Dec 8, 2007
The Ninth Doctor and Rose arrive in Cardiff on Christmas Eve, 1869 and discover that something is making the dead come back to life. The time travellers team up with a world-weary Charles Dickens to investigate Gabriel Sneed, the local undertaker and his servant girl Gwyneth — and come face to face with the ghostly Gelth.
In a funeral parlour during the Victorian era, a young man named Redpath grieves over the open casket containing his dead grandmother. Closing his eyes in sorrow, he does not see a blue, glowing vapour wash over the corpse and enter it. The old woman's eyes snap open and she grabs Redpath by the throat, killing him. Gabriel Sneed, the undertaker, rushes in and tries to close the lid on the reanimated corpse but she knocks him unconscious to the floor before getting up and wandering out onto the street, wailing. Sneed regains consciousness and calls for his servant girl, Gwyneth. This is not the first corpse in the funeral home to come alive, and Gwyneth tells Sneed that they need to get help. Sneed protests that it is not his fault, and they have to get the dead woman back. Riding in the hearse, Sneed orders Gwyneth to use her clairvoyant abilities to seek the dead woman out, and Gwyneth focuses on the old woman's last desire: to see Charles Dickens, who is giving a reading in a music hall in town. Dickens himself is in a melancholic mood as he waits for his stage call. He feels old, is estranged from his family and his imagination is growing thin. He feels that he has seen all there is to see.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Rose are having a rough ride. As the ship shakes and they hold onto the console, the Doctor aims the TARDIS for Naples in 1860. When they land, Rose is about to rush out when the Doctor tells her that she would start a riot in her 21st century clothing. Rose returns more suitably dressed in an off-the-shoulder gown, and the Doctor compliments her, saying she is beautiful... for a human. They step out into the snow-covered streets of history, the Doctor realising when he buys a newspaper that his aim was a bit off — it is Christmas Eve, 1869, and they are in Cardiff, not Naples.
In the music hall, Dickens gives a reading of A Christmas Carol, but stops short as the dead woman in the audience starts to glow blue. The vapour pours out of her mouth, an ethereal gas with a vaguely human shape that sweeps around the hall and sends the audience running in a panic. The screams attract Rose and the Doctor as well as Sneed and Gwyneth. Dickens accuses the Doctor of being responsible for the illusion, as the vapour completely leaves the dead woman's body to be sucked into a gas lamp, and the body collapses. Sneed and Gwyneth carry the limp body out. Rose goes in pursuit, and Sneed chloroforms her, bundling her into the hearse with the dead woman. The Doctor commandeers Dickens's coach, but the great writer's protests vanish when the Doctor discovers who he is and gushes over his literary genius. When the Doctor tells him about Rose, Dickens chivalrously joins the chase.
Rose awakens in the locked viewing gallery of the funeral parlour, not seeing another gaseous entity take over young Redpath's body. As the Doctor and Dickens arrive at the parlour and force their way in, Redpath and his grandmother come to life again, approaching Rose menacingly. The gas lamps in the house flicker, and the Doctor realises there is something living in the pipes. He hears Rose's cries and breaks the door down, pulling her away from the corpses. He asks them who they are, and the corpses cry that they are dying because the Rift is failing and these forms cannot be sustained. Then the blue vapours stream out of the dead, and the bodies collapse once more.
Sneed explains that the house has had a reputation for being haunted, which is why he managed to buy it so cheaply. The Doctor explains that the house is built on the rift the aliens were referring to — a break in spacetime that is growing. These entities are from across the universe. Dickens is still sceptical, refusing to believe that there are ghosts in the gas pipes. The Doctor tells him that as dead bodies release gas when they decompose, they are ideal vehicles for these gaseous aliens. Dickens tells the Doctor, shakily, that if what he has seen is true, then perhaps his entire life, spent fighting against injustice and for social causes in what he thought was the real world, has been for nothing.
Rose, in the meantime, talks to Gwyneth, finding out that she was taken in by Sneed when she was twelve, after her parents died. Although they initially get along well, Gwyneth sees the future in Rose's mind but is shocked when she sees the things Rose has experienced with the Doctor, mentioning the big bad wolf. She apologises, admitting her clairvoyance and saying that her abilities have been growing stronger recently. The Doctor has been listening, and surmises that Gwyneth's abilities are due to her growing up in this house over the rift, and she is the key. He suggests they hold a séance.
Gwyneth manages to summon the aliens, who speak through her. They are the Gelth, a species whose bodies were destroyed by the Time War and left them facing extinction in a gaseous state. The few Gelth remaining need to come through the rift and take over dead bodies to survive. Rose is repulsed by the idea, but the Doctor insists that they have to help. Gwyneth will stand at the spot of the rift down in the morgue and allow the Gelth to use her as a bridge. Rose continues to protest: she knows the Gelth do not succeed, because the future does not have walking dead, but the Doctor tells her that time is constantly in flux, and the future can be rewritten; nothing is safe. In any case, Gwyneth wants to help her "angels". The Doctor warns the Gelth that this is only a temporary solution—once they possess the bodies, he will transport them to another place where they can build permanent ones.
However, when Gwyneth stands at the rift, and the Gelth begin to come through her, the numbers are much more than they originally implied. The Gelth show their true colours — they do not just want bodies that are already dead, they are willing to kill to supply themselves with more hosts and occupy the planet. Gwyneth stands motionless at the position of the rift as the Gelth continue to stream in. Sneed has his neck snapped by a reanimated corpse and is taken over. Dickens, overwhelmed, runs in fear as the Doctor and Rose are backed up into a corner. The Doctor apologises to Rose that she is going to die over a century before she was born, but she tells him that she wanted to come. The Doctor holds her hand as they prepare to go out fighting together, and he tells Rose he is glad he met her.
Outside, Dickens sees a pursuing Gelth get sucked into a gas lamp on the street, and has a brainstorm. He rushes back into the house, turning off the flames and turning up the gas. He goes down into the morgue, doing the same, telling the Doctor what he is doing. The Doctor realises that by filling the house with gas, the Gelth will be sucked out of the dead bodies like poison from a wound. This is exactly what happens, the Gelth pouring out of the collapsing corpses and swirling around in the confines of the morgue. The Doctor tells Gwyneth to send them back, but she says she is only strong enough to hold them here, and takes out a box of matches from her apron.
The Doctor tells Dickens to get Rose out of there before the two succumb to the gas fumes, and tries to convince Gwyneth to leave the Gelth to him. As he touches her neck, however, he discovers the truth of the matter, and reluctantly leaves. Gwyneth lights a match, and the house and the Gelth are consumed in fire. The Doctor tells Rose that when he checked Gwyneth's pulse, he realised that she was dead. He thinks Gwyneth died the moment she stood in the rift. Rose does not understand — Gwyneth spoke to them and saved them. In response, Dickens quotes Shakespeare, that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet: Act 1, scene V). Rose looks sadly at the ruins of the funeral home—a servant girl saved the world, and nobody will ever know.
Dickens thanks the Doctor as they stand in front of the TARDIS. The things he has seen tonight have given him hope that there is more to learn. He plans to patch things up with his family and finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood, identifying the murderer as a blue elemental. He asks the Doctor if his books will last, and the Doctor assures a smiling Dickens that his work will last forever. Inside the TARDIS, Rose asks if Dickens writing about what they just experienced will change history. The Doctor tells her that Dickens will never get to write his story, as he dies the following year. Right now, however, they have made him more alive than he has been in a long time.
Dickens watches in wonderment as the TARDIS fades away before his eyes. He laughs out loud, and walks through the streets of Cardiff, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and declaring, "God bless us, everyone!"