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The Doctor rides the ghost train

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2011-04-25 Times.jpg

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Doctor Who Saturday, BBC One, ★★★★☆


The Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor. A few sharp minutes into the return of Doctor Who and we knew that the "death" that had been so heavily hyped was actually a non-death. The Doctor couldn't really die, not like that.

Even my tears were suspicious, lurking just inside my eyes as they should have fallen: the scene in-which the flames of his pyre were reflected in the fire of the Utah sunset was achingly poignant, but it couldn't be real, could it? Of course not, but such acts of subversion are all part of show runner Steven Moffat's box of tricks. "We've done the rollercoaster, now we're on the ghost train," he said in the run-up to Saturday's episode, seemingly referring both to the death and to the more quietly eerie quality that he intended for Matt Smith's second series. Last year, while viewers got used to Smith and Smith got used to his bow tie, Moffat had wanted to "reassure" viewers. "This year, to hell with that, we're going to worry the hell out of you."

So did the return measure up to Moffat's wishlist? Well, first of all, we've still got at least one foot firmly on that rollercoaster. The pace was raging as we switched from a dead Doctor under Utah's big skies to his reappearance minutes later and several hundred years younger, and from there to an intricacy of storylines that took in President Nixon's Oval Office, a global network of underground tunnels and a child trapped in an astronaut's helmet. Threading it all together, Smith embodied that tempo perfectly —twirling around the TARDIS, part-mad detective, part-netball player, part-Red Bull advert.

Yet in the quiet bits between the twirls, the "ghost train" made itself strongly felt. It was there in the renewed intimacy between the Doctor and his companions as they witnessed his death and his return. Grappling with the morals of how much to tell him, we saw the mysterious River Song placidly reveal a little more about just who she is; and Amy hug him a little too long as poor Rory stood by ...

Eerie on a different level were the mind games of "The Silence". Forgive me for saying that this new breed of monster did little for me appearance-wise: their fairly standard issue chewing-gum faces and Men in Black suits did not elicit in me the five-year-old's fear that I hope for from Doctor Who. Not a patch on the more unexpected kid-in-spacesuit image, which will no doubt haunt the next episode, and my dreams. But goodness, the way they stealthily got into people's heads, sucking away any memory of their presence, moving around so that people had seen them, but hadn't seen them. What a brilliantly tense thread to lay as the Who team try to pinpoint what they are to each other, especially as they move in to the next phase of life. Amy is pregnant, for goodness' sake; we can't have her mind being wiped, or worse ...

So we're on a rollercoaster, a ghost train and also in a hall of mirrors, where nothing is what it appears. What else would you expect from Moffat, who thinks that a rollercoaster ride is an act of reassurance?


Caption: Life after death: Doctor Who and his companions

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hardy, Alex (2011-04-25). The Doctor rides the ghost train. The Times p. 12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hardy, Alex. "The Doctor rides the ghost train." The Times [add city] 2011-04-25, 12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hardy, Alex. "The Doctor rides the ghost train." The Times, edition, sec., 2011-04-25
  • Turabian: Hardy, Alex. "The Doctor rides the ghost train." The Times, 2011-04-25, section, 12 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Doctor rides the ghost train | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_Doctor_rides_the_ghost_train | work=The Times | pages=12 | date=2011-04-25 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The Doctor rides the ghost train | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_Doctor_rides_the_ghost_train | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 December 2019}}</ref>