Friday, June 06, 2008

Doctor Who, "The Doctor's Daughter": Bolt-action Barbie

Spoilers for "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I pop a fish's shoulder back into place...

While "The Doctor's Daughter" was a significant improvement over the Sontaran two-parter, focusing more on the season's greatest strength -- The Doctor and Donna together, with Donna understanding our local Time Lord almost better than he knows himself -- I still had some issues with it.

The first is this ongoing "The Doctor is not a soldier" theme we've had for three episodes running now. It's been such a concentrated burst that I have to think it has something to do with Russell Davies' endgame for the season, and I'm not a fan. Yes, one of the fundamental tenets of "Doctor Who" is that The Doctor uses his brain as a weapon instead of a gun, but it's in fact so fundamental a part of the character that I would think it doesn't need to be spelled out at this late date. And if the idea is to illustrate The Doctor still coming to grips with his role in ending the Time War (and committing dual genocide to end it), it's one that would have worked far better as an Eccleston story as one with Tennant, as one of the key differences between Nine and Ten is that Nine was consumed with his guilt over the deed, where Ten had the memories but not quite as much emotional baggage. I love Tennant in the role, but stories like this one really make me wish Eccleston hadn't bailed after a single season.

(A question for the long-time "Who" fans: in general, how has the franchise dealt with emotional carryover from one incarnation of The Doctor to the next? Ten obviously still felt affection for Sarah Jane, but in general, when the old school Doctors regenerated, how much did they care about things that were important to their prior versions?)

Beyond that, the arc of The Doctor coming to accept Jenny as his "daughter" and inviting her to come hang out on the TARDIS, followed by her apparent death, was so predictable that even her resurrection (without regenerating into a new form, interestingly enough) couldn't really save it. I liked the chemistry between Tennant and Georgia Moffett (not surprisingly, they're rumored to be dating in real life), but this was plotting by the numbers.

And yet... I loved Martha befriending the Hath in spite of the language barrier -- and the entire design of the Hath, who could have been rubber mask people but were somehow expressive with those eye blinks and gill flaps and bubbling respirators -- and felt moved by Martha's pain at realizing that her Hath friend had died to save her. (Frankly, I was more moved by her grief than by The Doctor's at the apparent death of Jenny.)

And, as mentioned above, I again enjoyed the hell out of The Doctor and Donna together in close quarters. One of the larger problems with the Sontaran two-parter was that it kept them apart for so long, and with an extra Companion on board for this trip, the producers got to send Martha off to bond with the Hath while Donna got to stick close and again show that she's more observant than we or The Doctor give her credit for. I'll admit, though, to not entirely following her explanation of the human/Hath war only lasting seven days; have they been doing construction even while they were fighting?

Overall, there were enough good things in this one to outweigh the more problematic parts, and I'll be curious to see if Jenny was a one-off character, or if Davies (or Steven Moffatt, for that matter) plans to bring her back down the road.

As always, a reminder: please respect the American broadcast schedule and do not discuss, either specifically or vaguely, any episodes that have aired in Great Britain but not here yet. Anything that's even slightly spoiler-y will be deleted.

What did everybody else think?


Eric said...

I'd say in the past that continuity hasn't really been tight enough to determine just how the Doctor's feelings about things change after a regeneration. He's certainly never ditched companions just because he regenerated, but his various affectations don't really follow through. I guess.

(What has been consistent, is that when something allows the Doctor to meet himself, he doesn't like himself very much. But I don't think we've ever seen his feelings towards a companion, say, change radically. The 5th Doctor may have had a bit less patience with Adric and Teegan, but really that's pretty understandable. Nobody had much patience with Adric and Teegan.)

Mac said...

My best recollections are of the Pertwee-Baker and Baker-Davison changeovers. In both cases they were so intent upon differentiating the new guy from his popular predecessor that they went out of their way to change things up -- stuff like Davison disassembling Baker's trademark scarf, but more vitally Baker not doing Pertwee's martial arts stuff, and Davison not being quite the all-competent Mr. Fixit. In both cases, other than the Companions they ditched all the background pretty rapidly.

