Wednesday, March 5, 2014
“Never doubted him; never will.”
That is the strength of this Ninth Doctor; he inspires. He inspires confidence in his friends and fear in his enemies. He inspires those around him to dig deep, to find and exceed their potential. He doesn’t so much save planets as redeem people, even as they die.
“Wish I’d never met you, Doctor,” Jack says as he takes his leave to face an army of Daleks. “I was much better off as a coward.” His parting kiss says what he doesn’t, though. He wouldn’t have missed his time with the Doctor for the world. He might have been better off, but he didn’t know better then, and that is not how he measures his worth anymore.
Bad Wolf ended with the Doctor making defiant predictions. He said he would save Rose, save the Earth, and exterminate the Daleks. He declared this with utter confidence and we never doubted. He was inspiring.
The Parting of the Ways delivers on his failure. Of his three promises he fulfills only one; he saves Rose Tyler. But in saving Rose he accomplishes the rest of his vow, because Rose will save the Earth (sort of) and eliminate the Daleks.
“I told you I’d come and get you,” the Doctor tells Rose as the TARDIS materializes around her.
“Never doubted it,” Rose replies. There is that inspiration again. Does anyone doubt the Doctor?
“I did.” Despite his bravado, the Doctor harbors misgivings. He can’t let them show, though, not when people are counting on him. He has to keep hope alive, and that is his greatest gift.
He has to keep hope alive, even when faced with legions of Daleks. Daleks who were supposed to be extinct. Daleks who were responsible for the destruction of the Time Lords. “I almost thought it was worth it,” the Doctor says. “Now it turns out they died for nothing.” Another chink in his armor shows, but that spark of hope has to keep burning. “Let’s go and meet the neighbors.”
From inspiration of confidence to inspiration of fear: “Do you know what they call me in the ancient legends of the Dalek home world? The Oncoming Storm.”
Oncoming Storm meet Dalek Emperor, the “God of all Daleks” who “reached into the dirt and made new life.” That doesn’t faze the Doctor, though; it intrigues him (“Since when did the Daleks have a concept of blasphemy?”). Realizing these new Daleks are insane, hating their own human tainted existence, the Doctor boldly strides away, back to Satellite Five and his limited resources: a handful of survivors, a defenseless and wretched Earth, and, oh yes, “a great big transmitter.” Brimming with certainty the Doctor outlines his hopeless plan. The Delta Wave is a distraction, a stalling tactic, a desperate attempt to rally the troops and keep that wavering spark lit to the bitter and inevitable end.
One last time the Doctor digs deep into his reserve and convinces Rose he has The Answer. Infectious enthusiasm, unqualified faith. The day is saved and there is never a doubt. The Doctor races out of the TARDIS then stops dead, turns with stoic sorrow, and sends Rose home, out of harm’s way. The day is not saved, there is no hope. All he can do is watch as the TARDIS and Rose dematerialize.
“Just get on with your work.” The Doctor remains. Jack remains. A handful of survivors remain. There is work still to be done. It’s probably hopeless, but the Doctor stays calm and active and fosters trust. It is his gift.
And it is heartbreaking. Because this gift is also a curse. People put their faith in the Doctor and people die. It is a heavy load of guilt that this Ninth Doctor carries.
One by one, people die in The Parting of the Ways. Some die nobly, some die cowardly, but they all die. It is a heavy load of guilt; however it is an unfair burden.
Let’s examine some of those deaths.
First there is the Floor Manager. This is a no-name character; an extra; a red shirt. Except this is one of those marvelous Doctor Who extras in a long, long line that manages to convey depth and integrity and individuality despite the briefest of screen time and limited lines. She is just doing her job, despicable though it may be. She is a drone, a worker, a single cog. But when it is time to step up, she breaks free of her bonds. That is the influence of the Doctor’s world. She could stay behind on Floor Zero and be slaughtered with Rodrick and the cowering crowd. She doesn’t. She fights back. Her reward? She dies. One more death at the feet of the Doctor: “You lied to me!” Except she would have died regardless. Because of the Doctor her last act is one of bravery.
Next there are Davitch Pavale and his coworker, once insensitive game programmers of death, now fighting for their own lives and the lives of every life on the planet Earth. They die, of course. But in death they atone.
Then there is Lynda. This is the hardest to swallow. The Doctor had promised her she would be safe. He promised her. She believed him. We believed him. She dies. “Lynda, you’re sweet,” the Doctor told her in Bad Wolf. “From what I’ve seen of your world, do you think anyone votes for sweet?” Lynda is sweet, but no one would ever vote for her. She was stuck in a Big Brother house of doom; she followed the Doctor out. She followed the Doctor out to her death; but she found something worth dying for.
Finally we have Jack. “Do you see, Jack,” the Doctor asks as the Emperor Dalek reveals that the Doctor’s Delta Wave will kill everyone in its path, “that’s the decision I’ve got to make for every living thing. Die as a Human or live as a Dalek.” A heavy burden; billions of deaths; all on the Doctor’s shoulders. “What would you do?” Jack’s answer confirms his faith, “Keep working.” And then, as the last man standing, Jack presents himself defenseless before the Daleks. No fear; no regret; no doubt.
“Finish that thing and kill Mankind.” The Doctor still faces his dilemma. No one is left to guide him; no one is left to fight for; no one is left to encourage him. The Emperor Dalek alone is left to taunt him: “What are you—coward or killer?”
“Coward, any day.” He cannot become like the Daleks; he has had enough of death. “Maybe it’s time.” Time to die. To die like Jack, like Lynda, like Davitch Pavale, like the Floor Manager; to die defenseless but uncompromised. To die.
Except there is Rose. Rose, the Doctor’s life line; his hope; his one spark sent out into time and space and ready to come back burning brightly with his inspiration.
