These Two Strands Together (The Stolen Earth/Journey's End)

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Detonate... the disco bomb!
It’s June 28th, 2008. Coldplay are at number one with “Viva la Vida,” which lasts a week before Ne-Yo’s “Closer” unseats it. Sara Bareilles, Rihanna, Busta Rhymes with Linkin Park, and Jordin Sparks with violent abuser Chris Bown also chart. In news, Bill Gates finishes his full time work at Microsoft, the US Supreme Court rules that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms and that the Exxon Valdez damages were excessive, and Spain wins Euro 2008, beginning their rather long winning streak of major international tournaments. 

While on television, the biggest thing is, in fact, Doctor Who. So let’s start with Journey’s End, as it is in many ways the centerpiece of the Russell T Davies era. There are two narratives of the Davies era - in one the show peaks with Rose’s departure in Doomsday. This is the view offered by Tat Wood in About Time. But Doomsday, for all its supposed cultural cache, pulled in 8.2 million viewers and was the 8th most watched program on television that week. Impressive, but beaten out by Rise of the Cybermen, which got 9.2 million and finished 6th. Doomsday was only the fifth most watched episode of its season. Journey’s End, meanwhile, pulled in a mind-wrenching 10.6 million viewers - the most a non-Christmas Special episode of Doctor Who had pulled in since Rose, which can hardly be called a normal episode. It’s the only time in the new series that a season finale bested the premiere in ratings. And it pulled off something that Doctor Who had never done in its entire history: it was the number one program on television that week. “Ah,” a certain line of argument goes, “but ratings don’t indicate how much people liked it.” This is true. For that we need to turn to the episode’s unfathomably high 91% AI score. 

From empirical data, at least, this is the zenith of Doctor Who’s cultural capital. It’s also part of a larger cultural narrative of the transition from Davies to Moffat, a cultural event that includes Tennant’s Hamlet performance being the hot theater ticket of the year, the massive success of The Next Doctor, the Matt Smith announcement, and, finally, the massive event that was The End of Time. Doctor Who may have exited its imperial phase after Doomsday, but its moment of greatest success - the moment where it was the biggest it had ever been - was this.

What jumps out, then, is the self-confidence of it. There’s always been an “everything plus the kitchen sink” feel to Davies’s finales as they each scramble to be bigger than the last one, but the sheer and sweeping scope of this one is still impressive. A three-show crossover with five companions listed in the opening credits that also features Luke, K-9, Mr. Smith, Gwen, Ianto, Jackie, Mickey, Wilf, Sylvia, Francine, as well as loads of Daleks and Davros. It’s not just that there’s a lot going on, but that everything that’s going on is internal to Doctor Who. This isn’t big name guest stars or something designed to bring the not-we on board. This story is selling itself entirely on the basis of being a really massive Doctor Who story packed to the gills with Doctor Who stuff. 

That this works can hardly be called a surprise after four seasons of massive success in the ratings, but equally, there’s something that’s still a little startling about the realization that the anoraks have won so completely that it’s not even meaningful to talk about them. The “not-we” aren’t a meaningful concept when 17% of the country is tuning in to see Sarah Jane Smith team up with Captain Jack against Daleks. 

Which makes the story’s narrative collapse structure all the more interesting. This is one of two stories with a credible claim to being the definitive narrative collapse. Its narrative collapse is perhaps not the most definitive - there’s not a point at which it seemingly becomes completely impossible for the narrative to progress at all. But what is interesting here is just how quickly the narrative collapses. The story starts, in effect, with the Doctor already defeated. The Earth has been completely subjugated by Daleks and there doesn’t actually appear to be anything he can do - he spends almost the entirety of The Stolen Earth puttering about attempting to actually find his way to the plot. It is perhaps not quite as horrific a collapse as the situation at the start of Last of the Time Lords, but the speed of it is still impressive. 

And even when the Doctor gets to the plot, he’s effectively blocked from doing anything. He’s killed by Daleks, captured by Daleks, and shoved in a force field such that all he gets to do for most of an episode is stand around and talk to Davros. Or, really, get talked to by Davros, as Davros spends the entire time gloating about his having the upper hand and taking cheap swipes at the Doctor. (Normally this would be the sort of thing that would annoy me, but in this case, with the Doctor so roundly beaten, it would feel wrong for him to make the obvious retorts. 

It’s interesting, though, that what we get here is in effect a reassembly of the cast of Turn Left, only with the addition of Martha. We’ve already seen what happens when the Doctor’s companions have to fight without him, and the answer was concentration camps. Here, however, that transition is directed inwards. In the face of an alien attack and an absent Doctor the companions succumb to moral rot, becoming monstrous in their own right. 

This is, however, an odd moment. Both Martha’s scheme and Sarah Jane and Jack’s are ultimately just versions of the same moral problem faced by the Doctor and Donna in The Fires of Pompeii. It’s a trolley problem - do you destroy X lives to save Y where X < Y. The show has already, this season, issued its moral judgment here, and ruled that yes, you do. And yet here we have a pair of trolley problems where the moral solution is apparently “no you don’t.” That’s maybe all right in the case of the Osterhagen Key, which is after all an outrageously stupid idea, but we’re really meant to decide that blowing up the Crucible is unacceptable in order to stop, and I quote, “THE DESTRUCTION! OF REALITY! ITSELF!”? But even here Davies just about gets away with it on the aesthetic shock of having Sarah Jane be involved with it. (Of course, Sarah Jane favored nuking the Daleks way back in 1975, but the new series Sarah Jane with her own children’s show is not supposed to be quite so bloodthirsty.) 

And beyond that, the point isn’t really an ethical one but an aesthetic one. It’s not that what Martha, Jack, and Sarah do is wrong, but rather that it sets up Davros’s claim that the Doctor fashions people into weapons. In this regard it’s more of a restatement of Midnight - the idea that the Doctor’s power comes from words and his ability to persuade people, and that when this power is subverted trouble follows. But another way to put this is that the Doctor turns people into what he wants them to be. Davros’s statement, after all, is nothing Donna didn’t say several episodes back. “Is that what you did to her,” she asks of Martha. “Turned her into a soldier?” And it’s an accusation the Daleks have been hurling back at the Doctor since Jubilee. And this is the real reason the companions’ schemes fail. Because in the face of the Daleks, the purest implementation of militarism and violence imaginable, the Doctor’s quasi-army truly is powerless, at least inasmuch as they’re presented as the Doctor’s quasi-army.

And it’s important to recognize that this is what’s going on here. What we get is not quite the bland and cliched “the hero and the villain are mirror images of one another” that it appears. Although, of course, it is worth remembering that Davros was always a mirror image of the Doctor - he was the scientific advisor to a military organization, appearing just after the end of the UNIT era. That the Doctor and Davros are paralleled is not a revelation; the revelation is the comparison of their works. Davros makes this explicit: “I made the Daleks, Doctor. You made this.” 

The issue is not that the companions and the Daleks are morally equivalent, but rather a comparison of Davros and the Doctor’s creations. And as it happens, in a world where the Daleks have already conquered everything, the Doctor’s weapons are inadequate. Not just morally, but practically - all of their threats and schemes are trivially deflected by the Daleks. In a story where the Doctor has already lost the companions are not able to stand up to the Daleks. If the question is phrased that way, at least, then Davros wins - the Doctor has made inadequate weapons at the high cost of a depressing montage of dead characters.

But, of course, that’s an awfully big if. And that’s the basic concept underlying the narrative collapse. Yes, it’s true that if Doctor Who attempts to function in a world where the Daleks have already won and all that’s left is the detail of completely annihilating the universe then Doctor Who has very few narrative outs. Certainly the companions aren’t going to cut it. But the narrative collapse works by, in the final stages, switching the narrative logics around. The Master loses because his narrative logic, in which the Doctor is a house elf and everybody is dead, is fundamentally less fun than Doctor Who is. The Dalek Emperor loses because ultimately the Doctor with Rose is a better character than the Doctor as an angsty post-traumatic war hero. 

