Doctor Who 4.6 – The Doctor’s Daughter

Yes, that staircase was built seven days ago. That explains the peeling paint and the cobwebs.

“The Doctor’s Daughter” is the weak link of this season for me. The designer, as is obvious from the photo above, wasn’t paying attention to the script, casting Nigel Terry to play an old guy who doesn’t remember the beginning of the seven-day war doesn’t make any sense, and the music is the overwrought even for Murray Gold, but I think there’s still a lot to like in the performances, because everyone’s really involved, having fun, and selling this weird scenario. The only performance I don’t like is David Tennant getting snippy about how Jenny, the Doctor’s genetic daughter grown from a sci-fi “progenation machine,” is emphatically not a Time Lord, like he’s offended by the suggestion. Dude, just chill and tell her she’s a Gallifreyan. That much is true!

Naturally, I told our son afterward that Georgia Moffett really is the Doctor’s daughter, and a few years later, she’d become the Doctor’s wife. Then I told him that we’ll be seeing David Troughton in four episodes’ time, and he really is the Doctor’s son and the Doctor’s roommate. He said that blew his circuits and so he deliberately bumped into a wall.

Doctor Who 4.4 – The Sontaran Stratagem / 4.5 – The Poison Sky

There are several tiny little things about this story, cosmetic ones really, which for some reason aggravate me beyond reason. I can’t stand any of these UNIT officers saluting the Doctor. I don’t like the “flame-nami,” as our son coined it, traveling around the world at what must be thousands of miles a second. I’m irrationally annoyed by the death of Private Ross Jenkins, and that Colonel Mace is only in this one adventure. It’s not that I care about Mace, but UNIT works better as recurring characters, not an ever-changing bunch in either fatigues or British army uniforms. Jenkins should have survived, though. He should have been the Sergeant Benton of this iteration of the series.

Other than that, I enjoy this two-parter a lot, but not half as much as our son did. He was flipped out by this one; it was far too much excitement for one evening. He’s going to be a puddle when we get to the end of the season. The Sontarans have never been better. As far as I’m concerned, one of the show’s big omissions in the years to come is sidelining these newly-redefined and reinvigorated baddies in favor of the single comedy Sontaran played by Dan Starkey. He debuts here as a character called Skorr. Christopher Ryan, who had been a space alien twenty-two years previously as the Lord Kiv in “The Trial of a Time Lord”, is awesome as General Staal.

I also love the strange revelation that the Sontarans were somehow not allowed to participate in the Time War. There is so much about this that simultaneously doesn’t make any sense whatever and yet leaves me desperate to know more. The show has already told us that countless worlds were collateral damage in the war, so how’d they keep the Sontarans out? One side or the other didn’t object to obliterating the Nestene Consciousness’s planet, but they’ve got, what, time barriers in place to keep these guys from making things worse?

I also really like that Freema Agyeman comes back for a three-week run as Martha. It feels like one of those ideas that wouldn’t have made as much sense in the original run, because they did so few stories a year, but when you’re doing ten stories across thirteen episodes, why not check in on an old friend instead of making the only returning faces the enemies? And I love that Martha and Donna immediately click, and that our dingbat hero is surprised by this.

But yes, our son was blown away. This was one of his all-time favorite stories, although two episodes at the end of a very long day – we started with three hours hiking this morning and didn’t even have to social distance because we didn’t see another soul until we got back to the trailhead – was too much for him. He tends to be a hoppity kid even in the quietest times, but he simply could not keep still tonight and proved to be a real headache of a distraction. I was thinking about buying him a couple more Doctor Who action figures a couple of months from now as a back-to-school gift. Maybe I should see whether any Sontarans are available.

Doctor Who 3.13 – Last of the Time Lords

The kid has really not enjoyed the last five episodes of this series, but he liked this. He thought it was thrilling and exciting and absolutely loved the Master’s plan falling apart. He did everything short of standing up and cheering. So I’m glad that he liked it!

I think of it this way: three of Russell T. Davies’s Doctor Who series come to absolutely splendid and satisfying conclusions, and three out of four is a pretty amazing feat. I think “Last of the Time Lords” is far too depressing, its resolution is completely ridiculous, and the reset button is completely obnoxious.

