Season Two of the new Doctor Who series ended on Saturday. I am enjoying the series thoroughly, but I plan on talking major SPOILERS after the “Read More” cut, so venture not ye there if you don’t want to read them.
I don’t know if it’s because of the New Doctor Smell, or what, but I felt this second season was a bit of a step down from the first. Now, I don’t want to seem too harsh, because I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I found myself having more problems this time around. Let’s analyze things a bit further, shall we?
- The Doctor — I felt like to took me longer to get a handle on this Doctor than Eccleston’s. I prefer Eccleston, if I had to pick, but I don’t dislike Tennant at all. Eccleston reminded me of another favorite Doctor of mine, Davison, who had a sort of “vulnerable and haunted” feel to him that I liked. Tennant seems to go back to the Tom Baker zaniness, though when he scaled it down to being serious, I felt it often didn’t work. But like I said, ultimately he’s a fine choice, and I feel he settled into the role well.
- Rose — What’s not to love here? She’s just wonderful, easily one of the best companions ever. Her character arc was extremely well done and we all empathized with her as her relationship with the Doctor developed.
- Mickey and Jackie — I ended season one not disliking either of these folks but not exactly enamored of them either. By the end of season two, I had grown to really appreciate them. Both could have easily been disposable stock characters and instead were given very real and complex personalities and allowed to develop.
- The TARDIS — I’m glad we took a step back from the Almighty TARDIS of the first season. I still would like to see some of the other rooms in it.
- Torchwood — The “Bad Wolf” of the season, this is the show that’s spinning off from the new series. More info is here. The idea of this secret government agency investigating the unknown raises a lot of questions, the main one being, if they’ve been around since Victorian times, where the hell have they been? After all, the show takes place in contemporary England sometimes, and during the seventies aliens were attacking Earth (and, specifically, London) weekly. Why do they clam up until now, and suddenly can’t keep from being mentioned every five minutes? It’s a clumsy retcon, and I really think they need to come up with a way to address it.
- My Number One Complaint — In season three, we have GOT to get off Earth. You don’t know how my heart sinks when the previews for next week come up and we’re back in modern day England. I understand their reason for avoiding it in the first season but dammit, it is time to show us these amazing worlds you keep talking about, especially if Torchwood will be handling alien threats to Earth. Even if we stay on Earth and go somewhere else, like feudal Japan, or the American Wild West, or contemporary Africa or something, just anything other than England!
And now, episode by episode:
- New Earth and Tooth and Claw: Already discussed here.
- School Reunion: The return of Sarah Jane was so masterfully done that anything else seems like an afterthought. The monsters, led by Evil Giles, weren’t bad, though their goals were kind of odd. Still, the focus here was on Sarah. There could have been a lot more fanboy-aimed wankery than there was, but the central idea that traveling with the Doctor is a mixed blessing was very well handled. Also well handled was the fact that Sarah was on the show during a time when no hanky panky was allowed in the TARDIS. Many fans felt that the relationship between the Doctor and Rose was practically platonic compared to the relationship that should have existed between the Doctor and Sarah, so it was nice to get the chance to address that. A lot of great material in this one and, oh yeah, a monster story as well.
- The Girl in the Fireplace: A beautiful episode, this one, with a strong romantic element to it. As in the previous episode, the passion of the Doctor is revealed to be simultaneously deep and shallow, and Rose is once again given reason to doubt their relationship (or at least her interpretation of it). Madame Pompadour joins the list of Greatest Companions that Shoulda Been. And most importantly, it’s NOT set in modern day London! You don’t know what that means to me.
- Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel: Discussed here, but obviously later events require re-evaluation. A lot of the things that irked me about this episode, especially the ones shaped like Pete Tyler, turned out to be merely setting up the final two-parter. When I re-watch this (and I will), that will make things much better. However, I’m still disappointed in the origins of the Cybermen here. There really should have been much more to it than “Oh no! The emotionless killing cyborg project has somehow gone horribly wrong!”
- The Idiot’s Lantern: This one just did nothing for me. I didn’t find the story to be that interesting, there wasn’t a whole lot of really interesting character development, and the side issue of the boy’s family was just dull and by the books. The enemy, didn’t really impress me for what it was so much as for what I thought it was. I have no knowledge here, and don’t want any, but here’s my guess. I was getting a total “Master” vibe off of The Wire. Hidden identity for no particular reason? Check. Executed by its own people for hideous crimes? Check. Lost its corporeal form? Check.
Poorly thought out plan that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense? Check. Foolishly brought on board the TARDIS, almost ensuring a return visit if needed? Check and check. If it’s not the Master, it’s certainly studied his playbook. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it, unless it’s wrong.
- The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit: I thought this two parter had a much better development than resolution. First, yay! We’re not on Earth! We finally get to really see the new show do an alien world, and they do a great job. This story looked fantastic. Part one drew on a lot of sources, and was reminiscent of other episodes (Pyramids of Mars, Earthshock, Robots of Death) but all of those are favorites of mine, so I didn’t mind. The scene with the Doctor facing the horror of settling down and getting a mortgage was also well done, and hammered home the ongoing “this isn’t what you think it is, Rose” theme. There were a lot of weird elements in it, though. I thought the Ood were well done, though I find it hard to believe that everyone would be so blase about enslaving a living race, even one that allegedly desires slavery. I have a very hard time buying that. Although…that one guy said something about the Empire, so it’s quite possible humanity’s taken a very nasty turn. Maybe Emperor Cheney XVI declared the Ood subhuman. And the main idea behind the humans’ purpose there: “Hey, we’re on a planet that should be eaten by that black hole, but it’s being spared by a mysterious power source! LET’S GO SCREW AROUND WITH IT!” That’s just about the worst idea I can imagine. Course, Emperor Cheney XVI doesn’t always think things through sometimes.
