Why Doctor Donna May Be Clever, But Is The Worst. Creation. Ever.

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So I finished watching Series 4 with my father, the second time I’ve sat down with it and watched each episode in order.  And unless I undergo some radical change in my personality or suffer extensive brain damage, this will be the last.

Please don’t get me wrong.  There were some stunning shows in this season, and Tennant, as always, was in top form.  But nothing could justify what happened during the end of Donna’s time aboard the TARDIS.  I don’t understand how RTD let this one slip by.  He actually authored Jorney’s End, so his role in making Donna trump everything the Doctor is must have been active.  It disappoints me.  What a foul way to start the Doctor’s long lonely year.

Why would RTD write Donna to be cleverer than the Doctor, even for a short borrowed piece of time?  Since when does half human, half Time Lord equal most powerful being in the universe?  (I’m ignoring the 8th Doctor’s revelation that he is half human himself.  I never bought that bit of contradictory cannon.)  By making Donna so clever that she can confound many Daleks with a little ten-key know how, RTD was saying that the Doctor has been incredibly dense or totally inept all these years.  Why didn’t the Time Lords come and borrow a human during the Time War, if they’re the key to outwitting these Dalek monstrosities?  Or are all Time Lords too dim to recognize the potential of a human/Time Lord in meta-crisis?  How is it that Doctor Donna has powers only surpassed by Rose when she looked into the time vortex?  And why on earth wouldn’t Davies play up the skills of each companion in the story instead of undermining every one of them, and the Doctor to boot?

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A separate concern.  Poor Rose, trapped in the alternate universe, having to watch Donna flounce off with the Doctor (although that trip would be short lived), and discovering quite soon that her human Donna Doctor has a sassy bitchy complaining streak.  Boo, RTD.  At least remove the Donna personality before handing over that human Doctor to Rose.

Burrunjor warned me of Doctor Donna in the comments section of my last article, and I thank him for providing me with a chance to brace myself before I entered this mess of a storyline.

But Doctor Donna is especially upsetting, and it isn’t fair for me to conclude my reflections on Donna Noble based solely on this episode.  I want to look at her evolution during her time on the show.  She showed the most hatred of the Doctor during her first appearance in Runaway Bride.  Partners in Crime was markedly better, although there were several instances of complaining and shouting.  I think it’s fair to say that there was an overall dip in her obnoxiousness after that, with several tantrums that showed up like spikes, keeping her nice and prickly.  But what a finale!  It dismantled the good will I had built up towards her in an instant, and made me regret every kind thought I had had towards her.

What is it about Donna that I find so objectionable?  The unfairness and meanness, I think.  With almost all other companions, I’ve felt fairly positive about their attitudes and contributions to the Doctor’s wellbeing.  Heck, even Turlough, who was secretly contracted to kill the Doctor by the Black Guardian, assisted him better than Donna.  At least he didn’t bicker him to death.  And even fan-hated Peri didn’t come close to insulting the Doctor as many times as Donna.  I don’t understand the double standard, although I suspect it has something to do with Donna being perceived as a strong woman.  Ha.  A thought just came to me.

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I would love for Donna Noble to travel with the Sixth Doctor sometime, preferably on an extended journey, and preferably when he’s hungry and cross or has just regenerated.  Tennant is far too sweet to her, and inexplicably very forgiving.

So I guess I’ve got my fix for sitting through the Doctor Donna nonsense.  Revenge fantasies and alternate story lines.  Contemplating my options, I wouldn’t mind a restored Donna visiting the Doctor now, as played by Capaldi.  I think just his eyebrows and stare would probably do the trick to shut her up.  This is the happy ending I’ve been waiting for.  Ahhhh.

What was your opinion of Series 4 and Doctor Donna?  Are there redeeming qualities I’m missing?  Even after the finale, I’m willing to consider any evidence or impressions you’d like to share.  Please leave a comment below.  Thank you for reading.

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Donna Noble?

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Have you ever had a sudden and visceral reaction upon meeting a new aquaintence?  Your mind reels, and you fall back a step or two.  You start going over your options for bolting out the door:  “Please excuse me, my grandmother is on fire.”  This was my experience with Donna.

