The Doctor's Daughter
|Production Code||Series Four Episode Six|
|Dates||May 10 2008|
With David Tennant,
Written by Stephen Greenhorn Directed by Alice Troughton
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: On the planet Messaline, the Doctor accidentally gains a daughter, in the midst of a civil war.|
Death by Show Format by Nathanial Wayne 24/6/08
I'm not going to be cutesy about this. The Doctor's Daughter doesn't work. It's such a shame too, because there's actually a great deal of promise in this story. The setting, while familiar, has potential. The characters are interesting, at least in concept. The story takes the characters we know to some interesting places. So what the hell went wrong? Three words: New Show Format.
For fans of the older series, I know there was some concern about the new format of the show. Whereas before any given story had four to six half hour episodes to work with (totaling just under two or three hours in total) now there would only be one hour (or two for the occassional two parter) to tell the whole story in. Fans worried it couldn't be done, that the stories would suffer; some have even argued that they have. Speaking personally, I'd never really seen the problem, the writing seemed to have been adjusted to fit the new format just fine. Until now.
The story has a lot of potential, but there's just too much going on. There's an instantly grown soldier created from the Doctor's DNA (the titular daughter). They try to more deeply explore the Doctor's feelings of loss and alienation from being the last of his kind. There's a multi-generational war whose actual point seems to have been lost in time. Martha is given her own story about bonding with a being on the opposite side of the war. And, of course, all the usual running down corridors we're used to. But all of these story threads are happening on top of one another and none of them are fleshed out fully; as a result of narrative overcrowding, none of them really work.
The Doctor's Daughter could have worked as a two parter, it really really could have. Given more time and room to breath and develop naturally, the characters would have been more fleshed out, the interactions would have come about naturally and the emotional weight this episode so desperately wants to have would have been there. Nearly every single problem with this episode (and there are a lot) can be traced to the fact that everything is just too rushed. The Doctor jumps from one emotion to another as the story demands, with little chance to actually transition through those feelings. There's a ton of supposed bonding between a number of different characters that just feels forced because it happens too fast, trust is given too quickly and too readily because the story has to keep moving, and, as a result, none of it is believable. And the ending is clearly supposed to have some emotional weight to it but we haven't spent enough time with these new characters to care as much the story demands of us.
I can't go into full detail because of the spoiler rule, but I'll give an example that really encapsulates the problems with the entire episode. Within the first five minutes of the episode, Martha is separated from the Doctor and Donna (who incidently is given next to nothing to do). She finds herself surrounded by the Hath (very poorly designed creatures and once the novelty wears off also very boring to look at). Now, the Hath don't really talk so much just make gurgling noises. Yet Martha establishes a trust and rapport with them almost instantly and they seem to be able to communicate almost freely right away. This really is in a nutshell the kind of rushing that suffocates the story. Had there been even about 5 minutes spent on Martha working to establish a trust or working on communication, it might have been believable. Instead, it is acknowledged for all of 10 seconds and then skipped past.
This is the first time I've really truly see the new format kill a story. And now that I've seen it, I hope I never have to again. If done as a two-part story The Doctors Daughter could have had the kind of weight and impact of The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. All the groundwork is there. But there's just too much to work properly in an hour and trying to cram it in just took the power out of the entire episode.
Family Quarrel by Mike Morris 12/10/08
If the early part of Series 4 can be said to have a nadir - and really, until the season's break for the Eurovision Song Contest, that's rather like trying to find the ugliest member of a bulldog sanctuary - it's here. The Doctor's Daughter is comfortably the worst story of the season. Or any other season. Of any other programme. It's one of those stories where the most fun you can have is scratching your head and wondering how on earth anyone thought this was a good idea.
There's a hook, obviously. Look at the previous week's trailer; oh my god, the Doctor's got a daughter! A daughter! And look at how many questions it throws up - where does she come from? How did this happen? Why is she apparently combat-trained? Why has he only discovered her now?
