Introducing the Doctor

Come on, now: if you’re even reading this post, you know full well that the Twelfth Doctor will grace our TV screens in full glory on Saturday, or, if you don’t have TV service like me, you’ll have to wait until Monday to see the series 8 season opener, “Deep Breath,” in the theater. It’s been a long eight months to wait for the new season of Doctor Who, but the true excitement is in meeting the new Doctor, seeing what he’s like, and finally getting to see Peter Capaldi playing the role that he obsessed about when he was a kid. This is a scary time, though, because we don’t know what to expect. Will we like this Doctor? Will he capture our hearts like <insert your favorite Doctor here>? We don’t know, and this episode might not even answer the question: I know that it took me a number of episodes to warm up to the Eleventh Doctor, and anyone who’s seen “Time of the Rani” knows that a premiere episode could be really bad (not to mention, the Doctor can really change and develop after the first episode). Historically, though, the modern show’s Doctor introduction episodes have been fantastic, concentrating on showing us just what we’re in for.

The first episode of the modern Doctor Who had a hell of a lot to accomplish in just 45 minutes. First, it was the premiere episode of the reboot of a beloved TV show, one that was deeply rooted in British culture, and it needed to captivate that audience again. It needed to establish the feel of the show so that its audience would know what to expect and feel compelled to return the next week. However, it also needed to communicate the personality of the new Doctor, so that he felt like an extension of the classic show’s Doctor but still appealed to modern audiences, as well as give him a companion that felt like she belonged with him, without establishing them as a romantic couple. And lastly, it needed to show that it was keeping the whole history of the show in mind while not confusing or alienating viewers who had never seen it before.

doctorwhoroseHow do you do all that? How do you introduce an established, beloved character to new viewers while keeping him relevant to old fans? How do you throw back to 40 years of backstory and lore without losing the audience who knows nothing about it? You do it by telling the story from the viewpoint of the ordinary girl who’s meeting the Doctor for the first time, asking the questions that the audience has about him.  You throw them into a deadly situation where the Doctor gets to show his cleverness, quirkiness, knowledge, and non-violence, but have him get into a state where the girl has to help him win, to show that he’s not infallible. You give him an adversary that he’s met before, so that the audience knows that he has a history, but one that’s simple enough to understand without prior knowledge. And, to tantalize both old and new audiences, you give that adversary a reason for invading the Earth that mentions a war that the Doctor obviously had a big part in – enough to hint at a complete backstory for the Doctor, but not enough to derail the current story. “Rose” established the modern show and Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor brilliantly.

At the end of the season, the Doctor regenerated and David Tennant burst out of the golden glow, eager to fly Rose to Barcelona, but “The Parting of the Ways” ended, leaving the introduction of the new Doctor to “The Christmas Invasion.” This episode did not need to do nearly as much as “Rose” did, as the show was already established as a hit, but it had to convince us that anyone could possibly replace the superb Mr. Eccleston. The episode took a huge risk in hiding the Doctor away in bed for two-thirds of the episode, centering the story on Rose being worried about the Doctor and UNIT trying to deal with the Sycorax invasion. Then the Doctor woke up and stole the entire show.

172Mr. Tennant was the sole focus of the last twenty minutes of the episode, and he established the Tenth Doctor completely. An incarnation with a gob, he had machine-gun dialogue, was knowledgeable about galactic events and species, and very observant, with restless energy. While he wasn’t particularly skilled at physical combat, he made up for it with bravado and incredible dexterity. He avoided killing his opponent and gave him the choice of resolution, but not a second chance. Then, with Harriet Jones, he demonstrated his belief that his judgment is superior, the fury that he often would have trouble controlling, and his capacity for cruelty, foreshadowing his eventual downfall. And, at the end of the episode, he establishes this incarnation’s particular fascination with exploration and seeing new things. This was everything you needed to know about the Tenth Doctor, in twenty minutes.

rory-in-the-eleventh-hour-rory-williams-33471022-944-531Then, a little over three years later, Matt Smith emerged as the Eleventh Doctor, and “The Eleventh Hour” had to do exactly the same thing: introduce us to the new Doctor coming off of Mr. Tennant’s enormously popular run. And it did. This time, we had a new companion to see the Doctor through, a little girl named Amelia, and even she was rather appalled at his childish antics and insistent personality. Then she grew up and encountered him again, and she was unable to relate to him because of his alien mindset, until she trapped his tie in a car door and made him pay attention. But then, under threat of world annihilation, she watched him as he took charge of the situation, analyzing the data before him with mechanical precision, and dazzling the world leaders with his charm to effect the solution. Then, in order to warn the Atraxi off, he confronted them in what would see later was his signature style: a bombastic speech at the center of attention. Again, here was the Eleventh Doctor, spectacularly defined and laid bare for us to see.

