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.

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 Christmas Specials

Well, it’s Christmas time, and one of the traditions of Doctor Who, ever since the end of series 1, is to have a special episode that is aired on Christmas day. Even when the show is more or less on hiatus (2010), they still made a Christmas special. All of these episodes have at least some Christmas theme, and trend toward a family-friendly, feel-good atmosphere, and so how much you enjoy them sometimes depends directly on your ability to tolerate schmaltz. Here is my list of favorite Christmas Specials, listed from least favorite to most favorite.

“The Time of the Doctor”

DoctorWho4The list of Christmas specials includes two regeneration episodes and one Doctor-introduction episode, and in a way, I’m not sure it’s fair to compare them to the other Christmas specials because they have different emphases. However, they are what they are, so “The Time of the Doctor” must appear on this list. It was meant to depict the heroic sacrifice of the Doctor at the end of his thirteenth incarnation, but ended up a mess of completely linear and yet inconsistent plotting, forgettable guest characters, every major enemy he’d faced shoehorned in, and cheap emotional shots. The regeneration scene – meaning everything after the main conflict was resolved – was beautiful, but the rest was disappointing at best.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s goodbye to Amy, despite the terrible wigs they were both wearing.

“The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”

doctor and lilyAnother victim of a completely linear plot (literally: boy wanders off in a straight line, Doctor follows him, mother arrives and saves the day), it’s weighed down by its theme of “women are innately better nurturers than men”. The first part, where the kids are first introduced to the Doctor as the Caretaker, captures the whimsical feel of the Eleventh Doctor quite well, but the rest of the episode pretty much falls flat.

Favorite scene:  The Doctor showing the children around the house.

“Voyage of the Damned”

VOYAGE2_(9)This is the point in the list in which the episodes are good enough. “Voyage of the Damned” isn’t a great episode, but it’s fun enough to watch. It was meant to be a TV version of a disaster movie, and that part’s just fine. Having Astrid fall in love with the Doctor was its big mistake (we’re just coming off series 3, and we’re tired of Rose and Martha’s doey-eyed looks), so her send-off can be irritating. Some people dislike the religious imagery in this episode; I guess I’m rather oblivious, because I didn’t notice it at all.

Favorite scene: The Doctor saving the ship, only because of the look on his face when he sees where it’s about to crash.

“The Christmas Invasion”

201-the-Christmas-Invasion-the-tenth-doctor-13709074-1024-576I really should rank this higher, but every special from here on up is great. This is the introduction of the Tenth Doctor, and it’s done so well. The first 2/3 of the episode sets up the alien conflict, and it demonstrates how difficult it is for humanity, at its stage in its history, to cope with alien threats. Then the Doctor wakes up and launches into what amounts to a twenty-minute soliloquy that reveals exactly who he is, from his gob to his fascination with exploration to hints about his eventual downfall. This episode is fun and enlightening.

Favorite scene: Can I count the string from “Did you miss me?” to “I’m that sort of a man” as a single scene?

“The Snowmen”

uktv-doctor-who-xmas-2012-10Coming off the loss of the Ponds, the Doctor is lost in his grief and has retreated from the universe. A single woman is able to bring him out of his shell and convince him to save the world once again. The conflict with the Great Intelligence was again simple and linear, but well-handled and interesting against the bigger backdrop of the Doctor starting to heal from his loss. And then he finds out who this woman is, at the moment he loses her, and this spurs him into his next season-long story.

Favorite scene: The Doctor putting on his bowtie again. I love power-up sequences, and this was beautifully understated.

“The End of Time”

s0_09_wal_64A regeneration episode, it’s rocky in many ways, but I love it anyway.  Both the Last Great Time War and the Doctor/Master dynamic are explored here, as well as the Doctor’s inner conflict between what he would like for himself vs. what he knows everyone else needs. It’s the same conflict he faced in “The Waters of Mars”, but he chooses differently this time.

Favorite scene: Wilf knocks four times. People say that the Doctor was uncharacteristically emo here, but I disagree. For once, he voices his doubts and fears out loud, and the fact that he has them makes him more of a hero than ever.

“The Next Doctor”

4x14-The-Next-Doctor-Promo-Pic-s-doctor-who-2923082-1600-1266A controversial choice, I know, but I simply love this episode. Both Jackson Lake’s story and Miss Hartigan’s stories are beautifully tragic, but in different ways. The blending of them, plus the Doctor’s tragedy of being alone again, into one episode was not seamless, but I still love it.

