A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “The Stolen Earth”

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It’s a Doctor Who reunion! Rose is back. Martha is back. Sarah Jane is back. Jack Harkness is back. And, of course, the Daleks are back. Because it’s not a party (and by that we mean a season finale) until an army of evil, megalomaniacal aliens shout EXTERMINATE at you.

After last week’s big Bad Wolf reveal, the Doctor and Donna zip back to earth to find… nothing? Things seem strangely calm—until the earth suddenly disappears! The TARDIS hasn’t moved, but the earth is just gone. And it’s not the only planet to be stolen from its place in space: after visiting the Shadow Proclamation (had to Google that one), the Doctor and Donna learn that 26 other planets have all been transplanted from their usual location into one big group. Now, who could mastermind a ploy like this?

Only the Da-a-a-a-aleks. Or more specifically, Davros, creator of Daleks. Davros is a formidable enemy, so it makes sense that all of the Doctor’s pals would have to join forces to defeat him. The four-way online chat between Martha, Jack Harkness, Sarah Jane, and Harriet Jones was definitely the highlight of this episode: it’s fun to watch everyone getting along. And—somewhat maliciously—fun to watch Rose being left out. I know her return is supposed to be filled with emotion, but I’m more excited to see Martha again—even if she already appeared once this season. That said, it was pretty funny that Rose couldn’t join the chat because she didn’t have a webcam. She’s travelled through time and space, she has a cellphone that calls faraway galaxies—but she can’t Skype.

As a side note, it’s interesting how Doctor Who occasionally incorporates these mundane technical glitches at pivotal moments. A similar problem happened in “Dark Water,” the penultimate episode of season eight: Clara was trying to chat with Danny in the afterlife, but their wifi connection kept failing. In a hard-sci fi show, these small yet high-stakes malfunctions remind us that technology can’t solve everything.

But back to season four. “The Stolen Earth” really feels like set-up episode: setting up Rose’s reunion with the Doctor, setting up whatever horrible thing is going to happen to Donna (all the foreshadowing is getting nerve-wracking), setting up the Doctor’s regeneration. The episode ends on an in-between: the Doctor is literally mid-regeneration. But I’m pretty sure Matt Smith doesn’t come along for another little while, so I’m guessing he somehow doesn’t complete the job. If the Tenth Doctor does regenerate right now, it would a very abrupt—read: too abrupt—end to David Tennant’s tenure.

Finally, I’m curious to see what sorts of emotions Rose drums up in the Doctor. Perhaps because he’s farther from the loss of Rose, or perhaps because he’s travelling with a companion who isn’t very emotionally demanding, this season has put more emphasis on adventure than the Doctor’s vulnerability or inner conflict. After so much brooding in season three, it’s been fun to watch him knock around with Donna. Even if they almost died in every single episode, this season felt less heavy and tortured than the ones that came before. But it seems the good times are likely coming to an end.