And that’s what I’m hoping for from “Deep Breath.” For all that it’s a new season of Doctor Who and we’re all excited for new adventures and companions and universe-threatening situations, what I want from that episode is to walk away from it knowing exactly who the new Doctor is.

Favorite Scenes: Eleventh Doctor

Matt Smith as the Doctor

Matt Smith as the Doctor

First, I should note that I’m less familiar with the Eleventh Doctor than I am with the Ninth and Tenth Doctor, so this list is probably not comprehensive. I’m spending some time rewatching series 5-7, and I bet this list will change at the end of that. Second, it seems that my choices are very different from other people’s choices, as I had a hard time finding videos of the scenes I like. Ah well.

“The Eleventh Hour” – The Doctor vs. the Atraxi: In the modern series, each new Doctor’s introductory episode does a great job of establishing the character of the Doctor, and this one is no exception. From this scene, we see exactly who the Doctor is: his bombastic nature, his courage, and his disdain for his enemies, and he completes his costume.

 

“The Big Bang” – Timey-wimey: What I mean here is how the Doctor escapes from the Pandorica, saves Amy, and then saves the universe through the creative use of time travel. The “scene” is something like twenty minutes long, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t find a video for it. When you first watch this episode, this sequence of events (actually, it’s more like a big ball of events) breaks your brain, but when you think about it, it all works out and it’s brilliant.

“A Christmas Carol” – The Doctor goes back to young Kazran: This episode was fantastic, and there are tons of scenes that I’m sure others would point to as better, but my favorite is when the Doctor gets old Kazran Sardick to start watching the movie, then walks out of the room and appears in the window in the movie. It’s another scene that highlights the non-linear nature of the Doctor’s thinking.

“The Doctor’s Wife” – The Doctor realizes who Idris is: I prefer this scene to any of the other emotional Doctor/Idris scenes. The Doctor is still figuring out how to relate to Idris, and Idris is still figuring out how to be a living creature. Gorgeous.

“The Almost People” – The Ganger Doctor appears: I love it when the current Doctor’s actor is given the opportunity to do their own interpretation of previous Doctors. It doesn’t happen often – the Fifth Doctor just after regeneration comes to mind – but it’s always cool when it happens.

“Nightmare in Silver” – The Doctor vs. the Cybercontroller: I couldn’t find a good video for this, so I had to take what I got. Mr. Smith’s performance as the two very different characters is just amazing.

“The Night of the Doctor”: Ok, I’m sorry, this isn’t the Eleventh Doctor, but this minisode was published during his tenure, so I counted it. This minisode is fantastic. It answers so many questions about how the Doctor got involved in the Time War, and in only a few minutes, establishes for a whole generation of viewers the personality of the Eighth Doctor. It also gives the Eighth Doctor a beautiful end (sacrificing himself, yet again, for the greater good) and fills in the lacking regeneration.

“The Day of the Doctor” – Firing the Moment: While there are plenty of other scenes in this episode that I love, this is the absolute best. After the centuries of self-recrimination of their actions in the Time War and denying the existence of the War Doctor, and then after meeting him again, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors return to the Time War and support him. They have realized that he made the hardest decision in the universe, and, by joining him at the Moment, show him that they no longer deny him, that they believe in him and are willing to make that decision again, right alongside him.

A deeper look

It’s been a few days since Christmas, which is when I watched “The Time of the Doctor” twice. I haven’t had a single urge to watch it again since. You know, I liked the episode well enough, but as it has sat and stewed in my brain, it really hasn’t worked all that well for me. As I said previously, it was a good farewell episode for the Eleventh Doctor, because it summarized his Doctor very well, celebrating his life and being very, well, Eleven. Unfortunately, I don’t think it did anything else really well.

