The Could-Have-Been Companion

Even Time Lords take selfies.

Even Time Lords take selfies.

I’ve been thinking recently about “Planet of the Dead”. It’s not a very highly-regarded episode of Doctor Who, and in my mind, it’s easily the weakest of the four specials after series 4. It was a good-enough adventure, but nothing remarkable. It’s probably best known for featuring Michelle Ryan as the companion-of-the-day, Lady Christina de Souza.

The thing that’s interesting to me about “Planet of the Dead” is that I didn’t like Lady Christina. In case you don’t remember the episode, it starts with her breaking into a museum to steal an artifact, a golden goblet that once belonged to an ancient British king (I don’t remember which one, and I’m too lazy to go look it up). During her escape, she boards a bus and in few moments, the Doctor sits next to her, offering her a chocolate orange. The bus then travels through a wormhole and lands on a desert planet, and she and the Doctor work together to get the bus back to Earth.

I remember very clearly that she immediately rubbed me the wrong way, and it upset me when the Doctor considered taking her on as a companion. At the time, the two reasons why were because she was clearly amoral, selfish, and greedy and because her interest in traveling with the Doctor stemmed from her boredom with her life – it wasn’t that she wanted to see the universe or do good things or wanted to become a better person. I couldn’t see why the Doctor found her interesting at all, except that she intrigued him because she was capable, used to taking charge, and carried with her all kinds of useful implements. I was very happy when he turned her down. (I didn’t pick up on the reason why he turned her down until my second viewing of the episode. I have to admit that I didn’t really get the overarching theme of the four specials until I saw them again, despite the fact that it’s what made them good; sometimes I can be really dense.)

Now I wonder whether or not my initial judgment of her was too harsh. She might have been interested in joining the Doctor because she was bored with her life, but she wasn’t the first prospective companion to join the Doctor for that reason: the most prominent was Rose. Of course, Rose stayed with the Doctor for very different reasons, but her initial reason was because her life was stagnant, and I didn’t dislike her for that. (I will note that I don’t like Rose, but for very different reasons.) Another is Peri, who found herself on the TARDIS by accident and chose to stay there because she didn’t have much of a life she wanted to go back to. But again, I didn’t dislike Peri when she first appeared, and she developed into a great friend for the Doctor.

Lady Christina’s amorality, selfishness, and greed is probably the greater reason for my not liking her, but again, there are other companions who have these traits. Turlough joins the TARDIS crew initially with the express purpose of assassinating the Doctor, and later is put into situations in which he’s tempted and has to overcome his desire for certain things, both physical and emotional, and again, I don’t dislike him. In fact, I find him to be a fascinating character, because of the things he goes through and how he grows from his experiences.

And because of all of this, I wonder if I dislike Lady Christina simply because we only got to see a very small, unflattering glimpse of her, and that she might have been a wonderful companion if the Doctor had taken her along and brought out her good characteristics, like he’d done for his previous companions? Or, perhaps, I would have enjoyed her story more if she’d turned out like Adam, the only time we’ve ever seen a failed companion. Adam wasn’t a sympathetic character, but his story was great. I guess we’ll never know, but it does make me yearn to see how things would have turned out if she’d been given a chance.

Advertisements

David Tennant’s Special Recognition Award at the 2015 NTAs

Honestly, I couldn’t be happier for him. The National Television Awards presented David Tennant with their Special Recognition award, for his vast body of excellent work in British television. The presentation, which included a montage of his works and statements by various people about him (including one from his father), is something to watch.

From this journal, it’s no secret that I adore Mr. Tennant. His Doctor is certainly my favorite of the fourteen Doctors so far, but that’s a character personality / story arc assessment. I like him for so much more than that, and in fact, his Doctor is not my favorite character of his: if I had to choose, I’d have to name Alec Hardy from Broadchurch, or possibly Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing.  It’s really just his talent, his ability to interpret and portray a vast array of characters that mesmerizes me. It’s hard to explain. I watch one of his shows and I forget that it’s David Tennant playing a character, because he is that character. Want a great example? Listen to the Doctor Who audiobook, Dead Air. He narrates as the Doctor, but does the voices for the other three characters, and while he is simply switching between them as he reads, he sounds like four different people playing the characters. He’s unbelievable.

