Sunday, 29 June 2008

Week Twelve: "The Stolen Earth", Minute by Minute

What I was thinking at the time, even if I didn't add the long words and complicated angst until later.

Minute -3. Right. Drink: check. Sausage pasta: check. Empty cola bottle, in case of emergency: check. DVD recorder in full working order, and not likely to blow a sparky thirty seconds before the start of the programme, like it did with "The Unicorn and the Wasp": check. Vague feeling of guilt at the thought that one of the girl contestants on The Kids Are Alright is going to be really, really fit when she grows up: oh, it's not on this week, and they've cancelled The Weakest Link as well. Well, let's hope it's an omen. We're all set for the big Dalek bonanza. Hmm… Bonanza. Dang daga-dang daga-daga-daga-dang daga-daaah-daaaaah, dang daga-dang daga-daga-daga-dang daga-dang daga-dang-dang-daaaaah. Why was a Western series called Bonanza, anyway? "Bonanza" is, in all other respects, a word you associate with supermarket giveaways. Is there time to get the dictionary? Yeah, there's time.

Minute -2. I can't believe I managed to make it this far without seeing any of the trailers. I averted my gaze during the teaser at the end of "Turn Left" (a title that still makes me want to sing '…life is peaceful there'), in an attempt to avoid any "Parting of the Ways"-sized spoilers, so all I picked up from the soundtrack was that "The Stolen Earth" involves a giggling Dalek. And a Red Dalek, 'cos I saw it on today's page of the Radio Times. Oh, and Davros, obviously. And probably Bernard Cribbins. On Thursday, daytime BBC1 showed a trailer, then a short news bulletin, then another trailer, as if testing my diving-to-the-floor-and-putting-my-hands-over-my-ears reflexes. Ahhh, a Red Dalek and Bernard Cribbins, all in one package… it's like Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD all over again. I wonder if Wilfred Mott is going to sit on a pudding in an amusing way?

Minute -1. Bonanza, sense two: a mine or rich vein of ore, according to the dictionary. From the Spanish "calm sea", hence, good luck. That's ironic, for a series that was set in the middle of a bleeding desert. Why am I thinking about Bonanza, when Doctor Who's about to come on…? Oh, I know: it reminds me of Sunday afternoons spent at my cousin's house in the 1970s, during which period he bequeathed unto me his red plastic Hartnell-era Dalek (minus all three of its stalks) and his hideously defaced copy of The Dalek Book. I'm guessing, or maybe just hoping, that this episode is going to be closer to The Dalek Book than any televised Doctor Who we've seen so far. The Radio Times said something about a "Dalek Freakshow" on the front cover… Daleks on stilt-legs, wading through alien swamps, like in that comic-strip with the two-headed dinosaur on page 73? No, that's too much to hope for. Anyway, they don't even need hover-boats these days, they can levitate. Bastards. I remember the days when a Dalek invasion could be halted by a single mole tunnelling under their landing-strip in Kent. It says so on page 66. Wouldn't it be great if some of the Daleks in this episode couldn't see the colour red, though? Or claimed that "J" is the forbidden letter of their language?

Minute 0. Oh, Girl Made of Neon. I was cruel to you, I know: at first, I wanted the BBC to change the channel ident every week, so that our off-air recordings might become a time-capsule of the modern age. But now, I've come to enjoy the way you flirt and tease. After all, you bring me Doctor Who every week, even if it's usually rubbish. No wonder those other neon creatures follow you so eagerly along the embankment, and I'm sure that the knight in armour who rides on the back of the giant hot-dog is pointing his sausage your way. And every week, you lead us to the London Eye, perhaps acknowledging that this is where it all started. Neon may be an inert gas rather than a plastic derivative, but is some form of Nestene Consciousness still buried there, bringing you to life and coaxing you down from your bill-hoarding every Saturday? How I've wished that you might turn out to be the surprise end-of-series villain, although admittedly, that wouldn't make much sense to overseas markets. Invariably, you end up waving your legs out of one of the carriages of the Ferris wheel, like a teenage slapper after too many Cider and Blacks. As if we might look under the hem of your dress at any moment, and see a flashing red sign that says ENTER HERE. Next week, we part, my luminous coquette. Until then… show me the Daleks, whore.

Minute 1. Even the announcer is officially referring to this as "the biggest adventure yet", as if Russell T. Davies has turned into P. T. Barnum (OBE). Oh, here comes the TARDIS. I see the Bad Wolf Effect - which is a bit like the Lynx Effect, except that it makes sexy words follow you around instead of women - has already worn off, although it's nice to see that after so many years of being asked improbable questions by time-travellers, the bystanders of Doctor Who Earth have started responding to queries like "what day is it?" with a direct answer instead of wasting time with "what, you mean you don't know what day it is?". Also nice to see that in England, the first sign of the universe collapsing is bottles rattling on a milk-float, as if creation itself is under attack from the Humphries.

Minute 2. Oh, Lord, now Donna's trying to make the Doctor emote about Rose. Luckily, we have the theft of the Earth to distract us, and - for pedants - the question of why the TARDIS doesn't get transported along with the rest of the planet. Maybe the people who've nicked the world have got some kind of spam-filter that stops alien time-machines being picked up as well. Which is a wise precaution, if you're stealing planets in the same universe as the Doctor. [With hindsight, however… this one improbable feature stops us going directly from Minute 2 to Minute 42. If the TARDIS had been taken along for the ride, then this whole episode wouldn't need to exist.]

