Tuesday, July 11, 2006

La Vie Sans Rose

Prefect SlogShe's gone. She's history. She's in another universe. Yay! But no, this isn't the time for a "wicked witch is dead!" style celebratory dance, because Billie Piper's Rose was a good Doctor Who companion and her departure was an undeniably sad one. A potent counterpoint to the entertaining proceedings of Doomsday, the big season finale for this year's Doctor Who. And the episode itself was a lot of fun. Expectations of a cop-out ending ultimately served in its favour, as did the atmosphere in which I watched it, surrounded by Who fans, all seated in front of a big screen in a London pub, as an integral ingredient of a birthday party.
And it didn't disappoint. First of all, let's not mince words, the invasion resolution was a big cop-out, and any writer - or non-writer - could easily stack the odds so massively against the world and the Doctor when your alien invasion has an 'off' switch. It's laughably poor and it's a trait that Rose only draws attention to when she boasts of having disintegrated the Dalek Emperor. Well, sure, girl, as could anyone if they'd chugged down a sufficient helping of Deus Ex Machina. And it's something of a challenge to see the Doctor as much of a hero when all he has to do is pull a lever and rely on his legions of fans to plug up all the plot holes.
But - knowing it was coming (and sipping happily at a pint of Guinness) - allowed me to relax and enjoy the ride, despite the inevitability of the destination. Rose's 'death' was predictably metaphorical too, but genuinely moving all the same - and was only a 'disappointment' in the sense that I'd heard a few far more intriguing speculative fan theories in the week leading up to it. Which is something you can scarcely hold against the story. As it was, the key factor was that it felt right. Not only in the right and proper, fan-approved sense of the word, but also in the cynical, bit-bored-with-Doctor-Who-lately scheme of things, in that here was a companion who couldn't travel in the TARDIS without regularly touching base with her family and friends back on Earth (for all that she declares that "I made my choice a long time ago"). So it's fitting that she ends up back with them - or, more accurately, with something of a regenerated family, in the form of Parallel Pete, Jackie with a new baby on the way, and - life just wouldn't be the same without him, would it - Mickey. At the time, I did find the coda in Bad Wolf Bay (mini-groan) a tad over-laboured, and the preceding scene where the Doctor and Rose were either side of the wall (in separate universes) - compared to Pyramus and Thisbe, by one of my more intellectual DW friends - spoke such volumes and left such a powerful impression, that I felt the added goodbye was over-egging the sentimental pudding somewhat. But it's hard to imagine what we might have had in its place and it was a nice touch that the Doctor's final words were cut off - running out of coins to put in the supernova - although that did raise a groan and a giggle or two around the room. It does at least illustrate that the Doctor has learned from his experience with Sarah Jane (and Reinette) and has determined not to make the same mistake again. He has been encouraged to think about the people he leaves behind.
On which note, I have to hope that the series feels it has covered that topic adequately and can now do a bit less of that and shift the focus back onto the people who are actually doing the travelling in the TARDIS. Because, of course - and here is the reason for my celebrating her departure - without Rose, there is no need for revisiting her family and friends, and the Doctor has a future with a new companion, someone a bit more independent, we hope, who can enjoy all her exciting adventures without the need for phoning home or popping back for cups of tea and doing her laundry. Yay!
But that's not to knock that element of the story, because that is where the substance of the episode lies. The rest is a pissing contest - although there's no contest at all, really. The Cybermen are like an army of Tim Henmans, facing just four Roger Federers - and it's clear from the get-go who comes out on top. The Daleks are spectacular, while the Cybes are clunky and pedestrian for the most part, only managing to impress to any degree in their battle with the soldiers on the bridge and while marching the Torchwood staff off for emergency conversion. Yes, they threaten to stick Yvonne's brain in a metal shell and fit her with an emotional inhibitor chip - imagine that, an Yvonne incapable of expressing emotion. Of course the heavy irony here is that she crops up as a Cyberman and displays more emotion than the actress could manage beforehand - and graces us with the painfully bad scene of a crying Cyberman. Thanks, Yvonne. Fortunately, this is easily forgotten, and we're still laughing away at the exchanges between the Cybes and Daleks when they first met - some cracking dialogue and, along with Mickey and the Doctor's traded looks when Jackie tells Parallel Pete "There's never been anyone else", it's a real comedy. Other than the Rose story, there's little drama on display here and even Mickey's error in activating the Genesis Ark is immediately dismissed with a "They'd have opened it by force anyway" comment from the Doctor. Yes, he's come a long way from calling Mickey "Stupid!" all the time.
The Genesis Ark is a cool device and it's impressive to witness in action. It is, of course, at least as full of questions as it is of Daleks - why in the name of Rassilon's Rod would the Time Lords construct a prison ship and fill it full of Daleks? Before the truth of it was revealed, I was thinking it might have been a device to re-seed the Time Lord race, which the Daleks had happened to take over, and - after the revelation - I couldn't help thinking that would have made more sense.
But this one was not about making sense, it's just there to entertain and get the job of concluding Rose's storyline done. And on that level, it succeeds. Taken in the context of a string of disappointing episodes, it is something of a case of too little too late, and somewhere in the sequence from Rise Of The Cybermen to Army Of Ghosts, Doctor Who, for me, fell from something special to 'just a TV programme'. Too many of the plots are paper-thin and full of holes that don't need to be there, and if they applied as much polish in the stories as they did to the FX and the Dalek armour, well, I'd find more in them worthy of many re-watches. As it is, I shall doubtless have a go at re-watching them later in the year and seeing what, if anything, might have changed in my - now traditional! - season overview, but I'll probably exercise my right to skip one or two of them along the way. In much the same way, I suppose, that I'd like to be able to ignore the fact that Catherine Tate cropped up at the end of this episode. Maybe that was the 'Doom' part of the title. The odd thing is that the scene gave us one of the genuine surprises of the show, but against that, I'm sorry, but Catherine Tate is one of those 'talents' who is 'highly rated' (although not by anyone I know) but who - rather like Peter Kay - generally has me - like the Doctor in the face of an overwhelming alien invasion force - reaching for the 'off' switch. Another fan theory speculated that the big surprise the BBC had in store for the Christmas special might be Gillian Anderson, a theory which, unfairly or not, only served to emphasise the disappointment felt when Catherine Tate loomed in shot.
Fortunately, between the Rose departure and my pint of Guinness, there was enough substance to counteract the resulting groan and hold Doomsday by and large together, while leaving me with no persuasive reason to believe that Season Three will be any better than this one, but with a degree of hopeful optimism nonetheless.


