06 September 2014

AFT: The Doctor's Army

The third instalment of this arc picks up the other cliffhanger of the first. Part Two dealt with the Doctor's cliffhanger, and this deals with Martha's. Soon after threatening Martha, the Dalek is destroyed by none other than Mickey 'the idiot' Smith and he takes her back to a library. Here, a group of the Doctor's friends have established a base, and were apparently gathered by the Face of Boe. I must say, it's quite an empty library; there's only one bookcase! 

Anyway, here are Rose and Hame. Time being distorted has allowed all kinds of freedom between universes and eras, it would seem. There's a predictable little spat between Rose and Martha, but soon enough they get over it and get on, just as with Tyler and Sarah in School Reunion. Mickey, Martha and Hame rescue the Doctor, but not before the cat nun is shot by a Dalek. They teleport back to the safety of the library, and Hame mysteriously disappears, not seen again in the whole episode. In a spookily similar fashion how Russell T Davies approached it in The Stolen Earth, the Doctor and Rose are reunited. But just as they get around to the awkward questions, the Master arrives, threatening to burn the Earth if the Doctor doesn't give himself up.

The Doctor decides there's only one way out of this: to destroy the TARDIS. It seems like quite a rash conclusion to jump to, but it might just be to inspire his comrades into action, with a secondary plan up his sleeve ready to defeat the Daleks with. Whatever his motivations, his friends scarper. Rose and Mickey are separated from Martha when a Dalek patrol finds them, and so they flee to the sewers. Below the streets, they find a device that's remarkably similar to the Paradox Machine created by the Master in the actual 2007 finale. It's a Dalek console that's holding back hordes of Reapers. As we learned in Father's Day, the Reapers exist to feed on temporal disturbance. They mop up the mess left behind. Given all the time-related shenanigans of the last few years of televised Who (particularly the Moffat era) I'm both surprised and disappointed we've not seen them again, as I thought they were pretty good.

But anyway, the Reapers seem to be breaking free at the cliffhanger, and it seems that this story really is falling into the classic Who four-parter groove. Part One establishes everything, revealing the villain at the climax; Part Two furthers the main plot and explains the plan; Part Three is a bit of a run around with a twist at the end that furthers the plot, but less so than any of the previous revelations, and will probably be intrinsic to the conclusion. But that's not to say this is traditional at all. It feels like an old-school story for the modern era - you even have the Master teaming up with the Daleks! The Doctor's 'army' here could be substituted for UNIT, and you'd have the Pertwee story that never was.

Having said that, one thing I am really enjoying about this arc is that each part is so different, not only in tone, but in content. It's not just four episodes of the Master arguing with the Doctor, it shifts the focus between parties to see how events are affecting them. The return of Rose is something not many anticipated, but Phil mirrors what RTD would do with the character just a few months after this was posted. That's the second time this has happened of course, the first being with Torchwood. There are proper character moments in this, which is something I always like in AFT stories. They're not just comic strip larger-than-life slightly unrealistic storylines, they're always based in real people.

The editing and effects are again very professional throughout The Doctor's Army, needless to say. There was one dodgy shot which was used twice of the Doctor and Rose. It was extremely out of focus, and took me out of the story for a moment. Other than that though, I can't knock the presentation of this adventure. It is clear now that it was written to fit in as many of the figures released as possible, with original storylines also involving Clockwork Men, Krillitanes and the Empty Child. I'm happy with the story as it is though. It works well by being more focused, and stands the test of time (if six and a half years is enough to judge that). The music segues nicely between pieces, and helps ramp up the excitement levels.

Another successful episode, and I can't wait to see how it will all be wrapped up in Grim Reaping. The Doctor's Army will probably be the weakest of the four, suffering from Third Episode Syndrome, but it's still enjoyable and manages to eek out the tale a bit longer. I'm not yet sure if the return of Rose and Mickey was justified, but as they are included the longer, slower scenes presented here are also necessary in order to do the characters justice and add credibility to Phil's story. AFT Flash has been really impressive overall, and it's a shame I only have one more episode to go. If you're on the fence about doing another short run (amongst the myriad acting and writing jobs) Phil, I'd definitely say go for it.

In a Nutshell: A slower but undeniably essential episode, this is the calm before the storm.

You can watch The Doctor's Army here.

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