Spoilers again, by the way.

To me, the plot was followable (that’s not a real word), but I’ve seen a lot of people say that it was too obtuse. Looking at the storylines over the Matt Smith years, that’s pretty typical of his plots. Steven Moffat seems to like to surprise his audience, with twists and turns and timey-wimey  stuff. (He coined that term, by the way, in “Blink,” and it’s become his trademark. Sadly, I think it’s also becoming over-used. But that’s a discussion for another day.) Perhaps he tried to stuff too much into the episode: the completely gratuitous humor at the beginning, all of Eleven’s enemies (why did they waste time with the Weeping Angels at all – their appearance was pointless), feel-good scenes of Eleven and the children. There were only three things that the episode needed to do – celebrate Eleven, explain how he gets to regenerate a thirteenth time, and do the actual regeneration – and the rest shouldn’t have gotten in the way of that.

The one part of the episode that really bugged me was how he got the new regeneration cycle. After Eleven leaves to go face down the Daleks, Clara talks to the crack in reality and tells the Time Lord that if they love him, they need to help him – and they do! This flies in the face of everything we know about the Time Lords. They call the Doctor a “renegade” for a reason: because he’s not supposed to be off-planet meddling with other civilizations. From the very beginning, he ran away from Gallifrey because he thinks and feels differently than they do, and the Time Lords have been calling him back ever since, either to bring him to trial for what they consider his crimes or to make him do some task they don’t want to do themselves. More recently in the history of Gallifrey, the Tenth Doctor flew in the face of Rassilon and almost the entire High Council, damning them back into the hell of the Time War. The General of the War Council called him a madman, his worst nightmare. Now, granted, the Doctor brings a lot of this on himself, but it’s been well-established that the Time Lords do not love the Doctor.

Now, they do know that he’s singly responsible for their escape from destruction and that he’s the only person that can get them out of their current situation. That inspires gratitude in people, not necessarily love. The way this should have been pled is, “The Doctor is your only hope for deliverance from the pocket universe. If you want to escape, please help him.” This is the way to move Time Lord hearts: tell them how the Doctor’s continued existence benefits them. The way it was done was simply schmaltzy. I think it was done this way to tug at your heartstrings, but I don’t think people who watch Doctor Who in general are looking for cheap emotional highs. 

And there it is. I’m very glad this wasn’t the 50th anniversary episode, as this would have been anticlimactic for such a momentous occasion. I’m looking forward to the new season (omg, eight months away!) and I’ve got high hopes for Peter Capaldi. And I think Mr. Smith’s Doctor was a fine Doctor. But I think I’ll go watch The End of Time or “The Parting of the Ways” instead.

Farewell, Eleven!

Christmas Day has gone, and with it, the Eleventh Doctor. Peter Capaldi has officially taken over the reins of Doctor Who from Matt Smith, and we have to wait about eight months to find out what this new Doctor is like. Depressing, isn’t it? *wink* “The Time of the Doctor” was definitely an entertaining episode and a great farewell to Matt Smith.

Spoilers ahead! Turn back now if you don’t want to know.

The episode encapsulated the personality of the Eleventh Doctor perfectly. It had slapstick comedy, uncomfortable flirting, charming of children, displays of bravura, and the schizophrenic dialogue that’s just so Eleven, as well as the general Doctorness of standing alone against armies to protect the innocent. It tied up some plotlines that were in danger of being completely forgotten (the origins of the Silence, for example). And the Doctor got one last chance to do a Pandorica-style speech. This episode did exactly what all regeneration episodes should do: it summed up the outgoing Doctor and celebrated his life.

The plot of the episode was fun: nothing particularly inventive, though through it all, you’re wondering how in the world is the Doctor going to solve the standoff. In my opinion, the most amazing thing about this particular regeneration is that Eleven died of old age, something that only the First Doctor was able to do (and you could argue that he died not of old age, but of the stress of an adventure combined with older age). Granted, Eleven didn’t die of old age the way Ten wanted to – having a normal life and a family. He aged while defending the town Christmas from hordes of aliens. However, he still got to live out his entire incarnation’s span, something that we know won’t happen often.

