Monday, 21 July 2014

The Doctor’s Daughter written by Stephen Greenhorn and directed by Alice Troughton

This story in a nutshell: How to have and lose a family in 45 minutes…

Mockney Dude: There is some interesting material for the Doctor here but much of its overwritten and given too much emphasis (which could often a problem with the tenth Doctor) and yet David Tennant is such an old hand at playing the part now he gives it all a great deal of significance. He’s not impossible just a bit unlikely. He’s not what you’d call a natural father, especially given his dangerous lifestyle with no roots. I love his casual suggestion that if they want to peace why not stop fighting? So simple and yet so true and something that so many people forget when they are caught up in conflict. Go and watch the scene where he threatens to take down Cobb and stop his genocidal plan, it’s the most natural response for the Doctor but I hate the way the Doctor bigs himself up in this fashion, making himself feel important. The Last of the Time Lords listens to his daughter’s twin heartbeats and has a little taste of home. There's a great scene in the cell where he calls her an echo of a Time Lord and the that the real thing is so much more; a sum of knowledge, a code, a shared history and a shared suffering. David Tennant sells those quietly mournful scenes perfectly. The Doctor fought and killed in the Time War so how are he and Jenny that different? The script rushes the Doctor’s unexpected adaptation to fatherhood but Tennant gently softens his character discreetly and somehow makes it convincing. The Doctor talks all the time and but doesn’t say anything. He’s not sure if he can face looking at Jenny each day reminding him of what he has lost. The day the Time Lords died a part of him died with them. This is essential foreshadowing for Day of the Doctor. Tennant milks the ending for all its worth even when the material is beyond syrup but I can’t help but think we’ve seen this incarnation lose too much now. Couldn't he have seen Jenny survive and go on to continue his work to make him proud? Having Jenny survive was a marvellous idea (although it is a shame that she has never returned - I would have thought she would have been a given in The End of Time) but the Doctor is left heartsbroken at the climax just like so many other episodes. He wants them to make the foundation of this world a man who never would. Imagine how controversial this episode would have been had the Doctor shot Cobb. Paul Cornell would have a heart attack. He's a Doctor that doesn't mind handling a firearm when the situation calls for it (The End of Time).

Delicious Donna: Catherine Tate makes me laugh so much, I love how she delivers the line ‘Have you got that, GI Jane?’ Donna coins the name Jenny for the Generated Anomaly, which is kind of cute. Her characterisation is inconsistent from scene to scene, at first she thinks Jenny is nothing but a soldier (GI Jane), then a person (Jenny), then a soldier again (you’re not really real) and then starts telling the Doctor he should live up to his responsibilities as a parent. ‘Oi! Cool the beans, Rambo!’ Donna has picked up some womanly wiles over the years but thank goodness we don’t get to see them being deployed. I like how Donna is depicted as intelligent, good with numbers and always thinking. She might be reactionary but she's smart too. Donna is not afraid to challenge the Doctor’s forceful opinions; she was such an excellent foil for him, confronting his prejudices whilst never demeaning him (as Amy and River often seemed to). She thinks the Doctor is wrong and the Time Lords will return. Let's call her Cassandra. Donna figures out the numbers are completion dates for each section. How can she ever go back to normal life after this, she asks? She’s going to travel with the Doctor forever. Oh dear, whenever a companion starts talking like that there’s going to be trouble.

Marvellous Martha: I am very fond of both Martha Jones and Freema Agyeman as a performer; I like the character for her intelligence and resourcefulness and the actress for her charm and infectious enthusiasm. This is probably Martha’s weakest episode though, shoehorned into a story that doesn't really need her and feeling more like the obligation of a promise to the actress rather than a necessary inclusion.  She still gets lots of stuff to do but it kind of feels like Martha has been added to the story so Donna can comment on the Doctor’s parenthood and another character can tag along with the Hath. Martha loves the bit where you step out of the TARDIS. She protects the Hath even though they were shooting at her a few minutes earlier. Martha is very independent at this stage, heading to the surface despite the dangers. Martha’s panic as she sinks in the swamp is uncomfortable to watch and losing her friend adds a touch of poignancy to this otherwise over milked episode. She recognises that she cannot live the Doctor's lifestyle any more, that she has Earthbound responsibilities now.

