Adam J Purcell Ponders… Doctor Who Series Two, Season One
Published: 27th June 2005
And so ends the first season of this new Doctor Who series.
Last time I spoke about the new series the Aliens of London/World War 3 story had just finished airing. I was a little downbeat about that story and, for me, it remains the most disappointing of the season. Nonetheless, having now watched it on the official DVD release, it isn't as bad as I remembered it. In fact I'd go so far as to say it wasn't bad at all - just not as good as it could have been. I won't dwell on that story, though, because since then we've had Dalek, The Long Game, Father's Day, The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, Boom Town, Bad Wolf and, finally, Parting of the Ways.
Where to begin with that lot?! For me the stand out stories of the entire season are undoubtably The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and, as mentioned in my previous pieces, The Unquiet Dead. Why do they stand out? Not simply because they are historicals, though it did feel as if the team went that bit further with the production values of these. No, it's the atmosphere, the permanent night, the deliberate and well cultivated spookiness to them. They really are what I consider to be Doctor Who at its best, original Series or new. Let's hope we have more like these in the next two seasons.
Dalek is one that has divided many (see Keith's musing on it for more!) I thought it quite good but it did rather pale in comparison to the original Big Finish story, Jubilee, it was based on. In Jubilee the lone prisoner Dalek didn't take Evelyn's DNA, it didn't get repaired. Nonetheless it didn't need either as it played mind games with those that visited it, manipulating events from it's prison cell. Far more effective and satisfying than the Dalek that gained human emotions. Having said that, I don't strongly object to the ending of the story - at least it did the right thing and killed itself rather than living happily ever after as Rose's clone! My main objection to the story is the lack of, well, story. Dalek breaks free from it's prison cell, runs amok killing everyone in it's path and then exits stage right (terminally) by it's own hand (or balls!) Not the meatiest of plots. At least it gave us a Dalek that really was the killing machine tank they should be - no hand gun is going to impair the vision of these new Daleks. I pray the Cybermen loose their extreme weakness to gold next year in a similar vein.
I found The Long Game to be one of the weaker stories, a common theme with Russell T's stories, I'm afraid. Again, it wasn't a bad story but it did feel a little pedestrian. Where was the build up? Yes, there was a beginning, middle and end to the story but it didn't really feel like we were approaching the final climatic moments, the show down with the Editor and his master. Like The End of the World, there was some good satirical underpinnings and all the ingredients to make a classic Who but where was the excitement, the danger? Of course in the case of The Long Game there was actually more going on there than met the eye which raises it slightly above The End of the World for replay value, I think.
I was quite impressed with Father's Day. Such as obvious time travel story of the type Who has rarely, if ever, tackled. Certainly an episode that never could have been done in the old series with anything like the believability of this. Anyone who doubted Billie Piper's acting abilities need look no further than this or Parting of the Ways to convince themselves what an amazing find Russell T has in her. I know some people have complained that Father's Day was a bit soapy but you shouldn't confuse drama with Soap Opera. Not a level of emotion I'd want to see every week but as a rare stand-out piece I thought it worked very well indeed. It even brought a bit of a lump to my throat!
I've already mentioned The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances but I think it's worth me saying a few more words on these fantastic pieces of television. "Are you my mummy?" Words that resonated in school playgrounds, and beyond, for quite some time after transmission I would think. It's a little difficult to scare me nowadays, unfortunately, but nonetheless I think The Empty Child has got to be one of the creepiest Doctor Who episodes ever. It probably ranks pretty highly with any children's/family spook story and British Television has produced quite a lot over the years. The plot was intelligent (and I was pretty slow figuring it out even though all the clues where glaringly obvious in hindsight). The humour was good character banter based rather than falling back on cheap fart jokes or slapstick. The cast were fantastic, with Florence Hoath's portrayal of Nancy being a notable guest highlight but that is no way diminishes the others. And what a rare story - did really nobody die in a Doctor Who story?! Classics are made of this.
