"New" Who, Doctor Who Write-Ups

New “Who” Reviews: The End of Time, Part 2

So I rewatched Part of The End of Time just for this review and…I didn’t dislike it as much as I did the first time I watched it.  No, really!

Well, even the first time I saw it I thought it was an improvement over Part 1, but I didn’t expect to be more forgiving on my last viewing.  Maybe part of it is that I’m watching it post-Day of the Doctor (which, incidentally, I’ll be spoiling in this review, so heads up!), or maybe I’ve gotten some perspective in hindsight on what RTD was trying to accomplish with his run as showrunner.

All that said, to quote Frank Costanza, “I’ve got some problems with you people!”

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Hello, Gallifrey! Sorry we’ll have to wait years to see you again.

It might also be that when I first watched this I felt like RTD has personally punched me in the face.

My problem with the premise of the “new” series was exactly that Gallifrey and the Time Lords were written out.  I understand that this was an attempt to simplify the show for new viewers, but I never got why “The Doctor is part of a non-interventionist alien race that has mastered time travel and are like tech gods” is any less “confusing” than “The Doctor is a veteran of this horrific war that took place off-screen and is burdened with guilt because he had to single-handedly wipe out both the aggressors and his own people.”  The old series got around all that by just having the Time Lords or Gallifrey mentioned occasionally, while with the “new” series’ approach there’s whole backstory at play that’s more complex and intrusive than just the Doctor having stolen a TARDIS for mysterious reasons many years ago.

So honestly I expected that this special would shake up the status quo in a way beyond even introducing a new Doctor.  I thought the idea of the Doctor being the sole survivor of his race – an idea I never really enjoyed but thought it did have some potential (even if it fed into my complaint that RTD wanted to write the Doctor like Superman and really this change to his backstory made him more like Lobo) – had been exhausted and RTD was giving the next showrunner a clean slate.  Granted, I don’t really keep up with the backstage developments of the show like most fans, so as far as I know Moffat wanted to be the one to bring back the Time Lords or wanted more time to play with the concept of the Doctor as a guilt-ridden veteran, but regardless at the time End of Time Part 2 felt like a cheat played on the audience.

But still…Timothy Dalton as Rassilon, one of the founders of Time Lord society!

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Timothy Dalton kills with the power of Awesome.

Granted the script makes Rassilon act like the most cliched of Saturday morning villains, as he kills an adviser for questioning his plans and screams that he will not die.  But God I love how Timothy Dalton fires on all cylinders here.  There’s still too much going on in this special for him to really make a mark, much like the tragically short five minutes we get of Derek Jacobi as the Master in Utopia, but like there I’m glad for what we get here.  Anyway, Rassilon and his advisers are listening to a prophet, portrayed as a ranting old woman who seems like she’s wandered in from another genre, who is predicting the destruction of Gallifrey at the Doctor’s hands.  Seizing on the part of the prophecy that predicts that the Doctor and the Master will outlive the Time Lords and confront each other again on Earth, Rassilon arranges to have a four-note drumbeat broadcast into the Master’s mind across all time and space (the drumbeat only referred to since Utopia, natch) and sends a type of diamond that only exists on Gallifrey to present day Earth to serve as a kind of anchor for bringing back Gallifrey.  Thus we have one of the hugest retcons of all time, carried out on one of modern fiction’s most iconic villains.

Insert lengthy, pretentious essay about the problems with basically depriving a decades-old character of their “free will” here.

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“So all this time I’ve been driven insane by a plot device?”

Back on Earth and the “present,” the Master has got the Doctor strapped down.  Now this does lead into what I genuinely think is not only one of the best moments from this special, and not only one of the best moments in the “new” series, but one of the best moments in the history of the entire franchise.  The Doctor tells the Master:

“You’re a genius.  You’re stone cold brilliant, you really are.  But you could be so much more.  You could be beautiful, with a mind like that.  We could travel the stars.  It would be my honor, ’cause you don’t need to own the universe, just see it. Have the privilege of seeing the whole of time and space.  That’s ownership enough.”

One of the things I really liked about RTD’s run, and which I haven’t given him credit for before, is his interpretation of the Doctor/the Master relationship.  Instead of a classic superhero comic-style rivalry, the Doctor-Master relationship is presented as a friendship gone sour but has not faded, because one of the friends has become seriously mentally ill and self-destructive.  I’m almost sure that this just reflects RTD’s desire to depict the Doctor as a pacifist saint, but honestly? It’s a really interesting take on the archenemy relationship that frankly, as an aspiring writer myself, I’m jealous of.

Of course, my good will doesn’t last long, as we revisit one of my biggest sore spots:  Donna.  How is Donna going to get out of being pursued by a planet full of Masters when she’s beginning to remember her adventures with the Doctor, which has the potential to kill her?  Well, she just releases some Time Lord energy, which knocks out her out and her pursuers and apparently ends the risk that her brain would melt.  The Doctor himself explains what happens for the Master’s and our benefit:  “Well, you see, Russell wrote himself into a corner like he always does…”  Oops, I mean, he says, “Do you think I’d leave my best friend without a defense mechanism?”  So that’s that, I guess.  (The only good thing about this bit is that it causes the Master to blurt out, “He loves playing with Earth girls!”)

Anyway, the two aliens from last time save the Doctor, which leads to a really awkward “Simpsons” reference (“Worst rescue ever!”) and they escape on the aliens’ ship, but the Doctor is for once left without a clue as to what to do.  Meanwhile Bernard Cribbins is again visited by the woman in white, who as always does nothing but say a bunch of cryptic things.  However, she does say, “I was lost, so very long ago,” which means she is totally Susan, no matter what RTD says.  Back on Earth, the Master decides to take advantage of the fact that his consciousness is echoed more than 4 billion times over and finally find out if the drumbeat in his head is real or not.  Needless to say, it is, and he uses the technological resources at hand to create a link to its source.

There’s a lengthy scene where Bernard Cribbins and the Doctor talk about his death, and Cribbins convinces the Doctor to take his gun and tells him that, if killing the Master will free the human race, he should make the choice that is best for humanity no matter what.  I don’t have much to say about this scene, except that both Cribbins and David Tennant sell the hell out of it.  Still, like the “Time Lord Victorious” stuff from The Waters of Mars, the Doctor’s fears about his mortality and breaking his ethics just aren’t earned.  Anyway, the Doctor is freed from his malaise when he figures out what the Master is doing and is terrified by the mere prospect of the Time Lords breaking out of the time-locked Time War.   The Doctor steers the ship to England right in the face of a barrage of missiles that the world’s Master-controlled armies fired, requiring the two aliens and Bernard Cribbins to get behind the ship’s guns and do what is one of the most subtle references to another major sci-fi franchise possible.  

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Not inspired by anything in particular, we swear!

Surviving the barrage, the Doctor makes a personal crash landing into the mansion, but he’s too late for about the sixth time in this special.  The link is opened, Gallifrey is becoming visible in Earth’s sky (enough that Gallifrey’s gravity should tear the Earth apart, but hey let’s just say Gallifrey hasn’t completely materalized yet or a wizard did it or something), and the Time Lords led by Rassilon are breaking through.  Two of Rassilon’s Time Lords are forced to walk around with their faces buried in their hands since they were the only two who voted against Rassilon’s plans, and one of them is the lady in white.  The other one is…well, the show doesn’t even give any hints, but let’s say it’s Romana.  The Master tries to pull on the Time Lords what he did to humanity, but – in a nice nod back to the omnipotence of the Time Lords in their first appearance in the “old” series – Rassilon with a wave of his hand is able to reverse what the Master did to humanity.  The Doctor tells the Master that along with the Time Lords he brought back the various eldritch abominations spawned in the Time War with admittedly fantastic names like the Horde of Travesties and the Nightmare Child and the Could-Have-Been King.  Rassilon announces it doesn’t matter since they’ll simply allow the rift in time created by Gallifrey’s reappearance to destroy the time vortex, devastating all reality and allowing the Time Lords to transcend the material universe as pure consciousness.  This was the plan, the Doctor tells the Master, that prompted the Doctor to end the Time War through any means possible in the first place.