As it turns out, all these questions are answered in the pre-title sequence: She's a clone, more or less; because some people put the Doctor into a convenient machine which just happened to be there, for no readily apparent reason (if "everyone gets processed", why don't they bother with Martha or Donna? Well all right, I wouldn't want another Donna running around, but still); because the machine did it; because we couldn't think of any other way of making the story seem interesting.
Really, this isn't about the Doctor having a daughter at all. If you're expecting the character examination of Human Nature, you'll be sorely disappointed. Instead we get a plot that appears to have come from the Five-Year Old's Summary of How Doctor Who Stories Work. There's two factions, right, and they're fighting a war, right? And the Doc gets split up from his companions, so one of them's with one faction, and one of them's with the other, right? And war, it's like, really bad, and stuff, so everyone's grizzled and uninteresting, right? Oh, but the genetically engineered soldiers who know nothing but war will still take a break if they think they'll get a snog out of it.
Okay, where do I start?
First of all, the scenario doesn't make any sense. It's a war between humans and some fish-things, but why the hell it's happening is a ridiculous version of the we-both-want-a-mythical-thing-with-a-catchy-one-word-name device. And it takes place in some underground tunnels, with the Hath (they'll be the fish-things, then) running around the place with some watery-breathing-apparatus-things on. Ask yourself why they don't just flood the place, or at least their side of it, and you'll see how quickly the idea falls apart. Humans are fighting fish, but we're expected to believe that this is a war about territory? It's not helped by a total lack of scale to the affair, which is supposedly grim and unrelenting, but never actually show you anyone getting killed. The godawful performance of Nigel Terry as Cobb adds interest, but for all the wrong reasons; the first showdown between Cobb and the Doctor comes across like two teenagers trash-talking each other.
(I could pick the setup apart entirely, if I thought it was worth it. I could ask why the general is so much older than everybody else, given the revelations at the end. Or why the Hath's breathing apparatus doesn't go anywhere near their gills. In fact, the Hath being fish barely seems to have penetrated the script at all, so much so that you'd wonder if it was added as a desperate last-minute bid to make them interesting. How else do you explain Martha trying to convince a Hath to come with her by promising him the feel of "the wind on his face"? Or, for that matter, the scene where a Hath is killed by... drowning?)
Next... it's incredibly badly-written. I don't want to bang on about this, not least because Lawrence Miles has never stopped making jokes about it, but the climactic line of "make the foundation of this society a man who never would" is just about the worst sentence that anyone's been asked to speak in Doctor Who. This is one of those stories where every single sentence exists to progress the plot, in the most functional way possible. Just look at that pre-title sequence again, from the moment that they step out of the TARDIS. Every line is blatantly plot-related, narrating the action in a build-up to that "Hello Dad" moment...
...a line which doesn't even make sense. The characterisation of Jenny afterwards, in so far as her relationship with the Doctor goes, is of someone uncertain and humourless... so where does that cocky "hello, Dad" line come from? Answer; it's there because it made a good pre-titles moment, and its connection to the rest of the story is unimportant.
In fact - remember that bit in the trailer to The Phantom Menace, where the guy goes "A communications disruption can mean only one thing. Invasion!" It was great in the trailer... and then, when you watch the film, everyone's sitting about the room chatting in a perfectly relaxed manner, when suddenly this line drops out of the sky. "Hello Dad" is like that; a line that is only there to serve the trailers, regardless of its relationship to everything else.
Getting back to that script; it's not only Tennant who gets appalling lines. The moment where Freema Agyeman has to say "I'm Martha Jones, who the hell are you?" almost counts as cruelty to actors, and asking Catherine Tate to derive "Jenny" from "Generated Anomaly" would be unfair even to a talented actress. I've got more examples if you want them - "We'll wipe every stinking Hath from the face of this world"; sheesh, don't copy lines from Bad Wolf entirely out of context please - but suffice it to say that a Discontinuity Guide-style Dialogue Disasters might as well just contain the entire script.
