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Ugly Trickster: Recap of 90DF The Other Way, S02E20
Sumit and Jenny are readying for a trip to Delhi to meet a lawyer, which is part of the long, arduous road Sumit has arranged to avoid a second marriage.
“Have you considered remaining married?” Brittany has ideas.
“Yes, but that is good for two or three years, maximum,” Sumit is way ahead of her.
“I took his virginity!” Yes, Jenny, we know.
Jenny says hey, since we’re going to be in Delhi anyway, might as well get that marriage registration out of the way, amirite? I mean, think of the COVID. Sumit freezes, hunts for a relationship traffic cone, and settles on the lawyer as the only possible person to answer this question. They meet said lawyer sporting PPE that makes every stateside ER doc wipe fat tears from the edges of their microwaved masks. Lawyer says that there’s a long, impossible option for marriage, and a fast, easy option that is the most common choice for crazy kids in love. Sumit interrupts and says, “I clearly asked for most difficult road only. Now I must use my parents as an excuse again. Thank you very much, I will not be paying this bill unless you allow Jenny to drone on about whatever she chooses until all government offices are closed for the day.”
Jenny’s why? tank is running low, but she still has enough reserves to believe that Sumit was simply ignorant of this simple option, and now that they’ve learned of it there’s nothing but green lights. Meanwhile, Sumit gazes at the horizon for a rescue from Clint Eastwood, and comes up dry, so he tells Jenny that he just needs to talk to his parents for the 10,000 time, to give them the 10,000 time to call the whole thing bullshit. Then he will try for 10,001.
Remember that why? tank of Jenny’s? It’s down to fumes, because Jenny strongly objects to this, since the parental reaction couldn’t be more clear if billboards were involved. She calls daughter Christina and her daughter-in-law Jen to check in, and while Christina is overjoyed about the upcoming ring ceremony, she’s unhappy that Jenny is going to be exposed to Sumit’s family. The whole time, Jen is Jen, sitting there all stoic and right about things, and somehow refraining from judgement. Christine is worried that Sumit will see his mom and get upset, and Jen’s brow makes waves and she says, “That’s what makes me nervous for you.”
(Now recording Jen’s voice to talk me out of things.)
“This time, we’d better get married,” Jenny demands. “Otherwise, I’m going to have to leave the country, collect my 90DF check, and come right back here all over again.”
“All of this is like that one movie where the small boy emails a woman and says we poop back and forth, forever, and it is romantic,” Sumit chimes in. “Me and Jenny also poop and poop. That is what we are.”
As a stepping stone to the parents’ inevitable rejection, Sumit invites his brother Amit and sis-in-law Shree over to their apartment. They apparently got hitched at the height of COVID social distancing, and therefore got married with only about 50 people in attendance. In the US of A this would be a super-spreader event with a 50-person body count, and 25 of those 50 people insisting they’re not really dead. In India, they just wore masks.
Jenny was not among those 50 people, because the family can’t stop dissing her, but Sumit went, and this is why Jenny can do without these occasions. Jenny is fully aware that his family will never look at their relationship the way they look at Amit and Shree, and she feels it. Despite their participation in a show CALLED 90 DAY FIANCE, Shree and Amit are shocked to learn Jenny and Sumit have a ring ceremony scheduled. Shree hides her smirk behind her hands, and this is a violation of the Smirker’s Code of Ethics, and that’s going to be a $500 fine. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk shit about what the editors have chosen to show us from the unsafe space of Reddit, but it’s tacky as shit to be catty and immature when a person is sitting right in front of you, asking for your acceptance.
Amit admits they didn’t expect their relationship to last this long, and insists the parents will never accept the marriage, as in ever, and Sumit should be ready for the consequences. Jenny breaks down, because she’s sick of this shit, and Sharee and Amit are shocked to discover she’s a person. She says it’s just a fact that they love each other, and Sumit comforts her while she cries, and these fools should be happy Jenny’s not promising his mom that her lonely ghost egg will be successfully fertilized.
In Whybother, Ethiopia, Ari and her teenage son Biniyam are preparing for a day with Ari’s parents. Ari can’t find the leash-backpack she borrowed from Nicole, so who knows where Biniyam will wander off to next. The good doctor assumes they’ll be taking a wild adventure to an indoor shopping mall, where maybe they’ll look at linens on sale at Macy’s, before stopping at an Orange Julius and getting their ears pierced at Claire’s. In anticipation they bring a large, cumbersome stroller. The decision to take it off-road clearly surprised the camera crew, who opted to zoom in on the wheels struggling over rocks. Good try folks, but as someone who hikes on a regular basis, I can assure you that there’s no terrain that someone won’t bring a stroller on, even if it’s a six inch rope bridge stretched across a gaping canyon.
