I Happened To Be Wearing This Old Thing (The Runaway Bride)
|One wonders why she was fooled. After all, everyone|
knows that spiders are from Mars.
It’s Christmas, 2006. So we’ve made it a whole day forward since Combat. There hasn’t really been any news, and the charts remain the same. On television, it’s an actual Doctor Who episode.
A side effect of Torchwood is that it increases the sense of time between the Doomsday and The Runaway Bride when compared to The Parting of the Ways and The Christmas Invasion. Actually, some of that is just the ludicrously compressed cultural timeframe of the first season. The point where bet shops opened odds on what Bad Wolf was overlapped with the release of The Gallifrey Chronicles, and both came long after the announcement of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. The Christmas Invasion feels as much like the culmination of Series One as it does the start of Series Two. It’s much harder to say that about The Runaway Bride, in part because it feels like nearly a season’s worth of television has happened since the end of Doomsday.
In hindsight, of course, this feels like the debut of Donna Noble, companion extraordinaire. As we said last time, this is true in exactly the same way that The Web of Fear introduces the Brigadier, which is to say, not really at all. Catherine Tate isn’t playing a prospective companion here, she’s playing a part that’s written to fit in seamlessly on The Catherine Tate Show, but that happens to not actually be one of her own creations. The point of The Runaway Bride is simply to mash up “a Catherine Tate character” with the Doctor for an hour. Whereas the Donna of Season Four is all about running away from being this character and giving Tate the fully rounded character she should have gotten the first time around.
Put another way, you can see why, when Catherine Tate’s casting in Season Four was announced, the consensus reaction in fandom was that Russell had finally gone completely mad. (Although the fact that we were coming off Last of the Time Lords didn’t help with that.) Because in this story she’s pitched as the annoying comedy sidekick, and is allowed to give voice to everybody in the (sizable) Christmas audience who thinks Doctor Who is complete rubbish. Needless to say, this makes her abrasive to fans even as it causes the episode to work perfectly well for the large casual audience the series acquires for Christmas. (For all I point them out, the problems with Donna in The Runaway Bride are narrow and have to do with the ending not quite coming off – most of the buildup is actually quite lovely. As entertaining screen-filler, the Doctor trapped in a Catherine Tate sketch is lovely. Davies just had no good way to resolve the thing.)
The thing is, there’s no point in the series’ history where the “oh God, do we have to watch Doctor Who” audience would have been culturally more on the run. 2006 had more raw hours of Doctor Who on television than any other year to date – a full fourteen episodes, plus eleven Torchwoods, thirteen Totally Doctor Whos, and fourteen Doctor Who Confidentials. Nothing like that had ever happened with Doctor Who before, and all appearances were that this was some sort of saturation point. And any look at the Tennant era has to grapple with the fact that for all that it appears to have been the apex of the new series… it wasn’t. By every measure other than anecdotal evidence, the apex of the new series’ popularity comes two years from now with the long exit of the Russell T Davies era. (Unless, of curse, we’re actually in the apex of the new series’ popularity right now, which is not a hypothesis that can be decisively ruled out.)
This gets at a troubling complexity with Rose. On the one hand, it’s self-evident that Billie Piper was a profoundly large piece of the new series’ early story. Whatever Doctor Who has become since 2005, the actual act of becoming the biggest show on television was done via Rose Tyler. This is true even in the absence of evidence; the second season isn’t actually about the Doctor and Rose in anything like the way that the first season was. (In fact, not even the first season was actually about the Doctor and Rose reliably after Dalek.) She was the known attraction. The big plot arcs revolved around her. And more to the point, Doctor Who had gotten her at the exact right point in her career.
The result is something that’s easy to miss if you don’t happen to be one of the millions of people for whom Christopher Eccleston simply got to play “the Doctor” instead of “the Ninth Doctor,” which is that her departure from the series was a big deal in a way that no other companion departure ever has been. Not even Sarah Jane’s departure in The Hand of Fear, which was milked extravagantly by 1976 standards, came close, nor the death of Adric. Tom Baker’s departure in 1981 was consciously underplayed. Maybe Jon Pertwee’s departure in a hail of car chases qualifies, but the difference between what television was in 2006 and 1974 makes trying to compare the event status of Doomsday with Planet of the Spiders an exercise in missing the point. The extended post-climax departure of Rose Tyler may have been grotesquely overblown compared to any previous departure of a character, but for a huge portion of the 2006 viewing audience any other approach would have been unthinkable. This isn’t the thirty-sixth companion departure, it’s the departure of Billie Piper, a singular event comparable only to itself. Any attempt to fit this event into a schematic defined primarily by moments like Leela or Vicki spontaneously falling in love is doomed to failure.
It’s irritatingly popular among “proper” Doctor Who fans to look with disdain at anyone for whom Rose is their favorite companion. This is, in practice, just a subset of the insidious “fake geek girl” meme that declares that because someone has the temerity to love the version of Doctor Who they were introduced to above all the others they are not a real fan. But however sincere or parodic the image of people for whom Rose is the only companion and any iteration of the series lacking Billie Piper is crap might be, the truth is that they have more of a point than their detractors. The departure of Rose is a bright line down the middle of the Russell T Davies era. The fact that the Davies era has a second and by most standards larger peak with Catherine Tate two years later doesn’t erase the fact that, in 2006 at least, Rose’s departure was the biggest change the series had undergone. Eccleston at least got a replacement who we were told unequivocally was the same person. Rose, however, is actually gone.
