It's taken me a while to get to this next one, because I wanted to wait until I was in a really good mood so I wasn't projecting any external issues onto it and thus give it as fair a chance as possible.
What I wrote before rewatching
What I thought at the time: I'll admit I had prejudged this quite harshly and was already dreading it before it appeared, because I already considered Gatiss to be on entirely the wrong side of rad/trad. About five minutes in, I could tell that the '70s-obsessed section of fandom were going to absolutely love it just because it was set in Victorian times. After about fifteen minutes or so (or whenever the Gelth start putting forth their arguemnts), I was dreading the sudden but inevitable betrayal and hoping against hope that it wouldn't happen. Particularly because I loved Nine's "it's just like having a donor card" bit and didn't want Rose's squick to be the right side. But then it did and I was somewhere between angry and eye-rolling. When Loz Miles posted his oh-so-controversial thing, I thought it was attributing too much intentionality but not too far off the mark overall. I did like the Remembrance shout out. I did like Simon Callow and the portrayal of late-period world-weary Dickens. I didn't think it was as scary as people seemed to think. (To be honest, I have never managed to watch this properly all the way through. First time round I was too grumpy to take the second half in properly and I've never managed to maintain my attention all the way through.)
What I think now: I've calmed down a bit, but I do think it's overrated by a factor of at least ten. Gwyneth sacrificing herself to sort out the plot is part of Nine not doing things for himself. I seem to remember Rose being quite good at standing up for herself in this one in a way that shouldn't be as notable as it is. I'm less keen on Nine's pro-Gelth morality now, because it ties into some of the new school Doctor's other issues that weren't so obvious at the time.
- The Remembrance shout out is a good start, OBVIOUSLY. As is the bit in the teaser that establishes that this is something Sneed is becoming used to.
- I like the Welsh accents, Eve Myles's and everyone else's. It's nice that they did stuff set in Wales, given they're making it there. (Am I remembering right that they had to film 19th century Cardiff in Swansea or something?)
- The present day/future/past triptych is a good idea for reintroducing the programme (but did it really have to become a formula?)
- The direction in the opening TARDIS scene makes good use of the new set.
- There are some very nice TARDIS/snow special effects. Sure they're just showing off what they can do with the CGI, but who cares?
- The writing and acting of late-in-his-life Dickens really is lovely. I particularly like Dickens struggling with his rationality in the face of all the bollocks. And also his renewed enthusiasm at the very end.
- The Doctor/Rose is well handled here, with his "considering you're a human" bit and her not reacting to this with unalloyed joy.
- Rose interacting with the guest cast: standing up for herself to Sneed, chatting up Gwyneth (though I can't work out whether it's fair to think she should have paid more attention in history at school or not). Brilliant stuff.
- The happy medium gag is cheap but I like it. (Though it would have worked better without Rose's line drawing attention to it.)
- Linking the plot into the Time War and the New Backstory.
- The argument between the Doctor and Rose is all good stuff. I like that they spark off each other. I'd forgotten how antagonistic Nine and Rose often were.
- I actually really like that Nine gets Gwyneth to sacrifice herself. And lies to Rose about it. 'Cos I'm evil that way.
- Weirdly, Eve Myles looks older as Gwyneth than she does as Gwen.
- The dress up obsession. I am fairly convinced it is a Gatiss thing, as we don't see it again until Idiot's Lantern. Not that the costumes aren't lovely, but it lampshades all the times they don't bother later on. Which is annoying. (There's a consistent inconsistency throughout old school as well, but the way in which it's done in this episode doesn't help with any interpretation.)
- Gwyneth being psychic is a very lazy plot device, really. (And now that JE has gratuitously established a link between her and Gwen, is TWS3!Gwen gonna start having spooky moments?)
- The "gas" skience is very ropey. Not that the skience in DW is ever any good and it's not really the point anyway (the supernova astrophysics in part four of Remembrance is the best ever to my way of thinking, and that's a throwaway voiceover you're not supposed to pay attention to), but it doesn't even slightly play by its own rules. At any point.
- Nine's writer-fanboying is not nearly as convincing as Ten's. The "fan" gag is AWFUL.
- The whole thing's full of lazy plot devices. Psychics. Space-time rifts with arbitrary convenient properties (very much a Gatiss standard for getting his aliens where he wants them, though the later building of this one into one of the main spines of extended new school makes it slightly less awful). Ropy explanations for legends. It's like a remix of Image of the Fendahl, which is great but not for the originality of its plotting.
- It's unfair to bring in behind the scenes knowledge (especially given how often I rail against Confidential and so on) but I do think they shoulda done the Pyramids "I'm from 1980"/"this is 1980" <bombed out wasteland>/"wtf?" bit rather than just talking about it.
- Er, yeah. "Curse you, sudden but inevitable betrayal." I remember the experience of watching it the first time, hoping against hope that it wasn't going to be what happened, but knowing for sure it's coming does take a lot of the sting out of it. But I do feel it would have been a much more interesting episode if they'd gone in another direction.
- Eccleston does not Bring It in the points where he should be Big Scary Alien Guy ("not while I'm alive" should be a lot more forceful, is the line that made me actually type this bit). Partly this is letting Dickens and Gwyneth have their hero moments, but he's much better at the goofy bits and the damaged bits than the full on Time Lord stuff.
- OK, so here is my drum that I keep on banging. According to everyone I debate this with, Martha isn't a geek because everyone knows the basics of time travel from watching Back to the Future at Christmas. So why the hell does Rose need a considerable chunk of dialogue to convince her that she can die in 1869 despite not having been born yet? I mean, srsly. We're not supposed to think Rose is stupid. But she is there to ask questions for the members of the audience who aren't familiar with McFly Theory. And therefore the fact that Martha is proves that she is way over on the geeky end of the Whoniverse. There's also her general fail at realising what Being In The Past means while talking to Gwyneth, but we can probably blame the National Curriculum for that one. (Er, what was my point? That it makes Rose look stupid, I think. I just decided to bang my drum.)
- The Cardiff gag.
- Er, I still don't think Lawrence Miles's bogus asylum seeker reading is arguable against just from the text? (Seriously, though, the Doctor is the liberal dogooder who gets taken in by the pleas for help and Rose is the Daily Mail reader who knows there's something a bit shifty about these people and turns out to be right.)
Um, yeah, there is a lot of good stuff there but it's nowhere near as good as RTD's first two, because to my mind it doesn't bring anything new to the table (there's a very cogent argument that that's exactly what the series needed at this point, something to reassure certain tranches of old school fandom [and more generally the parents watching with fond memories of Tom] that this was still the show they remember, but it's really not my thing), and Ecclescakes's weaker points are a bit more obvious here.
I think I now think it's an unobjectionable way to pass the time, and that's a major upgrade on my previous opinion of it. I think I like it better watching it at this time of year, maybe? Given that it's Christmassy. I completely fail to understand how it's meant to be OMG oh-so-scary, though. The Autons in Rose are betterer at that, and they've got Keith Boak hamstringing them. It is definitely the best handling of the new series's famous writer obsession, though (I prefer both Shakespeare Code and Unicorn as eps, but not because of Mr Shakespeare and Mrs Christie).
NAOKO MORI NEXT TIME! YAYNESS.