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 Krillitane Storm”

The_Krillitane_StormI have to admit that I haven’t been consuming new Doctor Who content very much lately. I need to get back to the Big Finish main range audios and “Gallifrey”. And I’ve had Christopher Cooper’s novel “The Krillitane Storm” sitting on my nightstand for about three months, waiting for me. So, I figured, with some holiday time off, I’d finally tackle that book, and I’m glad I did.

Spoilers, of course.

You remember the Krillitanes, right? From “School Reunion”, they were the demonic-looking, bat-winged aliens that were harnessing the imaginative powers of souped-up schoolchildren at Deffry Vale School to crack the Skasas Paradigm, the equation that’s the building blocks of the universe. They intended to become gods with the Paradigm, and tempted the Doctor to join them. They were a complex and interesting species: vicious hunters who killed and ate sentients, but welcomed the wisdom and guidance that they felt the Doctor could provide. This novel is enticing simply because it deals with this fascinating race, and it doesn’t disappoint.

It starts out very simply: the city of Worcester in the twelfth century is in the grip of terror, as people are murdered viciously in the middle of the night. As usual, the Doctor lands here randomly, and noticing that the city is not acting normally, snoops around and determines that the Krillitane are behind it.

That’s where it stops being simple. Without going through the whole story, let me just say that it turns out that someone else is manipulating the Krillitane (and in fact, the Krillitane would never have come to Earth in the first place without his schemes), and then while the Doctor is trying to sort that all out, another player arrives to throw everything into even more chaos. The Doctor thus finds himself trying to 1) save the Krillitanes’ lives and get them off planet, 2) keep the “someone” from being killed by quite a number of people (including the one-off companion that the Doctor picks up), 3) bring the “someone” to justice, and 4) keep the third party from massacring the human city.

As it is, this novel has something for everyone. The story is engaging and complex, and the action is fast-paced. There’s a villain that is very easy to hate, so there’s someone to root against. The one-off companion is a good character, and she’s got her own motivations for what she does. The Doctor also acquires a second companion, the captain of the city guard, who is great as the guy who is just bewildered by all the things that the Doctor shows him but is smart enough to know that the safest place to stand is next to the Doctor. And the Doctor is written brilliantly in-character.

I particularly enjoyed the elaboration on Krillitane culture. The Doctor explains that because the Krillitanes evolve quickly, by killing other species and taking their physical traits rather than evolving and developing them normally, the Krillitanes’ power grew faster than their culture, and thus they are still rather barbaric and animalistic. Theirs is a religious culture, with a priest-king, which is why the headmaster in “School Reunion” is named “Brother Lassar”. During the course of the novel, you find out that a splinter group decided that the Krillitanes were culturally and psychologically stagnant and needed to evolve in that way, not just physically, and they broke off from the main Krillitane society. It’s the descendants of this splinter group that the Doctor encounters at Deffry Vale, seeking the Skasas Paradigm in order to evolve beyond their current limitations.

Bottom line is that I really enjoyed this novel. It was a good adventure, with plenty of action and twists and turns and impossible situations for the Doctor to worm his way out of, and it elaborated on an alien species that I really enjoyed from the show. It also had this little scene: The Doctor is hanging by his knees from the loading arm of a hovercraft, his enemy, piloting the craft, oblivious to the fact he’s there. The Doctor sonics the loading arm, and he cries, “Hello, stranger!” as it swings him over the craft towards the enemy.  The enemy turns around and his “eyes widened in shock, noticing too late as the loading arm swept towards him, carrying its insanely grinning payload.” Absolutely perfect. This is the kind of scene Doctor Who needs more of!

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.

The music of the Doctor

Doctor-Who-Music-of-the-SpheresOne thing that has always enchanted me about the Tenth Doctor is how the showrunners incorporated the theme of music throughout his run. I’m not sure how obvious it is, but music has been a big part of how he was presented all the way through. Let’s take a look at how they used music to further tell his story. (Here are lyrics to all the songs mentioned, if you’d like to check them out.)

  • It starts during his very first full episode, “The Christmas Invasion,” when “Song for Ten,” sung by Tim Phillips, is played during his outfit selection scene and the Christmas dinner. The song clearly refers to the the beginning of his life and his love for Rose.
  • Then, in “The Runaway Bride,” just after Rose is torn from him, the Doctor watches over Donna at her wedding reception while the DJ plays “Love Don’t Roam.” While the singer is singing about being a traveler and wanting to settle down with the woman he loves, the Doctor sees a blond woman dancing and thinks about Rose.
  • In “Gridlock,” the drivers sing, “Abide with Me.” While this is a Christian hymn, the lyrics are symbolic of the Doctor, too: “helper of the helpless,” “O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
  • In “Daleks in Manhattan,” Talullah sings, “My Angel Put the Devil in Me.” It’s about the singer falling in love with the angel, and I believe it’s meant to refer to Martha, as the singer does not get the angel in the end. This song is also notable as the first time an original song was performed onscreen in Doctor Who.
  • In “Human Nature,” the boys sing “To Be a Pilgrim.” Another Christian hymn, it serves a double purpose of referring to the battle the boys fight in later in the episode and foreshadowing the Doctor’s encounter with the Master at the end of the season.
  • In “Voyage of the Damned,” the entertainer on the stage sings “The Stowaway,” another original song. The song is about a stowaway that the singer meets and dances with, but who is looking for his love and hopes to be with her on Christmas day. This is again about the Doctor, who is the stowaway in the episode, and it foreshadows the return of Rose at the end of the season.
  • In “Planet of the Ood”, there’s the “Song of Captivity and Freedom,” sung by the Ood while they’re enslaved and then after they’re freed. In the song, the Ood refer to the Doctor as their salvation.
  • Throughout series 4, the prophecy of the Doctor’s death is phrased very specifically: his “song” is ending. This Doctor’s life is music.
  • Then, in The End of Time, there’s “Vale Decem,” which begins when Ood Sigma tells the Doctor that they will sing him to his sleep. The lyrics bid farewell to the Tenth Doctor, thanking him and telling him to lay down his burden, and that he’s not alone.

