This is actually quite a nice moment, from the latest episode of the BBC's time-traveling soap opera Doctor Who. David Tennant gives a surprisingly understated performance as the alien traveler who's lost his entire race, including his family. And Catherine Tate makes the transition from zany "dadshock" jokes to actual substance surprisingly well. There was a lot that I liked about this episode... except for the new guest-star that we're suddenly supposed to care about. Spoilers ahead.
Now that we've got that out of the way, I felt like this episode was a bit of a tease. Not because we were promised the Doctor's daughter, and instead we got the Doctor's cobbled-together supersoldier semi-clone. Who's all cute and chirpy despite being bred only for war. I expected something like that. (Even though it made no sense to me that Donna and Martha didn't get "daughters" of their own. The explanation of why only the Doctor was copied seemed very hand-wavy. And it would have made the episode much more interesting if all three travelers had had to deal with sudden immaculate conception.)
No, instead, the episode was a tease because for the billionth time, we see the Doctor working through the exact same issues, and not getting anywhere.
This episode wasn't really that much about fatherhood — the daughter in question was a convenient receptacle for the Doctor's angst, and didn't really have that much personality of her own. Instead, the episode was all about the Doctor's grief for the dead Time Lords, and his PTSD about the Time War. Back in season one — in the scene where Christopher Eccleston brandishes an enormous gun at the disabled Dalek, and then breaks down — I had high hopes for delving into the Doctor's grief and PTSD. And when the Doctor finally found another Time Lord and it turned out to be the crappest Time Lord possible — the Master — I felt for him again. But this time around, it just felt sort of cheap.
Although, to be fair, I'm holding out a glimmer of hope here that this recent surge in "violence is bad, guns are stupid" moralizing from the Doctor means that his PTSD is finally reaching some kind of peak and we're going to see a crisis of some sort. I'm not sure what form that crisis would take — whether it would be the Doctor getting even more reckless and prepared to sacrifice his own life more and more needlessly, or the Doctor getting more heavy-handed in his meddling. I am prepared for there to be an arc here.
But I'm not holding my breath: the show seems to prefer doing episodes like this one, which engineer a situation designed to elicit an emotional crisis, which is "resolved" by the end of the episode. Despite vociferously admiring Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the makers of the new Who don't have the same flair for building character points week on week.
But even though I've just excoriated the episode for being a bit of a cheat, I mostly liked it. Georgia Moffett was fun to watch as the pseudo-clone of the Doctor. If you take it as just, "the Doctor's got a magic daughter! And she's cute! And she does backflips through lasers!" It worked pretty well. She was cute, and we didn't really need her to have hidden depths. On that level, the show worked quite well. I wouldn't even mind if we get the inevitable Jenny comeback, although I'm really not sure there's any more to her character than we've already seen.
The main reason I sort of liked this episode despite its manipulative and contrived main plot was that the whole business with the endless war, which turned out to have lasted only a week, was pretty great. It was also sort of contrived and clever-clever, but it was just plausible enough not to bother me. I found myself wishing, while the Doctor kept struggling with the non-dilemma of whether to accept his cute gymnast kid, that we could spend more time on the war, and the process of indoctrination that had managed to convince these people they'd been fighting for aeons, and the society that produced this conflict in the first place. Plus, the Hath were cute!
Other random observations: the thing about the TARDIS bringing them there so they could meet Jenny, but first the Doctor had to create Jenny, made no sense, even by Doctor Who's dodgy time-paradox standards. So I just ignored it. Once again, Martha was criminally underused. I really do think Donna is showing a surprising range, and she's definitely growing on me.
I don't really have much more to say about this episode. It was another fun piece of fluff, and as long as you ignore all of the sledgehammery hints that we're actually supposed to care about Jenny, it's a fun romp. Judging from the previous two seasons, we're almost at the end of the "fluff" portion of the year. At this point last year, we were on the verge of the underrated "42," followed by "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood," "Blink" and then the final three-parter. The year before, the second half had the awful "Fear Her" but was otherwise pretty great.
So I am keeping my fingers crossed that soon I will be able to write Doctor Who recaps that aren't just a variation on "Well, it's not that bad, if you ignore the plot and most of the characters." Coming up next: the Agatha Christie episode written by Gareth Roberts (whose The Highest Science may be my favorite Who novel), and then Steven Moffat's two-parter about a sinister library. I live in hope.