Monday, July 02, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Doctor Who season concludes

-Eccleston and Tennant seasons spoilers ahead-

So Saturday there saw the final episode of the current Doctor Who season (I'd call it the 3rd season but it's not really, and I'm enough of a Doctor Who geek to respect that, even if I'm not enough of one to remember exactly how many seasons there have been). Andy suggested we should have a wee party for the occasion, with DVD's for after the season finalé. So Gav and Tony joined us for an evening of Doctor Who, curry, and bevvy.

'Last of the Time Lords', episode 13 of David Tennant's 2nd season as the good Doctor had a lot to live up to. After all, Rose's elevation to goddesshood via the Tardis so that she could save the Earth from the Dalek invasion had been absolutely stupendous. It set the bar high for Tennant's 1st season finalé. And that bar was duly raised by the Dalek-Cyberman war and the utter heartbreak of Rose's departure.

So Tennant's 2nd season had to do 2 things: establish a new assistant to take the place of Rose; and to continue to raise the game in the season finalé. The first was outstandingly achieved by the character of Martha Jones, ably played by the beautiful and charming Freema Agyeman.

The choice of such a strong contrast with Rose was astute and quite brave (is Martha the Doctor's first ever non-white assistant?- I missed 3 entire Doctors after Tom Baker, so I really don't know). This contrast was developed in fine fashion with the unrequited love theme, while at the same time the way in which Martha was established as more than just a substitute for Rose as the season advanced was a fine piece of plotting.

The pivotal importance of Martha as another assistant in the new style was underscored by the frankly magnificent 2-parter featuring the The Family of Blood ('Human Nature' and 'The Family of Blood'), surely up there in the Top 10 of all-time great Doctor Who stories. The story which followed- 'Blink'- was another great, with its bravura treatment of time-travel paradox. And so, not content with having to live up to the challenges posed by the previous season finalé, this year's episode had to top those 3 to boot.

The result was a triumph! John Simm may not have the Master's traditional goatee, but he reminded us all that an insane criminal genius can be every bit as dangerous as genocidal would-be universe-conqueroring alien hordes. I was particularly struck by the way that the handling of the Doctor-Master relationship seemed to echo that of the Batman and the Joker in the years since Frank Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns.

Anyway, I'm not going to go into any detail about the episode, because I don't want to spoil it for any of my reader who haven't seen it yet. I will just tell you all to make sure that you watch David Tennant's 2nd season as the Doctor. You won't be disappointed, because you'll be watching one of the best TV programmes on the planet right now.

-Current Doctor Who season spoiler warning ends-

If that's all I have to say about Saturday's episode of Doctor Who, it's not my last word here on the series itself. Y'see, like I said, we watched some classic series on DVD after the season finalé. We watched Genesis of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric.

I watched Genesis of the Daleks when it was originally broadcast back in 1975. I absolutely loved it. I really enjoyed watching it again, not least because of Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elizabeth Sladen. Sarah Jane was the first Doctor's assistant I had a serious crush on, because her stint in the series just happened to coincide with the onset of my adolescence (and because she is a classic English rose).

Sarah Jane aside, Genesis of the Daleks was notable for its grim scenario: a world torn by endless war in which a scientific elite are engaged in secret research under the guidance of a shrieking megalomaniac. Ultimately the products of that research destroy their creators, but not before a brutal power-struggle leaves most of the scientists dead at the hands of their leader's henchmen. The parallels with Nazi Germany were obvious to me even at the age of 12, but I was struck on Saturday night by other references which went over my head at the time; eg. to Dr. Strangelove.

The Curse of Fenric was great too. It's one of Andy's favourite series from the Sylvester McCoy period and he has been singing its praises to me since Ecclestone's appearance. I was pleasantly surprised to find my low estimation of this period of Doctor Who being utterly revised. I saw all the familiar features of the much-loved Doctors of my childhood on full display.

