TV Review: Doctor Who Series 1 (The Unquiet Dead)

The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss

Warning: Spoilers!

Present? Check. Future? Check. Past? Here we go! For the Ninth Doctor’s third outing we head to Victorian Cardiff. It’s often said one thing the BBC does very well is period drama, especially the Victorian era, so it isn’t much of a surprise to find the Doctor visiting that era for an adventure.

Mark Gatiss’ script is an impressive debut, and he’s very adept at creating a chilling atmosphere as corpses begin to rise from their slumber. The start of the episode, where a grieving son is killed by his mother’s reanimated corpse, is a real statement of intent. Of course, this being Doctor Who, these aren’t real ghosts or zombies, but gaseous alien beings called ‘the Gelth’ who are possessing corpses to regain a physical existence.

One thing Doctor Who (especially the modern version) is renowned for is the quality of its guest stars, and here we have one of the best in series one: Simon Callow as Charles Dickens. Callow virtually steals the show here and brilliantly brings Dickens to life. The Doctor often meets historical figures, but this is the first time it happens in modern Who, and the strength of this episode paves the way for future encounters with other famous writers (such as Shakespeare and Agatha Christie in later series).

Indeed, the guest actors are all on top form this week, with Eve Myles as the psychic Gwyneth who can sense the Gelth and Alan David as Mr. Sneed, the undertaker trying to hush up the ghostly goings on, both putting in memorable performances. Billie Piper gets some lovely scenes with Eve Myles as we see Rose comparing her lifestyle to one of a girl from a very different era. The Gelth are decent monsters as well, their wailing is quite haunting, and the possessed humans are very creepy.

Admittedly the episode does lose some of its drive in the middle, at least until the climax as the Doctor convinces Gwyneth to act as a ‘bridge’ for the Gelth and let them through to Earth. The Doctor shows a different side this week, here we see his willingness, despite Rose’s objections, to allow the Gelth to use the human corpses in order to save them – a reminder that his morality isn’t necessarily the same as ours. It’s definitely Eccleston’s strongest performance so far – both his glee at meeting Dickens and his despair at realising he’s made a mistake by trusting the Gelth are pitch perfect.

Overall, this episode benefits from a fine script and a great cast, the characterisation is flawless but the plot is a bit predictable and thinly drawn in places.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Time: An alien spaceship crash lands in central London…

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