Monday, 11 July 2016

Story 159 - The Unquiet Dead

In which the Doctor takes Rose on a visit to the past. They are supposed to be going to Naples in 1860, but instead arrive in Cardiff in 1869, on Christmas Eve. Elsewhere in the city, the late Mrs Peace has just got up and walked out of Mr Sneed's funeral parlour, after first killing her grandson. Sneed and his maid Gwyneth, who has clairvoyant gifts, set off to locate her. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. They make for a local theatre, as Mrs Peace had been looking forward to the visit of author Charles Dickens, traveling the country on a reading tour. The old lady is indeed there and suddenly begins to emit a gaseous blue luminescent material from her mouth. As the audience panics, this attracts the attention of the Doctor and Rose. She tries to stop Sneed and Gwyneth from bundling the corpse into their hearse. She is chloroformed and bundled into the vehicle as well. The Doctor meets Dickens, who suspects the Doctor of being behind this trick. The Doctor then requisitions the great writer's coach to pursue the hearse, and Dickens insists on accompanying him.

Rose wakes in the funeral parlour and finds herself threatened by the risen yet again Mrs Peace and her grandson - Mr Redpath. They have been animated after the gaseous blue substance has emerged from the gas lamps and entered their corpses. The Doctor and Dickens arrive in time to save her. The blue gas beings retreat back into the lamps. Sneed explains how this has happened before. he got the building cheap as it had a haunted reputation. Gwyneth reveals her psychic abilities when she appears to read Rose's mind. The Doctor decides that a seance is called for - to contact the gaseous lifeforms. Gwyneth is convinced they are angels. Dickens refuses to believe in any supernatural explanation, to the Doctor's annoyance. At the seance, one of the lifeforms materialises. It explains that it is one of the alien Gelth, a race who are dying out as a result of the war which the Doctor's people had fought.
They need new corporeal forms and want to inhabit the dead of this planet in order to survive. Rose is appalled at the idea, but the Doctor believes it is the right thing to do to save an alien species from extinction.

The Doctor suspects that the building sits on a rift in space / time. Gwyneth identifies the area of the house where this is strongest - in the morgue. She will act as a focus to allow the Gelth to come through. When they start to appear, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many more than they claimed. They are intent on taking over the planet. The corpses in the morgue are reanimated, and Sneed is killed - before also coming back to life inhabited by a Gelth. Dickens flees, whilst the Doctor and Rose remain trapped. He realises that he has been duped. Dickens notices that the Gelth can't go far from the gas supply, and realises that an abundance of gas might actually trap them. He rushes back into the building and sets about turning on all the gas to flood the place. The Doctor agrees with him and breaks a pipe, drawing out the Gelth from the human bodies. Gwyneth elects to strike a match to destroy them. The Doctor cannot save her, as she has been dead since she first allowed the aliens to come through. The funeral parlour is destroyed, along with the Gelth. Dickens' view of the world has changed and he has a new lease of life. He may add "blue elementals" to his story about Edwin Drood. He heads back to London to spend Christmas with his family. Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor tells Rose that he never will finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Dickens will die in the following year.

The Unquiet Dead was written by Mark Gatiss, and was broadcast on Saturday 9th April 2005.
It is the first story of the BBC Wales series to be written by someone other than the showrunner Russell T Davies. Gatiss will go on to write many more stories, as well as to appear in the programme in a number of acting roles. A lifelong fan, he had been one of the writers for the Virgin New Adventures and BBC Books ranges. Doctor Who references had been apparent in his work with the League of Gentlemen on BBC radio and TV.
This is the first story to feature the Cardiff Time Rift, which will go on to play a major role in the new series mythology, as well as its spin-offs. Torchwood starts here in many ways.
It is the first story since Timelash to feature a real historical figure, and sees the return of what is popularly termed the "pseudo-historical" stories.
The series so far had begun in the present day, then gone off into the far future, so now it was time to have a story set in the past. RTD also wanted to reintroduce what would become known as "celebrity historicals" - featuring genuine figures from the past in a Sci-Fi situation - much in the same way that young HG Wells had gotten involved in the war of the worlds on Karfel.
Gatiss was offered this slot. He had a passion for Gothic Horror and the Victorian setting. The aliens were always going to be ghost-like beings, but his initial ideas were about fake spiritualists, with a boarding house setting. Many drafts followed until he and Davies settled on the Dickens / Ghosts at Christmas scenario that was the finished product.

