Tag Archives: Tennant

Domesticity, sentimentality and Fear Her (2006)


One of the earliest things we learned about the Doctor upon his 21st century return was that he “doesn’t do domestic.” But oddly enough, by the time he got to his second series, he was breaking his own rule fairly regularly. In both The Idiot’s Lantern and Fear Her, we find him and Rose (David Tennant and Billie Piper, at their most smug and loved up) making home visits and confronting the results of family violence.

When talking about The Idiot’s Lantern, I was concerned that this is too raw subject matter for the show to deal with. Fear Her goes there again, but this time uses it as the thematic base of the story. By which I mean, The Idiot’s Lantern featured a family fractured by an abusive father, but that plot element was not connected to its main plot about a monster sucking people into TVs.

Fear Her features a similarly fractured family and a child dealing with the aftermath of abuse from her father. But here, the plot about the alien Isolus, isolated from its own kind, scared of being alone, recovering from a traumatic event and needing love to heal itself, mirrors the situation of its host, Chloe (Abisola Agbaje).

Tales of spooky children abound in 21st century Who and in sci-fi and horror more generally. But this story is clearly riffing off Chocky, the terrifically unsettling novella by John Wyndham, turned into an equally unsettling TV series by 70s Doctor Who script editor Anthony Read. In both of those, a young boy, Matthew, has his mind infiltrated by an alien intelligence, wanting to form an emotional link. (Interestingly, in the TV version, the boy’s artistic abilities massively improve, and drawing becomes his means of self expression). As in Fear Her, the boy’s parents are worried and bewildered.

In Chocky, the threat to Matthew is external; government forces want to capture and harness the alien within him. The threat to Chloe is created from within her – a simulacrum of her vengeful Dad, hiding in the closet within her bedroom. Much of Fear Her is set in that bedroom, and that’s significant because bedrooms are places of sanctuary and safety, where imagined worlds are created. That’s the Isolus’s power too. It creates worlds to retreat into and play, but Chloe’s world is full of fear and guilt and that’s what creates her monster, which starts off as purely internalised but threatens to emerge into the real world.

As twee as it may seem, the ending where mother and daughter sing Kookaburra sits in the Old Gum Tree to neutralise the emerging father demon works within the theme of families recovering from trauma. The solution to Chloe’s problem is for Mum Trish (Nina Sosanya) to acknowledge and engage with her daughter’s pain. As with the Isolus, Chloe’s reunited with her family. Doctor Who fans don’t always like it when the series wades into the waters of family drama. But at least in Fear Her, plot, theme, genre and character sync satisfyingly together.

Just how, though, do the Olympics fit into this? I fear the answer is, not well. This is a story which could easily have been set in 2006 rather than 2012 and if there’s a thematic link between the Olympics and Chloe’s story, it’s pretty thin. There’s a half-hearted attempt in Trish’s dialogue to link it the theme of togetherness, when she says to Chloe, “tonight they’ll light the Olympic Flame in the stadium, and the whole world will be looking at our city. I mean, doesn’t that make you feel part of something?” But other than that, it seems an arbitrary creative choice.

The Olympics bring two unwelcome elements to proceedings; sentimentality and a lack of believability. The lack of believability is inherent. Setting any story in the near future means the audience is immediately doubting its accuracy because we know that everything about the setting is guessed at. But setting it during a future Olympics is even riskier, because they are events with which viewers are familiar.

We know these are enormous, carefully stage managed, yet disruptive events. We know they command massive crowds, not modest gaggles of streetside onlookers. We know the day of the opening ceremony isn’t spent fixing potholes in suburban cul de sacs. We know random strangers aren’t allowed to pick up the Olympic torch, let alone light the Olympic cauldron. All these missteps make Fear Her’s best future guesses look a little naive.

Then there’s the sentimentality, an element the show indulges in only occasionally, usually for anniversaries, regenerations and Christmas specials. The lighting of the Olympic torch is one of those big, showcase moments that Russell T Davies’s version of the show majored in. But it’s also cloyingly saccharine. The aforementioned Kookaburra song moment might work in terms of the plot, but that too is a little more schmaltzy than the series normally goes for. And everyone lives, again.

But I suspect that for a mainstream , non production code memorising section of the audience, this isn’t so much of a problem. On the commentary, for instance, Exec Producer Julie Gardner talks about how moving she found this episode. And as a parent, I find it difficult not to empathise with a story about wanting to help a troubled child, but being afraid and powerless to do so.

