The intensely-magnificent Series One is over. Everyone is blown away by the triumphant return of Doctor Who. It's truly one of the best times ever to be a fan.
Naturally enough, we want more Who and we want it as soon as possible. RTD is quick to comply. We get our first dose of David Tennant in the Christmas Special that year. And we also get our first real problem with the writing. RTD seems obsessed with the idea that a Christmas Special absolutely has to run for an hour. The Christmas Invasion, however, doesn't really have quite enough plot to fill the time.
It is still an absolutely brilliant scene when Tennant does finally wake up and fight the Sycorax Leader. He really gives a great performance as a newly-formed incarnation making his first steps into the world. It's wonderful fun watching him trying to sort out who he is and deal with a major invasion at the same time. It's a gorgeous sequence. I love it when he says: "This new hand - it's a fightin' hand!"
But, boy, does it take a long time for us to reach this moment. A lot of the story is spent just watching Tennant lying around and not getting up. And all the characters lamenting about how helpless they are and needing the Doctor to save them. Basically, there's a lot of stalling going on, here. I know one of my bigger complaints in my last Review was that adventures that begin and end in just 46 minutes feel a bit too light. But, honestly, I would have preferred The Christmas Invasion had run at the standard time. If characters had done, at least, something useful without the Doctor's help, I wouldn't have minded all the time that was spent with Ten in bed. But to just watch everyone saying: "Doctor! We need you! Please wake up!" over and over for 40 minutes and then getting 20 minutes of actually engaging entertainment only sat so well with me.
Sadly, this is only the beginning. More problems are going to ensue....
CHRISTMAS SPECIALS BE TRICKY
While we're on the subject of Christmas Specials, we need to discuss a certain degree of awkwardness that they will create for these Reviews. To all intents and purposes, Christmas Invasion should be in Series One. As it is transmitted in the same year that season was shown. But the DVD box sets put it in Series Two. Which does have a logic to it. It is the first story of the Tenth Doctor so it looks better in that arrangement. However, I'd also say that The Runaway Bride should be in Series Two as it works better as a coda to Rose's departure than it does as a starting point for the next season. But, of course, it gets placed in the Series Three box set, instead. As this seems to have become the tradition for where Christmas Specials go.
What this really boils down to is that, as I write these Reviews, I will be placing the Christmas Specials where I think they properly fit. Which may, sometimes, be in line with where they end up in the DVD boxsets. While, on other occasions, a season may get two Christmas Specials in one year!
This will be the case with Series Two. Christmas Invasion really does work best, here. But I also think Runaway Bride belongs in this season, too.
SERIES TWO IS BAD
Let's just get this out of the way: this season has aged very badly. I was very forgiving of it when it first came out because there was still so little New Who available at the time. I was just happy to have more Doctor Who! But, when I look back at it now, I see huge problems.
Truth be told, even when it first came out, I had some issues with it. My biggest one being that Torchwood had replaced the word Bad Wolf. It was now just cropping up all over the place. Shouldn't the Doctor, once more, be noting this? Why was he not turning to his companion and asking: "Rose? Have you been messing with the Heart of the TARDIS, again?!" But it all goes unnoticed, this time. Which struck me as rather silly.
Giving us another season where a single word just keeps repeating itself struck me as some very lazy writing. Was this going to be the thing with every season of the show? Pick a word. Lace it through scripts over and over. Crank it out! Couldn't we come up with more inventive ways to create season-long arcs?
I was even a bit bothered that Series Two was being used, mainly, to set up a spin-off series. It seemed a bit too early in the game to even be doing this with the franchise. Let's get a bit more content made in the main show before Production shifts its focus to side projects. I even think this has a bearing on the overall quality of Series Two. Had more attention been devoted to it rather than Torchwood, we would have gotten something better. It doesn't help that, at best, Torchwood was a very hit-or-miss television program. The episodes tended to be either quite good or rather awful. And there was an equal number of both!
I do feel that once the excitement of getting more Doctor Who died down and a few more seasons of the show were made, I became much more objective about Series Two. Nowadays, I do feel it is quite bad. Even somewhat awful, in places.
WHAT THE MAIN PROBLEMS ARE:
Here is a not-so-short and far-from-sweet list of some of the main problems that keep recurring over the season. In some cases, we get them for the rest of the RTD era.