Dickens is played by Simon Callow - the first big guest artist of the revived series, at least seen on screen. He is a bit of an expert on Dickens, having played him on stage in a one man show prior to this, as well as presenting a documentary about the writer. Sneed is played by popular Welsh actor Alan David. Soon to become a regular on Torchwood, Gwyneth is played by Eve Myles. She had been a regular on the long-running Welsh soap Pobol Y Cwm. The Gelth are voiced by Zoe Thorne, who will return to the programme to voice other characters.
Story arc watch:

  • Gwyneth sees the "Bad Wolf" when she is reading Rose's mind.
  • The Time War is said to have caused the Gelth to lose their physical forms.
  • A rift in space and time is established as running through Cardiff.
  • The audience are reminded that Rose's father is dead.

Overall, a cracking story. Lovely period feel, ghosts and zombies, plus Simon Callow as Charles Dickens. A creditable 86th, out of 241, in the 50th Anniversary DWM poll.
Things you might like to know:

  • The bulk of the location filming actually took place in Swansea, as that city has more Victorian architecture than Cardiff.
  • Charles Dickens embarked upon many tours, reading passages from his works. However, he was certainly nowhere near Cardiff at Christmas 1869. Ill health had caused him to stop touring in April of that year. He resumed touring only in January 1870.
  • He wrote many works with a supernatural theme, and he is synonymous with ghosts at Christmas thanks to A Christmas Carol. He is reading from this when Mrs Peace begins to exude the Gelth. A later Christmas connection between Dickens, ghosts and Christmas comes from the BBC adaptation of The Signalman, starring Denholm Elliott. This went out as part of the "Ghost Stories at Christmas" strand that was a feature of the BBC festive output in the 1970's - usually work by MR James. Mark Gatiss would have known these well. The Doctor tells Dickens that The Signalman is his favourite story by him.
  • There is a reference to the death of Little Nell (The Old Curiosity Shop) being hilarious. This isn't just a Dickens reference but an Oscar Wilde one as well. He said "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing".
  • Sneed's horse is called Samson - a reference to Galton & Simpson sitcom Steptoe and Son.
  • There is a once popular exclamation of surprise that goes "What the Dickens!". Naturally Dickens wouldn't have said such a thing himself - so he says "What the Shakespeare!" at one point. Shakespeare gets a few mentions in this story - not least the "More things in Heaven and Earth..." bit from Hamlet
  • Gatiss came in for some criticism at the time for having a story where refugees turn out to be evil tricksters. It should be remembered that there was a General Election coming up just a couple of weeks after this was broadcast, and the Conservatives, UKIP and the lesser xenophobic parties were all trotting out their usual anti-immigration spiels at this time.
  • When Dickens first sees the Gelth he asks "What phantasmagoria is this...?". Gatiss had earlier written a Big Finish play called - Phantasmagoria.
  • This is one of the very rare occasions in the new series when the TARDIS fails to get the Doctor to where he was planning to go.
  • If Series One had gone to its original plan, the Ninth Doctor and Rose would have finally got to Naples - or its environs - as it was intended that Episode 11 would have featured the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. That would have to wait until the Fourth Series, when they had the time and money to film in Italy.
  • Gatiss originally wrote Sneed as a younger man - and had in mind for the part his friend David Tennant. This was when the drafts were still based around fake mediums.

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