The Good Stuff: Propergation from a single organism, one biological entity is both mother and father. I can imagine that is the method of procreation on Gallifrey rather than surrendering to the lust of the flesh. I love the Hath design, piscine creatures with jars clamped to their mouths to allow them to breathe underwater and move about. It’s a fresh idea for an alien and it's clever how Martha has to learn to communicate with them. The new series shies away from that kind of alien weirdness, often trying to boil alien civilisations down to recognisable Earth terms. Joe Dempsey is far more convincing than Georgia Moffatt so maybe this would have been better played as The Doctor’s Son? The surface is a beautifully stark landscape of temples and moons. Jenny’s laser acrobatics is one of the best set pieces of the year. Ridiculously overdone, but impressive nonetheless. When the technobabble is the best thing on offer you know you are in trouble but I really like the idea of a device used to rejuvenate a planets eco system. We actually get to witness the gases escaping and triggering the terraforming process.

The Bad Stuff: A casualty of the new series in 45 minute episodes is you do not have the time to set up the location in the style of the classic series. To explore the landscape and generate some atmosphere. It's all wham bang plot and the pre-title sequence in this episode is the crudest example yet. You’ll be shaking your head as soon as the title music kicks in and thinking how the hell did we get here? The ‘she’s my daughter’ and ‘hello dad’ dialogue was written for the trailers but it's completely unrealistic within the episode. The sets look remarkably low budget for the new series, lacking the imagination of what would have been achieved in the classic series. I love the idea of a theatre being turned into a triage centre but it isn't pulled off with any style. It all feels remarkably under-dressed. I don’t buy Georgia Moffatt as Jenny; she lacks any kind of gravitas or naturalism (‘You are such a soldier!’). I would have imagined the Doctor's Daughter to be a little more quirky. Idris from The Doctor's Wife, that sort of thing. Jenny is so...normal. Check out Lance Parkin's excellent Doctor Who novel Father Time to see how this was handled originally and with far more care. Nigel Terry is too much of a softie to be the ruthless military man he is written as. Jenny’s completely arbitrary death milks the melodrama to a new level (although the music is excellent). I remember me and Simon watching this episode and when Donna and the Doctor reveal how long the war has been going on and 20 generations in day blah blah blah and looking at each other in puzzlement. We declared this the least convincing twist ever. Until Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. What happened to the editing during the climax? I would have liked to have seen more of Jenny's revival and escape but this real blink and you'll miss it stuff. It seems weird that the beginning and end of this episode is rushed and yet all the stuff in the middle is so ponderous.

Result: The weakest episode of series four by some margin, The Doctor’s Daughter is the series pretending to be bold but running on the spot for 45 minutes. It's an odd one because it is an idea that can be worked (Father Time) but it needs double the running time, a braver writer and a stronger actress in the central role of Jenny to even begin to be able to pull it off. I wouldn’t want to sit through another 45 minutes of this. It's biggest selling point is fudged by the fact that Georgia Moffatt is stiff and unconvincing in the role and her pointless death scene and resurrection feel like blatant manipulation rather than a natural conclusion to the story. Both David Tennant and Catherine Tate add some charm and lovely moments but poor Freema Agyeman is worth more than the material she gets here. Add to these problems a jumbled narrative with an unconvincing reveal at its heart, some lousy production values, under dressed sets and cloying music and you have a troubled episode planted right in the heart of the season. I genuinely believe that Steven Moffat took his inspiration from Russell T. Davies in this episode, recognising that it had a spike in the ratings because of it's enticing title and trailer. It is the blueprint for The Doctor's Wife, The Wedding of River Song and Name of the Doctor amongst others. Episodes that don't really live up to their titles...unless you twist their meaning out of recognition. Fortunately there are six episodes of pure bliss coming up as an antidote to this messy adventure: 3/10


Anonymous said...

The Shallow Bit.
Georgia Moffatt is a stunningly attractive woman.

You do wonder though because of the title, her being Peter Davison's daughter was too much of a PR temptation for RTD to resist.

David Pirtle said...

Georgia Moffett may not be the world's most talented actress, but I think she looks like she's really enjoying herself, and that counts for something in my book. You're right about the reveal. It's ridiculous, not to mention unnecessary for the story (if they'd been fighting for years instead of weeks, it wouldn't have changed anything). I didn't care for the ending, either. It was both emotionally manipulative and pointless, except as a get-out-of-fatherhood-free card for the Doctor.