All of which is to say that the decision in The Runaway Bride and, for that matter, in Season Three to treat Rose as the One True Companion was wholly in keeping with popular taste at the time, and the alternative – treating Rose as trivially replaceable – would have been deemed unthinkable by a large swath of the audience the series actually had. It’s just that from the perspective of the future, when you know that the Doctor is meeting up with an equally popular companion for the first time, this all looks terribly strange. In reality everybody knows that the real split in the Davies era isn’t Tennant and Eccleston, it’s Rose and Donna. That’s where fans have to pick a side, or, at least, where they often do pick one.
All of which leaves The Runaway Bride, and to a lesser extent all of Series Three with a problem. For those on Team Rose the basic fact asserts itself: all the mourning in the world is not a viable substitute for the character herself. Team Donna, on the other hand, is never going to completely embrace a story that doesn’t feature Donna Noble but a prototypic version of her created to solve a specific problem thrown up in late 2006. The idea that the bulk of Team Donna could ever be completely satisfied by The Runaway Bride crumbles upon close inspection. What’s trickier to understand in hindsight is just how much The Runaway Bride was never going to win back disgruntled Rose fans. Because the loss of Billie Piper was always going to be a turnover point for the audience. And it comes in the right general range for things – the classic eras of Doctor Who all tend to last two or three years. The argued reasons for this vary; the most popular explanation involving “being the right age,” but the phenomenon seems bigger than just that. Regardless, the idea of audience turnover is built into the show, with the idea being that new people will get interested in it as old ones stop. This, in turn, is based on the idea that the show changes periodically.
So in that regard The Runaway Bride is not so much a failed effort to placate Rose fans as an attempt to declare “here’s how it is now.” It does so in a way that acknowledges the past debt to Rose, but that also calmly asserts a future for Doctor Who. And this is accomplished with its most standard method imaginable: crashing it into something else on television. In this case, The Catherine Tate Show. The mourning for Rose serves the same function that systematically blowing up all the pieces of the Tennant era does in The Eleventh Hour – acknowledging what it is the program is moving on for. The Runaway Bride is made, however, with an eye firmly on the future.
It’s easy to miss just how necessary this was. It isn’t just the massive departure of Billie Piper, although that was a huge deal. Over the course of twenty-seven episodes, Doctor Who has jettisoned its entire cast. It’s easy to forget just how shockingly fast the show has redone itself. The Runaway Bride comes only twenty-one months after Rose aired, and has exactly zero actors in common with it. It’s gotten to the point the original series got to in Power of the Daleks Part Two by the time of “Four Hundred Dawns.” In terms of screen time, it’s replaced the entire cast in the amount of time it took the classic series to get to The Romans. This is, by any standard, a dizzyingly fast reinvention.
In the wake of that, Davies needed to reestablish what the show was and what its draws were, since several of the ones that had gotten people to watch in the first place were gone. So he crafted the archetypal new series episode and let the premise stand on its own two feet. Which, broadly speaking, it did. Nothing in The Runaway Bride is hugely impressive, but its major story beats all work, its action set pieces are plausibly impressive, and it hangs together. Given that Catherine Tate enjoyed broad popularity, as did David Tennant, this was well-tailored to basically appeal to everybody. Its ratings and AI figures indicate that it more or less accomplished this.
But equally, The Runaway Bride is a feint. It doesn’t even start to answer the question of where Doctor Who is going to go post-Piper. Or, at least, it doesn’t look like it does. In reality the answer is there, albeit troubling. As mentioned, Donna’s main purpose in this story is to serve as the mouthpiece for people who don’t like Doctor Who – who has, in fact, missed every time Doctor Who has done event television so far. Obviously the episode eventually comes down on the side of Doctor Who – note how the Doctor effectively defeats the Racnoss by correcting Donna’s continuity error and establishing that he’s actually from Gallifrey, not Mars. Put another way, Donna’s basic function within this story is defined entirely by her relationship with existing Doctor Who tropes. That’s perfectly effective for a gag one-off, but altogether more troubling when you realize that Davies’s next companion is going to just be the opposite of Donna – a slightly annoyingly evangelical Doctor Who fan.
We also, dutifully, set up the next “arc word,” which is this time “Mister Saxon.” Exactly nobody had any trouble figuring out where this was going, and that was before they caught the obligatory anagram. If Season One brought back the Daleks and Season Two the Cybermen there was only one villain that Season Three was going to bring back, and so when you have a mysterious male figure as the center of your arc it’s not exactly a Moffatesque guessing game who it might be. For once absolutely nobody suggested the Rani. It’s notable that his identity is linked tacitly to Torchwood, setting up a larger nexus of ideas that gets paid off in the real twist, which is not Mister Saxon’s secret identity, but rather what his job is.
