Well, it’s been two weeks since I’ve reviewed a disc of Doctor Who, and it’s been nearly that long since I’ve actually watched the first two episodes of this disc. As mentioned in my review for Anansi Boys, I’ve had some big things going on in my life (plus a fairly ridiculous addiction to Skyrim which will apparently never abate). So, if my review tends to skew towards the one episode on this disc that I’ve watched semi-recently, then I apologize (which is really a shame if it happens because “Forest of the Dead” is probably my second favorite episode of the series). Without ruining anything, let us just say that this particular disc of the show is the consistently best it’s been since we had the one-two-three punch of “Human Nature,” “The Family of Blood,” and then “Blink” to put the icing on the cake. After some slight disappointment in the last disc, Doctor Who returned in rare form with the kind of intelligent (and terrifying) storytelling that makes Doctor Who one of my favorite science-fiction programs.
The disc begins with a two-parter written by the one true scribe of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat. The Doctor has received a mysterious message on his psychic paper calling for help at the biggest library in the universe. However, when the Doctor and Donna arrive, it turns out to be completely empty except for one little girl who promptly disappears when she sights the Doctor and Donna. This same little girl appears to be at her home in the modern world being attended to be a psychiatrist named Dr. Moon. As the Doctor and Donna try to discover why there are no human life forms on this planet (but 100,000,000,000 non-human life forms that they can’t see), a spaceship arrives with a crew of archaeologists led by a woman named River Song who seems to know the Doctor even though he says they’ve never met. It turns out a horde of parasitic life forms that live in the darkness have taken over the library and now they’re hungry for new arrivals. There’s a lot more to it than that but I really don’t want to ruin any of it for anyone that hasn’t seen the episodes yet. They’re that good. In the last episode of the disc, the Doctor (who leaves Donna behind at a spa) goes on a spaceship cruise on an uninhabitable planet to see a waterfall made of sapphires when an unseen entity attacks the ship, and in a situation very akin to The Mist, the passengers slowly start to turn on each other as no one is able to trust anyone and no one (but the Doctor) can work together.
Each serial is getting its own review (serial not episode because the two-parter is one serial) because they were both that good. I loved the introduction of River Song. She seems so mysterious but charismatic and she had such a playful relationship with the Doctor that I can only imagine what it will be like once she and the Doctor finally both know each other (I’m really looking forward to the episode where she meets him for the first time). It was very frightening which is par for the course for a Stephen Moffat story. That man knows how to scare the pants off of his audience (young and old alike). However, what makes it so special for me is the second episode “Forest of the Dead”. Once again, without wanting to ruin any of the episode for those who haven’t seen it, the scenes with Donna in an alternate universe are among some of the most tragic and heartbreaking of the whole series. For the first time in her entire run, I was finally able to empathize with Donna’s character and hopefully that respect remains for the rest of her run. Simply put, Steven Moffat is the very best Doctor Who writer, and the only episode of his that I like more than “Forest of the Dead” is “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
Russel T. Davies wrote the disc-ending “Midnight,” and this was the kind of strong narrative and dark storytelling that he would eventually bring to Torchwood and is quite unlike anything I’ve seen him provide before. This is potentially my favorite non-Stephen Moffat episode of the entire series. The Doctor didn’t save the day (even though the day was saved). He nearly died. There wasn’t copious amounts of running. There weren’t cheesy sci-fi aliens in rubber suits. There was very little techno-babble. It was just dark and claustrophobic and psychological. It was one of the episodes of the show that is so mature and cynical that I really have to question this show’s “for children” status (as I seemingly do at least two reviews a season). Also, there was almost no Donna to even potentially slow things down. The episode just turned so many of the standard Doctor Who plotlines on their head and everything that worked for The Doctor in the past nearly got him killed this time around. It was just brilliant.
I’m coming onto my last disc of David Tennant’s run as the Doctor (though I’ll still have his four made for TV movies to watch), and I’m getting very sad. I’m thinking about making an executive decision which is that I take a break from Doctor Who after I finish David Tennant’s run because with the exception of River Song, it will eventually be a new series under Steven Moffat rather than Russel T. Davies, and I really, really, really, really want to start watching Angel. Plus my dad bought me the first season of Justified for Christmas, and I want to watch the first two seasons of that before Season 3 airs in January. We shall see if I can accomplish that feat. I’m a big fan of Timothy Olyphant and the first two episodes seem really intriguing. Well, regardless of what I choose, we are reaching the end of an era and much sadness will be shared by all who enjoyed the antics of the simply adorkable David Tennant. There isn’t nearly as much love for Matt Smith, and I’m just going to be very sad to leave the joyful and exciting Tenth Doctor behind.
Final Score: A-