Rose is useless without the Doctor. He picked her up out of her dead end life and gave her the universe. He promised to take care of her, and when all hope is lost he sends her home. “I bet you’re fussing and moaning now—typical,” his holographic self tells her (yes of course she is). There is only one thing he wants, though: “Have a fantastic life.” It is the only life he can give; the only life he can save. Surrounded by death; grief and guilt weighing him down. “Have a fantastic life.” It is the only consolation he has left.
Now, Gary, I have to confess that I originally wrote a Rose bashing diatribe next, but I decided to stop and think about it overnight. It’s easy to let the negativity snowball. I never disliked Rose until this latest round of viewing, and I admit that I have let my newfound aversion take over at times. The only nod I will make to this, therefore, is to say to the sulking Rose, sitting in a diner eating chips and bemoaning an ordinary life without her inspiration to guide her, two words: Peace Corp. Just a suggestion.
I actually really like the domestic scenes of Rose back with Mickey and Jackie. It’s an interesting dynamic, the companion abandoned and the loved ones no longer left behind but now having to deal with the fallout. And the Doctor’s motivational hand reaching back through time. “You know,” Rose tells Mickey of the Doctor’s better way of living, “he showed you too. That you don’t give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away.” And her retelling of Father’s Day to her mother: “That’s how good the Doctor is.”
Mickey and Jackie are the heart and soul of these segments, breathing meaning and life into them. Both realize that they have to let go of Rose, Mickey because, well, he deserves better (I hope he has finally gotten that message), and Jackie because her little girl has grown up. Together they help Rose follow her paradoxical trail of Bad Wolf crumbs back to the Doctor.
(I’m going to digress here, Gary, on an apropos sidebar from my dad regarding the Bonanza reruns he has been watching on METV. To paraphrase him: Recently the writers have gotten the Cartwrights into some situations that seem impossible to get out of but then they do at the last minute. Hopefully the writers will go back to the old way of writing soon, but I doubt it.)
Enter: the TARDIS ex machina from Boom Town now repurposed as the Rose-Channeling-The-TARDIS ex machina.
What a nice bookend to the season, though. Rose takes the Doctor’s hand and thus offers him a lifeline in the premier of Rose. Here, in The Parting of the Ways, she spreads out her arms in salvation: “I want you safe, my Doctor.” It has been a ponderous journey; but now: “’The Time War ends.”
Rose has looked into the Heart of the TARDIS. “Everything dies,” she says as she (the great exterminator) dissolves the Dalek emperor and his army.
“Rose, you’ve done it,” the Doctor exclaims, “now stop; just let go.” He realizes the dangerous road she is on. Everything he had rejected is now her glory.
“I bring life,” she continues as she resurrects Captain Jack. I notice, though, that she stops short of breathing life into Lynda or any of the other dead bodies on Satellite Five; and no attempt is made to address the destruction on Earth.
She only stops when it begins to hurt. “The power’s going to kill you and it’s all my fault,” the Doctor says, shouldering the blame once again and stepping in with the true kiss of life.
The gift the Doctor bestows is also his greatest burden. Inspiration brings with it culpability.
“I might never make sense again,” he tells Rose. It is a relief and a rejoicing in these final fatal moments of the Ninth Doctor. He can let go. Let go of all of the grief and the guilt and the pain that he has been carrying.
“Rose, before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I.”
And he was. And is. Christopher Eccleston. The Doctor. Fantastic.
Enter: the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant.
Life and death and new life, Gary . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 2:03 PM
Saturday, March 1, 2014
“The human race; brainless sheep . . .” Will someone please tell me why the Doctor bothers with us?
The Doctor finds himself back on Satellite Five 100 years after the events of The Long Game only to find that “history’s gone wrong again.” With a sinking feeling, the Doctor realizes that the game show of death mentality of the supposed Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire is his fault, the result of his previous actions.
Now Gary, I have to note that this concept of the Doctor’s previous actions impacting badly on the future has been explored before, in both The Ark and The Face of Evil. However, Bad Wolf never seriously explores this idea. It throws it out as a handy plot device, a neat story arc, and a brief ‘what did I do’ moment for the Doctor. But the results in this case are just too preposterous. The news channels shut down overnight and the human race falls apart? The government, the economy, the social order? All gone because cable news goes dark? Maybe the Doctor should just throw up his hands and leave us to our pitiful selves.
But of course he won’t do that. Although, when I think about it that is exactly what he did at the end of The Long Game. He shut down the news and walked away, which in and of itself is fine and dandy. What he failed to do, however, was to dig deeper into the what and why and how of Satellite Five. He took the easy answers and left it at that. Bad Wolf does the same. It gives us the easy, paint by numbers explanation that the Doctor shut down production and the Daleks swooped in and replaced the news with deadly game shows. How they accomplished this or why is another matter. Apparently the human race can accept being disintegrated if it’s all in fun, and no one is going to ask any questions or protest. But really, what are the Daleks getting out of this? They have been manipulating the human race for centuries, why? Questions will be answered eventually in this two parter, but not satisfactorily. So I’ll hold off until they are addressed, although by then the fun and games will long be forgotten.
Let me address the games, though, before they are left behind. They are rather entertaining, even if unoriginal. There is a bit of the Vengeance on Varos feel to Bad Wolf; maybe someday I’ll revisit both for a comparison. For now I’ll just comment that Wolf could benefit from a little of the Greek Chorus in Varos while Varos could benefit from a little of the Doctor’s concern in Wolf.
The Doctor is thrown into one of the Big Brother houses and his reactions rapidly evolve from disorientation to disbelief to disdain to dismay. “Are you insane?” he asks housemate Lynda with a Y. “Is it that important, getting your face on the telly? Is it worth dying for?” The Doctor goes into full action mode, reckless but decisive. It is exactly that emotional unpredictability factor that plays perfectly against Dalek rigidity.