Favorite scene: The reveal of Jackson Lake’s history. David Morrissey is spectacular.

“A Christmas Carol”

doctor-who-christmas-carol-04Objectively, this is probably the best of the Christmas specials. It took the base story of the Dickens tale, added a clever temporal twist to it, and then built up a love story. But the Doctor doesn’t succeed in his purpose: his meddling only angers his target, and the outcome is still the same, and he must resort to even more temporal tampering (and basically breaking the First Law of Time) to effect the change he wanted. Sardick still must make his final sacrifice to save the doomed spaceship, though, providing the story with its perfect, bittersweet ending.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s initial jump into Kazran Sardick’s childhood, and then his later attempt to return again and Sardick’s refusal to acknowledge him.

“The Runaway Bride”

doctor-who-the-runaway-brideI did say this was a list of “favorites”, not a list of “bests”. I think that if Donna hadn’t become the Doctor’s companion a series later, this special would be down around “Voyage of the Damned”, ranked as a fun adventure but nothing particularly special. However, the further character development of Donna makes this episode brilliant. Donna starts as shallow, demanding, and unlikable, but even the brief contact she has with the Doctor here matures her, and that’s developed more when she joins him as a true companion. This beautiful core story is presented in a wrapper of a zany adventure, very befitting the two personalities at its heart.

Favorite scene: The scene in downtown Chiswick, where Donna is trying to get to the wedding but still trying to make sense of this alien who’s brought her back to Earth.

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 best series

If you were to ask me which series of the modern Doctor Who I like the best, I’d answer “Series 4” without hesitation. The Doctor has the best companion, Donna Noble, as well as the best overall quality of episodes. The series follows the Doctor’s development when he has a companion who can stand with him on an equal footing with strong morals and perception without being subservient or love-blinded, and with the subsequent specials, shows how lost he gets when he does travel alone, exploring his struggle with his inner darkness.

However, if you change the question and ask me which series I think is the best, that award goes to Series 3. What’s the difference? Series 3 is a beautifully constructed story, from beginning to end. Almost every episode in the run contributes to a long tale of revenge and domination set up over a year and a half behind the Doctor’s back, while in the TARDIS, the Doctor and his companion are both discovering things about themselves and growing, both together and individually. Here’s a list of  the episodes and how they were worked into the plot.

“The Runaway Bride”: This might seem to be a throwaway Christmas special (besides setting up the brilliant Series 4, but that was unintentional, as Donna was not intended to become a permanent companion), but it actually serves a very important purpose. At the very end of the episode, as the webstar is attacking, the tank commander says, “Mr. Saxon says fire!” This is the first mention of Mr. Saxon, the defense minister, showing that the Master was already starting his schemes during Series 2 (you don’t become defense minister overnight).

1“Smith and Jones” – This episode introduces Martha, showing that she’s level-headed, perceptive, determined, and smart. Some people, me included, are upset that she falls head-over-heels in love with the Doctor within thirty minutes of meeting him, and I do wish they had postponed this character development until later, but it actually has a narrative reason; see the next episode. Mr. Saxon is also mentioned here, and demonstrates that he has a belief in aliens. This is the first episode where we see the “Vote Saxon” posters.

“The Shakespeare Code” – While this episode doesn’t have anything overt to do with Mr. Saxon, it establishes both Martha’s and the Doctor’s low points. In the bed scene, the Doctor is pining for Rose, lamenting that he doesn’t know what to do because she isn’t there, and this demonstrates what happens when the Doctor allows an obsessive, immature companion to lead him by the nose: he loses his purpose, his confidence, and his independence. Martha, meanwhile, responds with disappointment and anger, and she’s lost a lot of the traits she had in the previous episode, because she’s more concerned with developing a romance with the Doctor. From here, both of them develop positively.

2“Gridlock” – This episode, of course, seeds the Doctor with the idea that there might be another Time Lord out there, with the Face of Boe’s “You are not alone.” There’s more to this episode, though, both addressing the idea of faith. Martha, trapped in a car in the fast lane, realizes that she’s put a lot of faith and love into a man she doesn’t know at all, and though she can’t act on that faith, being trapped, she continues to believe in him. The Doctor, on the other side, hears the hymn that the drivers are singing and realizes that while they sustain themselves with their faith, it’s also keeping them from trying to change things and improve their situation, and this spurs him to action, both to save the drivers and to heal himself from the loss of Rose, the one he was trying to rely on in the previous episode; his faith was also holding him back. He also realizes that he’s been stunting Martha by making her rely on faith in him, treating her more like a pet instead of actually relating to her on a personal level, and he begins to open up to her, as much as the Doctor ever can.

“Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks” – This is the only episode of the season in which I can’t find anything that contributes to the overall story arc, other than a brief discussion of Martha’s feelings for the Doctor between her and Tallulah.

3“The Lazarus Experiment” – This is the episode where we really start to see that something is going on. Mr. Saxon is attempting to attract the attention of and trap the Doctor by funding Dr. Lazarus’ work, knowing it’s something that the Doctor will want to stop. Tish is hired by Dr. Lazarus as another bait for the Doctor, and his operatives use this to get close to Martha’s mother Francine and start to seed her with distrust and hatred for the Doctor.

“42” – While the Doctor and Martha are traveling in the future, it’s election day in Britain, the day that Mr. Saxon gets elected Prime Minister. Meanwhile, his operatives are now tracking Martha through her mother. At this point, Martha is now working on a more equal footing with the Doctor, taking on tasks and doing her best to keep up the morale of the crew members. She becomes the Doctor-analogue in a mini-relationship with Riley; while he has the technical skills, she is the leader and the one who gives hope.

4“Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” – This episode might seem like it has nothing to do with the overall story arc, but it provides two important things. First, the concepts of the chameleon arch/fob watch and the perception filter are introduced here, so that they aren’t foreign concepts to the audience just cooked up for the season ender two episodes later. Second, Martha enters into the first of three huge sacrifices she makes for the Doctor: she spends two months doing menial work and enduring racial and social discrimination to keep him hidden and protected.

“Blink” – In this episode, Martha makes her second major sacrifice, going to work in a shop to support herself and the Doctor while they’re stuck in 1969 (because you know he certainly wouldn’t do such a thing himself). We don’t know how long they were stuck there, but it must have been long enough for her to realize she needed to get a job and then for her to complain about it in the video.

The other thing that “Blink” does is deal with time travel’s effects. In most stories, if a time traveler goes into the past and changes something, that affects the future. For example, in “The Shakespeare Code”, it’s made very clear in the discussion between the Doctor and Martha that if the Carrionites succeed, the future that Martha comes from will never happen. This is the same in the Dalek episode, and in “Human Nature.” The conflicts in all of these episodes are about preventing these changes. “Blink”, however, primes the audience with a different concept of time travel: that the Doctor’s actions in the past (or the future!) can establish the normal series of events: everything that he does sets up the things that happen to Sally Sparrow. This is the concept that is used in season ender, that someone can go back and set up a chain of events to happen now.

“Utopia”/”The Sound of Drums”/”Last of the Time Lords” – And now we come to what the entire season has been building up for: the reveal that the Master has been hiding using a fob watch, and that after he returns, he’s gone back to modern-day Earth to set a big plan in motion to trap the Doctor and take over the planet to build a war machine to wage war with the universe. Even Martha’s been trapped by this plan: she’s favored Saxon due to his Archangel network of satellites. And the Master uses his manipulation of her family to force the Doctor and Martha to come to him.

6Once the Doctor is rendered powerless, Martha escapes and walks the Earth for a year to save her family and gather support for him, eluding the Master’s soldiers and spies and assassins (see the novel “The Story of Martha”). And this brings Martha full circle: while she still loves the Doctor, she realizes how much of herself she’s given up for him – how much she’s allowed him to shape who she is, even if it was unintentional – and how much her family has suffered, too, and she realizes she deserves more than that and leaves the Doctor. In this way, I believe that Martha is the strongest person the Doctor has ever had as a companion, because she establishes and maintains herself separate from him.

And this is why I think Series 3 is the best series of the modern show. The story is woven expertly through the entire season, even in episodes that don’t seem to have anything to do with it: the show maintains its episodic, random-adventure feel while there is something sinister going on behind the scenes. In addition, the Doctor and Martha’s characters change and grow all the way through, and this development is incorporated into the stories of the episodes, a natural progression in response to the experiences of the characters. It’s a beautiful story and season, and a wonderful example of what Doctor Who can really be.

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.