As many of you know, I’m a big Doctor Who fan. Big enough that I’ve grabbed all of the episodes of the new series, and its spinoffs, via BitTorrent. (I also buy them on DVD as soon as they become available.) A few folks have asked me what I think of the spinoffs. And I’m sick at home, feeling like hell, not up to doing any work or any serious math writing. So I’ve been sitting around watching videos, which makes this the perfect time to tell you about what I think of them. I’ll run through my opinions of the episodes of the third season of Doctor Who, the first season of Torchwood, and the episodes of the Sarah Jane adventures that have been broadcast so far.
Doctor Who, Season 3
Overall, the third season was excellent. It had a couple of episodes that I thought were a bit of a botch, but the season had a strong arc, and some really outstanding episodes. Pretty typical of the new series. And David Tennant is definitely my favorite of all of the Doctors – old and new series. This season gives us a new companion: Miss Martha Jones, the first non-white campanion. I really like Martha. She’s a strong character – more strength, intelligence, and independence than Rose. And Freema Agyeman, the actress who plays her, is really excellent.
On to the episodes:
- The Runaway Bride. The new series does an annual Christmas special. This year’s was “The Runaway Bride.” There’s no regular companion in this
episode: the Doctor’s last companion, Rose, is gone; and the new companion for the third season hasn’t shown up yet. Typical of the Christmas episodes, for the most part, it’s a very comedic episode, but some dark undertones. Not my favorite, but not bad. It certainly has its moments. One in particular stands out to me, because it’s a good example of why I like Tennant’s doctor so much. His Doctor has the feel of the past doctors – it’s easy to believe that he’s another incarnation of the same character, which I never felt about Eccleston’s Doctor. But he’s got a dark edge to him. The way that he can blend that darkness with the essential character of the Doctor is great. The scene is towards the end, when the Doctor is confronting the villain, and he offers to save her – to find her a new home, if she’ll just stop killing. When she refuses, he gives her a pained look, and says “This is your fault, not mine”, and goes ahead to spring his trap, which kills her. It’s a great scene.
- Smith and Jones: This is a fairly typical Dr. Who monster story.
Monster bloodsucker is killing people in the hospital. Alien rhino-policemen come looking for her, and transport the hospital to the moon to isolate it. It’s a mediocre episode. It introduces the new companion, Martha Jones, who I really like, but it’s definitely not one of the better episodes.
- The Shakespeare Code: a mostly comedic episode. The Doctor
takes Martha back to meet Shakespeare. Naturally, there’s an alien influence: Shakespeare is being manipulated by a group of aliens that appear as witches. It’s OK, but nothing to write home about.
- Gridlock. A rather peculiar episode. The distant future of earth,
with people trapped in traffic on a highway for years at a time. Overall, it’s quite silly, but I enjoyed it. The comedic qualities of it were done quite a bit better than the previous episode, and it really launched the main arc of the series.
- Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks. The first two-parter of the season. The last surviving members of the Dalek Cult of Skaro come to my home town during the great depression, in a desperate attempt to save the Dalek species.
By building the Empire State Building. The first half of it, I really liked. The story had great potential. Unfortunately, the second half was really quite a botch. Very, very disappointing.
- The Lazarus Experiment. Another monster episode, but tightly connected to the season arc. A human scientist devises a way of making himself young again. This is where I think the season really hit its stride – an excellent episode,very much in the classic style of Dr. Who. And we get introduced to a mysterious new
character, who will continue to play games behind the scenes through the rest of
the season: M.P. Harold Saxon.
- 42. A great episode: another monster story, set aboard a mining starship. The story, overall, isn’t that unusual, but it’s got some nice twists. It’s a very well done episode, which I really enjoyed. A classic space-opera monster story.
- Human Nature/The Family of Blood. Now this was great Dr. Who. The second two-parter of the season. The Doctor becomes human in order to try to evade a time-and-space traveling family of creatures who want to use the regenerative abilities of a Time Lord to become immortal. Wonderfully written, fantastically acted – all around a fantastic pair of episodes; in my opinion, some of the very best of the new series.
- Blink. Another fantastic episode. This one is incredibly clever. The Doctor isn’t the main character here – he’s really barely more than a bit player. Some
strange beasts are closing in on a young woman; and she’s getting pre-recorded
messages from the past. This is a great, fun episode.