Minute 3. Ohhhhhhh dear. This story isn't going to be set completely on Earth, is it? As we all know, the series has developed an almost morbid fascination with the Here and Now over the last few years, to the point where the end-of-season epic has almost become an exercise in seeing how much havoc Russell can cause in the present-day before the reset switch gets pulled. Nobody seemed to feel that the stakes were any lower in "The Parting of the Ways", just because it was set 200,000 years after the Chav Age. Here, the pretext seems to be that we're watching a "Five Doctors"-style reunion for all the regulars, only… sixteen years too early. Because there comes a point in the life of every "cult" series when the programme-makers lose sight of what viewers actually need as part of their weekly fix, and begin to massively overrate the impact of bringing back old characters. Just as Star Trek: The Next Generation could never quite grasp that nobody wanted to see "funny" episodes involving Gene Rodenberry's wife, and just as John Nathan-Turner refused to listen when Robert Holmes said that he had no interest in writing a script involving the Autons, the Master and the Rani, modern-day Doctor Who hasn't considered the possibility that only people who write Torchwood slash-fic ("tenderly, yet with manful strength, he fisted the pterodactyl to the very core of its being…") will wee themselves with joy at the reappearance of Captain Jack.

Minute 4. Wait, that sounds much too unkind. I rather liked Captain Jack in the Eccleston days, and I enjoyed his comeback in "Utopia" a great deal, despite the mediocre pay-off. But apart from appearing in so many light-entertainment shows that it looks as if he's found a way of defying Blinovitch, John Barrowman is now decidedly That Man From Torchwood rather than That Man Who Used To Be In Doctor Who. Once you've seen "Exit Wounds", in which Chris Chibnell's incompetence finally reaches a point of density beyond the event horizon and swallows all light and reason, Jack is simply… tainted. He doesn't belong around here any more, he belongs in a gloomy cellar in Cardiff, pretending to have "issues" with people we don't care about. Either that, or he should be appearing as Prince Charming at the Bournemouth Pavillion. In the wake of Jonathan Miller dismissing David Tennant as "that man from Doctor Who" (we should respond in kind by referring to him as "the one who wasn't funny from Beyond the Fringe" whenever possible), we have to remember that an awful lot of people treat the stars of this show as if they should be doing Panto instead of serious drama, and Big John the Tripod is the showbusiest of the showbiz.

Minute 5. Yes, someone's moved the Earth. We get the idea. No wonder the announcer wanted to Big Up the scale of this episode: it'd be perfectly reasonable to do a story about the Earth getting shunted across the universe as a low-budget one-parter (nobody ever made a big hoo-hah about "The Mysterious Planet", thankfully), but the programme needs us to believe that this is something huge. Ergo, we get (1) a massively over-inflated pre-credits sequence, and (2) lots of anxious close-ups of people who regularly witness the impossible as they look at the sky and say "but that's impossible". Oh, and see how they choose this moment to develop the irritating American habit of putting the names of special guest-stars right after the opening credits, just to make sure that we can't be surprised by the return of Harriet Jones or Martha's mum.

Minute 6. No, look, it's no good. Despite the whole of last week's episode being a last-ditch effort to make us like her, I still don't know anything about Donna Noble. After the first year of Rose and a year of Martha, they were so familiar to us that we instinctively knew which way they were likely to jump in any given situation: when they didn't do what we expected, it was a deliberate surprise rather than an ugly hole in the characterisation. But Donna remains an excuse for Catherine Tate's schtick rather than a character, an empty celeb-shaped space where the heart of the series should be, which is yet another reason that the Doctor has ended up doing most of the hardcore emoting this year. I have no idea how clever she is, how stupid she is, how strong she is, how vulnerable she is, how acute she is, how gullible she is. I have no idea what she wants from life, what kind of childhood she had, what she might be like on a first date (her approach to men varies drastically from episode to episode, according to the comedy needs of the individual situation), how she might vote in an election, or even why she's so determined to stick with the TARDIS. Yet I do know everything I need to know about her granddad, partly because he's a lot more consistent, and partly because Bernard Cribbins is a much better actor. Donna is an individual whose only defining feature is to be "modern", performed by an actress who's been cast purely because of her showbiz appeal. In other words, she's the nightmare companion… Dodo Chaplet played by Bonnie Langford.

Minute 7. I like the way David Tennant says 'I'm taking you to the Shadow Proclamation' as if it's a dodgy nightclub in Aberdeen, and as if he's half-apologising for not being able to take her anywhere classier. Of course, it wouldn't be a proper alien invasion story without fake news footage and Lachele Carl, but I was sort of hoping that this wouldn't be an alien invasion story at all. And while the Richard Dawkins thing is clever, Paul O'Grady always makes me think of the smell of old women. When you remember that he was (inconceivably) given a royal honour on the same day as the executive producer, this programme starts to look like a remarkably camp gentleman's club. "Oh, you must come to my estate in Cardiff next summer, I'm getting two-dozen nubile young catamites to prance around in Ood masks while we shoot apples off their heads."

