The 2005 Children in Need Special
|Production Code||2005 Children in Need special|
|Dates||November 18, 2005|
With David Tennant, Billie Piper
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Euros Lyn
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: Can you change back?|
A Calm Between Storms by Ewen Campion-Clarke 30/1/06
"Oh, come on - all I did was change!"Watching these seven minutes of pure characterization, it suddenly struck me - if this little story was scripted, filmed and recorded after The Christmas Invasion, what would it be like to go straight from the end of The Parting of the Ways to the Christmas special? We have for the first time a proper retcon, a story written to plug the gaps. Had Children in Need not wanted this sketch, what would have happened?
Unless this sketch (which I intend to call Afterlife), is merely the first scene of The Christmas Invasion shown a month early, how well would the Tenth Doctor's debut would have fitted with the Ninth's swansong?
Without it, we would have lost the crucial re-affirmation that the cute bloke with the floppy hair was the big-eared Northerner new viewers had tuned in for the previous series. Without seeing these first few minutes of culture shock between Rose and the new Doctor, without the establishing of just why the hell The Christmas Invasion is set at Christmas (instead of, say, The November Invasion, which is where the Mickey/Jackie scenes seem to take place in The Parting of the Ways), how much would leave us scratching our heads. It would be as jarring as The Twin Dilemma as it opens, not on a rerun of the regeneration, but two idiots we've never seen before playing backgammon.
The thought occurred to me right away. Only able to view Afterlife on a tolerant internet cafe RealPlayer, it is unlikely that this charity sketch will be screened on Australian TV and definitely no time soon (indeed, at time of writing, the story appearing on DVD is not one hundred per cent confirmed).
Having managed to see Dimensions in Time at a Doctor Who convention I at last shared the horror of other Doctor Who fans at a previous Children in Need special, and RTD's script shows someone who learned the lesson - assuming he needed teaching at all. With seven minutes, there's no way in hell you can tell a decent story, and there's also the small matter that it can't spoil the upcoming Christmas special. The answer? A character piece, simple but not unimaginative.
The idea of the story solely concerning showing Rose accepting that David Tennant is the Doctor for better or for worse is a cunning one. It's disposable enough to miss, but casual viewers will be able to grasp the point immediately and they and new viewers will watch to see what this new incarnation is like (the rest of us fans would have watched anyway).
It's hard to judge the Tenth Doctor's character on this single viewing, but that's precisely the point. He's meant to be vague, nothing more than an extrapolation of the toothy madman pronouncing "Barcelona" in that strange way he does. The new Doctor manages a great range of facets. His snapping at Rose recalls the first Doctor, hopping around the console reminds us of the eighth, while his suspicious cover story about Captain Jack reminds us of the manipulative seventh, and overall Afterlife is a kind of condensed cross between Castrovalva and The Twin Dilemma, with a shockingly young and vulnerable-looking Doctor suffering manic moments of insanity.
But while you can point to the Doctor's delight at crash-landing and say "That's Tom Baker, that is," or feel a return of Troughton as the Time Lord shuts up for two minutes and lets his companion doing the talking, the only real Doctor Tennant is impersonating is Christopher Eccleston. He too was ranting, chatty, enthusiastic, apparently suicidal and any line the Doctor says in seven minutes could easily have come from his predecessor's mouth. The most obvious moment is when the Doctor finishes setting the coordinates and stands back, arms folded, mirroring the stance he used in The Unquiet Dead and Aliens of London.
There are a few moments that I think show what we might come to know of as the Tenth Doctor (but then again, I could be completely wrong - only time will tell). Just as RTD's The Second Coming had Christopher Eccleston's Steven Baxter just like the Ninth Doctor with one heart (they even like the same lack of sugar in their coffee), it would be well to consider RTD's Casanova as the audition for the Tenth Doctor. The bit where the Doctor bursts out about hopping and slowly realizes that Rose isn't joining in, steadily losing his enthusiasm before finishing in embarrassment recalls the (few) scenes where Casanova's charm falls to work. His gentle teasing of Rose, breaking down her barriers reminds me of Casanova's plan to crack Henriette's facade and get her to admit her feelings.
So, basing the Tenth Doctor on Casanova, we will have a Doctor with numerous abilities and social skills, improvising madly on the turn of a dime, with a nice line in self-deprecating wit and the ability to become a desperate man ala Davison in The Caves of Androzani. And his catchphrase will be "That's weird." Or maybe just "Jings!".
I'll read this again in a year's time and either gloat or squirm.
Of course, while the whole point of the skit might be David Tennant, the story is firmly based on Rose. Billie Piper hasn't lost anything in the months between series and she plays the Tyler girl nicely on the brink. Of course, the Ninth Doctor told her plainly what was going to happen but Rose doesn't blindly accept that - as she says, she's seen beings change their appearance before her eyes before. But it's not hard to see her suspicion of the Tenth Doctor is more motivated by the desire for his predecessor. It's so much easier to think the Doctor's been teleported out and locked up by Slitheen than realize her best friend has changed in body, mind and soul.
