Friday, May 3, 2013

Somehow We've Materialized, For A Split Second Of Time (The End Of The World)

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It’s April 2nd, 2005. Tony Christie is at number one with “(Is This The Way To) Amarillo,” which features the Abzorbaloff. 50 Cent, Elvis Pressley, Will Smith, Gwen Stefani and Eve, Natalie Imbruglia, and Nelly with Tim McGraw also chart. Christie also has the top album, while The Killers and Green Day also make that chart.

Since last week, a sizable earthquake took place off the coast of Sumatra. Robert Mugabe held “free and fair” elections, which he proceeded to win by an implausible margin. And on the day this story airs, Pope John Paul II dies. Also, in all of this, it’s announced that Christopher Eccleston will be departing the series, leading absolutely everybody to conclude that David Tennant would obviously be taking over (although that wasn’t formally announced until the day Aliens of London aired). But today, on television, it’s The End of the World.

The single most important moment in The End of the World comes in a seemingly lightweight scene in which we see the robotic spiders scuttling down an air shaft. The camera is positioned at one end of the ducting, and the spiders are scuttling towards the camera. And one of them bumps into the camera. This, of course, is a joke about the supposed poor quality of special effects in classic Doctor Who, the joke being that the spiders are CGI monsters and thus cannot possibly jostle the camera except on purpose. So they’ve put in a deliberate “bad effect.” But perhaps more to the point is that they’ve selected a bad effect from within Doctor Who’s own history, namely the infamous scene from The Web Planet of a Zarbi plowing into the camera where they couldn’t do a retake because they simply didn’t have time in the studio that day.

I do not, I trust, have to go to the length of analysis demonstrated in Rose for every episode in order to show how the new series works. Episodes are made up of bibs and bobs of other television shows, characters from one type of show get shoved into another, and much of the drama is, at least partially, based on the question of what shows do or don’t hold power over the narrative. That’s the basic model for the new series - one that’s going to be used for practically every entry for the remainder of the blog. Likewise, I do not have to stress the way in which the invocations of things in particular places carries meaning. In an episode of television that is stitched up out of other television the particulars of what television you stitch into the lining of matter.

And The Web Planet is a spectacularly weird thing to evoke. The Web Planet is not what you would call a highly acclaimed episode. It got phenomenal ratings at the time, was novelized, and was quick out to VHS, and so it’s unmistakably a classic episode that loads of people have seen, but that’s not equivalent to a lot of people liking it. Its reputation is as a somewhat clunkily paced story whose reach so exceeds its grasp as to be almost unwatchable. And this isn’t entirely unfair - it is, in fact, a story in which really weird-looking butterfly people fight giant ants who are very obviously men with fiberglass ant carapaces shoved over their torsos, and where everything was filmed with Vaseline smeared over the lenses to make it look weird. If last week’s invocation of Spearhead From Space was an enormously sensible moment of calling back to the series’ most iconic popular memories, The Web Planet is an invocation of all of the absolute strangest in Doctor Who.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that this is what The End of the World is going for. It is, after all, the first televised story since The Web Planet to feature no humanoid characters other than the regulars. This requires some nipping and tucking around the edges of the claim, but it is largely solid. Yes, Cassandra is human, but the entire point of her is that she doesn’t look it. Yes, there are supporting characters, most notably Jade, who are functionally human for the purposes of being able to see their faces, but if Verity Lambert had the proesthetics department Russell T Davies does, frankly, she would have made the Menoptra like that. And yes, there’s the brief intrusion of Jackie Tyler and the final sequence that you can use if you want to say “a-ha, see, The Web Planet really is the only story like that,” but frankly, what’s the point? You don’t need to tick absolutely every single box to realize that it had been a very, very long time since last Doctor Who did a story this jam-packed with odd aliens. (And if you need a final piece of evidence, just note that on his next appearance the Face of Boe is established as coming from where, exactly?)

And what’s really telling is how much The End of the World revels in it. It doesn’t just have lots of aliens, it has lots of gratuitous aliens. The Face of Boe and the Moxx of Balhoon are really just there to show off that the production can do them. They contribute virtually nothing to the plot, and are instead among the most gratuitous expenditures in the sake of visual texture in the series’ history. Which is perhaps the strangest thing about the invocation of The Web Planet and the attendant homage to it: in many ways it feels as though it’s there just to prove that the series can do it.

In fact, behind the scenes at least this is exactly why the episode exists. Russell T Davies wanted to demonstrate the breadth of the concept and to avoid scaling things down for the second episode. So he embraced for the first time what will become one of the defining artistic moves of his tenure: don’t just go big, go ludicrous. So we have an episode that is on a basic level dedicated to just being too damn much. In that regard there’s a sizable break from The Web Planet, and, to an extent, from the entire production model of television it represents. The Web Planet was ludicrous, but came from everybody embracing a little too sincerely the idea that they could portray something “totally alien.” But this is something else - something that is completely and utterly aware of how strange and off-putting aspects of it are, and that is, more importantly, embracing it.

Or, at least, that’s what it’s doing with its Web Planet aspects. But let’s double down on the oddness here. After all, we do know that the Face of Boe is, in all likelihood, secretly Captain Jack. In this regard The Web Planet serves a crucial function as establishing the nature of the area from which Captain Jack hails. Let us, then, briefly imagine the sheer insanity implicit in this. Let us imagine taking a relatively normative Torchwood fan with a Captain Jack crush and showing them The Web Planet on the grounds that it is the first story about where Captain Jack comes from. How, exactly, do we think this might go?

In other words, as self-consciously weird as The End of the World is, the weirdest thing about it is not the Moxx of Balhoon as such, but rather the fact that the Moxx of Balhoon is being seriously mooted as something that belongs on BBC One in a competitive time slot. It’s not just completely ludicrous, it’s completely ludicrous in a way that plays very actively with fan expectations. As with Clive last week, part of what we’re doing here is exorcising the ghosts of the wilderness years. The Web Planet would be just about at the bottom of everybody’s list of what the expected to see in the new series, or, for that matter, what they wanted to. Even something like The Twin Dilemma felt on paper the saner bet - Eccleston could surely handle the strangling scene well and make it properly scary. And while there might have been some debate to have on which one was the better idea in the abstract, prior to about 19:45 on 2nd April, 2005 nobody would have seriously suggested they were both actually possible.

But there’s an oddly meta texture to the events here. We’ve found ourselves in the position of suggesting that The Web Planet is being invoked in part because it is the single most absurd thing that possibly could be invoked at this point. It’s being invoked because it is, in 2005, the remotest aspect of Doctor Who. And that fact parallels one of the central tensions of the episode. Throughout the entire episode there’s a pattern that recurs several times: someone asks the Doctor who he is, or brings up a detail of his past, and the Doctor reacts in anger or horror. The usual brief is to read this from the perspective of a hypothetical new audience member, and thus to read the episode about building to a reveal about the Doctor’s past. But that’s not what’s going on here. The fact that the Doctor is a Time Lord is not some secret that was kept from the audience for the first hour and fifteen minutes of Doctor Who. It was splashed all over the place. The newspapers were unabashed in calling the Doctor a Time Lord, because it’s a default piece of the series’ mythology. It’s part of what people just know about the character - you can go ask a Brit who’s never seen an episode and they can, in all likelihood, dutifully recite that the Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. So the unveiling of the phrase “Time Lord” was not, in any meaningful sense, a surprise.

No, the surprise was its concealment. The surprise was that we spend all of The End of the World visibly recoiling from even the most basic piece of series lore. That’s one of the central tensions of The End of the World - the fact that the audience knows the unspeakable thing that the Doctor is recoiling from, and thus doesn’t understand why it’s a source of pain for him. And it’s clearly pain, from his angry explosion at Rose prior to the jiggery-pokery sequence to his quiet anguish when Jade calls him out. So what we have is an episode where one of the central conflicts is anxiety over Doctor Who’s lore in which the episode’s iconography is pilfered from a part of Doctor Who’s history that provokes outright terror.

(In this regard it was almost inevitable that this be the episode that comes out in the wake of the Eccleston departure news, the anxieties of its content spilling out into the emboited wider world. The show was a source of fear. We all felt it, even after Rose was a massive hit. The other shoe could drop at any moment. It still could - look to the astonishing paranoia over the possibility that Moffat can’t make Doctor Who as fast as Russell T Davies could. The wilderness will always haunt Doctor Who, but this was, perhaps, its moment of greatest terror.)