Minute 8. Good God, UNIT is run by that man from Dempsey and Makepeace. Ah! Incoming spacecraft, now we'll get some action. Obviously, it can't be the Daleks who actually stole the Earth, because that would turn this entire affair into just another routine Dalek-based two-parter: we were promised "bigger", so clearly, something vastly more powerful and interesting is throwing the universe out of whack behind the scenes. Since the walls between dimensions are a-tumbling down, I'm guessing that Daleks from parallel universes are swarming in to take advantage of the crisis. So the Daleks will turn out to be secondary villains for once, thus preventing this whole outing from looking no more apocalyptic than "Daleks in Manhattan". Yeah, that must be it.

Minute 9. So, faced with 26 new planets in the sky, the people of London… run up and down, screaming. No, really. They actually run up and down, screaming. Since the TV stations have had time to analyse the astronomical data, since they've managed to drag Dawkins away from his Romana-shagging activities for long enough to sit him in front of a camera, and since Paul O'Grady's script has been rewritten to include topical material about the end of the world, it must've been… what… at least a few hours since the planet was abducted? Yet the inhabitants of the capital have apparently spent that whole time shrieking, waving their arms around, and dashing through the streets with no particular sense of direction. Aren't their throats sore by now? Why don't they just go home? What are they screaming at, exactly? Why do all the people in the exterior scenes believe it's time to riot, when the audience of a Channel 4 talk-show are happy to sit in a cosy studio and laugh at jokes about drinking furniture-polish? And why do so many people seem to believe it's Judgement Day, when this is significantly less alarming that what happened in "The Poison Sky"? Has the BBC announcer told them it's the biggest catastrophe so far, as well? Oh, and that's all we need: Rose Tyler threatening people with a gun to make them behave. Remember, kids… guns don't kill people, they just make it vastly easier to kill people.

Minute 10. Donna Angst #2. Not only am I still mystified as to the nature of her personality, I don't even know who's supposed to like her. With one exception, none of the Doctor Who fans with whom I regularly chew the Adipose-fat can stand her; my family doesn't seem to want anything to do with her; the kindest things I've heard said about her have been along the lines of 'well, she was all right in "The Runaway Bride", but a whole year…?'; and my extended peer-group finds her ridiculous, which is telling, when you consider how many professional comedians I know. As I've said before, we could have had anybody as This Year's Girl. We could have had Elaine Cassidy, the most companiony actress in the history of time. We could have had Carey Mulligan out of "Blink", at a pinch. Instead, they gave us the female Harry Enfield, with whom almost nobody can empathise. I can't even find it in myself to hate her, I just find it bewildering that someone whose only skills are mugging to the camera and doing silly voices should be somehow mistaken for an actress. And now we have the worst of all possible combinations, Donna Noble in the middle of an overblown sci-fi story-arc. We're supposed to be thinking "ooh, what's the secret of Donna's destiny?", but in fact, we're thinking "please just die". A-hah! The spaceships are sending a message. Is it the people who moved the Earth? Are they going to explain all of this? Oh, wait, there's a thought: maybe they're actually nice, and they've moved the planet in order to save it from the oncoming darkness. Right, the message is…

Minute 11. …oh, Christ, no. It can't just be the Daleks who are responsible for all of this, can it? That'd be the ultimate insult in a season full of insults, as if we're supposed to feel a sense of profound doom-stroke-excitement over the return of a monster that comes back every sodding year and never seems to learn anything. I was, after all, only getting worked up about this episode because I thought we'd have freaky psychedelic Daleks from another dimension. And, more crucially, I was expecting them to be just one element in a trans-universal free-for-all. No, wait… no need to panic just yet. Maybe the Daleks are just taking advantage of this situation, like I thought. Maybe they're only menacing the Earth because it happens to be there. Sod it, maybe one of the other 26 planets is their homeworld from a parallel universe, and they're as confused as the humans are. There's a Red Dalek in the Radio Times, so they must be parallel Daleks of some description, they can't be the boring old ordinary kind. Why is Sarah-Jane so convinced that she and her Bane-spawn are going to die, anyway? She's only ever met really rubbish Daleks before now: the ones she saw on Exxilon were so pathetic that they carried cardboard cut-out TARDISes around for target practice, and the ones she saw on Skaro were 'primitive', apparently. Why does she think that a spaceship full of them is such a catastrophe, when she hasn't seen "Bad Wolf" like we have?

Minute 12. The man from Dempsey and Makepeace has just said 'ladies and gentlemen…' in a dramatic way. Please don't say 'we are at war'. Please don't say 'we are at war'. Please don't say… bastard. Yeah, go on, bomb his building. That'll show him.

Minute 13. No no no no no. Nooooo no no. You're telling me that the Red Dalek - who now gives a "Masters of Earth" speech in front of the obligatory floating-Dalek CGI shot, as if Earth would be of any significance to a species which now has the power to threaten everything that's ever existed - isn't a parallel-universe Dalek, but just their leader? Why would they take orders from a Dalek that camp? It looks as if his subordinates have painted him a funny colour while he was asleep. Gayest. Dalek. Ever. Oh, that's better, we're heading for the Shadow Proclamation Things should kick off now. Judoon, that's what I pay my Licence Fee for.

Minute 14. Donna Angst #3. Now she's defiantly putting herself forward as a representative of humanity in front of the Shadow Proclamation, and she's seriously presented as if we're supposed to be shouting "go girl!" like the audience on Ricki Lake, whereas in truth… well, in truth, we're shouting "put a sock in it, you mouthy slag" like the audience on Jeremy Kyle. Only Catherine Tate can be quite so annoying while attempting to be inspirational. They should get her to perform the "make the foundation of this society a man who never would!" speech, just to see whether the universe ruptures itself out of shame and embarrassment.

