The protective mother

It's all a matter of a mother's love for her daughter.

It’s all a matter of a mother’s love for her daughter.

One of the Doctor Who characters I really like is Francine Jones, Martha’s mother. To be clear, I doubt I would like her at all if I met her in real life, but the character was well-drawn. I’ve seen a number of discussions about the character in which people felt that she was unbelievable and too hostile to the Doctor for no reason, and I disagree. Her opinions and actions may seem to be unbelievable, but that’s because her character was developed with a lot more subtlety than most of the other characters on the show.

People who don’t like Francine point to “The Lazarus Experiment”, where she first meets the Doctor and takes an immediate and fervent dislike of him. Granted, he does not make a good impression. While he thinks he blends in well with humans, he really doesn’t, and he outdoes himself in this instance, trying to make small talk and more or less implying that he’s been sleeping with her daughter. Detractors point to this scene, saying that Francine is extremely judgmental here and should not have hated him so much after just one meeting.

However, Francine’s reaction to the Doctor must be considered with her personality and history in total, which we learned of back in “Smith and Jones”. We only see very little of her and her family in that episode, but the scenes were expertly crafted to give you a very good overview of everyone in the family. We first see her when she’s talking to Martha on the phone, telling her daughter to refuse to allow her ex-husband Clive’s girlfriend Annalise to attend Leo’s birthday party. She only gets about five lines before the next phone call, from Clive, cuts her off, but those five lines are very telling. We see that she lives in a nice house and wears fine clothes. She’s obviously upset primarily about the divorce and her husband’s young and vapid trophy girlfriend, but her exact complaint is that the girl’s appearance at the party would make the family “look ridiculous”. Thus, her concern is status. Her family is well-to-do (as is evidenced by Clive’s ability to afford an expensive convertible sports car), and she’s very concerned about how they’re viewed. Later on, we see that she’s very proud of one daughter studying to become a doctor and the other becoming the personal assistant of a prominent scientist.

That night, her fears about the party come true: there’s a huge, embarrassing fight between her and Annalise, ending with almost all of the family chasing Annalise and Clive down the street yelling. This scene and the cell phone montage paints a complete picture of the entire family, with Francine being the one who’s used to being in control, Clive being ineffectual and letting his women walk all over him, and Martha as the level-headed one who usually acts as the peacekeeper. However, there’s one last thing that happens here: Martha disappears from the party, and no one knows where she went. This is obviously something unusual for her: her mother mentions it the next day, and Tish makes a comment about Martha, the ambitious and studious sister, suddenly having a social life.

Doctor + Mother = Slap!

Doctor + Mother = Slap!

Thus, this is the stage that’s set when Martha arrives at Professor Lazarus’ event. Francine is there to celebrate her younger daughter’s success, something that reflects well on her and her family, but her older daughter arrives witth a strange man no one has heard of before, after disappearing the previous night. Rather than tell the approximate truth – that her friend accompanied her because he’s interested in Lazarus’ project – Martha introduces him as a doctor who she’s been working with. However, on speaking with him, Francine finds him to be socially inept and rather idiotic, certainly not someone you’d think was a doctor. He’s unable to come up with anything that he’s done with Martha, and it’s implied that she jumps to the conclusion that they slept together. From a mother’s point of view, this is the worst kind of man her daughter could hook up with: stupid, flippant, distracting her from what’s important. It’s also very possible that he reminds her of the previous stupid, flippant, distracting person who disrupted her family – Annalise – and in that vein, his apparent race does him no favors.

Once the episode’s action starts, the Doctor only makes things worse. As he’s concerned only about Lazarus and the dangers he’s unleashed, he ignores Francine and knocks her drink down her dress, and once the family is safe outside, Martha leaves them to go back into danger to help him. And thus, her hatred of him is cemented: he appears to be everything that’s wrong for her daughter, and her daughter has taken leave of her senses to follow him. It doesn’t matter that he saved the lives of most of the people at the event. Francine’s statement that Martha “abandoned” the family for him is very telling: in her eyes, Martha is giving up all of the things that Francine feels is so important – status, a comfortable life, a good education, a career – for this unworthy man. Any mother would feel the same way.

