While Torchwood had gotten two miniseries in the forms of Torchwood: Children of Earth and Torchwood: Miracle Day, respectively, this is the first time that the modern Doctor Who series has gotten such a treatment. There's no doubt in my mind that this was just one of the ways the BBC was celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. But what's rather odd is that this miniseries premiered on ITV, a rival channel. But non-BBC Doctor Who-related material is nothing new. A British/Australian collaboration led to a non-canon K-9 spin-off show, to quote a more recent example.
Bill & Ben Video was probably the most prolific company when it come to official and unofficial Doctor Who spinoffs. BBV produced dozens of "almost official" spin-offs during the prolonged Doctor Who hiatus, many of which were actually written by current staff for the show, including Nicholas Briggs (voice of the Daleks/Cybermen/others) as well as Steven Moffat's writing partner Mark Gatiss. As an extra little fun fact, Kate Stewart, the new head of UNIT in the Steven Moffat series, actually debuted in a semi-official UNIT spinoff video called "Downtime."
But all these productions had one thing in common. No Doctor, no TARDIS. While these stories took place in the Doctor Who universe, the Doctor never appeared and wasn't even allowed to be mentioned for the most part. This miniseries marks the first time that a non-BBC production had ever helmed real Doctor Who before.
Neither Steven Moffat nor even Russell T. Davies agreed to work on it. Moffat was busy with Doctor Who proper, and Russell T. Davies has been rather reluctant to return to Doctor Who in recent years, even declining multiple requests from Steven Moffat to write a new episode. Instead, the miniseries was helmed by Chris Chibnall, writer of many Torchwood and Doctor Who episodes, including "End of Days," "42," and "The Power of Three."
And so, now that I've rambled on about how and why this miniseries exists, let's take a look at it.
|I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend.|
Regular readers of my blog will know that I love a good theme song, and the Doctor Who theme ranks right up there as one of my favorites. And do you know what plays over the title?
Not a thing.
Not even the familiar “vworp-vworp” of the TARDIS engines.
With the issues over the years with the unofficial spin-offs, I can only imagine that the BBC was probably reluctant to hand out the rights to the Doctor Who theme just for this one miniseries, and it probably would have clashed with the more serious tone, but would it have killed ITV to make the intro at least feel like it could take place in the Doctor Who universe? I mean, even Torchwood has a short theme song in the intro.
Anyhoo, we fade to Beth Latimer (Jodie Whitaker) waking up the next day. She overslept, and goes downstairs to join the rest of her family at breakfast, already in progress.
Beth: “Why didn’t you wake me?”
Mark: “I did. You told me to piss off.”
She talks about a possible blown fuse with her husband Mark (Andrew Buchan) as her daughter Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) tries to pretend to have a temperature to get out of school. Beth’s mother, Bridget “Liz” Spears (played by Susan Brown) enters and sets the eggs she got in town on the counter. I must say, she really is adjusting to civilian life well after she complied in former Secretary of the Home Office John Frobisher’s murder-suicide after the whole “456” fiasco in Torchwood: Children of Earth. Keep that miniseries in mind; it'll be important later on.
The eggs on the counter draw Beth’s gaze, and she soon sees what’s right next to them. Danny’s lunch. She asks her husband where their son is, but he just assumes Danny already left for school. Because if there’s one thing that kids will do, it’s try to get to school early without any food. The music… well, I hesitate to call it “music.” The repeated hitting of a single synthesizer key ushers us into the next scene, where Mark walks to work. Along the way, he runs into Prisoner Zero.
|Somebody alert the Atraxi!|
He actually runs into Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and the rest of her family, including her husband Joe (Matthew Gravile), who has apparently quit his last job as a doctor in Cardiff during "End of Days." It’s never said, but it’s somewhat implied that it’s through his job as a doctor that he met his wife, as she was one of the coma patients that Prisoner Zero had been impersonating in “The Eleventh Hour.”
After that, Mark runs into the local priest, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), which is quite the intriguing development. After all, this takes place in 2013, one year after Rory and Amy were sucked back in time by the Weeping Angels, allegedly permanently. Interesting. Clearly, something timey-wimey is afoot. After some more small talk with what seems like the entire town, he finally gets to the van of his colleague, Nige Carter (Joe Sims), as they go off to be plumbers. As they drive off, Nige wonders what Mark was doing last night.
Mark: “How ‘bout you just drive?”
