Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Power Lead-In: “Army Of Ghosts” Sets The Stage Masterfully!

The Good: Engaging plot, Moments of character, Effects
The Bad: Sets up and has to explain a ton of plot details
The Basics: “Army Of Ghosts” sets up another powerful Doctor Who season finale, though it is largely dependent upon seeing the rest of the season to understand the magnitude of the events in it.

There are few hours of television that I have seen over and over again that I have more of an emotional reaction to the more I see it. While Doctor Who is one of the newer shows that I have gotten into, “Army Of Ghosts” is one of the few episodes that I have more and more of a reaction to. The episode opens with a monologue – which traditionally I abhor – that has Rose declaring that this is the story of how her journey with The Doctor came to an end. Hearing her open the episode with that declaration, chokes me up more and more when I rewatch the episode.

And it is worth it. “Army Of Ghosts” is an obvious set-up episode, the first part of a two-parter and it is one of the stronger penultimate episodes of a season. Even knowing that the episode is not actually the last time Rose Tyler will be seen, the episode does a decent job of setting up a good send-off for her. More than that, “Army Of Ghosts” ties the second season of Doctor Who together well. Answering the peppered mystery of who/what the Torchwood Institute is that began in “The Christmas Invasion” (reviewed here!), “Army Of Ghosts” is well-constructed even if it is a bit light on character development and heavy with setting up plot points.

Opening with Rose considering her life before and after she met The Doctor, Rose and The Doctor return to Earth. Rose is miffed when her gift of bazoolium from an alien market does not phase Jackie at all. Instead, Jackie tells Rose that her dead grandfather is about to appear. Moments later, ghostly shadows appear, including one that Jackie claims is her father and another that passes through The Doctor. The Doctor discovers from Jackie that for the past two months, “ghosts” have been appearing at regular intervals. The “ghosts” seem to be manipulated or measured by the Torchwood Institute, which is also investigating a mysterious sphere that seems to exist visually, but not in any other measurable way.

When a Cyberman appears at Torchwood, where it absorbs a pair of workers who want to play hooky to snog, The Doctor and Rose set up a trap for one of the “ghosts.” That trap draws the attention of the Torchwood Institute and its leader, Yvonne Hartman. When the TARDIS, with Jackie Tyler still aboard, is arrives at the Torchwood Institute, Hartman incarcerates The Doctor and Jackie (who is impersonating Rose). The Doctor is able to identify the mysterious sphere as a Void Ship, an impossible vessel used to travel the space between dimensions. After learning about Torchwood and its obsession with the Void Ship, The Doctor convinces Hartman not to run the next Ghost Shift to allow “ghosts” to exploit the cracks in dimensions caused by the Void Ship’s arrival in our universe. But after Rose is captured by Torchwood, the Cybermen-influenced Torchwood employees start a Ghost Shift that will completely change the world.

“Army Of Ghosts” is a wonderful set-up episode, even if it is plot-heavy. While Torchwood was formed at the climax of “Tooth And Claw” (reviewed here!), exactly what they have been up to since Queen Victoria has been a mystery. That mystery is answered in “Army Of Ghosts.” The episode also marks the return of Mickey, who appeared lost in “The Age Of Steel” (reviewed here!). “Army Of Ghosts” is well-constructed, despite lacking a resolution. The episode seeds two huge anomalies: the ghosts and the void ship and before the end, the mystery of each of those anomalies is solved. That is refreshing.

“Army Of Ghosts” has a great sense of rising action. While the episode starts with one of the most goofy premises of any episode in the modern Doctor Who and it predictably develops beyond that premise. Fans of Doctor Who will instantly know what Jackie Tyler does not; the ghosts cannot be ghosts and so there is a thrill of discovery as to what they are. Devoted fans – the ones who will be thrilled by the return of the Cybermen – will be able to call well in advance their return based on nothing else but the preponderance of Bluetooth-like headsets around Torchwood.

For an episode that is promising the death of Rose Tyler, the biggest character moment actually comes from Mickey. Mickey returns to our universe confident, smart and surprisingly badass. When he rescues Rose Tyler and details what happened in the universe he was left in, he is almost a completely different character. Mickey and Noel Clarke, who portrays him, is undeniably watchable in “Army Of Ghosts.”

Beyond that, David Tennant is a predictable scene-stealer in “Army Of Ghosts.” Tennant has good chemistry on-screen with Billie Piper in the episode, but he is actually stuck on his own or with Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne) for the bulk of the episode. Tennant has some wonderful physical performance moments as he peers into special effects that clearly were not present when he shot the scenes. He “sells” the universe of Doctor Who beautifully through his acting.

Ultimately, “Army Of Ghosts” is a fun set-up episode that distracts viewers from the impending doom of Rose Tyler creating a mystery that it then resolves! That sets its sequel episode, “Doomsday” up for an hour of delighting viewers for a conflict they have waited decades for.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other big penultimate episodes, please check out my reviews of:
“Dark Water” - Doctor Who
“Bounty” - Star Trek: Enterprise
“Darkness Falls” - The X-Files


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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