THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE TV
EPISODE "FEAR HER"
AND DIRECTLY PRIOR
TO THE TV EPISODE
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
THE DOCTOR AND ROSE
ARE DRAWN TO THE
BUT A MIGHTY INVASION
FORCE IS READY TO
1ST JULY 2006
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 2)
“...Something’s in the air. Something coming. A storm’s approaching...”
“…you consort with stars and magic and think it fun. But your world is
steeped in terror and blasphemy and death and I will not allow it. You will
leave these shores and will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from
all that is good and how much longer you can survive this terrible life...”
“…the valiant child who will die in battle so very soon...”
“This is the story of how I died.”
Is this it, then? Act I, Scene I, and Rose is dead? As the quotations above illustrate, hints
of her demise have clearly been there for all to see, but I never dared believe it. And I still don’t, to be frank; particularly as in Graeme Harper’s astoundingly picturesque pre-title sequence Rose is narrating her final story after the event (albeit from an admittedly very ‘after-lifey’ looking beach). All the same, irrespective of what Rose’s fate ultimately turns
out to be, Army of Ghosts could not have begun in a more alluring fashion.
After the initial hook of the pre-title sequence, Army of Ghosts then resets itself to a fairly measured pace as writer Russell T Davies begins to gradually crank up the tension. The episode’s early scenes are delightfully prosaic: Rose turns up with all her washing for her Mum to do, who then plants a smacker on the Doctor. It’s just business as usual for them
all now; routine. But as Billie Piper is leaving the show, it is only fitting that her swansong should begin amidst the towering high rises of London’s Powell Estate, effectively where
it all began for her.
“A footprint doesn’t look like a boot.”
This time though, it isn’t just business and usual. Since the TARDIS’ last pit stop, the whole world has gone mad. So-called ‘ghosts’ have woven themselves into society, and are now
just as much a part of everyday life as cars and chips and Sky Digital. However, unlike the rest of the planet, the Doctor doesn’t believe for a moment that these ghosts are people’s loved ones truly back from the dead and - rather tellingly, I feel - nor does Rose.
As we haven’t seen as much of her this season, I was pleased to see Camille Coduri play
a major part here. I can only assume that with Rose leaving the series, the Tyler entourage will be following her through the exit and as such this two-parter is as much Jackie’s final farewell as it is Rose’s. And to be frank, Jackie gets a damn sight more to do in Army of Ghosts than Rose, who for her part spends much of the episode locked inside the TARDIS whilst the Doctor pretends that Jackie is Rose. As usual Coduri is on typically comic form – “I’m forty!”– but, as we did recently in Love & Monsters, we also get to see her vulnerable side as she witnesses this incredible life that her daughter leads first-hand. The look on her face as the Doctor ‘kills’ the Cyber-controlled humans in Torchwood Tower speaks volumes.
“…this woman… this strange woman… walking through the marketplace on a strange planet
a billion miles from Earth, but she’s not Rose Tyler. She’s not even human anymore…”
Further, Jackie’s brief (and surprisingly articulate) moment of reflection inside the TARDIS says a lot about her fears for her daughter. In a way, she’s gone beyond fearing that Rose will die whilst she’s in the throes of some far-flung adventure. Now she’s more afraid that
her Rose will just fade away, consumed by the woman that she’s rapidly becoming. Jackie also rehearses some salient points that were addressed through Sarah Jane Smith’s return in School Reunion earlier in the season, about what becomes of the Doctor’s companions when he inevitably leaves them behind. When compared to those such as Peri and Mel who were left to very uncertain fates by the Doctor, not to mention those like Adric who actually died on their travels with him, Sarah Jane got off very lightly, and even the idea of sharing Sarah’s lonesome fate terrified Rose.
