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.

I just want another year of Donna

"I'm going ten-pin bowling. What do you think, dumbo?"

“I’m going ten-pin bowling. What do you think, dumbo?”

While I do housework, I usually have an episode of Doctor Who running on my iPad, and today’s was “The Runaway Bride.” I think I say this at least once a day, but man, we really needed another year of Donna. (It’s a running joke in our house that we curse David Tennant for leaving the show, not because we wanted more series with him, but because if he had stayed, then Donna probably have stayed, too [ok, yes, we did want more series of him, too].)

After a series of the Doctor and Rose gallivanting around the universe being lovey-dovey and exhibiting no character growth, and then a series in which Martha, for all that she was a strong companion, didn’t effect any growth in the Doctor at all, Donna came along and started to heal him. The thing is, it started as early as “The Runaway Bride.” Donna is pulled into the TARDIS the moment the Doctor’s contact with Rose is broken, and less than twenty minutes later, Donna on the rooftop is able to connect with him enough that he starts to talk a little about Rose and her family. At the end of the episode, the always-brash Donna tells him exactly what he needs to hear: that his life is too crazy for normal humans to share in it without a lot of personal danger, that he needs someone by his side to reign in his darker impulses, and that it’s okay to think about his good memories with Rose. He still has a long way to go, but she starts him on the road to recovery.

So, if anyone out there is listening, please move me to the alternate universe in which everything is the same except we have another year of the Tenth Doctor and Donna in the TARDIS. Pretty please?

Favorite scenes – Tenth Doctor

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor

Here is a list of favorite scenes from the Tenth Doctor, who, I should note, is the Doctor I know the best, so the list is longer than you might expect. This list is in broadcast order, not in any ranking order.

“The Christmas Invasion” – The Doctor appears: From “Did you miss me?” to “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man,” the Doctor keeps up what amounts to a twenty minute monologue which demonstrates to us exactly who he is.

“School Reunion” – Sarah Jane meets the Doctor: Just beating out John Smith’s stunned babbling when seeing Sarah Jane for the first time in hundreds of years, this scene has Sarah Jane confronting the man who ran out on her thirty years before. Ms. Sladen switches beautifully between surprise, hope, love, and anger, all in the course of a short couple of minutes.

“The Girl in the Fireplace” – The Doctor is stranded: This is one of the episodes in which my favorite scene is probably very unexpected. The Doctor looks up at the stars, realizing that he’s now living with the humans just like they do, and may never return to the TARDIS and the rest of the universe again. He starts to think about what that really means, and how he’s going to survive. I couldn’t find a video that showed just this one scene.

“The Age of Steel” – Mickey triumphant: Once the Doctor regenerated into his tenth form, he started to respect Mickey more, though he still always put him down. At the end of this episode, the Doctor instructs Mickey clandestinely on how to shut down the Cybermen, relying on his computer skills. Mickey succeeds and then rescues them all from the exploding factory. Mickey finally comes into his own right here.

“42” – The Doctor in the stasis chamber: Fighting back against his possession by the sentient star, the Doctor instructs Martha to put him in the stasis chamber. He cries out, “I’m scared! I’m so scared!” and it’s not because he’s afraid of dying, but because he knows that if he loses the battle, he’s going to kill everyone on board. The Doctor showing fear is chilling, and the reason for it is still so the Doctor.

“The Family of Blood” – The Doctor returns to Nurse Redfern: For all of the wonderful scenes in this, my favorite episode, the final scene with Nurse Redfern is still the best. After we’ve watched an hour and a half of Mr. Tennant as John Smith, the human teacher living his life and falling in love, now he’s back to playing the Doctor, and the contrast between them is startling. Even though he’s no different than the Doctor in any other episode, he feels alien here, and perhaps for the first time we truly realize that he doesn’t think and feel like humans do. He invites Nurse Redfern to travel with him, in an attempt to give her hope and love, but only succeeds in being cruel, because as the Doctor, he can’t truly understand her. (The video link only shows half of the scene. The other half can be found by the same poster, under “scene 16.”)

“The Last of the Time Lords” – The death of the Master: I really don’t have much to say about this one. It makes me cry every time.

“Time Crash” – The whole thing: I’m just going to call this one long scene and say that everything about it is wonderful: the writing, the acting, the humor, the interactions between the two Doctors, the tribute to the Fifth Doctor. If I could call it an episode, it’d be at the top of my favorite episode list.

“The Fires of Pompeii” – “Donna, human, no!”: From the Time Lord and the audience perspective (because we know how the laws of time work), Donna may be wrong, but this scene establishes the lengths she’s willing to go through when she thinks she’s right. She’s willing to stand up to the Doctor and fight, without whining or complaining, and without backing down.

“The Poison Sky” – Luke saves the Doctor: Two things about this scene. First, Luke, the completely unlikable genius, redeems himself, without fanfare or heaps of schmaltz. Second, when the Doctor returns from the Sontaran ship, Martha hugs him and Donna punches him. They are completely in-character, and it’s little things like this that make this show so good.

“Journey’s End” – Genesis of the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor: Not the actual birth of the MCTD, but the interaction between him and Donna. Mr. Tennant and Ms. Tate work together so well, and to top that off, Mr. Tennant plays the Tenth Doctor with Donna’s mannerisms. Excellent performances from both of them. Sadly, I couldn’t find a video for this.

“The Next Doctor” – Jackson Lake’s story: Jackson Lake’s story is so beautiful, and David Morrissey’s performance in this scene is heartrending.

The End of Time – Four knocks: For all that I love the end of The End of Time, from the moment Gallifrey appears to the Doctor’s regeneration, the best scene from it is when Wilf knocks and the Doctor realizes that he hasn’t escaped his fate. For once, the Doctor voices the thoughts he normally keeps inside: that he doesn’t want to die, he wants to keep fighting, that he wonders what makes someone else’s life more valuable than his own, and, finally, that he’s lived too long. Then, like the Doctor always does, he sacrifices himself for someone else. I couldn’t find this video either.