To celebrate, and to distract myself as we wait another WHOLE DAY for the actual anniversary shenanigans to begin properly with real TV shows and everything, I’m putting up a masterlist of the 53 (yes, really) blog posts I made weekly over the last 12 months to mark each year since Doctor Who began in 1963. With extras for 1965 and 1996 because reasons. These essays were made with love, and while the weekly commitment was tough at times I am really glad I did it – it was an opportunity to think about and look at the show across its entire history and to get a lot of my stray thoughts down as well as celebrating so many of my favourite bits along the way.
I liked Clara all along, but unfortunately the narrative presented us with a Clara Problem – which was that she was awesome in Asylum of the Daleks, winning hearts and fans as Oswin, only to be killed tragically. Then they did it to us again in The Snowmen, with a fabulous Victorian governess version of the character who again, was delightful, fascinating and short-lived.
The idea was to set up a mystery, but unfortunately it also had the effect of burning me out on the character, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Clara’s third introduction in The Bells of St John was fantastic, very well written and performed, and I liked her a lot. But I didn’t find myself as instantly attached to her as I have been to almost every other companion ever, and I suspect that’s because I had learned not to trust that a Clara, however witty and adorable, would not break my heart.
It didn’t help that I, like many fans, was completely and TOTALLY ready for a non-contemporary companion, for someone who broke the mould. Even if it was still another slender, young white actress in the role, surely it was time for a companion who didn’t come from contemporary London/southern Britain?
Amy: Every time we flew away with the Doctor we’d just become part of his life. But he never stood still long enough to become part of ours.
Except once. The Year of the Slow Invasion. The time the Doctor came to stay.
Steven Moffat does love a threesome.
The first few might have been coincidence. After all, the TARDIS teams for The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and The Girl in the Fireplace were unlikely to be his choice.
And yet in both cases he got to write a story in which Rose and the Doctor took on a new travelling companion – the very companionable Captain Jack in Series 1 and the awkward but determined Mickey Smith in Series 2.
Blink barely featured the Doctor and Martha, but when Moffat returned to the show with a Doctor and Donna two-parter, he added a guest role to the story who was so interesting and significant that she seemed to count as a second companion: River Song.
There’s something about three in the TARDIS that really works. It allows the Doctor to be a bit more remote and alien, and also allows for some diversity among the companions.
Considering his past stories – and his history of throwing romance and domesticity into the mix – it isn’t a surprise that Moffat’s Who wasn’t just about the girl companion, but quickly became a story about three interlinked characters: Amy Pond, her boyfriend/fiance/husband Rory (AKA Mr Pond), and their Doctor.
Until now, I haven’t read any of the New Who fiction tie-ins. I’m not sure why. Maybe I bought into the fan snob idea that the tie-in fiction for an ongoing series can’t possibly be as interesting or involved as the Wilderness Year fiction was? Or that the new stuff was aimed ‘at kids’? Or maybe I was just a little too co-dependent with my Big Finish Audios to let anyone else in…
In any case, this is very much a year for reading books about Doctor Who (I’m not getting any other reading done!) and the recent Verity! interview with Una McCormack about writing tie-in fiction pushed me over the edge.
So I picked up the Kindle edition of The Way Through the Woods by Una McCormack, a book featuring the Eleventh Doctor and the Pond newlyweds.
I hate to draw attention to it, really. I mean, it’s the 21st century, we’re not going to critique a female fictional character based largely on what she wears, are we?
All female Doctor Who companions have been held under intense scrutiny since the show returned in 2005, and while the narrative of critique often starts out with “let’s look at how the showrunner/scriptwriters have screwed up in portraying female characters” somehow it often seems to come down to burying those female characters under criticism and complaints while the Doctor and male companions get away largely unscathed.
And you know, I can’t help but compare the situation to Australian politics. We have recently had two years of our first female Prime Minister being scrutinised for every jacket choice, every hairstyle, every skirt length and heel height. Indeed, in the week that Julia Gillard made a passionate speech against misogyny in politics which went viral in the international media, most of her TV coverage in Australia was devoted to a mishap during a visit to India in which her high heel got stuck in soft grass.
Because shoes, you know? Ladies and shoes. What ya gonna do?
