Sunday, May 18, 2008

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter

This was an episode that I really don't know what to make of. Doctor Who can sometimes fall between two stools, and it can run the danger of being caught between a rock and a hard place as far as what it is trying to achieve and how people want or expect it to play out.

On the one hand, the episode was enjoyable and rattled along nicely. I liked what Georgia Moffett did with the part, and she was perky and prancy and fun. The monsters were cool and I even liked how they gurgled instead of speaking.

On the other hand, it had no discernable plot, Martha was wasted in it, the characters were all from central casting, and it had more than a few elements which niggled and grated.

We open with the TARDIS out of control. Now this was a great cliffhanger from last week, and I am a massive fan of this sort of lead in from one story to the next, but it has to be carried through ... and this wasn't. We do eventually learn why the TARDIS was out of control, but the explanation makes no sense ... more of this later.

So the Doctor, Donna and Martha arrive in a tunnel and Donna utters something about swallowing a hamster! I had to stop the recording and watch this a few times. Did I hear it right? She's swallowing a hamster ... and yes indeed that is what she says. So maybe Donna has been replaced by one of those reptile aliens from V, and has been snacking just before she leaves the ship ... not sure ...

Before we can worry about this too much though, the Doctor's party is set upon by some soldier types, and the Doctor's hand is shoved into a tissue sampling mcguffin machine and before you can shout 'Clone!', there's a mega-cute blonde babe emerging from a smokey doorway, dressed in leather trousers and a tight fitting vest. She smiles perkily (and 'perky' is about the only description which fits this character) and says 'Hello Dad!' to the Doctor.

Okay. So this is a story predicated on a title. It's a great title. 'The Doctor's Daughter'. Gets the imagination firing and anticipation high. So what do they do? Fumble it in the first minute and reveal that this girl is not the Doctor's daughter at all but a clone grown from his cells ... conveniently dressed and with hair and make-up all perfect. What a let down. Rather than a story about the possibilities of the Doctor having a daughter, we now know from the outset that he doesn't. Except of course that all the characters, including the Doctor himself who should know better, think that she is actually his daughter ... crazy.

The other problem, which I will discuss at this point, is that the Doctor is the last Time Lord ... well, maybe not the last, as the Master was around as well ... and perhaps others as well ... but he has spent some time telling this to everyone he meets, agonising over being alone. Now here is a machine which can make Time Lords, and the Doctor even has a spare hand in the TARDIS. He could single handedly (excuse the pun) recreate his own race! But this possibility is not even mentioned.

One of the tenets of an ongoing series is that it should have some sort of internal consistency, and when a story like this comes along, which contains elements which actively impinge upon that internal consistency, then the writers and producers cannot just ignore any potential that might exist. The Time War and its effect and impact have informed the Doctor since the series returned, and yet here he ignores a technology which could make such a difference.

Back to the plot. On this planet there are two races, humans and the dolphin-like Hath. They have been at war for generations, and are looking for 'the source' which the believe will give them supremacy in the battle. In charge of the humans is General Cobb, who speaks like he's from the Westcountry, and is an embittered man, seeking to win the war with whatever means he can.

Martha ends up trapped with the Hath, and strangely she seems to understand their gurgling although we the audience are not privvy to the translation. This is not commented on, even though in 'Fires of Pompeii' we got the TARDIS' translation function rammed down our throats. Kids have good memories and I'm sure several were questioning why we didn't have the Hath's speech translated for us.

Fixing a wounded Hath's shoulder - lucky they have a bone structure which is similar to humans - Martha befriends them and, when the Doctor uses his handy all-purpose Sonic Screwdriver to reveal the location of the Source on an electronic map, she and the Hath see it too. So they all trot off to find it.

In a puzzling and confusing series of events, everyone seems to leave at different times and yet all arrive at the same time at the end. The Doctor, Donna and Jenny (as Donna names the perky clone) are locked in a cell but escape when Jenny snogs the guard. The Hath set off immediately, while Martha and another Hath (they all look the same and are not named on screen so I have no idea which one this is - the credits reveal Hath Peck and Hath Gable as two of them - named after Hollywood stars then!) make their way over the blasted surface of the planet as it's apparently quicker ... while General Cobb decides to wait until the next day before he and his troops leave - strange sense of urgency there.

Along the way, Donna gets intrigued by numbers stamped onto the walls. Given that she's not been too interested in anything like this before, this is more of a plot convenience than anything else. Jenny meanwhile skips along like a puppy, smiling and grinning and perkily loving the running down corridors. We learn that Jenny has two hearts, and is a soldier adept at killing and doing backflips through lasers.

The Hath with Martha drowns in a pool while rescuing her (how can a dolphin drown? No idea. But we don't see this Hath again ... or maybe we do ... they all look alike!) and eventually, after much running up and down corridors, everyone seems to arrive at 'the temple' at pretty much the same time. Except it's not a temple, it's a spaceship, and it's all still working and powered up.

Now comes the infodump - robot drones from the ship built the city (so where are they now?) but the commander died and the crew split and turned on each other. Quite why this happened is not clear, but there are definite shades of the earlier Doctor Who story 'The Face of Evil' here, as well as bits of 'The Ark' with the humans and Monoids turning on each other. But ... the shocker is that the city was built over the last 7 days. The war is only 7 days old. Apparently the humans and Hath create 20 generations a day and as each has been wiped out, the truth has passed into legend.

What? This makes no sense whatsoever. 20 generations a day? That's about one an hour? So how do Cobb and co manage to make it to the end of the day? Why aren't they all wiped out and the army which arrives at the end of the story be a totally different one to that which set off? Why do they power down the machines overnight? Surely they'd be churning out clones 24 x 7? Why does Cobb wait overnight before setting off? That's something like 7 generations he's waited?

