Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Series 3 Overview

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This one is a little (well, a lot) late; no particular excuse really, only that other work got in the way and I didn’t feel as beholden to a specific date for this one as I did the actual reviews themselves (for obvious reasons). Though, interestingly, I notice that I wasn’t on time with the Series 2 retrospective either – I overslept, apparently – and I still haven’t even gone near the Primeval series retrospective. Perhaps I’ll post that ahead of the next series, because I’m absolutely silly enough to try and write about Primeval in depth again.

In any case, though – here’s this year’s episode rankings!

  1. Smith and Jones | Russell T Davies | 8/10
  2. The Shakespeare Code | Gareth Roberts | 7/10
  3. Gridlock | Russell T Davies | 10/10
  4. Daleks in Manhattan | Helen Raynor | 8/10
  5. Evolution of the Daleks | Helen Raynor | 5/10
  6. The Lazarus Experiment | Stephen Greenhorn | 5/10
  7. 42 | Chris Chibnall | 6/10
  8. Human Nature | Paul Cornell | 8/10
  9. The Family of Blood | Paul Cornell | 10/10
  10. Blink | Steven Moffat | 9/10
  11. Utopia | Russell T Davies | 10/10
  12. The Sound of Drums | Russell T Davies | 9/10
  13. Last of the Time Lords | Russell T Davies | 10/10

There is of course also The Runaway Bride, and The Infinite Quest. I don’t tend to count The Runaway Bride as part of series 3 (admittedly an arbitrary choice, yes) so it won’t be on the bar graph below, but I’ll include it in the statistical analysis for interest’s sake. I never watched The Infinite Quest in its omnibus edition, nor did I give it scores at any point – let’s say it was probably a 4/10, though. I’m not going to include it in the statistical analysis, though, because that’s just silly.

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So, as ever, we’ve got the mathematical analysis. (It occurs to me now that this might be the only maths I do for the rest of the year.)

Overall, the series got a score of 105/130; if you include The Runaway Bride, which got 8/10, we reach a total of 113/140. This divides down to a mean score of 8.08/10 per episode (or 8.69/10 if you include The Runaway Bride.) Interestingly, this places Series 3 as the weakest of the revived series so far; admittedly, however, there’s not much in it, given that I gave Series 1 107/130, while series 2 received 108/130 (excluding, of course, The Christmas Invasion; with the inclusion of The Christmas Invasion, Series 2 is able to increase its lead, with a score of 117/140.)

In comparison to the two Peter Capaldi series’ that received this breakdown, series 8 and series 9, Series 3 does come out somewhat better in comparison – series 8 received 7.47/10, while series 9 received 8.83/10. Series three slots neatly between them; I admit, however, I’m not necessarily sure how reflective that is of my current tastes anyway. It’s worth remembering that, in referring back to this old data, my own opinions and perspectives have changed a lot. Indeed, that’s true of just this series – looking back on the grades above, there are a couple of places where I think I was unfair. It’s The Shakespeare Code that sticks out particularly as being too highly graded (although I felt that the next morning after finishing the review, really, when it’s problems stood out more in hindsight) though as ever I’m going to stick with the initial scores in the interests of consistency.

On the face of it this does appear to suggest Series 3 is weaker in quality; I think it’s perhaps worth noting that it has four episodes that scored a 10/10, in comparison to only one in series 2. (Again, that’s interesting; while I agree wholeheartedly with my choice to give that episode a perfect score, I’m surprised I didn’t decide to bestow the same on other episodes.) Series 1 received only two such perfect scores; series 8 received only one, while series 9 received a whopping six perfect scores. (I’m slightly shocked at that in a few cases, actually, though I also don’t know that I could really meaningfully argue against it. Series 9 was a very strong series, though in retrospect I was unfairly kind to the Whithouse episodes.)

In that sense, then, it’s perhaps fair to argue that Series 3 was an inconsistent season, rather than a poor one exactly; certainly, that’s what the dip around the middle indicates. (Those might also have exacerbated one another, frankly – each successive subpar episode feeling more and more like a rut, contributing to overall feelings of negativity.) This can perhaps be attributed to Davies’ reduced involvement on those episodes, because of an illness during that period of the production; equally, though, it could perhaps be contended that it’s more down to how I approached the reviews. Certainly, the more analytical and nuanced reviews, that saw episodes receive lower scores, were ones where I had more time to write; the later instalments, rushed as the were, tended more towards the positive.

On that note, I’d like to highlight Last of the Time Lords and Evolution of the Daleks as being amongst my better reviews of the series; I think 42 was also a stronger one as well. Going forward, I think I might perhaps do well to impose a new, higher word count, given that I find the longer ones are also the stronger ones; equally, though, I might be approaching that from the wrong perspective. In any case, though, I do think I need to work on actually improving the written quality of these reviews, which was to my mind poor in several places.

