Unlikely beginnings give way to sterling climax.
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” warbles the Doctor and the trouble with this episode is that nobody else is either. For a writer who prefers to emphasise the emotional aspect of his work, the first half of Russell T Davies’s season finale treats the apparent return of the familial deceased as little more than a gimmick. There’s certainly mileage in a more carefully calibrated tale of such apparitions but it is absent here, replaced by a somewhat irritating David Tennant performance and said ghosts just standing about while people play football or wash the dishes. There is no real interaction with them neither does the subsequent parade of then contemporary television programmes featuring ghosts convince. A more qualified student of television might be able to relate how clever this all is but in this context it provides an awkward opening to a story, totally devoid of any sense of threat. Admittedly RTD does throw in references to some kind of psychic suggestion but much of the episode lacks the fire suggested by the bold introduction. Luckily better things are lurking later on.
Rose’s sombre pre credits narration thus seems initially out of place. Presumably the subsequent half hour was designed to be comparatively light to balance later heartache? If the emotion is missing, the mechanics of the story sit on firmer ground. There’s a lot of pseudo science to wade through but Davies’s light touch dialogue fills in as much as we need to know. Once we get into the stories of both the Void and the sphere, matters begin to percolate nicely. There’s a moment when Tennant flips into serious mode and the episode starts to accelerate. The `ghosts` turn out to be Cybermen which for an audience just a couple of months beyond their previous appearance might seem premature but Graeme Harper frames them with precision.. However familiar they may be they can still scare the audience.
The stand out role of the episode is Tracy Ann Oberman’s Yvonne, an unexpectedly playful head of Torchwood who is unsure whether to lock up the Doctor or get his autograph. If the other Torchwood bods we see are either deskbound techies or harassed looking white coated scientists, Yvonne is a delightfully human presence. Likewise Camille Corduri’s Jackie; when she is presented as the Doctor’s companion I was half thinking how different some of this season’s episodes would have been had she actually been in that position!
As for Torchwood itself the operation seems impressively enormous. You feel that UNIT in the seventies should have been more like this (albeit on a smaller scale) mixing the scientific and the military. Would they really just feel it was enough to rely on one often absent genius? Our tour around the place reveals some interesting items and it’s pleasing that, unlike the show these days, some of the alien stuff we see is from previously unmentioned races or planets. It all makes the universe seem bigger. While the Sphere does turn out to contain something rather familiar, it’s mystery is well presented as it just floats implacably in mid - air looking like some sort of Seventies album cover.
“It’s not an invasion- it’s too late for that” muses the Doctor as the Cybes appear literally everywhere and that sphere opens to reveal a trio of Daleks. RTD loves finale cliff-hangars that pile up the odds so high you think they can never be overcome and this is one of those. Even though we know how it resolves itself it remains a thrill because it is so wonderfully judged with a potent mix of melodrama, emotion and menace all rolled into one. If the early part of the episode was equally on point this would be a classic.
Tardisode: A journalist discovers the truth about Torchwood- and the ghosts but is carted away before he can reveal his story. Would Torchwood really take such extreme action?