The Stolen Earth.



"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." -- Albert Einstein

TV Or twelve episodes. That Einstein really was a genius wasn’t he? The above quote opened out Roger Ebert’s review of The Happening and I hope you’ll forgive its Persaudian invocation here, because much like The Stolen Earth at about minute forty I have no idea where this review is going. As I somewhat indicated last week, I usually have some idea what I’m going to write beforehand, a plan, a way of hammering out a thousand odd words on a Saturday night. Realistically it’ll end up looking like the kind of shopping list Russell T Davies wrote for himself before scripting tonight's dose of digital madness and part of me’s thinking, you know, what’s the point?

That was one of the most viscerally exciting fifty minutes since the series came back. It’s easy to use that kind of hyperbole, so easy I've used it before, yet I can’t imagine there were many fans, as David hunched over the Tardis console, who weren’t screaming. I thought my Bad Wolf fangasm last week would lead to the evacuation of bodily fluids. This week I actually gave myself a migraine. No metaphoric brain explosion, an actual physical reaction. I’m not a football fan, but I suspect the only comparable euphoria would be a last minute winning streak in a cup match which looked doomed to failure.

Russell T Davies’s writing is actually endangering my health and I’d be consulting a lawyer if I didn’t love him and the show so much. My reaction, if I really want to analyse it, wasn’t just because of the in-story events, the Doctor and Rose finally reunited only for the inevitable Dalek interference; for someone who follows the construction of these things so closely, the writing, there’s also the squeal of delight because of the audacity of the storytelling and also the fact that unlike the loss of Mr Eccleston, the temporary loss of Rose, the return of The Master and the return of Davros, we quite simply didn’t know about this, no nasty tabloid hack to destroy the fun.

When that gold halo engulfed that actor, just for a brief moments I was absolutely convinced that some other actor’s the new Doctor and the Dave’s appearance on set during the lensing of the Christmas special was all just a red herring. Either that or Paul McGann’s agent is in a very happy mood (I can dream can’t I)? Who else could possibly fill those trainers? Who could be filling those trainers and be someone wouldn’t have leaked it? The three punch ‘To Be Continued’ was the sassiest bit of lettering the show’s ever thrown at us and if Bachman-Turner Overdrive had supplied the closing title music it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise.

If this is a regeneration, a proper regeneration, then bye-bye David it’s been great. Except the establishing shot of the fighting hand in the teaser suggests that it’s going to interfere with the cycle, or there’s some hitherto unknown aspect of the process still to be revealed. The eagle eared would also have heard Mr. Tennant note what was happening on the set when Mr Bleach was around and how would he know that unless he was there working with him? Plus, the lack of another leading man at the read-through, implies some other skullduggery at work. Is this the first time Confidential’s editing decision has supplied spoilers?

Julian Bleach has clearly worked his was through the Davros dvd boxset because at no point did you think that this was a different man and indeed he was even creepier than his predecessors, affecting a hunch and a rasp. As with the Sontarans, the Neill Gorton's make up admirably accentuated rather than reinvented what had gone before. The creator’s appearance here obviously knocks the spin-off canon for six, but since that’s not even consistent in and of itself (for reasons too boring to go into here), what does it matter? Along with crazy Dalek Caan and haughty Dalek Supremo this is a scary a force as they’ve been since the showboating of the close of the first series – an impression aided by the look of terror in the eyes of both Jack and Sarah.

The Mill excelled themselves in creating the planet infested Medusa Cascade redolent of the shots of infinite worlds which appear in DC Comic’s Crisis series. The entire cast, all several hundred of them including Dempsey, were on top form, with the main guests enjoying the many great moments Davies gifted them carefully still keeping the worlds of each of spin-off separate. Even in this family friendly fantasy, Torchwood were still sex obsessed with Ianto largely stealing those scene, whilst Luke upstaged Sarah-Jane again even as she confirmed finally that the fanfare actually comes from inside Mr. Smith’s innards. It was clever too to suggest that Martha was enjoying a lead role in some hithertoo unseen US based UNIT series at least until the Daleks arrived to exterminate it.

Now, since all this is going in exactly the direction I hoped it wouldn't, meandering in exactly the direction I expected it would, I’m instead going to pause and make a confession, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for quite some time. Shut up, it’s not that. If it was that, I’d have told you that already. Leave it. The confession is by way of a story, one which begins in mid-April. I’m attending a lecture at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, which I know isn't a promising start, but stay with me. The lecture is being given by one Professor Richard Dawkins. It was part of a series of talks organised by the University of Liverpool on the subject of arts and sciences and began with Jonathan Miller and will end with Robert Winston and Willy Russell.

Dawkins offered what seemed like a well rehearsed discussion of the issues surrounding his book The God Delusion. He originally gave the talk in February (which you can see here) and it was so oversubscribed it had to be moved to the city’s premiere classical music venue, from the random lecture theatre which had been scene for Miller's tale. It also had to be repeated and I was there for his second visit. The first was actually picketed by creationists with placards! This time, the protesters had got wise and applied for tickets and so after we’d enjoyed the talk it become all too apparent, all too quickly, that the closing Q&A was going to consist of the Professor being harassed by people who both didn’t agree with his approach to religion and plainly hadn’t listened to the talk, with pre-determined questions written on cards.

