Category Archives: Doctor Who

Doctor Who: Series One- The Empty Child

Are you my mummy??

Are you my mummy??


Four words: Are you my mummy??

Three better words: Captain. Jack. HARKNESS!!!

Oh yeah, some other stuff happens and we get a far better two-part episode than our last attempt at such things. Something about WWII and a scary child.

Captain Jack Harkness

Okay, confession time. Captain Jack is my spirit animal. I have a collection of nerd culture characters that I deeply identify with and Captain Jack is one of them.

My ex-husband was rather annoyed with my Captain Jack fixation. He thought I had a crush on him and got annoyed that I had a crush on a gay actor. It isn’t like that.

Captain Jack is the person we all wish that we were like. He’s cocky and confident. He flirts with everyone and it’s totally okay. He is just very much himself and he doesn’t apologize for it. He’s daring and charming. And I want to be him. Well, a female counterpart of him.

This is John Barrowman covered in puppies. SQUEEE!!!

This is John Barrowman covered in puppies. SQUEEE!!!


I know that the actor, John Barrowman, is pleasantly surprised at how much of a role model he has become. As an openly gay actor he had some struggles with finding his place in the world and I know that he was very happy when this character who was comfortable with himself and his sexuality became such a prominent part of nerd culture.

I keep meaning to put together a female Captain Jack cosplay, but I forget until it’s too late to order the parts. I wanted to get a vortex manipulator replica to use as the band for my Apple Watch. I have a winter coat that is a feminized version of his, which is one of the only reasons I tolerate winters in Wisconsin.

Going to stop talking about Captain Jack before I start delving into my Ninth Doctor/Captain Jack fantasies…

Plot Overview

The Doctor and Rose are called to England during The Blitz to deal with a dangerous situation. They are stalked by a creepy little boy who is inexplicably in a gas mask asking, “Are you my mummy?”

There are aspects of the beginning of the episode that I had forgotten were important plot points. There is a nice scene of The Doctor asking around if anything has fallen from the sky with a large bang. This was an integral part of the plot that I had forgotten about.

Oh, when you asked if I wanted to come to your spaceship, it wasn't a euphemism?? Aw.

Oh, when you asked if I wanted to come to your spaceship, it wasn’t a euphemism?? Aw.

I also forgot that Captain Jack was introduced as a time-traveling con man. He was heroic in pretty much every other episode after this that it was hard for me to remember that he was responsible for the problems that were caused by the episode.

Trying to strike a balance about what to talk about in the first part of this episode. This is a rather difficult post to write because so much of the payoff from this episode comes from the end of the next episode. I am trying to make sure I talk about how the setup worked as opposed to its resolution.

Also, this seems like a parental horror story of perpetually being followed by a bottomless pit of need that will follow you to the ends of the earth and possess all your electronics.

Nancy

Don't answer the phone. It's a scam.

Don’t answer the phone. It’s a scam.

Nancy is a total bad-ass. I know that a lot of our kiss-ass female culture is predicated upon the idea that women shed their feminine and maternal characteristics because those things make them weak.

I disagree.

Nancy is fiercely protective of the children under her care. She is unwilling to put up with any greedy bastard’s shit when it stands between her making sure the orphans in the Blitz can have a hot meal at the table with proper manners.

When we think about bad-ass characters, they are ones that fight. Sometimes we don’t know why they fight other than they are the good or bad guys and that is what they do. We have a dearth of characters that are not particularly strong but are willing to fight for people who are weaker than they are and get away with out out of pure nerve.

Nancy is a good example of a true strong female character. Giving a girl a bow and arrow doesn’t make them a strong role model, so can we please get away from this cliche? Thanks, bye.

Conclusion

If anyone wants to recreate this as a first date...

If anyone wants to recreate this as a first date…

Again, this is a rather short review because there isn’t really a lot that I can talk about until the next episode. Half of this episode was Captain Jack sweeping Rose off her feet with champaign in his invisible space ship, which is loads of fun, but isn’t really conducive to literary analysis.

All work and no play makes Captain Jack a dull boy…

This was also a rather patriotic episode between Rose’s Union Jack shirt and the story revolving around the English resistance to the German war machine. I can imagine stories like this are to the British what Band of Brothers was to America. Sometimes we forget that other countries are just as proud of their heritage as we are of ours and it’s interesting for me to see.

Doctor Who: Series One- Father’s Day

PeteRose

I am probably going to retract this by the end of the season, but this is the best episode of Doctor Who so far. The first half of the season was acclimating new viewers to the Who universe and doing a lot of setup and stories that could only be done once.

This episode is the first real episode to explore what Doctor Who is capable of. Everyone wants to be the Companion and run away with the madman in the box. However, the strongest Doctor Who stories have always been character studies about specific companions and their own lives and stories. The fact that the “monster of the week” isn’t the Cybermen or The Master or some other outside force other than Rose’s desire to save the father she never knew makes this episode far more compelling than later outings with the Tyler clan.

It is my feeling since Stephen Moffat took over we are getting further and further away from actual stories about the Companions and getting more entrenched in JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box phenomenon. And no, this past season with Clara and Danny has not changed my assessment. It’s an improvement, but nothing dealing with Clara has has the same emotional gut punch that Rose, Martha, or Donna have had. For better or worse, I feel that Russell T. Davies had a much better handle on how to tell an emotionally driven story than Stephen Moffat has. If he would just make better wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey puzzles for his story arcs, I would be happy.

So it goes.

Pete and Jackie Tyler

I believe this is the first time we hear about Rose’s father in the series. We have met her mum and her boyfriend, but her father is out of the picture. Until now we didn’t know if he just walked out on the family or if he was in jail or what happened. We never really thought about it. It makes sense that he would not have been spoken about much since he died so long ago. Time heals all wounds and since Rose never really knew her father, he was just this empty spot in her life.

You don't miss something until it's gone.

You don’t miss something until it’s gone.

It’s interesting to see how Jackie describes Pete to Rose as a child and how she reacts to him when he is still alive. She talked to Rose about all of Pete’s wonderful inventions and all the ideas he had when she was scornful of them while he lived. That is such a realistic touch to his portrayal because people have all kinds of quirks and idiosyncrasies that drive you insane that endear you to them later when they are gone.

My grandfather died when I was in my twenties. He and I had been close when I was a child but as he grew older we grew apart because he was basically an overgrown child himself. We didn’t get along and I was sad when he died, but I didn’t think I cared all that much.

When I went to the funeral the minister giving the eulogy talked about all the things he loved doing and all of my memories of childhood came rushing back to me. He was the first person who ever treated me like I was special and he was a good friend to me when I needed one as a child. I started sobbing hysterically because there were so many memories I had of him that I had packed away because our relationship was too painful that all surfaced after he was gone. Human relationships are vast things far more complicated and compelling than any time paradox could possibly be.

The Doctor and Rose

One thing that strikes me going back and rewatching this episode is how it begins. Rose asks The Doctor if he can take her anywhere and he tells her that her wish is his command. He should know better than to put the universe at risk by possibly creating a time paradox. He does it anyway.

Trying to avoid making a stupid "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" joke here.

Trying to avoid making a stupid “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” joke here.

You could make the argument that this is sloppy storytelling, that The Doctor behaves irrationally because the story demands it. However, it doesn’t play that way.

The Doctor cares about Rose. He wants to make her happy. He is willing to do whatever she asks because he cares about her. Later it dawns on him that she might only have agreed to come with him so that he would do this for her and it hurts him to feel that she used him. Their relationship is become more complicated because he is allowing his attachment to her to become way too personal. The behavior is irrational because emotions are irrational. He is angry with her, not for putting the universe in danger, but because he feels like she used him and doesn’t actually care about him the way he cares about her.

Oh god, you pissed off the Eccleston. Hopefully he won't walk off at the end of the season.

Oh god, you pissed off the Eccleston. Hopefully he won’t walk off at the end of the season.

Watching Rose uncomfortably go through their house ratting on about all the stuff her dad had that she heard about and the camera cutting back to Eccleston standing in stone silence is awesome. I have always said that it’s great in shows where when the main character is angry they get really, really quiet. In Battlestar Galactica when Adama has to reprimand both Starbuck and Tigh after their escape from New Caprica, he doesn’t yell. He just gets very, very quiet and says the most devastating things he possibly can. This choice to just show Eccleston pissed was fantastic. He’s so angry he can’t verbally articulate it.