Again, we have to understand the basic structure of a modern Doctor Who episode at this point. It works like this: you take a tension within or between two narrative systems. So, for instance, we have one between the material past of Doctor Who - the twenty-six seasons plus a TV movie of stuff that preceded Rose - and the idea of the BBC One Saturday night schedule. The latter seems to be recoiling from the former, raising the possibility that there are parts of Doctor Who that simply have to be jettisoned to make it succeed in the present day. And then you bring in something from another signifying system that somehow resolves the tension in the first one.

Which brings us to Rose. The parts of the episode that are not consumed with being ostentatiously Doctor Who are, after all, largely concerned with the business of Rose’s reactions and how she handles the strange world of Platform One. This is a phenomenally easily misunderstood fact, however. Again, there’s a usual explanation, but it simply fails to fit the episode itself. The usual explanation - one that, in fact, covers all of Doctor Who (equally wrongly) is that the companion is the audience’s “point of view” character. I’ve rubbished this in the past, but let’s take it very specifically in the context of this episode, if only because at this point in the series’ run there’s a more credible case for needing a point of view character in the first place than, really, any time since 1964 or so. After all, whatever The End of the World is doing, at least part of what it’s doing is still reintroducing Doctor Who. That’s what the whole first season is, in part - an extended argument of the form “this is the range of things Doctor Who can be.” So in that regard someone who represents the audience’s perspective seems perfectly reasonable.

But that’s clearly not what Rose is doing here, because the audience is considerably savvier than her. Rose, as a companion, was carefully selected precisely because of how far she was from the traditional companion template. She’s intensely working class and largely feels like she’s wandered in from a soap opera. She is, in other words, manifestly a companion who would never be caught dead watching a show like Doctor Who. This is actually a departure from expectations, which would have been to go for companions like Izzie and Anji from the wilderness years - ones who are aware of sci-fi conventions. But Rose isn’t. And in that regard large swaths of the audience are going to be considerably ahead of her as she explores Platform One.

But even for audience members who are more or less completely unaware of Doctor Who The End of the World is going to seem less off-putting than it does to Rose simply because so much of Platform One is organized around familiar logics of Britain in 2005. The presentation of the aliens is shot like a presentation of contestants in the first episode of a reality program. The music is ostentatiously dated, and more to the point dated perfectly to 2005: a Britney Spears single that was just past its prime and a bit of 80s kitsch. Fundamentally, a bunch of aliens milling about to “Tainted Love” just isn’t that strange a sight for a 2005 television audience.

And more to the point, it’s miles from a man in an ant carapace wandering around a studio moonscape beeping like a car alarm through a Vaseline smeared camera lens. The Web Planet was ostentatiously alienating. The End of the World isn’t - it goes out of its way to frame the entirety of its alien weirdness in the present day. It’s as digestible a set of bizarre aliens as it’s possible to show on the 2nd of April, 2005. In that regard it can be accused of dating terribly. Actually, all of the first season is a bit odd in this regard, which is probably where the “Skip Nine” advice/faction has come up from. There’s something oddly disposable about the first season, and it comes from exactly this: the first season exists to successfully launch Doctor Who on British television in the spring of 2005. In another year, or even in another country it comes off oddly. It was absolutely necessary to Doctor Who returning; in many ways it’s the single most important season of Doctor Who since Pertwee’s first season. But now that Doctor Who is a thing it feels oddly distant. It’s not that it’s flawed on its own merits, so much as that it feels slightly unapproachable.

In that regard, however, it mirrors The Web Planet better than intended. Part of what is striking about The Web Planet is that it is, in its own way, so aggressively dated. It looks like a cheaply made piece of 60s television trying to do far more ambitious sci-fi than it has any hope of doing. But that’s part of its charm - the fact that in 1965 a bunch of people made a ludicrously overambitious sci-fi television serial that ended up drawing on techniques from early 20th century film to create something that is dated, but that is extraordinary in its datedness. After all, the past is dated. Being from 1965 is no more of a sin than being from 2005 is. What’s so wonderful about The Web Planet is that it’s something that couldn’t happen today. And the same logic, by and large, applies to The End of the World. It’s unmistakably television from 2005.

And so Rose, in being alienated from it, is not serving as the audience’s perspective. At almost every turn the audience is against Rose here, willing her to get over herself and get involved with the cool sci-fi plot instead of moping about how alien the aliens are. So if Rose isn’t the audience’s point of view character, what is she? The answer, I would suggest, is that she’s the audience’s point of view narrative system. It’s not that she expresses the opinions of the audience so much as that she presents the most familiar set of narrative codes. When Rose is in control of the narrative, we know basically how it’s going to work. Because Rose represents the normative emotion-based dramatic structure that dominates contemporary television.

And so where Rose (the episode) was Doctor Who crashing into Rose’s show, The End of the World features Rose crashing into Doctor Who. On one hand we have what is not just a bog-standard Doctor Who plot but a parodic one - a villain with an excessively baroque scheme, a bunch of silly aliens, and things like the sun filter scene with Rose, where it’s not even entirely clear what’s going on. (Nowhere in the episode is it ever explained why Rose is attacked and left in the room with the sun filter. Presumably it’s revenge for her insulting Cassandra, but it’s never stated, and even if it is revenge it’s a preposterously convoluted sort of revenge.) On the other we have Rose, and, with her, an unexpected amount (at least for Doctor Who) of emotional content. In that regard the reappearance of Jackie Tyler is, in its own way, more shocking and disorienting than any alien in the entire episode, simply because it’s something that is wildly unlike anything that has ever happened in Doctor Who before.

But the presence of Rose also jeopardizes the structure of Doctor Who on a fundamental level. It is, after all, the Rose-introduced emotional content that renders the history of Doctor Who suspect. In that regard Rose seems to pose as much of a threat to the underlying structure of Doctor Who as the fact of its scheduling does. Everything, it seems, conspires to make Doctor Who seem marginal and unobtainable. But then, in the episode’s closing moments, comes the inevitable reconciliation. But what’s striking is how it eventually comes together.

The end centers largely on the eponymous end of the world - the point where the sun expands and the Earth incinerates. Rose provides the necessary emotional closure by pointing out that nobody even saw it go. On one level this is just setup for the Doctor’s subsequent revelation of the Time War, an event that initially contextualizes those events not in terms of Doctor Who history but in terms of the ability of Rose to add emotional content to Doctor Who, in this case a lingering trauma. But more to the point, it adds emotional content to the big sci-fi ideas. The trick of The End of the World is that up until the world explodes and Rose comments mournfully that nobody was there to see it the destruction of the planet was just another sci-fi conceit, no different from the Brothers Hop Pyleen.

So what Rose serves to do is to make the fantastic premises of Doctor Who material and, more to the point, significant. Up until Rose’s mourning for the planet the end of the world had been the one thing that The End of the World was not, in fact, about. It is only through Rose’s observation that the story becomes about the end of the world. Crucially, this happens after the end of the world itself, which, in practice, the audience glosses over as a big special effects sequence in the middle of the climax of a Doctor Who story as opposed to reading it as significant. It is not until Rose says anything that we realize that we did, in fact, completely miss the end of the world in amidst the climax.

And in that regard, Rose is wrong. It’s not true that nobody saw the world go. In fact, eight million people saw it. And they saw it because of Rose. It’s only through her intervention that the end actually becomes manifest. Rose’s critique of Doctor Who - that it blazed past the end of the world without noticing it - in fact repairs the program, and, in doing so, allows it to heal the wound of its relationship with its own past and, in doing so, to push into the vibrance of the present moment. And so in doing so everything we’ve seen becomes justified - the very practice of putting freakish aliens in amidst the cultural debris of 2005. The answer is tautological, perhaps, but all the more straightforward for it. Why do The Web Planet again in 2005?

So we can watch it happen.

89 comments:

  1. I hate to be picky, but 'Jade' is actually Jabe.

    Other than that, another great entry into the Eruditorium.