The energy of the story is supposed to derive from character conflict - the Doctor rejecting and then coming to accept his daughter, essentially. And yet it doesn't work, because the characterisation is so wildly inconsistent. Pity Georgia Moffett. A young actress, who's (obviously) rather pretty but (equally obviously) not particularly gifted. She may well go on to have a decent career, but asking her to join the dots of this characterisation is practically impossible. Her performance is poor, but it's hardly her fault; she's asked to portray Jenny as a cold-blooded killer, a kung-fu expert, a vulnerable innocent, an almost emotionless learning machine and a hyper-precise genetic soldier. None of these things follow a transition of any sort, either. Witness the scene in which Jenny starts coldly noting how much she's going to learn from the Doctor, and is asked, literally seconds later, to look hurt when he tells her he's not his father. It's by no means just Jenny who's given oscillating characterisation, either. There's a scene in which the Doctor says she's "nothing but a soldier", and a minute later he starts telling her how brilliant she is.
Perhaps this is an opportune time to talk about the whole concept of "character development" in Doctor Who. Since the series has come back, there are a tedious bunch of fans who will complain about the excessive use of "soap" in the series. On the other hand, you've got the ones who will defend stuff like - say - Boom Town, on account of how it's great to have real character study in Doctor Who, and we should welcome it with open arms.
Point is, neither of these viewpoints are correct. Of course character development is a good thing, but that doesn't mean there isn't an issue of quality control. We've reached a point where the series expects us to swallow scenes like Donna's flashbacks in The Sontaran Stratagem, for example; something so corny that it's fallen straight out of every TV movie ever made. Sticking character scenes in there, as an aspiration to be "relevant", isn't enough; you also have to make them good. Look at Father's Day, or School Reunion, or Midnight. They're excellent character pieces. But this?
Viewed as a character piece - which is a stretch, but there you go - The Doctor's Daughter has a perfectly decent aim. The problem with it is just that it's incredibly badly done. It's incoherent, badly written, and not well-acted. This is a story that asks us to believe that the Doctor is floored by Jenny's accusation of him being a soldier, instead of just replying "Soldiers follow orders from a higher authority for a cause that isn't their own, whereas I exercise my own judgement and act as I damn well please. Oh, and I don't kill people." We're also asked to believe that the Sonic Screwdriver is a weapon, because it can do technological stuff. Based on that logic, my telly is a weapon. Sheesh. When one of the protagonists appears to be about seven different people, and the other has to reject her and then accept her every two minutes, you're so far from character study that you might as well be watching Driller Killer.
If anything, that's what's so annoying about it; that a television script can be written by someone who simply doesn't care about (or certainly doesn't understand) dialogue, or story logic, or narrative coherence. Someone whose attempts at conveying a philosophy come across, uniformly, as completely muddle-headed. It's a story with about four set-pieces, and conveys us to those set-pieces with grim carelessness. We're expected to be impressed simply by its aims, but they're more or less jotted down in shorthand. Stupid moments abound; Martha being able to diagnose and fix the biology of an alien fish-being, for example. Or the reason given for the TARDIS's arrival, which just makes you decide that only Steven Moffatt should be allowed to do non-linear plotting. The fact that the big revelation about the war's timescale makes no sodding difference to the plot whatsoever. Or the Doctor's climactic moment to end the war, which is more or less like someone demanding that all Christians do what he says, while he burns down the shrine at Lourdes.
All you're left with, in effect, is a bunch of people running down corridors. And if that's not insulting enough, the writer uses a You Can't Fire Me I Quit (as I gather it's known in the trade). Look, I'm making jokes about running down corridors! See, it's deliberate! And here's the point that the joke misses - yes, lots of Doctor Who stories over the years have featured loads of scenes of people running down corridors. You know which ones? The bad ones. There's a difference between "classic" and "boringly formulaic", thanks. In fact, formulaic is flattering applied to this nonsense, as it would imply a structure that the story can't even sustain.
Oh, and even those stories featured the occasional sentence that you might actually expect a human being to utter.
I said recently that The Fires of Pompeii isn't stupid, it simply expects its audience to be. The Doctor's Daughter is the perfect counter-example, because it really is stupid. The fact that I could list ten terrible things about the story, and not even mention Catherine Tate, tells you just about everything you need to know. The only good thing about it, really, is the performance of Tennant - who really does give it his all, in spite of the material's limitations. Oh, and the fact that Joe Dempsie is in it made me think of Skins, which reminded me that there is such a thing as good television.