Minute 15. Hold on. To recap… whoever took the missing planets (and I'm still guessing, hoping, praying it's not the Daleks themselves) took twenty-four of them at exactly the same moment, i.e. more-or-less our present. But they took Pyrovilia, Adipose Three and the Lost Moon of Poosh up to 2,000 years ago. Erm… why? If they've got the power to steal planets from anywhere in time as well as space, then why draw attention to themselves by taking two-dozen at once? Or, if they don't care who knows about it, then why waste time-travel energy stealing three of them from the past? I mean, apart from giving the writers a chance to insert pointless teasers into the scripts of "Partners in Crime", "Fires of Pompeii" and "Midnight"? See, I said story-arcs were a bad idea. And how can the entire universe be up in arms about the piddling loss of 24 planets, many of them not even inhabited? It's like the United Nations being concerned about the death of a couple of old tramps in Luton. Top marks for the Judoon's use of the phrase "cold case", though. This obviously presents us with the potential for a Judoon spin-off in the style of Waking the Dead, starring Trevor Eve as a tough, uncompromising space-rhino with relationship issues.

Minute 16. Now even the Doctor thinks the Daleks may have been responsible for all this planet-wrangling, assuming that his 'someone tried to move the Earth before…' is a reference to "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" and not "The Trial of a Time Lord". Or that time when the Fendahl got boozed up and tried to knock the planet out of orbit for a laugh, but missed and got Mondas instead. I have an increasingly bad taste in my mouth, which is unfortunate, because I've finished the sausage pasta and it was rather good. On the plus side, the Daleks are twatting the Valiant. But they're also twatting huge swathes of the Earth, which is ominous. There can't be another reset switch at the end of all this, can there? Not so soon after last year's "reversing time" atrocity? Wouldn't it be nice if, just this once, the world saw aliens and didn't immediately forget about them? After all, that's the kind of world we were promised in "The Christmas Invasion", two-and-a-half years ago. Everyone on Earth should be like Wilfred Mott by now. If Torchwood hadn't bottled out with its inane first-episode "my boyfriend says that people only saw spaceships because there was something in the water" blather, then the series might actually have been good: a TV programme set in a version of Britain where aliens are a known quantity would have been a lot stranger, and a lot stronger, than the Men in Black pastiche we ended up with. Since Russell isn't shy about nicking things from comic-books, I might point to what Grant Morrison did on The New X-Men as an example of how you might integrate modern life and non-human pop-culture. But then…

Minute 17. …but then, mention of comic-books just underlines the problem I'm having here. I assumed that this story was going to be like Crisis on Infinite Earths, with the dimensions collapsing, parallel universes overlapping, tripodal Daleks from Earth-17 meeting the Evil Nazi Doctor from Earth-76, Victorian Cybermen fighting with Neanderthals from the future, and history itself going to Hell. Instead, it's another f***ing invasion, like "The Last of the Time Lords" with brand-name monsters. Yeah, and with another pitched battle involving UNIT troops, thanks a bunch. And now Martha's been given a top-secret piece of hardware with a scary-sounding name. You know it's going to do something hopelessly trite in the next episode, because Russell isn't even trying to disguise the way he contrives his stories any more. Just as long as the announcer's there to say "this is the biggest thing ever, ever, ever!", he can get away with it. The sad part is that on this evidence, he's not actually very good at "big": he hasn't had a new idea for an epic spectacular since 2006, but he is still capable of turning in solid, well-characterised "little" scripts. The nature of the series, however, demands an endless stream of gunfights and disaster-movie parodies. Or so he believes.

Minute 18. This is starting to look less like a narrative, and more like Character Options' 2008 action-figure catalogue. At least there'll be more exciting toys than "Old Woman With No Face" in the shops this Christmas. If they do the job properly, then the Red Dalek will be friction-drive instead of battery-operated, for that full-blown retro feel. Oh, that reminds me… according to the Radio Times, loyal viewer-consumers can now obtain Doctor Who Pest Control from the BBC's mail order division. Sadly, this turns out to be a book, and not a brand of rat-poison with a picture of Daleks killing Cybermen on the box.

Minute 19. Dalek mutants - I don't suppose we can call them Kaleds any more, it's political correctness gone mad - are at their best when they look as if they've been thrown up along with someone's stomach-lining. I've vomited Quorn ready-meals that looked an awful lot like the remains of Dalek Caan. It's interesting to note that now Davros has been dragged back into the spotlight (or, more properly, into the shadows on the edge of the spotlight), the control-centre of the Dalek Empire looks more like a decadent court than a passionless military operation: the Divine Fool is traditionally the only one who can speak the absolute truth in the presence of the monarch, as in King Lear, so it makes sense for Davros to accept advice from a gabbling pile of sick with visionary powers. Whose laugh is somewhere between Peter Sellers and Peter Griffin. Nick Briggs is enjoying this far too much.

Minute 20. Donna's growing a second heart, isn't she? God, I wish I didn't have to care about the outcome of this whole stupid… wait a minute! What's that ring she's wearing? Has she always had that ring? I'm sorry, I get edgy about people turning into Time Lords when there are big rings around. I'm still dwelling on that cackling harpy who nicked the Master's finger-bling at the end of "Last of the Time Lords". Has she been soaking up Gallifreyan genes all year, or what…? Oh, f***ing story-arcs.

