Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Smith and Jones

doctor who smith and jones review title card title sequence anne reid roy marsden russell t davies charles palmer david tennant martha jones

We’re on the moon. We’re on the bloody moon!

Back once more with another series of Doctor Who reviews, this time I’m looking at Smith and Jones. We’re quite firmly entrenched in the period of Doctor Who that I remember, and was an active fan for – not that I’ve ever been an inactive fan, I suppose, but this is definitely an era that I recall fondly. Actually, probably quite a lot of my Who-watching memories are from around this point – if not the material substance of the episodes, a lot about what surrounded them.

For this episode, it’s those publicity photos – David Tennant in the flowery shirt for Freema Agyeman’s casting announcement, and of course the picture below of the Doctor (in a blue suit!) and Martha on the hospital roof building. It’s also the DWA previews, and discussing the episode with my friends on the Monday morning (the teacher told us off for dawdling after assembly). Oh, and the episode of Doctor Who Confidential that accompanied it, where they talk about how David Tennant suggested the Doctor could mouth “it’s bigger on the inside” as Martha said it.

All of the above, admittedly, has absolutely nothing to do with the actual episode itself. But I find it interesting to try and contextualise these episodes in terms of how I would have experienced them the first go around; after all, I suspect that this whole age based re-evaluation of the episodes is the most unique angle I’ve got going for these reviews, so I should probably lean into it a little more.

It’s quite interesting to try and remember what I thought of the episodes on their first broadcast – in lieu of any detailed notes or reviews (those didn’t really start until series 7a) I’m really only going on hazy recollection. And, to be honest, I liked basically every episode of Doctor Who back in the day (the first one I remember feeling genuinely let down over was Midnight, but we’ll get to that next year) so there’s not exactly much of a view to counter.

But then, I guess, that’s probably the theme of these reviews in a nutshell anyway – is the thing I’ve loved for most of my life (indeed, loved for longer than I haven’t) actually as good as I thought it was? Is it as good as I want it to be? Or has all of this just been a bit of a waste of time really?

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The most interesting thing about this episode is Martha. Obviously, it is, because this is her debut episode, and she’s the new companion – although, rather crucially, she’s also the first new companion. That can be difficult to remember sometimes, I suspect, because we’re looking back on this episode with the lens of history – five more companions down the line, this sort of cast change is clearly part of Doctor Who. But after so long of the show having been Rose’s programme, really moreso even that it was the Doctor’s, this could be quite a jarring shift.

And I think, generally, the consensus is that Martha is a bit of a problem companion; the one who never worked, exactly. I’ve always felt that’s unfair, and at times I’ve referred to her as one of my favourite companions for that very reason – I love all of Doctor Who, and I’ll champion even the bits people are less fond of. (This, I suspect, is also part of the reason why I’ve said the Sixth is my favourite Doctor, and Love & Monsters my favourite episode.)

While I’ve generally re-evaluated this stance – albeit to more or less reject the choosing of favourites altogether – I am still quite fond of Martha. And quite interested in her status as a problem companion, because I remain largely unconvinced that’s actually correct.

One critique I remember in particular was of Martha’s introduction, and the phone call to her family – basically suggesting it was unwieldy and overly complicated. I’d reject that entirely; as a piece of shorthand across one scene, it’s actually a really effective way to create a deft sketch of who Martha is as a person. In some ways, it tells us as much about her as the montage at the beginning of Rose did about Rose; we can see Martha’s the mediator in her family, which in turn shows us different sides of her character. Then at the hospital, we’re seeing different sides to her again – it’s a really nice way of giving us a character who’s quite well rounded. Yes, it’s still only a starting point, but very quickly Martha’s gone from someone entirely new to a character we’ve got a decent sense of.

The other interesting part about Martha – and this is far from a new observation – is that she’s being set up as a direct mirror to the Doctor. He’s a Doctor, she’s a medical student. It’s an interesting mirror that presents a lot of potential across the rest of the series, in terms of her development as a character. Crucially, and this adds to those parallels, Martha is also a character who’s from a sci-fi world in a way that Rose wasn’t; understandably, because the audience is a lot more used to sci-fi than they would have been in 2005. Martha comes along and she’s from the Doctor’s world; when she references the Battle of Canary Wharf and aliens and so on, it’s because she’s someone who has lived in Doctor Who for the past few years.

So, yes, I think this is quite a good introductory episode for Martha. Her character is grounded quite well; she’s someone who’s going to make a good companion, and that’s her starting point. She gets how to do it – she’s going to become a Doctor herself. She’s going to earn that title; her arc is clear from here on. And the potential, moving forward, is exciting.

