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13 January 2015 @ 08:51 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Army of Ghosts/Doomsday  
This is where it becomes clear that NuWho had painted itself into a bit of a corner with Rose's character. Oddly, it seems to be a corner that NuWho has continued to paint itself into with depressing regularity despite the fact that it was never really a problem with classic Who.

The corner in question is the one where, having established that your companion thinks travelling with the Doctor is better than the bestest thing ever, you then have to explain why they might stop. The show has only really avoided this problem once, with Martha, and the way Martha was treated in the show is a whole other discussion.

Before we get to Rose's exit, however, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday is also attempting to give us a face-off between the Daleks and the Cyberman. This is, of course, a classic fan dream. However the fan debate around such a showdown has generally focused upon the things that distinguish the Daleks from the Cybermen. Would the Daleks get the upper hand because they do have emotions? Would the Cybermen get the upper hand because they can quickly build more troops from the populations of inhabited worlds? For some reason, most probably because this is a season finale in which the monsters are wanted primarily to provide spectacle, Davies seems to have decided that the question boils down to who has better guns and since, in his universe, the Daleks are natural challengers to the Time Lords while the Cybermen are not, it turns out that it is the Daleks who have the bigger guns. This sort of makes the whole face-off a bit of a damp squib.

The story is focusing its emotional energy on the Tyler family. "This is how I died," Rose states at the beginning. "She's exaggerating," I reassured NLSS Child who was suitably scathing until the end when she was also in floods of tears. It's reasonably clear from The Writer's Tale that Davies was dissatisfied with this ending for Rose, but that he was also dissatisfied with the "fix" he provided in Journey's End. While, as I note, the problem of why a companion would leave has continued to dog modern Who, Rose in particular had been written as so emotionally invested in the Doctor that any resolution to her story that parted them has to appear particularly tragic. I have been wondering, while rewatching season 2, why the production team opted for quite such doom-laden foreshadowing of Rose's fate only to step back and reveal that she survives. Thinking about it, I suspect it is because they realised that any parting was going to be a tragedy and they were hoping that by revealing she survives that sense of tragedy would somehow be lessened. I'm not at all convinced this works.

The substitution of "Pete's World" Pete for Rose's father and, of course, "our" Jackie for "Pete's" Jackie is equally awkward. While it is plausible to imagine people in this situation falling in love, one would expect a bit more caution and care than is shown here. There is a sense that the dead are being conveniently forgotten as soon as a suitable replacement appears. Again, I suspect, Davies' desire to give Rose a happy ending by restoring her full family to her is twisting the way his characters act.

In general, it is an oddly structured story with a number of distinct sections with rather different tones. Army of Ghosts starts badly, particularly in retrospect when we have an explanation for the ghosts. It just seems very, very, odd that the world would react as it does to the appearance of these ghostly figures - rather than with suspicion and fear. However the interactions between Jackie and the Doctor and Rose are very nicely done, and the sequences in which Jackie pretends to be the companion are fun, which somewhat makes up for it. Doomsday is nevertheless probably the stronger of the two episodes with the humanised Cyberman that Yvonne Hartmann becomes (though this does beg a few questions about the cyber-conversion process), Mickey continuing to grow into someone independent and competent, and the final meeting on the beach (for all its mawkishness). Still there are a lot of moments throughout where one is going "yes but?" about some detail or other (e.g., how the Cybermen infiltrated Torchwood in the first place and set up their cyber-conversion station). I find "yes, but" moments are something of a signature of Davies' Who stories but there do seem to be a lot of them here and I suspect that may be a symptom of his tendency to sprint for the finish and have no time to really polish the final scripts of a season.

So, that was the end of Season 2. Watched back-to-back with Season 1 in a somewhat more receptive frame of mind than I had first time around, I do think it is a weaker season. I'm not sure that is really it's fault, or at least not entirely. Season 1 was focused on introducing the concept of the Doctor and his universe to the viewers and that gave a purpose to even otherwise pretty self-contained episodes. Season 2 lacks that. It can assume the viewer knows all about Time Lords and Gallifrey and the Time War and how time travel works etc., etc., and it doesn't have anything to replace that story-telling drive with. It might have been possible to more tightly structure the season around the introduction of Torchwood but I think that would have been too narrow and structurally it would have been awkward to leave it looking like an extended trailer for a different show.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/136855.html.
 
