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May 17, 2008

Saving Fish from Drowning

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter

Marthahath You know, I'm rather convinced that the writing team is deliberately sabotaging the return of Martha in an effort to make us appreciate, by comparison, the dubiously welcome returns of Donna and Rose. Of course, in the case of the former, they needn't have bothered, because even most former TateHaters have to admit that Donna's return benefits both her character and the show. Whether Rose is served as well remains to be seen, but Martha's return is certainly not what it could be. The fact that RTD never pulled Stephen Greenhorn aside and said, "You know, Steve, you might not want to go the whole Martha kidnapping route, because Jackie Raynor's writing that same godawful Damsel in Distress cliche into her two-parter that's running just before yours," seems to suggest a conspiracy against Martha. But at least she had more to do than she did in the previous story and she got a chance to act like the Doctor himself: running around, being tolerant, finding a companion, emoting furiously when he dies, never mentioning him again. Not the Martha return I wanted at all, but it was good to give her at least a minor subplot to deal with.

But dammit, Tate, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you throw me a bone once in a while? Give me something to complain about? Why can’t you be anything less than lovely?

The role was clearly written for Summer Glau but Georgia Moffet fills it quite nicely.

And speaking of lovely… oh, what’s the point? I’ve been beaten to the punch several times anyway. Georgia Moffet was fantastic. The very reason to enjoy this episode was watching Jenny sparkle with talent, attractiveness, and preternatural physical ability. In short, the role was clearly written for Summer Glau but Georgia Moffet fills it quite nicely. It’s kind of a shame she didn’t get the companion role she auditioned for in 2005, but here in this episode is one-upmanship at its finest. Think back to Rose. “I got the bronze,” brags Rose, recalling her gymnastics career as her one redeeming quality. But I’d like to see her try to somersault through a cliché web of laser beams. And I’ll forgive Jenny for using the cliché guard distraction technique, partially because she hasn’t been alive for long enough to learn how hackneyed it is and partially for the obvious reasons expounded upon above.

Enough about the leading ladies, though. It’s clear where my affections lie. And as much as I loved, and am going to marry, the titular fictional character, the episode on the whole can’t be judged on the basis of a single gorgeous, charismatic guest star. Fortunately, there’s quite a bit more to this episode than that. The week-long-war is actually quite a clever idea, and it is slowly exposed in an effective way. The episode gives ample opportunity for Tennant to exercise his emotional range in a way we’ve not seen so far this season, rather than strutting around in a bored fashion as he did in the previous two-part story. And the Hath, despite not doing much other than gurgling a bit, are an interesting alien design.

AngermouseBut was it good enough to live up to the enormous promise it made? This episode's title implicitly promised some serious development of the canon, particularly in the area of demystifying the Doctor's family life. I don’t think I ever seriously expected that we were going to find out about Susan’s mother or delve that deeply into the Doctor’s past—now just doesn’t seem the time, particularly not in a season that seems to be leading to the return of a figure from his more recent past. And so I went into this episode hoping that, even though I knew this episode was going to break all of the promises it made to me, perhaps it could at least take me for a fun ride.

At that, it succeeded. The Doctor’s Daughter works at least on a level of sex appeal (let’s face it, almost every scene includes either Georgia or Freema or sometimes both), and even at a level beyond that in that there’s a somewhat interesting storyline going on and also quite a lot of well-written dialogue. Regardless, I can’t give the episode the enormous level of praise owed to Greenhorn’s previous effort, The Lazarus Experiment. While that episode oozed class and classicality, this one goes for gritty and ultimately fails because gritty has been done so much better in other episodes before—not Greenhorn’s fault, obviously, but I suppose some of the pacing issues are his fault. You’d think that an episode about characters with such short life spans would move at a more consistent pace, rather than moving along quickly then taking little breaks along the way. The rising and falling action was something Greenhorn pulled off well in The Lazarus Experiment, but those brief lulls were written logically into the action and not just sort of shoehorned in like the Jackie/Pete reunion scene in Doomsday.

But it’s hard to fault the slower moments anyway because, like that scene in Doomsday, they’re just so enjoyable. After the promise of the title is broken within the first three minutes, we do get to see the forbidden topic of the Doctor’s pre-Time-War family discussed a little bit. The Doctor’s inability to connect with Jenny initially makes for some wonderful interaction between the Doctor, Jenny, and Donna. Martha’s presence here would likely have ruined these moments because of her existing knowledge. Having witnessed the Doctor cradling the dying Master in his arms, Martha has a deeper understanding of what makes the Doctor tick and so her input into these conversations would likely have served only to foil the emotional experience of the Doctor coming to terms with Jenny. So it’s a good thing that Martha’s off doing her own thing and exercising some emotional range of her own. And, you know, watching a fish drown. And that’s been mercilessly mocked already, so going on about that would be almost as pointless about spending another paragraph talking about how attractive Georgia Moffet is (guess what? She’s awfully pretty). I'm sorry if the title of this review led you to expect an extended rant on the drowning Hath. It was really just meant as a passing reference to the Amy Tan novel by that title. But I digress. My point is that one of the joys of this episode was watching the Doctor slowly come to accept Jenny.

Jenny And the moment we learned he was going to let her on board the TARDIS, she had the same target on her forehead that Astrid had in Voyage of the Damned. It was only a matter of how it would happen, and taking a bullet was probably not the way she deserved to go. But, of course she lived. Her survival was a lame cliché, not to mention questionably logical. I suppose we can chalk it up to the terraforming device as well as the fact that she was still within the first fifteen hours of her regenerative cycle. I’m willing to accept it, because if Jenny had simply died then this episode would have utterly failed to have any lasting effect on the canon. Instead, we have the Doctor’s own daughter let loose upon the Whoniverse, which is probably the single greatest innovation to Doctor Who canon since the Doctor became the Last of the Time Lords™. How can I not approve of this episode when it practically guarantees more of Jenny?

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