Sunday, July 16, 2006

Doctor Who Series 2: Episodes 12 & 13

So; that's that then. All over for another 39 weeks.

And this time it really is 'all over'. First, they sold us 'The Doctor and Rose Show', and then Chris went, and now Billie's gone and we're back in uncharted water. Next Christmas will be the third re-launch in two years.

In March 2005, Rose's alarm clock went off and since then we've seen everything from her point of view. When the Doctor tried to dump Rose in 'Parting of the Ways', we went back to earth and sat with her in the chip shop and wondered what he was up to. But this time we stayed with the Doctor, alone again, fiddling with the TARDIS controls. We see the mysterious bride through his eyes, and like him we wonder who the hell she can be. Eighteen months ago, RTD made a Copernican shift in the focus of the show: from Doctor, to companion. Well, now we've shifted back.

And it really, really is all over, because once the Doctor has stood in the TARDIS and tried to say 'I love you' then the programme that used to be called Doctor Who has been gently, lovingly, painlessly put to sleep. It will probably now go to interesting places; and we can decide to go with it or we can decide to stay behind and regret that staying until the day we die. But we can never change things back to how they were before: if we did, the Reapers would come and get us.

And that's okay. It's not the first time the series has committed euthanasia. The T.V series that had been called Doctor Who came to an end in 1976, when the Master held Tom Baker's head under water. It probably finished the first time someone used the word 'Time Lord' or when the unearthly child was booted out of the TARDIS.

There was a story. There was Mickey, and his appearance in a Torchwood lab coat would have been a really good surprise, if it wasn't that the BBC is obliged to protect us from unexpected plot twists, because of the special way it's funded. There were Ma and Pa Tyler and they were done really rather well. Jackie got a go at being a companion, and the nice thing was that she'd changed since episode 1, but not changed beyond recognition. The look on Mickey's face when Jackie tells Pete 'There's never been anyone else' was priceless. Good call to play the scene as comedy; that made it quite touching; if it had been played as a tearjerker, it would have just been annoying. It's nice to occasionally be reminded that the reason RTD has a reputation for being a good scriptwriter is that he can, when he tries, write good scripts.

There were Daleks. And Cybermen. And I don't know what the Daleks were for. Beyond opening the rift for the Cyberpeople to come through, they had no role in the story. Billions of Daleks appear; they swap taunts with the Cybermen; the Doctor waves his magic wand; billions of Daleks disappear. But they did get Doctor Who an unprecedented third Radio Times cover, so I guess they served their purpose.

It was cute to have Daleks and the Cybermen standing around saying 'Identify yourself' 'No, you identify yourself'. I am glad this stopped before one or other of them claimed to be a lighthouse. I quite enjoyed 'Daleks have no concept of elegance'/'This is obvious'. But 'In one thing only are you our superiors: you are better at dying' is just not the kind of thing that a hate filled cybernetic alien would say. Is there no-one who can restrain RTD from this kind of meta-textual silliness? The channel hopping gags are getting boring, too. If weird aliens had invaded earth disguised as ghosts, then they wouldn't be appearing on daytime TV. It would have made more sense to show Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury arguing on Newsnight about whether ghosts existed or not. My mother tells me that there was an in-joke in the Eastenders clip which I didn't spot; which makes up for the occasional Doctor Who in-jokes that she doesn't spot.

But the story wasn't really about Daleks, Cybermen, aliens, ghosts or Torchwood. Those things are just there to keep the asexuals happy. (Did you notice that in the Episode 1 trailer, a human gets zapped by something which we regulars could easily identify as a Dalek death-ray. A gun, I mean, not an ice-cream. Take that, you asexuals: we'll put in spoilers that will spoil it for you, but not for anyone else – if that doesn't drive Doctor Who fans away from Doctor Who I don't know what will.) The real subject of Doctor Who – indeed, the real subject of everything, all that matters in life, is dating. It's a subject which is especially close to the heart of the pre-adolescent target audience, which is why the old series was so silly to base itself around Old Labour ideas like friendship. The chemistry between Eccleston and Piper was enough to sustain a series. The chemistry between Tennant and Piper decidedly isn't. You could have got some plot mileage out of 'Rose loved Doctor Chris, but she doesn't love Doctor David, Doctor David is hurt, because so far as he's concerned, he's still the same person.' But we didn't try: after 45 minutes of post-regeneration angst, we've just had to assume that the Doc and Rose's relationship has re-set to whatever it was before 'Bad Wolf'.

So the only question about 'Army of Ghosts'/'Doomsday' is 'Does Rose die?' And given quite how much foreshadowing there had been, it's no great surprise that the surprising answer was (look away now) 'No, course she bloody doesn't.' Which raises the question of what Satan thought he was doing making portentous predictions, and why anyone would describe 'the circumstances under which my name was erroneously added to the list of casualties of a disaster I escaped from' as 'This is the story of how I died.'

If she is really going to work for the Torchwood of Earth-2, then it probably won't be the last story she ever tells.