In other words, you can see where the Davies era is going from here. All of the threads of what works from here to the start of 2010 are in place, and it’s a perfectly sensible extension of what we see here. Ultimately the arc hinges on the theme set up in The Christmas Invasion, with the key scene of The Runaway Bride being Donna’s stopping of the Doctor as he stands witness to the death of the Racnoss. As ever the theme of the Tennant era is the Doctor’s hubris, a point paralleled inexorably with Doctor Who’s hubris. At the same time that The Runaway Bride presents a frothy spectacle of “here’s all the fun antics Doctor Who can get into” it’s already starting a critique of the idea of just putting Doctor Who center stage and saying “hooray, it’s Doctor Who!”
The problem, which is, to be clear, not actually a problem with the Davies era as a whole is that this marks the unsatisfying period of the autocritique. The error has been made, and it’s visible as an error, but the business of reversing the error hasn’t begun. Put another way, there’s no way to get from the massive success of Doomsday to the massive success of Journey’s End (and I don’t care what you think about Journey’s End, it was the actual number one television program of its week and its AI ratings were ridiculously good) without going through The Runaway Bride and the episodes that came after it. But in this case, at least, the destination feels rather more important than the journey.
August 23, 2013 @ 12:29 am
…I'm on Team Martha.
August 23, 2013 @ 12:48 am
Well I'm team Racnoss. MYYY CHILLLLDREENNNNN.
Thoroughly interesting post, Phil, and I largely agree with it. "The Runaway Bride is made, however, with an eye firmly on the future" is very true and, as usual, you've made me see an episode in rather a new light. It's very much Round 2 for the Davies era (although one could argue it's Round 1.5 since Round 2 comes with Martha and Series 3). It's extremely interesting, in hindsight, that Donna returned. And all the nuggets in The Writer's Tale (I presume and hope you've had a flick through at least) are wonderful in terms of Davies' decision to bring back Donna after this. He even notes with some glee that "HC Clements" is coming back and how Turn Left hinges on this story.
August 23, 2013 @ 12:52 am
Aw, come on guys, it's Eruditorum! Let's not do this.
August 23, 2013 @ 1:06 am
Ooh, ooh, also a little surprised you didn't make more of "Gallifrey!" being in the new series for the first time. It's definitely a "punch the air" moment because it's emphasised and noticeably been missing. It's interesting since it happens post-Rose.
Rose only ever knows about "my home planet" and that puts her in an interesting position, along with the likes of Ian and Barbara (who knew next to nothing – Time Lords, Gallifrey, regeneration… all came after their time) etc. School Reunion aside, it's also the first time the new show properly acknowledges a major element of the old show. It's almost a reward for sticking with it through the last two years as it reinvented itself.
(It made me wonder about Skaro – there's the "Skaro degradations" in The End of Time and then we visit the planet in Asylum of the Daleks… and then it hit me that the first reference by name, if I remember correctly, is Doomsday ("the cult of Skaro"). The significance of that simply passed me by, unlike Gallifrey which was highlighted rather triumphantly.
Just found it a fascinating little detail.
And then when you consider this marks the first explicit Saxon reference (a nod to Saxon had already appeared in Love & Monsters), it's really quite fitting! Just as the Doctor gets to declare "Gallifrey!", the wheels have already started turning with regards to his best enemy – the other Last of the Time Lords – returning.
August 23, 2013 @ 4:12 am
And all of this without actually discussing the story!
Rose, I'd argue, was a case of "how can we miss you if you won't go away?" This story, and all of Series 3, was about the Billie Piper-shaped void. Then, after a whole year of the adventures of the Doctor and his companion Not-Rose, we finally move on to Donna.
And then Rose comes back! And now she has the power to randomly insert herself into the narrative, even if it makes no sense and is nothing more than a distraction!
I get that Rose/Billie was hugely important to the relaunch of nuWho, and to the generation of fans brought on board. But the Rosicrucianism* on display through the remainder of the RTD era struck me as at odds with the nature of "Doctor Who," a show that embraces change like no other. It began to feel as if it was Davies himself who was unwilling to let her go.
*Yes, I'm incorrectly using the term most flagrantly. I just liked the way it sounded.
August 23, 2013 @ 4:31 am
I agree, on the whole. And I'm a bit miffed that Donna's series is a little overshadowed by Martha… then Sarah Jane and Mickey and Rose and Jackie and Torchwood and… ahhh! Why couldn't the "RTD Era Celebration" episode/s wait just a little while longer?
Oh well. It's a discussion for nearer the time, that.
But yes, Martha (and, indeed, Freema) gets a raw deal with Series 3. Whoever took that place would always be the "but-you're-not-Rose" character.
August 23, 2013 @ 4:34 am
Now for the story itself. I think that it's worth pointing out that this is where the idea that the Doctor is too dangerous to be left on his own begins. It's a notion that seems to be an attempt to answer a question that hadn't yet been asked: "Why does the Doctor keep inviting companions on board when they end so tragically?"
Now, I have problems with this line of thought, in part because the specific example used to illustrate the destructive force of a lonely Doctor–the extermination of the Racnoss–seems entirely justified in context. With the Empress unwilling to consider a peaceful relocation, and with millions of hungry Racnoss boiling up from the center of the Earth, minutes away from becoming an unstoppable, all-consuming wave engulfing the human race, how was flushing them back down the plughole an immoral action? It's similar to what we saw with the Sycorax; Harriet Jones' destruction of the fleeing spaceship is presented as the wrong choice, despite the fact that the Doctor had just laid out the case in which doing so was warranted.
