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Doctor Who Season 2 (2006), Second Half

(Tardisodes: first, communications between Gemini and Preachers; second, Cybus taking over the world.) I had forgotten just how good Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel actually is. The visuals are superb - the Zeppelins over London (and the spectacular Zeppelin scenes at the end), the marching Cybermen, Battersea Power Station as slaughterhouse. The story doesn't shrink from killing off sympathetic characters - Jackie, Ricky, Mrs Moore. Sure, some plot elements are lifted from Genesis of the Daleks; but there are worse places to start from. (And there are a number of overt homages to Old Who Cyberman stories, including The Five Doctors.)

I have written previously comparing the politics of the parallel world here with that of Inferno, which ended Pertwee's first season. But another aspect that makes the parallel world story effective is that both Rose and Mickey find that their loved ones are still alive in Pete's World; and yet it is far from being a perfect place. (I do hope that they nailed down that carpet before going to Paris.) 

Mickey is the first companion in New Who to leave the Tardis of his own volition. (The only other one is Martha. By contrast, it was more usual than not in Old Who for companions to apparently decide for themselves that their time was up.) I cannot be alone in finding the Doctor's mockery of him, especially in Season One, rather uncomfortable viewing; it's not enough to steal the guy's girlfriend, you have to rub it in as well? But Mickey is much better served by his Season Two character arc: he comes to the realisation that he is no more than Junior Sidekick (as he puts it, "the tin dog") to the main characters, expresses his distress, gets nowhere and decides to do something else with his life. It is a more compelling story than most Doctors get, never mind their companions.

(Tardisode: the Wire consumes Grandma's face.) I liked The Idiot's Lantern more on this viewing than previously, but that is not saying a lot. The concept is good, and the faceless people are genuinely horrific; the Doctor and Rose, liberated from caring about Mickey, are on top form; and Euros Lyn shoots a lot of it from tilted cameras to keep us watching. Maureen Lipman is not given a lot to work with but doesn't with great gusto, and I also liked Debra Gillett as Rita Connolly.

But the Connolly family subplot doesn't work for me. This is not a Very Special Who episode of Doctor Who about mummy and daddy not loving each other any more; the presentation of the parents' relationship is both clichéd and unrealistic (how fortunate that the house is in Grandma's name!), and for me the story is the weakest since New Earth as a result.

NB that there is no such person as the King of Belgium. Our head of state is the King of the Belgians, and presumably has that on his business cards.

(Tardisodes: two linked pieces about Captain Walker, a book found by the Galis expedition, and the Ood. Apparently they still have MacBooks in the future.) I fear this is becoming a boring refrain, but I had forgotten how good The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit actually is. I think it is our first proper base-under-siege story in New Who (perhaps arguments can be made for The End of the World or Dalek, but I won't) and perhaps it's a return to that comfort zone of Old Who, with the difference of a more diverse base crew than Old Who would have had (the black guy would never have been in command in the old days, and the smart woman would never have been chief scientist). The scarily different bit is not so much the monster - though it is well done, both the descent to the pit and the technical realisation of a superhuman incarnation of evil - but the Ood, who are very creepy indeed. Having a slave race never works out well in Who, but here the message is that by exploiting the Ood, humanity has opened a potential route for its own destruction. Terrific stuff.

(Tardisode: Kennedy, played hereby a different and presumably less expensive actor, tracks down LINDA and eats the woman who makes his tea.) Love and Monsters is one of the most daring episodes of Who ever. Paul Cornell has written a spirited defence of the story as an episode about fandom, about the show Doctor Who rather than its central character, and he makes a good case. But the fact is that this had not been done before in New Who, and only really in passing in Old Who (most notably in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, though talk of fans of the Doctor goes back to The Savages). The episode is doubly daring in that it is the first of the Doctor-lite episodes that we now accept as a regular event in New Who. It is a bit bizarre, and it doesn't fit with the previous run of the programme at all, but I think it's OK for Who to be experimental occasionally and that it more or less works.

