Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Overthinking Doctor Who 4.5: Road to Regeneration

There’s a new Doctor on the horizon. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.

Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.

These are mine.

The Specials: “This song is ending.”

In 2005, Russell T. Davies finally, after years of fan hopes and prayers, reintroduced Doctor Who to television. Later that year, as the first series drew to a close, David Tennant took over the title role, bringing the show to new levels of popularity and fan love.

And in 2008, both men announced they were leaving.

While series four was their last full series on the show, they both took 2009 to do a sort of farewell tour. While incoming showrunner Steven Moffat got everything in place to take over in 2010 (Moffat series take a while to write), Davies and Tennant came back for five hour-long specials airing between Christmas Day 2008 and New Year’s Day 2010. The Specials represent the terminus of Ten’s journey, ending with his regeneration into Eleven.

Something Davies specifically, maliciously set out to make the most brutally heartbreaking regeneration of all time.

So we’ll have to break format a little to cover these.

It’s Christmas!

The Next Doctor finds Ten trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to shake off the remorseless string of increasingly sad farewells that marked the end of series four by visiting Christmas in Victorian London (this will not be the last time a hearts-broken Doctor comes to this time and place to wallow). He’s only barely landed when suddenly he’s running into returning enemies the Cybermen… and an oddly-dressed gentleman calling himself The Doctor (David Morrissey), claiming to have a sonic screwdriver and a Tardis. Has The Doctor found his future self?

Well, no. By the time they even announced this episode we knew that the next Doctor would be some kid named Matt Smith, so the bluff wasn’t strong, but the mystery behind why this guy thinks he’s The Doctor was well-told. And provided the first clear, undeniable proof that Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor is in fact canonical.

The pain of The Doctor’s losses is partially buried beneath his curiosity in this false Doctor, but it’s there. He has no companion and isn’t seeking one. And when Miss Haritgan, who has taken control of the Cybermen, rebuffs his offer for a peaceful solution, it’s clear that he resents being made into a killer.

“What do you make of me, sir?” she asks, refusing to leave Earth in peace.

“The question is, what do you make of me?” he replies. Then his tone goes ice cold as he says “You make me into this.” And he fires.

It’s a pretty standard Christmas special, all told. A charming self-contained adventure in which they casually mention that it’s Christmas. But it also makes it clear that some part of Ten died during The Journey’s End, and despite the best efforts of his would-be replacement, it doesn’t look to be coming back.

It’s Easter!

Planet of the Dead was meant to be The Tenth Doctor’s last good time, one more simple, fun adventure before things start to get dark. Well, simple for The Doctor. There’s still a far-off planet and alien fly-people and an incoming swarm of fangy death. So, sure, pretty casual.

A woman we will come to know as Lady Christina de Souza steals a valuable golden chalice from a museum. Fleeing the approaching police, she trades diamond earrings for a ride on a London bus, only to have The Doctor hop into the seat next to her, munching on a chocolate egg.

He doesn’t care about the chalice, though. Doesn’t even know about it yet. He’s more concerned with the wormhole he’s trying to track, which has grown large enough that the whole bus drives through it and ends up on some foreign desert world.

Problem is, it wasn’t a desert world last year, and the things that stripped it down to sand are heading their way. The Doctor and Christina have to get everyone home and ensure that the incoming death swarm doesn’t reach Earth.

Like Astrid in Voyage of the Damned, The Doctor and Lady Christina were the a perfect-companion-meeting that was never meant to be. They hit it off quickly, she’s clever and resourceful almost beyond The Doctor himself, and they share a thirst for travel and adventure (even if her desire for travel is slightly escape-the-law based). And she’s eager, so eager to hop in the Tardis and see the stars. But it’s not happening.

Where Astrid and The Doctor were torn apart by Kylie Minogue being expensive circumstance… and for all we know, a little temporal manipulation from Dalek Caan to keep Astrid from delaying The Doctor’s reunion with Donna… it’s The Doctor himself keeping Christina out of the Tardis. After having to say goodbye to Rose for a second time and then immediately losing Donna, he can’t bring himself to let anyone else into his travels. So Lady Christina serves two key roles here.

First, she delivers that “last good time” Davies was trying to deliver, and second, she’s important to showing how damaged The Doctor has been since that mess with Davros. She is almost precisely the sort of person he’d normally take off into time and space. The whole “cat burgler” thing isn’t fully a value-add, but Jack was a con artist when they met and look at him now, all defending the Earth. So to sell The Doctor’s deep spiritual damage, they hand him a perfect companion desperate to go with him… and have him say a firm no.

But that’s just where his problems begin.

One of the passengers on the bus is psychic, and after an hour of seeing their impending doom hurtling towards them, she has a final warning for The Doctor, after repeating the warning he received from the Ood last year, “your song is ending.”

“It is returning, it is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor… Oh but then, he will knock four times.”

The end is nigh, and The Doctor’s not walking into it willingly. He likes who he is, he’s liked being Ten more than he’s liked himself since the Time War turned ugly, and he is not looking to change. Why else would he have dumped a regeneration into his severed hand so that he could heal without changing?

It’s… Fall, I guess?

“State your name, rank, and intention.”
“The Doctor… Doctor… fun?”

The Doctor arrives on Mars, in the mid-21st century, where he comes across the planet’s first human settlement. Problem is… the first human settlement was destroyed. Which may have inspired its leader’s granddaughter to later captain Earth’s first faster-than-light ship, and explore the galaxy. The destruction of this base is a fixed point in time, like Vesuvius. And it’s happening today. Any minute now. Because there’s something in the underground glacier they started using for water, and it’s infecting the crew one by one, turning them into water-spewing crag-faced zombies.

The Doctor is eager to get away, because it’s a fixed point, so not only is there nothing he can do… after Pompeii, he’s afraid that if he stays, he’ll be the one who makes it all happen. But the crew aren’t eager to let this inexplicable stranger leave, the water zombies draw his curiosity… and he likes these people. He especially likes their noble commander Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan, filling the companion role this time around), whose grandchild starts a dynasty of space explorers, and when he finally begins to leave as everything goes wrong… he can’t. Or at least, he won’t.

“There are laws of time,” he shouts to Adelaide as he seeks a way to stop the water zombies. “Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It’s taken me all these years to realise that the laws of time are mine and they will obey me!”

If you think The Doctor asserting dominion over time itself is a good thing, you are way off. Adelaide sees it. He’s been alone too long. He’s gone too far. He’s becoming something terrible, someone willing to rewrite history to his own preferences. It’s not a power she thinks he or anyone should have, and is willing to sacrifice to take it from him.

And The Doctor collapses, emotionally. He knows he’s gone too far. He’s become lost, the exact sort of monster he once fought. And as this is sinking in, an Ood appears in the snow, signalling that his end is drawing near. So he does the only thing that makes sense to any Doctor in this position…

He runs.

Waters of Mars is when The Doctor, already damaged from Journey’s End, finally breaks. And it sets the stage for the End.

Brace yourselves. It’s gonna get teary up in here.

It’s Christmas Again! And Also New Year’s!

The Ood have seen a terrible omen. A sinister cabal seeks to resurrect The Master. An industrialist named Joshua Naismith has his own plans for The Master, and is trying to build an alien healing device called The Immortality Gate. Two of Naismith’s staff have their own agenda. The people of Earth are plagued by nightmares, but only Wilfred Mott (Donna’s granddad, remember?) recalls them and knows what they mean. A mysterious woman is reaching out to Wilfred, telling him he must take up arms. The drumbeats in The Master’s head are getting louder. And behind it all, something horrible… the End of Time itself.

It’s all a trap, a way for the Time Lords to survive the Time War… at the expense of everything.

And The Doctor gallivanted through time and space too long (marrying Queen Elizabeth along the way… improbably, we’ll get back to that), and is late to the party. Or so say the Ood, anyway.

We could spend a lot of time talking about everything that happens in this final two-parter for Davies and Tennant. What The Master does, what the Lord President of Gallifrey is willing to do, Donna’s return, the mournful Chameleon Circuit rock epic summarizing it all… one last triumphant “ALLONS-Y!” But while End of Time is an appropriately epic tale for Ten to end his run with, what we should really focus on is this…

While The End of Time Part 2 isn’t without humour, don’t get used to it. Russell T. Davies set out to write the Saddest Regeneration of All Time. And good lord but he nailed it. He nailed it hard.

First, he took away the security blanket of regeneration not being the end. Ten, facing his prophesied death, laments that even if he does regenerate, it’s still like dying. “Everything I am dies. Some new man saunters away… and I’m dead.”

When the prophesied “he” knocks four times, and The Doctor sees his death approaching, it takes him a moment to meet it gracefully. “I could do so much more. So much more!” (Also of note, Wilfred isn’t making it easier, as throughout the second half he begs The Doctor not to let himself die, and Bernard Cribbins makes it heart-rending.) But the cost of living on, small though it was, is still too high. And so The Tenth Doctor must end… following a farewell tour.

Every companion, friend, loved one… everyone who meant anything to Ten gets a final, often silent farewell. And after one last visit to 2005 Rose Tyler, the Ood return to sing him to his rest. He staggers back to the Tardis, utters the saddest final line a Doctor has ever had*, The Doctor’s Theme plays one last time in epic fashion…

And Matt Smith arrives. It’s a rough ten minute ride to get here, but it’s going to be okay. I promise you it’s going to be okay from here.

Except when it’s incredibly sad. That doesn’t end. But it’s not all the time.

(*I would argue that the second saddest final Doctor line ever is Colin Baker’s “Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice!” because nobody knew that would be his final line. The head of the BBC fired Baker between series, in the first of several moves that seemed to be engineered to kill the show.)

The Monsters

The Big Bad: Rassilon isn’t just a Time Lord, he’s the Time Lord. As covered in Chameleon Circuit’s Gallifreyan History 101, “he was strong, he was mighty, he was the founder of Time Lord society,” one of the two men who mastered time travel and elevated Gallifrey. The other having been Omega, who was unfortunately erased in the process, something he took umbrage to in 1973’s The Three Doctors. There were also some hints during the Sylvester McCoy years that The Doctor himself may have also been involved, a story thread that was dropped when the BBC clamped down on attempts to explore The Doctor’s past.

Anyway, since the end of the original series, books and radio dramas have dug further into the legends of Rassilon. Was he the wise and benevolent ruler of a good and just Gallifrey, or was he a cruel despot who intentionally killed Omega? Whatever he was before, being resurrected to fight the Time War has made a monster of him now. But that’s what the Time War did.

This Year in Daleks: They got 2009 off. Still wiped out from The Journey’s End.

The Good: The Master is back to, albeit indirectly, kill his second Doctor. The Master has been involved in the incidents that caused the regenerations of Four, Ten, and Twelve. Man, that’s two of the all-time favourites.

Miss Hartigan made a good human ally/overlord for the Cybermen in The Next Doctor.

The Bad: …Eh. They’re all fine.

The Ugly: I have some qualms about the design choices for the water zombies in Waters of Mars. Not fun to look at, and the head water zombie kind of annoyed me any time she was on screen, I’m glad they’re all dead.

Parting Thoughts

Notable guest stars: 

  • Timothy Dalton, James goddamn Bond, is the Lord High President of the Time Lords, revealed in the end to be Rassilon.
  • Brian Cox is the voice the head of the Ood in Out of Time.
  • Joshua Naismith is played by Supergirl’s Martian Manhunter, David Harewood.
  • Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya is one of the passengers in Planet of the Dead.
  • I want to include Michelle Ryan as Lady Christina, but other than Steven Moffat’s surprisingly good Jekyll and 2007’s failed Bionic Woman remake, she hasn’t really done much. Shame. I liked her.

End of Time is the first and only time that a villain, in this case John Simm as The Master, is included in the opening credits. Though he turns out not to be the villain.

The bus in Planet of the Dead sustains damage going through the wormhole because they filmed the desert planet scenes in Dubai, and the bus did suffer significant damage in the process of shipping it there. Which caused some production headaches.

The woman contacting Wilfred in End of Time is a Time Lord, one of two who opposed the plan, credited only as “The Woman.” The Doctor seems to know her somehow. How, exactly, is the one last unanswered mystery of the Davies era. Is she Romana? Susan? The Rani? The wife we never knew, a child they’ve only alluded to, some other family member? Just a like mind from the days of the Time War? We don’t know. We may never know. “I was lost, long ago,” she tells Wilf. In the words of The Doctor, that is textbook enigmatic.

She comments on Wilfred’s military service, that he missed the war and never killed a man. “No I didn’t,” Wilfred says. “No I did not. No. But don’t say that like it’s shameful.” This mirrors actor Bernard Cribbins’ military service. He served in World War II, never killed anybody, and is incredibly proud of that. One more reason Wilfred, the Final Companion, is the best.

Planet of the Dead uses a cute lampshade-hang on the question of how similar to humans The Doctor is, one Moffat will steal in the year to come:
“You look human.”
“You look Time Lord.”

“I don’t know what I’d be without that noise,” says The Master.
“I wonder what I’d be… without you,” replies The Doctor. There can be some interestingly sweet moments between these two eternal foes.

On a personal note, The Last Doctor was the only episode I managed to watch between Last of the Time Lords and May of 2010, when I started binging my way through series four. The rest of the specials ended up waiting until that summer, after series five was up and running. So I had a slight advantage over most other viewers at the time: heart-crushing as Tennant’s final scenes were, I’d already fallen for his replacement, and knew that fresh good times were on the other side.

“Legs! I’ve still got legs!” The newly minted 11th Doctor begins with an inventory, and a disappointment: “And still not ginger!”

Historical Guest Star of the Year: A speech from Barack Obama plays a role in End of Time Part 1, but I wouldn’t count it.

Doctor Quote of the Year: “I don’t want to go.”

Saddest Moment of the Year: See above.

Next time… Hello, Mr. Smith and Mr. Moffat.

Overthinking Doctor Who Part 4: Companionpalooza

There’s a new Doctor on the horizon. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.

Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.

These are mine.

It’s Christmas!

Voyage of the Damned was the first “apropos of nothing” Christmas special, not setting up or paying off stories from the main series or centered around a recent/impending regeneration. It’s got all of the hallmarks: a one-off story (not unique, most Doctor Who stories are one-offs), a one-time companion, and a weird amount of heartbreak for freaking Christmas. The only exception here is that they do technically introduce a character of interest, even though they didn’t necessarily know that at the time. But maybe they did? Could be, he is back on the show in the first episode of series four.

Anyway. Moments after dropping off Martha Jones at the end of Last of the Time Lords… or depending on how canonical you consider it, moments after the really sweet Moffat-written Children in Need short Time Crash in which the Tenth Doctor meets the Fifth (who both Tennant and Moffat grew up watching)… sorry, where was I.

Moments after dropping off Martha Jones… sorry, but it just is really endearing watching David Tennant give a tribute to the man who helped shape his childhood love of the character, both lightly mocking things like the stalk of celery he wore on his lapel and paying homage by listing all the Fifth Doctor quirks that Tennant incorporated into his own take. Right, back to it.