So the only tension was meta-textual: we kept thinking 'Is this the bit when Rose dies' because we'd been told in advance that Rose was going to die. When Rose goes back to Earth-2 with Mickey and Jackie, we all think 'Ah, perhaps this is how it ends'; and then when she is nearly pulled into the void, we think 'Aha, this is how it ends', which makes the final appearance of Pa Tyler almost unexpected. The Doctor and Rose trying to touch each other through the now-closed-off rift in space was almost as moving as in Phillip Pullman, although without the under-age shagging.

I'm usually a sucker for sentimental stuff. I was quite touched by 'Father's Day'. But RTD was trying so hard to make me cry that I didn't feel remotely like crying: although goodness gracious me isn't Billie Piper a remarkably remarkable actress; totally convincing us that her whole life has fallen apart, without going remotely over any kind of top. There are still people who say that they can't watch Doctor Who because of Billie, which I can only interpret as class-snobbery or pure straightforward misogyny: we don't want smart, competent women in our sci-fi – or at any rate, not smart, pretty competent women who speak with lower class accents and failed their A levels. I know that Tennant's Doctor is supposed to slightly aloof; I know that he is supposed to be wacky; I know that the slight woodenness is part of the characterisation. I like him as much as I've liked any Doctor since Tom Baker. But I still couldn't quite stop myself from thinking 'What could Christopher Eccleston have done with this material?'

Some people have noted some rather gratuitous religious imagery in this series; I must say I was relieved that, when the holographic Doctor meets Rose on a beach, and Rose says 'You look like a ghost' the Doctor resists the temptation to say 'Do not cling to me.' Not in so many words, at any rate.

I watched the episode with a group of Whovian friends. Everyone liked it and we laughed in all the right places. I think the last scene was meant to be tragi-comic rather than sad, so when Rose says 'I love you' and the Doctor says 'Quite right too,' we all think the line is almost as funny as it was when Harrison Ford first ad libbed it a quarter of a century ago; and when the Doctor tries to say 'I love you' but dematerialises mid-sentence, we all laughed -- laughed with it rather than at it I mean; and of course, it should have ended there, where it started, with Rose and Mickey and Jackie; not back on the TARDIS with the Doctor; because now we've seen him cry, and like the first time you see your parents cry, it's all over and nothing can ever, ever, ever be the same again.

When Rose mentions 'the baby', the Doctor automatically assumes that it is hers and is pleased. Does the Doctor think that when he dumped her, Rose immediately started sleeping with Mickey? Or is it possible that, just for a moment he thought...

No. That way, madness lies.


Mike Taylor said...

Thanks Andrew, it's always good to read your thoughts on Doctor Who. One place where I think you're being a bit over-harsh is in interpreting Rose's "This is the story of how I died": surely she doesn't mean "the circumstances under which my name was erroneously added to the list of casualties of a disaster I escaped from" but "how the life I cared about ended"?

I've sort of worried about the Doctor/Rose relationship from quite early on, because it would have been so very easy to let it tip over into a conventional BF/GF relationship. I very much appreciate that RTD did not in fact let this happen: the hints continued throughout the season that the relationship was of an alien kind, something different not just quantitatively but qualitatively from what Rose had with Mickey. That Rose in the end does say something as conventional as "I love you" seems entirely appropriate; that the Doctor does not is also appropriate. Did he really run out of time? Or did he cut the connection himself?

The difficulty in series 3 is going to be the Doctor/New Companion relationship. I was disappointed to find that the role will again be given to an attractive young woman: I think an interestingly different dynamic could have been provided by an older woman -- in fact, Sarah Jane Smith would have suited me just fine, not for nostalgic reasons but just because she's a find actress who did a superb job in her one episode this time around. (Then again, I wanted an older Doctor than David Tennant, so this may just be me. It seems terribly wrong that the Doctor is younger than I am these days.)

So the difficulty with New Companion will be avoiding re-treading the same ground that has been so comprehensively surveyed in the Doctor-Rose relationship. I hope that somehow they can do something radically different with the new companion, but I honestly can't see what -- maybe the simplest approach is the best in this case: a straightforward old-style asexual fanboyish relationship?

Whatever choice they make, I am pretty confident that they'll find a way to do it right. I really don't think that the last 27 episodes have made many missteps at all (contra some of the ludicrously overblown negative reviews such as your own assertion that Fear Her is the worst episode ever). We're in safe hands.

Phil Masters said...

I don't know what the Daleks were for.

So far as I could make out from Doctor Who Confidential, they were there because RTD considers them to be fundamentally iconic for Doctor Who. And in a simplistic sort of way, he may be right.

Doctor Who doesn't really have many really iconic monsters. The Daleks may actually be the only ones. People always quote the cybermen, and perhaps it's just that, starting watching with the first Pertwee episodes, I never saw much of them in my Who-formative years, but they really don't seem to me to be in the same class. Daleks have a primal sort of attitude and a great one-word catch-phrase, and can look inhumanly sinister just by rolling on screen; cybermen, let's face it, just looked bloody silly in their early incarnations, and their weapons systems and vulnerabilities and motivations and homeworld all wander all over the shop at the writers' whims. The new series tried to give them a catchphrase, but I can't see it, ahem, catching on; having robotic monsters chanting "Delete!" seems like a relic of command line interfaces, which the Windows user generation won't get.