All this is inexcusable really. It doesn't make sense however you try and read it, and is sloppy writing and plotting. It's a nice idea, but if the idea doesn't work in the final teleplay, then maybe it's not the right idea.

So we get to the end and we know that Jenny is not going to make it as the Doctor told her that she could come with them (cue bright-eyed perkiness). Cobb decides to shoot the Doctor after he explains the plot - probably in exasperation as he can't make any sense of it either - but Jenny takes the bullet and dies. Why Cobb has a old fashioned revolver when everyone else has gas machine guns is anyone's guess. Cue tears and the Doctor pontificating.

Meanwhile the 'Source' is revealed as a planetary terraforming device which the Doctor activates by smashing it on the floor. Now I'm sure that's the best way to make it work properly. The planet is then converted into somewhere that is habitable (whether by humans or Hath or both is also unclear).

The soldiers all lay down their arms, moved by the Doctor's appeal to make theirs a society based on someone who never would, or perhaps they wanted to put their fingers in their ears ... and the Doctor, Donna and Martha return to the TARDIS to be on their way again ... seems that they arrived because the Doctor's spare hand was drawn to Jenny, except that the TARDIS arrived before she was created, thus bringing her into being in the first place ... a classic paradox. But actually just more rubbish plotting. An excuse to try and explain something which was poorly conceived in the first place. We actually didn't need this at all, the TARDIS could have arrived, as usual, by accident, the Doctor then setting off the chain of events.

So why doesn't the Doctor stay for Jenny's funeral? He has done for several other characters over the series' history, but not for his own daughter (even though she wasn't, but we covered that above). Of course the real reason is more plotting of convenience as perky Jenny isn't dead at all! She returns to life, full of vim, nicks a spacecraft and heads off for her own series of adventures on CBBC (or novels, magazines, audio, DVD ... take your pick).

I've watched the episode a couple of times now, and aside from generally strong performances from the cast, it has little to get your teeth into. Georgia Moffett is good as Jenny, but it's a very generic part and her tight leather trousers could equally have been filled by any rent-a-babe actress from Hollyoaks or Emmerdale. Moffett, I am convinced, got the part because she is fifth Doctor actor Peter Davison's daughter ... and that this appealed to the sense of fun of the production team and also provided far more publicity and PR than any other actress would perhaps have been able to bring. That she is also a pretty decent actress was a distinct benefit, but I would love to see the list of who else was actually auditioned for the part.

Overall then, disappointment on several levels. If only the script had been better, and the plot more cohesive then this could have been the episode which defined Tennant's Doctor, which provided dramatic interplay between characters who may or may not be related ... the end result to have been a thought provoking commentary on genetic research and cloning, providing insights into the pros and cons and ethical arguments which surround it. Instead we got a dog's dinner of a plot, lots of running around, actors struggling gainfully with two dimensional characters, and Georgia Moffett shining as Jenny, not necessarily because she was that good, but that she was the best thing on offer this week.

Next week ... Agatha Christie? A giant wasp? demons? Thunder and lightning ... and some sort of murder mystery.


Daveym said...

Good assesment, I'm glad i'm not on my own in being irritated by the lapses in logic and plotting...

The Doctors Daughter as a concept is quite problematic really if you take a step back from it, so they have now established and dictated he has a direct relative who is to be reffered to henceforth as his Daughter... i don't think they've thought through the implications of this. They just thought it would be a cute thing to do and went for it.

The danger is he now has a 'Family'. Someone introduced to the audience as a bridge to the character of the Doctor and further renders him knowable and quite *Normal* even.
I think of the Parallel of Superman/Supergirl or such spin-offs and think of the traditionally solitary unique nature of the Doctors character and I think the whole idea of giving him a 'Daughter' has just altered the character into something he wasn't intended to be - the audience has now been programmed to accept Jenny and demand/expect more of her, to which the creative team will have to indulge and this leads to some potentially unwelcome flabby baggage for the Doctor Who concept looking into the future... what happens when he regenerates? Usually that indicates a whole new persona, one not necessarily influenced by the emotions and impetus of the previous incarnation.

Ah well, let's just hope he doesn't come across any more Gallifreyan survivors in the mold of the Phantom Zone prisoners or the comparisons will be too comical to stomach... ;)

Anonymous said...

Am I alone in thinking that
Little Miss Moffat blew Catherine
Tate off the screen? Let's hope
she returns-she's a good potential
companion, even if her character
is a bit derivative (Buffy the
Vampire Slayer meets Claire
Bennett from "Heroes").

Anonymous said...

I agree with you David, a poorly conceived episode that shows the series is on verge of lapsing into the tatics that JNT employed: PR & headline grabbing cameos first, cogent & satifying drama second.

"Jenny" was played great gusto by Georgia but frankly her character was so thinly sketched it really doesn't matter.

I found the whole expository dialogue, that explained the war was shorter than Pete Doherty's spells on the wagon, totally unconvincing.

Oh Donna's a genius .... okay.
If that wasn't bad enough we had yet another ostentious sermon on the apperent necessity of atheism. We are told in no uncertain terms that religious beliefs = bad, science = good. A bit odd, really since "Who" has been & always will be a show that has often used a conflict of philosophical ideas rather actually religious beliefs versus science. Don't believe me ?
What is the greatest debate in "Who" history ? The Fourth Doctor/ Davros confronation on the ethics of science/ the necessity of democratic-consensus politics in "Genesis"!
Ironically, the Doctor tells the colonists to found a society modelled his ethical beliefs ... where's the hard science there? Surely that will become a creation myth; remember a myth isn't by its very nature untrue it isn't a merely a completely unbiased account without addition etc.... In fact, why should the Doctor care about any conflict from a scientific perspective ? Shouldn't the strongest survive from a purely materialistic point of view?