwashed since 26 March. An intelligent
historical fantasy, passionately acted, beautifully photographed & designed,
supplemented by a spirited score by Murray Gold.
The story is more STAR
TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (the early series) than DOCTOR
WHO: THE CLASSIC SERIES, and
even adopted the phrasing of ‘a rift’ as
opposed of what we (fans) would expect - ‘temporal anomaly’. The
Gelth are formless and gaseous entities that exist within the methane filled
pipes (attracted to the gas’s carbon content?) used for general household
lighting at the time (1869). The aliens having identified a ‘weak point’ in
space-time (surprisingly, a funeral parlor in Cardiff), and a ‘beacon’ (as
opposed to Breacon) by which they can navigate to a world where salvation can
Since being a child, Gwyneth (played
by a delightful Eve Myles) has had untapped psychic abilities (quaintly called
the ‘second sight’) and it is
this that attracts the Gelth to planet Earth. With either manipulated design
or serendipity, the Gelth’s ‘portal’ to Victorian Earth is
located in the funeral parlor’s Morgue. This allows the gas-aliens to
re-inhabit and re-energise the ‘dear departed’.
Gatiss has weaved a tale of science
(re: osmosis), folklore (re: walking dead), history (re: Charles Dickens) and
fantasy (re: Gelth aliens) with such diligence and passion for the DOCTOR
From the moment that the ‘crisp-thurp’ of Rose’s footprint
in time (and in snow), expectations by the 16-year hiatus are sated. A beautiful
piece of cinematography that sums up, more than reams of dialogue could, her
Pure joie de vivre.
Rose (to the Doctor): “No wonder you never stay still.”
DOCTOR WHO (to Charles Dickens): “I’m the Doctor by the way.”
CHARLES DICKENS: “ You look like a navvy.”
DOCTOR WHO (indignant): “What’s wrong with this jumper?”
Morgue as the Gelth materialise)
DOCTOR WHO: “I think its gone a little bit wrong.”
Even the ‘running gag’ (…Cardiff…) was appropriate
unlike the clumsy “…give a man a plastic hand…” from
Christopher Eccleston continues to match the performances of Hartnell and Troughton,
delivering depth that only a consummate professional can. The tetchy rebuttals
is the Doctor as are the gawky grimaces - both idiosyncrasies of the Time Lord.
Fandom has commented that this ninth Doctor is too aggressive, unforgiving and
patronising, added to that his choice of language (occasionally barking “Shut
up!” at others) is far too human. I find this experimentally endearing;
brave but how will future incarnations measure-up to what is becoming (even three
episodes in) a definitive Doctor characterisation.
Like a Christmas plum pudding,
moist and luxuriantly laden with Rum and within is a hidden shiny tit-bit. A
sixpence he may not but Simon Callow’s Charles
Dickens is just as valuable and eclipses Eccleston performance.
In 1869, Dickens
was at his most demoralised, drained and brooding. A lost soul, who thought he
had said and written everything.
However, acting against his own Doctor’s advice (following a stroke and
an exhaustive reading/lecture schedule), Dickens was back treading the boards
(and entertaining the ‘motley’). Could he have imagined that a reading
of the eternally ethereal A CHRISTMAS
CAROL would conclude with an encounter
with gaseous creatures from another place and two strangers from another time?
But has Gatiss made a minor historical error? In 1869, Dickens reading circuit
did not go to Wales, and his later dismissive comments about a séance
are at odds with true Dickens’ beliefs (he studied and practiced the art
of ‘mesmerism’ - hypnotic trances to heal people, including his own
With such a strong (and accurate?)
historical-educational element, THE
UNQUIET DEAD, would have fitted in between THE
MUTANTS (aka THE DALEKS) and INSIDE
If you excuse the wordplay, the dénouement cannot be matched for its simplicity.
Not only Dickens’ revelation that his imagination is not as stale as he
thought, but Gwyneth’s self-sacrifice that is acknowledged by the words, “I’m
Euros Lyn’s direction is striking (and exquisitely lit), resplendent with
snow-dressed streets, 70 extras, horse & carriage and police public call
box. High crane, panning shots, POVs and close-ups executed within the storytelling
skill as opposed to gratuitously fashionable. Everything made sense. A simple
statement but how many times have you watched a TV drama and it doesn’t
work due to sloppy editing and ‘framing’ of action?
The visual effects, created almost
single handily by Chris Tucker (of MillTV), were - I’m finding it hard
to find another superlative - immaculate. The combination of CGI and actor’s
head shot surreally gave substance to the Gelth. The visual parody of A
CHRISTMAS CAROL, as Dickens hurriedly leaves the
funeral parlor the Gelth mimic the ghost of Marley as it solidifies across the
great brass doorknocker. Another nice touch, Gatiss.
Next script in the post to BBC
As Dickens said, “Reflect
on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes,
of which all men have some”.