In spite of how angry he is at Rose, he does everything that he can to try to save her father, even to the point of trying to sacrifice himself in Pete’s place.

Even though they go to a lot of trouble to say they aren’t a couple, they certainly act like one. Rose’s knowing look when The Doctor comes back for her is great until she realizes exactly why he’s come back.

Dude, where's my TARDIS? Yes, I deserve to be slapped for that.

Dude, where’s my TARDIS? Yes, I deserve to be slapped for that.

Also, I hadn’t remembered why The Doctor came back for Rose. Going and seeing him walk into the TARDIS and seeing that it was no longer bigger on the inside, then seeing the wheels turning in his head processing why it was like that before panicking and yelling, “ROSE!” was great. He’s mad, but she’s in danger and he’s not going to just leave her there, even though it’s her fault. Actually, I don’t think he had much of a choice considering the TARDIS couldn’t take him away anyway…

Rose and Pete Tyler

It’s interesting to me to see the dynamic between Rose and Pete change over the course of the episode. When she saves his life he gets rather uncomfortable with her attention to him. He has no idea that she is his daughter or that he was supposed to die. Seriously, if some stranger pulled you out of the way of a moving car and started at you expectantly and you didn’t know why, how would you feel?

I think it’s to the credit of the writer that Rose has to come up with reasons to stay with her dad by lying about going to the wedding and needing a ride. I always hate it in TV shows where people wind up doing extraordinary things for strangers with no compelling reason other than the story needs it to be done. In the TV show Leverage you see the main characters taking up jobs in four person companies and no one bats an eye as to how they got there or why they are there and it’s tremendously frustrating.

Even though a lot of trouble has been made to show Pete as a screw-up, he is able to piece together that Rose is his daughter and that all of the damage that is happening is his fault. This episode takes a normal, ordinary man on the worst day of his life and allows him to be a hero he never was. He gets to see the daughter that he won’t be alive to see grow up. The episode makes it his choice to go and fulfill his destiny to die being hit by that car. How many people could do that, honestly?

Pete realizing that he is dead by listening to Rose tell him about this great dad he knows he is never going to be is completely heartbreaking. It’s got to be difficult to listen to someone describe this amazing person they think you are to realize that it isn’t you and it never will be.

It’s kind of awesome that The Doctor comes up with an impossible plan to save the day at the last minute that gets fouled up by the human emotions and irrationality present in a difficult situation. We get so used to The Doctor pulling a solution out of his ass that saves everyone at the last minute that it’s kind of awesome that they actually kill Pete Tyler and he stays dead. Not only that, but he’s made the choice that he will die to save everyone and everything.

1x08-Father-s-Day-doctor-who-17495248-1600-900

Ordinary People

A large, recurring theme in this episode especially is the idea of ordinary people. Rose argues that saving her dad isn’t a big deal because he wasn’t an important person. The Doctor says that the most ordinary person is the most important person in the universe. He tells the bride and groom that they are important.

So much of this first season of Who was about celebrating the ordinary. Rose is a normal, working class girl with a mundane, ordinary life. We get so wrapped up in the idea that everyone has to be Harry Potter that we lose track of the importance of common people. Each and every single person is the center of their own universe. We are not a world made of NPCs. We all work and love and live and that makes each and every one of us important.

After Thoughts

  • First off, I wanted to say that the person who scored this episode did a fantastic job. When Rose saves her dad and other bad time paradox things hit, the score shifts into a dissonant glissando. The music changes abruptly to a way that is wrong, which perfectly fits with the theme of this episode. Also, when Rose and The Doctor are talking about The Doctor having to let his entire world and people die, there is no soundtrack. None. It is silent. It is just him, his words, and his pain. Sorry, geeking out about music.

  • Holy crap. I didn’t process/remember that the best man at the wedding who was trying to talk the groom out of not marrying the mother of his child and to just live in sin for ten years was the guy’s father. LOL!!!

It's the Revenge of the 80s! Why are there no Nikes and jean jackets??

It’s the Revenge of the 80s! Why are there no Nikes and jean jackets??

  • I have no idea if weddings in Britain are the way they are portrayed in Doctor Who and other British media, but I think they’re fantastic. You have all of these women dressed like they are going to the Kentucky Derby who are hanging out in the basement of the Rotary Club. All the men are wearing tails while driving around in rusty old cars. Having this wedding taking place in the 80’s and having the hybrid of the hats and the 80’s fashion is absolutely fantastic.

  • I love the moment when The Doctor yells at Jackie to shut up and do what he says and when she actually meekly does it, he’s like, “Wow, I should have done that a long time ago!” It’s nice to have a moment of earned levity in the middle of a dark episode.

  • Also nice little jab at how clingy Mickey is even as a child.

  • The Doctor to Baby Rose: Now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you?

Seriously beautiful and amazing episode of Doctor Who. There is no grand mythology or puzzle to be solved. This is simply an episode about the power of love. Love can result in people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or doing the right thing to save the people we love and cherish.

Next up we have the equally amazing two-part episode “The Empty Child” and the introduction of one of my personal favorite characters, Captain Jack Harkness.

Doctor Who: Series One- The Long Game

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

This is the last mediocre episode of the first series. Each episode after this is a classic or furthers the end game for this series. As such, this episode was kind of hard to get to because it wasn’t one of the ones I was super enthused about watching and reviewing for this blog series.

This one isn’t “bad” per se, it’s just not nearly as special as the stuff that comes after it.

Time to churn through this one and get to the good stuff!!

The Failed Companion

The point of the Companion in Doctor Who is to have an audience proxy. You’re supposed to be able to watch the show and imagine that you are the one traveling to distant times and spaces. They’re supposed to be relatable so that you can picture yourself as one.

Russell T. Davies trolled us a little with Adam. He established that not everyone is companion material. Some people are special and they get to be companions. People who are selfish Adam Eyeor thoughtless don’t get to keep their Golden Ticket, which is what happened with Adam.

Adam gets mentioned in an iO9 article about depressing Companion departures and for good reason. While his departure isn’t as depressing as Donna Noble’s, it still illustrates how one stupid decision can fuck you for the rest of your life.

I only saw this episode once and didn’t really grok why Adam was considered irredeemable. Going through it again, I am seeing small moments that foreshadow why he was kicked to the curb. We see the moment when he has the cell phone that can call the past that he knows he should give back to Rose, but you see him deliberate it and decide to keep it instead.

Things continue to get worse as the episode goes along. It’s rather disappointing to see someone give in to their base instincts. I realized as the episode went on that Adam is basically Biff from Back to the Future. If there was a sport’s record book available in Satellite Five we would live in an unfortunate reality. It’s too bad he can’t go back and invest in Apple when it was nineteen bucks a share.

Again, it’s really interesting to go back and see this episode and see all the stupid shit Adam does. I barely remembered this episode. Seeing the iO9 article I didn’t even remember Adam was a character. Going back and watching this I am puzzled why this didn’t leave a more visceral impact on me. The part where The Doctor is being given away because Adam opened up his mind to the High Intelligence to send a message to himself in the past to invent/invest in the right technology is really memorable and I honestly don’t know why it didn’t make a bigger impact.

Satellite Five

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Yes, I am going to get crap from Chris Adamson, but this whole episode seems like a giant cautionary tale about Fox News and Rupert Murdoch. This is a prospective future where the human race lets itself be controlled by an infotainment industrial complex. There is a higher power using its influence to control the reality experienced by humanity to ensure that no one asks any questions about what is happening to society. People are allowing themselves to be blindly led and live in terror of amorphous threats with no solid or concrete parameters.

The plot device where people open their brains to the main computer is a decent allegory for our current social media experiment. People are voluntarily pumping their personal information out to people who capitalize on it and are using it to design ever more manipulative ways to contour our reality.

It’s kind of disappointing that they have Simon Pegg here and he isn’t using his real accent and he’s blond. All of his personality is kind of stripped. It makes me sad.

The Doctor and Rose

It’s fascinating to see how far Rose has come since the beginning of the series. This is only her seventh outing, but she is giving the grand tour to Adam like a pro. It’s kind of cute to see The Doctor watching her with a modicum of pride for her confidence in showing him the ropes. His little companion is growing up!! However, she hasn’t learned not to give away the TARDIS key yet. Bad Rose!

