Doctor Who: season 3 status report

Even though my husband Chris and I are watching as many episodes a day as his schedule will allow, almost to the exclusion of all other shows and movies, I would say I’m hooked, entertained, impressed, but still short of obsessed. There are moments that unexpectedly touch an emotional chord, like when the characters in “Gridlock” sing two of my favorite hymns, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Abide With Me.”  The characters’ hope and resilience moved me to tears. What’s remarkable is that the same episode also gave me a panic attack with its depiction of the worst traffic jam ever.  Doctor Who excels at tapping into the anxieties that underpin the most mundane experiences. “Gridlock” takes the frustrations of an ordinary traffic jam – are we there yet? Why does it take 2 hours to go 10 miles in New York? – and ramps them up exponentially, laying bare visceral fears of claustrophobia and being trapped forever.

What keeps me from being totally in love with the show, I think, is the Doctor’s emotional remove from the creatures, places, and times he visits. As the Doctor himself says, “Big picture, Donna!”  Sometimes the picture is too big for me to feel invested in the Doctor’s own emotional connection to anything.  I know the companions are meant to humanize him somewhat, to remind him of the individual scale and personal cost of the events they witness, and David Tennant does a lovely job of playing the moments of attachment, grief, and loss.  But the Doctor’s history and experiences are on such a cosmic scale that he can sometimes be a difficult character to identify with.  I suppose it’s a fair trade-off for a show that’s so staggeringly audacious in addressing cosmic questions, like the existence of evil, as it does in “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.”

Speaking of shows that I enjoy but that I’m not in love with, Doctor Who reminds me of Fringe. I guess I should say Fringe reminds me of Doctor Who, since it seems to have borrowed so much from the earlier show’s depiction of parallel universes – zeppelins, a bridge between two universes, structural weakness caused by traveling between them.  Unlike Doctor Who, though, Fringe is just great-adjacent. Something keeps it from fully taking flight, even though it traffics in some bold ideas.

Anyway, back to Doctor Who and season 3: we finally got a woman of color up in the TARDIS!  “Hello! Not exactly white,” Martha points out, wondering how she’ll be received when she and the Doctor disembark in London, 1599.  While the show is explicit about Martha’s racial identity, I’m also curious about her class identity – seemingly wealthy family, professional career. She’s such a departure from Rose’s distinctly working-class background, that it makes me wonder about the companions in the original show. Were they usually working-class foils to the Doctor’s upper-crusty, white male persona? Any chance of the Doctor regenerating as a man or woman of color in the future?  I’m still a newcomer to the Whoverse, so Whovians, please share your thoughts and inside info in the comments section!

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7 Responses to Doctor Who: season 3 status report

  1. Ashley says:

    My dad says that all of the companions in the original series were basically just the equivalent of space secretaries: there to look pretty and ask dumb questions. Apparently Sarah Jane Smith (the woman who showed up in the Tony Head episode) was the only one with any real personality, which is why everyone remembers her so fondly. So I doubt they really got into class issues.

    Shannon and I were talking about Martha today, and how she really should have been an interesting character, but instead they wrote her as Black Doctor Rose: she’s smarter and wealthier than Rose, but she has a crush on the Doctor and issues with her mother–so basically, Rose 2.0. And yes, they mention that she’s black, but there are plenty of times where they go back to some date in the 1950s or 60s and there’s lots of black and white people sitting happily around a table together–so, the Captain America brand of race-washing, where you include a “diverse” cast by just ignoring the history of race relations.

    I, personally, am DYING for a female regeneration, or a person of color. I suspect we’d get the latter before we get the former, as is usually the case in America. But I don’t know–the BBC might be more daring than I give them credit for.

    • popgoddess says:

      Well, that’s too bad about Martha. She’s so cool in the hospital on the moon episode; I hoped she might be someone who occasionally challenges the Doctor. The Doctor says that she’s not replacing Rose, so it’s disappointing that she basically does just that.

      Also, how adorable is Andrew Garfield in Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks? Slightly spotty dialect work, but adorable nonetheless!

      • Ashley says:

        I’ve actually never rewatched Daleks Take Manhattan because the accents are so bad it makes me want to throw things at the TV. So I didn’t even realize Andrew Garfield was in it (since I clearly didn’t know who he was at the time). That said, they get wonderful young guest actors on that show. I’m thinking of the kid from “A Christmas Carol” and all the kids in “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood.”

  2. Jason Updike says:

    First of all; well-done, Ashley. You, and EW, finally got her to watch the show! Just to weigh in with my own two cents; I too am rooting for a gender regeneration and I think if anyone will do it, Steven Moffett will. I know that Colon Salmon, an actor of color who was in the running to play James Bond after Pierce Brosnan, was also considered for the Doctor post Tennent. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, he makes an appearance in Season 4’s Silence in the Library, one of my favorite bits of story-telling for the tee vee.

    I think a woman playing the Doctor isbe just the unexpected turn the character will need after Smith’s departure and Moffett even played with the idea himself in a charity spoof of Doctor who that he wrote with Rowan Atkinson playing the Doctor. In it, Mr. Bean proceeded to die repeatedly until he regenerated, finally, as Joanne Lumley. Also, closer to the show’s canon, Neil Gaiman wrote an episode from last season in which the Doctor mentioned another rogue Time Lord he once knew called the Corsair who was a bit of a brigand and a bad boy and on some regenerations a “bad girl!” As far as I know, this is the first canon acknowledgement that TIme Lords can switch gender during a regeneration. Keeping fingers crossed even though Smith continues to grow on me as the Doctor and I’ll be sad to see him go as well when he does.

    I’ll be interested to know what you think of The 11th Hour, the first episode post Tennent. He remains my favorite Doctor but as time goes on I’m more and more impressed with how well Smith filled those chuck taylor’s in Tennents absence. Relatively speaking, Tennent got to sleep through his first episode while familiar supporting characters carried the story. Smith’s intro makes him work. 🙂

    • popgoddess says:

      Chris was wondering whether gender is something that can’t change through regenerations; sounds like the Neil Gaiman episode answers that question.

      Just watched Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead last night. Trippy, creepy, touching – excellent!

      I loved the second half of season 3, starting with Human Nature. The arc builds on the idea of Doctor as Christ-figure – his temptation to live out an ordinary life with Joan, his sacrifice at the hands of the Master (didn’t the old, shriveled up Doctor look like Dobby?), and finally, his resurrection, brought about by the collective power of faith. Even earlier in the season in Gridlock, the Doctor shutting down the drug marketplace called to mind Christ cleansing the temple.

      Also, Jack Harkness is the Face of Boe??!!!!

  3. Ashley says:

    Honestly, I’m really not crazy about the way Steven Moffat writes women, so I’m not sure I want to see a female Doctor while he’s writing the show. But we should wait until Shanti’s gotten through some of the Matt Smith episodes before we start dealing with that.

    • popgoddess says:

      No, I don’t want David Tennant to go!! We just watched End of Time last night; Ashley, to borrow a word you used earlier, Tennant’s performance is heartbreaking. All the grief the Doctor has been carrying since Journey’s End, and even longer, really, closes in on him, so that as much as I hate to see Tennant leave, it’s difficult to see how his Doctor can go on under the weight of all that grief and anger.

      I loved the Star Wars Millennium Falcon aerial dogfight homage in End of Time, pt. 2: “We’ve got incoming!”

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