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.

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We know who you are

One of my friends is celebrating the approach of the Doctor Who Christmas special and the last episode of Matt Smith by changing his Facebook profile image to the Doctors, in order, while also posting a quote or bit of dialogue for that Doctor. Today’s Doctor is the Tenth Doctor, and the dialogue was from “The Christmas Invasion,” when the Doctor brings down Harriet Jones with six words. This reminded me of one of my absolute favorite characters in the show, Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North and later Prime Minister of Great Britain.

MP for Flydale North, with Indra Ganesh and a disguised Slitheen

MP for Flydale North, with Indra Ganesh and a disguised Slitheen

We meet Harriet Jones in “Aliens of London/World War Three,” when she’s the MP for Flydale North, describing herself as a “faithful back-bencher.” Being American, I had to look up this term: according to Wikipedia, it means that she serves her constituency without holding high office or having the power to influence policy. In other words, she’s no one important. She arrives at 10 Downing Street for an appointment with the Prime Minister, only to find that on that fateful day, aliens have crashed in the Thames and the government is running crazy trying to figure out what to do, as the PM is nowhere to be found. Her appointment with him has been cancelled, but she sticks around, hoping to get a word in with him anyway. As she’s waiting, she starts to notice weird things happening, and she discovers that the acting PM and his staff are disguised aliens. No one will listen to her, but she finally finds someone to talk to, the assistant of the “alien expert” brought in to deal with the situation – Rose and the Doctor.

Harriet is established in this episode as a woman of great inner strength who was content with making the best of her little corner of the world but stepped up when disaster struck. She began to panic when first confronted with green aliens who killed people and wore their skins as a disguise, but once she was able to deal with it by revealing what she saw to Rose, she took control of the situation: she sorted out the emergency protocols, helped the Doctor figure out what was going on and how Jackie and Mickey could kill the Slitheen that was attacking them, and fully understood the consequences of the Slitheen plot and the options they had for combating it. She was also completely willing to sacrifice herself for others: she offered herself for Rose when the Slitheen was about to kill her, and later, she made the call to fire the missile at 10 Downing Street in order to save the world from nuclear war. At the end of the episode, with the lack of effective leadership in the wake of the destruction of 10 Downing Street, Harriet steps

The Prime Minister and her right-hand man, Alex

The Prime Minister and her right-hand man, Alex

We meet Harriet again in “The Christmas Invasion,” in which the alien Sycorax intercepted a British space probe while on the way to invade the Earth; thus, they speak to the British government to ask for the humans’ surrender. Harriet was PM – she had ushered in Britain’s Golden Age and worked tirelessly for her country (“Never off-duty.”) – and took control of the UNIT operation speaking to the Sycorax. Teleported to the alien ship (without fear, I might add), she was placed in the unenviable position of choosing between killing 1/3 of the Earth’s population or selling 1/2 of them into slavery. The Doctor arrived to save the day, but after the alien spaceship left, she decided to have it blown up by Torchwood. Her reasoning was that she didn’t want the aliens to go out and tell the universe about the Earth, inviting more species to come and invade, because the Earth has to defend itself; it can’t rely on the Doctor who isn’t always available. The Doctor disagreed, of course, and had her removed as PM.

Manager of the Subwave Network

Former PM and builder of the Subwave Network

The thing is, she wasn’t wrong, and she stood by her decision. While she was sorry for murdering the ship full of Sycorax, she never wavered in her conviction that the Earth had to stop relying on the Doctor and learn to defend itself, and this brings us to her third appearance, in “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End.” It was three years since she was deposed as PM, and she hadn’t been idle. With funding from the Mr. Copper Foundation (nice tie-in there), she built a communications network designed to stay hidden but allow the Children of Time to communicate with each other in the case of global catastrophe. When that catastrophe arrived, she contacted all of the major players, meaning that she’s been watching the Doctor’s movements and figuring out who the Earth can rely upon. If she had not done all of this, there would have been no way to call the Doctor back to Earth, and the Daleks would have won. All because of her strength and conviction. And in the end, when the Daleks were trying to shut the network down, she made sure that they found her and not the others, sacrificing her life to make sure the others would survive to fight on.

My favorite of her scenes has to be the showdown between her and the Doctor directly following the destruction of the Sycorax, because of its complexity. She and the Doctor were both right. The Doctor knew that there are protocols that the denizens of the universe follow, that the Sycorax acknowledged their defeat and were leaving in peace. He also knew that the humans killing the Sycorax would send the wrong message to the stars, that the humans were not civilized. He then deposed her because she disagreed with him, aborting “Britain’s Golden Age” that he had mentioned before, during “World War Three”.*   She knew that the Earth had to defend itself, that it couldn’t rely on a single man to always be there, no matter how powerful he might be. She knows killing the Sycorax while they were fleeing wasn’t right (the tears she choked back after she gave the order demonstrated that), but it conveyed the message she wanted to send, that the Earth does have the ability to defend itself. She and the Doctor throw into light that what’s right and wrong are not always cut and dried, that it’s possible to draw two conclusions from the same situation and have them both be right.

And that’s Harriet Jones: strong, courageous, caring, devoted, driven, not afraid to make the difficult decision, not afraid stand up for herself and her people. It’s very sad that she only got three episodes, but those were three fantastic episodes for a wonderful character.

* You might argue that he deposed her because she had committed murder, but his line was “Don’t challenge me, Harriet Jones, because I’m a completely new man. I could bring down your Government with a single word.” His anger and her defiant response goaded him into proving that he could bring her down, and in doing so, destroyed Britain’s prosperous times. In a way, this is really a low point for the Doctor, where he lost control. On the other hand, “The Christmas Invasion” was designed to show you who exactly the new Doctor was – a cheeky gob, a valiant champion, the man who gives his enemy a choice, no second chances, willing to spend Christmas with his family – and I would argue that this bit shows you another key characteristic of the Tenth Doctor: that he is going to have trouble controlling his dark side, and that he will eventually fail.