- Utopia/The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords: the three-part season finale, and the return of the Master. Overall, a really excellent set of episodes. It’s great to bring back one of the classic villains of the series, and overall, it’s done well. This is definitely the kind of thing that the old classic Master would have done. The problem is, the actor who plays the Master, and the way that he’s written, just don’t work for me. He’s not the same character at all. I can’t see this guy as a continuation of the old character.
The story-arc of season two of Dr. Who was built around the Torchwood Institute,
a quasi-governmental police force that tries to capture alien technology and protect
humanity from non-human threats. The central command of Torchwood was destroyed in the battle of Canary Wharf at the end of season 2 of Doctor Who; the spinoff focuses on the Cardiff branch of the institute, which survived the Cybermen and Dalek battles of the end of the season. The head of the branch is Captain Jack Harkness, one of the companions from the end of season one, who was brought back to life by Rose Tyler after being killed by the Daleks. But being brought back from the dead isn’t all fun and
The series is sort of a dark, slightly more fantasy-oriented, British version of the X-files. Overall, it’s kind of mediocre. There’s potential, but it never seems to have really gelled.
- Everything Changes: the first, and one of the best, episodes. This episode introduces Torchwood from the viewpoint of a Cardiff policewoman who ends up joining the Torchwood team. Tightly plotted, dark, and very nicely done.
- Day One: Ick. This episode tries to really show that it’s more grown up than Doctor Who, by revolving around a monster that kills through sex – it consumes its lover at the point of orgasm. This is a dreadful episode.
- Ghost Machine. A good one: the Torchwood team, tracking a piece of alien technology, finds a device that allows you to relive a vivid moment of the past. One of the team uses it and witnesses a rape and murder, and goes to confront the killer. Very well written story, but the acting falls down a bit, especially towards the end.
- Cyberwoman. An OK episode. The Torchwood doorman rescued his partially cybernized girlfriend during the Cybermen invasion, and hid her under Torchwood. He brings in a cybernetics expert in order to try to restore her to humanity, but things go horribly wrong. Not bad, but not great either.
- Small Worlds: Torchwood meets the fairies. Written by the guy behind the old “Sapphire and Steel” series. Once again, not bad, but not great either.
- Countrycide: A really awful train-wreck of an episode; it feels like a ripoff of a bad X-files. Cannibals in the English countryside, with Torchwood thinking it’s aliens. This could almost make “Day One” look good.
- Greeks Bearing Gifts: a decent episode. Another member of Torchwood gets seduced by what turns out to be an alien, who gives her a piece of tech that lets her read minds. Some nice character development, and a good story.
- They Keep Killing Suzie: the highlight of the series. If they can manage to write a few more like this, then Torchwood will be great. The first episode ended with one of the Torchwood team members, Susie Bright, committing suicide. In this episode, she gets brought back using alien technology to help solve a series of murders that is somehow connected to her. Sounds a tad silly if you weren’t following the series, but this is, finally, an episode that shows the potential of Torchwood. It’s tightly plotted, pulls in loose ends from previous episodes, and just all around keeps you on the edge of your seat.
- Random Shoes: a cute, comedic episode, which is appropriate after the incredibly dark, intense episode that preceeded it. It’s told from the viewpoint of a ghost – a ghost of someone who had been obsessed with Torchwood during his life. Definitely a fun episode. Not great, but nice.
- Out of Time. The rift which the Torchwood site is built around cracks open and lets someone through from the past. Again, mediocre. Not bad, but not exactly good either.
- Combat/Finale: the two-part season finale. Finally, something that starts to resemble a bit of story to tie things together. Pretty good pair of episodes. I hope that season two builds on this.
The Sarah Jane Adventures
Since the new Doctor Who has become a bit more intense and adult, this spinoff tells similar stories, but in a more kid-friendly way. After re-encountering the Doctor in season two’s “Reunion” episode, Doctor Who’s old companion, Sarah Jane Smith, with the help of some toys given to her by the Doctor, goes to work investigating strange alien stuff on earth. It’s definitely a kids show, very light and goofy in comparison to the new Doctor Who, but surprisingly well done. Only three stories have been broadcast so far (each of which is a two-part story), so it’s still a bit early, and they’re still finding their footing, but it’s really quite good. All three stories so far have been basic monster stories: a new beastie in the premiere; the return of the Slovene; and the Gorgon. All very well done. This has great potential as a kids Science Fantasy show.
The single best moment of New Who Season 2, I thought, was when Sarah Jane goes snooping around the basement of the school and opens the door to the closet revealing the TARDIS.