It makes no sense to me.  I love Tennant, RTD, most of the stories with her in it, and even the basic concept of a push-and-pull relationship with the Doctor.  Someone who’s not crushing on him, someone who’s strong.  So why had I only seen Season Four once (with the exception of Pompeii because, you know, 12 and Pond).  I decided to sit down with my Dad, who also has major issues with Donna, and give her a second chance.

We started on Monday and I hope to finish up the season before heading back home next Wednesday.  We shall see.  But here’s what I’m discovering about Donna after calming myself down and inviting in positive reactions.

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First, I really do like Tate’s vulnerability.  When she cries or seems lost she’s extremely believable and my heart goes out to her.  Second, if she’s good enough for 10, she should be good enough for me.  My first time through I only picked up on the Doctor’s reluctance to have Donna join him.  I missed the joy he showed when seeing her, their playfulness, his disappointment when she said she wanted to go home.  Third, occasionally her bitchiness is funny.  I’ll add the one reason I had for liking her before rewatching the season:  no Donna, probably no more Wilf.  And that would be a crime.

Still, I’m having trouble not being dismissive of the character, even though I’m seeing new virtues in her.  It bothers me because I bet I’ve got this judgmental trait in my normal life, too.  The superpower of having been a Temp that they strangely weave into a couple of the early episodes seems ludicrous to me.  I’m just not able to re-envision her as a strong, fun, desirable companion, which seems to be what others think of her.  At this point, she seems as much fun as Tegan Jovanka, and almost exactly as much of a harpy.

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The last Donna episodes we saw were the Silence in the Library two-parter.  And I was utterly converted . . . but not by Donna.  River Song is such a breath of fresh air.  I knew I’d be able to relax and enjoy the show because Donna would be teleported out and River Song would hang around and save the day.  Also, Donna wasn’t half bad while trapped with CAL.  I buy her confusion, loyalty, and failed attempts at trying to figure things out.  Perhaps that should be my inroad with her:  she might be at her best when flailing for her life.

I’ll post again when I’ve made it through the end of the season.  Do you like Donna?  Any tips on why she’s great?  Please leave your comments below.

Why Thinking of My Time as a Tween Whovian Makes Me Cringe . . . and Smile

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I discovered Doctor Who at the end of childhood–roughly age 9 or 10–along with Douglas Adams and Monty Python.  It was a heady mix.  I’m afraid I didn’t grasp the concept of all things in moderation at that age, and kept myself glued to the tv or with my head in a book at all times.  I was the kid who performed the Parrot Sketch at any moment with my best friend, often to un-adoring audiences.  I was also the kid to terrorize my niece into memorizing facts about Doctor Who episodes that she had never seen or heard of.

In retrospect, I don’t know why my obsession with the Doctor (and all things British) made me so insufferable.  I was a real pistol.  I’d transcribe parts of episodes to foist upon strangers on the bus or at school.  Once, I went to the mall as the Fifth Doctor with an acquaintance and did a lot of stopping short and changing directions.  For a couple of years there, I spoke only in a (terrible) British accent.

I honestly don’t know how I escaped to my teen years without being scalped.

On the other hand, I really did love the Doctor and think I developed a strong understanding of the anatomy of a story, as well as how to think independently and be courageous enough to do the right thing.  We only had Pertwee, Baker, and Davison in our rotation on the local PBS station.  I caught Colin Baker and McCoy through cons and membership in a special Doctor Who society, where my antics got me more or less banned.

And yet, I credit my starting college at age 15 with what I learned from the show.  I had a kind of borrowed maturity in some areas that were conspicuously lacking in others.

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What if I hadn’t had Doctor Who in my life?  What kind of a person would I have been then?  Even though I was pretty obnoxious as a Whovian, I’m resoundingly grateful for the gifts it brought.  Independence.  Lightness of being.  Hope.  And also: an appreciation of justice, the compulsion to stand up for those in need, and trust in (metaphorically) entering situations without a weapon.  Love of the Doctor did me much more good than harm.

When did you discover the show?  Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your story.

Why Every Doctor Is the Right Doctor

It’s part of the magic of Doctor Who.  You know the old warhorse, “Wherever you go, there you are”?  I propose this logic can be used to argue that any actor playing the Doctor is the right Doctor, as sort of a tautology or definition.

