Doctor Who

Saturday, March 31, 2007 by

The supposed wisdom in TV circles suggests series three is when a show really gets good. The course correction and refinement of the original concept have all been completed, and the programme makers, having learned from their mistakes, can push on with renewed confidence. From a viewing of “Smith and Jones” alone, is it possible to determine whether this maxim holds true for Doctor Who?

Before we get into too much detail, let’s pause a moment and reflect that the revived Doctor Who has been, and continues to be, an absolute triumph. Easily the most lovingly produced television series ever shown on British television, it’s been a delight to watch each and every episode – even those that haven’t been that good (“The Long Game”, “Boom Town”, “New Earth”, “The Idiot’s Lantern”, “Love & Monsters” and “Fear Her”). However, if you examine the body of work in terms of that three series observation, year two reveals itself to have suffered from the production team unwisely concluding that no real corrections were required to the version first released to the public in 2005.

The good news off the back of “Smith and Jones” though is that last year’s sense of over-confidence has been replaced by a more realistic assessment of Doctor Who’s strengths and weaknesses. While this new mood demonstrates admirable self-critical faculties on the part of the production team, it might actually just be the result of answering the question of what happens to the programme when you remove Rose Tyler. Certainly Piper’s departure has allowed Doctor Who to jettison some of its more excessive elements. As a result “Smith and Jones” felt a little less like Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who and more like just Doctor Who.

Even more heartening news was to follow the transmission of this episode as Confidential revealed Martha Jones’ feelings for the Doctor are to be unreciprocated. A TARDIS removed of the mutual back-slapping of the last two series is a far more welcoming place.

But what of Martha Jones? “Smith and Jones” was billed as the new girl’s story, but it’s to Freema Agyeman’s credit that it felt anything but. The frantic opening moments laying in her back story were to be expected, and as with “Rose” two year earlier, Davies accomplished the job with admirable economy. After that though, Martha felt like an accepted part of Doctor Who and someone we’d long since warmed to. In a funny way, that scene at the end of the episode almost felt redundant – Martha was already the companion, wasn’t she?

Mind you, the moment was notable for bringing with it the revived Doctor Who’s first attempt at showing time travel from the point of view of somebody other than the traveller. Given other recent television and cinema treatments of the concept have made a great deal of mileage in constructing hooks out of similar “out of sequence” moments, Doctor Who’s restraint from mucking around with this concept is to be admired.

Talking of firsts, wasn’t this the first episode bereft of a pre-title teaser since “Rose”? Such an absence had a pleasing subliminal effect of enhancing the feeling that series three was some kind of re-boot. Of course, given last year brought us the “new new” Doctor, it’s intriguing to ponder why it is the arrival of a new companion that sets us off on a new direction, rather than a new man in the lead role. Not that Tennant didn’t seem a little like a – ahem – “new new new” Doctor. As with the production as a whole, he appears to have reined himself in a bit and has become slightly more robust in his performance. Still, he remains superb. His initial scenes in this story were steeped in mystery and fun (surely a difficult combination), and demonstrated once again why the Doctor is one of the most enticing characters in British fiction.

With all this good stuff going on, the story itself was something of a minor element. Roy Marsden and Anne Reid were both excellent, while the plot itself was slightly silly, but more importantly audacious, stuffed with memorable imagery (rain going upwards and a hospital on the moon) that couldn’t help but fire the imagination of the younger viewer, in a way that something like the (admittedly competent enough) Primeval could never hope to do.

So, back to that series three theory then, and so far it would appear whoever came up with it is right on the money. Reinventions and modifications appear to reaping rewards already – not least in that “Smith and Jones” was the least annoying up-beat story in the revived series’ entire run. With news series four has been commissioned, one hopes the other half of the theory; namely that it’s all downhill after here proves to be less accurate. For now, there’s reason to be confident, particularly as Doctor Who in the 21st century has shown itself to be the TV series that keeps beating the odds.


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