Armed with the gun, the Doctor oscillates between shooting at Rassilon and shooting at the Master.  Of course, it’s not clear what good shooting a bunch of regenerating Time Lords will do, but hey, it’s Drama before Logic.

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For maximum nerdage, compare this scene to when Batman had to hold a gun on Darkseid in “Final Crisis.”

However, the Doctor regains his ethical bearings when he looks into the face of his mother Susan and instead just shoots the machine powering the link.  Rassilon wants to take the Doctor with them to their fate, but the Master intervenes and uses his super-powers to knock Rassilon and the Time Lords (and himself) back into the Time War.  So, yeah, that’s the end of the promised “return of the Time Lords.”  The Doctor doesn’t dwell on the ramifications of condemning his own species for a second time (well, so he thinks!), but is instead relieved that he didn’t have to regenerate after all, until he hears Bernard Cribbins knocking from inside the radiation gate…

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What a twist! (Actually, it’s not that bad a one…).

To be honest, I’ve read at least three different plot summaries and I really don’t have any clearer an idea of what exactly happens in this scene and why.  Just accept that the Doctor exposes himself to tons of radiation in order to save Bernard Cribbins’ life.  Luckily, the regeneration process is slowed, just because, giving the Doctor time to ride around in the TARDIS and say goodbye, or at least check in on, most of his old companions.

Now I think when I first saw this, this was the part I hated the most.  I’ve softened up on it, although it does still strike me as pretty self-indulgent on RTD’s part, especially after we already got closure to his run with Journey’s End.  And it’s still a little…iffy that the only two black companions, Martha and Mickey, end up married.  As is the fact that we still don’t get one more scene between Donna and the Doctor.  I can understand why fans found it way too mawkish, but like I said last time I can see why from the Doctor’s perspective it’s like dying.  Plus, given that from the start one of RTD’s main themes has been mortality and the challenge of accepting inevitable change, it is a nice bookend to his run.

…By the Crown of Rassilon, I’m…I’m being positive.

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I don’t want to have a fetish for fezes.

Really, this is still far, far from being  among my top Doctor Who stories.  It’s an improvement over the first part in more than a few respects, but the plot still carries so much it collapses in on itself, the characterization of the Doctor is often put front and center and yet it’s sloppily and hastily built up, and the story just doesn’t make sense sometimes (even by Who standards).

And yet, it does capture some of what made RTD’s run work.  Like I said to begin with, I prefer Moffat’s approach and interpretation of the Doctor.  Still, to be honest, even though I started this series on “new Who” to criticize RTD, writing these posts has actually given me more of an appreciation of RTD’s run.  It might be an oversimplification, but whereas Moffat is more focused on plot RTD is usually more interested in character.  RTD may not always handle characterization with a daft hand, but one of the criticisms of Moffat’s tenure that I agree with is that RTD’s care for that kind of storytelling is largely absent.  Case in point:  Amy Pond is put through the ringer by finding out that she was not only deprived of a chance to raise her child but finds out that a middle-aged woman she encountered a few times is her daughter, but aside from one or two really brief scenes we never actually deal with the emotional ramifications of all that for Amy.  With RTD, we might not see exactly why the Doctor is suddenly worried about dying or about his potential for megalomania, but it is dealt with on an intimate scale that adds something valuable to the franchise.

So can there ever be peace between the RTD-boosters and the Moff-fans?  Maybe, maybe not, but talks don’t have to break down as badly as they did between the Daleks and the Cybermen.

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And of course RIP Elisabeth Sladen.

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"New" Who, Doctor Who Write-Ups

So one of the reasons I stopped doing so many Doctor Who posts was that I was afraid I was turning this blog into a Who fan blog, which is probably somewhere between social media cat photos and top 10 lists about cats on the list of things the Internet does not need more of.  That was the main reason I gave myself, anyway.  In truth, I just really did not want to have to write about The End of Time.

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END OF TIME? More like, END OF MY DAMN PATIENCE!

We denizens of the Internet exist in the Golden Age of Nerdrage, so I feel like anything I say about how much I disliked “The End of Time” is already kind of meaningless.  But I’ve already delved into my feelings about the Russell T. Davies era here and I don’t want to launch some kind of “Steven Moffat rulez, RTD droolz” debate.  I simply don’t agree with some of the criticisms made about Moffat, especially the accusations that Moffat’s portrayal of the Doctor’s female companions has veered toward sexism, but there are some things that boil down to purely personal preferences and Moffat clearly had a very different vision for the show and the character of the Doctor than RTD did.  It’s inevitable that there will be many people who will prefer one showrunner’s vision over the other. Personally I tend to prefer the seasons made under Moffat, but there are episodes from the RTD era I enjoyed, just as there are episodes made with Moffat at the helm that I’d probably skip with future viewings.

All that said, I truly, genuinely, absolutely loathe “The End of Time,” to such an extent that whenever I hear fans complain about Steven Moffat, my only rebuttal is “END OF TIME!

Of course, I should start with the good.  Bernard Cribbins is more or less the companion for these episodes, and he’s a delight.  Enough said.  And I do like John Simm’s The Master, especially how he’s kind of an evil version of how David Tennant portrays the Doctor.  I don’t like what the writers do with the Master in this story – at all – but I do enjoy John Simm’s take on the Master for the most part.

…And I think that’s it.  As for what I don’t like…well, get a snack and make yourself comfortable.

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If the whole episode had just been Timothy Dalton talking while in full Time Lord regalia, my opinion would have been considerably more positive.

So like any would-be epic the first part is narrated – in full purple prose mode, no less – by Timothy Dalton who is dressed in elite Time Lord gear. I was tempted to put this in the plus column for this episode, but it’s really ruined by what goes down in part two. Plus Dalton’s narration makes less and less sense when you consider who he actually is and the people he’s talking to, but we’ll get to all that. In the episode’s defense I suppose we’re not supposed to think he’s narrating everything that’s going down on screen, even though the idea of Dalton with an epic tone narrating the Tenth Doctor getting felt up by an old lady (yes, this will happen) does make up for a lot. Also it’s not the goofiest thing that will go down even in just part one.

Since this is Russell T. Davies and apparently not a show that can take place anywhere and anywhen, it’s Christmas in contemporary London.  Bernard Cribbins, returning as Donna’s grandfather, is in a church where a mysterious woman in white discusses how the church was once the site of a convent the Doctor rescued in the Middle Ages.  Who is this woman and how is she connected to the Doctor?  We don’t really find out.  I get that one of the charms of Doctor Who is that the writers usually leave in some mystery and ambiguity surrounding the Doctor, but at the same time it strikes me as fairly pointless to introduce a mystery character, one who won’t appear again except maybe in the dubiously canonical spin-off fiction, and never even just strongly hint at who she is.  (Of course, personally I’m rooting on her being Susan, but I’m always for characters who disappeared decades ago making cameos in my fiction…).

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Later commentaries revealed that she’s actually just the Doctor’s landlord from that year in college he spent renting a basement apartment.