I've already started complaining about this a bit in this entry. I do not like that the "trick" for each season arc would be to just make a word re-appear again and again until its relevance is explained to us in the season finale. I do greatly dislike it when Doctor Who depends too much on just using the same formula every season. My Reviews of Seasons Eight to Eleven lament about this endlessly. To the point where hardcore Pertwee fans did start threatening my personal safety (Okay, they didn't really do that. But I'm sure they thought about it!).
Series One was actually doing things that RTD would keep re-using. We just don't know that, yet, of course. Only as we embark upon the second season do we realize this. That's when the repetition truly begins.
One of the more obvious traits is the need for the season to always have a "historical celebrity". This is not unusual to the show. There were times in the Classic Series when the Doctor is travelling in an obscurer period in Earth's past and doesn't encounter any well-known figures from that period. Other times, though, he runs into people like Nero or H.G. Wells.
The nice thing, however, was that there were plenty of seasons where there was no famous person from history making an appearance somewhere. But, suddenly, RTD has to give us this every year. Whether it be Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Shakespeare or Agatha Christie - there's always one story that's devoted to them. This became tedious for me rather quickly. It made the meeting of a well-known character from the past feel less special. Because now we knew it was going to happen at some point during the season.
Another strong example of the formulaic writing that weaves through all of RTD's period is the way every season starts in the present then takes one trip to the future and then another to the past (sometimes, the past trip and future trip reverse - but it amounts to the same thing). Just for fun: how about two episodes in the present, three in the past and then one in the future? Just to mix things up a bit! Or something to that effect! No such luck, however. The pattern is set in stone. And, once more, this convention gets boring quite fast.
There are less-prominent patterns that present themselves throughout all four seasons. But they're there. And they definitely create a grind. By the time we get to the end of Series Four, I've had enough of it.
All this sort of stuff amounts to what I like to call "paint-by-numbers writing". I get the point of it. It creates a sense of familiarity for the audience and makes them more comfortable with the show. But, more times than others, it also feels quite forced. Suddenly, we're shoe-horning in a story about Agatha Christie that actually damaged the flow of the season because, damn it, we have to have a Historical Celebrity every season. It can also result in some fairly lazy writing. An author just ticks off certain necessary boxes rather than having to come up with an original idea.
Because Series Two is hitting us for the first time with paint-by-numbers writing, I tend to notice it better. And, quite naturally, it irritates me more.
The Soap Opera Drama has Come to the Forefront
I mentioned in the Series One Review that is obvious that RTD has written for soaps. He does create some interesting subplots in certain stories that are based more on the sort of drama you'd see in that style of television rather than a science fiction program.
But, because these are just subplots, it works. Sometimes quite effectively. I did say how much I enjoy that we care as strongly about what's going on with Mickey and Rose in Boomtown as we do about the sinister plans Margaret Slitheen is executing.
Unfortunately, in Series Two, he really starts getting the emphasis wrong. School Reunion is one of the best examples of this. The most threadbare of plots about Krillitanes trying to control the Universe is stitched on to a great big drama between Rose and Sarah Jane Smith fighting over who the Doctor loves more. This, to me, is not how sci-fi drama should work. The main plot should still concern a serious conflict involving aliens or technology or some other such plot element that we commonly see in the genre. It should not be a cat-fight between the latest gf and the ex!
Yes, School Reunion was actually written by Toby Whithouse. But, as the Head Writer, RTD still assumes some level of responsibility. He approved the script and allowed it to go out the way it did. And there were stories written by RTD in Series Two that also get the emphasis wrong with the soap opera elements. Reunion just exemplifies this the most clearly so I decided to highlight it.
Rose has Become Annoying
Rose is so damned amazing in Series One. There's no denying it. The arc her personality moves through during that season was beautiful to watch. Because of all the great character progression she's given, we absolutely love her.
Clearly, however, RTD has no idea where he wants to take her in Series Two. So he makes the somewhat insane decision of having her become rude and obnoxious. For most stories, she's only like this a bit here and there. But there are a few episodes where they really turn up the Annoying Factor.
The Idiot's Lantern is one of the best examples of this. Thanks to some earlier scenes in the story, we do see that Tommy's Dad is something of a DB. However, Rose and the Doctor don't know this when they come knocking on the door to "conduct a survey". Because we've already seen what kind of a jerk the man can be, we almost don't notice that Rose is treating him like absolute crap as she barges into his livingroom. The Doctor isn't entirely nice to him, either. But Rose really is exceptionally ignorant. And there's no real justification for her to behave that way.
