5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
Want us to let you know when we post a new review? Click here to join our mailing list.
THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER
It's funny sometimes, Doctor Who. An episode can seem one way, then you watch it again and it looks totally different.
And that's the case with The Doctor's Daughter in spades. When we first saw it, although it was obviously bollocks in both conception and execution, we thought it also had some redeeming features. Why, the first half, provided you checked your brain at the door, was positively entertaining.
Then we watched it again. That was a mistake.
Often, when we see an episode a second time, its virtues become more apparent. Not this time, though. With the sometimes zippy dialogue deprived of its surprise value, the sheer dreadfulness came to the fore. While we weren't looking, someone had sneaked in and replaced the episode with a mountain of bollocks so high we couldn't see the summit.
Even though it was hard the second time to figure out what we'd ever seen in it, we want to be fair. Here we go, being fair. Just you watch.
Well, like we said, some of the dialogue is terrific, sometimes in the writing, sometimes in the delivery, sometimes in both. "Seriously, there's an outrageous amount of running involved." "I'd like to see you try that." "I'm not his woman." "That's not mood lighting, is it?" Not coincidentally, these are all Catherine Tate lines: when she's not being gloopily sentimental over Jenny ("And Jenny - she's fine too." Why would Martha, who'd met Jenny for about three nanoseconds, care?) she's in even excellenter than usual form. Apart from being hilarious, she's also on to it: although we're surprised the Doctor pays so little attention to the numbers, it's splendid to see Donna working it out for herself.
It's also got some superbly played scenes from the Doctor. We've rattled on at tedious length about how much more powerful this Doctor is when he underplays instead of ranting, and The Doctor's Daughter is about the best demonstration of that we could hope for. Yet again the Doctor gets all moody about the Time War: it's repetitive, and the dialogue's pretty obvious, but David Tennant rescues it heroically. His magnificently tamped-down delivery transforms the mundane lines and gives them a real power. Fantastic.
And Little Miss Moffett, the real-deal Doctor's daughter, while she's never going to win the struggle with such a terrible character at least comes out of it with honour. The guard seduction might be horrifically clichéd, but she does it with panache, and we like the way she manages to stop the Doctor in his tracks. She's also very pretty, which doesn't mean much to us but we're sure is a big plus for many of you.
Also, it's on another planet. That's very good to see.
What else? Oh yes, the clockwork mouse. How Doctorly is that? We were sadder about its untimely expiry than we were about all the other deaths put together.
Right, we can stop being fair now. Because the rest of it is excruciating.
This whole Doctor's daughter thing, for a start. Think of how many interesting directions they could have taken that in. Instead, they come up with the blandest, dullest interpretation possible. Then if that isn't bad enough they proceed to crush whatever struggling seed of life there is into tiny, tiny pieces. The couture-and-eyeliner-providing machine pre-programs them only with military stuff, right? So how does she recognise that Who's the daddy? (That father-daughter thing has a bit of a creepy vibe, too, considering that Georgia Moffett and David Tennant are now married. Sorry, but ew.)
Then from Rambo-style military drone, Jenny suddenly switches to hippy-dippy pacifist. How did that happen again? Yes, her genes are on her side, but everything she knows is pro-war. However, one mini-lecture from the Doctor about choice is enough to make her stare at her gun with an adorably furrowed forehead, flip her entire world view and leave her with no doubts whatsoever about her new path. We know the Doctor's good, but he's not that good.
Then she dies. Or does she? Well, no, naturally, because she's a Time Lord, but apparently Martha knows better. (When did the Doctor start taking notes from her on regeneration?) So while the rest of us are tapping our fingers and humming, waiting for the inevitable regeneration to take place, they do one of the most clichéd death scenes ever ("Talk to me, Jenny!") which is all too reminiscent of the Master's death scene in Last Of The Time Lords (sorry to retraumatise you). Except that with the Master, his old enemy and a stone cold killer, he tries over and over to win him back to the light side on the basis that they're the last two Time Lords left over.
Jenny's a Time Lord, too. But not only does he repudiate her completely until he hears her two heartbeats (bit narcissistic, isn't it?), he tells her she's not in the proper Time Lords' club. Well, excuse us, but we didn't notice the Master having much of a code or doing any suffering, but the Doctor seems prepared to overlook that little detail. Poor Jenny, on the other hand, hasn't tried to take over even one single planet, but having her around makes the Doctor too mopey. Until she's dying, that is, which is just a wee bit too late.
Having finally got in touch with his paternal feelings over his daughter's corpse, the Doctor doesn't even stick around for her funeral. Nice. (Why does she even have a funeral when everybody else presumably dies and is kicked out of the way?) Shame, really, because if he had he would have seen the only Time Lord in history to reboot her own body zooming off in the HMS Spinoff to conquer the universe. (A very small bit of it, anyway - it's only a shuttle, after all.) What a mess. It's not even original: the Fourth Doctor had exactly the same "don't hurt anyone" relationship with Leela, and the Doctor's standoffishness is just like Other Pete and Rose. And the flipping through the beams is lifted wholesale from Britney Spears's Toxic video, which considering Toxic's appearance in The End Of The World is not as startling as it should be.
(Edit: Bruce Probst writes to raise the question of whether Jenny is actually a Time Lord at all, advancing the theory that Jenny doesn't regenerate but is actually forcibly terraformed back to life. And he might well be right. That invites a barrage of new questions: as Bruce says, does that mean that all the other dead soldiers cluttering up the place were resurrected too? If not, why not? Bruce's points also made us realise that we have absolutely zero clue what it is that makes a Gallifreyan into a Time Lord. Born that way? If so, why are the offspring of Time Lords not all Time Lords? Susan isn't, after all. We think. But then we don't know anything about her parents. Or her grandmother, come to that. Maybe they get Time Lordified by some special machine? You'd think after umpteen series, we'd be a bit clearer on this point.)
