Sixty Things I Like About Who: #50 – 57
With the end of David Tennant’s run as the 10th Doctor Who only a day away (in the U.S.), here’s the penultimate entry in my look back at the last five years.
#50: ”Turn Left”
“What if?” stories are opportunities for writers to have their kronkburgers and eat them too. They offer the chance to knock out one of the central pillars of an ongoing narrative and examine the ramifications without lasting damage.
In “Turn Left,” Donna was tossed into a world in which her absence at a crucial moment had caused the Doctor’s death. The results were not pretty.
In a fun-house mirror version of seasons three and four, the Doctor’s friends attempted to fill his sneakers. Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith and the Torchwood team were all killed or otherwise lost in dealings with the Judoon and the Sontarans. London was obliterated by the crash of the spaceship Titanic, and sixty million chubby Americans were converted into Adipose. England, as usual, was shown to be one disaster away from fascism.
Of course, they all got better. That’s the advantage of the “What if?” story.
“The End of the World” introduced a group of baddies called The Adherents of the Repeated Meme. While they turned out to be merely a cover for the true villain of the story (see item #53), their name hinted at what would become a regular feature of Russell T. Davies’ vision for Doctor Who. Each of the first four seasons included one or more repeated words or phrases: Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Mr. Saxon and the Medusa Cascade.
During the first season, “Bad Wolf” was subtly (well, most of the time) worked into nearly every episode, providing a mystery for attentive viewers and a means for Davies to tie together the Doctor and Rose’s adventures throughout time and space. It ultimately turned out to be a meaningless phrase spread throughout the universe by Rose–after temporarily gaining omnipotence during “The Parting of the Ways”–as a message/warning to herself.
“Torchwood” was more intrusive and less mysterious, given that we already knew that it was a tease about the upcoming spin-off series. Whereas “Bad Wolf” had an in-story reason for its frequent appearance, constant name-checks of “Torchwood” (even in the far future of “The Impossible Planet”) seemed arbitrary. Thankfully, by the time the Saxon/Master story arc rolled out, Davies had figured out how to organically work his memes into otherwise unrelated episodes.
“Bad Wolf” continues to pop up in the parent series, its spin-offs and its merchandising. (It even intruded on the 2nd Doctor’s era in one of the reconstructed episodes found of the DVD of “The Invasion!”) It returned in a big way during the final moments of “Turn Left,” where it appeared everywhere–including the TARDIS itself–to warn of a crisis that threatened all reality.
#52: Billie Piper
While the character of Rose ultimately wore out her welcome (how can we miss you if you won’t go away?), I feel that I really should say something about the actress who played her, Billie Piper. When the bubble-gum pop singer was first announced as the co-star of the reinvented Doctor Who, I expect that the reaction in British fan circles was much as it would have been here if, say, Britney Spears was added to the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Happily, Piper proved to be a real actress, giving Rose (and the show itself) a grounding in reality. She’s since gone on to several Masterpiece Theatre productions and the TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl.
One thing that I found refreshing about Piper, especially after seven seasons of stick-thin girls on the aforementioned Buffy, was that she was proportioned like a real person. Rose proved that sci-fi/fantasy starlets didn’t need anorexia to be sexy.
The first true villain of modern Who was Lady Cassandra O’Brien.Δ17 (no, not a typo), who claimed to be the last pure human in the year Five Billion. “Pure” in this case was entirely relative, given that hundreds of plastic surgeries had left her as nothing more than a fashionably thin, stretched piece of skin attached to a brain tank.
This “bitchy trampoline,” as Rose dubbed her, set the stage for the quirky adversaries to come.
#54: Doing “Domestic”
One of the biggest changes in new Who was that the Doctor’s companions were no longer people without attachments. When Rose went away with the Doctor, he promised to bring her back in twelve hours; instead, Rose returned twelve months later to find her mother conducting a frantic missing persons search and her boyfriend Mickey accused of her murder.
Rose, Martha and Donna left behind not only their mundane lives, but various family members, some of whom became recurring cast members and even traveled in the TARDIS. They helped bring the fantastic down to earth.
#55: Martha Jones
Martha Jones was arguably the longest-serving of the Doctor’s many companions. She spent two months watching over him while he pretended to be a human (“Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood”), an unknown but lengthy period trapped with him in 1969 (“Blink”), and an entire year circling the Earth on foot telling his story to the people living under the Master’s rule (“Last of the Time Lords”).
However, she never got the respect she deserved, suffering as she did from the severe disadvantage of Not Being Rose.
While the Master is seen by many as the Doctor’s chief nemesis, for my money that title belongs to Davros, creator of the Daleks. He’s got a richer backstory, a more consistent characterization and a believable motivation. Crippled and impotent, he exceeded his mandate to create a “travel machine” for the mutated remains of his people and instead birthed a race of monsters bent on imposing his will upon the universe.
During his initial appearance in the classic episode “Genesis of the Daleks,” the Doctor asked Davros a hypothetical question: if he’d created a virus that would destroy all other forms of life, would he release it?
Yes… yes. To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power… to know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes – I would do it. That power would set me up above the gods! And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!
When Davros returned in “The Stolen Earth” (with a fine, creepy performance by actor Julian Bleach), it seemed that the Doctor’s suggestion was still on his mind. Instead of a virus, his mad plan to set the Daleks above all involved the “reality bomb,” a device that would not only destroy the universe, but all possible universes.
People and planets and stars will become dust. And the dust will become atoms and the atoms will become… nothing. And the wavelength will continue, breaking through the rift at the heart of the Medusa Cascade into every dimension, every parallel, every single corner of creation. This is my ultimate victory, Doctor! The destruction of reality itself!
And that is why Davros has it all over the Master, my friends.
#57: The Return of the Time Lords
The final moments of “The End of Time, Part One!” For Gallifrey! For victory!
After I’ve had a chance to watch part two of “The End of Time,” I’ll be back with the last three items and some final thoughts.