But some stories’ reputations are hard to ignore and Fear Her is, as polls go, this century’s The Twin Dilemma. Why it’s so disliked, I’m not sure, but having just come from The Web of Fear, which placed robot yeti in the London Underground in a strange mix of action adventure and mythic mysticism, I’m reminded that although juxtaposition is what Doctor Who does, it sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Fear Her is just as unlikely combination of elements as those that make up Web, and is in many ways a more sophisticated story. But perhaps they don’t coalesce quite as well to tell a story that compels and thrills in the way we expect the series to.

The other thing is, of course, its concentration on a story sticking close to home, with parents and children and bedrooms and living rooms and so on. There’s been plenty of these stories since 2005, but none of them bother the top levels of the “best of” polls much. Seems like we’re with the Doctor on this one; we don’t like it when he does domestic.

LINK TO The Web of Fear: Juxtaposition. Possession. Plus they both have “fear” in their titles!

NEXT TIME: Reptilian. Biped. A completely alien species! Report forthwith to a date with Doctor Who and The Silurians.


Hawks, doves and The Christmas Invasion (2005)


The ghost of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart hangs around the final scenes of The Christmas Invasion. Back in 1970’s Spearhead from Space, he mentioned how humans had been sending probes deeper and deeper into space. “We’ve drawn attention to ourselves,” he said ominously, moustache twitching with deep portent.

David Tennant’s skinny, sassy Doctor has just seen off the slave trading Sycorax in the space of about 10 minutes, but still he’s cautious. He all but quotes his old friend. Though he’s got quite the gob, so he uses far more words to say it: “And the human race is drawing attention to itself. Every day you’re sending out probes and messages and signals. This planet’s so noisy. You’re getting noticed more and more.”

His words spook Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (Penelope Wilton). It’s been a bad day at the office. She’s just been through an alien invasion she was powerless to stop, she’s seen two men die in front of her and had the fate of half the world rest on her ability to negotiate her way out of an impossible situation.  She’s been in charge when the Doctor didn’t show up, and it’s terrified her.

So she takes a decision to blow up the alien threat rather than let them escape. In doing so, she’s channeling he Brigadier. He took the same pragmatic choice when he blew up the Silurians, again in 1970, in a desperate attempt to end a story which had already gone on for seven episodes. The difference then was we never got to see the Doctor confront his military friend about his act of murder, masquerading as defence.

Here, the Doctor forces Harriet to justify her choice. This she does, with hawkish pragmatism. “You said yourself, Doctor, they’d go back to the stars and tell others about the Earth. I’m sorry, Doctor, but you’re not here all the time… They died right in front of me while you were sleeping. In which case we have to defend ourselves.” The Doctor is, of course, disgusted. “But that’s murder,” he said in 1970 and so he repeats, “that was murder” in 2005. Apart from that, he doesn’t bother to try to counter her arguments. He just starts tossing around threats.

More of that later. But first, it’s interesting that writer Russell T Davies is specifically referencing those two stories from 1970 (three, if we note that trouble with aliens abducting a British space craft was core to The Ambassadors of Death). He even goes to the extent of quoting them, almost word for word. He’s reminding us of the time when the Doctor had an uncomfortable relationship with his Earthbound allies. And also of a time when a new Doctor made a barnstorming entrance, signalling a major shift in the tone and focus of the series. David Tennant’s Doctor signals as significant a progression for the series as Pertwee, colour and exile to Earth did.

Tennant’s Doctor is different to Pertwee’s though, in that he’s unafraid to meter out punishment if you cross him. When the Sycorax leader goes back on his word to leave Earth, and instead redoubles his attack, the Doctor has no hesitation in triggering the trap door which sends the bad guy plummeting to the ground. “No second chances,” he says grimly. That goes for Harriet too.

As his argument with her escalates, he warns her of the consequences of messing with him. And when she shows no remorse, he decides to bring down her government by whispering six words in the ear of right hand man, Alex (Adam Garcia, formerly a red hot tap dancer back in Australia. Mrs Spandrell was very keen on him.) It’s a handy trick. I wish he would fall to Earth now and perform that same feat in the USA.

Anyway, the point is that this Doctor is not a man to cross.In some ways, that rift with Harriet marks the tenth Doctor out as political; he’s against pre-emptive military action. Or maybe it’s simpler than that – he just against the sneaky tactics of clobbering someone from behind.

Either way, he’s unafraid to lose friends when he thinks they’ve done the wrong thing. Later he watches Harriet on TV, flustered by questions about her health, engulfed in the PR storm he’s just conjured up with a six word magic spell. He stands there in his new glasses and paper Christmas hat and watches his former friend’s world collapse around her, and he’s unmoved.

