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11 May 2008 @ 11:11 am
Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter  
I loved this as I was watching it but, in retrospect things come to the fore which, while not making it bad in anyway, stop it being a really great episode of Doctor Who.

One of the main things preventing this being a really great episode of Doctor Who is, paradoxically, one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. This episode was talking to the fans. Most of the episode was tied up in pushing fannish buttons: addressing issues like the Doctor's loneliness, his family, even the whole debate about whether the sonic screwdriver is a weapon. None of which, especially as dealt with here, carries much actual weight outside of the specific context of Doctor Who in 2008. So far every episode this season as been "fan-pleasing" in some sense, whether addressing fannish debates (The Doctor's Daughter, The Fires of Pompeii), revisiting past companions or old monsters (Partners in Crime, Planet of the Ood, The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky) or even constructed to be reminiscent of old school Doctor Who (The Sontarain Strategem/The Poison Sky again I would say). I'm enjoying it a great deal but I do wonder what the cause is. Is there a recognition that the huge popularity of New Who has peaked and it now needs to consolidate and play more to its core audience or has Russell T. Davies forgotten his own advice about not listening to fans and the worst excesses of 1980s Doctor Who?

I very much liked the character of Jenny and thought Georgia Moffett was good in the role*. She's been widely compared to Buffy, which I don't quite see. OK, so she is blond and can do back-flips but there was none of the "valley-girl meets action heroine" concept about her, relatively little angst (on her part anyway) and an emphasis on guns rather than kung-fu wire work. I suppose you could note that she is a female weapon constructed by the patriarchy with, initially, little concept of having any agency of her own but I'm not sure that equates to being a Buffy clone even if you try to shoe-horn the Doctor into a Giles role. I liked the way the three characters of the Doctor, Donna and Jenny interacted with both the women challenging the Doctor in different ways. I thought it was a shame though that the Doctor never answered Jenny's challenges about his soldierly nature and his use of the sonic screwdriver as a weapon. I realise there isn't a good sound-bite answer to this but if the show wants to discuss the issues then it needs some idea of where it stands on the debate. It seems to be reaching for something with the Doctor's distaste for guns and direct killing in both this episode and the previous ones but I don't think its really satisfactorarily grasped the nettle and started exploring the problem properly, especially since the Doctor was effectively proved wrong by UNIT last week. iriswildthyme suggested (over on JadePagodaTV) that the moment where UNIT stood up to the Doctor might be a key thematic moment for the season which I rejected then, but in the light of the same debate being raised and not really resolved this week I wonder if he had a point.

Martha had a use, thankfully, although she was still side-lined a bit. The moment she fell down a cliff was a little naff and reminded me of Sarah Jane "falling" down a so-called "cliff" in The Five Doctors - but at least it was actually a slope and we didn't have to suffer Freema Agyeman trying to generate tension while rolling across some perfectly level grass. Clearly Donna was needed to mediate between the Doctor and Jenny, so Martha got to show us the Hath side of the conflict. Donna worked better this week, than last, when despite people's praise of her I felt she was actually side-lined rather. That said, I didn't think the "I was a secretary" bit worked so well as in The Sontaran Strategem; it felt a little artificial and forced to me.

Lastly, aside from all the fannish bits, and I'd say nearly all the above were fannish bits. I liked the idea of the multiple-generation seven-day war. This is the sort of idea we've seen relatively little of in Doctor Who since Hartnell's days. I think there were problems with its execution, mostly because the episode was more interested in the Doctor and Jenny. However, Time and Relative Dissertations in Space had an interesting essay on the way old style Doctor Who drew on a theatrical tradition to provide world-building through language and that wasn't really happening here. The details of the world, the Hath, the colonists and the General Cobb's background were never provided leaving them at the level of a simplistic morality play enacted by ciphers. This was a shame but I still applaud the fact they tried to fit a big idea in there.

Lastly a few fan nitpicks and questions for fan-targetted episode: I see the TARDIS translation circuits are on the blink again, a shame because it would have been nice to hear the Hath speak for themselves. The whole regeneration sequence raises a lot of interesting questions (why did the Doctor say she was "too like him"? why didn't her appearance change?). I know the official line continues to stress that David Tennant will continue in the role beyond the end of the season, but this odd remark along with the Ood prophesy about the end of his song make me wonder if we're building up to some sort of "Doctor dies" climax to the season.

*I had been concerned this was entirely stunt casting. Let's cast Peter Davison's daughter as the Doctor's daughter and guarantee a few headlines. A particular scary facet of this is that I remember the announcement of her birth. I've been a Dr Who fan longer than she has been alive!

EDIT: Reading Simon Forward's blog reminded me that I really wanted Jenny to be Susan's Mum or Aunty not a clone. I was still happy but I'd have been happier if she'd been someone with a past history with the Doctor.
philmophlegm: dalekphilmophlegm on May 11th, 2008 12:42 pm (UTC)
"The whole regeneration sequence raises a lot of interesting questions"

Ahh, but was she regenerating, or had she just stopped her hearts to feign death? Romana does this in Destiny of the Daleks.
Polly: handsjane_somebody on May 11th, 2008 01:53 pm (UTC)
I also don't think she was really regenerating. My theory is that either she was still in that 'newly-regenerated' (or in this case newly-generated) stage that apparently allows extra healing powers (and the focus on the Doctor's cut-off hand is to remind us of this) OR given the similarity of the breath she breathes out to the terraforming gases then her coming back to life is a side-effect of that, very much a la "Search for Spock". Or perhaps a mixture of both. I haven't read any other reviews or fora so I've no idea what other people are saying, but I'd be surprised if both these ideas weren't being put forward elsewhere; I doubt they're very original.
the silver lady: time & space in a junkyard by calapineacciochocolate on May 12th, 2008 07:06 am (UTC)
There's a ton of reviews up on
doctorwho, so you could always have a looksee there to see if others are wondering/wandering along the same lines. Your explanation makes as much sense as anything else, though.
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on May 12th, 2008 08:13 am (UTC)
I assumed the breath thing was like the Doctor's breath in The Christmas Invasion - which is why I linked it with regeneration but, actually, it also supports your theory about extra healing powers.

