The Case for… The Unquiet Dead

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Guest contributor Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull on the Series 1 episode.

Upon the recent October holiday, I decided to take a mini-break to London to catch up on all the culture I had missed. As an avid theatre fan I scrolled through the internet to find a show that would suit my interests. Having been a large Charles Dickens fan for much of life I found Simon Callow’s one-man show, The Mystery of Charles Dickens. After seeing the BBC’s brilliant adaption of Great Expectations in January and reading A Christmas Carol, I researched Dickens in as many ways as I could. Of course I am an extreme Doctor Who fan (duh!) and I always try and sneak in the odd episode, especially if it fits in with the season. I found ‘The Unquiet Dead’, an underrated episode of Series One that I had since overlooked. My family and I sat down, watched it and when the TV went black I thought about how utterly brilliant it was. What I had just witnessed wasn’t just a deliciously dark and enjoyable episode of ‘NuWho’ but also an interesting representation of the author himself, Mr. Charles Dickens.

The episode was there as one of those early series fillers (other examples include the classic Gridlock, Tooth and Claw and Planet of the Ood), episodes that are usually written by special guest writers and that don’t count as much in the significant long run. Mark Gatiss penned the script, his first of many, and wrote it superbly. I have never been a fan of The League of Gentlemen scriptwriter and his latter contributions to the show haven’t been favoured in my opinion, but this episode boosted my judgement. If only 2011 (*cough* Victory of the Daleks *cough*) Gatiss had taken lessons with 2005 Mark.

The Unquiet Dead

Simon Callow is absolutely amazing in the part of the famous wordsmith, taking every line as seriously as he was in his show. Another highlight of Gatiss’ writing was that he got the language of the 19th century and of the talented author spot on. Callow portrays Dickens with an excellent decorum that is undeniably of the renowned man. Both Callow and Gatiss shine throughout the programme consistently.

Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston are really getting to grips with the Doctor-companion relationship, giving their characters a good solidarity that stays firm throughout the whole of Series One. Towards the end of the episode, the Doctor and Rose are trapped in a cell in Sneed’s morgue and holding each others hands thanking their travels together when I realised how much it echoed two years later in ‘Planet of the Ood’ when the Doctor and Donna are in a really similar scenario and they too thank each other. This is yet another one of the brilliant moments the Whoniverse churns out where something echoes from its past. This only dawned on me after watching the episode.

Eccleston portrays the Doctor in usual form, serious yet still capable of lapsing into humour, while Piper is the novice traveller Rose, on her third adventure with the enigmatic Time Lord. Of course, this episode also signifies something else important in the Whoniverse, the first appearance of Eve Myles. Myles would go on to star in Who spinoff Torchwood as Gwen Cooper (coincidently the relation of Gwyneth) alongside John Barrowman’s Captain Jack. Myles plays Gwyneth with a naïveness that you grow to love, meaning Gwyneth’s sad demise at the end of the episode is heart-wrenching.

‘The Unquiet Dead’ is ludicrously underrated and I know numerous serials that are far worse than this. It’s enjoyable, surprisingly quick and a classic. I was so close to not actually doing a ‘Case for…’ article due to the praise it gets but there are a few haters that need to be silenced, so revisit this episode, please, you will be satisfyingly thrilled. One other thing that deserves note is that it’s an unrecognised Christmas special and seems to have a similar darkness of Russell T Davies’ penultimate episode, ‘The End of Time’.

So, what did you think of this foolishly unremembered episode? Where do you stand on the love/hate scale?