Monday, 8 April 2013

Doctor Who (Series Three)

After series two of Doctor Who there was a special hour-long Christmas episode called The Runaway Bride and then a third series. The Runaway Bride aired on Christmas Day 2006 and the third series of Doctor Who aired in late March 2007. By the time series three came out it was obvious that the revived Doctor Who had been a success because it had been firmly established as being one of the most popular TV shows in Britain. Series two had been hugely popular and had proved that series one had been no fluke. The public also loved David Tennant. Christopher Eccleston's Doctor had been well-received but the public loved Tennant more. After just one series many considered him to be one of the best Doctors ever and possibly the best. Yet there was still some pressure on the show with many wondering if it could still maintain its level of popularity. This was due to the departure of the series one and two companion Rose Tyler. Rose had been a very well-received character and Billie Piper - despite many eyebrows being raised at her casting - had won much praise for her acting. The new companion for series three would be the character Martha Jones, who was played by Freema Agyeman. Martha and Agyeman never really became as popular and well-loved as Rose and Piper but the show continued to be a huge success and the series three ratings were pretty much the same as the series two ratings.

This post is going to be overview of series three and in other posts I'll review the episodes themselves in more depth. In many ways series three is very enjoyable. David Tennant is a fantastic Doctor and is still able to give great performances in even the worst episodes. Had it not been for his brilliance as an actor I think I might very well have given up on Doctor Who. The new companion helps to give the show a fresh feel as well. In my eyes Martha is a far better companion than Rose and a lot more likeable. There are fewer modern-day episodes in series three and we get more episodes that are set in the future and the past - more actual time travel then. There are some awesome episodes in series three too! In fact this series features my favourite stories of the David Tennant/Russell T Davies era: Human Nature/Family of Blood and Blink. Sadly though there's also a lot that's wrong with this series. Although I'll always be grateful to Russell T Davies for reviving Doctor Who the quality of the show was very variable and inconsistent in his time as the showrunner and I don't think he's that much of a writer. The best episodes of the show during his era weren't usually written by him and most of the worst episodes were. Smith and Jones and The Shakespeare Code are the sole highlights of the first half  of series three and the finale of the series is pretty terrible and massively frustrating. The Master is a disappointing villain, the episodes are full of plot holes and the Doctor is turned into a stupid-looking Dobby-like creature and put in a birdcage! I wish I could permanently erase that image from my mind! Helen Raynor's Dalek two-parter episode of this series is also dreadful.

The Doctor
I think made it very clear in my series two review how much I loved David Tennant's Doctor. Tennant's acting is terrific in this series as well but the writing occasionally lets him down. He gets some very bad episodes in this series with the Dalek two-parter and the series' finale being the worst culprits.  Also the Doctor comes across as annoying at times. Even though Rose isn't in this series her presence is certainly felt because the Doctor won't shut up about her! Billie Piper deserved to have her name included in the credits due to the amount of times Rose's name was mentioned. The Doctor's pining and moping for Rose gets very annoying. Why does the Doctor spend so much time pining after Rose anyway? I get that he cared about her a great deal and that he loved her but he didn't spend episode after episode pining after Reinette in series two. I suspect that it's because RTD created Rose and he loves her. The Doctor comes across as downright dismissive towards Martha at times as well. He makes a very insensitive comment towards her in The Shakespeare Code and he insists upon Martha having an unfair one-trip only policy in the early episodes: "You get one trip and one trip only! Actually I'll let you have one more. But don't think you'll be having another!"