Unfortunately, this idea of the Doctor needing to be controlled is picked up later in Series 3, when he gets a whole bunch of people killed because of his attempt to be "merciful" to his foes…and then he goes well out of his way to devise a series of eternal torments for the Family of Blood.* Our hero.
*And fandom loves it, which is an issue I have with fandom.
August 23, 2013 @ 5:03 am
Team Wonder Woman?
August 23, 2013 @ 5:13 am
Martha (and, indeed, Freema) gets a raw deal with Series 3. Whoever took that place would always be the "but-you're-not-Rose" character"
agreed. wonder if in a timeline where there's no Torchwood series, if Jack could've been the companion for at least the start of Series 3, which might've worked as a firebreak between Rose and Martha (who could've been introduced halfway through, or perhaps subtly–a supporting character who's promoted to a companion).
I'm sure we'll be getting to Martha much more, but one grievous flaw for me was RTD's decision to have her family life consist of Mrs Jones scowling at mention of the Doctor every episode. The potential was so rich–a middle-class black family, virtually unheard of in the world of Who before—and so underused.
August 23, 2013 @ 5:44 am
It's not that the destruction of the Racnoss is immoral, it's that it's traumatic and damaging. I think it's kind of brilliant that the emotional weight of the choice is played to the hilt — no longer is the Doctor just blithely walking away from another genocide. And yet, even now, the Doctor doesn't get it quite right. He's going overboard in his emotional reaction, in his self-hatred.
In this light, Donna's "you need someone to stop you" makes perfect sense. It's not that he needs to be stopped from averting apocalypses that have terrible personal consequences, it's that he needs to be stopped from taking it too personally — which is part and parcel of his hubris, his over-inflated ego. He can't fully revel in "Doctor Who is wonderful!" nor fully wallow in "Doctor Who is awful!"
Interestingly, this rather goes back to the Pertwee era, and Barry Letts' infusion of Buddhism into the show. Like many spiritual traditions, Buddhism is largely a response to the Problem of Ego, hence the emphasis on the nicely paradoxical realization that "self" is "not self." Davies, however, uses the symbolism of Western alchemy to dress up the story — the combination of raging Fire and torrential Water is "Alchemy 101," the union of opposites which the Wedding Dress also symbolizes, not to mention the pairings of Doctor/Donna and Empress/Lance.
Most interesting, though, is that the Ascension motifs are played in reverse. The story begins with Donna's ascension through the roof of a church (marked with hanging lights and an X motif) after the activation of her "Who-on" particles, and reaches its climax in the Underworld. The suggestion is that spiritual development doesn't come from on high, but rather from down below, or deep within if you prefer. However, self-awareness in of itself isn't sufficient — the Empress, who is "reddened" (the final stage in the Masonic or classical sense of alchemy — see Crimson Horror) and who is covered with eyes, who watches Doctor Who on TV and is completely self-possessed, has nonetheless sacrificed Mercy (the deceased HC Clements, whose name means "mercy," is explicitly described as having "black and white shoes," another example of the principle of fusion) and this consigns her to the role of villain.
So the Doctor, who completely loses himself, and the Empress, who is full of herself, represent extreme ends of different spiritual paths. Donna walks the middle path, finding compassion for others while recognizing that she herself has a part to play in the small opera. Her ego is shattered with the realization that Lance has completely played her, but unlike the Doctor she doesn't drown in self-pity. In the end she embodies Self and NotSelf, and chooses (for a time) the Ordinary Life and all the mundane aspects it signifies.
Not bad for a Christmas episode, actually.
August 23, 2013 @ 5:44 am
Now you're talkin'.
August 23, 2013 @ 6:48 am
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August 23, 2013 @ 6:48 am
You've got the Racnoss Empress screaming "My childrennnnnn!" while the Doctor looks on pitilessly. And Donna says, "That place was flooded and burning and they were dying and you stood there like…I don't know. A stranger." I don't think there's anything nuanced in that. It's not about him taking it too personally…it's about him murdering children.
Can't comment on the rest. I doubt that any of that symbolism was intentional, but I recognize that this blog is a place for such readings.
August 23, 2013 @ 6:54 am
The Christmas Specials have always been worryingly Hit and Miss events. This one was a bit of a miss for me and I didn't even know why at the time. I mean, I know why I didn't like "The Next Doctor" and "The Lion the Witch and the total misuse of Bill Baily" episodes. This one just felt … off.
The idea of Catherine Tate doing a comedic character with no punchline kind of nailed it, finally, for me. Rose leaving the show from the casual viewer's standpoint is a pretty big deal (although, it has lost of lot of it's weight since she keeps coming back!) I remember liking it, finding it fun and entertaining … and then after it was over feeling a little strange about it.
