Doctor Who

Saturday, May 28, 2005 by

Doctor Who was never about getting the girl, and for those who followed the first incarnation of the series, that was okay. Unlikely to trespass into the viewers’ comfort zone, the sexless Time Lord didn’t do relationships, and his disinterest in intimacy lent him a pleasingly mythic dimension, allowing him to stand apart from humanity. It also ensured he operated to a linear and easily understandable mandate; to put things right and move along. We never had to worry about the character having a hidden agenda, and self-gratification didn’t enter into it. Here was a man with a purity of purpose (in all senses of the word), whose desires were something everyone could subscribe to.

But perhaps not now. The ninth Doctor’s key trait is his down-to-Earth persona, all contracted speech patterns, casual dress, down-the-pub-frippery and … flirtiness. Tonight’s episode was infused with romance and, er, coupling, and the most overt display yet that the Doc would dearly like to be doing the do with his companion, if only he could get up the nerve. Galvanized into hoofing across the TARDIS by the appearance of a love rival, for the first time ever we saw the man from Gallifrey as an anxious virgin, hoping his impressive brain could beat off (steady, now) Captain Jack’s overt sexual self-confidence.

And, really, all of this shouldn’t be working. To turn the Doctor into a hormonal Jon Tickle with designs on Billie Piper should be the worst thing to ever happen to the time traveler, but right here, in the capable hands of scriptwriter Steven Moffat, it made for what was possibly the greatest Doctor Who story ever. Perhaps that was because the romancing was conducted with so much charm – all glib double-talk and witty one-liners. But that doesn’t mean we’re not in dangerous territory. The Doctor’s earlier anguishing in “World War Three” that his plan to save the Earth could result in him losing Rose indicated how clod-footed the hero might become if he’s allowed to fixate on just one person. Then, he seemed a little diminished as a character, no better – and therefore no more interesting – than you and I, and someone whose decision-making process was just as emotive and imperfect as the next man.

But here, it was all okay.

With gleeful evocations of carnality in all forms (from human-beings porking their way across the galaxy, to Captain Jack’s bisexuality – a facet apparently considered so novel by the series, it had to be explained away as a by-product of a hedonistic future society – to a teenage pregnancy and hints of same sex affairs), this was certainly Doctor Who as we’ve never seen it before … Except it wasn’t, because despite the undercurrents of sexuality, “The Doctor Dances” also continued the good work from last week by bringing us some of the most joyous, exciting and Doctor Who-ish Doctor Who of the series so far.

The iconography of gas mask-wearing zombies was classic chiller stuff. Similarly, Jack’s journey from a shiftless rogue to a save-the-day hero was tremendously satisfying; his appearance at the end sat astride a German bomb being both fantastically silly and a wonderful valediction for the character. But best of all was the fact the Doctor, our hero, was actually at the centre of the story throughout. His deductions and wit drove events along for perhaps the first time since his return. And even if it was all to prove to Rose good-looks and a Han Solo spaceship aren’t the be-all and end-all, it was great to see him in the thick of it, championing both humanity as a whole, and the integrity of the millions of different relationships therein.

Come the end where – for “just this once” – everybody lived, you couldn’t deny this was feelgood telly at its fizzing and popping best. A brilliant, euphoric spin on the emerging back-story of a Time Lord/Dalek massacre, in this instance life was highlighted, instead of death. The final, self-congratulatory dance routine around the TARDIS console was just the icing on the cake, and truly Doctor Who has never been quite this fanciable before.


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