Monday, September 7, 2015

Doctor Who Recap: Series Two

David Tennant's first full episode of Doctor Who was the Christmas Special of 2005. Tennant would go on to be one of the most beloved of the Doctors, with his rakish good looks and awesome comedic timing. I must be honest, I was absolutely not onboard with the change in Doctors.  I loved Eccleston and really was not pleased to see him go, particularly because at first, Tennant's Doctor felt like a complete stranger to me.  Thankfully, Billie Piper stayed on as the Doctor's companion, so she gave the regeneration a bit of much needed continuity, even if I could have done without her mother Jackie.

The Christmas episode is the first hint of the type of Doctor David Tennant would be.  The Doctor's regeneration left him quite incapacitated and so Rose brings him back to her home to recuperate. This is a confusing time for both Rose and new fans.  At this point, we have no idea what form the 10th Doctor's personality will take.  When the Santa robots attack and the Christmas decorations go absolutely bonkers, Rose wakes the Doctor and he responds by sitting directly up in bed, and using his sonic screwdriver.  The Santa Robots are followed by the Sycorax, who force a significant portion of humanity up onto rooftops, thus holding humanity hostage.  Because of the Doctor's regeneration, negotiations are initially handled by Prime Minister Harriet Jones.

When the Doctor arrives on scene, he quickly manages to free the humans from the roof tops and challenges the Sycorax leader for possession of the earth.  In the battle, the Doctor has his hand cut off (yes, that hand will appear again) but because he hasn't finished his regeneration, he is able to re-grow it.  After a short battle, the Doctor is unsurprisingly victorious.  When he turns his back on the Sycorax, it decides to make an under handed attack and without warning, the Doctor kills him.  In quite an impassioned speech, the Doctor makes it clear that humanity and the earth is protected.

In the Doctor's absence, Prime Minster Harriet Jones had gotten into contact with Torchwood, an organization which will feature strongly in this season.  Even though the Sycorax are retreating thanks to The Doctor, Harriet Jones decides to send a stronger warning and orders the Sycorax ship shot out of the sky.  This greatly enrages the Doctor and in response, he brings about the end of her political career, thus changing history.  In The Christmas Invasion, the first thing we learn about the Doctor is that he will give no quarter if crossed and is more than willing to set himself up as the moral authority on violence. This is quite a change from Eccleston, who had been more than willing to give his adversaries second chances and didn't demand absolute agreement with his position.

I found myself sympathising with Harriet Jones because the fact of the matter is that earth was indeed vulnerable to invasion.  In fact, Torchwood acted in exactly the way it was designed to act by its founder Queen Victoria. Torchwood would go on to feature in Tooth and Claw, Army of Ghosts and of course Doomsday. The situation with the Sycorax escalated in the first place because the Doctor was incapacitated.  Yes, The Doctor did pledge to keep humanity safe but what Jones ensured is that aliens would learn from this incident that with or without the Doctor, humanity had the ability to take care of itself.  Jones acted to ensure that aliens thought twice before invading again and it bothers me that The Doctor didn't think before he acted.  It seems that the 10th Doctor believes that only he has the right to decide who lives and who dies.

New Earth marked the first time that Rose traveled to another planet with the 10th Doctor and the return of one of my favorite characters/villains in the Whoverse, The Lady Cassandra (moisturize me moisturize me).  This is the episode that sold me on Tennant as the Doctor.  I loved watching as Cassandra moved back and forth between The Doctor's body and Rose's body.  Piper and Tennant's acting was absolutely perfect and their transitions seamless.  I also loved New Earth because I found the story of artificially grown humans bred to produce cures for other sick species/people particularly compelling.  Medical research has long been advanced through testing new innovations on particularly marginalized people.  New Earth however missed the mark by making the artificially grown humans nearly homogeneous, thus missing the opportunity to tell a story about the vulnerability of people of colour when it comes to scientific research.

I cannot address New Earth without talking about the end result for Lady Cassandra ("spoilers" said in River Song's voice) Lady Cassandra happens to be the only trans* character introduced in NuWho. Once again, she is up to no good and is absolutely determined to not only live on but live well.  Once foiled by The Doctor and forced to give up Rose's body, she inhabits Chip - a cloned human. Unfortunately, Chip is unable to survive the transfer and Cassandra is forced to concede that her life is over.  With the help of The Doctor, Cassandra travels back in time to her happiest day, and tells herself that she is beautiful before dying in her younger incarnations arms.  The ending of New Earth, bothered me for quite some time.  Yes, everything dies but Cassandra's end was particularly tragic and problematic given that she was framed as someone who had outlived her worth - a Norma Desmond unwilling to admit that her time is over.  It once again cemented the idea that only certain bodies matter and even then, they are restricted to a specific from.  As long as Cassandra could pass as a beautiful Cis woman, she was entitled to accolades and the moment she drifted away from that, she became nothing more than a sad perversion.  Given that the Lady Cassandra is the only trans* character in all of the Whoverse, she absolutely deserved better.

My two favourite episodes this season are The Impossible Planet and Satan's Pit.  Having lived for nearly a thousand years at this point, it's quite easy to believe that the Doctor has in fact seen everything that the universe has to offer but Satan's Pit puts that theory on end when the Doctor meets The Devil.  Even with all of his intellect, the Doctor cannot categorize or even fully understand what he has seen. He simply resigns himself to the fact that he was victorious in the end.

Conversely, easily the worst episode was Fear Her. The Doctor and Rose skip ahead in time to attend the Olympics and end up on a street where the children are disappearing.They discover that an alien species called the Isolus have resolved to end the loneliness of one little girl by giving her the power to trap children in her drawings.  Chloe is positively creepy as she whispers her lines but I found that I simply couldn't suspend belief enough to enjoy this episode.  It felt very much like the writers were trying to cash in on the Olympics being in London, rather then telling an interesting story.