This will of steel is something he has in common with his predecessor, who watched dispassionately as Cassandra burst apart and who dumped failed companion Adam back to Earth with window in his forehead. But then unlike the ninth Doctor, he does domestic. He has Christmas dinner with Jackie (Camille Coduri) and Mickey (Noel Clarke), something the last him flatly refused to do. Indeed his whole attitude to Jackie and Mickey has softened. He physically embraces them – again something he previously wouldn’t have had a bar of. So although he’s just as uncompromising as Dr 9, he’s a far more accessible and relaxed with his human buddies.

There’s one last moment that underlines Doctor Tennant’s refusal to let his human compadres take the easy way out. At the story’s end, when he goes to grab Rose’s hand to run off together for further adventures, she shies away a little because it means holding the hand he recently grew back. “That hand still gives me the creeps,” she says. But he doesn’t offer her the other one. He insists she takes the one that freaks her out. It’s a tiny little moment, but it just reinforces that this Doctor doesn’t let you off easy.

One last thing to note. This is the story which starts to develop Mickey and Jackie as characters, beyond being handbrakes on Rose’s TARDIS adventuring. Mickey gets his first heroic moment when he outmanoeuvres the robot Santas and Jackie plays both caring matriarch and comic relief (I particularly love her reminding Mickey to note down how much internet he uses, even though only moments ago they were nearly killed by a rampaging Christmas tree). They are, at last, the Doctor’s allies, Earth-bound but ready to help out when needed. Pertwee had his UNIT family. Tennant has the Tyler family. The Brigadier would be pleased.

LINK TO The Power of Kroll: both were originally broadcast on/around Christmas time.

NEXT TIME… The walls need sponging and there’s a sinister puddle. We’ll take care of it and The Caretaker too.


Old days, new ways and School Reunion (2006)


In New Who‘s first year, references to Old Who were few and far between. The odd Cyberman head, a fleeting glimpse of UNIT and a surreptitious mention of the Isop Galaxy were the few, whispered call outs to the show’s long heritage. New Who was like a teenager who has suddenly become cool, deliberately shunning any links to her previous dorky self. Don’t mention the old show, this reboot seemed to say. It’s not me at all.

School Reunion changed all that, with guest appearances from two figures which, at last, firmly linked the new series to the old. Showrunner Russell T Davies’ choice of returning characters is interesting. He could easily have gone with, say, the Brigadier or Susan Foreman or Ace, or indeed any of the surviving classic Doctors. But he went with Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and K9 (voiced by John Leeson).

In doing so, he links his version of the program, not just to all of classic Who, but a particular part of it. Sarah Jane was a crucial part of the early Tom Baker years, and K9 an integral feature of the later Tom Baker seasons. Between them, they span a period of the program fondly remembered by many adult viewers. And for younger viewers, they provide an entry point for the classic series. School Reunion is signalling the new show’s intention to be as fondly remembered as the Tom Baker episodes while fondly remembering them itself.


Sarah’s bittersweet meeting with the Doctor (a nascent David Tennant) is the standout element of this episode, contrasting strongly with cartoony main plot of bat creatures, brain slaved children and the quest for an oblique universe altering equation (“The Skasis Paradigm!” says the Doctor, appalled. I hate those moments when we’re supposed to react to some invented sci fi term like it means something.) You can keep the school, I’ll take the reunion, thanks.

Sladen brings an emotional depth to her character, which she was only ever allowed to hint at in the old series, and explore only in the dying minutes of her tenure. Forget all that unedifying and frankly sexist rivalry with new, younger model Rose (Billie Piper). What makes this story is Sarah’s letting long held trauma burst through her cool demeanour.

It doesn’t take long. Only seconds after meeting the Doctor, it’s bubbling to the surface. “I thought you’d died,” she sobs. “I waited for you and you didn’t come back and I thought you must have died.” Later she calms down, but still her dialogue is punctuated with the raw pain of someone abandoned.

SARAH: Did I do something wrong, because you never came back for me. You just dumped me.

DOCTOR: I told you. I was called back home and in those days humans weren’t allowed.

SARAH: I waited for you. I missed you.

DOCTOR: Oh, you didn’t need me. You were getting on with your life.

SARAH: You were my life.

So among all this nostalgia for the old days of Doctor Who, there’s the longing for past days of youth and adventure. “I got old,” Sarah admits at one point, as if shamefully acknowledging a human shortcoming. K9 too is worn down and tarnished. These are companions left damaged and bereft by their time with the Doctor and the message isn’t lost on Rose. “This is really seeing the future,” she says.


School Reunion asks us to remember Old Who, but selectively. Remember The Hand of Fear, it says. And what about The Invisible Enemy, that was a corker wasn’t it? But don’t remember The Five Doctors, because that would spoil the story.