This extended to McCoy's assistant Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, who'd made a mixed impression on me during the brief fragment I remember seeing back in the late 80's.

More interesting than all of that though was what watching these classic series taught me about the new series, namely how much of what is so good now was always there, and exactly what it is about what is so good which is new, and why. This can be summed-up in a single word: Buffy.

I don't think I'm being terribly original here, but I believe that Joss Whedon's acclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a landmark of modern action-adventure TV. As he went on to show again with the sadly short-lived Firefly, Whedon is the visionary of the genre today. So what was most striking about watching those classic Doctor Who series was that they were so clearly pre-Buffy. I believe that this is more important even than the oft-discussed importance of Star Wars in relation to raising people's expections of visual effects beyond what the 80's BBC budget could afford.

Y'see- as Andy is wont to repeat- Doctor Who was always about the story, not the effects, even back in the days when the BBC visual effects department led the world (which is why Lucas came to Britain for Star Wars). This can be seen in the classic episodes. So when that classic storytelling is revamped in the post-Buffy period, and with all that modern CGI can provide, the result is a thing of beauty.

I was reminded of this when I saw a repeat of 'Doomsday' (Tennant's 1st season finalé) only yesterday morning. I cried. I just couldn't help myself. The story, the visuals, the affect: it was all just so wonderful. Thirteen weeks a year, 45 minutes each week, I know I'll have these transports of delight. What a life, eh?

And so again: we wait...;)


Pleader said...

Whoa! I nearly read through your post before realising that you were describing the 13th episode of the season of which I've just seen the 2nd. Close call!

When I used to go to school Dr Who was on about 6pm, which meant I could generally watch it. These days here, it's on Saturday night after The Bill (me and my wife ALWAYS watch this - or record it). That causes problems when my band plays (the video usually runs out shortly after Bill concludes, but i might try get 4 hour tapes).

Sarah Jane Smith is also one of my favorite assistants (for some reason, she is very memorable too). And weren't the Daleks really evil bastards from their advent. Almost as stiking a 'commencement episode' as the first of Blake's 7 (Escape from the prison planet).

Anyway, this is growing from comment to blog sized. So I'll stop here. Keep blogging....

JMcL63 said...

Thanks for your comment pleader. I'll edit the thread to include spoiler warnings (there are some potential minor spoilers in there). That said- I've just looked through the thread, and I don't think the spoiler potential is that great. Still, it's only fair to offer spoiler warnings.

As for Sarah Jane Smith? I think that, just like with your favourite Doctor, it's largely an accident of time. Which just means that I was very lucky with the timing which made Sarah Jane my own definitive assistant. I mean, she is a beautiful woman but she enjoys that sort of understated beauty which makes you think you could really meet her. For an emergent adolescent in particular, she could've been your lifelong high school sweetheart.

On top of that, I'm pretty sure that Sarah Jane marked the definitive entry of women's lib into the realm of Doctor Who assistants. She was feisty and independent instead of being a mere shrieker, thus paving the way for the action girls who followed. In this role Sarah Jane was helped a lot by Tom Baker's Doctor, who returned to the clownish cosmic hobo archetype of Patrick Troughton, after the stern patriarch portrayed by Jon Pertwee.

Yes, Sarah Jane was memorable indeed!

John ;)

Anonymous said...


What was all the giggling at the end whrn the unkillable one left? What were they thinking? Is he a Timelord too? I didnae really understand as I haven't watched the whole series.


JMcL63 said...

To answer that Al would be to spoil your own fun. You really need to learn this one by watching the relevant episode(s) yourself. Sufficeth to say that it was a really neat plot twist of which I daresay we haven't heard the last.

John ;)

PS. You do know that you can sign in to post under your name without having to register a blogger account? You might prefer not coming up as 'Anonymous' all the time? :)

tony said...

To be honest guys, as i was growing up, NYSSA was my favourite assistant- the Tom Baker years and she sacrificed herself at the end to rebuild a world. Fantastic character and a very pretty woman.