(scroll all the way down for links to discussion of other episodes)
see my brief overview of the DVD set at FlickFilosopher.com
Damn you, Russell Davies! You've got me as seriously (re)hooked on Doctor Who as I've been on anything in all my pathetic nerdy life. I'm already dreaming up fan fiction with this delicious new Doctor, which is just sad, because I'm never going to write it -- it's just going to clutter up my head and distract me from everything else I should be writing (although, hmmm, it would be very easy to adapt one of the notions I've had so that it works as a sequel to the SF novel I'm about to start writing...).
I can't remember if it was actually mentioned in the classic series or whether it's something that we fan fiction writers made up, but the idea the TARDIS has a mind of its own and draws the Doctor deliberately into trouble is clearly something that Davies is playing with: The first time it happens, in "The Unquiet Dead", it could be a fluke, the Doctor aiming for Naples in 1860 and ending up in Cardiff in 1869, right where his particular expertise will come right in handy dealing with a trandimensional alien incursion. But then it happens again, in "Aliens of London", when the Doctor tries to take Rose home for a visit 12 hours after she left and the TARDIS lands them 12 months later... just in time for the Doctor to get caught up in another bit of alien intrigue.
I can see that I'm gonna have to keep invoking concepts of fan fiction when talking about this new Who, so I should be clear that I'm not using the term "fan fiction" as a pejorative but as a geeky compliment. (Consider that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is Hamlet fan fiction.) I realize that the vast majority of fan fiction is crap, but I'm talking about good fan fiction, the kind of stuff that was always about rooting out the subtext in the series and looking at it from new angles, about figuring out what was so interesting metaphorically about the show's conceits, about exploring the relationships among the Doctor's companions and between the Doctor and his companions, the serious grownup stuff that the show simply had no interest in. Not just the love-and-sex stuff -- though of course there was always plenty of that -- but also the emotional impact of being a real, complex person from 20th-century Earth suddenly thrust regularly into situations of cosmic peril and/or dealing with the a-fucking-mazingness of time travel and meeting honest-to-god aliens and sometimes both at the same time.
And this is why the character of Rose makes me suspect that Russell Davies has been reading some of my old Doctor Who fan fiction, including the stories I only wrote in my head and never got down on paper. Cuz she's exactly what you'd expect from a fan-fiction character... and maybe even from a Mary Sue (that is, a stand-in for the writer who not-so-secretly wishes she -- or he -- were traveling with the Doctor [or falling in love with Spock, or saving the world as John Steed's new fabulous-girl sidekick, etc]... and whaddaya know: Rose has been pegged by at least one observer as a Mary Sue). When the Doctor informs her that they are not in Naples, not in 1860, she doesn't care -- she is as completely enamored of the fact that she's anywhen other than 2005 as, well, I would be. And she's seriously geeked for her trip to 10 Downing Street in "Aliens of London."
But then there's the other side of looking at Doctor Who through a new reality lens -- which sounds bizarre when we're talking about a show about a 900-year-old alien time traveler, but there we are. Rose has been gone for a year, with no explanation, and her mother has been frantic, and her boyfriend has been accused of murdering her. I mean: Yes! Of course! Didn't anyone worry about or miss all those young people who trooped into the TARDIS before and never returned because they decided to stay on some alien planet or in some other time? That has simply never been dealt with on the show before.
And people are finally noticing that it's maybe a bit odd for a (seemingly) fortysomething adult man to be traipsing around with a pretty girl half his (apparent) age: the cop in "Aliens of London" who wonders whether this "companion" status is something sexual; Dickens, who considers it rather unseemly that an unchaperoned young lady would squeeze into the "shed" of the TARDIS with a man she is not married to. That's funny stuff, and it's always been kinda absurd that no one wondered about these things before.
And, you know, there's clearly something going on there, the kind of something that previously only fan-fiction writers dealt with. When Rose gets all philosophical in "Unquiet Dead":
about days long lost and ancient sunsets, or whatever it is, and how they come alive again thanks to the Doctor, and how traveling like that is "better with two," damn, the girl is flirting with him. Which is of course what was at the core of all Doctor Who fan fiction written by women, a desire to flirt (and a lot more) with this attractive alien man-type creature.
