It's a C in the context of the show, but I liked it a lot. Bad puns, weird anti-Welsh hateration, remedial-at-best Dickens, and some very creepy visuals make for another classic-era episode. They don't make the "behind the couch" jokes for nothing, and if you remember the show as being absolutely terrifying to you as a child, this episode should take you right back there. It comes to us from Mark Gatiss, which is interesting in that I could not have been more wrong about Davies having written the entire season, but also because Mark "Glenn Bulb" Gatiss utterly rules. (See: The League Of Gentlemen and Nighty Night, the latter of which might be my favorite comedy in the history of television.) The Doctor and Rose shoot for Naples 1860, but end up in Cardiff 1869, where Charles Dickens is about to perform a dramatic reading. A old woman's corpse is possessed by a mysterious spirit, but still manages to attend, and the embalmer and assistant finally track her down, too late. She flips out and is completely terrifying. Rose and the Doctor take care of the ensuing riot, but Rose is kidnapped by the embalmer, Sneed, when she twigs to the fact that the lady's not crazy, just dead. Dickens and the Doctor follow them back to their funeral parlor, where Rose has been locked in yet another room with yet another set of mindless destructive zombies. Sneed and the assistant, Gwyneth, finally admit that they're in over their heads, and the Doctor somehow deduces that there's a "rift" in time and space somewhere in the funeral parlor. Rose and Gwyneth have such a nice, long heart-to-heart that it's obvious she's dead meat, and the Doctor throws a sÃ©ance. Gwyneth provides a connection to the alien entities that have been perpetrating the creepy zombie action, the Gelth, whose own bodies were lost in the Time War. In order to repay this debt, the Doctor convinces Gwyneth (who is pretty nuts at this point) and Rose (who finds the whole thing disgusting) to give the Gelth the bodies of dead humans so that their race won't disappear. This goes really well for about seven seconds, until the Gelth get crazy greedy and decide to take over all human bodies. Zombie apocalypse! Dickens figures out that the Gelth can somehow be dealt with by turning on all the gas jets in the house, luring them out of the bodies themselves, and Gwyneth -- who it turns out has been dead for half the episode, creepily -- blows up the entire house with herself inside. The Doctor and Rose say goodbye to Dickens and travel into the next episode; Dickens spouts some well-known dialogue while running around town like a freak.
Mortician Sneed crosses a room to light a gas lamp in a very, very old-time shot -- you expect those light trails and the muffled silence, like in the really old stuff. Have you seen Sapphire & Steel? Strega turned me on to it. Can you explain that shit to me? I think I love it, but it's so, so boring and so, so bizarre that I think I might just like the film quality. Remember The Tomorrow People? I always thought that was Doctor Who when I was little. And Glark mentioned this to me, so I have a new obsession there and I want to find out all about it. Basically, it makes sense that all this memorable stuff would be hitting this week, because this episode does a pitch-perfect pastiche of the whole look and feel, albeit with better clothes and sets. Apparently, it also makes tonal references to British ghost-story shows that would air over the winter holidays, because there's not a damn thing the Brits can't make creepier if they put their minds to it. Even Christmas. There's a dead lady in a coffin in the room, and the decedent's grandson -- a Mr. Redpath, not long for this world -- is stolidly mourning her. Their clothes and hair "styles" suggest that we're in the nineteenth century. We focus particularly on Sneed lighting the lamp, and there are daffodils ("contentment" or "unending respect" in the language of flowers, but connected to and originally indivisible from the asphodel, "undying regret" or "death") everywhere, so it's a funeral thing no matter what, and it's a nice touch. Though, for all I know, the practice is still around and I'm talking out my ass. Sneed offers Redpath his condolences, and they check out the body. Redpath mentions how "full of life" she was, how he "can't believe she's gone," and Sneed replies that she's "merely sleeping," so...they should get out of that room, right? Like, immediately?
Sneed leaves Redpath alone with the body, and Redpath bows his head in grief, missing out on the whispering blue gas swirling around and eventually entering the body, causing her eyes to pop open horribly. She grabs her grandson by the neck and commences jigglin', and Sneed hears the commotion and returns. "Oh, no," he says, which is funny, because he's totally watching an old dead woman strangle her grandson. "Oh, no." Redpath's neck is twisted, and he drops, and Sneed tries to get the lid back on the coffin. He's a pragmatic one, this Sneed. He calls for "Gwyneth," shouting that they've "got another one," and honestly: how bad a mortician do you have to be for this to happen regularly? He should find a new job. Grandma Redpath drops her grandson and destroys the coffin, heading out into the snow, groaning. Grandma's gotta bounce! As she walks toward the camera, wailing louder and louder, the blue swirling lights around her grow brighter and she walks directly into the camera, screaming, eyes wide and uncomprehending. Holy hell. Thanks for being creepy, Dr. Mark Gatiss, writer of this episode and gifted comedic actor. You rule. Gatiss was involved with Little Britain and The Quatermass Experiment (if this episode doesn't convince you of that anyway), and Nighty Night, easily my favorite comedy in the history of TV. The hero is this beautiful, posh beauty shop owner named Jill, who comes to personal tragedy and, in the attempt to begin her new life and discover beauty again, is menaced by the treacly, sickening predations of the hateful Cath Cole, who persists in hanging onto Jill's boyfriend Don like a colonic parasite, even though she's in a wheelchair and he's her husband. Horrid creature. They truly are the best, and the worst, that the UK has to offer. The writer of this episode stars on Nighty Night as Jill's unfortunate suitor Glenn Bulb, a valiant lover indeed. God bless Julia Davis. The really funny thing is that the guy is actually quite good-looking, but I've never seen him acting without incredibly fucked-up-looking makeup, making him like the Amy Sedaris of Tees Valley.