Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Okay, I know next week’s episode of Doctor Who hasn’t arrived yet, but I feel like I’m already there. Three – count ‘em – three *good* episodes in a row. Now, I know we’ve been treated to that kind of hit rate before – last year’s early hat trick of Tooth & Claw, School Reunion, The Girl In The Fireplace - but a) based on this season’s form to date, I never imagined we’d get anything like that this year and b) these were not just *good*, they were *superb*.

Paul Cornell’s Human Nature/Family Of Blood and Steven Moffat’s Blink are different Doctor Who beasts, so I’m not going to choose between them. I’ll just applaud and thank the writers for showing how it’s done. In fact, right there is the strange reason why I held off slightly from blogging about the episodes here: I was wary of getting into the negative aspect of all this, i.e. just how starkly these stories have highlighted the shortcomings of other New Who offerings. Non Who people have had cause to comment to me just how much better these stories have been and – it will come as no surprise to anyone who’s kept up with my views here – I’ve only been able to nod and agree.

But there it is. That’s it. That’s the sum of the negative side, which is just an incidental side-effect of Cornell and Moffat having crafted such gems. Because the conversations that arose from those remarks just had me and the other participants bubbling with enthusiasm and praise - and positivity, both for these stories and for things to come.

The Human Nature/Family Of Blood two-parter was mature, intelligent, involving and hit an impressive range of emotional notes, provoking genuine tears (as well as a few laughs) and rounding itself off with some genuine poetry. All right, it was poetic justice, and there’s a harshness and cruelty to the sentences handed out to the Family by the Doctor, but it’s prompted by an anger that both David Tennant (who does an outstanding job as John Smith) and the writer make us feel – and that is human nature in action. (At the same time, it’s also symptomatic of this Lonely God syndrome of the Doctor’s, and we wait to see if there are any repercussions lying in ambush for him, just over time’s horizon.) The scarecrows were quirkily creepy, despite being introduced in broad daylight, and I think all the cast delivered strong performances, with special mention to Jessica Stevenson for Joan.

Any quibbles were purely that and I just include them here as examples: since the watch was so crucial to the Doctor’s restoration, why didn’t he leave it in Martha’s care instead of having it lying around on his sideboard? And I did wonder whether the whole thing might have been a smidgen better if we had been dropped straight in at the deep end. That is, flashbacks show us how Martha and the Doctor got into the situation, in any case, and for those of us not famliar with the book from which this was adapted, it might have made for a great sit-up and shout, ‘Huh?’ hook to draw us right in. But that’s not a complaint. That’s just a quiet what if, and I doubt it can be heard anyway above the sound of the rapturous applause. Merci beaucoup, Mr Cornell.

And woe to Mr Moffat, who was left in the unenviable position of having to follow that. Luckily though, Steven Moffat has the advantage of being Steven Moffat. Writer of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (previous two-part demonstration of how it’s done) and the slightly lesser The Girl In The Fireplace (sigh, all it was missing was that ballroom scene!) which I nevertheless loved.

Blink was clever, witty and creepy, and had its own share of emotion to offer - with more of those genuine tears to compliment the laugh out loud moments. Lots of twisty timey-wimey stuff that neither made my head hurt nor fell apart at a glance (there were questions, yes, but they fall into that same category of minor quibbles as those that occurred during Human Nature), a novel, interesting ‘alien menace’ played with to good effect, and a central character you could immediately fall in love with – just like Sarah Jane Smith. :) Seriously, Carey Mulligan was fab as Sally Sparrow, charismatic and someone you could instantly connect with – instant companion material and exactly what you need in a story that’s going to feature a largely absent Doctor. Peppered with lots of great Moffaty dialogue (‘It’s so ITV’) and brilliance (the Doctor and Martha rushing by on their way to some emergency, armed with bows and arrows) all rounded off with an entirely gratuitous montage of statues designed to freak out a few million kids. Whatever you do, don’t blink, but by all means, clap. Muchos gracias, Senor Moffat.

