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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...

After a somewhat uneven first half of the season, we are onto much better stuff in the second half. It was good to come back to Human Nature / The Family of Blood so soon after rereading the book, though inevitably it meant doing a bit of compare and contrast; I won't do this in detail, since Niall Harrison did it back n 2007, but the things that jumped out at me were the following:

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.

My instant reaction to Blink on first broadcast was that it was one of the best episodes ever. I still think so, on rewatching. The story on which it is based is very strong, one of the strongest in the New Who annuals, but everything comes together here, with an excellent, scary, funny script, time paradoxes as the show had rarely dared to do them before (even if Moffat has now made them standard practice), superb effects and the most memorable monsters of New Who in the form of the Weeping Angels. Carey Mulligan, who was only 21 and had barely started her career at this stage, is luminous and fantastic as Sally Sparrow. Tennant is great doing the concentrated Doctory stuff that he excels at. It's a bit minimal for poor Martha, though she does get some good moments at the end. It's great stuff.

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).

And so we come to the season finale, New Who's first (arguably only) three-part story, and very much a game of three halves. While nothing can ever reproduce the sheer thrill of watching the denouement of Utopia for the first time when you don't know what's coming, it remains a pretty solid episode on rewatch, with it being apparently fairly clear what is going on until the moment when we realise that Derek Jacobi is returning to the role he played in Scream of the Shalka, in what I think remains the single best plot reveal in the whole of Who. Everyone is great in this - Tennant, Agyeman, Barrowman, Jacobi, Simm for his brief appearance and also Chipo Chung as the doomed Chantho.

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.

I must not forget The Infinite Quest, another venture into animation. I had originally intended to watch it one three-minute episode at a time, but could only find the consolidated version (it was originally shown on the same day as Last of the Time Lords, but in the morning). The animated format allows us a much more space opera type story, with giant metal-eating birds, space pirates and a prison planet. There are a couple of interesting plot twists, too, as the real fate of the prison governor is revealed and as Martha and the Doctor both have to deal with personifications of their heart's desire. But the animation of the two leads is a bit disappointing - the animated Doctor in particular doesn't look much like David Tennant - and it demonstrates how difficult it is to attach emotional freight to cartoons, though Freema does her best.

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.

I know that Martha comes back in the next seasons of both Torchwood and Who, but I've been writing up other characters after the end of their first set of regular appearances so I shall give my impressions of Martha here. It struck me very forcefully that, unlike Rose, she is both sexy and brainy; she kisses the Doctor in her first episode, and is flirting with Shakespeare in her second, and is also on course to be a highly qualified professional. Unlike Rose, whose life perhaps lacked meaning until she got into the Tardis, Martha gets dragged off course by the Doctor, who takes her utterly, abominably, for granted (blinded as he is by bereavement) and only realises his mistake as she leaves him. As noted previously, she and Mickey are the only two New Who companions to leave the Tardis entirely voluntarily.

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

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
mizkit
Mar. 18th, 2013 08:28 am (UTC)
Jeez, I got something in my eye just from a one sentence summary.
londonkds
Mar. 18th, 2013 09:36 am (UTC)
I think the absolute worst and least forgivable mistake RTD has ever made was to make the first primary black companion on TV Doctor Who the first (and I really hope only ever) companion to be consciously conceived and written as "the one the Doctor didn't like as much as the previous one".
viomisehunt
Mar. 18th, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
think the absolute worst and least forgivable mistake RTD has ever made was to make the first primary black companion on TV Doctor Who the first (and I really hope only ever) companion to be consciously conceived and written as "the one the Doctor didn't like as much as the previous one". Ditto. I think even Davies feels this now.

Very thoughtful summary, thank you for sharing it with us.

When I think of the relationship between the Doctor and his Companion established for the novel, I prefer the novel version of Human Nature more than adaptation, although I agree with you on the villains and Joan. The Novel's Joan seems more an opportunist, and she is racist, while I feel the teleplay's Joan fell truly in love, and with Martha she seemed more class conscious and protective of her relationship with Smith than a racist. In all fairness to source material, although racism appears briefly in the novel, it was not an element of that Joan’s relationship with Smith. Joan’s statement to Martha about complexion and class were not about Martha's abilities but about the opportunities for women of this class and complexion in her society, and the realization that Martha had a real relationship with John/The Doctor, while Joan's relationship was part of Smith's masquerade. As to Martha's demotion from underappreciated companion to disposable servant, we will never know why Davies and Cornell decided to present Martha as a servant rather than John Smith niece and guardian. Other "white" Post Edwardian men and women, because they belonged to blended families, often confronted racial prejudice in fellow Britons, but how Doctor Who approaches human complexion based folly is another discussion. However, from his statements Cornell felt he had written a script that allowed Martha to shine, as she has to have far more courage than the Doctor here, and is facing three times the adversity as the Doctor. Do you feel he failed?

In Human Nature the unrequited love scenario becomes cringe worthy, robbing Martha of dignity at one point.

Although it would have been out of character for Seven to act as such, Seven would not have run as Ten did from the initial confrontation. He had not yet destroyed his people. It was, however, on key for Ten to run from confrontation in which he might have to kill a species, and then have to deal with their end anyway.

she kisses the Doctor in her first episode,
The Doctor kisses Martha. Russell Davies thought this was significant enough that he stresses it.

she felt Martha's unrequited love for the Doctor went too far to be entertaining or comfortable I am happy to learn that Freema speaks frankly about this. I wish I could have heard the session. Did anyone record it for You Tube? Nice Photo of you and Freema by the way. The writer of The Story of Martha was quite taken with Freema’s brand of perfume—in the novel he describes it “expensive, classy, and sexy…” . Any observations?



Edited at 2013-03-18 04:39 pm (UTC)
nwhyte
Mar. 19th, 2013 06:27 am (UTC)
You make a good point about the TV Joan being a nicer character than the book's version!

I accept that putting Martha in a caring role for the Doctor does turn the tables in an interesting way. But you're right about the unrequited love thread being at its most cringeworthy here, and anyway this is a story about the Doctor and Joan with Martha in it, whereas the book was a story about the Doctor and Benny with Joan in it.

I've looked around for other accounts of the Gallifrey interview. There are three clips on YouTube, but none of them covers that point.

I'm afraid that I didn't form an impression of Freema's perfume! But I suspect it was discreet and sensible. A Facebook friend of mind who works with her outside the entertainment business messaged me to say. "We have many actor clients and she is probably the nicest, most grounded and just plain bright of the lot of them. And frankly one of the prettiest, too."
viomisehunt
Mar. 19th, 2013 04:17 pm (UTC)
I accept that putting Martha in a caring role for the Doctor does turn the tables in an interesting way. Martha starts her travels with the Doctor as a care giver--saving his life with very incorrect television CPR so that he can save the others, and women of color as care givers is not necessarily a novel image. I hesitiate to view the solution of having the hero take his Black female companion to the past and having her assume a subservient position as anything but convenient. At best the sceario fulfilled the audience's stereotypical assumptions of the relationships between black and white Britons at the time. But as you pointed out, the teleplay Human Nature was a love story between Joan and The Doctor, and Martha's only role was as observer.

In all the interviews with her co-stars and others for the Carrie Dairies, Freema has the same reputation, decent, grounded, and just lovely to look at. Again, thank you for sharing.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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