It’s interesting to see how proud The Doctor seems of Rose. In the first several episodes of this series he treated her as something of a pet. She was a curiosity. She was someone who was more remarkable than the people around her, but she was still an inferior human.

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

There are parts in the episode where The Doctor seems to delight in the growth that Rose has made over the course of the season. He chastises the woman who doesn’t think the heat is an issue by saying that Rose is asking all the right questions. It’s also fun to see Rose’s sort of smug, “Ha ha, I got praised by The Doctor!” look at this comment.

I find it personally fascinating to see how their relationship evolves over the course of this series. I don’t really feel that many other companions go through this process. The only other companion I can think of who really profoundly changes over the course of the series is Donna. This first series had to do a lot to introduce Doctor Who to a new generation of people while staying true to the old series. The decision to make The Doctor rather grizzled and militant and to have him slowly recover his lost whimsey was a really interesting and successful choice by RTD.

It speaks to the strength of their relationship that The Doctor didn’t kick Rose to the curb as well after this incident. She wanted to bring Adam with them. She gave him the key. She made a mistake. He could have decided he was done with her after this, but he needs her and he knows it. There wasn’t a moment when he even considers that course of action. It speaks to the strength of their relationship even this early in the season that it feels natural that he wouldn’t take it out on her. Also, that would have disrupted the season and that would have been an unwise choice.

One of the complaints that I have about the Moffatt era Doctors is how little they seem to grow and evolve. Yes, you can argue with me that this past series with Clara and Danny Pink was somehow different, but it really didn’t capture me in the same way this series did. I don’t know if it’s the chemistry between Eccleston and Piper or if he was just such a good actor that no one else has been able to approach what he did. I truly believe he shows the greatest range of realistic emotions of all the modern Doctors. Peter Capaldi never really captured the extreme goofiness and the extreme menace that Eccleston oscillated between throughout each episode of this series.

For now I am delighting in watching his relationship with Rose. When they break onto Floor 500, The Doctor comments that everyone seems to have dropped out besides Rose and himself. And he likes it that way. So does she.

Don't fuck with us.

Don’t fuck with us.

The Future is Fragile

One of the biggest aspects of most science fiction from the twentieth century is this pervading idea that humans will conquer the galaxy. Except we don’t mean militarily. We will colonize space and explore strange new worlds. If you look at Star Trek, humanity is at the epicenter of galactic civilization. In Doctor Who, thousands of races interbred and descended from humanity. In Doctor Who, humanity has a destiny that The Doctor spends so much time to shepherd to fruition.

One aspect of this episode that is interesting and terrifying is just how tenuous that future is. The future we view in this episode isn’t the future we expect from humanity, but one that is terrifyingly similar to the one we live in now. A future where all of humanity’s information about the world is manufactured and filtered through a mechanism to warp our basic potential.

One of the reasons I hate the current Star Trek movie reboot is that J. J. Abrams clearly didn’t understand what made Star Trek appealing to begin with. Star Trek came out at the height of the Cold War and it was created to give hope to humanity that one day we would overcome our differences and move forward into the future united rather than divided. I feel like this episode is kind of like what would have happened if at various critical points in our history our better natures didn’t prevail and we never progress past where we are now. It really drives home this idea that the future is fragile. We have the potential to do great things but it takes very little to derail our bright future.

However, it’s nice that in our evil media future that we no longer just have the male/female genders, we have male/female/multisex/undecided/robot. Tolerance is always a good lesson.

Conclusion

I am glad I went back and rewatched this episode. It didn’t leave a huge impact on me initially, but there is a lot of good stuff in here that I missed the first time through.

Now that we are through the slow part of the season, we get to go and visit one of the strongest episodes of New Who: Father’s Day. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Series One- Dalek

EXTERMINATE!!

EXTERMINATE!!

Ah yes, the inevitable Dalek episode. It was always coming. It would be like having a Star Trek series without Klingons. It just wasn’t going to happen.

It’s hard to remember a time when the Daleks hadn’t been run into the ground. After half a season of new villains, it’s kind of nice to see a familiar face. We are also treated to a few breadcrumbs about the Time War that destroyed the Time Lords.

The Dalek

I do have to admit, I was a little more thrilled at seeing the Dalek than I thought I would be. Even though the species has been retconned and run into the ground, the moment when the lights come on and the Dalek starts yelling “EXTERMINATE!!” is still incredibly exciting. The reveal was done incredibly well and this has helped this episode age pretty well.

It can be hard figuring out a good way to reintroduce an old character to audiences who may not be familiar with the source material. Seeing how genuinely terrified Eccleston looks after handily dealing with a bunch of crises over the last few episodes is one of the reasons this episode is still so effective.

I realized that nearly every Dalek episode from New Who follows the same theme of them finding a Dalek that seems to be different than the other Daleks, one that has feelings and is capable of growth. The companion tries to convince The Doctor that this one is a special, unique snowflake. The Doctor gives the Dalek a chance, only to find out he was right all along. It’s really repetitive. It’s like watching Lucy snatch away the football from Charlie Brown.

I haven’t watched any Old Who, so not certain if this repetitive theme was actually a new idea back in 2005.
DalekEccleston

The Doctor

Eccleston does a tremendous job of selling The Doctor as someone who can be genuinely menacing. He spends a lot of time in the series being cuddly and adventurous, but this episode really drives home the point that The Doctor is a powerful being who has killed people in the past. He is the sole survivor of a war that wiped out two races of people, one of which was his own. The first few episodes sell him as the lonely god, the last of his kind. This is the episode where you realize that he is the one responsible for him being the last of his kind. His confrontation with the other last member of a wiped-out species is incredibly tragic.

On one hand, you can point to him and say that he made choices. He pulled the trigger that wiped out two species and he survived. What does he have to complain about?

It’s incredibly difficult to make the hard choice and to live with its consequences.

The Doctor’s interaction with the Dalek force him to process and deal with something he’s been running from since “The End of the World.” He doesn’t want to think about how he is responsible for a mass genocide. He wants to heal and explore. He didn’t want to be put in the position of destroying his own people. He wants to forget. This theme is explored in much greater detail during the 50th anniversary special, but it’s bones are established here, in this episode.

Facing uncomfortable reality.

Facing uncomfortable reality.


The scenes watching him torture the helpless and ridiculous looking Dalek are kind of disturbing. We’re used to this idea that The Doctor saves people and does impossible things. Watching him sink to a level of torturing a helpless creature and enjoying it is terrible.

I am actually interested in how many times The Doctor does terrible things. I know he’s done many over the course of the new series, but every time we encounter one it’s always disturbing.

On some level we expect The Doctor to be better than us. He’s not a human. He has lived for a thousand years. We expect him to be above all of our petty, meaningless concerns, to be more than we are. Watching him behave like a beast who enjoys tormenting the Dalek is terrible, not just because the act itself is terrible, but because the person doing it should be beyond such behaviors.

Adam Mitchell

We’re going to get into him a little more in the next episode, just wanted to mention that we are going to see him again.

Henry Van Statten

It’s nice seeing what the British think about Americans, but all things considered, if the Daleks were real I could totally see some asshole one percenter being the person who collects extra terrestrial artifacts.
roseDalek

Conclusion

This was an important episode in that it brought an iconic villain back to the Whoverse. I guess I didn’t have as strong of a reaction as I thought I might all things considered. The episode was good, but its impact has been blunted over the years by seeing the same Dalek story over and over again. Supposedly this Dalek and The Doctor are the last of their kind, yet the Daleks keep coming back over and over again. Why is it that the Daleks can keep coming back over and over again, yet the Timelords are irretrievably lost in time and space and meaning? Hell, we found out a year ago that they are still out there and not a peep about them in the current season. Well, except for The Master, but let’s not get into his own problems right now…

Up next, we have “The Long Game,” in which we find out what happens when The Doctor picks up someone who isn’t really meant to be a companion.

Doctor Who: Series One- Aliens of London

aliensOfLondonAh yes, we have arrived at the notorious “farting aliens” episode of Doctor Who. Many people who argue that the Moffat era is better than the Russell T. Davies era (who are wrong, by the way) usually point to this episode of a prime example of everything that was wrong with the way Davies ran the show.

Who are all of these people and why do we never see them again??

Who are all of these people and why do we never see them again??

Even though the aliens are the main attraction for this episode, there is actually a rather fascinating plot twist that Davies throws at the beginning of the episode. Instead of The Doctor bringing Rose home twelve hours later, he brought her home twelve months later. Oops.