Minute 21. The real kiss of death for Donna, though, comes in "The Doctor's Daughter" (ironically, the only script that gives her a credible personality, dire as the rest of the dialogue might be). This is a story in which Freema Agyeman - by no means a great actress, but a woman with so much energy and enthusiasm that she's never less than watchable - makes us love her just with the look on her face when she's petted by fish-people, something that Tate simply wouldn't be able to do without dropping her jaw and doing her God-awful cartoon "shocked" expression. Apart from Stuart Fell and his ilk, Agyeman is the most physical performer who's ever had a regular role in this series, a slinky, athletic blur across the screen who did for the 2007 season what Franka Potente did for Run Lola Run. They could use Martha in a Sure for Women commercial: she already looks like the heroine of a modern-day, sci-fi-tinged deodorant ad, who remains eminently snoggable even after running three miles to escape neo-fascist policemen in a futuristic city. Surely this is the "proper" way of things, and the companion should do all the running while the Doctor thinks his way out of trouble? Russell has explicitly said that any modern Doctor has to be young and nimble, but Catherine Tate couldn't run properly even before her air-bags unexpectedly ballooned in this week's episode, and you know the series is in trouble when David Tennant has to do more acrobatics than his sidekick. As we see in "The Stolen Earth", Martha is good for just about anything, whereas even our Creator-God is still struggling to find uses for Donna. All we know is that the Doctor finds her 'brilliant', although we've yet to be told why.

Minute 22. Given that we've already had a reference to Callufrax Minor, the line about bees evacuating the planet before the catastrophe just makes me wonder whether they did a little dance that means "so long, and thanks for all the pollen". The sad part is that although bees really are vanishing across Britain, bee-scientists (I'm going to make a guess at "apiologists", but even I can't be bothered looking it up) have now positively concluded that this is due to a virus rather than stellar migration. I know, 'cos I saw it on Newsround.

Minute 23. Brilliant! Right, so that's the USP of this story: the Shadow Proclamation is going to force the Doctor to lead them into war against the Daleks, which means that for the first time - and against his will - we're going to see him becoming a commander at the vanguard of an immense intergalactic… oh. The bugger's run off. No, don't go! The albinos were just trying to make the story more interesting! If you run away now, then you know you're just going to end up on Earth, jury-rigging another tedious, improbable piece of equipment to end the invasion with the flip of a switch. Go on, get involved in a proper war for once. See what happens.

Minute 24. Meanwhile, on Earth, a typical suburban family is incinerated by the Daleks as a way of establishing that this is serious and tragic. I was right, Russell really isn't trying any more. This episode's got almost as many pre-fab scenes as a Moffat script. Murderous they may be, but at least Daleks are civil enough to point out that their vision isn't impaired when they get paint-balled, just so long-term fans can giggle at the subverted catchphrase. Maybe one of the human heroes is going to sarcastically impersonate a Dalek at some point, just so Davros can say 'no, don't… don't do that'.

Minute 25. In which Sylvia Noble finally gets her Joyce Summers moment. Ah, so that's the Medusa Cascade: clearly, we're being shown all the things that Russell has mentioned in passing over the last four years, although Woman Wept was presumably removed from the universe ahead of time in case the ice-oceans broke the CGI budget. I can't express how bored I am with "rifts" in space-time, although if you want to look on the bright side, then you can see this as a useful demonstration of how the technology of TV affects the content of SF. In the '60s, telepathy and mind control were the "in" things: in an age when BBC drama was all about stagecraft, a creepy internal monologue seemed more instinctive than a laser-gun battle, as well as cheaper. In "The Abominable Snowmen", the climactic struggle between the Doctor and the Great Intelligence is - or was, before it got wiped - entirely done with close-ups of Patrick Troughton's face (and "Midnight" is perhaps unique in being a modern-day story from the same tradition). But now that any idiot with a computer can make wobbly CGI holes in the universe, everything's about "rifts". Why is it called a "Cascade", when it looks like a great big splodge?

Minute 26. Now, y'see, this is exactly what I was talking about in Week Ten. The consequence of using an "emotive" Doctor, whether there's any actual emotion involved or not, is that he has to stare into space and look haunted at regular intervals. This time, the problem is a little more serious than losing the TARDIS down a hole in the ground, and yet… once again, the techniques being used here are all too obvious. The writer needs us to accept that the Doctor is suddenly and unexpectedly on the verge of giving up, so the script has him talk about visiting the Medusa Splodge when he was 'just a kid', as if this prior relationship explains why he looks so morose. "Silence in the Library" had him act out-of-character by suggesting that his future time-crumpet had somehow hit a raw nerve, whereas this has him act out-of-character by suggesting that a hole in the universe brings back the same kind of painful memories as an ex-girlfriend who was killed in a hideous tractor accident.

Minute 27. I've only just realised how good the (surviving) cast of Torchwood are. Until now, this has been rather eclipsed by the fact that they're in Torchwood, and gap-toothed geek-totem Eve Myles had the misfortune to be in "The Unquiet Dead" as well. Removed from that context, even a script as not-awful-but-faintly-disappointing as this one makes them seem rather cuddly. If [consults the Radio Times, because I've actually forgotten her character's name] Gwen Cooper had been the one looking scared on board the TARDIS instead of Donna, then we might actually have been able to feel something. Can we do swapsies?