The taxi takes them on an adventure through barbed wire, which Janice is eager to point out are houses. This will be in part five of her master’s thesis: Ethiopia, and Why This Isn’t The Best Place for Ari and the Baby. The doc admits he doesn’t travel much, and is only used to homes looking that way when they have a pitbull in the driveway, several warning signs about how you’re being recorded, and a shouted announcement that the occupant is more than willing to shoot to kill and hide the body under a pile of leaves, if need be. The doc wants to be that guy, deep inside his private place.
“Are you also looking for Clint Eastwood?” Sumit needs friends.
Once at the market, the 90DF producers slip Biniyam a Benjamin to orchestrate a circus scene involving the gruesome death of a chicken. There hasn’t been any gore since the last street side hack job, so Biniyam makes an effort to wow the doctor with a little pre-decapitation poultry inspection. Janice is too fast, and says they should do something else.
“I only approve of Ari sacrificing a chicken if it makes them less poor,” Janice plainly states.
Biniyam is embarrassed that his plan to watch the life leak out of a chicken is thwarted, because dragging around a chicken carcass like a bleeding dolly is the cultural experience he really wants them to have. Instead they’re left standing in the middle of the road doing their own clucking, as the elder folk dissect the dynamics of Ari and Biniyam’s relationship amongst the poors. Ari insists that until he eats from the silver spoon she was born holding in her mouth, he won’t understand what she’s about. I’m not sure what this has to do with Biniyam’s perpetual disappearing act, but maybe that act is his real job in entertainment, and he should receive an invisible check any day now. Either way, this street-side conversation can be summarized as: Ari is supposed to adapt to a new culture, religion, and support system, but Biniyam can’t be expected to tell her where he’s going. Okay then.
Father Ari is sick of standing on a dirt road worrying about being part of a crime scene, so he says it’s time for the baby to get home, and Avi probably should take a nap, too.
“I’m sick of being dignified,” Doc is out of fucks to give. “Look at this dipshit. He may not have a fuckload of cologne on, but he’s thinking about it. I bet $100 he owns pants with snaps up and down the sides that he rips off his body. No, I don’t want to see it.”
The parents go to visit Biniyam and Ari’s apartment, so they can be disappointed that Ari has failed to not be poor in fresh new ways, while wheeling two massive suitcases packed fat with every baby item on Ari’s Amazon wish list.
“I know you didn’t take a lot of clothes, since most of them are still at our house,” Janice passive-aggressives like a fucking champion. “Remember that three suitcases humble-brag you did at the start of the season? I know how many suitcases there really are, Ari.”
Janice insists that it’s time to move on to a bigger place, since once they unload both Mary Poppins’ bags of baby gear there won’t be room for them, let alone the nanny they crammed into the zipped shoe compartment. Housing apparently just happens on command in her world. Ari reports that expats have driven up the price of apartments, and she’s pretending to care about such things, and Janice says they could help out if they knew how much money they had.
“How much money do you make?” They get right in there.
“Sometimes there is money, and other times there is a little bit of money,” Biniyam is ready with the answers. “It depends how many people want lap dances, and how many want regular dances.”
“You should have some kind of stable income,” says the man who raised a daughter who describes herself as a FREELANCE WRITER.
“I work like 47 different clubs five days a week, and I can’t work six, because I need two days to listen to Ari say she needs help with the baby repeatedly.”
“Sometimes, artists don’t make much money,” explains Ari, who is an accountant when she’s not a FREELANCE WRITER. “I mean, most artists in the US of A rent a storage unit and sleep on a foam pad on a concrete floor, and change their name to Binkirk to avoid a tidal wave of mail from Sallie Mae. Really, your only hope is becoming Banksy. Or you could have my parents.”
Before they return to USA, Ari’s fam wants to meet the Biniyam clan to better understand why he’s like this, and for some reason Ari thinks this will put her family at ease. Good ol’ sis Wish, the anti-Teayang, is going to make short work of that expectation, and when Janice asks about their relationship Wish pipes in with a report that Ari gets mad fast. Like when she innocently pointed out that he met his last wife at the club where he works, for example. Wish says it’s weird for a woman to shout at a man, and in Ethiopia you go to his parents to talk with them.
“She wants to act bossy,” Biniyam agrees, because he stands in fully support of the your-fault, your-fault, your-fault chant from the Handmaid’s Tale.
Ari disputes the idea that this is about being bossy, and is more about how her life is going in Ethiopia. “My whole life is different and his life hasn’t changed much.” K, these are facts.