I haven't gone back to revisit these episodes for sometime. I can only recall my general feelings as a long-term fan. I'm probably in the majority of fans who like the NuWho and find much to criticize. I can easily justify this because my old-school DW fans used to make fun of the classic series shortfalls. (How can you not laugh when the Cyberman trips on the steps in Earthshock, for example?) You are clearly making an interesting case for the "whys" of this period in the show and I appreciate that … clearly, as I've been following this blog for quite some time. However, it is impossible not to be a bit put off by the overtly emotional aspects of the program under RTD's rule.
Anyway, fascinating article.
August 23, 2013 @ 7:15 am
This, to me, is one of the most fascinating elements of the 50th Anniversary show that I'm expecting to see. Yes, of course, there's John Hurt and whatever is going to happen with him.
But what's equally noteworthy for me is the return of specifically Ten and Rose to the show. Here's Rose, the figure that was either the most dominating figure of the actual cast, or what haunted the show for the entire rest of the Davies era (whether that haunting took the form of her conspicuous absence, her image-appearances in various split-seconds of series four, or her place at the culmination of the "last dance with David" sequence in The End of Time. Just as you point out in the review, The Eleventh Hour systematically blows up every icon of the Davies era. There has probably never been as clean a break in eras since 1970. Even then, half the supporting cast of the Letts/Dicks era was introduced in a Troughton trial run.
And now the Davies and Moffat eras directly collide.
August 23, 2013 @ 7:23 am
I wouldn't say that the problem with the Davies era is that it's overly emotional. The problem is that in the last analysis it's not emotional enough. It's sentimental. Compare The Girl in the Fireplace with Journey's End. One of them is all about emotions, and it's not the episode written by Davies.
August 23, 2013 @ 7:31 am
To what extent is team Rose vs team Donna a split within the Davies era? I'd have thought that a preference for Donna over Rose is one way in which someone might signal reservations without outright rejection about the Davies-era as a whole.
Partners in Crime quite explicitly positions Donna as somebody who is not a challenge to the audience's affection for Rose.
August 23, 2013 @ 8:02 am
She was the known attraction.
As evidence of how heavily the show relied on Billie Piper's popularity from the very start, I offer this early ad for series 1, which presents Piper/Rose as the main attraction, the TARDIS as a secondary attraction, and Eccleston's Doctor as an afterthought.
August 23, 2013 @ 8:08 am
a friend once cracked that the Davies Doctor Who was "Doctor Who: the New Testament," with Rose as the messiah and Eccleston/Tennant as the lonely God as supporting actor.
August 23, 2013 @ 8:55 am
I have had this discussion with others. I through the term emotional out there because it covers the type of storytelling that requires you to have a certain feeling at a given time written specifically as "moments" in the storytelling. As far as the difference between those two stories under the way I'm defining "emotions" … I see no difference. It's meant to tug at our heartstrings. Whether it succeeds or not depends largely on the logic built up to the "moment" … and I don't disagree with you on that score.
August 23, 2013 @ 10:56 am
While I haven't done the surveys myself, I can offer my own point of view as an anecdotal example of how these preferences may have developed.
The first time I saw Billie Piper acting was in "Rose." And from then on, I thought she was fantastic throughout her time on the show. I've seen her in several other tv programs, and I think she's an immensely talented actress. I think I can see where Phil is going for part of his analysis of series three, and can definitely get behind his analysis that Rose holds just as much pull over the general UK audience as Doctor Who itself. I can understand why she would have to cast such a shadow.
But at the time, I thought: "Enough already!" She had an excellent two years, a beautiful tragi-happy ending to her character arc in Doomsday. Yes, the Doctor would be upset that he lost her in such wretched circumstances, he can have some moments like in The Runaway Bride when he's trying to deal with his own emotions while always being interrupted. But now it was over. Time to move on with a new beginning. Throughout season three, some of the most frustrating moments for me would be when Martha (and if it wasn't for series four Donna, I'd be on Team Martha) was overshadowed by literally just the shadow of Rose. So much about her was set up as a reaction to Rose that it kept Freema from playing a fully rounded character.
It seemed illegitimate to me that Rose's echo would overwrite Martha, and her return was an explicitly teased part of series four, even though it had only been two years since she was last on the show. Her shadow over Martha's era meant that we the audience didn't even really miss her. We were so constantly reminded of her absence that it became her presence. So when Donna, a character so bombastic and powerful, appeared again, she was a breath of oxygen because she could overpower the shadow of Rose that just wouldn't go away. Even the Rose tease at the end of Partners in Crime was, at least as I watched it, less about the return of Rose and more about how Sylvia would get her car keys back.
By the time we hit Turn Left, Donna was stealing the show from Rose better than Tom Baker would have. Rose had been stealing the show from Martha without even appearing, so I was happy to see the show stolen out from under her.
August 23, 2013 @ 12:03 pm
Sorry, I'm on Team Captain Marvel
August 23, 2013 @ 12:20 pm
Go Team Venture!
August 23, 2013 @ 1:14 pm
That sounds about right, actually. 😛
August 23, 2013 @ 1:39 pm
Team Discovery Channel!
August 23, 2013 @ 2:02 pm
I basically agree. I thought it was fine for the Doctor to mope over Rose during the Christmas special, but once Martha turned up I wanted him to get past that and have adventures with Martha. I wanted to find out how great Martha was going to be. Just as, once Leela turned up, the Dotor didn't keep harking back to Sarah Jane, we just got on with having new adventures.