Anonymous said...

I thought that a lot of this one was actually worse than the Sontaran eps, though this one (a) had the benefit of a great sf idea - the whole accelerated dissolve into warring cultures and (b) was awful in a very enjoyable old-school Who way (awful acting, hilarious aliens - let's just take a Sea Devils mask and strap a quart of Listerine to the front, voila, new monster).

That Moffett and Tennant are dating's extra creepy, not just because she played his "daughter," but because she's actually Peter Davison's real-life daughter. And because Tennant and Davison just filmed this Steven Moffat-scripted sketch last year. (The "you're my Doctor" speech gets me teary and stuff.)

Companions have traditionally been folks who get strapped to a chair and scream for help, turnover's pretty high. The Doctor's always had fondness for them, but I don't think there was any call for lingering relationshippy stuff in the old incarnation (though the first Doctor did have a "granddaughter").

Matthew said...

My feelings about the Sontaran-2-pareter compared with Doctor's Daughter seem to be the reverse of yours. I thought the Sontaran story wasn't great, but it was passable (and a hell of a lot better than Daleks In Manhatten). Whereas The Doctor's Daughter, I thought had some good, interesting ideas, but was really poorly executed. In fact, I felt it was the first real dud of the season.

Listening to the podcast commentary (no longer available), the writer actually commented that Donna noting the numbers was a late addition, just because he realised they had nothing for Donna to do. Which makes a lot of sense, because there was really no need for her to be in the story. The story would have played just as well with Donna being kidnapped (although it would mean the Doctor and Donna were seperated, which I know Alan would not have liked).

I'll admit, though, to not entirely following her explanation of the human/Hath war only lasting seven days; have they been doing construction even while they were fighting?

I was under the impression that construction finished seven days ago, then the war broke out. Lot of people die, quick creation of a new generation, but by then the rest of the original generation die. You get several generations coming quickly, and suddenly no-one actually knows how long the fight is going on (that idea was probably the most interesting in the episode). The only problem with that is the one old guy in charge - whether he was actually around when the war started (and had just been lying to everyone) or whether he was another clone (that had aged because of the accelerated maturation systems used to produce adult clones).

The other nice element, as you referred to, was Martha's relationship with the Hath - although I found the death scene rather clunky and forced (let's have her walk into some quicksand substance so that the Hath can die to save her).

And, regarding continuty in the old series, that really wasn't terribly important back then. But the other thing is that there was never anything major to carry over - the Doctor liked his companions before, he still liked them after the regneration, but he might express his friendship in different ways because he was effectively a different person. But there has never been anything as huge as the time war for him to carry as a burden - whether or not he still liked Tegan after a regeneration is completely different to whether he still carries the burden of having killed his entire race.

(And, if Tennant and Moffett are dating, how weird would that be, to have your childhood hero as your father-in-law.)

Anonymous said...

I'd been aware of "The Doctor" in the old days, but never really paid attention until the current version. That hadn't been a problem before, but now I'm just confused!

In the earlier comments, Matthew said, "there has never been anything as huge as the time war for him to carry as a burden -".

I had just presumed the whole "time war" had taken place (in some form or other) in the previous series. Or did it happen between the series, and we've just been hearing about it? (What I'm trying to ask is: Do long time Who-fans have any knowledge of the Time War to share with me?)

As for the actual episode, I did like the Doctor's daughter (except for the backflipping scene). I was not impressed by her regeneration since we all knew it was coming. I would watch her (inevitable) spinoff though. Mostly because she's hot...

Karen said...

Meh. It was predictable--that Jenny would die to save the Doctor; it was illogical--I, like Matthew L, wondered just who the old guy was if the whole settlement was only 7 days old; it was stupid--those backflips? puh-leeze!; but mostly it was SAPPY. That lush musical build-up under "You found your civilization on a man who never would!" was simply foul.

