Moving away from a single arc word the 2008 season of Doctor Who expanded on the previous plot arc. The arc relating to Saxon was ultimately foreshadowing the villain in the final two parter, laying the ground work for his plan.
In 2008 the arc was showing the viewers the consequences of the villains plan, while offering few clues to who was behind it all. Throughout the season the Doctor came across references to missing planets.
The loss of these worlds were background details in most episodes, providing justification for the villains actions. Treated in isolation it would have only been a minor plot detail. The fact that we kept hearing about missing worlds made it significant.
The fact that bees were missing on Earth was a clever clue to slip into ‘Partners in Crime.’ It is easy to miss because the decline in bee populations is something which is happening in the real world.
We eventually learn that this is an indication that Earth is in danger, the bees are deserting the planet like rats fleeing a sinking ship. The realisation that the bees are running away is a nice way to indicate the sheer scale of the threat to Earth.
Just to complicate matters the other reoccurring theme of the series was Rose making random appearances, attempting to warn the Doctor. We saw her in a crowd of people during ‘Partners in Crime’ before she faded away like a ghost and then subsequently as an image such as on the television in ‘Midnight’.
The viewer was bound to notice one of these themes running through the story arc, if not all three. The problem was it wasn’t clear how these three elements tied together. Even if you guessed that the same force was causing all the planets to vanish it still wouldn’t tell you who the culprit was.
Eventually it was revealed that the Daleks were stealing the planets, under the direction of Davros, to destroy all of existence. Like the Master Davros was another classic Dr Who character people wanted to see return and in a way this plot arc was all about building up his reappearance.
Yet the sense of anticipation was never really there. Yes, the viewer could work out that the missing planets were building to big event but the Doctor hadn’t. The main characters were completely unaware of it until the final two part story, diminishing any sense of excitement around the revelation of who was behind it.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this. On the positive side it means that each of the stories can be enjoyed on its own merit. They are like a well written anthology, where each write is given the same starting point but develops an original idea from that central concept.
The missing worlds give motivation for characters or put events in motion but the question of where those planets have gone doesn’t get in the way of the plot. A casual viewer doesn’t need to concern themselves with that dangling plot thread.
The downside is that ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ can also stand on its own, removing much of the point of the story arc. The Doctor learns from the Shadow Proclamation that 24 planets have vanished. He does realise the number is actually 27, adding the worlds he’s discovered are missing in his travels, but the result is same. The Doctor learns that planets are being taken.
The fact that additional planets have gone missing actually makes the situation more puzzling. The Shadow Proclamation say that 27 planets vanished at the same instant, leaving no trace. The Doctor says that other worlds have been taken throughout time.
We learn that Davros and his Daleks are responsible for taking the worlds so it seems curious that they took 24 at the same time but three others at different points in history. Why exactly didn’t they take all of them at the same moment, other than to give the Doctor something to contribute?
Similarly Rose’s appearance also serve little purpose. Like the Bad Wolf message the majority of her warnings are missed by the Doctor. On the message of ‘Bad Wolf’ reaches him in ‘Turn Left’.
Since the Doctor has not been able to act on the message in previous episodes nothing would have been lost by having her simply appear as she did in ‘The Stolen Earth’. Rose even explains how she got back to Earth in ‘Journey’s End’ making her part of the arc neatly summed up in just two episodes.
The reality bomb is briefly foreshadowed in ‘Turn Left’ with the stars going out and Roses’ obvious knowledge of what it did. This does raise problems of just how time works in the Doctor Who universe in relation to parallel dimensions.
Pete’s World, the dimension in which Rose was trapped, was three years ahead of the main stream Dr Who reality. This is given as justification of how the effects of the reality bomb could be seen in that world, before the problem had been activated.
This doesn’t actually work when you remember that they are parallel dimensions and so have experienced at the same point, regardless of what date was on the calendar. To make a real world comparison it doesn’t matter what time zone you are in when an event occurs, it occurs at the same time for everyone, regardless of whether they several hours behind or ahead where the event occurs.
For example if a nuclear explosion occurred in America at 6am then people in Britain wouldn’t have heard about it 6am their time and have 6 hours to warn the US of this ‘future’ event.
It also raises questions of how these dimensions could have suffered the consequences of events that the Doctor prevents happening. Is the core realities time line fixed while those of parallel realities are in flux, able to be affected by potential future occurrences?
‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ does do an excellent job of pulling elements from many previous stories, such as past companions, the Medusa Cascade and various plot devices but none are directly tied to the plot arc. It is more an example of how to successfully build on previous adventures.
Donna is the subject of another element of the plot arc, suggesting that fate has pushed her to being an important part of these events when the reality of the matter is that it has been plot contrivance.
Taking this approach can be a double edged sword. It can give characters an added significance but it has the danger of excusing improbable events and coincidence as ‘destiny’.
In conclusion this story is a mixed bag. It did spark some good stories but the pay off lacked impact. The plot arc didn’t strengthen the story and barely foreshadowed it. In terms of tone and plot beats you could have eliminated everything prior to the final two episodes without any noticeable difference.