But it's not all Rose. This, in "Unquiet Dead":
was about more than just "oh no we're about to die, let us cling to our last moments of life together." "I'm glad I met you," the Doctor says to Rose? There's something much deeper going on here than we've seen before on Doctor Who. There's a lot going on in "Unquiet Dead" about the Doctor challenging Rose to learn how to deal with new concepts of morality, about seeing how her mind and consciousness are expanding to cope with all this, about getting mad when she resists. But, as Rose says, in "Aliens," about the Doctor: "He's not my boyfriend, Mickey -- he's better than that, he's much more important." There's a spectacular new give-and-take in this relationship that is so like something a fan-fiction writer would have created.
And fanfic was also about making the Doctor something more than a cartoonish intergalactic defender of weak and fighter of injustice slash goofball. His terror of domesticity is an interesting expansion on his loner-hood... and yet he casually lies to Rose, too, something I don't think any of the earlier Doctors would have done, about how he's not going to head off in the TARDIS without her. And then again, the perfectly reasonable fear of being left behind, left out of a life of adventure, is also something that the classic series never approached, and some fanfic did.
Random thoughts on "The Unquiet Dead":
• It's not often you get a Martin Chuzzlewit reference in science fiction -- this show is literate, and assumes the viewer is, too.
A free-floating full-torso vaporous apparition!
• Clever of Dickens using the name of Shakespeare as an exclamation, since he clearly cannot say "What the Dickens!"
• The Doctor gets a kick out of Rose's spunk: watch him laughing in the background as she tells off the undertaker for copping a feel when he was chloroforming her.
• The Doctor doesn't believe in an afterlife: he says to Gwyneth, about her dead parents, "If your mother and father could look down and see this..." If
Best line in "The Unquiet Dead":
"Go on, do the death of Little Nell -- it cracks me up." -- the Doctor, gushing like a fanboy to Charles Dickens
Random thoughts on "Aliens of London":
Shades of 9/11. The news reports are chillingly real. And does that "alien emergency helpline" number -- 08081 570980 -- actually work? (I'm not geeky enough to incur the expense of an international phone call to find out.)
• The TARDIS gets cable? Cool. So that means it gets the Sci-Fi Channel?
• The multiple conversations overlapping in some scenes? Very modern, very West Wing.
Hoorah for UNIT! I'm so glad they're back. And interesting, isn't it, how the Doctor projects such an air of authority that the UNIT grunts can flip in an instant from holding him at gunpoint to obeying his orders.
• Perhaps the fact that the Doctor has to fight some little rugrat for the TV remote control in Rose and her mum's flat explains his terror of domesticity...
• Nice to see that the traditional bang on the TARDIS console still works wonders.
• Could have done without all the farting...
Best line in "Aliens of London":
"Nine hundred years of time and space and I've never been slapped by someone's mother." -- the Doctor
(screencaps from Stakes & Stones Screencaps)
blogging Christopher Eccleston's 'Doctor Who':
• episodes 1 & 2: Rose/The End of the World
• episodes 5 & 6: World War Three/Dalek
• episodes 7 & 8: The Long Game/Father's Day
• episodes 9 & 10: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances [coming soon]
• episodes 11, 12 & 13: Boom Town/Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways [coming soon]
• DVD extras: Doctor Who Confidential [coming soon]
I love the "official" UNIT site:
Formed in response to a series of incidents on the London Underground in that year, UNIT was a dedicated taskforce specialising in un-territorial incursions.
The service quickly expanded, making our presence felt in a golden period that spanned the sixties, the seventies, and, some would say, the eighties.
Also from the site:
UNIT cannot be held responsible for any injury, death, personal harm, damage, alarm, seizure, catalepsy, cataclysm, armageddon, apocalypse, sepulchasm, maiming, disappearance, reappearance, alteration, reprogramming, vision loss, temporal impairment or glitterclysm caused by the use of this site.
Glitterclysm kinda sounds like fun, actually, like something that might be illegal in Georgia and Alabama...