And what else is there? I greatly enjoyed the appearance of the Autons last year (more Pertwee legacy), but it's become clear that was either a one-off bit of fan service to draw the geeks back in at the start, or a plain rip-off of a classic great idea. (And I think it was a mistake to bring the Nestene Consciousness on screen as a bucket of goo. It should be a glowing Trekoid energy-thing, I tell you.) Ice Warriors? Actually, they were quite stylish in their way, and the FX for the freeze guns could be good these days, but they lack something. Silurians/Sea Devils? Maybe, but the potential plots are limited. Yeti? One laughs.

Which just leaves the Master. Who I've been half-expecting to see for the last three months, and might even almost like despite my paid-up membership of the First Church of Delgado (Fundamentalist). Though if someone waved a sonic screwdriver and put me in the chair, he wouldn't be my choice for Other Surviving Timelord.

I know, I know - the Rani was a pretty naff character, really. But there's a lot of actresses of the right sort of age who can sneer well in leather boots. And remember, she was a mad scientist with a taste for biology...

So, if one wanted to restart the "All the Timelords are Dead!" angst-fest plot, and raise interesting questions about the Doctor and sexuality - why not make him a Faustian offer he can't refuse? After all, bad skiffy has been recycling the Adam and Eve plot since Hugo Gernsback hit New York, and embryo research is the cool controversy of the decade...

But I ramble.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

The Daleks were there to keep the Cybermen busy while the Doctor saved the day by discovering a new kind of particle.

Louise H said...

I sniffled. A little bit. Although mainly I was trying to follow the dialogue. New hard disk recorder was recording while we were watching and due to my rather random grasp of modern technology I thought the fact that the diaogue repeated itself with a second or so delay was a clever Doctor Who device that would be explained at the end and not the fact that I was getting the sound through the TV and the amplifier. It was all much better on the second watching with one soundtrack :-)

Why shouldn't the Doctor be in love with two people at the same time? All the rage at the moment according to the New Scientist. After all Rose is meant to be attached to both the Doctor and Mickey, in gradually changing proportions.

Being a great fan of story arcs I liked the (rather uninformative) reference back to the Time War; if this season has missed anything (apart from Christopher Eccleston, of course) it is the sort of context that last season had. Although it had a bit of a hurried feel, and DT apparently can't do ferocious well. Or terrified- I loved CE's reaction to Daleks, DT just seems to get intense.

purple_moogle said...

when did Harrison Ford ad lib that? o googled it but couldnt find anything. I have only watched Star Wars with him in though. The only time oi remmeber him ab libbing an I love you line was the 'I know'.

Your review is quite good and basically the same as my own opinons, i thought the Rose death thing was a big publicity thing, they could have at least made it a bit moer like a death.. i dunno, a 10 second clip of a friend leaving flowers by her door ro something to show her 'deathiness'... altho she doesnt seem to have any friends really.

i loved that elegence thing tho thought it might have ruined the scariness factor and the 'better at dying thing' was just stupid. i did love the eipose tho and i get so annoyed fi ppl hate billie espeically cos of her accent as she's putting it on bviously, she really has a very nice accent. i think david tennant is amazing too, i loved episode 4 of this series, fathers day + last eiposde of last, and last of this one.. i think myabe crhis was better at being sad through his expressions but i cant help but love Davids doctor too.

i like that idea someone said of him cutting the connecxtion him slef.. i also liked it when mickey appeared again, i never lied him much b4 but it made me reaslie how much i mssed him (as a character ona show, not in general)

sos 4 typos

Andrew Rilstone said...

I was trying to say, slightly too obliquely, that "I love you" "Quite right too" and "I love you" "I know" were very similar scenes.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

All right, I admit it. I bawled. I bawled like a six-year-old watching Bambi's mother bite it. And, OK, I'll admit that the waterworks were nonstop through pretty much the entire Torchwood finale, too.

I have no pride.

But I'm wistful, thinking about what CE could have done with some of those scenes. Everything just seemed to matter more, with him. (He probably wouldn't have made the Ghostbusters crack, though.)

Dilettante said...

The only thing you take issue with is your description of those of us who hated Rose: its truly breathtakingly R.T.D.-esque.
- "There are people who disagree with me about this character, but they're either bitter aristocrats or wife-beaters. I know she's brilliant, thus she objectively is so."

I hated Rose. R.T.D. trying to force me to like her didn't help, and continually bringing her back to upgrade her happy ending was terrible, but I disliked her from the beginning. I neither hate women nor working class people, thank.

Your analysis is entertaining and usually excellent (I'm reading back through all of it), but that sentence showed a slight tendency to dismiss differing opinions largely lacking in the rest of your writing, so I picked you up on it.