Captain Jack, on the other hand, dives head first into the fun of his What Not to Wear segment. His lighthearted approach makes for the most amusing moments in Bad Wolf, and the casual way in which he dispatches his murderous makeover mavens is a suitably organic outcome of the hilarity.
Finally we have Rose, appropriately enough in The Weakest Link. It has some mild entertainment value but drags on too long, with Rose going from inane laughter to anxious sweating as she begins to realize the danger she faces. The long, awkward pauses as each contestant winces under Anne Droid’s interrogation and the endless list of absurd, fortuitous, and mundane questions become rather dull after a while.
Keeping the edge off of the mediocrity are the Doctor, Jack, and Lynda with a Y as they make their way out of their respective games, find each other, and look for Rose and some answers. Meanwhile on a repurposed floor 500 Davtich Pavale and his coworker notice something amiss in the games. (I have to wonder, though, why Rose having fits of the giggles is of note; surely in all of the thousands of shows beaming out over ten thousand channels there have been hysterical contestants before now.) Some nice character moments come out of these various groupings though.
Mixed in with all of this we get the emergence of the big Bad Wolf. Good thing the Doctor spelled it out for us and for Rose in Boom Town; I know I would not have gotten the significance of the corporation name otherwise, and I doubt that Rose would either. The Doctor and Rose both come to the conclusion that someone has been manipulating them. However the someone who has brought them to the games is not one and the same with Bad Wolf; rather it is the Controller.
The Controller brings up some more murky questions; like, what the heck? Who is this ghostly chick who has to stand all of her days hooked up to a bunch of cables? How did she get there? Did she volunteer or was she forced? How exactly is she running the games? What kind of warped technology needs this living creature to feed entertainment to the masses? What happens if she keels over? Do all the billions of TVs suddenly go to a ‘please stand by’ screen?
And then there are the real questions. How did she learn of the Doctor; and if the Daleks can read her thoughts, how did she learn of him, much less hatch her plan, without the Daleks finding out? Why did she bother transporting Rose and Jack along with the Doctor? And since she did transport them all, why didn’t she keep them together? How is it that she knows what the Daleks are up to? And if she really wants to defeat the Daleks, couldn’t she simply unhook herself if she really is the essential cog in this madhouse of machinery?
The whole thing is one big grand master design, but it’s not designed very well. Start following a thread and the plot unravels; unplug the Controller and it all falls apart. Then again, it is Doctor Who; it is so cleverly designed that the questions whiz by with the action.
With the apparent death of Rose and the revelation of the army of Daleks no one even remembers The Long Game or the charnel house of entertainment or the Controller or the helpless herd of humanity sitting glassy eyed in front of blank TV screens.
Because with the apparent death of Rose and the revelation of the army of Daleks, what we get is an angry and motivated Doctor full of reckless determination. He and Jack are in perfect synch (and again, what a loss that we never get more of this Ninth Doctor and Jack) as they break free from their jailors and storm floor 500.
The Doctor gives orders with authority even as he throws his weapon to Pavale. (“Oh, don’t be so thick. Like I was ever going to shoot.”) From here on in he utters curt questions and commands, cutting to the heart of things. Then when Jack emerges from the TARDIS with the miraculous news that Rose is alive, simply transported to some place unknown, the Doctor acts with renewed hope and invigorated resolve. Using information obtained from the Controller, the Doctor exposes the Daleks and stares them down.
Dalek: “Explain yourself.”
Doctor: “I said no.”
Dalek: “What is the meaning of this negative?”
Doctor: “It means no.”
The Daleks are flummoxed. This is not an expected response. They are at a loss.
Against all odds the Doctor proclaims, “Because this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet; and then I’m going to save the Earth; and then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!”
All questions are swept aside; all expressions of disbelief are forgotten. The Doctor is going to save the day and that is a matter of fact.
With the echo of “Exterminate, exterminate, exterminate” ringing in our ears, we are left hanging; but we are left with no doubts. The Doctor is going to save Rose Tyler, and then he is going to save the Earth, and then he is going to finish off the Daleks.
The Doctor’s reckless defiance is infectious. Who has any questions?
Gary . . . ?
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 4:46 PM
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Boom Town is a nice little respite. It is one of the only if not the only episode in the Eccleston era that does not have an agenda. It isn’t introducing characters, establishing themes, fortifying story arcs, or reestablishing links to the Classic. The strength of the Doctor and the strength of Doctor Who has to stand on his/its own merit, stripped bare of themes and arcs and grand master plans.
Boom Town is stripped bare and just having fun.
With one glaring exception. Blaidd Drwg. Bad Wolf. “Chose it at random, that’s all,” Margaret says. “I don’t know, it just sounded good.” It does sound good. Blaidd Drwg. Bad Wolf. But it is rather random, and oddly appropriate that the season’s arc is for the first time directly addressed in this otherwise stand-alone episode.
“Everywhere we go. Two words following us. Bad Wolf.”
Except I have to protest. I remember the first time I saw this scene and thought, “What?” I hadn’t taken note of the words during the course of my initial viewing. But OK, now that I have the directive I can revisit on subsequent viewings and catalogue all of the Bad Wolf references and marvel at the cleverness. However, I have to wonder how the Doctor and Rose have cottoned on to this recurring phrase since many of the mentions occurred out of their presence or were rather obscure.
And so this rather random phraseology follows the Doctor and Rose and links this one-off episode to the rest of the season.
“Nah, just a coincidence.” Thanks Doctor. Let’s just shelve this for the moment and concentrate on the fun.
