You know, I do not remember this episode at all. I must have seen it, and yet nothing stands out in my brain. Although, that isn’t at all surprising. It’s not a particularly good episode, when it comes down to it. The first historical character new Doctor Who introduces, Charles Dickens no less, and it’s a bit of a let down.
It’s unsettling from the beginning, because the episode is set at Christmas, and it’s not a Christmas special. I know, I know, they travel through time, but it still feels odd. The Doctor attempts to set down in Naples but finds himself, instead, in a very cold and frosty Cardiff. They’re quite different. The amount of trouble he has steering the TARDIS with the added pair of hands that Rose offers is amazing. It’s a wonder he ever manages to get anywhere by himself!
I remember watching Simon Callow do some kind of Audience with Dickens show a long time ago, and the man, to all intents and purposes, is the legendary writer. He’s written about him, he’s played him, he’s played parts in his writing. He played this part to perfection – curious, intrigued, disbelieving but at the same time open to anything. The scene in the cab is fabulous, particularly when the Doctor is allowed to stay after revealing himself as such a fan.
“In what way do you resemble a means of keeping oneself cool?”
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see how the pattern for these historical and artistic figures goes. We’ve had Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, and just recently Van Gogh. The Doctor reveals too much, the artist believes inherently in what they see, but it is always too late for their knowledge to be included in much detail in their work. They are either a year or two from death, or in Agatha’s case, about to suffer a case of amnesia. The Van Gogh episode, in fact, could almost be an entire remake of this one – with the revelation at the end that they do remain famous in the future. It’s good, I’m not complaining, but perhaps it is a little formulaic now.
That being said, the Doctor was on fine form, referring to Charles Dickens both as Charlie and, later on, Humbug. I do love nicknames.
The episode is very dark, simply from the point of view of dingy Victorian lighting, and it being set at night. This helps enormously with the emphasis on the gas lights, and the eeriness of the walking dead. It’s cold, it’s snowing, it’s dark and the dead are walking. That is pretty creepy.
Perhaps the story is not as strong as it could be, because it is not the most important part of the episode. The conversation between Rose and the Doctor about using the dead is crucial. She is adament she’ll stand up for the rights of humans, even if they are both dead and before her time. He is more determined to save the lives of a dying species.
“Get used to it or go home.”
He hasn’t spoken like that to her before, and even though later he does admit to being glad she is there, lines like this one still create that distance between them. The Doctor cares for her, of course he does, but he’ll drop her immediately if he has to.
We also get our first glimpse of some of the rules of time travel, that time is in flux and it can be rewritten. That is not always the case, and the rules get more and more complicated as we go on, but at least they started out simply. Sometimes, what you do affects the future.
Finally, this was the first time I noticed the Bad Wolf thing. It was kinda hard not to, of course, being shouted out by the woman that is also in Torchwood. I don’t know if Bad Wolf was in the previous episodes, but if it was, I missed it.