As that suspicious exchange happens, we cut to Ellie Miller, who arrives for work at the police station. She’s in a darn good mood as she goes through her own process of greeting everybody. Of course, it helps that they’re all clapping for her. You see, she’s up for that big promotion and has celebrated by buying things for all her colleagues. And anyone who’s ever seen TV before can tell a mile away that she’s not getting that promotion. Her boss, Police Chief Superintendent Elaine Jenkinson (Tracey Childs) asks for a quick word in her office, confirming to all savvy viewers that she’s not getting that job.
Jenkinson: “We’ve given the job to someone else."
Literally the next words out of her mouth.
Ellie is understandably upset, seeing as how she had been literally promised this job to her face. The job has instead gone to someone called “Alec Hardy.”
Ellie: “A man?”
Well, unless the job in question is dressing up as a “lady of the evening” to bust a prostitution racket, why wouldn't a man be eligible for the job? And even then, I say the job should go to the one with the best legs, man or woman. I’m getting off topic.
Anyway, this “Alec Hardy” apparently has quite a lot of experience under his belt. And as we cut to Alec Hardy himself, we can see why he has a lot of experience.
|He's the Doctor.|
No sonic screwdriver, no gadgets, and no TARDIS.
|But, yes, he does have the legs, should the need arise.|
Doctor: “We’ll be in touch.”
My mistake, he walks off, despite the farmer wondering why they’re not doing “forensics,” or any of the other things they do on Law and Order. You see, there’s been another crime reported. Something’s washed ashore. Meanwhile, Ellie’s on the toilet.
|Boy, she really needs to get a new office.|
Beth calls the local newsagent, Jack, and asks if Danny did his paper run. Apparently, the answer is “no.” If it was the Daily Mail, then not receiving the paper might have been an improvement for Danny’s customers. Or The Guardian. I forget which one's the terrible one. Beth starts spreading the word for people to give her a call if they know where Danny is, and she heads off on the roads. Unfortunately, there’s a big ol’ traffic jam.
According to the radio, this has something to do with something that washed up on the beach. Beth gets out of her car to talk to another driver who tells Beth that the rumor is that the police have found a body. Fearing the worst, Beth starts running to the beach. The Doctor is already there, making his way toward the tiny body.
Doctor: “Oh, God, don’t do this to me….”
It’s subtle, but this is a reference to Torchwood: Children of Earth. A common question with that miniseries is why the Doctor never showed up to help stop the 456 from stealing Earth’s children. And the only answer that fits is that the Doctor couldn't. It’s a fixed point in time that can never be altered without destroying history. And after the Doctor dabbled with fixed events disastrously in “The Waters of Mars,” the last thing he needs right now is a reminder of something he couldn’t stop.
It’s at this point that Ellie arrives, and the Doctor meets his new companion over the dead body. It’s a hard moment for Ellie, seeing as how she’s quite close to Danny’s family. She starts getting emotional, and the Doctor tells her to shut up. It might seem like he’s being harsh, but he has a point. As terrible as this is, they’re both on the job now and that requires professionalism. But even without this, their first meeting isn’t the best.
Doctor: “Alec Hardy.”
Ellie: “I know, you got my job.”
Doctor: “Really? You want to do that now?”
Ellie ends up getting back on track. The boy is Danny Latimer. Eleven years old. The doctor asks if cliff is a popular suicide spot, but Ellie shoots that down. Danny wasn’t that kind of kid.
Beth ends up near the beach as she runs past the newsstand owned by Jack Marshall (David Bradley). It might surprise you, but David Bradley is not reprising an old Doctor Who role, but playing an entirely new one. I’m really not sure why they cast him in the role when he had already played Solomon in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time that same year after having played a vulture alien in The Sarah Jane Adventures. If I had to guess, I’d say that this was to provide a red herring. After all, it’s a murder mystery, and having an actor who could be playing a former incarnation of the Doctor or a villain is bound to keep people guessing.
|Or he could be playing Argus Filch in the first official Doctor Who/Harry Potter crossover?|
|In all seriousness, this was absolutely tragic.|
He gets the assignment of checking out the hubbub at the beach as the Doctor and his new companion walk along the cliff’s edge as he chastises the locals for not having any safety barriers before the dangerous drop.
|Even though he’s guilty of ignoring safety barriers himself.|
It may seem like he's overreacting, but hte Doctor's speaking from experience. Back when he was Tom Baker, he once took a fall so hard that he turned into Peter Davison.
|So if anyone's qualified to talk about safety at high altitudes....|
As he tells the Doctor, this wasn’t a
As the Doctor and Ellie continue their investigation, Ollie shows up to be disrespectfully chipper, wondering why the beach is closed. They blow him off and drive away to talk to the family. The Doctor tells Ellie to watch every move they make as they talk to the family. As far as the police are concerned, every family member is a suspect. They enter the house, the Doctor introduces himself, and the questions begin. It’s an emotional moment for the family as well as for Ellie. Neither Beth nor Mark can imagine why Danny would be up on the cliff, and there were no signs of anything wrong the weeks before. The last time anyone saw him was at 9 PM the previous night. Nothing was wrong in the house.
