This single episode was probably one-third of the entire season's funding. And there's still the conclusion next week.
But first, a look at "The Stolen Earth", beginning with the standard screencap and select quotes...
"Martha, look at the sky. Just look at the sky!"If you're waiting to see it when it airs here in the states on the Sci-Fi Channel in a few weeks, let me assure you that nothing that I could write about "The Stolen Earth" can prepare you for this episode. It starts out hot on the heels of last week's "Turn Left" (reviewed here). The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) arrive back on Earth on a Saturday, with nothing particularly amiss. But with barely a minute into the episode, the TARDIS is rattled and The Doctor is shocked to discover why: Earth - as in the entire planet beneath them - has vanished.
"You get back inside Sylvia. They always want the women."
"Do you like my gun?"
"I'm receiving a communication from the Earth-bound ships. They have a message for the human race."
"There's nothing I can do. I'm sorry. We're dead."
"Soon the Crucible will be complete."
"Clom... Clom's gone?! Who’d want Clom?"
"He is coming... the three-fold man... THE DOCTOR IS COMING!"
"My vision is NOT impaired!"
"I came here when I was just a kid. Ninety years old."
"You never give up!"
"Captain Jack Harkness shame on you! Now stand to attention sir!"
"She won't let me. She said they're naughty."
"Mister Smith, make that call!"
"You know nothing of any human. And that will be your downfall."
"WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?!?"
"It's like an outer space Facebook!"
"Welcome to my new empire, Doctor."
"Why don't you ask her yourself?"
Cut back to Earth, wherever it is: Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) at Torchwood, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) in New York City and Sarah-Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) in England all try to summon The Doctor for help. But someone else has arrived: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), back from the parallel universe and toting the biggest personal firearm in the entire four decades-plus run of Doctor Who. Her return marks the first of many "money shots" for this episode: Rose looking up from the street and gazing with the rest of humanity at the twenty-six planets that now fill almost every point of the sky.
And then, things start to go bad.
Just about every good guy (and gal) from the pantheon of Davies's four-year term as Doctor Who's helmsman - including characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures - is thrown into the thick of a massive attack on Earth by the Daleks. This is the last story that Davies will do before Steven Moffatt takes over, and the man went for broke in every conceivable way and some you wouldn't possibly conceive. This is absolutely the most terrifying that the Daleks have ever been in the entire 45-year history of the show, from their repeated transmission of "EXTERMINATE!" to the humans, to their devastating attack on New York City: depicted with such horror that had this aired a few years earlier the BBC would have been slammed as being "insensitive".
And of course, there is the return of Davros, who has not been seen since 1988's "Remembrance of the Daleks".
This is the character considered by many to be the greatest villain in all of fiction. And it's hard to argue with that, considering that he is the creator of the Daleks, that his single useable hand is stained with the blood of trillions of innocent lives scattered throughout the universe, and that his goal is nothing less than to become God.
This time it's Julian Bleach in the chair, and his performance as Davros is nothing short of magnificent. Bleach's portrayal definitely hearkens back to Michael Wisher, who was the first to play Davros in "Genesis of the Daleks" in 1975, but there is also a bit of Terry Molloy's Davros here (which I've always liked). But after one episode, and I think that Bleach's take on Davros might be fast coming my all-time favorite. The scene where he shows The Doctor just how far he has gone to care for his "children" may go down as one of the all-time most iconic moments of Doctor Who: if that didn't send little kiddies scurrying behind the sofa, nothing would.
A lot of stuff that's been hinted at and mentioned during this past season (and a bit before) is addressed here, like the Shadow Proclamation and the mystery of the bees, and we finally get to see what the Medusa Cascade is. Dalek Caan, who was last seen in "Evolution of the Daleks", is also back... in body if not in mind. Wilfred and Sylvia also reappear, and I for one can not get enough of Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred! This guy is one of the most endearingly fun things about Doctor Who lately, and he and Jacqueline King's Sylvia have some great scenes... including one that is already a classic involving a Dalek. Harriet Jones (again played by Penelope Wilton) returns, and it might be a good idea to rewatch "The Christmas Invasion" if you can because refreshing yourself on the last time we saw Jones will certainly lend toward appreciation for her in "The Stolen Earth".
Yes, it is a lot to shoehorn into a single episode of any television series. But nothing in "The Stolen Earth" comes across as just "tacked-on" or mere cameo. Everyone has an important part to play in the story. This could have turned into a very clumsy story, and instead it's one of the most elegant dances that I've seen attempted on a story of this magnitude.
Then there is the ending.
The next few days might be the most maddening wait in the history of Doctor Who. "The Stolen Earth" ends on a cliffhanger of... heck forget Lost proportions, we're now talking territory rarely seen since The Empire Strikes Back. I actually screamed twice in those last few minutes of watching "The Stolen Earth"... and I'm not gonna dare spill the beans to anyone who hasn't watched it yet but if you have, you know what I'm talking about.
I swear, the past few months have given us better television than we possibly deserve. First there was the entire fourth season of Lost. Then there's all the amazing things I've been hearing about Battlestar Galactica. Now this. It's almost enough to make you believe that after sixty-some years, the medium has finally begun to grow up. Little wonder that The Wall Street Journal just sang the praises of Doctor Who and compared the show to its two American colleagues.
"The Stolen Earth" gets the full Five Sonic Screwdrivers!
Next week: if you thought that a lot transpired in 45 minutes with "The Stolen Earth", what could possibly happen with sixty-five full minutes of Doctor Who?! It's The Doctor and his faithful friends versus Davros and millions of Daleks for the fate of reality itself. "Journey's End" begins this Saturday on BBC One in Great Britain, on Sci-Fi Channel in the States in a few weeks, and anywhere you want it on the Internet in between! :-)