Moffett was indeed cute as a button, and Tennant clearly has both good taste and amazing chemistry with her.

But, yeah--I actually liked the Sontaran two-parter better than this (the Gramps-Donna farewell scene alone, which Cribbins rocked), and it wasn't all that great.

Anonymous said...

The weirdest part is David Tennant and Georgia Moffat are now dating. There is nothing actually wrong with it, but your onscreen daughter whose father also once played the doctor.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Time War happened off-screen, in between the Fox TV movie (a failed attempt to produce the franchise in America) and the first Eccleston episode. I had been under the impression that Eccleston's Doctor was the one who ended the War, which led to his levels of angst and mistrust, but other people insist it was the TV-movie Doctor (played by Paul McGann) who did it, then regenerated into Eccleston.

dark tyler said...

I'll be curious to see if Jenny was a one-off character, or if Davies (or Steven Moffatt, for that matter) plans to bring her back down the road.

It's been reported that originally Jenny stayed dead at the end of the episode, and that she was resurrected per Steven Moffat's request. So, there you have it.

Mapeel said...

J, thanks very much for the Time Crash link. I hadn't seen it.

Anonymous said...

The resurrection was right out of "Star Trek II : The Wrath Of Khan" what with the Genesis/terraforming device and all that jazz...

smaileh said...

I kept wondering why the score included a phrase from the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" score--and not just once.

As far as the Doctor carrying over emotions from one regeneration to the next, it seemed to be focused mainly on his companions. Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, and Davison, all showed a lot of affection for the Brigadier, much like Tennant's reaction to seeing Sarah Jane again.

Matthew said...

Basically, if you've been watching Who since the 2005 series (with Christopher Eccleston) then you know all anyone knows about the Time War. It was an invention of RTD when he brought the show back.

Anonymous said...

I find the "not a soldier" plot point to be obnoxious, particularly when it focuses on the Doctor's disdain of others using firearms or other weaponry TO PROTECT THEMSELVES. You know, if I weren't a mortal human, and were instead a nearly immortal alien with a time machine, centuries of knowledge on my opponents, and the ability to regenerate, I might not pack heat either. But until then, can't why can't he give human beings the benefit of the doubt? Maybe if Smith, the Doctor's incarnation from last season, had been anti-gun, it would have made a bit more sense, but we know the doctor is not going to get killed, even if he doesn't use weapons, so it's hardly a bold position for him to take.

Nicole said...

I actually bought the Ten's emotional scene at the end more than Martha's scene with the Hath. I don't understand why a creature that needs a mask to breathe in regular air (presuming the mask filters the air) couldn't do the same with that quicksand thing. The setup for Ten at the end had at least established that he was a parent before and that his family had died, leaving him on his own once again. The gun speech was a little much and I thought poor Nigel Terry (of Excalibur fame) was pretty much wasted as the general. It was not explained how he wouldn't know that the war had lasted only seven days unless the clones rapidly age and that wasn't stated either.

Having watched this initially before the knowledge of the real life dating of Tennant and Moffet, it wasn't as squicky, and Jenny seemed to have potential to be a decent recurring character. It wasn't really explained why she didn't regenerate, nor why she suddenly had Buffy like gymnastic skills (which didn't seem to actually clear the lasers.)

However, if Steven Moffat wants her back, I trust that he will do a great job, as he has shown us time and time again with his episodes.

I can see how people have been disappointed with the past three episodes, and while I don't think they were horrible, they were a bit all over the place.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

(The deleted post above by "Anna" is kind of freaking me out. Either I posted something in my sleep, or it's a different Anna who I've never seen comment here before, or someone stole my password. Anyway...)

The pacing of this episode was insane. Everything happened way too fast for me to actually care about anyone or anything. I think it would've worked much better if the Sontaran story had been one episode and this one had been the two-parter instead.

Ew, David Tennant's dating his on-screen daughter? It's the on-screen daughter part that makes it seem wrong.