"We've got another one!"

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So we've met the Doctor in the present. Then he took us forward in time and showed us the future. Now he's taking us back and showing us the past. Sort of like A Christmas Carol? Now you come to mention it...

It seems to have become a Doctor Who tradition that everyone has to have a crack at the Victorian era. So how does The Unquiet Dead measure up? Well, it's not bad. There are definitely a lot of things to like about it, but the disappointing thing is that we couldn't shake the feeling there was a much better story trying to get out.

The comedy in Mark Gatiss's script works a lot better, and is a lot better integrated, than the Benny Hill elements in the first two episodes of the series. (And considering Gatiss is a member of the terrifyingly funny League Of Gentlemen, we should bloody well hope so.) Gatiss also thankfully loses the annoying technology that Russell T Davies is so in love with. And there's a good story here, with horror, drama, pretty special effects and lots of terrific character-revealing stuff.

The trouble is, though, not that it's bland exactly, but that it's blander than it could have been. There are the makings of a deliciously dark story here, but instead of that, it's all just a bit... cheerful. And it doesn't seem to fit. We strongly suspect that the script started life as the black comedy/drama it was born to be, but was then toned down and tidied up and jollied along until it was the uneasy mix between romp and horror we've ended up with. And that's a crying shame. Sneed is positively begging to be a classic Dickensian villain, all dusty frockcoat and clammy palms, cheating the bereaved and goosing the housemaid in the scullery. Some of this has survived ("The stiffs are getting lively again!" "She was eighty-six - she can't have got far!") and what's there works beautifully. But the rest of the time Sneed just isn't creepy enough, isn't greasy enough, isn't sinister enough. And that means his character doesn't really hang together. One minute he's threatening the hapless Gwyneth, the next he's being perfectly pleasant to her. And what's an ordinary-seeming undertaker, his only quirks a mild penny-pinchingness and a few callous references to stiffs, doing carrying chloroform? All of that would have made a lot more sense if he'd been allowed to be the dark character the script's crying out for.

Same with Dickens. Not that we're faulting Simon Callow's performance, because it's absolutely magnificent. But how much more powerful his transformation would have been if we'd been allowed to see more big chunks of bitter world-weariness weighing him down at the beginning, rather than a bit of mild ennui. Rather than seeing a man who has tired of life being rejuvenated with bounding enthusiasm, instead we get the impression that bounding enthusiasm's his natural character and he was just having a bit of an off day.

What a waste. Still, we're supposed to be reviewing what made it to the screen, not our personal director's cut. So what have we got? It gets off to a cracking start, with an atmospherically lit funeral parlour and some excellently creepy blue light effects that remind us again how teary-eyed we are at getting to see Doctor Who made with modern effects tech. And the shot of the possessed granny tottering right up to the lens before the credits is as good a shot as any in Doctor Who's history. After the credits, we see Rose struggling with the TARDIS levers in an echo of Gwyneth struggling with the coffin lid, which is Impressive Deep Symbolical Stuff any way you slice it. After a cosy chat that reinforces how snuggly these two are getting, it's off to our first (off-camera) visit to the TARDIS wardrobe, and out they get into the paper snow.

Like the script, the grittiness seems to have been removed, because this is Christmas-card Victorian: even the snow is clean. If this had turned into a story where an alien had faked up Victorian-era Earth, War Games-stylee, we wouldn't have been at all suprised. But no: apparently it's just meant to look like that. Rose looks suitably gobsmacked, her mouth hanging open as usual (as we've said before, we're not the target audience for female companions. But does she really need quite that many teeth?), but they're at a bit of a loose end, until they hear screaming. Here's where one of the weaknesses of the 45-minute format shows up: when you've got four or six episodes' worth of story development, the story can afford more of a leisurely start. The Doctor and companions are free to wander around, meeting people, poking their noses in where they're not wanted, getting lost and injured and suspected of murder and all the usual schwee, and all of it seems (more or less) perfectly natural. No time for that here: in these stories it's hideously obvious that they can't afford more than a few seconds of ooh-look-at-that before the plot kicks off. (Not to mention that when the Doctor instead of being drawn into trouble is actively looking for it and gleeful when it happens, it doesn't exactly make him look like a model of compassion.)

Meanwhile, inside the theatre, Charles Dickens is busy regaling the audience with ghost stories when the audience starts fighting back. We were all forced to read Dickens at school, and consequently to a woman hold him in deep and abiding contempt and loathing, but Simon Callow is so utterly dazzling that we got over ourselves. After a brisk exchange of views, the Doctor magically discerns that Rose is inside a closed hearse currently exiting stage left and nicks Dickens's carriage. After a truly horrible conversation in which the Doctor reveals himself to be a fanboy, Dickens has dropped the indignation and is all about the heroic rescuage. Which is just as well, since it's him who's gonna be called upon to clean up the fine mess the Doctor's about to get them into.

