David Tennant’s first series proved that the new audience would willingly and happily go along with a new Doctor, but would they be as equally able to go along with a new companion? Since the rebirth of the show in 2005, the audience had gotten to know Rose Tyler and her family, but after the devastating finale to Series 2, in which all of them are trapped “forever” in a parallel dimension, the only person the audience would have to side with is the Doctor himself. His first “solo” adventure would be at Christmas, when he would meet a future companion. Of course, nobody knew at the time she’d be a future companion, but there you go.
Runaway Bride picks up from the cliffhanger of Series 2, in which the Doctor suddenly had an angry bride in the TARDIS. That bride turned out to be Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), who somehow ended up there via some higgledy-piggledy. She, being Donna, is irritated and angry that this man should have abducted her, and the Doctor takes her back to London, only for her to be abducted by a taxi driven by robo-Santas, like the year before. He manages to chase the car down in the TARDIS and retrieves her, but the TARDIS is zapped and needs to rest.
Turns out Donna had been consistently dosed with huon particles (which caused the robo-Santas to chase her) by her fiancé, who’s an asshole. He’s been working with the Empress of the Racnoss, a spider-centaur species long thought destroyed by the Time Lords. The huon-particle-infused Donna is meant to be the key to unlocking the Empress’ children. Obviously, this is a bad thing. After a lot more larking about, the Doctor offers to transport the Empress and her children to a world where they would do no harm to anyone, but she refuses, leaving the Doctor no alternative than to destroy her by flooding her pit with the Thames. He almost allows himself to drown with her, but Donna convinces him that they should leave. She declines his invitation to travel with him, but tells him he ought to find someone.
This is a really nice special, but is not particularly Christmassy at all, despite the robot Santa Clauses. First of all, who would choose to get married on Christmas? I don’t care how much you like the holiday, you pick a different damn day. Anyway, I was not a big fan of Donna in this special, but that’s because she wasn’t meant to be anything more than a guest star, and as such could be a bit of a jerk and it wouldn’t be a problem. You do sort of feel bad for her, because her family isn’t very nice to her. Anyway, it’s a pretty good special, and it shows us the first little glimpse of the darkness inside the Tenth Doctor.
Series 3 – 31 March 2007 – 30 June 2007
I alluded to this in my last post and I’ll sure as heck reiterate it now: Series 3 is my favorite Tennant series. I think the writing is uniformly pretty great and, unlike his other two series which are much more hit and miss, Series 3, for me, only has three and a half terrible episodes. Granted, one of and a half of those are the finale, but that’s a really good batting average. It’s got four episodes that are downright classics and five and a half that run the gamut from “quite good” to “pretty good.” That’s kind of all I want from Doctor Who: Don’t bore me or insult my intelligence, and, for me, this series does it the best.
In the premiere, Smith and Jones, we’re introduced to the new companion, medical student Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), whose family tends not to get along very well. They’re much less engaging than Rose’s fam, it has to be said, but at least they don’t factor in too much. While on her rounds, she comes across the Doctor, who has checked himself into the hospital under the name John Smith. Not long after this, the hospital is taken to the moon. Yep, just like that. It’s been taken by the intergalactic police force, the Judoon, who are big rhino-headed dudes. They’re looking for a fugitive plasmavore who is hiding herself from detection by sucking the blood of humans. But, if she sucks the blood of a Time Lord, maybe the Judoon won’t be fooled.
This episode is a lot of fun, and a really great way to introduce a new companion. Unlike previously, the Doctor doesn’t really want to take her with him and only offers her one trip. He’s still caught up on Rose. This is the main thing that I dislike about this series: Martha’s puppy-dog love for the Doctor and his rather callous ignorance to it. In fact, his pining for Rose would become the staple through the entirety of the Tenth Doctor’s tenure. Fucking get over it already.
Anyway, Martha’s first trip is back to Elizabethan London to see Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost in The Shakespeare Code, written by Gareth Roberts. This is a really enjoyable episode to me, even if a lot of the actual history isn’t correct. Who gives a poop? It’s a show with a guy in a blue box and a sonic screwdriver. I love the way it uses Shakespeare’s own “mythology” and incorporates an alien element, as well as the power of words.
Next, we go back to New New York for Gridlock, an episode in which people in the future are stuck in the many-stories-high traffic jam on their way into the sunlight. People are forced to live in their cars, and some people have only ever been in a car. Very creepy. If they go too far down, they’re in danger of being gobbled up by a mutated cousin of the Macra (from “The Macra Terror”). We get the return of the Cat People and the third and final appearance of The Face of Boe, who tells the Doctor he isn’t alone. This is the very first episode in which the Doctor vocalizes what happened to him and his people and at last says the name of his former planet, Gallifrey.