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I was not yet born when Doctor Who first aired in 1963, nor would I have been in a location that would have received the broadcast.  And yet, I’m able to imagine watching Susan lead her teachers to the TARDIS, and the surprise that would come from seeing inside.  I can put myself in the place of a viewer who would define her Doctor solely as Hartnell.  Who else would it be, during the earliest years?  It’s certainly not the norm to have a main character regenerate, after all, even today.  So all the wonder and excitement that would have come from seeing the Doctor for the first time would be rekindled when Hartnell changed into Troughton, the first regeneration, if for no other reason than this transformation was unexpected, the first of its kind.

I won’t take you through regeneration by regeneration, as I think you get the point.  I would, however, lead you to a more uncertain time for the show, during John Nathan Turner’s tenure as show runner.  Many Whovians would argue that some combination of Doctors 5, 6, and 7 would constitute a weak link in the show’s lineage.  And while you can certainly make valid points about things affected by budget, such as costumes, sets, special effects, etc., it’s trickier to tag the actual Doctors and their eras as deficient.  Here’s one reason why.  Moffat recently said that anyone cast as the Doctor would have to be a star, meaning (my interpretation) a versatile actor who had the acting chops to carry the role.  Looking at the character as one spanning almost 51 years, it would be impossible to fully understand his journey without the contributions of each actor.  Every last one of them is necessary to form the Doctor’s complex personality.

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Every actor playing the Doctor has had his detractors, and every era’s show runners have been questioned (some more than others, of course).  It’s part of the balance of the fandom.  Speaking to the fans, I would say that whatever your personal opinions are about any given Doctor, to love any one of them is to be benefiting from the contributions made by all.  And I don’t just mean that linearly.  Not only do we have to appreciate the First Doctor to know and love the Twelfth, but we must also appreciate the Twelfth if we have love for any before him.  It’s funny that the show has the element of time travel in it, as it illustrates what’s going on in the contributions of each actor and each era’s creators:  there are fixed points in the character’s development that can be likened to the fixed points in time that the Doctor describes as Ten.  Specifically, the casting of each actor sinks an anchor into seas of interpretation that all must navigate.  If an anchor had been laid down at a different point–if the show had cast a different actor–it would change the entire boundaries of the story.  The world of the Doctor would be metamorphosed just as surely as if the show runner had been altered.

Why does this matter?  It matters to me because it tempers the frustration I sometimes feel towards particular regenerations and eras.  This perspective is more generous, more supportive, and ultimately, shows more goodwill towards the show than other, narrower, views I have held.  (Sorry Peter Davison.  I’m working on it.)

So, if you do not already, I invite you to say with me, “If I’m not near the Doctor I love, I love the Doctor I’m near.”

Thoughts?  All input is welcome!

The Strengths of “Listen” and “Flatline” and What They Share in Common

The bone chilling non-monster in “Listen.”

Twelve in a shrinking TARDIS from “Flatline.”

There will be spoilers.

I contend that “Listen” and “Flatline” are the two strongest offerings from Season Eight, which is saying something as Capaldi has had a home run of a start.  Both of them give a new look at the Doctor’s weaknesses, and set up Clara as the hero of the episode.  I’ll look at them in turn.

“Listen” finds the Doctor hunting for the thing that grabs your leg from underneath the bed in what we all assume to be a nightmare, but is, he argues, actual reality.  When we meet the ‘monster’ seen in the above picture, we don’t know if it’s really a monster or if it’s a child playing a prank on Danny as a boy.  The Doctor gives a fantastic speech where he convinces Danny as a child to not look at the being, and to use his fear as a companion that will let him fight or run better than the thing making him afraid.

Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you can fight harder. You can jump higher than ever in your life and you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time.

What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower! Your superpower! There is danger in this room. And guess what? It’s you. Do you feel it? Do you think he feels it? Do you think he’s scared? Nah. Loser!

Fast forward to the end of the episode.  The Doctor is out cold, and Clara uses the telepathic connection to the TARDIS to escape the beings at the end of the universe (or so she thinks).  When she goes out, Clara observes a child crying.  She thinks it may be Danny again, but it’s not.  Two people come into the room and Clara hides under the bed.  She learns the child is the Doctor, and grabs him by the leg–the origin of the current Doctor’s nightmare creatures.

