Let’s start off with the emotional stuff, because that is so often the Achilles heel of new Who. John Smith actually felt like a different person to the Doctor this week, which was a great starting point to set up him and Nurse Redfern inevitably being torn asunder. Incidentally, it showed how much David Tennant needs to rein his performance in when he spent the whole episode being sympathetic as Smith, and became his usual flailing egit self at the end, bellowing at Tim before the Tardis took off.
I’ll also partially take back what I said last week about attempts to squeeze in a touching romance in too short a space of time, and the last scenes together were surprisingly moving, although it was undermined somewhat by the ridiculous flash-forward in life. Jessica Not Stevenson’s cold fury at the Doctor for bringing death to her life, though, was raw enough to leave it on an effective dramatic note.
The villains were also effectively sinister, with the one exception of the scarecrows. Last week they were ramming their faces in the camera and making me jump like a goosed intern. This week they awkwardly wondered around and were each destroyed by a single gun shot. Still, the Family of Blood made up for it. The girl with a red balloon, which could so easily have spilt over into a complete cheesetasm, was effectively saved by a child who can act. The fate of the foes, too, was great. Giving Baines a brief voice over to show how they were each imaginatively dispensed of was a nice way to write out a villainous family unit, seeing as Death Squad was probably off the menu.
It certainly helps to break up the increasingly oppressive ‘themes’ that seem to blot out everything the Doctor and Martha currently do. How much longer they can flog the ‘he’s all-powerful but consequently all-responsible and also kind of lonely’ horse is an unknown, although he does seem to be getting happier to mete out more ironic punishments to all those who won’t fall on their swords by the week.
The one major problem with the episode was with the World War One overtures – I really can’t decide if it was an effective way to locate the conflict for younger viewers, or an overconfident TV production demeaning something too big for them to tackle (which wouldn’t be the first time they’ve managed that this series). Showing John Smith – who, after all, is explicitly not the Doctor – choosing not to use a gun whilst children wept and used theirs definitely hit a bum note, although the more oblique references, such as Tommy’s portents of the future, felt more darkly suitable.
Still, it’s restored my faith in Who doubles. And next week has that guy out of the Doritos Friendchips ads of yore in perilous danger. Jimmy Savile obviously got my letter.