Side note: How much control does The Doctor have over the TARDIS? Just last episode the TARDIS unilaterally decided to land a decade later in another part of the island than where The Doctor specified it to go. The entire Amy Pond mythos is built on her being The Girl Who Waited because the TARDIS was supposed to return in ten minutes but returned twenty years later. Is the TARDIS misfiring like the holodeck malfunction episodes of Star Trek? End side note.

Jackie

I think it’s hard to remember later in the series that Jackie has an excellent reason for disliking and mistrusting The Doctor. He is the reason that her daughter has been missing for the last year (which makes me wonder exactly when the phone call from The End of the World happened chronologically…).

Most awkward family reunion ever...

Most awkward family reunion ever…

There is a glorious writeup of Twilight from Bella Swan’s father’s perspective that isn’t too far off from Jackie’s perspective in this episode. Your daughter meets a strange man the day that all the mannequins come to life and disappears for a year. You have no idea what happened to her and she waltzes in a year later like nothing happened. No apology for the emotional agony you went through for a year thinking your daughter was dead but having no idea how or why. Additionally, Jackie already lost her husband, Rose’s father. That year had to be hellish for Jackie and it’s no wonder that she is actively hostile to The Doctor for a while after this.

When we watch the show, we tend to not think about the peripheral people left behind when the companion goes on her adventures. One of the weaknesses I have felt with the Moffat era is that he conveniently strips away these loose ends and doesn’t explore them at all. Amy’s parents get sucked into a crack in the Universe, so there is no one to miss her when she goes away. Clara conveniently has no parents or immediate family to notice she is gone. Rory Williams and Danny Pink get involved in the Doctor’s travels, so they aren’t around to worry about what happened to their girlfriends.

Hey, you know how I told everyone you murdered my daughter? Can we just forget about that??

Hey, you know how I told everyone you murdered my daughter? Can we just forget about that??

One of the reasons the J. R. R. Tolkien books are compelling is that they actually explore what happens to the characters after they get home from their grand adventures. Bilbo returns from his adventure with a trunk of gold to find that they are in the process of dismantling his estate because everyone thinks he is dead. He is forever changed by the experience and never feels quite at home with his fellow hobbits anymore. Frodo can’t go back to his normal life because of all he has experienced as the Ring Bearer, so he travels across the sea with everyone else. Only Sam is able to make a home and a family after his adventure and to continue to exist in the world after his experiences. He is the Martha Jones of the hobbits.

Those stories are compelling and worth telling and I have found the more recent seasons of Doctor Who rather soulless because they don’t do as much of this as they used to. I know that everyone is saying this most recent season went back to this idea with expanding Clara’s character and the fate of Danny Pink, but I don’t think Moffat’s strong suit is writing emotionally compelling characters and a lot of this season just didn’t do it for me for reasons I can’t articulate.

Micky

Oh Micky. Micky, Micky, Micky. I do not understand Micky. It isn’t that I think he is an unrealistic character. Quite the contrary, I think he is very realistic, which to me is rather tragic.

What do you say to your girlfriend who disappears for a year and whose mom tells everyone you murdered her?

What do you say to your girlfriend who disappears for a year and whose mom tells everyone you murdered her?

Micky witnesses his girlfriend jumping in a blue police box with a strange man, sees the box disappear, then becomes the prime suspect in his girlfriend’s murder. No one would believe hearing what actually happened and everyone believes he killed her. She comes back after a year and doesn’t bother to come see him. He finds out she is home because he once again observes the TARDIS disappear. We get an unnecessary slapstick moment when he runs into a wall trying to catch the TARDIS. She has no idea what trouble her decision cost him.

She feels kind of sorry, but she just doesn’t get it. Yet, in spite of all of this, Micky stays with her. Why? She did one of the most horrible things you can do to another human being, yet he stays and I don’t understand why. If anyone treated me half as badly as she treated him, I would walk away. I would want nothing to do with someone who was that thoughtless and who clearly had no regard for me, yet he doesn’t do that.

It’s nice that later in the series they actually evolve his character somewhat and give him a spine and let him be a bad-ass, but watching him in this episode is rather disheartening.

Harriet Jones and Toshiko Sato

The Gallifreycrumb Tinies. Look it up. You will be happy.

The Gallifreycrumb Tinies. Look it up. You will be happy.

Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North/Prime Minister. Yes Harriet, we know who you are.

I have a special place in my heart for Harriet Jones. When I started going to more and more programming conferences I started feeling a bit like Harriet Jones. “Hi, I am Red Queen Coder!” “Yes, Janie, we know who you are.”

I empathize with Harriet’s attempts to make herself important and her idiotic nattering about the Flydale infirmary when the government is dealing with a lists because of the aliens. Sometimes it takes a little while for the gears to shift in one’s head.

It’s really cool to see how the experiences in this episode change her. She goes from a rather unimportant person to being the Prime Minister. When I was a kid my dad used to tell me that the difference between a lucky man and an unlucky man was that the lucky one jumps when the universe says jump. Harriet was given an opportunity, much like Rose was, of expanding and broadening her horizons and she makes the most of that opportunity. She also validates my own personal habit of being somewhat nosy and wanting to know everything. Usually nosy people wander into situations they aren’t supposed to be in and they get murdered. Seeing one actually posses vital information and being a story catalyst is somewhat gratifying.

Sorry Harriet, that isn't psychic paper. You don't have clearance to be here.

Sorry Harriet, that isn’t psychic paper. You don’t have clearance to be here. Yet.

It’s fun watching the actress, Penelope Wilton, trading barbs with Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey. It isn’t really apparent in her appearances, but the actress is actually quite capable of holding her own against actors with quite a lot of presence and it’s nice to see that later she gets to stretch herself a bit more than she does here.

This episode also drops another Torchwood breadcrumb with the first appearance of Toshiko Sato. In Torchwood Toshiko is a computer programmer and not a doctor, so there is a nice wink to this appearance in her last episode on the show where we discover she was taking the place of Owen Harper because he was too hung over to come and analyze the alien. Over the last two episodes we have indirectly met the vast majority of the components that will eventually make up Torchwood.

The Slitheen

Yes, this episode has farting aliens. Yes. they have incredibly bad alien design and costume construction. There is no doubt that the Slitheen and the “alien” are the weak points of this episode. If the other stuff wasn’t so good this episode would be unsalvageable. It’s truly unfortunate that this atrocity got grafted onto the good stuff in this episode.

Breadcrumbs

Squee! This is the episode where Rose gets a key to the TARDIS!! That is a big moment in any companion’s relationship with The Doctor.

This episode includes the first modern reference to UNIT, which I believe we see in person for the first time in the 50th anniversary special.

We also get our first mention of Bad Wolf, which will be a rather important plot point by the end of the season.

Conclusion

This fourth episode of the series brings things around in a fairly satisfying manner. Like my other blog posts have articulated, there are certain kinds of episodes you can only really tell once. We have had the progression from the initial meeting, going to the future, going to the past, and now coming home. From this point forward, we aren’t really going to see a lot of stories that can only be specifically told at the beginning.

One of the challenges with New Who was introducing a new generation of people to what Doctor Who is without annoying long-term fans. These episodes have done a wonderful job of building a foundation about not only what Doctor Who is about, but also what the Davies era will be like. The Moffat era has been categorized by puzzles and the Davies era is categorized by relationships and character progression. Unfortunately, specifically with this episode, we are seeing that the Davies era will also be defined by a lot of things that are done in poor taste.

The next episode of Doctor Who is the second part of this episode, which unfortunately won’t have the wonderful character progression to anchor it in reality. I foresee the next episode being among my least favorite because I don’t think they will get into any of the stuff I watch Doctor Who for. We’re stuck with the Slitheen for another few episodes this season. Fortunately they aren’t going to be like the Weeping Angels that will come back to haunt us for an eternity.

Until next time.

Doctor Who: Series One- The Unquiet Dead

smiling
You may or may not have noticed that I have somewhat dropped the ball on my recap/rewatch of the first season/series of Doctor Who. Not only have I been incredibly busy the last month or so, but I was also kind of dreading watching this episode.

The first time I tried to get through Doctor Who, this was the episode that derailed me. The first two episodes were weird but they were good. They had enough good aspects to endear them to me to the point that I was going to continue watching. When I got to this episode and they show a woman possessed by ghosts in the cold open, I was like, “Seriously, are you fucking kidding me!! I thought this was about aliens, not supernatural crap!!”

