Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon

Watching the previous season, I was reminded of Tom Baker's first season, which began with a mediocre story but a spectacular Baker performance (Robot), then followed it up with a dark, atmospheric thriller (The Ark In Space) that was the finest Who story in years, a forgettable but short and entertaining runaround (The Sontaran Experiment), one of the greatest serials in the history of the show (Genesis of the Daleks), and finished off with a dull story redeemed to a remarkable extent by the spectacular performances and chemistry of Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and Ian Marter (Revenge of the Cybermen).  It was a hugely uneven season, but its overall atmosphere and approach to the stories (including Revenge), Baker's eccentric brilliance, and Sladen's charms made for a very promising start to both Baker's Doctor and the basic ideas of the production team (Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes).  And Season 12 delivered one of the finest seasons in the history of the show.

Series 5 / Season 31 was a lot like that.  There were some weak stories (Daleks and Silurians), a couple pretty successful experimental stories (Vincent, Lodger), a slew of entertaining ones, and three terrific yarns (Angels, Amy's Choice, Big Bang).  But on the whole, the season seemed very promising, with great ideas from Moffat, two of the best companions in Amy and Rory, and an gallery of astounding performances by Matt Smith as the Doctor.  And if The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon are any indication, we may be in for one of the finest periods in the history of the show.

Moffat superbly weaves many different mysteries and keeps them all going.  The story starts with a bang by apparently starting the Doctor at the violent, tragic end of the story and the companions watching without having any idea what's going on.  So when they meet the younger Doctor who doesn't know what's happening, further suspense is created because the companions and we both know something the Doctor doesn't, and further, he can't be told.  Moffat then adds more threads and ideas, drawing us in ever more and ratcheting up the suspense to near-unbearable levels by the finale of the first episode.

And, because he's Moffat, he conjures up even more hellish demons to frighten us.  The Silence look scary, talk scary, and do scary, and then erase everyone's memory of having seen their terrors.  Awesome.

Director Toby Haynes has a brilliant eye for visuals and how to use the superb effects and sets to the greatest possible effect.  Watching this, you'd think he had a virtually unlimited budget.  Matt Smith is fantastic as always.  He's at his best at his quietest, and he has one particularly marvelous scene where he interrogates Amy, Rory, and River.  The intensity burns like the sun when he turns it on.

Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are still perfect as Amy and Rory, effortlessly funny and dramatic, though unusually more towards the latter than the former, given the story's various twists.

Alex Kingston gets to be seductively enigmatic yet again, but the opening shoots down most of River's smugness, allowing Kingston to really dig into the character.  Her dialogue referencing Silence in the Library is highly affecting.

As usual, Moffat's dialogue is very witty, and the actors knock it out of the ballpark.  My favorite is the guard's bit in River's prison cell at the beginning, but the script is filled with great lines.  On occasion, he goes just a little too far, as in the opening scene, trying to push the envelope for cheeky humor in a family show, and just comes across as being too showy and trying too hard.  But overall, this was an excellent episode with a terrific cliffhanger.

The follow-up, Day of the Moon, is something else entirely.

You remember Ghost Light?  If you haven't seen it, it's a terrific episode from the late '80s with Seven and Ace.  But it's a strange, confusing one, because it's an incredibly complex story with an incredible amount of insane stuff going on... and it doesn't explain any of it.  It was originally four episodes long, then cut to three episodes, making it incredibly fast-paced... and with absolutely no exposition.  You have to figure out everything yourself based on suggestion and implications.

Man, Karen Gillan is gorgeous when she's passionately infuriated.

The resolution of the cliffhanger is like that.  Moffat doesn't tell us how it was resolved.  He just pretty much skips an entire episode worth of story and dumps us in the middle of an even more dire situation three months later.  It takes some time to figure out what happened, and even then, there are holes you have to fill in yourself. (and at least one that's never fully filled in - namely, what, exactly, happened to Rory at the end of Impossible Astronaut, which will probably come up later)

It's a strange, sideways way of opening the story, but it gets it off to a rousing start and gives our intelligence credit.  Letting us fill in the gaps just makes it more engaging.

Also, like Ghost Light, it probably could have been expanded to twice the length, but Moffat just packs about a million ideas into a tiny space of time and satisfyingly develops them all while still leaving room open for them to be continued.

