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.

Spreading the addiction

The clockwork droids were just gorgeous!

The clockwork droids were just gorgeous!

Today, one of my co-workers, Maria, informed me that she and her husband watched “Blink” recently and really loved it, and are now going to start watching more Doctor Who. Muahaha! Another mind corrupted! She’s going to be streaming episodes off Netflix, but I recommended to her, if she wanted another good, unconnected episode to watch, that she check out “The Girl in the Fireplace.” I’m very much looking forward to seeing if she really gets into it. She’s an artist and seamstress, so I’m hoping she gets very addicted, if only to see if she starts doing cosplay, because she’d be great at it.

I find it a bit difficult to convince my friends and co-workers to check out Doctor Who for a variety of reasons. First, a lot of people have this idea in their head that they can’t start watching it from the modern series because they need to watch the classic series first, and of course there’s way too much classic series to watch. I try to convince them that they don’t need to do so, citing the fact that I’ve seen less than 1/4 of the classic series myself, but they always respond, “Well, I don’t want to start in the middle.” I think it’s probably just their polite way of telling me to shut up and go away.

I haven't yet convinced a single person to watch Broadchurch! What's wrong with you people?

I haven’t yet convinced a single person to watch Broadchurch! What’s wrong with you people?

Then there are the ones who’ve heard that the show is either a kid’s show or this wacky British show that’s hard for Americans to understand. It’s pretty to disabuse them of the notion that the show is targeted at children, but the second one is harder to argue past. I don’t find British shows to be difficult to understand, but I will admit that I had some problems with Broadchurch at first, because I’d never watched a British crime show and had no idea what things like “DI,” “DS,” and “SOCO.” meant. However, all that became clear in context. British humor and drama (and really, any other culture’s humor and drama) are harder to understand, but I do feel that they aren’t too alien. How do you convince someone to give new narrative and dialogue structure a try?

I think, though, the most difficult problem with enticing new people to give Doctor Who a try stems directly from the thing that’s the strength of the show: the fact that it’s so long-lived (even considering just the modern show) and its mutability. There are seven seasons to choose from and a person coming into it for the first time will usually have heard there are three different Doctors, with very different personalities: which one to choose? Do you start from the first episode of the first season, or from the first episode of the most recognizable/popular Doctor, or from the first episode from the most recent Doctor? I find that people are often scared off simply because it has that level of complexity.

What I like to do is offer them a few sample episodes to watch that demonstrate the quality of the show without requiring background knowledge (beyond knowing that the Doctor is an alien who travels through the universe in a time machine with companions). My two go-to episodes are, as noted above, “Blink” and “The Girl in the Fireplace”; both are completely self-contained. Of course, they are both Tenth Doctor episodes, so I’ve been trying to decide what I would recommend for the Ninth and Eleventh Doctors. I’m really not sure if I would recommend a Ninth Doctor episode, partly because he’s a lot more alien than the other two and partly because his best episodes require some background knowledge. “Rose” might be the only really good episode to recommend, but the old, hammy feel of the Autons could easily turn off a new viewer.

It’s also difficult to recommend an Eleventh Doctor episode, because even when background knowledge is not required, the season’s threads (the cracks in the wall, Amy’s visions of Madame Kovarian watching her, the mentions of the Impossible Girl) tend to infect every episode and could easily confuse the new viewer. I think the only episode that I would choose to introduce a friend to the Eleventh Doctor would be “Vincent and the Doctor.” Maybe there’s something in series 7 that I’m not remembering well enough that would be good (though I kind of doubt it).

 

Difference of opinion

Two great Doctors.

Two great Doctors.

It’s a bit ironic that today on my WordPress newsfeed, I was presented with two different articles, one saying how much writer prefers the RTD and the Tenth Doctor, and the other saying how much the writer prefers Moffat and the Eleventh Doctor. The two posts didn’t really say anything that I haven’t heard before about these two Doctors, but reading them side-by-side, I see that there seems to be a clear break between preferences of the audience.

  • If you care about the Doctor’s characterization and his relationship with the people around him and don’t care so much about the show’s story, you prefer RTD and the Tenth Doctor.
  • If you care about the show’s story and don’t care so much about the Doctor’s characterization and his relationship with the people around him, you prefer Moffat and the Eleventh Doctor.

