Well thank you very much Russell T Davies! How on earth do you review that, eh? Perhaps the most bonkers, delicious, audacious, brilliant, silly, exciting and scary piece of Doctor Who seen in the 45-year history of this crazy, unstoppable TV series. The Stolen Earth had a bombastic confidence about it that was thankfully a million miles away from the beginning of last year’s two-part run around finale with The Master.
From the off, it’s obvious Davies has approached this with the intention of going out with a copper bottom pop. You can imagine him cracking his knuckles as he sat down to work on the script for The Stolen Earth, thinking: “I’m never going to be able to do this again in my life, so let’s just go for it!” And go for it he has.
There is so much crammed in here it’s difficult to know where to start, but the plot is actually beguilingly simple. Somebody has, quite literally, nicked the Earth from under the noses of the Doctor and Donna, forcing the Time Lord to shunt off to the dramatically sinister sounding Shadow Proclamation to see what’s to do. The Shadow Proclamation might sound dramatically sinister, but the reality is far from it - it’s actually a beige set somewhere with some cheap Ikea furniture.
While the Doctor and Donna are given a fiver to go to the pictures and keep out of the way of the plot, it’s up to some touchstones set up in the Doctor Who universe over the last four years (and beyond) to sort everything out. Martha Jones, Captain Jack and Torchwood, and Sarah Jane Smith (complete with son Luke and supercomputer Mr Smith) are trapped on an Earth that is out of time and space and surrounded in a darkened sky by other planets.
And then the Daleks burst in…
When I was a kid I loved those Marvel Comics team-ups when you’d have Spider-Man teaming up with Captain America and the X-Men. This is the Doctor Who equivalent and it’s pant-wettingly exciting. Some of the audience will never have seen Torchwood, some will never have seen The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it doesn’t matter. This is a celebration of where Davies has taken Doctor Who and just what has been achieved in four years. Doctor Who is literally a small television industry now, and it’s only right and proper that we get to see the spin-off shows brought together under the hospitable roof of the parent show.
That element aside, the Daleks make their mandatory annual appearance, and this is their best, perhaps most traditional outing to date. I love seeing Daleks trundling around spaceships having shouty conversations with each other; it’s how they were meant to be. There’s something quite satisfying hearing that familiar rasp vowing to “Annihilate UNIT!” (It’s even more satisfying to see that UNIT are as useless as ever at repelling alien marauders). Under Graeme Harper’s effervescent direction the pepper pots also look menacingly effective on the darkened streets of suburban Britain, herding families out of their homes for who knows what sinister purpose.
And of course, The Stolen Earth marks the long-awaited return of Davros, creator of the Daleks. It was always going to happen - after the Daleks themselves, the Cybermen and the Master, what was left? And he is so pitch perfect, it hurts. The visual look of Davros was always going to be a clincher, and the designers have chosen, very wisely, not to monkey around here. That emaciated frame, the half Dalek casing trundling through the shadows, a childhood sense memory encoded into the minds of grown ups of a certain age, and to tamper would have been a disaster. And now, a new generation of children will get to experience that thrill all over again.
Looks aside, Julian Bleach’s performance as Davros is what seals the deal. He has taken a halfway house between the original (and best) version as played by Michael Wisher, and the more exuberant, but no less enjoyable, turn by Terry Molloy in the 1980s. Bleach plays the inherent mania of the character with admirable understatement, but this is only the first episode - he has mercifully left himself somewhere to go for next week’s finale. I get the feeling he might need it.
This episode crams so much in (including the opening titles with all those names flying around!). Even Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister gets a look in, bringing Russell T Davies’s vision of Doctor Who full circle. Did he have a master plan when he first took on the riskiest job in TV drama? Probably not, but it all feels very neat and I’m happy to give the benefit of the doubt.
And what about that cliffhanger? You know my feelings on Rose. I find her annoying, smug and spoilt, but now I think that’s inherent within the character and the writing. Certainly I wanted to slap her as she’s having her ‘what about me?’ moment when Harriet brings the Children of Time together (love that name, by the way). But even the most flint-hearted must have had a misty eye as Rose found her Time Lord again and they ran towards each other in candy box slow-mo. And then cheered as this outpouring of romance was brought to an end, as it should be in Doctor Who, by a big Dalek gun…
And so we leave the Doctor, surrounded by his friends in the TARDIS, once again going through that wonderful, inexplicable change… If I was a betting man, however, I’d put money on David Tennant still being in residence at the end of next week’s episode, but sometimes with Russell T Davies, you never can tell…
If you haven’t got it already, I loved The Stolen Earth, possibly a touch more than is healthy. I don’t care, though. This was Doctor Who at its most show stopping, entertaining and brilliant best!