We see the Doctor here as a crying child alone in a barn, the subject of a couple’s scorn and pity.  Whatever we’ve suspected about the Doctor’s origins, this comes as a surprise.  Did anyone think this was how the First Doctor looked as a kid?  I bet not.  The switcheroo that Moffat pulls off in this episode, starting with Twelve and looping back to the young One, and then starting with the Doctor’s speech to Danny and ending with Clara giving this speech to that young boy, is pretty phenomenal.  And it shows us more about Twelve, and indeed, the character throughout the run of show, than we see all season.

In “Flatline,” Clara actually claims to be the Doctor, as she’s representing him while he’s stuck in a shrinking TARDIS.  We don’t often get to see the Doctor battling  the TARDIS as she goes down to little power.  But it’s again remarkable that Clara is the one to figure out a way to power the TARDIS back up when even communications have gone down.  She also has to deal with a surly assistant and one who has a low opinion of himself, balancing them out and continuing on when they block things or falter.  She saves who can be saved, and is able to let go of those who were beyond her power, something we recognize from the Doctor’s trials in a new light.

The two stories also shared innovative ‘monsters.’  In “Listen,” they may or may not even  exist.  We see the bump under the cover and hear what sounds like flying, shrieking creatures, but which may just be the noise of the airlocks and air redistributing.  It’s challenging to ask a fan to disregard what they’ve seen and heard themselves.  Kudos to the creative team.  Again, in “Flatline,” we have 2D creatures moving into a 3D universe.  This is a stellar idea, and one I’m glad finally got done.  The concept was explored in the book “Flatland,” and, I’m sure, by many different science students and teachers, and is a strong ‘what if’ to take on.  It’s good to see Doctor Who take a stab at it too.

If these two shows are any indication, we’ve got a good solid program on our hands while Capaldi remains.

Do you prefer different episodes?  Please leave a comment below.

How River Song Was the Right Choice for Eleven

Caution.  This post on River Song has one thing:  Spoilers.

River Song has been the object of scorn by many fans, some resenting the way her timeline did not line up with the Doctor’s.  I can understand the frustration, as so much of her character arc depended on the premise being properly supported.  And because Doctor Who is science-fiction/fantasy–in that order–the fan base demands that the season-long scientific principles used be better thought out.

I will grant these objections.  However, I would argue that River Song is still a fitting mate for Eleven.

Eleven is widely regarded as a strong incarnation, with a flashy yet nuanced performance delivered by Matt Smith.  His version of the Doctor has been described as being an old man in a young man’s body, quirky, and mercurial.  But what lies at the center?  Something like responsibility or loyalty would be my suggestion.  The dedication he shows to Amy in “A Good Man Goes to War,” his self sacrifice when he reboots the universe in the Pandorica (showing his dedication to all the beings in the universe), even his vision of his first companion as Eleven just before his regeneration into Twelve shows an incredible amount of loyalty.

River Song’s loyalty, specifically to the Doctor, but also to doing the right thing, took a while for her to develop.  As a child she is desperate and not able to think beyond the Silence and the orphanage, as seen in “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon.”  Her next incarnation, the one which grows up with her parents Amy and Rory, is shown to hate the Doctor and actually want to kill him, not to mention have no regard for doing the “right” thing, as evidenced by her constant trips to the Principal’s Office.  When Alex Kingston is shown as the new regeneration she inherits her previous self’s attitudes, and at first tries to kill the Doctor.  This is in “Let’s Kill Hitler.”  Her growth in this episode is important to her becoming worthy of Eleven’s affections.

After fatally poisoning the Doctor, she is captured by a time traveling law enforcement unit which is bent on torturing her, and the Doctor saves her with what he thinks are his last moments of life.  Of course, he knows the grown up River Song and is trying to rescue her, but in Melody Pond’s mind (i.e., the newly regenerated River Song) he acts benevolently with no reason to.

This is key.  She changes as a person, this killing machine Melody Pond, into the beginnings of the River Song we know in this instant.  And the Doctor causes this change.  River Song becomes unswervingly loyal to Eleven due to his sacrifice.  She uses up her entire regeneration cycle to bring the Doctor back to health in response.  And this is coming off of trying to kill him with various means.  Her absolute commitment to him without knowing him personally at all is what aligns her with Eleven’s heart.