And of course, the whole “how many regenerations does the Doctor have left” debate was explained fully by Eleven, saying that Granddad counted for one and Sandshoes counted for two, bringing his total number of spent regenerations to twelve, which is the canonical limit. Then, when he’s granted more regenerations, he clearly states that he has a whole new cycle, paving the way to the 100th anniversary (wish I could be around to see that one!).

The Doctor seems to be gaining more control over his regenerations as he gets older: being able to use it as a weapon and holding it until he’s said his goodbyes again. His beautiful vision of Amy harks back to the Fourth and Fifth Doctors seeing visions of their companions before they died. He was granted a gorgeous ending sequence, with Clara, as is appropriate, there for him but not getting in the way of his final moment. I think the only disappointing thing about the scene was the quick switch to Mr. Capaldi; Eleven did not glow and morph into his new face like all of the other Doctors did before him (except Two’s forced change).

All in all, it was a great episode and a fitting tribute to the Eleventh Doctor. Thank you, Mr. Smith, for your wonderful performance, and all the best to you!

It’s coming…

It’s only five more days until “The Time of the Doctor” airs on Christmas day. Everyone knows that this is the end of the Eleventh Doctor, that the whole Trenzalore storyline is coming to a close, and that’s all anyone can talk about. How’s he going to die? How are they going to explain the Doctor breaking the 12-regeneration limit? One question that won’t be answered for another eight months or so is what is the new Doctor going to be like?

At least for me, the excitement for this episode isn’t anywhere near as high as it was for “The Day of the Doctor.” In fact, I didn’t even realize we were within a week of the broadcast day. The thing that’s keeping me thinking about the episode is all of the postings on Facebook: hardly an hour goes by without something about the upcoming special being posted to my feed. I believe my lack of enthusiasm stems from my general apathy towards the Eleventh Doctor. While I always love regeneration episodes, because it’s the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, the loss of the Eleventh Doctor is not affecting me the way it did for the Ninth or Tenth Doctor.

However, I have been thinking about it, and I have to admit, I do really like the Eleventh Doctor.

If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning (and I know you haven’t; no one reads my blog), you know that after loving the Tenth Doctor so much, the Eleventh Doctor was a major disappointment to me. He seemed so random in his actions and reactions, difficult to follow and not possessed of the air of command that other Doctors had in times of stress. I wasn’t fond of the series 5 through 7, though I started warming up to the Doctor by the end. It took me quite a while to figure out who the Doctor really was – a child who’s also a twelve-hundred-year-old wise alien – and once I figured that out, I started to enjoy him.

Re-evaluating now, I actually like the Eleventh Doctor. I wouldn’t put him in my top three Doctors, but he’s great. He’s different from what I like in my Doctors, but “different” isn’t necessarily “bad.” Eleven is almost slapstick funny, but still the Doctor: clever, compassionate, ready to fight for what is right. Matt Smith plays him with incredible precision: though the Doctor develops and grows over his three seasons and changes radically after Amy and Rory leave, his core personality traits – his mercurial moods, his gangling movements, his quick mind jumping from detail to detail – stay constant. The Eleventh Doctor is the Eleventh Doctor whether he’s in his tweed jacket, his purple frock, or even a monk’s garb.

I think part of what kept me from liking Eleven was the fact that I prefer the series 1-4 writing over the series 5-7 writing. In Eleven’s time, the stories were very convoluted, choosing to shoot for complex plots developed during the first and last few episodes in a season with (often terrible) filler episodes in between. I prefer to have a lighter story overall that’s brought to the fore only during the last few episodes of the season, and I think in general, the writing for individual episodes of the series 2-4 was a lot better. (Note: While Christopher Eccleston was fantastic as the Ninth Doctor, in general, the writing in his episodes was terrible overall. Only a couple of his episodes were really good.) In the good episodes of series 5-7, Eleven is a delight to watch.

While I am looking forward to meeting Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and am dreading the continuation of overly-complicated stories, I am going to miss the Eleventh Doctor. Thanks, Mr. Smith, for a splendid run!

