Wednesday, 23 July 2014

I Was Born Yesterday

Doctor Who
The Doctor's Daughter
Series Four, Episode Six

The Doctor's Daughter.  There's no ignoring that title: it's like a workplace-water-cooler-seeking-missile, and it's a shrewd way to get people to tune in next week.  Of course it's one thing to slap a sensationalist title on an episode, and another to actually deliver what it's offering.  The Doctor's Daughter, for pete's sake, and all that implies?  Is that what this is?  Have a guess.

In fairness, this was never meant to be about the Doctor's past.  To explain further (and give a good idea why it doesn't work), here's Russell T Davies discussing it in his and Benjamin Cook's fabulous book, The Writer's Tale:

They later got married and had babies.  Besides the ick factor,
that's David Tennant, marrying Peter Davison's
(and his own on-screen) daughter.
Top that, other Doctor Who fans!
"Wouldn't it be brilliant to ask Stephen [Greenhorn] to write a story in which, well, the Doctor really changes?  We haven't got a Madame du Pompadour or Human Nature-type story in Series Four yet, so let's have something that really stretches David's limitless acting.  What can that be?  Well, let's really go for broke...  A child!  Give the Doctor a child!  Pre-titles sequence: the Doctor and [Donna] are trapped underground.  Door explodes open.  Smoke clears.  Great big sexy Amazon of a woman standing there, loaded with guns, and says... 'Hello, dad!'"

A window into Russell's unique thought processes, there: it's a story that "changes" the Doctor, and "stretches David's limitless acting" by introducing (before the opening titles) a "child", which actually-why-not turns out to be a buxom gun-toting cartoon character.  You what?  I don't know, guys; Human Nature this ain't.

Jenny (short for Generated Anomaly, ho, ho – hang on, isn't that a Red Dwarf gag?) is itty-bitty Georgia Moffett, real-life daughter of Doctor #5.  She's cute as a button, and obviously she's got the life experience, but she doesn't sell the idea at all.  It's probably not her fault; the concept's too weird, too rushed, it was just never going to work in the first place.  As for the episode, it's already clear this isn't going to work when the titles roll.  Then there's 43 more minutes of it.

Following last week's cliff-hanger, the TARDIS rockets off by itself with Martha in tow.  They arrive on the planet Messaline, where humans battle the fish-like Hath in a war spanning generations.  They immediately take a bio-sample from the Doctor – that's how they repopulate, and it's where his "daughter" comes from.  Jenny is born fully-grown, smart and ready to fight.  The Doctor does not take to her, despite Donna's wearisome, companion-ey insistence that she is his daughter.

Oddly enough, the Doctor said it first, and there's a ton of techno-babble to back it up.  All I could think was, isn't this more like cloning?  You don't see any other soldiers claiming to be mummies and daddies and sons and daughters.  It's only Jenny saying things like "Hello, dad" and going on about how similar they are, because the Doctor is rather like a soldier, apparently.  Great idea, picking something he's vehemently against as one of his main identifying features.  I mean, just because you've only got one episode to sell this utterly bizarre relationship, why make it easy?

Okay, how is Jenny like the Doctor?  She's anti-killing.  Or rather, she's pro-killing at the start, but later (after much Fourth-Doctor-and-Leela-esque nagging) she changes her mind, so yay not killing after all.  Next?  She has two hearts; be fair, so does the Master.  Next?  She's awesome at gymnastics.  (!)  Oh, I know: she's selfless.  She jumps in front of the Doctor when he's about to get shot, and he'd totally do something like that.  (But only if no one else was around to do it for him.)  And at the end, she zooms off to space to fight evil.  That's quite like him – but then, it's also like Rose Tyler (joined Torchwood), Captain Jack (rebooted Torchwood), Sarah Jane Smith (investigates things) and Martha Jones (joined UNIT).  Living by the Doctor's example is pretty much the done thing now, and it doesn't make you related.  None of this rings true, but they gamely hammer this circular peg into a square hole for the rest of the episode.

"Jenny was the reason for the TARDIS bringing us here.
It just got here too soon.  Which then created Jenny in the first place.  Paradox."
Gee, guys, careful you don't overdo it with the "explanations".
The dodgy daughter thing might not matter so much if she was an interesting character, but they fumble that as well.  With her perfect features, weapon skills, random gymnastic talents and feminine wiles (she really used the old seduce-the-guard trick?), she falls somewhere between a Mary Sue and a cardboard cut-out.  I didn't care when she died.  (The minute she signs up to TARDIS-travelling, you know it's on the cards.)  I didn't cheer when she got better.  As for the conspicuous absence of a return episode, or her own cute-as-a-button spin-off series, I'm smirking with relief just thinking about it.

