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Doctor Who Season 2 (2006), First Half

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And so we enter the David Tennant era, with the first of the Children in Need specials, the only interactive episodes so far, and the first four Tardisodes as well as the first five proper Tenth Doctor stories.

The first quarter of the 2005 Children in Need Special is a reprise of the closing moments of The Parting of the Ways; then follows about four and a half minutes of new material, which basically ticks the boxes of Rose's dismay at the new man in the Doctor's clothes, his attempts to reassure her, and establishing that he has a health crisis as a result of changing body. Tenant starts off here as Cheeky Chappie rather than Boy Wizard, and Rose is not completely reassured (and neither is the audience, or at least this member of it).

Let's face it, a lot of The Christmas Invasion makes No Sense At All.  One of the silliest moments of the episode is the new Doctor's emergence from the Tardis and successfully demanding that the Sycorax, who have just summarily executed two other characters, take a time-out from killing people for 90 seconds while he says hello to everyone else. But, I mean, really; pilot fish, targeting the Doctor? What is the narrative point of the Mars probe, other than a satirical reference to the loss of the Beagle two years before and a continuity hat-tip to Ambassadors of Death? Blood magic - which actually turns out to be harmless? It's just a mess.

The point of the episode is, of course, not the plot, but the presentation of David Tennant as the New Doctor, winning over the confidence of the audience (as viewpointed through Rose, Mickey, Jackie and Harriet Jones) and working out for himself what sort of person he now is. Though despite the episode's internal disorganisation, it is setting up a lot of stuff for the future: the return of UNIT, the emergence of Torchwood, and, in what looks like sheer whimsy but in fact turns out to be a brilliant (or fortuitous) bit of forward planning, the Hand. And there are a lot of eyeball kicks (a Bruce Sterling term which I got from Graham Sleight's excellent The Doctor's Monsters). Still, as opening stories for Doctors go, this is more in the league of Castrovalva than of Rose or An Unearthly Child.

I covered webcasts in a previous entry, and now I turn to what I think is still the only interactive episode, Attack of the Graske, which was made available to suitably equipped BBC viewers immediately after The Christmas Invasion screened on 25 December 2005. It is pretty short, only three scenes with Jimmy Vee playing a short prosthetic-face alien wreaking malicious Christmas mayhem. The very first Doctor Who Christmas episode, exactly forty years earlier, had ended with William Hartnell turning to camera and wishing a merry Christmas to "all of you at home"; here the fourth wall is broken from the very beginning, when Tennant emerges from the Tardis in the Tenth Doctor's new costume and invites the viewer, via a camera placed at child height, to come with him. I think it actually does a better job of establishing the Tenth Doctor's character than does The Christmas Invasion at four times the length. You can play the game here still; to save you time, the answers are 1, 3, 1, 2, 8, 3, 3, 2, 3, 1, and 1.

(Tardisode - the first of thirteen - presented as a promotional video for the hospital that then reveals that Something Is Wrong.) I don't want to sound too judgey, but New Earth is rather minor stuff. I had forgotten the pre-title sequence where Rose bids farewell to Jackie and Mickey, pointedly failing to return the latter's protestations of love. The main episode then has two plot lines, the Sisters' nefarious plan, based on Ursula Le Guin's "The One Who Walk Away From Omelas" except much sillier, with a very very silly solution, and the much more interesting question of Cassandra's desperate quest for survival through body-swapping, though this is played too much for laughs. The one excellent thing is that it gives Billie Piper a chance to shine in another role as Cassandra-possessing-Rose. I must say that rediscovering how enjoyable her performance actually is has been one of the highlights of this rewatch.

(Tardisode: spaceship crashes, old man gets hunted down by werewolf.) I find Tooth and Claw a welcome return to form. Provided you can swallow Scottish warrior monks and some other historical solecisms, it has decent acting from Pauline Collins, David Tennant using his real accent, and some excellent action scenes; the plot is fairly straightforward and Rose doesn't get to do much, but sometimes it's as well not to overstretch and just concentrate on delivering a good version of a standard story. I see some people complaining about the CGI wolf, but I like it a lot - it's way better than the Slitheen chase sequences in the previous season. One particularly nice touch is the minor key variation of the theme music while the Queen and the Doctor are discussing death over dinner. And of course Queen Victoria could hardly have passed haemophilia to her children years after they were born, but I think the Doctor is just teasing Rose.

