Friday, September 11, 2015

Doctor Who Series Recap: Season Four

After losing Martha Jones, a resigned Doctor returns to his Tardis only to have the Titanic of all things crash into the side of the Tardis. After a few moments of astonishment (including his signature, "what") the Doctor fixes the Tardis and boards the ship. He works together with the other passengers (particularly Astrid) to find out why the Angels are determined to not only kill everyone on board but crash the Titanic into earth.  For a Christmas episode it wasn't bad though it did have the Doctor leave yet another dead woman in his wake.

Season Four is easily my favourite David Tennant season thanks to Donna (Catherine Tate).  In Partners in Crime, Donna's second episode as a companion, (the first was Runaway Bride in series three)  it's immediately apparent that Donna is not the type of woman to just sit there.  Before even reuniting with The Doctor, Donna had decided to investigate Adipose - a company selling miracle weight loss pills. I don't know about you but this felt like a commentary on obesity, particularly because we learned that in the alternate universe, Adipose attacked the Americans.  I was irked by the heavier woman who planned on breaking up with her boyfriend because after some weight loss she decided that she was too good for him. This episode made it seem that everyone is desperate to lose weight and not at all happy with their bodies, particularly because those on the pill were on higher end of the scale. The fact that so many went on Adipose is absolutely about our fat hating culture but it was never really explored. The writer chose to skip social commentary on this one and make it all about the alien. In the Forest of the Dead, Donna casually mentions being on a diet.  The fat shaming might be subtle this season but it's absolutely there.  

The Fires of Pompeii and the Planet of the Ood reveal that Donna's role as a companion is to show The Doctor humanity. When the Doctor and Donna first arrive in Pompeii, he initially mistakes it for Rome. It's not long before they realise that not only are they in Pompeii, but that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius is imminent.  Donna pushes for the Doctor to warn as many people as possible to leave but he is adamant that the eruption is a fixed point in time. When the Doctor refuses to listen, Donna starts trying to warn people herself to no avail.  When Vesuvius finally erupts, the Doctor decides to leave with Donna, though it means leaving Lucius Caecilius Iucundus's family to die.  It's particularly compelling given that Lucius Caecilius Iucundus and his family actively beg the Doctor to save them on their knees and he still turns away.  If it were not for Donna, the Doctor would have left them to die.  Now we know that not only is the 10th Doctor vengeful and cold with his enemies, the cold streak runs extremely deep.

Companions not only improve the Doctor's empathy, they force him to pause fora moment to focus. It's only when we get to The Waters of Mars that it becomes evident how important companions are to the Doctor.  Despite landing on Mars during a fixed event in space in time, the Doctor intervenes, by saving the life of Captain Adelaide Brooke. The Doctor explains that since he is the last Time Lord that he is a survivor and make his own rules, declaring himself Time Lord Victorious. It's absolutely terrifying to watch his mania. The situation resolves itself because Captain Adelaide Brooke committed suicide thus allowing history to happen as it was meant to.  The Doctor knew from the beginning the importance of Adelaid and in order to play God he played with time.  A Doctor in control never would have done that.

The writers decided to comment on slavery in The Planet of the Ood.  Immediately, Donna is saddened by what the Ood have been through.  The slavery, and oppression, were all for the sake of profit.  In this case, the Doctor is quick to intervene on behalf of the Ood but at the same time, I cannot help but think that the last time he saw the Ood (Impossible Planet and Satan's Pit: series two), they were in a similar situation and he  did nothing to help them.  In fact, he viewed them as part of the threat against him and Rose. The Doctor just readily accepted that they (read: the Ood) were a mindless subservient species because that's what he was told by a human. Rather telling isn't it?

The Planet of the Ood was also about foreshadowing for the coming season.  The Doctor is warned that his song will soon end.  He is clearly upset by this revelation but he tries to brush it off as if it's nothing.  This is a warning to viewers to prepare themselves to lose the 10th Doctor.

The Planet Ood was not the only lesson in the ways in which we can be cruel to each other.  In Turn Left, Donna finds herself in an alternate universe and since she was not present when the Doctor battled the Empress of Racnoss  in Runaway Bride, the Doctor died because he was in such a rage that he didn't know when to stop on his own. This reinforces the idea that The Doctor is absolutely dependent upon his companions because they rein him in and focus him.  After London was destroyed because the Doctor was not there to stop the titanic from crashing into Buckingham Palace, the country is forced to go into disaster mode.  Donna and her family are forced to move to Leeds and live in a house which they share with several families.  Donna tires to stay hopeful but it's clear that the situation is stark.  When a family is removed because British leaders decide that England should be for the English, Wilfred (Donna's grandfather) comments that it's just like the last time.  This is all it takes to get Donna thinking. She tries to find out what's happening to the family which is being removed but is ignored. There's always been the false belief that when there's a disaster it pulls people together and that they forget their differences but that is not the case at all.  We don't all pull together as is clear from what happening with the Syrian refugee crises.

Donna was labelled the most important woman in the universe (don't get excited, the Doctor's companions are often called that).  The Doctor notices that they have constantly been drawn together.  It's evident in The Unicorn and the Wasp, when the Doctor needs a shock and Donna kisses him that theirs is a different kind of love. Rose may have been the Doctor's love interest but Donna is his friend.  The relationship might be different but they are absolutely equal. Donna may only see herself as a temp from Chiswick, but she has skills she doesn't even realise.  It's Donna who thinks to check human resources in Partners in Crime and it's Donna who notices the numbers above the doors in The Doctor's Daughter. It's Donna who yells, "oy watch it spaceman", as a warning when the Doctor steps out of line and she is even willing to slap him if she has to.