He also has a fantastic sense for selecting good projects to get involved in and great characters to interpret. Broadchurch is the shining example, of course, as with his reputation, he probably has the pick of any project he might want to do. The show captured Britain’s attention and Hardy is simply a fantastic character. I think the only program that I’ve seen of his so far that was truly bad was The Decoy Bride; even the silly, campy things that he’s done, like St. Trinian’s 2 and Nativity 2 were entertaining and fun. Of course, he doesn’t only do television, movies, and theater. He does audio plays, audio books, and narration (Wings 3D was stunning, and I just love his bedtime stories for CBeebies). And outside of his performance work, he works tirelessly for the charities that he’s dedicated himself to.

I think, though, one of his most stunning attributes is his humility. Watch that video: it’s very apparent that he was not only completely surprised by the recognition, but embarrassed by it. And this is constant across all of his interviews and media appearances. Though of course the focus is on him, he seems honestly stunned that anyone wants to see and listen to him. He seems surprised that people think he’s any good, and I think he’s actually rather shy, when it comes down to being himself. It’s refreshing to see in a celebrity, especially one so talented, and rather endearing.

Congratulations, Mr. Tennant! You have the love and respect of your audience and deserve every bit of that award.

“Battlefield”

I find it very interesting that my non-fan friends are surprised when I tell them that such-and-such episode is not very good. For some reason, they think that if I’m a fan of the show, I must love every episode, and to me, that’s a very unrealistic expectation. In any fiction of a serial nature, some installments will be good and some will be bad, and they don’t always have the same type of quality. I love “Human Nature’/ “Family of Blood” because I feel it’s one of the best stories in the entire show, but I’ve probably seen “Smith and Jones” more often, simply because it is such a fun adventure. This goes for the classic show as well: you can’t run a show with seven different lead actors over twenty-seven years without some variation in quality.

Merlin and Morgaine

Merlin and Morgaine

And so we come to “Battlefield”, the first episode in the very last season of classic Doctor Who, featuring the Seventh Doctor with Ace as his companion. I watched it completely fascinated, and while I’m not sure that this was a good episode plot-wise, it was a lot of fun and I came out of it smiling.

Spoilers ahead! Not a complete episode synopsis, but instead a recap of the elements and twists.

When the Doctor and Ace arrive in present-day England this time, there’s a nuclear missle convoy stalled near a lake, and UNIT is called in to take care of it. Though the current brigadier, Brigadier Bambera, is on the scene, the Brigadier, our faithful Lethbridge-Stewart, is called in to assist. However, unknown to the Doctor or UNIT, men in chain armor begin appearing in the area.

To make a long story short, Morgaine, a sorceress of great power, comes to Earth from her dimension to find King Arthur, who supposedly is in a state of suspended animation beneath the nearby lake. Ancelyn, one of Arthur’s knights, comes to Earth first to defend Arthur and wake him, while Mordred, Morgaine’s son, chases him. When they (separately) encounter the Doctor, they immediately recognize him as Merlin; though they knew him with a different face, they could identify him simply by the power in his form.

The Doctor figures out that a future incarnation of himself visits their dimension and defends Arthur, and leaves hints to his former self to try to find and protect Excalibur, the artefact Morgaine needs to open the portal between dimensions. They discover the Doctor’s spaceship beneath the lake, but Arthur is long dead. It then becomes a race to convince Morgaine that Arthur is gone, so that she ends her war.

The plot itself is not as twisty-turny as many of the Seventh Doctor’s episodes, but it was still interesting, as you find out just what Morgaine is after and why, after all these years, she still wants to battle Arthur. Morgaine is also very interesting in her own right. She has a very solid sense of honor, even stopping to pay respects in a graveyard to the fallen soldiers from World War II, even though she had nothing to do with their conflict. At the end of the episode, when she is mourning Arthur’s death and frustrated with her centuries-long quest that she threatens to fire off the nuclear missiles, the Doctor dissuades her by appealing to her sense of honor, explaining what the missiles will do and pointing out that they are not honorable weapons of war.