I mean, some pretty good things happened that year, don’t get me wrong. Apart from anything else, I got a pretty sweet daughter out of it.
But for Doctor Who fans, it wasn’t that great.
After a successful reboot, four years of full seasons of Doctor Who, and unprecedented mainstream popularity and success for the show, suddenly it all looked to be going terribly wrong.
David Tennant, whose star as a popular actor had risen with and greatly supported Doctor Who, was leaving on the grounds of Shakespeare. A whole new audience had come to the show with Tennant, drawn in by his maniacally attractive Doctor, and were grieving his impending loss. For many, it was hard to imagine what Doctor Who would look like without Ten.
It wasn’t a clean break up. Instead, we were introduced to the impending Doctor, the very young and hand-flappy Matt Smith, at New Year and then had a whole 12 months of saying goodbye to David Tennant, one disappointing Special at a time.
Perhaps more concerning, the producer and show runner who had brought Doctor Who back with such success, Julie Gardner and Russell T Davies, were also leaving. Soon. Any day now.
The Doctor is a best friend floozy. We all know it. The Fourth Doctor in particular had a habit of passing the title ‘best friend’ around as lightly as jelly babies. (Charmingly, Lis Sladen’s autobiography reveals that the first time the Doctor bestowed this title on Sarah, it was an ad lib by Tom Baker)
Whenever the Doctor used the phrase, though, you never doubted that he meant it. He’s a fickle pal, our Doctor, but he’s genuine. If he says you are his best friend, then right in that moment you absolutely are, even if two episodes later he’s forgotten all about you and has moved on to the next best friend.
It’s basically like kindergarten, without consequences.
You know what? It’s absolutely true that Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor, his shabby treatment of her for not being Rose, his general mopery, and her flashes of jealousy for the unseen blonde, were all big missteps for Doctor Who in general and Martha’s character in particular.
What makes me sad is that this aspect now seems to represent almost everything I hear about Martha. It’s a disappointing legacy for a companion who was not only the first woman of colour to travel in the TARDIS on a long-term basis, but was also New Who’s first (and to date only) take on one of the most critically acclaimed companion archetypes.
That is: the brainy, intellectual/professional female companion who stands up for herself. Previous examples being Zoe, Dr Liz Shaw, Romana, and Dr Grace Holloway.
I am especially disappointed that Martha’s leaving story, in which she became the only long-term female companion of New Who to date who left the TARDIS properly of her own accord, is remembered as being a symptom of her unrequited love when in fact that entire scene is about her choosing her family’s needs over the Doctor. She only confesses her feelings for him as a supporting (not central) reason for her decision NO MATTER WHAT THE FREAKING WIKIPEDIA PAGE SAYS.
If Martha learned one thing from travelling in the TARDIS, it was that the only way to win an argument with the Doctor was to talk about squishy feelings.
So here, in the attempt to restore Martha’s legacy as an excellent companion, are 13 Fabulous Martha Moments from Series 3 that have nothing to do with unrequited love.
It is a rainy Hobart afternoon and four children (my eldest daughter, my godson & his two brothers) have just finished watching Fear Her. After a bit of squabbling about who was the villain of the story (Chloe Webber? The Isolus? No, no villain at all, the alien was just lonely!) they settle down to answer a few questions about what they have just watched.
Eight years is a really, really long time. I know this, because I have an eight year old daughter, who was only a couple of months old when Doctor Who finally came back to our screens after a terribly long gap.
She has never lived in a world in which there was no new Doctor Who just around the corner.
The first season/SERIES of “New Who” arrived with splashy colours, a blonde former pop star as the companion, occasional stings of famous songs, an angsty PSTD-ridden Doctor in a (gasp!) leather jacket, and a whole bunch of modern cultural references.
Over the course of this first year, Rose failed to notice that her boyfriend was an Auton replicant, the Earth was destroyed, the Doctor was slapped by someone’s Mum, we watched aliens invade London via the TV news (just like everyone else), 10 Downing Street was blown up, the Doctor came face to face with the last Dalek, Captain Jack flirted his way into the TARDIS, Rose witnessed her own parents’ wedding and met the Dad who had died when she was a baby, everybody lived just this once, and the show acknowledged the existence (and usefulness) of not only the internet, but also mobile phones.
It was quite a year.