Moffat creates a fantastic, epic yarn by, in true Doctor Who style, showing us just a portion of the epic stuff and letting us imagine the rest.  By this point, he has a true mastery of the art of serial television, knowing how to create a riveting self-contained story that also contributes to the whole of several massive stories.

His continuation of River's storyline mostly just adds to the fun.  Kingston and Smith have a terrific chemistry and knock their dialogue out of the park; now that the Doctor is a little more comfortable with her overall, they make an awesome team.  Their dialogue during the climax is especially great.  But then Moffat turns on us in a bittersweet final scene between them - sweet for the Doctor (and a brilliant bit of acting on Smith's part), tragically bitter for River.  When he introduced the River idea in Silence In the Library, I had somewhat mixed feelings about the concept, despite the excellent execution, but now I'm completely won over.  Not only is it a wonderful idea, but Moffat is playing it out ingeniously.

Also, this scene.  Just... just this scene.
Moffat also wisely allows the marriage between Amy and Rory to just be a continuation of a charming love story rather than a stagnating point in the relationship like so many storytellers.  Again, they're more fun each time they show up.

And, as always, his monstrous creations are terrific.  The Silence are even cooler once their actual story is revealed, a difficult trick.  The marks on the heroes' skin is a brilliant touch.  And when it comes down to the climax, Moffat doesn't let us down.  The Doctor's solution is brilliant, funny, and powerful all at once.  And he is all of those things.  The climax is exactly what we want in a Doctor Who climax: the Doctor heroically defeating the villains primarily by delightedly telling the villains why they suck, and also that they lose.  That sense of fun in courting danger and the fun of telling evil how pathetic it is... that's the heart of Doctor Who right there.

Oh yes, and another edge-of-the-seat cliffhanger.

The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon have the production values and visual impact of a theatrical film, but take full advantage of the nature of serial television in a way few TV shows have ever fully taken advantage of it.  It's a masterpiece of storytelling, and one that could only work in television.  Which, as a film buff, is hard for me to say.  I believe in the magic of cinema; Doctor Who makes me believe in the magic of television, a similar but different and ultimately unique kind of storytelling magic.  And this story is that magic at its most stunningly powerful.

And it's fun.

River: Apollo 11?  That's your secret weapon?
Doctor: No!  It's not Apollo 11.  That would be silly.  It's Neil Armstrong's foot.


* * * *


  • I started watching Doctor Who almost exactly a year ago, and have watched every episode since 1970 and all but 11 serials from the '60s.  Actually watching an episode the day it comes out is just an amazing experience, but I have one major problem that I haven't felt across something like 700 episodes.


    Seriously, how do you long-term fans deal with a cliffhanger like that?
  • I love the Nixon subplot.  It doesn't just bring up Nixon and go, hey, there's Nixon!  Nor does it paint him poorly.  This is a three-dimension, likable Nixon.  But far and away the best thing about his whole appearance is the extremely subtle but unmistakable implication that his crazed paranoia is the Doctor's fault.  That's hilarious.
  • Historically, this show is really, really, really bad at doing Americans.  There are exceptions, of course, but their attempts at Americans usually resemble Keanu Reeves' attempt at a British person in Dracula, both in accent and in writing.  Here, Moffat took the unprecedented step to give the American characters decent dialogue.  Oh, yes, he takes his swipes at us, (love the dialogue about guns) but with affection.  And Mark Sheppard's Canton Delaware is a nicely written and acted sidekick to our heroes. (I also like the casting of his father, W. Morgan Sheppard, as Delaware's older self.  Nice touch)
  • Okay, I can't decide whether Rory should keep the goggles or the '60s glasses and suit.  They're both just too great.

  • I got a real X-Files vibe from this story - actually, it was almost like watching a Doctor Who / X-Files crossover that Mulder and Scully didn't appear in.

    ... which is too bad, because if that had happened, this would have been the greatest artistic achievement in all of human history, single-handedly creating world peace, curing cancer, and ending world hunger.

