The Unquiet Dead was the third episode of series 1 of Doctor Who.

It was the first episode of the BBC Wales series to be set in the past, relative to the viewer. It was also the first since Timelash to feature an extended encounter with a historical figure from Earth's past. From a production perspective, it was significant for being writer Mark Gatiss' first televised Doctor Who episode. This episode features the first appearance of the Cardiff Space-Time Rift which would reappear this series in Boom Town and become the initial focus of Torchwood.

The mythos of the "darkness" and the "big Bad Wolf" would come to pass in Turn Left and The Parting of the Ways respectively.

Synopsis Edit

The dead are roaming the streets of Cardiff in 1869 when the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler arrive, just in time for Christmas. Teaming up with Charles Dickens, the TARDIS team encounter the Gelth, creatures sucked through the Cardiff Rift from the other end of the universe, their home lost. Surely inhabiting dead bodies is wrong, though! Can both sides be helped, or are these gaseous creatures not to be trusted?

Plot Edit

In the funeral parlour of Sneed and Company in the Victorian era, Mr Redpath grieves over the open casket holding his dead grandmother, Mrs Peace. Closing his eyes in sorrow, he does not see a blue, glowing vapour wash over the corpse and enter it. Mrs Peace's eyes snap open and she grabs Redpath by the throat, strangling him to death. Gabriel Sneed, the undertaker, rushes in and tries to close the lid on the reanimated corpse but she knocks him unconscious to the floor, then gets up and wanders onto the street, wailing.

Sometime later, Gwyneth, Sneed's young servant girl, returns from looking after the carriage horses in the stables to find Sneed recovering from the cadaver's attack. This is not the first time there have been zombie incidents in the funeral home, and Gwyneth tells Sneed they need to get help. Sneed protests that it is not his fault and that they have to get Mrs Peace back before she does any damage. In the hearse, Sneed orders Gwyneth to use her clairvoyant abilities to seek out the dead woman, 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 at Taliesin Lodge. 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 he has seen all there is to see.

In the TARDIS, the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler 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 in more suitable attire: an off-the-shoulder gown. The Doctor admires her beauty, "considering" that she's human. They step into the snow-covered streets of history. The Doctor realises when he buys a newspaper that his aim was a bit off — it's Christmas Eve 1869, and they aren't in Naples — they're in Cardiff.

In the music hall, Dickens gives a reading of A Christmas Carol. Just as he reaches the point where Marley's face appears in Scrooge's door knocker, he stops short. In the audience, Mrs Pearce starts to glow blue. Vapour pours out of her mouth, and an ethereal gas with a vaguely humanoid shape sweeps around the hall, emitting ghastly screams and sending the audience into a panic. The screams attract Rose and the Doctor, as well as Sneed and Gwyneth. The vapour completely leaves the dead woman's body and is sucked into a gas lamp, as the body collapses. Dickens accuses the Doctor of being responsible for the illusion. Sneed and Gwyneth carry the limp body out. Rose goes in pursuit, and Sneed knocks her out with chloroform, bundling her into the hearse with the dead woman. The Doctor commandeers Dickens's coach. The great writer's protests vanish when the Doctor discovers who he is and gushes over his genius. When the Doctor tells him about Rose, Dickens chivalrously joins the chase.

Rose awakes in the locked viewing gallery of the funeral parlour, just as the gas takes over Redpath's body. As the Doctor and Dickens arrive at the parlour and force their way in, Mr Redpath and his grandmother climb out of their coffins to menace Rose. The house's gas lights flicker. 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. The corpses cry that they are dying because the Cardiff Rift is failing and these forms cannot be sustained. The screaming blue vapours stream out of the dead, and the bodies collapse again.

After recovering from the incident, Gwyneth pours the Doctor's tea just the way he likes it — that is, with two sugars — without asking him what his preference is. Rose lashes out at Sneed for drugging her, kidnapping her and locking her in a room full of zombies. The stricken Sneed explains that the house has a reputation as haunted, which is why he bought it at such a low cost. The Doctor tells him that the house was built on top of the Rift, a crack in space-time that's growing. These entities are from across the universe. Dickens is sceptical, refusing to believe there are ghosts in the gas pipes. The Doctor informs them that dead bodies release gas when they decompose, making 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. The Doctor tries to reassure him that the real world is still the same; there's just more than Dickens thought.

Rose talks to Gwyneth, finding out she was taken in by Sneed when she was twelve after her parents died. The two girls 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. She apologises, admitting her clairvoyance and saying 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. She is the key. He suggests they hold a séance.