Tooth and Claw is the other story that gives us Rude Rose at her most poignant. People are dying left and right from the attack of a werewolf. But Rose seems more concerned about getting Queen Victoria to say "We are not amused." than the loss of life. Which really makes her seem extremely cold. Again, the Doctor's not behaving particularly well, either. But, for some reason, Rose comes off worse.
The difference between Rose in Series One and Two is Night and Day. So much so, that I'm actually a bit happy to see her go at the end of the season.
Once more, we have to put School Reunion on the hotseat. At no point during her travels with either the Third or Fourth Doctor do we get the impression that Sarah Jane Smith ever fancied him in the slightest. But as we find her again all these years later - she confesses to having some sort of weird unrequited love for him.
This happens in other stories as well. In fact, I'll get into the Cybermen origins in a bit. But there does seem to be this trend to "fudge continuity when it suits him" starting to arise in the seasons RTD makes. In the case of Sarah Jane, it's glaringly obvious. But it's done more subtly in other places. And it's just a bit bothersome. Particularly since these re-arrangements of Who's past are usually done to make that soap opera element more prominent. Like having Sarah Jane be secretly in love with the Doctor the whole time. That definitely took the show in a somewhat cheap direction that it really didn't need to go in.
School Reunion could have, easily, still dealt with the difficulties Sarah Jane has gone through since parting ways with the Doctor. It didn't need to make up a romantic pretext that never existed before. But creating drama without having Sarah be in love with the Doctor was too much work. So the easier path was chosen.
Why do we Still Have the Angst?
Sorry School Reunion! But, again, you have one of the best examples of this.
Smack-dab in the middle of the episode, Ten suddenly has to deeply lament about "the Curse of the Time Lords." He goes on quite morosely about how much it sucks to live longer than everybody else (or, more realistically, almost everyone else. We have seen a few aliens that seem to have even longer lifespans than Time Lords). The moment is so melodramatic, one almost expects Tennant to start swooning.
"Woe is me!" we expected him to proclaim with his hand to his forehead, "Being a Time Lord sucks so bad! Someone play Who Wants to Live Forever? by Queen!"
When Eccleston portrayed angst, it worked. Because he recognized he was playing a heroic character and, therefore, needed to keep it under restraint. We like it when the protagonist fights against these sort of emotions rather than letting them overtake him. But this incarnation of the Doctor just wallows in his misery. And, for the most part, it's pretty cringey to watch.
While I don't expect the Doctor to be able to completely put the Time Wars behind him, most of the guilt does seem to get resolved by the end of Series One. For me, that's when making the Doctor angsty should have ended. Whether it be about the Time Wars or being able to outlive your companions or whatever. I would have been much happier if that trait was, once more, removed from the character.
In fact, I think having him keep it cheapened everything he went through in Series One. Still being angsty in his tenth incarnation does almost feel like he suffered from all that survivor guilt for nothing during the first season. He's still a miserable SOB, after all.
Lately, I've been making these Reviews very much story-by-story. Which can work nicely, sometimes. But, since it looks like I'm going to be another damned Negative Nancy, let's mix things up a bit.
The stories in this season have a lot of problems. This is, of course, a significant reason why the season is so bad. Rather than tackle the stories one at a time in chronological order, I'm going to cluster them into groups. They will be categorized according to the most prominent negative traits that they suffer from.
In some cases, there will be overlaps. Stories will fall under multiple headings. When this occurs, I will analyze them more thoroughly while covering the category that fits them best. In the other groups, they'll just get an incidental mention.
Okay, here goes:
Problematic but Still Charming
I'm tackling this one first just so we can stick a bit to the season's timeline.
Our first "true" story of the season fits in here quite nicely (I say "true" because some might say Christmas Invasion counts as the unofficial first story of the season).
Right from its opening shot, I have problems with New Earth. The new incarnation of the Doctor firing up the TARDIS seemingly for the first time since regenerating seems just a tad too indulgent. Other new Doctors weren't given moments such as these. They just started steering the TARDIS with no real fuss or bother. Basically, right from the onset of this story, I was suspecting problems.
RTD seems to have a lot of trouble understanding medical science. I'm not sure if having a ridiculous number of test subjects really would speed up the process of solving incurable diseases all that quickly. Nor does just mixing up a bunch of solutions into one big "healing cocktail" really work, either.