“You need to calm down.” I don’t even know this other sister’s name, but she is not a friendly.
“She treats him like a child,” says Wish, who LITERALLY NICKNAMED HIM BABY.
Ari’s mom brings up baptism to the team, and says that she was raised Christian and had a hard time with whether or not to baptize Ari after she was born. Family Biniyam says it really wasn’t that hard for them, they just talked about it constantly until Ari folded.
Ari sees this baptism as just a party and water, but Janice is quick to point out that when you’re baptized, you’re also baptized into that faith. The Good Doctor believes she’s being pressured into this, because she is, and says he’s teetering on the brink of being upset, which he’s pretty sure means he needs to get a shotgun and a rocking chair for his porch. Ari says Biniyam came to her crying, which played a huge role in her decision, and his family was the true source of pressure, and they agree with this.
“A baby must be baptized,” They are unmoved. “If you’re not baptized, you’re going straight to hell.”
“If I catch you doing that, it’s one of the reasons I will leave,” Ari retorts, finally working out her exit strategy.
“You remind me of his ex,” Wish believes no blow is too low. “This could not possibly be because he treats you the same way.”
“You’re going to let your sisters talk to me like that?” Oh Ari. It’s cute when you think “Baby” is a grown up.
Janice says it seems very one-sided, and like their whole world is arranged around Biniyam...because it is.
Brittany will play the part of drunken cliche with a sober friend, and there’s a reason why this scene never plays out in romantic comedies. Since she can’t find a lampshade to put on her head, Brittany does the robot like she needs to go back to the factory, and Angela can’t get this chick to reboot. Yazan arrives and knows Brittany is drunk, because she’s making fun of his driving before he has the chance to blame a second car accident on her, so he sobers her up with a boring trip to his barbershop. Brittany threatens to give him an inebriated haircut, which he somehow thwarts, but not before minor scissors injury.
Angela is wondering why she’s been listening to Brittany bitch for six months, since she’s now flirting and play-fighting wtih Yazan, so she suggests they might want to have a more serious conversation. Brittany can’t hear her, because she’s still celebrating successfully flipping the script away from her sudden disappearance, to the non-specific “actions” Brittany wants to see. Apparently, starting your own barbershop, buying a car, and getting an apartment don’t count as actions.
The next day Angela points out that Yazan is the opposite of what Brittany has described, so he’s either acting or Brittany is. Then Brittany heads over to the apartment he’s gotten for them to share, and they bond over wishing kitchens were chickens, and the finer points of shower curtains. Yazan reports there’s a second room for Brittany, and when Britt insists she likes to cuddle, Yazan declares if she wants it then she’s gotta put a ring on it.
“I can’t even do the robot, and now I’m supposed to do something Beyoncé? I’m gonna give him an ultimatum,” Brittany knows this can’t stand.
This marks the beginning of their Absurd-Off:
Britt: I’ll move in when the bathroom is fixed, because I can’t stand a wet bathroom floor, and towels haven’t been invented yet.
Yazan: I cannot have a girlfriend, because it will make God angry. I know this, because I have a girlfriend, and God is furious.
This is a tight race folks, so we’re going to have to call it a draw.
Since they’re having an actual conversation, Britt asks for for an honest answer to the conversion question, and Yazan says it’s whatever, that’s his family’s hang up, not Islam. All the same, he’d like to get married in a month. Britt says she has to think about it because it’s so soon, and she’s scared she won’t come up with more conditions by then. Yazan says it’s dangerous, and he wants to detail what he means by that, but he’s going to need a translator so all the fucks and shits get through. Britt agrees that’s a good idea, and suddenly seems curious to know why Yazan hasn’t slept in six years.
Sure, the 90DF producers could have given us more Kenny and Armando to sweeten all this sour, but why do that when they can follow around a doomed couple having the same limp conversation 400 different ways? For a year.
Cheese and Mama Cheese are going out for coffee to flex his Spanish vocabulary, and demonstrate that he’s capable of the most important phrase in any language: two coffees with milk (of course he gets milk). Cheese lets that Spanish flow, and his accento is muy what you’d expecto, but he’s trying. Mama Cheese thinks everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes you trip and fall into a coworker’s vagina. Cheese says he’s working hard to be working hard on this work that’s hardly working, but now that he knows she experienced non-dairy loving during their breakup, he’s having second thoughts.
Cheese and his mom both start to get upset, because Tim doesn’t really have a team rooting for him on the ground in Columbia, and Mama Cheese reminds him that she’s always there for him, whether he’s getting over Melyza or truly moving to Columbia with no take-backs. A little while later Melyza and Tim take Robin and Carmen to the airport, and he’s sad to see them go, and Melyza comforts him.