After three quite enjoyable episodes, we have two of the worst in the history of the show, I think – Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks by Helen Raynor. What utter dross. The Doctor and Martha go back to Depression-era New York City, where the Cult of Skaro, the last remaining Daleks after the Battle of Canary Wharf, have set up shop and are experimenting on people, turning a perfectly nice guy into a pig man. What they’re actually trying to do is hybridize Dalek and human DNA to create – get ready – a Human-Dalek. Wooooooooow. Despite the appearance of a young(er) Andrew Garfield, this two-parter is always one I skip when watching the DVDs. Couldn’t we have had ONE year when the Daleks weren’t involved?
We follow this crap with two episodes that are perfectly decent but really nothing special, aside from a couple of moments. First, it’s The Lazarus Experiment by Stephen Greenhorn (who?), in which Mr. Saxon, the mysterious Prime Minister candidate, has funded the aged Professor Lazarus’ (Mark Gatiss) research into becoming young again. He performs the procedure on himself for a high society party, which the Doctor and Martha also attend, and he does, indeed, become a young man again. This doesn’t last too long, and he soon begins to mutate into a giant crab creature thing. The usual. At the end of the episode, Martha yells at the Doctor and says that if she’s going to continue traveling with him, she has to be more than a passenger. A very good moment for Martha.
Next, they end up aboard a spaceship bound a star in Chris Chibnall’s 42, a deliberate reference to the TV show 24, only here they have 42 minutes to solve the problem instead of 24 hours. However, the “real-time” nature of this is pretty feeble. One of the crew of this ship gets infected by something which causes his temperature to rise astronomically; He begins stalking and burning other people. The Doctor only has a short time to get the ship righted before it goes careening into the star, but that’s difficult when Martha is stuck aboard a drifting escape pod and he himself is fighting off star infection. The star, we find out, is actually a living being that wants to absorb them all. What a jerk. I think this episode is just fine, and certainly not worth the ire it usually draws, generally due to its writer, who was in charge of the Torchwood spinoff during its horrible first series.
All right, so three good eps, two terrible ones, and two more okay ones have led to this: four straight episodes that are frigging great. We begin with Paul Cornell’s Human Nature/Family of Blood, in which the Doctor is being chased by the Family of Blood, an evil alien clan who will stop at nothing to get the Time Lord’s secrets. In order to combat this, he places his Time Lordy essence in a fob watch, making him a human with none of the Doctor’s attributes, and he and Martha go back to 1913 England to hide. “John Smith” becomes a teacher at a boy’s school and Martha becomes a maid, but also the secret guardian of the watch and the Doctor’s true nature. John Smith is not brave, nor bold, but is very kind and generous and falls in love with Nurse Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes, nee Stevenson). This can’t last forever, though, as the Family arrives and begins taking over members of the small community on the eve of World War I. Martha needs to release the Doctor, but someone, a psychic student named Latimer, has taken the fob watch.
I just categorically adore this story, and I think it’s David Tennant’s best work in the whole program, which is a bit of a weird thing to say considering he’s barely the Doctor in it. I love that it calls into question the morality of the Doctor and whether or not a regular person, if faced with the opportunity to become a galactic hero, would choose to forsake a human life. In truth, there’s very little heroic about the Doctor at times, especially when he brings such wanton death with him wherever he goes. One can sympathize with Miss Redfern’s utter disgust at him and his whole existence, especially because it means the man she’d come to love is no more but someone else with his face walking around. Heartbreaking, really.
And, yes, let’s acknowledge the fact that this is the first new episode to show pictures of the old Doctors, and gives a prominent spot to Paul McGann, who Russell T. Davies himself slagged off in an episode of Queer As Folk.
This is followed by what is often considered the best episode of new Who in existence, Blink, written by Steven Moffat. This is a Doctor-lite episode, focusing on the excellent non-companion Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan), but it introduces us to so many things that would show up later, such as the Weeping Angels and the persistence of the term “Timey-Wimey.” This episode is really terrific with its use of causal loops and time travel paradoxes, which Moffat apparently loves and would use again when he took over as head writer. What more can I say? It’s a frigging great episode. Everybody loves it.