Minute 28. Bernard Cribbins is really stealing this. Mind you, he's been doing that all year. You do realise, I hope, that this sextagenarian with no combat skills or running-up-and-down potential has been in half the episodes this season (admittedly, I'm counting "Voyage of the Damned")? That's more than Mickey Smith got in 2005. And there's a certain humour in the thought that the failed eco-parable of "The Sontaran Stratagem" involves, as its cliffhanger, the imminent death of the man who used to be Great Uncle Bulgaria.

Minute 29. Oh, it's the Doctor Who Brady Bunch. It turns out that salvaged Sontaran teleporters work like magic ruby slippers, and take people back to their mums in a crisis. Actually, this makes a certain sense: all Sontarans (presumably) come out of a great big vat on their homeworld, so there's no difference between going back to your mother and making a strategic withdrawal to headquarters. That's the second time they've done the 'yes, I know who you are' gag in a single scene. Now I'm the one who feels like saying 'no, don't… don't do that'.

Minute 30. Captain Jack, flirting with Sarah-Jane… this is the most expensive piece of fan-fic since the last season of Buffy. We're really fisting the pterodactyl now. Moments later, we get another all-too-obvious Russell T. Davies technique: the casual mention of something that's likely to be important next year, in this case the Mr Copper Foundation. It sticks out a mile, just like the mention of Mr Saxon in "The Runaway Bride". I'd ask who Mr Copper is, but I'm past caring.

Minute 31. Is it just me, or does Harriet's 'I stand by my actions…' routine sound disturbingly like one of Tony Blair's bleating speeches about wanting history to judge him fairly? Odd, given that "World War Three" specifically set her up as Blair's Good Positive-Matter Twin (the opposite of an Evil Anti-Matter Twin, natch). It should be fairly clear, by this point, that Rose can't get through because only people called "Smith" or "Jones" are allowed in this club. Come to think of it, they could've just called this episode "Smith, Smith, Smith, Smith and Jones, Jones, Jones, Jones".

Minute 32. Jesus, hasn't this scene finished yet? How do you think the viewers who don't watch Torchwood, who don't watch The Sarah-Jane Adventures, and who don't remember "Aliens of London" are going to feel? If my mum's watching this, then I bet she's gone out to make the tea by now. The convention-style get-together of Friends of the Doctor has been going on for nearly five minutes, and all they've done is wire up an interdimensional mobile 'phone mast. I assume this shindig is meant to be some kind of iconic moment, but if I hadn't unexpectedly developed a thing for Eve Myles during this episode, then I'd be bored cockless. Just to rub it in, the dramatic conclusion shows us four different sets of people typing things into computers. If I wanted to watch that, then I'd go and sit in an internet café.

Minute 33. So that's it, is it? All this mammoth co-ordination comes down to is that it lets the Doctor land his TARDIS, even though his inability to get past the Medusa Splodge only became an issue six minutes ago, and the script could've saved us the bother by having him say "we can't go beyond this point… oh, all right, let's try something else". Ah, Davros is back. Thank God, I thought the rest of this episode was going to involve ex-companions reminiscing in bars. But since I've already mentioned action-figures, another thought springs to mind here. When I was a kid, everyone I knew who collected Star Wars figures always had the wrong goody-to-baddy ratio: inevitably, you'd end up with half a dozen different versions of Luke Skywalker, but only one "classic" Stormtrooper. Which is hardly a fair fight. Similarly, this story presents us with twelve familiar Champions of Earth / friends and family, but… only one kind of monster. Bloody Daleks, and standard-issue Daleks, to boot. If they'd done it the Crisis on Infinite Earths way, then we could've had the Doctor facing Davros in the Medusa Cascade, Captain Jack taking out the Sontaran homeworld, Martha fighting a guerrilla war in the universe where Laszlo's pig-faced offspring are America's ethnic underclass, Sarah-Jane defeating the cyborg Benjamin Disraeli, Rose squaring up against the Reaper Brood-Mother at the end of time… that's the sort of thing I was expecting from this episode, anyway. Was it really too much to ask?

Minute 34. That was very nearly a whole minute of people holding up mobile 'phones and trying to look urgent in front of VDUs.

Minute 35. Now… you do realise that when I said I was expecting Davros to say 'no, don't… don't do that' as part of the Daleks' new running-gag programme, I was only joking? I'm still a little puzzled that we're supposed to feel moved by the death of a character whom we never particularly liked and never expected to see again, at least not until the post-credits credits told us she was on her way.

Minute 36. Whoahhh there. So the Doctor couldn't find the missing planets, because the Medusa Splodge was one second out of synch with the rest of the universe? Let's leave aside the thought that this is the same technique he used to conceal the TARDIS in Damaged Goods, by the same author. Let's even leave aside the thought that for a Time Lord, this should be the most obvious hiding-place imaginable. Let's instead ask… could he really not deduce this from the bee-trail? When the signal reached its sudden end, didn't he consider the possibility that it might - feasibly - have been shifted backwards or forwards in time? Especially since the people who've been filching planets have the power to steal them from the ancient past, for some reason? And yet, this relative no-brainer is the thing that makes him stare blankly into space for ten dismal minutes. Remember, Harriet Jones died because he's such a spaz.

