Sunday, 17 January 2010

Series one #3: "The stiffs are getting lively again!"

Written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Euros Lyn, 2005

Though more atmospheric and tonally consistent than the previous stories, the Victorian setting of The Unquiet Dead is very tired, especially as within Doctor Who it’s become a default not-too-far-back past era. This is particularly a shame when there are so many under-explored eras, with consequently more interesting visuals (as per plague-ridden 1666 in The Visitation, or eighteenth century France in The Girl in the Fireplace, say).

Though surprisingly full-on (yes, the pre-credits, neck-snappings, and even the darkly made-up feet of the corpses in the mortuary), it’s just not that interesting, with its traditionalism making it a little boring. Also, it strikes me as far less handsome than, say, Ghost Light; this feels like fairly mundane location work with appropriate dressing, whereas that felt, more intriguingly, like a whole world within one house. I suppose the locales here, in its Cardiff setting, aren’t particularly interesting – which is almost part of the joke.

This is a textbook ‘trad’ Doctor Who story, an idea that I hate because it’s such a meaningless concept; the aforementioned Ghost Light is a ‘traditional’ (ie, classic) story, but is totally unique. Trad equates to a melange of typical attributes, which is then by definition entirely boring – as such, there is nothing original, imaginative or unexpected here. It works, because the tropes it utilises are effective ones, but it’s almost entirely unmemorable.

If that sounds harsh, I guess it’s perfectly acceptable within the context of the new series, but unexceptional in the broader context of Doctor Who as a whole. Admittedly, it does feel like there are more actual characters than in Russell T Davies’ season openers (although admittedly this amounts to Dickens and Gwyneth), and I feel Mark Gatiss’ effort is a step up, but the story is still so straightforward that there is barely a plot at all.

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