Moments after dropping off Martha Jones— and the moment where he looks at Davison and says “You were my Doctor,” that is just–

Right. Got it. For real this time. Moments after dropping off Martha Jones at the end of Last of the Time Lords, The Tardis collided with a luxury liner called The Titanic, for the second consecutive finale cliffhanger in which Tennant was reduced to just “What!? What!? What?” Turns out to have been the Starship Titantic, bringing alien guests on a stellar cruise to Christmas-time Earth.

“Why is called Titanic?” the Doctor asks one of the slightly creepy robot angels called Hosts that just seem to cry out “These go on a killing spree in the second act” the second you see them.

“Information: the Titanic is the most famous ship in Earth history,” the benign assistant about to go full murder-bot says.

“Yeah, cheers, any mention of why it’s famous?”

So it’s pretty clear where this is going. The Doctor meets a waitress named Astrid (played by Kylie freaking Minogue), a poor couple who won first class seats named Morvin and Foon, a tour guide with faulty Earth information named Mr. Copper, an upper class bag of putrid dicks named Rickston Slade, and a fun-sized spiky alien named Bannakaffalatta.

And just as everyone’s bonding and having a great time, the sudden yet inevitable disaster strikes, and it’s up to The Doctor to save who he can. Which… well, the disaster movie template requires that it not be too many people, and it’s not who you’d expect or hope.

Don’t get attached to Astrid, is what I’m saying, fully aware that you will anyway.

It’s a fun and touching episode with an instantly likable supporting cast (save for that asshat Rickston) and moments almost guaranteed to bring out the tears. First being the most unlikely yet brutally effective tug at the heartstrings…

“Bannakaffalatta stop! Bannakaffalatta proud. Bannakaffalatta… CYBORG!”

And then, of course, The Doctor’s desperate wail, pain masked by rage, determination giving way to failure… “I can do anything!”

And along the way, there’s an alien-suspecting newspaper salesman played by Bernard Cribbins that you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Series Four: Companionpalooza!

It took me a year and a half to get around to this. My PVR didn’t record series four in fall of 2008, and somehow it took me until spring of 2010 to catch up. Nineteen months of thinking “I need to get on that.” Never again.

Series four was Russell T. Davies’ last full series as showrunner, and he intended to go out big. Donna Noble’s return becomes the capstone to an arc that began with the Cult of Skaro’s appearance in Army of Ghosts, although I have no proof that Davies actually meant for Army of GhostsThe Runaway Bride, and Evolution of the Daleks to all be pieces of one larger story.

Martha Jones (who has joined UNIT, as we learned in series two of Torchwood) is back for three episodes in the middle, Rose Tyler is trying to reach The Doctor, and those are just opening salvos. For the big two-part finale, everyone’s back, and I mean everyone. Everyone.

Rose, Martha, Jack, Mickey, Sarah Jane, K-9 (briefly), all three of the horrible companion mothers, even Former Prime Minister Harriet Jones. Jack brings Gwen and Ianto from Torchwood (allowing The Doctor and Rose to note her similarity to when the same actress was in The Unquiet Dead, waaaaaaay back in series one), Sarah Jane brings her son and supercomputer from The Sarah Jane Adventures. The only non-evil, still alive characters of note from the last four series missing are Nine (of course) and Pete Tyler.

And in the end, they all join together for one sweet, perfect, heartwarming moment where they all fly the Tardis the way it’s meant to be flown… as a team.

Enjoy it while it lasts, because the sadness is coming and coming fast. As an Ood warns earlier on… every song must end. And this song’s ending soon.

(Oh, and one more time for the kids in the bleachers… anyone who thinks the Moffat era relies too much on deus ex machina, rewatch this finale and explain yourself. It’s better, or at least more narratively satisfying than Last of the Time Lords, but it remains basically gibberish.)

The Doctor

Series four shaves a few layers of grief off of Ten this year. The loss of Rose is less fresh, so he’s less hung up on it (just in time for an unexpected reunion), and with the final villain not a fellow Time Lord, they don’t have to punch the grief over losing his homeworld and species in order to sell his determination to keep his old foe The Master alive.

This, then, is David Tennant as his apex as The Doctor. He’s always incredible to watch, because he is that astounding an actor basically always (look, people, I saw him live in London, and you just… you have no idea), but this year he cut loose and had the most sheer fun in the role.

Not that his white-hot rage and flares of grief are absent, because those are parts of the character. But by now it’s all a well-fitting suit. Two years of practice, and Tennant can really strut his way through time and space.

The Companion

Donna’s back!

Much as I somehow didn’t enjoy her first appearance in The Runaway Bride for reasons that I can no longer recall or comprehend, Donna Noble is the greatest of Tennant’s companions, fight me.

First of all, Donna doesn’t fall in love with The Doctor. And after two years of will-they-won’t-they with Rose and one year of quiet pining from Martha, that was refreshing. 

Second, she has the best arc of possibly any companion ever. A simple temp from Chiswick, she doesn’t seem like most important person in all of time and space, and cannot believe that she might be, but she grows into that role over these 13 episodes. Plus, she is amazingly capable, often spotting clues The Doctor misses, and saving his soul along the way.

Catherine Tate and David Tennant have amazing comic chemistry together. It takes a few short minutes for them to become a screwball comedy double act again in Partners in Crime, and it remains delightful all the way through.

Road to the Medusa Cascade

A lot of big, epic stuff happens in the finale, requiring every recurring character of note from the first four years, but basically all of it happens in the last two episodes. Leading up to that, we have a few Bad Wolfs; recurring phrases, shots, or ideas that pop up throughout the year to hint towards what’s going to happen in the finale.

First, and most flashy, a series of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos by Rose Tyler, leading up to her full return right before the finale in Turn Left.

Second, the bees are disappearing. A real-world environmental catastrophe that provides a key clue to The Doctor in The Stolen Earth.

Third, as the title The Stolen Earth suggests, planets are going missing. Whole planets, missing. Probably should have looked into that a little faster, Doctor, it was important.

And they sure do like to remind us that The Doctor keeps his old hand in a jar in the Tardis. You know, the one that was cut off and regrown right after his regeneration in The Christmas Invasion? That Jack had in his office throughout the first series of Torchwood? And that The Doctor took back from The Master in Last of the Time Lords? That one.

The Supporting Cast

Donna’s mother is kind of the laziest Russell T. Davies companion mother of the trio. Sylvia Noble is overly harsh with Donna, and at one point is quick to pin the Earth’s problems on The Doctor, the very person trying to stop them. She doesn’t have Jackie Tyler’s “Cautionary tale of mundane existence” or Mrs. Jones’ instant, irrational, sell-out-humanity commitment to distrusting The Doctor. In place, she has… not much. Not even grief for her husband, who we saw in The Runaway Bride but apparently passed on since then. She’s just mean to Donna. Like I said, kind of lazy.

There is, however, Wilf.

Wilfred Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins, made his first appearance in Voyage of the Damned, then in Partners in Crime was re-introduced and established as Donna’s grandad. (In The Sontaran Stratagem they underline that it’s the same guy.) And he is delightful. A believer in aliens, he also believes in Donna, and swiftly puts his faith in her new friend, despite having seem him vanish the previous Christmas.

Wilfred Mott is Ten’s final companion, but that’s still to come.

Also of importance this season… in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, the annual Steven Moffat story, The Doctor meets an archaeologist by the name of River Song (Alex Kingston), who swings into the adventure with a knowing “Hello, Sweetie.” She claims to already know him, but he’s never seen her before. An awkward situation for them on your first watch, heartbreaking once you’ve reached series six. River’s going to be vitally important down the line, but for now enjoy her intro/exit.

(Is River’s dismissal of Ten as not “the real Doctor,” not the Doctor she needs right now, a statement by writer Steven Moffat about how he intends to write a better Doctor once he takes over? No. No, it couldn’t be, could it? No… no. Maybe–no. No, Tennant hadn’t even committed to leaving yet, although… Let’s not worry about it.)

The Monsters

The Big Bad: Welcome back to the stage Davros, mad genius of Skaro, creator of the Daleks. This is a dude in serious need of some chill, and is out to unmake reality. Shame that there’s practically no trace of him for eleven episodes. Honestly, the whole “just drop a few buzzwords and then have them be important in the finale” Davies model can be just a touch unsatisfying.

Davros works almost better as a dark mirror to The Doctor than The Master. All of The Doctor’s genius with none of his compassion. Where The Doctor devotes his incredible mind to kindness, Davros is fixated on destruction. But he is able to cut into The Doctor’s very being, showing that they both create weapons of death: Davros created the Daleks, The Doctor makes weapons of his friends, and has left a trail of (mostly) good people dying in his name in his wake. There’s even a montage of people who died to help him, starting with Jabe the Tree from End of the World and going all the way to the unnamed hostess from Midnight. Davros might lose, but that revelation about The Doctor cuts deep and won’t heal in a hurry.

This year in Daleks: Dalek Caan, last survivor of the Cult of Skaro, managed to break through the unbreakable seal and pull Davros out of the Time War, so that he could build a new Dalek Empire. In the process, Caan went more than a little crazy. Anyway, brace for another trip on the old “The Daleks are back, the Daleks have been wiped out, the Daleks are back” rollercoaster. But a decent one.

Classic Monsters Revived: Say hello to the Sontarans, a cloned race of short, potato-looking warriors out to either conquer all or die in battle. Makes them hard to threaten, when death in combat is almost as good as dying. The lead Sontaran is General Staal, but keep your eye on his second-in-command, Commander Skorr. He’s played by Dan Starkey, who has a bright future playing Sontarans on this show.

The Good: The Adipose, little blobs of sentient fat, are utterly adorable, even if their Nanny is a little aggressive with the humans they’re born from.

People died, sure, but you can’t stay mad at the little guys.

The Vashta Nerada, microscopic swarms living in shadows (“Not every shadow… but any shadow”) once again prove Moffat’s ability to wring scares out of very simple monsters. A kid in a gas mask, a mime made up like a stone angel, and now darkness and shuffling space suits.

People probably wouldn’t keep insisting that Midnight is the best episode of the year if the villain weren’t so effective.

And humanity itself manages to be the monster no fewer than four times, either by being the real villain (Planet of the Ood) or by being swift to sell their fellow humans out to the villain (The Sontaran Stratagem, and to a lesser extent Midnight, where humans’ ability to be nasty plays into the monster’s agenda).

The Bad: I guess the villain of Voyage of the Damned isn’t their best work.

The Ugly: The big damn CGI wasp from The Unicorn and the Wasp is a little cheesy-looking. And the Pyrovile sure shout their name more dramatically than they needed to…

High Point

Several people I know would say Midnight, in which The Doctor is trapped in a broken transport with a group of increasingly agitated passengers while an unknown monster lurks outside in an impossibly hostile environment. I disagree. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just saying it’s not even in my top three.

No, for my money, the single best episode of series four is Fires of Pompeii. The Doctor and Donna find themselves in Pompeii on, as Captain Jack Harkness once called it, Volcano Day. Donna confronts the dark side of time travel, The Doctor has to make a horrible choice, the cast is solid, the central story strong, the tragedy is profound, and the ending is simply beautiful, if still sad. Catherine Tate proves that she brings a lot more to the table than screwball comedy, and it features two guest stars who will go on to be major players of future series.

Midnight is highly effective. Fires of Pompeii is Doctor Who firing on all cylinders.

Low Point

Turn Left, in which a sinister alien uses a beetle thing to alter history, making Donna change one decision, ensuring she never met The Doctor. And without her, he doesn’t survive the events of Runaway Bride.

Want to know what would have happened if The Doctor hadn’t been around for any of the crises of the last two years? Think watching the world slide into ruin from the lack of Time Lord intervention might be fun? Well it isn’t.

Turn Left and Midnight came about for the same reason as Love and Monsters and Blink: need to compress the shooting schedule. The previous two years, they just gave The Doctor and his companion a much reduced role so that David Tennant and Billie Piper/Freema Agyeman could start filming the next episode at the same time. In this case, David Tennant could film the bottle episode of Midnight while Catherine Tate was doing Turn Left. Catherine Tate was certainly capable of shouldering an episode without Tennant’s help, but after a year filled with screwball comedy and high-octane adventure, Turn Left is just a major downer, and by the time Britain is building concentration camps I just really wanted it to be done.

Highlights?

Lots.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is a great two-parter from impending showrunner Steven Moffat, and as I’ll elaborate later, never, ever miss a River Song episode.

Partners in Crime is delightful screwball comedy that brings Donna back to the Tardis.

Unicorn and the Wasp continues a tradition of high quality Historical Guest Star episodes.

The Doctor’s Daughter is pretty incredible, as The Doctor, Donna, and Martha find themselves in the middle of a war between humans and fish-aliens called Hath fought through soldiers grown in instants from tissue samples of other people. Not clones, separate beings grown by reassembling the donor’s DNA. And when a sample is taken from The Doctor, resulting in Jenny, he must grapple with the notion that there’s a possible new Time Lord that is, in a way, his offspring. It’s one of the few episodes to acknowledge, and possibly the only one to drill into, the fact that once upon a time The Doctor had a wife and children. And at least one grandchild, whose name was Susan. And they’re all gone.

And Planet of the Ood is basically the best Ood episode, and they’re about to be important.

Skippables?

…Nope, can’t think of one. I don’t love Midnight, but I can’t advise skipping it. I mean for what it is, which is an incredibly tense bottle episode, it’s really well done. And The Sontaran Stratagem is a lot of build-up to the more engaging The Poison Sky, but is a “Previously on” segment really enough?

And Turn Left is the return of Rose and features Wilf. You probably shouldn’t skip that.

Parting Thoughts

Notable Guest Stars: 

  • Most important is Fires of Pompeii, which features both a future Doctor and a future companion. Peter Capaldi, at the time of writing about to end his reign as Twelve, appears as a marble merchant whose family becomes key to The Doctor and Donna’s investigations. Karen Gillan, future Guardian of the Galaxy and Jumanji victim, back then less than two years away from getting her own Tardis key, has a less significant role as a local prophet/priestess. There’s no callback to this for Gillan, probably because the makeup and accent disguise her more than, say, Freema Agyeman playing Martha Jones’ weirdly identical cousin the year before Martha was introduced, but the Twelfth Doctor looking exactly like some guy an earlier self met in Pompeii eventually gets an explanation.
  • Academy Award Nominee and Rogue One platoon leader Felicity Jones turns up as a guest at the party in The Unicorn and the Wasp.
  • In addition to Kylie Minogue, the crew of the Starship Titanic includes Being Human’s and apparently Quantico’s Russell Tovey and British actor of note Geoffrey Palmer.
  • I mostly just know Colin Salmon as Oliver Queen’s stepdad from the first season of Arrow, but apparently he’s a big enough deal to have played himself in Master of None. Anyway, he’s in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. As is Westworld hostess Talulah Riley.
  • Midnight features David Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor. He’s not famous, but that’s neat.

Game of Thrones Guest Stars: Joe Dempsie, who GoT fans know as Baratheon bastard Gendry, turns up in The Doctor’s Daughter. And Tim McInnerny, who has been popping up lately in Winterfell as one of the crankier northern lords, but who I still remember as Percy/Captain Darling on Blackadder, is the would-be owner of the Ood in Planet of the Ood. If you claim to own a species, try not to meet The Doctor. It won’t go great.

