Updated: May 2, 2020
Continuing with our weekly discussion about Doctor Who, today we are focusing on the second series of the modern revival of the show. Last week we covered Series One, in great length, and naturally this week we will discuss, review and analyse Series Two.
For those of you reading these reviews for the first time, they are being written in light of our upcoming Doctor Who walking tour of Cardiff. The Welsh capital has served as the backdrop to most of the new episodes filmed this century, be it in studios, on streets and in buildings around the city, and a tour of those locations will become a reality later this year (hopefully). In the meantime, consider these reviews a light introduction into what may or may not feature on tours in the future.
Lets begin with a bit of context and backstory ahead of our episode by episode breakdown. David Tennant takes over as the Doctor from Christopher Eccleston from this point. Those are some big shoes to fill and needless to say he does a great job in the role and for many he is perhaps the most iconic version of the Doctor to date. At this stage of his career he was a relative unknown to many, but he catapulted both himself and the show to international stardom with his portrayal of the Doctor as this zany, charming, handsome, energetic, quirky character. Doctor Who grew into an international phenomenon during his run as the Doctor, and through no small part of his own.
Regarding Welsh references, Cardiff and wider south Wales are even more prevalent in the second series, using city and suburban streets, castles and manors, and quarries and beaches throughout. Wales is also present via one of the more prominent directors this season, Euros Lyn from Cardiff, who directed four episodes including ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. Russell T. Davies is, of course, still around as the main writer and showrunner as well.
Series Two was also by no means a perfect series though. Tennant’s performances and idiosyncrasies, and the destiny of his relationship with Rose really carry the show throughout and give it a satisfactory finale. However, it took a few inconsistent steps to get there. While the first series didn’t feature a single disappointing episode, the same can not be said for its follow up. It certainly looks impressive at times, has more glamorous effects, locations and guest stars too, but the stories can vary dramatically from episode to episode.
Saying that, the second series of new Who does contain werewolves, Cybermen, alternate realities, throwbacks to the original programme, some hilarious dialogue between Daleks and Cybermen, and a tear-jerker of a finale, so there is plenty to enjoy, and a lot to discuss. So, lets get into the episodes...
‘The Christmas Invasion’ aired in December 2005 as the first Christmas special for the new generation. Tennant starts off slowly, being unconscious and useless to Rose, so it took some time to get to know him. There was added suspense as a result though as Rose and her family were left to fend for themselves. Once he emerged he was full of life, eccentricities and, of course, he defeated the Sycarax in an ultimately iconic manner.
Moving into 2006, ‘New Earth’ is the first standard episode of the season. It brings about the return of Casandra, and The Face of Boe, for the first time since ‘The End of the World’. It was particularly interesting to get more of Casandra's backstory as a standard human being, to discover more of her personality and where she came from, and how she dies. This was also a chance for Billie Piper and Tennant to have some fun overacting and body-swapping, and re-established their relationship following his regeneration.
‘Tooth & Claw’ had a great premise, considering the time period, the presence of Queen Victoria, the spooky castle setting and a werewolf, but unfortunately was not as tense or scary as promised. However, it ultimately served its purpose with the invention of Torchwood and there was more banter between Rose and the Doctor regarding whether the Queen would say “We are not amused”...
‘School Reunion’ is really where the series finally gets going. It took a story back on modern Earth to really start moving the characters along. We’re thrown straight into the action in the school, the villains are interesting and threatening, Sarah Jane Smith makes a welcome appearance for the first time since the late 70s, and the dynamic between the characters (including Mickey!) is enjoyable. The bickering and exchanges between Rose and Sarah Jane over the Doctor are the fulcrum of the episode, and brings about, again, the question of Rose’s destiny, because if she is not to be the companion forever, what will be her fate...
‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ is a great standalone episode of television. Perhaps the first time Tennant’s doctor showed any heavy negative emotion, the first time he was forced to look at himself and his loneliness and helplessness. It also showed Rose that she was never going to be enough, as Madame de Pompadour was more of a match for him. It is a visually ambitious episode as much as it is story-wise, blending renaissance France with the sci-fi of the robots.
Mickey finally comes into his own in ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Age of Steel’, the first double episode of Series Two, set in a parallel Earth. He had for too long been both an annoying and generally insignificant character, but he develops a bit of personality and backbone in these episodes. We also meet the Cybermen for the first time in this new generation, brought back into the world by Trigger from Only Fools and Horses (or John Lumic from Cybus Industries). The Cybermen do contain some menace but the motives of are fuzzy and the finale is a bit simplistic and rushed. These episodes are ultimately more of a plot device for the end of the series, introducing Cybermen, Pete Tyler and making Mickey a better character, and seeing Cybermen march through Bute St, Cardiff, was enjoyable too.
‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ is one of three oft-maligned Series Two episodes, and perhaps least-deservingly so. The premise and setting is interesting, 1950s coronation-era Britain, and there’s real tension as to how the Doctor will save Rose and her face, and their relationship grows as a result. There’s also some subtext about domestic abuse that the show doesn’t quite pull off in the end.
‘The Impossible Planet’ & ‘The Satan Pit’ is the second two-parter of the series. It’s a slow-burner overall, and is more conversation-heavy than most other episodes, much to its credit, raising greater questions about the universe, our place in it and death, religion and mortality, and we potentially come the closest we ever have to the Doctor and Rose’s story coming to an end. It serves as a nod to old Who and even the 'Alien' film series, and it also introduces us to the Ood for the first time, who will go on to have greater significance down the line.