So when we have a world in which the Daleks have already won and the ultimate in ranting insane villains is warbling on about the Reality Bomb, what narrative logic do we have to replace it? The answer is possibly the most brazenly cheeky that Davies ever attempts: straightforward comedy with Catherine Tate spinning the Daleks in circles. 

And yet this has been carefully set up. The Doctor may be kept powerless in the narrative, but Donna is kept completely outside of it. She never even encounters a Dalek until the denouement, and other than two moments of giving the Doctor inspiration at the Shadow Proclamation and one moment of tripping and falling into his hand she contributes nothing to the plot at all. Donna versus the Daleks is the one configuration the story never tries. 

Instead we get Doctor Blue, who is a terribly effective distraction. Everything in the story looks like he’s going to save the day and like the story’s cheat is the creation of a second Doctor. But instead he goes down at the first hurdle, a total red herring. But he serves to carefully mask the actual resolution - the possibility that Donna is what’s going to save the day. 

Careful attention, however, makes it inevitable that it’s going to be Donna. And not just because of all the foreshadowing that she has some great tragedy yet to befall her and the stressing that she’s the most important thing in the story. No, both of the last two stories stressed the importance of Donna. Midnight was a story that could only happen in the absence of Donna, and Turn Left highlights Donna’s ability to fix a narrative space broken by the lack of the Doctor. It’s a case of hiding in plain sight.

And so of course, in the end, the Daleks are defeated when Donna shows up and does a bit of wacky comedy. Because this is the milieu in which the Daleks are vulnerable. They only work if conceived of as a big, epic threat. This is why the return of Davros is such a carefully worked thing. On the one hand, it is, appropriately, a big returning villain for the finale. This is an integral part of the logic of the finales. And it’s one with just enough mythic weight to feel significant. 

But equally, it’s slightly empty. Nobody is surprised to discover that Davros went down early in the Time War. Davros has a mythic role, but he is, in the end, inessential. The Daleks existed and functioned before him. He’s not so much mythic to Doctor Who as he is mythic to the Daleks. It’s a subtle bit of misdirection, but his role in this story isn’t actually to be mythic, but rather to be the absolute archetype of the mad ranting villain. He may be playing the narrative role of the Big Mythic Villain, but he’s played and written in the same tradition as Soldeed, Professor Zaroff, and Morbius. He’s actually here because he’s an entertaining villain to have gloating over the Doctor - he basically gives the Daleks someone like the Master to do villainous ranting at the Doctor while the Daleks get their standard “be an overwhelming and unstoppable force” duties.

As we’ve noted before, almost all of these attempts to angrily and bitterly deconstruct the underlying moral premises of Doctor Who are hollow, and depend on the Doctor not making very obvious responses. In this case the “you created a race of genocidal mutants who slaughter billions in an indiscriminate campaign of racial purity, whereas I have on occasion not been able to save everybody” argument, which would be a good refutation to most of Davros’s lines. “You seem to be confusing me with my half-human, blue-suited clone” would cover the “I name you forever’ bit as well. 

But in this case that’s the point. The Daleks and their plan is ridiculous. There’s an odd tendency with people responding to this story to consider the TARDIS towing the Earth back home to be terribly silly while not being at all bothered by a weapon called the Reality Bomb that uses “Z-neutrino energy, flattened by the alignment of the planets into a single string” transmitted by a set of twenty-seven planets stolen through space and time so that “people and planets and stars will become dust, and the dust will become atoms, and the atoms will become nothing” resulting in, as previously noted, “the destruction of reality itself.” This is, to say the least, an idiosyncratic aesthetic judgment. To say nothing of some of the Daleks’ previous schemes, like the “drive Earth around like a gigantic space car” plan of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which even gets a shout-out in this story. The Dalek Invasion of Earth is apparently “serious” and “classic,” however, whereas this is “silly” and “rubbish.”

Which gives away the game, really. It’s only because the story opts to give the Daleks the privileged position of being Massive Epic Threats that they have any sort of narrative power at all. Absent that narratological decision they’re just salt shakers with plungers and whisks. And so Donna’s move is, in the end, to reject that aesthetic in favor of an aesthetic of giddy joy, in which K-9 helps tow the Earth back into place. If you would seriously prefer a show in which reality itself is destroyed by genocidal tyrants, you are kindly invited to reexamine your priorities in life. Meanwhile, the rest of the world will be having a grand old time without you.

But it’s equally wrong to suggest that this amounts to a rejection of the epic. The impact of Donna’s salvation of reality only works because of the massively epic buildup. Frivolity on its own is as hollow as the epic. Doctor Who’s alchemy comes from its ability to braid them. Given this, at least some discussion of the larger mythic ramifications of this story is worthwhile. First, it is the story where it becomes clearest that Martha has simply become a problem. She has what is by far the least sympathetic arc of anyone in the story, ending up as the companion who the Doctor doesn’t quite approve of. It’s an odd shift - just a season ago she was the most capable companion ever, and now she’s one that’s held at arm’s length. In practical terms, it seems to be a matter of not quite knowing how to do a companion who departs but remains in the story without becoming a lead character in their own show. In any case, this is the point where Martha firmly becomes the other Tennant companion - the one sandwiched in between Rose and Donna.

Then, of course, there is Rose, whose presence in this story turns out to have been an elaborate feint. She is there simply because her absence would otherwise be tangible and disruptive. If everyone is going to come back, then everybody has to come back. But once Rose gets through her two episodes of not actually coming back there’s no more for her to do in the narrative than there is for the Doctor. All that’s left is successfully getting her back out of the story, which means contriving to shove her in an alternate universe again. The means Davies uses to accomplish this remain contentious, but on the whole it’s the best solution. Doctor/Rose shippers, of which there are no small number, get their desired ending in a way that no longer threatens the ongoing narrative. It loses the scarring tragedy of Doomsday, but equally, frees the Doctor from having to mope about Rose forever and gives Rose a happy ending instead of a tragic one. After two seasons worth of Rose looming inevitably over the series, this is, while not exactly some stunning triumph of the series’ history, at least an adequate solution to the problem.

And there is Donna. That she would be the price paid for the narrative collapse is as inevitable as everything else. There are serious ethical questions involved in her fate, though they’re ones that I know a guest blogger intends to tackle. Although that post’s a ways off, I shan’t touch the topic. Instead I’ll simply note that Donna is flat out one of the great companions in Doctor Who history, and that no other companion could have provided the resolution that she did - not just saving the day, but passionately confirming the fact that joy and fun are crucial values of Doctor Who. 

Finally, it is worth discussing the Daleks. There are odd hints of what is to come here, after all. The Doctor’s throwaway line about someone trying to move the Earth before is intended, as mentioned, as a continuity shout-out to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. But, of course, there’s a second instance of someone trying to move the Earth in The Mysterious Planet, which provides an entire second, implied narrative. Tellingly, this narrative collapse, complete with whole-series reunion, is going to play out again in Tennant’s regeneration story with exactly the swap that line implies (complete with the Master playing a role akin to that of Davros in this story).  It is in hindsight fitting that Dalek Caan looked upon the Daleks just as we (much) later find out that the Doctor looked upon the Time Lords and made the same decree: No More. Where this story, however, is an unabashed triumph of Doctor Who, that story is the flip side - the story in which the hubris that animates the Tennant era is finally explored to its full extent.

