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May 13, 2008

Parent Who’d

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter

1Look, I’m going to put lay my cards on the table early.  To me, Stephen Greenhorn is above criticism.  Yes, he did create River City -  a regional soap so insipid it makes Take The High Road look like the grittiest of Taggart episodes.  But he also wrote Sunshine on Leith, a musical based on the music of the Proclaimers.  Which, obviously, as a Scot, puts him on a pedestal alongside Sir Sean Connery, Glen Michael and  Rab and Ryan from Consolevania.

And one of the reasons he’s above criticism with The Doctor’s Daughter is the shopping list nature of the story he’s given.  “Oh, we’ve had a great idea Stephen.  We want you to give the Doctor a daughter, do some parenthood issues stuff, then a nice emotional send-off”.

It’s the sort of commissioning by tickbox that alienated and wrecked so much of late 80s Who.  But somehow The Doctor’s Daughter gets away with it, largely - as I seem to find myself saying more and more - through force of will and some fantastic performances.  Although Greenhorn’s script, if not the story, gives the actors a helping hand.

a genuine moment of soul in a show that relentlessly tries to play your heartstrings like a violin

The dialogue is bright, breezy and at times downright witty across the board, but especially for Donna, and Tate seems to be growing into the role perfectly, especially - shock - with the more serious, character-led stuff.   That lovely confrontation between the two about the Doctor having been a father previously, when Donna asks why he never tells her anything, was wonderfully underplayed and showed a genuine moment of soul in a show that normally so relentlessly tries to play your heartstrings like a violin.

Unfortunately, in the drive to make Tate a credible companion, Martha seems to have been sacrificed to provide a counterfoil for Donna’s enthusiasm, in as offhand a fashion as possible.  Are we really supposed to believe that watching her Hath pal drown was catalyst to her never wanting to step into the TARDIS again, after the stuff she saw the previous year?  Really?  Something fishy about that.

Like The Lazarus Experiment, Greenhorn’s last script for the show, this seemed a lightweight romp when it started, but you can’t help but feel there’s something bigger going on in the background - something that, like Lazarus’ work , will pay off in the climax to the season.

The whole war between human and Hath (Hath-human?  Hmm, there’s a phrase to be careful using around certain fans) was clearly a work from the start.  As soon as General Grumpy Chops said generations rather than years, it was obvious a reduced timescale because of this cloning malarky was going to be a factor, although the way the it was built-up and revealed, thanks once more to Donna’s temping skills, was far quicker than I’d anticipated.

If ever an episode was crying out to be an old style four-parter, it was this one

“Your whole history, it’s just Chinese whispers.” And that, in a nutshell, sums up everything that’s good and bad about The Doctor’s Daughter.  And, actually, with modern Doctor Who.  We have to get from point A to point B to point C to point X and then wrap things up at point Z, all within 43 minutes.  And if ever an episode was crying out to be an old style four-parter, it was this one. 

For The Doctor’s Daughter was too brief, even given the lightweight nature of it’s story, to make the impact it deserved.  We needed more, much more.  We needed to see things unwind slowly, as Donna pieced together the numbers.  As Martha made friends with the Hath and explored the ravaged surface.  As the Doctor figured out the nature fo the war.  And especially as the Doctor and Jenny bonded.

2 I’ve deliberately held off on Jenny until now, because when I started this review I wasn’t quite sure what to write.  Clearly, judging by the climax, we’re going to see much more of her in the future - much to the delight of the salivating fanboys lusting after her, I’d suspect.  And Georgia Moffett brought a lot to the role, not least - in a certain light - an uncanny resemblance to her old man.   Thankfully she’s got his accent and not Sandra’s.

But I couldn’t get into the character.  I really couldn’t.  40 minutes of screen time was nowhere near enough for her to come across as a credible scion of the Time Lord’s clan.  In fact, early on, she seemed to be playing the role as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Or Ace, with better genetics and more time spent on the vaulting horse.  And that’s my biggest problem.  This big deal about the Doctor’s offspring - for those of us of a certain age, we’ve been here before.  Forget the grandchild for a minute - the familial relationship here was little more than we saw with Sylv and Soph back in the 80s, except they got two years to perfect it.   Here it just felt forced, and really lacked any kind of focus.

It seemed appropriate that the last Doctor Who story I watch as a 20-something is one about families, kids and that feeling of getting old. Most of my pals are either married or getting hitched, are parents or on the verge of becoming one.  (Well, actually, strictly speaking as a Doctor Who fan around half my pals fit that criteria, and the rest are gay).  So really, this should have been the side of the story that resonated most for me.  Yet it didn’t.  In fact, if anything it felt the weakest aspect. 

Take away the genetic link and she could have been any generic pretty-but-doomed pseudo-companion written into the classic series for an story then dispatched again.  Sara Kingdom with a peroxide ponytail.

But don’t get me wrong.  I really enjoyed The Doctor’s Daughter, certainly far more than last week’s nonsense.  It was your average episode of the new series of Doctor Who - which puts it head and shoulders above much of the rest of British telly, but still leaves you thinking it could have been better.  In this case, less definitely wasn’t more.

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