Jenny in The Doctor’s Daughter is played by Georgia Moffett, the daughter of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison. And apparently she and Tennant hit it off on set, because they got married and had a daughter (possibly in that order). So The Doctor’s Daughter is played by The Doctor’s daughter, who married The Doctor and gave birth to The Doctor’s daughter. Only on this show.

Martha’s engaged to that doctor she met in the third series finale’s alternate timeline. Guess she looked him up after all. Won’t last, though. Their careers don’t match and he’s Lucifer.

After enduring Jackie Tyler’s pestering and Wossname Jones’ bitter paranoia, The Doctor lands a solid burn against Sylvia Noble’s constant belittling of Donna towards the end.

UNIT is back in a big way, though they suffer heavy losses against the Sontarans and the Daleks, and lose their flagship The Valiant. No more CG helicarriers for you, UNIT. Also, they reference The Doctor’s old pal and UNIT’s commander, Brigadier General Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Sadly he never made an appearance on the reboot.

Doctor Quote of the Year: Ten finally gets to say “Alons-y, Alonso!” but also mixes it up with the odd “Molto bene!” And everybody seems to take a turn saying “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Historical Guest Star of the Year: Agatha Christie solving a parlour mystery.

Saddest Moment: First time through, it’s got to be What Happens to Donna. But if you rewatch, if you know where things are going, if new characters have become old friends… then it’s in the Library. “All the time we’ve been together, you knew I was coming here.”

Next time… Russell T. Davies and David Tennant take a goodbye tour as the show mostly takes 2009 off.

Overthinking Doctor Who 3: On the Rebound

There’s a new Doctor on the horizon. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.

Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.

These are mine.

It’s Christmas!

I didn’t overly care for The Runaway Bride first I saw it. Not sure why, because it is delightful.

At the end of Doomsday, in the closing seconds after the tear-stained farewell between Rose and Ten, The Doctor turns to see a bride (the wonderful Catherine Tate) has appeared in the Tardis and is angrily demanding to know where she is and how she got there, to which he can only stammer “What?” over and over. It’s pretty funny.

The Christmas Invasion was a key part of series two, introducing plot threads (Torchwood) and the new Doctor. Hope you didn’t count on that being a regular thing, though, because it won’t happen again for a while. Okay, sure, The Runaway Bride introduces a companion, Donna Noble, but not this year’s companion.

The Runaway Bride is a break from the tragedy of Doomsday, some simple screwball comedy (and world-threatening menace) that showcases delightful comic chemistry between Catherine Tate and David Tennant (his reaction to repeatedly being called “Martian” is simple yet hilarious).

And in the end, while Donna chooses not to run off with The Doctor today, she does remind him of something important… Rose or no Rose, he needs someone. He shouldn’t be alone.

Luckily…

Series Three: “Time Lord… You are not alone.”

At the beginning of series three, The Doctor has never felt more alone. When the trauma of burning Gallifrey was still fresh, he had Rose. In series three, she’s gone, stranded somewhere he can never go, and the happy-go-lucky best pal Doctor of series two is hollowed out as a result.

So when the Face of Boe tells him he might not be alone in the universe after all, it’s a beacon of hope he can’t quite bring himself to face.

Series three is all about reminding us that The Doctor is a big, mythic character. That for all of his attempts to seem down-to-Earth-or-equivalent, he’s so much more. “He’s ice and fire and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”

By the time the resolution of the finale hinges on everyone on Earth thinking about The Doctor until it gives him godlike powers, it’s like “Okay, we get it, he’s cool. He’s so very cool. We’re on board, already, we watch the show.”

Yeah, on that… I’m going to need everyone who thinks Steven Moffat is bad about deus ex machina to rewatch Last of the Time Lords and then explain yourselves. I’m not saying Moffat doesn’t occasionally make up some freaky time travel things to resolve a plot, but the deus ex machina finale nonsense Davies pulled makes Moffat era finales look like Law and Order.

Really sensible and logical. Was that not clear? I feel that was clear.

The Doctor

Weird to take such a positive, energetic take on The Doctor and then suck all of that out of him for a whole year. Okay, that was unfair, it’s all still there in most episodes (but definitely not all), but The Doctor is defined by grief this year. His heartbreak over losing Rose haunts everything he does, from his reluctance to take on a new companion to one of the reasons why his new companion Martha voluntarily takes her leave from the Tardis, something that almost never happens, and certainly hasn’t happened to a companion since.

Well, mostly not.

How alienated is The Doctor? When he turns himself into a human (something I’ll be discussing later, and not in a flattering way), he gives Martha a series of instructions on what to do if things go wrong. He does not even think to include “What to do in case I fall in love with someone,” a fact that fake-human-Doctor John Smith finds horrifying.

The Doctor needs a kick in the ass, is what he needs, but he won’t really get one until next year. And he won’t get one that takes for three.

The Companion

Martha Jones, would-be doctor, would-be Doctor’s girlfriend, and the first ever Companion of Colour.

Poor, poor Martha Jones.

A med student prepping for her final exams, Martha gets swept up with The Doctor when her hospital (St. Thomas’, a pretty swank hospital to be across the Thames from Parliament, frankly, so she must be fairly damn clever). She doesn’t even get to be a full, proper companion until the halfway point of the series. Until then, it’s The Doctor offering her one adventure into the past, then okay we may as well do one into the future, alright that was a rough one, one more into New York…”

The first seven episodes all happen in a row, over a few days, with minimal time jumps (like, cut from night to the next morning is probably the biggest), and that’s all the time it takes for Martha to fall for The Doctor. In fact it’s happened well before the first “Some amount of time and adventures later” cut. She’s completely smitten by the time she asks, no, demands that this stop being a temporary arrangement at the end of The Lazarus Experiment. However… it’s already begun to be clear that he doesn’t really see her, because he’s still hung up on Rose.

And that never gets better, and that’s agonizing for Martha. Eventually it’s part of what makes her choose staying with her family rather than travelling on with The Doctor. He’ll never see her the way she sees him, and while she’s confident they’ll meet again (rightly so, after a guest stint on Torchwood series two she pops back for a couple of visits next year), she needs to get away from him to figure out a life for herself.

There are a lot of implied Doctor/Martha adventures between 42, the last “We pick up where we left off” adventure, and Utopia, the beginning of the three-part finale arc, and good for her. I hope there were a lot of adventures that happened between episodes, because otherwise her time in the Tardis would be a downer. Two trips to the past, two to the future, two adventures at home, nearly dying in five of those, and then stuck in one place for months. Twice. Human Nature/Family of Blood sees the pair spend months in 1913, an incredibly sucky time/place for a black woman at the best of times, where future doctor Martha Jones has to work as a scullery maid. That would be a rough gig even if she didn’t need to watch The Doctor fall in love with someone else. And then right after that is Blink, where The Doctor and Martha get stuck in 1969 (which again is not the friendliest time towards black women, like all of recorded Earth history up to and at least somewhat beyond the present day) and she has to take a job in a shop so that she and The Doctor can afford food and shelter.

You are an indescribable genius with natural charm, Doctor. Get. A. Job.

But she does mention having watched the moon landing four times. Which means she’s had some good times with The Doctor that might not even have been life-threatening. It also means she’s probably killed a few Silents by now.

We’ll get to that. Later.

Harry Saxton

Beginning in Smith and Jones, our premiere, the name “Harry Saxon” begins flying around. But it’s slightly more than “Bad Wolf” and “Torchwood,” because that Harry Saxton is up to something. He’s an MP on the rise, riding anti-alien-weirdness sentiment and an odd, indefinable charisma into the void left at Downing Street when The Doctor arranged for the fall of Harriet Jones.

Now… it would be easy to say “Hey Doctor, I know you were mad at how the Sycorax thing played out, but maybe you shouldn’t ought to have done that to Harriet, because look what happened” given what her replacement will do. But that’s unfair. If she’d still been in office when Saxon began his play, she’d have just been one more obstacle to be removed. And if the goddamn Slitheen didn’t let an existing Prime Minister stop them from seizing control of British government, then Harriet Jones couldn’t have slowed down Harry Saxon.

As to who Harry Saxon is, why he’s so interested in The Doctor as to weaponize Martha’s family against him… the answers to this 21st century mystery are, improbably, waiting at the very end of the universe, with a well-meaning old man named Professor Yana.

Who seems to find the words “Tardis,” “regeneration,” and “time vortex” reeeeeeaaaaally familiar somehow.

The Supporting Cast

Martha has more than just a mother, she has a whole family, all of which seem to count on her to be the voice of reason in familial disputes. But while her brother, sister, and father are simply tethers to Earth, her mother… well, she’s a Russell T. Davies era companion mother, and also the worst Russell T. Davies companion mother. She’s bitter, hostile, and paranoid. She decides, within minutes of meeting him, that she doesn’t care for this Doctor guy her daughter’s taken an interest in, and her ugly, angry, overprotective nature makes her all too willing to sell out The Doctor to Harry Saxton.

The one and only thing I like about Martha’s mother is that she gets a nice, long time to know that that was the single worst decision she could have made, and given Martha’s life choices from here, her opinion about what Martha should do with her life clearly carries no weight from then on.

“I don’t like this new job of yours, Martha–”
“Hey, remember when you tried to sell out the planet, the whole planet, because you had a ‘bad feeling’ about a guy I brought to a party?”
“…Right.”

“I don’t know about this man you’re seeing–”
“You know who you did like? Harry Saxon. You liked him plenty.

No, no, don’t talk to me about hypnotic signals affecting all of the UK, I know about those, but they didn’t work on Martha’s father, so I’m not letting that harsh old woman off the hook.

But hey, Captain Jack’s back for the last three episodes! Yay! And they explain A) what happened when Rose resurrected him at the end of series one and why he got left behind (for Who fans), and B) why he can no longer die (for Torchwood fans).

The Monsters

The Big Bad: What if you were the last of your kind? Alone in the universe, no matter how many other people you find and befriend. But what if there were just one more? One more person like you?

And what if that one person were the worst possible choice?

Ladies and gentlemen, readers of all ages, the first and greatest of The Doctor’s Time Lord nemeses, The Master.

Introduced as a foil for Third Doctor John Pertwee, the would-be-conqueror Time Lord has battled Doctors across the decades, and made his first reboot appearance in series three. All of The Doctor’s cleverness with none of his conscience, The Master is never an opponent to take lightly. Even back in the 90s when he was briefly Eric Roberts.

The Master takes on new meaning in the Davies era, because The Doctor’s nemesis is now also the only other living Time Lord. An old friend that is The Doctor’s only living link to his people and his past, but who is determined to destroy him. Whether he beats The Master or not, The Doctor still loses.

This Year in Daleks: The Cult of Skaro, those four Daleks designed to explore new ideas, take over the construction of the Empire State Building to further their most radical and un-Daleky experiment yet. It… doesn’t go great for them.

The Good: The Carrionites, aliens who look like witches and speak in iambic pentameter. Series one had ghosts who were actually aliens, series two had a werewolf that was actually an alien, now these ladies. And if you were wondering, eventually there’ll be vampires that are aliens and a mummy that’s… I forget the mummy’s deal. We’ll get to him.

The Weeping Angels, now a classic, make their first appearance this year.

As do the Judoon, rhino-faced freelance police officers with a somewhat forceful approach.

The Bad: I don’t love The Family of Blood.

The Ugly: They did not have the technology to animate a scorpion monster with a human face in The Lazarus Experiment. That was some Mummy Returns-bad CGI.

High Point

I know what you think I’m going to say and I’ll get to it, but first…

The Shakespeare Code is clever beyond measure, and it involves William Shakespeare repelling an alien invasion by freestyling iambic pentameter, which ends in a Harry Potter spell.

I don’t know what else I need to say.

Low Point

Human Nature and The Family of Blood have a couple of points of merit, I guess, but… to escape the body-stealing hunters The Family of Blood, The Doctor transforms himself into an average human: an instructor at a private school in 1913. His memories replaced, lost in the illusion of being teacher John Smith, he and Martha are essentially trapped in immediately-pre-WWI England, which again is just a bummer of a time for Martha to be stuck in (man but it sucks to be Martha).

This “Time Lord hiding out as a human” thing is vitally important to the Harry Saxon arc, but… I dislike these episodes for the same reason I dislike episodes of The Flash where Barry doesn’t have his speed: watching the hero not be the hero isn’t any fun. It might be a little interesting to watch The Doctor being human for a bit but he’s lacking as a protagonist.

And it doesn’t help that the hyper-obnoxious Family of Blood cried out for a swift and brutal defeat like nobody since the goddamn Slitheen (they aren’t Slitheen bad, nobody is). Realizing that this story was going to continue for another week was one of the most crushing moments I’ve had watching this show. Why did Russell T. Davies give the worst villains two parters.

That said when they do get theirs, it’s pretty satisfying.

Highlights?

Any fans reading are mystified that I didn’t name Blink as the highlight of the year. Like Love & Monstersit’s a Doctor-light episode, with The Doctor and Martha barely appearing and a new character driving the action. Unlike Love & Monsters, it’s brilliant. It introduces a new and swiftly iconic villain in the Weeping Angels, is the first appearance of the phrase “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey,” it sells a completely new and utterly one-time protagonist in Sally Sparrow, it juggles horror, humour, and heartache, and has a really neat conceit, as Sally must unravel messages from The Doctor from almost forty years in the past to defeat the Angels. It’s just… it’s weird to call an episode that barely features the title character the best of the year. Shakespeare Code did a lot of that and also The Doctor is, you know, in it.

Other highlights… Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks is a solid double feature. The Lazarus Experiment is worth it just for why and how The Doctor sticks around after saying his good-byes to Martha.

Skippables?

Nope, sorry, much as I dislike the villains and the lack of Doctor, Human Nature and Family of Blood are absolutely indispensable to the year’s arc, and really let David Tennant act his heart out in the second half.

Parting Thoughts

Notable Guest Stars: 

  • John Simm might be a big deal in the UK but I only know him from this and the British version of Life on Mars. Maybe he’s more familiar to you, I don’t know. Anyway.
  • Two Academy Award nominees this year. Star of The Social Network and history’s worst Spider-Man movies Andrew Garfield tests out the southern drawl that got him an Oscar nomination for Hacksaw Ridge in Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks.
  • Meanwhile, Carey Mulligan takes centre stage as Sally Sparrow in Blink.
  • Mark Gatiss, occasional Who writer, co-creator of Sherlock, where he also plays Mycroft Holmes, makes his first of two appearances– well, three including an uncredited voice-over– in The Lazarus Experiment.
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I know from… things, and will be in Wrinkle in Time soon, is Martha’s sister.
  • Pip Torrens, currently playing Herr Starr on Preacher, is John Smith’s headmaster in Human Nature/Family of Blood. 
  • In Last of the Time Lords, Martha Jones teams up with a resistance soldier (a doctor, in fact) played by Lucifer’s Tom Ellis.
  • And Jessica Hynes, co-creator and co-star of Spaced with Simon Pegg, is the 1913 school nurse who tempts John Smith with a simple and good human life.

Game of Thrones Guest Stars: There’s enough overlap over the years to require a second category. Human Nature/Family of Blood features two: Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen) is the most notable member of the Family of Blood, Son of Mine, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen Reed) is a slightly psychic student who’s key to resolving (albeit prolonging) the whole mess.