Day of the Moon summary

I'll amend my Impossible Astronaut review later and add a full review of Day of the Moon, but until I get around to it, these are my initial thoughts:

  • This episode is too awesome.  Just too awesome.
  • Seriously, awesome.
  • I... I don't think I have any more words right now.  Just... awesome.

UPDATE: Full review on the Impossible Astronaut page.

UPDATE: Also, awesome.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    RIP Elisabeth Sladen

    Elisabeth Sladen died Tuesday of cancer, at the too-young age of 63.

    Sarah Jane is my favorite companion for many, many reasons, and she and Sladen together represent much of why I love Doctor Who so much.

    Sladen was always so full of life and energy; in all her recent appearances, you'd never know she was in her 60s, let alone sick.  Her appearance in School Reunion was so luminous she was made the star of her own action sci-fi show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, at the age of 60, which went on for four seasons and was in the midst of filming a fifth when she died.  Some of that is the popularity of the character, but much of it is Sladen herself, a tremendous actress, a great presence, a great beauty, and by all accounts a wonderful woman.

    Sarah is a human companion the Doctor treats as an equal... and she earns that label.  She's smart, clever, useful, and above all, like the Doctor, is having loads of fun going to different times and places, getting in trouble, and fighting evil.  Sladen had an incredible ability to seem scared and brave at the same time, which made Sarah vulnerable but heroic.

    At the end of last year's Sarah Jane Adventures, one of her last lines was, "I could go on forever."  At first, that's painful, but it's also true.  This is a wondrous time we live in, and through our own magic box of Television, her adventures with the mad man with a magic box will go on forever.

    Goodbye, my Sarah Jane.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    The Girl In the Fireplace

    [2006, Season 28/Series 2, Episode 5]

    Reinette: But this is absurd.  Reason tells me you cannot be real.
    Doctor: Oh, you never want to listen to reason.

    The Evil Wizard of Terror Moffat has returned.

    This time, the horror of horrors is an army of homicidal clocks.  Because clocks are scary, right?

    Well, they are now.

    The villains of Girl in the Fireplace are a truly ingenious invention.  Moffat deserves a lot of credit for this, but so do director Euros Lyn and designer Neill Gorton.  It's a terrific monster, well-used by Moffat, and brilliantly delivered by Lyn.  We first and most often see them with their masks on, which are quite creepy, but the clockwork robots underneath are a masterwork.  Lyn pulls off a remarkable achievement here, managing to make them scary even unmasked in full light, a rare talent reminiscent of the better works of Wes Craven.  They're more than just frightening, though; they're fascinating and even, as the Doctor says, a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

    The Doctor's first meeting with them is beautifully done - starting with just the sound of a ticking clock in a room where the clock is broken.  Then the Doctor finds the monster under the little girl's bed.  And then, the next moment the Doctor looks, the creature is standing on the other side of the bed.  It's a brilliant little sequence, which the rest of their appearances more than live up to.  

    But this story isn't about the monsters - they drive the story, yes, but the focus on the episode is on the titular girl, who turns out to be Madame du Pompadour, and the story really a love story between her and the Doctor.

    ... which is something we probably need to really deal with now, because the idea of the Doctor being in love isn't exactly a straightforward subject.  Many old-school fans are abjectly against it, for understandable reasons.  Certainly a sexualized romance with a 20-ish human would be unnerving, given that the Doctor is a thousand years old and a different species.  But seen as a more innocent romance, it's something that has always been a part of the show in some way.  All the way back in The Aztecs, in the very first season in 1964, the Doctor stumbled into an engagement with Cameca, which he characteristically ran away from, but it's clear from his dialogue with her and especially the closing of the story that he does have much deeper affections for her.

    There are also several companions he seems to have fallen in love with - Jo Grant, Sarah Jane, and Romana most obviously.  He clearly loves a woman who can challenge him, whether in the gentle teasing of Jo or Romana's wit and intellectualism, and is certainly smitten by many of his companions.  Which is not to say there's anything sexual about these romances; after all, he's a Time Lord, and love for him wouldn't be expressed in ways that humans do.  But there are definitely hints throughout the old series that he does have romantic feelings for some of his traveling companions, even if they remain buried inside him.