This is an episode of pure fun. It’s one of those great Doctor Who stories where you can throw common sense out the window and suspend your disbelief for 45 minutes and just sit back and enjoy. Who cares that Margaret the Slitheen hasn’t bothered to change her borrowed body since last we saw her in World War Three? Who cares that Margaret has managed to become mayor of Cardiff in a remarkably short period of time (6 months) and has already pushed through the production of a nuclear power plant in the heart of Cardiff? Who cares that nobody has commented on the multiple tragedies associated with this project in such a short time span? Who cares that no one in authority is looking over the plans of this nuclear power station to ensure its safety? Who cares that the one man who has discovered the flaws in the plan hasn’t bothered to mention it to anyone but the mayor? Who cares? It’s just pure fun.
The Doctor and Rose and Captain Jack are clearly having fun. They are like a well oiled machine, working in perfect synch, completing each other’s sentences. Enter Mickey: “My God, have you seen yourselves?”
The camaraderie is infectious, and despite initially feeling an outsider, Mickey soon blends in to the mix. This is a real Doctor Who missed opportunity. An entire season of these four would have been fantastic; but there you have those pesky ifs ands and buts, Gary, and Christmas is past. So we will have to settle for this single story of the fantastic foursome.
Boom Town has a decidedly lighthearted tone but with some surprising depth and pathos; and it all hinges on Margaret, AKA Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen, Blon for short. Her scene early on with the intrepid girl reporter is amusing, even as Blon unzips with the obvious intent of killing the journalist. Then it suddenly turns melancholy as Blon learns of Cathy’s pregnancy and begins to mourn her own lost family. As a slimy green bug-eyed monster the Slitheen still garners sympathy.
The pursuit and capture of Margaret is hilarious, from its planning stages (“Excuse me; who’s in charge?”) to its execution (“She’s climbing out of the window, isn’t she?”) to its aftermath (“It’s a surfboard.” “A pan-dimensional surfboard, yeah.”). Mission accomplished. Celebrations are in full swing (“Raxacoricofallapatorious. That’s it! I did it!”) when Margaret brings it all to a screeching halt: “They have the death penalty.”
From this point the humor is toned down, although still present, as the script explores the moral and philosophical implications of the death penalty. Margaret stares down the victorious gang one by one; none can look her in the eye. “You’re very quick to soak your hands in my blood,” she tells them, “which makes you better than me, how exactly?”
Her dinner with the Doctor is the highlight of the episode, alternating between her comical attempts to kill the Doctor and her moving pleas for mercy. However the Doctor remains unmoved. “You’ve been in that skin suit too long,” he tells her. “You’ve forgotten; there used to be a real Margaret Blaine. You killed her and stripped her and used the skin.” The Doctor sees the horror behind the ordinary human life Margaret pretends to. “You’re pleading for mercy out of a dead woman’s lips.”
Margaret changes tactics and claims she can change, citing her inability to kill the pregnant Cathy. It is a convincing argument, backed up by that powerful scene still fresh in our memory. But again the Doctor knows better:
“You let one of them go, but that’s nothing new. Every now and then a little victim’s spared because she smiled, because he’s got freckles, because they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction, you happen to be kind.”
“Only a killer would know that,” Margaret counters. Unfortunately their compelling tete-a-tete is cut short by the opening rift.
Rose and Mickey are having an interesting conversation of their own in the meantime. I feel like I have beat up on Rose enough, though, so I’ll refrain from the obvious here and instead simply say, good for Mickey. At long last he stands up for himself and tells her what she needs to hear. And at long last I think Rose really feels the hurt she has caused.
Boom Town is an overall entertaining tale that addresses some deeper issues but then lets everyone off the hook with the all too convenient ending. But as I said from the start, I don’t really mind because I simply enjoy watching. Besides, I don’t think I could look Margaret in the eye and take her to her death, so I’m glad that she gets a second chance. “She’s an egg.” Margaret, AKA Blon, has looked into the heart of the TARDIS and magically regressed to childhood. Sometimes, just for the pure fun of it, it’s good to have this TARDIS ex machina ending.
Oh, Gary, if life were only thus . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 5:30 PM
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
“Go to your room.”
If only all impending doom was so easily dispensed with. But the Doctor is on fire, as is The Doctor Dances. Combined with the previous episode, this two part story is a list topper, and again with the Doctor and Nancy leading the way.
However, let me get the inevitable out of the way. The Doctor ‘dances.’ For some misguided reason we have to deal with the question of the Doctor and whether or not he ‘dances.’ For starters, any romantic relationship the Doctor would have with a human companion would by necessity be a love-em-and-leave-em type of affair. (The show will later deal with this heart-breaking reality in School Reunion, but it then immediately reverts back to the high school romance mentality of the Rose relationship arc.)
But OK, the show has committed to the exploration of this question. That in turn begs the question, why Rose? Of all his many female companions throughout his long life, why Rose? Rose has come along at the most vulnerable moment for the Doctor. The death of all his family and friends is one thing, the destruction of his race and planet another. For a Time Lord of 900 some odd years with all of time and space open before him, to have his entire history wiped out in a moment is catastrophic.
Rose enters the picture and is an immediate distraction from his darkest thoughts, and she takes full advantage.” I know how sad you are,” she had callously taunted him back in Father’s Day. She is playing him. She knows where her power lies. She doesn’t offer comfort or understanding or sympathy. She offers ‘dancing.’ Rose is the equivalent of a Time Lord one night stand.
OK, Gary, I’ve got that out of my system.
Now let’s deal with the deeper, more emotionally charged story of The Doctor Dances.
Nancy has just been terrorized by the gas-masked child monster; the last second “Go to your room” Hail Mary by the Doctor has saved her (“I’m really glad that worked”). Nancy stands alone at the window as she watches the dejected boy walk away through the deserted streets. With a sorrowful “Jamie” she slowly sinks to the floor in tears.
Nancy puts ‘dancing’ in its proper perspective.