I quit watching and I had to try a few more times to get through this episode.

Don’t Know Much About History…

One thing that has struck me when I started watching this episode is that I can’t really remember the last time we had a decent historical episode of Doctor Who. In the many River Song episodes she mentions The Doctor taking her to different places and times on her many excursions out of prison, but we don’t have a lot of episodes where our team just travels somewhere in the past for no good reason.

seanceThe last episode I can remember where they went off on a happy excursion to the past was the Donna/Tennant episode where they visited Pompeii. Most of the Moffat-era excursions to the past had to do with whatever wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey puzzle agenda he wanted to deal with at any particular point in time.

One thing I feel is kind of missing with more recent seasons of Who is this feeling of adventure, of just going to places because they are there. Every episode deals with some kind of universe-threatening crisis that must be solved and it gets kind of tiring after a while. I know in the last season with the Ponds they talk about going on adventures, but we never see them.

We always have the reaction shot of wonder from each new Companion when they realize the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, why did they have to do away with the sense of wonder that comes with having a machine that will take you anywhere in time and space?

I feel like this season afforded the writers one and only one opportunity to tell certain kinds of stories because they could only be told for the first time once. That was one reason I was so impressed that they chose to show the end of the world in the second episode. What impossible story do you tell when you can only tell the first impossible story once? What has significance and meaning? The destruction of the Earth and the realization that everything ends is rather interesting for the second episode of a new show.

Wait, I am off on a tangent about other episodes of this show, not the one I am watching. Sigh. Excelsior.

Gwyneth/Gwen Cooper

There are several actors who have appeared multiple times in different roles on Doctor Who. One of the best examples of this phenomenon is current Doctor Peter Capaldi. He first appeared in “The Fires of Pompeii”, then later in the Torchwood series “Children of Earth.”

gwen6Supposedly, I heard that eventually the series would address the fact that Capaldi has previously appeared on the show in some form or fashion. They may have already but I don’t know about it because I am still behind on the series.

It’s interesting to me to see how they deal with these continuity issues. I believe when Martha Jones was brought on as a companion she mentions having a cousin who died at Canary Wharf as a way to bridge the continuity issue of Freema Agyeman having appeared literally two episodes earlier as a different character.

Eve Myles is the first of three eventual Torchwood cross plants from the main universe. Her character here is named Gwyneth. In Torchwood, her name is Gwen Cooper. It isn’t a big stretch to believe that the Torchwood version of Myles was intended to have been a descendant of this character that she plays. I’ll address the other continuity characters when we encounter them.

Also realized that the weird alien fault line that Torchwood is built over is introduced in this episode. It’s interesting how many seeds for Torchwood are planted in this episode. It’s possible the writers just simply took a lot of stray pieces and repurposed them, but it’s fun to go back and see the trail of breadcrumbs that lead to Torchwood. I went into this episode feeling like it was something of a filler episode, but I am now realizing just how many things that became part of the Who mythos were introduced here.

I don’t think Who should cannibalize itself by only doing Weeping Angels episodes, but it would be nice to see more of the world building they did in the first few seasons where you get a character like Cassandra O’Brian coming back.

Charles Dickens

We can’t talk about this episode without mentioning our celebrity guest, Charles Dickens.

charlesDickensDickens is played by Simon Callow, who will forever be to me the theater owner from Amadeus who commissioned Mozart to write “The Magic Flute.” Interestingly, he also plays one of the idiotic theater owners in the miserable atrocity that was the film adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera.” The other theater owner was played either by Julius Caesar from “Rome” or Mance Rayder from “Game of Thrones”, depending on how old your pop culture references are. Yes, I watch entirely too much British media.

Callow interests me because I have seen him in a number of different things. He is well known for being the funeral in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” He also published an incredibly comprehensive three-part biography of Orson Welles. He is a fairly well known British prestige actor who either plays characters from Dicken’s oeuvre or Dickens himself. He is just well known enough that everyone has probably seen him in something, but not so well known that you can think of him as being that one guy who did this one thing.

It’s good that Doctor Who got decent actors to play historical figures in the show. More recently, when it became a huge success, I can’t imagine it was hard to get well known character actors to appear, but I believe getting someone of Callow’s stature to appear in the first three episodes was something of a coup for the show.

Period Garb

periodGarbAnother thing I just noticed with this episode is that The Doctor makes Rose change into period-appropriate clothing before turning her loose on the town. Again, this is another thing that the show has kind of crept away from in most circumstances. Usually when the companions travel back in time, they get to wear whatever it is that they normally wear regardless of the time period.

I noticed that Rose has been wearing the same outfit for the last three episodes. I like the authenticity of the costume designer acknowledging that Rose never went home to change her clothes because she impulsively jumped in the TARDIS with The Doctor, plus the fact that most people wear things more than one time. That lends a bit of continuity to the episode. However, it probably has more to do with budget reasons and laziness than actually putting thought into the continuity.

It’s also a nice lampshade on the show for The Doctor to claim he has changed because he changed his shirt. The Doctor always wears clothes on the same theme even if certain aspects of the outfit like the color of the suit will change.

Girl Talk

There is a wonderful scene in this episode where Rose and Gwyneth talk about their jobs and how they hated school. There are a number of scenes like this one from various episodes in the Davies era. There was the one from the previous episode where she talks to the maintenance person and one where Martha Jones is trying to get The Master’s nurse to swear in front of her.

GwenCooperFor the most part these scenes don’t really drive the action forward very much, but they do serve a great purpose in establishing that no matter where or when you are, people are not really all that different. An alien at the end of time still has the same thoughts and feelings as a doctor in the twenty-first century.

These scenes can only be done with the companions because they are a very human aspect of the show that The Doctor just doesn’t fulfill. The Doctor will protect and save humanity, but there is never any doubt that The Doctor is not one of us. He is not human. He never will be. He can like and respect his companions as people without ever really being one of us.

When Rose changes into her period garb, The Doctor is shocked and tells her she looks beautiful, for a human. That kind of sums The Doctor up in a nutshell. He can enjoy the companionship of Rose in an aesthetic way without ever really feeling an actual, real connection to her on a human level.

I currently have my pug sleeping on my chest. I love her and enjoy feeling her fur with my fingers, but I never for one moment think that we are on the same level. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love and care about her, I just know that we are not the same and we never will be.

Nature of Humanity

I find the nature of the conflict between Rose and The Doctor to be fascinating. The aliens asking to use the bodies of the dead is an interesting morality question.

Our culture sees the defilement of dead bodies to be an atrocity. But, if you see it from The Doctor’s perspective, whatever made those people who they were is now gone. We throw away millions of viable organs every year because people need to opt in to organ donation programs and many times the organs are either unusable or the doctors are too worried about being sued to harvest them.

GwenGhostIf you look at things logically, it should make total sense for us to let these aliens inhabit dead bodies. However, on a basic human level, we see this as abhorrent. It seems like a cop out at the end when we discover that the aliens are actually horrible people and we can feel good about denying them access to the bodies.

I also wanted to address Gwyneth’s death. I am a sensitive person. I am hurt very easily by other people’s pain. One struggle I personally have is trying to separate other people’s pain from my own. I keep feeling like I can take their pain from them and that they will feel better, but you can’t do that. Everyone has to experience their own pain.

Gwyneth’s willingness to allow herself to be a conduit for these aliens spoke to me because I could totally see myself doing the same thing. I would feel like I was special, or chosen because I could help save these angels and I would allow them to destroy me. I have done that before. There is something intoxicating about feeling like you are the only person who can help someone that sets you up to be in a position of being damaged by forces you don’t control. Extreme empathy can sometimes feel like a gift, but it is a gift that brings destruction if you can’t learn to protect yourself from its consequences.

Assessment

This episode isn’t as bad as I remember it being. I was kind of dreading having to watch this episode after the great one we just had and knowing the great episodes coming up before the end of the season.

I guess the thing that kind of makes this episode for me is all the breadcrumbs that would be picked up for Torchwood. I know other people don’t agree with me, but I don’t feel like the past few seasons have had the same world building that these first few seasons have. Introducing Danny Pink to be Clara’s boyfriend and to set him up to be sacrificed at the end of the season is different than having a few recurring characters who show up over several seasons.

