Series 1-7 Face-Off: Episode 6
Doctor Who TV is running new series pitting all the revival episodes against each other to decide your dream run. This will be done on an episode by episode basis. Today we continue with the 6th episode of each of the seven series so far.
Note: Splits are not counted and specials will have their own categories at the end.
Introduction by David Selby
- Dalek (2005)
- The Age of Steel (2006)
- The Lazarus Experiment (2007)
- The Doctor’s Daughter (2008)
- The Vampires of Venice (2010)
- The Almost People (2011)
- The Bells of Saint John (2013)
What makes a good Episode Six?
Episode Six is a free reign for a writer. It’s essentially the first episode in the series (presuming the series follows the conventional structure) that doesn’t have a specific ‘role’ to play in the series-wide narrative. Whereas the first three episodes generally entail introducing a Doctor or companion and bringing them to the present, past and future – and whilst the following two-parter takes the sense of danger to a new level, building rifts between the key characters – the sixth has no definite focus. Occasionally it is a continuation of a two-parter (The Age of Steel, The Almost People). In other cases it is character-driven; slower and more philosophical, ethically adventurous with its key concepts (The Lazarus Experiment, The Doctor’s Daughter). It can be a singular adventure which explores the Doctor’s conscience (The Vampires of Venice) or simply a fun romp (The Bells of Saint John). What episode sixes are by record, is very, very good. Therefore these candidates have been difficult to select.
The highlight of this strong selection wasn’t a difficult choice. Dalek restores Doctor Who’s most iconic antagonist to its former glory as the nightmare of children across the country (and now, the world). Robert Shearman does this through isolating a singular, damaged Dalek; he uses the creature’s vulnerability to accentuate how deadly and cold-blooded it is. This Dalek is true to its original design but enhanced by new abilities – swifter, more startling motions and some grotesquely inventive methods of massacring its victims.
As for the characters themselves, Shearman focuses on the impact of the Time War on the Doctor, a man of painful experiences, contrasted with Rose; a lovable, relatable character in her quintessentially human naivety. The Doctor undergoes a change, not unlike the Dalek, as the latter’s poignant demise grows closer. The veteran realises himself; a man who will become a monster if he doesn’t change – “Exterminate.”
The Dark Horse
The Bells of Saint John has never received the acclaim I feel it deserves, yet I wouldn’t dismiss it doing well anyhow. There’s something quite appealing about it; something which I find becomes more prominent on re-watch – a matchless, magical, ‘start-of-era’ quality. Conceptually, it is highly imaginative and captures a wide scale and scope. Miss Kizlet is a refreshingly sinister and complex villainess; a puppet of the Great Intelligence, but a strong character in her own right. The episode has a fast, well-structured pace and all-round excellent production values (the music and directing are at their best). One can only hope that, due to its recentness, it is more successful than it has been in previous polls.
Whilst Dalek is unequivocally my favourite (shortly followed by Bells), I thought I’d take the time to address Stephen Greenhorn’s The Doctor’s Daughter.
Greenhorn characterises the Doctor as dark and multi-layered; a weary but wise old man shattered by his experiences and consumed by regret. In The Lazarus Experiment, he explains how age has wearied him (“In the end you just get tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of losing everyone that matters to you. Tired of watching everything turn to dust”). In The Doctor’s Daughter, he recalls his experiences of the Time War and illustrates how they have burdened him.
Unlike many, I don’t feel that the ‘last of the Time Lords’ idea was getting old. I see copious potential in it and The Doctor’s Daughter is just one example of how it can be used to bring an element of pathos to a story and to draw parallels between the characters’ current (and still significant) predicament and their own previous experiences. Tennant excels when his Doctor is emotionally pressured. His account of the Time Lords (“You’re an echo, that’s all. A Time Lord is so much more. A sum of knowledge, a code, a shared history, a shared suffering. Only it’s gone now, all of it. Gone forever”) and his conversation with Donna about his losses (“But when they died, that part of me died with them. It’ll never come back. Not now”) add another layer of tragedy to the character: he’s given up.
As the war reaches its culmination, both forces reach ‘The Source’ – a terraforming device initiating peace at last. Jenny’s death breaks the Doctor’s, and indeed the audience’s hearts, but he exercises restraint. He is, forever, the man who never would.
You’ve heard David’s thoughts, but what about your own? Which one tops your list? Vote below.