    What's also interesting is character motivation. The Ninth Doctor is clearly damaged. He's just witnessed the end of his own planet. Then he takes Rose on a "first date" (as it's called in New Earth) to witness the end of her own planet.

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    1. Speaking of names, this is when RTD's creativeness with names starts to bleed into the show. Because he can write such truthful and well designed characters, he can get away with the Moxx of Balhoon (which sounds like something out of Season 24, to be fair).

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    2. My wife feels strongly that there's an abusive tinge to Nine and Rose's relationship. She sees this episode as an attempt to emotionally cut her off from Jackie and Mickey--a classic abuser move. I'm not sure that's exactly what's going on, but it's an interesting perspective on it. The similar moment with Eleven and Clara in "Hide" was an intriguing parallel, too. He's much more oblivious about it there.

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    3. This is straight out of the Buffy handbook, isn't it? The main story is a metaphor for the psychological issues of one of the characters -- and in a rare move, it's actually lampshaded as such. Of course, that lampshading happens back on Earth, in Rose's time, under Rose's "narrative control."

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    4. If he's trying to cut off Rose from Mickey and Jackie then why does he give her the superphone? Why doesn't he just say "Sorry Rose. No can do. Now lets go get some chips!" Sorry, it just doesn't follow for me.

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    5. Theonlyspiral makes a great point, and the Doctor does insist that though the Earth is dying here, it's still very much alive and functioning in the 'present' too (as shown by the final scene).

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    6. I think it's quite the opposite; essentially, giving her some space from Jackie and Mickey and her whole world.

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    7. I've just considered each new companion's first "off-world" trip and it's quite interesting:

      Rose (with Nine) - a spacestation orbiting Earth.
      Rose (with Ten) - New Earth.
      Jack - the Gamestation, orbiting Earth.
      Mickey - a spaceship with windows into Earth's past.
      Martha - New Earth.
      Donna - Oodsphere, but with a heavy human link.
      Amy - Starship UK.
      Clara - modern-day London.

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    8. I think I might need some clarification EarBucket...is the the showing the companion the end of the Earth that is an abuser move? How so if so? I mean it isolates no more than any other trip through the TARDIS. And in both cases gives the companion perspective on living in the moment.

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    9. @ Lewis: I don't really think that 'modern-day London' counts as an 'off-world trip', though, unless we're counting the brief jaunt onto the airplane (and even then we can pedantically go back-and-forth about them still being well within Earth's atmospheric and gravitational pull, this questioning precisely how 'off-world' it is). Her first trip in the TARDIS, certainly (but then that makes Rose's first trip with Nine to the London Eye).

      Surely Clara's first 'off-world' trip proper would be the decidedly non-Earth linked Rings of Akhaten?

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    10. Ah, Scott, blame my tiredness. That was the whole point of my comment! - That Clara is the only one with a true and proper alien planet with no Earth attachment.

      But having just typed that, there is the 'leaf' scene and we see her parents (which takes up as much time as the Nine/Rose/Earth/chips scene). So, actually, still every first companion trip has links to Earth.

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    11. @Theonlyspiral: It was the way the first thing he does with her is show her the death of her planet--it felt to my wife like an attempt to cut her off from where she came from. (His later forcing Rose to choose between staying for supper with her mom and coming with him in the TARDIS didn't help any with that impression.) Like I said, I'm not entirely sure I buy into that reading, but I don't know if it's entirely invalid. And certainly, a big part of his arc in that series is learning to accept Jackie and Mickey as valuable parts of Rose's life.

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    12. He's certainly not wanting to cut her off. Not intentionally anyway. I'd argue it's perhaps more a case of the Doctor having lost his sense of humanity. He's fresh out of a huge, endless, mind-warping Time War. He's destroyed his own kind, probably been forced to kill, and fought 'on the front lines'. Thus, he just needs time to settle into normality again.

      Maybe he takes Rose to the end of the world so he can start to connect with her. He's seen the end of his planet, she sees the end of hers, a connection. It's not the most logical or normal thing to do, but the Doctor has a broken mindset at this point.

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    13. @ Lewis: My friend, you have learnt as I once learnt the first danger of posting while sleepy; there's always some pedantic so-and-so waiting to pounce on every error you make. :-)

      (Although good call on the leaf scene, though...)

      I'm in complete agreement with you about the Doctor's motives more being a reflection of how broken and removed from humanity he is than sign of anything more controlling and abusive. I think this is also reflected in his reaction to her culture shock; he's all grins and smug triumph the more disorientated she gets, and it's only when she flees the room to try and find some bearings that we see a look on his face like "hang on, she's actually really freaked about this, this may not have been the best idea," and goes off to find her. And even then when she's trying to explain how disorientated she is he just makes snide comments about it/her ("Good thing I didn't take you to the Deep South!"). He's thoughtless and lacking concern, not controlling.

      Davies is giving us a Doctor who needs to rediscover his empathy and his connection to humanity both in the larger scheme and in the personal. It's not so much that he wants to control Rose and keep her apart from everything else as it is that he's trying to rediscover what it means to have a companion again.

      (As further evidence of this, just look how he treats 'Ricky the Idiot' in "Aliens of London" versus "Boomtown"; genuine contempt in the former, but by the latter it's become more playful and almost affectionate. The closer to humanity Rose brings him, the nicer and more inviting he becomes. After all, say what you will about Ten and Rose, but Ten is a lot more friendly to Jackie and Mickey.)

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    14. It's also, of course, commentary on the companion dynamics in the classic series, where the companion was practically split away from everything else in their lives and gives themselves over completely to the Doctor's lifestyle; the Doctor struggles with the 'domestic' because literally none of his previous companions have ever made him worry about it before.

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    15. The closer to humanity Rose brings him, the nicer and more inviting he becomes. After all, say what you will about Ten and Rose, but Ten is a lot more friendly to Jackie and Mickey.

      The symbolism doesn't get a lot more obvious than if you compare Nine's "I don't do domestics" with the Ten having Christmas dinner with the Tylers.

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    16. Ross hits this one entirely on the head for me. Nine is not so much trying to alienate Rose as he's feeling alienated (probably feeling like the only "alien" alive for the first seven episodes) and demanding that one link to life. He has an emotionally abusive relationship with Rose, not because he wishes to abuse her, but because he is a PTSD sufferer who sees everything in terms of "me or them". The fact that he and Rose are clearly fucking like rabbits is brushed aside as something so insignificant to him that Rose doesn't even respond when the Doctor refers to everything with a penis as her "boyfriend", and it's not until she willingly goes to him for the first time ("Journey's End") that his brain stops punishing himself and, by extension, all other living things.

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  2. And on the day this story airs, Pope John Paul II dies.

    Two other things that might be worth noting: later that evening, BBC4 presented its live remake of The Quatermass Experiment, of which the final quarter-hour, at least, was compelling. And though Russell may have pre-empted it with the narrator of the previous week’s pre-Rose special, this drama included the first in-joke once the feeding frenzy of David Tennant’s probable casting broke: when Tennant’s character Dr Gordon Briscoe walks onto set, Jason Flemyng as Professor Quatermass but also at that precise moment very much as Jason Flemyng welcomes him not with the scripted “It’s good to have you back, Gordon,” but “It’s good to have you back, Doctor.”

    And all through the following week, including between programmes that were airing during John Paul II’s funeral, the BBC were showing two trailers back-to-back: one for The Unquiet Dead paired with the Casanova in which he gives a priest a heart attack. I laughed so much at the bad taste of it I was amazed they didn’t get complaints.

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    1. From my blog that week:

      > Christopher Eccleston in talks to become Pope. And Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor is rumoured as next Doctor Who.

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  3. But back to the main point. I think there’s another reason for the reference – or references, as there turned out to be several across Season 2005 – to The Web Planet, aside from the obvious ‘Russell was having a laugh’ or that he might have liked the story, or that he enjoyed feeding into his Doctor Who anything he felt like from any other previous form, whether TV, novel or comic.

    Tying in with your observation about Russell making this episode “too damn much” (and I remember him saying in interviews at the time that this was the most expensive episode, so they’d never have to go that far again – um…) and “exorcising the ghosts of the wilderness years”. It ties in “with bring up a detail of his past, and the Doctor reacts in anger or horror,” too. And it all comes down to “The show was a source of fear” that it might fail again.

