Good Math, Bad Math

Doctor Who Chatter

Like my friend and blogfather [Orac][orac], I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who, and I’ve been
greatly enjoying its renewed life in the new series on BBC. In fact, the current Doctor, played by David Tennant, has become my favorite of all of the Doctors – better than the
usual fan favorite of Tom Baker, better than my own former favorite, Jon Pertwee.

The reason why I’m such a fan of Tennant is that his Doctor combines many of the personality
traits of the past Doctors, while giving it his own unique spin. Tennant’s Doctor has the
hands-on activity of Jon Pertwee, the exuberance of Peter Davison, the sense of *history* of
William Hartnell (the very first Dr), and the kind of goofy enthusiasm of Tom Baker.

But he’s more than just a mish-mash of past Doctors – he’s got those traits that connect his
character to his past incarnations, but he’s definitely his own person. His hyperactive
exuberance is quite different from any Doctor we’ve seen before. Now that’s partly just the
style of writing in the new series: the Christopher Eccleston Doctor had a similar
hyperactivity. But Eccleston’s hyperness was much more self-focused: his Doctor was almost as
egocentric as the Colin Baker incarnation. Tennant’s Doctor is just enthusiastic about the
universe, about humanity, about the excitement of living. But that’s also played in conflict
with the other major trait of this Doctor: he’s got a darkness, an edge of bitterness and
alienation just below the surface.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from last season’s episode “School Reunion” which
features the return of Sarah Jane Smith, the old companion of Tom Baker’s Doctor. Overall, Tennant’s Dr. in the episode is the bouncy happy silly doctor – particularly when he finally gets to admit to Sarah Jane that he is the Doctor, and when SJ shows him K9. But there’s
a scene, where he’s alone with the leader of the Krillitane, the villains of the episode. The
Krillitane tries to entice the Doctor to join forces with him, and Tennant sneers and replies
that in his youth he was so very patient, so very merciful, but *not any more*. Now he only
gives one warning, and this is it.

The reason I’m writing all this today is that I just watched a bit-torrented download of this
years special Christmas episode. Overall, it’s a rather goofy (if fun) affair – a rather
over-the-top monster story. But it’s got another really wonderful scene that is so typical of
what I like about this Doctor. He’s coming in to confront the monster, disguised as one of her
robots. After revealing himself, he shuts down the rest of her robots with great humorous
flair using the (extremely large) remote control hidden in his pocket (it’s larger on the
inside!); and he offers the monster one chance to let him move her and her children to some
other planet, where they won’t harm anyone. She refuses, and he replies “then this is *your*
doing”, reveals that he is from Gallifrey, and destroys all of her children. It’s a great
scene, and one that does a remarkable job of demonstrating just *who* this Doctor is.

At the end, the woman who appears to be the new companion doesn’t join the Doctor, but
tells him to find someone. He naturally replies, “I don’t need anyone”. She disagrees,
and tells him that she believes that he sometimes needs someone “to stop him” – and
in one of those perfectly played bits of alienation and loneliness at the heart of this
doctor, he agrees. It’s a subtly played scene, but it’s perfect.

Anyway, overall, this years Christmas special is good, but not great. As I said above,
it’s really a bit over-the-top and goofy. Definitely *not* the best writing of the
new series. But it’s got a few really tremendous scenes, and overall, it leaves me
with confidence that Russell Davies and crew are going to continue to do a great job
of keeping Doctor Who alive and kicking.

[orac]: http://www.scienceblogs.com/insolence

Comments

  1. #1 A Babe in the Universe
    December 26, 2006

    Tennant is great for all the reasons you describe. Christopher Eccleston deserves some credit for making the Doctor seem so real, and Tom Baker for introducing that goofy enthusiasm. There has been another regeneration this year–do you have an opinion of Daniel Craig as James Bond?

  2. #2 Kevin W. Parker
    December 26, 2006

    I took to Christopher Eccleston like a shot, but I have to say I’m still getting used to David Tennant. I just wish he’d cut his portrayal down a notch – sometimes it seems a little too self-consciously wacky, like when he says “physics” about 17 times in a row early in “School Reunion.” Sometimes he seems like a fanboy who finally got to play the Doctor (which is pretty much the truth) and is enjoying it a little too much.

