The Doctor and Rose arrive in London in 1953, thinking
at first they have landed in New York in 1957 to watch an Elvis concert; instead
they have landed on the eve of the Coronation (of Queen Elizabeth II). This
is a repeat of a similar device used in episode two (‘Tooth and Claw’) where
the Doctor thinks he is landing in 1979 for an Ian Dury concert only to find
he is in 1879 in the Victorian era.
The whole purpose of this conceit is apparently so that we can see the Doctor
sporting a quiff and D.A. (duck’s arse if you must know) whilst Billie Piper
swans around in a pink dress. In a way this sums up the entire episode, amazingly
stylish, full of wonderful characters but ultimately lacking in substance.
There are some good performances here, particularly from Maureen Lipman
and Jamie Foreman who were this week’s guest stars. Jamie has made a career
out of playing thuggish characters and in this episode he plays a bullying
fifties Dad, Eddie Connolly. It is into Eddie’s house that the Doctor and
Rose insert themselves via the now well-worn psychic paper. (Which has been
used almost as often as the sonic screwdriver this season). There the Doctor
and Rose take great delight in bewildering the domestic tyrant by pretending
to be agents of the state. I was never exactly sure what kind of agent of
the state they were supposed to be or how they would be permitted access
to someone’s home in the way that they are. I guess what we are supposed
to infer is that Mr. Connolly would automatically take Rose and the Doctor
to be authority figures, although how even the psychic paper could convince
him of that when Rose is wearing a pink dress is beyond me. Nevertheless
this scene does have some of the most interesting dialogue in the episode,
particularly when Rose starts playing the same game as the Doctor and points
out to Mr. Connolly that the Queen is a woman. This neatly brings into perspective
the position of Mrs. Connolly, the brow beaten and bullied wife, who has
been forced to endure the horror of her own mother being locked upstairs
by her husband. Grandma Connolly (surely some mistake in the listings as
she is Rita’s mother not Eddie’s) has had her face stolen by the Wire (Maureen
The Wire is an electrical entity, which has adopted the form of a 1950’s
continuity announcer; these were typically middle-aged women in sumptuous
evening dresses and plumy voices that filled the gaps between programmes.
They form part of an era of British television history where there was one
channel, the BBC that spoke to the nation from Alexandra House in an upper
middle-class accent. This particular era is one of Mark Gatiss’ hobbyhorses
as is also indicated by his appearance in the live remake of ‘The Quatermass
Experiment’ last year. The original Quatermass was transmitted about this
time and was of course a predecessor to Doctor Who, with a somewhat intelligent
B-movie approach to science fiction.
That said it’s sad that there is always something contrived and rose-tinted
in portraying such an era, like any hankering after a lost age usually is.
This I think is the main difference between this story and ‘The Empty Child’
last year, which could just as easily have slipped into the same mawkish sentimentality
as this episode does at times. I think this was the case because in ‘The
Empty Child’ Steve Moffat challenged our ideas about what the war was like,
by portraying aspects of it that are not well known; for example street kids
coming out during an air raid to pilfer food from people’s houses. There
were times when this episode came close to that, but at the end of the day
it was still a very contrived affair. I think what ultimately let it down
was any sense of purpose beyond giving us some great shots of what the fifties
could have been like and self-indulgently feeding of the BBC’s own mythology.
There was no particular reason for this story to be set in this era, beyond
the obvious fact that this was the birth of mass TV audiences in the UK.
Even then they had to introduce the device of Mr. Magpie selling off TVs
cheap so that everyone can have one, so that the Wire can rip their faces
off! (Why she did that is not made clear either).
One of the few high-lights in this pretty disappointing episode is the new
direction that Rose seems to be taking; it is interesting to see her adopting
some of the Doctor’s mannerisms as she travels with him more in time and space.
This reflects her growing confidence and feeds into the character arc for
both the Doctor and Rose that was flagged up by RTD at the start of the new
series. The pay off will presumably come at the end of the season when both
of them will be challenged in a very big way. In the meantime we seem to
be in the mid-season lull that we had last year around about the time of
‘The Long Game’ and ‘Father’s Day’.