The Good: Fun, Good plot set-up
The Bad: No genuine character development, Light on notable performances, Plot-heavy
The Basics: "The Stolen Earth" works great in conjunction with its second part, but on its own it is exceptionally cumbersome, self-referential television.
When it comes to season finales, there are few shows that truly know how to lead into the end of a season like Doctor Who. The best serialized shows do a decent job of building to a season's end, but in episodic television or semi-serialized shows like Doctor Who, it can be a bit tougher. Throughout the fourth season of Doctor Who, Rose Tyler had been popping up in the background, for viewers who knew where to look at just the right time. But at the climax of "Turn Left" (reviewed here!), an episode that outright featured Rose Tyler, there was an urgency that came with the return of Bad Wolf, which led into the first moments of "The Stolen Earth."
"The Stolen Earth" is the payoff to hints and clues dropped throughout the fourth season and the first of two parts of a story that, essentially, is closing the book on the franchise Russell T. Davies had created with the modern Doctor Who and its various spin-off projects (Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and all of the projects that were pitched but failed to be produced). As Davies said his first of two good-bye's to Doctor Who, fans were rewarded for paying close attention early in the season.
The Doctor and Donna Noble arrive on Earth, on a Saturday, where The Doctor is relieved to find everything appears all right. Nervous about Donna's encounter with Rose and the appearance of Bad Wolf everywhere on their last adventure, The Doctor returns with Donna to the Tardis and, moments later, the Earth disappears entirely. Far across the universe, Earth is intact and at U.N.I.T. Headquarters in New York, Martha Jones awakens to discover the sky has changed. Torchwood, Sarah Jane, and Wilfred all discover that they are somewhere else entirely - based upon the sheer number of planets in the sky and the nebula around them. Rose appears on Earth with a massive weapon and declares that the trouble has just begun.
Earth's troubles quickly materialize in the form of an armada of Daleks. While U.N.I.T. and the ultra-secret Project Indigo attempt to fight the Daleks attacking Earth, The Doctor and Donna arrive at the Shadow Proclamation. There, they discover that 27 planets (including the Lost Moon Of Poosh) have been teleported out of time and space to create a world engine of some sort. On Earth, Martha Jones activates Project Indigo and disappears, leaving Jack Harkness to declare her dead. The abductors of the many planets are soon revealed to be Dalek Caan and Davros, The Doctor's ancient enemy and the creator of the Daleks! The Doctor and Donna follow a trail to discover Earth and the other missing planets in the Medusa Cascade, while Harriet Jones contacts The Doctor's various allies and attempts to assemble them into a force that can contact The Doctor and thwart the Daleks!
"The Stolen Earth" is the payoff to a lot of dangling threads in the Doctor Who expanded universe, writing out the spin-offs and finally presenting The Shadow Proclamation on-screen (before this, it just sounded like an interstellar agreement that kept various planets in order). The joy of seeing the various elements of Doctor Who and its spin-offs together on-screen is fun. The idea that Harriet Jones might be Earth's savior with her subwave network is a nice way to reward the first season's character who was sadly dismissed in the beginning of the second season. That, essentially, her heroic end comes in the attempt to make an interstellar cell phone call is wickedly ironic.
The episode, however, is predicated on a lot of truly wonky science. While the episode does a decent job of paying lip service to science by having Torchwood recognize that there is a force field keeping in Earth's heat and air, the very idea of The Darkness is clever only if one turns off their brain. In addition to the Judoon's language not being translated, despite them and The Doctor being proximate to the TARDIS, in order for Rose Tyler to know about the threat in the alternate universe - in the form of The Darkness - the stars going out would have had to have been extinguished for millennia. How the boosted cell phone signal reaches the TARDIS when Martha's phone does not is not made truly clear - after all, mystical cell phone, how does it fail?! And while Donna's notion of the disappearing bees is an interesting one, following a pollen trail across the universe seems pretty wonky.
"The Stolen Earth" spends almost forty minutes establishing its premise, as opposed to actually doing anything. It is fun and it is a lot of plot set-up; it is not until Rose Tyler longingly looks at a screen with The Doctor on it and realizes that he cannot see or hear her that viewers get even a moment of depth from any of the franchise's significant, enduring, characters. That is not to say that Harriet Jones squaring off with the Daleks is not good - actress Penelope Wilton sheds the cheap punchline of her character for a moment with genuine gravitas - but she is no Captain Jack Harkness! Objectively viewed, "The Stolen Earth" is like a fanfic writer's wet dream long before it becomes its own significant entity.
So, when Rose realizes The Doctor cannot see her and The Doctor laments that his team includes everyone but Rose, "The Stolen Earth" finally transitions into something significant. The Doctor's longing for Rose is one of the few, genuine, on-screen hints that The Doctor might reciprocate Rose's love for him.
Unfortunately, that deep character-driven moment with the episode's acting peak, is interrupted by the revelation of Davros. The resulting scene is more exposition and, based on Sarah Jane's reaction, it is a call-back to events from the classic-Doctor Who. Davros was, apparently, killed in the last great Time War, but rescued by Dalek Caan and the emotional resonance of his return cannot be realized by those who are only fans of the new (2005 on) Doctor Who. In other words, in creating his good-bye to his incarnation of Doctor Who and its expanded universe, Russell T. Davies is forced to rely on a big emotional moment for The Doctor that those new fans will not, inherently, appreciate.
That said, "The Stolen Earth" features one of the most wonderful and heart-breaking moments for fans of Doctor Who as Rose and The Doctor are (almost) reunited. The two running toward one another is sweet and gets fans' hearts racing, but the moment succumbs to yet another big plot events.
"The Stolen Earth" is, very much, a set-up episode. It is a fun episode. But objectively viewed, on its own, it is cumbersome, often dull, and exposition-heavy. It is the hype for the season finale; there are two decent moments of performance, two moments where characters shine and emote . . . and the rest is special effects, plot exposition, and a bunch of people getting excited about meeting one another. I don't recall disliking the episode any time I watched it, but the truth is, I've always immediately viewed "Journey's End" after watching "The Stolen Earth." Viewer together, the two-parter is something special; but "The Stolen Earth," on its own, viewed for just what is in the episode, is particularly unremarkable, insular, and self-referential in a way that fails to be even entertaining for the bulk of the episode.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!
For other multi-part season finales, please visit my reviews of:
"Becoming" - Buffy The Vampire Slayer
"The Dogs Of War" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Absolution" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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