He seems to have less of a grasp on physics. The Doctor sliding down at top speed with that elevator cable between his legs should have produced a ridiculous amount of friction. His entire groin and a good chunk of his coccyx should have been worn away. Instead, though, he's just fine.
Worst of all, however, is his "You have to go through me!" speech that he delivers to the Cat Nuns. It really doesn't work, here. I've compared it, before, to Five's speech about emotions to the Cyberleader during Earthshock. It has a similar vibe to that moment in New Earth but happens after we've gotten to know this new incarnation for the better part of a season. Because Ten gets all righteous so early on in his tenure, the delivery feels soooo much more sanctimonious. Even a bit unnatural. It's just too soon to have this new version of the Doctor become so morally upright. We needed to see Ten being mellow for a bit longer before unleashing this sort of holy fury.
There are a few other minor issues that litter this story. Enough to make it definitely feel sub-par. But there is also a certain level of charm that I find in New Earth that stops it from feeling completely awful. There's enough fun moments to it that cause me to not absolutely hate it. It's not an entirely good story, either, of course. But I can tolerate it.
There other stories like this. The comedy in Runaway Bride feels horrifically forced, in places. Especially with all the farty-sounding trumpet music that Murray Gold is using in the background. "Look!" he seems to be trying to say, "This must be funny! It's got farty-sounding trumpet music playing behind it!" But a lot of it really isn't all that amusing. It's just Catherine Tate yelling away at David Tennant for a while and trying her damnedest to make flat dialogue funny. The plot is also too light (which will put it in another category in a moment) and there are some fairly preposterous moments in it. But it also has a few clever scenes that make it quite entertaining. Like New Earth, it's weak. But I don't utterly despise it.
School Reunion, I would say, also fits in here. I've listed any number of problems with it, already. But it does have enough redeeming qualities to stop it from seeming like utter drivel.
Too Light on Plot
Once more, we're adhering just a little bit to story order.
Tooth and Claw exemplifies, quite well, the next big problem with stories in Series Two. This tale comes perilously close to being passable. It certainly has a very nice build-up going on in its earlier scenes. But then we get to the werewolf transformation and realize that the bulk of the story, from this point onward, will consist of running up stairs and through hallways in an effort to escape from a CGI wolfman. Occasionally, a fairly-insignificant supporting character will nobly sacrifice himself to stall for time. The sacrifice might almost seem touching if it wasn't happening every few minutes!
I have already griped about how light Doctor Who now feels because most stories are resolved in only 46 minutes. They feel ever lighter, of course, when there isn't enough plot to fill the 46 minutes!
Admittedly, the intensity of this adventure does almost get us to forget that this really is just going to be 30 minutes of running away from a CGI wolfman. That, in and of itself, is a fairly impressive feat. But, overall, there's still just not enough, here. And the episode falls a bit short because of it.
Impossible Planet/Satan Pit is an even more glaring example of this. There's barely enough story to sustain one episode. Forget about two! It becomes really obvious during the first part when the writer, literally, creates four creepy moments in a row. Hoping this will get us to not notice that nothing is actually happening in the story. That we'll just be like: "Everything is moving at a Snail's Pace! But who cares?! I'm just so terrified, right now!"
The leads and supporting cast are doing their damnedest to give us some great characters. We really do like them and hate to see the fates that some of them end up suffering. But this is, ultimately, a story with a whole lot of nothing happening in it for quite some time. It's never been an easy one for me to sit through because of this. As we near the end of the second half, it's taking everything in me not to just yell at the Doctor to jump down the pit, smash the damn vases and get it over with!
As mentioned earlier, The Runaway Bride also suffers from this. It also doesn't have enough actual plot. Like Christmas Invasion, there's a lot of padding being thrown in just to fill out the hour.
And I would say School Reunion fits in with this gang too. The plot involving the Krillitane feels so light that it almost seems extraneous. They could have just taken it right out and filled the extra minutes with a bit more weepiness from the Doctor and Sarah Jane. That's all the story was really about, anyway!
The Truly Awful
And now we do take a big jump further into the season to get to a group of stories that really are pretty low-quality.