And that's not the worst part. That would be the whole colony/fish/copies/seven days fiasco. What were they thinking?
Well, we dunno, but here's our bet: they fell totally, utterly in love with the seven days concept, to the extent that they didn't care if it made everything else utter garbage. Which it does.
Where do we start? How about with the world's worst paint manufacturer, whose paint peels off in sheets in less than a week? Or the world's worst robot drone manufacturer, whose drones build stuff that looks old and tired in days?
And speaking of old and tired, haven't we been this way before? It's come up more than once in classic Who, but the episode it most strongly mimics is The Face Of Evil. Factions based on an original spaceship crew. Garbled history. Violent girl. The difference being, however, that the twist in Face Of Evil is genuinely brilliant and adds a whole new dimension to the story.
And about that original crew - did none of them survive? Did none of each succeeding generation survive either? And didn't any of them write anything down? Because that's the only way the garbled history thing could work (and even then we have serious doubts).
Why did the machines produce an old guy? Why is his oo-arr accent so different from everybody else's? And why does he say "I've waited all my life for this"? Yes, it's literally true, but if he's only a few hours old it seems a very unlikely thing to say. And how were the "Hath promises" he talks about transmitted if they can't understand the Hath now?
Ah, yes, the Hath. What a wasted opportunity they are. Potentially interesting new species, and all we see of them is a bit of bubbling and Martha treating them just a little too much like pets. (We bet she had a goldfish as a kid. We bet it died, too.) And guess what? All of them died in every generation as well. Amazing. What are the odds?
All of that, just so they can shove in the seven day wheeze. But here's what we want to know: what difference does it make? Yes, it's a big reveal and all, but what's the point? What does it change? The war's just as futile and pointless waged over days as over hundreds of years, isn't it? And the garbled history just as much of a tragedy? It's a twist for a twist's sake.
But courage, nos amis, because all is not lost. The Doctor is on hand to bring peace, love and joy to all, because he knows a terraformer when he sees one. Why it needs to put out little tendrils to "help keep it stable" we're not sure - that can't be terribly convenient on a spaceship. Nor are we sure why they pack them in rather fragile glass: could be a bit awkward if you hadn't meant to terraform a planet at that particular moment.
But those are not the most puzzling things about the terraformer. Even more mysterious is the way they all lay down their arms when the Doctor sets the thing a-flowering. It's that amazing power of persuasion of his again, isn't it? All he has to do is tell them that their history is Chinese whispers and that's enough to wipe out generations of rancour. But why would it? The reason the fight started in the first place was nothing to do with why they were there: it was because of the power vacuum. They couldn’t decide who was going to be leader, and that caused the humans and Hath to split into factions. How does the revelation of the terraformer change anything about that?
It's just so dumb. Dumb trying to force a big story into a single episode. Dumb making everything idiotic just to accommodate the seven day whoopee cushion. Dumb having a security system that shows you where the beams are. Dumb showing the Doctor and friends only just ahead of a mob baying for their blood yet wandering lackadaisically along idly swapping stories about space travel.
And aside from Donna's zingers, the script's dumb too. We feel for Nigel Terry, an actor with heavyweight credentials, struggling with lines like "What is this? Some kind of trap?" and "Come the dawn cycle, we march!" And the Doctor's "man who never would" speech is no doubt meant to be thrillingly heroic, but instead is just squirmy. We've remarked ad nauseam about the Doctor's hypocrisy when it comes to guns, so there's no need to go through it again. All we can say is: yeah, right.
Then there's Martha. And if she seems awkwardly tacked on, it's because that's exactly what she is in this episode. Why would the Hath take her prisoner in the first place? Why does she have initial trouble talking to the Hath - what's wrong with the TARDIS translation circuits? Yes, it's a nice, doctorly and almost Doctorly moment for her when she fixes the Hath's shoulder - or it would be if it weren't done with such a broad brush. And the drowning scene, dear God. It's not just because they drown a fish in it either: let's be charitable and assume the liquid was inimical to life, shall we? It's because - sorry, Freema - she was simply appalling in it. From the shrieking in the pond to the sobbing, it exposes her weaknesses as an actor in the worst possible way.
We were sorry to see Martha go initially, but now we're wondering - why did they bring her back at all? In the interim, her emotional connection with the Doctor's gone; there's nothing left for her to do or resolve. No wonder she feels like a third wheel.
There are the seeds of a good story in here. Given enough room, a better script and a considerable dollop of common sense in the plotting, this could have been quite creditable. Instead, it's sleeping with the fishes.
MORAL: Write it down.
SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SANDWICHES
All those soldiers are men, aren't they? Why is Jenny the only woman?
How come Donna and the Doctor can't hear both hearts through the stethoscope at once?
So Martha's in the pond, and the Hath jumps in after her (obviously landing on the bottom before it turns around, but never mind, pretend you didn't see that). It then hurfs Martha onto the bank before glugging slowly out of sight. So if it can't touch the bottom, which naturally it can't if it drowns, how does it get the purchase to heave Martha around?
What was that security field doing in there anyway? It's about as random and un-plot-driven as a video game.
Yes, yes, they created the world in seven days. Enough with the theology already. It's about as subtle as Borat's thong.