The entire fourth season is pretty much dedicated to an epic battle the Doctor has to face and hints that he might not make it much further.  This is all laced with the Doctor's ever present loneliness and sadness.  It's fear of loss and sad remembrances that keeps The Doctor from embracing his own daughter. The Doctor has simply lost so much that he is terrified of hope and he has a habit of keeping his past to himself.  Despite all the time his companions spend with him, they actually learn very little about his past. The Doctor reveals only what he wants to reveal. I suppose that if the companions were to start learning about the Doctor's past  they would discover a deep, dark bottomless pit  At any rate, in The Doctor's Daughter, The Doctor finally admits to Donna that he has been a father before.  When he loses his daughter at the end of the episode once again his pain is laid bare.

After his companions all return to their lives in Journey's End, The Doctor is once again travelling alone.  This time he ends up solving a mystery involving a worm hole and aliens in Planet of the Dead. The Doctor meets up with a thief named Christina and they make a formidable team.  Christina asks for the chance to travel with the Doctor and he rejects her saying that he has lost too many people. The Doctor is lost in his loneliness, loss and grief that he refused to take the chance that Christina could come to mean something to him.

Though she has been replaced as a companion, in the The Sontaran Stratagem, Martha Jones makes an appearance.  She has moved on and become a medical officer at Unit.  The Doctor very much cares about Martha and it becomes evident when he notices that Martha has been replaced.  It's because of this replacement that we didn't get to see much of Martha in her new role but I am still glad that the writers found a way to include her because people of colour this season are few and far between.  The next time we Martha, it's in Journey's End when the earth has been moved.  Martha, working for Unit has a central role to play in the Dalek's big plan as she is part of the Doctor's people. Mickey also manages to make an appearance.  He is far removed from the character we met in season one because he is competent, capable and in charge.

LGBT people got in even less attention this season than people of colour.  In Midnight, an alien invades the body of Sky Silvestry. Sky briefly gives us a resume in order to create a little audience sympathy when her body is taken over.  There are several people on this ship and yet Sky immediately believes that she is the target and we are never told why. All that I could think about is the way that LGBT quickly become snack food the few times that they are actively visible in this genre.  The Doctor spends most of his time trying to figure out what the alien wants and if it poses a threat.  When the alien takes over The Doctor's body, Dee Dee Blasco sacrifices not only her life but Sky's as well.  If you're counting that's two dead marginalized people that the Doctor left in his wake.
Captain Jack appears in The Stolen Earth and Journey's End. Captain Jack is the only re-occurring LGBT character at this point.  He is shown in charge of Torchwood.  Like the rest of the Doctor's found family, he is desperate to stop the Dalek's and save earth.  I really wish that he had more appearances in this season. Many people like to talk about the awesome inclusion but if you actually count up the episodes that Captain Jack has been in (no you cannot count the times when The Face Bo appeared) his character is little bit more than a sidekick that the Doctor alternates between being repulsed by and tolerant of. Captain Jack, despite how much the fans love him, is always secondary to the Doctor and that needs to be remembered. Sure, Doctor Who includes LGBT characters but what do they do and how often are they with someone of the same sex?  I think it would be fair to say that the creators did a better job of updating the theme song than creating an inclusive story with marginalized characters.

Season Four not only showed us the darker side of  Doctor Who but ourselves.  In all of the tragedy, The Doctor somehow managed to amass a family who cared deeply about him and depended on him. However, to see them all again, the Daleks forced him to confront his losses and sins by making him see the faces of all the dead people in his wake.  For one brief shining moment when all of his companions were all together in the Tardis, the Doctor's heart was filled with joy. But like all things in the Doctor's life, it wasn't destined to last.  Mickey, Captain Jack and Martha go off together. Sarah Jane returns to her son, Rose ends up in the alternate universe with a human/time lord version of the Doctor (how's that for fan service?) and the Doctor is forced to remove all of Donna's memories and deliver her home to save her life.  It's a particularly bitter pill to swallow because this means that Donna will go back to believing that has no value, when we have watched just how capable, empathetic and smart she is all season. In the end, despite all of his battles, losses and wins, the Doctor always ends up alone.

Unfortunately the end of season four saw the 10th Doctor regenerate.  My heart broke when he said, "I don't want to go."  As ambivalent as I was about David Tennant in his first episode I didn't want to see him go.  The tenth Doctor is easily one of my favorites. Like an creature the 10th Doctor wanted to live and felt anger at the very idea that his time might be over.  Given his continuous anger throughout his tenure it might at first blanch seem self righteous particularly given that he feels that his action in particular should have earned him a reprieve.  The fact is for as many people as the Doctor saved, he also left a wide path of death and loss behind him.  The Doctor's good always came at a cost that he purposefully blinded himself to.

More than any Doctor before him, the 10th Doctor embodied the soul of the Doctor and I think that this is why he is so beloved by fans. We saw all of his sadness, vulnerabilities, rage and dependency. For me, Tennant changed the Doctor to some abstract figure who seemed to always have the answers to a being capable of such depths of passion that it was necessary to look away sometimes. The 10th Doctor is the Doctor and all of his imperfections.