Things only get worse from here. Remember, from Francine’s point of view, all of the events of Series 3 happen over the course of a couple of weeks at most. “Smith and Jones” occurs only a few days before the election of Harold Saxon as Prime Minister, and in the UK, the new Prime Minister takes office as soon as the old one resigns and the new one is appointed by the monarch. The Doctor and Martha go off to have their adventures, and all Francine knows is that Martha is suddenly never home and not answering her frequent calls, except for a couple of strange emergency calls which imply that Martha has started to cheat on her exams. Of course, Francine is also being swayed by Harold Saxon’s people, who are feeding her exactly what she wants to hear: how dangerous the Doctor is and that she has to get Martha away from  him. It isn’t until she’s taken prisoner does she start to realize that the people she’s been listening to are lying and maybe the Doctor isn’t so bad.

Taken as a whole, Francine is an understandable character: a rather imperious but otherwise protective mother who is attempting to prevent her daughter from falling in with who she perceives as the wrong man. The thing is, her history, personality, and values are established in about ten lines of dialogue five episodes before she makes her judgment about the Doctor, and if you didn’t remember them or didn’t pay attention because they didn’t seem important, her reaction to him would seem rash and overly harsh. It’s important to examine recurring characters in this show very carefully, because you might miss something otherwise. The show focuses on the Doctor and his companion, but anyone that it feels deserves enough attention to be brought back is usually beautifully drawn and characterized and often has their own story to tell.

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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.

It’s so volcanic!

It amazes me sometimes how much I miss things that I really should have noticed. Sure, I’ve seen a lot of Doctor Who episodes multiple times, and I love them, and then one day, it just hits me what it is about a particular episode that I love so much. Today’s revelation talking point is “The Fires of Pompeii”. I know that when I first viewed it, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t stand out to me in any particular way. I enjoyed all of Series 4 (there wasn’t a single bad episode in the entire bunch), but certainly “The Fires of Pompeii” didn’t hold a candle to the incredible episodes “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”, “Midnight”, and “Turn Left”. It had a fun adventure, with the Doctor battling lava monsters that had lost their planet and were trying to make Earth their home by taking over the indigenous sentient species, while he was also trying to figure out why Pompeii wasn’t going to explode like it should.

fop_donna_doctor-angry

Don’t think she’s just going to back down, Doctor!

Then, months later, I rewatched it, along with all of the other Series 4 episodes. They were all better on second viewing, but “The Fires of Pompeii” was surprisingly very good. This time, with the advantage of hindsight, I saw how this episode established Donna’s character as the Doctor’s conscience and the only one who can and will push back against him. “Donna, human, NO!” is the iconic scene which shows that she’s willing to stand against him when she feels she’s right, something few companions ever have the nerve to do. Then, in the end, in the stone capsule, she sees that yes, he has good reasons for what he does and that he makes those difficult decisions no matter how much suffers for them, and she continues to support him. This episode contributed a huge amount to the overarching story of Series 4, in which the Doctor is bound by coincidences (or destiny) to the one companion that travels with him as an equal rather than a subordinate.

It’s only been recently that I realized that “The Fires of Pompeii” is even deeper than that. There’s a third story hidden behind all of this: that of Caecilius’ family. The characters are drawn beautifully from the start, as we meet them when Caecilius has bought the TARDIS as a “modern art” piece, in order to demonstrate that he’s cultured and savvy. From the first moments of their appearance, we know that he and his wife Metella are social climbers, doting on their daughter Evelina and pushing her into the Sybilline Sisterhood because that will increase their prestige in the city, while dismissing the damage it’s causing her.  They also ignore their son Quintus, who they think is a wastrel, trying to hide him whenever anyone of importance appears. It’s very telling that when the first earthquake hits, they run to save the vases and statuary rather than make sure their children are safe. Quintus is the only one in the family who actually cares about Evelina and is appalled as he watches his sister degrade.

4x02-The-Fires-of-Pompeii-doctor-who-1885014-960-528

Misplaced concern: Metella’s only worried that Evelina’s going to insult someone of status.

As events unfold, the parents watch as Quintus steps up to defend his sister and the family, and when Pompeii finally erupts, they learn that the material aspects of life are transient and that the things they’ve been blind to, their children, are the real treasures they should have been protecting. The Doctor saves them, and when they rebuild their lives in Rome, while they’re still trying to climb the social ladder, they do so while also caring for their family.