(Tardisode: Mickey works out that something is up at the school, summons the Doctor and Rose.) I love School Reunion with an unabashed fanboy's love. For viewers of roughly between my age and David Tennant's, Sarah Jane Smith is the first companion we remember, and her return could not be more welcome; we dreaded of course the prospect that it might be done badly (as it had been in Dimensions in Time) but it was done very well, with Tennant, the biggest fanboy to ever play the Doctor, surely not having to act too hard to show his enthusiasm for Elisabeth Sladen. He and the script are particularly good at showing the Doctor, not subject to human change, explaining that it affects him too. The reconstruction of the Doctor / Sarah relationship is just sheer delight, with an emotional freight to Sladen's performance in particular that is exceptional. (And I don't believe for a moment that she spent the intervening decades mourning the Doctor, though of course it seemed that way to her when they met again.)

And, and, and! Anthony Stewart Head as the leader of a group of winged alien teachers,' stalking the school like vultures, eating stray pupils and doomed members of staff! K9's noble self-sacrifice! Mickey's moment of aelf-realisation! So much is good here - though the one bit that rings badly is the (quickly corrected) initial cattiness between Sarah and Rose, a bit out of character for Sarah in particular. I can watch this one again and again, and could go on about it for much longer. (By the way, Melissa turned up the other day in Outnumbered as Jake's pole-dancer girlfriend.)

(Tardisode: the most effective of these four, shows the spaceship hitting the ion storm and the robots' destruction of the surviving crew.) Fandom as a whole rates The Girl in the Fireplace as the best episode of the season. It certainly looks fantastic, both the Eighteenth century and the grungy future spacecraft well realised, and the clockwork aliens quite superb (not to mention the stunt with the horse). And Sophie Myles is brilliant in the central role of Reinette, combining an understated eroticism with a keen intelligence; the scene where she reverse-penetrates the Doctor's mind and diagnoses his loneliness is especially effective, and it's an interesting counterpoint to the previous episode's exploration of the relationship with Sarah. I like it a lot, but not as much as School Reunion which ticks so many fannish boxes for me.

Note that the original Sally Sparrow (in the 2006 Doctor Who Annual, rather than Blink), as well as the better-known Amy Pond, also have crucial encounters with the Doctor as young girls and then find him coming back into their lives in adulthood. Of course, that was true for a lot of Old Who fans of both genders after 2005.

The Girl in the Fireplace got by far the most nominations for the 2007 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and its strong lead on first preferences was reinforced by transfers from Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, which came second as a joint nomination, and School Reunion which came fourth, behind the Battlestar Galactica episode Downloaded but ahead of the Stargate SG1 story Episode 200. Also on the longer nomination list, but well below the cutoff, were the Torchwood episode Out of Time and the Who stories The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, The Age of Steel/Rose of the Cybermen, Love and Monsters and Doomsday on its own. The Torchwood episode Captain Jack Harkness also got enough nominations to be reported on the long list, but would have been ruled ineligible as it was first broadcast in 2007 not 2006.

This run had a ropey start, with The Christmas Invasion really only held together by Tennant's energy once he wakes up, but the last three of the five full stories here are all very good.

NB that consecutive stories in this block provide the foundation myths for both Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures.

< 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

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
viomisehunt
Jan. 9th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)

Tenant starts off here as Cheeky Chappie rather than Boy Wizard, and Rose is not completely reassured (and neither is the audience, or at least this member of it
My exact reaction was: "Oh no, it's that creepy Barty Crouch Junior guy from Secret Smile!"
My Daughter didn't see Secret Smile but she watched that depressive singing cop show and liked David so she had the exact opposite reaction.
Anyway, I stopped watching, until I saw the previews for School Reunion. I still watched Sarah Jane Adventures until Sy Fy lost it, and then Torchwood started on BBC America. I thought I was going to hate Torchwood, because I never took to the Jack who traveled with Rose and Nine, and the show was dodgy in spots but by the end of Torchwood Season One I was a fan.
NB that consecutive stories in this block provide the foundation myths for both Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures.

The reconstruction of the Doctor / Sarah relationship is just sheer delight, with an emotional freight to Sladen's performance in particular that is exceptional. (And I don't believe for a moment that she spent the intervening decades mourning the Doctor, though of course it seemed that way to her when they met again.) The only reason I could swallow this plotline was because of Mrs. Sladen's performance and her good natured attitude towards the "new" canon.

In the States we got the Sarah Jane Adventures and Season One with the Ninth Doctor episodes at the same time. In fact that is how it was scheduled on the Sy Fy station on Friday nights: SJA 1/2 followed by Doctor Who. There was no reason for the audience in the USA to assume that SJA were based on anything but Sarah Janes' experiences with Doctors Three and Four as the way it aired it seemed more like Sarah Jane was carrying on the fight from Bannerman Road--without UNIT, and then the Doctor shows up in Rose.

Torchwood did merge come out of Season One--the Parting of the ways, as we see Jack waking, but the TARDIS leaving without him.

Edited at 2013-01-10 08:04 pm (UTC)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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