They decide to go to a couple’s counselor, since last time it worked so well they’re still talking to a counselor a year later. Before they go in we’re gifted a short scene of a dude performing tricks on a tight rope, and you should cling to this moment, because it will be the most entertaining part of their story. The shade of Cheese’s shirt clashes next to the shade of Melyza’s personality, but the therapist agrees to see them anyway. Cheese admits that he’s considering returning to the states to work, and Melyza is shocked, which she communicates through her mouth dropping open for exactly 15 seconds. Now Melyza, she can do the robot. The counselor, who does a little captain obvious work on the side, points out that trust is key.
“Thank you, we’re totally changed,” Cheese is grateful. I’m going to interrupt their exhaustive dialog with reflections on my kittens, Pickle and Sprocket.
Cheese: I mean, my job is like a night club. It’s an orgy up in there. I participated. Oops, that happened. I was wearing those pants that snap away from your body, and it’s not easy being cheesy.
Biniyam: Those are very important when you are getting paid sometimes $500, and sometimes $400., IDGAF.
Me: So Pickle just crawled inside one of those velcro IKEA shoe boxes, and it fell over the side of my closet and down a ramp of my clothing like a barrel over Niagara Falls. The other cats have gathered to survey the damage. Sprocket holds up a paw to announce there’s one body. Then Pickle hits him in the face, because he ain’t shit.
Cheese: I’m thinking about returning to America and all the ladies waiting for me in tier one tech support.
Melyza: (A deer walks out of the woods and starts gnawing on her face. Her expression doesn’t change.)
Counselor Captain Obvious: Do you think you should have a conversation about shoes or the proper name for that flap around your elbow, or anything other than an event from a year ago you’re apparently never going to get over?
In crimes against humanity, the only folks facing intense marriage obstacles are Kenny and Armando, who apparently have to beg for recognition. They’re headed to receive their formal marriage license rejection before taking it to human rights advocates that might intervene on their behalf. Part of Kenny’s frustration is that they moved to this particular state in Mexico because marriage is legal there, and the sooner they’re married, the sooner Kenny can work. Armando tells Hannah that they’re going to have to fight to get married, because they’re being denied their rights. Hannah is appalled and says they’re mean, which Armando agrees is accurate reporting.
“Ugly trickster,” Hannah declares, instantly giving me new ideas for flare and band names.
At the office they go over the rejection, and Armando reads, “It is not permitted to celebrate same sex marriage, to guarantee and save the human species. We can only trust people like Angela to make that happen. The world is now a better place.”
Kenny’s hair stands higher in rage and humiliation. “We’re part of the human race,” Kenny reminds anyone willing to listen. His inner light is starting to dim in the face of a Reagan-era level of oppression, and now he’s tasked with doing it all over again, without having the language to understand what people are saying about him.
As they leave, Hannah wants to know if they got permission to get married, and Kenny tells her not yet. Armando’s understanding of the culture makes him better prepared to deal with this rejection, and Kenny’s discouragement is palpable.
In Whyarewewatchingthis, South Korea, Deavan calls her mom to see if Jihoon is still in Paul’s doghouse because of an event that would have been written off as Drascilla being a “wild child” if anyone else had been in charge. Elicia says of course he is, he probably has all of them juggling knives and having scissors races, and she has nowhere else to funnel her peri menopausal rage. After Deavan gets off the phone, Jihoon reports also knowing hormonal suffering, through Elicia Phobia Syndrome.
On the way to the airport Drascilla is stoked to see her grandparents, since she hasn’t been around any adults except her Korean grandparents and Teayang. She breaks into a run the minute she sees her grandfather, and promptly bursts into tears. The family circles around her in comfort, except Jihoon, who tells his mom they’re kinda like extras. Teayang, for his part, continues thinking and reflecting about his unique place in the world, and escape possibilities for both himself and Drascilla.
“Don’t leave us here alone,” Drascilla pleads with grandpa. “At least not until Teayang understands his thumbs. Only the road promises freedom, and I ran so fast, but it wasn’t fast enough. Are you listening to me? LOOK AT ME!”
“Yes, these are the clumsiest little contraptions,” Teayang knows he’s lost the thumb war. “But I can sit in a plastic chair and kick my legs around in a walk-like manner. Like this. Here, watch this. My feet are grazing the linoleum! Just tickling the tippy top! This is development, and I’m not afraid. Tell me, why isn’t there an adult version to ensure the safety of the elderly? A wheelchair is almost this, but it’s not, is it? Where is the whimsy? Where is the joy? Do our elders not enjoy crashing into a kitchen island? Everyone loves that. Right, hello Elicia. I trust you’re well. My father’s peace depends upon your silence. I will pray for a sinus infection that is both swift and merciless.”