We have to ignore The Five Doctors because School Reunion gets its emotional kick from the idea that Sarah hasn’t seen the Doctor since he left her behind on that street in Aberdeen. We should be recalling the image of Sarah left alone on that road, white tassly jacket, suitcase and stuffed owl. We shouldn’t be recalling that she did meet the Doctor again – a whole lot of them actually – for his twentieth birthday party.

We also have to buy into the new idea that Sarah held a strong romantic affection for the Doctor, as strong as Rose’s.

ROSE: What do I do? Do I stay with him?

SARAH: Yes. Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.

As the Doctor says goodbye, she admits she’s never found someone to settle down with. “Well, there was this one guy,” she says wistfully. “I travelled with him for a while, but he was a tough act to follow.”

Mrs Spandrell gets confused by this moment. She says incredulously, “Are they saying she was in love with Pertwee?” And she has a point, not because it’s hard to believe anyone falling for the Pert or for Tom Baker for that matter, but because Sarah’s relationship with the Doctor was always platonic. In her time with Tom, which this story is specifically asking us to recall, their relationship was one of two knockabout mates seeing the universe together. Never once was their the sense of a deeper connection, certainly not of the boyfriend/girlfriend vibe that Tennant and Piper cultivated.

Remember some things, School Reunion says. Forget others. And completely reimagine some more. Which shouldn’t bother us too much really, as that’s what Doctor Who does all the time.


Sladen was evergreen, but time is doing School Reunion few favours. Unusually, the art direction lets the side down, with dodgy school crests blu tacked to walls and corridors randomly painted a lurid green. The guest performances are also a tad hammy and some of the CGI effects, such as the climactic explosion, fail to entirely convince. This doesn’t feel like the bold, mature sci-fi drama presented the previous year.

Instead, it all feels a bit juvenile; appropriate enough for an episode set in a high school. But I mean ‘juvenile’, in terms of its intended audience; this feels like children’s TV. Still, something about it worked enough for the potential of Sladen and The Sarah Jane Adventures to shine through. That’s this episode’s real legacy; not that it at last paid respect to the old series, but that it showed how to create something new and exciting out of its greatest hits.

LINK TO The Curse of the Black Spot: both feature prominent roles for young boy characters (Toby and Kenny)

NEXT TIME: Lush, aggressive vegetation. A plant, a xerophyte to be precise! It’s Meglos, last Zolpha Thuran!

Gunfire, accusation and Planet of the Ood (2008)


Just last random, I mentioned that you don’t see gunfights in new Who. This isn’t quite right. Planet of the Ood for instance has loads of gunfire. Set on the squiddy ones’ home planet, the Ood-sphere, it tells the story of some Ood-exploiting big business types who employ lots of gun-totin’ guards. Why they employ them, it’s not quite clear. Where’s the security threat on a planet inhabited only by the benign Ood? But anyway, it’s just as well they did employ them because soon they’re in the middle of an Ood revolution. And the shooting – lots of it – begins.

But there’s am important difference between gunfire in old and new Who. In old Who the bullets hit their targets.

In Planet of the Ood, this difference is writ large. On lots of occasions, we see soldiers opening fire on the menacing Ood. They’re firing multiple rounds from what look like sub automatic weapons (like I know what sort of guns they are, though) and point blank range. And every time, the camera cuts to another shot. Or to another scene. Or we quickly close up on the guns. We see flashes from muzzles, we hear gunfire on the soundtrack. We see their bodies fall on the shredded paper we’re all agreeing to call snow. But we never see a bullet hit an Ood and we never see one bleed.

Old Who was never so squeamish. Think of bullets smacking into Haemovores in The Curse of Fenric. Think of Solon shooting his brutish servant Condo at close range in The Brain of Morbius. Or of our good friend the Brigadier blazing away in a warehouse full of cronies in The Ambassadors of Death. And of course there was blood. Blood all over the place, in dozens of stories. Doctor Who was never an overly gory programme, but it shows gunshots and blood frequently and uncompromisingly.

It also had its fair share of fist fights and hand-to-hand combat too, often involving the Doctor. It wasn’t unusual to see Doctors 3 through 6 getting involved in a dust up, and before that male companions Ian, Steven, Ben and Jamie handled the rough stuff. But in new Who, a bit of biff is rare. Eccleston fought he way out of gaol once and Smith once punched an android. Did Tennant ever have to hit someone? I don’t think he did. The Pert would wipe the floor with all of them.