(Admittedly, yes, there’s a few scenes in which Freema Agyeman’s performance is a bit patchy, but I’d stress that is only a few scenes; for most of the episode, she’s great. I checked online, and this was the first episode she filmed – so it’s understandable that she’s not quite getting into the part completely yet. And also, just to address the other perennial concern – I wasn’t particularly impressed by the kiss in this episode, no. Not this time, or when I was 8! I did like Martha’s teasing flirting with the Doctor at the end though. More on all this in the coming weeks, of course.)

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In terms of the rest of the episode, I was surprised at how fast paced it was. I don’t ever particularly remember these episodes as being that fast paced, but they rattle along surprisingly quickly. In some respects, I think it’s probably because of all the criticisms that have cropped up in the last few years about Doctor Who being too fast paced, or not letting everything breathe enough – you forget that the show has been fast paced for a very long time.

Which isn’t to say, incidentally, that Smith and Jones doesn’t let the episode breathe, or is too fast paced; I’d argue it’s actually quite well constructed, as an episode. While it might rattle along very quickly, it does so in such a way that it’s quite economical with the script – there’s almost a ruthless precision in terms of how it moves.

Certainly, the piece is structured very well, and makes a nice implicit distinction between the monsters (the Judoon) and the villain (Mrs Finnegan). It moves between plot beats quite effectively, setting them up in a nice, almost Chekhovian way – Mrs Finnegan drinking the Doctor’s blood is a clever conceit, particularly as the episode allows Martha to figure it out just ahead of the audience, again cementing her as a good companion. (We can see another mirror to the Doctor as Martha arguably makes a similar sacrifice to him, giving up the last of her oxygen – potentially dying – to save him. Admittedly, that this was only so the Doctor could unplug the MRI does cheapen it a little.)

In fact, Mrs Finnegan is a rather wonderful character, because of how utterly perverse she is; the defining aspect of her villainy is the same juxtaposition of the mundane and the otherworldly that gave us a hospital on the moon. That an innocuous old woman, seemingly harmless, can be so dangerous is part of the frisson of her character – particularly when you throw the bendy straw into the mix. Actually, that straw is fantastic, because it grounds the horror in a more mundane way, yet at the same time being quite gleefully sickening. So, yes, Mrs Finnegan is a particularly perverse villain (especially considering her “she was asking for it” speech to justify her actions) and a very effective antagonist for the episode, even if everyone does only ever remember the Judoon.

So! Smith and Jones. It’s actually a very good episode; while I’ll concede that it wasn’t brilliant in places, it clearly demonstrates that Doctor Who can continue without Rose. And – more to the point – it demonstrates that I wasn’t so wrong to like this show, all those years ago.

8/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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Broadchurch episode 5 – all the clues you might have missed

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With another new episode of Broadchurch, the case continues to unfold.

There’s still little sign of the net closing around one particular person – in fact, Broadchurch threw us a curveball this episode, with the implication that the attacker is someone entirely new that we’ve not yet seen before.

It’ll be a while still before we can be certain who did it – but for now, consider these potential suspects.

Another article on Broadchurch for the Metro.

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3 Things I want to see from Doctor Who Series 10

doctor who series 10 steven moffat pearl mackie bill potts nardole matt lucas twelfth doctor peter capaldi

As far as I’m concerned, Doctor Who should be a show that’s constantly reinventing itself – much as the TARDIS takes its occupants somewhere new each week, so should the show give its audience something new each week. Strange new worlds, exciting characters, innovative stories – Doctor Who should always try to be pushing the boundary of genre television. After having seen a lot of Doctor Who, I’m always on the lookout for something I’ve never seen from the show before.

A few thoughts on what I’d like to see from the next series of Doctor Who, inspired by an article from one of my Metro colleagues.

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Is a sequel to The Night Manager a good idea?

the night manager tom hiddleston hugh laurie olivia colman tom hollander elizabeth debicki bbc one hd john le carre

For one thing, one has to consider the integrity of the piece – given the ending of the first series, what reason is there to reunite our three leads again? It’s obvious that this is happening because of the success of the first series, and it’d be churlish to denigrate the follow-up on that basis – but the question as to whether it’s the only reason for a sequel is worth asking nonetheless.

Perhaps I’m just biased – after all, I was one of the few people who didn’t love The Night Manager, or even particularly like it. From the nasty fridging as the show began, to the thin writing and poor characterisation of Tom Hiddleston’s Jonathon Pine, there were quite a few flaws to the show that stood in the way of my enjoyment of it. And, indeed, they continue to stand in the way of my interest in a sequel.

Short answer: Probably not.

Long answer? Well…

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Broadchurch episode 4 – Who attacked Trish? Here are all the clues you might have missed

broadchurch season 3 david tennant olivia colman charlie higson chris chibnall trish attacked suspects

With another new episode of Broadchurch, the case continues to unfold, and become murkier than ever.