As I have previously disclosed in another series of entries, Fear Her is a Guilty Pleasure of mine (https://robtymec.blogspot.com/2016/05/book-of-lists-top-five-guilty-pleasures_21.html). It's ridiculously shmaltzy and over-sentimental. But I still kinda like it. But, as I always say when we get to a Guilty Pleasure in these Reviews, I still wholeheartedly acknowledge that the story is bad. It's got a pretty clunky plot that only just manages to fill the run-time. It's interesting that Timeflight is another Guilty Pleasure. The two have the common link of being made when the production team is just blatantly out of money.
Oddly enough, though, I still really enjoy this tale. But, from a non-sentimental standpoint, Fear Her has just too many issues with it. To the point where it just doesn't quite make it into that Problematic but Charming Category. Instead, it really is just bad.
Folks tend to really come down hard on Love and Monsters. Clearly, it's going quite hard for the laughs. Perhaps too much. I do applaud it for trying to be weird and experimental. I love Doctor Who most because it tries so often to break its own mold and give us something unique.
But, ultimately, the experiment does fail. There's just too many poor choices that were made in the story-telling.
But, for me, the biggest turd of Series Two is The Idiot's Lantern. What a sharp turn Marc Gatiss' writing has taken! This should, technically, be in the Too Light on Plot Category. But I wanted to address all of its problems, here.
There is just so little to the whole story: Evil disembodied being wants to suck all of Britain's souls out during the Coronation. Doctor finds out what she's up to and makes a MacGuffin to stop her. There's a sort of BS storyline of the police being up to some kind of no good. But it's very quickly revealed to be the time-filler it is and is nipped in the bud. The Doctor and Rose openly harassing a family is, perhaps, one of the most painful-to-watch scenes in New Who. Aside from causing us to really hate the leads, it's also just stalling for time as much as it can. Without the padding, Idiot's Lantern has about eight minutes of legitimate plot.
The actual geography near the end of the story is extremely wonky. Magpie hops in a truck and makes it to the transmitter in minutes. But then the Doctor and Tommy take all the time in the world to build a contraption and run over to that same transmitter. Strangely enough, Magpie has barely begun his climb during all of this. He should have been up and down that tower four times in the time it has taken our heroes to get there. It really makes the whole ending feel very disjointed and unrealistic.
Also, Mister Gatiss, you ought to know full-well that a Doctor Who story should never go near a line of dialogue that even vaguely resembles: "Nothink in ze world can shtop me now!" It's always going to be painful to watch!
These three really bad episodes, along with a mostly-bad two-part finale, cause the whole season to just, sort of, peter out rather than become the explosive climax it was meant to be.
I decided to just devote an entire section to how the Return of the Cybermen was handled this season. As it is a fairly complex mess that deserves special attention all on its own.
One of the first impressions I get from the whole process of bringing back these notorious cyborgs is another dose of paint-by-numbers writing. Like the Daleks last year, we first meet the Cybermen midway through the season. Then they come back again for the finale. Even before we get into the actual stories, the way in which they're arranged is already irritating me!
The paint-by-numbers issue is still more of a minor quibble, though. Where I take bigger issue is RTD's attempt to create a new Origin Story for the Cybermen. In my Review of Series One, I mention how leery I am over the fact that he appears to be trying to make Doctor Who just a little too accessible to a modern-day audience. That, in doing so, he's going to sacrifice too many important core elements of the show. Fortunately, this doesn't actually happen during that first season. It does happen during Series Two, though. And re-booting the origins of the Cybermen is the best example of this.
I get it, of course. The Cybermen do have a slightly more convoluted origin story than a lot of other recurring baddies. But is it really so complicated that it needs to be, pretty much, dumped and replaced with a totally new one that takes place in a silly parallel universe (rich people live in blimps. Really?!) In the end, RTD just needed to say: "They started on Mondas. They moved to Telos for a bit. Now they travel in big fleets." Amusingly enough, he really just had to create something similar to that flashback sequence in Earthshock that he claims to dislike so much.
Instead, we get the mess that is Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel. Where we must suffer through a Poor Man's Davros and a plot so thin that it suddenly needs to steal the Above, Between, Below premise from The Five Doctors.
Worst of all, we have to sit through the really cheesy goodbye scene between Rose and Mickey. That whole sequence is just horribly-written. Basically, it's the most overlabored dialogue you could give to two characters in a farewell scene. The actors do their damnedest with what they've been given - but it's not enough. I found the whole moment ruined so much of what we saw built up between Rose and Mickey. Rather than bringing it to a touching conclusion.