As is usually the case with RTD’s epics, we are assured by not only the Lady in White, but also the Ood and the fact that everyone on Earth has been having dreams of a laughing Master, that Something Big Is Going Down.  We’ve already had a mad scientist threaten to erase virtually all reality, so RTD has to resort to making the crisis as vague as possible.  Then there’s the Doctor’s personal crisis.  Having learned about his impending “demise” from both the Ood and the Magic Negro from “Planet of the Dead”, the Doctor has been hesitating to investigate what’s going wrong with reality this time.

To be fair, this reluctance is expressed through probably my favorite scene in the whole affair…

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How I like to remember the Tenth Doctor.

I really do mean it as a compliment when I say that I think the Tenth Doctor is at his best when he’s being an annoying tourist.

Of course, the last time we saw the Doctor he wasn’t worried about his mortality at all, just about becoming a megalomaniacal demi-god twisting all of the universe’s history to suit his personal ethics.  I don’t know if RTD just assumed his audience had the attention span of fruit flies or what, but this is yet another idea that actually would have been much more interesting if it had been developed slowly over the course of a season or a series of specials.  I know of fans that hated this twist in the Tenth Doctor’s character, the core argument being that it was out of character for the Doctor, especially since regeneration has been for the most part not treated like dying.  However, I can see how it could be a legitimate take on the whole concept of a species of aliens that can save themselves from the brink of death but at the cost of losing their original physical appearance and even some of their personality traits.  From the perspective of the Doctor himself, how is it not like death?  Again, though, like with the idea of the Doctor’s flirtation with godhood, it’s overshadowed by a dozen other plot threads and barely given room to breathe, much less grow.

Speaking of plot threads, while the Doctor visits with the Ood, he notes that their society is evolving much faster than it should.  And no, this isn’t brought up again or has any bearing on anything whatsoever.

Instead the focus turns on Lucy Saxon, the Master’s wife.  She’s been kept imprisoned for shooting the Master, who even though the reset button was slammed on his near-destruction of the Earth way back in “Last of the Time Lords” was still remembered as the Prime Minister of Britain by the world and was still “assassinated” by Lucy and…well, to be honest this makes less sense than a film adaptation of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” as directed by David Lynch.  There’s something about a cult that practically worships the Master even though his reign over Britain and then the Earth was at least 95% erased from history as far as 99.999999% of the human race is concerned, and they need a DNA sample from Lucy to bring the Master back to life, and when they do so they have Lucy present at the site of the resurrection even though they have no reason to do so and it’s actually a really bad idea as they find out the hard way, and even though the whole ritual of resurrecting the Master is spoken of in scientific terms it’s conducted like a Witches’ Sabbath, and Lucy throws some kind of potion, which she says her “contacts” helped her make even though she’s been in a secret and highly guarded prison this whole time,  into the cauldron over which the Master is being resurrected and it causes a huge explosion.

Oh, and yeah, except showing how the Master returns, all of that Adds Nothing To The Plot.  We’ll be talking about ANTTP quite a few more times before we’re done.

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Even the Master would admit a Time Lord can’t parse out and explain the plot holes in that one scene I described above.

Oh yeah, and because of the botched resurrection the Master is cursed with a ravenous, even cannibalistic hunger (along with the drum beat we learned about in “The Sound of the Drums” and “Last of the Time Lords”), but he also has superpowers, like being able to shoot lightning like Emperor Palpatine and leap really high like the Hulk (or Wonderella).  Now you might think, okay, this means RTD is trying to set up the Master as a new kind of threat.  But, guess what, aside from a scene where the Master randomly kills some homeless people because why not, it’s all ANTTP anyway!

Well, at least on my part, it did make me wish the Master would go back to shrinking people into dolls.

The Doctor does try to prevent the Master’s resurrection, and we get dramatic shots of him running to the TARDIS to do so, but despite being a time traveler he’s still too late because who the hell knows.  He continues to present remarkably bad timing for a Time Lord when he also fails to stop the Master from being abducted by mercenaries hired by the billionaire Joshua Naismith, whose only characteristics are that he’s got more than his fair share of rich British smarminess and that he has a vaguely incestuous thing going on with his daughter Abigail, whose own only characteristic is that she apparently likes to randomly say “Abigail – it means Beloved of God!” in conversation.

You’d think that sinister human agencies kidnapping a Time Lord, who has near perfect knowledge of all history past and future and of all the secrets of the universe, would be compelling enough for an end-of-the-season plot.  But, no, it turns out that the Naismiths just want the Master to fix some alien device they think can grant immortality.  Is this, and not the thing about time running faster or the Master getting resurrected by his very own secretive, all-powerful cult, supposed to be the main plot?  The truth is, Part 1 of “The End of Time” doesn’t really have a main plot.  In fact, I think the Tenth Doctor himself would describe it as a wibbly wobbly ploty-boty stuff full of crappy, dull, and nonsensical subplots that don’t go anywhere.

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They too are wondering why they’re here.

Honestly, the only one of this episode’s many plot threads that actually gets any momentum is Bernard Cribbins, disturbed by his visions of the lady in white, enlisting his elderly pals to find the Doctor to warn him.  This leads into what is easily my favorite scene out of the entire “End of Time” saga, where the Tenth Doctor is harassed by a crowd of elderly people.

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The Doctor faces a threat greater than the Cybermen or the Sontaran Empire.

But, even so, this only highlights yet another problem I have the whole affair: the comic relief here is just as or even less goofy than the supposedly serious plot developments that are going down.

Finally, we get to subplot #2389-D4:  the return of Donna.  She’s engaged to a guy who I think gets two lines of dialogue, and the Doctor can’t even talk to her because she’ll supposedly die if she remembers their travels together.  It’s at this point that I think RTD meant to troll fans like me.  “Oh, so you liked Donna as a companion more than you liked Rose?  You’d much rather have a companion who’s female but isn’t romantically interested in the Doctor at all, eh?  Well then, how about I bring Donna back one more time…but she and David Tennant can’t even share a scene together.  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, YOU FOOLS!!!!”

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Catherine Tate somehow captures my expression the first time I watched “End of Time.”

The hundreds of plots finally start to a coalesce, more or less, once the Doctor and Bernard Cribbins set out to save the Master from the Naismiths – or vice versa, really.  Once they’ve infiltrated the Naismiths’ lair they come across yet another subplot in the form of an alien couple who have been sent to retrieve the technological device in the Naismiths’ possession.  In the meantime, they’re working undercover as human scientists until the device is repaired and they can leave with it.  Now exactly how and why they expect to be able to abscond with it especially now that the Naismiths believe it’s the key to immortality, and especially since they apparently can’t just teleport it off the planet, you may be asking?  Actually, by now you probably already resigned yourself to the fact that there’s more plot hole than plot here.

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Yeah, I don’t get why we’re here either.

The aliens tell the Doctor that the device is intended to heal people on a planet-wide scale, using a basic genetic template.  This sets off the Doctor’s alarm bells and he rushes to stop the Master from finishing his “repairs.”  Unfortunately, for at least the third time this episode, he’s much too late, and the Master uses the device to do something so dastardly, so devastating, so silly that you’d think you were reading a Silver Age Superman comic:  he transforms the entire human race into clones of himself, which of course he christens the “Master race.”

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Well, at least I’m sure this is somebody’s flash fic fantasy brought to the small screen.

