Last weekend saw the premiere of “The End of Time, Part One” (more on that later), but while we wait for the conclusion here are more of my favorite things about Doctor Who.
#44: ”The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”
And once again, here’s Steven Moffat. Can you tell why I’m feeling pretty confident about him taking over the series?
Oddly, World War II rarely figures into Doctor Who. “The Curse of Fenric” was set during the period yet remained at a comfortable distance from Germany. (The enemy soldiers were Russians!) Aside from some leftover South American Nazis in “Silver Nemesis” and a number of metaphorical fascists, it seemed that references to the Second World War were verboten to the Doctor.
So it was a bit of a surprise when “The Empty Child” dropped the 9th Doctor and Rose into the middle of the London Blitz, quite literally in the young woman’s case. Rose found herself dangling from a barrage balloon during a Luftwaffe incursion.
There were other notable elements here, including the introduction to the series of sexuality as a theme. (See item #3.) Captain Jack Harkness (see next item) was said to come from a future time when humanity’s flexibility regarding sex even extended to alien species. Meanwhile, the crux of the plot–the titular child’s search for his “mummy,” who had passed herself as his sister–had much to do with the stricter mores of 1940s England.
“The Doctor Dances” was also famous for being the one in which the Doctor joyfully declared, “Everybody lives!” It wasn’t the first Doctor Who story in which no one was killed (exceptions from the old series included “The Edge of Destruction” and “Fury from the Deep”), but it was the first one that called attention to it.
#45: Captain Jack Harkness
“The Empty Child” also introduced us to Captain Jack. He was initially presented as a confidence trickster and a charming rogue. To Rose, Jack served as a counterpoint to the Doctor. A time traveler himself, he was sexually available, had a sweet spaceship, and favored aggressive weaponry over the Time Lord’s passive sonic screwdriver.
More to the point, while the 9th Doctor tended to brood, Jack was fun! He approached each moment with joy and (literally) loved everyone.
Unfortunately, Jack’s joie de vivre was squashed by the time he arrived at the spin-off series Torchwood. I can’t help but think that if Rose had to choose between the Doctor and the sulky, tortured creature that has replaced happy Jack as the leader of Torchwood Three, it’d be no rivalry.
#46: The Deadliest Fruit of All
While the Doctor’s love of bananas and respect for them as a good source of potassium was established in “The Doctor Dances,” it wasn’t until “The Christmas Invasion” that a fruit saved the day. Freshly regenerated and dressed in Jackie Tyler’s boyfriend’s dressing gown, the Doctor engaged the leader of the Sycorax in a sword duel on the ledge of the aliens’ hovering mothership. Defeated, the invader was forced to swear that his people would leave Earth and never return.
That promise lasted only as long as it took for the Doctor to turn his back. As the Sycorax leader rushed forward, sword in hand, the Doctor plucked a satsuma (a type of citrus fruit) from the pocket of his dressing gown and tossed it at a convenient wall switch. A portion of the hull fell away and the Sycorax warrior dropped to his death.
Apparently, satsumas are commonly used as stocking stuffers in England. I’d bet that on the Christmas Day that this episode aired, they became children’s weapon of choice.
#47: The 9th Doctor
When Christopher Eccleston barreled onto the screen, it was something of a cold slap in the face to old-school Whovians. This Doctor didn’t resemble the eccentric Brits who traditionally inhabited the role. He wore clothes, not a costume. He was dour, damaged and dangerous.
What was perhaps most shocking was how quickly he became the Doctor, and how much we missed him after his all-too-brief tenure.
#48: Missing Adventure
In the midst of the comic murder mystery “The Unicorn and the Wasp” came this exchange between the Doctor and budding author Agatha Christie:
Christie: No alibis for any of them. The secret adversary remains hidden. We must look for a motive. Use the little grey cells.
The Doctor: Oh yes, little grey cells. Good old Poirot. Y’know, I’ve been to Belgium. Yeah, I remember… I was deep in the Ardennes trying to find Charlemagne… he’d been kidnapped by an insane computer.
In a quick cutaway, we saw the Doctor trudging through a Belgian forest, a bow and quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder. We never found out what a crazed computer wanted with the king of the Franks or how archery would solve anything, and that’s how it should have been.*
*The official BBC web site published a short story that explained exactly what an insane computer wanted with Charlemagne. But I refuse to read it.
#49: ”Time Crash”
Pretty soon people are gonna ask why I don’t just go ahead and marry Steven Moffat.
Here’s the 2007 Children in Need mini-episode, the first and only “multiple Doctor” story of the new series. In it, David Tennant–himself a lifelong, diehard Doctor Who fan–got to appear alongside his favorite Doctor, Peter Davison.* And he delivered the following heartfelt speech:
You know, I loved being you. Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important—like you do, when you’re young. And then I was you, and it was all dashing about and playing cricket and my voice going all squeaky when I shouted. I still do that, the voice thing, I got that from you. Oh, and the trainers. And… (putting on glasses) snap! ‘Cos you know what, Doctor? You were my Doctor.
*In the following season, Davison’s daughter Georgia Moffett** played the title role in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter.” Soon after, she began to date David Tennant. Way to live the dream, David.
**Georgia’s mother is Sandra Dickinson, who played Trillian in the TV version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If only I could work a Blake’s 7 cast member into this story, the resultant geek storm would rip the heavens asunder.