As for David's limitless acting, he gets to shout her down when she wants to shoot people (which he would have done even if she wasn't his "daughter"), and he gets to replay that embarrassing "Don't you die on me!" scene from Last Of The Time Lords, with the crying and the rocking and the we've-got-so-much-to-do-you-and-me.  Yuck.  But there are moments, like when he recalls his real family and the pain of losing them, where Russell T Davies gets his wish.  Okay, it's still bang-your-head-on-the-desk boring to hear him go on about the Time War for the squillionth time, but he does it well.  He's generally a better actor when he's not trying to be heard from next door – and yet, some of the big stuff works.  A bit where it seems like he's going to shoot someone is genuine edge-of-your-seat stuff, despite the outcome being totally obvious.  That's no mean feat.

Anyway, there's (slightly) more to this episode than the Doctor and his "daughter", so: what about the war?  None of the people fighting it knows what it's actually about.  (I've got a team of specialists working on this, but I think it might be satire.)  Donna, who is an amazing temp, spots a lot of numbers all over the place and realises they are dates, and OMG, the war has only been going on for seven days!  This is a great piece of deduction for Donna and it makes sense that she'd spot it, but it does raise some odd questions.  Like what difference it actually makes to any of them, seeing as everybody's dead just the same as if it had taken countless years.

Their history is corrupted because so many generations get mowed down every day, and with each person starting as an adult the process of passing things on and getting it wrong happens much faster.  But just being born and getting killed at a ridiculous speed doesn't stop them keeping records.  Doesn't anybody write anything down?  Don't those reproducing machines have logs, or something?  How did they actually lose the information in the first place, if it's only been a week?  General Cobb looks older than any of them, and there's no hint that they age faster than we do – is it fair to assume he's been here for at least some of the week?  Wouldn't he know what's going on, or at least have a better sense of the time-scale, if he has?  (He mentions his "whole life" at one point.  What, you mean since Wednesday?)  And never mind all that: where are all the bodies?  It ought to be immediately obvious that they're not decaying very much for being centuries-old, just by looking at them!  Screw it: this is clearly the standard Plot That Can Only Advance If The Characters Are Idiots.  Nothing to see here.

Ah yes, Martha's elusive "fianc√©".  Anyone else imagining her running home
to a stuffed body pillow with a face drawn on it?
It's a goodish episode for Donna, at least, who gets to show off her office skills once again and be generally hilarious.  Then again, the "she's your daughter" stuff is heavy-handed, and it's a shame about the "I want to travel with the Doctor forever" bit at the end.  It didn't take long to get her to Rose-level-obsession, did it?  And speaking of repeats, we get another tiresome "We're not a couple" gag.  Yes, I know it's inconceivable that someone could stand next to David Tennant and not want to boff him, but let's just pretend , eh?  Not everybody is Team David.

It's an okayish episode for the Doctor, despite all that damp squib family stuff.  It's wonderfully Doctorly to distract a guard with a clockwork mouse he keeps in his pocket.  It's not very Doctorly to be such an arse towards Jenny for most of the episode, even if she is an off-brand Gallifreyan.  Oh well: he sets out his stall on violence at the end, i.e. "he never would", which is all very big and dramatic and T-shirt-ready if you like that sort of thing.  (Just don't remind him that he incinerated a spaceship full of Sontarans last week, and erupted Vesuvius all over 20,000 Pompeiians the week before.  He never would, except when he has to, which is virtually every week.)  Also, shoot, wasn't Martha in this?

Alas, Martha, as ever.  In an accidental (and yet absolutely sodding typical) twist, she's relegated to the B-plot, hanging with the Hath and talking to herself.  The Hath are great aliens, and talk about brilliant practical effects, but none of that makes any difference to the story.  The scene where her Hath buddy drowns is quite sad, if confusing.  (He is a fish.)  Opinions differ on Freema's "crying", but I feel sorry for her, so shut up, it's fine.  She gets at least one line of semi-meaningful dialogue, but unfortunately it's awful.  "All those things you've been ready to die for.  I thought for a minute there, you'd finally found something worth living for."  Gah, make it stop!  She returns home afterwards, no better off for having gone anywhere in the first place.  Beats sitting around the house, I guess?  Seriously, what was the point bringing her back at all?

There are a couple of nice moments in this, but they're buried under a fatally flawed premise, hopelessly executed.  File it under "Never should have made it off the blackboard", or quite simply, "What were they thinking?"

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