Doctor Who

Saturday, July 8, 2006 by

So was there a dry eye in your house?

This was the sixth episode this series that tried to leave you sobbing in your hankie, but unlike “New Earth”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “Fear Her”; and very much like “School Reunion” and “The Age of Steel”, it worked because the emotional resonance of the tear-jerking moment transcended the confines of the actual episode itself. If it’s Sarah-Jane, Mickey or Rose I’ll happily shed a tear, but Cassandra, Reinette and Chloe Webber are barely worth a sniffle, particularly when their whole existence seems to have been retro-engineered around their emotional finales.

Last year the notion that an episode of Doctor Who could actually make you cry was a thrillingly original sensation, but this time, with almost half the stories designed as tear-jerkers, Doctor Who has all but pounded our emotional responses into dust.

It is all the more admirable then that “Doomsday” didn’t feel sullied by it association with the rest of the series. Davies played the character moments perfectly here, with the complexity of the cross-parallel world reunion of Jackie and Pete fully explored in one of those brief respites from the main action.

And what of the action? The shots of millions of Daleks marauding across the London skyline were epic, and provoked an even more guttural viewer fist-punch than the equivalent Dalek fleet shots of last year. Similarly the conscious juxtaposition of the Cybermen amok in suburbia was everything you could hope for as a single image to signify this programme’s particular appeal.

Inevitably though, the battle between the two grand dames of Doctor Who villainy was a bit of a disappointment; although once you have established the idea in the viewer’s mind, how do you make a Dalek versus Cyberman face-off live up to the anticipation? And how do you get a teardrop from a brain encased in steel? The demise of Yvonne Hartman was a typically optimistic humanist touch from Davies, and one where you could almost see him perched in front of his computer riotously proclaiming, “To hell with the nit-pickers, it’s such a great image – I’ll have it!” However, that moment of what could be termed as “ill-discipline” aside, the Davies we got in “Doomsday” was more akin to the muscular plotting author of “Tooth and Claw”, rather than the scribe who seemed carried away on a flight of whimsy too many times in series one and even more so for the first episode this year.

The fate that befell the Tyler clan was a perfectly plotted conclusion to their story arc, and one that provided a fully-rounded and satisfactory answer to those who wondered how they could be collectively written out of the series without resort to massacre or contrivance. Stupid big levers aside, the whole notion of parallel universes and the links between them seemed a far more robust and better thought out idea than many of the sci-fi concepts foisted on us in the last year or so – although if simply clinging on to something secure provided salvation from a trip to Hell you have to conclude that a fair few Cybermen (and in particular those who were inside those very domestic looking houses when the Doctor and Rose threw their implausible switches) may well have survived the big intergalactic hoover.

Undeniably though, this was a large-scale finale that outranked its equivalent number from the Eccleston era. The mechanism by which to defeat the enemy may well have been as similarly clean-sweeping as Rose’s transformation in “The Parting of the Ways”, but the seeding of the elements (the 3D glasses, the alien technology that could withstand massive weight) was more accomplished. The parting of the ways too, when it came, was more satisfying. The Doctor using the energy of a supernova to say a final goodbye, the trek to Norway, the serenity of the coastline made these last moments somehow quite elegiac and transcendent. Whilst she had spent much of the 10th Doctor’s tenure being irritating and smug, when it finally came time to say goodbye to Rose you couldn’t but help remember how fantastic the character had been, and Billie Piper too, in portraying her. That said, it was definitely time for her to go.

So with attention now turning to “The Runaway Bride”, let’s reflect a moment on series two. Unsurprisingly this has been a tougher year for Doctor Who, with the press happy to turn on the show when the mood takes its fancy. Indisputably David Tennant has surpassed Christopher Eccleston’s performance as the Doctor, but there are some elements of his characterisation that need tweaking (let’s call them the “Ghostbusters attributes”). But just so long as Tennant remembers that whatever the Doctor may be, he can never be embarrassing the future for the 10th Doctor is assured.

As for the stories in year two, some have argued that they have been inferior to the previous series, but in truth their deficiencies have had a lot more to do with the fact that none of this is new anymore, rather than any downturn in the quality of writing. True, there has been nothing quite as perfect as “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”, but at times “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” ran it close (until the latter episode became a bit too talky). And while we are nit-picking, if there is to be another “Love and Monsters” a genuinely clever script would help a lot. But in the main we hope for more of the same next year, although if we can make one final request – a move away from tugging at the heartstrings quite so often would be most welcome.


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