Thoughts on Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead

“Will you dead keep it down in there? I’m trying to watch Doctor Who!”

Yes folks, it’s time once again for me to dive back into series 1 of Doctor Who. That’s from 2005, not 1963, although I do love all Doctor Who equally.

I’m doing so as there’s no “new” Doctor Who this year, and I already wrote up my thoughts on Jodie Whittaker’s generally excellent first season, as well as for “Rose” and “The End Of The World“.

So it’s time to shift onto episode 3, The Unquiet Dead. As always, these are stream of consciousness thoughts, and I have seen the individual stories before. But it’s been a long while since I watched them in order, including episodes I’m less keen on.

It was, of course, my intent to write this up last week, but my day to day work got in the way. Or, to put it in a rather more Doctor Who appropriate way, Barcelona.

Folks who know what I do for a living will get that, I’m sure.

Also as is my style, something to act as spoiler space, on the teensy-tiny chance that you’re reading a review page for a series that’s now 14 years old and haven’t actually seen the episode in question:

It was a graveyard smash.
  • We open with a scene that could straight out of Talons of Weng Chiang, or indeed any BBC period drama. Including quality muttonchops. You can almost smell the spirit gum through the screen.
  • And, of course, the corpse isn’t actually dead. The “Oh.. no…” line is darkly comedic, as is the “we’ve got another one!” cry.
  • Screaming, glowing corpse like figures… can I be certain this isn’t a just a 90s rave?
  • Oh, I’d forgotten this was Mark Gatiss’ first entry into the new series canon.
  • The Doctor now requires Rose to help fly the Tardis, despite not having issues beforehand. Curious, that.
  • Gwyneth, of course looks familiar, although at the time she was an unknown quantity.
  • It’s all so very… Welsh. And I love it to bits.
  • “Earth, Naples, December 24th 1860!”
  • Not quite, Doctor. Not quite.
  • Billie Piper’s trying to be deep with her speech about going back in time, but it doesn’t quite land.
  • Terrible green screen of the cart going down a Cardiff street. The Blu-Ray probably makes it worse, something I noticed in Rose as well.
  • Gwyneth has “the sight”. And it’s “not right”. Therefore, I can only conclude that the Welsh invented rap, all the way back in 1860!
  • Mr Charles Dickens. Made all the more obvious with a poster in the background. But a lovely performance by Simon Callow, regardless.
  • “I’m an old man. Perhaps I’ve thought of everything I’ll ever think.”
  • I have days like that sometimes.
  • Billie Piper does a MUCH better job of conveying the wonder of stepping back in time, mind. Exactly right.
  • Rose doesn’t care that it’s 1869, but she does pause when she’s told it’s Cardiff. That’s… Cardiff-ist!
  • Charles Dickens is holding a benefit for the hospital in front of some very clean looking street urchins. Even the well-off folk would have been a little grubbier around now, what with the industrial revolution in full swing. Just a thought.
  • It’s wrong as the old lady releases her spirits for me to be thinking of… well… this, right?