Instead, series 3 seemed hobbled by Davies' insistence on weighing it down with the psychological fallout of Rose's departure. Certainly plausible in character terms, but a drawback to the drama. Davies got so many things so right, but this, I think, was one of his few, genuine, unforced errors.
August 23, 2013 @ 2:45 pm
Although I may not agree with everyone this blog says, the posts on the revival have done an excellent job of articulating some of my misgivings in certain areas. First you brought up the assumed-approval of the Doctor's behavior, and now you reminded why Rose's departure is such a big deal.
As someone who entered the fandom in 2010 with "The Eleventh Hour" and watched all the revived episodes (1-5, at the time) in less than two months, I never really felt a particular attachment to Rose. Even now, I feel that her departure is overplayed, but at least it makes more sense now.
August 23, 2013 @ 2:47 pm
I definitely agree about the shadow of Rose. I actually started watching the show during season 3 (specifically this episode), so I didn't know who Rose was and I quite liked Martha, even though she was pretty much defined as "not Rose," which we were reminded of time and time again.
Martha always got a raw deal. I've talked to people who hate Martha because she was "trying too hard to be Rose" and "the Doctor only loves Rose and Martha's trying to steal him away!" It was always frustrating that she was always defined in terms of Rose, and how she wasn't as good as her.
And I think you hit on why I like Donna so much – by all accounts, she should have been overshadowed by Rose, considering that Rose actually showed up in her season… but she wasn't She was a fantastic character, and I even loved her in "The Runaway Bride" (but I was also a big fan of The Catherine Tate Show, and so that episode was pretty much what I wanted to see and it worked to get me interested in checking out the show)
August 23, 2013 @ 2:48 pm
"How can we miss you if you don't go away?-" Yeah, that's my main issue with Rose summed up nicely. And with her returning for the 50th–whether from some point in season two or from the alternate universe–viewers will have another example to deal with.
August 23, 2013 @ 3:03 pm
FWIW, I don't mind that she's appearing in the anniversary special. Aside from the brief cameo in "The End of Time," it's been more than five years since she was in an episode proper. Now it feels more like nostalgia, and less like a guest who is still sitting on your sofa long after you started yawning loudly and commenting on the lateness of the hour.
Besides, Tennant. I could do with some more Tennant.
August 23, 2013 @ 5:00 pm
"I doubt that any of that symbolism was intentional"
That's our jane, though; always pulling stuff from her arse. 😛
August 23, 2013 @ 5:01 pm
Really? I could do with some more classic Doctors who are still alive and haven't been in an episode for 10 to 20 years.
August 23, 2013 @ 6:02 pm
Team Genie, lives on his back…
August 23, 2013 @ 6:07 pm
I dunno. It was okay for the fourth doctor not to mope over Sarah Jane because that's the way TV worked in the 70s. Chuck Cunningham walks up the steps at the end of the first season of Happy Days and is never seen or spoken of again.
The first time I broke up with a serious girlfriend, it took me more than a year to get over it. It wouldn't have been a dealbreaker for me if the Doctor had just "got on with having new adventures", but I think it would have seriously undermined the whole point of the Rose era. The Doctor could literally spend centuries mourning those he loved. If this lonely ageless god gets over Rose in a couple of weeks*, that's telling me that this isn't going to be the sort of show where the relationships between characters is important.
(* I suppose they could have spun it by having the Doctor declare himself to be twelve hundred years old in Smith and Jones)
August 23, 2013 @ 6:17 pm
I'm actually quite interested to see what Moffat does with Ten and Rose in the special, because Moffat, when he wrote Rose in the Davies era, always seemed to avoid the 'cult', for want of a better word, that surrounded her. I can certainly see why Rose's departure was a big deal, but I definitely got the feeling that Davies was perhaps a bit too attached to Rose and found it a bit too hard to let her go, which bled into the rest of the series, whereas Moffat always wrote her as likeable and heroic without tipping over into The Most Specialest Companion Ever Syndrome.
As for classic Doctors… I'm torn. On one hand, yeah, I'd obviously love to see all the old Doctors back for another round of glory. On the other, I honestly can't see any way of them doing "The Eleven Doctors" or whatever without it becoming a complete mess.
August 23, 2013 @ 6:58 pm
I agree to a point. Certainly, "Doctor Who" — or at least the show that "Doctor Who" became in the Davies era — couldn't afford to just brush Rose aside like she was nothing. That would have been damaging.
But it couldn't afford to wallow in self pity about her absence, either, because that would be equally damaging. Certainly, the Doctor can in theory brood for centuries about losing the people he loves, but leaving aside the fact that realism aside this wouldn't really be much fun to watch, while "Doctor Who" became the Doctor Who And Rose Show in the Davies era, it was still at heart "Doctor Who". Change is still a part of its DNA. Doctors and companions will come and go, and in order for the show to continue the creators, the audience and the Doctor must accept this. It can't afford to get locked into one mode of storytelling for too long; the Doctor Who And Rose Show was a massive success, but the Doctor Who And Rose Show couldn't survive long-term by itself any more than the Tom Baker Show could back in the 1970s.
