Doctor Who - The New Series

Sp.03: "ATTACK OF THE GRASKE"

TX: 25 December 2005

Written by: Gareth Roberts

Directed by: Ashley Way

Running time: 14' 02"

Locations: The TARDIS, modern-day Wales, Victorian London, the planet Griffoth.

Dates: 25 December, 2006; 25 December, 1883; An unknown period in time

Monsters and villains: The Graske (a time-travelling beastie that replaces creatures with clones), a Slitheen, Changelings (soulless duplicates of kidnapped people)

Plot Synopsis: With Rose off enjoying a 1970s ABBA concert, the Doctor enlists the viewer in an interactive trip through time on the trail of the sinister Graske.

Trivia: (1) This mini-episode was shown only on digital television immediately after The Christmas Invasion and repeated on New Year's Day. To access the episode, digital viewers had to use the special "red button", which flicks over to a second channel showing the episode. However, this was unavailable to digital viewers using the NTL and Freeview services.

(2) At the end of the episode, the Doctor tells the viewer that their remote control has been restored to its original state - but warns them that if they change channels to ITV that night, the galaxy may implode. This is a cute reference the long-held ratings war between the BBC and ITV.

(3) If the viewer gets any of the puzzles wrong, the Doctor lets them know and moves the action on anyway. The only time that a single decision affects the actual story is the final part, in which they take over the Graske's control panel.

(4) This is the first time that the Doctor has wished the viewer a merry Christmas since the First Doctor episode "The Feast of Steven".

(5) The Graske was played by Jimmy Vee, who also played the Moxx of Balhoon in 1.02, "The End of the World" and the pig in 1.04, "Aliens of London".

(6) The episode is almost identical to a "real" Doctor Who episode and has the now familiar computer-generated intro sequence, although Billie Piper's name has been removed since she does not appear in the story. Also, for an unknown reason David Tennant is not listed in the end credits.

(7) This is the first episode of the new series to feature action on an alien planet.

(8) The episode was shot in 4:3 ratio rather than the new series' standard 16:9 format.

(9) When the viewer reached the Graske's planet, most of its victims are unidentifiable because of the pods that hold them. However, a creature wearing a gold helmet with an eye slit in it can be seen. This is an ambassador from The City of Binding Light, as seen in 1.02, "The End of the World".

Spoiler Synopsis: The episode begins with the viewer being invited into the TARDIS by the Doctor, who tells her (we'll assume that the viewer's a girl for now, alright?) that he's been watching her just as she watched him - and as Rose is off watching an ABBA concert in 1979, the viewer has been recruited as a temporary assistant. He links the viewer's remote control to the sonic screwdriver and patches their TV into the TARDIS screen, which shows a seemingly ordinary modern-day family enjoying their Christmas. But, warns the Doctor, this family is far from ordinary - one of them has been replaced with an identical copy, or Changeling. By swapping between the family's TV and the little girl's camcorder, the viewer can inspect the various members of the family to see if anything is unusual about them. After a while, the Doctor asks the viewer to choose a suspicious family member. The copied member is the mother, as evidenced by her glowing eyes.

In the kitchen, a small alien appears on the family dinner table and (unseen by the other members of the family) zaps the father and replaces him with a glowing-eyed clone. In the TARDIS the Doctor recognises the creature as a Graske, a time-travelling species that takes over planets by replacing their populations with Changelings. He locks on to the beastie's DNA as it starts travelling through time, and tells the viewer to help him fly the TARDIS by using the various controls - a vector tracker, a vortex loop and a dimensional stabiliser. They follow the creature to Earth, 1883. By using a radar-like system, the viewer locates the Graske on a street in Victorian London.

The viewer takes a walk around the street to look for the Graske. She eventually finds him behind some crates, but he runs off and manages to replace a beggar boy before teleporting away again. The Doctor tracks the Graske again, this time to its planet, Griffoth. A force field stops the TARDIS from landing inside the planet, so he sends the viewer out on foot, communicating with her through the sonic screwdriver. After passing through three doors, each locked with a puzzle, she ends up in the Graske's storage unit, where creatures from all over the universe - including the kidnapped parents and a Slitheen alien - are stored in stasis pods (they are needed to keep the Changelings alive).