She is fierce, funny, and bright, yet it’s her loyalty that makes all the difference.  It’s interesting that he is attracted to this trait when many (but not all) of his companions have also displayed it.  I think that’s kind of the point that Moffat was making with River Song.  She’s the best of the companions, but still belongs in the same category with them.  Because in a non-sexual way, he loves most of his companions, too, not to mention the many species he visits all over time and space.

In their last encounter, when the Doctor first goes to Trenzalore, River is guiding Clara to help the Doctor even though Ms. Song is caught within the computer seen in “Silence in the Library.”  The Doctor eventually confronts her and tells her he can see her, even though he’s been acting like he can’t.  Then he confesses, “I can always see you.”  Their last encounter shows their extraordinary loyalty to each other, River in overcoming “death” to be with him, and the Doctor confessing that he has to pretend not to see her because he feels too strongly for her.

Feel free to leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading.

Why Should I Watch Classic Who?

There is a big disparity between the episodes which started in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston, and those which belonged to the show before it was resurrected, collectively known as Classic Doctor Who.  The show was rougher in its older form, it wasn’t paced as quickly and there were multiple installments per episode, making some three or more hours long with just one story.  So why bother?  Why should anyone who’s been hooked by the newer episodes ever go back to the others?  I have four reasons for your consideration

1)  It’s the same man.  Doctor Who centers around a character who can regenerate.  This means when he is brought to the edge of death, he can transform into a new body which has a new personality.  However, it is still the same character, the Doctor, which we follow.  All the history we have seen the last regeneration go through?  Still there.  All the beliefs, discoveries, and sparks which defined the last incarnation?  Right where he left them.  It’s this combination of new and old which keeps so many long-time viewers watching, even if they don’t like the direction the show is taking at any given time.

There are interesting questions which rise up from this plot of the same man turning into different personalities.  But to see it, just imagine if it were different.  If the show was about many men who came and took on the mantle of “the Doctor”–say, as secret agents, or royalty–then none of the overarching plot would exist.  The Doctor wouldn’t be the last of the Time Lords at the start of New Who; he’d just be one among many.  The discoveries that he makes as one man wouldn’t transfer in significance to the next, or at least, it wouldn’t be personal.  Why would he care about Rose Tyler as Ten if Nine’s relationship with her hadn’t be preserved?  Of course, we just got an example of the relationship changing, as seen between Twelve and Clara, but it wouldn’t have mattered to us as viewers if we hadn’t gone through Eleven’s cordial relationship with her.

2)  Each actor brings something unique to the role.  If you don’t see Pertwee’s fatherly relationship with his assistant (the name of companions in those days), Jo Grant, then you’re missing a major piece of the puzzle in understanding the Doctor.  This is true with each regeneration, before or after the new series started.  It explains a lot of why Capaldi’s Doctor is arrogant if you factor in Doctor number six, played by Colin Baker, who nearly bled contempt for others.  Similarly, Capaldi’s Mercurial, ever-changing feature is borrowed heavily from Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor.  It’s difficult for me to imagine making sense of Capaldi without knowledge of these two others–and in fact, every actor who has played in the role.  So you want answers about why the Doctor is doing something “out of character?”  The answer probably lies in the history of the show.

3)  There’s some seriously good writing and acting hidden between the rubber monsters.  Take Genesis of the Daleks, widely regarded as being not only one of the Fourth Doctor’s best, but one of the best episodes in the whole series.  It’s got a scene where one of the Doctor’s companions gets his leg caught by a genetically mutated clam.  Yes, a clam–a giant, cheaply made clam.  You can imagine this is one of the dippier monsters in the Doctor Who universe.  And yet, the episode itself is outstanding, with drool-worthy writing.  It just goes to show that production values do not determine the worth of a story.  There are many, many gems to be found in the Classic Who episodes.  If one offends you, just move on to the next.

4)  It’s  a lot of fun.  And that’s the ultimate reason for searching through the show’s past, as far back as 1963.  You’ll most likely enjoy what you’re watching, and if you don’t–pick another episode from a different Doctor, and you’ll be treated to something very different.

Know of other reasons to watch the Classic Doctors?  Disagree with my argument, and feel the Classic Doctors are unwatchable?  Leave a comment.  And thanks.