The Stiffs Are Getting Lively

Doctor Who – Series 1 – The Unquiet Dead, Mark Gatiss

The one where we get some great words. The scene opens in a funeral home, and the camera shows a young man’s “grand-mama,” who has recently passed away. She is lying peacefully, until her face turns blue and she grabs her grandson’s throat. No peace there. Unintelligible voices in the background seem to be related to this interesting turn of events. An employee of the funeral home tries to shut the old lady into her coffin and he yells for back up: “We’ve got another one!” The old lady throws him off her and walks out and away from the building like a zombie, moaning and shuffling through the snow. That is not going to help the grandson’s grieving process, you know.

Credits. A blue and red chute and twirling disk.

There’s a shot on Rose “Awe and Wonder” Tyler and the Doctor as they prepare the TARDIS to have Christmas in Naples in 1860. Rose is in wonder at the idea of being able to doing a day again and again, like a movie, and the Doctor just adores her wonderment. Cut back to the funeral home where the undertaker calls for “Gwyneth” and a servant girl responds. He tells her to hitch up the carriage because “the stiffs are getting lively again!” Oy vey, a lively stiffy.

Also, sidebar, Gwyneth is played by the lovely Eve Myles who has a super cute space between her front teeth. She later took a role in Torchwood, a Doctor Who spin-off. I love her.

Back to the TARDIS’ difficult landing that sends the Doctor and Rose to the floor, laughing.  He crows .”I did it!” He looks at the computer and announces they’re in Naples.  Rose excitedly wants to go outside and see it, but “Oi!” The Doctor catches her. “You can’t go out there like that.”  He directs her to a costume closet so that she can look time period appropriate, and she quickly comes back.

The scene cuts to Gwyneth and the undertaker looking for the escaped old lady.  The undertaker tells Gwyneth to “use the sight.”  She doesn’t think it’s right, but he threatens her with dismissal, so she complies. Thropgh “the sight” she knows that the old woman had been excited; she was going to see the “great great man.” (Of course, I assume this is referring to how she felt before she died.)

The scene switches to a Charles Dickens (Played by a wonderful Simon Callow) just about to go onstage perform. He is feeling forlorn, however, away from his family and on Christmas. But the show must go on. (I am a professional actress! I never let my personal feelings interfere with my work! TM Tootsie)

Back in the TARDIS, Rose presents herself to the Doctor. “Blimey!” He exclaims and she giggles. “Don’t laugh.” He stares at her in wonderment. “You look beautiful!” the Doctor exclaims, looking at her intensely, and Rose is taken off guard. He ruins the moment and finishes. “Considering.”  “Considering what?” she asked. “That you’re human.” She decides that there’s a compliment in there somewhere and then opens the TARDIS door to explore Naples.

The scene switches back to the theater as the curtains open for Mr. Dickens to survey the crowd. The camera shows us what he would see if he knew what to look for, and we see the old zombie woman in the crowd. She got to see her “great great man” after all!

The scene switches back to the Doctor and Rose are walking the city streets, listening to Christmas carols. Something seems wrong, though, for 1860’s Naples. He gets a map and realized that they’re not in Naples and it’s not 1860. It’s 1869, and they’re in Cardiff. (When I saw this for the first time, my mind was racing trying to remember what was significant about Cardiff in 1869.  I even Googled it. There’s nothing, which is the point.)

Switch scene back to Dickens, where he is onstage telling a story that sounds like A Christmas Carol. He is interrupted by the zombie grandmama who is raising out of her seat, moaning again, her face a bright blue. Dickens and the crowd are shocked. “What phantasmagoria is this!?” Dickens cries, indignant. The blue spirit leaves her mouth and the crowd runs, screaming, out of the theater. Gwyneth and the undertaker converge on the theater just as Rose and the Doctor run in, and they all see Dickens stand there alone. Gwyneth and the undertaker have taken the old woman into the hearse when Rose happens upon them and accuses them of hurting her.  The undertaker, trying to keep this freaky news under wraps and believing that Rose has “seen too much,” knocks Rose out to take her to the funeral home.

The Doctor and Dickens are standing together, still in the theater, watching the blue vapors. The Doctor makes to leave but sees the hearse take off with Rose.  He hijacks Dickens’ coach as Dickens sputters at him about impropriety.  The Doctor, who had not, until this point, realized Dickens was the Charles Dickens, became excited and chattery about how brilliant Dickens is and that he’s Dickens’ biggest fan.  “In what way do you resemble a means of keeping oneself cool?” Dickens asks.  A bit obvious, but heh. The Doctor’s adoration buys him in a seat in this coach following the hearse.

Gwyneth and the director bring Rose back to the funeral home and lay her down in a room with another corpse. The Doctor and Dickens arrive in short order, but not before a body in the room with Rose gets infected with the blue spirit. Actually, I think its the grandson. The Doctor realizes that they’re are dealing with a gas spirit and gets Rose out just before they…do what? Infect her somehow? It’s not clear. The spirits entreat him to “open the rift; we’re dying.” The undertaker tells them that the house always had a reputation for being “haunted,” but that lately it’s getting stronger. The Doctor, because he has his Haunted Handbook and for the sake of the story progression, knows that “the Rift is getting wider.” The Rift?  The Doctor supplies us with an explanation – the Rift is a weak point in time and space, a connection between this place and another.

Dickens, who is unable to find an explanation for the impossible things he’s seen, starts to have an existential crisis about life and what we really knows. “Have I wasted my brief span here, Doctor? Has it all been for nothing?”

