NOTE: Spoilers ahead!
The Doctor: - the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go...
[He releases her hand]
The Doctor: That's who I am. Now forget me, Rose Tyler. Go home.
I first watched this episode in 2012 or 2013 and I remember it looking a bit dated then. That said, revisiting it almost 10 years later and now being a fan of Doctor Who, I enjoyed it much more on a second viewing. Christopher Eccleston does a marvelous job of conveying both mystery and innocence in his Doctor - we don't know who or what he is, but he also seems like he's only a threat to those who would harm others. Billie Piper somehow pulls off both strong and vulnerable, and I like how she saves the Doctor at the end of the episode.
All in all, a great start to the rebooted series!
Rose Tyler: [Cassandra is dying] Help her.
The Doctor: Everything has its time and everything dies.
One of those DW episodes that's somehow more than the sum of its parts. Cassandra is such a memorable villain ("Moisturize me!") and we get our first taste of what the Doctor looks like when he's angry and what he can and will do if his companions or friends are harmed.
The visuals of a doomed earth are great and the concept of this being 5 billion years in the future where everyone Rose (and by extension we as the audience) know and love are gone is quite poignant. Like Rose at the end, the experience made me grateful for the here and now. And chips :)
Charles Dickens: But you have such knowledge of future times. I don't wish to impose on you, but I must ask you... My books, Doctor. Do they last?
The Doctor: Oh, yes.
Charles Dickens: How long?
The Doctor: Forever.
If "The End of the World" (previous episode) is somehow more than the sum of its parts, to me this episode is somehow less. On paper it works: Recognizable historical figure, zombies, spooky Christmas setting, etc. However, all of these elements feel unfocused and never really connect. I think the main culprit is that Dickens' involvement is tangential to the central plot of the episode. Simon Callow's performance as Dickens is nothing short of spectacular, but his character detracts from the zombie plot rather than enhancing it. His character feels and acts much like a Doctor's companion, but we already have Rose, so he just feels very tacked on. Sadly, if you removed Dickens from the story, it would actually free up a lot of screentime for the rest of the plot/characters to breathe.
The Gelth are an interesting idea/villain, but the episode has so much going on that a proper amount of time can't be devoted to developing them. And their being like, "We need dead human bodies" and the Doctor being like, "OK, sure" just feels so out of character for the Doctor. Once again, I think having the Doctor be more cautious/circumspect was nixed for lack of time, a pity because it makes him look a little unintelligent in the end.
All in all, this is an episode that failed to live up to its potential. It either needed its scope reduced or to be turned into a two-parter if the writers really wanted to do all of their ideas justice.
Mickey Smith: So, what're you doing down there?
The Doctor: [muffled, due to the sonic screwdriver he's holding between his teeth] Rickey.
Mickey Smith: Mickey.
The Doctor: [the Doctor takes the sonic screwdriver out of his mouth to make himself clearer] Rickey, If I was to tell you what I was doing to the controls of my frankly magnificent time ship, would you even begin to understand?
Mickey Smith: Well, I suppose not...
The Doctor: Well, shut it, then.
The best parts of this episode revolve around Rose struggling with having been gone for 12 months instead of the 12 hours the Doctor initially told her that she'd been away. How Rose handles the fallout from this does a lot to flesh out her and the world and people around her, especially as we see how her Mother and boyfriend Mickey struggled to cope with her disappearance. It's also interesting that Rose doesn't seem too upset that she lost a year of her life. In fact, it seems like she feels that she saw and did more in a few hours with the Doctor than she would've done in 12 months of her normal life, which is really interesting.
Beyond that, the rest of this episode doesn't really land. The concept is really, really basic, the villains are goofy looking instead of frightening, the pig-person in the morgue is dumb, and any time the episode starts to build some tension it immediately deflates it with fart noises. All in all, the episode would be a 1/10 for me if it didn't have the character stuff with Rose and related characters. That sub-plot is the only thing that makes this episode worth watching or, quite frankly, watchable.
Rose Tyler: If you saw it out there, you'd never stay home.
Mickey gets a few nice moments to shine. We see him put his life on the line to protect Rose's Mom, who also has a few nice moments demonstrating her concern for Rose. The fact that she experiences aliens first-hand makes her concern feel real - she now has an idea of what Rose might encounter when traveling with the Doctor and she doesn't like it, even going so far as to promise to get her life in shape if Rose will just stay. It's a nice moment and shows that she has a lot of love for her daughter underneath all her selfishness.
Beyond that, there's really nothing to praise about this episode. The chase scenes are too goofy for there to be any real tension, the plot has major holes (everyone just stays quietly at home in a London that's about to have a nuke drop on the Thames??), and the farting alien trope is back and just as unfunny as it was last episode. While the premise of aliens trying to trick humans into a nuclear war so they can turn around and sell what's left of earth as starship fuel is interesting, the execution is so poor and many of the narrative choices so baffling I truly wonder how this episode got made in this form. It feels like they just ran with the first draft of a script that should have undergone many, many revisions.
The Doctor: The Daleks have failed! Why don't you finish the job, and make the Daleks extinct? Rid the universe of your filth! Why don't you just *die*?
Dalek: [evenly] You would make a good Dalek.
Now *this* is Dr. Who! This episode takes a relatively limited cast of characters in a somewhat-confined setting and spins a tale that is riveting, interesting, and philosophically deep. It accomplishes a lot with very little and gets you to think without ever preaching at you. It respects the intelligence of its audience while working in some elements of fan service for devotees of classic Who.
This episode is a fantastic introduction to a classic Who villain for a new generation. Amazingly, this episode accomplishes more in making the Daleks nuanced and scary with a single Dalek than future episodes will manage with entire armies of them. It also introduces us to a side of the Doctor that previous episodes have hinted at - we see a broken, lonely man who doesn't bat at an eye at genocide given the proper circumstances. Rose touches the Dalek and in doing so imparts emotion and a conscience to it, but we could say that she does the same for the Doctor, stirring in him thoughts and feelings he has long thought dead. In the end, this is what the Doctor's companions do for him, saving him from becoming the good Dalek he has the potential to be.
The Editor: Now there's an interesting point. Is a slave a slave if he doesn't know he's enslaved?
The Doctor: Yes.
The Editor: Aw. I was hoping for a philosophical debate, is that all I'm gonna get: "yes"?
The Doctor: Yes.
The Editor: You're no fun.
This episode has a few good bits, but overall it's central plot/mystery just aren't portrayed compellingly enough for my taste. It just never really lands as something that's all that interesting, maybe because the "fake news" plot was already overdone even in 2005? That plus this episode has a major plot hole - the absolute zero of space would be plenty cold enough to keep the Jagrafess cool, so just...vent the heat into space? Or cool the room's air using the absolute zero temperature outside?
The best parts of this episode are Adam and his little arc of being the worst companion ever and getting kicked off the Tardis, and the sacrifice of Suki/Eva and the way we see Cathica step up at the end to help The Doctor and Rose save the day. Those are nice little character bits, but I can't help but feel that this episode, much like 1 E3: "The Unquiet Dead" before it, isn't long enough to do all of its ideas justice. Plus, the Adam sub-plot has no bearing on or even relation to the main plot, so it just ends up feeling fun but pointless. It doesn't even tie into the main story thematically.
And I feel like that's the biggest missed opportunity here. The best Dr. Who episodes tie multiple sub-plots together under the main theme of the episode, taking us on a journey that's cohesive and meaningful, two things this episode sadly isn't.