    So they're really romances more in the Remains of the Day style - a reserved man who will not and cannot fully admit his feelings, but who clearly has them nonetheless.  The revived series brings these much more front-and-center, though, particularly during David Tennant's reign.  Eventually, it gets to be a bit of an annoyance, but it's also worth noting that the best stories of the Tenth Doctor tend to be those with strong romantic undertones - School Reunion, Girl in the Fireplace, Doomsday, Human Nature, Silence In the Library.

    Thankfully, though, there's still (usually) a certain reservation in their presentation.  Like in School Reunion, when he stops before actually saying he loves Rose, leaving the sentence unfinished.  This refusal to commit to a love is expanded on later, but it also shows up here.  For all his affections, he never tells Reinette that he loves her.  The final scenes bear this out superbly, when he runs the moment he gets the chance.  Yes, he wants to take her with him and show her the Universe, but he doesn't want to stay with her.  His home is the TARDIS because he must always be running, and the idea of another home is inconceivable to him.

    Whatever the issues with a Doctor/human romance, though, it's hard to deny how beautifully Girl tells it.  Sophia Myles is simply luminous, and her intelligent, charming character a wonderful match for the Time Lord.  The affections between them are sweepingly romantic.  They're also fun; this is a couple that it's a real joy to watch together, even in their brief encounters.

    Myles' performance really is something special.  I doubt the story would have had half the impact it does without her at the center of it.  It's a great part, but she raises it to stunning heights.

    Of course, this begs the question of where this leaves Rose in all this.  She's obviously infatuated with the Doctor, and he certainly loves her in his way.  Her reaction to his relationship to Reinette is intriguing - she seems to accept it as what it is, accepting her Doctor as who he is, now that she's known Sarah Jane.  Piper gives a lovely, subtle performance here.

    Moffat also does the brilliant trick of actually using time travel in the story, which is strangely rare on a time travel show.  It adds immensely to the romance, making it feel more like a mythical fairy tale than a standard love story.  Both that and the interwoven tale on the spaceship, with the truly insane concept of the ship's mechanics being supplemented by human organs makes this a unique science fiction tale.

    The entire episode is a blast, full of action, heroism, and Moffat's typically brilliant dialogue.  Mickey and Rose take a backseat to the main story, but they have plenty of stuff to do and lots of great banter both with each other and with the Doctor.  The Doctor himself is just brilliant throughout; everything awesome about him shows up here.

    The episode's sense of fun and adventure ultimately serves, though, to make its ending far, far more devastating.  This romance is a tragedy, delivered in a masterful finale that's heartbreaking not only on a first watch, but holds up its incredible power even on several viewings.  It's played so carefully, so beautifully...  Murray Gold's lyrical, understated music and Tennant's perfectly underplayed performance make it truly shattering.

    That final note of tragedy in a story filled in every frame and sound with adventure, horror, heroism, and humor makes this an extraordinary piece of drama.  Fully emotional in every chord, both happy and sad, engaging on every level that matters.


    * * * *


    • This episode is gorgeous.  The new series has most tended to look very attractive and often quite stylish, but this is amongst the best-looking Television I've ever seen.
    • The pairing of the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey is terrific, and it's really too bad they don't keep it as a threesome for longer.
    • There's lots of funny moments in this story, but my favorite is probably the Doctor exclaiming that anything could be on the spaceship, and then seeing this, which I think pretty much sums up in a single image why this show is so awesome:

    •  Although the exchange about the horse between the Doctor and Mickey is pretty brilliant, too:

      "What's a horse doing on a spaceship?!"
      "Mickey, what's pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship?  Get a little perspective."

    • Also, this about Madame du Pompadour:

      Doctor: She's got plans of being his mistress.
      : Oh, I get it.  Camilla.
      Doctor: ... In no time flat, she gets herself established as his official mistress, her own rooms at the palace, even her own title - Madame du Pompadour.
      Rose: Queen must have loved her.
      Doctor: Oh, she did.  They got on very well.
      Mickey: King's wife and the king's girlfriend?
      Doctor: France.  Different planet.
    • I'm just going to stop now before I quote the whole script.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    School Reunion

    [2006, Season 28/Series 2, Episode 4]

    "Some things are worth getting your heart broken for."