But we are ahead of ourselves. This is the triumph. The moment Doctor Who completely and unequivocally wins the culture. Not on a desperate and shocking gambit of success like Rose, but with absolute and cool confidence. Doctor Who waltzes onto the air with the conviction that it is the biggest and best show on television. And everyone agrees. This is not the imperial phase, where the show could do no wrong. It’s something altogether more impressive. Journey’s End set the highest possible bar for itself to clear, and then calmly soared over it. 

The end point of any narrative collapse is to demonstrate that the series cannot collapse - that it can, in fact, run forever. In a purely practical regard, at least, Journey’s End is the ultimate in narrative collapse stories. It is the one that establishes that Doctor Who is not merely a hit series, but something that is outright beloved by the general public. It establishes that Doctor Who is a fundamental part of the British cultural landscape and collective psyche. To remove it from Britain’s psychochronography is as absurd as removing the Chilterns from its physical geography. Entirely on its own terms and within its own mythology, it deonates its narrative, brings it back, and asks the audience to judge whether its comeback is worthy.


The verdict was unequivocal. 

Comments

Galadriel 3 years, 10 months ago

Are we going to have any Sarah Jane Adventures reviews? Particularly Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, as Tennant appears in the second half.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 3 years, 10 months ago

If you would seriously prefer a show in which reality itself is destroyed by genocidal tyrants, you are kindly invited to reexamine your priorities in life. Meanwhile, the rest of the world will be having a grand old time without you.

This is awesome. And should also apply to the many Moffat bashers out there who are convinced that the series should end because the Doctor is running out of lives...

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

I did Season One. And I've already written the first two of Season Two, so odds are quite good. :)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

Since Phil has covered SJA and Torchwood up til now, I suspect we're in for a few more to fill the "2009 period" :)

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Seeing_I 3 years, 10 months ago

I know some people like this, who've decided that the new series as a whole is inadmissible into the canon of Who and that on the whole we'd be better off if it had never been made. They even go so far as to say that people who come to appreciate the original stories from the perspective of the newer ones have it all wrong, that their pleasure in them is somehow illegitimate, and the original series was better off as an obscure, but inviolable, time capsule for those who "really" get it. This perspective fills me with such sadness. Sure, there's a lot about the new series that has frustrated, annoyed, and turned me off, but the pleasures its offered are so much greater in sum, not just for me but for so many people around the world, that such an attitude just strikes me as crabbed and miserly and, well, sad.

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Seeker722 3 years, 10 months ago

As with all Davies' finales with the exception of Doomsday I hated it. Set up a no-win situation and then cheat by having someone push a big red button or have everyone in the universe call the same phone number at once or whatever the idiotic ending of Series 3 with Martha was.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 10 months ago

I thought RTD's writing and Julian Bleach's performance made this the best Davros since the original, and even in some ways surpassing the original. He hit all the notes - chilly, philosophical, pedantic ("Electricity, Miss Tyler...") and then full-on ranting. He even got his own moment of nostalgia when confronted with Sarah Jane Smith. Plus, I *adored* that his plan, though never stated as such, amounts to reducing the whole of creation into one big ball of static electricity.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 10 months ago

I found this essay on the Pop Matters site and thought it worth mentioning.

http://www.popmatters.com/column/176919-how-the-time-lords-invented-tv-fifty-years-of-doctor-who/

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Josiah Rowe 3 years, 10 months ago

This is probably beyond your control, but this triumphant essay was marred with a sour note by the "Stand With Phil Robertson" ad which Blogger saw fit to put below the comments.

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

My initial reaction to this story was to wonder what strange and wonderful thing could be causing the stars to go out. And then we find out that oh, it's that lot again. It's yer basic issue big boring dalek army with yer basic issue big boring insane universe-conquering plan. And as far as I'm concerned the story gets worse from there. No, I don't like the planet-tugging bit either. (Before you ask, yes - I think The Big Bang pulls it off.)

Reason for not liking the planet-tugging bit: it is basically unnecessary - a pseudo-solution to a pseudo-problem. But also, big boring universe-conquering machines fit in with lots of daleks and a mad scientist. They're within the narrative rules. Dragging planets around space does not fit in with the TARDIS. The TARDIS' narrative rules and function don't include dragging planets around. (Ideally, the TARDIS' narrative rules and function don't include solving any plot problems; the TARDIS fundamental function is to introduce the Doctor and companions to the plot, not to resolve the plot.)
And I didn't like the TARDIS needs six people - it's far too blatantly introduced out of nowhere as an objective correlative for the Doctor having a group of friends with him. You'd think that the dialogue had spelled that out, but apparently Davies doesn't think the dialogue and acting alone will sell it.

I can see the idea that it would be fun to collapse the big serious epic into comedy with Donna playing dodgem daleks. But, that depends on finding the epic serious in the first place. The problem with the epic mode is that it doesn't acknowledge that daleks are a bit ridiculous to begin with. The best thing in this story so far has been Davros who is a bit camp and tongue in cheek. So Donna playing dodgems doesn't manage a fundamental shift of mood for me - it's just played in the same way as the rest. Besides - it's not Donna. Doctor Donna works in the narrative in a completely different way. I'm a half-human half-time lord from Chiswick, is not the same as I'm a temp from Chiswick. It would be a wonderful conceit in its own right if it were allowed to run. It's not allowed to run.

And finally, the bees. The disappearance of bees is a genuine real-world environmental problem. To give it a soft sf aliens-running-away from daleks explanation effaces the material reality of anthropogenic environmental degradation.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

Not beyond my control, no - I can nuke specific ads I find objectionable if I know about them. But I just looked through most of the ads that display on my site, and couldn't find the one you're talking about. Which probably means only a tiny handful of people are seeing it - the ads are customized to what Google thinks your interests are, so while it's clearly very wrong about you, it also is probably just you. (None of the ads which display for me show up in the review center either. I'm apparently a very idiosyncratic reader of my own blog.)

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

To try and be clearer about why Donna playing dodgems with daleks doesn't work for me:
Daleks work best when their mode is, they may be ridiculous but they'll still kill you. (All good Doctor Who monsters work best in that mode.) A dalek croaking 'I am your servant' is more menacing than a giant fleet of daleks. So that making daleks into objects of comedy isn't attacking their weakness - it's playing into their strength. It's the narrative equivalent of running away from the stairs.

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Luca ZM 3 years, 10 months ago

I like how this story brings closure to Harriet Jones. She still stands up to her decision in The Christmas Invasion and has a plan ready for when the doctor fails. Ultimately, of course, she fails too, but at least she ends up as this finale's "Lynda with an Y" sympathetic sacrificial lamb character. She finally gets some redemption and becomes the woman that would lead (or would have led) Britain into the Golden Age again.

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Flu-baby 3 years, 10 months ago

When will the Donna post go up? The fate of Donna hit me harder than the Doctor losing Rose, and the culmination of her story is what I like best about these admittedly bonkers final episodes of series 4

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Nyq Only 3 years, 10 months ago

I thought the TARDIS needing 6 pilots was clever - because once introduced it makes sense both in terms of the TARDIS console design and in terms of the Doctor's infamously rubbish ability at handling the TARDIS...and it has neat symmetry with Donna's fate. One person can't handle that much.

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Assad K 3 years, 10 months ago

I, personally, was a tad peeved at the Doctors dismissal of UNIT, suggesting that Martha was too good for it, whereas UNIT was wise enough to entrust the Osterhagen Key to Martha rather than, say, General Sanchez beaming out with it himself. It's especially peeving seeing that we see that Martha becomes some sort of alien hunter with a BFG, which is supposed to be.. a step up? (I know some here have a loathing for UNIT in general.. I myself am not amongst them). Given that the Doctor BLEW UP HIS ENTIRE SPECIES (as far as we knew at the time) to defeat the Daleks - only they weren't defeated, were they? - it seems rather hypocritical for him to be shocked, shocked at the Osterhagen Key and use it as proof that UNIT is too shady for his liking.