But, as I’ve mentioned before any shocking piece of violence was likely to be followed by a shockingly fake one. Guards in old Who were forever being rendered unconscious by light taps on the neck. A soft double handed blow to the top of the spine felled many an extra. A small twist to the arm was enough to send Stuart Fell tumbling and if Tom Baker knocked two heads together their owners were out for the count. Sometimes it was too cheesy for words, as in The Visitation when it became clear the Doctor and crew must have practiced a few moves in the TARDIS dojo, including the old ‘you run behind him and crawl up into a ball and I’ll push him over’ routine.

So old Who featured a mix of realistic and non-realistic violence in equal measure. There was a sort of logic around what was acceptable and not. And so it is in new Who. Planet of the Ood for instance shows many guards being sci-fi electrocuted by Ood translator globes, and that’s OK. And generally speaking, being struck by alien ray guns is fine. If it’s death by special effect, no problem.

But other moments can be surprisingly visceral. Late in the episode, big bad businessman Kleinman Halpen (Tim McInnerney, forever remembered as the snotty Captain Darling in Blackadder Goes Fourth) peels off his own head and is transformed into an Ood. It’s strong stuff, just as shocking as it is gross. But apparently not as bad as seeing a bullet hit its target. We can see an Ood vomit up its own brain, but not be shot. So there’s a weird double standard going on, where some confronting imagery is allowed, but some is specifically prohibited.

This careful approach to the depiction of violence is characteristic of the new series, and you can see it influencing the show in interesting ways. The new version’s most successful recurring monsters are the Weeping Angels and they kill without guns or even striking a blow, but are still beautifully creepy. And vampire stories such as Smith and Jones are devoid of blood, or even, as in The Vampires of Venice, devoid of vampires. But there’s a corresponding reliance on disturbing ideas which don’t necessarily need graphic visuals to back them up. Steven Moffat’s scripts are particularly relevant here, with danger being found by trying to prevent the most unconscious of human habits: don’t Blink, take a Deep Breath and Listen, there’s someone behind you.

In Planet of the Ood, the idea is that humans make for brutal slave masters and we’ll ruthlessly exploit our servants and gas them when they go feral. It’s the Doctor who invites the audience to compare themselves directly with the futuristic slave traders presented here. “Who do you think made your clothes?”,  he snarls at Donna at one point. And although she snaps straight back at him, his point is made. It’s reinforced later on when our heroes are on the run and all rigourously sanitised hell is breaking loose:

DONNA: If people back on Earth knew what was going on here…

SOLANA: Oh, don’t be so stupid. Of course they know.

DONNA: They know how you treat the Ood?

SOLANA: They don’t ask. Same thing.

It’s a criticism this episode is levelling at its audience, at the very society that produced it. It’s unusual and unsettling for new Who to adopt such an accusatory tone. We feel it again when Donna’s reduced to tears by the song of the captive Ood. All in all, it’s much more disturbing than a punch, a gunshot or blood stains on the shredded paper snow.

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: Halpen accuses the Doctor and Donna of being “photo activists”, rather than FOTO activists, or Friends Of The Ood. Which is odd because they get it right in the deleted scenes package on the DVD.

LINK TO The TV Movie: villains with glowing eyes. Not unique in Who is it. Let’s just quietly walk away from that.

NEXT TIME… Witch-wiggler? Wangateur? Fortune teller? Mundunugu? I’ve never seen such a State of Decay.

Allusions, deadly sins and The Lazarus Experiment (2007)


I may have stumbled across the most random story ever.

Early on in The Lazarus Experiment, the Doctor (David Tennant) is on his way to drinks and canapes before the mad scientist kicks off, and notes that there’s always trouble when he wears a tuxedo. But companion Martha (Freema Agyeman) reckons he looks like James Bond, prompting some grudging approval from the Doctor. And with its madman millionaire, glamorous party, big shiny technology and spunky lady scientists (hey they must be scientists, right? They’re wearing lab coats), we are kind of in the same territory. Although I can’t think of a Bond villain who transformed into a bug eyed monster or a film where Bond defeated said villain with an organ solo.

It’s a shame that this story didn’t follow The Mutants, which is also about humanoid transformation into insectoid beast. There’s even a shot of a knobbly spine protruding from Professor (again, of which University?) Lazarus’s (Mark Gatiss) back, Solonian style. It fits in well with a number of other references to the Pertwee era, like reversing the polarity, and indeed, a formally dressed Doctor battling a suave villain. The Pert is sometimes labelled the James Bond of Doctors too, but I never saw a Bond movie with an old yellow banger instead of an Aston Martin and a Bea Arthur perm instead of short back and sides.

Then there are the references to TS Eliot, with the quoting of The Hollow Men and a murder in a cathedral. And the allusion to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And referencing Spinal Tap. And most prominently, the Gospel according to John. What do all these texts have in common? Well nothing, as far as I can tell. They’re all just window dressing.