    I may have mentioned before that I sorta like Sarah Jane as a companion.  And by sorta like, I mean she's my favorite companion in the entire history of Doctor Who, and I love every moment she's onscreen, and would marry her in an instant if she was real and the opportunity inexplicably presented itself.  So, obviously, the idea of her returning to the show, even for a single episode, sound pretty wonderful to me.  But School Reunion far exceeds any and all expectations.  It's about as perfect as it could be.

    It goes much further than just bring her back.  It's not like The Five Doctors where Sarah shows up for no apparent reason and it's just like, Hey, Sarah Jane!  And then does nothing with it.  Writer Toby Whithouse goes much deeper than that.  Of course, she's overjoyed to see the Doctor again, but her feelings are a lot more complicated than that.  She's bitter that he abandoned her on Earth after showing her the Universe and never came back.  She's gone back to journalism, yes, but has mostly wandered aimlessly, waiting for when her Doctor would come back.  And now, having spent half her life waiting, she finds that he's replaced her with a newer, younger girl in Rose.  And she's really bitter about that.

    In this, School Reunion really digs deep into what it means to be one of the Doctor's companions - and, more importantly, what it means when you suddenly aren't any more.  It's harder for Sarah than most - she was more deeply attached to him than almost any other companion, which brings it into starker light, but it's a question that still hits powerfully for each of those travelers: how do you see all of time and space, wonders and terrors never dreamed of, and then go back to a regular life?  This isn't sentimental or sappy; it's dark and complicated at times, and actually surprising in its insistence on taking more thoughtful and human paths, making it far more moving and satisfying.

    Doctor: Oh, you didn't need me.  You were getting on with your life.
    Sarah: You were my life.

    Even at 59, Elizabeth Sladen is still a beautiful woman, and is as marvelous as ever.  Her age has taken none of her energy or passion, and only given her more authority.

    Whithouse doesn't ignore what all this means to Rose, either; suddenly, she's not the Doctor's Special One, but just one in a line of many earth girls who tagged along for the ride.  The Doctor tries to reassure her that he'll never leave her behind, and she accepts this to a point, but it's not clear that he really wouldn't, and she suspects that.  It's a dark, intriguing question, and it hits even harder on comparison with Sarah: while Rose is likable and loyal, she's not as intelligent or helpful as her predecessor.  If the Doctor keeps her around, it's not because she's special.  It's because this is a scarred, wounded Doctor, less so than before but still lonelier and more lost than ever before.

    Whithouse writes Rose every bit as well as Sarah, and gives her lots of fun stuff to do.  Piper is as charming and funny as she's ever been here.  I especially love her utter disgust at having to go undercover as a lunch lady.

    The relationship between Rose and Sarah is appropriately tense, but not overdone.  One of the best scenes in the story is the confrontation between those two, which goes from them bickering over who was the better companion to pointing out the Doctor's sillier qualities to outright laughing at him.  At which point he walks in and is utterly baffled at why they think he's so funny.

    While he's at it, Whithouse throws Mickey into the mix, and writes him better than he's ever been written in past appearances.  Of course, he's gotten more complex and likable every time he showed up, but his material here is great, and Noel Clarke knocks it out of the ballpark.  There's one especially great scene where he's left outside with K-9 by the Doctor, Sarah, and Rose while they do all the heroic stuff, and he realizes to his horror that, in his words, "I'm the tin dog!"

    Speaking of which, this is probably K-9's greatest appearance ever.  Even Whovians who despise the thing can't help but enjoy his appearance here.  His response to the Headmaster's last line is a gem.

    What's really amazing is how well Whithouse balances all four of them.  Because, essentially, the Doctor has four companions in this story; past stories constantly struggled with three, sometimes even two.  But Whithouse gives every one of them a satisfying storyline and a purpose within the plot.

    In the center of all this is, of course, the Doctor himself.  Few stories have ever presented a more fully-rounded portrait of this most fascinating of characters.  He's heroic and funny, of course.  His relationships with Sarah and Rose are both complex: he clearly loves them both in his own way, but there are some dark undercurrents to the relationships, and the episode doesn't shy from those.  Best of all, though, is his scene confronting the villainous Headmaster around the swimming pool.  It's a tremendous sequence, superbly written and brilliantly performed.  Tennant is at his absolute peak throughout the story, but this may be his finest scene in his entire tenure as the Doctor.  His delivery of his central line to the villain is just chilling: "I'm so old now.  I used to have so much mercy.  Now you get one chance.  That was it."  In that moment, you see every century of the Time Lord in Tennant's eyes and feel the full brunt of his presence, his intellect, and his power.