I had also overlooked the plot point where everything hinges on Gwyneth’s embracing of her destiny to be destroyed by the angels. As much as The Doctor and Rose disagreed about whether it was moral for the aliens to inhabit dead bodies, if Gwyneth had not agreed to be the conduit, the argument would have been moot.

This is a pretty solid episode. The writers probably did right by going back in time. These first few episodes lay the ground for everything that comes after it. I think writing a critical assessment of this episode gave me a better understanding of the emotional resonance of the episode.

Up next, we have “Aliens of London.” We get to see the fallout of Rose’s decision to jump in the TARDIS and follow The Doctor to the end of the world.

Doctor Who: Series One- The End of the World

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine...

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…

Everything has its time and everything dies.

I had forgotten how many things this episode introduced us to. We got Lady Cassandra O’Brian, The Face of Barrowman, er, I mean, Boe, and we find out for the first time that The Doctor is the last of the Timelords.

The Doctor being responsible for wiping out the Timelords and the Daleks is such an ingrained part of the new series’ mythology that it is difficult to remember there was a time when discovered this information instead of just knowing it. We don’t discover The Doctor’s complicity in this episode yet, but we are introduced to the Lonely God, the Last of His Kind that will haunt the rest of the series from here on out.

It is strangely appropriate that the second episode of the new series is about the end of the world. The second episode of each season tends to be a disappointment because it’s hard to figure out where to go after the premiere. I am not saying this episode is a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it really does help set the tone for what the series is and what it could be. By introducing the fact that The Doctor had, offscreen, lost his entire race and showing Rose that everything she knows will end one day, it really does emphasize how small we are compared to everything in the Universe. It really puts our place in perspective.

Mum, you're breaking up! I only have one bar out here at the end of world!

Mum, you’re breaking up! I only have one bar out here at the end of world!

In the middle of the episode we get Rose talking to her mother on the phone. Jackie is still in her unawakened state where she doesn’t really think about the fact that everything is going to end. Rose has had her perspective completely altered and her talking to her mom underscores the whole fact that she has been changed by her experiences, even as early in the series as it is.

There is a great part towards the beginning of the episode where Rose assumes that The Doctor is going to step in at the last minute and save the Earth. He tells her he won’t because its time is up. This is something we see less and less frequently in Doctor Who. We rarely see The Doctor refuse to step in and meddle with things. He will still occasionally say that something is a fixed point in time, like the destruction of Pompeii, but we have seen him jump through a multitude of hoops to avoid any real consequences of anything actually dying or being destroyed. Just look at the number of times Rory comes back from the dead.

Please start dancing and saying "I am Groot!"

Please start dancing and saying “I am Groot!”

It is nice that Doctor Who makes some token attempt to explain why every alien we encounter in the future is humanoid. By saying that humans left the Earth and interbred with various other species, we can at least have a logical explanation of why every species is bipedal and looks like human being in make-up. I know it is easier to just do make-up on actors in sci-fi, but I always like it when they at least attempt to explain why everyone looks like a person and speaks English.

One thing that I think is cool about having a working class companion is that we see interactions with a lot of people you might not see interactions with. The scene where Rose is chatting with the plumber is really cool. Yes, there are all of these important dignitaries there to watch the Earth die, but every time you have a function like that, there are a lot of nameless, faceless people who are working behind the scenes to make sure that things come off without a hitch. As cool as it is to see The Doctor hang out with various Prime Ministers, it is also really neat to take time to talk to Mitt Romney’s 47%. I don’t know if it is a function of Russell T. Davies being a member of an underrepresent minority, but his dedication to racial and gender diversity, along with showing people whose stories don’t normally get told is commendable.

This Tainted Love is kind of Toxic.

This Tainted Love is kind of Toxic.

One aspect of this series that delights me to no end is watching Christopher Eccleston being goofy. In this episode when they haul out the “iPod” and play the classical music tune “Tainted Love” watching Eccleston dancing to the music is all kinds of awesome. There are so many terribly cheesy or just plain bad things in the this season that only work because Eccleston has the gravitas to pull it off. Eccleston has been in a lot of terrible blockbuster action movies where he has been absolutely wasted. It is painful watching a movie like “Thor: The Dark World” where his character could have been played by anyone and it would not have mattered.

The conversation between Rose and The Doctor where she tries to get him to tell her about himself and his people is very well crafted. The Doctor is going through the painful process of coming to grips with what has happened. Healing is not a linear process of slowly feeling better. Generally speaking, when you go through a trauma, parts of you shut down. The Doctor wants to take his new companion on a nice, fun adventure. He doesn’t want to think about or deal with the fact that he is responsible for the destruction of his people. Rose pressing him for straight answers begins to awaken uncomfortable feelings for The Doctor and you can see him trying to retreat back into his comfortable numbness, but he just can’t. The dragon has awakened and you can’t put it back to sleep.

Denial of Reality.

Denial of Reality.

You can run, but you can't hide...

You can run, but you can’t hide…

Seeing The Doctor go from dancing and being goofy to having to talk about the painful reality of being the last of his kind is a pivot that not a lot of actors could do. His work in the scene where he is confronted about being the last of the Timelords is painfully subtle. Eccleston conveys so much with his stillness and his silence.

I still maintain that Eccleston and Piper have the best chemistry of all the Doctor/Companion pairs. This is only their second episode but they have such sparky energy with one another when he is modifying her phone so she can call her mother. I am a highly sensitive person and I get all gushy inside watching the two of them interact. It makes me all kinds of happy. Watching this its hard to believe that these people have not been together for years. Their banter and comfort with one another is just so natural that it absolutely drives me insane that we only have a baker’s dozen episodes of the two of them.

I find the theme of this episode to be highly ironic. The episode deals with the inevitable end of everything, yet everyone involved in this episode has unnaturally extended the time they have been allotted. Lady Cassandra has morphed and mutated herself in a doomed attempt to avert and cheat death. The Earth has been artificially prevented from ending at its natural time. We don’t know it yet, but The Face of Boe is the immortal Captain Jack who was altered accidentally and is an abomination that the TARDIS will flee to the end of the Universe to try to escape. The Doctor himself is an immortal god.

Everything has its time and everything dies.

This episode spends so much time talking about so many people who have unnaturally extended their time in this existence. Life is precious because we have a finite amount of it.

The end of all things.

The end of all things.


The idea that trying to unnaturally extend your life is evil is a very common theme in sci-fi and fantasy. Vampires are cursed because they try to cheat death and they are marked by their curse. In the Harry Potter series Voldomort is physically maimed by his attempts to cheat death by breaking his soul into pieces and scattering them to the four corners of the globe. In Lord of the Rings, the wearers of the rings of power are granted unnaturally long life at the expense of their soul. Death is to be feared, but far more scary is the terrible cost at trying to avoid the inevitable.

Each and every moment we are given is precious. I sometimes feel like I don’t have enough time to do the things I want to do. I push myself very hard and make myself sick trying to make up for time I squandered when time felt limitless. I forget that sometimes it is important to just take a day or two to stop and look around at the wonder that exists all around us.

I went to Greenville, SC for a conference a few weeks ago. I got there half a day early and I spent the entire time just walking around a park in a place I have never been and might not ever see again. It recharged my soul to get away from all my worries and responsibilities and just exist for a few hours.

It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Sometimes you just have to accept that everything is going to end one day and take time to stop and smell the chips.

Everything ends and everyone dies. Let's eat chips!

Everything ends and everyone dies. Let’s eat chips!

Doctor Who: Series One- Rose

I have complained here about how I don’t like the current iteration of The Doctor in Doctor Who. Recently I have been thinking back to a lot of stuff from the earlier parts of New Who and I am going to write a series of posts about each episode in at least the first series. I am doing this as a recovering English major who thinks that the first series was a very well written set of episodes and tells a very concise story about a pair of dynamic characters who change and are changed by one another.

Rose, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Rose, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It is interesting to go back and look at “Rose” from the perspective of knowing just how huge Doctor Who would get in the ten years after the show premiered. I will confess to being rather late to to Doctor Who bandwagon. I believe I began watching the show in real time in either Series 5 or 6. I tried, like most people, to get into the series by watching “Rose.”

“Rose” isn’t a bad episode, per se, it is just very weird for someone who has no idea what to expect from Doctor Who. I was expecting Doctor Who to be kind of like a cross between “Lost” and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I was not expecting how dark it would get. Even though Mickey comes back from the dead, you have a scene where he basically gets murdered by a plastic mannequin and you see this really bad special effect/makeup job on the actor wandering around saying “Pizza!”