It's a balancing act, and to be honest I think Davies really struggled to get the balance right (and I'm not convinced he was entirely successful), to the point where it began to affect the series a little bit. Like David says above, it's hard to miss someone when they just won't leave, and certainly, like Adam points out, Martha certainly suffered as a consequence. There never seemed to be that much more going on than "She's Not Rose (And Don't You Miss Rose SO MUCH? We Sure Do)".
To be honest, as much as I'm ambivalent about much of Season 4 had Donna not come back, knocked everyone's socks off and reminded everyone (including the producers) that Rose wasn't the be-all of companions, I'm skeptical that the series would have survived much longer after Davies and Tennant left. Modern "Doctor Who" can't afford to just forget companions, but it can't afford to be consumed by their absence either, and with Rose it came dangerously close to doing so.
August 23, 2013 @ 8:44 pm
Let me expand that previous statement. I could do with some more Tennant…and I would love to see all of the living Doctors as well. (Especially McGann.) I don't care if it would be a complete mess, if you can't wallow in nostalgia for the flipping 50th anniversary, when can you?
But yeah, I miss Tennant. When he said, "I don't want to go," I said, "THEN WHY ARE YOU GOING?!?" I truly had hoped he'd be the one to beat Tom Baker's run. After all, he was the uber-fan; why would he ever want to leave? (I guess money and fame and getting to marry your own daughter and have your favorite Doctor as your dad is a pretty fair trade.)
August 23, 2013 @ 10:42 pm
But Billie Piper had no popularity. She was a punchline, better known for being a washed up pop star and tabloid fodder for her marriage to Chris Evans. Christopher Ecchleston justified her being there. She has some little seen acting work that people insisted was good, but for the good and greater public, she was the big question mark. That ad you source shows how the show presents Rose as the main attraction, because the BBC had seen what it was going to show and knew it could rely on what Piper and Davies created. But it wasn't selling Billie Piper. She was a damaged brand and pretty close to the "light entertainment"version of Who that existed in people's minds.
August 23, 2013 @ 11:13 pm
As well as Darren's point, it is also worth noting that there is an equivalent teaser for Eccleston from around this time ("D'you wanna come with me?") which focusses on the Ninth Doctor and the TARDIS quite heavily, with Rose/Billie Piper nudged into the background.
Certainly, they were heavily emphasising the Doctor-companion dynamic as an important part of the show, but it wasn't like they were wholly promoting it as The Billie Piper Show (That Happens To Feature Doctor Who) either. While Billie Piper was central to the show's renewal and success, it is fair to say that she got as much of a boost from the show as the show did from her; it wasn't entirely resting on her shoulders.
August 23, 2013 @ 11:28 pm
Hence why I'm torn; even for the 50th anniversary, nostalgia only goes so far. "The Five Doctors" was pushing my personal tolerance-because-of-nostalgia limits and that only had to deal with four leading men (five is we count Tom Baker footage). I'd love to see the old Doctors in action again, but trying to tell a decent story with eight leading men fighting for the spotlight could either be glorious or disastrous. If they did do it, I'd be satisfied with brief cameos rather than getting them all to the centre of the Death Zone for the big team-up again.
As for why David Tennant didn't even challenge Tom Baker's run, I think the fact that Tom Baker's career post-Doctor Who mainly consisted of small parts that mostly make the viewer think "hey, isn't this character kind of like Doctor Who?" probably helped as well. As much a huge fan as he might be, he probably doesn't want to be typecast as the Doctor forever; he's still a pretty young guy with a career to think of.
August 24, 2013 @ 2:38 am
Really? I could do with some more classic Doctors who are still alive and haven't been in an episode for 10 to 20 years.
It's too late for that, surely. There would have to be some contrived handwavy story device to explain why they've aged but Smith's doctor hasn't. Putting them on screen now would just be an exercise in unnecessary nostalgia IMO. I think the Name of the Doctor handled it about right.
Corpus Christi Music Scene
August 24, 2013 @ 7:11 am
I like the way Moffat handled this situation with the exit of the Ponds. As there is no way of knowing how much time has passed between "Manhattan" and "Snowmen" , most of the fallout and crying and moping happens offstage. By the end of "Snowmen" , the Doctor is over it .
August 24, 2013 @ 7:48 am
Regarding "the obligatory anagram"; you can believe it or not, but RTD insists that it's not intentional and that if you insist on writing "Mister" out in full the way no-one otherwise does, it's probably easier to get a "Master" anagram than not.
Out of sheer perversity, my theory was that he was the Meddling Monk: "Saxon" indicating the character's first appearance.
August 24, 2013 @ 7:53 am
"There would have to be some contrived handwavy story device to explain why they've aged but Smith's doctor hasn't."
You haven't seen "Time Crash"? Moffat explained it there; it's the "time differential", rendering a past Doctor the age he would be of a later incarnation when he meets up with one. As good an explanation as any — and it helps, of course, that the current showrunner wrote it. 🙂
August 24, 2013 @ 9:25 am
I'd love to see how Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy would handle a modern-style Doctor Who script, but I can't imagine that's what they'd actually do with them. If I just want a bit of "What would JNT-era classic who have been like if they'd allowed JNT to bow out in favor of someone who hadn't burned out, I've got Big Finish, and I doubt we'd even get that much from a guest role in the anniversary special. More of a "Walk on, deliver a catchphrase, and leave" sort of thing.