All this and next week, Sir Derek Jacobi. Utopia’s up against it, it must be said. It has the return of Captain Jack, a character much undermined by the fact that, ideally, he should still be dead and undermined even more by his involvement in the awfulness that is Torchwood. And it has to follow this triple whammy. But thanks to that triple whammy, I’m feeling a refreshingly positive buzz and I’m optimistic that, with John Simm – possibly maybe who knows as the Master? – we’re in for a tail end of Season 3 that will leave me wanting more.

And preferably, more like we’ve had these last three weeks. See, I’m relatively easily pleased, after all.


TimeWarden said...

Martha's carelessness through not taking better care of the watch, after specifically being told of its importance by the Doctor in the teaser, directly leads to the Doctor having to choose between his friend and lover at the climax of "Human Nature". Had Martha kept it about her person, Tim wouldn't have picked it up, opened it, and led the Family of Blood to the dancehall.

Paul Cornell should've found another way to reach the same cliff-hanger such as losing the watch. As it stands, it makes Martha look stupid when she must be anything but, considering her medical training! The negligence over something so vital is contradictory to her character and therefore poor writing. The plot collapses because of it, despite the subtext remaining intact. Remember how important it was to retain the time ring in "Genesis"!!

The narrative is also carelessly undermined at the end of "The Family of Blood" when Tim reminds Hutchinson, in the trenches, of the promise he made "all those years ago"! This scene is set in 1914, reaffirmed immediately afterwards by the Producer in "Confidential", while the bulk of the story takes place the previous year!! Now, if Tim had said "all those months ago"… but it just doesn't have the same dramatic punch!!! I'm of the firm opinion that this story is no better or worse than any other this season.

Stuart Douglas said...

Tim - could the nits you're picking be any smaller? The watch bit doesn't bother me (the Doctor doesn't think it's important - as explicitly stated in the script - and maybe he has to keep it near or Martha is worried it'll look like she's stolen it if she's found in possession of a gentleman's fob watch? As for the trenches scene - I presumed it was et in 1917 or 18 and there's nothing on screen (from the writer) to say otherwise.

I'm with Simon on this one - fantastic Who, I thought and on a different planet entirely from rubbish like Gridlock, 42 or the Dalek Disaster.

TimeWarden said...

Each to his own. I thought my case logically thought through and well argued.

I didn't even start on the poorly directed resolution of the cliff-hanger or the ridiculous dispatching of the Family. Why has the Doctor never disposed of the Master or the Rani behind a mirror when it is obviously so easy to do? It's the same as suddenly being able to destroy a Cyberman with a gun, in "Attack of the Cybermen", when the Cybermen were previously shown, in "The Invasion", to be impervious to firearms.

The Doctor could've dispensed with Margaret Slitheen within his magical mystery mirror! Maybe even Captain Jack, releasing him on the odd occasion for a quick snog!! Obviously, anything goes and no plot point is of any consequence when praising to the hilt this, below par, fun piece of nonsense masquerading under the name of "Doctor Who"!!!

SAF said...

Stuart said: "Martha is worried it'll look like she's stolen it if she's found in possession of a gentleman's fob watch?"

See now, that's the explanation I came up with for my own peace of mind - so it must be right ;))

I understand what Tim is saying and it's all reasoned out, but they do qualify as nits for me. There could, after all, be a bigger bridge than we imagine between the destruction of the Family's ship and their ultimate (respective) fates. There's no clear explicit evidence that it's easy to trap someone in a mirror. (Also the Family, I assume, are greatly weakened at this stage - bereft of their ship and - presumably - near the end of their three month lifespan.) In fact, I'd rather see it as the Doctor having gone to great great lengths to hand out those sentences. It magnifies his cruelty as he metes out his own justice - which raises other issues , but I'm hopeful of seeing some repercussions on that front in any case.

Meanwhile, what of Blink? We're all in accord on that one, surely :)

Stuart Douglas said...

I'm waiting to comment on Blink until I watch it again since I was still jet-lagged first time round. It *seemed* brilliant, mind :)