  • And now she’s dead. Erm. Properly DEAD dead, that is.
  • Rose gets chloroformed, because… well, dramatic tension. No, I won’t count “she’s seen too much” as an excuse.
  • “Oy, you! Follow that hearse!”
  • For once, flattery gets the Doctor somewhere. And again, I’m impressed with Christopher Eccleston’s performance, because he’s totally believable as a star struck fan and The Doctor, simultaneously.
  • The gas lamps are flaring. Makes me wonder if Cardiff had electrical lighting in 1869. I should probably look that up.
  • Hmm. A quick and dirty check suggests it’s feasible, but unlikely. Gas lamps, though, were all the rage.
  • Rose, of course wakes up just as a ghost behind her appears.
  • While it’s not the scariest thing you might watch, it’s a pretty sharp turn from the previous two episodes. I could totally see younger families (my own included, back in the day) not watching this with their kids.
  • As the ghosts exit their host bodies, it looks oddly like they’re vaping ghosts.
  • Don’t vape ghosts, kids. Terrible habit. It’ll kill you.
  • The rift is set up here, of course. A big plot point moving forwards across multiple seasons of Doctor Who, although right now it’s just a way to set the tale before us.
  • This undertaker’s has very few actual coffins or corpses around for the quantity of space. Having once filmed something in an actual morgue (an interesting day in itself, even if my scene did end up on the cutting room floor) that feels inauthentic. Unless all of his corpses are just walking away?
  • “Did you even go to school, or what?”
  • “Of course I did. Every Sunday!”
  • Rose is deeply, deeply anachronistic for 1869. It’s a nice scene, though, between Gwyneth and Rose, giving both characters a little background and real world spacing.
  • Also, of course, it reveals to Rose that Gwyneth has the sight.
  • “Metal birds with people in them! People are flying!”
  • Well, there’s always Time Flight, I suppose.
  • “The things you’ve seen. The darkness… The Big Bad Wolf.”
  • I’m sure that’s a throwaway line, right?
  • I’m not sure I’m entirely across The Doctor suggesting a seance. The lines that Charles Dickens have are pretty much exactly what The Doctor would generally say.
  • “I love a happy medium” — that’s a joke that even I wouldn’t use.
  • OK… maybe I would.
  • The rift effect seriously looks like someone’s toking up in the background.
  • “Once we had physical form like you. But then a war came. The Time War. The whole universe convulsed.”
  • Yeah, that’s a pretty good way to (unwittingly) play to The Doctor’s guilty side. Especially this early into his regeneration.
  • Although every mention of the Gelth makes me think Red Dwarf. Did when I first watched it, too, because it’s never very clearly said.
  • “You can’t let them run around inside dead people!”
  • “Why not? It’s recycling!”
  • The Doctor shows his alien side, and we’re meant to side with Rose here. I’m not 100% sure (discounting alien invasion plans, but how likely is that?) that The Doctor is wrong, though.
  • The morgue is HUGE… and has 3 slabs for bodies on it. That doesn’t speak well of the business plan.
  • And now, of course, the Gelth become demons, because they pretty much had to.
  • Only 1 corpse rose. But there were 3 slabs!
  • “I think it’s gone a little bit wrong.” — Bit of an understatement there, Doc.
  • This is full on zombie horror — pretty bleak for a family sci-fi show!
  • Charles Dickens runs like that well known Monty Python sketch author, Darles Chickens.
  • Gas is the solution! It will also be important in the next story, albeit for different reasons.
  • “I saw the fall of Troy! World War 5! I pushed boxes at the Boston Tea Party! Now I’m going to die in a dungeon. In Cardiff!”
  • Great, now The Doctor is Cardiffist, too. Boo. It’s a nice place!
  • I have NO idea why the Gelth aren’t trying to snap Charles’ neck. Did I miss something?
  • Ah, here they come to get some of those tasty, tasty author brains.
  • The front zombie looks disturbingly like Dara O’Briain. Seriously, watch the episode and you’ll see what I mean. I guess it’s feasible it’s an uncredited cameo in a wacky wig?
  • “I can’t send them back. But I can hold them here”. Eve Myles presents beautiful determination with just a few words and a facial expression. They should figure out a way to hire her back, because she’s rather good…
  • The digital fire at Sneed & Co hasn’t aged well as an effect. Looks positively videogame-esque.
  • “She saved the world. A servant girl. And no-one will ever know.”
  • Now, this is something that later becomes a bugbear of mine. Small scale stories, individuals, are where Doctor Who can shine. Yes, the world is in peril here, but it comes down to just a small cast of people, in this case Gwyneth. It doesn’t always have to be universe-imperilling mega-battles!
  • “My books, Doctor. Do they last?”
  • Yeah, that’s an author’s question. I’d do the same.
  • Unsubtle plug: My books (which won’t last) are on sale this week. Unless you’re reading this much later, in which case they’re not. But you could always buy them regardless.
  • And with a wheeze and a groan, the TARDIS is off again, and Charles laughs at it all.
  • It’s just occurred to me that this could well have been a Christmas special. It wasn’t, of course, because it went out in April.

Final thoughts: I recall not thinking much of this one on first viewing, but it’s gone up quite a bit in my estimation on a new viewing. Yes, the effects have aged, and you’ve got to like a horror tone with your Doctor Who, but it’s actually pretty darned solid!

Mind you, I already know what’s coming up, and that’s a two-parter I’m not particularly fond of at all.

Ahem.

But before I get there, it’s time to…

Rank the episodes of Series 1!

3 episodes in, and I’ve got some choices to make beyond a 50/50 split.

  1. Rose
  2. The Unquiet Dead
  3. The End of The World

Rose just pips out The Unquiet Dead, and if you’d asked me before I started if they’d even be close, I wouldn’t have thought so. Which rather validates rewatching, I think.

Oh, who am I kidding. It’s Doctor Who. I’ll watch it when it’s great, and I’ll watch it when it’s… well…

Next time: Aliens of London.

Aroo! Aliens of London!
Hey, at least it means I won’t use that joke next week.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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