This is worthlessly reductive, and so slapdash that it's faintly insulting. Stephen Greenhorn might just be the worst Doctor Who writer ever to produce more than one televised story. The funniest thing I heard someone say about this story was that it's a bit too long. No; it's forty-five minutes too long.
It Wants to Be 1983 by Adrian Pocaro 27/10/08
At the beginning of The Sontaran Strategem, the Doctor mentions to Donna that the TARDIS was straying "too close to the 1980's." He had no idea how right he was.
What a wasted premise this one is. Sitting comfortably towards the middle of the so-so series four, it was intriguing enough to catch my interest based on the previews alone. The Doctor's Daughter! We knew she was out there somewhere! Martha and Donna! The first time since Nyssa and Tegan we've had two female companions. And, knowing Russell's emphasis on emotionalism, and knowing that it ends up resulting in really good or really bad stories, I had hope for some sort of window into the Doctor's psyche.
Too bad. Instead, it's slightly below average with an image towards the end that left me frustrated.
Before the credits roll, the whole concept is rendered impotent. Mystery gone. So now, we're in a basic runaround story where the Doctor and company are caught between Two Warring Factions (TM) and must solve the mystery of "the source". The Doctor and Donna are separated from Martha, but they make their way independently towards the climax of the plot. There's an alien planet, which is code for quarry, and creatures called the Hath that look like plastic fish and have some sort of strange beverage where their mouths should be. Lifted straight out of the Davison era, they're actually effective because, instead of regarding them as cheap, I preferred to think of them as an homage to the Tractators, Tereleptils and every other monster of comparative design. Maybe we'll soon see the sock puppets from "Timelash" revisited. One can dare to dream...
But let's break it down shall we? Freema is back... long live Freema! She is stunningly beautiful as always, and Martha Jones was a wonderful companion in my opinion. But the story let her down. Or maybe the director did, especially when Martha reacted to the drowning Hath. Bad acting? No. The scene went on about 2 or 3 seconds too long, that's all. But then again, separating her from the Doctor was a mistake anyway. I would've loved to have seen their partnership again, or, barring that, her work through a problem with Donna, or whatever. The possibilities were endless. But the easy way out was chosen. Okay, okay, her function was to humanize the aliens I suppose. But that would have been a little easier for her if the famed "TARDIS translation circuts" had been working.
As for the Doctor's psyche, we did get some good stuff. He tells Donna that "I've been a father before" almost like it's a throwaway line, but it's totally in character. It was, after all, the second Doctor who basically said he represses any memories of his family the minute they surface. His early rejection of Jenny is a bit out of character for this Doctor though. She's an "echo", while the Time Lords "were so much more". Have some compassion for this woman Doctor! She had no say in her creation after all.
Donna continues to do a decent job, but I could do without her righteous indignation. This is two weeks in a row now. In The Sontaran Strategem it was some crack about Guantanamo Bay (fair enough) and this week it's "G.I. Jane". Enough already. In fairness though, Donna is turning out to be a good companion. It gets better as the season progresses, and I'm convinced that the character of Donna Noble is the biggest "F*&!# You!" that Russell T. Davies has ever thrown out at his audience. Anyone who has seen Journey's End knows what I'm talking about. I will wait until the one year spoiler rule expires before hurling my invective at that big piece of trash. Suffice to say, she convincingly tries to peel off the layers of protection that the Doctor has surrounded himself in. She does as well as anyone could expect.
There's also a nice little twist about the length of the war between the Hath and Humans, but the final scenes are of the same let down/cop out variety that is shamefully becoming the formula for the series. The whole thing about the "source"? I guess the source does its work by listening to shouty, moralizing speeches and being thrown to the ground. Then everyone comes to their senses, except for the old, grizzled general who does what he does, not through any convincing motivation, but because that's what the plot NEEDS him to do. And his actions lead to what I consider to be possibly the most unfulfilling scene I've witnessed in the show.