Boom Town saw a return to Russell T's efforts. Again, not a bad story but it did take quite a while to get nowhere in particular. Some great character moments and another brilliant concept but I did find myself looking at the time during the restaurant scene and thinking 'there's only about 10 minutes left, this isn't a two parter so when's the story going to start?' Probably a bit harsh and I'm sure I'll think more of it when it arrives on DVD but when they show a trailer of Cardiff being decimated, huge glass windows smashing, the TARDIS being hit by a gigantic funnel or something and calling it Boom Town... Way to build up those expectations!
Bad Wolf. Strange title for an episode that doesn't explain the Bad Wolf plot device. It puts it on the agenda, I suppose. I had a bad feeling about this episode from the previous weeks trailer. Reality TV. The Doctor trapped in the Big Brother House and Rose facing an Anne Robinson droid. It didn't sound promising. I'm happy to say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised. It worked and, for once with a Russell T script, it felt as if it had a real build up, it did work itself up to a climax. What an ending it was too. Even the cliffhanger in The Empty Child has to bow down to this one. This episode gives Eccleston a chance to shine, we now get an episode that is more about him than Rose. What a brilliant performance he gave too. His disbelief at finding himself in the house, his effortless escape, his amazing reaction to Rose's death at the hands of the Anne Droid. We cannot overlook the intensity of his cliff hanger declaration to his old foes: "I'm gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet, and then I'm gonna save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I'm gonna wipe every stinking Dalek out of the sky!" "BUT YOU HAVE NO WEAPONS! NO DEFENCES! NO PLAN" "And doesn't that scare the hell out of you!!!!" No more manic grins, no more moping, no more prompting others to solve the problems. No, this is Doctor #9 at his best, with conviction, with a purpose. "I'm getting out. I'm gonna find my friends. Then I'm gonna find YOU."
Parting of the Ways. Not the best regeneration story (episode?) I think but, again, not bad. The pacing was oddly lacking considering the brilliant build up in the previous episode. The cutting away to Earth didn't really help in that regard. Still, the Earth scenes were, for me, some of the best of the episode. Rose's determination to go back and help the Doctor even though there was no hope of her being able to do so was very well done. She'd rather die by his side than live the rest of her life as a normal person/away from him? Makes it an interesting conundrum for when she does finally leave. They could kill her but do any of us want another damaged Doctor arc? One has got to be enough for a few years, hasn't it? Anyway, back to the here and now. It was good to see so many Daleks on screen at once (and I don't mean the obviously CGI ones in space). The scene where they all pour in and surround the Doctor at the end was particularly effective. His failure to finish his plan was interesting. A nice parallel to his actions at the end of the Time War. Did he only just survive last time, thus triggering his regeneration? It would be so interesting to see McGann's Doctor in a similar situation. What would he have been like at the end of the Time War? I doubt we'll ever get to see it. That's a shame. As for the Bad Wolf resolution, well I certainly didn't guess it. Again, the clues were there, Boom Town being an obvious setup of the concept. Good final words for Doctor #9 and an interesting regeneration effect. He's certainly become quite a dab hand at it - regenerating standing up, he's just showing off now! I think I would have preferred the Doctor to have a more traditional collapse, with Rose panicking not knowing about regeneration. Perhaps even a few moments when it is clear he is dead before the regeneration kicks in. The kids of today know nothing of regeneration so why not really build it up and get some grief going before the triumphant rebirth? Too late now. Perhaps the third Doctor Who television series in 2030 can do that!
I've got high hopes for Tennant. I've seen him in a couple of things recently, Casanova and the live Quatermass Experiment. I've also previously (having no idea who he was to become) heard him in a Big Finish audio play or two. He can certainly act - he's not one of these people who just play themselves in every part. That gives me great hope. His comic timing in Casanova was great and his serious Doctor Briscoe in Quatermass was very believable. Eccleston, when all is said and done, did a very good job indeed and I think Tennant will be at least as good again, only probably with a more traditional take on the role. Time will tell.
The new series as a whole has been nothing short of triumphant. The press like it, the public like it and even the fans seem to like it. As I've said before I didn't think it could be done but it has been. People are clearly tired of the now worn out reality TV and gameshow hell that has become mainstream TV. People are heralding Who as the return of family round the box must-see TV. I am amazed it has gone down so well. It almost brings a tear to my eye to think of it. Yes, Doctor, both Rose and yourself - you were fantastic.