  3. #3 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    December 26, 2006

    Kevin:

    I never quite warmed to Eccleston. I liked seeing Doctor Who back, and I liked the writing of the season, but his portrayal of the Doctor never quite *worked* for me. I just couldn’t see how this was the same person as any of the other incarnations of the Doctor.

    I also thought his portrayal in some places was just off… where Eccleston the *actor* thought that the plot/scene was corny, and couldn’t pull it off. For example, in the scene in “Dalek” where he comes rushing to the surface with some huge gun to kill the Dalek, and is sort-of crying about how there was nothing he could have done to save the other timelords…

    ABitU: no, no opinion on the new Bond. I haven’t seen the movie. In general, I’ve never been a huge movie fan, and with two small kids, my wife and I don’t get to go out by ourselves very often, so when we do, it’s generally not to see a movie, unless it’s something one of us *really* wants to see. (Like “Wordplay” for my wife; or “Serenity” for me.) I never liked Bond enough to waste a babysitter on it. :-)

  4. #4 gg
    December 27, 2006

    I have nothing substantive to add to the discussion, save that I coincidentally saw my first episode of the revived DW just this last week, though I knew it was in existence for some time. I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and how I missed the Doctor! I also missed the Daleks terribly, and have been wandering around my family’s home doing my best ‘Exterminate!’ I never thought I could delight in a monster that looks like an oversized wet/dry vac…

  5. #5 Chris Hyland
    December 27, 2006

    The context of the Christmas episode is the Catherine Tate the actress who played the companion has a sketch show where she plays over the top overacted characters, so it was basically what everyone in the UK was expecting.

  6. #6 knobody
    December 27, 2006

    i have been finding it interesting how the show has changed to keep up with what modern audiences expect. the show seems to be aimed at an older crowd this time around. it’s obvious the beeb is spending a bit more this time around, but i admit i’m enjoying monsters without obvious cardboard and sets that are larger than 20 x 20. the one thing that took the most getting used to for me was rose. the whole idea of the doctor having a girlfriend seemed a bit off. i got used to it, and it’s making for an interesting parallel to the rest of the time lords, but it still seems just a bit not the doctor. i guess that was something else added to keep up with the expectations of the new viewers.

    so, have you been watching torchwood? i’d be interested to hear what you think about that. it’s even more over the top than the new doctor is to me, but it’s generally a fun way to spend the evening and get some knitting done. i’ll be anxiously awaiting the sarah jane adventures as well (and why can’t i find a proxy that will let me view the sja web page, argh!).

  7. #7 Julia
    December 27, 2006

    knobody,
    Will the Sarah Jane adventures be a part of the Torchwood series?

  8. #8 Nina
    December 27, 2006

    I have to agree with Kevin above. I loved Eccleston more than any other Doctor I’ve seen, and I “clicked” with him from “Run!” For the first time, he seemed like a real being, both more human and more alien than any other version. Tennant *does* seem like a mish-mash to me, inconsistent and either WAAAYY over the top or doing a goldfish imitation and some glycerine tears when he’s supposed to be emoting, but I never *feel* him, and he doesn’t convince me as powerful or threatening whereas Eccleston made the Daleks step off pronto. I just don’t think Tennant a very good actor (he seems like a really nice chap, but that’s something different), whereas Eccleston is definitely one of the best actors working today. I felt Eccleston threw himself into every moment, even the embarrassing ones like the plastic arm attack, and I believed him with his BFG, whereas I never connect with Tennant at all, whom I find smug and self-centered to an almost unbearable degree. I much prefer Eccleston’s disappointed but heartfelt “stupid apes” to Tennant’s patronizing, “Oh, humans are so wonderful!”

    The only reason I’m commenting, really, is to speak up for Nine, whom I loved, and to point out why I dislike Ten. What works for some doesn’t work for others, and while Tennant seems really popular, he’s close to the bottom of my list of Doctors.

    -Nina

  9. #9 Kevin W. Parker
    December 27, 2006

    Will the Sarah Jane adventures be a part of the Torchwood series?

    The Sarah Jane adventures are part of their own series, and, since they’re for Children’s BBC, they’re unlikely to have much to do with Torchwood. (Incidentally, the first Sarah Jane will be showing on New Year’s Day.)

  10. #10 Paul Carpenter
    December 27, 2006

    Nina makes a very good point, Tennant’s style isn’t by any means genuine and emotive. I don’t really think that’s the point of his style though, in Casanova, Tennant oozed wit and charisma without the slightest suggestion of being a believable character and it was still one hell of an entertaining show. I think perhaps he suited that more than he suits being the Doctor, although I really do like him as the Doctor.
    As for Catherine Tate, I think everyone this side of the pond was aware that she wouldn’t be the next assistant, it would have turned Doctor Who into a complete farce:
    “You Are Incompatable”
    “Do I look bovverd?”
    “You Will Be Deleted”
    “Yeh but am I bovverd though?”

  11. #11 knobody
    December 27, 2006

    julia, i don’t think sja will be related at all to torchwood. there is a web page (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sja) for the program, but i can’t view it. if you are in g.b. then you can see it (or if you can find a british proxy server that seems to work, and if you do, let me know!). otherwise it just tells you that you are s.o.l.

  12. #12 Caledonian
    December 27, 2006

    I was rather disappointed in Torchwood. Their writing is even more over-the-top than the recent incarnation of Doctor Who, and they can’t use mood music properly if their lives depended on it.

    There’s also too much emphasis on sex. Sex is fine, but it’s no substitute for plot and characterization, and instead of dealing with sexuality in a believable and adult way it seems more of a gimmick to me.

  13. #13 Caledonian
    December 27, 2006

    Quick addendum:

    There are some great character moments in the new Doctor Who. I just wish the stories could be of equal quality.

  14. #14 Raymond
    December 29, 2006

    Two days late for the discussion, but you know, had to wait for the torrent to finish before I could read the post and comment…

    I’m with the few others in the Eccleston camp. I thought he was great, and some of the mannerisms of his Doctor started to make sense when you learned, over the season, of the destruction of the Time Lords, the Doctor’s place in it… He felt alone, and responsible. The first time his Doctor saw a Dalek, and their conversation about each being the last of their kind was really moving, I think.

    Or maybe I’m reading too much in to a fun BBC show.

  15. #15 Orac
    December 30, 2006

    I just got home and BitTorrented the new Doctor Who. I can’t wait to check it out. Personally, I haven’t decided whether I like Eccleston or Tennant better. Eccleston had a bit more–if you’ll excuse the term–gravitas, while still occasionally letting loose with a goofy side. Tennant doesn’t quite achieve that–yet.

    As for Torchwood, I’ve seen the first 9 episodes and have episodes 10 & 11 downloaded but not yet watched. (The two part season finale is set to air on New Years Day, BTW.) My take on the show is that it’s maddenly uneven but has great potential. Some episodes are quite good (“Cyberwoman,” the best episode thus far “They Keep Killing Suzie,” and the solid “Random Shoes,” for example) while others are appallingly bad (a misbegotten Texas Chainsaw Massacre homage episode called “Countrycide,” for example, and “Small Worlds”). Most are just mediocre (“Day One” or “Everything Changes,” for example.)

    My overall impression is that Torchwood, after a rough start, is finally starting to find its voice and legs and is steadily improving, albeit in fits and starts. Perhaps its main persistent shortcoming is that the producers seem to be trying way too hard to make it “adult” drama (no, not that kind of “adult”). This excess results in misfires like the infamous “orgasm monster” story (“Day One,” a story about a creature that feeds on orgasmic energy and thus goes possessing women and getting them to seduce men in order to satisfy its hunger), the disgusting, over-the-top splatter movie-level gore of the aforementioned “Countrycide,” and a lesbian affair in “Greeks Bearing Gifts” that seemed (to me, at least) to go against character.

    Personally, I have high hopes for the two episodes I haven’t watched yet (10 & 11), and the two-episode season finale (12 & 13) that I will download as soon as it appears as a torrent. I’m also looking forward to Captain Jack’s showing up on Doctor Who next season.

  16. #16 Joshua
    December 30, 2006

    I absolutely love David Tennant’s Doctor, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Eccleston. Like a lot of folks of this generation, he was really my introduction to Doctor Who, so obviously I owe him a bit of a debt.