Yes, it’s a lot more complicated that than, but that seems to be the gist of the arguments that I’ve seen. Tenth Doctor enthusiasts cite his relationship with Rose, his retreat into his shell during his travels with Martha, his friendship with Donna, his love/hate relationship with the Master, and his descent into darkness and the fact that he had to condemn the Time Lords yet again at the end of his life, and individual episodes in which the Doctor suffers a tragedy or personal triumph. Eleventh Doctor fans point at the puzzles of Amy and the Impossible Girl, his story arcs of the Pandorica and the Silence and the Great Intelligence, and individual episodes in which the Doctor engineers a great victory. The Ninth Doctor tends to get shafted in this discussion: I’ve seen lots of debate about whether the Ninth or Tenth Doctor is better, but people who like the Eleventh Doctor tend to not even consider the Ninth Doctor at all.

I’m sure you know which camp I’m in (Tenth Doctor all the way!), but that doesn’t really matter to me. I like the Eleventh Doctor. He’s not my favorite, certainly, but he’s fun to watch and his episodes are good (well, some of them; like every Doctor, he’s got some real stinkers). But I like all the Doctors. The great part of the whole thing is the fact that there are millions of people out there who are all enjoying the show and are so invested in this brilliant fictional universe that they’re sitting there, in their free time, thinking about what it is about the Doctor that they like or dislike. It just amazes me that this TV show captivates so many people like this. I’m sure that it’s like this in other fandoms, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen first-hand. I’ve been a fan of other things before (Star Trek and the Marvel superheroes come to mind), but I’ve never seen this kind of in-depth discussion happen between my fan friends for those other fandoms. With Doctor Who, the discussions I’ve watched and participated in can last for hours. The only thing I’ve seen come even close is Firefly.

So, bring it on, DW fandom! More discussion. More Moffat-hate or RTD-hate or whatever. More love for the Doctor. I want to see it all!

Busy weekend

Too much to do today, no time to write. Here are some more images, just for fun. Ooo, and I found a nice brown tweed women’s blazer that fits me perfectly at the Goodwill yesterday. I guess that seals it as the Eleventh Doctor being my next costume project.

Love the hat.

Peter-Davison-1793939

 

 

The Seventh Doctor and Ace!

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Gorgeous photoshop.

threemoderndoctors

 

Production shot from my favorite episode – quite a small group for an episode. Apparently, they wanted to do a Children in Need spot, but had to be able to shoot it in a single day and use no special effects, and from those restrictions, “Time Crash” was born.

TIME-CRASH-1

Favorite scenes: Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor

Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor

I was compiling a list of favorite scenes from the new Doctor Who, but the list started to get pretty long and after an hour of typing, I decided to break it up into three posts, one for each of the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors. I had noticed that some of my favorite scenes are often not what people point to as “the best of,” so I’ve included a little description of what I liked about the scene. Without further ado, here are my favorite scenes from the Ninth Doctor’s episodes – I’m sad there’s so few because there were so few episodes to choose from.

“Dalek” – The Doctor encounters the Dalek in the lab: The Doctor’s rage at finding a Dalek survivor of the Time War transforms him from the confident, almost happy-go-lucky hero into a homicidal maniac. He then faces the consequences of his actions in the Last Great Time War for the first time on screen. He’s got good reason for all of his reactions, but it’s still horrifying, and the Mr. Eccleston’s performance was brilliant.

“The Doctor Dances” – “Everybody lives!”: The Doctor gets that very rare complete win, where he’s able to save everyone. Again, Mr. Eccleston shows us a side of the Doctor we rarely get to see.

“Boom Town” – Dinner with the Doctor and Blon: I love this scene, first because of the way the Doctor shuts down Blon’s attempts to escape and then because of the discussion of the morality of what the Doctor is doing. The Doctor, because he’s the Doctor, gets to decide what’s right and wrong, but such things are rarely black and white.

“The Parting of the Ways” – Regeneration: The best regeneration sequence in the new series so far, it very succinctly summarizes the relationship between Rose and the Doctor as well as gives this incarnation a beautiful farewell. I feel like a traitor to the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration scene for choosing this one instead, but his whole farewell is a lot longer and made up of multiple scenes and in total, isn’t as good as this one.

How fantastic is it?

Click to see the animated gif.

Yesterday, my husband and I were having a discussion about catchphrases (specifically, is it necessary when writing fanfiction to include a catchphrase to appease the reader?), and we wondered, just how often do the modern Doctors say their catchphrases? We picture them saying them all the time, but do they really? So, like a good obsessive, data-driven fan, I went through the transcripts of all the modern episodes (including webcasts) to see, and here are the results.

Ninth Doctor: “Fantastic!”

