20 November 2013

Save the Day essays #4: Rewatching the rebirth

Earlier this year, I started rewatching Doctor Who from its rebirth in 2005 with someone who had never seen it before, or even knew anything about the show. I was a fan of the classic series, and had seen pretty much everything there was to see, and it was fascinating to watch the reaction of someone seeing the series cold.

I knew she was hooked when she gasped when the store dummies moved in “Rose.”

It was shocking to her when the Doctor regenerated. “I thought this series was about those specific two characters!” But even more interesting was how exactly her reaction mirrored that of Rose. In “The Christmas Invasion,” Rose says something like, “This wouldn’t happen if the proper Doctor was here,” which prompted an emphatic “YES!” from the woman sitting next to me.

Ultimately, like Rose, she not only accepted David Tennant’s tenth Doctor, but now he’s her favourite Doctor (so far).

Then we hit “Doomsday.”

My god, I had almost forgotten how completely and utterly devastating that episode is.

We kept watching though the next season with Martha Jones. She didn’t like Martha very much, and said more than once, “Why couldn’t he have Donna as a companion?” (It took so much willpower for me not to even hint, “Just wait...”.)

On re-watching the show, it was the seasons after “Doomsday” that cemented in my mind how brilliant the new Doctor Who was, and how different than before. If it had been the old series, Rose would be all but forgotten after the next story. There might be a line or two, but then a new companion would be introduced, and on we go. (Watch how Liza Shaw is written out, or how long the Doctor refers to Sarah Jane Smith, in the old series.)

This time, the Doctor mourned. And he kept mourning for a long time.

That the Doctor didn’t just “get over it” was a testament to the show’s commitment to honesty in its emotions (even as it engaged in hand-waving and frippery over the details like what the sonic screwdriver could do). That honesty was part of the reason the new series was so successful in reviving the show.

I can’t help but wonder if it was being so committed to making sure those relationships in the show mattered was why, so often, Russell T Davies would hurt his characters so deeply. He said in an interview before the new series launched, “There will be times when it’ll just break your heart.” There aren’t many happy endings when companions leave in the new series.

Maybe it’s because when we cry, Davies know he created something that is meaningful to us watching.

Related posts

Save the Day essays #1: Restoration
Save the Day essays #2: Recovery
Save the Day essays #3: Family

1 comment:

Mike Taylor said...

Agreed absolutely on Doomsday. (Also brilliant in that episode: Rose's parallel-world parents meeting for the first time, played just enough for laughs to drop it being melodrama.)

I think it was Andrew Rilstone (that most insightful of Doctor Who commentators) who observed that post-Doomsday, Davies seemed less engaged, and to have less coherent ideas. It's as though the story from Rose to Doomsday was the one he really wanted to tell, and after that he was relatively directionless. (Which isn't to say there aren't some storming episodes in series 3 and 4!)