Please, bear with me here. The thoughts expressed in the next paragraph are something of a confused jumble. But in the weeks since this episode aired I still can't make heads or tails of it.
I never, ever, ever, ever want to see the Doctor hold the power of life and death over someone the way he did, especially when that someone is on his knees and powerless. I don't care if he's trying to prove a point, or if it's meant to make us think that he's just that angry. He could commit genocide against the Daleks, or imprison the family of blood, or hold a gun to the head of Davros, or whatever, but the image we're shown has much more impact because we SEE the face of the man. Now, I like moral ambiguity. I love it, in fact. But there's a difference here. The Doctor in these few seconds, sinks pretty low to make his case.
What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that I am of two minds about it. One side says "Don't do this. This is the Doctor, after all. He wouldn't do that." The other side wishes Russell had taken the image and run with it. Let's see the Doctor really enraged and looking into the abyss in a way that Colin or Christopher never did. Or better yet, just don't do it at all. Don't set up something like this and then pull back. "I wouldn't"? You already did it. You let Gallifrey burn, and they were more family to you than Jenny. At the end of this story, the whole concept sits there like taking a heavy chaser after a light drink. Doesn't fit.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that, in terms of tone, this episode is all over the map. Take the scene I just described and now watch the final two minutes and you'll know what I'm talking about. But, then again, it basically encapsulates what's going wrong with the show in the first two thirds of series four. We get close to something of substance, then we pull back. The Doctor gets a clever dig in to Donna in The Planet of the Ood about sweatshops, then pulls back just before he can make a thought-provoking, relevant point. In The Fires of Pompeii, we get the choice, a gut wrenching one, but we pull back, and get the ending we got just so we can feel a little better. We take a fascinating, real life mystery, the bees disappearing, and we get... The Stolen Earth.
But this isn't the Saward universe any more. The Doctor doesn't get to do anything hard, or make the tough call, and then live with the hurt that comes afterwards. He doesn't get to live a realistic, untidy life anymore. If there is something that he regrets, that haunts him, it probably has to do with the Time War, an event that started as a creative way to clean the slate but now basically exists only to remind us every now and then how lonely/hurt/martyred he is. The Doctor supposedly did terrible things during the war, not that we'll ever know. We have to settle for stories like these instead. The Doctor's emotional investment in Jenny was about 15 minutes old at the story's climax. It doesn't count. And even if it did, does it really matter? It'll be forgotten before anyone can say "Agatha Christie".
Wasted premise. On so many levels.
The Doctor's What? by Andrew Feryok 23/2/09
I was dreading watching this episode as soon as I heard its title in Doctor Who Magazine way back when. While the idea of the Doctor having a daughter is certainly an interesting way to explore his background, it doesn't exactly stand out as appealing due to the show's track record of turning any piece of characterization into a never-ending soap opera for the character. By introducing a daughter for the Doctor, we are now going to be labored with his role as a father and why he's been neglecting his daughter and all sorts of other soapy information instead of getting on with telling an exciting story.
But now that I've finished the episode, I was surprised how much I liked it! It certainly was not what I was expecting. Jenny, his 'daughter' is actually a child born from a machine that a group of rebels hook the Doctor to and steal his DNA. This negates any possibility of ugly bad relationships from the past and instead takes the idea into a totally different direction: the fact that the Doctor now has to decide whether Jenny truly is his daughter or not, and what to do with her if he decides she is. As he mentions in the episode, he left fatherhood behind many regenerations ago. The idea of being thrust back into that role is not the most appealing. And, given this incarnation's cavalier attitude, running around snogging pretty women and doing whatever the heck he wants, the idea of being tied down by family must be terrifying to him!
Jenny comes off remarkably well and Georgia Moffett does a magnificent job in the role. Before watching this, I only knew her as 'Peter Davison's daughter.' Now I realize that she is a wonderful actress in her own right! Acting talent does seem to run in this family! She's knockout gorgeous and her presence helps propel what is otherwise a run-of-the-mill adventure. She comes across almost like a Leela character with the Doctor having to curb her violent tendencies and teach her a bit of humanity. Although his whole lesson of "you always have a choice" ends up being a bit hokey and Star Trek-y.