Wow. Lots of neat guest stars this year. Probably a record.

Christopher Eccleston got the first stab at telling the audience (via Rose) that Gallifrey and the Time Lords were gone. But, for all of his strengths as an actor, based partly on what he was given he couldn’t sell that profound loss like David Tennant did in Gridlock, finally telling Martha what happened to his world, and allowing the grief over its loss to trickle out.

This season got a new theme for The Doctor, which next series became the theme for Martha: The Doctor Forever. Does that not say everything about Martha Jones. Doesn’t even get her own theme, just has to ride shotgun on The Doctor’s.

Future showrunner Chris Chibnall writes his first episode: the real-time disaster adventure 42. I mean the story revolves around a disaster, not that the episode is a disaster. Actually it’s pretty decent.

Doctor Quote of the Year: It made its debut last season, but it’s back to stay: “Allons-y!” Although “I’m sorry” is still a frequent flier.

Historical Guest Star of the Year: William freaking Shakespeare. Maybe I named Madame de Pompadour as the best one too soon. Yep, yep, I surely did.

Saddest moment: “I have until the rain stops.”
(Honourable mentions: David Tennant can make you sad when a monster dies, and he does in the finale. Also, in Family of Blood, The Doctor’s human identity John Smith must die so that The Doctor can return, and he doesn’t love that idea. But I was so ready for that to happen by then that it didn’t bother me much.)

Next time… Russell T. Davies ends his last full series as showrunner with a bang, I tell you what.

Overthinking Doctor Who Part Two: Enter Ten

There’s a new Doctor on the horizon. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.

Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.

These are mine.

It’s Christmas!

Between series one and two begins a beloved annual tradition, the Doctor Who Christmas special. David Tennant, briefly glimpsed in the traditional post-regeneration new-guy cameo, makes his proper debut in the closing act of The Christmas Invasion. Before that… well…

Regenerating from absorbing the Time Vortex takes a lot out of The Doctor, and he ends up in a coma for most of the episode. While he sleeps… stalked by robot Santas and Christmas trees… aliens invade, compelling a large chunk of the human race to walk up onto the roof. With The Doctor out of commission, it’s up to Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (told you she’d be back) to face down the invaders.

No, I didn’t say “Harriet Jones and Rose Tyler.” Sure, she’s still here, but she is goddamned useless. If she hadn’t almost wiped out the Earth through her daddy issues, this would definitely be Rose Tyler at her worst. Like half an hour of ugly crying and one pathetic attempt to stand up to the invading Sycorax, and then The Doctor strolls out in his jim-jams and sorts everything out through an epic introductory scene. No, David Tennant doesn’t stroll out, he struts out. He owns every frame of his screentime, and shows off everything that’s amazing about Ten.

This is the only time a Christmas special has ever been used as an intro episode for a new Doctor. Mostly it goes the other way, with three Doctors so far using Christmas (or a combination of Christmas and New Year’s) for their swan songs.

Series Two: “The Doctor, in the Tardis, with Rose Tyler. Just as it should be.”

…Or should it?

As Doctor Who tribute band Chameleon Circuit  put it…

“Because my life before you was unreasonably mundane
Never been happier although we face death every day,
I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

See… supporting cast are often quick to point out the dangers of life with The Doctor. Unreasonably high risk of Dalek-murder, proven risk of Cyberman-related death, and the fact that wanting to impress The Doctor makes people all-too-willing to throw themselves into all of that danger. But what doesn’t get brought up enough is that life in the Tardis is a drug. Life back home can never, ever compete to exploring all of time and space with the most remarkable man (soon to be woman) you’ll ever meet.

And that’s where we find Rose. We’d seen, more than once, that Rose was choosing Tardis life over home life, and given how Jackie and Mickey made it look, who on Earth could blame her. But it gets worse this season. Pay attention and you’ll see it. The very idea of leaving The Doctor seems toxic to Rose. She would stay on a collapsing space station rather than leave it without him. She would abandon her mother on an alternate Earth rather than leave The Doctor’s side. Earth life is losing all meaning as she loses herself in The Doctor.

It’s not just the time travel and other worlds anymore. The Doctor and Rose Tyler are falling in love, which was unprecedented for any incarnation of this show. Even Romana, the only Time Lord companion who wasn’t a blood relation, was a student and not a girlfriend. They might not be able to say the words until it’s too late (or a second past that), but it’s happening. It’s clear. And it’s not heading to a happy place.

He tries to warn her it can only end sadly. “You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of my life with you.” But she only cares about that first half, even if her mother fears that everything that was Rose Tyler is being hollowed out by the experience. Not that Jackie’s opinion on the subject had ever been trustworthy, but… she doesn’t seem to be entirely wrong. Rose is only alive when she’s near The Doctor, and that’s not healthy.

The Doctor

“Look at these people, these human beings. Consider their potential! From the day they arrive on the planet, blinking, step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than – no, hold on. Sorry, that’s The Lion King…”

Tennant’s Doctor is a tour de force. His edge has softened since Nine, but it’s not gone. Never gone. But when Ten’s charming and personable, it’s not covering pain. He authentically loves (nearly) everyone, bonds easily, and never forgets a face, even if it was someone he only met briefly who’s aged a couple of decades. Chat with Ten for a few minutes and he’ll be your new best friend. But cross him and you’ll live in fear.

He’s filled with love and compassion, but do. Not. Cross. Him. Tennant goes from gleeful to burning rage on a dime, and the fury of this Time Lord is not to be trifled with. His smile could melt ice, but his rage burns like the sun.

He’s brilliant at speeches. He turns a phrase like nobody’s business (Just watch his fascination with a “big, red button that must never be pressed”). He’s possibly the most lovable Doctor since Tom Baker. I think. I have seen practically no Peter Davison episodes, so I’m kind of guessing on that front.

If you can’t love the Tenth Doctor, you can’t love Doctor Who, and if that’s the case… in his words, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

The Companion

Rose is in love. Deeply, passionately, the type of love that they’d write novels about in the 19th century. Tragic novels. Novels about houses brought to ruin by doomed romance. Her love for The Doctor plays out more like addiction than true love. In most cases, left without The Doctor, she collapses.

There are exceptions. Fear Her, most notably, where The Doctor is taken out of commission and Rose has to finish saving the Earth. Which, with help from the sidelined Doctor, she manages to do. But this is driven more by a need to get him back than a desire to help out anyone else. And when the monster is stopped, it takes a lot for her to care about anything but where The Doctor is.

And her daddy issues are ongoing and rampant. Upon accidentally landing on a parallel Earth where her father never died (or had kids), despite every protest The Doctor lodges, she is drawn to her alt-father like iron to a magnet. This might technically result in The Doctor saving everyone on Earth-2 faster than he might otherwise have, but it doesn’t quite excuse how she cannot wrap her head around “alternate Earth, these are not your parents.”

And she accidentally protects the ultimate evil a little in The Satan Pit but that’s largely excusable.

Rose spends series two insisting that she’ll stay with The Doctor forever, no matter how many red flags ex-companions, her mother, and possibly-Satan throw her way suggesting that she might be wrong about that.

Torchwood

This year’s Bad Wolf is Torchwood, briefly mentioned in the episode Bad Wolf. In the second episode, Tooth and Claw, Queen Victoria, angered over her run-in with aliens and their nonsense, founds the Torchwood Institute to deal with alien menaces.

And then they get mentioned once per episode until taking centre stage for the two-part finale.

It’s kind of weak, really. They don’t add anything to series two. The finale could have been centered around anyone… Earth-1’s Cyberdyne Industries, Harry Van Statten’s people, anyone. That it happened to be a clandestine government agency stealing alien tech to advance Britain is just sort of… there.

All it really does is pave the way for Captain Jack Harkness’ spinoff, as Jack takes control of what’s left of Torchwood following the finale.

The Supporting Cast

Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith improved this year. Jackie didn’t get less demanding, but did begin to shift away from being a personification of the mundane life Rose seeks to escape and towards the real life Rose is throwing away to run from disaster to disaster, monster to monster. Jackie’s concerns about Rose’s safety stop being over-protectiveness (although… not that “over,” all things considered) and start being a legitimate concern about her state of mind.

And Mickey grows tired of being the one left behind. He steps up, joins Team Tardis for a spell, and then charts his own path as a defender of the Earth.

Pete Tyler is a bigger part of the show this year… well, Pete Tyler, because of course he does, because the only thing that drives Rose more than loving The Doctor is her literally world-shattering daddy issues.

The Monsters

The Big Bad: Welcome back The Doctor’s number three classic villain, the Cybermen.

Upgrade or be deleted. You pick.

Only now, in a world with actual production values, they’re more horrifying metal monsters instead of people in flimsy looking silver jumpsuits. The Cybermen come into being on an alternate Earth, but eventually find their way to Earth-1. And even if they didn’t, a much later episode claims that the Cybermen happen, always. Wherever man considers upgrading himself with cybernetics, a time will come when emotions will be considered a weakness, and Cybermen will come into being. And from there, they’ll decide everyone should be Cybermen.

This Year in Daleks: What, you thought Rose wiping out all of the Daleks meant no more Daleks? Please. The Daleks come back from utter extinction no less than four times. This year, we meet the Cult of Skaro: Daleks Sec, Jast, Caan, and Thay.

Sec’s gon’ give it to ya

Tasked by Dalek high command during the Time War to experiment with that so un-Dalek notion, creativity, they were the first (and only) Daleks to adopt names, and escaped the end of the Time War by hiding in the void between universes. Not a fun choice for them, all told. They also experimented with something much more important… smack talk. Dalek/Cybermen trash talk is something beautiful to behold. Not that fans didn’t experiment with some improvements.

The Good: The Krillitane might be a little cheesy in their CG bat form, but in their evil teacher/Anthony Head form they work well. As do the clockwork robots of The Girl in the Fireplace. Cassandra the Last Human makes a body-hopping return appearance, only not to end up the villain of the episode.

The Bad: Enjoy watching spoiled brats have a tantrum? No? Then Fear Her might be a rough ride. Also… she mostly works, but I do find the face-eating television lady from The Idiot Lantern a little smug and grating at times.

The Ugly: Look… I’m not saying that Doctor Who shouldn’t work with the Children in Need charity… but the Abzorbaloff is what happens when you ask children to design monsters and promise to put the winner on television.

Yeah. Not… not great.

Could they afford a CG werewolf stalking Queen Victoria through a Scottish manor? No. Should they not have had a werewolf, aided by kung fu monks, stalking Queen Victoria through a Scottish manor? Hell no, that was awesome.

High Point

It’s hard to pick. There are two amazing episodes near the beginning, and it’s impossible to choose which is the real highlight. They aren’t a two-parter, but they are back-to-back.

School Reunion sees The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey investigating bizarre behaviour at a school… bizarre behaviour that has also attracted the attention of Sarah Jane Smith, companion to the Third and Fourth Doctors, and one of the longest-running and most beloved companions of the original series. And even better? She’s brought K-9, the robot dog who The Doctor adopted for much of the 70s.

This was huge for me, since Sarah Jane and K-9 were right out of my childhood. My earliest Who episodes were Tom Baker and Sarah Jane, and K-9 becoming a part of the Tardis crew was the greatest non-Jedi and non-Ghostbuster thing tiny me had ever seen. So having them back was brilliant. Sarah Jane seeing the Tardis for the first time in decades, K-9 back in action, and Rose seeing the first thing that’s truly scared her since she started travelling in the Tardis… the possibility that she could be left behind one day. And it doesn’t hurt that the episode is very well done, features a pivotal character beat for Mickey, has a great villain played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Head, and one of the more simply chilling moments for Ten’s dark side. “I used to have so much mercy. One warning. That’s all you get.” This would easily have been the highlight of the year.

But then it’s followed by The Girl in the Fireplace, which is just amazing. Ten, Rose, and on his first proper Tardis voyage ever, Mickey find a spaceship run by clockwork robots and stalking a French noblewoman 3000 years in the past throughout her whole life. Yes, it’s the Moffat episode, and it’s brilliant. Hilarious in places, heartbreaking in others, one of their best historical guest stars in Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis and the uncrowned Queen of France, plenty of callback lines to his last episodes and a few lines that will be called back to in a few years. It’s a genius piece of storytelling that has one of my all-time favourite exchanges:

“It’s a spacio-temporal hyperlink.”
“What’s that?”
“No idea. Made it up. Didn’t want to say ‘Magic door.'”

And this great deleted scene.

I can’t say enough good things about The Girl in the Fireplace, so I’ll stop trying.

Low Point

I always thought it would be Love & Monsters, the first Doctor-light episode, with The Doctor and Rose barely appearing. I mean any episode with more Jackie Tyler than The Doctor can’t be all that great, can it?

But no, it’s Fear Her.

In Fear Her, a trip to 2012 to check out the London Olympics brings The Doctor and Rose into conflict with an alien being that has possessed a young girl, Chloe Webber. Chloe was traumatized by her (now dead) abusive father, and the alien comes from a race that telepathically clings to each other to endure their journeys through space. Now it’s been cut off, lacking connection to billions of friends and family, and is attempting to fight its loneliness by trapping nearby people in drawings.

This is… an annoying monster. Not horrible like the Slitheen, but just annoying. There’s an element of sympathy here, because she’s going crazy from solitude. But her method of dealing with it is inflicting real damage on people. The Doctor and Rose clash on this, correctly identifying it as a child throwing a tantrum. Rose favours discipline, The Doctor empathy… he thinks the only humane response is to find a way to get her back to her people. Once she’s reconnected to billions of her own kind, she won’t need to possess Chloe and lash out at the world.

But she is possessing Chloe and is lashing out at the world. She is trapping innocent people in living Hells and then getting mad at them for not liking it. And she comes alarmingly close to doing this to the entire world.

And she isn’t even sorry. I agree that we’re talking about a traumatized child, so The Doctor’s solution is the best one. Put things right rather than inflicting further harm. But the humane solution falls slightly flat when that punk-ass, whisper-talking, world-ruining psychopath child alien doesn’t even seem to understand why what she did was wrong.

Better hope she doesn’t get lost again, is all I’m saying.

It just makes for an unsatisfying episode.

Highlights?

The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit introduce everyone’s favourite tentacle-faced aliens, the Ood, and are a nicely tense two-parter. Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel are the lynchpin of series two, and allow Mickey to finally be more than the “tin dog” of Rose’s pals and gals. And Tooth and Claw features Queen Victoria, shaolin monks, and a werewolf. I have hooked people on this show with that description alone.

Skippables?

You know, I just don’t love everything in between The Satan Pit and Army of Ghosts. Huh. That turns out to only be two episodes. Love & Monsters and Fear Her. I made my feelings clear regarding Fear Her, and Love & Monsters is just a little… disposable. If you’re going to introduce a bunch of lovable losers and have them become a make-shift family only to start immediately killing them off, make it a better episode.

Parting Thoughts

Notable guest stars: I mentioned Anthony Head. Future companion and Sense8’s Best Girlfriend Ever, Freema Agyeman, has a brief role in Army of Ghosts, which is retconned to be her future character’s weirdly identical cousin. They don’t say “weirdly identical,” that’s me, because I have seven cousins and none of us look that similar to each other. Sophia Myles is the titular Girl in the Fireplace, but maybe only I know her from stuff? You might not. Harry Potter’s Moaning Myrtle is a member of LINDA in Love & Monsters.