This whole storyline is carried out behind the bigger sweeping story of the Pyroviles and the Doctor and Donna’s developing relationship and is nearly invisible, and yet it glues together the episode. It adds a layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward story, providing a cast of secondary characters that you immediately understand and relate to, and grow during the course of the events, getting you invested in their lives without detracting from the main conflict. It’s even more amazing to consider that this was done with very little focus on the family, as most of the scenes and dialogue were focused on the Doctor (of course) and the Pyroviles’ scheme.

It’s this complex plotting and attention to the secondary characters, building them into a story of their own, that really appeals to me about Doctor Who. Yes, I love the Doctor and his companions, but it’s the rest of the universe that’s so interesting, even down to one single family and how their encounter with the Doctor changes their lives.

The case for Daleks

This image always makes me smile.

This image always makes me smile.

Daleks are almost as iconic to Doctor Who as the TARDIS itself – even if you don’t watch the show, it’s likely you still recognize the bumpy pepper pots with the plunger and egg beater for arms. They appeared in the second story of the show as the main protagonist, and they captured the imagination of the viewing audience, as a powerful, inexorable enemy. Every Doctor has battled them (the Eighth Doctor did not meet them on television), some more often than others. And even when they’re defeated and wiped from the universe, they always find a way to return.

Daleks are the monster of all of the Doctor Who monsters. Others, notably the Cybermen, return and menace the Doctor, but nothing is as horrible as a Dalek, and nothing else brings out the Doctor’s hatred and anger quite as well. And yet, they’re starting to get passé, simply because they appear so often. Every series of the modern show except Series 6 has at least one story in which the Daleks – the race that was supposedly completely destroyed – are the main antagonists. Some viewers have suggested that it’s time to leave the Daleks behind, that they’re overused and no longer interesting. Is that true?

I posit that honestly, the Daleks themselves were never interesting. They are a completely lawful species, with a strict hierarchy and very well-defined thought pattern: Daleks are perfect, and kill everything that is not Dalek. There’s only so far a writer can go with that.

So what is it that makes some of the Dalek episodes so good? It’s not the Daleks themselves. It’s the reaction of the other characters to them that makes the story. “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is all about how a small group of resistance fighters works to throw off the Dalek masters, and how David and Susan’s romance blossoms in the midst of this. The brilliance of “Genesis of the Daleks” is due to the moral dilemma facing the Doctor: can he commit genocide knowing the horrors that the Daleks will perpetrate if he doesn’t? “Destiny of the Daleks” explored the limitations of logic, as two purely logical races faced off against each other. “Remembrance of the Daleks” showed off the manipulative nature of the Seventh Doctor as he subtly maneuvered two factions of Daleks into destroying their own homeworld.

This trend continues into the modern show. The genius of “Dalek” is in the contrast between the Doctor’s and Rose’s reactions to the Dalek’s existence, the experienced warrior and the innocent. It also explored the concept of Dalek corruption, becoming less Dalek and more human, something explored further in “Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks” (a story which, if you can ignore the pig slaves and the rather ridiculous design of Dalek Sec, is actually rather fantastic, and showcases the only modern Doctor who doesn’t actually hate the Daleks). “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” deals with what the Doctor has become after battling against the Daleks and the other evils of the universe for so long. And “Asylum of the Daleks” has the Doctor for once dealing with Daleks who are not his enemy, and in fact are asking for his help.

That’s where the Daleks shine: when the story uses the ultimate evil that they represent to tell a story about themes in reaction to them. As a counterexample, look at “Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday”. This is a fine episode, but really is only well-regarded because of the concept of Daleks and Cyberman trash-talking and battling each other and the final scene at Darlig ulv Stranden. Otherwise, the story simply has the Cybermen and Daleks appearing and the Doctor being powerless to stop them from tearing the planet apart until he comes up with the idea of sucking them into the Void. He, as well the audience, learns nothing new from this experience.