I also found Donnas fate disturbing, because it seems far too likely that she would end up institutionalized or in therapy for being - again - the only person in the world who was unaware of the Earth being invaded, pulled through space etc.

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Jesse 3 years, 10 months ago

A three-show crossover with five companions listed in the opening credits that also features Luke, K-9, Mr. Smith, Gwen, Ianto, Jackie, Mickey, Wilf, Sylvia, Francine, as well as loads of Daleks and Davros.

It's like The Five Doctors with a budget. That is not a compliment.

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macrogers 3 years, 10 months ago

Phil's post almost completely preemptively annihilated the huge grumpy comment I've been planning to put in this entry for ages about Davros's whole "fashion your friends into weapons" bit. Phil covered virtually every aspect about what bothers me about that scene, particularly the lack of the Doctor's obvious available responses about why this is a preposterous equivalence.

All I'll add is that part of my annoyance with this speech - which I also feel toward River Song's climactic speech from "A Good Man Goes To War" - is that it feels to me like Davies and Moffat want to get in on a little of that ol' critically-callaimed award-winning anti-hero action. They want to give the Doctor an artificial booster-shot of entirely unnecessary "deepness" by suggesting that he does as much damage as good. Meanwhile, in between Journey's and Waters of Mars and Good Man, the show does no work at all to dramatize this idea. And of course it doesn't, because no one actually believes it. The people who run Doctor Who believe (quite correctly, in my view) that whatever his flaws, the Doctor does staggeringly more good than harm, that he's essentially a hero, and that his companions by and large count themselves fortunate to have known and traveled with him. It's almost like Davies and Moffat looked at all the essays being written about Mad Men and Breaking Bad and were like "Oh, we totally wanna be thought of like those guys," as if they aren't already the creative equals (again, in my view) of any of today's most celebrated show-runners. My problem with these scenes is that for their duration, before the show gets back to proper business as usual, we're supposed to take seriously this idea that the Doctor is a sort of anti-hero. (Tennant and Smith's reactions to Davros and River's speeches suggest that they're being cut to the quick.) I was very grateful for Gareth Roberts's gentle refutation - through the mild-mannered mouth of Craig - of this notion in "Closing Time."

What also kinda bugs me about this is that, having said all that, there *is* a genuine argument to be made against the Doctor's heroism, which is that he never sticks around to pick up the pieces. He shows up, solves an immediate problem, but generally leaves behind situations that strike me as anything but stable, passing off to others the much-less-celebrated role of being the slow rebuilders. And this argument *was* made on the show, by Harriet Jones, but in that scene, there's no David Tennant anguished-introspective reaction shot. That actually-valid criticism is not taken seriously.

Look, I like Stolen Earth a LOT and Journey's End decently, and I love Phil's analysis here, but that Davros lecture scene makes me NUTS.

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Assad K 3 years, 10 months ago

True... and the way the scene is edited, and Tennants reaction shots, certainly makes it seem as if we are supposed to feel there is some weight to Davros' statements. Except, of course, that it's.. Davros. But didn't we face the same thing back in Boomtown, where Blom has murdered innumerable people in her path but we are supposed to somehow feel that 'Hmmmm... she could have a point there!' when she's calling out the Doctor.

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Kit 3 years, 10 months ago

Doctor Who may have exited its imperial phase after Doomsday

May be premature to call this - given how the show subsequently became so much massively huger worldwide, the entire RTD era might end up being the Bobby "O" version of West End Girls, and the Moffat/Smith period the Imperial Phase...

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

I remain a bit unjazzed by this Davros mainly because (a) it's one thing to discuss annihilating all life in the universe in a hypothetical argument to illustrate how bonkers you are, and another to actually attempt to destroy all of reality on the shaky assumption that such a scheme is somehow interesting to watch, and (b) his ranting seems largely directed at illuminating supposed character flaws of the Doctor, rather than actually being a character himself as he was originally. But he has his moments.

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Assad K 3 years, 10 months ago

Where there should be a picture of Jon Pertwee is a picture of.. Salamander! Madness! Criminalities! Calumny!
(neat article, though)

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 10 months ago

Dare you touch K-9?

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 10 months ago

While we may disagree with Harriet Jones' decision in The Christmas Invasion (and I do) I think we understand it. And this episode separates her decision from the Doctor's reaction -- and finds it wanting. Her decision was wrong... and so was his. He should not have so casually demolished her, the tenth Doctor truly needs "Someone to Stop Him" sometimes or he becomes someone who feels he has the right to pass absolute judgement on others.

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

It annoys me as well. That said, it just about works if Davros' argument isn't "you're as bad as I am" but "you have more illusions about yourself than I do". Bleach's performance just about carries that off, since he's about the only person on screen who isn't shouting all their dialogue.

(For a similar reason, I think Matt Smith, in Death of the Doctor, delivers Davies' dialogue better than Tennant does, just because Smith goes quiet on the emotional bits, reducing the bombast factor.)

River in A Good Man Goes to War isn't criticising the Doctor as such - but a particular reading of the character.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 10 months ago

I think it speaks to a fundamental point of the Doctor. He does not think of himself as a good man. e.g.: "Good men don't need rules and I have so very many rules."
He is a good man, but he's not as good as the usually-uncritical adoration of his companions paints him. The fact he doubts himself is part of why he's such a good man because if he didn't have that doubt he'd be the Victorious instead of the Doctor.

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Josiah Rowe 3 years, 10 months ago

If it makes a difference, the ad showed up when reading the blog on my iPhone (so in the mobile view version).

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

If the Doctor's a bit rubbish at handling the TARDIS because he's not quite as good at it as he thinks or says, or because he refuses to use the blue boring-ers, then that's a mild character flaw or quirk. It's one of his character traits.
If he's a bit rubbish at handling the TARDIS because it's not really possible, and only somebody as superhuman as he is could do it even as well as he does, then that's a different. One of them makes the Doctor a more comic figure; the other makes him more epic. It's the madman with a box vs the lonely god. I strongly prefer the madman with a box.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

here’s an odd tendency with people responding to this story to consider the TARDIS towing the Earth back home to be terribly silly while not being at all bothered by

I don't think it's odd. The "other things" we're not bothered by are fantastic tools of the enemies, with who knows what powers. The TARDIS, by contrast, is our old familiar TARDIS; for it to be capable of towing a planet is a gross over-ramping-up of its powers.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 10 months ago

agreed, but by this point i had pretty much figured out that davies was interested in characters, not plot, and was trying to enjoy the ride before someone hits the big red reset button. this one, however, was an extra cheat, and it really annoyed the hell out of me.

But it wasn't the most annoying thing about the production. No, it was the Doctor staying silent and not answering all the things that Davros hurls at him. For a writer concerned with characters, that was the biggest cheat: not having your protagonist come up with the obvious answers. It took me right out of the narrative in a negative way.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

Dare you touch K-9?

I predict a post for the series, but not for each episode.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

have everyone in the universe call the same phone number at once or whatever the idiotic ending of Series 3 with Martha was.

I still think they should have been singing "Doctor in Distress."

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

Well said sir!
There should never be a right way to appreciate any art. However, if I might play Davros's advocate here I'd argue that a negative reaction, if eloquently stated, can be an equally valid and illuminating perspective. Or to put it another way - everyone's entitled to an opinion. It would be a shame though if Doctor Who fandom fractured so much that, as has happened before, it became unable to defend the continuation of its existence as a TV series.
More worryingly, and puzzlingly given the stats Phil quotes in this very post, I still find myself defending the show against statements, often from people who never watch it or may have caught the odd episode, that it's just a kids' show and adults who watch it are sad old men with no social life. Now, while I am by most standards quite old and sometimes sad I love the fact that I am no longer typical. The demographic of the Doctor (great story title there Moffat) is incredibly broad these days and this is entirely due to the revived series' canny way of having its cake and bloody well eating it. Long may it continue.