One can only imagine how the poor and orphaned 15/16 year old Nancy became a single mother in pre-war London. It’s not important. What speaks volumes is the selfless and quiet dignity with which she faces the dismal reality of life.
“Mad, you are,” Nancy tells Rose who has just revealed she is from the future. As usual, Rose skims the surface of things and talks about the wonders of time machines. “It’s not that,” Nancy responds. “All right, you’ve got a time travel machine. I believe you. Believe anything, me.” And then, with the air raid exploding above their heads she concludes, “But what future?” Nancy deals in reality; Rose dwells in fantasy. With the Union Jack emblazoned across her chest and a sunny smile on her heavily made-up face Rose gives a wink and a nod to divulge the grand and glorious secret that England will persevere. The two women just do not belong in the same realm.
It is the same problem with part one of this story and what keeps either from being great TV.
But you know, Gary, I almost don’t mind. Because the elements that drag The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances down are also the elements that make both more accessible to the general viewing audience.
Take the Fantastic Three moment when the Doctor, Jack, and Rose stride towards the bomb site. It is pure cheese, but it gets the heart pumping.
And then there is the humor. For a somber and horrific premise there is a liberal amount of humor thrown into this episode. Some of it works; some of it is overkill; and some of it detracts from the quality. But most all of it is entertaining.
OK, let’s talk bananas. “I like bananas. Bananas are good.” The bananas work, then they become overkill, then they distract from the tension. The trifecta. Through it all, though, they never fail to amuse. “Don’t drop the banana!”
Same with the sonic. “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ooo, this could be a little more sonic?” Please don’t drop the sonic.
Of course there is also the Doctor ‘dances’ thing which really drags this down to the common level, but again it provides some very entertaining moments. “Rose, I’m trying to resonate concrete,” the Doctor says in a brilliant moment of the Doctor trying to put things back into perspective while Rose is more interested in the Doctor’s moves.
“The world doesn’t end because the Doctor dances,” she says in her flippant way. However the Doctor turns over her offered hands to examine their impossibly perfect condition after having been hanging onto a rope for dear life hundreds of feet up in the London sky. The Doctor remains on track even while Rose waltzes her way through the episode.
Captain Jack would gladly join Rose on the dance floor. Or the Doctor. Or Algy. “He’s just a bit more flexible when it comes to dancing.” (I can’t imagine why Rose is shocked to hear the news that in the future the human race ‘dances’ its way through the galaxy, given her own rather foot loose and fancy free tendencies.) However Jack has the appropriate sense of time and place. When confronted with his own culpability his expressions of disbelief are tinged with regret and contrition. The Doctor recognizes this. Rose is oblivious as usual, but the Doctor knows the responsibility Jack has accepted, and he has faith in Jack’s character. “Volcano day.”
I’m afraid I digressed again from the more serious aspects, Gary, but isn’t that just what the script itself does?
Nancy’s role as surrogate mother to the orphans of London is touching, her self-possession as she faces down Mr. Lloyd is inspiring, and her determination as she enters the bomb site is compelling. This is a young woman of great courage and character and it is evident in every fleeting moment of screen time she is afforded. When she is handcuffed to a table in a room with a young man who is obviously infected, therefore, the tension is heightened. Nancy’s composure is impressive as she pleas desperately but never hysterically. When the soldier inevitably turns, she remains true to her nature, soothing the empty child within with a simple lullaby.
That, of course, is the answer. The answer to the child’s question, “Are you my mummy?”
The army advances, the army of gas-masked zombies controlled by the empty child.
“Not the child,” Nancy corrects. “Jamie.”
Simple; true; natural.
The army is advancing, the bomb is imminent, Volcano Day is upon them. Desperation registers on Jack and Rose. Jack disappears and Rose is at a loss. The Doctor and Nancy remain the quiet eye of this storm.
And finally the answer. “I am your mummy.”
The Doctor shushes Rose and her silly blather of questions; he realizes the importance of this moment as Nancy hugs her son to her.
“Give me a day like this. Give me this one,” he pleads, and then with exultation: “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once, everybody lives!”
It is one of the most uplifting moments in Doctor Who, and one that is well deserved for this war scarred Doctor.
And now, at last, when it is appropriate, the Doctor can dance. It is a moment of celebration. Of course Rose is still using it as a ploy in her little game. After spending the whole time trying to get the Doctor to dance, now when he remembers his moves she slyly says, “Actually, Doctor, I thought Jack might like this dance.” But the Doctor counters with this magnificent laugh, “I’m sure he would, Rose. I’m absolutely certain. But who with?” Rose doesn’t like that one bit, being forced to recognize that she isn’t in fact the center of attention.
Well done, Doctor. Well done.
And well done Doctor Who. Combined with The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances is among the best.
Everybody lives, Gary. How beautiful that would be . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 5:10 PM
Friday, February 14, 2014
The Empty Child has a little bit of everything; I especially want to single out four strong elements that combine to make this episode a standout: the Doctor, Nancy, humor, and atmosphere. The gloomy streets, the night shoots, the sepia hues, the rumble of planes and distant explosions all lend the right ominous undertone, and then the horror elements are laid on top with the occasional dash of wit. When the Doctor and Nancy inhabit this space it all comes together.
There is a scene early on that highlights all of these components. It starts with the Doctor and this wry observation to a stray alley cat: “You know, one day, just one day, maybe, I’m going to meet someone who gets the whole ‘don’t wander off’ thing. Nine hundred years of phone box travel, it’s the only thing left to surprise me.”
At which point he is startled when the TARDIS’ police phone rings.
Doctor: “How can you be ringing? What’s that about, ringing? What am I supposed to do with a ringing phone?”
It’s a darkly droll moment, and then the mysterious Nancy shows up and warns, “Don’t answer it. It’s not for you.”