The new series has always seemed informed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and this story only made that more apparent. This would totally have been an episode of “Buffy 2210″ if such a show existed. I was totally prepared in the second half to get a resolution similar to the one in a Buffy episode, where the gang encountered a fear demon in a spook house. The point there was that these things are just scary, but when you get to their source and confront them, they seem small and silly, without any real power. They need fear or else they can’t do anything. And that seemed the direction we were going in. I thought that when the Doctor finally confronted the (magnificent) Beast, that would be his point. “You really ARE a beast! You’re just a big stupid howling thing scaring everyone around you!” But this metaphor falls apart because the Beast WAS powerful and WAS a threat. So I’m just not sure what we were supposed to take away from this.
The second half also suffered from some real absurd things that just stretched belief. As the Ood menacingly approached the (armed) crew I was shouting, “Oh for god’s sake, does that gun even HAVE a trigger?” The idea of imprisoning the Beast near a black hole as a tarp for anyone trying to free it other than, say, in the black hole that’s already right there is just dumb. And damn, was that the least well-prepared group of explorers ever?
There was also a lot of attention paid to the Doctor’s “religion”, but the point was ultimately dropped without much resolution. That seems like a very big issue to raise without knowing exactly how you plan on addressing it, which seemed to be the case.
The fact that there’s so much to say about this one really drives home how I feel about it. I just felt that the few things it resolved it did so poorly.
- Love and Monsters: Man, what a weird episode. Probably my least favorite of the season, as I tend to watch Doctor Who in the expectation of seeing Doctor Who. This was the sort of winking, self-referential episode that most shows wait at least until season four to do, and even then tend to be kind of self-serving and unsatisfying. Also, those shows tend to have more than 13 precious precious episodes in their seasons, so they can afford to spend one being goofy. I also liked the bad guy as Victor more than in his true form, at which point I had to ask, “Let me see if I follow. All of this time and energy is spent to find the Doctor…just to eat him That’s it? Laaaaaaame. And already done, too; that was Evil Giles’ plan too. On top of that, the episode was all over the map. In one scene we get the guy dancing around his room to ELO, and then all of his friends are killed and eaten? The hell? It was just an unsatisfying mish-mash with some genuinely funny moments, but mostly a wasted episode in an already too short season.
- Fear Her: A nicely moody episode that totally eliminated the need for “The Idiot’s Lantern”, which it was pretty much a retelling of. Let’s see…mysterious entity using odd method to ensnare innocent people, entity is using someone else’s work to accomplish its goals, which are hazy to say the least, one of our heroes gets entrapped in the process, all of this on the eve of some momentous occasion which will figure into the plot somehow, and once the entity is defeated, everyone returns completely unharmed. I did like that the alien was pretty much just a lonely, petulant child. I liked the drawings, and wished we could have seen the Doctor’s POV in the drawing world. The scribble monster was awesome, and I agree the dad was suitably menacing even though largely unseen. (For a brief moment, here’s what I thought would pan out…since the Dad at first just said “I’m coming to get you, Chloe” I thought maybe we’d find out that it was actually her mom that abused her and that Chloe was somehow manifesting the Dad as a way to rescue her.) A nice, understated episode.
- Army of Ghosts and Doomsday: Holy freakin’ cow. The biggest card the original series never played — the Daleks vs. the Cybermen — finally gets brought out. And what a card it is! Unfortunately the Cybermen have no freakin’ prayer in this match; they should have been more powerful. But the standout here is the absolutely GLORIOUS trash-talking Dalek scene. That was just a gem.
We also see Torchwood revealed, and like all shadowy secret government black ops projects, they have a logo they plaster on everything in sight. By this time I knew that Rose was leaving, and I was hoping Tess Booberson, the director of Torchwood, would take her place. Instead, she gets to be a rogue Cyberman, which is interesting, especially because, since Tess never went to the parallel Earth, there’s no reason she’d get sucked into the void. I imagine her and the other “emergency upgrades” are still around, along with the one Dalek that got away. Damn, there are so many good things in this story. Action Mickey! 3D glasses! The Prison TARDIS! Sutekh’s sarcophagus! Trash talking Daleks! I want all the people who said before that the show, when it came back, had to be “campy” and have “crappy effects” to go throw themselves off a cliff — this was all just amazing.
And of course, Rose’s departure. Very moving and very touching. We knew she wasn’t dead dead, but of course, trapped in a world without the Doctor, she may as well be. She now knows Sarah Jane’s story. How can she go back to the shop, go back to Mickey, after everything she’s done and seen with the Doctor? It’s awful and cruel and unfair, but that’s the price. I’ll be sorry to see Rose go, but her story was an excellent one, and it won’t be bad getting a new companion to hang around with.
(If there’s a Torchwood on parallel Earth, was it also founded by their parallel Queen Victoria and inspired by a parallel Doctor Who?)
And of course we have another Christmas episode to look forward to. Twenty-ought-seven brings season three, a new companion, and
Torchwood. (EDIT: Torchwood is later this very year!)
I can’t wait!