The appearance of Daleks in the show usually promises an action-packed episode with lots of robotic screaming, laser shots, and deaths, but their real strength as enemies is that against them, the Doctor explores deeper themes and learns more about himself and his companions. There’s always the danger of too much of anything, but as long as the Daleks can continue to bring out these complex storylines and intriguing questions and conflicts, then they’re still perfect for Doctor Who.

Like father like daughter?

Something occurred to me today that’s bothered me quite a bit. I hate to think that I’m being over-picky about things, but this one has really gripped my brain and it really bothers me. And here it is.

doctor_who_kate_stewartKate Stewart has appeared three times in the Doctor Who TV series, and all three times, she was co-opted by the Brigadier.

She first appears in “Power of Three”, when we don’t know who she is other than she’s the science advisor for UNIT and has worked on decreasing the organization’s dependence on weapons and the military mindset. As the situation gets out of hand in the episode, she starts to realize that there’s nothing she can do, and the Doctor gives her a pep talk, saying, “Don’t despair, Kate. Your dad never did. Kate Stewart, heading up UNIT, changing the way they work. How could you not be? Why did you drop Lethbridge?” This is, of course, the revelation for the audience that she’s the Brigadier’s daughter, and now your attention is on her as the Brigadier’s daughter and not the leader of UNIT. The Doctor’s first tactic is to encourage her with who her father is, not what she has been able to accomplish. He even says that she must be the Brig’s daughter, since she’s the head of UNIT and changing them, implying that she couldn’t have done that if she wasn’t his blood relation. (Is that really what he said? That’s really kind of insulting.)

She then returns in “The Day of the Doctor”, and while she’s a very strong, capable commander throughout the episode (while human or Zygon), her best scene was when she was facing off with her Zygon duplicate, threatening to destroy London to save the world. When the duplicate doubts that she could do such a thing, she doesn’t say, “Look in my mind. You can see what I’m thinking, and you know that I would do this to save my world.” Instead, she says, “Somewhere in your memory is a man called Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. I am his daughter.” Her stand against the threat is based on her father’s strength, not her own.

Her last and most recent appearance was in “Death in Heaven’. (Spoilers in this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet.  In this episode, she performs well, though she is mostly powerless to solve the issue at hand, through no fault of her own. But first, on the plane that’s meant to be the base of the “President of the World”, there’s a portrait of the Brigadier. There’s no real reason for it, as the Brigadier retired from UNIT in the 1970s and there have been several brigadier-generals of UNIT since then; the Doctor even pokes her about it, saying, “Ah, I see you’re bringing Daddy along, too.” Then, she is later saved by the resurrected CyberBrig, which is certainly one of the coolest moments of the show (if you don’t feel it the resurrection desecrated his memory; I’m on the fence about that still), but, while it doesn’t insult her in any way, it certainly turns the spotlight away from her and right on the Brigadier.

Is there some rule that Kate is not allowed to be a strong character on her own? Must everything she does be weighed in reference to her father? It’s ironic that she dropped the “Lethbridge” because she “didn’t want any favours,” and yet it seems that the scripts are only letting her into the show so that they can bring the Brigadier back in. She’s a scientist and a leader, direct and decisive, but she is always written as her father’s daughter – or at least, the Doctor seems to think that she’s nothing but that. Which is insulting for both her AND the Doctor – well, perhaps the Twelfth Doctor might feel that way, but it is surprising that the Eleventh Doctor did.

I do honestly think that this has all happened as a side-effect of the writers wanting to pay homage to the Brigadier, but they’re playing that card too many times at the expense of an otherwise great character. They need to stop relying on nostalgia and let Kate be her own woman, and perhaps she’ll become as iconic to the current series as the Brigadier was to the classic show.

It’s finally over…

It saddens me more than you can imagine to write that I am so glad that Series 8 of Doctor Who is finally over. This has been one painful trip. To think that just three months ago, I was giddily excited about the new season and meeting the new Doctor, though a bit apprehensive of another season of Clara, a companion I’ve never really liked. Well, sadly, though I love Mr. Capaldi’s Doctor, there’s not much of this season that’s worth anything. I’ve been avoiding writing about the season as much as possible, because I had wanted to not complain, but now that it’s done, here’s how I’ve felt about it.

