Welcome to the latest article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, in which I will be offering my opinion on how to improve on stories from various entries in different franchises. It must be noted that not all of the films, games or episodes that I will be talking about in this series have to necessarily be ‘broken’ in order to fix them, simply that these articles will offer alternate means of telling the same stories.
Well, here we have an example of something that certainly isn’t broken… or is it? For years I held both The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End in quite high regard as far as Doctor Who episodes go, and it had all the essential elements that my teenage self looked for a great Doctor Who story – returning characters, planetary invasion, death, Daleks – everything you could possibly ask for. Upon more recent reflection, however, it occurs to me that this two-parter, or more specifically the second part of this two-parter, isn’t all that it was cracked up to be. After showing this episode to some friends who had never really seen much Doctor Who before (if at all) I got a more objective view on why this episode doesn’t really hold up, and so I now present my latest ‘How to Fix’, this time focusing on the subject of David Tennant’s last series finale (technically): The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. And to start with, arguably the easiest point to make:
Keep The Stolen Earth basically the same
Okay, so this is cheating a bit. When I say basically the same, I mean keep the fundamentals of the plot intact, because honestly The Stolen Earth is pretty fantastic, its just its successor that lets it down. Aside from some more specific details regarding Martha, which we will get to later, this episode does a great job of building up the tension of an imminent Dalek invasion that the Doctor is not there to prevent or even help mitigate. We get a very real idea of how threatening the Daleks can be as they bomb Manhatten, attack major military bases to exterminate anyone who might stand against them, critically damage the Valiant and assassinate the US President. Whilst my instinct is to always suggest that more screen time be dedicated to the Daleks causing havoc on-screen, I can begrudgingly accept that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the producers of The Stolen Earth did a great job with the budget. Likewise, all of the setup for the finale with all the NuWho companions (and Sarah Jane) teaming up is brilliant, and Harriet Jones’ death was done with dignity and purpose. Essentially, the only thing that should be changed about The Stolen Earth relates to more pressing points that I will get to later, so to move swiftly on:
Expand Martha’s Role, and make her more in-character
The greatest crime Russell T. Davies ever committed was writing the fantastic character that is Martha Jones and then wasting her on an arc that essentially amounted to her being the ‘rebound companion’ from Rose. My thoughts on both Rose and the Tenth Doctor have already been made clear, and to reiterate once again, I do not hate the Tenth Doctor. I simply find it baffling that people will regard him as their favourite without accounting for some of the more questionable actions he takes during his tenure. Similarly, I find some of Russell’s executive decisions to be equally as baffling – he clearly understood the misstep in writing Martha out of the show so quickly, and then found no less than three ways to bring her back – first as a stand-in for a generic UNIT commander in The Sontaran Stratagem, then later in the same series for this two-parter, and finally The End of Time. Yet in none of these sheepish reappearances does Martha live up to her potential, as she seems to be a completely different person than who she was in Series 3.
Admittedly, a lot has happened for Martha in this time – she had to spend a year on a devastated Earth, battling the various forces that the Master set against her during his time as ruler of Earth (which, although was later undone, the memories of which are still retained in her mind). Also, since she now works for UNIT, it is possible that more militaristic training his taken precedent over the life lessons that she gleaned from her time in the TARDIS, but still – the idea that Martha Jones would intentionally attempt to destroy Earth in a mass-genocidal nuclear apocalypse is not only outrageously stupid but also a monumental insult to her character. Instead of concocting the idea of a secret UNIT plan to destroy Earth, Russell should have had Martha focused on finding and uniting all of the Doctor’s companions scattered across Earth, since she was a member of UNIT and the person in the best position to track them down. Instead this role goes to Harriet Jones, and as I said previously, she is well used in this episode – but rather than transferring the ability to locate the Doctor’s friends to Torchwood (an organisation buried underground in South Wales) why not give it to UNIT? That way Martha could have been the one to use the teleportation harness to gather together everyone who could lend a hand, rather than expecting them all to somehow make their own way to the Dalek Mothership. On that note:
Make the Daleks a consistent threat
This is always an issue with Doctor Who, but it is plainly obvious here – sometimes the Daleks appear in an episode as a major threat, and in others they appear as laughable imbeciles. Russell achieves the extraordinary with this two-parter in that he manages to make the Daleks shift from the latter to the former in the space of one story – in The Stolen Earth, the Daleks appear as an unstoppable intergalactic power, capturing and invading planets and bombing entire cities into submission. By Journey’s End, however, they are reduced to fodder, and are all destroyed in one of Russell’s most unwarranted and outlandish deus ex machinas yet. So what happened?