The scene is capped as the somewhat amused and bemused Doctor answers the phone to hear the eerie voice of a child repeating, “Mummy? Mummy? Are you my mummy?” Just like that the comical turns creepy, and it is brilliantly played out in the Doctor’s face.
Even though Nancy makes only a brief appearance in that snippet, she fills the scene. Nancy is a fully developed character from the start; possessed of a silent self-confidence, independence of thought and a strong will. Add to that compassion, courage, and wit. There is nothing superficial about Nancy.
Which brings me to Rose.
Whenever the script diverts to Rose it disperses the tension. I don’t mind too terribly because Rose’s storyline sets up some important plot elements and incidentally sows some seeds for the unfortunate Doctor/Rose relationship arc. Besides, it successfully separates Rose from the Doctor thus allowing the Doctor to more fully come alive. Plus it introduces Captain Jack.
The Empty Child is really those two separate tales, the Doctor and Nancy in one and Rose and Captain Jack in the other, with the Doctor and Nancy thread the superior. Being a two part story, the Rose/Captain Jack sections are necessary for setting up the second half but distracting. (“This isn’t business, this is champagne.”)
This occurs throughout the episode. Just when things are getting interesting we switch to Rose flirting with her latest. But it is most evident at the end. The Doctor has made his way to the hospital and Doctor Constantine with his ward full of empty patients. As the Doctor examines one after another his incredulity grows.
Constantine: “Examine another one.”
Doctor: “This isn’t possible.”
Constantine: “Examine another.”
Doctor: “This isn’t possible.”
The repetition underscores the point: “They’ve all got the same injuries.” “Yes.” “Exactly the same.” “Yes.” “Identical, all of them, right down to the scar on the back of the hand.” And then to punctuate, that same scar is revealed on the hand of Doctor Constantine.
“Physical injuries as plague.”
Finally the big reveal: “They’re not dead.”
Struggling with every last word, he directs the Doctor back to Nancy. Then the gruesome transformation as the plague manifests itself in Doctor Constantine.
It’s a powerfully dramatic moment interrupted with the sounds of Rose and Captain Jack arriving in the hospital.
Similarly, we have a contrast in personality insights, and again the depth is weighted towards the Doctor and Nancy.
The Doctor asks Nancy, “Who did you lose?” A simple enough question, but heavy with meaning. The Doctor has a fundamental sympathy with and understanding of Nancy on the shortest of acquaintance. Both have suffered a tragic loss that shapes them and forms a solid connection between them. And it is all simply stated in those four words, “Who did you lose?”
But it is not just in the words. Nancy gives the barest of details about her brother Jamie and the Doctor waxes eloquent about the human spirit (“A mouse in front of a lion”) and it is moving and touching. The power of the moment, however, belongs to the subtleties in Nancy’s expression as she listens to the Doctor’s speech. She never has to say a word.
When words are spoken, every one counts. Take this gem from Doctor Constantine: “Before this war began, I was a father and a grandfather. Now I am neither. But I’m still a doctor.” And the Doctor’s reply, “Yeah, I know the feeling.” Nothing more needs to be said.
Now let’s examine Rose and Captain Jack.
We don’t just get speech from these two, we get the benefit of psychic paper to bear witness to where their minds are.
Rose: “You just handed me a piece of paper telling me you’re single and you work out.”
And what’s on Rose’s psychic wavelength? “Oh, you sort of have a boyfriend called Mickey Smith but you consider yourself to be footloose and fancy free.”
Then there is Rose’s obsession with Spock and scanning for alien tech. “Finally a professional,” she says when Jack does just that, in awe of the flash. (I have to laugh thinking about Peri who always griped that she was bored with the Doctor and now Rose is unimpressed with him. And then I have to laugh even harder when this scene is immediately followed up with the Doctor using his non-showy but handy super binoculars which I wonder if are the same as the first Doctor used so long ago in The Daleks.)
Her preoccupation with TV effects over substance extends even to the name.
Doctor: “Mister Spock?”
Rose: “What was I supposed to say? You don’t have a name. Don’t you ever get tired of Doctor? Doctor who?”
Rose has completely forgotten that the Doctor had earlier shown her his own psychic paper with the name of Doctor John Smith of the Ministry of Asteroids. The name aside, Rose is demonstrating a basic lack of understanding of who the Doctor actually is. Unlike Nancy who needs no psychic paper to be on the same wavelength as the Doctor.
Rose is too caught up in herself and her flirtation and her pretense at being a time agent. She gives an off-handed, look at me I know so much comment about Chula warships, but she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. The Doctor, on the other hand, asks the right questions. “What kind of Chula warship landed here?” His mind is working. His mind is on serious matters. He might not know what is going on yet, but he is working it out: “Human DNA is being rewritten by an idiot.”
And the big question that needs an answer is left for another episode as the empty child and the hospital patients all ask in unison, “Are you my mummy?”
Once again I’ll leave it on the cliffhanger, Gary . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 4:35 PM
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
“An ordinary man; that’s the most important thing in creation.” I love the fact that Father’s Day celebrates the ordinary. In the process, Father’s Day goes a long way in rehabilitating Rose’s character; it humbles and humanizes her.
The episode starts by putting the self-importance of Rose into a commonplace perspective. A little girl who lost her dad before she was old enough to have memories. She has since built up the image of her father in her mind: “the most wonderful man in the world.” Now a young adult, she pleads with the Doctor to take her back to a time when her dad was alive. It’s all about Rose; but it’s relatable.
Her first glimpse into the past starts to knock her idol off his pedestal. A dingy little wedding ceremony with her dad stumbling over his lines. “I thought he’d be taller,” Rose says.
Her next thought is to go back to the day he died so that he won’t be alone at that tragic moment.
“The day my father died,” Rose says as she finds herself on the fateful street. “I thought it’d be all sort of grim and stormy. It’s just an ordinary day.” An ordinary day and an ordinary man.