Movement

Back during Halloween, during my cosplay attempts, I spent a little time looking into the Fifth Doctor’s dialogue, to come up with things to  say to people that would be Fifth Doctor-y. It didn’t really work well, as I didn’t really get into character, especially when I was wearing the costume at work. I did memorize all of his dialogue from “Time Crash,” but there was very little opportunity to use it. I did say, “I’m the Doctor. Who are you?” to a girl in a Tenth Doctor costume, but either she didn’t hear me or she didn’t get the reference.

This image makes me cheer every time.

This image makes me cheer every time.

I found, though, that even more important than dialogue, mannerisms are what make the Doctor. In cosplay, most people will see you from afar and will not talk to you, so you have to try to look like the character, not just sound like him. As I write (and read) fanfics, I find this is even more important: most fanfic authors write dialogue for the Doctor, but never describe what he is doing at the moment. Perhaps it’s ok to let the reader picture for himself what’s going on, but in my opinion, if you can paint the picture, you should.

Mannerisms gives you a better insight into the personality of a character. Compare Arthur Darvill’s Rory to his Paul Coates in Broadchurch: Both are hesitant, uncertain characters, but they move differently. Mr. Darvill plays them both keeping his arms close to his body, as if he’s constantly twiddling his fingers, but Paul leans forward more, trying to be the wise, helpful reverend, while Rory stands straighter with his head back and shifts from foot to foot, like a nervous young man. These mannerisms are essential to visually communicating what the character is doing and feeling.

This is even more important for an iconic character, especially the Doctor. Since the character must distinguish himself from the other people on the screen, as an alien and a hero, as well as from his other incarnations, he dresses, speaks, and responds in unique ways, and he also moves differently. Take a look at the “all twelve doctors” scene from “The Day of the Doctor,” displayed above. You know each incarnation because of his costume, but their stances are just as important. One holds the lapels of his coat. Two leans forward a bit and steeples his fingers. Six stands straight with his hands clasped low. Three is also straight, with his hands on his hips. Ten stands a bit casually, with his hands in his trouser pockets. Even the how far apart each Doctor’s legs are communicate to you who they are.

Thinking about it this way, I found that to look more like the Fifth Doctor, I had to stand tall (well, as tall as I could – I’m 5’1″) with my head back, trying to look down my nose a bit (again, hard to do when you’re 5’1″). I kept my hands in my trouser pockets, which kept the coat swept back. If I talked with someone, I kept the left hand in the pocket while gesturing with the right hand. I also practiced the frowny face (mentioned in “Time Crash”), but that’s not a natural expression for me and I did it only a couple of times.

Wing that fez through the fissure!

Wing that fez through the fissure!

I’ve been observing the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the same kind of thing. Eleven’s a bit easier, because he’s all about motion. He’s a bit bowlegged and his torso sits back on hips. He also tends to hold his head forward and down, with the chin out, so he’s usually hunched forward. Then there’s the arms: with the elbows always up, he gestures with the entire arm and hand while he speaks, pointing and waving. He also taps his temples with his index and middle fingers when he’s trying to think. On top of that, he’s always moving around, spinning on his heels or dashing back and forth. I’ve heard that Matt Smith is rather clumsy, and I wonder if they had problems with him smacking the other actors accidentally.

Donna is not convinced.

This is an animated gif. Click it to see the whole thing.

Comparatively, Ten is more subdued, but he has his own set of iconic movements. A few of them are so unnoticeable that I thought maybe they were David Tennant movements rather than Ten movements, but I haven’t seen them in his other characters, so I have to assume that he invented the movements for Ten. The Tenth Doctor is very energetic and expends that energy by moving around, pacing when he has the space, sometimes even circling people he’s talking to. This movement is accentuated by his long legs and the flaring overcoat. He often has his hands jammed into his trouser pockets, which holds the waist of the overcoat down, making the hem flare even more dramatically.

And then there are the gestures and expressions. He runs his hand through his hair. When exasperated, he puts both hands on the top of the sides of his head, elbows up like antlers. He rubs his hand down his face, over his nose, mouth, and jaw. He likes to press the tip of his tongue to roof of his mouth, especially when looking at something in wonder or when thinking. And sometimes, during a slight pause in what he’s saying, very subtly, he’ll sniff, wrinkling his nose a bit. Mr. Tennant also takes advantage of his very pliant face to create outlandish expressions and some of the most brilliant smiles ever.