There’s still little sign of the net closing in around one particular person – Broadchurch is still quite resolutely keeping the suspects ambiguous, with plenty of contrasting evidence to suggest different people.

It’ll be a while still before we can be certain who did it – but for now, here’s is how these potential suspects are shaping up.

Another article on Broadchurch for the Metro.

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How accurate was BBC One’s alternate history thriller SS-GB?

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It’s the BBC’s answer to The Man In The High Castle – an adaptation of a popular novel that posits an alternate reality where the Nazis won World War Two.

SS-GB has been a high stakes thriller – but just how accurate was it? If the Nazis had occupied Britain would it have looked like this?

Obviously, it isn’t, and was never going to be, massively super accurate, because it’s about a fictional alternate history. So, a clear limit there.

I didn’t even watch the show. Meant to. Never did though. Ifunanya and Zak watched it. I can’t remember which of them liked it. One of them definitely did. I think. Maybe neither did.

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The Inbetweeners reboot could work – with a female cast

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There’s prior form here that gives reason to be sceptical of remaking this particular show – after all, MTV tried their hand at this, giving the world an American iteration that nobody wanted to needed. To be blunt, it wasn’t very good; it’s understandable, then, that one would fear the same happening again. Much of what made the show work the first time around was the chemistry shared by the four leads – if you don’t have that, what’s the point in making yet another show about four teenage guys?

Answer: Don’t make it about four teenage guys. Make it about four teenage girls.

I wrote a post about that Inbetweeners reboot that people have been talking about recently. Basically, the only way it could work is if it were done with four girls. Admittedly, the argument in the post isn’t perhaps so well stated; there’s a lot of things in it that I take for granted, because I’m still working out how to articulate them properly. But I stand by the basic idea nonethless.

(About a year later, give or take, Channel 4 aired Derry Girls, to massive critical acclaim. It’d be oversimplifying massively to liken to The Inbetweeners, or to say that its popularity was just because it was about four girls, but I do think it at least helps to prove the above point a little bit.)

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Where next for Steven Moffat?

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Prior to Doctor Who, much of Moffat’s work was in sitcoms – shows like Joking Apart and Coupling being particularly notable for their semi-autobiographical nature. Might we see something in this vein from Moffat once more – a spiritual successor to Coupling, much like Cucumber was to Queer as Folk, bringing with it a comedic interpretation of the last decade of Moffat’s life? Might it be time for a subversive, satirical workplace comedy, based around the hectic production of one of the biggest shows in the world?

An article pondering about the future of Steven Moffat’s career, because I’m presumptuous like that.

It does seem likely – based on comments that he’s made in interviews and so on – that Moffat will return to comedy, and given that all his previous comedies have been semi-autobiographical, it’s possible they’ll continue in that vein. I think I’ve sort of built up a platonic ideal of Moffat’s future career in my head, with little heed paid to what he might actually want to do. Imagine him casting Mark Gatiss as the lead of the show, a writer helming “Mr X”, the BBC’s most high-profile science fiction programme. It’d be hilarious.

(Of course, not long after leaving Doctor Who, Moffat said he’d do a bit of theatre and then adapt Dracula with Gatiss. And then he wrote a Doctor Who book. So, you know.)

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4 Easter eggs and comic book references you missed in Iron Fist episode 1, Snow Gives Way

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Marvel has released its latest hotly anticipated superhero show, Iron Fist. As ever, it’s packed to the brim with Easter eggs and references to both the source material they adapt and the wider world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Here’s just a few of these references you may have missed.

I’ve done another ‘easter eggs’ article, this time for the premiere episode of Iron Fist. I won’t be doing them for every episode of the show, however, basically because I don’t hate myself enough to watch the entire thing.

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Why are people calling Iron Fist a white saviour, and what does it mean?

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Marvel’s latest Netflix drama Iron Fist released today – but it hasn’t been without controversy. For some time now, the show has been accused of falling into the white saviour narrative trope; from when the show was first announced, to the casting of Finn Jones as Danny Rand, and to the advance reviews, many people have focused on this complaint.

If you’ve been following the show at all, or you’re a fan of Marvel, you’ve probably heard about this. But what does it actually mean?

Here’s an article on Iron Fist, for the Metro.

(An important caveat – the above title is how I pitched the article to Metro. When the article was published, the headline was changed to say “Iron Fist: Marvel could have avoided a ‘white saviour’ and made the Netflix series better”, which I assume was just for the purpose of increasing views and so on. I don’t think this headline reflects the content of the article, which was intended more as an explainer than outright criticism – I haven’t actually watched a single frame of the show outside of trailers at this point. So, keep that in mind here.)

[Of course, another important caveat is that I do actually think Iron Fist should’ve cast an Asian American lead and it likely would have improved it a bit, but that’s not what the above is arguing.]

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