Army of Ghosts also introduces us to the mysterious Torchwood organisation – references to which have been littered throughout this run, Bad Wolf-style - and I must say that it isn’t at all what I’d expected. With all the hype surrounding John Barrowman’s forthcoming Cardiff-based television show of the same name, I had made the schoolboy mistake of assuming that Torchwood must be the good guys. However, following their precipitate actions in The Christmas Invasion, I should really have known better.
“They can shoot me dead, but the moral high ground is mine.”
Particularly for long-standing Doctor Who fans, Torchwood’s place in the show’s complex mythology is fascinating. In the late 20th century, the exiled third Doctor (and occasionally
the fourth) worked for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. The Doctor had clearance above top secret, yet he’d never heard of Torchwood. And why? Well aside from the facts that Davies had not yet dreamt it up back then, and that Torchwood works for the British Empire (as opposed to the UN), the Doctor had never heard of Torchwood because he is their public enemy number one – he was even listed by name in the organisation’s charter set up by Queen Victoria shortly after her encounter with him in Tooth and Claw. As such the Doctor is surprised, to say the least, when he finds out that this organisation not only exists, but that it has built a skyscraper (Canary Wharf, aka “Torchwood Tower”) to reach a spatial anomaly in order to exploit it for financial gain, and in doing so allowed the titular ‘ghosts’ to enter our world and destabilise the entire multiverse!
“If it’s alien, it’s ours…”
Tracy-Ann Oberman (EastEnders) is absolutely fabulous as Yvonne Hartman, the ungodly woman evidently fronting this clandestine organisation. In a frighteningly astute parody of modern business management, Hartman knows the name of every single person working under her, yet she’s a fascist through and through – she will justify almost anything “for the good of the British Empire”. Incidentally, I found the episode’s little EastEnders in-joke very droll – Barbara Windsor’s Peggy Mitchell appears in an EastEnders clip, admonishing the ghost of Dirty Den (who was murdered by Oberman’s character in EastEnders) which has shown up in the Queen Vic! Peggy doesn’t serve spirits, see.
The secrets that the Torchwood Tower hides
though are even more ominous. There are far
more substantial threats than ‘ghosts’ lurking
in its disused section, and one of the facility’s
laboratories houses an even greater danger
still. The so-called “Void Ship” that caused the
spatial anomaly hangs silently and dreadfully in Dr Rajesh Singh’s chamber. According to
the Doctor, it is an “impossible” vessel, even by Time Lord standards. It has absolutely no atomic mass and can travel between parallel universes via the Void that exists between them. I found the very idea of the thing unconscionably creepy. It’s there, but isn’t there…
And so the tension mounts as the questions quickly stack up: who or what is inside this Void Ship? Who has the technology to exist outside time and space, in the place that the Eternals rather lyrically call “The Howling”? And who are the ghosts that have permeated our reality? I suppose that even the most naïve of viewers must have had an inkling, but that doesn’t make Army of Ghosts’ finale any less dramatic.
“This world is colliding with another, and I think I know which one.”
The Cybermen appear en masse, not just in London but across the whole globe. The scenes of them worldwide really convey just what an almighty force this is; as the Doctor brutally puts it, it’s “…not an invasion. It’s too late for that. It’s a victory”. Within moments, Cybermen have conquered the world, and that’s only the lesser half of the cliffhanger...
In a last-minute twist, Rose and Mickey (how the hell did he get here?) are sealed in a room with the Void Ship when suddenly it activates. And much to the evidently older, braver, gun-toting and altogether more confident Mickey’s surprise, it does not contain any Cybermen; it contains a quorum of Daleks, including a Black Dalek, no less!
Daleks and Cybermen! Talk about brazen fan service. As much as I pity any episode that is going to be compared to The Parting of the Ways, thanks to the way in which the deck has been stacked here, next week’s Doomsday promises to be every bit as epic as last year’s blockbuster season finale, if not even more so. Bring it on…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? This story takes place between Love & Monsters (2007) and The Runaway Bride (Christmas 2007), around a year ahead of its transmission date.
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