Underneath all the metatextuality (oh yes, I did film studies at uni)The Lazarus Experiment has a straightforward plot. So simple I doubt it would get of first draft stage in these famously mind bending Moffat years. Lazarus has a machine which will restore his youth, but it malfunctions and turns him into a monster. Then the race is on to kill him before he kills again. This the Doctor does, but he’s not quiet dead and the race starts again. Next time the Doctor gets it right. It’s basic stuff, but it’s livened up with chases and explosions and general hi jinks.

Lazarus is one of a select group of villains who want a second go at life, or to massively extend their first one. President Borusa wanted immortality, Queen Xanxia chewed up planets to keep herself alive and Scaroth wanted to rewrite his own life. “You’ve thrown the dice once,” the Doctor says to that last one. “You don’t get a second throw.” He could have well said that to Lazarus too because the message is the same. Folks seeking immortality or eternal youth are bad news on Who. They want to pervert the natural order of things, by denying the inevitability of aging and dying. It’s a desire that the series won’t abide.

Lazarus manages to knock off a few deadly sins along the way. His greed for money is clear, as is his gluttony, as he wolfs down a plate of nibbles. He lusts after Tish (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and his pride definitely comes before his fall. And of course he murders a couple of folks. One of which, I’m right behind him on.

When Lazarus transforms into a slathering beast, the Doctor tries to warn the assembled thrill seekers that they’re in danger. But there’s one particularly sniffy woman – let’s call her Olive – who’s not having a bar of it. “The biggest danger here is choking on an olive!”, says Olive. Has there ever been a less convincing line? (Well, sure, but go with me) So irritating. I’m glad when she’s desiccated by Lazarus shortly after.

Then there’s Mr Saxon and Martha’s Mum and a snog with a septuagenarian and… Blimey, what does all this miscellany of random things mean? All those references, all these odd little moments make this story feel as patchwork as the Lazarus monster itself. If I was feeling harsh I’d say what this story lacks is a clear and consistent central theme. Again, think back to The Mutants. Not the best story ever, but at least with its critique of colonialism it’s about one thing, not a crazy mix of things. (That and it also does that thing where the story stops and restarts which you may recall I’m not a fan of.)

But true to form there’s another moment which is perfectly formed. Having snuck off to the cathedral, Lazarus is having a little quiet time. The Doctor confronts him, and they have a conversation about London during the Blitz. The Doctor says he was there. “You’re too young” dismisses Lazarus. “So are you” replies the Doctor. A lovely couple of lines, beautifully performed, that remind us that we’re watching two old men trapped inside young men’s bodies, and a quintessential Doctor Who moment. We’re miles away from James Bond.

Now, I promised you a female orgasm joke. It comes when the Doctor and Martha are trapped in Lazarus’s overloading gizmo. They are jammed up against each other when the Doctor pulls out his sonic screwdriver, gently buzzing to itself. ‘What are you going to do with that?’ ask Martha. ‘Improvise’ promises the Doctor and then sinks down to skirt level, a flirty look on his face. Well, we know from The Curse of Fatal Death that it has three settings.

Y’see? Random!

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: ‘He was biding us time’, says Tish. Er, no he was buying you time.

LINK TO The Snowmen: in each a character falls to their death from a great height.

NEXT TIME: Did you wish really hard? Because it’s time to meet The Doctor’s Wife.

Fans, women and The Next Doctor (2008)

next doctor

These days, everybody’s a fan. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You there – you kept the faith, right? You’ve been a fan since 1963/1974/1985/1996. You liked Doctor Who when no one else did. You’ve been there, done that, bought the novelisation. 

But now, the world is filled with Adric-come-latelies. They’ve been watching since 2005/2006/2010. They just jump on the bandwagon now it’s cool, right? With their Adipose squeeze toys and TARDIS iPhone covers. Pah!

But it’s not just new Whoheads (who we love, by the way. Don’t write in), it’s the general viewership. They have, I suggest, a much higher baseline level of knowledge about Doctor Who than back in the old series days. Take The Next Doctor; its very title needs a basic understanding of regeneration to decode it.

Not only does it speak to the fact that then current Doctor David Tennant was about to leave the show, but also that inevitably there will be a “next” Doctor because that’s how the series works. And those a little more familiar with the show will know that former Doctors periodically return to the show, but we’ve never met a genuine future Doctor. All this, I think, the casual viewer understands (and I say “I think” because I can’t remember a time when I was a casual viewer. Blimey, what must that be like?).