Slowly her illusions are being shattered.
She stands immobile and watches as the car hits her dad. She cannot act; except she knows a man with a time machine.
“It’s a very bad idea,” the Doctor tells her. But he puts his faith in her; he grants her request; he gives her another chance.
“I did it,” Rose exults after pushing Pete out of the way from the oncoming car. She did it; she really did it; and the Doctor knows exactly what she did.
Echoing Rose, the Doctor says, “I did it again. I picked another stupid ape.” Rose is not the only one to be disillusioned in this episode. At last the scales are falling off the Doctor’s eyes and he is seeing Rose as the imperfect human being that she is.
Rose doesn’t comprehend this immediately. She still thinks she’s the center of the world. “I get it,” she tells the Doctor. “For once, you’re not the most important man in my life.” She’s really rather cold hearted and treats the Doctor similarly to the way she treats Mickey. “I know how sad you are,” she cruelly states, and then she gloats, “You’ll be back in a minute, or you’ll hang around outside the TARDIS waiting for me.” And then as he walks out the door, “And I’ll make you wait a long time!”
It’s an ugly, squalid little spat that brings out the worst in Rose; the Doctor’s stony stare glares a revealing spotlight on the deepest defects of her character. And it is that condemnation that finally brings Rose down to a human level.
Of course the Doctor isn’t going to leave Rose; he is a better person than that; he is not going to strand her out of place and time. Plus there is the whole “wound in time” business that needs sorting out. In the process, the two slowly rebuild their relationship on a more realistic basis.
“Now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you? Are you?” The Doctor reestablishes a connection through baby Rose. Subsequently he is able to turn to adult Rose, and after a brief but stern dressing down he coaxes an apology out of her.
Doctor: “Just tell me you’re sorry.”
Rose: “I am. I’m sorry.”
Rose at long last has to admit that she is in the wrong. I love it. Not only does she tell the Doctor she is sorry, but she repeatedly takes the rightful blame, culminating in: “This is all my fault. Both of you. All of you. The whole world.” The Doctor is gone and the entire world is in danger of ‘sterilization’ because of her egotistical and selfish desires. And for once she reproaches herself. I love it.
And yet her desires are not totally selfish and egotistical. Yes, she wants to play hero and she wants to meet her idol; she wants, she wants, she wants. But at the heart of it is simply a little girl’s longing for her dead daddy.
The story of Rose and her father plays out in a similar fashion to the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Doctor’s and Rose’s relationship. As her idealized vision of Pete Tyler is brought down to earth, Rose comes to accept this man as the flesh and blood, flawed and imperfect person that he is. A man. An ordinary man. Only with that admission can love, a true love, grow; only with that admission can the father/daughter bond be formed; only with that admission can the final “Peter Alan Tyler, my dad; the most wonderful man in the world” have real meaning.
And it plays out in beautiful fashion. Simply because Pete Tyler is an ordinary man. And “that’s the most important thing in creation.”
Rose triggers the Blinovitch Limitation Effect when she wheedles the Doctor into allowing her to cross her own time stream. The result is larger than life devastation as the Reapers descend to fix the damage that has been done. Amidst this universal carnage the intimate emotional tale unfolds. The elegant tale of an inelegant man.
A man who can’t even remember the full name of his intended. “It’s good enough for Lady Di,” Jackie says, but this man is not Prince Charming. “He was so clever,” Rose says of her dad; and then her mother tells her, “He’s a failure. Born failure, that one.” The same mother who once upon a time spun castles in the air built around his memory.
“Be careful what you wish for,” the Doctor warned Rose. Her wishes have come true, but they are not what she had imagined. Instead she is confronted with the simple, plain, unvarnished truth that is Peter Alan Tyler. An ordinary man.
Rose weaves an idyllic picture for her father when he asks about the future; an ideal that any little girl would crave.
“That’s not me.” Pete knows better. He knows that he is not the fantasy Rose describes. He is a man. An ordinary man. A flawed and imperfect human being. A disappointment and a failure. “I couldn’t even die properly.”
But he is also a dad.
Pete: “Who am I, love?”
Rose: “My daddy.”
The most important thing in creation; the most wonderful man in the world. An ordinary man.
“I’ve never had a life like that.” The Doctor is extraordinary. An extraordinary show about an extraordinary man with an extraordinary machine; and isn’t it great that for a change the salvation of the world rests with an ordinary man whose heroism lies in his mundane life and death.
There is probably a lot more I could say about Father’s Day. There’s little Mickey, Jackie with big hair, 80’s cell phones, ominous monsters . . . .
But Gary, I’m leaving this one with the ordinary man, “the most important thing in creation.”
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 3:38 PM
Monday, February 3, 2014
“It must’ve been a glitch.” Nice to know they still have unspecified glitches in the year 200,000. The Long Game itself is a bit of a glitch. Or, to quote the Editor, “Something is wrong; something fictional.” The Long Game just doesn’t feel right. It has its share of entertaining moments, interesting characters, and intriguing concepts; but it just does not fit it all together. It is like those 600 channels all broadcasting out, a jumble of data streaming out to millions of planets and species but none of it of any relevance.
But first let me indulge in some Rose bashing to get it out of the way. I’m mystified by my new found dislike of Rose; I haven’t had such negative feelings towards a companion since Peri; Rose is starting to make me look back fondly on the Peri years. I have always had an aversion to Peri; my distaste for Rose has grown slowly over time and with careful consideration. To tie this aside in with The Long Game, the character of Rose is something like Suki—the truth to her persona lies hidden underneath the surface of the blonde girl heroine.