So this is where I have to make a disclaimer that I know Doctor Who is the softest of sci-fi, and that it’s practically a fantasy show, and this is the same program where the most iconic alien villains have plungers for hands, but…this still feels like that ’60s Batman story where Batman is turned into a toddler and still fights crime, you know?  Like someone’s deliberately trying to take a show that has complete disregard for the “suspension of disbelief” and still make people think they’re watching some kind of avant gardeMonty Python-esque satire?

To be fair, John Simm does sell it with flair.  I’m not ashamed to admit I still get a chuckle when Obama-Turned-Master announces “I’m President!  President of the United States!  Look at me!” and is applauded by a room full of himself.  And despite the silliness he still does present the Master with some low-key menace.  Still, this is another case where I wish RTD held back some and, like with making the Daleks a threat without giving them the capacity to blow up the entire multiverse, just have the Master force humanity into a hive mind controlled by him.  As much as I love the visuals of John Simm dressed in the clothes of dozens of extras, I think I would have much preferred the chance to see countless characters playing as the Master.

The Doctor saves Bernard Cribbins from being “Master-fied” by locking him into a radiation chamber.  Donna isn’t affected because she’s still part-Time Lord, which honestly  most writers would treat as a bigger deal than it is treated here but hey I’m not the one the BBC paid big bucks. As the Doctor scrambles to do anything and Donna is threatened by her own “Master-fied” family, Timothy Dalton promises the viewer that the Time Lords have returned!

I’ll get into more of this next time, but let me just say…if only.  

What I dislike most about this story is that it feels like pure sleight of hand, although I write that with hindsight.  It promises some kind of change to the status quo beyond even the Doctor entering his eleventh incarnation, but – spoilers – it doesn’t happen.  However, I’m really getting ahead of myself, so join me next time for Part 2!

New “Who” Reviews: The End of Time, Part 1

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"New" Who

Thoughts on the New ‘Who’ Series: Planet of the Dead

To celebrate The Dark Knight Rises coming to theaters, let’s talk about that Doctor Who episode based on a “Catwoman Meets Doctor Who” fanfic.  You know what I mean!

I should probably be really upfront:  I don’t care for “Planet of the Dead.”  It’s probably my least favorite of the “End of the Tenth Doctor” mega-epic besides of course That Which Shall Not Be Named Yet.  I wish I liked it because it’s co-written by Gareth Roberts, who wrote one of my favorite episodes of the new series “The Lodger,” but regardless I don’t like it, to the point that I had to coax myself into rewatching it just for this post.   I’ll be honest and admit that part of the reason I don’t like it is for political elements that have nothing to do with the aesthetics of the episode, specifically that Russell T. Davies, a gay man, chose to have most of the episode filmed in Dubai, a country where gay people are arrested, tortured, and executed.  Diamanda Hagan covers the topic with the appropriate venom so I won’t really get into it here, except to say that I’d definitely be really pissed off about it if I was a UK taxpayer.  Besides, my main issue really has to do with how this episode combines the worst of Davies’ tendency to write the Doctor like an American superhero with one of the most obnoxious attempts at making a “strong” female character in history:  Christina de Souza.  Why did we end up with a third-rate Catwoman or Lara Croft when they could have used a much more powerful fictional woman as their model:

Okay, I’m joking…but only kind of.   Believe it or not, and because of my weird fixation on Chaos! Comics feel free not to, but at least with Lady Death Brian Pulido was pushing the boundaries of what’s morally acceptable for a female protagonist to do.  Christina de Souza is just so…stock.  For me the litmus test for seeing if a character is badly written is how easy it is to imagine a bunch of writers coming up with the character via a Mad Libs game, and that’s the case here.  See:  Christina de Souza is a(n) aristocrat who is unhappy with her station in life and rebels by being a thief and putting on a strong front along with wit and flirtatiousness but she really has a heart of gold!  For me personally when her character seriously said, “That’s how I like things…extreme,” it was all over.

Of course, it didn’t help that when she’s introduced she lets the police arrested her boyfriend who was serving as a getaway driver, and it’s okay and doesn’t make her unlikable at all because, uh…she’s a strong female character, okay?!

You know, one way the character might have been salvaged is if this took place in another time period.  If she was a noblewoman from just about anytime before the late twentieth century, she might have come across as more interesting, or at least it would have forced the writers to put more effort into her character.  However, since Davies is behind the wheel in part, our choices are just contemporary London or a far future resembling contemporary Britain.  For part of this one, it’s the former.

While escaping the cops, Christina boards a bus that happens to have the Doctor on it…and happens to drive through a wormhole to apparently a desert planet…and happens to include a female Magic Negro, who “hears” the voices of the dead on the planet.  I’m not at all against metaphysical elements in my Doctor Who – let’s face it, from the start the show was as much fantasy as it was sci-fi under most definitions of either genre – but the character’s abilities literally add almost nothing to the story…except one thing, but we’ll get to that.  The other people on the bus are worth mentioning even less.  At first it seems like we’re going to get a “Midnight”-like character study of the Doctor dealing with humans in a crisis, but honestly they all end up being set pieces behind the Doctor and Christina…as shown below.

So the Doctor and Christina set out alone to find the cause of the wormhole.  You know the drill:  Christina is flirtatious and tough but occasionally acts girly because, you know…strong female character.  They stumble across a group of humanoid flies, who reveal that the planet was once home to a thriving civilization with hospitable environments but they were wiped out by a horde of locust-like creatures (although when we see them they look more like sting rays) who devastate an entire planet, reproduce, and then move on to a new world via a wormhole they create themselves.

Honestly the fly humanoids are the best thing in this episode, if only because their reason for being on the planet was that they were carrying out a trade for the planet’s capital’s manure.  Fill in your own joke about the quality of this episode here.

Of course, because I found them interesting, they get killed off as soon as the threat of the episode is revealed.  I forgot to mention while this is going on UNIT (sans the Brigadier sadly) is investigating the wormhole.  Their scientist Malcolm deduces that the wormhole is growing larger.  While they do have the technology to shut it down, Malcolm hesitates because the Doctor is still on the other side and Malcolm happens to be a fan.  According to production notes, Malcolm was either meant to be or turned into an allegory for Doctor Who‘s entire fan base.  I actually like the idea behind the character, even if in execution it’s a little too over-the-top like all of Davies’ “cute” ideas.  But it helps if you actually see the character as Davies’ own Mary Sue (assuming that Rose Tyler didn’t already serve that purpose…).

This does lead into the one other thing I liked about this special.  The UNIT commander, Captain Magambo, wants to close the wormhole immediately, to the point that she actually threatens Malcolm with a gun.  Rather than being completely unsympathetic, the episode concedes that she has a point, and the implication is there that Malcolm is willing to risk the lives of everybody just out of his fanboyish love of the Doctor (like you wouldn’t!).

Unfortunately, in the end not much is done with it, and the dark tone from this subplot (not to mention the tragic implications of countless inhabited planets getting wiped out by an unending horde of planet-destroying monsters) is overshadowed by the frothy light-hearted adventure Davies keeps trying to impose over the proceedings.  The Doctor rigs the bus to fly through the wormhole, Christina does some more strong female character things (like whining about the Doctor using the gold from an Anglo-Saxon era goblet that she stole for his device), and three of the creatures do escape but get killed by UNIT soldiers.

Once the crisis du jour is averted, Christina offers to travel with the Doctor, but he refuses, still reluctant to take a companion after what happened to Donna.  He does, however, give her an opportunity to escape arrest.  This would annoy me, but at least there’s the assurance she won’t ever be coming back (Steven Moffat willing!).

But there was one other thing.  What was it?

Oh, right.