Another thing I find interesting about “Rose” is the actual introduction of the companion. We see Rose wake up, go to work, eat lunch with her boyfriend, and basically have a typical, lower-middle class existence. Her life is perfectly serviceable, if somewhat boring. She works in a shop and has a boyfriend. She probably does not expect to have a lot of upward social mobility and she doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying to get any further than she actually is. She doesn’t seem to be aware of it and it doesn’t really bother her. She is like the main character from “Flowers for Algernon” who isn’t really viscerally aware of the fact that there is more to life than what he knows. Ignorance is bliss.

Compare that to the other series where you are introduced to the companion. Most of those stories are about The Doctor. As the show has progressed, The Doctor has become more and more the focus of the show. The companion is chosen now because the companion is somehow special. Amy Pond with her crack in the universe in her wall. Clara, whose iterations show up over and over again. The Impossible Girl.

Rose is not an impossible girl. Rose is a common girl. Except she isn’t.

runningIf we look as Series One as a whole, we are at the beginning of The Hero’s Journey. We are in “The Ordinary World.” Rose is Bilbo Baggins, snug and safe in her hobbit hole with no aspirations to go on any sort of adventures.

When we meet The Doctor for the first time, it is an exhilarating experience. She, as well as us, are curious about him. She goes and tries to research him on the Internet. She wants to know more about him. She is actively discouraged by her family from trying to find out more about The Doctor. When she goes to talk to the guy from the Internet, Mickey insists on taking her there to keep an eye on her because he thinks she is going to be murdered by an insane internet lunatic. It’s clear from their behavior that neither Mickey nor Jackie thinks Rose can make her own choices or take care of herself. They mean well, but they treat her like a child.

These changes mark the beginning of a metamorphosis that will transform Rose by the end of the series. Had Rose only met The Doctor once, she might not have changed. She would have thought it was weird, but then ultimately would have moved on and forgot. The speech where The Doctor tells her he can feel the Earth hurtling through space, you know Rose will never be the same again. There is a part of her that awakens to the possibility that exists in the Universe.

A happier Doctor by the end of the episode.

A happier Doctor by the end of the episode.

So far I have only spoken about Rose. It is equally important to mention The Doctor. He is recently regenerated, as we can tell when he looks at his reflection and comments on the ears. The Doctor is badly damaged at this point in time due to his decision to destroy the Timelords and the Daleks.

It is hard to determine how The Doctor feels at this point in time. The Doctor picks up companions because he is lonely. He is even more lonely at this point in time because he just destroyed his entire race. (Yes, I know this was retconned.) The Doctor needs a companion to avoid losing touch with the people he has dedicated himself to saving, but he is a broken man. He brings death and destruction everywhere he goes and he is reluctant to bring another person along and place them in danger.

The biggest thing that sells their relationship in this episode is the chemistry between Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston, one of the greatest living thespians we have, does an excellent job of selling us on why someone would be fascinated by him. Piper, however, has the harder job of selling us on why The Doctor would invite her to travel the Universe with him. Even though we see initially that Rose is a rather ordinary and common person, there is potential within her. She has a spark of curiosity and imagination missing from everyone else we meet in the pilot.

The moment of epiphany is a glorious moment.

The moment of epiphany is a glorious moment.

One of the great, defining moments in the pilot is the part where Rose realizes that the London Eye is the transmitter and The Doctor figures it out. There are so many times in life when you are looking at things from the wrong angle and you need a change of perspective. It was this moment when The Doctor realized that he needed Rose, or someone like her.

The moment when Rose realizes that she can be more than she is is slightly later, when The Doctor needs to be saved. We get the great line from Rose:

I’ve got no A-Levels, no job, no future… but I tell ya what I have got – Jericho Street Junior School – Under Sevens Gymnastic Team – I got the Bronze!

This is the point where Rose reaches “The Call to Adventure.” She has somewhat reached rock bottom. She realizes consciously for the first time that she is asleep. Her normal, comfortable life has been turned upside down and she is painfully aware that she has no hope of doing anything better than she is doing now. This realization galvanizes her to strive to be more than she was.

Both Rose and The Doctor are changed by their encounters with one another. The Doctor has recovered enough from his damage by his encounter with Rose that he feels comfortable inviting her to come with him. He realizes on a fundamental level that he needs her to recover from what happened with the Time Lords. He also recognizes the potential in her to be more than she is.

You can contrast her reaction to The Doctor with Mickey’s. Mickey also had an encounter with the strange and unknown. His reaction was entirely different. The unknown frightened him. It pushed him further into his small world view.

Look at the invitation the Doctor extends to Rose, but not to Mickey:

ROSE: You were useless in there. You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me.

DOCTOR: Yes, I would. Thank you. Right then, I’ll be off, unless, er, I don’t know, you could come with me. This box isn’t just a London hopper, you know. It goes anywhere in the universe free of charge. 

MICKEY: Don’t. He’s an alien. He’s a thing.

DOCTOR: He’s not invited. What do you think? You could stay here, fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go anywhere.

You can hold her all you want to Mickey, but she's already gone.

You can hold her all you want to Mickey, but she’s already gone.

At this point, we see Rose reach “The Refusal of the Call” point in the Hero’s Journey. Changing your life is scary. Going on an adventure with The Doctor will fundamentally change who she is. She won’t be happy doing the same things she did at the beginning of the episode. She will evolve into another kind of person, leaving Mickey and Jackie behind her. Hell, when she gets invited, Mickey throws his arms around her and clings to her like grim death to keep her from going. That is a scary thing. It is hard to leave people behind that you outgrow. But if you are going to be more than you are, you must do so. She isn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the person she was to become the person she is going to be, so she turns him down.
The look on her face watching the TARDIS disappear is heartbreaking. She knows that this was a chance that she will probably never get again to be more than she is. She gave it up to stay with the people she loved. She resigns herself to going back to the way things were. Then the TARDIS comes back. She won’t make that mistake again.

ROSE: Thanks.

MICKEY: Thanks for what? 

ROSE: Exactly.

I do find it rather interesting that later in the show they do explore what happens to another prospective companion who turns The Doctor down and regrets it. We meet Donna Noble in a Christmas special. She turns down The Doctor, and we get a season of Martha Jones. A year later we see that even though Donna did not take The Doctor up on his invitation, she could not avoid being changed by him.

Sometimes in life events force you to change. You might want to cling to the person that you were, but that person is essentially gone. Lewis Carroll has a wonderful quote: “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

I have, in the course of my life, encountered a lot of people who absolutely do not like change. Change frightens them. They bury their heads in the sand and try to avoid dealing with the fact that everything is constantly changing. Your cells replace your organs every few years. We have change built into the structure of our DNA. It is unavoidable, yet people run and hide from things that are inevitable.

One reason I am focusing on this season is because I find it fascinating that the writers generated these characters where you have one dynamic character surrounded by static ones. One issue I have with the newer seasons of Who in the Moffatt era is that none of the characters really grow or evolve. Amy Pond was kidnapped, held hostage, and had her only child stolen from her, yet it never seems to affect her in any meaningful way. She is temporarily affected because it means she and Rory can’t have children, so she leaves him so he can have them with someone else, which is complete and total bullshit.

I identify with Rose very much. I have had several transformative experiences over the last two years and watching this season resonates with me a great deal. I hope that my analysis of these episodes is somewhat interesting or entertaining. If not, I promise to talk more about programming soon.

Why I am Over Doctor Who

I, like many geeks of my generation, have been a rather rabid Doctor Who fan for a few years now. I had the unfortunate luck of attempting to get into Doctor Who with the episode Fear Her, which is widely considered to be the worst episode of New Who created. About five years ago I got through the first season and became very interested in the show. I have even named my pug after Delia Derbyshire, the woman who engineered the theme song.

I am not evil, I promise! I just look that way.

I am not evil, I promise! I just look that way.

I noticed about a year or so ago that I really was not digging Doctor Who anymore. I really liked the first few seasons, but there was a certain point where everything just sort of stopped working for me. I was on the train to Denver for 360|iDev when the season premiere happened and I honestly didn’t care about missing it. I got home and saw it a week later and I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t very engaging. I nearly turned it off before the end and I was tired and really didn’t care about how it ended.

