Series 1, Story 11 (Overall Series Story #163)
There's something about taking two characters on opposite sides in a violent conflict and dropping them into a restaurant for a conversation that is conducive to visceral drama. It's the tension between our competing instincts toward civilized behavior and violence that makes it work so well. Think DeNiro and Pacino in Heat, Aykroyd and Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank, and, more recently, Willis and Gordon-Levitt in Looper. Now, Nine having dinner with Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, AKA Margaret Blaine, may not have been the next such scene to leap to mind unless you're a hardcore Doctor Who fan, but it's one of the finer moments of the return series. And none of those others featured attempted poisoning by fingertip dart and excess gas cloud exhalation. It works well on its own and it carries forward nicely from the conversation where Margaret began playing on the TARDIS crews' consciences as they planned to bring her back to Raxacoricofallapatorius to face her punishment -- the death penalty.
The death penalty is, of course, the lazy, savage society's easy answer to handling the terrible dilemma of how to punish the worst criminals and attempt to prevent the most savage crimes. The Doctor has killed and, while generally more inclined to reason and conversation, has seen his share violence. Yet it clearly pains him to bring Margaret to that particular brand of justice, as it would anyone with a conscience.
DOCTOR: I don't make the law.It may not be the law he, or we, would choose, but it's the law she she fled and she, despite her capacity for mercy as evidenced by her sparing the life of the reporter who would foil her plans, has to be accountable for her crimes.
MARGARET: But you deliver it. Will you stay to watch?
DOCTOR: What else can I do?
MARGARET: The Slitheen family's huge. There's a lot more of us, all scattered off-world. Take me to them. Take me somewhere safe.
DOCTOR: But then you'll just start again.
MARGARET: I promise I won't.
DOCTOR: You've been in that skin suit too long. You've forgotten. There used to be a real Margaret Blaine. You killed her and stripped her and used the skin. You're pleading for mercy out of a dead woman's lips.
There's also Rose and Mickey to sort out, the world to save, and some groundwork to be laid for the upcoming finale. The last bit, the introduction of the tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator, was more trouble than it was worth and just raises awkward questions about the TARDIS later, but we'll get to that when we talk about "Bad Wolf" / "Parting of the Ways." The opening up of the TARDIS console here also sets the stage for later events and that's really the first of my nitpicks about this story: like "The Long Game," there are times it feels like we're watching the stage being set for use later. It's not terribly distracting, but it saps the energy of the story we're watching.
The bigger nit to pick is that it's best not to spend to much time thinking about how a(n understandably) camera-shy, skin-suit-wearing alien psychopath managed to get elected to public office in a 21st century city ... and arrange for nuclear power plant to be built in such short time. Because, clearly nobody responsible for making it plausible put much thought into it either. Blon/Margaret may be the closest thing to we get to a Shakespearean character in Doctor Who, the "The Shakespeare Code" notwithstanding, so it's a shame her character is in such an implausible situation, undermining the credibility of the story. That this seems to keep happening, complex themes handled by talented actors, not quite coming together in the service of the story during RTD's first year. As much as I enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, Eccleston's portrayal, and most of every episode, it seems like there's a recurrent pattern in this season of gears slipping -- the engine racing, but the story losing momentum. We're never off the road in a ditch, but it's not a finely tuned machine yet.