Doctor Who – Thoughts on Its 49th Anniversary
I just finished watching “The Girl in the Fireplace” and felt an overwhelming urge to write some thoughts on Doctor Who. Turns out, today is the 49th anniversary of the very first episode airing, so my timing is perfect! (Spoilers through that episode – S2E4 – below!)
I’ll admit that this show has taken a while to hook me, and that’s even after starting with the more modern series. I’d watch an episode, be unimpressed, and then wait months to try another. I finally decided to try a bit harder to get through season one in a timely manner (since I’d heard things got better in season two) around episode six, “Dalek.” That was a decent episode, and even though the Dalek didn’t inspire as much fear on my part as its powers seemed to warrant, it was a vast improvement on the cartoonish villains of early episodes. “The Long Game” had good moments and bad, but the preview for the next episode made me delay getting back to the show (I started Pushing Daisies, did a three-week marathon through The Vampire Diaries, and dealt with the onslaught of new and returning fall shows instead).
The preview was misleading, however – when I finally got around to it, “Father’s Day” became my favorite episode thus far on the show (I’m a sucker for messing-with-personal-history time travel) – until the double whammy of “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” trumped it. I’d say those were the episodes that hooked me on the show. I think it was a combination of the charismatic Jack Harkness, added humor, the WWII setting (which I adore), and especially the Doctor’s joy when he realized everyone would live. It could have been a cheesy moment, but in that moment, I got it. The countless death the Doctor wades through, trying to save the world. Losing fellow comrades-in-arms, friends, his entire race – gaining victories at terrible costs. And finally one day, when all hope is lost, there is a solution that cures EVERYONE. As awesome as heartbreaking moments of this show are, it was that moment of joy that won me over.
“Boom Town” was a bit of a let-down after that, especially since it signaled the return of one of my least favorite villains. But “Bad Wolf” and “The Parting of the Ways” were great. I knew that Rose “was” Bad Wolf going into the episode, and that the Doctor would regenerate at the end, so that was a bit spoiled for me (plus knowing that Rose wasn’t really dead). The rifts on reality and game shows were fun, even if the only one I’d seen was The Weakest Link. The Daleks still weren’t that scary – maybe if I’d seen them in the classic show?
“The Christmas Invasion” was an interesting return to the modern-day story, this time with a new Doctor in tow. I’m pretty surprised how much Jackie and Mickey have been a part of the show going forward from the first episode of the new series. I’d honestly expected not to see them again after “Rose,” except maybe for a brief cameo when she stopped being a companion (any other sci-fi fans also think of Inara from Firefly whenever that word is used?), but I’m glad they’ve stuck around. More people tend to form a Buffy-like Scooby gang instead of being “two good ol’ boys, behind the wheel, chasing down bad guys” a la Supernatural (bonus points if you knew that quote was from Leverage). This episode also had an interesting parallel to The Avengers – the whole “we know there are aliens out there now, so we have to create weapons using alien technology to protect ourselves” thing. A disappointing turn for Harriet Jones’ character, though.
“New Earth” and “Tooth and Claw” were okay episodes, but definitely not among my favorites. It’s cool how they parallel episodes 2 and 3 of the first season – “New Earth” taking place not long after “The End of the World” and including a common villain and mysterious friend, while “Tooth and Claw” matches “The Unquiet Dead” with famous 19th-century characters and seemingly common supernatural character which were really a form of alien. So now that we’ve had ghosts, zombies, and werewolves, where are the vampires?
“School Reunion” featured Anthony Stewart Head at a school, but sadly no Buffy references (also, IMDb says that no other BtVS actors have shown up in the new series to date). Fans of classic Doctor Who were probably overjoyed to see Sarah Jane again, but I had no previous connection to her, so what I mostly gained was a look at the Doctor’s history. I did enjoy Mickey’s role in this episode, especially his identification with K-9 The robotic dog did seem like it belonged to a younger show, and I’m guessing this episode helped set up the children’s spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. Unlike Jack Harkness with Torchwood, this episode gave me no inclination to watch the spin-off, and nary a push to watch the classic Doctor Who.
I don’t know how long it would have taken to get hooked on this show if I’d started with the first Doctor, as I tend not to enjoy older shows unless they’re ones I grew up watching. Terrible special effects, bland dialogue, and too-neatly wrapped storylines means I rarely watch any shows airing before the late 90s. While it isn’t exactly the same, I felt no need to watch the old Battlestar Galactica to enjoy the new one, no need to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie to enjoy the show, or the old V to enjoy the new V. I prefer the Addams Family movies to the show, and while the new Beauty and the Beast still makes me cringe too often, I couldn’t even make it through the pilot of the old show. I’m not saying newish is always better with shows and movies (I do love the older Star Wars more), but having done the bulk of my TV watching post 2007, I’ve come to expect a certain level of shiny, or I’m pulled out of the experience.
And now to talk about the episode that got me itching to write this post, “The Girl in the Fireplace.” As I mentioned before, I love episodes that play with time, and this one did it in such a cool way while also being a lovely standalone story. The preview for the episode was just awful, nothing that made me look forward to watching, but it was nice in a way since I was so pleasantly surprised. The idea of a spaceship riddled with portals to various times in one person’s life was so cool, as was Reinette falling in love with the Doctor over the course of her life, while to him it was only about one day. And walking around in each other’s memories created an instant connection that prevent this from being a simple one-episode crush. Plus drunk Doctor was hilarious.
The villains were just the right amount of creepy and logical and fascinating – I also loved the steampunk vibe. And although Rose was supposed to be mad at Mickey in this episode, I liked that they got along, even if their adventures on the ship paled in comparison to 18th century France. It was fun spotting Angel Coulby (Gwen on Merlin) in a scene, and apparently more actors from that show end up on other Who episodes. I knew very little about Madame de Pompadour before watching this episode, though I was proud that I understood Mickey’s reference to Camilla.
The ending of the episode was superb. I didn’t quite believe the Doctor would trap himself in France with no way out, but I think his emotions overruled his logic. (And what were Rose and Mickey supposed to do, stuck on the broke spaceship?) I think it would have been interesting to see what he’d do if he didn’t find the remaining portal right away. As it was, choosing to go back without her, just for a minute, seemed destined to go poorly. It should have been, at the most, several weeks (based on the previous times he’d used that portal, but the unevenness made me think of the Narnia time differences), but six years pass instead, and he arrives just in time to watch her coffin leave the palace. Her letter to him was so sweet and sad. My heart broke for him as he watched the fire burn out.