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New Who 4.6, The Doctor's Daughter

Given that I'd expected this episode to be abysmally bad, I'm glad to say I was able to be pleasantly surprised when it in fact turned out to be merely pretty lame.

It had some corking concepts, after all. I loved the idea of the rapid overturn of generations turning a week into the social equivalent of several centuries. It seems very apt in a show that's about time travel, and it brought up all sorts of interesting ideas about what it is that really constitutes a society's identity - its genetic code, or its history and values? If the latter are lost, what have you really got? Nothing much but a pointless war, according to this episode.

And obviously the same nature vs. nurture issue was central to the character of Jenny, too - was she a Time Lord or not, if she only had the Doctor's DNA and not the shared history and shared suffering which he claims had held the Time Lords together? (Much like Classical myths of shared origins, I note). The answer this time seems to have been different, though - or at least, the Doctor made it different over the course of the episode, by showing Jenny enough of what being a Time Lord could mean to give her the beginnings of the nurture she was missing.

And the fatherhood stuff in general wasn't half bad, either. The way it was so sudden and arbitrary and involuntary - just like it often is - but turned out to mean something all the same. There were actually some pretty profound points about the nature of family bonds lurking under there.

Then there were the little things, too. Like the human colonists' main base being a theatre - because meta is always good. And underground corridors for the Classic win! And fish with reverse scuba gear!

So what went so wrong? Part of it was the script, I think - the Doctor in particular seemed to get a lot of lines that were actually just very pedestrian plot-exposition, and nobody really got much in the way of sparkle or humour. It also didn't do Martha any favours to be placed alongside Donna in such a closed setting. I really liked Martha in the previous series, but she suddenly looks awfully thin and weedy (I mean as a character, not physically, though that is arguably also true) next to Donna.

Then there was predictability - like Jenny's (temporary) death becoming utterly inevitable the minute she said she wanted to see new worlds. Astrid in Voyage of the Damned was too recent for that to be any fun, and although you could argue that the trope was subverted by the fact that she then came back to life afterwards, it wasn't a clever enough subversion, and I didn't much like the idea of her resurrection anyway. Partly that's just because I didn't particularly warm to her character and have no interest in seeing her in the series ever again - except that now we are clearly saddled with her. Partly it's because I don't like to see death being presented as negotiable in any genre. And partly because it didn't make story-sense for her not to have regenerated in the ordinary Time Lord fashion.

I suppose we're meant to imagine that, since she's only recently been created, she's still within the same grace period that allowed the Doctor to regenerate his hand in The Christmas Invasion - especially since so much emphasis was placed on the hand itself at the beginning and end of the episode. But it seems convoluted to do it that way, when a proper regeneration would have reinforced the idea that she really was a Time Lord after all (and given her an experience in common with the Doctor). I know perfectly well why, in production terms, this wasn't done - it wouldn't have allowed for a time-delay during which the Doctor could leave the planet believing her to be dead, and it would also have meant discarding an actress they were clearly pleased to have got on board, and confusing audiences when she (inevitably) reappears in the finale. But that doesn't change the fact that in story terms, a normal regeneration would have been much more satisfying.

Still, it's over, and we can get on with looking ahead to the rest of the series. The next three episodes have every reason to be fabulous, and then we're into RTD-scripted territory for the run-up to the finale. So what new clues has this episode given us for the end of the season?

1. Jenny will very obviously be back in the finale. New Who doesn't redefine the parameters of the Whoniverse mid-season and then forget about it.
2. If one Jenny can be created from the Doctor so easily, so can legions more. This episode seems to have danced rather ambiguously around the question of what recreating the Time Lords in this way would mean - they would lack the knowledge and history that defined Time Lord society, but apparently could be brought up to speed via a few quick lessons from the Doctor anyway. I don't really want to see them brought back on these terms myself, and am not sure even RTD does either. But the possibility has been established.
3. Donna wants to travel with the Doctor forever? Oh dear, because I really, really like her - and saying that is (obviously) a death-warrant.
4. It may seem like a small thing - but a 'New Byzantine' calendar? It stood out to me because of the Classical relevance, but a bit of Googling also told me that no 'New Byzantine' society has ever been mentioned in Doctor Who before. So if it's not a continuity reference, is it a clue? Will be interesting to see.

Anyway, for the moment, I am off to watch Horror of Fang Rock. Because I can!

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
matgb
May. 10th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
no 'New Byzantine' society has ever been mentioned in Doctor Who before

I thought it had been, it's familiar for some reason, but I can't place why. It may just be because I've got "new this" and "new that" in my head all over the place I guess.

But overall, yes—some very good ideas, some "proper" SF, but so very badly done.
strange_complex
May. 10th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)
No, it has that ring of familiarity, doesn't it, but when I Googled "New Byzantine" plus "Doctor Who" I only got eight (completely meaningless) hits. Doubtless there will be more shortly!
(Anonymous)
May. 10th, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)
I think what happened could perhaps have been a proper re-generation.

The Doctor's re-generation from his 7th to 8th generations was not immediate. There is actually a very close similarity here in that that re-generation occurred after the Doctor was shot and left for dead.

When Romana I re-generated to Romana II she seemed to be able to choose the form of her re-generation. If Time Ladies have this ability then perhaps Jenny chose to keep the same form, particularly as she hadn't seen many other women and hadn't been in her first body for long?