Gwyneth summons the aliens, who speak through her. They identify themselves as the Gelth, a species whose bodies were destroyed in the Last Great Time War, which 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 they 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. The future can be rewritten. Nothing is safe. In any case, Gwyneth wants to help her "angels". The Doctor warns the Gelth this is only a temporary solution — once they possess the bodies, he will take them to another place where they can build permanent ones.

Gelth pass through

Gelth pass through the Cardiff Space-Time Rift.

However, when Gwyneth stands at the Rift and the Gelth begin to come through her, the numbers are "a few billion" — much more than they originally implied. They show their true colours. Only dead corpses are not enough for them. They will kill to supply themselves with more hosts and occupy the planet. Gwyneth stands motionless at the position of the Rift as the Gelth stream in. Sneed demands Gwyneth to stop, only to have his neck snapped by a reanimated corpse and be taken over. Dickens, overwhelmed, flees as the Doctor and Rose are backed into a corner. The Doctor apologises to Rose that she is going to die over a century before she was born, but she assures him that she wanted to come. The Doctor and Rose hold hands as they prepare to go out fighting together. He tells Rose he is glad he met her; she replies the same and they share a final smile.

Outside, Dickens sees a pursuing Gelth get sucked into a gas lamp on the street with a scream. Suddenly, he has an idea. He rushes back into the house, turning off the flames and turning up the gas. He goes into the morgue, doing the same, explaining to the Doctor what he is doing: these creatures are gaseous, so the moment the house is filled with gas, the Gelth will be sucked out of the corpses like poison from a wound. This is precisely what happens; the Gelth pour out of the collapsing corpses, screaming 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. She takes out a box of matches from her apron, but Rose won't let her carry through.

The Doctor tells Dickens to get Rose out before the two succumb to the gas fumes. He tries to convince Gwyneth to leave the Gelth to him. As he touches her neck, however, he discovers the truth and leaves. Gwyneth lights a match, and the house and the Gelth are consumed in an explosion. The Doctor tells Rose that when he checked Gwyneth's pulse, he realised she was dead — and probably had been from the moment she stood in the Rift. Rose does not understand, because Gwyneth spoke to them and saved them. In response, Dickens quotes Shakespeare: "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet: Act I, scene v). Rose looks sadly at the ruins of the funeral home and mournfully states, "She saved the world... a servant girl. No one will ever know."

Dickens thanks the Doctor as they stand in front of the TARDIS. Dickens has overcome his depression, and has regained his thirst for knowledge and adventure. The things he has seen tonight have given him hope 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 to warn humanity of the Gelth. He asks the Doctor if his books will last. The Doctor assures a smiling Dickens 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; he dies the following year, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood will never be finished. Right now, though, they have made him more alive than he has been in a long time. The Doctor decides to give Dickens one final surprise...

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 exclaiming, "God bless us, everyone!"

Cast Edit

Crew Edit

General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.

References Edit

Foods and beverages Edit

  • Gwyneth serves tea to everyone. The Doctor takes his with two sugars.

Last Great Time War Edit

Space-time anomalies Edit

Bad Wolf Edit

  • When looking into Rose's mind, Gwyneth is frightened and breaks off contact when she sees "the things you've seen... the darkness... the big bad wolf!"

Story notes Edit

  • The Unquiet Dead was initially titled My Name's Dickens... Charles Dickens.[1] It later held the title The Crippingwell Horror. The Angels of Crippingwell was also considered as a title.[2][3][4]
  • Simon Callow, who plays Dickens, has also written extensively about the writer and is well known for playing Dickens on television and in a one-man show.
  • The address on Sneed's hearse indicates his mortuary is in Llandaff where the BBC Wales production offices are. Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, was also born there.
  • There are several literary in-jokes during Dickens and the Doctor's conversation in the coach.
    • The "American bit" in Martin Chuzzlewit, which the Doctor describes as "rubbish" and "padding", was indeed inserted by Dickens to spice up the original serialised story when sales flagged, although the gambit failed to improve sales.
    • The death of Little Nell, which the Doctor says always "cracks [him] up," is cited (notably by Oscar Wilde in 1895) as an example of bathos, excessive sentimentality and purple prose that becomes unintentionally amusing.
  • Dickens also cries, "What the Shakespeare?", a play on the common exclamation, "What the Dickens?" Contrary to popular belief, the phrase has nothing to do with Charles Dickens; "Dickens" is a euphemism for the Devil. Riffing on this comment, in the 2006 Big Finish Productions audio drama The Kingmaker, William Shakespeare cries, "What the Geoffrey Chaucer?" Shakespeare used the phrase "What the Dickens" in his work (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III, scene ii).
  • Mark Gatiss stated in Radio Times that the original script was bleaker and more frightening, but he was advised by Davies to "make it more of a romp."
  • The Doctor calls Rose "Barbarella" for wanting to go out before changing into something more suitable for 1869.
  • When Eve Myles was cast as Gwen Cooper in Torchwood, it was noted that the character she played in The Unquiet Dead had a similar name. Russell T Davies initially stated that there was no relationship between the two characters. In the fourth season finale episode, Journey's End, written by Davies, there is a short conversation between the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler, which suggests that Gwyneth's physical characteristics remained as an echo in the Time Rift and eventually imprinted themselves into Gwen. Russell T Davies has explained it as "It's not familial as we understand it. There's no blood tie. Spatial genetic multiplicity means an echo and repetition of physical traits across a Time Rift."
  • According to Mark Gatiss on this story's commentary, there was originally going to be a scene in which the Doctor was mistaken for Sneed's new cleaner. Someone would have stated, "I thought you'd be a woman" to which the Doctor replies "No, not yet", hinting that Time Lords can change sex.