So via the psychic Davies unleashes on his audience one more bullshit teaser:  the Doctor is warned that “he will knock three times,” signaling the Doctor’s “death.”  Honestly, when this episode first came out, I actually enjoyed the fan speculation that ensued, so I really can’t blame Davies, especially since it was a perfectly conceived hint;  just vague enough that one could construct the most elaborate and outlandish theories around it.  Unfortunately, since the reveal came in That Which Will Not Be Named Yet, some of the fan theories turned out to be more interesting than the end result…but that’s for another time.

Until then, we have “The Waters of Mars,” which believe it or not I really liked.  Am  I capable of not being overly negative when it comes to a story by the man I owe contemporary Doctor Who to in the first place?  We’ll see!

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"New" Who

Thoughts on the ‘New’ Who Series: The Next Doctor

So to be honest I feel like I’m competing against the writer and presenter of “Twatty Who Reviews,” Diamanda Hagan, which is unwise considering that Hagan has nuked at least a couple of cities.  She and I tend to have the same opinions on the RTD era of the “new” Doctor Who series, so much so I feel like it’s down to whoever gets to share those opinions first.  I guess I’ll just have to try to get to “End of Time” first, if I’m allowed to live that long.

Actually, I give “The Next Doctor” more credit than Hagan does.  As a Cybermen story, it’s okay, in no small part because placing the Cybermen in the context of the Industrial Revolution is inherently a good step, although in the episode itself not nearly enough is done with it.  The notion that the Cybermen are more or less acting like evil industrialists, even employing child laborers, is too clever for this episode’s own good, and if it had been the real center of the story I suspect this story might have been improved leaps and bounds.  I say all this as someone who prefers the original recipe Cybermen over the “new series” ones, just because their origin as the creation of a crippled mad scientist trying to create a master race feels way too much like someone is plagiarizing “Genesis of the Daleks.”  For the “new series” why didn’t they just cook up a version of the Big Finish audioplay “Spare Parts”?   That was awesome.

Anyway, for the most part I didn’t mind the way the Cybermen were handled in this story.  Even that Cybershade with the body of the ape and the brain of a cat (really) didn’t bother me.  At least they were trying to do something different with the Cybermen concept, even though the end result wasn’t as fantastic as the Cybermat.

 Instead the focus is on what drags this episode down, the titular “next Doctor”…

Don’t get me wrong; Paul Morrissey is great, capturing the vibe of several past Doctors (especially, I think, Peter Davidson) while bringing in his own interpretation, and I thought the idea of someone acting like the Doctor but using very, very low-tech equipment was cute and had some potential.  That said, the whole thing felt like a cheat, or more precisely a little media joke being played on fans rather than the basis for a worthwhile episode.  Instead of standing on its own, the episode relies on the knowledge that David Tennant is soon leaving the show.  At the least, it means that the episode was dated one hour after it aired.  Also I agree with Diamanda that there is a real lost opportunity here.  The titular “next Doctor” could very well have been Matt Smith, which would have made for a more interesting – and more daring – episode.  Instead the reveal that Paul Morrissey’s “Doctor” is just a very confused man from 1851 Britain, his brain fried by Cybermen technology with facts about the real Doctor, feels like a justification for a very lame fake teaser for fans or another gag on those of us hoping to see more Time Lords return, rather than a natural plot twist.

And of course it turns out that the “imposter” Doctor had his wife killed and his son abducted by Cybermen, because we always must have tragedy on top of our goofy side character.

The real disappointment, however, is with the villain of the piece, the Cybermen’s human collaborator, Miss Hartigan.

She’s a strange case, because she’s a villain where her motive is up front and center, and yet we never really find out what that motive is.  Hartigan is a woman in Victorian London, so the reader is just supposed to assume that she wants to overthrow nineteenth century society because she’s furious about misogyny.  Was she trapped in an abusive marriage or lost her inheritance because of Victorian social attitudes and marital laws?  Or was she just a very intelligent woman whose attempts to make a name for herself got frustrated at every turn simply due to sexism?  Who the hell knows;  she’s a woman, and it’s the nineteenth century!  That’s all you need to know!  It’s especially distracting because Doctor Who, even the “new” series, has been impoverished of female villains.  Making a villain whose motive is only her gender – and literally only her gender – does not help fill that void.

Miss Hartigan’s confusing and poorly motivated plans end in her being made against her will into a Cyberking (I do kind of like the irony there).  Then Hartigan and the Cybermen unleash their little project upon the world:  a kaiju Cyberman!

In theory it’s a nifty idea, but it really does blow holes into any attempt to make the Doctor Who universe logically fit together. How the hell could a giant cyborg monster tear apart half of nineteenth century London without making the twentieth century completely unrecognizable?  And, more to the point, why did even the Cybermen think they can take over Earth with one really big robot, especially one built mostly using the technology of that era?  When you watch the scene now, you can almost actually hear the gears in  Steven Moffat’s mind turning toward using his plans for a “cracks in time” story arc as an excuse to (at least sort of) reboot the continuity and explain away little inconsistencies like why no one ever mentions that big-ass robot that tore the hell out of Victorian London and then mysteriously vanished.

What are my feelings overall?  To put it in a sophisticated yet succinct way, I don’t not like this episode.  It just strikes me as featuring two really good ideas for episodes – an impostor, low-tech Doctor, and the Cybermen in the Industrial Revolution – that are thrown together with the result that neither has room to grow into anything memorable.  With nothing else to offer but a half-hearted attempt to toy with publicity surrounding the show itself and the mere outline of a possibly interesting villain, you just end up with…well, an okay Cybermen episode.

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"New" Who

Thoughts on the ‘New’ Who Series: The Next Doctor

So to be honest I feel like I’m competing against the writer and presenter of “Twatty Who Reviews,” Diamanda Hagan, which is unwise considering that Hagan has nuked at least a couple of cities.  She and I tend to have the same opinions on the RTD era of the “new” Doctor Who series, so much so I feel like it’s down to whoever gets to share those opinions first.  I guess I’ll just have to try to get to “End of Time” first, if I’m allowed to live that long.

Actually, I give “The Next Doctor” more credit than Hagan does.  As a Cybermen story, it’s okay, in no small part because placing the Cybermen in the context of the Industrial Revolution is inherently a good step, although in the episode itself not nearly enough is done with it.  The notion that the Cybermen are more or less acting like evil industrialists, even employing child laborers, is too clever for this episode’s own good, and if it had been the real center of the story I suspect this story might have been improved leaps and bounds.  I say all this as someone who prefers the original recipe Cybermen over the “new series” ones, just because their origin as the creation of a crippled mad scientist trying to create a master race feels way too much like someone is plagiarizing “Genesis of the Daleks.”  For the “new series” why didn’t they just cook up a version of the Big Finish audioplay “Spare Parts”?   That was awesome.

Anyway, for the most part I didn’t mind the way the Cybermen were handled in this story.  Even that Cybershade with the body of the ape and the brain of a cat (really) didn’t bother me.  At least they were trying to do something different with the Cybermen concept, even though the end result wasn’t as fantastic as the Cybermat.