Surely no regeneration story has ever been as poignant as Rose's simple question: "Can you change back?"
The original series usually managed to skip over this by careful positioning of companions. Ben and Polly get on with the Second Doctor just as well if not better with the First, and they didn't spend much time with him anyway. There's no Jamie and Zoe to suffer culture shock in Spearhead from Space, and Tegan and Nyssa barely knew the Doctor before his regeneration in Logopolis. Crucially, Adric did and him not being present for the early days explained the alienation of those two companions. Mel's blase reaction to the Seventh Doctor is one of the more forgivable crimes of Time and the Rani.
The exceptions are Sarah in Robot and Peri in The Twin Dilemma. In the latter, Peri takes a believable amount of time to accept the new Doctor is the genuine article, but it's undermined as it's clearly not the same Peri who watched in tears as her friend died saving her life. She dislikes the Sixth Doctor but shows no real affection for his predecessor, bar a defense of his good looks. Sarah's reaction, however is more subtle - after the change, she begins avoiding the Doctor for most of the story. Time and time again she walks out of UNIT HQ, only returning because of this giant robot and fascist scientists. It is notable that the only time in the story she and the Doctor share any real feelings is at the end, when he offers her a jelly baby and the chance to travel with him again respectively - and she accepts both.
Likewise, the Doctor's casual insults of Jackie convince Rose of his identity just as much as his reminiscing of the time they first met. And it's unsurprising but still affecting that the moment Rose smiles and finally begins to open up to the new Doctor he starts vomiting five-dimensional bile and running around with no hint of sanity.
Afterlife is just what was needed after The Parting of the Ways, and judging from the amount of care and attention and importance in it, is probably vital for The Christmas Invasion as well. We're left with the impression that Tennant has the potential to be a brilliant Doctor, but not sure exactly what that Doctor is like, and the most convincing reaction to seeing a man change his face since The Power of the Daleks.
Oh, and they used the word "regeneration"! You mark my words, "Skaro", "Gallifrey" and "symbiotic nucleii" will be the next old series mythos to be used, it's only a matter of time!
A Review by Finn Clark 20/6/06
Far more important than we could have guessed at the time. When we first saw it in November 2005, it seemed like a charming bit of fun. However try to imagine squeezing a seven-minute TARDIS scene like that into New Earth or Tooth and Claw. There'd be no room for it. Even the more relaxed Eccleston season would have crammed the important character beats into a tighter scene and then returned to the plot. This special gives Tennant and Piper breathing space before the action. They get to talk. Probably because of this focus, it also contains my favourite performance from Tennant in the role, although admittedly as yet I've only seen his first few episodes.
However even without that greater context, it's impressive. It's not trying to be a complete adventure, since you might remember the last time anyone tried that in a Doctor Who Children in Need special. It's the TARDIS scene we all wanted to see, i.e. what happened next after Eccleston said goodbye at the end of The Parting of the Ways. It's a lovely bit of television which even builds to its own mini-cliffhanger as the TARDIS hurtles back towards London and Rose's family. It's a good outing for Billie Piper and David Tennant and it left me wanting to watch The Christmas Invasion immediately.
David Tennant is a lot of fun. We haven't seen a Doctor putting so much into every line since Tom Baker. By now it's almost a cliche to observe that Eccleston establishes his Doctor more solidly in the first few scenes of Rose than McGann does in the entire TVM, but similarly I think David Tennant establishes himself more solidly in this seven-minute special than Eccleston does in Rose. Eccleston does some lovely stuff in that story, but there's a reason why it's called "Rose" and not "Doctor". The new series pilot had a lot on its plate and the 9th Doctor was merely one of many things that needed establishing. We got strong hints of how he might relate to other people. He was alone and possibly lonely but in denial. However the Damaged Doctor was to be an unfolding story throughout the season, played out over thirteen episodes and nearly ten hours of television.
Here however the focus is entirely on the new Doctor and his manic post-regenerative outpourings. There's also his relationship with Rose, which is the bedrock of the scene. Believe it or not, I was actually more impressed with Billie Piper than David Tennant. The Doctor's the easy role. He's hogging the limelight, talking nineteen to the dozen and blinding us with his personality. Billie Piper however gives the scene its heart, conveying a whole range of emotional transitions with almost no lines at all. Watch her. You know exactly what she's thinking at every moment. At times she's scared, suspicious or simply grieving the man she thought she'd lost... and Piper portrays them all with perfect clarity while just standing against a pillar.
A weak performance could have made Rose look like a suspicious cow, but we're never left in any doubt that she just cares for 'her' Doctor. Of course it helps that we began with a Parting of the Ways montage, which incidentally had me rewinding and rewatching just for Eccleston's final farewell. Damn, he's good. This special stands or falls on its acting and fortunately everyone is well on form. This special might contain Billie Piper's best work to date.
