A London 2012 Olympics banner stretches over a neighborhood where posters of missing children abound. A grandmother-type urges some boys inside: “It likes when they’re playing!” I watch through my fingers until it’s quite clear this isn’t a Very Special Pedo Bear episode. Oh, thank goodness; instead, it’s a mean little girl singing “Koukaburra” alone in her bedroom and sketching kids until they go *poof!* from outside and end up trapped in her pictures.
Hey, I am so glad we stretched out that mystery to the end of the ep! Oh, hell, we’re not even at the opening credits, are we? “What do you want with our children?” the elderly woman cries. Not to build suspense, I’ll tell you that much.
The Doctor and Rose emerge from a re-parked TARDIS to attend the London Olympics, but hey, missing children posters! “What makes you think it’s a person?” the Doctor asks sagely when Rose wonders what sort of person would kidnap all these kids. Of course it’s not a person; it’s always an alien! Thus, the little girl with her creepy off-key singing and super-speed-sketching is (or is possessed by) an alien. The suspense, it exists in this episode not at all!
Rose helps push a car that temporarily breaks down on the block. It speeds up again after passing a particular radius. Spooky! It’s been happening to cars on that one spot all week, dun dun dunnn! Also, it’s unreasonably cold, because this episode got shot in February in Cardiff – whoops, no, because there’s alien activity making it chilly! Also, did we mention the Olympic Torch is going to zip right by this creeptacular neighborhood? No? Let me hazard a guess that will not go well.
Listen, I really like the idea of this episode. After all, it’s a rich subject worth exploring: paranoia in the suburbs, a momentous national event coinciding with local tragedies, people disappearing, it’s very – hey. Hey! We just did this in “The Idiot’s Lantern” a few episodes ago! So this is the dud of the season, and that’s hardly bad considering we’ve gotten such amazing episodes – I won’t even name all the amazing ones, because I’d have to say “all the rest of them. Except for “Tooth and Claw”.
“Fingers on lips!” the Doctor orders when all the residents and parents in the neighborhood bicker and yell when he asks what’s the what. It’s one of the few humorous moments. I’d like it except that it reduces the adults to children, the same way the narrative’s been dialed down to appeal mainly to kids. And following a fantastic ep like “Love & Monsters”, well. The creakiness of this ep gets thrown all the more into tedious relief.
“Smell it?” the Doctor asks Rose. There’s a scent of metal in the air. “Look at the hairs on the back of my manly hairy hand!” the Doctor demands. If we could have just this, Rose and the Doctor traipsing around and cooing over or sullenly avoiding adorable ginger cats, I would love this ep! But no, the cat has to disappear, because Chloe, our Creepy Koukaburra, sketches it to put it in a picture with a disgruntled kidnapped-from-real-life neighbor boy.
“Doesn’t that make you feel part of something?” Chloe’s mother Trish pleads, trying to interest her daughter in the Olympics instead of drawing all the neighbor children into bye-bye skritchy-scratchy land. Oh, great – the kid’s going to ruin the 2012 Olympics? Plus Trish heard Chloe having those nightmares again. Haunted past, check. Chloe orders her mum to get gone, “Unless you want me to draw you.” Trish backs out, frightened. Complicity in sketch-kidnapping is a crime, lady!
Rose’s kitty cat friend disappears into a box; the Doctor detects a huge whiff, not of cat butt, but of iron residue. “I’m impressed,” he admits, because whatever’s pulling these stunts is harnessing huge reserves of ionic power. Rose has a scary moment of hearing something banging around in a garage; it turns out to be a scribble creature, the leftovers of Chloe’s scratched-out drawing. Poor scribble creature! I feel like it and the disappeared-because-drawn kitty cat would get on well.
“So dinky!” the Doctor marvels after he’s Sonic Screwdriver Shrunken the scribble creature. Inside the TARDIS, tests reveal it’s graphite. Graphite, pencils, drawings, YES, IT’S CHLOE, OR THE ALIEN POSSESSING CHLOE, WE GET IT! Ahem. “Like a child’s drawing,” Rose points out about the scribble, and “Are you deducing?” the Doctor asks delightedly (and this I like lots and lots – both the Doctor’s joy in the two of them tracking the mystery, but also Rose getting better and better at not just pinpointing the key issues but actually figuring their import out herself).
When Trish refuses to let the Doctor and Rose see Chloe, they pretend to leave to see how “you get on with things on your own.” Horrified at the thought, Trish invites them in. Turns out Chloe’s dad died a year ago; when the Doctor suggests he’s sorry, Trish says, “You wouldn’t be if you knew him.” Oh, great, Chloe got the brunt of the abuse; I’m sure Trish had her own monsters to deal with, but it sucks that in both circumstances, Chloe’s mother is complicit with bad things happening to her daughter and not seeking help because she wants to pretend everything’s okay.
Seriously, there are elements of this episode that could be amazing; dealing with the monsters of real-life trauma like child abuse could work incredibly well. But um, there’s not the payoff there should be here. Even Rose finding the demon drawing of the dead father Chloe’s got in her closet is alarming, but falls flat. “I’m coming,” the red-eyed Satan Dad growls. I thought Chloe’s alien was the monster? Eh.
“I thought we were putting him behind us!” Trish pleads with Chloe, who only cares about staying together – “not you, us.” The Doctor and Rose take Trish to task for “dismissing what she saw out of the corner of her eye”. Adults complicit with abuse of children make me shaky with anger, so it’s very, very tough for me to feel sympathetic to Trish here. I do like the moment when she tearfully asks the Doctor, “Who are you?” and he answers gently, “I’m help.”