Before the season started, the press releases were telling us that the show was being taken in a new direction. The new Doctor would be dark, they said, and you wouldn’t always be sure if he was going to keep the companion safe. And they told us there were consequences if you choose to run with the Doctor, that it’s not just travel and fun. I was a little apprehensive about this, because, you know, why should they have to tell you what to expect? Part of the essence of good storytelling is having the audience think about the story you’re telling and figure these things out for themselves. I was particularly concerned about their emphasis on the “consequences for the companion”, since we had already learned from Rose, Martha, and Donna and their families that being with the Doctor causes everyone to get hurt. As Martha put it, “He’s like fire. Stand too close and you get burned.” Why should they think it’s such a great new novel idea when the first five years of the show was all about that?

"I know the Doctor just went through a violent regeneration and is wandering around somewhere, but let me complain about the fact he's not Matt Smith anymore."

“I know the Doctor just went through a violent regeneration and is wandering around crazy somewhere, but let me complain about the fact that he’s not Matt Smith anymore.”

However, I went into the season premiere, “Deep Breath”, with anxious anticipation, and, well, it was as bad as I’d dreaded. I’ve already written a review of it, and going back and reading it, I still pretty much agree with how I felt back then. It horrifies me that I didn’t remember that I had gone to the theater to see it – I have such bad memories of that episode that I don’t even remember going out for it. To summarize, though, I found that “Deep Breath” was way too preoccupied with Clara being unable to accept the new Doctor, that it was way too talky (the Doctor basically talked the robot to death), and its attempts to draw clever parallels were obvious and heavy-handed. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the trend for the entire season.

Apparently, the “consequences for the companion” was a code-word for “making Doctor Who into The Clara Show“. Much of the season concerned itself with Clara, either her relationship with the Doctor or her relationship with Danny Pink, to the exclusion of the Doctor from the show. Few of the episodes weren’t mostly about her, and some even marginalized the Doctor without being an actual Doctor-lite episode (“Kill the Moon”, “Flatline”, “In the Forest of the Night”, and to a large extent, “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven”). Clara herself was neurotic and manipulative, spending most of the season lying to both the Doctor and Danny to keep them well-heeled, while simultaneously complaining to them if/when they lied. Her mood swings were impressive, going from hating the Doctor in one episode to “everything’s fine” the next (which was a lie, of course, along with blaming it all on Danny). And her relationship with Danny was simply dysfunctional, starting as a sexual predator (forcing him to go on a date with her, then returning multiple times after that date had gone south twice, even showing up at his apartment uninvited and kissing him; can you imagine if their genders were reversed, how offensive she would be?), then lying to him repeatedly, even when monsters are attacking and he’s trying to figure out what’s going on simply to survive (yes, tell him you’re just rehearsing the school play; very clever).

Danny himself was poorly characterized. He was supposed to be a PTSD soldier, but apparently all that means is completely emotionless and spineless except when he can insult the Doctor. Granted, the Doctor probably started it, but still, Danny had no personality except in those moments. In general, though, the main problem here is that the season was completely about Clara and her relationships, and she was not interesting at best, offensive at worst. There were good episodes this season that were damaged by her simply being there. I remember being completely enthralled by “Mummy on the Orient Express” until the scene cut to Clara, and she ruined the atmosphere with her complaint about having to lie to the woman to get her to go to the lab. (And she didn’t have to lie; there were other ways of persuading the woman to go to the lab without lying. But she chooses to lie, and then yells at the Doctor later that he “made” her lie.) And then the end of that episode, where suddenly everything’s fine and she only told the Doctor she hated him because Danny wanted her to – that was unbelievable. I could go on, but I won’t.

Listen to me talk!

Listen to me talk!

There were some good episodes, if you squinted Clara out of the camera frame; “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” are the two standouts, as long as you chop off the final scene in both, where Clara does her attention-getting schtick. Both of these had interesting adversaries, lots of problem-solving, and well-designed horror scenes. And I think that’s the problem. Most of the rest of the episodes were designed to have the characters talk about philosophical themes: “Deep Breath”, “Into the Dalek” to some extent, “Listen”, “The Caretaker”, “Kill the Moon”, “In the Forest of the Night”, and “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven” all fit this bill. “Death in Heaven” was particularly bad for this: with its lead-in with Cybermen invading London, it spent most of its 60 minutes (15 more than usual) with the Cybermen simply standing around while the main characters talked. It’s okay to transform what’s traditionally an action-packed adventure show into a philosophical drama, if you do it well, but it rarely was. Perhaps they tried too hard to keep the action-adventure format. Or maybe they just don’t know how to do philosophical drama. Either way, these episodes devolved into heavy-handed sermons, usually with contrived plots to set up the discussion and pat, unsatisfying conclusions. Tack on melodramatic scenes meant to tug at heartstrings (Really, her sister was in a bush? What?), and all you have is a mess.