    Russell T Davies was a brilliant media manipulator whose approach to the media on bringing Doctor Who back was directly out of the New Labour playbook. Seriously – I would be astonished if those two words (loathesome as they are) hadn’t been brought up repeatedly behind closed doors when they were planning how to relaunch the show. You have a property widely seen as failed in the 1980s; you want to make it a success again; most of the media hate it; you have many loyal supporters, but nowhere near enough. So you calculate that a relaunch that just looks different isn’t enough. You ostentatiously announce not just that you’re jettisoning the ‘baggage’, and pre-emptively slag off a carefully assembled list of the perceived ‘failures’ – whether or not they’re true. The same applies to Russell and to Mr Blair. Just look at all the news reports, for example, led by Russell’s interviews, that announced Rose would be the first companion who wouldn’t just be a “screamer” or that none of the sets would wobble. None of them true, of course, but very much ‘Don’t worry – this isn’t the embarrassing failure it was, so it’s safe to support it now’.

    But while Mr Blair had open contempt for his party and assumed they would do anything to be a success again and had nowhere else to go (and even Mr Moffat has said to fans “It’s not for you”), Russell’s approach was more complex: and it’s all the little references, particularly to what you’d think was at the most despised end of the ‘baggage’, that were Russell saying, ‘Shh, I love it really, and so do you, and it is the same show, but we’ve got to do it quietly to sneak it past all the people who hate it’.

    Of course, it was in this episode that Rose very rapidly became a screamer. But one of my favourite moments from the relaunch is still in the restaurant in Rose: just to make the point, a man screams first.


    One other thing: “Skip Nine”? Do people really say that? Bizarre. I was challenged recently to come up with my favourite seasons of all the thirty-three, and I found Season 2005 right up near the top.

    http://loveandliberty.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/one-day-doctor-who-fandom-challenge.html

    It’s still awesome. It has the most distinctive look of any season – that beautiful glow, different to anything else on TV – and some of the series’ strongest underlying themes (the emotional journey, the Time War, humanity, even the recurring motif of the walking dead). But more to your point, yes, it’s true that it also feels like television from 2005… But which seasons of Doctor Who don’t feel like TV from when they were made (except, perhaps, 2011’s curious desire to seem like it was made in 1997)? It’s surely not as dated as some, and does that mean we always have to cast off every bit of the series bar last week’s episode?

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    1. So, basically, "he's just saying it to get [elected/commissioned]" - the constant hope of the Labour-supporting left leading up to 1997 - was /true/ for RTD.

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    2. Do people really say that? Bizarre.

      The kids who loved Eccleston in 2005 are now teenagers and embarrassed by him. But don't worry - in another decade and they'll be nostalgic 20-somethings who love him again...

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    3. I am reminded of the JJ Abrams relaunch of Star Trek. I remember thinking it odd that Abrams made a point of saying, repeatedly, that he wasn't a huge Star Trek fan. In fact, he preferred Star Wars.

      I thought it awfully ballsy of him to say that he thought Star Wars was superior to Star Trek at the same time he was given the responsibility to re-launch Star Trek. But maybe he was doing a similar media manipulation to what you suggest Davies was doing. Abrams may have been deliberately trying to piss off Star Trek fans enough to make them pay attention, but then surprise them by showing that he actually respected the history of the show a lot more than his public comments suggested.

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    4. My theory is that Abrams was trying to cash in on Nicholas Meyer, who similarly had never seen the show and yet directed BY FAR the best movie based on it, Wrath of Khan.

      Alternatively, he was taking advantage of the fact that Star Wars is way more accessible to non-fans than Star Trek, in an attempt to avoid the fate that befell Serenity, which bombed because no one except Firefly fans watched it.

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    5. The first season is easily my favorite RTD season. But the reason some people suggest skipping it is that the special effects/Slitheen/cheese/whatever can be off-putting to someone just stepping into the show.

      My suggestion is to jump right into the current era, wherever the best starting point is, so you have something to live through and call home. Then you can go back and explore how it got that way.

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    6. @Froborr: There's also a weird effect of Hollywood's lionization of originality, whereby someone making a remake or adaptation will sometimes feel an extra-strong need to convince people that they're being creative and original and not derivative. And that leads them to say things us mundanes think sound stupid-to-offensive about them not actually having done any research; what they really mean is "Even though this is an adaptation, I am still a creative person, and my process was untainted by the original!" but they end up sounding proud of the fact that they didn't to the research (And speaking of Christopher Eccleston, this is exactly what happened with the adaptation of 'The Dark is Rising', whose screenwriter seemed actively contemptuous of the idea that he should have read more than the dust jacket of the source.)

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    7. @Pen Name Pending: I dunno, I've had good results with Blink. I was quite tickled when Neil Gaiman did his post about how to introduce people to the show, because that's effectively what I'd been doing.

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    8. @Nick Smale Sorry, have to contradict you there. I love the Ninth Doctor and always look back to this series with fond memories, as do many of my friends who grew up with hm as our first Doctor.

      Also recently watched this first series again and while there was a definite feeling of nostalgia throughout, I was amazed at how good it was. Comparatively cheap to the series now in terms of effects and sets, but the stories are far more interesting and prove that while Moffatt loves story arcs, Davies did them in a more coherent and intriguing way.

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  4. It's likely that the spiderbots jostling the camera is just a cute little trick the same vein as the water from the Thames covering the lense in Aliens of London and the Slitheen splatter in World War Three, but interesting thought that it's an evocation of The Web Planet.
    Who are these people saying to "skip Nine" or Series One so that I can hunt them down and yell at them? What nonsense. Don't you think a new viewer would appreciate that gorgeous introduction to the mythos of the show and Rose's and the Doctor's character arcs, not to mention all those great stories? And the weird paranoia from fans about things 'dating' is another thing that I don't get. I watched Bad Wolf years afterwards and with no knowledge of the people being parodied (I'm not British), but it still works beautifully as a drama and one doesn't need to understand specific references to get the humour of the situation. It's fine, really! It doesn't spoil anything!

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    1. "It's likely that the spiderbots jostling the camera is just a cute little trick the same vein as the water from the Thames covering the lense in Aliens of London and the Slitheen splatter in World War Three, but interesting thought that it's an evocation of The Web Planet."

      I'm also reminded of the very first Dalek story as Barbara is closed in as she wanders the Skaro city alone... and at one point puts her hand over the camera lens, showing just how small this space is and the fact there is no escape.

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    2. I'm not sure I would have liked the show all that much if I'd started with Nine. For perspective, here's a rather entertaining blog by someone whose friends love the show but who personally just doesn't get it, so he's decided to blog about watching all of New Who: http://drhuh.tumblr.com/post/36630824064/season-1-episode-1-rose

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  5. Another great essay. I haven't seen The Web Planet (yet), but having read your entry on it I can make those connections.
    That said, when I first watched this episode, long before I discovered your wonderful blog, the connection I made in my head was to a different bit of classic British sci-fi entirely (well, not entirely): The Restaurant at the End of the Universe from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Both feature a menagerie of aliens treating what a normal earthling would view as an apocalypse as a social event. Both have an aspect of the vast strangeness of the universe contrasted with our minute human perspective. (Honestly, that is true of most of HGTG).

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    1. In the intro to this episode in The Scripts book, RTD says it was very much a love letter to Douglas Adams.

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    2. Cool, always nice to know that the patterns one picks up on are actually there deliberately. Of course one further connection to (a different episode of) HGTG is that both feature the destruction of the Earth.

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  6. There was/is a bit of a habit of CGI creature's interacting with the camera, they do it several time in Walking with Dinosaurs (or it's spin offs), it's meant to make them more real ant thing more like a real nature documentary. Same way they went to all the trouble of making all the ships scene's in the New Battlestar look as if there filmed in situ.

    The one thing I remember when I first watched this episode was that the last everything dies speech was so similar to the one given in Timewyrm: Apocalypse (which I can't remember right now), maybe it was all part of the whole "it's still really your show to honest" thing running through the 2005 series.

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  7. So, um... no mention that Platform One is the shape of a massive Christian cross? For an apocalypse? And Rose being in the Cross is so very western esoteric. Color-wise, it's another juxtaposition of Red and Blue, the primary color motifs of the Revival: Rose/TARDIS, Sun/Cross -- the Cross has blue shielding.