All the Doctor's regenerations have been slightly different, but curiously they've often stranded him among strangers or near-strangers. In Castrovalva, the only companion he really knows yet is the one who's been abducted by the Master. The 3rd and 8th Doctors found themselves companionless on Earth and fighting Autons, although Pertwee had the Brigadier. Only Robot showed the new Doctor alongside a companion who'd been with him for more than a handful of episodes, and the Pertwee-Sladen relationship wasn't meant to be at the level of Eccleston and Piper. (Pertwee and Jo, maybe...) We've never seen anything like this before. Curiously this is also the first regeneration since Hartnell's not to involve another Time Lord.
Much was resting on the shoulders of this seven-minute scene, which had it gone horribly wrong could have been a new The Twin Dilemma. It was never going to be, of course, but there was also no guarantee that it would work this well. I was actually slightly nervous when I first heard the announcement that it was going to happen, although that might have simply been a Pavlovian reflex to the precedent of 1993. Fortunately it's great. However is it my imagination or is David Tennant's first line as the regeneration starts failing "fuck's sake"?
And you expect us to feel sorry for you? by Stephen Maslin 3/3/13
There's an unquestioned assumption at the heart of modern Doctor Who, indeed at the heart of 21st century film and TV: that the more something engages us emotionally, the better it is. Emotion, that is, in a quite narrow sense of the word; the kind of instinctive emotion we have when seeing a dog being mistreated; the kind that brings a tear to the eye. A 'Kleenex Moment'. This is so taken for granted that we retro-fit the past accordingly. Gustav Mahler is now widely regarded as a great composer because he was trying to make us feel something, to make us feel what he feels (rather than produce beautiful works of art to which we bring our own unique responses). The problem with the 'Mahlerian' view is easily spotted: if such direct expression is one's primary concern, what if the person doing the expressing is a really nasty piece of work? Richard Wagner (at the very least Mahler's equal) was trying to make us feel things too: big, bold, life-changing things. Yet he was an anti-semite, a proto-nazi and a thoroughly, thoroughly bad egg. Do we want to share the feelings of such a man?
Kleenex Moments abound in Doctor Who of the current vintage but used to be relatively rare. The best of those rare moments had nothing to do with death. Adric's passing only occasioned a sigh of relief (and stifled laughter from the remaining cast). In going back to Katarina and Sarah Kingdom's demises in The Daleks' Master Plan, I found myself merely annoyed, as when a sexually frustrated adolescent tries to shock you by drawing pictures of women being tortured. The most weepy moment of all was Sarah Jane's departure at the end of The Hand of Fear and it was made all the more so by being so superbly underplayed (and by not having a symphony orchestra bellowing out a tired string of cliches behind it).
In Mr Eccleston's brief time at the helm, the main method by which the Kleenex Moment was achieved was by the death of the pseudo-companion: Rose was out of bounds in that regard so, instead, Jabe, Gwyneth, de Maggio, Suki and Lynda Moss all had to die. (Why not Adam too?) Their function was to stay around just long enough for us to form an attachment so that their deaths could increase the sales of paper tissues. In the show's past, men did the majority of the dying as a kind of poetic justice: it was they who did (and still do) most of the fighting out in the real world. Throughout Season 2005, we had poetic injustice instead.
In the Tennant era, we were - right from the start - encouraged to feel sympathy for the main character, not just in his having to tolerate the increasingly predictable passing of those around him but in almost every other aspect of his existence. (You know you are supposed to feel this way when Murray Gold is pouring badly orchestrated treacle all over things. We are apparently too stupid to work out for ourselves when to be excited or heartbroken or scared.) In episode after episode, the lead usually spends some time gazing dolefully into the middle distance: a love he cannot reciprocate, the last of his kind, condemned to roam the universe, centuries old, never to settle. Even in such seeming filler as the 2005 Children in Need Special, there is the attempt to instill a sense of tragedy. Rose wants her old Doctor back and when Number Ten tells her he can't lose a digit, it is delivered with the trademark big, sad, soulful eyes. We are meant to feel sorry for him.
We are being asked to feel sympathy for someone from a privileged elite who regenerates rather than dying; who has the freedom to roam space and time in an indestructible box, usually with some very nice looking youth for company; who effortlessly combines scientific brilliance with an ultra-cool persona; who, with every passing new face, gets younger and younger?
We are being asked to feel sympathy for a character played by an actor about whom no one has a bad word to say; who has played Hamlet - that most iconic of theatre roles - to great acclaim; who is married to Georgia Moffett; who was once voted the coolest man on TV; who was even once voted the sexiest man in the universe; who is almost painfully likable.
Sympathy? Call me a bitter old soak if you like, but I just about managed seething envy.
However great David Tennant was in the role (and he really was), somewhere very early on in his first few minutes, we lost something truly unique. Gone for ever are the days when our hero was 'other'. All of a sudden, just like every other TV action hero, he was merely 'better'. That is a great, great shame.