Doctor Who
Volume 3

Starring: Christopher Eccleston
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: PG
Available 01 August 2005

Adam discovers the wonders of travelling in the TARDIS. Does he have what it takes to become the Doctor's companion? In the far future, Satellite 5 broadcasts to the entire Earth Empire, but anyone promoted to Floor 500 is never seen again...

This volume contains the best and worst of Christopher Eccleston's season as the Doctor.

We get the worst out of the way first with The Long Game. The story isn't terrible, but it lacks focus and is rather derivative of this season's second episode, The End of the World. Both take place on board a space station orbiting the Earth, with some fairly obvious reuse of sets (the observation platform overlooking the planet). Both involve a monster that is defeated by heat and explodes into a gooey mess. Evidently writer/executive producer Russell T Davies likes having his monsters explode into gooey messes: the same thing happened to a Slitheen in World War Three.

On the plus side, Spaced and Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg provides an excellent guest villain in the shape of the Editor, who is splendidly offbeat and sarcastic. And the development of Adam (Bruno Langley), who unexpectedly boarded the TARDIS at the end of Dalek, is pleasantly surprising.

In fact, it is a testament to the overall quality of the series that an episode as good as this should be considered its weak point.

Rose asks the Doctor to take her back to 1987, to witness the day her father died. But when she interferes in the course of events, terrifying temporal monsters are unleashed. A wedding day turns into a massacre as the human race is devoured...

Break out the hankies for the moving saga that is Father's Day. Writer Paul Cornell and director Joe Ahearne have crafted an unapologetically manipulative piece of drama that really tugs on the heartstrings. Billie Piper and Shaun Dingwall are compelling as the daughter and father reunited across time, while Camille Coduri explores the emotional core of the usually load-mouthed mother, Jackie Tyler.

There's more than a hint of Back to the Future as we laugh at the fashions of yesteryear, we encounter younger versions of characters we know, including an infant Mickey Smith (Casey Dyer), Rose gets weirded out by sexual interest from her own parent, and the Doctor warns of devastating time paradoxes.

The show's new mythology ingeniously circumvents the fact that we have never before seen the Reapers cleaning up in the wake of a paradox: when the Time Lords were around, they would have stopped them. It could be argued that we should see an explosive shorting out of the time differential when the two Roses touch (as with the two Brigadiers in Mawdryn Undead) but our own Johnny Fanboy has suggested a solution to that.

If this episode has a weakness, it is that it can be slightly hard to follow upon first viewing - grasping what the Doctor is trying to do to reconstitute the TARDIS, for instance. For the most part, however, Father's Day demonstrates the strengths of the single-episode format.

London, 1941, at the height of the Blitz. A mysterious cylinder is being guarded by the army, while homeless children, living on the bombsites, are terrorised by a strange gasmask-clad child, whose disease is spreading throughout the city...

There's a distinct flavour to the two-part story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, one that is not to be the found anywhere else in this season.

It's a creepy, ghostly flavour, not unlike an episode of Sapphire & Steel. How ironic: just the other week I was comparing a Sapphire & Steel audio drama (The Passenger) to The Empty Child, and now here I go comparing this story to the original ATV series! But it's true. The TARDIS phone ringing, the gasmasked child asking for its mummy, the child's haunting voice calling through a radio: this is real Sapphire & Steel-type stuff, though the horrific CGI transformations are more akin to the sinister animation of Pink Floyd's movie The Wall. Even Nancy (Florence Hoath) and her young followers come and go like ghosts until we discover their true natures.

However, the story isn't without its lighter moments. We can smile and laugh at the rivalry between the Doctor and the time-travelling conman Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), who vies for Rose's affections and - even worse - derides the Doctor's precious sonic screwdriver! "Who looks at a screwdriver," asks Jack, "and thinks: 'Ooh, this could be a little more sonic'?"

Writer Steven Moffat (Coupling, Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death) also has fun with Jack's sexuality, easing in the fact that Jack is bisexual with a joke or three. His sexual orientation is also a plot point, indicating how moral outlooks change over time. Rose, representing the present day, is more liberated than the 1940s attitude toward single mothers, but Jack, a 51st-century lad, is more liberated still, showing that human society has not yet stopped evolving.

Had Russell T Davies introduced a non-heterosexual character in the series' first episode, Rose, then the Daily Mail brigade might have been down on the show like a ton of bricks. Instead, the production team have rather cleverly snuck such a character in by the back door (ahem, so to speak!) and not made a big issue out of it.

Don't put those hankies away after watching Father's Day, because the conclusion to The Doctor Dances is, if possible, even more tear-jerking, aided by a fantastic performance by Florence Hoath.

In fact, everything about this two-parter is, as the Ninth Doctor himself would say, fantastic.

There are no extras on this disc. We'll have to wait until November's box set for any of those. However, there are four episodes instead of the usual three, as the BBC is proud to boast - as if other shows, such as Star Trek and Stargate, didn't routinely put four episodes on a disc! Having said that, the latter three are among the shortest in duration this season.

But never mind the width. Feel the quality.

Richard McGinlay

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