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Something of a running theme across these reviews has been to say something to the effect of “this episode treats Martha poorly, but that’s less of an issue with the episode itself, and more of one with her overarching series plot”. Here, now, is time to discuss said arc.

And yet it’s rather difficult to say anything particularly incisive, I must admit. Upfront it’s clear and must be said: it doesn’t work. Certainly, I’d contend that it could have – but here, it didn’t. The reasons are well trodden and well understood; the narrative too explicitly positions Martha as second best to Rose, defined in terms of her unrequited love for the Doctor. It’s an unsupported affection at best anyway, really – it grows out of the kiss in Smith and Jones, and it’s pretty firmly in place by The Shakespeare Code. (Which, I must insist again, deserved two or three points knocked off the score I gave it.) But then, consider – The Shakespeare Code is only a few hours after Smith and Jones. By the time of, say, Daleks in Manhattan, where Martha is discussing her crush on the Doctor with the wonderful Tallulah, she’s known him a day or two. Three at the most, I’d say – you can probably reasonably assume Gridlock took place on the same day as the Dalek two parter, given that it seemed to be a fairly ‘short’ episode. It’s just too fast to be a convincing love story.

If you compare that to Rose, it’s clear Martha gets the short shrift; the bond between Rose and the Doctor developed much more slowly, more organically. Certainly, she wasn’t in love with him by The End of the World. When Sarah Jane popped up in School Reunion, it wasn’t all about how Sarah was much better than Rose – which was very much the case whenever Rose was mentioned around Martha. Up to a point, it’s understandable why Rose continued to haunt the narrative of Doctor Who. She had been the main character; arguably, losing her was a bigger reinvention of what the show was than losing Eccleston. Continuing to address her absence, up to a point, makes sense for audiences; undoubtedly, though, it was taken too far.  In a way, that’s what makes the unrequited love angle worse – if it had just been unrequited love, or just been comparisons to Rose, it perhaps would have been better. Both together, however, is difficult to sustain.

In terms of improving it? Most obviously, spacing it out. You can maintain the flirty banter of the earlier episodes – Freema Agyeman plays it well, establishing a casual attraction to the Doctor – but Martha shouldn’t fall in love with the Doctor until later in the season. I’d elect 42 for that moment, particularly  Martha’s conversation with Riley about their partners – the near death experience and high tensions of 42 make sense for that sort of realisation. I also think that Gridlock and The Lazarus Experiment should switch positions; there’s a need, I think, for The Lazarus Experiment’s “I want to be a proper companion” scene to come earlier in the series. And, of course, minimise the references back to Rose – it’d help, perhaps, to have Sarah Jane in The Lazarus Experiment, a reminder to the Doctor that he’s had other companions before and it’s alright to have more again after Rose. Little things would need to change too, of course; I still think they need a line about landing in a random time during Human Nature, and The Lazarus Experiment definitely needs to remove that awful moment where the Doctor pulls a face at Martha’s underwear. But still – just a change in emphasis, and it’d improve massively.

It’s a real shame these issues arose at all, to be honest – particularly with Doctor Who’s first POC companion.

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The other running theme for these reviews was an increasing understanding of just why people dislike Tennant’s Doctor.

It has to be said that he’s served just as poorly by the unrequited love angle as Martha is; ultimately, it’s a failure for both characters. At best, the Doctor is ignorant and inadvertently cruel; at worst, there are the occasional hints that he knows how Martha feels, and simply leads her on regardless. It’s difficult to take a lot of what he does at face value; there are many moments where what he does is simply quite awful. (I continue to struggle with the events of Human Nature, and making Martha live as a maid for three months; that a similar thing happens in Blink is quite galling too.)

Still, though. Let’s see if we can make something interesting of it.

The Doctor isn’t, at any point, the sympathetic character in terms of his treatment of Martha. It’s often implicitly criticised, and indeed the final episode sees Martha’s exit form an explicit rejection of how the Doctor treated her. This is, I think, particularly interesting when contrasted against one of the other big themes of the series – the increasing deification of the Doctor. The idea of the Doctor as a ‘lonely God’ figure has been a recurring one throughout the series,

[Now, it’s worth noting that while I wrote the majority of this back in July 2017, because of a series of computer failures and suchlike, I’m only finishing it now, in August of 2018. I actually left the piece in the middle of a sentence, right at that comma above, so I’m not really sure where I was going with it. What follows is an attempt to best finish this post under the circumstances, acknowledging that it’s obviously been a bit compromised from my original intent, whatever that was.]

 

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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