And I really can’t stand how the episode completely ignores the biggest what-the-hell moment in just about any work of ongoing fiction I can thing of: the British Prime Minister had something to do with an alien first contact that left the American president dead before dying himself, and there’s apparently no fallout from this whatsoever. Put this into the context of June 2007: imagine if the incoming PM, Gordon Brown, arranged for the assassination of George W. Bush. I would want to know what happens next. I think it’s a massive missed opportunity. I like Kylie Minogue as much as the next fellow, but I could wait to see what happens with her on the Titanic. I want an episode that explores what the hell happens when the leaders of the US and the UK both get killed in some scheme with little silver aliens that nobody ever sees again, and how in the world the Doctor managed to get the PM’s body out to some rocky beach for a Viking funeral out from under the biggest CIA / MI6 / NSA / UNIT operation in the history of either nation.

But we don’t get that. We get Kylie. And Peter. But those are stories for another day. But it’s goodbye for now to John Barrowman and to Freeman Agyeman as the Doctor leaves Earth alone again. We’ll see them both again very soon.

We’ll put Doctor Who back on the shelf to keep things fresh and pop back again for the two specials in May. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who 3.12 – The Sound of Drums

Disagreeably, we watched this episode the same day that Twitter enjoyed a big tweetalong to the first episode of Life on Mars, the oddball period cop show which starred John Simm, and instead I watched him in something I don’t like. I think the world of Simm; he’s a marvelous actor, but I don’t like his Master at all, and I really don’t like this story.

It isn’t fair to judge every Master against Roger Delgado – I’ve never heard anybody grumble “Bill Hartnell wouldn’t have worn 3-D glasses and say ‘timey-wimey'” – and every Master should be every bit as different as every Doctor, but here Simm starts an affectation of INSANE and WACKY like he’s channeling Jim Carrey from any one of a dozen identical performances in the nineties that influences both of his successors, and I just find it tedious, dull, and predictable and wish like anything for somebody to play the villain as malevolently, effortlessly cool as Delgado did. A couple of the villains in Steven Moffat’s Sherlock went down the same boring path; none of it wears well with me. About the best I can say for Simm is that he’s such a tremendously good actor that at no point does he look or feel even remotely self-conscious with his antics.

For what it’s worth, I do love that the Master retains his love of British children’s television by watching Teletubbies. Sunday night, I showed our son that moment in “The Sea Devils” where Delgado’s Master whistles along to Clangers to remind him of this great little character quirk. I like the Doctor’s phone call with the Master. That’s about it. The cliffhanger landed with a thud because as soon as President-Elect Winters is killed, I started looking for the reset button. When a story’s gone so far that it’s going to need to be reset, I start looking for devices in the narrative with names like “paradox machine.”

The kid hated almost every second of this one. He allowed that he liked the Teletubbies bit, and he liked the visuals when the Toclafane spheres fall out of the big red rip in the sky. He also went to bed furious about another cliffhanger. Funny how those didn’t bother him when we watched series twelve as it was broadcast, but the two-parters in the older episodes annoy him.

Doctor Who 3.11 – Utopia

I knew this one wasn’t going to go over too well with our kid. He doesn’t like surprise cliffhangers, and he doesn’t like the Master. Tonight, he clarified that the only villain he dislikes more than the Master are the Cybermen. Making things worse, he was really enjoying this story. It’s written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Graeme Harper, and it’s one of those unfortunate stories where nobody remembers the details because they’re all overshadowed by the last six minutes. Kind of like “The War Games” if you think about it.

But for a putting-things-in-place tale, it’s not bad. I was kind of ambivalent about watching this because, with the exception of a couple of moments, I really don’t care for the next two episodes. But “Utopia” is pretty good. I like Derek Jacobi, and I love his adorable assistant Chantho. John Barrowman’s back as Captain Jack Harkness, and I love the idea that he had to live through the 20th Century waiting for the correct Doctor to come along.

I don’t like John Simm’s Master. I don’t like him at all, until he gets some really good material in “The Doctor Falls” several years later. Well, there is one moment in the next episode that I enjoy. We’ll see what that might be Wednesday evening.

Doctor Who 3.10 – Blink

A predictable choice for a picture? Probably.