August 24, 2013 @ 9:39 am
Yeah, I don't at all buy the idea that the anagram is intentional. If nothing else the whole "No. Six" thing only makes sense at all if you start by assuming that 6 is a plausible answer to "how many masters were there?" and then work backwards to justify it. (I mean, it requires that you count exactly two of Beevers, Pratt, Tipple or Jacobi) I think it's far more likely that what happened here was "If you start with the word 'Mister', "Master" plus something else will fall out no matter what, unless you avoid using the third most common letter in the english language"
August 24, 2013 @ 9:41 am
If the Master did not have a terribly overelaborate bit of wordplay to hide his identity, we would have to invent one.
So we did.
August 24, 2013 @ 3:01 pm
Moffat explained it there; it's the "time differential", rendering a past Doctor the age he would be of a later incarnation when he meets up with one.
I didn't know that! Moffat's a proper clever clogs, isn't he? 🙂
August 25, 2013 @ 5:35 am
It may be just me, but wasn't there a Saxon poster in the cafe scenes in Parting of the Ways? Or else it's my false memory syndrome again, as I remarked to Napoleon yesterday.
August 25, 2013 @ 1:39 pm
Its worth pointing out that RTD went to great lengths to establish that there are lots of good potential companions out there. Right away we get Jabe, Adam, Lynda, Sarah & K9, Mickey & Jack. Donna (at this point) follows firmly in this tradition. Rose may have been special, but right from the start RTD took care to telegraph to the audience that she's not be around forever.
August 25, 2013 @ 2:01 pm
Team Ellis! (which oddly fits better in with the blog than all the others)
August 26, 2013 @ 1:20 am
With the possible exceptions of Jabe and Lynda, the script asserts one way or another that each one couldn't possibly replace Rose. Most explicitly in relation to Sarah Jane, when the Doctor tells Rose that he'd never leave her the way he left Sarah Jane.
August 26, 2013 @ 8:23 am
Yes, but that's what you WOULD tell someone, isn't it? He was saving her feelings. When it came down to it, he very much did (intend to) send her off to Pete's World where she'd be safe and live out a normal life.
To my mind, at least, the proliferation of pseudo and ex companions in the first two series played a dual role, first making Rose seem special, but also indicating to the audience that she can't and won't be around forever (which is a major theme of S2) and that the universe is full of fun and worthy companions for the Doctor.
August 26, 2013 @ 8:25 am
I don't think so but I clearly remember a Bad Wolf poster.
August 26, 2013 @ 8:17 pm
Adam at least doesn't really seem to be an example of a 'good potential companion' who could replace Rose though, seeing as the whole point of his character is that he is, in fact, spectacularly crap at being a Doctor Who companion and doesn't even come close to measuring up to Rose.
To be honest, from where I'm sitting it seems to me that any balance the series may make between 'Rose is irreplaceably special' and 'there are plenty of potential companions who could replace Rose' is very heavily skewed towards the 'Rose is irreplaceably special' side of the spectrum at this point in the series.
August 27, 2013 @ 2:37 am
I stand corrected, in the absence of access to the actual episode right now. I'm off to have a chat with Cleopatra and the Duke of Wellington.
August 27, 2013 @ 6:47 am
In light of the idea that Rose was the centerpiece of the show, I found this article interesting http://metro.co.uk/2013/08/24/doctor-who-belonged-to-billie-piper-says-steven-moffat-3936721/
August 30, 2013 @ 11:34 am
Random thoughts, a bit late – I generally enjoyed this episode, but I have a hard time re-watching it, due to the totally frenetic pace of the direction, and the bash-boom-wollop of the soundtrack, especially at the end, when it becomes just a cacophony of music, explosions, and "My childrennnn!" They were really trying way too hard with the "whimsical fun" and it just became manic and overbearing.
I was very unsure of Donna's character in her opening scenes, which again were too frenetically paced, and she was just so shrewish. However, her character was totally sold by the "Santa's a robot" line. How she managed to get notes of fear, disbelief, "isn't this just typical" self pity and "this is all your fault" accusation into three little words is just a marvel.
And of course,
August 30, 2013 @ 11:37 am
And of course, the concept of Donna being "a Catherine Tate character" who outlives her sketch totally worked for me. The "punchline" being when Lance reads her up and down, voicing everything the audience is probably thinking, which brilliantly voices their discontent while also moving them sympathy because he's just so cruel. "You don't deserve to be a Doctor Who companion" is basically what he's saying, and a large part of the audience probably thought the same. But everything after her "sketch" ends, her denoument, is when she becomes an actual character – and by far my favorite companion in the new series.
October 7, 2013 @ 11:22 pm
I knew the Master was coming, but only because I read it on Wikipedia. I was probably in the beginning of this season when I came across the Master and Davros in my research. Not long afterward I learned that they were both coming in my near future.
Oh, and "teams"?
Rose as meaning most to the Doctor and Doctor Who.
Martha as being the quintessential companion and the only one tough enough to go through both Human Nature and The Sound of Drums.
Donna as being the companion to go through the most obvious character growth.