In the third episode of the first series of Doctor Who, the Doctor misses his mark in time and drops himself and Rose in Cardiff in 1869. There, they run into a funeral parlor home to zombies, beings killed in the Time War, and Charles Dickens. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
It’s very easy to see already why so many people adore this show. It’s ordered chaos every week, first of all. The fact that we’re dealing with time travel in such a unique way opens up the show to such unimaginable possibilities. It’s now obvious how this show has been able to sustain itself for nearly 50 years. When you’re able to travel as far back or forward into future, the writers have the entire realm of possibility to focus each episode or arc on.
I figured that after the leap to the future, we’d have an episode dealing with the past. Like every episode so far, the Doctor and Rose deal with another bizarre, supernatural event that is tied to the larger mythology of the show. Here, we get more information (not much, though) on this infamous Time War that is referenced multiple times.
Shooting for Naples in 1860, the Doctor actually misses his mark by a few years and a few thousand miles and nine years. (Is this something that happens? I didn’t know that the TARDIS could make a mistake like that. You can answer that, FYI.) They end up in Cardiff in 1869 and the Doctor’s disappointment and disgust is rather funny. This is not the first time I’ve heard someone make fun of Cardiff, so if someone could explain why I should also be weary of the place, that would be awesome. JUST KIDDING i want to go everywhere in the UK 🙁
“The Unquiet Dead” at first seems to be some sort of spectral zombie affliction that causes the dead to reanimate and either kill people or…go see public readings from Charles Dickens. Personally, I’d rather see Dickens than kill someone, but what do I know? I’m not a zombie. Yet.
We’re introduced to Gabriel Sneed and Gwyneth, who work in a funeral parlor where the dead seem to keep coming back to life, screaming as a blue vapor leaves their mouths. The worlds of them, Dickens, and our main heroes collide when one woman, AFTER MURDERING HER GRANDSON, decides to fulfill her final wish of seeing Charles Dickens. There, in the crowd, the blue vapor escapes from her mouth and, understandably, frightens the entire audience away. I mean….LOOK, WOULD YOU STAY AROUND IF THAT HAPPENED? Of course not.
“The Unquiet Dead” also helps answer some lingering questions I have had about the mechanics of how all of this work. Can Rose die in the “past” if she is not born yet? Aren’t they changing history by going back in time? How does history account for Dickens’s actions and the things he’s seen while the Doctor and Rose are with him?
The show never seems bogged down my the theoretical physics that might normally govern the conversation about time travel and I’m thankful for that. I have other shows or movies that deal with this in much more excruciating detail and I think the science might have overwhelmed the absurd and (sometimes) silly nature of these episodes. We get brief explanations about how time isn’t linear for the Doctor and Rose, about how Dickens’ dies before he can ever relate the tale of what happens here, and how the Rift affects temporal space.
Thankfully, the writer, Mark Gatiss, doesn’t make Dickens an instant believer when he witness the blue vapor, nor when he first sees a reanimated corpse. Honestly, it would have been too convenient for me if he had just jumped into the action without question. In a way, I think it also would have sullied the Doctor’s first conversation with Dickens where he gushed about what a fan he is of him. That conversation, while undoubtedly hilarious, builds the foreground for the Doctor convincing Dickens that he is one of the great minds of history and he should take the chance to explore things that are foreign to him. It’s a great way for the Doctor to tell Dickens to stop his denial of reality without being condescending. The Doctor genuinely loves Dickens’s work.
Rose gets the change to reverse her role as the stunned disbeliever/newcomer when she makes friendly with Gwyneth. Gwyneth, from her many years living in the funeral parlor, is actually clairvoyant, explaining her strange connection to the dead specters and how she’s able to “read” the people around her. Gatiss also uses this chance to contrast modern London society with life in Cardiff in 1869, especially as Rose gradually begins to frighten Gwyneth more and more with her “modern” life.
“The things you’ve seen…the darkness…the Big Bad Wolf!”
Yeah, this is what….the third time we’ve heard this phrase? I don’t get it and I don’t understand what this is talking about.
The seance scene, led by Gwyneth, gives us more insight into what these blue spectre/soul things are: they are called “Gelth” and their physical bodies were destroyed during the Time War. (Where did they live? What was destroyed in the Time War? WHAT ON EARTH IS THE TIME WAR?)
Expanding on the Doctor’s revelation to Rose about how his planet was destroyed during this mysterious war, he’s sympathetic to the Gelth’s plight and agrees to allow them to occupy the dead bodies in the funeral parlor, using Gwyneth as the bridge between worlds. I was surprised to see the Doctor make a wrong decision so early on in the series, but it turns out the Gelth merely acted on the Doctor’s sympathies in order to make an attempt to take over as many bodies as possible. We don’t get an explanation for what the Gelth actually are, but I’m ok with that. That’s for another time. Here, the affects of the Doctor’s decision are fatal: Gabriel is murdered, first of all, and when Dickens figures out that gas is the key to destroying the Gelth, it’s Gwyneth who decides to ignite the match that sacrifices herself for everyone else. Well, sort of; turns out she was actually dead already, as the process to make herself the bridge for the Gelth killed her.
I can’t imagine it was an easy moment for the Doctor. His weakness here was his empathy for beings destroyed in this unexplained war, and I think we’ll see more of this in the future. But his actions had a positive effect on Dickins, who’s life was reignited with a spark of imagination by the strange night. I like the idea of the show filling in the gap of the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood and suggesting that he actually had figured out the ending before he died. For the Doctor, inspiring that sort of lively appreciation for the world seems to be his one real goal for all of this. We’ve seen him do that with Rose twice now in the past previous two episodes, and he does it here again with one of his favorite authors. The Doctor has seen virtually everything and it seems his universal mantra of appreciating life is the one thing that consumes him and motivates his actions. And that’s a pretty awesome mantra to live by.
- OH MY GOD I LOVE SIMON CALLOW. Best Dickens ever, y/y/y/y/y
- “You can’t let ’em run around inside of dead people!” “Why not? It’s just like recycling.” BEST EVER oh my god i love the dialogue on this show so much.
- “Perhaps I’ve thought everything I’ll ever think.” OH MY SAD. Depressing. 🙁
- “Now, don’t antagonize her–I love a happy medium!” “I can’t believe you just said that.”
- Can we all start saying, “What the Shakespeare???” from now on?