This was a little difficult to work out, because sometimes the Doctor uses the word “fantastic” as part of a sentence, rather than standalone, but I decided to include those instances because he tends to emphasize the word even in the middle of a sentence.

  • Total episodes:  13
  • “Fantastic”: 15 times in 10 episodes
  • Episodes in which he doesn’t say it: “World War Three,” “The Empty Child,” “Boom Town”
  • One instance is a repeat, in “Rose, before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I.”

Tenth Doctor: “Allons-y!”

This only counts the times that the Doctor used this standalone. It doesn’t count the time in “The Fires of Pompeii” when he describes a chase scene as a “Nice little bit of allons-y.”

  • Total episodes: 49
  • “Allons-y!”: 11 times in 9 episodes
  • Once in series 2, in “Army of Ghosts.” Technically, he says it six times here, as he’s rambling on about liking the phrase and wanting to adopt it as his catchphrase.
  • Twice in series 3, in “Evolution of the Daleks” and “42.”
  • Four times in series 4, in “The Voyage of the Damned”  and “Midnight” (two uses apiece).
  • Three times in the four specials (not “The Waters of Mars”).
  • Once in “The Day of the Doctor.”

Eleventh Doctor: “Geronimo!”

  • Total episodes: 49
  • “Geronimo!”: 12 times in 11 episodes
  • Once in series 4, in “The End of Time.”
  • Twice in series 5, in “The Eleventh Hour” and “The Beast Below.”
  • Three times in series 6, in “A Christmas Carol,” “The Almost People,” and “The Wedding of River Song.”
  • Six times in series 7, in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” “The Power of Three,” “Hide,” “Journey to the Centre of the Tardis,” and “The Day of the Doctor.”
  • In addition, three companions say it: Craig (“The Lodger”), River (“The Pandorica Opens”), and Amy (“Asylum of the Daleks”).

Analysis and Conclusion

The Ninth Doctor’s catchphrase is by far the most useful, as it can be used in casual conversation and in any situation in which the Doctor is pleased. This is in contrast to the other two catchphrases, which are only useful in circumstances in which the Doctor is going somewhere or starting to enact a plan. Thus, the Ninth Doctor said it very often, in fact more often than the number of episodes that he was in. However, I think that the phrase is iconic not because of the frequency of its use, but because of the inflection and facial expression of the Ninth Doctor when he used it. It wouldn’t feel special to the Ninth Doctor if the phrase had uttered in an ordinary tone of voice.

Between the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor’s catchphrase is less recognized in general in the fan community, perhaps because “Allons-y!” is unusual for English speakers; “Geronimo!” while not a common phrase, is something that has been used before in English media, and outside the fan base is recognized as a battle cry. (It’s of American origin, so maybe a British person will find it more unusual than the American ears of this blog writer.) In fan art that I’ve seen, “Allons-y!” is represented very often, while “Geronimo!” is actually very rare.  Comparing the two in the data, “Allons-y!” is used less often than “Geronimo!” but only by a very small amount. Another interesting trend is that it was actually used very sparingly throughout the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, and then suddenly appeared four times in his last five episodes (counting “The Day of the Doctor”).

In conclusion, the catchphrases were actually used a lot less than you’d think they were. The reason why they stick with us is because they capture the personality of the Doctor who uses them, and not because of frequency in which they were used. Another important conclusion to draw from this analysis is that this was an incredibly silly topic to write about, and I am such a geek. And proud of it.

Music, seasons 1-4

One of the things I truly enjoy about Doctor Who is its background music. I love orchestral music, and composer Murray Gold writes and arranges music that goes so wonderfully with the action on the screen. I’ve purchased the soundtracks for seasons 1-4 and the season 4 specials (maybe in February I’ll purchase the soundtracks for the rest of the seasons) and I selected a bunch of them for the playlist that I listen to at work – instrumental music is awesome for concentrating. I’ve selected my favorites below, listed in no particular order. The links take you to YouTube videos of the songs, and the tooltip on the link tells you what series the video comes from.

As a note, you can buy almost all of these songs on amazon.com individually, if you don’t feel like buying the entire CDs.

Doctor Who Theme

What fan doesn’t like the theme song? This is the only song on this list that wasn’t composed by Murray Gold. It was written by Ron Grainer, then realized by Delia Derbyshire using entirely electronic means, rather than conventional instruments, and because of this, was very striking – it was the first TV theme that was completely electronic. For the new series, Gold arranged it for orchestra, though the main melody remained electronic. The show has featured different arrangements over the years, and my favorite is the one used in series 2 and 3. (I’m not sure, but I think series 1 had a different arrangement. I could easily be wrong.)