“We’re gonna die!” Elicia runs and shouts with a cart full of luggage, as they cross the street in a crosswalk.
Next time: Melyza and Tim play second verse, same as the first, Deavan tries on wedding dresses while Elicia maintains her fingertip grip on reality, Janice encourages Ari to agree with Janice, Brittany finds out the truth of what Yazan has been through, Sumit’s parents call Jenny an oldie but not a goodie, and as Sumit gets down on his knees to plead with his parents, Jenny says she can’t do this to his family and should just go back to America. Yep, Jenny is all out of why?, and I’m here for it.
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Series 2 Ranked 'n' Reviewed™ by someone with opinions probably
Heads up, there will be some weird takes in these rankings and not all of them are popular. In fact, a lot of them aren’t. Just warning you off the bat, this is not really the general consensus.
11. Fear Her (2x11)
I’m a simple person. I’m fairly easy to please, especially when it comes to Doctor Who, so you’ll be hard pressed to find many episodes I could tell you I actively dislike. Here is one of those episodes: the strange, the illogical, the bafflingly written Fear Her.
Fear Her is so weird, I don’t even know where to begin. It feels like the product of a liminal space or some indecipherable offering left behind by a trickster god. For a start, the Doctor and Rose are written as if they’re on something strong here. I don’t know if that’s something anyone else has picked up on, but they have this strange energy and are way, way too quippy, at least way more than most other episodes. I swear, if you compare the dialogue in this to basically any other one in this series, you might just notice the fact that the Doctor and Rose are fully off their faces for most of Fear Her’s runtime.
To give this episode some credit at least, the concept isn’t bad. A lonely child given the power to trap people in her drawings by a lonely alien? I can get behind that just fine, no worries. It’s the execution that bugs me. To ensure maximum immersion, they chose the most boring setting to ever appear in a Doctor Who episode and a very, very interesting and cool time jump of a whopping SIX years to give Fear Her an ~otherworldly~ feel. Look, I get that they wanted it to be the Olympics in this and also this was probably written as a budget saver, so I can give it a pass for that, but they then proceed to do basically nothing with the backdrop apart from to crowbar in some offhand ‘love conquers all’ resolution that has no real resonance with me or any of the characters. On the plus side, David Tennant looks really happy holding that Olympic torch.
Speaking of the characters, I think they forgot to write good ones. As is a habit Doctor Who seems to be unable to shake, they give all these ‘troubled alien’ children the same personality trait, and that trait is Autistic. They’re usually socially unaware, isolated, sensitive to touch, sometimes kind of rude. And it’s written as if they’re aliens and that it’s obvious they’re aliens rather than, you know, having an extremely common neurological disorder. Chloe Webber embodies this to the letter, to the point where she even has what mirrors a meltdown when the Doctor starts to talk to the Isolus, and flinches in an extremely typical way when her mother tries to touch her. Autistic coded to the max, she’s only ‘cured’ of her pesky autism when the Isolus buggers off back to its fire pebble. There’s also Chloe’s mum Trish, who doesn’t listen to a single thing anyone says and puts the entire planet in danger while she sits downstairs drooling after Rose explicitly tells her to not sit downstairs drooling and stay with Chloe at all times. There are literally no other characters of particular note in this episode, but there is a shoehorned, wonky abuse plotline forced in there like this episode forces everything and nothing at all good is done with it or the characters.
And there’s another segue! Speaking of forcing things, there are some frankly hilarious leaps in logic that take place in this episode. Namely, the Doctor and Rose begin their investigation on the street, where Rose points out the fact that Chloe just so happened to be looking out of the window when Rose looked round, so she must’ve done it! She kidnapped those children! Even though, at this point, neither of them have any idea about the kid’s picture aspect. I know Doctor Who has some logic leaps sometimes and I’m okay with most of them, but this is a first draft mistake that just rips the suspension of disbelief right out and throws it in the bin.
To summarise, before I write a novel about this, it’s a decent concept that got basically every single aspect of its execution horrifyingly, car crash level wrong. But, another plus, it does contain one of the most unintentionally hilarious lines in all of Doctor Who, courtesy of a newsreader:
“And now we’ll go back to you in the box, Bob… Bob? Not you too Bob!”
10. The Idiot’s Lantern (2x07)
I know this is pretty much universally disliked by most of the fandom, and I really don’t echo that sentiment hugely, I just think this one is Solidly Okay.