The Face of Boe is back, with a message for The Doctor that he isn’t quite ready to deliver. In The Doctor’s words… “That is enigmatic. That is textbook enigmatic.”

Doctor Quote of the Year: “Brilliant!” followed closely by “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” But his signature line debuts in the second to last episode.

Historical Guest Star of the Year: As mentioned, we double up this season with Queen Victoria and Madame de Pompadour.

Saddest moment: “I suppose, if it’s my last chance to say it… Rose Tyler–”

Next time, The Doctor’s on the rebound with the first Companion of Colour.

Overthinking Doctor Who Part One: Back from the Dead

Look, if I can spend eleven posts talking about The Office, I can probably manage a few about Doctor Who.

Anyone who knows me… or takes even one look around my living room… knows how much I love Doctor Who. Always have, as far back as I can remember. There’s a new Doctor on the horizon. The first female Doctor. This has some people wondering if it’s time to try out this show I love so much.

Well, that’s what I’m here for. Because when you love a show as much as I love Doctor Who, you have opinions.

These are mine.

Series One: “I’m The Doctor, by the way, what’s your name?”

Series one (“series” is British for “season,” and the way their TV shows work, a more apt description) was a miracle. A gift. Doctor Who had been off televisions, more or less, for almost twenty years. The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace had wandered off, and that was it. Save for radio dramas. And the infamous American TV movie, an attempt to launch an American Doctor Who series… on Fox.

That feels like a bad match, network-wise, but in the dark years before Netflix and Amazon Prime it’s hard to think of a network that would be better.

And the weird thing is, as much as we disliked it at the time… enough that I’ve owned it on DVD for years, but still haven’t actually watched it since 1996… it actually serves as a bridge between the languidly paced cliffhanger serial that was old Who, and the more action-driven series it’s become.

So the first series had a daunting job ahead of it. They had to appeal to old-school fans, but also win over a new generation. A generation who might not be used to the BBC’s bargain-basement effects. But they did a decent job. In fact, I’d say a great job.

It’s easy to look down on series one, given that every series is an improvement on the one before it* until… look, series eight had its issues, I don’t deny that. But it is fun, and it’s charming, and it does a solid job of making you love its central characters, whose largest flaw is that they get a little overshadowed by their replacements.

*In my opinion, which is the one we’re listening to here.

The Doctor

Christopher Eccleston had the job of re-introducing TV’s favourite Time Lord. And while the Tennants and Smiths to come may have overshadowed him, that’s not his fault. His material was… slightly dodgy. His Doctor, when you pay attention, is actually pretty great.

A major theme of series one isn’t entirely apparent until you look back on it years later. But the hints are there. Nine is fresh out of the unspeakable, indescribable, and most certainly unfilmable horrors of the Time War. Right before meeting Rose, he (as far as he knows) wiped out his own species, burned his own homeworld, in the desperate hopes of stopping the last great Time War before it could end all of existence.

And that’s the Doctor Eccleston plays. A man haunted by his own deeds, still grappling with the trauma of unspeakable conflict ended with an unbearable price. He’s the last of the Time Lords, and the only way he can deal with that is to grab onto a new companion and run as fast as he can from adventure to adventure.

Nine has a pretty great sense of humour, to be sure, but if you watch closely, you notice something… it’s a defense mechanism. He’s never more jovial than when he’s covering up his own pain and sorrow. This means he’s thoroughly pleasant when he meets Rose, but that’s mostly because he’s freshly regenerated from his Time War self, as we can surmise from him apparently seeing his face for the first time in his second scene.

He’s also got a temper, and is swift to turn on any humans who let him down or seem to be serving a greater evil. When someone helping run a series of game shows that slaughter their contestants states they’re only doing their job, she gets a swift and cold “And with that sentence you’ve lost the right to talk to me.” On the other hand, show promise and he warms up to you. And in Dalek, he begins to shake the trauma of the Time War. He begins to heal, to walk the path away from destruction and towards becoming the everyone’s-best-pal Doctors that are Ten and Eleven.

This progression builds to a head in the season finale, when he finds himself confronted with the same choice that ended the Time War: burn a planet, kill billions of innocents, to end the Daleks. And his choice, in that moment, sums up Nine’s 13 episode journey. The Daleks ask… is he a coward, or a murderer?

“A coward,” he says, abandoning his plan. “Every time.”

Anti-Moffat fans are known to say “Never skip Nine,” out of respect for what Eccleston accomplished. On this, and this alone, we agree. As to Eleven going back on what Nine said, they can get stuffed. But that’s a future discussion.

The Companion

Unpopular opinion coming… Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) is the worst contemporary companion. Fight me.

She has her strengths, sure. She is, in her way, exactly what the PST-ridden Ninth Doctor needs. An innocent, filled with curiosity, wonder, and unshakable goodness. She pushes Nine to be a better man by refusing to accept he could be anything else. The Doctor refuses to burn the Earth to stop the Daleks because of Rose’s influence. A classic trope: the companion saves The Doctor so that The Doctor can save everyone. She’s also not without her moments of intuition.

That said.

She is not, when you get down to it, all that useful. For every monster she plays a key role in defeating, there’s a situation she makes actively worse, or an episode where she just collapses into a weepy mess. Mostly she’s there to coo over The Doctor while he saves the day, and improbably believes she represents her species at their best.

And then there’s her daddy issues.

She’s so obsessed with the father who died when she was a baby, she tears a hole in the fabric of time and nearly dooms the entire Earth. Say what you like about Clara Oswald, she never almost wiped out humanity because she was selfish and stupid about history.

Bad Wolf

Russell T. Davies, the man who brought Doctor Who back to television, didn’t really do season arcs. What he would do is have some sort of recurring reference that would finally pay off in the last two episodes of the series. In this case, it’s the words “Bad Wolf.”

The words haunt The Doctor and Rose, being spoken or appearing as text in nearly every episode, until in Boomtown they finally begin to notice and think it’s odd. Why is this happening? Frankly… it’s weird.

Turns out Rose, imbued in the finale with god-like powers by the Heart of the Tardis, planted those words everywhere she and The Doctor had been as a message to herself, that she could in fact get back to the future and save The Doctor.

Sounds… sounds kind of dodgy, doesn’t it? Well, it… mostly works. And the finale also pays off threads started in two of series one’s best episodes, Dalek and The Long Game, so there’s a sense of everything coming together.

That said… anti-Moffat people sometimes complain that Moffat relied on deus ex machina endings. In The Parting of the Ways, Rose gets godlike powers from the Tardis, uses them to magically fix all of their problems, and then The Doctor makes her all better with a kiss.

So if deus ex machinas bother you in the Moffat years, I have to ask what the Hell show you were watching up until then.

The Supporting Cast

The revival of Doctor Who introduced a new element that the classic series never really had: the idea that The Doctor’s companions have friends and family back home that they want to keep in touch with. Normally a companion would get swept up (or assigned to him by UNIT*), bounce around time and space with The Doctor, and eventually get dropped off somewhere to live their post-Tardis life (or, in one case… not). Well, except for Jon Pertwee’s main companions, who didn’t get to travel much.

But Rose Tyler has a home, and she even chooses to check in with it now and again, which allows Russell T. Davies to launch his favourite recurring theme: Everyone’s Mother is Awful.

That’s… I’m not saying that. I don’t even agree with that. My mother isn’t awful, yours probably isn’t either. But if you’re a companion to a Davies-era Doctor, you’re probably unpleasant.

(If you’re the mother of a Moffat-era companion, you’re probably dead. Neither trend is ideal.)

So. Jackie Tyler.

Rose’s overbearing mother turns up no less than six times over the first series, and she’s a nuisance in five of them. Overprotective, over talkative, and we see where Rose gets her weepiness. Jackie Tyler represents, personifies the humdrum, empty life that Rose is trying to escape. There might be real love between the Tyler women, but the one good thing she does in series one is help Rose leave again in the finale.

But we also see where Rose gets her “take no crap from man, god, or Dalek” attitude from, because if her daughter’s in danger, she’ll take no crap from a Time Lord. Which rarely accomplishes anything, and in fact at one point puts the whole world in danger, but still?

And then we have Mickey Smith. Known at times as “Mickey the Idiot,” he actually deserves a bit more respect than the show cares to give him. Mickey is Rose’s kind of useless boyfriend, who she quickly and happily abandons to see all of time and space. This… damages his life. A lot. Mickey never fully gets over Rose, but also learns that he’ll never really have a key place in her life. She’ll always run off with The Doctor, but lord save him, he’ll still come running when she calls.

Mickey is a prototype for a later, better companion. He exists to not be caught up in The Doctor’s aura, to never fall for his charms, to be the first to point out the damage he’s capable of leaving in his wake. Trouble is, he mostly just comes across as whiny and jealous. But he still has his uses. In Rose, he’s Rose Tyler’s boat anchor. By World War III, he’s learning to hack global defense agencies. But mostly he’s just here to be angry that Rose will never choose him over The Doctor.

And there’s one more of note, but we’ll get to him in a minute.

*Unified Intelligence Taskforce, the UN organization that deals with all these alien invasions and whatnot. They’ll come up again.

The Monsters: Good, Bad, and Ugly

The Big Bad: They waste little time (five episodes, to be precise) before getting to the biggest bads in Doctor Who history… the Daleks. They hang a lampshade on all the easily mockable aspects of the classic pepper pots of death… having a plunger for an arm, being seemingly unable to handle stairs… and then push past them. The plunger arm kills a guy, and with post-80s effects, making a Dalek fly is easy enough. One Dalek slaughters his way through dozens of armed guards. And then they dare you to feel empathy for the perfect killing machine.

The Good: The Editor in The Long Game is a top-notch example of a frequent type of Who villain, the human all too willing to sell out his species for power and profit. And he’s played by Simon Pegg, who’s delightful in the role. See also Dalek’s human villain, Henry van Statten.

And future showrunner Steven Moffat shows how he can create classic, creepy villains with just a few flourishes. The Empty Child’s titular villain, a small boy in a gasmask stalking the homeless children of Blitz-era London, is damned unsettling.

The Bad: The goddamn Slitheen. I’ll come back to that.

The Gelf, aliens that use gas to inhabit the bodies of the dead, aren’t really anything to write home about.

The Ugly: Man those bat/vulture aliens from Father’s Day are some bad, cheap CG. Good thing that episode’s real villain is Rose Tyler’s daddy issues.

High Point

The final five minutes of The Doctor Dances are, without question, the most beautiful five minutes of the year. One of the most beautiful sequences of the show’s first five years, frankly. And the road to that point is a fantastic two-parter.

See, Steven Moffat didn’t get asked to replace Davies as showrunner for no reason. During the Davies era, Moffat would come in, write one story per series, and it would be the best one. Or one of them, anyway. In this case, it’s The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances.

We’ve got a brilliant monster in the titular Empty Child (the phrase “Are you my Mummy?” will freak you right out), some perfect subtle scares, a heartbreaking and then heart lifting plot, and the best lines of the year. Anything The Doctor has to say about bananas is gold.

And if that’s not enough, it’s also the first appearance of John Barrowman as time-travelling con artist turned defender of mankind, Captain Jack Harkness. The omni-sexual time traveller out for redemption is a fan-favourite, and you’ll love him too. I mean, he was the first character to get a spinoff for a reason.

Low Point

The goddamn Slitheen.

Aliens of London and World War Three have their moments. Harriet Jones, MP, is a fun and ultimately important character, and this is her debut. Also, Rose’s mother finds out what exactly Rose has been up to, when an attempt to stop off at home 12 hours after they first left goes askew and they discover Rose has been presumed missing for 12 months.

However.

The A-plot to this two parter is simply insufferable. The Slitheen, a family of murderous alien criminals, seize control of the UK in an attempt to nuke the Earth and sell off the slag. All with shit-eating grins and an overwhelming amount of fart jokes. They are actively painful to watch. As a result, this two-parter is virtually irredeemable.

I hate it when the annoying villains get two-parters. That’s two episodes of Nine’s very short run they burned on this train wreck. The Slitheen got one more (admittedly improved) appearance later in the year, and then were banished to the even more kid-friendly* spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures.

*Yes, despite how obsessed adults get with this show, and despite the body count, in the UK it is still largely considered children’s programming. Go figure.

Highlights?

It’s remarkable how much the show improves the second you get away from the Slitheen. Dalek, The Long Game, those are classics by any measure.

Rose is probably still the second best introductory episode ever (my favourite is yet to come), because, well, it had to be. But those first few lines from The Doctor sold me on Nine right away, from his simple intro line (“Run!”) to actually introducing himself (“Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!”). It was a perfect, high-speed into to the central character.

Skippables?

Look, I tried this time, I really tried, to get through the whole first series without skipping anything. But I can’t. I just can’t. The Slitheen are awful. Smug, campy, farty, painful to watch. I can’t go back.

And if the early production values annoy you, or the high camp levels, there is a streamlined approach I’ve recommended in the past. Skip from The End of the World all the way to Dalek. All you’ll miss in The Unquiet Dead is the first of a seven-series long tradition of historical guest stars and a meta-joke that comes from one of the cast turning up in the Who-spinoff Torchwood a couple of years down the line.

You can skip Father’s Day if you like. I think the emotional payoff works, but it is most defintely Rose Tyler at her very worst. And if you’ve skipped Aliens of London and World War Three to avoid the goddamn Slitheen, you may as well also skip Boomtown. The Slitheen in question has improved as a villain, she has an amusing philosophical showdown with The Doctor, Captain Jack is in it, and the resolution sets up something kind of important, so it’s hardly all bad. However, it’s still a Slitheen episode, and the B plot is a relatively empty and meaningless character beat for Mickey and Rose, so it’s not all great either. If your goal is to reach the greener pastures of David Tennant’s run… well, you can always come back later.

Parting Thoughts

Notable guest stars: Not something old-school Who was known for (save for a 70s cameo by John Cleese), but new Who manages a few. Simon Pegg is the most notable in The Long Game, which also features Black Books and Green Wings Tamsin Grieg. Penelope Wilton of Shaun of the Dead and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is backbench MP Harriet Jones, who we’ll be seeing more of. And notable British actor Simon Callow is the first historical guest star, Charles Dickens, in The Unquiet Dead.

Perhaps the very best explanation for how British The Doctor is comes in the first episode:
“If you’re an alien, how come you sound like you’re from the north?”
“Lots of planets have a north!”

“Bananas are good.”

The End of the World introduces the Face of Boe. He’s gonna be important.

Rose hints at visiting other worlds, but they must all be off-camera. Series one never makes it further away from Earth than orbit.

Doctor Quote of the Series: “Fantastic!”

Saddest moment: Heartbreak is inevitable on this show, but the hardest hits come from Pete Tyler’s big sacrifice in Father’s Day and the end of Nine in The Parting of the Ways.

Next time… welcome to the Tardis, Mr. Tennant. It’s going to be brilliant.

Cross About Crossovers

That’s enough of a break from blogging, don’t you think?

Later this season, the forensic-science-based crime procedural Bones will do a crossover with Sleepy Hollow, the show in which time-displaced Ichabod Crane works with the police to battle the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and other magic-based menaces. It’s like Murder She Wrote crossing over with The X-Files. It makes no sense. But the network clearly liked the idea, so now that is a real thing that is going to happen.

And yet Supergirl is still forbidden from crossing over with fellow DC shows Flash and Arrow. Thanks, television. Way to make sense.

So with that in mind, here are some other TV crossovers that would make at least as much sense as, and I would rather see than, the impending Bones/Sleepy Hollow team-up. Hopefully they’re all as entertaining as this one (forgive the Quiznos product integration):

Resisting the urge to just slap Doctor Who into each of them.

Arrow of Interest

AOI

Arrow is about Oliver Queen’s evolution from brutal vigilante the Hood to Justice Leaguer Green Arrow as he fights to protect his city with the help of his team. Over on Person of Interest, reclusive billionaire Eric Finch (not his real name) teams with presumed-dead ex-special forces operative John Reese (probably also not his real name) to stop murders before they happen with the help of Finch’s slightly-alive supercomputer, which can predict violent crimes and feed Finch the social security number of either the victim or the perpetrator.

Yes, they’re on separate networks, but the street-level superheroics of Arrow would mesh surprisingly well with the cyber-paranoia of Person of Interest. Both combine the brutal combat skills of one (or several) team members (Oliver, Reese) with the improbable hacking skills of another (Felicity Smoak, Finch). Both have an ally they can never really trust, but not until their third seasons, so I won’t name them. So here’s how I see it going down…

On Person of Interest, Finch receives a new number: that of computer expert Felicity Smoak, visiting New York from Star City. Reese initially assumes from her awkward and dorky manner that she must be the victim, but Finch is less certain when he uncovers her connection to hacker group Brother Eye, also recently arrived in New York. Reese begins to agree when his attempts to tail Felicity lead him not only to Brother Eye’s founder, her ex-boyfriend, but also into a confrontation with Star City’s vigilante, the Arrow. However, by the end of the first hour, it becomes clear that the Arrow and Reese have a mutual enemy in Brother Eye, who are attempting to expose and revive a super-soldier program called OMAC. Over on Arrow, Felicity and Finch attack Brother Eye electronically while Oliver and Reese must deal with the awakened OMAC soldier, a combination of digitally-inserted fighting skills and chemically enhanced strength and speed, alarmingly similar to that of Oliver’s frenemy Slade Wilson. In the end, they part as… well, not friends per se, but not enemies.

If the network thing is an issue, swap out Arrow for Supergirl.

iSuperZombie

superzombie

Supernatural is about the ongoing struggles of Sam and Dean Winchester to defend the world from whatever supernatural menaces they can find. On iZombie, recently deceased surgeon Liv Moore takes a job in the city morgue in order to a) get access to the brains she needs to stay mostly human, and b) solve murders by accessing the memories and personalities of the victims through eating their brains. There’s a fair amount of brain eating, is what I’m saying.

They seem an obvious match-up, but there’s one twist… despite having an undead lead character, there’s not much supernatural about iZombie. The zombie outbreak facing Seattle (and beyond?) is believed to be caused by either a tainted batch of ecstasy-style drug Utopium, or by energy drink Max Rager. But the addition of Supernatural elements might be a neat twist, and wouldn’t be totally out of place, which is not something Bones can say.

Liv’s SPD colleague, Detective Babineaux, has a tricky case on his hands: a victim who died in inexplicable circumstances. When Liv eats his brain, she receives a vision of something horrible: a humanoid figure that is clearly not human. Liv has discovered the existence of monsters. Her partner and confidant Ravi assures her there’s no such thing as monsters (while finding an awkward yet witty way of addressing the fact that he is technically talking to a monster), but when she looks into it further, she discovers that the victim was a Hunter, a person who hunts demons, ghosts, and monsters. Like zombies. When two men claiming to be FBI agents named after classic rock band members arrive to investigate the murder, she realizes they, too, are Hunters: the Winchester brothers.

Liv uses her brain-transferred memories and personality traits to impersonate a hunter in order to help the Winchesters must find the monster. She is also torn: if she can tell the Winchesters about zombies, maybe they can help curb their growing numbers. But they might also realize that she’s one of them, and decide she has to go too. She also tries to hide the truth of the crime from Ravi, lest discovering the existence of magic deter him from his efforts to cure her condition through science. Liv has discovered a larger world she can’t tell anyone about, whereas Sam figures out the truth, but worries that Dean will see Liv as simply a monster rather than an ally.

Writes itself, people.

Modern Muppet Family

modern muppets

No, too easy. Frankly, I’d be amazed if this didn’t happen in some way or another by next year’s Emmys. Nope, moving on.

Elementary 99

Elementary 99

 

Elementary is a modern-day retelling of Sherlock Holmes set in New York. Brooklyn 99 is a workplace comedy about police detectives in Brooklyn’s 99th district.

One’s a drama, one’s a single-camera sitcom. But both have, as their central character, a spectacular egotist who defines himself by his ability to solve crimes. So this shouldn’t be hard.

Detective Jake Peralta is not having a good day. A consultant from Manhattan, Sherlock Holmes, has been called in to help with a rash of homicides. Jake refuses to acknowledge that anyone in New York can out-solve him, while Sherlock refuses to acknowledge Jake’s presence in anything but condescending tones. Captain Holt doesn’t much care for Holmes’ presence either, being largely against outside consultants, but nonetheless orders Jake to work with him, having been encouraged to do so by Manhattan’s Captain Gregson. But when the case proves tough to crack, and… Wunch? No… the Vulture? No, he doesn’t steal tough cases… the federal agents who Jake made enemies of in Windbreaker City threaten to steal the case, Jake and Sherlock must join forces to solve the crime. Also Boyle has a crush on Watson. Seems like something he’d do.

Halt and Catch Doctor

Halt Doctor

So I folded.

If you read this blog, you know what Doctor Who is. Halt and Catch Fire is a cable drama about five people in the early to mid-80s trying to stake their claim in the growing computer market: manipulative would-be visionary Joe MacMillan, married hardware engineers Gordon and Donna Clark, punk programmer protege Cameron Howe, and John Bosworth, a lifelong salesman whose life is upended by exposure to Joe but redeemed by friendship with Cameron.

One’s a high-energy science-fantasy show about a brilliant, undying space wizard and his human companion; one is about broken people hurting each other while trying to create something worthwhile, be it an IBM clone, a video game company, or an early version of the internet. These two shows have no business even touching each other. But therein lies the game.

Your average episode of Halt and Catch Fire involves the team facing as many crises to their current project as can fit inside of an hour, while finding ways to hate each other. So we’ll give them a big ol’ doomsday crisis. While trying to design a new interface for her company, Mutiny, Cameron encounters a weird rash of setbacks. Viruses, hardware failures, sudden power outages, all of which are leaving the whole staff scrambling, especially Cameron, Donna, and Clara, their new hire from England. Cameron suspects interference by Joe MacMillan (because every goddamn thing that happens to you must be Joe’s fault, right, Cameron?) or a screw-up by Gordon (historically plausible), but despite both of them having meetings with the same Scottish venture capitalist, there’s no proof they’re involved. Cameron turns on Donna, Donna turns on Gordon, Cameron and Donna both turn on Joe who delivers a great if condescending speech about their need to blame him for every problem they have, but by the time Bosworth pieces together that Clara and that venture capitalist who kept calling himself “The Doctor” were responsible, they’ve both vanished, and Cameron has to ditch the entire program in order to keep the lights on at Mutiny. Everyone scrapes by, but learns new ways to be angry at each other, because that’s Halt and Catch Fire for you. It’s better than I’m describing it.

Meanwhile, on Doctor Who, the exact same story happens, but this time it’s a screwball comedy about The Doctor and Clara trying to prevent five kinda jerky people from developing a piece of code that will eventually become part of an unstoppable Cyberman OS. It’s all fun and games until Clara realizes they’re actively crushing Cameron’s dreams of reinventing computers and how we interact with them, leading to a powerful but heartbreaking rant from The Doctor about how one woman’s dream has to be measured against countless lives, and that in the end he can’t ever really prevent the Cybermen. The Cybermen are inevitable. All he can do is try to delay them, to reduce the damage they’ll do when they finally arrive. If forcing Cameron to compromise on her vision (something reality makes her do once a year, minimum) saves even one planet from the Cybermen… don’t they have to at least try? This is the burden of the Time Lords… to know the outcomes, and the price for achieving them.

Shit. I’d watch the hell out of that one.

Next time… a weird trend in the new TV season.

Companionship

So I finally, after an uncharacteristically long period, have caught up on the eight series of Doctor Who. Which got me thinking thoughts about the Doctor, his companions, their various relationships, and why I’m drawn to some more than others. And what that says.

The early days

In the beginning (of the new series, I have not the time, inclination, or frankly knowledge to go through all of the first eight Doctors’ companions), there was Nine and Rose. The Doctor had just left the endless horrors of the Time War, had just regenerated after wiping out both his own people and the Daleks (he thinks) to end the war while some of time and space was still standing. After years of being alone, a soldier in the war, not even the Doctor as far as he was concerned, something in his new head (possibly a subconscious recollection of the events of Day of the Doctor) told him it was okay to be the Doctor again. Okay to try and connect with people once more. Okay to travel with a companion again. Rose turns to the Doctor for adventure, for a life that a a simple shopgirl could never have, and the Doctor… the Doctor heals. His rage passes. His compassion regrows. And when he’s put in a familiar position at the end of the first series… wipe out the Daleks at the expense of the population of Earth… he refuses. And not long after that, he becomes a literally new man: a warmer, kinder, faster to smile man.

It’s a good story, a solid beginning, but a hard relationship to connect with. After all, how many of us have freshly returned from a war in which we were forced to commit genocide? I haven’t. I feel most of you haven’t either. I suspect it would have made the news. Well, some of the news.

Rose and Ten? Now that’s a different story. Ten was always less cold than Nine, faster to embrace people, even in his lowest moments. And not too hard on the eyes, either. How could Rose not fall in love with the dashing superhero her companion had become? And the Doctor was starting to fall for her as well, but refusing to acknowledge it since a relationship between a 20-year-old human and a 900-year-old Time Lord is… problematic.

Again, not something I really relate to. Even if I do occasionally have feelings for someone younger (not 900 years younger, but when you’re not an ageless god a decade-and-change age gap can feel just as difficult), those feelings are rarely, if ever, returned, so the age thing doesn’t really come into play.

Rose left, breaking not just the Doctor’s heart(s), but hearts all throughout the fandom.

Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper

Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper

And in came Martha Jones to replace her. Now, the Doctor thought he was just doing what he always does when he meets someone interesting, clever, and capable (cute and female also seems to be a plus): offer to show her all of time and space, to save him from running alone.

But what he was actually doing, even if he didn’t realize it, was trying to fill the void left by Rose. Martha, despite being more clever, more useful, and never once tearing a hole in time with her daddy issues, was never more than a replacement Rose to the Doctor, and as she fell in love with him, she was forced to admit that was no way to live, and that she had to move on.

More relatable, sure. Not necessarily to me… well, okay, sure, even I’ve been oblivious to someone else having feelings for me, so I get the Doctor’s side there…

Donna Noble just wanted a greater life than she’d come to expect she was capable of living. She wanted to wander the stars with the Doctor forever, just as friends. Strictly friends. She may well be the best of the Tennant companions, and certainly has the most heartbreaking conclusion, and, yeah, I’ve had friendships with women where we spent an odd amount of time assuring people we weren’t a couple, but where I really began to feel drawn to the Doctor/Companion relationship was…

Amy Pond

The dawn of the Moffat/Matt Smith era had my attention by making the new companion a cute Scottish redhead in a miniskirt, I’ll admit that. But here’s what Amy and Eleven is to me.

Amy Pond was the first face the Eleventh Doctor saw. The first person he met after a prolonged period of self-isolation. Sure, Ten still had his way with people, but he refused to take on companions. All the losses he’d faced, including losing Donna and Rose (again) in one day, were too much. He couldn’t take it anymore. The Doctor who loved and embraced people more than most couldn’t stand to be around them long term. But Amy came to him right as he regenerated into a new man, a man who shared Ten’s love of common people but not always his charm.

Eleven’s more awkward, as we see in his stubborn belief that bow ties and fezzes are cool. And despite being played by the youngest actor ever to take the role, more than most he carried the full weight of his nine (later twelve) centuries of life. An old soul with a young face.

The Doctor and Amy aren’t in love. Amy might be a little hot for him in the beginning, something the Doctor (rightfully) suspects has more to do with an all-too-real reaction to intense and dangerous circumstances–see, the brain releases dopamine, which is also involved in infatuation, and–anyway. Amy loves the Doctor, sure, but she’s in love with Rory. Much as the Doctor is actually falling for River Song rather than Amy. But just because they’re not in love doesn’t make what they have less special. Amy’s not the woman the Doctor loves, or at least not the woman he marries, but she’s important. For centuries, she’s the most important person in his life, the person he can never stop running to.

Why wouldn’t I fall for that relationship? This was 2010/2011. In 2010 and 2011, I was as close as I’d ever been to… well, her. Younger, like Amy. Someone I cared for dearly, like Amy. But not someone I was likely to ever be able to date. But we were close all the same. Very close, those years.

So why wouldn’t I connect to this era? To the Doctor whose charms were muted by an awkward nerdinesss, who was great with a speech but terrible with emotions, and whose best friend was girl he’d always love but never kiss? Why wouldn’t I want that relationship to make sense?

But like Amy, a day came when she disappeared forever.

And like the Doctor… I shut myself off for a while. Because the loss hurt too much to want to feel like that again.

Clara Oswald

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC put out a series of prints: the silhouetted profiles of the first 11 Doctors, and in their profile, key friends and foes from each Doctor’s run. For Patrick Troughton, Jamie and the Brigadier. For Tom Baker, Romana and K-9. And for Matt Smith, Amy, Rory, and River.

Not Clara.

In fairness, Clara was new. By the time the Matt Smith print came out, she’d been in one episode, went by Oswin, and died at the end.

But eventually a time came when Clara not being on the poster made sense. Because she wouldn’t belong in Matt Smith’s profile. She’d belong in Capaldi’s.

Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is a harder, colder Doctor. And yet Clara has become the most important person in his life, in a way she never was before his last regeneration. Because after 900 years of defending Trenzalore from his worst foes… the Doctor is afraid of himself. Of what he might be. A Dalek sees into his soul, and finds only hatred. Ex-soldier Danny Pink immediately recognizes him not just as a fellow soldier (something the 12th Doctor despises), but even worse, as an officer (possible, we only know what the Doctor did at the very end of the Time War). Clara… Clara is his lifeline. He can believe that he’s a good man if Clara can believe it, even a little, and when she begins to doubt, it crushes him. But no matter what, he still has her back.

Even towards the end. Clara turns on him, betrays him, tries to threaten him into breaking time itself for selfish purposes… and is then shocked to find he’s still willing to do the impossible to help her. He sums it up with one question:

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

And man, I dig that. That says so much about several key friendships I have or have had. The people I would do anything for. And yeah, a few of them would do anything right back, but… there are definitely a few Claras out there. The people who make me believe I matter because I matter to them. And so even if they hurt me from time to time, I still find myself willing to walk through fire for them.

Because sometimes you love someone you can’t be in love with. But that’s okay. That’s good. Even when they don’t feel the same. Because while that might hurt… as Amy Pond said, it’s kind of a good hurt.

Thanks for bearing with me. If you did. Something more fun and less introspective next time, yeah?

Sad is happy for deep people: sad quotes for a grey day

A while back I thought it might be worth doing to occasionally blog about “items of joy,” things that made me happy even when happiness felt illusive. I had a harder time than I expected coming up with said items of joy, but it evolved into “My New Favourite Thing,” so that’s okay.

Anyway, the one item of joy post was about Doctor Who, which despite being one of my favourite shows and the thing I turn to when I’m feeling down (Day of the Doctor makes me happy every time), is notorious for tearing out the hearts of its fans and stomping on them. And yet I called the fact that it will break your heart three times a season a selling point, because why invest in a show if it can’t do that? I even borrowed a line from the show itself, from the classic (as in good, not as in classic series) episode Blink: “Sad is happy for deep people.”

Between some personal disappointments and the season’s first taste of snow, it’s a grey and downbeat day here in Parts Unknown HQ, so that quote suits my mood today. As such, here’s some downbeat quotes from some generally upbeat TV shows and why I think they’re brilliant moments. Many of them are going to be Doctor Who related, let’s just accept that.

Also, some videos of things that bring a smile to my face no matter what, because balance is important.

Bojack Horseman sums up the human condition

Buddhism teaches that desire is the root of all suffering. And nothing has really driven that point home for me like the cartoon horse who’s a faded sitcom star from the 90s.

I’ll avoid spoilers as best I’m able here. In the first season finale of Bojack Horseman, Bojack wonders why, after getting what he thought he most wanted, he’s still not happy. At which point, we get this exchange between him and his former ghost writer:

Denise: “That’s the problem with life, either you know what you want and you don’t get what you want, or you get what you want and then you don’t know what you want.”
Bojack: “That’s stupid.”

The sad fact is, that really does sum it up. Being content with what we have doesn’t drive us out of the cave to slay a mammoth and perpetuate the species, so instead we’re driven by always wanting the next thing, the next challenge, the next prize. We know what we want, but we can’t have it, and that makes us miserable, or we have everything we want and still aren’t satisfied, and don’t understand why.

And Bojack himself puts it best… that’s stupid. But if you can’t shake off the cycle that, again, is written into your brain from the day you’re born, and learn to be happy, that’s life. Which brings me to my next quote… after this musical interlude from the New Pornographers, because MAN do I love Brill Bruisers.

Achewood reminds us we’re stuck like this

Achewood is a bit of an acquired taste, but if you can get past the unusual tone, often simplistic art, and bouts of experimental storytelling, it’s hilarious, moving, and addictive like few other comics out there. It seems to have drifted to a halt, which is sad, but its archives are still filled with gems, such as the MoviePhone Defense, the saga of the Great Outdoor Fight, or the most gentlemanly death threat ever.

And then there was the day Michael Jackson died.

Two of the cast are talking Michael Jackson, and how his death is affecting them, and they’re a little confused as to why, since they weren’t even big fans. Until Cornelius Bear, the cast’s elder statesman, explains: losing Michael Jackson was losing their “Elvis,” and with it, “the private lie that someday you will be young once again, and feel at capricious intervals the weightlessness of a joy that is unchecked by the injuries of experience and failure. In other words, you two died a bit today.”

And then he finishes off with the line that drives home the real tragedy…

“Welcome to the only game in town.”

Getting old isn’t pretty. Knowing that the things of your youth are farther and farther away stings if you let it. The missed opportunities, the things you never did, they weigh on you more and more if you let yourself dwell on them. But life doesn’t really present another option. Tomorrow becomes yesterday whether you like it or not, and that’s all there is.

Jesus. I thought I’d be able to find something uplifting here. Not so much. This calls for puppets singing Space Oddity with astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Doctor Who quotes and plenty of ’em

Exchange the first. Backstory: in the Time War, the Doctor was forced to wipe out his own people, the Time Lords, in order to end the war between them and the Daleks that was burning all of time and space. In The Doctor’s Wife, the Doctor thinks that on a rock outside of space as we know it, there may be surviving Time Lords. He explains to his companions, Amy and Rory, that if there are, maybe he can explain to them why he had to do it.

“You want to be forgiven,” says Amy. The Doctor freezes mid-stride, looks back, and with just a hint of sorrow in his voice betraying the deeper sorrow in his heart(s), replies…

“Don’t we all?”

I always liked that line. I didn’t understand how powerful a moment it was until a dream showed me that I, too, on some deep level, wanted to be forgiven for a stupid thing I did a long time ago. And that desire to be forgiven becomes a deeper wound when forgiveness is impossible, be it because there’s no one left to offer it, or the person you wronged hasn’t been a part of your life since 1994, and probably hasn’t thought about you in years.

At which point, there’s really no choice left but to forgive yourself, and maybe beat yourself up less.

Exchange the second. At the end of his first episode, the 12th Doctor re-establishes his relationship with his companion, Clara, who’s been having a hard time accepting his change from the youthful, energetic Eleven to the older, dour, Twelve.

“I’m not your boyfriend,” he says.

“I never said you were,” she replies.

“I never said it was your mistake.”

With (literally) new eyes, the Doctor sees his relationship with Clara, now more than ever the most important person to him (Eleven may have been twitterpated with her, but he never truly recovered from the loss of Amy Pond), and understands it was never what he thought it was. Take it from me, that can sting like a mother. Even two years and change later, learning that one of your most valued relationships was never what you thought, could never be what you hoped… it hurts. But it’s important. Because not seeing the truth, embracing what is ultimately a delusion, and then running into the painted wall you thought was a tunnel hurts far worse than just accepting your reality.

That last paragraph got away from me a little. But I’m not going to elaborate.

Exchange the third. Let’s wrap this up with something ultimately a little more hopeful: the signature quote from Vincent and the Doctor. In this episode, the Doctor and Amy share an adventure with Vincent Van Gogh. As a special thanks, the Doctor takes him to the present, to a Van Gogh exhibit, to show Vincent that he wasn’t the failure his own time claimed him to be. He would be remembered, treasured, for generations to come. In the end, Amy hopes that this will help Vincent overcome the depression that plagued him throughout his life, prevent his suicide and cause more Van Gogh masterpieces to be painted.

She’s wrong.

But as she realizes that depression is a harder monster to fight than the literal monsters they’d faced together, the Doctor says this…

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

In this case, the tragedy of Vincent’s end doesn’t necessarily detract from the joys they shared with him.

Now, from here, I should make it clear that I am NOT discussing clinical depression or any sort of mental illness. I am not an expert on depression and cannot pretend to be one. I’m talking about sadness, and however deep sadness becomes, it is vital to understand that feeling sad and suffering from depression are not the same thing.

That said.

When you’re sad, it’s hard to imagine being happy again. Every reassurance, pep talk, reminder of better things feels hollow and empty. The thing that’s made you sad, the thing that’s broken your heart, that is all there is or ever will be.

But it’s an illusion.

It’s like when I’m sick, properly sick, and my world is consumed with nausea and suffering. The very thought of eating food turns my stomach. Not just in that moment: the thought that I may ever eat food, or ride in a car, or anything of the sort seems like the fever dream of a madman (my own fever dreams are just aggressively boring). But the next day, the nausea fades. Sleep comes easier. Car rides are no problem. And pretty soon I’m not just hungry, I’m ravenous.

So it is with sadness (again, NOT depression). Soon you smile again, soon you laugh again, and eventually the things you couldn’t be around because they re-opened the wound fade. Threeish years ago I couldn’t deal with season three of Scrubs: JD’s arc of pining after Elliot while she’s in a relationship seemed custom-built to destroy me. Now I can watch it no problem… except JD is still being a complete tool. Nothing changes that.

So the key is to take those reassurances, put them in a box, and remember them when the clouds begin to part. Because even if you’re not ready to hear them, they may well have still been worth hearing.

Because the bad things don’t make the good things unimportant.

Thanks for bearing with me, folks. Those of you that did. As your reward, allow me to share with you 32 seconds that can make anyone smile.

See you next time, with cheerier tales.

Calgary Expo wrap-up

Some people love the Superbowl. Some people live for the World Series. But me… I loves me the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. For three days (and a sneak peek on Thursday night) the Stampede grounds here in Calgary transform from a place where we pretend to care about rodeos in order to go on rides and consume fair food that’s about as healthy as a live grenade to a shimmering paradise of geek culture. It’s gotten huge in recent years, one of the largest on the continent (albeit still nowhere near San Diego Comicon). Celebrities both faded and still popular stop by, comic and webcomic artists from across the continent set up booths, and you can get great posters from local artists. I’ve yet to fail to have an awesome time, despite being bone-weary and sore all over by day three.

Who wants some highlights? Because you’re getting some highlights.

The Parade of Wonders

Friday’s when things start to get real. The celebrities (or “media guests,” in Expo terms) arrive, with the accompanying photo op and autograph sessions, the panels get underway, and the Expo lurches into full swing. Me, I started my Friday bright and early as one of the volunteers for the Parade of Wonders, a recent addition to the Expo that lets cosplayers of all stripes strut their stuff across downtown Calgary. Dozens of people braving the chill in the air and proudly strutting their costumes marched through the streets, accompanied by special guests such as Felicia Day, Anthony “C-3PO” Daniels, two Sons of Anarchy, a handful of Lord of the Rings/Hobbit actors, Arrow’s Slade Wilson himself Manu Bennett, and the coolest Mayor in Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, sporting a bow tie and sonic screwdriver.

I’m a big fan of cosplay. And not just the “hot girls dressing as slutty superheroes/anime characters” realm of cosplay that most people lock onto. Regardless of gender, age, body type, or fandom, if you’ve devoted time, effort, and creativity to dressing up as something you love for the con, you’re okay in my books.

I mean, obviously I have somewhat more affinity for people who dress up as things I like, such as the many, many Doctors, companions, Tardises, and Daleks you see every year, and we had a pod of them at the parade. Doctors from 4 to 11, one Dalek, a Tardis, and even an Osgood from the 50th. I saw at least five Osgoods over the weekend and each time regretted not saying “You there! Are you sciencey?” I’d have loved to be able to throw on my 11th Doctor suit and join them, but as official staff, my outfit was limited to “volunteer with jacket and backpack.”

Photo ops

One of the services… no, call it what it is, one of the products available at Comic Expo is photos with the various celebrities. These vary in price depending on marquee value, and this year ran from around $40 for lower-tier individuals to over $200 for the prized Matt Smith-Karen Gillan joint photo.

The photo op process is a rapid one. Once you reach the head of the line, you go in, stand in your place, you have maybe a couple of seconds to request something specific, then they take the picture and out you go, because there’s a lot of people behind you. Then spend some time becoming okay with the fact that your celeb looks great and you like a bulging tube of goo, or perhaps that your friend didn’t warn you how little time you’d have with the lovely Katie Cassidy of Arrow before the camera was going off.

I'm the bloated husk on the left, my young ward Patrick is the deer in headlights on the right, and between us is, gods willing, the future Black Canary.

I’m the bloated husk on the left, my young ward Patrick is the deer in headlights on the right, and between us is, gods willing, the future Black Canary.

 

Some people complain that this is way too brief an experience,feel that given how short this process is, maybe it’s overpriced. Some complain that for what a brief encounter it is, it’s overpriced, and then feel that the event is somehow exploiting them. And while it’s hard to say these people are wrong, per se, I can’t really see the point in getting outraged about it.

First, the photo ops have to go this fast. They have to. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people want one, and are willing to pay for them, and moving at this pace is how everybody gets a turn without having to wait in line long enough to have a Firefly marathon. Also, it’s already a tiring process for the famous people involved. They’re doing this for around two hours at a time. On Saturday, Matt Smith had something like four, five hours of photos with thousands of fans, after doing his panel, and after hours of signing autographs, and by the end of it all he was reportedly exhausted, and I can’t exactly blame him.

Now imagine if everyone who bought a photo lingered around to ask a question or something. Putting aside how much this would cut the number of people who could get a photo op (suffice to say, a great deal), how much more tiring would that get? Would anyone be able to stay cheerful and pleasant for each and every person they had to greet and chat with? Wil Wheaton does his best, because he’s wonderful, but even he gets tired, and even he would get sick of repeat questions eventually. And there would be repeat questions. Every time Arrow’s Stephen Amell does a Q&A session through his Facebook page, somebody asks if he’ll be playing Green Arrow in the Justice League movie, a trend I only expect to increase now that said movie is officially happening. And each time, he does his best to diplomatically explain that this is not a decision he’s in charge of. But I doubt he’d be able to stay so calm and collected about it if he were being asked that, in person, fifty times an hour. Hell, I get tired of being asked the same question five times in one day.

Let me tell you about my Matt Smith/Karen Gillan photo experience. I have an exceptionally generous friend who always gets photo ops and always invites people to join, so I didn’t actually pay the $200 and change myself. The line moved quickly: two years ago, for our Star Trek: TNG group photo, we waited several hours. This time we were through in less than one, even including lining up in advance of the appointed start time. When our turn arrived, I calculated the walking pace necessary to ensure that I, specifically, ended up next to Ms. Gillan. I felt her arm go around me, and took this as permission to put mine around her as well, while trying above all to remain cool about it. The photo was taken, and we moved for the exit. I thanked both of them, and on the way out, thanked Matt Smith for three great seasons. He smiled, thanked me right back, and gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder…

…But the better story belongs to Ian Pond, of “Dan and Ian Wander Europe.” On the way in, one of the ladies in our photo announced that Ian’s last name is “Pond,” which got him a “Come along, Pond!” from Matt. And that’s pretty awesome.

Sure, the whole thing happened in less time than it probably took to read all of this, but it was special all the same. You can have a positive experience at these photo ops, you just have to learn to work fast.

Dan and Ian meet the Doctor!

Dan and Ian meet the Doctor!

Also, as long as so many people are willing to pay for photos and autographs, people are going to charge for them. Monetizing the audience is how every movie, TV show, and theatre out there pays the bills, and it’s been going on for centuries, so it’s a little late to start complaining now.

Other encounters

Besides, if you want more time to connect, get an autograph. It takes longer to write a message than it does to take a photo, and the cooler celebs won’t mind a little chatter.

Last year, I met the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. He didn’t have a line at the time, so while we was signing me a Doctor photo, I mentioned that I’d seen him in Noises Off (a play I’d just been in myself) back in 2003. And while I can’t prove Matt Smith wasn’t just trying to be friendly in the above story, I do not exaggerate when I say Sylvester’s face lit up as soon as I mentioned that play. We had a nice little chat about the show, how insane it is to do live, but how much fun it is as a result.

This year I got autographs from Bruce Campbell, an actor I’ve loved for over half my life; Arrow’s Katie Cassidy, pictured above; and Adrian Paul, aka Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander, but the highlight had to be Manu Bennett, Azog the Defiler from the Hobbit movies and, more importantly to me, Slade Wilson on Arrow. He not only shook my hand twice, something most celebrities looking to escape the con without getting sick will avoid, but we had a nice chat about his performance, about some of the layers he’s given Slade recently. It was a thoroughly pleasant encounter, I like to think for both of us.

Staying Positive

Which brings me to one of my mission statements for the weekend: be kind to everyone. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, be kind. When I was volunteering, I tried to be as friendly and helpful to the attendees as I could. When working the Scorpio booth, I greeted everyone with a smile. If someone was late arriving for an autograph session or they’d capped the line before I arrived, I was cool about it, and above all, did not take anything out on the volunteers. A volunteer working a media guest’s booth has no control over when they arrive or when they have to leave, they’re just decent people working hard for no money, and deserve some kindness and respect.

I’m kind to the media guests, and don’t try to hog more time than they have to spare or take candid photos without permission. I’m kind to the organizers, and don’t express any frustrations I might have had with volunteer policies in such a public forum (sorry, readers). It’s not hard. It ultimately feels better than being a dick about things, than throwing a tantrum at the girl telling me Manu Bennett isn’t signing any more autographs until later in the day, I’ll have to come back. And it’s just a better way to live.

Web comics

I’ve talked a lot about the celebrities, and while their panels can be great (certainly Bruce Campbell was entertaining and Matt and Karen were amazing) and I do like getting photos and autographs, I haven’t mentioned my other favourite thing about the Expo: web comic artists.

I read a lot of webcomics, several of the cool people behind them make the trek to Calgary each year. The line-up always varies, depending on people’s budget and availability, but I always try to see them and get some books, sketches, or other merch. Hell, some years I’m more excited about the web comic crowd than the celebrities.

I didn’t do as well as normal this year. I stopped by Girls With Slingshots creator Danielle Corsetto’s at some point on Friday, to fill out my collection of her books. She seemed briefly embarrassed to not remember me from previous years, which frankly seemed insane to me, and appreciated me not being a dick about it and instead explaining that I placed her under no obligation to do so given how many fans she must meet at these things. She’s a genuine delight of a human being, and it’s always a pleasure to see her, so I make sure to try and return that favour. Plus I got to watch Ryan Sohmer of Least I Could Do and the rest of the Blind Ferret empire repeatedly blast her with a confetti gun, which in his defense was pretty funny.

One of my favourites, Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue, has been making regular appearances the last three. I always try to visit him, as he makes my favourite prints and t-shirts (and also a comic I routinely find hilarious), but this year he was with the crew from Cyanide and Happiness, as he’s been doing a lot of work with them on their YouTube shorts. And those guys were busy. There was always a line, and being constantly in a rush from place to place, I never got around to stopping by until the end of Sunday, when they were almost out of merch and no longer doing sketches (as the con was about to close and they didn’t have time), meaning I chose to forgo the line.

Randy Milholland of Something Positive was here for the first and, sadly, probably last time. Unfortunately Randy didn’t sell much over the weekend, and given how expensive it is to fly a bunch of prints and posters (and himself) from Texas to Calgary, he needed to. I made a last-minute stop to his table, buying four posters and two comics, but I doubt my $39 turned the corner and made the weekend profitable. Which is sad, because I love his comic and don’t like the idea of him losing money in my city.

He also drew an amazing Cards Against Humanity answer for a friend, but I can’t really speak of it here.

I also didn’t manage to make it to Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content (again…) but apparently he sold everything, so go him.

And it has just occurred to me that I posted links to all of those comics the one day almost all of them are doing guest or filler strips. Well, they’re all worth it, trust me.

Wow, all of that and we’ve just covered things I saw, not things I actuallydid. To be continued, I suppose.

Doctor Who: showrunners, companions, and turning 50

Okay. It’s come to this. A week and change later, I find I still have some opinions regarding the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who and some of the discussion that’s come out of it. Now, I had thought I could limit those opinions to “Day of the Doctor is so good, I want to watch it many more times,” but certain criticisms have popped up here and there and, well, here we are. With a blog post about Day of the Doctor.

Which will be filled with spoilers. Seriously. Filled. This is not a conversation I can have without spoiling the episode, so if you haven’t seen it, come back Wednesday when I’m talking about something else.

No, really. Stop now. Spoilers coming soon. For the 50th anniversary and a handful of things that lead up to it.

Okay. Those of you who have seen Day of the Doctor… allons-y.

The Moffat question

Let me begin by saying that I understand that there are people in the world, some of whom I like and respect, who aren’t crazy about Stephen Moffat. It’s a more controversial issue than I would have expected four years ago when I heard he was taking over. There are those who think he’s better at individual episodes than season arcs.

I admit: his season arcs tend to rely on the same gimmick. Open with something big an inexplicable (the crack, the impossible astronaut, souffle girl), spend the middle of the season wondering how this could be, then end by revealing the puzzle piece that makes it all make sense, and reveals all the bread crumbs along the way. Some people don’t dig this. And to those people, all I can say is that I accept this, I just don’t agree. I mean, his predecessor, Russell T. Davies, also had basically one trick: say “bad wolf” or “Torchwood” or somesuch once per episode then explain why in the two-part finale, more often than not while drowning people in Daleks.

That’s going to be an important point later.

In the end, Stephen Moffat has written nearly all of my favourite episodes, before and after taking over the series. And now that he’s in charge that happens way more often. For me, each season since 2005 has improved on the one before it, and if you don’t agree… I’m sorry you’re not enjoying the show as much as me. There’s really nothing else I can say. Our opinions vary and I’m not going to try to bludgeon you into changing yours. What I’m doing later in this blog is, instead, addressing some of the flaws in specific arguments I’ve been seeing. But first, a bit more background.

The companion issue

Another frequent criticism that turns up about Doctor Who nowadays is how it handles women. An internet comedienne whose work I enjoy used a clever term for it when she called current companion Clara Oswald “a hottie with a body but no plottie.” She’s certainly easy to look at…

Sorry, sorry, lost myself for a second there…

…but doesn’t really have her own story. And yes, in season seven, that’s hard to argue. The nature of Clara’s introductory plotline means that, unfortunately, she doesn’t really get to participate in her own story. That’s a fair cop. Hopefully she’ll have something more extensive next year. But she does fit into a larger companion archetype I’ll be getting to in a minute.

First, though, I’d like to remind everyone of two women Stephen Moffat introduced to the Doctor Who universe: Amy Pond and River Song. Amy Pond’s story is of a woman caught between two lives, two lives that are actively poisonous to each other: a life of running from world to world, experiencing unbelievable wonders and life-threatening terrors with the Doctor; or a simple, human life, home, family, career, and Rory. Yes, fine, these two worlds can be boiled down to the two men in her life if that’s how you’re going to try to spin it, but she is not defined by her men. Rory ultimately becomes part of both worlds, and in any life, Amy is nobody’s accessory. There’s a reason she and Rory are called the Ponds and not the Williamses. And River Song… well. River Song is a key part of a star-crossed love story crossing centuries and galaxies.

The point is, I would argue that Amy and River are just as developed, just as strong, and possess just as much agency as any companion from the Russell Davies era, and probably way more than most companions from the old school.

Because, well, Doctor Who hasn’t always been rigorous about writing its women. You think Clara lacks her own story? Go back to the 80s. Colin Baker years. Check out Peri Brown.

Shown here, demonstrating literally all she contributed in her two years in the Tardis.

The role of the companion in the old times was phrased best in the episode Terror of the Autons: “someone to pass you your test tubes, and to tell you how brilliant you are.” But that’s the 60s, 70s and 80s for you. These days we’re aware that women are real human people in their own right, and more to the point potential viewers, and we’d like the companions to be more than eye candy running around asking “What’s that, Doctor?” And they are. I put it to you that since the 2005 relaunch, companions have served one important recurring purpose.

The Doctor saves the day. The companions save the Doctor.

And not just from Daleks, Sontarans, or the Silence, although they do that as well from time to time. The companions save the Doctor from himself. From what he might become when left to his own devices. Look at this bonus scene, in which Amy learns about past companions. “I can’t see it anymore,” he says. On his own, the universe is just stuff with bits in. With someone, it’s once again a place of wonder. And there are other moments, from Russell Davies onwards:

Rose Tyler, Dalek: “[The Dalek]’s not the one pointing a gun at me… And what are you turning into?”

Donna Noble, Runaway Bride: “I think sometimes you need somebody to stop you.”

Amy Pond, A Town Called Mercy: “This is what happens when you travel alone for too long!”

Rose Tyler saved the Doctor from his guilt and fury over the Time War, helped him grow from the cynical, irritable, traumatized survivor played by Christopher Eccleston to the charming, best-friend-to-all galactic hero that was David Tennant. Martha Jones helped get him past the trauma of losing Rose (Martha was just 10’s rebound girl, and you’re going to say Amy is less dynamic? Get off my lawn). Donna Noble reminded him that even if he can’t save everybody, there is still value in saving somebody. Amy kept him going when the weight of years and his many failures threatened to pull him down (and kept him from killing a star whale). And Clara… Clara pulled him out of a self-imposed exile brought on by one heartbreak too many, and then did the impossible to save him from a thousand thousand deaths at the hands of the Great Intelligence. And she still had a trick left to pull, which I’ll discuss as I finally, 1200 words later, get around to the 50th anniversary.

The Time War

So aside from the general discontent some fans have with Moffat and the “women in Who” issue, the point of contention I’ve seen most often is that Day of the Doctor undoes something that’s been a central part of the series since the relaunch (do remember that phrasing, I’m coming back to it), the idea that the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. That in order to save all of time and space from becoming collateral damage in the war between the Daleks and the Time Lords, the Doctor killed both sides, wiping out his own race. In The Day of the Doctor, 13 Doctors join forces to alter that moment, to save the Time Lords from destruction by freezing all of Gallifrey in a single moment, frozen in a 3D oil painting, waiting for the Doctor to find a way to restore it.

People then complained that this “erased” a key portion of the series. This article claims that an important element of Doctor Who is grief, and that under Stephen Moffat that has been lost.

And I’m calling bullshit on all of that. All of it.

To explain, I’ll divide the history of Doctor Who into four periods: The Old School or the original series (I’m not versed enough in its history to be able to divide it by showrunner, and that’s not important to my argument); The Wastelands, where Doctor Who was reduced to Big Finish audio dramas and one unfortunate American TV movie; the Davies Era; and the Moffat era. The article claims that Moffat doesn’t really kill as many people as Davies did, and that even when he does, the death gets undone a few episodes later at most. Amy’s parents, Rory, Strax, Jenny, Clara, none of them stay dead.

But I contest the assertion that because none of the main characters die for very long there’s no grief in the Moffat episodes. Losing Amy still rips the Doctor in half. Madame de Pompadour dies young, and dies waiting for her Doctor to return. Losing Rory hurts Amy enough that erasing him from history can’t heal the wound. Vincent Van Gogh still takes his own life. Guest stars still die by the dozen. And the Doctor spends his entire relationship with River knowing and dreading how it ends.

But beyond that is the idea that grief is central to Doctor Who. I disagree. I disagree completely and wholeheartedly. It’s been a big part of his character for the past eight years, sure, but remind me… what anniversary did we just hit? Was it eight? Or was it FIFTY.

Being the last of the Time Lords, having had to kill his own people, is a recent invention. It’s something Russell Davies added. It’s not present in the Old School. There’s no trace of it in the Wastelands. There are eight Doctors and 42 years of stories in which Gallifrey and the Time Lords not only aren’t dead, but are a huge part of the mythos. And yet people like the author of that article say that in opening the door to their return, Stephen Moffat has ruined something vital to the series, and I simply cannot agree with that. But for now, let’s look at it narratively.

What makes this such a major story point is the tragic necessity of the Doctor’s choice. The Doctor was forced to kill his own people because it was the only way to end the Time War and the horrors it unleashed, like the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres, and all of the forbidden weapons the Time Lords unleashed in a vain attempt to stop the Daleks. It had to end.

The Time War had to end. Not the Time Lords. Yes, many of the Time Lords had been twisted into something terrible by the horrors of the war, but not all of them. Not the over two billion children. And what makes it worse? At least, in that moment, he thought he was also putting an end to the Daleks. But he didn’t. He really, really didn’t.

See, people also complain about how easily they broke the “time lock” that kept anyone from travelling in or out of the final years of the war. But Moffat wasn’t exactly the first to do that, was he? The time lock has been broken over and over and over again, mostly by the Daleks. One Dalek escaped the Time War in Dalek, only to self-destruct. But the Dalek emperor also escaped the war and rebuilt an entire army of Daleks, only to be wiped out by Bad Wolf Rose. But the Cult of Skaro had also escaped, with an army of Daleks. Their army was sucked into the void between universes and most of the cult was wiped out in a slave revolt, but Dalek Caan escaped, punched through the time lock, and then escaped again with Davros and another Dalek emperor who built yet another Dalek army. Yes, the Doctor clone and Donna wiped them out as well, but one ship survived, found the last progenitor device, and rebuilt the Dalek empire for realsies. And that’s not even mentioning the Master and Rassilon in Out of Time.

So you’re telling me that the Daleks can do all of that, escape their own genocide no less than four times, but the Doctor finding a way to save his own people is ruining something?

Doctor Who is not about grief. Doctor Who is about wonder. It’s about intellect, romance, and hope, children, hope triumphing over brute force and cynicism. On the worst day of his life, the Doctor burned his own world to end a war and wipe out the Daleks, and the Daleks lived. If there was a way, any way, to end the Time War without killing his own people, why shouldn’t he take it?

And that’s what The Moment, the doomsday machine so powerful it became sentient and grew a conscience, tried to offer him. Another way. It has the power to burn a galaxy, but doesn’t want to, so instead it used its power to break the rules of time and open a hole out of the time lock, allowing three incarnations of the Doctor to come together, allowing the War Doctor to see what he would become in the wake of his horrible choice.

And allowing Clara Oswald to remind all of them of who the Doctor is. Of the promise he made in naming himself the Doctor: neither cruel nor cowardly, never give up, never give in.

Wonder, not grief, captured by http://alicexz.com/

Wonder, not grief, captured by http://alicexz.com/

Clara saves the Doctor, so that the Doctor can save Gallifrey, by doing what the Doctor does: something impossible. And something wonderful.

That doesn’t ruin the series. That embraces it. And nothing was changed or erased: the older incarnations forget, and the weight of the horrible decision is left in place, because, as they ask, how many worlds did he save out of that guilt? They simply give him a chance to save his own people. They undo something from the Davies era, an era I remind you represents 10% of Who history, and in the process, they open up the door for the return of a huge portion of the mythos that the Davies era cut out. Romana, his Time Lord companion from the 70s; Time Lord enemies the Master, the Rani, and Rassilon; and dare I hope? Dare I hope against all hope? He may yet fulfill that ancient promise he made to his granddaughter.

I can watch Sons of Anarchy if I want to watch a series of bad things happen to people because of their mistakes. This is Doctor Who. This is a series where anything can happen if you’re clever enough, if you dare to hope enough. Where every impossible choice has a better option if you’re willing to find it.

And if that ruins the show for you? I’m sorry, but we have not been watching the same show. And I think I prefer mine.