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

Bwahaha! Just spat my coffee across the room.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

He does not think of himself as a good man

Well, he does and he doesn't:

-- Because you are the good man, as you call yourself?
-- I call myself the Doctor.
-- It's the same thing in your mind.
-- I'd like to think so.

The last line is delightfully ambiguous between "Yes, I'm inclined to think so" and "I wish it were so but fear it may not be."

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 10 months ago

but if you want cultural cachet, how about this: Davies had powered past both his and the public's initial doubts and, to his credit, completely, by this episode, removed the cultural memory of Doctor Who as the show with the bubble wrap and wobbly sets and replaced it with the "this show can do anything" mentality. and it has stuck. Davies' biggest acheivement: retroactively making everyone forget all the negatives from the original series, and accentuate only the positives. Him and his budget and his excellent and easy on the eyes leading man and a host of good people around him. finally this series, across the Radio Times landscape, was tennant and piper and donna and children in need and tardis and not bubblewrap and scarves.

That being said. the bombast level was turned up, alright, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing when i comes to it. Davies took Tennant's Doctor on a long strange journey, and the lonely god figure, the one that could stand up to this much bombast in the actual program, had to be built up to. Unfortunately, that Doctor isn't one that many of us want to watch. I wanted him brought back down from the epic to the smaller, better written stories, since Davies always bit off more than he could chew with his finales after Doomsday.

Admittedly, i did get a chill when Davros recognized Sarah Jane, just as she did him. Thank god for lis sladen, who acted that part across a 40 years gap and made every second of sarah jane's life credible and wonderful. It gave me chills to remember Genesis in that moment. That is, of course, Davies at his best.

It just drove me nuts that the plots couldn't be resolved in a better fashion. it continued, one finale after another, that they couldn't be resolved with better writing. They make that final episode of Pyramids of Mars look less like a filler, and better thought out. At least i can watch this one wtih only a little cringing. I can't even watch the Doctor as Dobby. Seriously, can't.

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Nick Smale 3 years, 10 months ago

Still, at least we know how the Time Lords shifted the Earth prior to "Mysterious Planet" now...

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

Probably, yes - it means it's sitting in the mass of ads that are served to one or two people and that make up <1% of my ad impressions, which I got bored of looking through after the first thirty pages. (Mobile Safari makes up 2% of my daily page views, so an ad that showed up there would be fairly minute.)

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

The "it was designed for six people" was a design decision taken when crafting the console room at the start of 2005, with the designer's logic being that this was why it had six sides. This is the first time it's been explicitly acknowledged, but it's been present for ages. I'm ambivalent on it, but did rather appreciate the basic practice of letting ideas from set designers influence the script.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

Well into the Smith era, I'm afraid - it's not a Donna post as such.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

"Phil's post almost completely preemptively annihilated the huge grumpy comment I've been planning to put in this entry for ages about Davros's whole "fashion your friends into weapons" bit."

I admit that I wrote that portion to see if I could pre-empt your objections and turn you around for good measure. :)

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

I like to think it was less the TARDIS towing Earth back home than K-9 doing it.

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

I think the various speeches work not so much to draw moral equivalency, but to remind that the Doctor's credentials are not impeccable. His reactions only make sense in this context -- that he has done some pretty horrible things in his life, he's experienced trauma, he has self doubt.

Margaret may think she's painting a picture that the Doctor is no better than she is, but the Doctor knows better -- and also knows that her real point is that he does have blood on his hands; the Doctor is horrified to see how much his Companions are resorting to violence; that he's in danger of being known as a Warrior rather a Healer.

The responses, as Phil points out, are there for the taking, but for a man who's too well aware of the real truth underneath the accusations -- that he too betrays his own principles -- to bring up those legitimate defenses could too easily allow him to ignore the truth that lies underneath the attacks. He can't defend himself, because to do so would be to defend himself against his own unspoken self-critique.

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

The TARDIS' narrative rules and function don't include dragging planets around. (Ideally, the TARDIS' narrative rules and function don't include solving any plot problems; the TARDIS fundamental function is to introduce the Doctor and companions to the plot, not to resolve the plot.)'

Ideally? Maybe your ideal but not mine. I love it when the TARDIS becomes integral to the narrative and more of its mysteries are revealed. It is a grand tradition from Edge of Destruction, The Mind Robber and Logopolis right up to The Big Bang, The Doctor's Wife, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and The Name of the Doctor. I loved the scene in The Day of the Doctor where all thirteen Doctors are whizzing their respective TARDISes round the planet Gallifrey doing Lord-knows-what to send it into a pocket dimension.

Actually the Doctor might as well have used the sonic or Captain Jack's vortex manipulator or K9 or even Sarah Jane's sonic lipstick to return the Earth to it's rightful place in the universe it doesn't matter but that shot of the TARDIS towing the Earth was magnificently cosmic in a giddy kind of Jack Kirby way. If your objection to it is that it is scientifically impossible then you haven't grasped that Doctor Who works best when it forsakes hard science for visual metaphor and poetry.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 10 months ago

Dare you touch K-9?

Honestly, my immediate thought was "Didn't he do that back in the eighties, when it happened?"

It wasn't until I read BeserkRL's reply that I thought "Oh yeah. That."

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Triturus 3 years, 10 months ago

heroesandrivals
The fact he doubts himself is part of why he's such a good man because if he didn't have that doubt he'd be the Victorious instead of the Doctor.

Very much agreed. I like the fact that the Doctor is just flawed enough to make him properly interesting. Too few flaws and he becomes Superman or Mighty Mouse, who are both dull. Too many flaws and he becomes someone like Batman, who is both unpleasant and dull.

But as noted, the Doctor can't point that out to Davros, so he just has to take one for the team.

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

I love all of the above stories (that I've seen). It seems to me they're all exploring the TARDIS. They're not using the TARDIS to solve a problem that has nothing to do with the TARDIS. About none of them except at a stretch The Big Bang, could you say that they might as well have used the sonic lipstick.

Subjectively speaking I felt the TARDIS towing the earth is trying too hard to be awesome to be actually awesome.
And no, my objection is not that it's scientifically impossible. (Although scientific possibility isn't irrelevant: it wouldn't be magnificently cosmic if it were scientifically possible, would it?) There's still something about violation of intuitions about established narrative power grade: an sf or fantasy artifact ought not to resolve problems that are intuitively of a level of difficulty greater than any it has been seen not to resolve.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 10 months ago

The reason that doesn't happen is because it would involve the people of Earth aknowledging an invasion after the event without a main character having to remind them.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

Well, he does and he doesn't:

It may be that this is a deliberate reflection of a change in the Doctor's character: the eight Doctor "likes to think" he is "the good man", the War-Doctor rejects this notion of himself, and by the Elevenlthteenth Doctor, he acknowledges that he presents himself as "the good man" but thanks to the events of the war, he now knows better -- and resultantly, he's the Doctor who doesn't really know what he is any more.

(On the other hand, maybe Moffat just doesn't care about the implications of the bit from AGMGTW. Which isn't very charitable to Moffat, but after DotD, I'm not inclined to be.)

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Ulysses Gamma-Hose 3 years, 10 months ago

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End is the final piece of the puzzle, for me atleast; RTD is writing Doctor Who as a 60's Marvel comic. Ridiculously huge weapons; making no attempt at real science but using it as an excuse for the fantastic; the Doctor himself, a superhero with super problems. This is a Doctor who is as hung up on his relationships as he is on fighting evil. The many instances of Tennant posing heroically and delivering dramatic speeches, and even his long cape-coat and superhero-blue suit point to this. Tennant himself loves superheroes, loved the comic strip version of his Doctor in Doctor Who magazine and mentioned that he'd like to be in The Avengers back in late 2009.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

Just sayin', the ability to move an entire planet through space is reserved to the greatest of the greats: the Daleks, the Time Lords... The Cybermen and the Zanakians.

