Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

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Doctor Who Season 3 (2007), first half

I am behind with posting these - actually up to first series of SJA now.

Back in the far-off days of March 2007, New Who had pulled off a regeneration of the main character but not yet of the companion. (By contrast, Old Who wrote Susan out after a little more than a year, and Ian and Barbara after less than two.) So it's interesting to watch now, several companions later, to see how RTD pulls out all the stops to make Martha Jones acceptable to an audience still reeling from the departure of Rose. (Well, maybe not reeling after nine months and Catherine Tate had passed. But still.)

Points that I noted particularly from Smith and Jones this time: i) Martha's leitmotif is a bit overdone, I think, for a first outing. ii) Martha is very brainy, the brainiest companion since Nyssa (yeah, I know Mel was computery but it never seemed to make much difference). iii) Having said that, Martha screams in one of her earliest scenes; I can't remember Rose ever screaming at all (though perhaps my memory is at fault).

The Doctor is consciously auditioning for a new companion here without wanting to admit that that is what he wants. Actually this plot line didn't work first time round for us fans who knew that Martha was staying through to the end of the season. But for the not-we viewers it maybe works better. (Big Finish did the auditioning-for-a-companion quite explicitly in Situation Vacant, which I didn't like much on first listening but then realised fitted beautifully with a much longer story arc.)

It is also nice that Martha has a family, even though Adjoa Andoh, certainly the best known of this season's semi-regulars, is criminally underused. And it should be noted that the Judoon, introduced here, is among the most successful of the New Who monsters. (Plus the Haemophile - gratifying nasty!)

One of my uncompleted projects is to do a Doctor Who/Shakespeare crossover fanvid. This project faces many obstacles: the fact that there are several Who audios and books which feature Shakespeare as a character and are utterly irreconcilable in terms of canonicity (if you have heard The Kingmaker, you will know what I mean), the fact that Who, like so much English-language drama, owes such a deep and pervasive debt to the Elizabethan pioneers of the genre; and most particularly, the fact that there is an entire episode featuring Shakespeare in New Who.

I had not re-watched The Shakespeare Code since its first broadcast, which was before I did a marathon listen-through of the Arkangel series of Shakespeare audios (which incidentally feature one David Tennant in the title role of all three parts of Henry VI). Now, I got a lot of the Shakespeare in-jokes - in particular the references to Love's Labour's Lost, a slightly odd play which indeed calls out for a sequel, and the various other references to how time-travellers might interact with Shakespeare - a comedy trope with a venerable history and well executed here. I am not so sure about the aliens, but Dean Lennox Kelly is very good as Shakespeare, and it is fun. (Apart from the Bedlam scene, which is not fun but is effective.)

The Ceann Comhairle is the Speaker of the Dáil, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is the highest official of the established religion north of the Tweed. In Gridlock the son of the then Ceann Comhairle plays a giant cat and the star of the show is the son of a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Sticking with the religious theme, since this episode includes both The Old Rugged Cross and Abide with Me, there is now a social media campaign to recruit Ardal O'Hanlon's best known character to fill a senior ecclesiastical vacancy that is currently open.

This is an episode where the core narrative is perfectly decent if a little implausible, and a fannish box is unexpectedly ticked by bringing back the Macra (now much larger than in 1967), but the most important bits are actually the development of the story arc for the season and for the Doctor's mythos. The Face of Boe's peculiar statement is obviously a set-up for future stories; but the brilliant bit is the Doctor finally telling Martha about Gallifrey, a conversation he never had with Rose as far as we know. New Who is gradually getting more comfortable about looking back. In the first season, continuity was basically Daleks, Autons and the Tardis; the second season brought back Sarah Jane Smith, Cybermen, and referred at least to UNIT; and now the Doctor is not just a lonely hero coming out of nowhere, but someone with a rich personal history only gradually being unveiled.

Alas, the Daleks' return to New York for the first time since The Chase, in Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks, is my least favourite story of this run, and possibly my least favourite story of the entire Tenth Doctor era. (A couple of the season finales are worse, but tend to come after much better penultimate episodes which are part of the same story.) There is a fatal combination of things: Sec's hybridisation plan is baroque even by Dalek standards, and was anyway done better in Evil of the Daleks in 1967; the Central Park scenes don't look at all realistic; the accents all grate; none of the poor whites of Hooverville seem to have a problem with an African American leader; gamma radiation is not likely to be guided through a lightning conductor, even one made of Dalekanium. I have no quarrel with the acting, apart from the accents, but the rest of this should have been done much better.

The Lazarus Experiment brings us back to contemporary Earth for only the second time this season. We start with more Doctor/Martha angst - indeed, Martha's anguish at being abandoned by the Doctor is rather painful; as has often been noted, Ten's treatment of her is pretty awful. But then we are into a jolly good mad scientist plot. Lazarus's PR and security arrangements are pretty eccentric, as is apparently his funding relationship with the government, but Gatiss makes up for these improbabilities with world-class pouting and also being transformed into a CGI giant insect. The climactic scenes in the cathedral (Wells posing as Southwark) are excellent, and the closing scenes with Adjoah Andoh and Saxon's aides a neat teaser for what is to come.

I wanted to like 42 as much as I did The Lazarus Experiment on rewatching, but I couldn't quite bring myself to. It looks generally fantastic - the spaceship internals are particularly good, and the visuals of the ship falling into the sun are compelling, and the acting is great, particularly Tennant who is on form, and guest star Michelle Collins as Captain McDonnell - but I kept noting engineering problems; the 42-minute deadline is implausibly precise, the ship is very implausibly designed to be able to make a quick getaway at the last moment, and the subplot of the escape pod detaching itself and then reattaching without major consequences for angular momentum and velocity does not seem to have been thought through. (Also, general knowledge questions as security measures in that sort of situation???)

A somewhat mixed start to Season Three, then, with a couple of rather duff stories and a not paricularly charming dynamic between oblivious, grieving Doctor and besotted, disempowered companion. But there is better to come.

< 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

Tags: doctor who, doctor who: 09, doctor who: rewatch, doctor who: rewatch: new who

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