Series 1-7 Face-Off: RTD Specials
Doctor Who TV is running new series pitting all the revival episodes against each other to decide your dream run. Today we continue with the special episodes from Russell T Davies’ era of the show.
Introduction by David Selby.
- The Christmas Invasion (2005)
- The Runaway Bride (2006)
- Voyage of the Damned (2007)
- The Next Doctor (2008)
- Planet of the Dead (2009)
- The Waters of Mars (2009)
- The End of Time (2009)
What makes a good Special?
Russell T. Davies’ Specials will always have a special place in my heart. Year on year, Christmas on Christmas, they were one of the highlights of the day; perfect family entertainment, yet still no lapse in the usual Who standards. The function of the 2009 Specials was something different; to pay a gradual farewell to the Tenth Doctor, mapping his descent into darkness and finally his unconventional regeneration into Matt Smith.
I’d be extremely surprised if anything other than The Waters of Mars won. It plays a pivotal part in the transformation of the Doctor as he begins to question what his role is in the universe. Devastated, supercilious and pushed over the edge, the Doctor goes against his instincts and everything which has defined him in the new series. As his own life spirals out of control, it’s up to Adelaide Brooke to set him right. Adelaide is a strong, complex one-off character; a woman with twilight in her eyes but also one well-acquainted with the world’s harshest realities. This terrific characterisation takes place over the backdrop of a spectacularly-release Martian landscape, inhabited by the Flood – a mysterious, unnerving one-off antagonist which, despite the episode’s character-focus, isn’t side-lined. If one can genre-categorise The Waters of Mars, it would have to be Doctor Who’s disaster movie. The destiny trap: you can’t change history if you’re a part of it.
The Dark Horse
As Doctor Who’s first Christmas Special (discounting any episodes that happened to air over Christmas or include mild Christmas references), The Christmas Invasion does stand a vague chance of doing well in this poll. Accessible to all, The Christmas Invasion was largely to thank for Doctor Who’s popularity as Tennant won over new viewers with a short but memorable first performance as the show’s eponymous protagonist, wherein he battled slave-trading monsters the Sycorax and a more light-hearted Christmastime threat, the Pilot Fish.
Whilst I can’t imagine it succeeding, I’d also be thrilled if The Runaway Bride did well, for many of the same reasons but also because of how its ‘bluer’ emotional focus didn’t destroy the mood, but in fact added to the episode’s charm.
It could only be my favourite Doctor Who story, The End of Time.
Controversially (but in my eyes, effectively), The End of Time experimented with the concept of regeneration, painting it as a tougher, darker process. Whilst the Doctor remains, intrinsically, the same man; whilst he retains his memories, experiences and lessons, each incarnation is a distinctly unique personality who goes on his own inimitable journey. You could argue that the more the Doctor changes, the more he struggles to come to terms with his regeneration. Part of the regeneration process is both falling to, and coming to terms with, the character’s essential weaknesses and/or strengths. Ten’s Doctor was defined as arrogant and at times dangerous; yet he died saving a friend and without pulling the trigger – still at the heart the same man who came onto our screens in 2005; the man who never would.
Others characters complement the narrative. There’s Rassilon, who plays the part of ‘the Narrator’ in the first part, foreshadowing the events to come and accentuating the sheer scale of Davies’ storytelling. In the second, he takes up the legendary role of Rassilon; a character defined in part by both hubris and an indomitable necessity to survive. Rassilon was one of the founders of Time Lord society, yet ultimately he led it into its destruction. There is something fascinating, almost ironic, about his personal journey. Through his basest instincts to live forever, he ends up securing his own fate – compare this to the Doctor in The Time of the Doctor; through making peace with the universe, he is granted life.
Bernard Cribbins gives as heartfelt a performance as ever as the lovable granddad Wilfred Mott; a perfect counterpart to the Doctor allowing a new dynamic between the lead characters. The Master’s story reaches a beautiful pinnacle as he realises that his entire life has been a lie and a plan. He sacrifices himself saving his greatest nemesis and destroying the man he tried to save – and again, Davies’ use of irony is unparalleled.
You’ve heard David’s thoughts, but what about your own? Which one tops your list? Vote below.