 Instead the focus is on what drags this episode down, the titular “next Doctor”…

Don’t get me wrong; Paul Morrissey is great, capturing the vibe of several past Doctors (especially, I think, Peter Davidson) while bringing in his own interpretation, and I thought the idea of someone acting like the Doctor but using very, very low-tech equipment was cute and had some potential.  That said, the whole thing felt like a cheat, or more precisely a little media joke being played on fans rather than the basis for a worthwhile episode.  Instead of standing on its own, the episode relies on the knowledge that David Tennant is soon leaving the show.  At the least, it means that the episode was dated one hour after it aired.  Also I agree with Diamanda that there is a real lost opportunity here.  The titular “next Doctor” could very well have been Matt Smith, which would have made for a more interesting – and more daring – episode.  Instead the reveal that Paul Morrissey’s “Doctor” is just a very confused man from 1851 Britain, his brain fried by Cybermen technology with facts about the real Doctor, feels like a justification for a very lame fake teaser for fans or another gag on those of us hoping to see more Time Lords return, rather than a natural plot twist.

And of course it turns out that the “imposter” Doctor had his wife killed and his son abducted by Cybermen, because we always must have tragedy on top of our goofy side character.

The real disappointment, however, is with the villain of the piece, the Cybermen’s human collaborator, Miss Hartigan.

She’s a strange case, because she’s a villain where her motive is up front and center, and yet we never really find out what that motive is.  Hartigan is a woman in Victorian London, so the reader is just supposed to assume that she wants to overthrow nineteenth century society because she’s furious about misogyny.  Was she trapped in an abusive marriage or lost her inheritance because of Victorian social attitudes and marital laws?  Or was she just a very intelligent woman whose attempts to make a name for herself got frustrated at every turn simply due to sexism?  Who the hell knows;  she’s a woman, and it’s the nineteenth century!  That’s all you need to know!  It’s especially distracting because Doctor Who, even the “new” series, has been impoverished of female villains.  Making a villain whose motive is only her gender – and literally only her gender – does not help fill that void.

Miss Hartigan’s confusing and poorly motivated plans end in her being made against her will into a Cyberking (I do kind of like the irony there).  Then Hartigan and the Cybermen unleash their little project upon the world:  a kaiju Cyberman!

In theory it’s a nifty idea, but it really does blow holes into any attempt to make the Doctor Who universe logically fit together. How the hell could a giant cyborg monster tear apart half of nineteenth century London without making the twentieth century completely unrecognizable?  And, more to the point, why did even the Cybermen think they can take over Earth with one really big robot, especially one built mostly using the technology of that era?  When you watch the scene now, you can almost actually hear the gears in  Steven Moffat’s mind turning toward using his plans for a “cracks in time” story arc as an excuse to (at least sort of) reboot the continuity and explain away little inconsistencies like why no one ever mentions that big-ass robot that tore the hell out of Victorian London and then mysteriously vanished.

What are my feelings overall?  To put it in a sophisticated yet succinct way, I don’t not like this episode.  It just strikes me as featuring two really good ideas for episodes – an impostor, low-tech Doctor, and the Cybermen in the Industrial Revolution – that are thrown together with the result that neither has room to grow into anything memorable.  With nothing else to offer but a half-hearted attempt to toy with publicity surrounding the show itself and the mere outline of a possibly interesting villain, you just end up with…well, an okay Cybermen episode.

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"New" Who, Non-Nostalgia Reviews

Thoughts on the ‘New’ Who Series: Journey’s End

Let me start by reminding everyone that I am not out to bash Russell T. Davies. It’s taken as a truism, even among his fans, that the second parts of his two-part season closers tend to be let-downs, but I’ll admit from the start that “Journey’s End” is not that bad. It’s not that good either, but as far as Davies’ finales go it’s no “The Last of the Time Lords,” which infamously gave us an ending cribbed from Care Bears 2: A New Generation. And how can you have such a cheesy, bubbly ending with Doctor-Christ like that after you had this story about most of humanity getting wiped out and the survivors left to a post-apocalyptic environment so hellish you would wish you were living in a standard-issue Romero zombie apocalypse and where it’s revealed that the final fate of humanity is facing suffering and insanity in a void at the end of the universe with no life and no hope? The answer is you can’t, Russell T. Davies, you just can’t!

Where was I? Oh yeah, “Journey’s End”!

As I think I was writing before the pills kicked in, Russell’s epic closers were infamous even among his fans for never living up to the potential his hooks promised. What people don’t discuss so much is Davies’ love for the bullshit teaser. Example: the Doctor starts the episode regenerating, but instead his regeneration energy goes into the hand he lost in “The Christmas Invasion” because…uh, I don’t know, some Time Lord vitamin supplement the Doctor has been taking. And thus we get a bullshit teaser, showing a regeneration that most of the audience knew wasn’t going to happen yet. And does this mean that the Doctor used up one of his thirteen allotted regenerations on a silly, pointless little fake-out to the fans? Oh well, as long as the sooner-to-come “thirteenth regeneration” means we’ll get a story that will bring the Time Lords back, I’ll be happy. (Oh yeah, I’m one of those fans. What of it? And, by the way, anyone want to see my fan script for how to bring back The Rani?). Actually, what gets me isn’t so much that one bullshit teaser, because at least it was kind of a natural one given that the media had been reporting that David Tennant would be leaving, even if it did potentially create continuity problems for future writing teams. It’s really that this episode gets more than one, which really strains the camel’s back, with the Doctor-Donna, the fake “clues” that Donna is a bona fide Time Lord, and with Dalek Caan prophesying, “one of the Doctor’s companions will die!”, which doesn’t quite happen, at least not in the literal sense.

But I’m skipping ahead. Let me try to sum up where all the various subplots (I don’t think there is a “main” plot to speak) are going. Davros, who seems to be barely in control of the Daleks, has invented something called a “reality bomb” that he plans to use to destroy everything in all creation except the Daleks themselves. He and the Daleks are guided in their bizarre scheme by Dalek Caan, the sole survivor of the Cult of Skaro, who became an insane prophet after retrieving Davros from the time-locked Time War. Torchwood is saved from a Dalek attack by a “time lock” device made by a deceased colleague, trapping them in their home base and miraculously making their appearance in this storyline even more pointless than it already was. The TARDIS is transported to the Daleks’ space station, the Crucible, and the Doctor, fearing that these Daleks are advanced enough to even penetrate the TARDIS, surrenders with Captain Jack and Rose, but before she can leave the TARDIS the doors suddenly slam shut on Donna. Suspecting the Doctor is planning some type of ruse, the Daleks drop the TARDIS into their station’s plasma core. Sarah Jane teams up with Rose’s ex-boyfriend Mickey and mother Jackie, and convinces them to surrender to the Daleks in order to find the Doctor, but instead they witness first-hand the horrifying ambition of the Daleks’ plan. And Martha, under the orders of UNIT, is sent to stand by with other UNIT agents from across the world to potentially activate the Osterhagen Key, a device designed to trigger planetary suicide in the event of an alien invasion and occupation so brutal humanity itself would be condemned to a fate worse than death.

As you can hopefully tell, there’s a bit too much going on in this one episode. I can understand Russell T. Davies wanting a true capstone to his run (which doesn’t explain at all why he did it again with “The End of Time”, but…well, we’ll get there when we get there), but there really was no need to include characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures for longer than brief cameos, especially since Sarah Jane and Captain Jack are already integrated into the story. There’s an even bigger problem with Martha’s role. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Osterhagen Key was the strongest and freshest idea to come out of this storyline – it’s nice to see Russell T. Davies actually considering the implications of having the Earth invaded every two months, for one – and it really deserved to have an episode or two centered around it. Instead it’s just another subplot out of many that ultimately, besides giving Martha an excuse to run around and adding a couple of dramatic scenes, does nothing. Now you can say I’m being unfair, that it did more than including the Torchwood gang who almost literally get locked out of the plot, and that’s true to a point. It’s just that, in the end, the dramatic weight of Earth’s governments consenting to the most desperate option imaginable is handwaved away by both the Daleks and the Doctor, in a way. All we really get out of it is a tense scene between Martha and a minor character, a German woman, who we’ll never see again.