Stewart M. said...

One word for Doomsday: yuck.

I wish Rose had actually snuffed it! And in the most painful of ways.

SAF said...

Well, for all I know, my take on this one may fade in time... I seem to recall I was more positive about The Parting Of The Ways, despite its huge flaws, at the time of watching than I am a year on.

Stuart Douglas said...

As balanced a review as ever Simon - I have to admit though, I loved it (crying Cyberman aside obviously). There were plot holes a-plenty, as ever, but I can forgive that when the rest is so...well, just plain enjoyable. Highlights are, as you said, the humour (did RTD get someone in to write the funny dialogue because usually he is the opposite of funny, whatever that may be - Roy Cubby Brown, possibly?) and little things like the Doctor getting cut off at the end (the idea of burning up an entire supernova to contact Rose is just the kind of big idea I love in sf) and Yvonne marching into conversion on her own terms.

A bit of a twee ending, granted (although I hang onto the idea that in a few months time Jackie is going to have to admit to alt-Pete that it's Mickey's baby), but that wasn't enough to spoil it for me.

I havew to admit though that when said intellectual DW fan mentioned the Pyramus and Thisbe comparison I thought he was referring to Paving Stone Girl in Love and Monsters :)

SAF said...

To be honest, if so many previous episodes hadn't sapped my goodwill, I might have been more admiring of it, but the plan now is to give DW a rest, revisit it later and give it a good going over in a Season Overview. (Already thoughts and impressions have occurred, but I'll note em down for now and see if I still think they're valid as and when I get around to a rewatch.) For now, it was good to end on a mostly positive note, although I'm not sure it was enough to save the season.

Stewart M. said...

Are you writing anything non-Who these days?

SAF said...

Um, I'm trying to. Things have been difficult on the personal front, which has derailed the writing to a great extent, but I'm hoping to get back on track sooner or later... Several different projects are awaiting my attention!