Six episodes after we left Mickey and Jake in the parallel world, it’s time for part one of the Doctor Who Series 2 finale. Part three, Army of Ghosts!Army of Ghosts is often sidelined in favour of the far more flashy, showy second part, Doomsday (which will be reviewed in part four) – but is this treatment (or lack of) warranted? Mostly, no. The episode picks up with an intriguing monologue from Rose, claiming ‘this is the story of how I died’. Of course, knowing the outcome of the two-parter decreases the effect of that sentence (especially knowing that not only is she alive, but she returns in Series 4) – but it’s an effective way to start the episode, and lends a little bit of finality to an episode that could, final five minutes excepted, easily be a mid-season episode.
Episode 12 always tends to be a build-up episode, but Army of Ghosts is particularly build-up heavy. It’s still a great Doctor Who episode for most of its run-time, but it has very little plot of its own: the episode’s all about setting up the all-out Cybermen/Dalek war of Doomsday, but it loses a little bit of uniqueness as a result – it’s almost a 45-minute prologue for the finale, rather than an episode in its own right. If you compare it to say, The Stolen Earth or The Pandorica Opens, it pales in contrast plot-wise.
But if Army of Ghosts is just a prologue, at least it’s a good prologue. The idea of ‘ghosts’ visiting is a clever little idea – more so when it’s revealed just who the ghosts are. It’s a central premise that forms the backbone of the episode – and while it’s a rather thin plot on its own, Army of Ghosts has the advantage of finally giving us some answers about Torchwood – revealed to be a moderately shady government organization who essentially steal alien equipment and use it for their own ends.
But Torchwood isn’t just a moderately shady government organization who essentially steal alien equipment and use it for their own ends – it’s been infiltrated by our favourite metal monsters: the Cybermen, who followed the Sphere of Foreshadowing from the Rise of the Cybermen universe into ours, and converting the office workers into Cyber-zombies (now that’s an idea for an episode!). The Cybermen are at their creepiest here – lurking in the construction area, waiting for their next victims. They’ve been used pretty rarely as a lurking, shadowy presence in the revived series, so it’s nice to see the Cybermen back doing what they do best: lurking.
Most of the episode takes place in the corridors of Torchwood Tower, where the Doctor and Rose are attempting to infiltrate the organisation. Sadly, the Doctor and a ‘kidnapped’ Jackie are captured on arrival by Yvonne Hartman, the moderately shady leader of Torchwood. It’s a superb performance by Tracy-Ann Oberman, who’s clearly having a lot of fun playing the part – in an episode where the cast is mainly compromised of regulars, Oberman more than holds her own.
But Army of Ghosts is known for one main thing: its blistering final scenes. The reveal that the ghosts are Cybermen is a superb little twist – and the scenes where the ghosts slowly materialise into the form of Cybermen across the world would be enough to keep viewers on the edge of their seat, waiting until Episode 13. The Cybermen aren’t often particularly threatening in the revived series – so this surely ranks as one of their finest moments – seeing Cybermen in people’s houses in cosy modern-day suburbia is an image that most likely had some of the younger viewers cowering behind the sofa.
Indeed, so would the reveal that Mickey has made it back to our world, and is working undercover at Torchwood. But the real cliffhanger of Army of Ghosts is one that doesn’t feature the Cybermen at all – the reveal that the mystery sphere is a ship containing four Daleks is one of the greatest cliffhangers in Doctor Who‘s history – perfectly setting up the all-out war that fans had been dreaming of for years.
Overall, Army of Ghosts is a fun but pedestrian episode that’s saddled with the task of building up to the grand Cybermen/Dalek finale – but luckily, it’s rescued by careful use of the Cybermen and the barnstorming last few minutes.