At the end of Dalek Rose persuaded the Doctor to bring her latest boy toy along for the ride. Mind you, she never consulted Adam in this decision. Adam had no clue what he was getting into when he stepped through the TARDIS doors. Now they are at the start of their first adventure together; however before allowing Adam out, Rose pulls the Doctor aside to get the skinny on where they have materialized so that she can impress Adam with her superior knowledge. When she runs out of her canned info she graciously lets the Doctor take over the explanations.
Then when Adam doesn’t measure up, Rose quickly loses interest in him.
Doctor: “He’s your boyfriend.”
Rose: “Not anymore.”
Let’s add fickle to Rose’s list of defects.
Rose abandons Adam and trails along after the Doctor for the rest of the story and this is where I really get irritated. The Sixth Doctor and Peri had an obnoxiously contentious relationship; the Ninth Doctor and Rose have an equally obnoxious mutual adulation. “Now Rose. Look at Rose. Rose is asking the right kind of question,” the Doctor tells Cathica, giving Rose some unwarranted credit for her simple complaint about the heat due to her own discomfort. In fact, Cathica states that she has repeatedly asked the same question to authorities and has been told there are technical difficulties. But Rose is quick to accept the praise. The final straw, though, is when the Doctor declares, “I only take the best. I’ve got Rose.” Rose’s head grows ten times larger, if that’s possible, over the course of this one episode.
I don’t think I would be this focused on Rose, Gary, if the episode was better than it is. But I just do not buy the overall premise.
This is supposed to be the “Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire.” It is supposed to be the “planet Earth at its height” and “the human race at its most intelligent.” If that is supposed to be true, how fragile is mankind that the mere fact that all of broadcast news is being manipulated can subvert it during its most impressive era? This is a fault with Doctor Who in general, though. Doctor Who has always had a rather dim view of the human race and its ability to progress of its own accord.
Now, I have to point out that this mighty news empire overseen by the Editor and the Jagrafess is dependent on the human brain; there is a reason that the brain is used as the computer, the processor, part of the software. The brain, the human brain, is a complex organism; brilliant, methodical, flexible, unpredictable; the human brain. (At this point I have to think: Destiny of the Daleks.)
And yet we are meant to believe that the entirety of the human race, spread across millions of planets, is unwittingly enslaved by a steady stream of propaganda.
I’m sorry, and with apologies to Skinner, but I just don’t buy it; I have more faith in humanity than that.
If you take two siblings with the exact same upbringing, instilled values, and indoctrinated beliefs, and you show them the exact same program, there is bound to be some point of discussion, some minor difference in perception. Any two people are going to see things differently, no matter how small that difference. Now, multiply that minute difference out by millions of billions of people who each have had different upbringings and who have different values and beliefs; multiply that out by millions of billions of the human brain; multiply that out by millions of billions of that organic computer, that wonderfully brilliant, methodical, flexible, unpredictable organic computer called the brain. The Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire would not be taken down by a news monopoly; regardless of fact manipulation and subliminal seduction.
Something more is going on here. It has to be. The Doctor reprimands Cathica for not asking the right questions, but I have to take a long hard look at the Doctor and wonder why he doesn’t ask more than the superficial questions.
But then, this is nothing more than a superficial episode:
“Oh, I was hoping for a philosophical debate. Is that all I’m going to get? ‘Yes?’”
It’s a set up episode, and that is a fundamental problem with the whole idea of a season long story arc. But I don’t want to get into that, Gary. It just makes me mad. Besides, to take this on the slow path, simply as a one episode story and the next in line in the history of the Doctor, I should simply ignore that bad wolf.
OK, so let’s just look at this episode; the baddies of this episode; the Editor and the Jagrafess.
Simon Pegg does wonders with the role given. But the role given is inauspicious. He answers to his boss: “The mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Maxarodenfoe. I call him Max.” The two of them are a set up for that one-liner. Period.
The mighty Jagrafess (I’ll call him Max) oversees everything; but what does that get him? An air-conditioned room. That’s about it. And what of the Editor? “Simply being human doesn’t pay very well,” he says; but then what does being Editor get him? An air-conditioned room. That’s about it.
When the Doctor and Rose uncover the Editor and Max sitting high atop Satellite Five in their air-conditioned room he decides to leave. The Editor has other plans. The Editor is intrigued by the fact that the Doctor is a non-entity. Then when Adam conveniently reveals all with his newly implanted head spike the Editor exults with the possibilities of the limitless knowledge the Doctor and his TARDIS possess. Except the Editor and Max deal in distorted truths. He wants to use the TARDIS to rewrite history and prevent human development, but he’s already doing that. Why does he need information in order to misinform? Why does he need historical knowledge in order to distort history? I just do not get the logic.
So, I can’t buy the threat to the universe, the Earth, or humanity; I can’t buy the motivations for the villains; and I can’t even buy the menace to the Doctor. What’s left? Entertainment value?
“Time travel’s like visiting Paris,” the Doctor tells Adam when they first arrive on Satellite Five. “You can’t just read the guide book; you’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers.” Now that sounds fun. However I just do not care enough about Adam one way or another. Tamsin Greig as the nurse provides a small modicum of amusement as she lures Adam on to his ultimate undoing, but his underlying machinations don’t interest me. He wants to transmit future knowledge back home so he can profit; I just don’t care. Then when the Doctor unceremoniously dumps Adam back home with his head stuffed with impossible technology I have little sympathy for him. Even still, I find the Doctor and Rose particularly smug and distasteful at that moment.
I guess I don’t have many positive things to say about The Long Game but I never really realized it before. I think the 45 minute format tends to make me overlook shortcomings upon first view because of the pace of things. When I slow down to actually think about it, however, I begin to unravel some of the nagging doubts that the action initially swept away.
“Knowledge is power;” except my knowledge does not invest this episode with any power. And so I leave Satellite Five, Gary, knowing that it still awaits in that future time swirl of the Doctor.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 4:10 PM