    Of course, the Doctor does have a reason he leaves his companions behind.  He may not be entirely right to do it, but it's painfully understandable.

    Doctor: I don't age.  I regenerate.  But humans age.  You wither and you die.  Imagine that happening to someone you...  You can spend the rest of your life with me.  But I can't spend the rest of mine with you.  I have to live on.  Alone.  That's the curse of the Time Lords.

    He doesn't finish the first sentence.  He doesn't need to, but more importantly, it's not something he would say aloud.

    ... oh, yeah, the plot.  With so much characterization packed into 45 minutes, there's not much room for plot, but it's a good, solid construction on which to hang the story.  It's engaging and entertaining and holds together pretty well.  The villains are intent on ruling the Universe, but their way of achieving it is intriguing and imaginative; more interesting, though, is the Headmaster's offer to the Doctor to join them and become their leader.  The Headmaster sees the Doctor's wisdom and moral compass and knows how much it would add to their rule, and his offer is genuine.  Of course, when the Doctor hands him defeat after defeat, his mood turns nasty, but there's some depth to the portrayal.  Mostly, though, it works because Anthony Head is absolutely magnificent in the role.  It's almost too bad this wasn't a two-parter, so he could have had more room, but still, his presence elevates this story to even higher levels.

    Their plot does intersect the character focus of the story, and it's in her response to the Headmaster's offer to the Doctor that Sarah finally finds closure in her past.  For the first time since she was young, she can move on in her life.  Which, again, deepens the impact of the tale.  It's a light, fast story, but with an underlying sadness, which serves to add to the enjoyment - and vice versa.  After Sarah's realization, there is, of course, all the action and monster-fighting and explosions and stuff we came to see, but the real climax of the story is there, in Sarah's words and the Doctor's understanding.

    But what really makes the plot work is that it's fun.  Everything in this story works.  The characters, the story, the dialogue, the drama, the adventure, the comedy - it's all a sheer, effortless joy to watch, but with an underlying depth and power to give meaning to the fun.  It's just terrific.


    * * * *


    • One little detail I liked: when the Doctor tells Rose and Sarah to check out the computers, he hands the Sonic Screwdriver to Sarah, even though Rose extends her hand. 
    • I talked about the underlying sadness in the story, but it's not underlying the final scene between Sarah and the Doctor; it overwhelms it.  It's beautifully written and played.  Sarah's insistence on the Doctor actually saying goodbye this time, his joyful smile and calling her "My Sarah Jane," and the look on her face as the TARDIS leaves and she knows she can't undo her decision are heartbreaking.

      Only Moffat could follow that up with something even more devastating.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Tooth and Claw

    [2006, Season 28/Series 2, Episode 3]

    So, here’s the thing about Rose Tyler: she’s terrific.  Really, she is.  She’s brave and funny and loyal to the Doctor.  She’s a genuinely complex character, utterly credible and perfect for grounding a crazy show like Doctor Who.  Above all, she is perfect for her time: she represents the Millenials (or generation Y, if you prefer that) in the way Vikki represented the youth culture of the ‘60s and Ace captured Gen X teens.  Rose is delaying her entry into adulthood, one of the most defining traits of our generation.  She still lives with her mom, doesn't have a degree nor has any urgency in getting one.  She's just wandering aimlessly through life, trying to find her place without really finding one.  She's never without her cell phone and is fairly tech-savvy.  Pop culture means far more to her than to older generations, and she has a pretty firm grasp on it.

    Her personality suits the generation perfectly while also filling what we want in a companion.  She's adventurous without actually looking for adventure.  She's brave and loyal, so much so that she becomes a great companion despite being pretty empty-headed.  

    Rose is truly a fully-developed character; her character flaws aren't things that are convenient to the plot or that fit in with the story.  They're just who she is.  She's self-absorbed and often oblivious to others, even though deep down she really does care very deeply.  There's a loving, compassionate soul beneath the self-centered shell.