Rose, meanwhile, wakes up to find her roomies are homicidal zombies. While she does rip strips off Sneed for this, we can't help thinking that he got away rather lightly. First he chloroforms her, muttering darkly about her having seen too much, then he dumps her in a room he knows is full of killer corpses. Rose protests and so does Gwyneth, but the menfolk aren't particularly concerned about her attempted murder. Gwyneth, after being sternly instructed by her grandma to keep her second sight a secret, first goes out of her way to let it slip to the Doctor that she knows how many sugars he takes, then confesses all to Rose. Rose, meanwhile, after attempts at girly bonding that are even worse than the fanboy conversation, wades in again flinging judgments around like she did in End Of the World. We're mystified as to what we're supposed to make of this: our best guess is that we're meant to be touched that she wants to help people, but it's not working: her moronic attempts to force 21st-century morality onto everyone around her without the slightest regard for their different circumstances are just making us throw things at the screen.

Harrumphing from Dickens notwithstanding, Gwyneth contacts the Other Side, and we discover that the blue lights are really the last of a race dispossessed by the Time War and are now free to a good home. Now, we know the Doctor's got a bad case of survivor guilt, and we suspect other sorts of guilt as well, about the Time War, so it's not surprising he's keen to make amends by helping them out. What is surprising, though, is that he's quite so thick about it. We can see him not having learned his lesson after giving the Nestene Consciousness the benefit of the doubt - it's really bad survivor guilt, after all. However, in this case he trusts the Gelth not to be nasty evil invady types, even though he knows the Gelth-controlled zombies tried to kill Rose. Sorry, but that's unforgivably stupid. As a result, he and Rose get backed into a mysterious stone cupboard with a gate (what's that doing in a morgue?), where they contemplate their mortality. Once he's got a wince-inducing confession out of the way ("I'm so glad I met you!"), does he have a cunning plan to save himself and Rose, rescue Gwyneth and repel the Gelth without actually hurting them? Despite his saying to the Gelth "Not while I'm alive", does he heck as like. All he manages is a very Sixth-Doctor-reminiscent bunch of braggadocio about how he's too cool to die in Cardiff, and for Rose a sentiment we hear over and over in this series: "I'm sorry". (Oh, yes, there's deep meaning there, you mark our words.)

Like we've said before: this is not the old Doctor. This Doctor's behaviour - and his morality - have been seriously compromised by his experiences in the Time War, and as a result Rose is in more danger than any other companion has been. Of course it's always been dangerous travelling with the Doctor, but in the past you could at least rely on him to put himself out to watch out for you when he could. That assurance is gone now: driven by his demons, the Doctor's no longer a man to rely on in a crisis. In fact, he's probably the man who created the crisis in the first place.

Fortunately for the Doctor, Rose and the human race in general, Dickens has less guilt and more presence of mind, applying his scientific knowledge (sort of) to suck the Gelth out of their hosts. Gwyneth, even though dead, comes to the party too, and one match later it's all over, leaving our three heroes to stare goopily into space in a crane shot that should have been all impressive but actually looks rather silly. The ending could have been a bit too sickly, but thanks to Simon Callow it's actually very touching, with a bittersweet twist.

So there you have it. It's quite atmospheric, it's quite scary, it's quite character-revealing, it's quite touching. Just not entirely enough of any of them.

MORAL: Never let anyone in without checking their identification.



In the holding the levers down conversation in the TARDIS, Billie Piper gives a line reading that makes the words nonsense. The Doctor says "Hold that one down!" and she replies "I'm holding this one down!". That makes sense - ish - until the next line, when the Doctor says "Well, hold them both down!" Her line would have made sense if she'd said "I'm holding this one down!"


The Doctor says Rose looks beautiful considering she's a human. Given that Time Lords and humans look the same, what's the man talking about?


The other Doctors looked more costumey than this one, but a side-effect of that is that they never looked quite as out of place (other than on modern Earth) as this one does.


Rose accuses Sneed's hands of having had a quick wander when he manhandled her after she's chloroformed. Wasn't she unconscious?


In Rose's chat with Gwyneth, Gwyneth says she earns eight pounds and Rose responds "How much?" Gwyneth misunderstands her, saying she knows, she would have been happy with six. Isn't she supposed to be able to read minds?


Gwyneth identifies Rose as posh, with her clothes and her breeding. Huh? The clothes maybe, except that they're way too simple for an upper-class woman of the time, but she has a Cockney accent!


The science in this is deeply dodgy. There's the whole osmosis thing, for a start, but the-bodies-decompose-and-the-Gelth-use-the-gas stuff is suss as well. The Gelth use a corpse to kill and immediately colonise the new body: surely the new body wouldn't have gone off that quickly?


The Doctor says Gwyneth's powers are as a result of her growing up on a time rift. But she only came to that house when she was twelve, whereas from her conversation with Rose she had second sight long before then. And the rift can't be all that big, or the place would be overflowing with mediums.


Although the Doctor's changed, his suggestion that humans and Gelth at least temporarily coexist is very much in keeping with his earlier self in The Silurians.


There are some very nice Doctorly moments in this of the kind Christopher Eccleston does brilliantly. We love the way he looks at Gwyneth after she says the two sugars line, the shots of him thinking after the seance and his sigh when Rose tells him to leave Gwyneth alone.


Neither Sneed nor Dickens blink at "test drive". Not very Victorian, is it?


When the Doctor asks Sneed where the weakest part of the house is, Sneed replies: "That would be the morgue". Rose then says: "No chance you're going to say "gazebo", is there?" No chance at all, given that he's already replied. Shouldn't those two lines have been in the opposite order?

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at US: DVD not available

Buy entire series DVD box set: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Buy first and second seasons box set: UK: box set not available   US Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Download Doctor Who episodes at