(Given that they namecheck Callufrax in this episode, it'd be a bit remiss to forget.)

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Sean Case 3 years, 10 months ago

Surprising that his batteries didn't run down halfway there.

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Ulysses Gamma-Hose 3 years, 10 months ago

PS, by ridiculously huge weapons, I mean that in terms of scope - the reality bomb is pure Jack Kirby, like the Ultimate Nullifier .You can imagine Doctor Doom desperate to get his hands on it.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

Bleach is superb. My only quibble is that he's too mobile. He should be stiller, more restrained, creepy.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

The TARDIS' narrative rules and function don't include dragging planets around. (Ideally, the TARDIS' narrative rules and function don't include solving any plot problems; the TARDIS fundamental function is to introduce the Doctor and companions to the plot, not to resolve the plot.)

It's not that far afield from Creature From the Pit in kind -- the TARDIS towed a Neutron Star then.

And I didn't like the TARDIS needs six people - it's far too blatantly introduced out of nowhere as an objective correlative for the Doctor having a group of friends with him. You'd think that the dialogue had spelled that out, but apparently Davies doesn't think the dialogue and acting alone will sell it.

I thought 'TARDISes were designed to be operated by 6 people' was one of those Unsupported Fan Theories So Universally Accepted That Fans Would Insist it Violated Canon if They Ever Contradicted It.' (Where things like "There's a never-seen anteroom between the interior doors and the exterior doors" falls). I'm sure I've seen it in at least a dozen (Dis-)continuity/timeline/shameless-fan-theory-canonization-attempt licensed publications.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

"The "it was designed for six people" was a design decision taken when crafting the console room at the start of 2005, with the designer's logic being that this was why it had six sides. This is the first time it's been explicitly acknowledged, but it's been present for ages. I'm ambivalent on it, but did rather appreciate the basic practice of letting ideas from set designers influence the script."

It also helps explain the amount of times the Doctor asks his companions to help by hitting a switch on the other side of the console. (One scene which springs to mind is Sylv pressing an out-of-reach switch using his brolly, which is fun.) I love the line and it makes perfect sense to me.

"Ideally? Maybe your ideal but not mine. I love it when the TARDIS becomes integral to the narrative and more of its mysteries are revealed. It is a grand tradition from Edge of Destruction, The Mind Robber and Logopolis right up to The Big Bang, The Doctor's Wife, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and The Name of the Doctor. I loved the scene in The Day of the Doctor where all thirteen Doctors are whizzing their respective TARDISes round the planet Gallifrey doing Lord-knows-what to send it into a pocket dimension.

Actually the Doctor might as well have used the sonic or Captain Jack's vortex manipulator or K9 or even Sarah Jane's sonic lipstick to return the Earth to it's rightful place in the universe it doesn't matter but that shot of the TARDIS towing the Earth was magnificently cosmic in a giddy kind of Jack Kirby way. If your objection to it is that it is scientifically impossible then you haven't grasped that Doctor Who works best when it forsakes hard science for visual metaphor and poetry."


Fully agreed!

In fact, the biggest issue I have (and even then it's hardly an issue - I just gloss over it) is the fact the moon casually isn't affected and just appears back by the Earth :p

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

Plus, we can now retcon things using the cracks. Maybe they went and undid things. (For example, Donna doesn't remember the invasion... well, neither does Miss Pond.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

What's a shame is that, really, this is the RTD Era Celebration... but too early. Thus, when the Farewell Tour comes around on January 1st 2010, it's a re-tread and a bit irritating. In some ways, I wish RTD had gone for a Davros-focused Series 4 story with Donna only... and done a "Journey's End" for Tennant's actually finale, with every character plus the kitchen sink.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

In The War Games, Time Lords can make impenetrable barriers using just their minds. They also appear to slow down time as the Doctor and co. peg it for the TARDIS. And they're pretty damn powerful. So, from that perspective, I think the TARDIS being able to 'tow' a planet makes sense. Who knows what dodgy goings on the Time Lords got up to with their TARDISes?!

"Non-intervention" my arse.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

I loved the fact that Davros's plan is, essentially, his response to the challenge the Doctor made in Genesis of the Daleks: If you had the power to destroy every living thing in the universe, would you use it?

It was especially fun because I watched the show with my wife and mother-in-law, two new-series-only fans who are usually pretty happy to dive into narrative logic and not care about things making a lick of sense, and they both objected that Destroying The Whole of Reality was kinda a dumb thing to do, and i could turn around and say "Actually, it's literally the exact thing Davros said he would do if he ever got the chance". Like the bit where I got to tell the New-series fan at the office that, in fact, it actually did fit with continuity that the UN had veto power over nuclear launches back in World War III, but much better.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 10 months ago

@sean
They were harnessing the rift, which is what he uses to recharge his batteries. (Admittedly they weren't harnessing it for power but as a tether, but that's close enough for me to handwave it.)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

even his long cape-coat

Pedantic quibble: hardly any Marvel heroes wear capes; I think Lee & Kirby thought of them (and of DC, who have more caped heroes) as old-fashioned. (I suspect that's why Thor and Dr. Strange are exceptions -- they're both rooted in ancient magic, whereas most Marvel heroes are rooted in modern tech).
In Marvel it's usually the villains who wear capes: Magneto, Dr. Doom, Mandarin, Hobgoblin, the Hood, Taskmaster, Mysterio, Mr. Sinister ....

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

Granted, Gambit has a Doctory cape-coat.

Even DC retreated from capes a little during the 60s; even though capes are still definitive for most of the Bat-family, Super-family, and Shazam-family, otherwise compare the cape-thin Justice League with the cape-heavy Justice Society.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

Alas, Jack Kirby's ultra-weapons look amazing more often than their Doctor Who equivalents do: http://praxeology.net/jack-kirby-if-we-must-die.PNG

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

Whilst I like that this draws on 'Genesis', I think it would've actually been interesting for Dav's answer to be "no". No. Because why destroy the universe in such a simple way when I can build my Dalek army and have people suffer and suffer for years to come?

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

Destroying The Whole of Reality was kinda a dumb thing to do, and i could turn around and say "Actually, it's literally the exact thing Davros said he would do if he ever got the chance"

Both answers can be true. It's what he said he would do, so it's technically true to the character, AND it's a dumb idea to take it literally and make it a story because it's way too outlandish to seem like a meaningful, intelligible threat. In my opinion. :)

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

I think this sums up the central crux of the problem here; granted, RTD's importance to "Doctor Who" cannot by this point really be overstated, but at the same time there's really only so many times a man can basically say goodbye to himself before it starts to get a bit frustratingly self-indulgent.

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

Surely for a race that can create supernovas, turn them into black holes and use them to fuel time travel, moving a planet about the place is easy?

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

"Pedantic quibble: hardly any Marvel heroes wear capes"

This is true, but I think the idea of a cape being a central part of a superhero costume in general is so cemented in our collective cultural consciousness that the signifier works almost despite the reality rather than because of it.

(Plus, wasn't the long coat Tennant's idea to begin with? The idea that Davies is repositioning "Doctor Who" as a 1960s Marvel Comic thus works even better if so, since the 'cape' is technically an outside addition.)

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John Galbraith 6 months ago

No Darlink !!! NO CAPES!!!

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Daru 3 years, 10 months ago

"Frivolity on its own is as hollow as the epic. Doctor Who’s alchemy comes from its ability to braid them."

Yes to this Phil. And yes again!

