Christmas in April? It might sound bizarre, but that's exactly what we got with The Unquiet Dead- the closest the Ninth Doctor ever got to a festive special!
Mark Gatiss's first script for New-Who was also a maiden trip into the past for the Time-War torn man in the leather jacket, Rose taking place in the then-modern day of 2005, while The End Of The World flung he & his new companion Rose Tyler to the last days of the universe in the far future.
Their arrival in Cardiff on Christmas Eve 1869 makes it a perfect temporal hat-trick! But any thoughts of mulled wine, mince pies & carol-singing are soon forgotten as the living dead begin to roam......the grieving Mr Redpath experiencing it first hand as his late grandmother emerges from her coffin to strangle him. Merry Christmas one & all indeed, you might think. Undertaker Gabriel Sneed does his best to shoehorn the considerably less dead than she was a minute ago Mrs Peace back into her eternal rest, but the old girl's too strong for him. Luckily his servant girl Gwyneth shows signs of clairvoyance...
Which should make finding the dead granny on the loose easy enough, right? Homing in on her, Gwyneth learns of her last wish- to go & see Charles Dickens ( portrayed here by noted enthusiast of all things Dickensian, Simon Callow) give a reading. Of what, you might ask? Well, go on & have a guess...
Poor Charlie is a little down in the dumps though, feeling his muse has deserted him. But someone might be able to help with that after he's steered 'Sexy' through something of a rocky landing! Rather annoyingly he's just got to a good bit in his big performance when the only undead member of the audience starts to glow with a strange blue light.
The Gelth have now announced their presence! Screams from the audience manage to attract the attention of the teams of the Doctor & Rose and Sneed & Gwyneth- Dickens only agreeing to help solve the mystery after learning he has a fan from as far afield as Gallifrey. Rose is chloroformed & kidnapped by Sneed......its all getting decidedly murky. And the Doctor wants to know who's behind all this, eventually achieved by means of a séance........the Gelth subsequently appearing to him. They lost their own physical bodies during the Time War & need to take over new ones in order to survive.
Only its not quite like that. There are more of them than they're willing to admit, & they want to take over the planet! It looks like this could be the end, until Dickens rides to the rescue – go, Charlie!
Gwyneth deserves some credit, too, sacrificing herself to save many more lives than she'll ever comprehend- though the Doctor is able to deduce that she'd been dead from the moment she was first exposed to the Rift, Sneed's house having built right on top of it. In a bid to clear up Rose's confusion on that matter, her new author friend quotes Shakespeare ( Hamlet, to be precise, in case you never paid attention in English at school)- "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy" .
At least he's got his creative mojo working again! The Doctor has opened his eyes anew, & he can finally finish off The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. In reality, though, he'd never get the chance- as the Time Lord tells Rose, he'll be dead by the next year. But his books will live on forever......how lovely. And with that he watches on as the TARDIS dematerialises, before getting all festive & quoting his own work to passers- by, namely Tiny Tim's "God bless us, everyone!"
Not every viewer was entirely happy, though- Lawrence Miles ( author of Christmas On A Rational Planet for the Virgin New Adventures series & Alien Bodies, Interference Book One- Shock Tactic, Interference Book Two- The Hour Of The Geek, & The Adventuress Of Henrietta Street for the Eighth Doctor Adventures) appeared to suggest on his blog that an xenophobic subtext ran throughout the episode-
"[The Unquiet Dead] explicitly, deliberately equates aliens with foreigners, and then says "all aliens are evil, they may look nice but they're out to swarm your country in their billions"?Controversial indeed! But it would seem Gatiss had a lot of fun developing the story- indeed, he would later be invited back for more.............
I'm sorry. There's no other way of saying it. This is offensive, poisonous, xenophobic ****. I know many of you will be saying "a-hah, but there have always been alien invasion stories in Doctor Who, what's the difference?", so I'll tell you the difference. There was never a time in the history of original Doctor Who, not even in the days when polite middle-England was terrified by the thought of being overrun by funny-coloured people, when the programme pandered to that kind of vermin-thinking by claiming that all foreigners were invaders (see, especially, "The Ambassadors of Death"… Enoch Powell isn't welcome in the Doctor's universe). "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" came from the war-time generation's fear of Nazism, not from a terror of immigration. "Spearhead from Space", like much of '70s Doctor Who, shows the invader to be a ruthless, self-involved force modelled on the inhuman instincts of our own culture rather than on swarthy-looking foreign types. "The Unquiet Dead" is different. "The Unquiet Dead" is a story, made at a point in time when the big electoral issue is whether the British should put up with foreigners at all or treat them like scrounging gypsies, about a bunch of REFUGEES - about a bunch of ASYLUM-SEEKERS - who ask the Doctor for his help and then turn out to be EVIL ALIENS WHO JUST WANT TO SWARM YOUR COUNTRY NYHAH HAH HAAAAAH WE WILL RAPE YOUR WOMEN AND DEFILE YOUR CORPSES.
The Doctor's argument against Rose, when Rose believes that it's wrong to let the aliens take over human bodies because it's just a bit sick, is one of the best arguments the Doctor has ever had to present. The level of tolerance in what he says is - or seems - remarkable. When he tells her that she's got to stop thinking as if her customs are automatically the right and proper ones, it's one of the most admirable moments in modern television. And then it turns out that Rose was right all along, because the aliens are really body-snatching wogs who deserve to be blown up.
I don't seriously believe that Mark Gatiss will read this. But on the off-chance that he might stumble into this while ego-surfing, I'm going to say it. Mark: you're a [note that I've edited the end of this sentence slightly since I first wrote it, now I've had time to calm down, so I'll settle for] thoughtless halfwit. Did you really think it was all right to write a script for this programme, a programme which is supposedly watched by the New Generation and deliberately calculated to mean something, that sends out a vile, appalling, dangerous message like this?"