I won’t write much about what I think of “Blink.” I think it’s staggeringly good, every bit as thrilling and fun now as it was thirteen years ago. Many writers and fans praise it as one of the program’s most inventive episodes, ranking toward the top of every survey of the best Whos and it deserves every bit of it. The guest star, Carey Mulligan, is so good that I find myself selfishly resenting her subsequent Hollywood success because even though I know perfectly well that Sally Sparrow’s story has been told and she doesn’t need to be revisited, I still want to see her again, and hope that the Sparrow & Nightingale shop of antiquarian books and rare DVDs is doing well.

In retrospect, though, the Matt Smith years were a victim of this episode’s success. The law of diminishing returns set in for the Angels like no other monster in the show’s history. Steven Moffat concluded that the non-linear “timey-wimey” storytelling that everybody loved when spread across one installment would work just as well spread across thirteen. It works pretty well in series five, and that Angel adventure has a couple of good moments even if it disappointed me overall. I don’t think it works as well in series six. But that’s another story for another day. “Blink,” on its own, is perfect and wonderful.

And the kid hated it. He hated everything about it. He was scared out of his mind, he retreated upstairs when Larry has a staring contest with the ground floor Angel. He didn’t like the Doctor not being in it much, he didn’t like the storytelling from another character’s perspective, and he thought that the closing montage of other statues all over the place was meant to be a cliffhanger ending and he was going to have to put up with more Angels tomorrow. Then when I told him that he was mistaken and that was it for this story, he was embarrassed and annoyed, and he hated that, too. So there you go, for those of you who think this story’s really overrated, somebody in my house agrees with you.

Doctor Who 3.9 – The Family of Blood

The two-part adventures in the first three series are similar in structure: an episode of setup and an episode that rockets along, taking place in about one night. That’s probably why we all got whiplash when the last installment of this season broke the trend and started with a “one year later” caption. And while “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” makes a tremendously entertaining story, I’m afraid I have to side with all the other snobs, hipsters, and know-it-alls who sniff that the novel was better. I really love its more leisurely pace and the number of wild curve balls it throws at the reader. The members of the family pick human bodies without care as to how they might be perceived as “mother” or “son,” and there’s a brilliant moment where one of the family almost convinces the story’s companion, Benny, that he is one of her Doctor’s future selves.

But even lacking the novel’s ability to luxuriate and spend time on a much longer romance between the Doctor and Joan, I still love the television version. David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, and Jessica Hynes are all on freaking fire in this story. A couple of the supporting actors also impressed the heck out of me, especially Harry Lloyd, who is deranged and disturbing as Baines. Agyeman has a pair of fabulous scenes, one where Martha confronts Joan’s ingrained-in-1913 racism and one where she confesses her unrequited love for the Doctor. (Is it just me, or is there room for quite a few stories between “42” and this one for her feelings to grow so strong?)

But this story is Tennant’s, and it’s a real tearjerker for soppy old romantics like me. His human form gets to see the happy life that he could have had with Joan – children, grandchildren, dying peacefully in bed decades later with all of his family safely cared for – and when he returns to speak with Joan as the inhuman Doctor instead, the show just cruelly breaks your heart twice. It’s one of the program’s greatest stories in either form.

The kid liked it in the end. He almost always does with the two-part adventures. His favorite bit was the Doctor’s “practical joke” of fooling the family with his now-dead fob watch. In print, I confess that the original version of that moment completely fooled me.

Doctor Who 3.8 – Human Nature

Paul Cornell’s novel Human Nature is one of my absolute favorite Who books. Top three with So Vile a Sin and Alien Bodies. It’s darn near flawless. They made a lot of compromises when they adapted it for television. Few of them are to the story’s advantage. The original novel didn’t have the scarecrow monsters in it, for starters. I thought it was a little funny that we should see these shambling scarecrows at the same time that Worzel Gummidge is in rotation at our blog.

But the TV version is still a triumph, because it’s so well made, brilliantly designed, and David Tennant and Jessica Hynes are magical together as two sweethearts who absolutely should not be falling in love. It’s devastating now, and it’s going to get worse tomorrow night. On the other hand, sadly, our son is not impressed. We reminded him that he saw the chameleon arch fob watch just a few weeks ago, when a supposedly human tour guide named Ruth revealed herself to be a Doctor we’ve never met, but with a disappointed shrug, he said that he likes it better when the Doctor’s the Doctor, and not a human.