Minute 37. Yeah, and you know what else this series really needs? The Doctor banging equipment and shouting 'no no no', while Donna stands next to him with her jaw hanging open.

Minute 38. And so, after all the teaser shots of the figure half-concealed in darkness… after all the speculation about the nature of the New Beast, and all the fuss about the lack of a publicity photo in the TV guides… after all my personal fantasies that he'd be played by Christopher Eccleston, as a version of the Doctor from a parallel universe where he created the Daleks… Davros reveals himself. And turns out to be exactly the same as he was in 1986. Not even the same as he was in 1988, when he seemed to be turning into something more promising. And having spent this episode showing us things we've previously only been told about, Russell now gives us a whole stream of spurious new Time War events, which should inspire Big Finish audios for decades to come. But the real problem here is the writer's crazed belief - almost as mad as the delusion that Daleks are intrinsically scary, even after "Evolution of the Daleks" turned them into such bland, second-rate monsters - that Davros is in some way a great character. The usual claim is that he's a "Hitler figure", but this is bunk: Hitler was a bipolar neurotic who could swing between joviality, sentimentality, political acumen and murderous rage from moment to moment, and if we had a villain like that, then he'd be far more engaging than this one-dimensional monomaniac who sits in his chair and makes hackneyed speeches about mastery of the universe. The truth is that if you strip away the last thirty years of fan-mythology, then Davros is just a stock villain with a bad complexion, and that everything interesting about him in "Genesis" lay in the ethical arguments rather than the character himself. Or aren't we supposed to notice that?

Minute 39. Russell has always been prone to cop-outs, but what's most alarming is the way he can hamstring a script by building whole subplots around them. In "The Sound of Drums", it would've been perfectly reasonable (and far more entertaining) to claim that the Master had spent the last twenty years on Earth, slowly assembling his forces and building himself a political career. Instead, there's some waffle about the Doctor limiting his travel to eighteen months before the "present", just so Our Heroes can spend the whole episode droning on about the boring, poxy satellite system that's brainwashed the population into believing in Harold Saxon. Now look what we've got here. The walls between realities are collapsing, yes? Therefore, you can bring Davros back just by saying that he's the Davros from another universe where he didn't die in the Time War, yes? No. What we get is a painful, drivelling explanation about Dalek Caan making a temporal shift into the past and somehow rescuing his creator. I wouldn't expect anything that weak from Stephen Greenhorn. We know this doesn't make sense, and having the Doctor say 'but that's impossible!' doesn't excuse it. (A bit like one of those dreadful episodes of The Simpsons where the writers can't think of an ending, and have the characters make jokes about the fact that the episode doesn't have an ending. In publishing circles, this is known as "you can't fire me, I quit", and I don't think I can describe how much I loathe it. You might just as well say: "Look, this is shit, isn't it great?")

Minute 40. I see the bad guys are still taunting the Doctor for not having children. Anyone would think that as Russell gets older, he's starting to sense a hole in his life that venom grubs just can't fill. On the subject of biomass, is it really necessary for Davros to scrape off bits of his body and replace them with cyborg parts? If he's got the power to force-grow Dalek mutants, then he must have the power to force-grow new flesh on his stinky old bones. Actually, can't he just cultivate the new Dalek tissue in test-tubes, since even a modern-day lab technician would have no problem replicating his DNA? And why doesn't he give himself his other hand back, either by growing a new limb in a jar (he could challenge the Doctor's spare hand to an arm-wrestling match) or by giving himself a cybernetic one? I appreciate that he likes being in a wheelchair, since it's an important part of his identity, but surely there's no benefit in only having one working index finger with which to punch he controls? Ah, now… Caan has made a prophecy about the future, and wants us to guess which of the Who Gang is 'the most faithful companion'. Well, he can go whistle.

Minute 41. I see Jack's got his teleporter back. That's what tends to happen, when Russell needs to get all the characters into position for the big pay-off (q.v. the pre-credits sequence of "The Sound of Drums", which must surely be in the Top Five of his most monstrous cop-outs). I can't for the life of me work out how Project Indigo might help him with this, but then, logic isn't a criterion here: this is Russell in one of his "it's weird technology, just accept it" moods. I also note that Jack leaves his two sidekicks in Cardiff to fight off the oncoming Daleks, even though they're facing near-certain death, and even though he knows the teleporter can shift three people at once. What a c***. Woo, Daleks in the Torchwood Hub! That must be really, really exciting, if you've got any reason at all to care about Torchwood.

Minute 42. I was just thinking… when we saw "Bad Wolf" for the first time, we weren't taken in by Rose's apparent death in the Weakest Link studio, because we already knew that Billie Piper had signed on for a second series. But the script does at least try to make it look believable, by presenting Lynda Moss as if she's about to become Rose's replacement: when it was written, nobody knew how big Doctor Who was going to be, so it can't have occurred to Russell that people would be thinking "well, if she were going to join the series, then we would've read about it in the papers". What if you did want to kill Rose, though? How would you go about it? Personally, I'd do it by… cutting her off from the rest of the Doctor's gang, portraying her as desperate to get back in touch with him, and then butchering her just as it seems they're about to be reuinted. Hmmmm…

Minute 43. Long run-up. Too long. No cinematic reunion should start with the "lovers" this far apart. Something's going to go wrong, isn't it? Something's going to come between them. Something's… yes! Lone Dalek sniper in the side-street. It's seen them… we're going into slow motion… oh, she doesn't stand a chance. This is it, isn't it? This is really it. Rose is going to -

Minute 44. - ah.

