The Unquiet Dead
|159 – "The Unquiet Dead"|
|Doctor Who episode|
The Gelth break through the rift. Such "ethereal swirl" effects caused the episode to overshoot its CGI quota.
|Script editor||Helen Raynor|
|Executive producer(s)||Russell T Davies
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||9 April 2005|
"The Unquiet Dead" is the third episode of the first series of the British science-fiction television programme Doctor Who, first broadcast on 9 April 2005 on BBC One. It was written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Euros Lyn.
In the episode, alien time traveller the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and his companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) travel to Victorian Cardiff on Christmas, 1869 where there have been sightings of strange gas-like creatures. The Doctor and Rose team up with Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) to investigate Mr Sneed (Alan David), a man who runs a funeral parlour where it seems that corpses have come to life. It is revealed that the gaseous Gelth (voiced by Zoe Thorne) have entered Cardiff through a Rift, and wish to survive by taking over the corpses.
"The Unquiet Dead" is the first episode of the revival to be set in the past, and was intended to show the series' range. The original brief and script included a focus on mediums and was grimmer in tone, but it evolved into a story about zombies and became more of a "romp". Callow, who had researched Dickens as well as portraying him on multiple occasions, accepted to guest star in "The Unquiet Dead" because he felt the historical figure was written accurately. The episode also features a guest appearance by actress Eve Myles; Myles would go on to play Gwen Cooper in the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood from 2006. As contemporary Cardiff, location of the Doctor Who production, did not have enough Victorian architecture, the episode was filmed in Swansea. Computer generated imagery (CGI) was used as the main visual effect for the Gelth. "The Unquiet Dead" was seen by 8.86 million viewers in the United Kingdom on first broadcast. It attracted generally positive reception, although some reviewers criticised some plot points and lack of moral dilemma.
The Doctor attempts to pilot the TARDIS to Naples in 1860 to show Rose the past, but ends up in Cardiff in 1869 instead, on Christmas Eve. At a nearby funeral parlour, run by Gabriel Sneed and his servant Gwyneth, the corpse of the late Mrs. Peace has been taken over by a blue vapour. She rises from her coffin and kills her mourning grandson before lurching away from the parlour. Gwyneth, a clairvoyant, senses that the corpse is going to see Charles Dickens at a nearby theater. In the middle of his performance, the blue vapour leaves Mrs. Peace and scares the audience away. The commotion attracts the attention of the Doctor and Rose, who rush to investigate. Sneed and Gwyneth arrive and capture the corpse, but are confronted by Rose and end up kidnapping her as well. Meanwhile, Dickens accuses the Doctor of ruining the performance, but after the Doctor gushes over his literary genius, Dickens offers to help.
At the funeral parlour, Rose wakes up along with the newly-reanimated corpses of Mrs. Peace and Mr. Redpath. The Doctor and Dickens arrive and break into the parlour just in time to rescue Rose. After hearing about the trouble with the corpses, the Doctor convinces Gwyneth to help him hold a séance to attempt to communicate with the dead. The blue vapors fill the room and reveal that they are the remains of the Gelth, a once-corporeal alien race until they were devastated by the Time War. They plead with the Doctor to open the rift that exists in the basement of the parlour and allow them to cross over. The Doctor offers the Gelth temporary use of the corpses until he can transport them to a place where they can build new bodies, using Gwyneth as a bridge to cross the Rift.
Gwyneth stands in the middle of an arch and opens the rift, allowing the Gelth to cross over. The number of Gelth is much greater than anticipated, and their true motive is revealed: they intend to kill the living to give themselves more hosts and take over the planet. One of the animated bodies strangles Sneed to death, allowing another Gelth to possess his body. Dickens flees the parlour, and Rose and the Doctor are trapped in a part of the basement. Outside, Dickens realises that the beings are affected by gas and returns to the house. He extinguishes the gaslights and turns the gas on full, pulling the Gelth out of the bodies. The Doctor tells Gwyneth to send the Gelth back and close the rift, but she cannot close it or leave. Instead she takes out a box of matches, intending to ignite the gas and kill the Gelth along with herself. The Doctor determines that Gwyneth is already dead, and that by opening the rift, she had doomed herself. The Doctor, Rose, and Dickens flee the parlour just before it explodes and burns.
The Doctor and Rose head back to the TARDIS, and Dickens thanks them for their help. He decides to leave immediately for London to patch up things with his family, and to finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The Doctor and Rose say their goodbyes and disappear in the TARDIS, and the astounded Dickens walks away through the streets of Cardiff, greeting everyone he passes and quoting A Christmas Carol: "God bless us, everyone!"
