As when it first visited the Cybermen’s dimension, the Tardis is hi-jacked, bringing Donna, Martha and the Doctor to a future of an unending battle between humankind and the Hath. It’s a world where new warriors are cloned instantaneously from a single ‘parent’ and the Doctor is forcibly catalogued, forcibly siring a daughter (Georgia Moffett). As the troupe is separated in an initial battle with the Hath from Martha who goes with the Hath, they find what they expected the war to be isn’t how it turns out.
On the surface the episode is a horrible retread, but under the surface there are plenty of things going on. In the middle of yet another total war, the Doctor a) doesn’t question how he is drawn into it and comes up with an easy and totally implausible conclusion and b) accepts without enough evidence that his family is dead, that it was his fault and that he should withdraw ever further from people as a result and c) sits in the middle of a conflict distorted by Chinese whispers – it isn’t what it appears to be. We still don’t have an explanation for the last time the Tardis was forced into a conflict without the Doctor’s consent, and it can’t be a coincidence that it’s happening again as Rose returns. Indeed the first series’ final outcome was a result of the Dalek Emperor’s manipulations – the Earth he tried to take over was compliant because of the Doctor’s intervention 100 years earlier. Are we watching the Doctor still being used (perhaps in a scheme to engineer the wishes of others?
The acting is for the most part adequate. With Tennant you’ve seen this all before, as indeed with Agyeman, whose perfunctory appearance this episode only proves her replacement by Tate was a wise move, and it’s Tate as the Doctor’s moral compass who shines once again. Joe Dempsie from ‘Skins’ shows that life after success in a cult series isn’t necessarily that easy, but it’s Moffett who’s interesting. As the real daughter of a previous Doctor (Peter Davison) she’s great ironic casting for the Tenth Doctor’s daughter. As their relationship develops from her being an irritating side effect of a conflict he didn’t ask for, to his genuine progeny, the ample chemistry between them shines. It shouldn’t be surprising, she did after all audition for Rose Tyler in 2005. The conflicts about an instant daughter’s legitimacy as a fighter (when the Doctor’s pacifism was itself balanced out in the Time War), as a Time Lord (when she hasn’t experienced a ‘suffering’ he himself can’t substantiate) and a human (when her thoughts and body are just as substantial as Donnas) are very interesting. What’s genuinely confusing though is her resurrection – a side-effect of the terraforming, a distorted regeneration, or did that first breath look an awful lot like residual time vortex energy? Did Rose bring her back as an accident of Parting of the Ways or by design now? It’s an important question when the terraforming technology – the Breath of Life – came from a ‘female creator’.
With a newly created Time Lord in the mix, there is clearly a new strand heading into the back half of the series. We’ve had a huge implication through this allegorical episode that the Doctor’s involvement in the Time War wasn’t quite what he thought it was, that its disastrous result might not be true after all and that he’s a pawn in a much grander scheme. We have the wall between dimensions falling for an unknown reason, planets disappearing, the rift at the Medusa Cascade being rather important, different alien groups trying to use Earth as a breeding ground, and Donna fulfilling a potentially sinister role. And were Jenny’s (Moffett), Rose’s and Captain Jack’s immortalities all the results of grander manipulation of the Doctor and his assistants? It’s not like the Time Lords have form for that or anything…