With “The Unquiet Dead,” the rejuvenated Doctor Who fulfilled the third of of its big three story settings (namely modern Earth, a remote space station and the historical past) in a very efficient three episodes. It allowed the Doctor to explain some of the laws of time travel to Rose and illustrate what she should expect if she chose to continue traveling with him.
It also reassured long-term fans that this new version of the show would not abandon those touches of gothic horror that had enlivened the classic series.
“The Unquiet Dead” was the first Doctor Who TV adventure written by Mark Gatiss. He used parts of the plot from his Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure “Phantasmagoria,” in which the Fifth Doctor and his companion Turlough paid a visit to England in 1702, only to discover ghostly goings on. It’s curiously fitting that he would send the Doctor to meet Charles Dickens in Victorian London, given that he then went on to bring Sherlock Holmes back from that era to the present day.
If you look at the livery on Sneed’s hearse, it puts their business address as being Llandaff. In real life, this is not only where the BBC Wales production office is, it’s also where Terry Nation (the man who invented the Daleks) was born.
Some of the working titles for the story included “The Crippingwell Horror” and “The Angels of Crippingwell,” as the story focused on Davy, a young man buried in Crippingwell Cemetery. The setting of the earlier draft was a hotel, and it was Sneed (who was called Noah at the time) who was originally the psychic who could contact the Gelth.
There is an excellent joke for lexicographers in this story, where Dickens is surprised by something and exclaims, “What the Shakespeare is going on?” rather than the more traditional “What the Dickens?” In actual fact, “What the Dickens?” does not refer to any famous authors and actually dates back to Shakespeare’s time, making an appearance in The Merry Wives of Windsor. The dickens in “What the dickens!?” is thought to be the devil, although none of this stopped the same joke being used in the 2006 Big Finish audio drama “The Kingmaker,” in which Shakespeare himself yells, “What the Geoffrey Chaucer!?” (You can read more about the origins of the phrase here.)
There’s a red pillar box in shot as the Doctor and Rose walk down the street (see picture above), but the interesting thing about this is that British post boxes were not red at this time. They were originally all painted green, only changing to red in 1874 (some five years after this adventure took place) because people kept walking into them. And they didn’t even have smartphones to distract them!
Another lost moment from early drafts had the Doctor showing Rose what would happen if time was allowed to continue unchecked after the Gelth invasion, so as to prove that her version of the future wasn’t set in stone. The plan was to have the passing years appear in the TARDIS monitor and show how the entire planet was overrun and destroyed by these invading apparitions, turning all humanity into zombies.
Having been introduced to the Doctor, Dickens exclaims “Doctor? You look more like a navvy.” This term navvy refers to the laborers (known as navigators) who worked digging out the canals that provided the haulage network in Victorian Britain. The canals themselves were known as navigations and were vital to British industry, so you’d think it would be something of an affectionate nickname. Sadly, the English class system being what it is, the term came to describe a stereotype of a rough-hewn sort of fellow who would not fit in with polite society. And as a good deal of the navigators were Irish, it became a bit of an ethnic slur along the way too.
Listeners to Mark Gatiss’ commentary track on the DVD will have discovered that there was originally a plan for the Doctor to arrive at Sneed’s and be mistaken for a new cleaner. Sneed would lead in with “I thought you’d be a woman,” to which the Doctor, foreshadowing the Master’s latest transformation by some years, would reply, “No, not yet.”
The topography of the TARDIS has always defied regular description, with rooms and annexes being described but rarely seen, to complete the impression that it is a practically infinite space filled with all the wonders of the universe. So when the Doctor tells Rose to go to the TARDIS wardrobe—”First left, second right, third on the left, go straight ahead, under the stairs, past the bins, fifth door on your left”—he’s merely adding more mystique to an already fairly cloudy room plan. What we do know is there are (or have been, sometimes the Doctor jettisons bits) bedrooms, a swimming pool, a library, a drawing room, a general junk room, a VIP suite (“The Invasion of Time”), a living room, a cloister room (where the Eye of Harmony sits), a capacious wardrobe and a zero room to aid the Doctor after regeneration:
In the game TARDIS, the Eleventh Doctor gives Amy Pond a very similar set of instructions: “Half a mile down the corridor, left, then right, then right again, then the third right, past a weird swirly thing, left, then the other left, through the sun room, past a green door, right, along a wall until it becomes slimy, down a lift to the third floor and straight ahead. Easy-peasy!”
There are a couple of notes of literary criticism in this episode, as the Doctor, mid-gush about Dickens and his work, complains that the “American bit” in Martin Chuzzlewit is “padding” and that the death of little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop “always cracks me up!”
In truth, Dickens did insert an American storyline into Martin Chuzzlewit to try and reverse flagging sales (it didn’t work), and little Nell’s death scene is often cited as being so filled with sentimentality and overwrought language that it becomes comic. Oscar Wilde is said to have had a similar reaction, and is often quoted as having said, “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears…of laughter.”
And while Dickens ends the story feeling revitalized and ready to resume work on a story featuring the Gelth, the fact that he plans to incorporate them into The Mystery of Edwin Drood is something of a throwaway joke for literature fans. Famously the book was never finished, as he died the year after this adventure took place.
Now read the rest of the 10 Things You May Not Know About Doctor Who archive.
Source: Doctor Who Magazine “Fact File: The Unquiet Dead”Read More