Anyway, let’s talk women. Two women, to be precise. The two women who have speaking roles in The Next Doctor: Rosita (Velile Tshabalala) and Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan). They’re outnumbered eight to two by adult male speaking roles, but this is nothing new. In most Doctor Who stories, both old and new series, men outnumber women. The exceptions are stories like Galaxy 4 and The Happiness Patrol where the sci-fi cliche of a female dominated society is presented as the inverse of our own, and latter day exceptions to the rule such as The Name of the Doctor.

Putting that bias aside, The Next Doctor presents Rosita and Hartigan as smart, capable women in the male dominated world of Victorian London. But there’s something else going on because both are also positioned as representations of female sexuality and contrasted with male impotence.

Both costume and dialogue signal the female characters’ sexual expression. Hartigan wears a dress of deepest red, a scarlet woman, if you will. “Dressed like a harlot,”Mr Cole says at one point. Red represents passion, and in it, Hartigan contrasts strongly with black and white world around her. Her dialogue is laced with entendre: “The CyberKing will rise, indeed. How like a man.”

Rosita’s costume, low cut and corsety, shows more flesh than might be expected for someone walking around London on an icy Christmas eve. We never find out who Rosita is or what she does for a job, but there’s a strong implication she’s a prostitute. She says she met Jackson Lake at a wharf late one night, raising the obvious question of what she was doing there. And Hartigan herself pinpoints the issue when she says to Rosita,“You can be quiet. I doubt he paid you to talk.”

So there are only two female characters onscreen in The Next Doctor and both are defined by their sexuality. In comparison, the male cast are chastely sexless. The Cybermen of course have no interest in such things. The workhouse owners are dried old twigs of men and the Doctor, now divested of his female companions, is back to his normal unromantic self. Only Jackson Lake, mourning for his lost wife by hanging around with the lovely Rosita, seems to take an interest in matters saucy.

It’s weird enough to have the only female roles both signified so closely with sex and both labelled at various points, prostitutes. But in Hartigan’s case, there’s also the implication that she’s been the victim of sexual assault. Post her Cyber-conversion, when confronted by the Doctor she says “Yet another man come to assert himself against me in the night.” (Once again these random trips are revealing unexpected links; I wrote about sexual assault against a woman in my last post on The Time Meddler. This is really not what I thought was going to happen). And there’s the further suggestion that her overt sexiness is Hartigan’s reaction to a history of abuse.

What all this means I’m not sure, but it makes The Next Doctor an unsettling episode to watch. Can we imagine an episode where a would-be companion was a young gigolo, rescued by the Doctor from a wharf late one night? Or one which features a male villain whose evil scheme was informed by a history of sexual abuse? Or one where male characters are accused of being whores? Or maybe we should just give The Next Doctor the benefit of the doubt, and point to the many other episodes of the series which show women as being smart, capable and, yes, sexy, just because women are all those things, without having to label them as prostitutes or rape victims.

But onto lighter topics. There’s one other thing that perplexes me about The Next Doctor. It’s the rescue of Jackson’s son from the Cybermen’s child labour camp and specifically, who gets to perform it. It’s the Doctor who sails up a pulley system to rescue him from the high jump, while Jackson stands by watching. To me, in story terms, it should by Jackson who does that, inspired into action by the need to save his son and showing that one doesn’t have to be a Time Lord wannabe to be heroic. This would still leave the Doctor with the story’s big finale, saving London from the CyberKing from a balloon, but round out Jackson’s story a bit better.

And just as title The Next Doctor needs a little fan knowledge to decode, so does Jackson himself. I’m sure I’ll get a chance to write about Doctor Who representing its fans on screen whenever our random trips takes us to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy or Love & Monsters. But for now let’s just say that Jackson’s the sort of fan who likes a bit of cosplay, has a fairly hazy recollection of the series’ history and use improvised objects as stand ins for the TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver. He’s pure new fan.

LINKS to The Time Meddler: In a stroke of luck, the flashback sequence of Doctors includes a clip of Hartnell from The Time Meddler.

NEXT TIME… Something wonderful and strange. Get up early for The Awakening.

Cliffhangers, magic switches and Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (2006)


In Doctor Who’s olden days, we had cliffhangers. We get them occasionally in New Who as well, but these days we’re more likely to get throw forwards, otherwise known as trailers. How much a throw forward is part of an episode is debatable; sometimes they add little to an otherwise just completed episode. But sometimes they bring something new and interesting to its dying seconds.