    Above I mentioned that the Doctor taking Rose to watch her own planet burn is a metaphor for the Doctor's own trauma -- this is a form of "mirroring" and it's actually marked as such: we see the reflections of the Doctor and Rose in the glass window of Platform One.

    It's mirrors all the way down. Jabe, the Tree Woman, is a mirror of Rose, taking her place in this small opera; Rose wonders if she and the Tree cutting are related; Rose is named for a plant. Jabe actually is a descendant of Earth, and she's compassionate -- she becomes the surrogate companion who burns in the Underworld of this Upperworld, all while Rose is threatened with being burned alive by the sun; both are mirrors for Earth burning up. Even Cassandra will explode from lack of moisture in the end.

    The World Tree connects above and below, past and future, all to the Here and Now. So it's a Tree Woman who brings to light the Doctor's terrible past in the Earth's terrible future, in the Underworld of an Upperworld.

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    1. Great points, Jane. I noticed the cruciform (RTD will use that word again later, recall!) design of Platform 1 at the time, and connected it to RTD's "The Second Coming," about a messiah who fails and needs humanity to redeem HIM instead of the other way around. Eccleston's Doctor seemed VERY much in that mold to me.

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    2. And of course, continuing with the Cross theme, following the destruction of Earth we get a New Earth...

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    3. ...as indeed we should, since the rose is a symbol of resurrection.

      Hmmm. Rose...cross...ancient secrets. Is it the Rosicrucians? Or does the method of Earth's destruction implicate the Golden Dawn? According to good ol' Wikipedia, their ritual of the Rose Cross is designed for spiritual protection and as a preparation for meditation. Well, Rose and the Doctor are going to need spiritual protection next time - and perhaps the meditation is ours?

      An analogy too far, I'm sure...

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    4. This is also the first time we get Blue People -- TARDIS blue. The Steward is particularly interesting because he's got that Third Eye jewel, and the plumber who will only speak when given permission. There are some Blue Deities in Hinduism -- Kali is a goddess of destruction, she rings a bell -- but this is all tenuous at best. Oh, those children! TARDIS for the kids? But Blue is the color of the Sea and Sky -- alchemically speaking, they are the Water to the Fire of the Sun.

      Jabe's hands catch fire before the rest of her. She's the self-sacrificer here.

      Long running theme of the Doctor's identity continues -- established in Rose, of course, with the Doctor Who? joke on that website. The logo for that website was an Eye, but a kind of tentacular eye. Very strange.

      Oh, there's also the Adherents of the Repeated Meme -- which ties into the Bad Wolf meme of this season in particular, and echoes thereof afterwards. Mostly, though, I like how they're presented almost religiously, as if repetition itself had ritual power (which it does) even if there's nothing underneath the cloak.

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    5. Meme is a word coined by Richard Dawkins in the context of an attack on religion: of course they're presented religiously.
      You did notice the, no weapons, no religion, announcement over the opening shots?

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  8. I have no deep insights to add to this excellent article, but in rewatching the episode last night in anticipation of this entry, I noticed something I found amusing: Listen to the musical cues for the spiderbots. They've got little snippets of "Toxic" in them.

    Also, I see no reason why the jostling of the camera can't be *both* an effort to make the CGI feel more solid and a reference to "The Web Planet." The fact that the Face of Boe is from the Isop Galaxy certainly suggests the connection is intentional, not that intention matters here.

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  9. Good point about Restaurant at the End of the Universe; I might well have thought that at the time, but if so I've forgotten about it.

    Because, sadly, the main legacy of this story for me is 'forgettable.' There are very few things I remember about it, and over the years I've never had a strong desire to go back and watch it; this entry does more to spark that than anything else. I do remember thinking, 'standard, standard, standard' - this is the standard way someone parochial is introduced to a wider world. (The example that comes first to my mind, after Hitchhiker's Guide, is the Tom & Jerry cartoon Mouse in Manhattan - which first gives you an idea of how oddly my mind works, and second of how generic the idea felt to me. After all, if it evokes a country mouse visiting the big city...) This is the standard plot device of invoking rich sophisticates' interest in a tourist-y history spot. This is the standard below-stairs view. Standard, standard, standard...

    (In hindsight, it's easy to see what I think Davies was trying to do here - bring the non-fan viewer into the Doctor Who world after almost two decades, exposing them to aliens and space stations and the Earth boiling off into space, by using tropes they're familiar with. But to me, as a long-time SF fan and Doctor Who fan, it came across as flat and basically uninventive.)

    A couple of things I did remember, without being prompted:

    I remember really liking Jabe - her compassion and stability... but mostly, to be brutally honest, her knowledge of the Time Lords and respect for Nine as one of them. And her compassion flowed out of that, when she saw how damaged he was. I'm not particularly proud of that, but there it is. I'd even wondered if the showrunner was setting her up as another companion, until she was killed in a very effective punch to the gut.

    (continued...)

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    1. But the thing I remember most about it, honestly, was the cellphone, and I'm surprised the essay didn't go into that. Maybe it's being saved for Aliens of London, which goes into one of the themes the phone represents in much greater detail.

      Because the phone is, in essence, a link to the here-and-now, and I think that's why Davies put it in there - especially given the way he goes full-bore into that theme in Aliens of London. The last time I can think of a companion retaining any significant tie to where they came from, while they were traveling with the Doctor, is in the UNIT era... and at that time, you could say the entire show had its home there (even after the Doctor and Jo, or Sarah, went off to an alien world, they always came back to good old UNIT HQ).

      At the time, frankly, I saw the phone as a ball-and-chain; it kept our leads leashed to Earth, when they should be off roaming Time and Space. This only got worse as the season wore on, with the TARDIS seemingly stuck in the vicinity of Earth; when Ten and Rose ended up in New New York at the start of Series Two, it was a huge relief, even with the explicit references back to Old Earth. It wasn't the kind of completely new and different worlds I wanted, but at least it was someplace other than Earth. Again, it seems pretty obvious in hindsight that Davies was trying to ease viewers into the new universe by bringing the strangeness home to Earth, but at the time it felt hugely limiting. I came at the Pertwee years in retrospect, so they never felt limiting to me in the same way; I knew he'd start traveling again. But at the time, it seemed very plausible that tied-to-Earth was part of Davies' new mandate for the show, to speak to the average viewer, and the prospect frightened me. (For those who saw the Pertwee years as they happened, did they feel the same way?)

      The phone also came across to me as privilege, even (especially?) unfair privilege.

      Most of the companions in the classic series were exiles, with the exception of the UNIT era as noted above. Sometimes willingly; Leela casting off all ties to the Sevateem to travel with the Doctor, Romana never going back to Gallifrey after her 'mission' with the Key to Time was finished. Ace semi-willingly; she was snatched out of her world, but when given the chance to go home she refused to take it. So the thought of a tie to home didn't have much meaning.

      But sometimes they were involuntary exiles - Turlough rather literally, but I'm thinking more of the companions who the Doctor could never manage to get home. (Ian. Barbara. Tegan.) And sometimes they were orphans, with literally no home to go back to. (Nyssa, Vicki, Victoria.) What would they have given, to have a link back to a home? But they never got one. *Rose* got one. It was hard, at the time, not to see that as special privilege, and be resentful - even with the completely new start to the series.

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    2. The thing is, television is more sophisticated than it was in the 60s and 70s. "You run away to a fantasy world and can't talk to mom and dad or the internet again until you decide to go home and leave your traveling days behind you forever" is a very old-fashioned-children's-book sort of concept. It worked in the 60s and the 70s in large part because we were not invited to actually think of the companions as people, but basically as tools to fit a narrative role.

      If you do a show today where a character runs off with an alien and goes out into time and space and can't call home or talk to their friends and family, that has to be what the show is about. You can't have Voyager be about "We're stranded in the Delta Quadrant and can't ever go home, but let's not think about how we miss our families, and just have fun adventures", and you can't have Stargate Universe be about "We're stranded in distant space and we can only talk to home half an hour a week and we have to pretend to be other people and that we only know our family second-hand, but let's not think about that and just have fun adventures in space," (And, indeed, the character who isn't focused on trying to get home is the one the show treats as a dangerous extremist), and you can't have Farscape be about "These folks are all exiled or lost and can't get to their respective homes, but let's not think about that and just have fun adventures in space." You can't have a story about an exile without the story being about them being an exile -- the audience won't believe a character like that. You think people dislike Rose now? Try liking a Rose who runs off with the Doctor and never thinks of her mother again.