Season two will probably be best remembered for the separation between Rose and The Doctor. It's quite ironic that the displeasure they caused Queen Victoria would lead to the creation of Torchwood the agency which would be responsible for their separation.  When Rose is trapped in the alternate world, The Doctor manages to create an opportunity to see her for one final time to say goodbye, leading to one of the most quoted lines from Tennant's era.  “There's one tiny little gap in the universe left, just about to close. And it takes a lot of power to send this projection. I'm in orbit around a supernova. I'm burning up a sun just to say goodbye.” All those who had shipped The Doctor and Rose had to have sighed repeatedly at that, even as they cried about the loss of Rose.

The 9th Doctor was charming but the 10th quickly became a sex symbol - a complete change for The Doctor.  The relationship between The Doctor and Rose decidedly shifted when the 10th took over. The 9th Doctor and Rose started as strangers and ended as the best of friends.  They shared a dance and a bittersweet goodbye kiss but the arrival of the 10th brought about a change in chemistry mostly conveyed in interesting glances.  It wasn't until the very last episode when The Doctor almost told Rose that he loved her that the feelings between them were confirmed. She was the softer side to his more ruthless side.

There are some who would argue that the Doctor's real love this season was Madame de Pompadour featured in The Girl in the Fireplace.  Though the Doctor entered Reinette's life when she was only seven years old, their interaction lasted a single episode and in my mind is no comparison to the relationship he developed with Rose.  The Girl in the Fireplace however did establish the Doctor as a sex symbol and even a dashing romantic figure.  The pain he felt upon Reinette's death was very real and I think even a bit of a surprise to himself.

Speaking of the women in the Doctor's life, I would be remiss if I didn't discuss School Reunion which re-introduced the character of Sarah Jane Smith - the longest companion in the Whoverse. Having Sarah Jane back made me grit my teeth at first because I certainly didn't enjoy her as a companion to either the third or the fourth doctors because she spent most of her time screaming like a banshee.  In NuWho, Sarah Jane became quite independent and it's clear her separation from the Doctor was the cause of it.  The reunion with Sarah Jane was bittersweet for both the Doctor and Sarah Jane.  It reminded the Doctor that while his companions can spend the rest of their lives with him, he cannot spend the rest of his life with them.  It's the first time in NuWho that we get to see an open admission that traveling around in the T.A.R.D.I.S and having adventures most certainly has a downside.

At first there was a bit of jealous bickering between Sarah Jane and Rose over the Doctor, much to Mickey's delight.  It wasn't long before the two women were commiserating on exactly how infuriating and ridiculous the Doctor can be at times.  When they end up laughing together, the Doctor, for as smart as he is, cannot figure out what finally brought these two women together.  In the end, for Sarah Jane, Rose was a reminder of what was and for Rose, Sarah Jane served as a sneak peek of what could be.  It's easy to get caught up with life on the Tardis but somehow when it comes to an end and it will inevitably end, one has to be ready to continue to live.

Mickey continues to be the only re-occurring person of colour in NuWho.  He is still someone who is pretty much ignored and alternately taken for granted.  I was irked that it took Sarah Jane to convince the Doctor to allow Mickey to travel with them, particularly given that the 9th Doctor had previously offered him a place on the Tardis.  In School Reunion, the Doctor even ordered Mickey to stay in the car, though Mickey had proven with the 9th Doctor that he was a capable person.  It's quite ironic that in Doomsday, it's Mickey who becomes indispensable and Mickey who saves the day. When Mickey does decide to stay in the alternate universe because he can be useful there and his grandmother is still alive there, Rose has the nerve to be shocked. From the moment Rose met the Doctor, she completely ignored Mickey and expected him to simply wait around for her to notice him again.  I was happy to see Mickey strike out on his own in Age of Steel but it also resulted in even less screen time for the character, who wouldn't appear again until the end of the season.

Series two occurred in 2006, a scant 9 years ago and yet, Doctor Who really had no idea what to do with the one character of colour it had managed to integrate to this point.  Sure, POC appeared sporadically in different episodes like The Satan Pit, Army of Ghosts and Fear Her but other than Mickey, no one appears more than once.  For all of the wonderful stories in Doctor Who, the treatment of race is largely more about erasure than anything else at this point.  Mickey does sort of come into his own after he takes the place of the alternate world's Ricky but he never becomes emotionally important to either the Doctor or Rose.

Finally, I must mention LGBT characters.  As aforementioned, the treatment of Lady Cassandra was absolutely horrible.  Since Captain Jack does not make an appearance in this season, Lady Cassandra is the only representation we were offered.  Once again, it's a sad commentary on the failure of Doctor Who to update its inclusion, along with the Tardis and the special effects.  Real inclusion would have allowed the telling of some interesting stories that one off characters -- no matter how visible they are for a single episode -- simply cannot accomplish.

David Tennant managed to embody a brand new Doctor and though he took me awhile to get used to, I absolutely grew to love him.  Unlike many, I wasn't overly invested in his relationship with either Rose or Madame de Pompadour and instead fixated on the individual stories and what kind of Doctor Tennant would inevitably become.  By the end of season Two, Tennant was absolutely Doctor sexy but he was also angry and unbelievably lonely.  While I was positive that the Doctor would always save the day, I was never certain that he wouldn't take it just a step too far.  In many ways, Tennant gave us the Doctor's soul and I was surprised to find it far more tragic than I ever imagined.