    And Billie Piper couldn't be more perfect.  She's totally engaging, and moves from drama to comedy to action smoothly and does them all superbly.  Her chemistry with Tennant is spectacular.  Also, she's really, really gorgeous.

    And yet, Rose is missing one vital piece of the companion puzzle.  It's not that she's dumb.  I mean, she is, but that's not the problem; she makes up for that by being useful in so many other ways.  Heck, it's part of her charm.

    The Doctor reacts to Rose's intellectual prowess.

    No, it's her attitude toward the Doctor that's imperfect.  She's so totally head-over-heels and so in awe of what she sees as perfection in physical form that she never tears him down when he needs it.  The Doctor is an egotistical being with a serious dark streak who really, really needs to be cut down to size every now and then.  He's also an alien, and can seem indifferent and cold because he's focused on something more important.  

    There's nothing wrong with the Doctor being smug or dark; that's who he is.  But the companions need to get him for it.  Barbara and, to a lesser extent, Ian did this; Liz, Sarah, Leela, Tegan, Peri, and Ace had no problem whatsoever ripping him a new one when he needed it.  Even Jo Grant, for all her perky submissiveness, still teased him and got on to him when he really did go to far.  And then there's Romana, who could be every bit as smug, but they tore each other down for being too full of themselves.  There was a mutual cutting down.

    But when the Doctor gets smug or indifferent around Rose, she just matches his smug indifference with every ounce she can offer.  And then sometimes she just tops him.  Here, in Tooth and Claw, she gets obsessed with making Queen Victoria say she is not amused.  Kinda funny at first, but then she starts doing it even when everyone's life is in danger, and then when people are being murdered and eaten by a werewolf, and it comes off as near-psychotic.  And it's not because she's seeing something bigger or more important; she's just self-absorbed and wants to pull off her own private joke more than think about everyone around her.   People are actually dying, horribly, and she can't think of anything but joking around.  Which, of course, just makes the Doctor worse.

    Seriously, somebody died, like, 30 seconds ago.

    So, yes, it's fun to watch them together, but she actually tends to make the Doctor's flaws worse when he really loses it.  It's not that a little levity in a dangerous situation is bad, but with the Doctor around, Rose doing it is way too much.  Even he knows to dial it back; she doesn't.

    Yes, let's spend this moment of danger making googly-eyes at the alien.

    And at the end, when Queen Victoria rightfully tears them to pieces and makes them enemies of the empire, they just go off and laugh about it without ever realizing that there might actually, you know, be a reason Victoria's gratefulness pretty much only extended to letting them back into the blue box with their lives.

    And ultimately, this makes her relationship with the Doctor fairly uninteresting, because there's never any sort of tension between them.  It's fun to watch them together, and they're clearly having a blast, but it just isn't interesting below the surface.  I love the Doctor, love Rose, enjoy watching them together.  I love getting the screenshots of Rose for these reviews.  Great character, pitch-perfect performances, excellent companion in almost every way.

    But she isn't the greatest, and there's why.

    Oh, right, there was an episode I was supposed to be reviewing.  So… Tooth and Claw.  Yeah.  Um…  It’s… pretty good.  Nothing really memorable or special, but it’s got lots of action and humor, a bit of horror, some thoughtful details, David Tennant being awesome all over the place with his Doctorlyness, and typically slick Euros Lyn direction.  There's some good character work in the supporting cast; the two big death scenes are genuinely affecting.  The werewolf is very CGI, but it's impressive given the budgets they work on here, and works very well for the story.  The actual defeat of the werewolf is quite beautiful.  Not a great episode, but fun stuff.


    * * *


    • Okay, what the hell is up with the monks doing the wire-fu at the beginning?  Where did a bunch of earth monks learn to do all those impossible stunts and jumps?  Look, it's Doctor Who.  I can take a lot.  The most dangerous beings in the Universe are garbage cans with plungers for arms?  Sure.  Totally logical beings with no emotions driven by revenge?  Why not?  A race around the Solar System with 17th century sailing ships?  Absolutely.  But earthling monks doing wire-fu?  That seriously stretches credibility in my book.