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May 11, 2008

Genesis Wave

Doctor Who:  The Doctor's Daughter

Dd2 Lately I’ve been catching up on some of the recent events to beset the DC Multiverse: Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, essentially anything with the word 'crisis' in the title.  Growing up a Marvel Comics reader, I was always under the impression that Supes, Bats and Wonder Woman were all rather stolid characters, dark, forthright and dull.  I’ve been amazed to discover that in recent years these icons have been infused with a sense of irony, going on the same kinds of emotional journeys as their Stan Lee derived counterparts and have at their core a strong sense of community and surprisingly, family.  Earth One’s a hot bed of hatches, matches and dispatches, super-parents dealing with the fact their kids want to follow them into the family profession of saving the world (or destroying it in the case of the villains).

As everyone from Stephen Greenhorn the writer of The Doctor’s Daughter through to Russell, Phil and Dave noted in Doctor Who Confidential, the Doctor’s familial connections are not something the television series has ever really had to deal with.  There was Susan, of course, dear, dear Susan, but apart from the odd hint there and here, the series has very much kept in thrall to the premise of the none titular word in the title.  The less we know about our traveling companion is the better.  In the decade or so when the series was off-screen, text and sound writers needing to plug the space went to town trying to explain his origins and Susan’s origins on the one hand emphasising something akin to natural child birth and on the other suggesting that timelords, are ‘loomed’ rather like, in fact, the doctor’s daughter here.

In the likes of The Deadly Assassin, they’re really just humans with a different genetic code and a mythic case of piles.

Whilst it’s tempting to think of these God-like beings as being zapped into existence and sent into the world, even in their earlier appearances on television it’s difficult not to think of the process as not being in some way gynecological.  In the likes of The Deadly Assassin, they’re really just humans with a different genetic code and a mythic case of piles.  They also have the capacity for the darker emotions; avarice, arrogance, anger, officiousness and boredom.  The Doctor has the capacity for those emotions too, and also in his later incarnations, love, romance and satire.  Partly this could be explained by his exposure to humans over the years, but also it’s an over compensation for the survivor guilt which gripped him during the Eccleston era.  In my version of the canon, then, the Doctor, like those comic book heroes, did indeed have a family: a wife, kids, grandkids, father, mother (wherever they came from) and siblings (hey Brax!).

It adds even greater layers to his character somehow, and in these series with the loss of not just his family, his whole civilisation, like Batman’s loss, rationalises quite why he takes his ‘job’ so seriously and why he seems devastated when everything doesn’t go to plan, why he’s so prepared to resort to his own death to stop a war and save the day.  This cleverly conceived new genetic anomaly does also indeed allow us to see how the Doctor copes with these emotions without overloading the canon (and was that the first time we’ve heard that word in a Confidential?).  Helped by a brilliant performance from Tennant, who still somehow manages to make each tear surprising, we were able to see that indeed the Doctor can be just like us, he can care like us, can care about a child just like us and yet still be God-like, worthy, as much to do with truth and justice as Superman, even as it’s revealed he’s done some very bad things.  Jenny let us see that for the first time since he bid goodbye to Susan in a London wrecked by a The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Plus, she’s well fit. 

Dd1Oh Georgia Moffett, let me count the ways.  Jenny may well be another Whedonesque intrusion into the Whoniverse, this time of his ultimate female role model, balletic, quick witted and shiny.  But she had to be unlike the Doctor and yet exactly like him.  Another choice might have been to make her bookish, a bit pre-gay Willow, one of the aforementioned Holmesian timelords, tut-tutting as he made another reference to meeting Agatha Christie (sorry, that’s next week).  Why do that though when she can be this cool, this funny, this bendy and capable of the back flip through the beam thing last seen in Charlie’s Angels or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a posh Jennifer Ellison with a membership to the NRA?  And in the hands and smile of Georgia Moffett and Greenhorn’s script, what could have been an irritatingly chipper Buffy facsimile (anyone else remember Becky Lee Kowalczyck from Big Finish’s Minuet In Hell?), anomaly if only because of her perfect make-up in a war zone, was just awesome.

It seems wrong somehow to fancy Peter Davison’s progeny; it's like being back at school, noticing someone in your class then finding out she's your teacher’s daughter and so clearly out of bounds (believe me, I know).  But from the minute she stepped out of the Ikea-redesigned Telepod from The Fly, I found myself repeatedly irritated when the camera cut somewhere else, even to the increasingly lush Catherine Tate and former obsession Freema.  Like the group of monks from the martial arts film A Touch of Zen, there can’t be many rubbish films that couldn’t be improved with Georgia high kicking her way though them.   Not since seeing Louise Jameson in The Invasion of Time three days ago has a story potentially been a pleasure to watch on the basis of just one actress.  Squee.  And squee again.  And again.  Times one hundred.

Where was I?  Right, serious analysis.  Ironically, this was a fairly trad …    Um.  Sorry, I’ll be back in a minute.  I really need to take a cold shower.

That’s better.  When my eyes weren’t being diverted I did notice that structurally this was about as traditional an episode as we’ve seen this series, with a companion being isolated so that they could meet the alien race with everyone meeting up again at the finale.  Martha’s participation was seemingly erroneous though, the reaction to a script problem when the writer realised that he couldn’t have the Doctor meeting his daughter alone without a voice of reason or in this case plot-solving Donna knocking around and so would need an extra body in the ‘enemy’ camp.  Freema still made the most of the opportunity though and, with the exception of the freefall into the random bog, showed an easy confidence in Martha which the character slightly lacking last week.  It is worth grumbling about the fact that she was put in a desperate position of having to be saved again which is a bit of an indignity given she did save the world at the end of the last series.