(Tardisode: a Welsh bloke appears to be doing a children's version of Crimewatch in a London street. It is rather bad.) I was a bit surprised to be reminded that Fear Her was by far the lowest rated episode of New Who in the DWM top 200 stories poll a while back. It is a simple low-cost story, thrown together at the last minute because Stephen Fry's script didn't work out, but it is tremendously effective at what it does. It addresses dysfunctional families and child abuse far more effectively than The Idiot's Lantern from only a few weeks earlier, and Nina Sosanya is simply superb as Trish (and young Abisola Agbaje very impressive as Chloe). It has a couple of weak points - poor Huw Edwards gets given an awful lot of info-dumping, and the emotional climax goes on for a bit too long - but I feel this one is unfairly underrated. Note the Doctor's casual reference to having been a father once... Also, this story, like Dalek, is set in 2012, which seemed safely distant at the time of broadcast but now feels so last year.

(Tardisodes: a journalist gets scrobbled while investigating Torchwood; another gets scrobbled by Cybermen while reading the news.) David Tennant's first season finale has a lot of good bits and some less good bits. While the ghosts themselves are rather intriguing, the means and motivation for the Cybermen to disguise themselves in this way are never explained (as often with RTD episodes, we invest in a very detailed set-up referencing contemporary culture which then turns out to be irrelevant); and much though one's heart melts for Rose and the Doctor, perhaps the final scenes in Canary Wharf go on a bit. But this isn't actually a pair of episodes about plot; it's a series of dramatic reveals - Mickey's reappearance; the Daleks' reappearance (which had us and even some visiting non-fans on the edge of our seats when first broadcast); Pete and Jackie's reunion; Yvonne's survival; and the parting of the ways again. And all of those, with a partial reservation about the last, are done very well, and it looks good, and you believe that ten square metres of plasterboard in a studio is a gateway between dimensions at the top of a skyscraper. And New Who turns a corner, having replaced its main cast within two years of starting; Old Who didn't completely change the guard until two stories into its fourth season. It is important to demonstrate that the show can go on even if the faces change, and now we have got there.

(And I was completely unaware of Catherine Tate's existence before seeing her at the end of this.)

I was uncertain about whether I should do a separate write-up for Jackie. But her appearance in Love and Monsters convinced me; this is actually someone whose life is in general worse off because of the Doctor's intervention. Just as Mickey reasonably resents the man with the blue box stealing his girlfriend, Jackie hates him stealing her daughter, and the show is often more sympathetic to her than the title character. Jackie is a reminder that while the Doctor may be saving worlds, his effects on people at the micro level can be pretty destructive. (Sarah Jane Smith, of course, actually comes out and says this.)

I've just finished the second volume of Philip Sandifer's Tardis Eruditorum collections of essays, and he has some particularly interesting things to say about Victoria, as the first Old Who girl companion picked who was already a child star, and that making her a "female peril monkey" rather than the audience identification figure is a very big and unexpectedly successful step. RTD (and Bilie Piper, of course) made Rose the audience identification figure, but gave her two things a companion had never had before: non-Tardis travelling friends and relatives who we see in their first story who don't immediately die, and a strong romantic relationship with the Doctor. It is a considerable report of the show's treatment of Its regular characters, and it grated a wee bit for some of us Old Who fans who remembered  nostalgically the days when companions appeared out of nowhere, enjoyed travelling with the Doctor platonically and left as abruptly. But we were wrong and RTD was right.

And the bat-shippers therefore do have a point. The first two seasons are as much about Rose 
as about the Doctor. She's not just an audience viewpoint figur who has to have stuff explained to her; she's not just (indeed, hardly ever is) a screaming peril monkey; she's someone who goes on 
adventures with her exciting new best friend, who she would quite like to be more than a best friend - not so much audience identification as audience wish fulfilment. The show has never had a companion like that, and Piper does it very well.

The Tardisodes have been largely forgotten since 2006, and on the whole this is fair. The best one is the prequel to The Girl in the Fireplace, which briefly and effectively shows us the fate of the Madame de Pompadour and her crew. The later ones look like cheap afterthoughts, trailers for a slightly different show. The prequels of the Moffat era have generally been better conceived.

