We open up in a universe where malevolent Steampunk cosplayers have seized power — just kidding, it’s the Victorian era! While a maid turns up the gaslight flames, undertaker Mr. Sneed assures a mourner his dear grandmamma is not gone, “merely sleeping.” This proves all too true when the grieving man asks for a moment alone. His grandmother comes to life, blue light eerily glowing around her, and strangles him. “Oh, no,” Sneed exclaims as he returns. “Gwyneth! We’ve got another one!”
Moments later, Grandma’s on the streets and ready for vengeance! At the very least, she is awfully yell-y as she strides along, no doubt planning to write a spiteful letter to the editor or vindictively vote for Tories. Sneed tells his maid Gwyneth “The stiffs are getting lively again!” Hey, how’s about we do something about this whole zombie thing? He’ll ask for help later, he promises; for now, they’re going bodysnatching.
Rose and the Doctor try to batten down the hatches in a shaking TARDIS, believing they’re headed to 1860 Naples. Instead they end up in 1869 Cardiff on Christmas Eve. The Doctor sends Rose off (with the most confusing directions ever) to the TARDIS’s wardrobe to change into appropriate clothing. So it’s equipped for clothing changes for every era and occasion, well, ever? *grabby hands*
Time for Charles Dickens’s backstage call, because he’s reading for an audience tonight! The stage manager tries to edge away, because wow is Dickens maudlin. He’s been “clumsy with family matters” (those actresses, man) but now he’s too old to cause trouble – or do much of anything. “Even my imagination grows stale,” he intones. Come on, Charlie, take heart and look at Grandma out in the audience — she’s FULL OF LIFE! Creepy blue vicious life, but LIFE!
“Blimey!” the Doctor says sincerely when Rose emerges. She looks beautiful! Considering. Considering what? “That you’re human.” Ahahaha! The Doctor loves him some alien strange. Rose insists on opening the door, stepping out gingerly in her gorgeous boots and lovely stockings. The Doctor offers his arm. “Here we go. History!”
In the town square, the Doctor buys a broadside newspaper and realizes he got the timing wrong. “I don’t care,” Rose replies merrily. It’s not 1860. Rose doesn’t care. It’s not Naples. Still with the not caring. Uh. It’s Cardiff. They both make crestfallen expressions with a dash of, “Cardiff. Ew. Seriously. So gross.”
Inside the theater, Dickens gets to the good bit in A Christmas Carol when the knocker turns into Marley’s face. “It looked…” He pauses, and spots Creepy Grandmamma (let’s call her Creepmamma, okay?). “It looked like that!” She opens her mouth, and again with the yelling, oy gevalt! “What phantasmagoria is this?” Dickens exclaims as sprits fly from Creepmamma’s mouth and swirl around the theater, driving people out.
“That’s more like it!” the Doctor exclaims at the sounds of screaming. He enters the theater, exclaiming, “Fantastic!” at the blue-tinged ghosts. As Dickens tries to calm the crowds, Sneed and Gwyneth, having been led there by Gwyneth’s reluctant use of her psychic Sight, spot Creepmamma. Rose spots them dragging her away and follows.
“Ah, the wag reveals himself; I trust you’re satisfied, sir!” Dickens barks at the Doctor, convinced he’s the one responsible for these shenanigans. Outside Rose approaches Gwynneth and calls her bluff. They’re not taking Creepmamma to the infirmary, because she’s dead! Sneed immediately drugs Rose with chloroform. Seriously, he’s so quick it’s like he’s been carrying a rag soaked with the stuff all night, just wishing and hoping and dreaming to get some chloroforming in before Boxing Day.
Luckily the Doctor spots this mischief, and soon he’s hijacked Dickens’s coach with Dickens in it to save Rose. Along the way he gets a bit distracted fanboying Dickens, and Dickens warms to all this, “You’re a genius!” stuff, though he’s not terribly happy when the Doctor tells him the American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit sucked, and that Little Nell’s death was hilarious (go ahead and bite Oscar Wilde’s rhymes, why don’t you, Doctor). But when the Doctor shakes himself and remembers he’s got to save his friend Rose, telling Dickens, “she’s only nineteen, and it’s my fault; I’m responsible for her,” Dickens immediately throws his lot in with the rescue party.
While poor Rose wakes up with a headache like you wouldn’t believe, the Doctor and Dickens argue with Gwyneth at the door. She won’t let them in, saying they’ve packed in undertaking for the night. “The dead don’t keep a schedule,” Dickens argues. “Problems with your gas?” the Doctor notices when the lamps flare, at the same moment that Nana’s Boy in the viewing parlor comes back to un-life to menace Rose. “You’re just kidding, right?” Rose asks, forgetting that any unworldly thing menacing her is never kidding.