Ratings Edit

  • 8.86 million (UK final)[5]

Broadcasts Edit

  • An advert for the American broadcast of this episode on the Sci Fi Channel read, "The year: 1869. The place: England. The problem: The walking dead." The episode is set in Wales, not England. The location of this episode is also misidentified as "Victorian England" in Doctor Who: The Interactive Electronic Board Game by Toy Brokers.
  • Author and Faction Paradox creator Lawrence Miles posted a damning review of this episode on the Internet within an hour of its broadcast, focusing on a perceived political subtext suggesting that asylum seekers (the Gelth) are really all evil and out to exploit liberal generosity (the Doctor). The review produced some considerable backlash in Internet forums, especially in light of his favourable reviews of Rose and The End of the World, mainly over his comments about writer Mark Gatiss. Miles conceded in a later edit of the review that the subtext was probably unintentional, but still felt it should have been detected and edited out of the script.[6]

Filming locations Edit

  • Although the story is set in 19th century Cardiff, the production was actually filmed in Swansea and Monmouth, as there were not enough Victorian-looking buildings in Cardiff.
  • The funeral parlour was filmed at a children's home in Cardiff.
  • New Theatre, Cardiff (Theatre where Charles Dickens gives his performance)
  • Beaufort Arms Court, Monmouth
  • White Swan Court, Monmouth
  • Headlands School, Penarth
  • Cambrian Place, Swansea Marina, Swansea
  • Shire Hall, Monmouth
  • St Mary's Street, Monmouth
  • Unit Q2, Imperial Park, Imperial Way, Newport

Production errors Edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • Redpath reacts when the lid is taken off the coffin he is in.
  • At the end, the Doctor and Rose treat Charles Dickens by making the TARDIS dematerialise in front of him. The engines begin to grind but the twin-engine pumps do not move.
  • In one of the scenes set in the theatre when the Doctor and Rose confront Gelth for the first time an electric light switch is visible on the wall behind Rose.

Explainable Errors Edit

Internet Movie Database Edit

Anachronisms Edit

  • Dickens uses the phrase "On with the motley." which is anachronistically incorrect. The phrase translates from "vesti la giubba", a line of dialogue from the opera 'I Pagliacci'. The opera wasn't written until 1892, and wasn't translated into English until 1902 (by Enrico Caruso). The phrase could have been use years before it was included in the opera.

Miscellaneous Edit

  • When The Doctor and Rose first land, he tells her the date is December 24, 1860. Later in Charles Dickens' dressing room there is a poster listing the date as December 24, 1869. The Doctor was aiming for 1860, and didn't realise they were in 1869 until after he and Rose had left the TARDIS.

Movie Mistakes Edit

Corrections Edit

  • When Rose is having a friendly chat with Gwyneth, just before the Doctor walks in the room, a crew member's shoulder and arm is visible in the bottom left of the screen. That's the Doctor's shoulder and arm. The material of the clothing is the same as his jacket, and he's standing the same distance away from Rose and Gwyneth.
  • The Doctor advises Rose to change her clothes as to be less conspicuous in the 1860's, yet he himself does not change his clothing. He states he changed his jumper, however, it has been widely stated that he simply "blends in".
  • Charles Dickens says he is going off to catch a mail coach ("Quite literally 'Post Haste'" is the line). However, mail coaches ceased to be in regular use some 40 years earlier in the 1830s, killed off by the arrival of the railway network. He could be using slang. Mail coach = Mail train.

Continuity Edit

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 sunroom, past a green door, right, along a wall until it becomes slimy, down a lift to the third floor and straight ahead - easy-peasy!"Eleventh Doctor [src]

Home video releases Edit


Series 1 Volume 1 DVD Cover

External links Edit

Footnotes Edit

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