I'm not talking about "she is returning" (though Rose clearly is this year's Bad Wolf, for all RTD's protestations they weren't doing it that way this time in SFX), I'm talking about the bit where they press the switch to set off the eruption. That's my Doctor back in town, the utilitarian one who recognises that sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good, in a way we've not seen yet in the new series. My Doctor is finally, finally back.
But let's backtrack a bit, because the other part of that scene that made me go GUH was the bit with Donna, and she was bloody excellent in this episode. Right from the start, when she goes off and starts figuring out how to rescue everyone ("there's a big amphitheatre ..." oh, Donna), it's clear that the stuff last week where she'd learned to be the Doctor to try and find him wasn't just a plot device to reunite them but actual character development. I loved it. I loved the conflict between the two of them, and the way it was entirely motivated by entirely reasonable philosophical positions and just ... yes. I didn't even realise I'd been missing that sort of thing until it suddenly appeared slap bang in the middle of what looked at first like a silly historical runaround. What was particularly good was that it confronted us as the audience with the fact that we have all bought in to the idea that it's OK for these people to die because it's part of established history (and by extension, our willingness to treat their deaths as entertainment), and really why should we? etc. And best of all, we see the Doctor answering that question (sort of) and inducting Donna into learning that she has to deal with these horrible hard choices. It's like all the time travel bits of Father's Day, done right because it's about 20,000 people not "my dad! my dad!" and doesn't involve either of them deliberately fucking up. But more than that it's like Seven and Ace, and One and Barbara in The Aztecs, and all sorts of other favourite bits of old school.
(Now, here's a question: this is the same guy as wrote Sleeper. Why couldn't he have brought the same sort of thing to bear on all the fucking torture?)
And so we end up in the escape pod thingy, with the Doctor and Donna knowing they have a choice between Pompeii and the whole world, and by extension the whole of history. They know the stakes, and they both unambiguously make the choice to make the sacrifice. It's a complete inversion of the horrible delta wave moment in Parting, where the Doctor has sent Rose away out of his misguided protectiveness, and then decides not to press the switch despite being presented with the identical-in-kind Earth vs Whole Universe choice. Now, we've always known that these sorts of choice were in the new series Doctor's back story, because of the Gallifrey thing, but it's always shied away from showing that sort of thing on screen. And best of all, Donna helps him press the switch -- she understands what the choice is and why this is the right one. (Incidentally, new Time War personal canon: the Doctor and Fitz pressed the Gallifrey-go-boom switch together and that scene is an exact echo except for the part where they get out of it without dying/regenerating. No wonder the Doctor was so emo afterwards.)
Seriously, that scene totally did it for me, on many many levels, and I'm tempted to crown it Best New Series Ep Evah just for that moment. And really, in the face of that shining moment of purity, everything else seems to pale into insignificance, but here are some other thoughts I had:
- On the Ten/Donna front, I think we've officially moved into "protests too much" territory, especially with the unforced "I bloody love you" in the tunnels. This "we're not married" running gag is either going to get tiresome or quickly become fodder for shipping. However, I'm almost in danger of not shipping them because all that interaction reminds me too much of Seven and Ace.
- It's a bit of a pity that the guest cast almost universally seemed to think that all the togas and so forth were a good excuse to ham it up terribly. Phil Davis as Lucius was the worst for this, though it was a fairly unforgiving part (he was much better in Lark Rise). Even Peter Capaldi wasn't immune (though I will always love him for both Crow Road and Thick of It, so I didn't mind that much). Maybe it was a directorial decision? OTOH, Donna only descended into "hello, I'm the well known comedian Catherine Tate" a couple of times this week, most notably when she was about to be sacrificed.
- Rescuing Peter Capaldi's family was a nice touch (it reminded me of the conversation at the end of The Aztecs about Autloc), but the blinding white interior of the TARDIS as the Doctor reached out was a step too far. (Which is weird, because I love it when the books describe it that way -- qv Cabinet of Light in particular -- but perhaps actually seeing it on screen is too much? Then again I think maybe I always imagine the old school console room in that context, which was quite bright, whereas this one is very dark most of the time and we've established that you do actually just see into it ever since Rose.)
- Massive missed opportunity to add Pliny to the new series' famous writers roster, y/y?
- I did find myself wondering where all the slaves were ... absolutely no explicit mention of how the Roman economy actually worked (though there were a few extras hanging around Peter Capaldi's house who presumably were the salves). And yet, next week: humans exploiting Ood! So it's not like they're unwilling to explore that sort of thing. Hmm.
- I would have loved it if the monsters had turned out to be Krargs, 'cos apart from the posessing-people-with-dust stuff that's what they were, and a reference to never-completed old-school canon would have been win.
- Almost identical plotty stuff to last week with the aliens' motivation being the destruction of their planet and the Doctor invoking the Shadow Proclamation at them. It's probably just storytelling shortcuts (and really, this sort of episode is what storytelling shortcuts were made for -- getting straight to the core conflict rather than faffing about with escape/recapture stuff), but it could just possibly be an arc thing.
More not-married shenanigans next week from the look of the trailer, and presumably another visit to the Orange-Spacesuits future era. I do like the way the new series is developing consistent futures of its own, but I do also feel like it's in danger of treating its own previous seasons in fanwanky ways it would never dream of doing with the old school stuff. It's not like the Ood are the new Daleks or anything.