But we're not done with the Cybermen, of course. They have to come back for the season finale and create more menace from their Parallel Universe of Blimps. Because, of course, that's what the formula demands of them. It would have probably been better to give them a rest so that RTD can really think over what he wants to do with them next. To, perhaps, contemplate whether or not parallel universe Cybermen were such a good idea, after all. But he can't do that. He's trapped in the pattern he's created.
Fans have dreamt for years of what it would be like to finally see the Cybermen and Daleks go to war against each other. I don't think any of us envisioned the mess that was created in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. RTD - pretty much - got everything wrong, here. Even in something as minor as the first confrontation between Daleks and Cybermen. He decides to cut away from their dialogue so that Mickey can make a dumb joke about someone disabled! If Russell really wanted so badly for that line to stay in, it could have been placed at a better point. Essentially a time when neither the Cybermen nor the Daleks are actually talking. Because that is the dialogue we want to actually hear! Not some tasteless joke referring to the fact that one of the greatest geniuses of our time needs to use a special device to communicate.
The whole story seems more like an attempt to establish a "hierarchy of monsters". Daleks are at the top. They've got the best firepower and strongest defenses. Cybermen are somewhere below. In a season and a bit, we'll see bullets being able to take out Sontarans. So that we know they're even lower on the totem. It all seems a bit too forced and even slightly ridiculous. It would have all been so much more interesting if the Cybermen had seemed to stand a chance in the battle. But the Daleks are the clear victors. I definitely like it better in Flux when all the worst monsters of the Universe seem to be on fairly equal footing. But it really does seem like the bulk of the plot for Army/Doomsday was constructed to just show us that Daleks are better than Cybermen. Really, we needed a bit more than that.
"Wait Rob!" some of you might be saying (and it's been a while since any of you have spoken up like this. I had been hoping you'd stopped!), "What about the whole plotline with the Genesis Ark?! That's an extra layer to the story!"
The point is valid, I'll admit. But that "extra layer" would only be effective if it wasn't so dumb!
The Time Lords are well aware that the Daleks are irredeemable. Particularly now that they've had a war with them. All Time Lords know that every Dalek that is allowed to exist is a threat to the Universe. So, if they have the opportunity to place a bunch of them in a trans-dimensional prison - why are they stopping there? Why aren't they doing like the Doctor did in Revolution of the Daleks and crushing them like paper cups? Placing a huge army of Daleks in a jail but not destroying them can really only lead to one thing: providing an army for any Daleks that might need them at some future juncture. Why would the Time Lords do that?!
And then, of course, we get to another cheesy farewell scene. Admittedly, not as bad as the one we got at the end of Age of Steel. But still pretty bad. It doesn't help that Rose has been largely unlikeable for a good chunk of the season. So it's really not that sentimental of a moment for me. Had we lost Rose at the end of Series One - I might have been an actual blubbering mess. But, by this point, I'm a bit glad to see her gone . I also find that opening this whole debacle with Billie Piper in voiceover saying incredibly bad dialogue like: "This is the story of how I die." makes her departure feel even more ludicrous. How can you be telling us how you die if you're meant to be dead?!
This brings me to another trend in RTD's writing that I dislike that will continue to flourish over the next few seasons. "False advertising hype" - as I like to call it. We'll get told in a later season that another companion is going to die. But she doesn't. We'll get teased that we're seeing a future incarnation of the Doctor. But we're not. It all becomes quite tedious.
This whole nonsense begins in Series Two with the false predictions being made that Rose will perish. Such levels of cheap sensationalism go even lower than soap opera writing. It now feels more like we're getting tabloid headlines!
Clearly, I'm not happy with Series Two. Next to Season Seventeen, this one is my least favorite. RTD has even admitted that he put tons of thought into Series One but wasn't expecting there to ever be any more Doctor Who to make after that .When the BBC actually gave it the Green Light, he had to scramble to put the whole season together.
I would have been happier if we'd had to wait so that he could take some proper time to think things out a bit better. There is the harshest of contrasts between the quality of Series One and Series Two. Again, when it first came out, I was much more merciful. Re-watching this season, however, has been far from easy!