I am the Doctor

If you’ve watched series 5-7, you know this song: it’s the one used for most of the action scenes in which the Doctor is, well, doing anything. In my opinion, it is very much overused, and I’m hoping that a new action theme is introduced with the Twelfth Doctor. However, I still love this piece. It was introduced in series 4, and to me, it means the Doctor is about to save the day. It’s very heroic, and also a bit alien, as the main part of it is composed in 7/4, throwing you slightly off the beat you’re expecting.

The Doctor’s Theme

The Doctor’s Theme was introduced in series 1 and was used through series 4; I’m not sure it was used at all for the Eleventh Doctor. It evokes the mystery and majesty of the Doctor, which to me doesn’t really apply to Eleven, but is definitely perfect for Nine and Ten.

The Doctor Forever

This song starts with a slow, sad, beautiful vocal section. Then, halfway through, it switches to fast and heroic. In fact, the second section was used for the Doctor’s action scenes before I am the Doctor took that over (one scene it was used in was in “Gridlock,” when the Doctor started jumping down from car to car to get to the fast lane).

The Dream of a Normal Death

One of my absolutely favorite songs on this list, this was the music that played over the scene in “The Family of Blood” when John Smith and Nurse Redfern saw the life they would have if John Smith could remain human. The music is both happy and sad at the same time.

This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home

This was the theme for Gallifrey during Ten’s tenure, played whenever he talked about his home. It was also used during “Utopia” whenever Professor Yana was affected by his returning memories. The main theme was rearranged for The Council of the Time Lords, to add the feeling of majesty and corruption that characterized the High Council on the last day of the Time War.

Turn Left

This piece in itself evokes the despair of the world without the Doctor in “Turn Left,” and includes a sad, mournful, ghostly version of “The Doctor’s Theme” near the end.

Just Scarecrows to War

This is the drum-and-fife music that plays when the scarecrow army starts to move in “The Family of Blood.” It’s just so pretty.

Song for Ten

“Song for Ten,” performed by Tim Phillips, is the music that plays while the Tenth Doctor is choosing his wardrobe and the Tylers are having Christmas dinner in “The Christmas Invasion.” It’s one of my favorite songs, but my husband hates it, so I have to sing it on the sly. The version that you can buy on amazon.com is a different version than the one in the show. It is sung by Neil Hannon and includes extra verses, and in my opinion, is vastly inferior – while Mr. Hannon has a great singing voice, it doesn’t “fit” the Tenth Doctor. As far as I can tell, the Tim Phillips version has never been released commercially, but you can find copies of it on the internet. The link above is to the Tim Phillips version on YouTube.

Vale Decem

This song is not in my playlist, because it makes me tear up when I hear it. The title means “Farewell, Ten” and it’s the music that plays during the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration. It’s a gorgeous song, but I just can’t listen to it casually.

The Dark and Endless Dalek Night

I’m not quite sure when this song is played in the show, but I assume it’s during “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End.”

Evolution of the Daleks

I prefer this Dalek theme, but the previous one is also good. This is from the episode of the same name, and I love the choral chanting in this piece.

The Master Vainglorious

This is a very schizophrenic piece of music, which fits the Master very well. It is also punctuated by the Master’s four-beat drumbeat, which can really make your heart skip.

All the Strange Strange Creatures

This is the music from the original trailer, but it’s used in the show sometimes.

Donna’s Theme

Donna’s Theme is very appropriate for her, being very spunky and jazzy. Love Donna!

The Runaway Bride

This is a longer piece from the episode of the same name, and includes the music that played during the taxi/TARDIS chase scene.

Slitheen

For some reason, though the Slitheen were pretty silly rubbery monsters, they got a great theme song with some awesome lower brass and timpani riffs.

A Noble Girl About Town

Another song that really captures Donna’s essence, this is the music that plays when Donna is investigating Adipose Industries in “Partners in Crime.”

A Victorian Christmas

I’ve always loved this song, the first one that plays in “The Next Doctor.” It has a very authentic Victorian feel. Unfortunately, since the episode moves directly from the Doctor delighting in the Christmas atmosphere to  running to respond to Rosita’s cries for the Doctor, the song transitions very abruptly into chase music with more of a 1930s feel, which kind of ruins the ending.

Martha Triumphant

This is a beautiful version of Martha’s theme. I’m not sure if it’s played at the end of “The Last of the Time Lords,” when Martha defeats the Master, but I know it’s played at the very end, when Martha decides to take control of her life and leaves the Doctor.