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Doctor Who 4[XXX].6: The Doctor's Daughter

May 25th, 2008 (04:54 pm)

One of the most prominent traditions of Doctor Who fandom has been that the Doctor is an asexual being - as Toby Hadoke says in Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, he did have a granddaughter travelling with him when the series began, implying sexual relations at some point in his life, but that somehow doesn't count. Like a lot of fan traditions this probably arises from a conjunction of collective personal experience (there's almost a cultural presumption now that male Doctor Who fans are either not good with or not interested in girls) with whatever spin was being put out by the production team at the time. In the late 1970s producer Graham Williams emphasised that he assumed baby Time Lords were found under a cosmic gooseberry bush, as the Doctor couldn't be interested in girls - a tactic which both exploited and distanced the Doctor from Tom Baker's enthusiastic Soho heterosexuality. Ten years down the line Sylvester McCoy was asked "Is the Doctor gay?" at a season launch press conference; and, much later, either Russell T Davies or Christopher Eccleston was told by a friend that the Doctor was "an old paedo". Whatever some fans might see in or want from the Doctor, the sexuality question refuses to go away.

To some extent publicity for The Doctor's Daughter titillated the audience with the suggestion that there might be a revelation of some lurid affair. Doctor Who Magazine joined in, with the comment that Georgia Moffett looked like she could be Lalla Ward's daughter. I'd wondered whether Jenny was a hitherto unsuspected survivor of the Time War. Instead, Jenny's origin was dealt with in one of those swift set-ups the current series manages very well; the Doctor and companion(s) arrive and are thrust straight into the action or to some extent precipitate it. The 'extrapolation' of Jenny makes the Doctor both victim of the society in which he has landed and complicit in its continuation - the story which follows is as much about this as what Donna calls 'Dadshock', though perhaps successful fatherhood itself is about coming to terms with one's responsibility towards other human beings.

The Doctor's accepting a 'child of the machine' as his daughter could be interpreted as another example of Doctor Who's embrace of non-traditional relationships. We've learned in Utopia that the Doctor can be prejudiced - Jack was 'wrong' and so is Jenny, in a different way. (So much, presumably, for the Looms of the New Adventures.) There seems to be an implication, in everything that the Doctor has said about family since Rose, that the Time War saw a reconciliation between the Doctor and his Time Lord heritage which also included his family, all of whom subsequently died, perhaps at his hands; but there's enough in the (barely spoken) backstory of the original series, which had the Doctor as a survivor from an intergalactic war, to suggest that the Doctor could be recalling events from the more distant past.

On the podcast commentary, Russell T Davies said that his tone word for the episode was 'subterranean'. This part of the design works well; it looks as if the humans and the Hath are camping in the sunken ruins of another civilization, although of course this turns out to be misleading. I would have appreciated slightly darker lighting, though, or perhaps colour grading; and a few more signs of carnage to suggest a war which has wiped out thousands of people in a week with the consequence that culture and identity is transmitted through a combination of Chinese whispers and deliberate manipulation by dead factional interests.

General Cobb seems to be an anomaly in an army of otherwise young adults; while it's a convention derived from folk memory of the First World War to present generals as remote old men, one has to presume that the machine artificially creates ageing commanders as there is no indication that Cobb has foreknowledge - though it would have been more interesting if it turned out that he was a survivor of the original argument between humans and Hath following the death of the commanding officer. (This was discussed on the podcast.) Cobb isn't helped by Nigel Terry's performance, where he deploys a similar stage-Irish accent to the one he used as the young King Arthur in John Boorman's Excalibur way back in 1981, which makes him appear to lack authority. That full-scale war could have broken out so easily among the colonists doesn't bode particularly well for the new society's future.