The Doctor and Rose in the 50s plays off their fun dynamic really nicely and was kind of the perfect place to put them in terms of a period setting. And contrary to popular opinion, I think the Wire is a decent enough villain! She’s low key creepy, has a pretty singular motive but the decision to use a stereotypical 1950s TV presenter as the face of a carnivorous evil alien is kind of insane in the best way possible.
Beyond that, the side characters are well-implemented, with the Connolly family in particular having a slightly better familial abuse plotline than Fear Her… until the end. I love Eddie’s reckoning, with Rita finally kicking him out of her home and I really felt that was a nice resolution to that arc for Rita to take her life back on her own terms. Only for the episode to throw out all of its goodwill by having the Doctor and Rose basically coerce Tommy into forgiving his actively abusive father by dressing it up behind ‘Lol of course he’s an idiot!!!! He’s your dad!!!’ Like no, Doctor Who, you can use that with dads who make silly jokes or eat all of your crisps, not dads who threaten to beat their children and sell out their mothers in law to the government. There’s quite a difference.
Basically, I’d say this is nothing to write home about. The Wire is decent, Magpie is good, the abuse arc sends me into total emotional whiplash. But this episode isn’t horrible.
9. Army of Ghosts / Doomsday (2x12-13)
I reckon this will be the first pitchforks and torches level take I put in these rankings, and it probably won’t be the last, but I really don’t rate the series 2 finale that much at all. In fact, I find it passable at best and a total slog at worst.
The Daleks and the Cybermen get into an actual fight. An all out skirmish between two of the most iconic villains in sci-fi history! So why am I not more excited? Why am I not enjoying this? I’ll attempt to tell you why. Because this two-parter spends about an hour of its runtime floundering about in the Torchwood building, killing off the odd office worker and making us watch the Doctor talk to some thoroughly uninteresting characters about something to do with a rift. And then when things finally do get interesting, the Daleks and Cybermen have a smack battle for some unknown reason and the whole thing gets wrapped up in about five minutes with a lovely little void-stuff bow on top.
Just to clarify, I don’t hate this. It has its positives, particularly its handling of Rose’s exit (when it finally gets there), as well as the tie-offs for Mickey, Jackie and Pete too. There’s some great emotional resolutions here, particularly with Jackie and Pete’s initial stubborn refusal of each other turning into delight at seeing each other again and, of course, the iconic beach scene that is still a tiny bit of a gut punch 14 years on, even if I’m not much of a Ten and Rose shipper. But its severe lack of good side characters and its pretty insurmountable pacing issues make this a more difficult watch for me.
8. School Reunion (2x03)
I know. Ouch. The Sarah Jane one in 8th place, below The Heathenous Episode no less. Let me explain.
I promise you that Sarah Jane’s presence isn’t what has put this so low. In fact, it probably would’ve been pushed down even further without her, because if there is one thing I love about this, it is the ever-charming, ever-brilliant Elisabeth Sladen. She has a unique and powerful dynamic with each and every character she interacts with, particularly Rose and it really is wonderful to watch their relationship develop from bickering and one-upping to bonding over their many similarities.
Unfortunately, that’s about where my love for this episode ends. Not even a suitably sinister villain guest spot from Anthony Head is enough to lift this out of being totally average. The premise and setting is pretty weak and is only really there to facilitate Sarah Jane’s return. And frankly, possessing a school full of brain-oiled children because you’re giant bat people who want to crack the big computer that God used to make things is totally outlandish even by this show’s standards. And as such, none of it is really interesting to me, because it just completely loses me when it starts talking about the Steak Paradigm or whatever.
Love Sarah Jane. Less love the premise that is both ridiculous and kind of mundane.
7. Love & Monsters (2x10)
Here it is then. The episode you’ve been waiting to see at the very bottom for sometime now. The episode I like more than Doomsday. I suppose a fair question at this point would be: What on God’s green earth is this doing outside of the pit this episode was thrown in 14 years ago?
I see Love & Monsters as an ambitious experiment that didn’t quite get off the ground properly. A Doctorlite episode that revolved around the antics of a quirky group of obsessive Doctor enthusiasts had some weight to it, and most of the characters involved in it were actually pretty good. I thought Elton Pope was a really fun character and I honestly wouldn’t have minded if he’d taken a couple of trips in the TARDIS. Ursula and Mr. Skinner (played by the legendary Michael from Alan Partridge) were fun too. So sure, this is a bit of a weird break from the formula and it wasn’t entirely successful, but I really think Doctor Who has done a lot worse than this before.
Trust me, I share the same opinions on the Abzorbaloff and that horrible paving slab joke as you, but at the same time I remember the scenes with Jackie in that develop her as a person beyond the Doctor and Rose. I remember the intimidating presence Peter Kay has before he becomes the dumb green monster thing. I remember the unique and interesting framing device of Elton’s really awkward vlog that made this way more effective for me. So maybe I’m looking on this a little too favourably, but as a fun experiment that went a bit awry and as a precursor to the superior Doctorlite / Companionlite episodes that came after it, I think it’s time this episode gets removed from the fandom bog it’s been thrown into and given a little bit of appreciation for what it does right.
No, but I’m totally with you, I hate the paving slab joke so much.
6. Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel (2x05-06)
I personally have never found the Cybermen particularly scary. I mean sure, put me in a room with one and I would be, but on the show I always just see them as a passable menace for the Doctor to get all moral about. But I think the way they were reintroduced in the modern show was genius.
First off, I LOVE the design of the new (well, old now, but new then) Cybermen. Cold, metal and actually robotic looking robots with that great big Cybus C plastered on their chests. And as for Mr. Cybus himself, Roger Lloyd Pack plays a massively underrated one-off villain in John Lumic, the dying scientist who’s striving to create the ultimate immortal being to serve his own definition of evolution. The foundation of the Cybermen as a concept was built on the hypocrisy of men like Lumic and it’s played so, so well in this two-parter.
The setting of parallel London is really well-used and posits some probably deep questions about the direction humanity was heading (at least they were deep in 2006 because those flip phones are adorable from the perspective of a serious sci-fi show) and the parallel aspect also gave Rose, and thankfully, finally Mickey, some amazing character moments. Most notably, Mickey reuniting with his gran and crying about the ripped carpet just gets me every single time. As for the side cast, Jake, Ricky, Mrs. Moore and the parallel Tylers hold their own pretty damn well and the factory exploding ending ties it all off nicely.
5. The Christmas Invasion (Christmas 2005)
For an episode that lacks Tennant for most of its runtime, this ranks surprisingly highly. If I’m being completely honest, this isn’t paced brilliantly and has a slight aura of Ridiculous to it, but this was the very first Christmas special the show ever did and I have to be a bit lenient with it.
With the Doctor absent until the last ten minutes, it really is the return of Harriet Jones that elevates this during its downtime, as well as Rose, Mickey and Jackie’s desperate attempts to keep safe and keep the Doctor safe without his help this time. And there are some interesting moments during this, like the initial Roboform attack, and also some slightly more… off moments, like the killer christmas tree that for some baffling reason, Russell T Davies saw as compelling enough to then bring it back again next year.
But this inaugural special really shines in its ending sequence. That realisation that the Sycorax Leader is suddenly speaking English, the camera panning up to the TARDIS and he’s back! And as Tennant once put it in an interview, he doesn’t stop speaking for about five pages and every line is absolute gold. The sword fight climax alone makes up for the slightly shaky first 40 minutes and the moral dilemma slotted in at the end where both the audience and the Doctor realise that Harriet Jones perhaps isn’t the woman we thought she was is intensely good.
But most of all, this episode is a promise for things to come and a promise that the adventures are only just beginning. Cheesy though it may be, the Christmas dinner sequence and the ‘fantastic’ reference are living proof that the Doctor has found a real family and it’s actually heartwarming to see (then that family gets taken away in about 12 episodes, but shhh, he doesn’t know that yet).
4. New Earth (2x01)
Ten and Rose’s first trip out may seem fairly innocuous and tends to be overlooked on most rankings I’ve seen, but I think there’s some really great stuff here that gets glossed over a little unfairly.
While series 3’s return to New New York was probably a little better, the full, unadulterated use of wonderfully creative sci-fi in crafting this setting is really apparent. The layout of the hospital, the CG shots of the city, costume and make-up design for the various patients is so immersive and you can tell the crew did their utmost to make this feel totally alien.
What makes this most interesting for me though is the aspect not many episodes include, and even less include well: multiple villains with differing motives. And, depending on your perspective, there are three different villainous presences in this one, each with its own motive. The Flesh, who want nothing but to be free to live their lives but inadvertently become villains by infecting others. The Sisters of Plenitude, who will protect their dark secret by any means necessary. And of course, the returned Cassandra, who has now gained the ability to possess people or something.
Both David Tennant and Billie Piper get the chance to flex their acting muscles here, with both of them playing camp, overtly glamorous versions of their characters and that never stops being hilarious to me. And sure, the resolution comes a little easily, but I have to give credit to an episode that balances its multiple antagonists so well and has a really well-crafted setting to boot.