But the Osterhagen Key isn’t what you want me to talk about…no, it’s Donna. Well, dear readers, let me take a moment remind you of the clusterfuck…I mean, questionable creative choices Russell T. Davies made with her. Trapped in the TARDIS and sent to a fiery grave, the regenerative energies in the Doctor’s hand merge with Donna, causing a second, half-human Doctor to grow out of the hand and making Donna half-Time Lord (but we’re not supposed to know that yet). Human-Doctor pilots the TARDIS out of the engine core without the Daleks noticing while the Doctor’s various companions threaten to disrupt the Daleks’ plans through various kamikaze tactics. This prompts Davros to brag, “The man abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth Doctor, you take ordinary people and fashion them into weapons.” The Daleks easily take the wind of the companions’ sales by teleporting them into Davros’ lair with Davros, Rose, and the Doctor. Human-Doctor appears and tries to stop the Daleks, but fails. However, Donna, her Time Lord knowledge activated in the chaos, manages to use the Daleks’ own equipment against them and stop the reality bomb just as it’s on the verge of being detonated. Meanwhile the Doctor deduces that Dalek Caan, who was horrified by what he saw across time and space about the Daleks and their actions, had been manipulating time itself, allowing Donna to be in the position to ruin Davros’ plans. Afraid that the Daleks would still have the power to wreak havoc on the universe, Human-Doctor destroys the Crucible and kills all the Daleks in a stroke, horrifying the Doctor so much he practically banishes Human-Doctor to Rose’s parallel universe. Everyone flees, with the Doctor offering to save Davros, but he refuses to be saved, screaming that the Doctor is the true “destroyer of worlds.”

I mean, I can forgive Davros, because he’s a few mad scientists short of a supervillain team, but why does the Doctor look pained by Davros’ accusation? How the Doctor should have responded was with, “Um, whoever just tried to annihilate almost all reality, raise their hands!” What’s with the “reality bomb” anyway, besides being a bit too much like the Solaranite from Plan 9 from Outer Space? Again, I can get Davros thinking it’s a good idea, but you would think even the Daleks would balk at the thought of existing in an infinite void on a space station without any planets with resources around.

Well, this really gets at the weird and frankly confused ethics of this episode. I do understand what the viewer is supposed to get out of all this. We’re meant to see the Doctor fully finding himself after the hellish traumas of the Time War and turning his back on the occasional ruthlessness he had been exhibiting. Honestly, though, his treatment of Human-Doctor’s actions comes across as more than slightly dickish. In the early Ninth Doctor episode “The Dalek”, the Doctor, driven by vengeance, tortures a helpless, imprisoned Dalek and barely hesitates to sacrifice a companion to prevent the Dalek from even having a chance to escape. Here the Daleks, far from being at anyone’s mercy, have the technological capability to go anywhere in time and space, abduct entire planets and civilizations, and wipe out the multiverse. There’s about a galaxy’s worth of distance between the two scenarios. Really, the episode would have worked so much better without the whole “reality bomb” premise. Giving Davros and the Daleks the power to destroy everything only eliminates any chance that the viewers will actually see any type of moral dilemma for the Doctor here. Just having Davros single-handedly build a new and potentially even more dangerous Dalek Empire would have been enough and made for a more convincing ethical split between the Doctor and his half-human doppleganger, but I suppose such a premise just wouldn’t have been epic enough.

Now with all that aside, we come to what really made this episode controversial: the final fates of Donna and Rose. The Doctor leaves Rose, Jackie, and Human-Doctor in the parallel universe, and practically fixes Rose and Human-Doctor together (Rose, being Rose, still pouts about everything). The only way Rose’s ending could have been more double-plus good was if it spelled out that Rose and Human-Doctor would parent a new race of Time Lords (although a cut scene does have the Doctor giving Human-Doctor the means to “grow” a new TARDIS…). Donna, however, is dying from being unable to house the mind of a Time Lord, forcing the Doctor to telepathically erase all her memories of her time with the Doctor. He leaves Donna with her family, as shallow and self-loathing as she was before she met him. To be honest, when I first watched it I defended the ending to a couple of irate fans, because I thought that it was a genuinely tragic fate for one of the Doctor’s companions. Having watched it again, I’ve changed my opinion more than slightly. It’s still a good ending…but for Rose, not Donna.

See, Rose was confident and assertive even before she met the Doctor. True, she did learn and gain a lot in her travels, but her time with the Doctor was mostly defined by the fact that she bridged the impossible gulf between their two species by falling in love with him and making him at least consider the fact that he was in love with her too, something that hadn’t happened since Jo. This makes her losing those memories as much a tragedy for the Doctor as for her. For Donna, on the other hand, it wasn’t even really about the Doctor, but their travels. She learned empathy, confidence, and that the significance of her existence wasn’t defined by her job but by what she herself made of things. This ending just renders her entire character arc and her intense growth as a character (portrayed beautifully by Catherine Tate)  null and void. It’s unfair enough that Rose gets the Good+ ending and Donna has the Bad+ ending, but the fact that Donna was underused throughout the entire season and the huge discrepancy between what Rose and Donna get in the end makes it even harder to swallow. So, needless to say, I’ve changed my opinion quite a lot.

And yet…I really enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it. Now it hasn’t held up well to repeated viewings for me, but like I wrote I think it’s still one of Davies’ own better season closers. There are more than a few good ideas here and seeing Tennant’s Doctor go up against Davros is a rare treat, but Davies ends up juggling too many characters and too many subplots for the episode’s own good. Worse, Davies is showing signs of being too self-indulgent, but as we’ll see it’s only the beginning…

Oh, yeah, and just in case I haven’t made my opinion clear:  screw you, Russell T. Davies, Donna was the Tenth Doctor’s best companion.   

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"New" Who, Non-Nostalgia Reviews

Thoughts on the ‘New’ Who Series: The Stolen Earth

Welcome to the first edition of “I Don’t Hate the Russell T. Davies Era, But…Or Thoughts on the ‘New’ Series.”

I’ve had a couple of people actually ask me, based on my write-ups of the classic series, what my thoughts on the “new” series are. In sum, I think the show’s been consistently putting out A+ work, taking the best of the “classic” series and combining it with new elements and approaches. Now there are episodes I didn’t like and some seasons I prefer over others, but that’s natural and I would still say that even when the show is “off” it’s still one of the better programs out there. I decided to give some of my thoughts on the “new” series and, inspired by the lovely Diamanda Hagan’s Twatty Who Reviews, I’m focusing on the Russell T. Davies/David Tennant era, particularly how it wrapped up. I don’t have any plans to start writing about all or even most “new” Who episodes, and definitely not with the level of detail I’ve been writing up the classic series, so this won’t be an open-ended feature.

Now I should probably make clear that, as much as fandoms like to draw lines in the sand, I’m not here to bash Russell T. Davies and exalt Steven Moffat. I will admit that I have come to generally prefer the episodes produced under Steven Moffat’s regime for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever write off the entire Christopher Eccleston/David Tenant era. For one thing, there very likely wouldn’t even be a new Doctor Who series if not for Davies, or at the very least we would have ended up with something like the ill-advised reboot FOX and the BBC had in mind during the late ’90s. For another, variety is one of the things that has kept Doctor Who going after all these years, and even if I just happen to really like Steven Moffat’s take on the Doctor Who mythos doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate that Davies had some very different interpretations – and likely enough whoever follows Moffat will as well. Third, Russell T. Davies is actually a very good writer – a great one, even. As evidence, I present “Midnight,” an extremely effective and downright brilliant story that managed to use minimal effects and setting to breathtaking effect. I’d go as far as to say that it should be included in any top 10 Doctor Who episode list and taught in screenwriting classes. And even when I’ve been unhappy with the episodes he penned, I’ve always found something to like – well, except with “The End of Time”, but we’ll get there.