However, in the second half of the series, the Doctor's relationship with Martha improves and he begins to treat her better. He acknowledges that she's more than just a passenger in The Lazarus Experiment, he's clearly concerned about her in 42, he trusts her with his life and is completely dependent upon her in Human Nature/Family of Blood, and he trusts her to save the world in The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords. Tennant gets better material in the second half of the series too - until the finale - especially with the episodes Human Nature/Family of Blood and Blink. These are fantastic episodes and are two of the best Doctor Who stories ever. Tennant really gets the chance to shine in these stories and to showcase what a fantastic actor he is. In Human Nature/Family of Blood he gives a magnificent performance as John Smith, the Doctor, and the Doctor-pretending-to-be-John-Smith. Tennant gives a brilliant performance in Blink too even though the Doctor is barely in it. Tennant is a fantastic actor and I loved his portrayal of the Doctor : )

The Companion
I personally never liked Rose Tyler but a lot of people did. Freema Agyeman had some very big shoes to fill coming into Doctor Who then. After having a minor role as Adeola Jones in the series two episode Army of Ghosts, Agyeman came back to play her characters' own cousin Martha Jones in series three. Martha Jones gets a really bad rap as a companion and is a very under-appreciated character. I may be in the minority here but I think Martha was a big improvement on Rose and was very likeable. She was much more intelligent, independent and resourceful than Rose ever was. Also, the fact that she was a medical student and had her own set of skills meant that she didn't need the Doctor to give her a sense of purpose and identity. Martha is at her best in the Human Nature/Family of Blood, 42 and Smith and Jones episodes because these are the ones in which she gets to show her best qualities. Unfortunately, RTD also decided to make Martha have an unrequited love for the Doctor and the fans found it annoying - and it was annoying. I'm sure most women would fall in love with Tennant's Doctor if they were travelling with him but Martha's longing gazes at the Doctor and her "The Doctor is so wonderful. Oh, why doesn't he love me?" attitude does her character no favours. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if RTD had had Martha slowly get over her crush on the Doctor as the series progressed but that didn't happen. Having said that, is Martha's pining for the Doctor any more annoying than Rose's pining for him in series two? Rose acts in exactly the same way as Martha does for most of that series but for some reason the Rose fans find her crush on the Doctor cute and adorable and find Martha's crush on the Doctor annoying - and they dislike Martha for it. That's not fair is it?! Quite frankly I find Martha's crush on the Doctor a lot more bearable than Rose's. At least Martha has other good qualities that make up for it which is more than can be said for Rose in my opinion. I think it's a real shame that many fans don't like Martha much, especially since Martha is the first "major" companion of the Doctor to be black. It makes those complaints from fans about her not being Rose even more sad. I really liked Martha and I think she's more appreciated now than she was when she was actually on the show. Agyeman did a great job on Doctor Who as well. There are a few moments when she's a bit wooden but her acting is still really good on the whole and she's able to make Martha likeable.

Recurring Characters
In series one and two Rose's mother Jackie and her boyfriend Mickey featured in all the modern-day episodes. This is true of Martha's family in series three but Martha's family is even more annoying than Rose's. OK, Martha's brother Leo and her sister Tish are fine. It may also interest some that Leo is played by Radio One DJ and Rastamouse actor Reggie Yates. However Martha's parents are much more irritating even if they're both well-acted. It seems that Martha's dad Clive has had some sort of mid-life crisis and has hooked up with some bimbo who's half his age. Mind you, Martha's mum Francine comes across as such a moany cow that I'm not surprised Clive has had enough! Francine is even more annoying than Jackie! Also Martha's larger family means that no-one gets the character development that Jackie, Mickey and Pete got in their time on the show. If Martha had had another series as a companion then I imagine her family would have probably got more development but this wasn't the case.

Captain Jack Harkness appeared in the final five episodes of series one and was then given his own spin-off show called Torchwood. At the end of that show's first series Jack spots the TARDIS at Cardiff Bay and runs towards it. This then leads to Jack appearing in the final three episodes of this series. I'm surprised they bothered! Jack gets barely anything to do and his character is completely wasted. As I've never really watched Torchwood I still think that Jack's best episode is his introduction story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. 

Throughout series three there are references to a mysterious "Mr Saxon". This later turns out to be the Master, the Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes and the villain of the series' last three episodes. He's played by Derek Jacobi in Utopia before he regenerates and is then played by John Simm in the series' finale. I liked the Master's theme music and Derek Jacobi gives a very impressive performance in Utopia. His Master is believably evil and menacing and I'd have loved him to have played the Master in the remaining episodes. I really didn't like how the Master was portrayed by Simm. His Master is far too over-the-top and zany and because of that he has no real menace whatsoever. Simm is a great actor though and, judging from recent comments he's made, the manic portrayal wasn't his idea. Another problem with the Master's character in these episodes is that he apparently hears a constant dream beat in his head. This stems from his childhood and it turned him mad and evil. This isn't a bad idea but from what I've read it doesn't really fit in with past portrayals of his character. 

My favourite episodes of series three: 
  • Human Nature/Family of Blood (by Paul Cornell)
  • Blink (by Steven Moffat)
  • The Shakespeare Code (by Gareth Roberts)
  • 42 (by Chris Chibnall)
My least favourite episodes of series three: 
  • Daleks of Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks (by Helen Raynor)
  • The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (by Russell T Davies)
  • Gridlock (by Russell T Davies)
My favourite guest stars of series three:
  • Carey Mulligan in Blink
  • Jessica Hynes, Harry Lloyd and Thomas Sangster in Human Nature/Family of Blood
  • Andrew Garfield in Daleks of Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
  • Derek Jacobi in Utopia

The episodes of series three summarised:

0. The Runaway Bride (written by Russell T Davies) 
This episode is the 2006 Christmas special and it introduces Donna Noble, who would eventually become the series four companion. I know a lot of fans really dislike this episode. Well, it's definitely not a great episode and Donna Noble is really obnoxious and grating for the first 20 minutes. However, Donna becomes more bearable after that and I love the motorway scene with the TARDIS weaving in and out of cars. I love the scene where the Doctor drowns the spider babies as well. I love the look on Tenannt's face in that scene.  He just looks so cold and dead behind the eyes. It really shows how dark and dangerous the Doctor can be when he's pushed to his limits and I think it's a bit of a shame we didn't see get to see this side of the Doctor more often in the Tennant run.
1. Smith and Jones (written by Russell T Davies)
I'm not a huge fan of this episode but it's pretty enjoyable and the best series opener of the RTD era. It's fun, the story is good, and it's a brilliant introduction for Martha. She's an immediately more likeable companion than Rose! 
2. The Shakespeare Code (written by Gareth Roberts)
This is a pretty fun episode and one of my favourites from series three. This is despite the fact that I don't really like how Shakespeare is written as a arrogant, womanising loudmouth and I don't like it when the Doctor tells Martha that he wishes Rose was still with him as well - that's really insensitive! But this episode is visually stunning, there's a lot of humour, and this is another great episode for Martha.
3. Gridlock (written by Russell T Davies)
I really dislike this episode. It's full of plot-holes, it has a weak plot, and the final revelation that the Doctor isn't  alone in the universe is underwhelming. It had already been announced that the Master was coming back for series three. I only like the final five minutes of this episode are really good. The Doctor finally opens up to Martha and Tennant's acting is lovely.
4-5. Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks (written by Helen Raynor)
Awful, absolutely awful! The story is an absolute mess. It's badly-written. The Daleks and the Doctor act out-of-character. There's some bad acting from the supporting actors (Miranda Raison, Ryan Carnes, Eric Loren). I could go on and on!
6. The Lazarus Experiment (written by Stephen Greenhorn)
A pretty underrated episode in my opinion. I admit that there's some bad CGI and that Martha's mother is very annoying but Mark Gatiss does a great job as the villain, the final showdown at the cathedral is great. and from this point onwards the Doctor begins to treat Martha better. 
7. 42 (written by Chris Chibnall)
Another underrated episode. Sure it's very similar to The Impossible Planet/The Satan's Pit from series two but it's still a really good episode. David Tennant is terrific, the supporting cast are all really good, it's fast-paced and tense and I even like the pub quiz element. 
8-9. Human Nature/Family of Blood (written by Paul Cornell)
My absolute favourite Doctor Who story of the RTD era and one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who stories in general. It's absolutely amazing. David Tennant is magnificent. Freema Agyeman gives her best performance in the whole show. It has a brilliant story. The supporting cast are excellent. The script is intelligent and thought-provoking. It's flawless!
10. Blink (written by Steven Moffat)
Another one of my favourite Doctor Who stories ever! It's also flawless! It's brilliantly-written, the Weeping Angels are fantastic villains, and Sally Sparrow is a brilliant character. I could go on and on about this episode!
11. Utopia (written by Russell T Davies)
A pretty overrated episode in my opinion. Apart from the final 10 minutes it's really not that great and the story is lacking. Martha gets very little to do as well.
12-13. The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords (written by Russell T Davies)
Terrible. The Master is far too OTT. There are annoying and pointless celebrity cameos. There's bad pop music. Captain Jack is wasted and he gets barely anything to do. The Doctor gets turned into Dobby. The resolution is a massive deus ex machina. It's awful!


Manette said...

Whooooooosh. I just finished watching Series Three (got myself a beeeeeautiful Series 1-4 box set so now I can watch six episodes in a row if I want to, which I did...) and boy am I mindblown. MIND. BLOWN.

My mind is so full of things now I apologize sincerely if this comment turns out completely incoherent and babbly... But okay, I'll start with Martha Jones. I'm so glad to know you're with me on the "Rose Tyler is a bit annoying" front. Martha Jones wasn't just a completely kick-butt Doctor's companion, I think she's now one of my favourite TV characters overall. I loved how intelligent she was from the beginning, and how independent she got to be in Human Nature/Family of Blood and the series finale. I also thought it was a very classy touch that she chose herself to say goodbye to the Doctor, that she realized she had a life of her own waiting for her – compared to Rose, who had absolutely no life outside the TARDIS and never wanted to leave!

It's kind of hard to list David Tennant's best moments of genius acting because there are so many of those, but I have to mention at least the John Smith/Doctor/will he open the watch dilemma near the end of Family of Blood. God that gave me chills.

I completely agree with you about Human Nature/Family of Blood and Blink, I just can't understand how someone thought up such brilliant stories. The main reason why I started watching Doctor Who in the first place was Steven Moffat, and he NEVER disappoints. But then I also liked Gridlock a lot! Plot holes, yes, and I didn't really get those crab monster things, but I just loved the bit when the Doctor casually jumps from one vehicle to another, and those two adorable old ladies. I also thought The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords was the best series finale so far, mainly because of Martha's awesomeness. Great villains are really hard to get right and while I don't think the Master was among the greatest, I did find that "constant drumbeat in his head" thing quite compelling.

But the Dalek two-parter was... Ugh. The Dalek leader suddenly deciding that being human and having emotions is good? What the heck?? Also it's a shame that Miranda Raison's character was so ghastly, I've seen her in the ITV Hercule Poirot series and she does a wonderful job there as this really uptight French teacher, complete with one of the absolute most convincing French accents I've ever heard (and she has to share the screen with David Suchet whose French accent is also fantastic)

Hannah said...

This is a long overdue reply but I'm so happy that you loved Human Nature and Blink so much! I adore those episodes! It's pretty obvious that it was this series that you started to really enjoy the show :)

It's always great to see someone who loves Martha Jones fan and doesn't like Rose. I must warn you though. We are very much in the minority :(

I would love for The Master to come back but I want him to be far more sinister and for him to be played by a different actor. At the moment there are rumours that Charles Dance might be the next Master. How amazing would that be?!

Argh, Daleks in Manhattan is so AWFUL! I haven't read a single positive review for it. Everyone hates it. Even David Tennant and Andrew Garfield can't save it!

Maybe I should give Miranda Raison a third chance as an actress. I've only seen her in Doctor Who and in an episode of Merlin which she was also bad in.

Hannah said...

Sorry about the typos. I was trying to write and talk to my mother at the same time. I'm a terrible multi-tasker!