I’ve been trying to determine exactly why Doctor Who has been bothering me, and I have tentatively come up with some points about what it is about the series that has drained all of its interest for me.

Special Effects

I know at this point, some people might be like, “What are you talking about?! The special effects for the first few seasons were terrible! Look at the pilot episode!”

That is exactly my point.

There was a certain charm about the show when it had terrible special effects. It allowed the actors to have some fun and kind of ham things up because no one in their right mind would think that the horrible rubber special effects were real. It let the show have a goofiness that is sorely lacking in the last few seasons.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Not Giving a Fuck

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Not Giving a Fuck

Additionally, I feel that the increased special effects budget has acted as a crutch to the show for the writers so that they don’t have to write particularly interesting or compelling characters and plots.

In the seventh season, we had the episode The Rings of Akhaten. There is an interminable portion of the episode with the Queen of Years singing a song that feels like it lasts forever. The scene is beautiful. The special effects and the world building are breathtaking, but I don’t care about what is going on.

I feel like I am watching a piece of art created by a computer that makes things really pretty, but it has no soul. I feel no reason to watch it because the characters never learn anything, their stories don’t touch me on any fundamental level, and the whole thing just feels like a practice in artistic masturbation.

Rose meets the father she never knew and discovers he is just a man.

Rose meets the father she never knew and discovers he is just a man.

The special effects in the first season were terrible, but the writing was compelling. Because you couldn’t blow a million bucks making an entire virtual world, you wound up with such great episodes like Father’s Day where Rose got to meet the father she never knew. The vast majority of that episode took place in a church in the 1980’s. That episode is compelling because you can see a character you’ve never seen before slowly come to the realization that he is going to die and never see his daughter grow up and that he must sacrifice himself to save the world. Pete Tyler wasn’t a super hero, he was an ordinary person who was able to put his own self interests aside for the greater good of everyone. If that isn’t a compelling story, I don’t know what is.

You get compelling stories when there are constraints on the writers to do something to fill the gaps that can’t be filled with special effects.

I went back and watched Jurassic Park recently. I forgot how much of the movie is made up of scenes without the dinosaurs. The movie is great not just because of the realistic dinosaur rendering, but because it had really good, fleshed out characters whose fates you cared about. It had humor. All the characters had distinct personalities. If it was just about the dinosaurs, then I highly doubt it would be remembered as fondly as it is.

The special effects are now movie quality, but since I really hate most movies that come out, that doesn’t really appeal to me anymore.

We are seeing a similar thing happen with the new Star Trek movie series. We have a writer, J.J. Abrams, who has absolutely no idea what made Start Trek compelling to begin with, who is kind of throwing around what he thinks Trek fans want to see, without fully grokking what it was about the show that kept people around. You have things slicker and prettier than they were, but without the soul that kept fans coming back year after year.

Serialized Plots

I do not like the habit that Steven Moffat has introduced in his reign of terror at having the entire series be serialized. I know that many shows on today are serialized and that is the thing du jour for episodic television, but I really don’t feel it works for Doctor Who.

The first series we had Moffat for, where we were introduced to Amy Pond and Rory Williams, had the interesting and different tack of talking about the crack in the wall and how it was a crack in reality. This was an interesting concept that had not been explored in New Who yet.

This baby is the most important thing in the world to me, but only for the next forty-five minutes.

This baby is the most important thing in the world to me, but only for the next forty-five minutes.

However, after the first season of serialization, things began to drag and that began very rapidly. The next season, where we discover Amy Pond is pregnant and was replaced by a doppelgänger, was compelling for the first half of the season until baby Melody is spirited away and we discover that she is, in fact, River Song.

After that, things really go off the rails. We are sort of expected to believe that Amy is not irreparably despondent about her kidnapping and the theft of her baby, because she sort of goes on about her life like it never happened and it is not particularly mentioned again.

A lot of this stuff is happening because the characters, as portrayed by Moffat, are nothing more than

...and after I do that I have no further purpose in this show!

…and after I do that I have no further purpose in this show!

living action figures to go off and play certain parts in weird fan fictions. He is more interested in having puzzles to figure out than in the actual compelling questions of what it means to be human. Once a puzzle has been solved, Moffat has some trouble figuring out what to do with the character afterward. We are seeing this issue with Clara where now that we have discovered why she was the impossible girl, the writers have no clear idea about who or what she was. It has been announced that she is going to be leaving the show at the end of the year and I feel she is being forced out to make room for the next MacGuffin. I don’t particularly like the character, but I feel kind of bad that the actress never actually got to explore who the character actually is.

You can have serialized plots in a show like Lost where you are following the same characters through a multi-year character arc. It works less well when you have a predetermined cycle of actors that will come and go. Back in the first few seasons having a lot of one-off episodes that had a few multipart episodes sprinkled through really worked for the show.

Don't Blink!

Don’t Blink!

Some of the best episodes of the show were stand-alone episodes. Look at Blink, one of the best episodes of the entire series. The show barely has the Doctor in it. It exemplifies what is great about Doctor Who. It is weird and funny and has compelling time travel paradoxes, but most importantly, it wraps up in one episode. It is a tightly written piece of fiction. Imagine trying to drag that episode out over a whole season long arc. It loses so much in that scenario.

I guess I feel like Doctor Who is turning into the M. Night Shyamalan oeuvre where he feels compelled to add a stupid twist to the end of his movies and they get lamer and lamer with each iteration. Try shaking things up a bit and go back to what works rather than sticking to a fluke that worked once.

No Hanky Panky in the Tardis

The single biggest thing that has bothered me about this season is the question of romance between the Doctor and his Companion.

This kiss doesn't count, it isn't the actual Doctor. That's my story and I am sticking to it!

This kiss doesn’t count, it isn’t the actual Doctor. That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

First off, I thought it was rather refreshing to have the married couple of Amy and Rory because it closed off the idea of the Doctor and his Companion having a relationship. I think that Billie Piper had great chemistry with both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant and that having that one relationship go in that direction was not the worst idea in the world.

Rose Tyler was followed up by Martha Jones, who had an unrequited crush on the Doctor that was never reciprocated. Martha was followed by Donna Noble, who was brought on to be a friend to the Doctor and to show a character who has a life changing encounter and grows as a human being. I don’t really think that Doctor Who has earned the reputation of having too many romantic relationships between the Doctor and the Companion.

Imagine my surprise when nearly every article I read about the new season of Doctor Who revolved around this theme: No hanky panky in the TARDIS. I began to get a very bad feeling about how this season was going to proceed. No one talked about anything else going on this season beyond the fact that the people representing the show wanted to make damn sure you knew there would be no relationship between the Doctor and the Companion.

Why did anyone feel it was necessary to make this explicitly clear??

Watching the first episode of the season really hammered this point home. I think they talked about boyfriends and relationships more than they talked about sex in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.”

You don’t want a relationship between the Doctor and Clara? Fine. I don’t think they even got to that point when Matt Smith was around because Clara was only on like ten episodes. Just don’t do it. Don’t fucking talk about it every other minute in the premiere.

Wait, what the hell is this?! I thought I was supposed to get the hot red head! I need to check my contract...

Wait, what the hell is this?! I thought I was supposed to get the hot red head! I need to check my contract…

I also find this worrying because I feel that Steven Moffat doesn’t know what to do with a female character if he can’t hook her up in a relationship. I think Amy lasted as long as she did because she was married to Rory. At the beginning of Season Seven she tries to divorce him to set him free because she can have no more children and she feels like she can’t fulfill his needs as a man because she can’t give him babies. The fuck? The multitude of wrong associated with this plot line hurts my brain.

I think Jenna Colman was sort of urged to leave the show because no one knows what to do with her anymore. Her puzzle has been solved. The hot guy left the role and has been replaced by the old guy. What on earth could they possibly do with a female character if she can’t screw the Doctor?

Conclusion

Will I continue to watch Doctor Who? Yeah, probably. I watch a lot of things that stopped being good a while ago. Will I go out of my way to see it when it is on initially? Probably not.

Right now the writers have no reason to go to the effort to make Doctor Who good. The Fiftieth Anniversary special was aired live all over the world. Doctor Who is the crown jewel of the BBC right now. It is basically printing its own money. It has no incentive to make itself better.

I have no hope that things will get any better as long as we have the same crew of people running things. If they ever replace Moffat with someone else, I will be legitimately excited about the show again. Until then, I will suffer and rewatch the Eccleston season back when the show had something to say.