She did such a good job in that episode that I am glad your review of “K-9 and Company” v.2 is so positive. We need more SF for kids on the air.
My wife and I absolutely love Torchwood.
We saw the first episode at a party of NASA people, Software Engineers, and Hollywood special effects people, with a DVD brought by astrophysicist and Science Fiction author Dr. Thomas McDonough.
Of course, we’re biased by my wife being from Scotland. But this is VERY good television, either as Science Fiction, or police/thriller, or social commentary, or black humor.
All of the best new episodes have been the Moffat ones (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Girl in the Fireplace, Blink). They really need to take the show away from Davies and give it to Moffat. Moffat has a much better understanding of what the show should be.
FYInterest: “Human Nature” and “The Family Of Blood” were originally a novel written for the character of the Seventh Doctor. Check http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/ebooks/human_nature/index.shtml for the original text online free at the BBC. There are several changes in the plot and Dr/Mr Smith’s character. No Martha-as-maid either.
With respect to Sarah Jane’s “Slovene”… apologies, ITYM “Slitheen”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/news/cult/news/drwho/2007/09/06/48574.shtml , not http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slovene .
… notice you didn’t mention the connection between the Face of Boe and Torchwood…? 🙂
Your point of the Master not being like himself is valid; but it might be interesting to note that in the “Dead Time” between the end of the classic series and the new series (interrupted by the BBC/Fox movie), the series “continued” in the form of Audio dramas (on CD) and novels (the aforementioned “Human Nature” being one of them). The novels mentioned and developed the matter of the Gallifreyans actually being sterile and childless; the mechanism of Regeneration was actually put toward solving partially that problem. Similarly, the Doctor says it’s been several regenerations since Sarah Jane and the (10th) Doctor have met… completely eliminating another novelised adventure with the Eighth. Oh; not to mention in the novels, the Eighth Doctor already destroyed Gallifrey before the Dalek Time War.
Or, in short: a great deal of established backstory has been completely abandoned and contradicted for the new series. In the light of that, I really have no problems with a newly portrayed (and reincarnated) Master, bearing in mind previously he’d used up his last body and was reduced to stealing the bodies of others. 🙂
I’m glad you liked Martha so much-me too! Blink was my favorite. I haven’t seen any of the spinoffs yet, so thanks for the preview!
The three parter season finale was brilliant.
Martha is going to do a few episodes on Torchwood this year, which should be good.
I’d found Daleks in Manhattan to also be only ok (basically an action thriller) after that huge dark set-up.
What fascinated me was that I had, in spite of 17 years of American school and a personal belief that I know my history) never heard of “Hoovervilles” before.
When the Depression was covered, it was all about the economics and the politics (and then the supreme court taking down some of the new deal leading to the phrase “Nine Old Men”, later stolen by Disney to refer to a particular team of his Animation department).
Aside from the food lines and the Kansas dust bowl, the plight of the normal person and how they survived was never really touched on at all.
PBS has a new science fiction [BBC or Australian] series: ‘Supernova’.
The protagonist Paul joins new observatory coworkers and thinks that he sees the face of god in a black hole and the group makes an official report in the episode “The Black Hole”.
However it turns out to be a double exposure of a black hole and the face of Jon Pertwee, Dr Who #3.
When Paul realizes his mistake, he says something to the effect that had the face been Tom Baker, Dr Who #4, he would have recognized this before writing the erroneous report.
the scifi channel one is not as good as the original for sure.
I generally agree (and have to put in an obligatory Doctor Who squee!), but I felt the opposite ways about Smith and Jones and 42. I thought Smith and Jones was a great episode because it takes a monster story, the bread and butter of Who, and makes it work. The simplicity leaves room for the characters to shine (I fell almost instantly in love with Martha), and no posturing or gambits are needed.
On the other hand, 42 failed in all the same respects: the script puts the characters in one contrived situation after another (oh look! you can’t use the TARDIS. oh look! you have to answer twenty pop-culture questions to save yourselves. oh look! it’s all a parable about humans damaging their environment through ignorance and stupidity), and at the end of the day I can’t remember one person who was on the crew, whereas I still remember the bit-part doctor in Smith and Jones who tried to take charge and calm people down.
Coincidentally, the same guy who wrote 42 also wrote Day One, Cyberwoman, and Countrycide for Torchwood. He’s also done great work for Life on Mars, though, so I’m not sure what conclusion, if anything, it is possible to draw from this.