Since I don't consider Series Two to be much better than Season Seventeen, I probably don't have much of anything nice to say about it. But there are a few things I like:
I Like Tennant Best, Here
This season does push Ten's eccentricity and quirkiness the most. Which I enjoy. He seems much more "Doctorish" in Series Two. More alien, in general. Which is how I like my Doctor. It's fun to see that there are certain types of behavior or etiquette that humans engage in that he just can't get his head around. I love it, for instance, when Tegan and Nyssa are hugging goodbye at the end of Terminus and the camera cuts briefly to Five as he watches them. The expression on his face seems to indicate that such a gesture is just beyond him. It's a great touch that shows us that he may look human but, psychologically, he's something very different.
Stuff like that happens quite a bit in Series Two. I especially adore how the Doctor and Rose do this sort of shtick where Ten doesn't realize he's being a bit rude and she has to tell him. This does carry over a bit with him and Martha next year, but not as much.
In Series Three and Four, Ten becomes much more of an angsty pretty boy that most folks seem to actually like but I don't find particularly entertaining. Whereas, in Two, those traits are kept to a bare minimum. Which also makes him feel more like a real incarnation of the Doctor rather than the "always charming" version of him that we tend to get in his later years.
Girl in the Friggin' Fireplace
You may have noticed that, as I was discussing the problems that arise in various stories of this season, I never brought up The Girl in the Fireplace. And that's because there are no real problems with it. Once more, Moffat hits it out of the ballpark. This tale is head-and-shoulders above the rest. Already, I'm warming to the idea that he should become the next Head Writer. He just seems to know the show better than RTD does. He understands where to modernize the tone and where to keep things Old School. He also just writes a beautiful story.
I do actually enjoy how the Doctor falls in love in Fireplace. A dyed-in-the-wool hardcore fan such as myself should object to this, of course. But the romance is handled very well. Especially since it has to happen within that very short 46-minute format. Moffat tailors the whole relationship in a way that allows us to see its potential rather than make it a love that is fully-fledged. He recognizes that there's just not enough time to accomplish this. But that's part of what makes it so heart-breaking when the Doctor ends up missing most of her life. Something that could have been is lost. Which is a special sort of sadness that can tug at the hearstrings just as hard as if the Doctor had actually spent the rest of Reinette's life with her.
There are all sorts of other gorgeous nuances to the plot that Moff weaves in. There is that great central message to the episode that Madame de Pompadour brings out quite eloquently during her encounter with Rose: "The Monsters are worth it if the Doctor comes with them. (or words to that effect)" You can see in the reaction Piper gives to the statement that the two characters understand each other perfectly and treasure what they have. It's just one of so many absolutely splendid scenes. Maybe the only moment I enjoy more is when the Doctor smashes through the mirror on the horse. The effect may not have aged well. But it's still one of those times where you can't help but punch the air a bit. The Doctor is at his most heroic, here. He's willing to sacrifice an entire lifestyle just to save one person. It's great stuff.
If there was anything that didn't work for me, it was Ten's little inside joke about bananas. This is one of my bigger problems with New Who, in general. It became too self-referential too quickly. Even Moffat succumbs to this over-indulgence.
Otherwise, though, this is the Jewel in Series Two's Crown. Sadly, there's very little else there that's all that great.
Every once in a while, I meet someone who wants to start watching Doctor Who. I always recommend that they begin at the most recent "jump-on point" that the production team has created. However, sometimes the newcomer decides they want to start at the very beginning of the New Series. Which I can respect, of course. Although, they'd impress me even more if they went all the way back to An Unearthly Child!
As is always the case, Series One blows them away and they are hooked. Christopher Eccleston is their hero and they are practically in tears when he regenerates. I try to get a vague idea of what speed they are watching the show at and purposely check in with them when they are about halfway through Series Two. I contact them and ask how they're enjoying the show. They've just made it through the First Cybermen Debacle. They're starting to struggle a bit. I don't wait long before I get a hold of them again. They're on Love and Monsters, now.
"Rob!" they'll admit, "I'm about to give up! This season is soooo bad compared to the first one!"
"Hang in there." I'll re-assure them, "It will get better next season!"
The fact that this seems to happen with anyone who tries to watch New Who right from its very beginning speaks far louder than any conclusive statement I can make in this Review. This season is so bad that I need to almost hover over new fans and offer them encouragement to push through it.
Fortunately, I wasn't giving them false promises. Series Three is a marked improvement over what we got this year.
Here's my Guilty Pleasures Review of Fear Her, again: