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I saw the Fall of Troy! World War Five! I was pushing boxes at the Boston Tea Party! Now I'm gonna die in a dungeon.... in Cardiff!—The Doctor
The Doctor tries to take Rose to Naples, 1860. The TARDIS disagrees, and instead takes them to Cardiff, Christmas 1869.
Charles Dickens is in town, prompting an outbreak of earnest fanboyishness from the usually sardonic Ninth Doctor. The squee doesn't last -- the dead are walking, so the Doctor springs into action. It turns out that there's a massive space/time rift right in the middle of Cardiff. This will become important later. A young psychic maid named Gwyneth (identical relative of one Gwen Cooper) can guide things through the rift.
Dragging the very skeptical Dickens along, he organises a seance and negotiates with the aliens. If he helps them through the Cardiff Rift, they can temporarily occupy some corpses until he finds them a better home. Rose is Squicked, but the Doctor isn't in the mood to listen to some silly little human and coddle her delicate sensibilities.
The Gelth (as they call themselves) prove to be a bunch of lying promise-breakers bent on (what else?) taking over the galaxy. The Doctor shows his raging Survivor Guilt over having previously killed a few species, most recently his own, and hesitates to jump into action. Gwyneth takes the decision out of his hands by sacrificing herself. Charles Dickens learns an important lesson about Christmas, and merrily bids the Doctor farewell, planning to include all sorts of ghosts and blue lights and aliens in police boxes in his novels from now on. The Doctor gloomily notes that nothing will actually change, though, because Dickens will be dead of natural causes within a year.
The Cardiff rift remains open, and becomes a major feature of the Whoniverse from this point on.
Gwyneth (to Rose): The things you've seen. The darkness. The big bad wolf.
- Can't Argue with Elves: Or, in this case, with the Doctor.
- Casting Gag: Simon Callow is a Dickensian scholar and has played Charles Dickens on several other programs.
- Changed My Jumper: Trope Namer. Nobody but Dickens remarks on the Doctor's attire anyway.
- Christmas Episode
- Continuity Nod: After Eve Myles joins the cast of Torchwood as Gwen, the Doctor eventually realizes with glee that Gwen and Gwyneth must be related.
- Development Gag: The Running Gag about Cardiff apparently being a Fate Worse Than Death is probably an affectionate little jab, since they film in Cardiff.
- False Innocence Trick: The Gelth claim to be refugees from the Great Time War who have lost their bodies and only want to use dead humans as Meat Suits. It turns out that there are many more of them than they claimed, and they want to take over all humanity, not just the dead ones.
- Ghostly Chill: The morgue cools down when the Gelth appear.
- Heroic Sacrifice: By Gwyneth to sabotage the Gelth.
- Historical Domain Character: Charles Dickens
- Historical In-Joke: Blink and you'll miss it, but the body that the Gelth reanimate when they try to invade looks a lot like Rasputin....
- Incredibly Lame Pun
Doctor: Don't antagonise her. I love a happy medium.
Rose: I can't believe you just said that.
- I Was Just Passing Through: The Doctor claims this when Dickens inquires as to his true identity.
- Newspaper Dating
- Ominous Fog
- Psychic Powers: Gwyneth.
- Puppeteer Parasite: The Gelth.
- Spooky Seance
- Temporal Paradox: Rose thinks that this means the Gelth can't kill her in 1869, since she's still living in 2005. As the Doctor explains, however, a paradox only prevents you from killing your past self -- it's 100% possible for your present self to travel to a different time zone and get killed there,
- Victorian Britain: Cardiff, 1869.
- You Look Familiar: The voice of the main Gelth sounds an awful lot like the Toclafane, and has a similar fear well, they both say that's what they're running from.