    He did bring an edge that was a bit incongruous with some of the other Doctors I’ve since seen, but it worked for his part of the Doctor’s story — the last survivor of the Time War and the only living member of his race, and the bitterness and anger that would go along with that.

    What Tennant brings to the table reminds me of the scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when Ford is talking to the barman at the pub in Arthur’s town. How he gave that look that instantly conveyed exactly how far he was from his home. Tennant’s Doctor reminds me a bit of that. When he had Rose around, he was home, but you really felt his loneliness all the times it seemed they might separate — and, of course, the time that they actually did. The acting isn’t strictly realistic, but it absolutely works to tell the story.

  17. #17 Rick
    December 31, 2006

    I’m another Eccleston fan, though I’ve seen all the rest and preferred Pertwee before the revival. I thought Eccleston carried the Doctor’s situation well: of course he was an egotist and somewhat shell-shocked — he (apparently) held the fate of the universe in his hands and made a complete mess of it. Meanwhile nearly every voyage manages to show in painstaking detail what his failure has cost the universe.

    Nothing wrong with Tennant, he just doesn’t hit me the way Eccleston did.

  18. #18 Jennifer
    January 5, 2007

    …But then blogger Mark Chu-Carroll, computer scientist and winner of the Science Blogs geekoff, blogged about how much he was enjoying Season 2 of Doctor Who. And I thought to myself how shows need a little time to become themselves, to build worlds and relationships out of nothing, out of a bunch of gathered strangers. Maybe the show got better as it went on.

    Maybe I’d been too quick to judge…

    http://jennifersaylor.wordpress.com/2007/01/05/doctor-who/

  19. #19 Paul Carpenter
    March 31, 2007

    The new series starts when? Oh yes, today! XD XD

  20. #20 IanD
    February 8, 2008

    I’m an ex-pat Scouser now domiciled in California, and I am a huge Dr Who fan. I actually saw the very first episode live – the day after John F Kennedy was assassinated, and repeated the following Saturday. I missed most of Patrick Troughton’s reign (living in Singapore at the time) but saw the majority of the other episodes. I disliked Colin Baker’s doctor at first, but he slowly grew on me as I became accustomed to his deliberate alienness. I was suspicious of Silvester McCoy because I remembered him as Sylveste McCoy (and other names), as a kid’s comedian, before becoming the Doctor, but he grew on me as well.

    When the series ended, I read all the Target / Virgin paperbacks and eagerly awaited Steven Spielberg’s movie (which never happened). The one that *did* happen was too Americanized for my liking. Set in San Francisco; the chameleon circuit became the cloaking device; the Doctor became half human (on his mother’s side), an obvious nod to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock; etc. And Eric Roberts was nowhere near as imposing as Roger Delgado or Anthony Ainley (or even Jonathan Pryce). For me, the Master has to have a widow’s peak, goatee, and maniacal laugh, or he’s just not trying.

    After the movie, I contented myself by reading the new BBC books, and the stuff they got up to in those just made me convinced they’d never be able to bring the series back to TV. The plot lines got wilder and wilder until some decent author got rid of the Gallifrayans, said goodbye to the companions, threw the 8th Doctor 200 years back in time, turned the TARDIS into a really small blue cube and let them both lick their wounds and evolve.

    When BBC Wales announced they were going to bring back Doctor Who, I almost upgraded my cable subscription to BBC America but, fortunately, I found I was able to see the series on “On Demand” (albeit a few weeks later than every one else). I was interested to see how much of the canon they would be able to keep and I wasn’t surprised when I found huge chunks of it were missing, adapted, or simply ignored.

    I enjoyed Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal. Yes, he was a very different Doctor but, if the series was going to reinvent itself, why shouldn’t he be? I loved him excusing his Lancastrian accent by exclaiming “Lots of planets have a North!” So it was a bit crushing to find him transmogrifying after just one season.

    Tennant just seems too tame in comparison. When he lost Rose to the other side of the wall / dimensional rift, and just stood there, weeping, I didn’t think it rang true. My Doctor would have simply shrugged his shoulders and moved on. After all, he *is* alien!

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