The Doctor deduces something’s inside the walls in the gas pipes. At Rose’s cry for help, he and Dickens push inside to help. Sneed tries to head them off — I mean, what a jerkwad, clearly going to let Rose just die in there with the corpses, and apparently not minding he’s about to get a third lively stiff in the bargain — but Dickens and the Doctor save her. “Who’s your friend?” Rose asks. “Charles Dickens.” Rose’s stymied, “Oh, okay” might actually have disappointed the Doctor (he is such a huge Dickens fan!) but the corpses distract them by calling for help before the spirits fly from their mouths: “Open the rift! We’re dying! The form cannot sustain!”
Rose gets her own back as they gather for tea: “First you drugged me and then you kidnapped me, and don’t think I didn’t feel your hands having a quick wander, you dirty old man! Then you led me to a room full of zombies and if that ain’t enough, you swan off and left me to die!” Sneed insists it’s not his fault; it’s the house, bought cheap on account pesky rising corpses. “Mind you, it’s been good for business,” he allows.
Gwyneth hands the Doctor his tea, “two sugars, just how you like it,” and saaayyyy, no one told her how the Doctor takes his tea. Dickens argues they’re under “mesmeric influence.” “If you’re going to deny it, don’t waste my time,” the Doctor admonishes him. “Just shut up!” If the beings are gas, and dead bodies release gas, these beings find in them a vehicle. If there are such things as otherworldly beings, Dickens frets, has all the work he’s done, the campaigning for causes in the “real” world been for nothing?
Rose wanders into the kitchen to help Gwyneth, though at first Gwyneth tries to put her off, seeing as how she’s dressed like a lady. They have a giggle over both of them skipping Sunday school back in their day, and Rose shocks Gwyneth by talking about going to look at boys, and mentioning how she likes “a good smile, a nice bum.” “Well, I never heard the like!” Gwyneth exclaims, though she’s got the hots for the butcher’s boy, and we all know how a steady meat diet packs good junk in the trunk.
When Rose trash talks Sneed, Gwyneth defends him. He raised her, though her parents wait in heaven, probably like Rose’s dad. Rose, taken aback, asks who said her father died. Oh, Gwyneth just thinks too much, and has a wee bit of a read of people’s minds now and again. Soon Gwyneth’s immersed in Rose’s confusing memories of London: metal boxes in the street, metal birds flying in the sky. “And you’ve flown so far,” she says in a daze, “The things you’ve seen, the darkness, the Big Bad Wolf!” She stops, shocked. The Sight her mother told her of “is getting stronger, more powerful, isn’t it?” the Doctor asks from the doorway. It’s because Gwyneth grew up on this Rift the spirits mentioned; she’s the key, and the Doctor tells her she must lead them in a séance.
Gwyneth gathers them around a table, asking all join hands. Dickens refuses, saying, “This is the sort of cheap mummery I strive to unmask.” “Now, don’t antagonize her; I love a happy medium!” the Doctor exclaims. Oh, my side! “Speak to us, spirits,” Gwyneth pleads, “that we may relieve your burden.” “I see them,” she soon exclaims. Well, yeah, we all see them, Gwyneth; they’re those blue freaky-deaky shriek-y things hovering near the ceiling. She channels the “spirits from the other side” (“the other side of the universe!” the Doctor notes).
The “spirits” are the Gelth: “We are so very few, the last of our kind. We face extinction.” The Time War robbed them of their bodies, trapping them in a gaseous state. “We need a physical form,” the Gelth explain. “And your dead are abundant.” Rose objects to the oh-so-wrong-ness of this proposal: “Seriously, you can’t!” “Seriously, I can,” the Doctor argues, again deeply and emotionally influenced by his guilt over the massive Time War that destroyed so many. Besides, it’s a temporary solution; he tells the Gelth he’ll take them somewhere they can create shiny new bodies.
While Gwyneth is touched the “angels” need her, and the doctor tries to explain “aliens” to the company, Rose insists they can’t allow the Gelth to occupy dead human bodies. At first the Doctor claims it’s “just like recycling,” and reminds Rose people donate organs. Finally he tells her harshly “It’s a different morality; get used to it, or go home.” Gwyneth insists on helping, for “I know my own mind.” The “angels” have been singing to her since she was a child, sent by her mam on a holy mission.
Let me just ask if everyone besides me has forgotten Creepmamma and her horrid shrieks of DOOM? Ah. Apparently so. Let’s proceed, then. They’ll need to place Gwynneth at the weakest spot of the house so she can act as bridge to the Gelth and bring them from the Rift. That’s the morgue, Sneed supplies. Oh, goody!
“Talk about Bleak House,” the Doctor exclaims in the morgue, because this episode is filled with groaners. “The Gelth don’t succeed,” Rose insists, because she would have noticed in her time. “Your cozy little world can be rewritten like that,” the Doctor sternly tells her. “Nothing is safe. Nothing.” Well, that’s reassuring and a great omen for this bridging-the-Rift business to boot!
“You’ve come to help! Praise the Doctor, praise him!” the Gelth exclaim in as Gwyneth takes her place. But those Gelth can’t let five seconds pass before they show their true colors. They turn demonic, declaring, “The Gelth will come through in force!” They’re like weekend guests at your summer cottage — sure, they can bring a friend — one friend! But before you know it, you’re hosting a kegger and wincing as party-ers bust up your rental pad. Sneed pleads with Gwyneth to stop, but the corpses in the morgue arise, and one strangles him. “I think it’s gone a bit wrong,” the Doctor tells Rose. Too bad we don’t have the first episode’s plastic arm to hit him with. You think?
Dickens cries out, “I’m sorry!” and runs from the room. “I have joined the legions of the Gelth; come march with us,” Sneed and the other corpses cry out. “We need bodies, all of you, dead; the human race, dead.” When the Doctor refuses to act as sacrifice, they sneer, “We don’t want your pity! We want this world and all its flesh!” Yikes, and they all thought Cardiff was bad! The Gelth. Seriously. So gross. Rose and the Doctor barricade themselves behind bars as the Gelth reach and shriek.
Rose panics, saying she can’t die because she hasn’t been born. “Time isn’t a straight line. It can twist into any shape,” the Doctor tells her. It’s his fault she’s going to die, because he brought here here. Though hey, wait a sec: “What about me?” He saw the Fall of Troy, World War 5 (eep) and “pushed boxes with the Boston Tea Party. And now I’m going to die in a dungeon. In Cardiff!” Ahahaha, POOR CARDIFF, IT AIN’T SO BAD!
Dickens, scrambling around upstairs, realizes if the beings are made of gas and find haven in gas lights, maybe turning up the gas is the solution. “I’m so glad I met you,” the Doctor tells Rose suddenly as they interlock fingers. It’s just, I mean — it’s really astounding, how Eccleston can go from snide with a side of grumpy or cheerful with healthy dashes of manic to utterly sincere and vulnerable! *clutches heart* “Me too,” Rose replies, and they smile at one another.
Meanwhile, Dickens rushes back in to tell them his plan. The Doctor’s impressed, realizing the creatures will “be drawn out of their host, sucked into the air like poison from a wound.” The Gelth. Seriously. SO GROSS. “I hope the theory will be validated soon,” Dickens stammers as the corpses advance on him. But luckily all of them give up the Gelth (haha, I can make terrible puns too!) and the spirits again become gaseous.
Gwyneth can’t send the spirits back, but “I can hold them here.” She takes matches from her apron while the Doctor sends Dickens and Rose out before they succumb to the fumes. “Leave that to me,” he says, imagining he’ll be the one to strike the match. Then he touches Gwyneth’s neck and understands she’s already dead. He kisses her forehead and runs, and escapes just as the match lights and the explosion destroys the Gelth.
The Doctor explains Gwyneth closed the rift. “At such a cost, poor child,” Dickens laments. But Gwyneth was likely dead the moment she stood under the arch to act as bridge to the Gelth. “She can’t have,” Rose protests. “She spoke to us, helped us, saved us!” “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Dickens murmurs, quoting Hamlet. “Aliens did it!” can’t explain everything all the time, and Gwyneth seems herself a kind of angel, saving them all with her sacrifice. “She saved the world,” Rose says quietly. “A servant girl, and no one will ever know.”
“Right then, Charlie boy, I’m just going to go back to my shed,” the Doctor says back at the TARDIS (only the ladies and the Doctor are allowed to call Dickens “Charlie”, okay?). Dickens, exceedingly cheered up, will head to London to make amends and spend Christmas with his family. And he’ll change the ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood to include “Blue Elementals” so he can spread the truth about what happened. The Doctor shakes his hand, Rose kisses his cheek (“How modern!” Dickens says, flustered), and they prepare to leave. “I must ask you,” Dickens asks before they go. “My books. Do they last?” “Oh, yes.” “For how long?” “Forever,” the Doctor answers happily (such. a. fan!).
Rose wonders, whether Dickens might change history by exposing the truth. He’ll die shortly, so he can’t, but at the moment, he’s more alive than he’s ever been. “Let’s give him one last surprise,” the Doctor tells her, all playful mischief again. The TARDIS dematerializes before him, and Dickens laughs aloud, wishing passers by Merry Christmas and OF COURSE ending with, “God bless us, every one!” Even the Blue Elementals, Dickens? I thought not!
That wraps up Week One of my Summer of Doctor Who, but I’ll be back next week for another Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday run of recaps for you. Watch or re-watch, and join me, won’t you?