Wouldn't it have been an interesting TARDIS crew with the Doctor, Donna and Jenny? For the first time since the days of William Hartnell we would have had a family in the TARDIS. Numerous characters have already mentioned how Donna seems like his wife and indeed her relationship with the Doctor is much more mature than the teenage pining we've had from the last two (a few squeals from Donna aside). And the way in which Donna looks after Jenny throughout the episode, and accepts her as the Doctor's daughter much more readily than the Doctor does, turns her almost into a surrogate mother for Jenny. It's a shame that Russell T. Davies was more concerned with giving us a "James Bond", womanizing Doctor because I think this would have made an interesting and family-oriented TARDIS crew.
Martha is totally unnecessary in this story. While I liked her as a companion in Season 3, she doesn't seem to be doing very well this season. All her worst aspects (the pining for the Doctor who doesn't care about her) are being accentuated and she's become a mere shadow of the companion she once was. But, these things aside, she was not necessary at all in this story. In fact, the whole opening where the TARDIS appears to kidnap them all is totally inexplicable and rather convenient for the story. It simply seems like a tactic to kidnap Martha and include her in the story. But she really only serves two purposes. One: to give the Doctor a motivation to get back to where they arrived, which is totally superfluous because they could have simply had him want to get back to his ship which he is separated from. Two: to show that the Hurth are not as bad as they initially seem. Again this could have been easily worked out elsewhere with the Doctor, Donna and Jenny befriending a Hurth along the way to the heart of the colony, or simply save it as a shock revelation for the end of the story. This just leaves Martha's journey over the surface of the planet, which is totally unnecessary and only serves to pad out the story. And then we get YET ANOTHER leaving scene for Martha at the end of the story. Just how many times is the Doctor going to tearfully say goodbye to his former companions? I think Donna got it right when she tricked the Doctor into giving her a tearful farewell in The Sontaran Stratagem and then pulled the rug out from under him in revealing that she just wanted to get a compliment out of him and had no intention of leaving!
As for the rest of the story, it's not that bad. It's not that good either. The best part is towards the end when the truth about the colony and its war is revealed. The fact that it is Donna who works out the true nature of the colony through some keen mathematics finally shows us a companion who is capable of helping the Doctor instead of trying to get in his pants. It's also nice that they show the human colony to be the true monsters and the monsters to be nice guys, which is very old-school Doctor Who.
If there is any overtly bad aspect to the story it is the very beginning and very end. I've already mentioned the inexplicable manner in which the TARDIS kidnaps the time travelers. It's made even more ridiculous when the ship conveniently lands near some rebels and their convenient cloning machine. They grab the Doctor (and no one else for whatever reason) and instantly clone him a daughter who steps out with commando gun, makeup and Matrix-like knowledge of everything she'll need to know to be a citizen of the colony and a soldier. What? Huh? Was someone trying to cram too much into the opening of the story?
And then we have the end. The story comes to a rather poignant end in which Jenny dies and the Doctor very nearly snaps because he's become so attached to her. But of course, Russell T. can't end on a poignant note. Oh no. This show has to be cheerful, silly, and happy! So, naturally, Jenny comes back to life, jumps into the nearest rocket, and blasts off into space, comic-book-style to save the universe. What? Huh? That totally spoils the power of the ending! If he wanted to leave the possibility of her coming back to life without jeopardizing the poignancy of the ending, he could have just closed the story on a shot of time mist coming out of the mouth of her corpse instead of having her cheerfully bounce back to life.
On the whole, this story was pretty good. It's not perfect by any means, as I've just ranted about above. It's a shame that they didn't keep a TARDIS team of the Doctor, Donna and Jenny, but at least we can enjoy this team for one story. The Hurth look great, the story is well-thought-out with some twists, and the relationship between the Doctor and Jenny is fascinating. It's just a shame it had a stupid pre-credits sequence and a spoilt conclusion. But, as far as Tennant episodes go, I actually have a desire to re-watch the story! In fact, I will... 8/10