Excellent third episode of Doctor Who spin- off now on BBC3 on the iPlayer.
Anyone who found the opening two episodes too broad or shrill may prefer this thoughtful and occasionally poignant story of an unconventional invasion which sees the streets of London festooned with bizarre appendages reaching into windows. The episode opens though with a montage telling us the story of Tanya’s late father and the aftermath of his death. This is a strong opening to what is an episode that relies on character rather than too much technobabble and is all the better for it. At the centre of things, Vivian Oparah delivers a powerful performance as the confused and shocked Tanya.
Spoiler Warning – key plot points revealed after the break
As we (and indeed both Tanya and Miss Quill separately) guess the sudden appearance of lost ones is not as it seems – the rather big green root growing from the deceased’s backs is enough of a clue. The aliens are called the Lankin and they gather souls using them to reunite with their still living relatives or so they eventually claim. What the episode is about though is the way these apparitions try to tempt characters to join them. Much of the running time deals with two encounters - Tanya and her father, Miss Quill and her sister – and the way all parties respond to the scenario.
As you might hope Miss Quill’s reaction is barbed sarcasm- as her `sister` explains the virtues of joining souls, she quips “This is a sales pitch”! Tanya though appears to be more tempted by her `father`s seemingly extensive knowledge of their old life together. Katherine Kelly is again in show stealing form- she is essentially the Doctor surrogate in some scenes and offers a positive answer to the age old question Could the Doctor be a woman? Vivian Oparah emphasises Tanya’s strength as much as her weakness in a stand out performance with an equally riveting turn by Kobna Holdbrook- Smith as her father. The actor manages to balance the personality of the Dad with some weird alien twitches perfectly.
Meanwhile Ram and April try to find their friends and run around the deserted alien plant infested capital which incidentally is realised extremely well. Perhaps the only weak point is the way they stop for a heart to heart and a big of a snog in the middle of what Ram himself described earlier as “the end of the world”. Well they are teenagers I suppose. Otherwise the script is spot on as the dual conversations develop and both sides reveal their hand.
Using music and some very intimate direction Ed Bazalgette supports this wordy narrative well, as mentioned the staging of the outdoor scenes is excellent. Inside, there are little touches like the animal like noise every time Tanya’s father’s eyes twitch or the rather gooey insides of the tendrils when they are cut. Judging from the reaction to the first two episodes people may have an issue with the denouement here, not so much the way it is Tanya’s anger rather than grief that she ends up giving the Lankin thus weakening them but the way the huge entity just goes back into the crack. This is a potential weakness because it seems like a cop out; it doesn’t harm this episode for me but if every antagonist ends up just popping back it is going to become very predictable.
Two final things worth mentioning. Charlie has very little to do this episode as he spends much of it in bed with Matteusz but when the Prince does join the action he amusingly brings useless implements to attack the alien fronds with. This fish out of water aspect of his character could definitely be an asset if used more and really suits Greg Austin. Meanwhile Miss Quill contributes to the defeat of the Lankin by driving a great big red bus through its numerous tentacles. This is the most British thing I’ve seen all year and you have to love any series that includes such an idea. Class is starting to live up to its name.