Dd3 Of the combatants, the humans were mostly really rather bland but that’s perhaps as it should be considering they supposedly haven’t had much life experience of their own, a race memory rattling around their brains.  Yes, Nigel Terry’s old hand did seem rather mature to be in this crew, but I’d be quite willing to accept that the machines would be rigged to produce a range of ages, perhaps having been programmed by a fan of old Vietnam war movies who realised that every battalion needs a bitter old emotionally scarred veteran as well as the wet behind the ears innocent, yet to discover that the first casualty of war is your generation.  On the other side, the Hath were a good idea in theory but in realisation a rare own goal from Neil Gorton and friends, harking back to the monster designs of the past – better painted perhaps but even with the plop, plop, plop lacked a point of identification, their boggle eyes not matter how much they spun at no point appearing to look anywhere, more convincing than the fish swimmers from The Underwater Menace perhaps but Admiral Akbar showed how well this can be done in Return of the Jedi, two and a half decades ago.

more convincing than the fish swimmers from The Underwater Menace perhaps but Admiral Akbar showed how well this can be done in Return of the Jedi, two and a half decades ago

Alice Troughton's direction was tight and smart, the editing very sharp, particularly in the scene when the Doctor and Martha and both armies realised where the rest of the episode would be going via the glowly map thing.  The music was good too, Murray Gold showing the kind of percussive sensitivity which you might remember I thought would have benefited Planet of the Ood .  And to close out this inevitable paragraph in which I shoe-horn in all of the good things about the episode I can't fit anywhere else, how great does Catherine continue to be?  Sure, it's the sixth episode in a row that she's cried but that to me just shows how serious the actress is treating the job.  I'll repeat this again, having seen her in all kinds of things which aren't her own comedy sketch show, this is the best we've ever seen her and I've become something of a fan. 

In the end, there were two tisk worthy moments.  Once during that melodramatic scene at the bog (couldn’t the fish swim?) and then when Jenny took the bullet.  I didn’t cry.  I was annoyed simply because it was disappointingly predictable to see that the premise of the new programme couldn’t allow its protagonist to become ‘the not quite last of the timelords’, ‘last of the old timelords’ or some such.  The surprising choice would have been for him to lead the gang back into the Tardis together, job done.  I thought the reaction to the death went on too long, the gathering of Jenny in the Doctor’s hands too close to his pleading with the Master at the close of the last series.  ‘Regenerate!’ I shouted ‘Regenerate!’  How come Martha’s somehow become the expert on that sort of thing – just how detailed are the UNIT records?

‘Regenerate!’ I shouted ‘Regenerate!’ 

Once more with the biblical reference, the sometimes lonely god recreating a planet after seven days.  The troubling moment of the Doctor brandishing the gun seemed a bit ill considered in this day and age, especially considering how conventional the revolver was.  I thought about Paul Leonard’s equally ill-considered novel Revolution Man in which the Doctor actually does shoot someone apparently for the greater good (See here for what I thought of that.  Preview: “No! No! No! No! NO!  It’s one of the fundamentals of the series, the Doctor does not, I repeat does NOT! kill another human in cold blood like this and particularly with a gun.” etc).  I genuinely thought in these final moments that episode was broken and I’d be writing fifteen hundred words on how in the end the whole farrago was just some cheap knock-off from The Wrath of Khan.  With added spunk. 

How wrong I was.  The Doctor keeps being kicked in the teeth, by time, fate, whatever and now here he is again losing someone from his own race, albeit not naturally born but still with two hearts, and breathing and with the kind of connection he can never have with anyone else no matter how long he spends with them in the blue box.  Of course he’s going to be a bit upset about that and we should be with him for every agonising moment otherwise it would have looked trite.  Most fans of the franchise who haven’t had to endure the very out of character moments which crop up in the novels from time to time would know that he wouldn’t take a life, especially in revenge.  He’s being an example, showing the fictional constructs and kids at home that guns are bad, a message that can’t be repeated too often.  One of the features of DC’s Infinite Crisis is to show Wonder Woman dragging herself back from breaking someone’s neck in a very public way but simply by being on television, the Doctor’s an even more impressive symbol and so brave to attempt this kind of psychological investigation in front of a family audience on a Saturday night.

For a few moments as Jenny lay on the slab, the spangly smoke drifting from her mouth, I thought she was going to regenerate into Rose

Then she lived.  For a few moments as Jenny lay on the slab, the spangly smoke drifting from her mouth, I thought she was going to regenerate into Rose (which is ironic since Moffett was one of the many thousands of actresses who read for the role).  Back when the first series was still being generated and Russell’s mate Paul Abbot was writing an episode (in the slot which was ultimately filled by Boomtown) the writer had an idea that Rose would discover she was in fact created by the Doctor to be the perfect companion, presumably inserted in history to live a life before being picked up later for great adventures.  Russell was tempted but ultimately thought it busted the character and as we saw, went another way.  If Jenny’s an echo, she’s an echo of that idea, a perfect companion for the Doctor literally created directly from his loins.  She’s in whatever end of history we’ve just witnessed, like Sarah Jane and a few other people who’ve met the Doctor, fighting the good fight in their relevant time zone or reality, with according to the podcast, Steven Moffat to thank for the  idea of a resurrection (clever bloke).   She’ll be back of course, perhaps even before the season is out, but wouldn’t it be breezy if the Andy Pryor (casting director) gave her agent a call to check for her availability for ten months filming in 2010?

Next Week:  Fenelllaaaa Woooolgaaaar.  As Tom might pronounce it …

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