Martha was badly used in the previous two episodes, but she has more to do in this one, given that she has the role of showing that it's possible to communicate with the Hath. The demonstration of compassion and co-operation is a simple one, but the level of programming in the two species is such that the possibility may well never have occurred to them, so I'm prepared to go along with it even though I'm surprised the Hath didn't put Martha in close confinement as a potential spy. I was not as moved by the death of Peck as the script intended, though he was credibly the victim of a hostile planetary surface.

nwhyte was the first commentator I read to point out the parallels between this story and The Ark - I must make time to dig out the VHS and watch it - and they are definitely present, with the bougainvillea under a steel(-framed) sky. I think that there was to be a similar environment at one stage in the development of The Ark in Space as well, when it was a six-parter written by John Lucarotti. The discovery of the oasis of green, this little paradise over which the two forces were fighting without precisely knowing what it was, is one of the best moments in the episode, and the terraforming of the planet at the end was presented in a successfully uplifting fashion. The main source for the device seems to be the Genesis machine of the Star Trek films, which seems to be responsible, though 'the Source' and its execution reminded me of old Who and The Keeper of Traken - and I've just learned from the Podcast that the humans were originally going to be another species, the Takrens. Homage?

Georgia Moffett is indeed lovely, and reminded me very much of her mother, but she is a lot softer in lots of ways. I'm glad that it appears that we will see her again. One of the decisions made with the Doctor in recent years has been to give him some character development, giving the lie to Tom Baker's assertion that "strictly speaking, it is not an acting part". During the episode the Doctor warns Jenny that killing people infects you and changes you. He is speaking from experience, as his rejection of soldiering expresses, underpinning as it does his rejection of Jenny. Through Jenny, and through his assumption of moral authority over the colonists following her death, the Doctor is reconciled a little with a part of his nature he's been suppressing since we met him again, and helped foreground the Time War for series arc purposes. David Tennant is perhaps at his most 'Mr Saturday Night' here, an uncannily effective combination of John Gielgud and Bruce Forsyth. Catherine Tate gave her most understated performance, too, and some of the 'he's daft, but I'm fond of him' looks reminded me of those Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah used to give Tom Baker's Doctor, many years ago.

All this being said, there was something about the episode which meant that it pulled what could have been a forceful punch. There were weaknesses in the conceptualisation which let the project down and meant that it was difficult to care about the community which the Doctor left behind. Writer Stephen Greenhorn had originally made the colonists carry Cobb off and execute him at the end, vetoed by RTD, but it makes sense that a society of soldiers with genetically engineered military discipline would do that. RTD was probably right, though, in the broader scheme of things. And that sexuality question? Technically sidestepped, though we do learn more of the Doctor's capacity for love, and the boundaries between his self-esteem and his shame.

Comments

Posted by: helflaed (helflaed)
Posted at: May 28th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC)

My own pet theory is that the Doctor was married, and had had children, plus at least one grandchild (Susan)before the start of the first series. I seem to recall that there are references to a brother as well. My theory is that apart from Susan, they had all died before the events of "An unearthly child". Galifrey itself may not have been a particularly dangerous place, but bearing in mind some of the places that the Dr has gone to, it would not be entirely unexpected if he had already lost relatives. Somehow in the first series the Doctor and Susan seem so alone in the universe.

As for the vexed question of timelord reproductive practices- I suspect that they did it when they needed to, but otherwise had far more interesting things to do with their time. Oddly, this does not preclude the use of looms, especially if female timelords didn't fancy all that pregnancy and birth business. Heck- it could be the male timelords if they had brood pouches like seahorses do!

Perhaps understandably for a children's programme, the question of the the doctor being the victim of a forcible reproductive practice was not explored, but was at least hinted at in terms of his initial rejection of Jenny.

I did like the ending though- no cosy family trips on the TARDIS, but I'm sure I've heard something about a Galifreyan running off in a stolen spacecraft somewhere before...can't think where...

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: May 28th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)

Here's comments suddenly coming out of the woodwork...:-)

I liked the episode on the whole, and I liked the ending. What puzzles me, though is what exactly happened to her.
If it was the effect of the terraforming agent, it still seems a bit drastic (though cf. yours Star Teek reference), and if it was regeneration after all (perh. more to be expected), why does she get to keep her body?

On the other hand, a good episode means I can smile while wondering...

KT (in anticipation of Jenny's return)