Army of Ghosts – 1st July
By Russell T. Davies
Review and Commentary by Andrew Panero
We are so lucky, we old buggers who remember the original series, so lucky to have been around long enough to see the show reborn in such a fantastic way. Russell T. Davies is a man both applauded and reviled in equal measure, many of us have had a pop at him over the last eighteen months, including yours truly. But I’m not too proud to say that I’m blown over by the first part of his second season knockout. The man has been on top form this season and it looks like it could get even better still.
The fact that the season finale involved Cybermen was no big secret; nevertheless the rumours have been circulating for months about what else it could involve. There was the story in ‘The Sun’ some time last year about there being Daleks and Cybermen fighting head to head; then there was scouse psychic Derek Acorah saying he was going to help the Doctor with an investigation into an invasion from the spirit world. More bizarre still was the rumour that the Doctor was going to land on the set of Eastenders and have a pint in the Queen Vic.
There is a strong connection to ‘Eastenders’ and Peggy Mitchell does make a cameo appearance, but all thankfully is not how it seems. There is Tracy-Ann Oberman of course, who before playing ever-so-slightly fascistic Yvonne Hartman, head of Torchwood, also played Chrissie Watts, wife of the resurrected Den Watts a.k.a. Les Grantham, the former Dalek trooper. Den Watts even makes an appearance in this episode, or rather his ghost does, not Les Grantham.
But back to Ms. Oberman in her role as Yvonne Hartman, a very nicely played villain if I must say so. Charming and effusive she effectively disarms the Doctor immediately with a round of applause when his TARDIS appears in Torchwood’s secret base at Canary Wharf. I love Russell T. Davies’ sense of mischief; he has Torchwood based in Canary Wharf because their organisation built it in the first place with the sole intention it seems of reaching a spatial breach 660 feet above sea level.
The Doctor of course is responsible for the creation of Torchwood, having been there in the 19th Century when Queen Victoria nearly got nibbled by a were-wolf. So all through this series we have seen the ripples of this event travelling outwards, from the time the good Queen made it known she wanted an organisation to be ready and waiting for the Doctor when he returned. By the early 21st Century the organisation has become a power unto itself, with a shed load of stolen alien technology, (‘if it is alien then it is ours’ explains the charming Ms. Hartman as a lorry conveys the TARDIS on its way), echoing Henry Van Staten’s private collection in a bunker under Utah. There must be so much alien technology floating around out there, for it seems a lot of people are in on that scam. But as Yvonne primly tells Jackie Tyler, the technology is not for the benefit of ordinary people; it is for the benefit of Torchwood alone and its dreams of a new British Empire (echoes of Rob Shearman’s ‘Jubilee’).
Amongst the new toys that Torchwood hope to use in their quest for world domination is one particular conundrum; a giant spherical object that their instruments tell them is not there. (Say that wouldn’t be a Sphere would it? Our Russell has a magpie like nature, stealing the choicest baubles from all over the shop). The Doctor knows what it is though; it is a void ship, capable of piercing the barriers between dimensions.
But what about the army of ghosts, where do they come into this? It is Jackie (Camille Coduri) who provides the background on these apparitions. For the last three weeks or so before the Doctor and Rose return home the world has had thousands of these silent, obscured humanoid figures appearing at regular intervals. With a dig at the Doctor for not being around when the Earth most needed them, Jackie goes onto explain that after a while people had got used to them, even personalising the ghosts to the extent that they were mistaken for lost relatives. Jackie herself is convinced that the figure who visits her in her flat is her long dead father, even to the extent that she swears blind that she can smell the tobacco he used to smoke. The Doctor and Rose are not so convinced and see that her desire for it to be her dead father has over-ridden her senses. When Jackie takes offence with this explanation and Rose points out that the figures are definitely humanoid, the Doctor tells them a ‘footprint is not the same shape as a boot’. Something is pressing into the walls of this dimension and leaving a three-dimensional imprint and it is that imprint which has become the ghosts.
This is what I like about RTD’s writing this series; it’s increasing sophistication. In the past in Doctor Who, a strange concept would be introduced but the emotional impact, other than the sheer terror it caused, would not be explored so much. Here we have the bizarre otherworldly concept, i.e. ghosts appearing en masse in major cities world wide, but we also have how people react to them personally- that is mistaking them for lost relatives and loved ones.
The Doctor’s investigations into the ‘ghost’ phenomena lead him to Torchwood Towers (aka Canary Wharf), where he is subsequently taken prisoner by the effusive Ms Hartman. Jackie has come along for the ride and is passed off by the Doctor as Rose Tyler (aged by 57 years after looking into the time vortex) whilst Rose hides in the TARDIS.
Being an alien with alien technology the Torchwood Institute are happy to seize both the Doctor and his time machine for themselves. He soon finds out that Torchwood have been harnessing the energy given off by the ghosts when they materialise, a process that is connected to the spatial anolamy that Canary Wharf was built to enclose. The Doctor automatically senses that this is dangerous, likening the sphere to a kind of demolition ball that has smashed its way into our dimension, causing fractures in the time-space continuum that the ‘ghosts’ are pressing against.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everybody, the Cybermen have infiltrated Torchwood and have already taken over Adeola (Freema Agyeman, who will be playing the Doctor’s new companion in series three) who is now one of these cyber-controlled human beings. Together they are planning to open the breach between the dimensions even wider.
Meanwhile Rose has managed smuggle herself out of the TARDIS and is wondering around downstairs, disguised as a Torchwood scientist. She comes across Dr. Rajesh Singh (Raji James) who is in charge of trying to figure out what is inside the mysterious sphere. At last the psychic paper comes unstuck, for it seems that all Torchwood personnel have rudimentary psychic training which enables Rajesh to see through Rose’s trickery. He asks his assistant to call security, little realising that the assistant is none other than Mickey (Noel Clarke), who has come across the dimension gap to stop the Cybermen. Then all hell starts to break loose as the void ship begins to activate.
Upstairs the Cybermen have revealed themselves to an astonished Ms Hartman and have taken over Torchwood. They now increase the power of the ‘ghost shift’ to one hundred percent (beating their chest plates again, which seem to act as giant universal remote controls). The ghosts start to appear in their millions all over the Earth, revealing themselves to be Cybermen.
“This isn’t an invasion, this is a victory!” exclaims the Doctor. But one thing still puzzles him; the void-ship is quite beyond Cybermen technology and he is curious about their connection to it. The sharper eyed amongst you may well have noticed the shooting star that shot across the sky at the end of ‘The Age of Steel’? Maybe that was this globe, the void ship, on its way to our dimension? Whatever it was, the Cybermen do not know; they merely followed the sphere through the fissure it created. So who is responsible for its appearance?
We all know the answer by this time of course, but it is neat the way they delay the reveal scene to the end, just like Doctor Who of old.
“They’re not Cybermen?” states a bewildered Mickey as four conical shapes emerge from the sphere, Rose of course is in no doubt about what they are.