I have this perverse attitude that I don’t want to do something long, but then do two or more short things that take up more time than the long thing would have. In specific, I almost never sit down to watch two-part episodes of the modern Doctor Who. I don’t have this problem with the classic series, maybe because they’re four- to six-part serials of 25 minutes per part, so I don’t mind watching a couple and then, if I feel like it, go do something else and watch the rest the next day. But for some reason, modern stories with two 45-minute parts are daunting to me. I don’t have a problem watching “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood” any time it’s suggested to me, probably because I love that episode to bits, but any other two-parter elicits a groan from me, and instead, I sit down to watch a single episode. Then another. And often another. And then kick myself that I didn’t just sit down and watch the two-parter.
Because of this, I actually haven’t seen most of the two-part episodes more than three or four times (and I know I’ve only seen the three-part “Utopia” / “The Sound of Drums” / “The Last of the Time Lords” twice, even though I love it to death). I didn’t really realize this until I sat down to watch “The Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End” this week. As we got to the scene were the Doctor suppresses Donna’s memories, I realized that the fanfic I had written that referred to that scene was written in February, and I hadn’t seen the episode since. That means it’s been at least nine months since I’ve seen one of my favorite episodes, and it’s all because for some reason, I won’t start two-part episodes. That’s just crazy.
Be that as it may, I thoroughly enjoyed watching TSE/JE for the first time in a very long time, and it amazed me how much subtext was written into it. Maybe it’s because I’m writing my own stories, but for some reason, I’m starting to see a lot more subtlety in the RTD-era episodes than I have before. (I have no idea how much subtlety the Moffat-era episodes have. I like to think that Moffat is not a subtle writer, but I’m perfectly willing to admit that I know and understand his seasons a lot less well than I know the RTD seasons.) Everything that happens in TSE/JE was written to highlight Davros’ reveal of the “Doctor’s soul.”
All of the Tenth Doctor’s companions return in this episode. Jack, of course, is part of Torchwood. Martha is part of UNIT, and she goes to prepare the Osterhagen Key. Sarah Jane goes to the Crucible armed with a Warp Star. Most tellingly, Rose comes to find the Doctor armed with the biggest gun in the show, and Mickey and Jackie, who follow her, are also armed similarly. She even pauses in her search to threaten some petty looters with it. Remember that the three came from Pete’s World, where the stars were going out, and they had no idea what was causing it, and though the Doctor always tried to teach them non-violence, they came armed with weapons mighty enough to kill Daleks in one shot. Jack, Martha, and Sarah Jane knew what they were up against, so they at least have a reason to feel that violence was warranted; Rose had no such excuse. She’s the prime example of the character who the Doctor molded into a soldier, and this might very much be why the Doctor chose to place her back in Pete’s World.
(This is a common argument. Not only was Rose very much a soldier when she returned, but she had already been building the dimension cannon to break down the walls between the universes when they started seeing the stars going out. She knew that the cannon would start breaking down the universes, but still chose to do so just to return to the Doctor. Discounting the at least two years he had to move on from her, this character development, towards violence and irresponsibility, could have soured him against her.)
Interestingly, the one person who didn’t follow the Doctor, and the one person who he has condemned for violence, Harriet Jones, is the only true pacifist here. I’ve written before what a magnificent character she is, and this is one of her shining moments. In “The Christmas Invasion,” the Tenth Doctor’s very first full episode, she disagreed with the Doctor about what was right for the defense of planet Earth. Both of them were right: the Doctor sees things from a different view and wanted to protect the Sycorax as much as Earth, and did not like that they were shot in the back, while PM Jones knew that the Earth couldn’t let itself rely on the Doctor to be there every time danger lurked. In TSE/JE, she stood by what she believed, but works for it not by raising an army or developing weapons, but by building a communications network to contact the Doctor when he was needed.
The soldier companions converge on the crucible, with Rose and the Doctor imprisoned, make their threats, and reveal the Doctor’s soul, as described by Davros. This is what breaks him, and what makes him vow never to have another companion, which, of course, leads to his downfall in “The Waters of Mars.” The problem, of course, is that the Doctor is far too willing to blame himself for everything, and even though the judgment passed on him is given by an enemy filled with hatred for him, who he knows is completely amoral, the Doctor still completely agrees with him. Interestingly, though, the most objective judgment comes from Harriet Jones, the one person in the entire story who can be called neutral: she neither follows the Doctor nor hates him. She tells Jack, “And you tell him from me, he chose his companions well.” She sees that they are all brave and trying to do what’s right, and that sometimes what’s right requires violence, but they aren’t needlessly violent. Sadly, Jack never passes on her message, something the Doctor needed to hear.
The only other non-violent character in the story is Donna. She gets infused by the metacrisis and is able to stop the Daleks, but that’s the thing: she stops the Reality Bomb, confuses the Daleks’ circuits, and defuses the energy generator by sending the planets home, but she never attacks anyone. She even tries to stop the Metacrisis Doctor from destroying the Daleks. And for her efforts, she’s rewarded with a mind-wipe. Only the Doctor’s soldiers survive this conflict. It’s all very well-woven.
The conclusion of the story continues to reinforce the Doctor’s problems. Sarah Jane tells him, “You know, you act like such a lonely man. But look at you. You’ve got the biggest family on Earth,” and immediately runs off to her own family. Jack, Mickey, and Martha similarly leave, and of course, Rose, Jackie, and the Metacrisis Doctor stay in Pete’s World. They all unconsciously reinforce to him that he’s just a friend that they once knew but have moved on from, almost more like a co-worker from a job they left long ago. “Hey, it was great seeing you again. We did some great things together. Let’s go out for drinks sometime.” Of course, the Doctor contributes to his own problems by making decisions for everyone else like he always does – he forces Rose back to Pete’s World, insists that the Metacrisis Doctor stay with her, and removes Donna’s memories against her wishes – but in the end, everyone contributes to his eventual loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and self-hatred.
Much of this is readily not apparent until you watch the episode two or three times, but it really is beautiful. There are a few quibbles with the narrative that are certainly justified, especially the rather deus-ex-machina-y ending with Donna suddenly beating Davros, but the deeper story is where it really is all at. Oh, and I have to mention that Dalek Caan is one of my favorites ever, with his manipulation of the events as he decreed, “No more!” His soothsayings were also very clever: the Dark Lord (oo, the Doctor as the Dark Lord, that’s chilling), the Threefold Man, “The Doctor will be here as witness, at the end of everything,” meaning, of course, the end of everything Dalek. In my opinion, while this episode isn’t the best at straightforward plot, it really shines with theme and character development.