And I think that’s the problem. I can’t say for certain, but it really does seem to me that the writers were told to elicit specific emotional responses or say specific lines or handle certain themes, and the plots were shoehorned in around them. The thing is, the audience is not stupid. We can tell when something is contrived, when you’re trying to manipulate us, and this season reeked of manipulation.

Now, you might note that I haven’t discussed the Capaldi Doctor himself yet. The Doctor was wonderful, as was his actor. He was very different than his predecessor, with a very alien outlook and an inability to really understand how humans think, resulting in his being abrasive and insulting a lot of the time. While he’s older and a lot less action-oriented than the Smith Doctor, he still had a sharp wit and brilliant logic. A lot of people didn’t like his arrogance and tendency to insult people, either directly or accidentally, but I think that people who feel the Doctor shouldn’t be like that are forgetting Tom Baker’s and Colin Baker’s Doctors, and to a lesser extent, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. Unfortunately, Capaldi has had to endure less-than-stellar episodes, and I’m hoping that a new companion will make things better for him (I’m not anticipating an improvement in the writing).

No, this is dark.

No, this is dark.

I am very disappointed in two things, though. First, the promise of the “dark” Doctor. Now, maybe this might be due to my definition of “dark.” To me, a dark Doctor is one who teeters on the edge of corruption, who is close to giving in to his dark side. McCoy’s Doctor was dark, because he was manipulative and actually sacrificed his companion to further his goals. Tennant’s Doctor courted the dark side multiple times, with a tendency towards cruelty (“The Christmas Invasion”, “The Runaway Bride”,  “The Family of Blood”) and tempted by power (“School Reunion”), ultimately giving in to it (“The Waters of Mars”). Capaldi’s Doctor showed very little darkness. He let Clara fend for herself in “Deep Breath”, though he believed that she was fully capable of surviving, and while the Rusty looked into his mind and saw hatred, the Doctor’s actions were never affected by it. This Doctor is less dark and more, well, grumpy.

The other thing is the promise we had at the end of Series 7.2. What happened to the search for Gallifrey? When the Smith Doctor talks to the Curator and discovers that Gallifrey has survived, his eyes gleam with hope, and the final scene is that of all twelve Doctors with the voiceover that he finally knows where he’s going: home.  He finds out that Gallifrey is behind the crack at Trenzalore and spends the rest of his life defending the planet, but once he regenerates, Gallifrey doesn’t come up once. He doesn’t spend a moment searching for it until the Master appears. What happened to going home and finding his people? Was he really satisfied with the confirmation that Gallifrey was stuck somewhere – doesn’t matter where, as long as he knew it was still around? At the end of “The Day of the Doctor,” the Doctor actually had a purpose, for once in his lives – a quest, you might call it – and he forgot it. Instead, we were given a season of soap opera.

This season has been bad enough that I’m not excited for the Christmas special, and don’t actually care if there’s a Series 9 or not. I love the new Doctor, but if the show is going to continue to be as maudlin and condescending as it has been since Series 7.2, then, it’s time I moved on. I’m nowhere near finished viewing the classic series. I’ve hundreds of hours of Big Finish audios to listen to, and that’s just in the main range. And, of course, there’s Series 1-6 to enjoy on rewatch. The current show has a lot to do to recapture my imagination.

The journey never ends

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.

Three episodes, but worth every minute of it!

Three episodes, but worth every minute of it!

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.”

Rose, not at her most flattering

Rose, not at her most flattering

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.

Davros and Dalek Caan

Davros and Dalek Caan

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.

Probably a half an hour before the Doctor is alone once more.

Probably a half an hour before the Doctor is alone once more.

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.