Army of Ghosts has a great cliffhanger and an intriguing throw forward. First though, let me witter on about how it gets to those, because this is a smartly structured episode. Writer Russell T Davies has no time to waste, so this week’s alien incursion is already well underway by the time the Doctor (David Tennant, at the end of year one) and Rose (Billie Piper, about to wave the show goodbye) arrive to visit Jackie (Camille Coduri, hooray). They learn about the infestation of ghosts and the Doctor sets about disproving it in a typical “I’m having none of that superstitious nonsense” kind of way.

The quest leads them to Torchwood, much hinted at during this season and about which we’ve been learning about throughout the episode. With the Doctor and Torchwood plot strands combined, Davies splits his story again almost immediately: the Doctor and Jackie discover Torchwood and its role in generating the ghosts, while Rose finds the mysterious sphere and former squeeze Mickey (Noel Clarke). So the stage is set for a two-pronged episode ending.

Meanwhile, Davies has been indulging in a little misdirection. The Doctor assumes that the Sphere is the work of the Cybermen, and Mickey guesses that it contains a big bad Cyber-daddy. The episode is approaching its end when the Cyberleader says they know nothing about the sphere, confounding (hopefully) audience expectations. We end on a double cliffhanger: the Doctor confronted with the prospect of millions of Cybermen around the world, and Rose trapped when a posse of Daleks emerge from the sphere. Fangasms worldwide.

Now for the throw forward, and specifically, its last seconds. Over shots of the Cyberleader, a Dalek and a worried looking Rose and Mickey, we hear a Cyberman saying: “Cybermen plus Daleks. Together we could upgrade the universe”. A tantalising ending, which raises the prospect of something new and nerdy; a match-up between the series two biggest baddies.

Again, its misdirection. No such alliance is forged in Doomsday. One is proposed by the Cybermen and brutally rejected by the Daleks. And of course, when you think about it, that makes sense. As Davies has pointed out, the Daleks are cosmos-conquering, time travelling geniuses. Cybermen are us with bits added. The former has no need for the latter.

But it also reminds us that Cybermen and Daleks are not the same; their technologies might be compatible, but they themselves are not. Davies emphasises that Cybermen are emotionless and Daleks are anything but. They are boastful, quick to anger, goading and they scream inside their bonded polycarbide armour. They can even be tricked into revealing their names by appealing to their pride. Sometimes, even in Doctor Who itself, the Daleks are portrayed as emotionless, rational robots, incapable of imagination and inventiveness. But that’s the Cybermen. Daleks are creatures of pure emotion, specifically hate.

Interestingly, although Doctor Who generally avoids monster match ups (unlike say the 1960s Batman series, which, when ratings were failing, would wheel out a double bill of the Joker and the Penguin, for instance. Zonk!) it often puts supplementary monsters alongside the Daleks to indicate what they are not. They are not, for example, the Robomen, who are brainless slaves. They’re not the Slyther or Varga plants which are simple unthinking beasts. They’re not muscly grunt like the Ogrons or aestheic show ponies like the Movellans. And they’re not Davros, who can hold a (admittedly megalomaniacal) conversation.

So the Daleks are the main game. They outsmart and outgun everybody in order to get their Genesis Ark primed and ready to spew forth millions of themselves in the skies above London. But the Doctor has a trick up his sleeve. He’s worked out that because the Daleks and Cybermen are covered in voidstuff, he can open the breach and they’ll be sucked into it.

Davies can sometimes be accused of employing a quick, convenient solution to his stories; I call it the magic switch. For a classic example, consider New Earth; a cocktail of medicines spreads itself amongst the infected experimentees. Game over, nice and easy. And hey, who can blame him? He’s only got 45 mins an episode, he doesn’t have time to muck around. An ending, albeit one achieved by throwing a magic switch, is still an ending.

But Doomsday does it better. Here the fictional explanation about the voidstuff makes a kind of sense, and is signposted early enough in the episode to make it seem less of an arbitrary quick fix, rolled out as time ticks away. The Doctor’s plan takes time to set up as well; it’s no instant cure all and that also helps sell it to the audience. And it’s not perfect – opening the breach puts the Doctor and Rose at risk too – so it’s hardly convenient. In story terms, it’s no less a magic switch than any other pulled in the series’ long history, but it’s sold to us better.

And so an epic story comes to and end. Daleks and Cybermen thrown into hell, and the Doctor and Rose separated by the walls of parallel universes. And just at the end, we get a surprise; there’s suddenly a bride in control room. Cue the first of our “what? What? What?!” moments. The cliffhanger lives to fight another day.

LINKS to Pyramids of Mars: Torchwood has an Egyptian sarcophagus in it’s collection of stolen alien goods. Surely a hat tip?

NEXT TIME… A space helmet for a cow? It’s back to the Hartnell era for The Time Meddler.