The writers do a great job giving the Doctors different voices, but it’s the actors who have to create the entire characters, and they do so by blending the words with their bodies, and these are the things that we, as cosplayers and fanfic writers, need to study to truly portray the characters for what they are. I think we rely too much on dialogue and the assumption that whoever is looking at us will know what we’re trying to say. I have to admit that it’s very difficult to emulate someone else’s personality, but learning to do so is part of the fun.

Doing it right

With the Christmas special only twelve days away, the hype is building for the regeneration of Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi. While regeneration episodes always make me giddy, I can’t claim that I’m really excited for “The Time of the Doctor.” The greatest part of that is because of the 50th anniversary events: I was so excited for the story of the War Doctor and the appearance of both Mr. Smith and David Tennant in the same episode – and the event was as good as I’d hoped – that I’m still on the fadeaway from it.

Part of it also comes from the fact that I didn’t watch the show until very recently (has it only been 4 months since I first saw “Rose?”) and regret not having seen the handoff between Mr. Tennant and Mr. Smith. I still cry every time I watch The End of Time. Can you imagine how heartbreaking it would have been if I had seen it with the rest of the world? And I still maintain my stance on publicizing regenerationsThe End of Time would have been far more dramatic (and traumatic!) if we didn’t know that Mr. Tennant was leaving and therefore the Tenth Doctor was regenerating at the end of the episode.

I do, though, have the advantage of viewing the events in the light of hindsight, after all the dust has settled and we can see how events panned out, and something struck me recently about the Ten to Eleven handover. The last four episodes of the Tenth Doctor were shown in 2010, as specials, rather than part of a season of 13 (or 14) episodes. The reason for this was that Russell T. Davies was stepping down as executive producer, and Steven Moffat was given a year to adjust to taking over.

Think about this. The BBC let Doctor Who basically take a year’s sabbatical to let the show adjust itself to a new leader and a new cast. That’s a year without (or at least with lessened) revenue from one of its biggest hits. Is this a British thing or a BBC? Because I cannot imagine an American company allowing a hit TV show a year off. They’d be too concerned about losing momentum, advertisers, and merchandising opportunities, not to mention the logistics of storing the sets and making sure that the actors and staff will be coming back after a year. To me, though, the BBC, at least with respect to Doctor Who, is more concerned about doing it right, rather than following the bottom line.

There’s been a couple of other instances of this kind of thing. As you know, I’ve been playing the iOS/Android game Doctor Who: Legacy. Yesterday, they posted on their Facebook page,

“As you may know if you follow us on Twitter / FB — we made this game for you the fans and really care what you think. Last week, someone in the community had a really cool idea for a special Xmas level we could release—so we worked quickly with the BBC and we’re pushing to have this in by Christmas Day! This is in addition to all of the content already planned between now and then. Thanks and please keep the ideas coming.”

This might not seem momentous, but it is. Look at what they’re saying: The makers of DW:L, Tiny Rebel Games, are not part of the BBC. They are an independent company, and their request to put in a fan-suggested level, which requires licensing approval at the very least (and probably a lot more), was responded to by the BBC quickly enough that they’re able to promise the content to the fans within a week of the idea being proposed. This is absolutely amazing. I work in gaming industry, and when working with licensed properties, you’d be lucky to get a turnaround time of a month, even when the game team and the property are part of the same company. The BBC must be doing something right: either their management is very efficient, or they are taking the time to be very responsive to their partners.

One last very small instance. I had a technical problem with DW:L on my iPad yesterday, and, not finding a main website for the game (I didn’t look too hard), I sent a note off to their Facebook page asking for help, and I received a reply within ten minutes. This means that their social media team is alive and paying attention. They don’t just consider their Facebook page as a place to put up images to get people to play their game: they use it to engage with their players. Being an avid gamer (at least, before Doctor Who took over my life), I’ve been on many, many forums and support sites, and only the very best get back to you quickly and talk to you as a person. The vast majority say that they’ll get back to you within 48 hours and send you form letter responses of “have you uninstalled and reinstalled” to the most detailed error descriptions you give them. Which do you think makes me want to continue playing the game?

This is why it’s important to do it right. Maybe spending less time and money on infrastructure and support may increase your bottom line right now, but it’s worth the time if you want to build a community of consumers and fans that will endure.