After earlier giving Chloe the Vulcan salute (hee!), the Doctor mind-melds with her (as he did in “The Girl in the Fireplace”) to learn what exactly is, you guessed it, possessing her. Invoking the Shadow Proclamation, he gets resistance from the entity. “I want my friends,” it insists. “You’re lonely; I know,” the Doctor assures it. And this is actually lovely and poignant; after all, the Doctor knows from loneliness. But the affect they’ve made the actually quite good child actor take on, growling in a whisper to signify the alien presence, feels more grating than scary or suspenseful.
It is an Isolus, the entity admits. “Of course!” the Doctor realizes – the Isolus are all about togetherness. As empathic beings, they depend on their millions of siblings (each in a separate space-pod) while they take hundreds of years to mature. “They can feed off each other’s love,” the Doctor explains. “Without it, they’re lost.” So this is another moment where you feel how good this episode might have been – a human child, possessed by an alien child, both of them lonely, facing the Doctor who is himself alone in the world. It could have been an amazing episode! It’s just not.
After singing “Koukaburra” to calm Chloe/the Isolus, Trish tells Rose and the Doctor Chloe’s dad died in a drunk driving accident. And in a stunning display of parental good judgment, Trish just never ever spoke to Chloe about her father again. Yay? I know I’m harsh to Trish here, but in terms of who needs protection and championing, kid trumps adult. And the way Trish has handled Chloe is just sucktastic.
Chloe’s Isolus ended up on Earth by mistake; its pod separated from the others because of a solar flare. If they find the Isolus pod to return it to its siblings, it will leave Chloe alone. Possessed-Chloe gets a gander at the TARDIS while inside Rose deems the entire thing a temper tantrum. The Doctor’s far more sympathetic; he gets how terrible it is to lose family, especially because “I was a dad once.” I love that we have clear confirmation of what we understood from Nine in “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” back in series 1: he’s lost his entire planet and people, and with those, his family.
Argh, I want MORE about the Doctor! I mean, I get using provocative hints sparingly. But this amazing reference gets swept aside in favor of watching…Trish searching out and hiding Chloe’s pencils? Chloe making her inevitable move of drawing the TARDIS and the Doctor to make him disappear? It’s such a stand-alone episode: there’s way too much time spent on the flawed narrative, and very little done to make this story matter to our overall understanding of the Doctor and Rose.
“Everything’s coming up Doctor!” the Doctor exclaims. Then, of course, *poof!*, he’s gone into Chloe’s picture. Rose forgets for a moment she’s dealing with two kids and gives Chloe such a shake and a shout! But soon she searches for a hot area, for that’s where the Isolus’s pod would hang out. She finds it in the hot tar with an unexplained pod-like lump in it. A little pick-axe action, and viola, pod!
Now comes time for Chloe/Isolus to ruin the Olympics. Well, kidnapping all the spectators and athletes from the Opening Ceremonies is a good start! For an encore, Chloe plans to kidnap all of Planet Earth. Rose uses her handy-dandy pick-axe to break down the door, but the Isolus speaks through Chloe, threatening to “let him out” if Chloe’s stopped. In other words, Demon Dad will come to life. And I get how this is an effective threat against Trish and demon-avoidant people in general, but wouldn’t Chloe and the Isolus also be scared of Demon Dad? The three parts of the plot just feel shunted together.
Even drawn in a scribble, the Doctor gives Rose hints about what to do next. She’s got to find a source of heat to send Chloe’s pod off; the Doctor points to a Torch within his drawing. Hey, lucky the Torch is about to pass right by this neighborhood! Yeah, that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or anything. But the sequence of Rose lobbing the pod at the Torch is pretty cool, and yay, all the kidnapped kids are released! They seem immediately exultant. You’d think they’d be a bit miffed. *shrugs*
“Doctor,” Rose says sadly when he doesn’t reappear. Rose realizes with apprehension that all the drawings came to life, including – you guessed it, DEMON DAD! Rose dashes back to Trish and Chloe, who are fearfully huddled as Demon Dad rages yet again about coming to get them (behold his rich range of threats). Finally, Trish and Chloe sing the Koukaburra song together, which somehow sends the Demon Dad away. I don’t know either. I do really like both actresses here, and bringing them together at the end is the right action. But the material of this ep is just. Yeah.
Poor Rose is devastated the Doctor is still missing. “Who’s going to hold his hand now?” she asks tearfully, and seriously, she and the Doctor are the hand-holding-est people ever! It’s a valid concern! But as the Olympic coverage continues to air, we see spectators and athletes have returned to the stadium. Oh no, the Torch bearer is stumbling. “The Olympic Dream is dead!” shrieks the Worst Announcer Ever. I mean, seriously?
At last we see the Doctor; he takes up the Torch, completing the task of lighting the Olympic beacon, and in the process, helping move the Isolus pod to a source of not only immense heat but to a place of intense symbolism of hope and courage and love. The Isolus leaves, telling Chloe it loves her, and heads off to join its brothers and sisters.
The Doctor joins Rose. Just as they got to get in on the fun Coronation Block Party in “The Idiot’s Lantern,” they reap the benefit of Olympic celebrations here. Rose snagged him a cake with those “edible ball bearings” he thinks are genius. Holding hands, they look up at the sky. “They keep trying to split us up,” Rose says. “But they never ever will.” “Never say never ever,” the Doctor replies soberly. Though Rose tries to get him to agree they’ll always be okay, he looks up, wary. “A storm’s approaching.” Oh crap.
Oooh weee ahhwoooo oooh! Well, it’s a testament to how awesome a show Doctor Who is! When an episode falls flat, it seems a million times worse because most of the episodes are so freaking awesome! But I don’t fear any of you will forget that this show rocks and rocks hard, not with the amazing two episode-arc “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday” coming fast upon us! Join me then!