Overall this is a decent run. The closing two-parter isn't actually as good as the two previous two-parters, but it's still good enough. The Idiot's Lantern Is weak, but much of Old Who was worse. Most importantly, the show demonstrates that it can one again triumphantly survive a change of lead actor, and Rose gets the best departure arc of any Who companions before Rory and Amy. And she deserves it.

OK, on to Torchwood...

< 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


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2013 09:24 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about all of this. Especially Mickey, Love and Monsters and Fear Her. In both the case of L&M and The Idiot's Lantern I have a horrible feeling that I am not watching the same thing as everyone else. The main problem I had with this particular run was that in both The Impossible Planet two-parter and The Idiot's Lantern the Doctor made some really wonky choices like not even trying to rescue the Ood and telling the son of the house to forgive his father, who, in my reading of the episode, was beating his wife (but as I said, it's one of those episodes where I think I was watching a different episode).
Jan. 21st, 2013 09:25 pm (UTC)
Jamie, Jo Grant, certainly Sarah Jane Smith, and Romana were all the Doctor's Best Friends, in fact I believe the Fourth Doctor introduces Sarah Jane in a episode as his best friend. I think the popularity of Rose for Nu Who viewers is just that--they were New to Who, and she was the first companion they have met.

I think Jackie deserves a write up. She is outside of the Doctor's circle, but she isn't rendered as passive and victimized character, whom the Doctor has to "Teach" how to show her daughter love as he does with Trish in "Fear Her". Rose is headstrong and goes her way, but we get the feeling that although Rose takes her mother's concerns with a grain of salt, and the Doctor has no intentions of giving up Rose, he is listening to Jackie, and respects what she says to the point that he encourages her to go into the alternate universe with her family.

I enjoy the actress Nina Sosanya also. I wish they would have given her a more dynamic role, but in this episode we are made to focus on how 'good' the Doctor and Rose are in their job. I didn't really see all of Season two, so I can't comment on many of the episodes. I thought the scene with Mickey holding down a button while Rose and the Doctor cuddled, giggled, and made fun of him said all we need to know about Rose and the Doctor's treatment of Mickey. It was mean spirited. Of course he left.

I did watch and enjoy Rise of the Cybermen. I'm very sorry I watched Love and Monsters.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 04:49 am (UTC)
Monday 21st January
User eponymous_rose referenced to your post from Monday 21st January saying: [...] reviews series 2 of the new series [...]
Jan. 23rd, 2013 01:47 am (UTC)
I rewatched this run myself relatively recently (save "Fear Her," which I remembered so negatively I didn't want to see it again yet) and I too was surprised by how improved certain episodes seemed.

In particular, I enjoyed the Cybermen two-parter much more this time around than I did after first seeing it six years ago. I still think the opening is so idiotic it's almost physically painful: "Sir, I know I'm sealed off from all help inside your personal airship and standing next to the horrible cyborg death machine I've spent months helping you perfect, but now that I've done so I've simply got to announce my reluctant intention to report this to the authorities."

I just... come on. That whole aspect of the story was utterly buggered. Could there truly be no reasonable intermediary steps between "barely living guy stuck in a wheelchair" and "fully armored cybernised human brain?" There was real pathos there to be milked and it was all glossed over with a toddler-logic plot.

But the visuals were great, the other world was lovely and melancholy at the same time, the Mickey/Rickey side of the story quite strong and touching.

The notion of the mysterious "free food" truck making the rounds as the poor and dispossessed slowly vanish was classic, too.

I loved nearly all of "Love and Monsters;" it was indeed a daring experiment and it mostly succeeded for me until the very end, when the "now your girlfriend's a paving stone" bit happened. I don't want to rant about it too much here, but I thought it was vile, a savage and thoughtless undermining of the Doctor's obsessive championing of individual dignity that I find essential to the character (and RTD sometimes lost sight of).
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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