The appearance of the Brigadier, the first (and only) one since “The Five Doctors”, wasn’t wasted. He starts at home, where he’s living a happy life with his wife Doris, and she’s upset that he’s being called back for a mission, even though he’s retired; she is, of course, afraid of him getting injured or killed. The Doctor is very happy to see him, and they solve the mystery together, but when Morgaine’s big monster, the Destroyer, appears, the Brigadier knocks the Doctor unconscious and faces it himself, knowing that the Doctor would not want to kill it and wanting to spare his friend the onus of having to do so. Doris was very right to worry: the Brigadier faces down the Destroyer and kills it, but nearly dies himself. It was a glorious last episode for the Brigadier, fighting as Earth’s Champion.

Ancelyn and Brigadier Bambera

Ancelyn and Brigadier Bambera

Another side plot which was fun to watch was the relationship between Bambera and Ancelyn. At first, Bambera views Ancelyn as an enemy, while he attempts to disarm her with rogueish banter. At different times, they argue and duel and fight, but by the end, they have formed a strong friendship with hints at future romance. One of the strengths of the classic show is that it takes the time to develop the guest characters, and this episode continued that tradition.

There’s nothing deep or profound about “Battlefield”, but it’s a great example of a fun and satisfying episode. It’s probably a great popcorn muncher, and if you’re anything like me, it’ll leave you happy.

“Master”

masterIt’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been busy in the meantime: listened to one audio and watched two episodes. I seem to be on a Seventh Doctor kick and am enjoying it immensely. I always list my favorite Doctors as the Tenth, Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth, in that order, but whenever I watch/listen to the Seventh Doctor, I have to re-evaluate that. I might have to put him into third place (and then bop him out of it when I listen to more Eight Doctor). On the other hand, why rank them? That’s the wonderful thing about Doctor Who: even though the Doctor changes, they’re all wonderful.

Today’s audio is “Master”, the 49th in Big Finish‘s monthly range of Doctor Who audios, featuring the Seventh Doctor with no companion. I gather that for the months leading up to their 50th audio, they released audios exploring the backgrounds of major antagonists. The first was “Omega” with the Fifth Doctor, the second was “Davros” with the Sixth Doctor, the third was “Master” with the Seventh Doctor, and the last, the 50th audio), was “Zagreus” with the Eighth Doctor. So far, I’ve enjoyed all of this series, and the “Master” is no exception, and I have high hopes for “Davros”. (The ratings on The Time Scales say that “Davros” is the best, so that’s even better.)

Non-spoiler review first.

The story starts out with a birthday celebration between three normal human friends. It seems to be set in the Edwardian era (or something similar) and everything seems to be normal, but this is a Doctor Who story and you know that it can’t stay that way. Even more so, this is a Seventh Doctor episode, so you know you’re going to be misled at some point, and this doesn’t disappoint. Without spoiling anything, you know that the Master must show up sometime (this audio is named for him, after all), and that’s really what you’re anticipating all the way through. The real thrill, though, is that you find out a lot more about the relationship between the Master and the Doctor, and the reveal of the real story is slow and tantalizing. I think the only quibble one might have with this audio is that it’s all talk, no action – you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a story about fighting aliens. And I think that’s a good thing: the Seventh Doctor excels at intrigue and manipulation, and that’s what this story is all about.

Spoilers! And this time, I really mean it. This audio conceals its secrets well. I’ll warn you that I cannot do this storyline justice in this summary.

The story opens with Inspector Schaeffer and his wife Jacqueline visiting their friend Dr. John Smith to celebrate his birthday. John is disfigured and suffering from severe amnesia, such that he can’t remember anything of his life before he was found in the town ten years earlier; thus, this is his tenth “birthday”, meaning the tenth anniversary of his arrival in the town. He became a doctor in the town and was bequeathed the house he’s living in when someone he saved passed away, and lives in it with his maid, Jade, even though it’s rumored to be haunted. The inspector discusses his current case – a number of prostitutes found dead in the town with their hearts cut out of their bodies – and Jacqueline, a high-born woman, talks about her charity work in the town, but otherwise, the three have a nice time together. There are a couple of strange incidents in which the inspector rants about how the depraved people in the town deserve to die and Jacqueline dismisses the poor people as not worth anything, but they recover and everything seems fine.