 
 
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 14th, 2015 03:22 am (UTC)
Didn't RTD say that travelling with the Doctor had to be the best thing ever and no-one would want to leave? A marked change of emphasis from the original idea where everyone supposedly just wants to go home, though this was quickly amended to make the Doctor at least more of an explorer.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 14th, 2015 10:34 am (UTC)
I think he did, yes. It does create a problem when actresses want to move on, unless you want a lot of dead companions!

It is interesting, in a way, given that Rose and Donna, (and to a lesser extent Amy) are all portrayed as women with potential that is being concealed by circumstances that the narrative doesn't choose to place the Doctor in more of a mentor role of enabling them to reach their potential and then letting them carry on alone - this was very much the route the New Adventures finally settled on for Ace.

Of course, that suggests that one can and should outgrow your time with the Doctor which, as massive fans of the show, may be a metaphor that Moffat and Davies are uncomfortable with.
a_cubeda_cubed on January 14th, 2015 07:00 am (UTC)
I agree that they really struggle with how to make companions leave. I agree about how Martha generally is treated, and you will probably have more to say when you get into next season. I suspect I'll agree with you on much of that. Depending on the mood of SSC (still small child) we're watching through Ten and 11 in parallel and we've just seen the end of Rose (Part 1) and the end of Amy. I think the end of Rory and Amy is to my mind the best they've done yet. While the episode has its downsides (the Statue of Liberty as a weeping angel?) I think the structure of why Amy and Rory leave is as good as it's going to get and fitted well with their struggle with the risks of travelling with the doctor. It's interesting that Moffatt so far has had companions who go on adventures with the doctor and then go home, rather than Rose who went off and came back for brief visits (the reverse of Amy/Rory really) and most of the others, classic and NuWho who go off and then finish (I think Tegan is the only classic Who companion who leaves and comes back, well apart from the Brig/UNIT who are all earth-based to whom the doctor comes back) travelling.
I do think the issue of post-doctor companion life was something that always bothered RTD, hence School Reunion, of course. Given that, as you say, they tend to paint themselves into a corner and Doomsday, Last of the Time Lords, Journey's End all have weaknesses about how the resolve the characters leaving,,
I think Moffatt has created a rod for his own back in making Clara so ambivalent about leaving (perhaps based on Jenna Coleman's reluctance to continue) but apparently now continuing on. Having once given it up and then gone back to it, it's hard to see how he's going to resolve her leaving,
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 14th, 2015 10:46 am (UTC)
I was mentioning to parrot_knight above that it is odd that the show chooses to present the Doctor as a desirable end-point rather than a teacher or mentor who enables you to go on to better things and wondering if Moffat and Davies are both uncomfortable with the way that could be read as a commentary on how one should grow out of Doctor Who itself.

I understand what Davies was trying to do with Martha but I really dislike the parallel the show tries to draw in these early years between the Doctor/Companion relationship and a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship in part because it makes the attempt to portray a "rebound companion" so ugly. I also think it was deeply unfortunate, having decided to have a "rebound companion" that they chose a black actress to play her because the subtext that introduces is even uglier. Martha, as a woman who was more confident in herself and her own abilities before joining the Doctor and who does indeed eventually decide to walk away because although it was fun she has other things to do with her life in her own right, would have been an equally valid and much better story and we could have had that with only a slight shift in emphasis.

Moffat seems to have fallen into this idea of the companion with a secondary life about halfway through the Amy&Rory run and it is a very clever idea. It allows you to have ongoing continuity surrounding the companions off-stage life and build arcs from that (which therefore don't require time-travelling characters who can keep cropping up wherever the Doctor is) and also allows you to suggest that the companion's time with the Doctor takes up a much larger portion of their life than we see on scene implicitly lengthening and deepening the relationship. I think it gives them a lot more flexibility with the companion stories and potential with their reasons for leaving.

I didn't object to the Statue of Liberty nearly so much as the explanation for why the Doctor can't go and get Amy and Rory is about as much of a non-explanation as the show has ever forced on us. Moffat has since elaborated what was meant in interviews to explain it isn't just that the TARDIS can't land in 1930s New York but I still think there are an awful lot of obvious work arounds for the problem.