Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Doctor Almost Dances

Prefect SlogOf all the writers contributing to this season of Doctor Who, Steve Moffat had the most to live up to. With last year's The Empty Child, he showed how brand new 45-minute Who should be done and with The Doctor Dances, despite a slightly painful to watch extended dance mix on the end, set the bar for the two-parter. The title of last night's episode, The Girl In The Fireplace, suggested something similarly creepy, to the point where I had to wonder if Mr Moffat had a thing about creepy children. But before I get done for defamation of character, the end result was I came at last night's episode with an unpredictable combination of a great deal of positive feeling and high expectations. Things could have gone either way.
I certainly didn't expect a time-spanning love story - and anyone who's read my own Doctor Who books will know how fond of those I should be (Emotional Chemistry ranges from the 51st Century back to the early 19th, so Mr Moffat threw a few extra decades on his temporal fire, but hey). And I didn't expect the second story in a row to bring a tear to the eye and a lump in the throat. Bastards! I'm a grown man - there's only so much I can take!
This is less surprising when you realise that the stories are thematically similar. Sophia Myles is, no offence, no Sarah Jane, but in The Girl In The Fireplace we have a whirlwind romance that is, in effect, the answer to the questions raised in School Reunion. Questions that were already answered in that episode, but here they're illustrated, shown rather than told. I've heard it suggested that the stories should have been shown farther apart, but the other alternative would have been to press them closer together. Thus, in School Reunion we could have been prompted to wonder why the Doctor moves on and leaves his companions behind, often - as in Sarah Jane's case - without so much as a by your leave (sniff), and then in The Girl In The Fireplace we could have been shown the answer. The curse of the Time Lords: the Doctor lives on while those he loves fade and die.
In fact, The Girl In The Fireplace should really have been a two-parter in its own right. It's positively crammed with stuff, but once more it's given the whiz-bang treatment and the Doctor's romance with Reinette is conducted at such a whirlwind pace that they omit the one vital scene where they actually dance. 'Dance' in The Doctor Dances meant something else entirely, of course, but here I'm not speaking in metaphors. A revolution or three around the grand ballroom, the Doctor and Reinette losing themselves n each other until they are the only ones there would have spoken volumes and would have had the added benefit of looking gorgeous. Honestly, six episodes of the BBC's Pride & Prejudice (the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle one) and not a minute goes by without a major dancing epidemic, and they can't even give us one bloody waltz where it really counts. It stood out as such an obvious missing piece at the time that I was left dismayed, while they cut straight to the scene where the drunken Doctor rescues Mickey and Rose (who are, funnily enough, something of a couple of spare parts in this anyway) from a spot of clockwork surgery.
Then to be further dismayed by the sound of the Doctor spouting insults at the androids like Edmund Blackadder: "Mr Thickety Thick Thick Thick." And when you're producing such a curious, wonderful blend of fantasy, history and sf, you need to take care not to jump your audience out of the action with oddities like that.
Luckily, for the most part, as with School Reunion, I was so absorbed and involved by the human story that I could quickly forget that little glitch and, more importantly, overlook the flaws and inconsistencies in the more Doctor Who-ish aspects of the plot.
Indeed, it was all so magical that at the time (the station reminded me of the house in Gulliver's Travels, full of mirrors leading to different times, and the Doctor riding through the mirror on horseback was the stuff of fairy tales) I wasn't questioning the logic of 1) the time portals (how, exactly, did they work and why, if the androids knew so much about Madame Pompadour's history, didn't they go straight to when she was thirty-seven?), 2) the clockwork androids (why?) or 3) the cannibalising of the crew for parts (I mean, okay, a heart's a pump and a liver's a filtration unit, but there are a limited number of useful parts in the human body when it comes to patching up a spaceship). A mate of mine picked far more holes than those and to be honest, I couldn't disagree with any of them. But nevertheless we ended up with diverse impressions of the episode. And it's just another illustration of what often happens with Doctor Who, old or new: namely, that it comes down to a measure of what you're willing to forgive, based on the overall impression left on you by a given story. With School Reunion, the feeling was overwhelmingly positive, with The Girl In The Fireplace, slightly less so, but more than sufficient to prompt me to look on it like the clockwork androids: illogical, but beautiful.
They certainly gave me the chills, with their creepy masks, the most effective scene of course being where the Doctor is rooting one of them out from under the young Reinette's bed. But there's really not enough time to savour that creepiness after that, and the whole thing, as usual, flies by in a rush. To be fair, the story may have needed a few more complications in order to warrant a two-parter, but the dividends might well have been worth it. Ultimately, with this one, everything would appear to hang on whether you buy into the love story or not. Me, I'm a hopeless romantic and a writer of a Doctor Who love story myeslf and therefore an easy target. There was a tangible chemistry there, fairly obviously, between Tennant and Myles, and it's especially obvious in the kiss, which did much to convince. (Sophia Myles is also one of those actresses who looks like she's born for period costume and short of hiring Kate Winslet, whom some of us might have liked to have seen in a Doctor Who, she does the job admirably enough.) And the mind-meld works well to cement their bond - I particularly loved the turnaround, where Reinette is able to step through and see into the Doctor's thoughts. But two parts would have lent the story an epic feel more befitting a story that's meant to span 3000 years and allowed us to really experience the two-speed romance as it should have been experienced: at two speeds. Most crucially, two parts would have allowed plenty of time for that missing scene in the ballroom. This was one occasion where the Doctor definitely needed to dance. With that, I might have loved it unequivocally. Without it, I still loved it, but it was more of a fleeting love affair that did well to last past the end credits.


Stuart Douglas said...

Unfortunately the romance didn't click for me at all, with the result that tgitF is my least favourite story so far this year.

It just felt so rushed and utterly lacking in believable chemistry, and the apparently emotional ending left me cold - it's just a bit too convenient from a story POV that the Doctor returns at the moment she leaves in a coffin!

Insanely, I kept hoping for more Mickey - which goes to show how uninvolved in the romance I was...

SAF said...

I'll admit I'm afraid this one will fade too much in retrospect and/or on a rewatch - there have been too many things wrong with it jumping out at me since. As for the coffin thing, it's not so much that the timing of the Doctor's return is too convenient, but for me it's more a case of what a bloody idiot he was to forget that time jumps forward whenever he ducks back to the spaceship. Time for a Homer Simpson style "D'oh!" and a slap of the head there, I think.
As for hoping for more Mickey, well, I'd expect no less from a fellow who liked New Earth ;)))

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "but for me it's more a case of what a bloody idiot he was to forget that time jumps forward whenever he ducks back to the spaceship"

True enough, but he is a bit unlucky that he pops back just in time to watch the coffin head out the gates - presumbaly given the scale of the time difference (Reinette aging somethign like 20 years in the five minutes between trip one throug the fireplace and trip two) if he'd jumped through a milli-second earlier she'd still have been alive.

And New Earth is, in fact, brilliant. And so is Mickey.

There - I've said it, no going back now.

SAF said...

Stuart: "And New Earth is, in fact, brilliant. And so is Mickey."

I dunno, one you might have gotten away with - but both! There's no saving you now :)

Stuart Douglas said...

In my defence I've been up since 4.30am for thre second night in a row with a sick three year old, so I may be talking nonsense :)

SAF said...

Aw, I'll let you off then. ;) Hope the little un's feeling better by now.