A thunderstorm whips up outside, and Jacqueline sees a face at the window. The trio go outside to fetch the man, who has been hit by lightning, and bring him in. While John speaks with him, he visibly heals from his wounds, and he introduces himself as the Doctor. Now, this is the part that I can’t really describe adequately. John realizes that the Doctor is the key to everything: why he’s amnesiac, what’s going on, and how he’s going to figure out who he is. As they talk, and as events progress, the Doctor begins to reveal everything: John is the Master, the Doctor’s oldest friend but also his ancient enemy, and though he knows himself as a good man and doctor, in the past he was evil. The Doctor also tells him the story of the moment the Master turned to evil. When they were children, they were inseparable friends, but they rebelled a bit against the life of a Time-Lord-in-training, choosing to run from the academy and play in the forests. One day, one of the other children, who would bully them, found them, grabbed one of them, and held his head underwater in the stream. The other boy got angry and, wanting to save his friend, grabbed a rock and brained the bully, killing him instantly. The two boys then buried the bully and promised never to mention the incident, but the boy chose to embrace death, and that was birth of the Master.

As the story progresses, however, the inspector and Jacqueline continue to have problems holding onto reality. The inspector, who always championed the good and righteous, reveals that he in fact was the person who has been killing the prostitutes, believing that they are purely evil. Jacqueline, who believes that everyone is worthy regardless of birth and wealth, starts treating the maid, Jade, poorly, because she’s just a servant. Jacqueline and John also reveal that they are in love, which angers the inspector. John starts to realize that everyone has personalities within them that they keep hidden, but this house seems to be bringing out. The Doctor realizes that it’s all revolving around Jade, and identifies her as the incarnation of Death. This is when it all comes out.

Back when the two boys were being bullied, it wasn’t the Master who killed the bully: it was the Doctor. That night, as he was agonizing over what he’d done, Death appeared to him and gave him the choice of becoming hers or letting his friend become hers. He chose the latter, and the Master became Death’s. More recently, the Doctor made a deal with Death to give the Master ten years of a normal, happy life, in exchange for at the end, the Doctor would have to kill the Master. John Smith’s tenth birthday was the end of that ten years.

The Doctor, of course, refuses to kill John, and instead, Death gives John a choice: kill the inspector and become the Master again, and allow Jacqueline, the woman he loves, to live; or kill Jacqueline to remain as John.

And that’s the story, more or less. This audio was fascinating. Of course, you start with wondering who John Smith is, especially since you know this audio is about the Master but “John Smith” is usually the Doctor’s alias, but even though the first part of the story is just the conversation between the inspector, his wife, and John, it’s still interesting and riveting. Then, as the secrets start to come out, you learn more about the Doctor’s and the Master’s history and relationship. And the unraveling of the three humans’ lives is just horrible. This was also my first exposure to the concept of the Master being Death’s champion and the Doctor being Time’s champion, and it made me want to learn more about that story arc. I would definitely recommend this audio, as a great story and performance, as well as an exploration of the Doctor and the Master.

My fifteen favorite episodes – Dec 2014

Ok, yes, it’s no longer 2014, but good enough. As I’ve done a year ago and six months ago, here is the list of my fifteen favorite episodes. Note that this is not necessarily my ranking of best episodes. It’s a ranking of ones that I like the most. It’s interesting comparing this back to my old lists (here and here), because you can see that not only have my tastes changed, but my definition of “favorite” has changed as well.

15. 42

burn-with-me-martha-oThis isn’t a popular choice, but I do love this episode. The time limit keeps the pressure on, and action keeps moving back and forth around the ship, but meanwhile, the characters get to explore their relationships and histories. And the Doctor fights a losing psychic battle against a solar entity, something that I always enjoy. The psychic part, not the losing part, though the fact that Doctor does succumb makes it even better.

14. The Eleventh Hour

A spectacular Doctor-introduction episode, it shows us all of this Doctor’s defining traits and sets up the Doctor’s and Amy’s relationship during a fun and interesting adventure.

13. Turn Left

Due to a tiny, ordinary decision, Donna never meets the Doctor and the world is thrown into chaos. It’s a fantastic exploration of a divergent timeline, showing what would happen if the Doctor wasn’t around to protect the universe.

12. The Waters of Mars

lawsoftimeThe downfall of the Tenth Doctor, when his need to help the people right in front of him overwhelms his greater responsibility to the universe and he convinces himself that he is above the rules. The situation was bad enough, with the creepy Flood, but the conclusion of the episode is chilling.

11. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

This episode combines a fantastic story, a very creepy monster, and the introduction of River Song, back when she was actually intriguing.

10. The Caves of Androzani

The Doctor and Peri, poisoned from the outset, find themselves bounced back and forth between political factions trying to control a lucrative mine on the planet Androzani Minor. Throughout all of the intriguing conflict, which occurs on many levels, all the Doctor tries to do the entire episode is find the antidote to save Peri. This is one of the greatest episodes of classic Doctor Who, with the Doctor at his most heroic.

9. Remembrance of the Daleks

remembrance-of-the-daleks-1When two different factions of Dalek appear on Earth to retrieve an artifact, the Doctor and Ace seem caught in the middle without any way to stop or deflect the war between them. However, it turns out that the Doctor had the upper hand all along, and this episode shows just how cunning this incarnation of the Doctor can be.

8. The Fires of Pompeii

This episode cemented Donna as the best of the modern companions, as she starts out as making a stand against the Doctor for what she believes is right, but through the episode learns that the Doctor has more to consider when making a difficult decision than just who might die. And yet, she is still willing to stand up to him and make him see when he’s wrong when she needs to. Behind all this was a great adventure as well as a story of a family who learn what’s important in life through their contact with the Doctor and the events of that befall them.

7. The Lodger

This episode is lots of fun, as a normal guy has the Doctor move in with him for a number of days.

6. School Reunion

drwhoschool3Ah, the return of Sarah Jane! Even if you’re not a classic show fan, this episode communicates just how important she is to the Doctor, and their reunion is bittersweet. The background story, of the Krillitanes and their quest to become gods, tests the Doctor’s moral firmness, and he almost loses.

5. The Doctor’s Wife

This one is all about the TARDIS made flesh and her interactions with the Doctor. The rest of the story is great, but it’s Idris and the Doctor that makes this episode brilliant.

4. Midnight

This intense episode, set entirely in a tiny bus, is absolutely chilling, with an invisible enemy that controls first one person and then the Doctor, and a panicking group of humans who latch onto the one different person in the group – the Doctor – and brand him as the enemy instead, attempting to destroy him despite evidence to the contrary. This is Doctor Who at its rawest and most real.

3. The Day of the Doctor

9191_4Despite the numerous flaws in its plot and its disappointing handling of the Time War, this episode is great fun, with lots of banter between Doctors, adventure, and thirteen Doctors descending on Gallifrey.

2. The Runaway Bride

This episode has a fun, action-y plot, but its real strength is the development of Donna, from an angry and shallow bride at the outset to a far more sober and understanding woman at the end; the Doctor brings out the best in her.

1. Human Nature/The Family of Blood

I really can’t see a time when any other story will take my #1 spot. This episode builds up the story and life of John Smith, then tears it from him as he discovers the truth about himself. It explores how the Doctor’s presence can destroy the lives of the people around him, and, at the end, highlights his alien nature and reveals just how cruel he can be when he’s angered.

 

Honorable Mentions

Time Crash: If this could be called an episode, it would be #1 or #2. Beautifully written and produced.

The Night of the Doctor: This webisode was brilliant in and of itself, but also connected the Eighth Doctor to the beginning of the Doctor’s involvement in the Time War.

Dalek: The Doctor’s rage and what it does to him.

The End of Time: The Doctor, the Master, and the Time Lords. ‘Nuff said.

Father’s Day: This is a great exploration into Rose’s background.

The Ark in Space: I didn’t expect this episode, with its larvae made of actors wrapped in green bubblewrap squirming on the ground, to be any good, but halfway through, I was just riveted.

Arc of Infinity: Omega is one of my favorite characters in the Doctor Who universe. This was a fantastic episode, except for the last twenty minutes, which was just terrible.

The Christmas Invasion: The first part of this episode drags a bit, but it establishes its point very well: the human race isn’t well-equipped yet to deal with aliens. Then the Doctor wakes up and it’s an incredible ride from that point to the end, establishing every detail of his character so well, even foreshadowing his eventual downfall.

The Five Doctors: While the “getting to the tower” parts of this episode are boring, having so many Doctors and companions in one show was brilliant, and for the most part, this is one of the most fun episodes ever made.