This episode contrasts sharply with the previous one – futuristic versus historic, aliens versus icons. It is another way of capturing the Doctor Who spirit of constant adventure. The audience expects more aliens, and suddenly it is a trip back in time. The first three episodes actually present three constant elements in the Whoniverse — challenges to humanity, crazy futurism, and rethinking history.

The episode manages to combine comedy and horror in a very entertaining way, which is why Doctor Who always keeps me on the edge of my seat, laughing or entranced. For example, while Charles Dickens regales his audience with a horror mystery, he points out the deceased aunt, exclaiming, ‘it looked like that!’ The caretaker complains about the walking stiffs, only to correct himself and say ‘the dearly departed’. The Doctor forgets his goal when he finds out that he’s in a coach with Charles Dickens. It is very clever and somewhat sarcastic British humor.

The dialogue also reminds the viewers that they are visiting the past through time travel. For example, Charles Dickens does not know what a fan is, and he asks the Doctor how he is cooling him down. Rose does not grasp the concept of inflation when she asks about Gywneth’s salary and she is also aghast when she finds out about Gwyneth’s level of education, which was probably acceptable at that time.

Although Gwyneth is not from the ‘superior’ future and she is not as educated as Rose and the Doctor, she is the hero in the episode. The Doctor and Rose were arguing about her future, but it was she who asserted herself and decided to save the world. This shows that morals and values like courage and compassion are more important than one’s social background or status, which is one of the important lessons the show always imparts.

Charles Dickens is my favorite character in this episode. For one thing, I really enjoy stories that color historical events with fantasy or sci-fi, especially when they involve icons. Since time travel is still impossible, the audience does not really know what he would have been like. However, it is still immensely entertaining to assign little quirks like grumpiness or skepticism to historical characters’ personalities.

This episode also really highlights the vulnerable aspects of the Doctor. Although he had the technology and knowledge to investigate the Gelth, his kindness took over and he simply trusted them. This had terrible consequences, but it showed that the Doctor prioritizes the needs of others rather than his own. He may be ‘God’-like in his ability to travel wherever he wants and in his near-immortality, but he is not unfeeling.

 

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