When looking into Rose's mind, Gwyneth is frightened and breaks off contact when she sees "the things you've seen... the darkness... the Big Bad Wolf!" The phrase "bad wolf" recurred in most of the stories in this season, culminating in the episode "Bad Wolf" and finally explained in "The Parting of the Ways". The Doctor reacts visibly when the Gelth mention the Time War; the event had been alluded to in "Rose" and "The End of the World", when the Doctor told Rose that his people had been destroyed in a war. The Cardiff rift reappears in the episodes "Boom Town" and "Utopia", and is a direct or indirect element in many of the alien encounters in the spin-off series Torchwood, set in Cardiff. The events of the episode are referenced in The Unicorn and the Wasp, when Donna compares the absurdity of the episode's events to "meeting Charles Dickens, surrounded by ghosts, at Christmas". and "The End of the World", when the Doctor told Rose that his people had been destroyed in a war.
Executive producer and head writer Russell T Davies came up with the concept of "The Unquiet Dead". As the third episode of the revived series, it was designed to continue to show the range of the programme by exploring the past, after the contemporary "Rose" and far-future "The End of the World". The episode also reintroduces the TARDIS' habit of taking the Doctor to the wrong places, something that had not yet happened in the revived series. Davies felt that it was important for an episode to be set in Cardiff as that is where the new series is produced, and wanted the story to be set in Victorian times and feature Charles Dickens. Davies' original brief also included "fake mediums", and Gatiss originally set it in a "spiritualist hotel", which had fake mediums (such as a character named Mrs Plumchute) on the lower floors and Mr Sneed on the top, though he was unaware he was a true medium. However, Gwyneth became a more popular character with the production team, and she took on much of the medium role. Gatiss was also more interested in possession and zombies. Mrs Sneed was another character that was cut out of the episode; Gatiss believed she was unnecessary as Gwyneth was the "heart" of the story.
The working titles for this story included "The Crippingwell Horror" and "The Angels of Crippingwell". The original draft was grimmer, including details about the previous death of Gwyneth's younger brother, but in subsequent drafts the story became more of a "romp". Gatiss stated that the name "Gelth" simply popped into his head. Gatiss was encouraged to personify the Gelth, which he originally questioned because he felt that monsters whispering "Doctor" was a cliché; producer Phil Collinson remarked that perhaps it was a cliché because it worked well. The Rift was added into the plot to simplify the Gelth's origins.
Gatiss originally resisted having Dickens star in the episode, as traditionally the Doctor only mentioned meeting historical figures, but he eventually warmed to the idea. As A Christmas Carol fan, Gatiss wanted to set the episode at Christmas. He later realised that Dickens' journey in the episode mirrored that of Ebenezer Scrooge. In one scene, Gatiss wanted the knocker on a door behind Dickens to briefly show the Gelth's face in reference to A Christmas Carol, but this visual effect was not done. The episode originally began in the TARDIS, as Gatiss wanted the first glimpse of 1860 to be through Rose's eyes. While this changed, Gatiss still wanted to show how great travelling in time is. It was scripted that snow would blow into the TARDIS when the doors opened, but this was cut because of budget reasons. Davies requested a scene in which the Doctor takes Rose to the future to see a world filled with walking corpses — the result if they had left before defeating the Gelth — but this was too expensive to film. During the scene in which the Doctor and Dickens are talking in the coach, the driver was supposed to shout down to them (referencing a Dickens work) and the coach was to crash, but this was also too expensive.
Simon Callow, who portrayed Dickens, was considered apt since he possessed extensive knowledge of the author and had experience playing the character and recreating his public readings. Callow contended that for him to agree to play Dickens, the script would have to be a sufficiently high quality. When he heard that the author was to feature in Doctor Who his heart "sank" as he felt fiction has a tendency to posit the author as "a kind of all-purpose Victorian literary character and really understand little, if anything, about him, his life or his books". Director Euros Lyn noted that the material being of interest to Callow was key to getting him involved. Promoting his role in Doctor Who, Callow stated that writer Mark Gatiss knew "exactly what Dickens is all about" and "very cleverly connects his idealism... with the Doctor's desire to save the world". Callow was also pleased that the episode portrayed Dickens as he was towards the end of his life: ill and sad rather than energetic. In the 2011 episode "The Wedding of River Song", Callow returned to reprise his role as Dickens briefly.
Eve Myles, who played Gwyneth, was initially not supposed to film the episode as she was booked for another role in theatre. However, her agent notified Myles of the role and Myles' was keen to audition for the series due to its reputation and Eccleston being "one of my favourite actors of all time". After inadvertently attending the audition in a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of two naked women kissing under the slogan "I support Nudist Colonies", Myles was convinced she had not got the part; her appearance contrasted grossly with Gwyneth's personality. After being notified of her success Myles did not want to prioritise between her theatre commitments and Doctor Who; her agent decided that she would appear in the episode. Russell T Davies was enamoured by her performance, which he felt confirmed that the actress was "one of Wales's best-kept secrets", and subsequently wrote her a lead role in the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. Myles' Torchwood character Gwen Cooper is intimated to be related to Gwyneth in "Journey's End" after the Doctor asks Gwen about her family history. Alan David was cast as Mr Sneed; Gatiss was pleased with the casting, as he had grown up watching David.