The viewer is spotted by the Graske, which fires a laser pistol at her. She ducks just in time and the beam ricochets around the room, eventually hitting the pod containing the Slitheen. The enraged monster leaps out of its pod and begins to chase the Graske. With her enemies distracted, the viewer runs to the Graske's control panel and is given two options - she can either press a button to return all of the kidnapped creatures to their own times and places, or she can press another one and use the Graske's stasis fields against them, trapping everything in the planet except for her.

If she chooses the stasis field: The Graske, the Slitheen and everything else in the planet is trapped in a blue glow as the stasis field kicks in. The Doctor points out that everything is now frozen - including the Graske's victims. Back on Earth in 2006, the parent Changelings are still in the family home and ruining Christmas by suggesting boring activities like jogging in the cold and clipping their toenails. The little girl charges up to her bedroom in a sulk. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor berates the viewer for leaving the victims trapped in time. He then takes her home.

If she chooses to return the kidnapped creatures: The Slitheen and all of the others disappear in blinks of coloured light as they return to their homes. Back in 2006, the parents are restored and tell their family to cheer up: the son gets to play on his video games and the daughter gets to make her Christmas movie with the camcorder. Christmas is saved! The Doctor says that there will always be a chance for someone else - maybe even him - to deal with the Graske, and takes the viewer home.

The viewer's score is then counted.

If she got less than half of the right answers: The Doctor removes the viewer's link to the sonic screwdriver and says that she isn't good enough - yet. He tells her to have another go, sets the TARDIS controls to pick up Rose and wishes her a merry Christmas.

If she got more than half of the right answers: The Doctor removes the power of the sonic screwdriver from the viewer's remote and tells her that she's amazing. He adds that he might come back and whisk her off in the TARDIS one day. Then he says that he has to go and pick up Rose, and turns back to the console, but not before wishing her a merry Christmas.

Review (may contain spoilers): Well it's hardly going to go down in history as classic Who, but this mini-episode is funnier, smarter and more ambitious than anyone might have guessed. The Victorian scene in particular is impressive - a single tracking shot in which a relatively small set is populated with loads of bustling characters and action, and so is made to look labyrinthine. The effects are similarly surprising - proper prosthetics for the Graske, CGIed Slitheen that looked a thousand times better than their appearances in Aliens of London and World War Three and excellent "point of view" camerawork make this an extremely impressive episode to watch.

Granted, the "puzzles" aren't too difficult, but they ARE aimed at children rather than adults, and the limitations of the digital system preclude anything too complicated. Still, it's great fun to play through at least once, and anyone who refuses to hold up their controller for the Doctor to zap with his screwdriver has no soul.

Some might raise their eyebrows at the Graske's master plan as well - taking over planets by replacing every sentient creature on that planet. Eh? What? Aside from being ridiculously inefficient (imagine all the space needed to store the original people!), there's the question of what they do with the planet afterwards. If they just want to pillage it, why not kill everyone? It can't be a stealthy takeover, because the main Graske sees no problem in zapping the beggar boy in front of dozens of other people... Still, it's just a silly bit of fluff which really doesn't warrant a deep analysis of that kind.

A final word about David Tennant - any lingering doubts left after the Christmas Invasion were obliterated by his turn in this. Yes, his voice is still a bit irritating and Butlinsesque when he goes high-pitched, but his asides to the camera and quips when the player gets answers wrong are delightful, and he shows excellent comic timing, with enough seriousness to actually make me feel a little bit guilty for failing him. Yes, I know...

A tremendously fun and extremely polished little episode. Hopefully the experiment will prove popular enough for the BBC to come up with something else next year. And if it doesn't appear on one of the Doctor Who DVDs at some point, it'll be a crying shame.

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Sources:

http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

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