Minute 45. I have the worst feeling in the world. This could, feasibly, be for real: after the debacle surrounding Eccleston's departure, if they were going to (permanently) regenerate the Doctor, then they might well try to cover it up until the very moment it happens. No… no, it couldn't be, could it? It isn't even that I want the Boy Tennant to stay, it's just… at this point in time, with the production-team's judgement impaired by so many different factors, I simply don't believe that anyone competent could be his successor. Ever since "Turn Left" established that something's been tinkering with Donna's destiny, I've had the terrible nightmare-sense that she might be some future shadow of the Doctor himself, and that he might actually regenerate into Catherine Tate. Or worse. I told myself I was being silly, but now, time appears to slow down as I try to deal with the feeling that… that… that there might be a flash of light and CGI in the console room, and that when it clears, Ricky Gervais might be standing there. My stomach feels like it's rupturing, and my pulse is quicker than I ever remember it being, but not in a fun "rollercoaster" way. It's the all-devouring fear that in the next few moments, this series may f*** up even worse than it's been f***ing up for the last twelve months. Even the announcement about Donna being the new companion - the most heartbreaking cultural event that's happened in my entire life - wasn't as bad as this. For the very first time, I actually want to hide behind the sofa, if only to escape the possible horror of the future. No. No. It couldn't be. Surely?

Minute 46. No. It couldn't. It's not just that David Tennant is, supposedly, guaranteed to be in the Christmas Special (because I'm sure there's something funny about that Cyberman-in-a-graveyard shoot, and I wouldn't put it past BBC Wales to stage the whole thing as an elaborate bluff at the licence-payers' expense). It's not even that I'm sure… sure… they wouldn't have been able to keep his departure secret. It's that the regeneration is exactly like Eccleston's last scene. Traditionally, no regeneration should look like any other, unless you're forced to put Sylvester McCoy in a dodgy blonde wig as a last resort. Russell, especially, would be unwilling to stage the same kind of death-scene twice. And I refuse to believe that he'd allow 'I'm regenerating!' to be the Tennant-Doctor's final words. No, you'd only set things up this way if you were faking it.

Minute 47. Wouldn't you?

Minute 48. Wouldn't you?

Minute 49. Right, I've got it. The Doctor is going to regenerate into someone completely different, either a well-known celebrity (if they want to make it look legit) or someone we already know from the series (if they want to go for comedy value, so Mickey Smith is a very real possibility). Then he's going to die. However, his DNA / Time Lord essence / biodata will somehow be transferred to a human host, and it'll turn out that Donna has been a carrier of Doctorness all the time. She's called "Noble" because she's a Time Lord, hence the second heart we can almost hear beating in her chest, and all that jism about her "sacrifice". In other words, she's going to regenerate back into the Doctor we know, thus qualifying her as his most faithful companion. And then, and then, and then the Dark-Matter Cybermen are going to arrive with the Zombie Adric and wake up all the Silurians, and… oh, Auntie Em, it was such a strange dream.

Minute 50. Mind you, I'm only contemplating the "Donna as donor" idea because it's already so familiar to me. This is exactly what Sabbath in the EDAs was supposed to be, after he stole the Doctor's second heart in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. (You know, the one about the Doctor getting married? Where Moffat only flirts, I go all the way.) My logic - and I use the word loosely, if not actually sarcastically - was that when they needed to change Paul McGann into the next-in-line, the Doctor could literally, definitively die… at which point, his biodata would overwhelm Sabbath's flesh from the inside out, turning his body into the New Doctor as a symbolic "fresh start". It didn't happen that way, of course, not least because the bastards insisted on ripping the heart out of Sabbath's chest after a couple of months. Yet now I'm imagining exactly the same thing happening to Donna, whether she's been Doctorised since birth or just altered through contact with some unlikely Time Lord artefact. Perhaps it's not surprising that I should try to superimpose my own obsessions onto Catherine Tate's gormless, slack-jawed face. Still, I have been known to pre-empt the series in the past, most recently by trying to steal the Earth five weeks before Russell did. Although at least I had the elan to hide it in a book, rather than putting it behind a big splodge in space and covering it up with technobabble. Plus, my Time War was better.

Minute 51. But if nothing else, then this is the only truly meaningful cliffhanger in the programme's five-decade history. It's also the only thing in the last fifty minutes that's managed to surprise me (except in a "I'm surprised how unsurprising this is" sort of way), but then, that seems to have been the point. Now Confidential is talking about the return of Davros. Davros?!? I don't want to know about Davros! Davros is rubbish! The Doctor just got shot, for God's sake!

Minute 96. And now Freema Agyeman is appearing as a guest on BBC3's Glastonbury coverage. The presenters are asking her how she's enjoying the festival experience, how she's coping with the weather, which bands she's seen, which bands she's hoping to see tomorrow. They don't ask her anything about Doctor Who. What's the matter with them, are they not well? The bugger's regenerating, and this woman's read the script of the next episode. G'wan, pin her down and make her talk, like any normal person would.

Now I look back on what I've written, I realise that "my cousin's house in the 1970s" makes it sound as if he permanently lives there.

Is it "Cider and Blacks", or "Ciders and Black"?