‘Love & Monsters’ is another one of the low points of this season, to many. True, some of the Doctor-lite episodes are more memorable than others, and this one is let down by inconsistent acting, a dodgy looking villain (the well-named Abzorbaloff) and a peculiar resolution, to say the least. We do, however, also get a look into Jackie Tyler’s everyday life which was worth it and gave her a bigger platform than usual.
‘Fear Her’ brings London 2012 to suburban Cardiff in 2006, which is a quirky touch and oddly accurate in terms of its branding. However, the episode, while potentially a fun premise, doesn’t quite get going, mainly due to the villain and the little girl at the heart of the episode lacking any depth or genuine threat. However, Rose does save the Doctor for a change.
‘Army of Ghosts’ & ‘Doomsday’ brings us the series finale, and makes up for some of the lacklustre episodes that came before it by bringing everyone’s two favourite villains, the Daleks and Cybermen, together. Essentially the main threats of the first two years were combined to make a super enemy, and it succeeds. It starts slowly, with the introduction of ghosts, Torchwood and the Cybermen. The tension is ramped up when the Daleks get involved and the gang from parallel London also appear. The pacing is solid, the threat and stakes are real, the action is spectacular, the performances are strong and the finale is heart-wrenching, which is pretty much everything anyone could want from an episode of Doctor Who. Rose leaves us in a dramatic manner and her final exchange with the Doctor was the most emotional moment of the first 27 episodes. A fitting send off for a companion every viewer came to love.
A real mixed-bag of a series. It had some higher highs than the first series, such as the drama of the finale, and some lower lows, like the non-event of ‘Fear Her’, but overall it served its purpose. David Tennant was firmly established as a lovable Doctor, his relationship with Rose progressed along to almost match that of the first series, and we reached a fitting and dramatic conclusion. It felt as if the previous two years were building to that moment, answering the questions of how the show was ever going to continue without Rose, and how was Rose ever going to be able to give up the Doctor. It was going to take something dramatic, and emotional, for those events to pass and the series did well in making that happen in a thoughtful, tense, conceivable (ish) and satisfying manner.
The overall plot thread of Torchwood also worked nicely. The word received one mention in Series One, and that was grown upon throughout Season Two, with its formation and development in the background constantly threatening to come to the fore, ultimately playing a sizeable role in a way that seemed logical, and it paved the way for a new Torchwood and subsequent stories in Series Three.
Despite arguably the best episodes revolving around Reinette and Sarah Jane Smith, and their dynamics with the Doctor, it is really, as ever, the Rose/Doctor relationship plot device that drives the series. At times it felt forced to be honest, and as stated in our Series One review, Rose seemed to have a more natural and tighter bond with the Ninth Doctor than with the Tenth, but the writers wanted us to believe in this one more. However, they did both save each other across the series and the finale was a culmination of what they had been through together, and a consequence of their own actions. The Doctor and Rose are indirectly responsible for their own inevitable separation going back to the events of 'Tooth and Claw'. Queen Victoria established Torchwood as a reaction to their hi-jinks, futuristic ways and casual attitude to monsters and aliens. Over a century later, the institute's foolish actions are only resolved at the expense of the Doctor and Rose's companionship. If the Doctor and Rose had never encountered Victoria, they may never have found themselves in the situation of being apart, so they effectively brought it upon themselves.
Favourite Episode - 'The Girl in the Fireplace'
Good characterisation, it develops the backstory and future of the Doctor, his relationship with Madame Pompadour is interesting and tense, and it all seems to have consequences, all the while set within a good story and setting, as mentioned above.
Worst Episode - 'Fear Her'
There seems to be a case like this in each series (like with Boom Town in series one), but Fear Her was actually a late replacement for a potential alternative episode, and in this case one written by Stephen Fry which he didn’t finish on time. Oh what might have been, but it might explain why we end up with a substandard episode in its place.
Favourite Character - Reinette, or Madame de Pompadour
She brought out a side of the Doctor in this series that no other character could, and was more his equal than anyone else as well.
Favourite Villain - Cybermen
For nostalgia’s sake really, they made the biggest impact, featuring in four episodes. Also, not many of the other villains were that threatening anyway, apart from the clockwork robots and the Krillitanes, in what were arguably the two best episodes as well.
Favourite Moment - Daleks v Cyberman banter
Dalek: You are superior in only one respect.
Cyberman: What is that?
Dalek: You are better at dying.
Best Welsh Reference - Helen Griffith as Mrs. Moore in the Cybermen two-parter
Wales wasn’t referenced by name this year but if you listen closely enough there are always Welsh sounding characters around. Mrs Moore had a great Welsh accent even if it was never mentioned, had some solid interactions with the Doctor, upon whom she made a strong impression, and her death was a touching moment.
Best Guest Star - Anthony Head
The Doctor Who revival is partly inspired by the tone, setting and dynamic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in 'School Reunion' one of the stars of Buffy gets to play the bad guy, with Anthony Head as Mr. Finch, the headmaster and leader of the Krillitanes. It seems unfortunate that Head is more well known for Gold Blend adverts in the UK than anything else.
Location you didn’t realise was Cardiff/Wales - Rhossili Bay in 'New Earth'
When Rose and the Doctor are standing on the hillside of New New York overlooking the city, the ‘river’ and the hospital, it is actually filmed at Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsula, with some imposed CGI bringing the buildings to life..
Location very obviously Cardiff - Cardiff city centre in 'The Christmas Invasion'
This series did a good job covering up Cardiff so we have to go back to the pre-Series Two Christmas special to find something obvious. Rose and Mickey encounter the plastic, gun-wielding Santas at the intersection of Trinity St, Wharton St and Hayes Island.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment, and look out for more Doctor Who content every week, as well as Welsh history.
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