There is also a suggestion in the old series that most Time Lords can control their appearance at regeneration in which case she could have just chosen to remain the same - but its implied that such control is a learned skill the Doctor never got the hang of (that bit might be in a target novelisation since I get a bit hazy where my fan myths come from these days).
sophievdennis on May 23rd, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
given the similarity of the breath she breathes out to the terraforming gases then her coming back to life is a side-effect of that, very much a la "Search for Spock".

I completely assumed that the "regeneration" was, in fact, a direct result of the terraforming, and nothing to do with timelord-esque regenerative powers. The breadth definitely looked just like the gas. I'd forgotten that the same idea - that the life-giving properties of terraforming could bring someone back to life - was used in Trek, but it just seemed to make natural sense from the episode. I'm therefore fascinated to learn this is a topic of debate in the wider who-verse (or whatever you call it).
Polly: handsjane_somebody on May 11th, 2008 02:10 pm (UTC)
I liked this very much too while watching it, but am not it stands up too well to scrutiny after the fact. I agree that the 7-day multi-generation war was a very clever idea. I am pleased that when the party got to the foliage-covered heart of things, I immediately said, ah, here's the metaphorical Garden of Eden, before ever the idea of 7 days of creation was brought up. Skordh raised the question that if the war's only been going on for 7 days, how come General Cobb is so old? We decided that if you push the button on the machine for a general, you get an old-guy model ;-)

I agree about the TARDIS translation circuits. It was rather confusing at first, but soon became apparent that Martha could in fact understand the Hath just fine (knew their names etc), therefore for some reason it was only the audience that wasn't hearing what she could hear; in storytelling terms I think this is basically cheating.

As for the soldier/pacifist dichotomy, I felt it did get some kind of answer, that yes the Doctor was a soldier, but nonetheless one who would not directly kill if at all possible (underlined by the "man who would not" ending re. threat to General Cobb.) I find it interesting though, that when he had the gun on the general, I confidently asserted that "he won't", while Skordh opined "I'm not sure, I think he might." I'm uncertain whether our different feelings about the possible outcome mean the writers etc have given the (this) Doctor a good complex charaterisation, or just an unclear muddled one!

Skordh did wonder whether Jenny could still turn out to be Susan's mum, through some timeline confusion thing (since his mentions of having been a father don't automatically relate to being Susan's grandfather) but I don't think so. Apart from thinking it likely that the Timelords really must have some sense for keeping their own timelines straight at least, surely if he knew he hadn't yet met Susan's mum he'd be on the lookout for some such happening, and wouldn't be as surprised and taken aback as he is here.
the silver lady: Martha & Ten hug by cowboyhdacciochocolate on May 12th, 2008 07:13 am (UTC)
I was a bit irked by the translation circuits seemingly not working, especially since we saw the TARDIS behind Martha once she woke up and was talking to the Hath.

I liked this very much too while watching it, but am not it stands up too well to scrutiny after the fact. About the first thing we all said to each other after viewing it was wondering why there was such a big build-up between Martha and the Hath she helped, only for him/her/it to perish saving her. Had really expected the Hath to come in with her and help show the other Hath that there was another way, a way of peace. The Hath's death was a pulling at the heartstrings to be sure, but there was already enough of that going on with the relationship between Jenny and the Doctor, so why kill off a nice character? Dramatically even it didn't make sense.
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on May 12th, 2008 08:14 am (UTC)
I've seen several people suggest that the circuits were working, just we couldn't hear them. On viewing I thought it was just general empathy on Martha's part but looking back (B has already viciously deleted the episode so I can't easily rewatch) I can see she's probably getting and delivering more information than can easily be accounted for by guesswork.
the silver lady: Mod Tardis by anna_bo_bannaacciochocolate on May 12th, 2008 06:59 am (UTC)
Came here via a notice on the Google Alert for Doctor Who. I think that you have hit the proverbial nail on the head with the idea that this season has been, as you put it, fan-pleasing. I hadn't really twigged onto that idea until I saw how you lined events up for your readers. Very good meta.

Re: Time and Relative Dissertations in Space sounds very interesting. Link, please? Or is it a book or magazine of some kind?

I liked the idea of the multiple-generation seven-day war. If you haven't, read Ray Bradbury's short story that addresses something along this theme, Fire and Ice. I don't which collection it's in, but then all of his early work is worth reading. :)
louisedennislouisedennis on May 12th, 2008 08:09 am (UTC)
Time and Relative Dissertations in Space is a book, it came out about 6 months ago so you can probably get it through Amazon. I talk about the book in general here and the first four essays here. I keep meaning to do the others but I have a backlog of LJ posts I'm meaning to do and they are at the "non-urgent" end of the list.

I'm picked up on who_daily these days though so they should appear there if (and when) I get round to posting them.