A couple of priests had already walked out in fact and the general feeling in the hall was that we were going to be in for a long half hour. Being a good follower of the faith, and realising this might be the only time I’d ever have a chance to talk to the other man who married Lalla Ward, I knew that I had to ask a question. But which one? I there had been something in his speech which I’d want a follow-up on (related to a quote he'd used from Douglas Adams) but I also realised there were going to be enough of those and as you’ve probably guessed by now I never do anything normal, or at least that’s what my parents always tell me. I like to think of it as never being what people expect me to be like, which is also true, and probably much the same thing.

When I stood up, I still didn’t know what my question would be. As I shuffled along the aisle stepping on people’s toes I had an inkling, but by the time I was queuing up behind the microphone, which had been set up by the stage, it was fixed in my mind. The short haired man standing in front of me, wearing a dark-blue ski jacket, was holding a card on which I could see words scrawled in both pencil and pen in even worse handwriting than my own. I stood with my arms crossed and knees shaking and I suspect knowing that he’d want some more time, he moved out of the way and let me go first.

I stepped up the microphone. The Professor was looking over his glasses towards me. He greeted me.
“Hello Professor Dawkins.” I said brightly. “Very pleased to meet you.”
He looked at me expectantly, or with the fear in his eyes, I was too nervous to tell.
“I understand that you filmed a scene for the latest series of Doctor Who…”
I paused and became slightly tongue tied as I realised that the sold out crowd of the Philharmonic Hall, some nine hundred people, were all looking at the back of my sweaty neck as I asked the great Professor Dawkins, a man whose CV took ten minutes to read out at the beginning of the evening, a question about Doctor Who.
“… and erm … I was wondering how you enjoyed the experience!?!”
There was random and sporadic laughter from the audience. Dawkins grinned. I relaxed a little but continued sweating.
“Well” he said cheerfully, “Perhaps I should explain that my wife Lalla played the Doctor’s assistant in the 1970s and though I didn’t watch her at the time I’ve been catching up through the dvds. I’ve always had a great affection for the series anyway so I was very pleased when they asked me. It was only a small part, I was being interviewed by a Jeremy Paxman-type of character and I can still completely remember my lines of dialogue …”
Then he paused. And dried. The audience laughed again.
“Well it was something like ‘We're living in a whole new universe were different laws apply…’ ”
There was an audible gasp from some parts of the audience. Had I somehow inadvertently got Richard Dawkins to give out a massive spoiler about what happens at the end of the series this early into the run? I turned around and there were definitely a couple of shocked faces. I hadn’t meant to. Bugger. I nearly stamped my foot.

“Thank you.” I said and stepped away from the microphone and sheepishly made my way back to my seat, absorbing as best I could some of the dirty looks I was getting along the way, having turned the crowd against me. "It wasn't me, it was Dawkins!" I wanted to shout but thought better of it. The man who’d been standing behind me was up next and he’d already begun to ask Dawkins for an opinion on how monkeys could evolve into humans and how shared ancestory can work if there are stil chimps and humans on the planet (Dawkins’s reaction: “ARE YOU BEING SERIOUS?”).

As I sat down, a girl nearby said “Good question…” and winked. Was she thinking what I was thinking? That the loss of the Adapose planet had to be related? Probably not, since as I'm sure you guessed last week, I really don't understand women. Dawkins would only have spoiled one aspect of the episode if he'd remembered everything he'd said and so my story doesn't really have a proper ending, which is just how things are in the unfolding text of real life. Ironically, he was also upstaged by Paul O'Grady and his braying audience offering exactly the kind of reaction one would expect from them in the event of a global catastrophe.

In an episode where what should be major elements, such as the death of Harriet Jones, became incidental, there’s little point in me going over the minutiae any more, other than to say that Billie really got her mojo back and Graham Harper's the Spielberg of the franchise. I’ve already seen criticism of the Call The Doctor solution (and yes, I’ve tried calling the number too with no luck), the fact that actually not very much happens in the episode other than the Dalek invasion which means it drags horribly in the middle, the timelord and Donna spend most of the episode in the TARDIS and that at the conclusion, all the Rose reunion amounted to was some cheesy showboating.

Everyone’s entitled to an opinion but on this occasion they’re wrong. The Stolen Earth was Doctor Who at its most epic and the opening salvo of Russell T Davies’s valedictory lap, and frankly beyond criticism, at least in fan terms. If this week’s anything to go by, next week is going to be one of the most bonkers hours of television this year, repaying fans for their four to forty-five years of support and hopefully giving Catherine Tate, slightly sidelined here, her final moment of Doctor Who acting glory. For all we know, it’ll be revealed that Donna was adopted, has always carried a fobwatch around with her that Grandad Cribbins gave her one Christmas which he found on the doorstep with her as a baby and those non-diagetic heartbeats are the first sign of the cockerney regaining her timelord senses before regenerating into River Song.

Next Week: God only knows. Or failing that, Russell T Davies. At this point it’s difficult to tell the difference.

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