The first episode of the three-episode finale (kind of) is Utopia which has the Doctor stop off in Cardiff to fill up the TARDIS with rift energy. At the end of the first series of Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) hears the TARDIS and comes a-running, and here we see him go a-runnin’. He jumps on the TARDIS as it takes off and rides the time vortex to the ship’s finale destination, the very, very end of the universe with the last vestiges of humanity huddled together in a rocket silo while tattooed mutants lurk outside. The TARDIS went here to try to get away from Jack, who is literally removed from time. After the events of “The Parting of the Ways,” in which Bad Wolf Rose brings Jack back from the dead, he is now immortal; more accurately, he dies all the time, but he reconstitutes himself each time and comes back to life. He chased down the Doctor to figure out why. The Doctor doesn’t really like this.
Elsewhere in the compound, the kindly Professor Yana (Sir Derek Jacobi) and his nice but verbally irritating assistant Chan Tho are trying to make it so the rocket can take the surviving humans to “Utopia,” the place they’ve wanted to go forever. Yana’s never had much luck until the Doctor arrives and helps, but now they’ve got a time crunch, because the mutants will get in soon. In the professor’s lab, Martha sees a fob watch, not unlike the Doctor’s, and wonders what it could mean. Unfortunately, it means that Yana is actually the human version of his old nemesis, the Master, who hid himself away during the Time War. You know, like a coward.
The Master steals the TARDIS, but not before he’s shot by a dying Chan Tho and the Doctor is able to make it so the ship can only travel between the place it left and the place it was going, meaning either the end of the universe and present-day UK. The Master regenerates into John Simm. Luckily, the Doctor, Jack, and Martha are able to travel the present with the use of Jack’s vortex manipulator wristband. When they arrive, they see a country controlled by Harold Saxon, who is, of course, the Master.
This begins the second episode, The Sound of Drums, in which the three heroes attempt to stop the Master as he and his human wife (who is crazy) kill members of the cabinet and start taking over the world. Most of this episode is great, especially the phone conversations between the Doctor and Master. Simm’s Master is very manic and sort of Joker-ish, which isn’t really the character, but works opposite Tennant (here, anyway). They talk about how the Master has always heard a distant drumming ever since he looked into the time vortex as a child and it has driven him mad.
Where this episode falls apart is when the Master takes control of UNIT’s flying airship and kills the “President Elect” (who should be nowhere near any kind of military outfit yet… he’s not the President yet, duh!). He captures everybody and zaps the Doctor with his laser screwdriver, which apparently has the ability to turn him old. I mean, I guess. Jack is tied up and continually tortured, and Martha’s family are made to be servants to Saxon. Martha somehow escapes, and for the next YEAR goes around the globe creating a resistance to Saxon’s dominion.
In the final episode, Last of the Time Lords, which is just crap, the Master zaps the Doctor, further turning him into a stupid tiny Dobby-like version of himself, which again doesn’t make any sense. His big evil scheme is to bring an army of Toclaphane (spherical creatures of Time Lord myth) to be his evil murder corps. Turns out, inside the Toclaphane are the heads of all the people from the end of the universe, and he’s using a thing that I swear is called a PARADOX MACHINE that allows them to go back in time and kill their ancestors without succumbing to the grandfather paradox.
It’s completely ridiculous, but not even as ridiculous as the eventual end of the story, in which somehow, the people thinking the Doctor’s name in unison will bring him back to normal, in a Christ-like pose as well. Huh? Da fuh? The Doctor offers to take the Master with him, becoming a prisoner aboard the TARDIS, because they’re the last two of their kind, and used to be old friends. Unfortunately, Lucy Saxon shoots the Master, and he defiantly refuses to regenerate. He is buried, but someone retrieves his ring, which will lead to the most stupid episode in Tennant’s whole reign. More on that later.
The timeline is set back to normal and only the people aboard the airship remember anything about the year in which the Master controlled the world. It’s also hinted at that Jack might have been the Face of Boe. The Doctor offers to let him keep traveling, but Jack decides to stay with Torchwood. Martha also decides that she’s had enough and goes back to her normal life. The episode ends with the Titanic crashing through the TARDIS. Oh boy.
Series 3 ends on a pretty dumb note, but, as I said before, it’s got some great stuff otherwise. Most people prefer 2 or 4, mostly for the companion, but I think Series 3 represents the best writing of the RTD era and the most consistent. Plus, even if he ends up being poo, I’m a big enough Pertwee fan to be excited whenever the Master’s about. Most of the time. Next time, it’s all happening, as I talk about Series 4 and the gap-year specials.