      (Indeed, this is a big part of my issue with the Ponds: Amy seems almost sociopathically uncaring about the people she leaves behind half the time. They only really get past this in The Power of Three, when Amy and Rory essentially get real closure with their earthbound lives, and, through Brian, get "permission" from the "Real World" to go away)

      (And yes, I realize how close I am to saying that Rose would be a better person if she called her mother more.)

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    3. It's kind of astounding, to be honest. The entire Eccleston run takes place on Earth. All of it. He bounces back and forth in time, yes, but he never even gets as far out in space as the Moon.

      I suppose you could read that as clinging to his adoptive planet after the loss of Gallifrey, but mostly I read it as a symptom of this "Zog from the Planet Zog," "Yeti on the loo" nonsense. I remember being really frustrated that we didn't get a real alien planet (New Earth doesn't count, because it's explicitly a copy of Earth) until well into Series 2, and didn't get one in a halfway decent episode until Utopia.

      One good thing about the Moffat run is that we've had a little bit more space travel; the Doctor still visits Earth a lot of course, but it feels a little less planetbound than the Davies run.

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    4. With Amy (about whom I feel much the same way as I feel about the televised Sixth Doctor--there's a great character there, struggling to get out from under terrible writing), I think the problem is that in Season 5 she *isn't* leaving anyone behind except Rory, and she goes back for him. In Season 6 she suddenly has family and friends that didn't exist in Season 5, but by that point the character dynamics have been established. (Also by Season 6 Amy and Rory basically are sociopaths who just *stop worrying* about their kidnapped baby for half a season, but that's a separate issue.)

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    5. (Sorry, this got put in the wrong place, so deleting and re-posting it.)

      "If you do a show today where a character runs off with an alien and goes out into time and space and can't call home or talk to their friends and family, that has to be what the show is about."

      Hmm... no, sorry, don't see it. You could almost as well say 'If you do a show today where a character runs off to the big city, and never calls back or talks to their old friends and family, that has to be what the show is about.' And it'd be just as rubbish.

      It feels a bit odd to keep using Tom and Jerry as a Doctor Who reference, but let's go back to Mouse in Manhattan again. Jerry is tired of life in the country, tired of his fights with Tom; so he decides to go off to the big city, writing a 'goodbye forever' letter and sticking it under Tom's paw before leaving. It's presented as a bog-standard trope that everyone in the audience will get.

      Why is it so hard to believe that some people would want to cut themselves off from a family and a life that they hated? Or, in a less extreme version, that they would go off to a new life away from their old friends and family and do something other than thinking about them every day of the week?

      Let's put it another way. How many TV shows set in more-or-less the 'real world' show characters who have moved away from their old home, friends and family - and then have them carry on with life without a single reference to who they left behind? (Except for the occasional Special Episode when the past comes back to visit.)

      That's a completely normal way of growing up and moving out to establish your own life and identity, and leaving old friends and family behind in your day-to-day life is a perfectly normal part of that; saying that a show where this happens has to be focused on keeping in touch with those people is frankly nuts. There's a much stronger case to be made for homesickness and displacement when you leave your entire world behind - but that's not something you can solve with a magic cellphone.

      ...so to get back to the original point I think you were trying to make - no, I don't agree at all that having a magic cellphone link is a Required Part of a new series with a companion travelling *voluntarily*. And having it is still a slap in the face to the exiles who couldn't go home, let alone have a home to go back to - that, I think, is the real meaning I take from the Stargate and Voyager examples.

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    6. Why is it so hard to believe that some people would want to cut themselves off from a family and a life that they hated? Or, in a less extreme version, that they would go off to a new life away from their old friends and family and do something other than thinking about them every day of the week?


      That would be "what the show was about", though. The show would be about "I'm rejecting my old life. Look at me rejecting my old life!" your sample episode would be them talking about some aspect of their old life, and how they were going to change it, or the big conflict would be some aspect of their old life threatening to force its way back in.

      You need a reason for the character not to go home. It can be "They can't because the TARDIS won't take them there," but that gets really old really fast, and falls quickly into the "How is the universe going to contrive something to stop Voyager from getting home this week?" model of every castaway show since Gilligan's Island, or "They don't want to go home," in which case your choices are either to depict home as abusive, or make the character a sociopath, or it's "They don't need to go home because they're traveling the way normal people travel, not cut off like castaways". The "magic cellphone" is one way of doing the third thing.

      I don't have any clue what you mean about it being a "slap in the face" to the involuntary exiles. Do you mean that the Doctor should be in the business of kidnapping people and not letting them see their families in order to be "fair" to the people he'd kidnapped in the past? The point of the Voyager/Stargate examples is that if you make a character a "castaway", the show has to be about them being a castaway, being unable to get home, wanting to get home, or learning how to cope with being unable to get home -- or even about them being liberated by their inability to get home if you want -- but that has to be the thing the story is about. It's an elephant. You can't stick it in the room and then say "Never mind the elephant", it's the same class of problem as "Why the hell does Nyssa not seem to care that her planet got blown up?" If you don't give us an ANSWER to "Why doesn't Rose miss her mom?" then we have to keep asking the question, and every episode quickly becomes "Sure, this adventure with Charles Dickens is neat and all, but why doesn't it bother Rose that her mother must be worried sick by now?" You give us an answer, and the problem goes away. The answer can be "Rose has a cell phone and can call her mom to check up on her", or it can be "Rose is a terrible person who doesn't think about others," but it's got to be something.

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    7. In some ways, though, the ease with which the companions can now go back whenever they want to their old homes, sometimes make me wonder whether everyone who travels with the Doctor is basically mad. I mean, it's not that they are just touring time and space.. everywhere they go they are facing apocalyptic danger. One would think after a couple of ridiculously close brushes with death and seeing hundreds of other characters not protected by narrative necessity get killed, anyone with an iota of sense would go 'Sod this for a game of soldiers' and hand their key back.

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    8. See, I've seen that sort of thing and... well, maybe? But I can understand, when you get to accomplish huge things and help people on a weekly basis, "normal" life doesn't have as much appeal.

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    9. "In some ways, though, the ease with which the companions can now go back whenever they want to their old homes, sometimes make me wonder whether everyone who travels with the Doctor is basically mad. I mean, it's not that they are just touring time and space.. everywhere they go they are facing apocalyptic danger. One would think after a couple of ridiculously close brushes with death and seeing hundreds of other characters not protected by narrative necessity get killed, anyone with an iota of sense would go 'Sod this for a game of soldiers' and hand their key back. "

      Are you kidding? I find it incomprehensible that any character would ever willingly leave the TARDIS crew! I mean, sure, you're probably going to die, but you get to TRAVEL IN TIME AND TO OTHER PLANETS. How could mundane life ever remotely compare?

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    10. You don't spend most of mundane life just hoping a Yeti doesn't shoot you?

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    11. I'm with Froborr here. I'd take the risk of getting offed by Yeti as an acceptable risk to see the Medusa Cascade before popping off for drinks with William Blake. How can an office, job, car payments and the pub compare to that?

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    12. Not remotely, Philip.

      Actually, according to pretty much everyone who knows me IRL I'm blithely oblivious to physical danger to a nigh-pathological degree. I don't have the slightest trace of courage, I just honestly don't notice or care that I'm walking around in a bad neighborhood holding expensive electronics/crossing the street when cars are coming/going to die of infection if I don't get get painful swelling checked out.

      That makes me either prime companion material or the worst companion ever, depending on how you look at it.

      I don't believe in magic. It is very, very obvious to me that magic plain and simple does not work in this world, never has, and never will. But if the Doctor exists, then he can take me to places where magic does work, because anywhere the TARDIS is, is somewhere magic works. Magic is worth any amount of risk; therefore I'm sticking with the Doctor as long as I can.

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    13. "That would be "what the show was about", though. The show would be about "I'm rejecting my old life. Look at me rejecting my old life!" your sample episode would be them talking about some aspect of their old life, and how they were going to change it, or the big conflict would be some aspect of their old life threatening to force its way back in."

