Doctor Who - Smith & Jones
Judoon Platoon Upon The Moon...
And so after the most frustrating months of possibly my entire life, it was quivering with excitement that I sat down on Saturday night to watch the return of Doctor Who. But did it deliver? The short answer is, yes. It was honestly probably the best thing that has happened to me in 2007 thus far, including sex. It should be pointed out that a non-hyperbolic review of any episode of this series is unlikely to come from me, but I'm not blinded to the shows faults. It's just that I've loved it for longer than I can remember (when I get married I'm going to have my VHS copy of The Curse Of Fenric melted down and turned into a top hat to wear), so when it's good I'm rapturous with joy and when it's bad I feel like the wife in Nil By Mouth, if I'm thinking of the right film. The one where he hits his wife, anyway.
I doubt anyone reading this hasn't seen the episode, but nonetheless, here's a wee plot recap and warning that spoilers may ensue. A hospital in central London gets transported to the Moon by the Judoon, a kind of intergalactic police hunting the "Plasmavore" (a humanoid vampire alien thing) who's taken refuge in the hospital. The Doctor gets caught up in all this, and saves the day. Spoilers follow.
Tennant is on great form, clearly far more settled into the role than previously. He seems more relaxed, despite doing just as much manic hopping about as ever before. However, he's started to exude a really powerful sense of other worldliness, like Tom Baker at his peak, without reducing the energy and humour that define him in the role. Essentially, he's stopped making jokes about Kylie. I have no problem whatsoever with the need to ground the programme right in the present, with populist references, broad humour and suchlike. What has irked in the past was having some of these qualities awkwardly thrust upon the Doctor himself. Like when he sang the theme tune from "Ghostbusters" in Army Of Ghosts and I got so angry I smashed my television screen to bits with a chair leg and then went to live in the wilderness, living off the forest for a few months while I calmed down. This series hasn't notably turned down the broadness yet, with gags like "Where's he from? Planet Zovirax?" but crucially they're left for the other characters while the Doctor does what he does best. Like the episode New Earth before it but in a much better fashion, this episode refreshes the viewer by giving Tennant a chance to be the mysterious Doctor, the silly Doctor, the emotional Doctor, the callous Doctor, the barmy energetic Doctor, the angry Doctor and the noble Doctor in rapid succession. He's really wonderful company to spend 45 minutes in, and his spiffy new suit looks pretty good too. Although, not with the brown overcoat so much. Bit too clashy.
Whereas the first episodes of both the previous series have had to introduce a new Doctor, we're all more than familiar with the concepts involved this time around, and so the Doctor gets to briefly replace his companion as the "audience surrogate", all but winking at us every time Martha discovers something new about him. Her entrance into the Tardis is particularly enjoyable, and the ship itself has never looked better. Compared to the interior Tardis shots in the first series, which were all green lights and bicycle pumps, the Tardis now looks golden and huge and real and majestic. Most importantly of course, Martha is absolutely gorgeous, with a terrific arse, and already I don't miss Billie Piper. But then, she was tooth-grindingly irritating at points last series, much as I was sort of in love with her too. Martha's family are inevitably included in events, what with this being new Who, and though they're hardly highlights the scenes featuring them aren't too bad. The Tylers went on to serve the plot in interesting ways, and given the quality of the actors playing the Joneses, I'm sure they won't just be having boring arguments all series. Also, are we allowed to talk about them being black? Because nobody in the programme made the slightest reference to it once, and it was highly refreshing. Not a cliché among them (by comparison, Skins recently featured a black character whose function was to talk in a funny, utterly indecipherable rapper voice and cop off with the other black character in the last 5 minutes of the last episode). There are clear differences between Martha and Rose, and it highlights how young Rose was, in retrospect. It's something that didn't really occur to me at the time, but Martha is far more self-posessed, saucy and confident, and clearly wants to make squidge-boom with a Time Lord.
