March 18th, 2013

doctor who

Doctor Who Season 3 (2007), second half

I actually finished these a couple of weeks ago, but am only now getting round to writing them up...

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Positive points

  • On the screen, the appearance of David Tennant playing a different character who happens to look like the Doctor is far more effective than the gradually revealed Mr Smith of the book
  • Likewise, Jessica Hynes' performance as Joan brings far more to the concept of the Doctor's human self's lover than did the book, though age of course means she is a very different character
  • Similarly, the watch rather than the cricket ball, and the Book of Impossible Things, exploit the TV format beautifully
  • The Family of Blood are gloriously sinister, far more so than the Aubertides
  • And basically the fact of the Doctor being human because of the threat from the Family makes much more sense than the original idea of the Aubertides just happening to home along just after the Doctor has arbitrarily decided to try the single-heart club.
Less positive points
  • The fate of the Family of Blood still bugs me. The Aubertides in the book are defeated in a fair fight; the Doctor's meting out of judgement on the Family seems cruel - who made him the judge?
  • The battle scene doesn't work for me. The tragedy of real life war, especially the First World War, is that the other side is human, and the linkage between fighting scarecrows in 1913 and fighting Germans in 1915 seems to me both leaden and mistaken. Frankly turning the entire school to glass would have been a better solution (though technically more difficult).
  • The fantasy life-with-Joan-and-kids section is too obvious a borrowing from The Last Temptation of Christ.
  • Poor Martha gets much less of a look-in here than Bernice in the book; apart from Blink it's probably her least visible episode.

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In the 2008 Hugos, Blink had by far the highest number of nominations in its category (indeed the highest in any category), followed by Human Nature / The Family of Blood. The Torchwood episode Captain Jack Harkness came fifth. The only other Whoniverse episode to score in nominations was Out of Time, which was for my money the best of Torchwood's first season. I'm a bit surprised that The Shakespeare Code did not feature, but otherwise I think this was a decent take on a season which was not the strongest overall but had memorable high points. The season finale would have been too long to fit this category, and anyway is dragged down by Last of the Time Lords.

Come the actual vote, Blink had a solid lead on first preferences and with transfers from Human Nature / The Family of Blood and Captain Jack Harkness pulled ahead of the other two nominees combined for the most convincing win in any Hugo category of 2008 (the next strongest performance was John Scalzi's victory over Dave Langford and Cheryl Morgan for Best Fan Writer), and New Who's third Hugo in three years. In the count for second place, Human Nature/The Family of Blood was in the lead from the start and took the spot by a convincing margin. Captain Jack Harkness, however, finished in fourth place behind the Battlestar Galactica episode Razor. The final spot went to a fan production, the Star Trek: New Voyages episode Worlds Enough And Time (which features George Takei as a thirty-years-older Sulu).

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The "with a bound they were free" transition to The Sound of Drums is a bit annoying given the buildup to the cliffhanger the previous week, but after that we are on fairly solid ground again, with Simm's Master's first appearance being much his best. Despite his obvious insanity, at this stage his intention to simply capture the Doctor and friends and do unspecified nasty things is pretty clear, and it gives the plot a terrific momentum. Apart from the regulars, Alexandra Moen is superb as Lucy Saxon, given few lines but an inescapable presence. And the continuity with Old Who's Gallifrey is terrifically pleasing, and completes a theme we've had since the start of the season (if we count The Runaway Bride as such). I found that I didn't even mind the "Here Come the Drums" song as much on rewatch; I felt it intrusive first time round.

And then, alas, we have Last of the Time Lords. On first watching, I was just slack-jawed in disbelief that such a promising setup had been so badly wasted, and unable to articulate quite why I hated it so much. This time round, I knew what was coming so was spared the crashing disappointment of the first broadcast, and actually thought it was not quite as awful as I had remembered. But that is not saying much.

Where it fails first, I think, is that the humiliation meted out to the Doctor and friends by the Master is neither funny nor interesting. There's something very skeevy indeed about making some of the most visible black characters ever in the show into slaves, and the script never quite acknowledges that. Torturing Jack Harkness is just nasty. Turning the Doctor into Dobby the House Elf is bizarre and incomprehensible, and then transforming him into Tinkerbell at the end is an appalling lapse of dramatic judgment. The story of Martha is a decent enough plot thread (and of course Freema Agyeman carries it well), and the Doctor's emotion for the Master is effective but would have been a lot more so without the previous 40 minutes, and the massive plot reset button actually comes as a relief because of the inanity of what has come before. For Martha's departure, see below.

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This third season of New Who will always be the one with Blink, Human Nature / The Family of Blood, and the return of the Master, which kind of make up for the disappointments of the Dalek two-parter and the leaden finale. It's good that the high points are so superlative, because the lows of this season are about as low as you get in the Tenth Doctor era.

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I was fascinated to sit in on one of Freema Agyeman's interviews at Gallifrey One last month. (And also delighted to get my picture taken with her.) Although I went on Sunday, she seems to have said much the same to the session attended by Karin Kross on the Saturday, to the effect that (I paraphrase) she felt Martha's unrequited love for the Doctor went too far to be entertaining or comfortable. When RTD explained to her that he wanted gritty emotional realism, she pondered the merits of a more optimistic escapism. She was also rather moving on Martha as a role model, and a lot of people seemed to suddenly have something in their eyes when she told the story of the little girl who, when asked to select a famous person to write about for Black History Week, chose Martha Jones. When Freema Agyeman played a character who was sexy and brainy, she clearly didn't have to try too hard.

< 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