And then, of course, there’s “The Music of the Spheres,” the short video that was played during the Doctor Who Prom (the BBC National Orchestra concert) in 2008. While the 2010 and 2013 Doctor Who Proms both had short videos featuring the Eleventh Doctor, the plots of those videos were adventures. The Tenth Doctor’s video in 2008 had him talk to the audience about music, and he composes a piece which he has the orchestra perform on stage. (The quality of that piece, at least to human ears, is rather questionable.) So, the Tenth Doctor has some direct connection to music that most of the other incarnations don’t.

(As a side note, there’s only one indication that I can think of that the Tenth Doctor was skilled as playing music, and that’s from “The Girl in the Fireplace.” When he returns and subsequently meets adult Reinette for the first time, he plays a brief but pretty arpeggio on her harp. He must be a skilled harpist to do this, because an unskilled person would not be able to easily pick out the correct strings to strike and play them well. Of course, this could be a retained prior skill rather than a specific interest of the Tenth Doctor, as the Fifth Doctor had previously demonstrated his ability to play the harp in “The Five Doctors.”)

In the classic series, the music was kept carefully in the background (except for the Second Doctor’s recorder music), and during the Eleventh Doctor’s run, if there are any songs with lyrics, they are very few and far between. To be honest, I’ve been listening to the music for the Eleventh Doctor’s seasons for the past week and am still becoming familiar with it, but so far there are only two instances of music with lyrics in his run, “Abigail’s Song” from “A Christmas Carol” and “The Long Song” from “The Rings of Akhaten,” and neither song is about the Doctor. There is a minisode that shows that the Eleventh Doctor runs off at night to play euphonium in a band, but it’s the only direct mention of music that I can think of.

I’m very fond of symbolism, when it’s done well, and the inclusion of this musical theme to his life adds an interesting note to the Tenth Doctor’s run, making it very different from all of the others. It’s actually rather subtle, as you don’t really realize how much music appears in the episodes until you list it all out, and then it’s tied up at the end with the poetic references to the Doctor’s song.

 

An empty TARDIS

Midnight-(Doctor-Who)-picIn contrast to the full TARDIS that seems to be coming up in series 8, I would love to see a bit more empty TARDIS scenarios. It’s not a common thing for the Doctor to not have companions: it only happened once during the classic series (in “The Deadly Assassin”), and once during the modern series (in “Midnight”). I’m not counting any episodes in which the Doctor didn’t have a regular companion but picked up another character that he bonded with closely enough to count as a one-off companion (such as most of the Christmas specials and “Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars,” The End of Time, “The Lodger,” and “Closing Time.”). 

If the Doctor doesn’t have a companion, the episode must focus directly on him or on the situation at hand. In “The Deadly Assassin,” this allowed us to view Time Lord society from the point of view of the Doctor, rather than any alien (to Gallifrey) companion (Sarah Jane, in this case). The script was more streamlined than usual, because the Doctor did not have to explain everything to Sarah Jane, and in the process, the audience got to experience everything, rather than being told what they were seeing. It also allowed the Doctor to get trapped for nearly two episodes in the Matrix without requiring them to keep cutting back to reality to show what Sarah Jane was doing or getting her trapped somewhere so that they could ignore her. The Master also could concentrate on the Doctor, instead of getting distracted by having to deal with her.

The lack of a companion was even more effective in “Midnight.” A story about what happens when humans are afraid of the unknown, “Midnight” would have played out very differently if Donna had been there to try to calm them down and convince them that the Doctor wasn’t the threat. Even if the humans didn’t listen to her (which they probably wouldn’t), the tension of the tight story would have been broken by Donna’s pleas; part of the strength of the final moments of Sky’s possession came from the various characters starting to doubt that the Doctor was the threat and trying to decide if they should intercede.

Both of these episodes came into being under unusual circumstances. For “The Deadly Assassin,” when Elisabeth Sladen left the show, Tom Baker asked for an episode in which the Doctor didn’t have a companion. “Midnight” was series 4’s “companion-light” episode. Back in series 2, in order to expand the series to fourteen episodes instead of thirteen, they created a “Doctor-light” episode, “Love and Monsters,” in which the Doctor and companion appeared only sparingly so that they could be filming another episode at the same time. In series 3, the “Doctor-light” episode was “Blink.” For series 4, they expanded this idea by filming a “companion-light” episode, “Midnight,” with Mr. Tennant appearing in almost every scene, while Ms. Tate was simultaneously filming a “Doctor-light” episode, “Turn Left.” Take a look at this list of episodes: they were all fantastic, with the exception of “Love and Monsters,” which was a fantastic episode until the Abzorbaloff appeared. (Think about how good that episode could have been if a reasonable monster had been the antagonist.) Doctor Who is a great show, but it excels when it steps outside of its usual boundaries.

In my opinion, empty TARDIS or companion-light episodes should be explored more often, to tighten the storytelling a bit, occasionally give the Doctor more spotlight, and take the show in different directions. It’s not difficult to set up – the companion has to go home for some reason, for example – which makes me wonder if it’s a contract thing, saying that the companion must appear in X episodes per series. It isn’t something that should happen often, though – probably not even once a series – but certainly more than twice in fifty years. Perhaps there aren’t many data points, but it seems to be a successful formula for the show, given that the actors who have played the Doctor have all been dynamic performers who could easily carry an episode on their own.