The other thing about the first episodes of previous series is of course that they were really shit. While Rose had one or two lovely moments (mostly Eccleston's lines) it was poorly directed, badly paced, a stuttering mess. New Earth wasn't much better, really. Really, where New Who has thus far excelled is when it's good enough to make you forget your reservations. This time, I just plain old didn't have any. The music is much better, and sounds like it's been mixed by professionals, rather than a baboon in boxing gloves. The effects were just gorgeous throughout. The script made sense. It was as scary as it was funny. It was sprinkled with super-intruiging lines like "a brother? No, not anymore..." and as much as it probably made kids shit themselves with excitement, it didn't feel like kids' television. Finally, this series has the balls to achieve its potential and ambition. If this is the sort of quality we can expect from the RTD episodes (previously those which I found myself sort of dreading) then colour me literally dead with excitement. Look, I've died. I was so excited about the rest of this series of Doctor Who, I've genuinely died. Aaargh! Avenge me! But seriously, seeing how slick the production has become both aesthetically (the budget has either increased or they're just really good at using it) and in terms of ironing the clangers out of the scripts, it's pretty hard to imagine them coughing out another Slitheen-quality episode.
There's absolutely tons crammed into the plot, but where the scatterbrained plot undermined the scale of events in The Runaway Bride, Smith & Jones takes one bonkers conceit (it's a hospital, on the moon!) rather than The Runaway Brides twenty-five or so and then zips along breathlessly to its conclusion. It's testament to the impact of the design of the Judoon that I didn't notice until afterwards that we'd only actually seen one of them remove their helmet - they're sort of Goth Rhino Attack Squad, a clear instance of the writers realising they needed some kind of intergalactic Police Force and then going with the most bananas idea they could think of. It's the kind of confident, bold, ambitious silliness, just the right side of self-reference, that makes Doctor Who at it's best really pop. I think Nicholas Briggs (who voices the Judoon) might be my new favourite actor, too. He was absolutely hilarious on the Who-themed episode of The Weakest Link. Him saying "I did an eenie meenie miney mo" in the Dalek voice was priceless (if you happen to be a dead spoddy Doctor Who fan, I suppose).
Obviously, it's not completely and utterly perfect. The blood-sucking wasn't quite as terrifying as it ought to have been - while (as has been written elsewhere) the thought of children chasing eachother around with straws is enjoyable and reminds us what is great about Doctor Who, there was no fucking mark on his neck after she'd sucked him dry, and since when can Doctor Who survive having *all of the blood sucked out of his body and actually dying*? Surely a line of expository dialogue to confirm that he had super I don't need any blood power wouldn't have gone amiss. And you know, it was a bit of damp fart when he just *un-plugged* the giant MRI machine that was going to fry the planet. But Smith & Jones is such a bolshy introduction to the new series that it's hard not to be caught up in it's enthusiasm. It's as buoyant and joyous as Doctor Who has ever been, and has a certain eagerness to make the most of it's own existence that can only bode well for the audience, and completely erases any memories of the complacency that dogged some parts of the previous series. The final scene, wherein The Doctor offers Martha "just one" trip in the Tardis to thank her for saving his life before unconvincingly telling her he prefers to travel alone, has echoes of one of the few decent bits in Fear Her where the Doctor told Rose that the most important thing to have when travelling across the Universe was a hand to hold. Similarly, when The Doctor recalls a gag from New Earth by commenting on the shop in the hospital, it retrospectively and by association makes those episodes seem sort of less shit.
Just a thought, not much to do with Doctor Who, but I think this whole "Clear World Debt" thing would be solved in literally minutes if instead of raising money by having crap telethons and getting Lenny Henry's red suit out of mothballs, celebrities offered to take their clothes off once a certain amount had been raised. Perhaps £300,000 for Paxman's cock, or a cool million to see Sarah Beanie's pubes. Perhaps if we did entirely clear world debt, we'd get to see some kind of massive nude celebrity orgy. I'd take out a really inadvisably large bank loan, or perhaps a loan from some actual loan sharks, if Freema would get her arse out on the telly. It'd be great. Don't you think? Come on Freema, get your arse out on the telly and clear third world debt, you beautiful thing you. Let's have a baby and call it Doctor Who!