Filming and effects
Filming took place in September and October 2004. Although the story is set in 19th century Cardiff, the production was actually filmed in Swansea and Monmouth, as there were not enough Victorian-looking buildings left in Cardiff. Cardiff's New Theatre was used for the theatre in which Dickens is telling a story at the beginning of the episode. An empty Victorian children's home in Penarth was used for Sneed's parlour. Based on research of Victorian morgues, the production team selected red and sepia as the main color scheme.
Small pieces of paper were sprayed as snow, which caused a problem as it scared the horses. However, the snow falling from the sky was a foam substance. The actors who played the dead bodies possessed by the Gelth had simple make-up, with just shading and contact lenses and no prosthetics. The production team was mindful of the programme's audience, and decided to not have any missing facial features. Originally, visual effects company The Mill planned the computer-generated effects (CGI) to just be the "ethereal swirl", but in the seance scene they ran into the challenge of animating the Gelth's mouth. The Gelth turning red during the seance scene was a "last-minute" change to the visual effects. The Mill overshot their quota of CGI for the episode, and compensated with small swirls in shots that focused on other characters. The head speaking was in fact actress Zoe Thorne, who had been filmed separately and used as a template for animation. In other scenes, Thorne had the challenge of matching her voice-overs to the actors who portrayed the bodies animated by the Gelth.
Broadcast and reception
"The Unquiet Dead" was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 9 April 2005. In the United States, the episode aired on 24 March 2006 on the Sci-Fi Channel. Overnight figures showed that the episode was watched by 8.3 million viewers in the UK, an audience share of 37%. When final ratings were calculated, figures rose to 8.86 million. The episode also received an Appreciation Index of 80. "The Unquiet Dead" received some criticism from parents, who felt that it was "too scary" for their young children; the BBC dismissed the complaints, saying that it had never been intended for the youngest of children.
Doctor Who novelist and Faction Paradox creator Lawrence Miles posted a scathing review of "The Unquiet Dead" on the Internet within an hour of its broadcast, focusing on a perceived political subtext suggesting that asylum seekers (the Gelth) are really all evil and out to exploit liberal generosity (the Doctor). He criticised the script for promoting xenophobia and "claiming that all foreigners were invaders", especially as the top stories in the news were about immigration into Britain. The review produced considerable backlash on the Internet, mainly over his comments about writer Mark Gatiss. Miles was personally contacted and ran into trouble with his publishers. Miles deleted the review and posted a revision, though the original is still available on another of his websites.
Dek Hogan of Digital Spy stated he "really enjoyed" the episode and it was "beautifully dark". He later described it as "a chilling tale" and "a cracker". Now Playing magazine reviewer Arnold T Blumburg gave "The Unquiet Dead" a grade of A-, describing it as "spectacular", though he noted there were "a few hiccups, such as the weak and convenient plot point that forces the Gelth ... to be drawn out of their human hosts by the mere presence of gas". He also criticised Eccleston for making the Doctor appear an "ineffectual goof", and noted that he played no role in the resolution. In 2013, Mark Braxton of Radio Times described the episode as "a sparkling script, as crisp and inviting as a winter wonderland", praising the magical atmosphere and the treatment of Dickens. However, he felt that "the spectral swirlings are all a bit Raiders of the Lost Ark". In Who Is the Doctor, a guide to the revived series, Graeme Burk felt that "The Unquiet Dead" was "terribly, terribly disappointing" on first viewing, as Rose and the Doctor's characterisation did not drive the plot and the story was reduced to playing it safe and being "ordinary", as it just made the aliens evil instead of discussing their morality. Despite this, he wrote that the story was still enjoyable, with a "delightfully ludicrous" set-up, "vividly realized" period setting, and the characterisation of Dickens. Burk's coauthor, Robert Smith? [sic], called the episode a "complete mess". He felt that Gatiss was attempting to recreate the classic series, but that it came across as "half-hearted". He felt that there was no moral dilemma and Sneed underwent an unsettling character change. While he noted that Eccleston and Piper were "excellent", he felt that Rose and the Doctor's developing relationship was not subtle.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Ninth Doctor|
- The Unquiet Dead on TARDIS Data Core, an external wiki
- BBC Doctor Who Homepage
- "The Unquiet Dead" at Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- "The Unquiet Dead" at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- "The Unquiet Dead" at TV.com
- Doctor Who Confidential — Episode 3: TARDIS Tales
- "Fantastic!" — Episode trailer for "The Unquiet Dead"
- "The Unquiet Dead" at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Unquiet Dead" reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- "The Unquiet Dead" reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide