Doctor Who Season One (2005), second half

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I don't understand why people don't like The Long Game. I think it does two things very well. First, we have a rare case of an sfnal Big Idea in Who - what if aliens controlled the news media? I don't think this is just about Rupert Murdoch (and I think if it really was meant to be about Murdoch the satire would be much less subtle; see the show's treatment of Tony Blair earlier in the season and of reality TV later on). It is about an insidious take-over of human culture where all that is left to argue about is office politics. The second thing thtat the episode does well is the fall of Adam, who figuratively tries to eat of the tree of knowledge and is consequently expelled from the paradise that is the Tardis. (We never actually see him inside it, do we?) We may sometimes wonder why time-travellers in the Whoniverse don't use their powers to generate vast wealth (though we are given to understand that Irving Braxiatel does do this to a certain extent). Adam tries breaking the rules and pays the price of having an unusable hole in his head.

Other things I love about this episode are how the office politics between Cathica and Sukey turns out to be integral to saving the world (all the supporting cast are great); and the wobble of the Doctor's version of history, so soon after he assured us of the longevity of Harriet Jones's government. He may be a Time Lord, but Time is getting unruly.

I like Father's Day more every time I watch it. Picking up from my previous point, here the Doctor loses control of Time completely, and we see how dangerous messing with history actually is. (Of course, this is building up to the season climax.) The show here has the audacity to have the Doctor eaten by a monster, leaving only one man to save the timelines at the cost of his own life. Shaun Dingwall is superb as Pete; a character all too aware of this own limitations, but smart enough to work out what is really going on at a very early stage, and also to work out on his own what he must do to set matters right. Indeed, he rather quietly outshines the regular cast; Ecclestone does a lot of glowering in this story. Having said that, the Doctor's assurance to Stuart and Sarah that they are important, that he's never had a life like theirs, is my favourite Ninth Doctor quote. And the effects are fantastic - the vanishing car, the Reapers, the glowing key; yet the most effective visual is the one that isn't an effect at all, when the Doctor opens the Tardis to find that it is just a blue box.

The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances won the 2006 Hugo Award in the newly created Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, with Dalek second and Father's Day third. (Interestingly, Dalek had by far the most nominations, Father's Day second most, and The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances actually behind the Battlestar Galactica episode Pegasus, presumably due to uncertainty about its eligibility.

The win was well deserved, anyway. Moffat's first story for Who since The Curse of Fatal Death takes us to a richly imagined wartime London (the sets and backdrops are auperb) and brings in Captain Jack Harkness, who is shortly to get his own TV series. The gas masked child asking "Are you my mummy?" is one of the most successful horrific images the show has ever produced, and Richard Wilson's turn as dying doctor is brilliant. Yet it is leavened with a colouring of humour, largely about Jack's flirting and competing with the Doctor, and delivers a happy ending where everybody lives and the Doctor, having at last become comfortable in his own new body, dances. (The only bit that doesn't grab me is the Doctor's tribute to the British. It may fit the national ideology, but it is out of character.)

Perhaps it was just my New Year's Eve mood, but I found Boom Town much stronger than I had remembered. It's not so much the core plot, though it is still an interesting variation to foil the alien plan barely half way through the story and then agonise about capital punishment; it is more what it shows about the central characters, Rose firmly embedded with the Doctor and Jack in the Tardis crew (having explicitly had several adventures together since we last saw them) and Mickey, excluded, trying to work out where he goes, a bit like Xander being the Zeppo in Buffy. Indeed, the Doctor, Rose and Jack are basically not very nice to Micky, and the viewpoint is sympathetic to him; sometimes it is important to see that our heroes have flaws.

The pursuit of Margaret Slitheen is a bit slapsticky, but as I said I don't think it is the real focus of the episode. The other important part of the story is Margaret's warping of reality and of her personal fate by looking into the heart of the Tardis, which seems a bit of a cop-out at first but turns out to be crucial to the resolution of the season as a whole. It is also the first episode set in Cardiff to make full use of the setting - the previous episode set in Cardiff was actually shot in Swansea, and other previous episodes shot in Cardiff were actually set elsewhere. We will see a lot more of this in Torchwood.

It is seven and a half years since it was first broadcast, and I am very surprised by how well the reality TV segments of Bad Wolf have in fact endured. Sure, some of the shows are no longer on the air in the same form; but to be honest I hardly watched them in the first place, and I can now happily accept this as broad satire of popular entertainment rather than specifically targeted jabs - admittedly this was not my first take, but it was my second. (I wonder if viewers in another seven years will feel the same? We can be certain that the clips of Trinity and Susannah will be used in their obituaries when the time eventually comes.)

I had also forgotten the amount of misdirection here - in particular the introduction of Jo Joyner's Lynda-with-a-'y', who is presented as a rival potential companion for Rose at a couple of points. It is a shame that the Daleks were in the previous episode's trailer, or their introduction at the end of Bad Wolf - with a couple of shots very consciously mirroring their original appearance in December 1963 - would have come as a fantastic reveal (as it did the following year).

I had also forgotten how well the end of the season ties together the preceding episodes, going back to Dalek. The links of Satellite Five and the heart of the Tardis are clear, of course. But Rose's report of her encounter with her father turns out to be crucial in encouraging Jackie to change her mind, and provide the crucial assistance that enables Rose to go back and save the day.

The ending, until that Rose ex machina moment, heads firmly towards Gauda Prime territory. All the defenders are killed, including Lynda-with-a-'y' and Captain Jack, and the Doctor is then caught in his own morality and unable to actually implement the plan for which they died. But Rose, like Sara Kingdom all those years ago, ignores the Doctor's instructions and comes to help him; and as with Sara Kingdom, the results are fatal, though the Doctor is able to substitute himself instead. And as he bade her farewell, I found I had something in my eye.

Jack Harkness was a regular companion only for those last five episodes (Sarah Kingdom fans point out that she was in more episodes as a regular character, and also more in total if you also count her audios.) I made the point in my Old Who rewatch that Steven, Ben, Jamie and Harry all share vaguely military, or at least uniformed, backgrounds, and Jack is partly cut from that mould, with also the moral ambiguity of Turlough (who also wears a uniform) at the beginning. Though in fact the moral ambiguity aspect is dumped before the end of his first story, and Jack's selling point becomes his assertive open sexuality, a contrast to Rose, who isn't innocent herself but is made uncertain (as are we viewers) as to whether Jack is a potential target or a potential rival for her affections, or both. (Again, I can see where the bat-shippers are coming from; as with Adam's brief appearance, a lot of Jack's contribution to the show has to do with Rose.) Rose of course resurrects Jack, transforming his character with results we don't see on the show for over a year (but will be in this rewatch later this month).

Christopher Eccleston's portrayal of the Doctor is a triumph. I like my Doctors to be a little inhuman, to be obviously alien; and while Nine doesn't score as highly on this metric as One, Four or the new lad Eleven, he definitely isn't one of us. At the same time he has been through the unimaginable trauma of the Time War, thinking that he was the only survivor (and bearing that survivor's guilt) and then gradually discovering that others survived too. Rose (and to a certain extent Jack, Micky and even Jackie) teach him not so much to be human but to love again. I think it's the strongest character arc for any Doctor (other Doctors who contra Tom Baker, experience character development include One, Seven and Ten) and it is performed by one of the best actors to take on the role. Eccleston's recent failure to deny that he might return for the 50th anniversary this autumn raises unreasonable hope in my breast.

I have previously written up my feelings about the season as a whole here and here, though I also strongly recommend Graham Sleight's essay here. The run of stories from Dalek to the end is pretty good by the standards of any era of Who, before or since. And I was able to fit The Parting of the Ways into my commute this morning - it usually takes me an hour and a quarter door to door, with enough of the intervening minutes on the train that I can look at a screen in a stable environment. This will get tricky with the longer specials, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

< The Curse of Fatal Death | The Webcasts | Rose - Dalek | The Long Game - The Parting of the Ways | Comic Relief 2006 - The Girl In The Fireplace | Rise of the Cybermen - Doomsday | Everything Changes - They Keep Killing Suzie | Random Shoes - End of Days | Smith and Jones - 42 | Human Nature / The Family of Blood - Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords & The Infinite Quest | Revenge of the Slitheen - The Lost Boy & Time Crash | Voyage of the Damned - Adam | Reset - Exit Wounds

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