The problem is that Davies kept underestimating his audience. If you keep in mind the fact that he did keep the excellent “Midnight” on the back burner for years because he thought the audience would completely reject it, it’s a fair assessment, and really I always thought Davies’ vision of the Doctor was more akin to American superheroes than to what the Doctor was in the classic series. Now it should go without saying that there’s nothing wrong with a fresh take and certainly I’m sure there are lit grad students who can show how the Doctor and, say, the Green Lantern really do come out of the same giant cultural well, but I genuinely do believe there was a disconnect between Davies and the show itself, which really came out in his grand season closers and especially in the sagas that finished his run.

I was just going to write on “The End of Time”, but I figured I should instead start with “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End.” Honestly, I could always use the excuse to push out more content. However, I also don’t think it’s fair to write on “The End of Time” until I tackle the rest of the huge “End of the Tenth Doctor” mega-epic, especially since the last time I watched most of it was when they first became available to Americans. Let me also point out that I think the season with Donna Noble was the best of the David Tennant seasons. Not only did Catherine Tate just seem to have better chemistry with David Tennant than, yes, even Billie Piper, but there was just something about the Tenth Doctor’s character that made him traveling across space and time with a cynical, embittered office temp so natural. I’ll say more about it later, but that’s why it irks me so much that Davies turned the last season and the final specials with Tennant into a nostalgia fest for his own run. There are only six episodes where Donna and the Doctor are together for most of the story and where Donna doesn’t have to share the spotlight with past companions of the Tenth Doctor. Yes, she does get her own adventure with “Turn Left,” but she still gets pushed aside in her own finale (and really she gets pushed aside hard, but we’ll get to that). So, anyway, with this long, rambling preamble out of the way, let’s get cracking with “The Stolen Earth.”

I’ll give this to Davies: he knows how to lay out one hell of a hook. Right after the events of “Turn Left” (or, well, really the largely non-events…wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff), the Doctor and Donna arrive on Earth looking for the catastrophe they were warned about. Seeing nothing, they return to the TARDIS, but as is usually the case the Doctor has lousy timing. As soon as they step back on the TARDIS, they discover that the Earth has instantly disappeared without a trace. The Doctor does the unthinkable: seek help from intergalactic authorities, in this case the Shadow Proclamation. Meanwhile, his allies on Earth, including Rose who has returned from the parallel universe, find themselves facing a familiar threat of apocalyptic proportions.

I admit, though, the first time I watched it I was less impressed with the premise and more annoyed that we were getting yet another big event storyline about an alien invasion in present-day London. When Donna’s granddad, Wilfred, shouted, “It’s the aliens again!”, I was all like, “Oh my God, you said it.” As the saying goes, if your own characters are complaining about the plot… And if it wasn’t contemporary London, then it would have been Victorian London or a distant future so like contemporary London it might as well have been contemporary London. I know despite its success Doctor Who doesn’t have the biggest budgets, but did Davies believe viewers’ brains would melt if they didn’t have stories that took place in their own day and time? You’d almost think they weren’t watching a show about a man who can travel anywhere and anywhen.

Okay, okay, there were things I liked, then and now. I always love throwaway weirdness in my genre fiction, like bees being an alien race (“Not all of them!” the Doctor obnoxiously corrects) and the Daleks’ hiding the Earth and their base “one second” out of sync with the rest of the universe. Also, being a huge pedantic nerd, I also appreciated that they actually filled in a plot hole of sorts with the old ’60s serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” That serial never really gave us a good explanation for why the Daleks invaded the Earth; we get a reference to it here from the Tenth Doctor: “Someone tried to move the Earth once, a long time ago…” So hooray for filling decades-old plot holes. Plus, as usual, the Tenth Doctor is a lot of fun, when he’s not apparently pining after Rose (er, but more about that later). Also the solution that the Doctor’s ex-companions use to help the Doctor find Earth, basically getting every phone in Britain and Ireland to call the TARDIS, is a rather fun way of working the Doctor’s special relationship with the UK (and Ireland, maybe?) into the show, and a hell of a lot less cheesy than the “Doctor defeats The Master with the power of hope and faith!” resolution in “The Last of the Time Lords.” Speaking of which, I also liked the denouement the character of Harriet Jones got. She was always treated as more of a joke than I would have liked, but I appreciated that she was presented as heroic and silly up until the end, and that she could have great respect for the Doctor while still claiming that his strong ethical objection to her past actions is, well, completely wrong. On a similar note, how awesome was it to see Wilfred take on a Dalek with a paint gun? It doesn’t work, but still! And finally…Davros is back!

While I was sick of the Daleks by this point, it was good to have back another villain from the classic series and see once again everyone’s favorite cold yet short-tempered sociopathic scientist.

So looking at the big picture I should have loved this episode, and there was really a lot I liked about it. But for all that, though, the same old flaws we always see with Davies’ epics crop up again, and having watched the series from the beginning it was all getting much too tiresome. For starters, Rose is shoehorned into this story with a jackhammer. To be brutally honest, there’s just no logical place for her here, at least no place that isn’t already occupied by Donna. It’s Donna who’s shown fearing for the safety of her family and it’s Donna who should be having the reaction of shock and horror when she thinks the Doctor has been killed near the end. In fact, I would have preferred it if Donna was the only companion in this story, but at least Martha and Jack are given things to do. Besides a couple of bad-ass movements involving Rose running around with a really big gun, she really doesn’t do anything, a fact that the character herself complains about when she finds herself literally excluded from an Internet conference with the Doctor and the other ex-companions (seriously) and whines, “I was here first!” I’m sure many people, including myself, shouted “Oh, nobody cares!” at their screens.

Now I was going to put this off until next time but let me assure you…I don’t dislike Rose and I find the fan-rage directed at her extremely silly.  Billie Piper did more than a fine job with the character and even the idea of giving her a crush on the Doctor wasn’t a bad one, at least at first. The mistake wasn’t so much keeping it ambiguous, but implying that the Doctor returned her feelings. Yes, yes, the Third Doctor had feelings for Jo, but still at worst the Doctor should have seen her like a human would see the romantic potential of a chimp; at the very best their relationship would have been as likely and productive as that of a 30th century person and someone from the Bronze Age. It’s the reason why I liked the way Steven Moffat handled a companion crush through the Eleventh Doctor and Amy. The Doctor is confused and more than a little horrified, which would be a human’s ideal reaction if a dolphin tried to seduce them. Also, guess what, Amy’s feelings and relationship with the Doctor actually changed and evolved. Just saying.

Anyway, I’m sure more words have been spent on Rose and the Doctor than have been used to talk about Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the past century, and I’m starting to get into things better left for later, so let’s stop at the end of the episode, with the Doctor regenerating as a result of a Dalek attack; Jack, Rose, and Donna cowering in a corner of the TARDIS; and Martha off to activate a mysterious device designed by UNIT. Those of us familiar with Davies’ series closers already knew to brace ourselves for another round of “Oops, I’ve written myself into a corner,” but hey, at least we’d get more Davros!

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