Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Promise vs the Reality 3

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth

Doctor Who's 30th season (or the fourth since it came back, if you want to count it that way like some mannys seem to do) was all about the return of Rose, who had been absent from the series for 13 episodes and two Christmas specials by this point.

That's even longer than Blake had been absent from Blakes 7 by the time he returned in Terminal or Blake, so it's a long time in cat years. Blake was the title character though; Doctor Who wasn't called "Rose." Maybe it should have been?

You can see how important Rose was to this season by looking at the box for the DVDs, where Rose is given a prominent position in between Sarah (who hasn't been in Doctor Who since 10 episodes before Rose left) and Martha:

Of course, given that when Rose last appeared she had been trapped in another universe, it immediately raises the mystery of how she could get back into the series. Most viewers probably thought she was gone for good.

So throughout the season, the viewers (I was not one at the time, because I was only made on the day that the trailer we are discussing today was first shown at the end of Turn Left) were teased with brief glimpses of Rose and hints as to how she could come back, until finally she played a significant part in helping Donna in Turn Left. Cleverly, the setup of this episode prevented the reunion of Rose with the Doctor, thus keeping fans in suspense for this event still to happen.

With that in mind, here's the trailer:

It starts with lots of fast shots of all the character we can look forward to seeing, with dramatic sounds as we cut between them: first (significantly) Rose, then the Doctor, Donna, Martha, Captain Jack, some Torchwood mannys, Bernard Cribbins, Sarah, and then the clips get faster and faster, showing other mannys and a Dalek and a hand and finishing with an explosion. This is all calculated to be very dramatic.

The trailer then changes pace to give the usual clips:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war!"
says a General, a line that is obviously written to be used in a trailer in this kind of way.

A fleet of flying saucers invade the Earth.
"It can't be," says the Doctor. Then there are clips where nobody knows what to do about the flying saucers.
"It can't be," says Martha, echoing the Doctor and so emphasising this point that something truly unbelievable is happening. Of course we don't know what they're reacting to so it is yet another way that the trailer is keeping us in suspense.

The Torchwood mannys have guns and shoot them at something we can't see.
"I'm sorry, we're dead," says Captain Jack, giving me another excuse to use this picture:

Meanwhile, Rose has a big gun and a Dalek voice seems to laugh at her (insert your own joke here).

"It's only just beginning," she says, which is ironic because the trailer is nearly finished. It ends on a shot of a Dalek's eyestalk.

This trailer is massively effective in building expectations for the next episode, for the reasons I have mentioned above and also for keeping the actual shots of Daleks to a minimum - enough that we know the Daleks are coming, but not enough to show us what they are going to do when they get here. But by seeing the reactions of the Doctor, Rose, Martha, and so on, it means we know they must be doing something incroyable.

So, what did The Stolen Earth deliver after all that?


Invading the Earth.

In Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. we saw the aftermath of a successful Dalek invasion of the Earth. They planned to steal the Earth but Dr Who stopped them before they could. In The Stolen Earth the Daleks reverse this plan: first they steal the Earth (as the episode title suggests), and then they invade it. And most of the episode is about them invading the Earth and how all the many characters we saw in the trailer react to this.

This is an amazing achievement for Doctor Who as a television programme, delivering a level of cinematic spectacle never before seen in the series in a string of set-piece scenes that build relentlessly towards a climax. The audience is kept waiting until almost the very end for two things that are eagerly awaited: the arrival of the Doctor on the invaded Earth (crucially, to allow this to happen he has been kept away from the Earth because the planet has been stolen), and the reunion of the Doctor with Rose.

And then, at the very moment of payoff, as the Doctor and Rose see each other and are about to be reunited, the Doctor is shot by a Dalek. Rose, Donna and Captain Jack carry the injured Doctor into the TARDIS, where he begins to regenerate. And that is the end of the episode!

Unlike the episodes I have previously looked at, Doomsday and The Sound of Drums, which in many ways failed in the end to live up to the promise of their trailers, The Stolen Earth surpasses even the heightened expectations that viewers would have been given by its trailer. You may have been expecting thrilling escapades involving Daleks, but did you expect them to shoot the Doctor and make him regenerate? That was not hinted at by the trailer in any way. You may have been expecting the Doctor and Rose to be reunited, but did you expect their reunion to be interrupted, postponed by the cliffhanger even at the moment of consummation?

The Stolen Earth is the first part of the two-part finale, and as such it postpones resolving any of its plot threads until the concluding part, Journey's End. In some respects it functions almost like an episode-long trailer for its own sequel, the real finale, by building up the audience's anticipation throughout but denying them any real satisfaction.

In that case, perhaps we should ask the obvious next question: so, what did Journey's End deliver after all that?

To answer that fully would take me a whole other article, one that would have to be full of a lot of very rude words. The short answer, in the words of Call of Cthulhu, is:
"onlie the liveliest awfullness"

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