Mark wants to see the body to confirm that it’s Danny, and Ellie takes him there. A man named Trevor asks him to sign a petition, blissfully unaware of anything wrong, apart from the fact that Trevor's living in 21st century Broadchurch when he was last seen in a hospital on New Earth run by cats. As this happens, the Doctor checks out Danny’s room. As I said earlier, no sonic screwdriver here. Just rubber gloves and observation. Mark is taken to the body, and he confirms that it’s Danny. Again, it’s an emotionally powerful moment.
Later, the Doctor is going over the case with the other officers, organizing the case and telling the officers where to go for clues and surveillance footage. Ellie pops in with the family’s alibis, and the team is soon sent off. Even later, the Doctor goes off to eat ice cream with Jenkinson on the docks as they talk about the case. After what happened at “Sandbrook,” she’s a bit worried about how “Alec” will handle the current case.
Doctor: “I was completely exonerated.”
Clearly, something happened off screen during “the Sandbrook case” which might lead to public perception turning against him during this one. The Doctor declines the offer to be removed from the case.
Doctor: “I’ve met your team. No one’s as qualified as me.”
He thanks her for the ice cream and leaves. You might be wondering why Jenkinson is so willing to remove the Doctor from the post she just gave him. The simple answer is that she owes the Doctor. An ancestor of hers, Metella, only survived the Pompeii volcano because of the Doctor.
|"I couldn't bear to see a man as handsome as your husband die."|
He meets back up with Ellie, and she wonders why he was having ice cream with the boss. He ignores the question and asks Ellie if her son might know anything about this, as he and Danny were friends. She agrees to set something up, and requests that the Doctor (who had been calling her “Miller” all this time) call her “Ellie.” Again, it’s subtle, but the Doctor hasn’t been referring to her by her first name for a reason. He doesn’t want to get attached.
Doctor: “Ellie. El-lie.”
|"I hope one of you is getting this down."|
They head off to Jack Marshall’s newsstand and question him.
Ellie: “Did he often miss his round?”
Jack: “They all do.”
Well, maybe if you paid them more than a tuppence, eh, guv? …Sorry, I’m just getting envious of all the British accents.
Doctor: “You married?”
Jack: “No. You?”
|...But the answer is yes. And no. It's complicated.|
Over at the Latimer household, things aren’t going too well as the Doctor shows up to relay the fact that this may have been a murder. After another emotional moment, Chloe meets up with her boyfriend, Dean Thomas.
Over at the Daily Herald, Sam Taylor, played by Alfred Enoch….
Doctor: “Bloody Twitter!”
No wonder the Eleventh Doctor develops such a hatred of Twitter.
|And don't get him started on Facebook.|
Anyway, Karen convinces her boss to be put on the assignment, and we cut to the Doctor at the hotel where he’s staying. The receptionist asks if the beach will be open soon, as the customers are getting antsy. He doesn’t know. She tells him that a couple people are waiting for him in the bar, and he goes to meet them. “They” are Ollie and his boss, Maggie (Carolyne Pickles), who convinced him to come in and admit what he’s done and apologize.
Doctor: “Stay out of my way.”
No second chances. He’s that sort of a man.
After Ellie and Beth have a scene together at the beach that’s well done, but somewhat redundant, Ellie goes back home to her family for a quick shower. After a talk with her husband about the whole situation, followed by a comforting hug, we get another scene with Mark and Beth. Again, it’s well done, but it’s fairly redundant. We get that they’re distraught, and we get that Mark was doing something suspicious last night.
Ellie gently breaks the news to her own son in yet another emotionally powerful scene and asks if he knew anything about what could have happened to Danny. He doesn’t. Or so he claims. When Ellie goes downstairs, he gets out his phone and deletes the last seven messages from Danny before deleting some files off his computer in tears. Ollie gets a call from Karen, and he tells her where she can stay in town. Karen puts Danny’s toy in her purse and walks away. Meanwhile, the Doctor walks through the station, preparing for the press conference as Ellie shows him some CCTV footage of what appears to be Danny sneaking out of his house. Not only that, Danny’s phone and skateboard are MIA.
The press conference begins, and the Doctor gives his ultimatum as the whole town watches.
Doctor: “We will catch whoever did this.”
|Better round up the usual suspects.|
Now let's review. Was this an enjoyable bit of Doctor Who? Or do I want David Tennant to catch whoever put this on TV?