I have to be honest, I experienced complete joy when I watched this for the first time. I particularly loved that it was completely non-cynical. That was important for me as a viewer, as in my teens when watching the 6th and 7th Doctors my cynical head became a force to be reckoned with and I abandoned any joy in watching my once-favourite show as it (without my permission!) abandoned configuring itself to the structure I thought it should follow.

For me this season finale was the culmination of the show's ability to reach into me (and back in time) to reawaken my glorious teenage joy, sheer glee, all combined well with a good dash of adult emotion. It makes perfect sense to me that at the point when Donna fully steps into the narrative as DoctorDonna that she has full power over the Daleks. She has never seen them before, and in many ways removed from any context they could be seen as odd or ridiculous, so then of course she can do what she wants with them and turn them into playthings.

Phil's comment above is why I love the planet towing!


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elvwood 3 years, 10 months ago

In one sense it's not too early - well, only by a few months - and the Five Doctors vibe is appropriate: it's the closest we get to a 45th Anniversary story. I hated it when I first saw it because it wasn't what I expected and all I could see was the bombast, illogicality and dei ex machina, but my son loved it so I got to watch it several more times. By about the third viewing I'd tuned my mind right and could enjoy it as pure celebration of the show.

(Although closer in time the Christmas special doesn't count as the surrogate 45th because, well, it's focused on Christmas instead.)

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elvwood 3 years, 10 months ago

Regarding the towing scene, I hated it for the same reason as Anton and David (I've not seen The Creature from the Pit yet) - but I eventually kinda-sorta forgave it because I love the fully-crewed TARDIS bits that went along with it.

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

Dare you touch K-9?

For some reason I'm seeing the scene of Billie Piper touching the damaged Dalek in, um, "Dalek," but with K-9 instead of the Dalek. "The. Touch. Of. A. Time. Traveler. Has. Restored. Me. Affirmative. Affirmative! AFFIRMATIVE!"

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

@elvwood
I think you need to read my reply again. I certainly don't hate the scene I love it.

@David Anderson
There's still something about violation of intuitions about established narrative power grade: an sf or fantasy artifact ought not to resolve problems that are intuitively of a level of difficulty greater than any it has been seen not to resolve.'

I see now, you're confusing narrative logic with role play gaming rules. While that can be a rewarding path it also negates any surreal post-modern or magic realist reading.

BTW despite all that I do often get really pissed off with shots of the TARDIS physically flying through space. It doesn't need to does it? It dematerialises then materialises. On the other hand I love the way it lampshades the inherent unspaceworthyness of the police box shape. ie. no need for aerodynamic lines in airless space.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 10 months ago

I thought this was the best line of the essay as well. I'm increasingly sick of people who just won't see that the first seventy-five minutes of the two-parter were handed down on stone tablets from the Gods of Family Television and Davies simply had to act!
Mind you, as a dismissive cheap shot fired at people committing the high crime of processing dramatic resolutions differently, I suppose it sums up the RTD approach about as well as anything could.

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

It's the difference between 'Oh look I've never seen that before. Cool!' and 'I've never seen that before therefore it is wrong and impossible and won't fit on my narrow shelf of canonicity'. Doctor Who IMHO has always been signified by the apocryphal exchange -

Chesterton: But...that's impossible Doctor!

Doctor: Impossible? Maybe to your limited mind schoolteacher!

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

I've not seen Creature from the Pit either.
I realise this is an eccentric, if not perverse, opinion but sometimes it seems to me that the plotting in the classic series is not 100% immaculate. A precedent is not the same as a justification.

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

I may have spent too much time on role-playing games I suppose. Even so, magic realism works for Saramago and Borges and Marquez; in less capable hands, it runs risks. Drama runs on characters making meaningful choices; choosing one way means losing whatever benefits they could choose from the other way. So that drama requires characters who have finite capacities within a reasonably stable world. (Not so stable that decision making is reduced to cost-benefit calculations; we're not talking economics.) By making the world and the consequences of decisions unpredictable, magic realism removes drama. 100 Years of Solitude gets round that by being about the decline of a family who are largely passive in the face of history - the inability of many family members to make meaningful choices is part of the theme. By contrast, I think Borges and Saramago stand in the Swift-Carroll satirical tradition, in which a logic loses touch with the ground and achieves a mad apotheosis. (Lewis Carroll's nonsense is the polar opposite of surrealism - surrealism seeks to abolish logic, while Carroll has the logic of Victorian child-rearing cut free from any mitigating common sense.) What can't work is a lead character in a character drama able to create magical realist effects at will. I won't say that some interest can't be found in such a situation - the style - but it lacks a lot of interests found in other story telling.
At the very least, a compelling screen image that sacrifices drama must be worse than a compelling screen image along with drama.

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Jack Graham 3 years, 10 months ago

Couldn't the Doctor have been saved from having to mope about Rose forever by, y'know, just growing the fuck up?

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chris the cynic 3 years, 10 months ago

Because of what is available where I live and in my price range this is the last episode I ever saw except for someone having me over their house to watch Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Donna's ending was brutal.

After admitting that she knows not having the Doctor do to her what he does to her means death she begs not to have it done anyway and instead spend the rest of her (short) life in the TARDIS. Seven "no"s, two "don't"s and several "please"s to amplify the "no"s and "don't"s. Then he does it anyway.

The Doctor would never make it as a medical doctor, when someone doesn't consent to a life saving procedure YOU DON'T DO IT. Consent is everything. They teach you that in basic first aid. (It gets more complicated when the person is unconscious or otherwise unable to consent, but Donna wasn't.)

Ending on that note kind of ruined any chance I had of appreciating what came before in the episode.

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elvwood 3 years, 10 months ago

Anton B: "I think you need to read my reply again. I certainly don't hate the scene I love it."

Oops, sorry, missed that you were quoting there!

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macrogers 3 years, 10 months ago

Phil, ha! Well, you mostly pulled it off. My comment's a third as long as it would've been! I should also note that you're quite right to put a lot of emphasis on the Donna-driven spine of the story, and that it's important that any Rose- or Davros-related controversies should not eclipse that best and most interesting of aspects here.

Heroesandrivals, that's a great point. And it's hard to unpack how much the show wants us as viewers to think Davros has a point, or if it's just that the Doctor thinks he does.

Again, I just love the retort in "Closing Time." Re-watching that scene last night, I loved how while Craig is telling the Doctor to stop being so hard on himself, he's simultaneously nodding off with his baby on his chest. You can almost hear Gareth Roberts saying, "Oh, enough with all the drama, everyone. Try a nap, you'll feel better."

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 10 months ago

We thought that was a retcon but after all of the time-shenanigans with Amy, constantly skipping forwards 2, 3 5 years between episodes, didn't we finally conclude that at the point in time where the Doctor asked her about the Daleks the invasion hadn't happened yet? (And Rory having an obselete phone in The Eleventh Hour was actually a plot point, the episode wasn't in the present, it was a few years ago?)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

...not that I'm aware of? I'm not sure to be honest, but I always assumed (and still do) that the cracks were a Retcon Things If Needed device (see also: Cyberking etc).

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

Third time lucky to get a response to your comment, chris. Deleted my previous two upon reflection but found a stance I'll stick to:

Pondered this with some other fans and their responses make the most sense, to me anyway...

"An essential part of consent is being of sound mind, which Donna was not, her brain was exploding with incompatible Gallifreyan DNA, so I think most doctors would say she couldn't make that decision herself. "

+

"Indeed. She was, by any definition, Not In Her Right Mind.

And the Doctor saving the lives of people who would otherwise die - no matter their opinions on the matter - is not a new thing."