3. Tooth and Claw (2x02)
I won’t dress this up. It is literally just a monster of the week episode, no frills, no bells and whistles beyond here’s a monster, here’s Queen Victoria, here’s a big house, go ape. But it just does it so well, I can’t help but be completely immersed in it.
At least for me, there’s some real tension when the characters arrive at Robert’s house after the monks commandeer it. The build-up of the monster through Victoria’s story, Rose’s discovery of Flora in the cupboard, the Host being put in front of the screaming captives, it all does such a great job of building that full-blooded suspense before properly dropping the monster on us. And then when the monster does show up, you get the outer limits of mid-2000s CGI to deliver a werewolf that, while not as impressive as the legendary American Werewolf (because nothing ever will be), still holds up amazingly and was one of the most memorable Doctor Who monsters for me as a kid. There’s also a particular style of cinematography used when showing the werewolf killing someone; full of flashing, ragged, greyed out close ups of claws, fur and pained expressions. That’s how you circumvent watershed rules to deliver some proper horror.
There’s the odd plot wobble here and there when the script seems to forget about the werewolf’s mistletoe allergy and also all the throwaway stuff about the royal family having wolf blood, but this episode’s horror elements are so good I barely even care.
2. The Girl in the Fireplace (2x04)
There really isn’t much to say about this episode that hasn’t already been said, but it is a masterpiece.
Reinette Poisson is an absolute icon. She’s calm, intelligent, witty (and really hot but you didn’t hear that from me) and pretty much the only historical character to have a grasp of what’s going on and putting the sci-fi stuff into a context she can understand without a million questions the audience already knows the answers to. I literally love her so much that I think she’s the character I’m most mad about never becoming a full time companion (except for maybe Nasreen Chaudhry, but we’ll get to her when I rank series 5).
The contrast between the two settings here make for a really varied and diverse backdrop to tell the century-spanning story of some robots who came to a total misunderstanding and an indomitably horny french aristocrat. And boy, does that story just have the most heart-wrenching ending of basically any TV episode ever. It’s a testament to the quality of writing on this show that they can build up a decently written character over about 40 minutes and then write her death so unbelievably well, it makes you care enough to actively weep about it. Or maybe that’s just me.
As well as this, I have been committing a heinous crime that I will stop committing now by no longer ignoring the legendary Murray Gold, whose music through the first 10 series make these emotional, brilliant and epic moments most of what they are. And here, his soft, simple piano melodies are absolutely heart-breaking when combined with shots of people staring off into the middle distance and Reinette’s voiceover of her final letter. It kills me every time I watch it. And I think that’s probably a good thing.
1. The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (2x08-09)
As I mentioned at the top of this ranking, I’m a simple person and I’m easy to please. And nine times out of ten, a good old base under siege story will definitely do the trick. This does every trick. It does all of them.
Like all base under siege stories should be, it’s oppressive, dark, moody and there’s a constant threat of looming danger from all sides. The danger kicks off towards the beginning of the first part and it basically never lets up until the rocket is being towed away from the black hole. And that is thanks in part to the brilliant performances, particularly the Beast, who is terrifyingly manipulative and immeasurably evil both in its imposing voice and excellently animated physical form. The Oods’ (and Toby Zed’s) constant flickering between friendly and unassuming and satanically murderous is just one of many ways this two-parter keeps you on your toes and through its seamless blend of sci-fi horror and biblical horror (two subgenres that barely ever cross over and probably wouldn’t work in many other circumstances), it never stops being tense at the least and horrifying at the most.
Another important element to stories like these is a strong supporting cast. And this story has one of the strongest, most developed and well-acted set of side characters in any Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen. Zachary Cross Flane, Scooty, Ida, Toby, Danny and Jefferson all pull their weight here, with each of them feeling like real people, each of them having their own role to play and each of their deaths feeling meaningful or somehow impactful on the story. There is no cannon fodder here, these deaths are memorable and they hit hard.
And it’s easy to throw around the words ‘satisfying conclusion’ when it comes to Doctor Who, because for sure, most of them are. But this one properly embodies that. The victory feels truly earned and slaved away for and never quite in reach, even when it actually happens, and that tense atmosphere doesn’t let up until the credits roll. This is an absolute masterwork of blending horror genres, of character work, writing and building oppressive environments and creating ideas that endure beyond the death of the villain. They really went for an ambitious angle here, considering they literally tried to explain Satan, and somehow they still pulled it off.
There’s my breakdown of series 2. Got a favourite I sorely underrated? Or a hated episode you thought I rated far too high? Please feel free to let me know with as much vitriol as you can muster. Farewell, children. See you next time for series 3, where I’ll be placing Blink somewhere that isn’t first.