      No, in fact, that's only my first example, the person who deliberately cut themselves off from their old life. The other part is people who just don't keep up ties with their old life when they move on to a new city, a new job, a new life. Do you seriously want to argue that everyone thinks about old friends and family all the time? Or worse, that all TV shows need to portray their characters as being constantly in touch with their old life? Because I certainly don't see it.

      What I do see on TV is lots of people who have a day to day life - and that life doesn't involve thinking about old friends and family, except in the rare occasions where they make it an episode plot. Does the lead of every crime-lab show spend every episode talking to their parents and friends back in the old hometown? Of course not. Some shows make a plot point of keeping up with old friends and extended family, some don't... but I can't think of a single example where they don't, and this is labeled as 'sociopathic' behavior that breaks the whole show!

      To summarize things as I see them: There are lots and lots of people who don't really make a big deal about keeping up contact with people in their past, when they move on to a new home, a new life. This is normal behavior, and doesn't make someone 'a terrible person who doesn't think about others'. In a TV show, where everything on-screen needs to serve a purpose, characters are frequently portrayed this way just because the producer has other things they want to spend their time dealing with. Ordinary shows work this way all the time. Why is this normal convention somehow a problem for Doctor Who? I don't buy 'the characters are in danger' argument, since it also applies to any other shows where the characters are in regular danger (cop shows, for example). Wouldn't Officer Renko's mother be worried sick by now? We never see him calling her...

      So why was it a slap in the face to the true exiles? I've just argued that there's an understood convention that this sort of thing didn't need to be shown on TV, and thus it's not a necessary component for the new show. It's never been a part of the show before. But now, for the first time in the show's history, a direct link back home has been handed out. The normal state of affairs has been broken. Not for someone who is truly exiled, who has lost home - but to someone who abandoned her home and her boyfriend in an extended slo-mo take showing her delight. *That* is what rankled.

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    14. How often do people phone their parents while they're on holiday? I usually write a postcard about three quarters of the way through. It might make a difference if the holiday involves being shot at by daleks, but then again, if you don't want to tell your parents about the getting shot at bit, it might make you less keen to phone.

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    15. Leaving aside the question of whether the super-phone is a slap in the face to the exiles of Stargate: Universe and such (I personally don't think it is, if only because either way these are fictional characters in completely different fictional universes and thus unable to slap or be slapped in the face metaphorically or otherwise, but to each their own), the key distinction here seems to be what occurs in real life and what occurs in fiction, and the two are not necessarily the same. Primarily because in fiction, we tend to assume that there is a reason behind everything that occurs in the story, simply because the author has deemed it worthy of mentioning, where this may not be the case in reality.

      Sure, in reality, plenty of people go on holiday all the time and barely talk to people back home, or move to new cities and barely keep in touch with their friends and family from their old homes for no real reason (although to be honest, in the latter case it doesn't suggest a particularly close relationship exists with either friends or family-wise). In a story, however, if the author makes a point of noting that the character has split themselves off from their old lives, we tend to assume there's a reason behind it; a family feud, or a tragedy, or something that has affected this character so much it is formed a compelling part of their current motivation. Because otherwise, if it has either no baring on their character, their actions or their story, why bring it up?

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    16. (Cont.)

      As for why cop shows don't have to worry about this as much as Doctor Who, I'd suggest cop shows are grounded in the real already. Since becoming a police officer is a decision people make all the time without feeling the need to completely divorce themselves from their former lives, their family, and their friends in order to do so, the viewer can safely assume that Officer Renko has not done so just because we don't see him calling his mother unless explicitly stated otherwise; but even in a cop show, if the story made a point of telling us that Officer Renko had no contact with his family or his friends, the viewer would wonder why this is, assuming there was a reason for it. And even in a cop show, although we don't necessarily see it the characters will still often reference their lives outside of work -- to take an example I'm more familiar with, the original "Law and Order" hardly ever touched on the personal lives of their characters, and yet Detective Briscoe would still snark about his ex-wife in conversation from time to time and Detective Logan would mention tickets to the game he'd won, and so on. Even then, if the characters made no reference whatsoever to their lives outside of work or why they seemed to have no lives outside of work, the viewer would eventually wonder why.

      Doctor Who, however, features characters making far more drastic breaks with their lives than the cops on a cop show do; in real life people make decisions to join the police force all the time, but very few decide to completely abandon their previous lives and explore time and space with an eccentric alien who is likely to get them into shooting matches with psychotic cyborgs before the day is out for little reason other than 'I kinda felt like it'. So people are naturally going to be interested in either how those in the character's previous lives react to this or wonder why someone would make such a drastic break from their previous life to begin with -- and to be honest, "well, that's just kinda how people are, innit?" seems like a bit of an unsatisfying answer. Certainly, Classic Who's tendency to plop for something kind of like this answer is often cited as one of the drawbacks of the show. It might be the case in real life, but for fiction, it doesn't cut it. So either you allow the characters some link back to the 'real' world to help address this question, or you provide a reason why this link does not exist. Doctor Who does the former, Stargate: Universe and Star Trek Voyager (I assume, having not really seen either) do the latter.

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    17. One point that hasn't been mentioned is that in NuWho, the Doctor has generally made a point of informing his companions before they run off with him that the TARDIS is a time machine. Rose, after all, did turn down the Doctor's initial invitation to travel with her precisely because of the familial concerns people are talking about. It was only after the Doctor explained that it was a time machine and, ergo, she could return mere moments after she left that she came on board. (Naturally, bad piloting brought her back a year later rather than the few seconds he had promised her.) Similarly, Amy was very careful to get assurances that the Doctor could get her home the same night before she left with him, and IIRC, the Doctor also had to satisfy Martha and Clara that they wouldn't miss any of the their real life events due to traveling with him. Donna probably didn't care either way; she had few friends, a shrewish bitter mother, and a grandfather who encouraged her travels with the Doctor and was heartbroken when she came home for good.

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    18. I'd agree that if an author makes a point of noting that a character has split themselves off from their family and friends then there needs to be a reason for it. The same if the author makes a point of noting that they're staying in touch. (As with Rose in the End of the World: the sequence works for me.)
      But if the author doesn't make a point of noting it, then the audience needn't draw any conclusions. They can just accept it as something that happens in order for there to be this kind of story.

      (There's a similar lack of thinking in the idea that the TARDIS only ever goes to places that are dangerous in some way, even among Doctor Who writers who should know better. This is obviously untrue. We just don't see the times where the TARDIS lands at a tourist attraction where everything is going well and nobody is being menaced by monsters. The TARDIS only lands somewhere dangerous on Saturdays.)

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    19. The thing is, though, the longer such a thing goes without being counter-indicated, the more the assumption builds up. And End of the World was breaking build-up of assumptions from the entire classic series on that.

      (Similarly, the new series does show relaxed vacation moments often enough to break that assumption too.)

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  10. I love this episode. It's one of my favourites, because it's such a slap in the face to those who claimed DW would have to little about in Earth's history or be Season 7. I love Cassandra, such a wonderful idea, wonderfully realised. I love that instead of having to show Gallifrey's fall, Davies gave us it by proxy by roasting the Earth. This much more than Rose totally sold me on the new series, and I still completely adore it.

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  11. Two things:

    First, I've never actually seen anyone recommending that you skip Nine. I have, however, seen a lot of people on Tumblr angry about people saying they skipped Nine, along with other fans snarking about people who skip all of Classic Who.

    Second, the "Toxic" sequence is the best thing possible to introduce this as a series that's cheesy, that knows it, and that embraces it because it's fun.

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    1. I know there were a lot of people who were hoping that the shocking reveal at the end of the first season would be that the person who's been starring in the show was actually the Master and the Doctor is still an upper-class vaguely-victorean british archetype who doesn't like girls or the working class, so that they could "get back to proper Who" and not "waste a regeneration" on Eccleston.

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    2. I actually do favor skipping Nine, but in the same way I favor skipping Two, Four, and Seven. If you want to get into the show that's airing, skipping Nine (and Ten) is pretty solid advice.