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

The Doctor-Donna metacrisis, as the Doctor says, was never meant to happen. As such, Donna isn't in her "right mind" - she isn't even Donna. She's the Doctor-Donna, so the Doctor only goes against the Doctor-Donna's wishes to revert her back to Donna, the woman she originally was.

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Tallifer 3 years, 10 months ago

That the Tardis requires six pilots reminds me of the crew of the early Gallifreyan Time Scaphe in the New Adventure novel "Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible."

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

...Not to mention Ten decided Ursula would be better off living as a paving stone as opposed to being dead.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

That's completely different, though. She wasn't begging him not to do it..

Indeed, there are lots of "The Doctor saves someone even though many people in the audience think it'd be kinder to let them die", but this is the only example I can actually think of where he saves someone who explicitly wants to die.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

But, again, she isn't in "her right mind". She's in this current Time Lordy Human metacrisis mind which is burning up. Though that's the crux - if you believe that, the scene's fine. If you don't, your issue is valid. It's an interesting debate though.

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Ulysses Gamma-Hose 3 years, 10 months ago

In some parallel universe, Marvel licensed Doctor Who comics in the 60's and Kirby worked on them.

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ferret 3 years, 10 months ago

For me this episode gets away with most of it's silliness through sheer exuberance, but I had to laugh aloud at Harriet Jones' torturous struggle in doing some single-finger keyboard-mashing while talking at the same time:

"Opening... Subwave... Network... To... Maximum"

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

The thing about Harriet Jones is that I think her decision was correct based on the information she had which was that (a) Earth was becoming noticed by the rest of the universe, (b) Earth was unprepared to be noticed by the rest of the universe, and (c) the Doctor had just sent the Sycorax off to tell the rest of the universe that the entirety of Earth's protection was one slumming Time Lord who had just shown that he won't always be there when Earth needs him. The first time I saw that scene at the end of Christmas Invasion, I actually thought to myself "Why is the Doctor trying to terrify Harriet into blowing up the ship?" And then she did and he overreacted and I thought "Oh, he wasn't trying to manipulate her, he was just being spectacularly stupid." Which is why I still say Midnight would only have worked with Ten, because he's the only Doctor so self-absorbed that he literally pays no attention whatsoever to the effect his words have on the people around him.

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

My personal theory is that Martha was the only human who remembered the Year of Hell from Last of the Time Lords, and so the powers that be decided that she was the only person qualified to decide if the situation on Earth was so awful that it would be better to destroy the planet. And for what it's worth, I am nowhere near as horrified by the Osterhagen Key as the Doctor or most commenters here. Personally, I found it somewhat uplifting that the leaders of the planet would have a contingency in place to spare the human race a fate worse than death (say, for instance, the 456 showing back up to harvest the whole human race). And remember, had Martha used the Key, it would have stopped the Daleks cold. She only failed because she took a page out of the Doctor's book and offered to let the Daleks surrender (as did Sarah and Jack with the star-thingy). Yes, they were both awful solutions, but with the entire multiverse at stake, they were still better ideas than the Doctor's plan of "stand here impotently and insult Davros." Only by the sheer luck of Donna touching the Magic Hand, did we get the means to save the day via that metacrisis nonsense. (And it was nonsense -- this makes three of RTD's four season finales resolved through a character gaining godlike powers through wildly improbable means in the last fifteen minutes of the episode.)

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

I thought Boomtown worked in this regard because (a) within the episode Nine was grappling with the moral implications of turning a wanted criminal over to people who would execute her when he was opposed to the death penalty and (b) within the season because the next episode would address the fact that he casually destroyed the news infrastructure of Planet Earth in Long Game and then left without considering how badly that would screw up the whole planet.

Journey's End, OTOH, did not work because Davros is essentially complaining that the Doctor inspired his companions to be willing to fight against the beings who wish to totally exterminate them for no reason except bigotry. As I've said before, there are no circumstances under which the omnicidal maniac has the moral high ground, and I was completely stunned that Ten would not only accept Davros's arguments at face value but use them to condemn Ten-A for making the decision to wipe out the race of omnicidal maniacs who had just proven that they have both the means and the intent to destroy all life in the multiverse.

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

My only problem with it was that the whole time Ten was enjoying his leisurely tow-trip with the Earth and then while he was taking forever to say goodbye to his whole entourage, he knew perfectly well what was about to happen with Donna, but he couldn't be buggered to pull her off to the side while she was still lucid and discuss what was about to happen and what her options were.

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

It bothers me that we are asked to accept the DoctorDonna as someone intelligent enough to save the universe but not someone who is capable of deciding whether she wants to die rather than go back to her former state. It reminded me of nothing so much as "Flowers for Algernon" but even more horrifying because in this version, a well-meaning scientist is deliberately stripping Charlie of his intellect for what the scientists unilaterally decides is for Charlie's own good (and over Charlie's objections). Which is perhaps why I dislike this resolution so much -- "Flowers for Algernon" affected me more deeply than any other story I read growing up, and it was devastating to me to see Donna, whose entire arc had been about developing her untapped potential, be reset to what her own grandfather considers to be an inferior state.

For another take on it, one of the few good ST: Voyager episodes involved Tuvok and Neelix getting merged in a transporter accident into a new being, Tuvix, who combined the best qualities of both and was better liked by the crew than either of his component parts. Janeway orders him to be separated back into the other two over Tuvix's pleas for his own existence and the ethical objections of the Holo-Doc, a move that some fans considered to be an act of murder on her part.

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Daru 3 years, 10 months ago

I read it not as her wanting to die, but wanting to hold onto the ability & wonder of the DoctorDonna self. There was not way she could do that though and stay alive.

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David Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

Stand here impotently and insult the villain has been an essential part of the Doctor's arsenal for fifty years and it's never let him down yet.

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

Except in this episode where the Doctor would have lost utterly had Donna not accidentally touched the Magic Hand and then gained the power of super-technobabble.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

@Alan: That's because Janeway is beholden to a god more powerful than any human morality: the god of Status Quo.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

I think that if you find yourself insisting that one is morally correct to shoot someone in the back while they're retreating, it is not a stretch to say you've gone off the rails a bit morally.

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Ulysses Gamma-Hose 3 years, 9 months ago

It's generally amusing how much furious button-mashing there is, when a few clicks of the mouse would surely suffice.

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 9 months ago

Another reason to dislike the Earth-towing scene is being thoroughly fed up with Davies' Trekian "humans are so much more special than all the fictional people we've made up to be less special than us" and thus not giving a damn about the fate of the Earth over all the other planets.

And as for Donna, even assuming she had consented, her fate comes across as incredibly mean-spirited beyond the obvious. "There's no place like home" endings are shit and far too common anyway, but at least Rose and Martha remembered their journeys into the heavens and could bring back divine fire to the earth like cut-price Prometheas. Donna doesn't even get that.

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mengu 3 years, 8 months ago

@BeserkRL: there's several hundred years and a time war between those two scenes, mate, I think he might have changed a bit.

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Katherine Sas 3 years, 1 month ago

"If the Doctor's a bit rubbish at handling the TARDIS because he's not quite as good at it as he thinks or says, or because he refuses to use the blue boring-ers, then that's a mild character flaw or quirk. It's one of his character traits.
If he's a bit rubbish at handling the TARDIS because it's not really possible, and only somebody as superhuman as he is could do it even as well as he does, then that's a different. One of them makes the Doctor a more comic figure; the other makes him more epic. It's the madman with a box vs the lonely god. I strongly prefer the madman with a box."

Why can't it be both?! I see no necessary contradiction to any of those dichotomies.

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Katherine Sas 3 years, 1 month ago

But surely that's the tragedy? It would only be "mean-spirited" if the narrative judged that she deserved to lose her memories, when clearly it doesn't. It's the fact that she should bring her experiences back home w/ her like Rose and Martha and doesn't that is so powerful.

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