“The Unquiet Dead” is the first TV Who episode written by Mark Gatiss, who’d contribute several episodes, as a writer and, twice, as an actor, over the course of the next ten series. I like most of them a good deal. Gatiss had written a pair of Who novels for Virgin in the 1990s. I remain very surprised that Gatiss has never scripted a TV adaptation of his absolutely splendid book Nightshade, which I imagine could work perfectly as an hour-long episode.
There would be occasions in Who where I looked forward to an episode based on the strength of the writer’s previous work and be badly let down, but I’ve always thought “The Unquiet Dead” was a very clever and strong story. It’s about Charles Dickens’ world getting turned upside down on Christmas Eve, 1869, when he helps the Doctor and Rose deal with some gaseous aliens who are a lot more malevolent than they let on. Dickens is played, naturally, by Simon Callow, in much the same way that if the Doctor ever ran into Oscar Wilde, they’d offer the part to Stephen Fry. Eve Myles, who would later play Gwen in Torchwood, plays a servant girl with second sight.
Our son was excited and a little frightened, but mostly – happily – he wanted to know more about Charles Dickens, thanks to the Doctor telling Dickens that his books would last forever, and me snarking afterward about how that probably wouldn’t include The Pickwick Papers, because that one went on too darn long. So he asked about Dickens and his work and we talked a little about A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and, of course, both Oliver Twist and its 1968 film adaptation. Hopefully he’ll be as interested in Agatha Christie when the Doctor and Donna meet her in series four. I’m on surer footing when talking about Christie.