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May 16, 2008

The Source is the Source, My Lover

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter

Barleymow Let's get this out of the way first. Yes Georgia Moffett is pretty. In fact not just pretty but, as Clive James once said of someone else, so pretty that she makes you want to burst out cheering.  And it's hard to separate her good looks from the sheer verve of a performance that even managed to match Tennant's level of energy.  She was great, but I'm just thankful the production team cast the part so well, because she was the saving grace of a story that was certainly not pretty.  Unless pretty terrible counts.  It's doubtless a good thing that we're getting to see another alien planet (two in four episodes!), and this story was undeniably reminiscent of old-school Who.  Sadly the old school in question was Bob Baker and Dave Martin's Underworld.  "The source is the source" kept running through my brain, especially when General Cobb/Farmer Barleymow's rich West Country tones made the Bristol Boys' influence seem even stronger.  In my book, Underworld is still Underworld, no matter how you package it.  As the final credits zapped by, I felt that I'd watched an experimental attempt to make an episode of Doctor Who which really did entirely consist of people running around corridors shouting expository dialogue at each other.

shit stew

Did any of it actually make sense apart from anything else?  The week-long war was a nice idea for a first draft, but how do you account for the older people like Farmer Barleymow?  Does the processing machine pop people out at any age between 16 and 75?  How does that work? The machine may give them military intelligence and training, but how do people rise through the ranks?  And do the two tribes employ the world's most efficient funeral directors?  Thousands dead and not a hint of cholera anywhere.  If that isn't enough of a shit stew to be going on with, then stir in fish that drown and David Tennant saying paradox.  That word is now starting to be almost as irritating as "deadlock".  I was at least hopeful that Martha or Donna might greet the Doctor's gobbledygook about why the TARDIS was dragged to Messaline in the first place with a well-placed "What the fuck are you on about?", but just muttering "paradox" was enough to stop them in their tracks.  There's a certain glibness on occasion in Doctor Who which really irritates me and Tennant's at his worse with those kind of lines.

I'd rather play nude hunt-the-thimble with Ian Levine in a vat of jelly than watch Doctor Who Confidential

Contrivance Take the creation of Jenny.  Now I've heard some people say that the pre-credits sequence was deliberately bathetic – a way of cocking a snook at the frenzy of fan speculation concerning her origins.  This seems unlikely to me, but as I'd rather play nude hunt-the-thimble with Ian Levine in a vat of jelly than watch Doctor Who Confidential I guess it'll be a while until I discover how the story was commissioned.  Did Davies simply say to Greenhorn that he wanted an adventure where the Doctor discovered he had a daughter?  Or did Greenhorn already have a burning ambition to write a story about a seven day war and soldiers born as adults, and saw a great opportunity to have the Doctor sire a soldier. I suspect the former, but aside from all the logical inconsistencies of the plot, the resulting story lacked any real drama.  Jenny had only been conjured up for a matter of seconds before we were supposed to care about her and also believe that the Doctor would really go through the pangs of parenthood.  As it is, it wasn't hard for the viewer to care about Jenny because the character was excellently cast and, to put it bluntly, she was “well-fit” as I believe today's youth would say.  But that had nothing to do with the story itself which was framed in such a “let's run down another corridor while venting an info-dump” way that it did it's very best to make you totally indifferent to the characters.

Preferably after having illicitly dipped his wick.

No-one would pretend that The Face of Evil is an example of great television drama, but it's a similar kind of story to The Doctor's Daughter with its warring tribes descended from generations of people that cannot remember their original purpose. In the older story, the Doctor bears responsibility for creating the problem in the first place and has to redeem his past actions by restoring sanity and helping the tribes live in peace. How much better would The Doctor's Daughter have been if Jenny came about as a result of a long ago previous visit from the Doctor? Preferably after having illicitly dipped his wick. The drama then would have been about his unknowing abandonment of Jenny and her resentment at being left to fend for herself in a violent world, plus her shock when the Doctor returns. Then at least she would have had a real life in a real place for some time, rather than being magicked out of nowhere and leaping over lasers before you have time to ask her out for dinner.

Nomoretorchwood While all this was going on poor old Martha had been given the new series equivalent of the delta wave augmenter and was sent to fishy Coventry.  After her Torchwood appearances, Freema probably thought that things couldn't get any worse.  Until she found herself separated from the main cast while being fondled by the least convincing monsters since Ricky Gervais's slug in Extras.  The whole thing got even madder when Martha effectively bullied the friendly fish to death by forcing him out into a hostile environment where he rapidly (and mysteriously) drowned.  She was upset for about five seconds, but seemed happy enough when she bumped into the Doctor.  Maybe close proximity to the fishes temporarily gives you the same memory span?  It certainly affected the Doctor.  After all his crying, snarling and shouting about the death of his daughter, he pissed off without waiting for the funeral.  I can remember when the Doctor used to hang around for a funeral even when they were burying botanists that he hardly knew.  Clearly the Time War has changed him.  Did you know about the Time War by the way?  Apparently the Doctor was involved.

I can remember when the Doctor used to hang around for a funeral even when they were burying botanists that he hardly knew.

Unit All that aside, I do get the feeling that there are things going on in each episode which will come to fruition later in the series, and on a much more subtle level than the Torchwood and Saxon memes.  There seems to be a thematic consistency across this series even if some of the individual episodes themselves are a bit ropey.  It's clear that Jenny will return, but I'm sure it will be much more significant than a simple reunion, and it's hard to believe there won't be some payback for all the references to the Doctor's interference with time and the mysterious vanishing of planets.  The Doctor's Daughter also had something weird going on in the background which I was alerted to when reading some forum or other.  At around 10' 47" Jenny can clearly be seen standing in front of something with a UNIT badge on it.  If this is something to do with an unravelling universe, or the consequence of the Doctor's meddling then fair play.  It's hardly in your face.  On the other hand if the production team can manage to include a drowning fish, then it's not beyond the realms of possibility that they simply used the wrong bit of set.  Stay tuned!

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