As usual, it comes down to focus – Journey’s End spends far too much time on exposition and not a lot on action, so the end product is anticlimactic. It seems laughable now that Russell wrote this entire episode in order to get the companions all together in one room, but didn’t write the episode with enough gravitas to give any of them anything to do, so despite all the wild and increasingly nonsensical plans that Jack, Sarah Jane, Martha and Donna all come up with to stop the Daleks, they all end up just sitting in those ‘ray shields’ from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Surely a better idea would be to have the Daleks actually doing something that required the companions to be out fighting them, allowing the Doctor and Davros to have their dialogue in a setting that was more suitable? Ironically a Davros episode that handles this much better is Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar, as whilst the Doctor and Davros have their obligatory hearts-to-heart, Missy and Clara are out fighting Daleks. But I digress…
Have at least one Classic Who companion return, even just as a cameo
Whilst this isn’t essential to fixing this episode, I thought I might as well include it since it always bothered me. If Harriet Jones’ subwave network was designed to seek out anyone and everyone who could help the Doctor, why did it only end up contacting companions who had appeared in previous David Tennant stories? Again, it all comes down to pacing and focus – the episode is already cluttered enough as it is, and surely shoehorning in a classic companion would just ruin the pacing. But the episode manages to incorporate pointless scenes of Martha’s mother who, in this ‘fixed’ version of events, wouldn’t be necessary, so perhaps a short cameo from Sophie Aldred or Kate Manning wouldn’t seem so bad. And for anyone who uses the argument that kids wouldn’t know who these old characters were, my rebuttal is: who cares? Nobody knows who any of the characters in anything are until they are introduced, and since this episode manages to coherently place Harriet Jones into the narrative (a character we hadn’t seen for two years at the time of broadcast) then it could have done the same for an aged Ace or Jo Grant, even if it was literally in the capacity on showing up on the screen to facilitate the delivery of a single plot point (the location of the Dalek Mothership, for example?) in a similar manner to the appearances of Harriet Jones, Sarah Jane, the Shadow Proclamation and Rose. Anyway, back to the actual plot-relevant fixes:
Completely Change the Ending
Even aside from the ridiculous ending that essentially elevates Donna to this years ‘most important person on Doctor Who until the next most important person on Doctor Who’, the conclusion to her ‘DoctorDonna’ arc is, for lack of a better word, disturbing. And not in the way that Doctor Who is supposed to be. For one, surely the entire point of Donna as a character was for her to not end up being nothing more than a plot device? After all, Russell had attempted to subvert a lot of the pre-existing NuWho companion tropes with Donna – she made it clear early on that she didn’t want a romantic relationship with the Doctor, she reacted to situations with much more anger and ‘sass’ than previous companions had, and she actively hunted the Doctor down rather than simply being swept up in an adventure. But it seems for her sendoff Russell just couldn’t bring himself to not ruin her character, so we got the nonsensical premise that because Donna wasn’t good enough to save the day on her own, she needed the Doctor’s mind to do it for her, and as icing on the cake, the Doctor then forcibly removes himself from her brain and essentially resets her back to factory settings, removing all the character development she had had over the previous series.
The scene is undeniably tragic, and when you try not to think about the horrible implications of the Doctor’s actions, it leaves a dark and melancholy tone that really works for Doctor Who. It is how it was done that many people take issue with, to the extent that Moffat wrote not one but two subversions of this scene into his run – the first in which Clara refuses to allow the Doctor to wipe her memory, instead opting for a 50/50 chance that one of them would lose their memory of the other (Spoilers: its the Doctor who ends up suffering this fate), and the second when Bill outright refuses to allow the Doctor to wipe her mind in her first episode and he eventually repents, probably after realising that wiping Donna’s mind when she clearly expressed the desire to remain how she was essentially amounted to assault. After all, she had all of the Doctor’s intelligence, and so was more capable than ever at that point to make a decision on whether or not she wanted to stay that way, regardless of what it would do to her.
So those were my thoughts on how to fix The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. I hope you enjoyed, and if you did then be sure to leave a like either here or on Facebook, and for more content like this have a look at the Read More section down below. Thanks for reading!