Rose and Gwyneth go off alone for girl talk about boys and school lessons. Rose, again showing compassion, asks about how she’s treated by the undertaker. Gwyneth is grateful for her opportunities to work, particularly since she’s an orphan. Rose offers her sympathies, and Gwyneth tells her that angels have been sent to her by her parents her whole life, and she knows she’ll join her parents again as they are waiting for her in heaven. “Maybe your Da’s up there waitin’ for you, too.”  “Maybe,” Rose affirms, then realizes that she hadn’t mentioned her father’s passing.  She asked Gwyneth who told him he was dead, and Gwyneth says she knows that Rose is thinking about him more than ever. And knows she’s come such a long way.  Gwyneth talks about the things she’s seen when she thinks of Rose’s time, almost possessed, looking at her strangely. “All those people running about, half naked – for shame. And the noise and the metal boxes racing past, and the birds in the sky… No, they’re metal as well. Metal birds with people in them. People are flying? And you, you’ve flown so far, farther than anyone.  The things you’ve seen. The darkness. The big bad wolf.” (Eve Myles is so cool to watch and listen to right here.)

Gwyneth breaks off and apologizes.

She grew up on top of the rift, she’s a part of it. The Doctor realizes she can communicate with the spirits coming thorough it, and suggests a seance. They all sit in a circle holding hands, Dickens rolling his eyes. We hear the little voices again, and soon everyone can see the blue spirits. At first, Gwyneth can’t get them through, but then she can and everyone sees the spirits. A figure of a young girl pops up behind Gwyneth and talks to the Doctor through Gwyneth. “Pity the Gelth. Help us.”

“What do you want us to do?” The Doctor asks.

They tell them to take the Gwyneth to the Rift, that they are the last of their kinds as so many of them were destroyed during the Time War. The Doctor and Rose exchange a Look. I wonder if he feels responsible for them? If they can get across, they can revive their race by inhabiting the dead. Rose and the Doctor argue about the appropriateness of it. Gwyneth collapses on the table and Rose races to her.

Gwyneth identified them as “her angels” that need her help. The Doctor affirms her thoughts until Rose steps in and cautions him to leave her alone. She doesn’t want to see Gwyneth used and also, that dead bodies should be respected.

“It’s a good system; it’s like recycling.” Points out the Doctor.

“Seriously, though, you can’t.” Rose tells him.

“Seriously, though, I can.” He fires back. A minute later he asks, “Do you carry a donor card?”

Rose protests that its different and he affirms it is.”A different morality. Get used to it or go home.”

Gwyneth cuts off their arguing and, in a moment of strength that reveals the steel that runs through her, she says to Rose, “I know my own mind.” (Again, Myles is fantastic in this.) These angels have been talking to her her whole life, and they need her.

They go to the weakest point of the house, in the morgue, and set up for this bridge.

For the first time, the audience is reminded about one of the perils of time travel.  Rose is still trying to argue against Gwyneth allowing the Gelth to inhabit cadavers. She said, “I know they’re not walking around.  I know this for a fact.”  The Doctor refutes this: “Time’s in flux. Everything can be rewritten. Nothing is safe. Remember that. Nothing.”

The bridge connects through Gwyneth, but things quickly go wrong. There are just a few, a few billion. A few Gelth that have already crossed over begin to inhabit bodies in the morgue, and turn against the living souls still down there. Rose and the Doctor lock themselves behind some bars to protect themselves.  He chastized the Gelth – “I trusted you. I PITIED you.”  They don’t want his pity, they say. They want the world.

“Not while I’m alive.” The Doctor says.

“Then live no more.” Simple answer.

Rose is trying to logic her way out of it.

“I haven’t even been born yet; it’s impossible for me to die.”

The Doctor says, time isn’t a straight line, it can twist into any shape. This is not the last we’ll hear of this concept.

Dickens runs away and is being followed, but then realizes that the Gelth are absorbed by gas, since they are gaseous beings. He runs back to the morgue and fills it with gas.

Not knowing any of this is happening, Rose and the Doctor decide to fight back, tightly clasping hands.

“I’m so glad I met you.” The Doctor says, looking at Rose lovingly.

“Me too.” Rose says and gives him a big smile. They almost look like they are going to kiss but are interrupted by Dickens running into the morgue and telling the Doctor to turn on the gas. Once he does, the spirits leave the bodies.

The Doctor talks to Gwyneth and tries to talk her into sending them back. She says she can’t, but she can keep them here, and she pulls matches out of her apron pocket. Doing so would kill Gwyneth, and Rose isn’t having that.

“I won’t leave her while she’s still in danger!” The Doctor promises Rose.

Gwyneth has already died, however, which the Doctor realizes once he puts his fingers to feel a pulse. He kisses her forehead and apologizes to her as she stands there, not responsive. As he leaves, she opens the matches.

He flees the building and it explodes in the background as he is thrown into the snow.  Rose is furious with him for killing Gwyneth, until the Doctor explains that she had been dead the moment she opened the rift. Rose wonders aloud how she could have helped them if she was dead.

Dickens quotes Horatio by telling Rose, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

He adds. “Even for you, Doctor.”

Dickens and the travelers say good-bye. He’s going to be with his family and make amends. His existential crisis over. And he’s inspired – wants to write. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the ending of it. Dickens asks, humbly, cutely, whether his books last, and the Doctor says “forever.”

When Rose calls him out on it: “Doesn’t it change history if he writes abotu blue ghosts?” he points out that Dickens is going to die the next year, so no harm no foul.

The episode ends with Dickens laughing to himself in the snow and saying “God bless us, everyone!’ as only Dickens can do.

Verdict: Not bad, and I like what I’m seeing of the Doctor.  I’ll see another.

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