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    3. My advice lately has been to start watching at The Snowmen, catch up to the present, then go back into the Davies era, and whatever of the classic series looks like it'll appeal best to you, on your own time.

      It's really the best way for people to get into the show these days. The habits of streaming entire shows just to catch up to the present people find really intimidating when you're talking about a 50-year-long show. So the best way to overcome that is to let them know that the history of the show is interesting and wonderful, but that it isn't actually required to understand present plots.

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    4. Well I did skip Nine. I hadn't realized some fans advocated doing that. I just couldn't be bothered to watch Doctor Who at the time.

      I wonder how my perception now would have been different if I had watched the Ecclestone run

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    5. Adam: It's true! And I wonder how much annoyance comes from people thinking that "skipping Nine" means "never planning to go back and watch stuff from before you started".

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    6. To be honest, Nine's era is an oddity - a huge oddity. It's inconsequential, to a degree. It's the story of the broken Time Lord, the warrior, the Time War survivor. But it's done just as much in Tennant's era, so you could happily start with The Christmas Invasion and catch up on the back-story. There's rarely a link back to Eccleston after that.

      When Jack returns, it's all explained in-depth. You don't need to watch him in Series 1 to understand. The Slitheen (a major part of Eccleston's era) never come back. Harriet Jones does, but again you don't need any backstory at all from Series 1.

      Series 2 is effectively a fresh launch. Many ties are cut and the show restarts. Which is a bit of a shame, because Eccleston's era is often underrated and forgotten. And yet it's one of the best series, wonderfully rounded and crafted, with a solid series arc and character journey.

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    7. I've never told people to skip Nine. I've told them to skip some episodes, mainly the Slitheen episodes and Unquiet Dead (which I found terribly dull and thought portrayed the Doctor in a bad light). I think the easiest way to ease non-fans into DW's rather thick metaplot is to have them watch Rose, TEotW, Dalek, Long Game, Empty Child/Doctor Dances, Bad Wolf and PotW. By the end of that, you know everything you need to know to understand the rest of the series.

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    8. I've told them to skip some episodes, mainly the Slitheen episode

      Even "Boomtown"?

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  13. I occurs to me that one of RTD's preoccupations for Doctor Who is the idea of consequences. Things happen, they have results and consequences.

    The introduction of Jacky and Mickey are small (frockish?) way of showing the consequences of someone falling out of the world.

    If there was one thing that can be carried over from the Wilderness, it's the preoccupation with consequences: what happens thens, what happened nexts, what happened becauses.

    This is where we got the horrible conflation between consequences and universe shaking epic events. People wanted Doctor Who to have narrative weight but confused effects with consequences. A million deaths we never see are less effective than a few moments of missing your mum. The Time War, of course, is an event we never see but the consequences of which we witness.

    I tend to see Torchwood at its best as a sandbox for playing out some of the consequences of The Doctor that would break the programme if played out in Doctor Who.

    When I think back to watching this episode on first broadcast I remember thinking just how much the interaction between the cheesiness and the earthiness tickled me. There's something of the spirit of the early of 2000AD about it, a kind of cheekiness.

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    1. This is where we got the horrible conflation between consequences and universe shaking epic events. People wanted Doctor Who to have narrative weight but confused effects with consequences.

      THIS.

      This in every genre and every medium.

      Destroy a million billion universes every time you want to have An Event and you'll quickly realize how much more consequences matter.

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    2. ...except Davies never realistically showed the consequences of a non-hidden alien invasion. And then he did it again, and again, and again, until it didn't even matter anymore; all his bombast... for nothing.

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    3. Meh. Yeah, it was underplayed a bit, but I thought we got some nice consequences in there; Harriet Jones, the whole "ghosts" thing, people feeling unsafe at Christmas. Yeah, RTD's megagiant finales got a bit sound-and-fury by the end, but there were some good emotional moments.

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  14. The Web Planet connection is a new one for me; comparisons I've seen always were about The Curse of Peladon, especially as it is also a murder plot amongst a bunch of alien representatives.

    Alpha Centuri would have fit right in, too. (In a way, though, isn't good old Alpha just a continuation of the Web Planet tradition?)

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    1. Agreed.

      The End of the World also mirrors The Ark quite massively.

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  15. Things I love:

    1. The End of the World.

    I can't remember if I loved this and "Rose" as much at the time as I do now -- probably not, but then I didn't know "The Unquiet Dead" and the Slitheen two-parter were coming next like caltrops in my path to bust my tires. Now I adore them. Nice essay.

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  16. More than anything else, i thought that the first three weeks were not only Doctor Who crashing into the world of Corrie, but it was going to crash into sci fi (to prove that it could do it) and crash into historicals (since the Beeb's reputation was built on those). And then they would see how it all came out: can we do present day? check. future? past? check and check. good, now we can work on the stories and see what else we can do.

    Look, they didn't know waht they were doing or how it would be received, period. There was no way to know. So RTD and the rest did their best, used all their TV smarts and but budget behind the second story (which showed up in how crap Boomtown looked and felt) as a way to SHOW, not tell, people, "Look, we can totally do this!" Contrast the safety of the RTD plots, versus the fuzzy nostalgia of the Gatiss one, or the scope of imagination on Moffat's Empty Child, and you see RTD making sure that there were emotional beats for his characters through out the season. That way, if Moffat's or Sherman's tanked, well, there would his to fall back on. As it turned out, it was the best of both worlds, RTD's excellent feel for emotional beats and the superior plotting skills of the other writers that made a season that took a short time to find its feet and became a huge success.

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    1. So would these three episodes be a crash test, then?

      *ducks assorted thrown objects*

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    2. The crash test idea applies to Series 1 as a whole, I think. Series 2 is similar, but is happier and more confident to start bringing in some old 'Who'-ish elements.

      Rose/World/Unquiet can't technically be a crash test because Aliens of London was the one which came first.

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    3. In presume you're referring to production order? The testing doesn't happen until audiences see it, so it's broadcast order that matters here.

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  17. The End of the World also introduced one of Davies' recurring themes, though I didn't notice it at the time: the immense terror that can be produced by petty criminals operating on cosmic scales. It's an idea very like what Robert Holmes might have thought of, or at least would definitely have thought wonderful. I think you see it most obviously with the Slitheen family and Max Capricorn, but I think Max is the one that made it work best.

    When I originally watched the episode, the story underwhelmed me a little. I was fascinated to see further inklings of what I'd know to be the Time War plot emerge, and I enjoyed watching Rose learn to navigate an alien environment for the first time. But the ostensibly central plot of the episode was an insurance scam perpetuated by a one-note plastic surgery joke. (And plastic surgery jokes are so passé, aren't they? No one could really top Terry Gilliam's Brazil.)

    Only after revisiting the season on dvd did I realize what Russell was doing, and it was brilliant! His stories of petty criminals from other worlds explore what's actually a central environmentalist principle: the potential for terrifying destruction when our moral sense doesn't develop at the same pace as our physical powers. This theme becomes more obvious with Aliens of London/WW3, but it's present in Cassandra. She isn't just killing the entire staff of Platform One. She's turning the physical destruction of humanity's home (and her own home), which should be a solemn, or at least respectful event, into the indignity of an insurance scam.

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  18. When Jack claimed to be the face of Boe, I always assumed he was taking the piss.

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    1. When Jack claimed to be the face of Boe, I always assumed he was taking the piss.

      But does Jack know about the (other) Face of Boe?

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  19. I've never heard of the 'skip nine' thing before. Personally I consider it the strongest season of the new era. Each season has a few episodes I am less keen on, but nine has the fewest of these.

    And since Moffat took over, the bad ones are in danger of outnumbering the good ones.

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  20. I found the first two episodes of the new series also were a callback to the origins of the show itself. In "An Unearthly Child" and "Rose" we see soon-to-be companions in contemporary London from their own perspective as their curiosity leads them to find the Doctor and initiate their travels with him. In "The Cave of Skulls" and "The End of the World" we see the TARDIS carrying its passengers to chronological extremes of the history of humanity on Earth. In 1963 that was a journey to the dawn of humankind while in 2005 we saw that humanity had evolved and moved on from Earth. Up to that point in the Doctor Who chronology it was pretty much the furthest back in history and furthest forward in history we'd ever seen the TARDIS travel. It's a nice bit of parallelism.

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