Doctor Who

Saturday, April 15, 2006 by

“I’m the new new Doctor,” chortled David Tennant through that toothy grin. And here, it seems, was the headline news from the start of Doctor Who‘s much anticipated second run. New Doctor, New Earth … but plot licks and character turns now much less fresh a year on from the series’ Second Coming.

Although tonight’s opening salvo got off to a promising start, with Rose once more packing her bags and ditching her family (Mickey’s “I love you” notably going unreciprocated), by the time the TARDIS touched down on its first alien planet since 1989, things were devolving into goo.

From behind a set of gnashers very much equal to her best friend’s, Rose opined yet again how much she loved travelling in time with the Doctor, and he – as always, it seems nowadays – cooed back in equal appreciation. And you know what? We, as the viewers, are already aware of that. The constant, nervy, reaffirmation of the characters’ mutual affection is starting to get cloying. Perhaps it would be better if they just got on and did the deed now, rather than subject us to more of this coy flirtation.

However, with the current state of affairs (or not, as the case may be) it was something of a surprise later on in the episode when the Doctor was able to finish a telephone call to Rose without purring, “No, you hang up first.”

Of course, beyond the foreplay was an episode itself, and further disappointments.

New Earth and New New York were distilled into a patch of grass, some rubbish flying cars and Cardiff’s Millennium Centre. It thus felt like a further tease to have the Doctor describe the wonders of this planet, only to then view most of it from a back window. Cassandra’s return was similarly thrown-away, with ZoĆ« Wanamaker clocking up just a couple of minutes of screen time before the body swap business kicked in – although, it was perhaps something of a relief to have the dynamic between the time travellers temporarily changed by this turn of events.

Worst of all, though, was the overtly macguffin-y nature of the whole set up. Body swapping left, right and centre; battery-farmed humans with plainly coiffured hair, clean shaven faces and the Queen’s English; and an episode-ending solution which involved pouring lots of primarily-coloured liquids into a big vat, and then spraying people with it. All nonsense, really. Although Doctor Who‘s always traded in that, to have the mechanics of the show dealt with in such an overtly throwaway manner simply removed all element of jeopardy. In a universe where anything goes, consequence takes a back seat.

And so the grumbles continue. But I wonder if that would have been the case had the Doctor and Rose washed up on New Earth this time last year? Probably not, to be honest. However, second time out, the series can’t rely on surprising us with the same ticks anymore. Daft sci-fi played out as refreshingly bold in “The End of the World” while the Doctor’s willingness to show his affection for Rose made for a surprising turning-point in “The Unquiet Dead”. Now, though, we’re waiting for the programme to show us something new rather than padding around in familiar territory.

Luckily, in David Tennant it’s got a leading man who’s able to rise above the material, and even in a lacklustre adventure like this (which felt like an episode seven, rather than a curtain-raiser), he pretty much continues to nail the role. Wide-eyed and effervescent, he’s got an obvious passion for the character’s silliness, greedily chomping up the comedy lines (“Now that’s enigmatic” when the Face of Boe vanishes). He’s absolutely the time traveller you wish would arrive in your back garden and whisk you away, even if he’s not quite there on the gravitas front, yet.

However, Tennant’s efforts aside, right now Doctor Who‘s got its predictability back, and that’s a shame. Thankfully, then, going by the trailers for the rest of the series, the portents do remain good. Next week’s episode looks an absolute belter, and the return of Sarah Jane later in the run might – just might – reinvigorate the Doctor-Rose mechanic. If it doesn’t, then perhaps the time has come to dispatch the always-impressive Billie Piper from the TARDIS. Maybe then the Doctor would be free to start again with someone fresh, and we viewers would feel less like gooseberries along for the ride.

Because, come on, Doc. They do say if you love someone, let them go.


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