Sunday, 28 November 2010

Re-writing The Doctor - Part One

(image from Dan Dickinson's Blog)

Re-writing The Doctor

Why the RTD era had to end the way it did.

Part One

There has been a great deal of online debate centred around the end of the RTD era, in particular the way it re-used ideas and left the Doctor morose, alone and, basically, miserable.

Looking back over the era in retrospect, it is clear to me that this was actually the only way it could have realistically ended.

When the 9th Doctor arrived on our screens, he was still the Doctor we had always known but he was more... detached, even through the forced levity he sometimes displayed. There's a sadness in his eyes, and heaviness in his description of who is. He even tells Rose to "go home and forget me". Indeed, all the way through the episode Rose he tries to distance himself from her, seemingly not wanting that most iconic of Who-staples, namely "a companion". However, a combination of events, coincidence and Tyler-curiosity instigate the inevitable and by the close of the episode the unit of Doctor and companion is complete.

However, even as the Doctor and Rose headed for The End of the World and the end credits crashed in there was something else… something new in the mix. In the space of 45 minutes we had been introduced to a whole series of characters, not simply Rose. There was her gobby but clearly devoted mother; the wimpy but happy and contented boyfriend; the missing character of her father was also there simply by not being there… the famed (or in-famed) “soap element” (more on that later). And there was also someone else, someone who would prove to be the first of many… someone who has very little screen time but actually came over as a real, three dimensional character. Obviously, I mean Clive. While some may have felt him a Who-fan parody, something already seen, and winced at, in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, this time it was done with affection and something far more important. Clive was written with HEART.

This is a word I will keep coming back to time and again. Without denigrating the original series in ANY way, when the Doctor and Ace walked off at the end of Survival, no-one bar the hard core fans actually cared… or, more importantly, actually noticed. Over the years it was the show’s absence that would actually make people realise how much they loved and missed it, but that’s a whole different Blog entry.

It had, as much as some fans would like to deny it – myself included – become tired and dry to too many, despite going through a glorious regeneration (sic) at the time it ended, and never really shook off the “Introspective” and “non-inclusive” cloak that it wore in the mid-80s.

RTD had to make the show fresh, real in an unreal world and, just like the Police Box itself, free for the use of the general public.

He did this by taking the show and performing a simple operation. He gave it a heart. He gave it people we actually cared about.

When Clive was shot by an Auton, people posted about him, wanting him back. Even in 2005, this early on, I clearly thought that if this was the level of character identification we were going to be offered in “New Who”, then what would the new regime do both to and with the companion?

When I said that when the show ended no-one but the hard core cared, it is important to remember that RTD was one of those. If you look at Rose, both the episode and the character, it is almost a tonal remake of Survival insomuch as the location and the use of a fully rounded companion.

Am I saying that Rose is Ace, “up graded”? To an extent, yes, I guess I am. More importantly, though, I am saying that we were being presented with one of the triumphs of the end of original Who, a character companion, not simple someone who was a great idea on paper, worked well for one introductory story and them became “generic to be given life by the actor playing them”.

Yes, I know that Rose was the “introductory” story I mentioned working so well for so many before, but the elements that helped to round Rose were actually there on-screen, not simply worded asides – and before anyone says Logopolis, unlike Tegan’s also “on screen” Aunt Vanessa they actually survived the story.

They’d be back, surely? If so, how? Why? Would there actually be consequences involved with someone going off into time and space and leaving people behind?

My gut feeling for the character of Rose was good. However, I had no idea how far reaching this one companion was going to be in the lives of two Doctors and how, in the end, it was her that determined the whole course of the Tenth Doctor’s life and motivation.

It is difficult to underestimate this council girl’s importance almost from the word go.

Although clearly a devise to allow a new audience to get to know our hero, over the course of the series he opened up to her, revealing layers of who he was. The reverse of this process would be seen in action when Martha Jones came on board and he’d clammed up again, but let’s not too “timey-wimey” just yet.

He tells her, initially, that the TARDIS is a space ship. Fact one. He tells her he’s an alien. Fact two. However, unlike the info dump that was the first minute of the Paul McGann TVM, that’s it for a bit. He actually leaves the fact the TARDIS is a time machine right until the end of Rose. In The End of the World, he shows her a culture shock inducing “carnival of monsters”, parading his world in front of her. In the same story, we learn that the TARDIS “gets inside my head” allowing Rose to understand these “monsters” (something we didn’t have mentioned until The Masque of Madragora in the original run). Finally in this story, Rose and we are told something else, and something that is new even to us. Not only is the Doctor a Time Lord (I can imagine Ace’s Silver Nemesis reaction to that particular revelation) but he is also… the Last of the Time Lords. He has been left alone by a Time War. Against whom we are not told, yet, but that hardly mattered at that moment. We needed time to digest the first piece of “new” information that we, the hard core, had been delivered.

Millions of fan jaws hit the floor… or their keyboards. The Time Lords? Gone? Now, hear me out here BUT this now made the Doctor a man, an identifiable man for the new generation. He wasn’t simply an alien (such bomb shells don’t impact as much these, or those, days) or a Time Lord …. but a man, and he was alone. He was now someone battle weary, someone struggling with grief, wanting to heal, wanting to let someone in but scared of the consequences.

By accident or design, he’d come to Earth, a planet he loves, had once been exiled to… to be healed.

This is what makes him a “man”. He’d come home to the familiar, to where he felt safe and at home. And it can easily be argued that both the 9th and 10th Doctors are among the most human incarnations of them all. Only the 5th comes close, and even he… well, timey wimey!

Almost fighting the process In Rose’s flat, the Doctor flicks through a magazine, observing, “That’ll never work, he’s gay and she’s an alien…” Well, while the dynamic may not be the same, that line is clearly a metaphor and has resonance.

He’s a Time Lord and she’s a human. Could that ever work… again?

In the closing moments of The End of the World, Rose tells the Doctor, “You’ve got me!” and holds his hand. At that moment the healing process begins.

The audience, for their part – both new and old – want to hold his hand as well. However, with that holding of hands both his rejuvenation and his ultimate demise one life later are sealed.

It seems it’s true what they say. Chips, while they may well fill you up, are ultimately bad for you.


1 comment:

  1. This deserves to be commented on. It deserves to be read by more people. And it deserves to be finished. Thank you.