Saturday, June 07, 2008

Doctor Who: 'The Doctor's Daughter' (4x06)

The Doctor’s Daughter is a glass half full episode. If you choose to focus on what worked, there’s plenty good here, if you focus on what didn’t, you could easily call it a failure. But, I choose to see it half full, and thought this was a pretty enjoyable episode. And, I’m guessing once the season ends, the purpose of the episode’s going to be a lot clearer.

My biggest issue with the episode was the perfunctory introduction of Jenny. If we’re supposed to really view her as his daughter, it should probably take longer than five seconds for her to appear out of the clone tank. And, shouldn’t the Doctor be more worried that they’ve created this weird clone of him? Is she a clone, what is she, how much is him, how much is her society? There’s a lot to explore, and admittedly we do get some emotional stuff with him and Donna, but in general, there’s not enough time spent to make it feel like, yes, this is really his daughter, and thus make the end of the episode really work on an emotional level.

What does work is The Doctor’s eventual realization that in some ways at least, this is his daughter, and consequently, he is no longer the only Timelord. The Time War itself returns, and we are reminded that The Doctor had at one time destroyed both Timelords and Daleks. The nonviolent aspect of the Doctor’s character has been hammered home the past few episodes, and that’s something I didn’t really get back in the Eccleston era. Knowing this is a guy who is so hesitant to kill makes his decisions back in “Parting of the Ways” even more layered.

I liked Jenny, I think she had a good amount of the Doctor’s spirit, but I would have liked more time to explore the dynamic between her and the Doctor. I think this story would have benefited from being a two parter, rather than the lackluster “Sontaran Strategem.” The story wouldn’t necessarily have had to be expanded, rather we could get more scenes with the makeshift family of Doctor, Donna and Jenny. What worked best in this episode, and the season as a whole, is the dynamic between the Doctor and Donna. She continues to challenge him and push him out of his comfort zone in a way neither Rose nor Martha did.

I like Martha well enough, but seeing her up against Donna, it becomes clear that her character’s main purpose was to be Rose redux, and never quite match up to the original. She has her own personality, but her dynamic with the Doctor isn’t as interesting as Donna and the Doctor. My favorite scene in this episode is Donna challenging the Doctor, saying he talks, but never says anything, which prompts him to tell her about the Time War.

Back in “Sontaran,” the main plot was a bit clumsy, but the scenes between Donna, the Doctor and her Grandfather really hit me emotionally. I love the idea that Donna, like Rose, has fully embraced this new kind of existence. She’s happy to travel everywhere, she’s seen some bad things, but understands the kind of changes they can make. I think she understands the Doctor better than any of his other companions, and I’m curious to see what will happen with her when Rose turns up. I’m sure we’ll get one last “No, we’re not a couple” gag, but beyond that, it’s unclear.

On the whole, I enjoyed this one. I think it could have been a lot better, but Jenny has a lot of potential, and I’m curious to see what they can do with her in the future. Will she show up for the guest star bonanza that’ll close out the season? We’ll see.


RAB said...

The abrupt introduction of Jenny was very strange, wasn't it. The Doctor's rapid-fire exposition of what was being done by the machine his hand was stuck inside as it was happening just seemed very clumsy, and her popping out like that robbed the story of a sense of meaningful occasion that would have given it more impact. One of the things I liked so much in later episodes of Farscape -- I don't know if you ever got around to seeing those -- was their willingness to play with genre conventions: an attitude of "you've all seen this kind of story before and you know what's supposed to happen, so let's change it up and do something different and get right to the good stuff." I think that may have been what the DW creative team were going for here, but it didn't work as well.

Gotta say, though, I was loving every minute of the acting. Everybody including the guest stars was on top form. Some of Nigel Terry's lines sounded like a mouthful to get around, but he really sold the part. And Jenny's gleeful enthusiasm for her "dad" was lovely to watch, instead of her being all "you're not my real dad" and making him protective of her as a dozen less creative shows would have done.

One little continuity point: when the Doctor first appeared in 1963, he was travelling with a young girl named Susan who called him "Grandfather" -- and he acknowledged her as his granddaughter, a fellow refugee from his home world. A reasonably concise summary is here. The death of the Doctor's putative offspring -- including Susan's presumed parent -- has no known relation to the Time War and would have happened before he (they) first began wandering time and space.

Patrick said...

I hadn't watched any Farscape for a while, but am working my way through it again now. I'm up to "A Bug's Life" in season one. But, I totally get what you mean about just dropping us in the story, they always seem to skip what would be Act I on most shows and just let us fill in the fairly obvious backstory most shows would spend time on.

I actually watched "City of Death" a few weeks ago and was surprised to find out that the Time War wasn't a part of the show's mythology since the start. I was pretty surprised to see the Doctor going around with another Timelord. That makes it a bit clearer why there was so much focus on the Eccleston Doctor's angst about destroying the Daleks.

RAB said...

Yeah, the Time War was entirely a Davies invention. The previous series visited the Time Lord homeworld a few times -- unfortunately these episodes tended to diminish whatever mystique the idea held back when it was only hinted at. They have more impact as a lost world than when we actually saw them.

(There's one bit of visual continuity Davies put in the final Master story as an Easter egg for hardcore fans: when we see the flashback to the Master's boyhood, the characters are dressed in various Time Lord costumes that had appeared in the original series. Exactly like Frank Quitely did in All-Star Superman when he drew the residents of the bottle city of Kandor wearing an assortment of clothing designs taken from earlier depictions of Krypton by different artists over the years.)

There's one original series episode with the Daleks from 1975 that Davies says should be considered the start of the Time War, though no one knew it at the time. You can have fun playing with an unbroken series continuity stretching back 45 years; most long-running series are too eager to throw it away, but GM has also been having a good time doing much the same with Batman...