Doctor Who 3.7 – 42

One of the many downsides to adulthood is that, for me anyway, my spare time to watch and rewatch and rewatch favorite television the way that I could when I was in high school or college is a lot more limited. And so there are some contemporary Who stories I’ve never come back to. And since the next three episodes of series three are stone-cold classics that have demanded as many return visits as I can justify, “42” has been completely overlooked. I haven’t seen a frame of this story since it was first shown. There just hasn’t been enough time.

And boy, did I ever miss out, because apart from the exceptionally silly explanation of what this episode’s foe is, “42” is pretty terrific. It’s Chris Chibnall’s first script for Who – he’d written four episodes of the spinoff Torchwood prior to this – and, thanks in part to some excellent direction by the always-reliable Graeme Harper and a guest cast that spends every second of this “real time” adventure at maximum sweat and volume, it’s an extremely tense speed-of-light thriller, brilliantly edited and huge fun to watch.

It also succeeded in wrongfooting our son very amusingly. At one point, the Doctor has been infected by the strange enemy. He’s in agony, screaming in pain, and we very rarely see the Doctor so weak and battered. In between shouts, he tells Martha that there’s this thing that happens to him when he is about to die… and I heard our son gasp. Was this it? Was he about to regenerate again?! Well, I said last time that he’s starting to figure out the rules of television, but he hasn’t realized that Who saves regenerations for the big season finale. Although I do wish they wouldn’t. I realize this just isn’t the sort of thing that the BBC would allow these days, because they line up the publicity and the merchandising months ahead of the show, but wouldn’t a completely surprising mid-series regeneration be the best thing ever?

Doctor Who 3.6 – The Lazarus Experiment

Our kid’s figuring this whole television thing out. We pointed out that this was not the first time that a mysterious figure called “Harold Saxon” was mentioned in the recent set-on-Earth stories. He chewed on it for a second and said “We’ll probably find out who he is at the end of the season.”

So today’s episode is a pretty simple monster movie that bends, with minimal effort, into the Who format, although giving a scientist who wants to live forever and cheat death a name like Lazarus is a bit on-the-nose for any silly sci-fi adventure. Lazarus is played by Mark Gatiss, who had written a couple of previous episodes and has a few more really good scripts to come. Lazarus, in a supremely silly moment even for this often exceptionally silly series, somehow transforms into an enormous CGI monster. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it does result in an eye-poppingly grotesque beast to scare the kids. Our son described this one as “a skeleton-human-scorpion mix” and really enjoyed being grossed out – slash – frightened by it.

Despite being every bit as scientifically nonsensical as the previous story, I still have a soft spot for this one for lots of small reasons. I like Martha’s relationship with her family, I like Gatiss as the villain, and I really do enjoy the ending, which is set in a big old London cathedral. In much the same way that “Gridlock” had been a small tribute to 2000 AD, this story is a clear tip-of-the-hat to the BBC’s original Quatermass serial from 1953, which also ends in a big showdown in a cathedral. The later episodes of that serial were shown live and were never actually telerecorded – almost as though the BBC wanted to save its people the trouble of actually destroying them twenty years later – but the story was remade as a film by Hammer in 1955 called The Quatermass Xperiment which most everybody involved in this episode knew backwards and forwards. That’s certainly the case with both David Tennant and Mark Gatiss, who had actually performed in a live restaging of The Quatermass Xperiment for BBC Four just two years before they made this!

Doctor Who 3.5 – Evolution of the Daleks

This thing’s a mess, and there’s no getting around it. Freema Agyeman is pretty wonderful as she figures out what needs to be done, and I did enjoy the meeting of the minds between the Doctor and Sec. I like the way the Doctor is a couple of steps behind Sec’s realization that Daleks are not the supreme beings they thought they were. At one amusing point, Sec says that their creator was wrong. “He was what?” the Doctor says in disbelief.

Otherwise this is a story full of really, really bad science and plot holes, and it’s overdesigned like few other installments. How the heck high is the ceiling in that genetics lab of theirs? One of my pet peeves in a Doctor Who adventure is when he leaves piles and piles of alien tech and weapons just lying around the primitive, developing Earth. I always have to tell myself there’s a scene missing. See the second half of “The Mark of the Rani” for another of my favorites. I’m just going to pretend our heroes spent a few hours arranging a massive explosion and fire to destroy the genetics lab… and several hundred corpses… and three mostly indestructible Dalek shells… didn’t anybody think this story through?

But did the kid like it? Of course he did, with no quibbles or complaints. Except that Sec is gross, which he is, and which is the point.