The most recently seen re-generations of the Doctor and Master have been quite dramatic, but some earlier re-generations were much less so (e.g. between the Doctor's 1st and 2nd, 3rd and 4th and 6th and 7th generations).
strange_complex
May. 10th, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
perhaps Jenny chose to keep the same form

She didn't seem in much of a position to make choices about what she looked like to me. I agree that there was some similarity with Seven's regeneration into Eight - but he did change form.
paulgregory
May. 12th, 2008 12:35 pm (UTC)
Perhaps a side-effect of the nature of Jenny's creation is that all her regenerations are identical clones?

But as for "it would also have meant discarding an actress they were clearly pleased to have got on board" - having seen (half of) Confidential, they could have had her regenerate into a redhead and kept the same actress.

Anyway. I agree that she's fairly obviously returning in the finale, and I'd put money on this being more obvious once we get the title for 4x12.
strange_complex
May. 12th, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC)
I like the side-effect idea - although like any of the possibilities, it'll need further on-screen discussion to resolve the issue. And true about the red hair! I think she looked a lot nicer with it than the blonde pony-tail, actually.
(Anonymous)
May. 11th, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC)
I had assumed that it wasn't a regeneration per se. The stuff that came out of her mouth reminded me of the gas in the terraforming device and so I assumed it was that this life creating stuff was inhaled by her just before she died and it worked in her after she was shot to bring her back to life. Not a great explanation and just has different problems to the regeneration. However I think I prefer "bad science" as a problem to continuity questions. :)
chrisvenus
May. 11th, 2008 01:48 pm (UTC)
In case you really care that was me. Logged in failure on my part. :)
strange_complex
May. 11th, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
No problem! ;-)

I don't think I really buy the terraforming device theory, because if that was what was meant to have brought her back to life, it would have been so easy to make that clear by showing her breathing it in before she died.

But I'm interested to see that the whole issue's provoked so much speculation, anyway - and I'm sure the producers must have know that it would. My guess is that it was meant to be ambiguous for the moment, but that it will be re-visited next time the Doctor encounters her, and a direct explanation will be given. I think we are all supposed to be arguing fiercely with each other about how it happened at the moment!
chrisvenus
May. 11th, 2008 02:36 pm (UTC)
You are probably right. I can see why they didn't show her breathing in the gas (if that is what it was) because that would have telegraphed things too much (though they could I suppose easily have shown donna or martha commenting on it and you could deduce if they did everybody did). You are probably right though and I'm not going to bother arguing. Its interesting to hear ideas but there really isn't enough to go on so I think I'll go with the plan of waiting til she comes back later and see how she explains it then. probably something worse than any of the prevailing opinions. ;-)
dakegra
May. 11th, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
I immediately thought of the terraforming thing, and got Trek/Spock flashbacks...
steer
May. 11th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
I too found it a pretty poor episode. The accelerated time and the many generations of war are both fairly standard sci-fi memes and this added nothing new. The "ooh we created the situation that brought us here in the first place" paradox was yawn-inducingly common place. The "bang-on-head" inevitability of anyone related to or sleeping with a main character being shot before they can become a recurring character was depressing.

The accelerated time thing was just weird -- if they'd had a thousand generations (or whatever) in just seven days then where the blinky flip were they burying them? I mean it must raise eyebrows when you dig a grave and go "hey, this one's full of dozens of recent corpses too."

I'm also getting sort of tired of the "Timelords nnnngh... it's all too painful to talk about" face. That particular dead horse has been dangerously over-flogged already.

I also thought the "it must be in days" kind of leap of logic was just terrible. Why were they logically days not months or years and who says the planet day is a standard earth day not a thousand earth days. (Ok, the doctor recognised the particular calendar). In the end anyway, what the heck difference does it make if the futile inter-generational war has been going on for seven days or seven thousand years? I don't see why we should care beyond the "oooh... quirky!" level.

ixwin
May. 11th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
I think it made a difference in that they could be sure that all the infrastructure was still in perfect working order i.e. that the terraforming globe wouldn't have 'gone off' and that once it was launched they'd have a city in full working order.
steer
May. 11th, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)
Hum Umm... but that's entirely in the hands of the script writers isn't it. I mean it's not like we would go "oh a terraforming device which lasts for ten thousand years? We all know they go duff after a few weeks at most."
qatsi
May. 12th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
if they'd had a thousand generations (or whatever) in just seven days then where the blinky flip were they burying them?

<handwaving>I guess you could chuck the bodies back into the progenator - after all, there has to be raw material to feed that 20 times a day</handwaving>
steer
May. 12th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
(Grin) Pretty efficient I guess and I suppose they do have to get raw materials from somewhere.
weepingcross
May. 11th, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC)
I'm with your basic line - nice ideas wonkily executed. But then, isn't that harking back to the grand tradition of the series ...?

The thing that irritated me most was a particular musical motif, a simple but rather lovely series of descending notes that, the first time I heard it a few episodes ago, caught me up because I expected the Hitch-Hiker's theme to begin straight afterwards. That's fun, I thought. In this episode it must have been used twenty times, on each occasion very clearly to signal the instruction 'This is serious and potentially moving; you have been prepared for the appropriate emotions'. I can live without that!
strange_complex
May. 11th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
Funnily enough, I had the same thought about a sequence of three chords in what's clearly been conceived of as 'Jenny's theme' - which I hoped was a reference to Georgia Moffett's mother's role in H2G2. But we can't be talking about the same piece of music, as it was something I'd never heard before this episode.

On the whole, I think music is used very effectively in New Who, but I do know what you mean - sometimes it is rather over-done.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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