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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Watching New Who: Tansy’s Season Three Report Card

September 25th, 2012 at 20:35

You can find David’s report card and Tehani’s report card for this season on their websites.

The Doctor: David Tennant

This season was good for Ten in many ways – the new companion helped to freshen things up, and of course this is his second year in the show, which makes him the veteran. So sad that Eccleston wasn’t willing to give it another year, as I think the Doctor is a part that needs to grow over several years, and we certainly see that happening with Tennant.

The regular moping over Rose was irritating and I think over-done, and it didn’t help that some of the series’ worst episodes, The Lazarus Experiment and the Daleks in Manhattan two parter, were clumped together in the first half. But oh, the second half of this season shows David Tennant’s Doctor at his absolute best, and provides some of the best New Who of all time.

Human Nature/Family of Blood shows us just how much Tennant has been acting as the Doctor, and Blink contributes greatly to his iconic portrayal of the Doctor, in only a few short scenes. Then there’s the tense reunion with Jack in Utopia, which reminds us that the Doctor is not as cuddly and selfless as we sometimes imagine he is, and the magnificent scenes with the Master in The Sound of Drums. Sigh. The greatest crime of the season finale is that the “Dobby Doctor” twist takes the Doctor entirely out of the action for so much of the story, robbing us of more fabulous scenes between Ten and the utterly bonkers Master.

Martha Jones: Freema Agyeman

A great character who was hamstrung by her treatment in the scripts – Martha’s crush on the Doctor taken to uncomfortable extremes, and her attachment to her not-as-likeable-as-Jackie family. Martha is at her best when she is slagging the Doctor off, calling him on his bullshit and being independent. Agyeman’s performance is great too, but the scripts kept piling on these annoying restrictions that made her look weaker than she should have been. This is doubly unfortunate because it’s the first ‘main’ companion in history of the show who is a woman of colour, which makes all the little ‘oh you’re not Rose’ jabs from both the script AND the fandom feel particularly problematic.

She’s not Rose. She’s Martha. And Martha is GREAT. Shut up and let her get on with being great!

I wish the writers (especially RTD himself whose episodes are I think the worst examples) had been a little more trusting in the audience’s ability to accept a character other than Rose as the companion, and also that they had allowed Martha to get over her crush on the Doctor within the season instead of still being hung up on him in the last moments.

I am delighted that the season finale, which let the Doctor’s character down somewhat, gave Martha the chance to shine as an independent character, and I enjoy the fact that the trend of the new show is to allow the companions to be awesome even (especially) when the Doctor isn’t around. Apart from the finale, Martha had her best material in her first three episodes, and in Human Nature/Family of Blood. I also recently rewatched 42, a story I tend to forget all about, and was delighted at her character in that episode.

So yeah, for all my negativity about some of the scripts and choices, I think Martha herself was a great addition, and just what the Doctor (and the audience) needed. I would have her back on the show any time!

Captain Jack Harkness: John Barrowman

Oh, Jack. I do love him. And while I enjoy Torchwood Jack a lot, I like him best in the TARDIS. I had been waiting so very long at this point for the show to address the oddity that the Doctor had deliberately abandoned Jack on the space station back in Season 1. I spent the whole of the first season of Torchwood waiting for those little occasional references to the Doctor, and the final moments of the last episode, in which Jack hears the TARDIS and takes off with the bag he’s had ready to go at a moment’s notice… oh, I was so happy!

Jack’s reunion with the Doctor was darker and more complex than I had imagined, and his chemistry with Martha was great. I enjoy Martha and Jack’s friendship so much, and it’s awesome that they got to explore that further in Torchwood Season 2. I do love me a TARDIS team, and as with Nine-Rose-Jack, I don’t feel that Ten-Martha-Jack were around nearly long enough.

The Master: John Simm

I’m a big fan of the Master character from way back and I adore this bizarre, batshit weird indie rock (not quite punk rock) version of the character. John Simm lights up the screen in every scene he is in and I love the way that he and Tennant bounce off each other in emotionally charged scenes. The downside of course is the massive cheat that comes with turning the Doctor into a weird little old man in The Last of the Time Lords. But oh, the phone scene, and the Master dancing with his broken wife, and his madcap schemes that actually work! Brilliant stuff.

There are a few problems of course, largely from the writing rather than the performance. The idea that the Master has had this drum beat in his head his whole life (as a lead up to the spectacular Voodoo Child musical joke) is fascinating, but doesn’t entirely fit with, well, the previous versions of the character. And it is deeply disappointing that time is unwound at the end. But oh, he makes himself Prime Minister of England! That is TOTALLY something I could see Roger Delgado’s Master doing.

The final scene in which the Master chooses not to regenerate, to avoid being trapped in the TARDIS with the Doctor as his jailer forever (ohhh would that not have been the best season of TV?) is incredibly powerful. I think there’s even a look on Martha’s face as she realises she has been thrown over for the Master which is subtle and wonderful and a million times better than the way her “jealousy” about Rose was handled. Such good stuff. I’d have him back.

Martha’s family: Adjoa Andoh (mother Francine), Trevor Laird (father Clive), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (sister Tish), and Reggie Yates (brother Leo).

I like that they experimented a different family dynamic with Martha rather than directly trying to mimic the Jackie-Rose-Mickey dynamic, and that they extended the idea of the relationship with the companion also involving their family, but I did struggle a bit with my dislike of Martha’s mother. I think if she had been more likeable and less prickly to start with then her apparent betrayal of Martha could have been conveyed in a more interesting way. Also it was odd that they introduced brother Leo and then did nothing with him as a character.

Tish and her many jobs was my favourite – she gave Martha a really nice dimension, and I think the fact that Martha was an older sister and the ‘sorter outer’ of the family was essential to her character. I did like the bit where Francine tries to convince Martha that she and Clive have got back together, and it makes her suspicious. Also the way that the Master used Martha’s family against her in the last couple of episodes was chilling – shades of Nyssa and Traken!

On the whole the sprawling family, and the few episodes we got to see them in did mean that no single character got the time and attention that Rose’s people did back in the day. I think this big family idea would have worked better if Martha had been a companion for two seasons – and you may note COUGH SPOILERS that the companion family next season will only feature two key members.

What is your favourite episode of this season?

“Blink” – maybe not the most imaginative answer, and it’s not a brilliant showcase either for the Doctor or Martha, but I love it as a piece of television so much, Sally Sparrow is a marvellous character, and it feels like it sums up what Doctor Who is, while also bringing something new to the table.

Least favourite episode?

The Lazarus Experiment, which is creepy, awkward and dreadful.

Favourite guest performance?

John Simm as the Master, absolutely. He blows everyone else off the screen. But I want to also give props to Jessica Hynes as Joan Redfern, and the now-so-famous Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow.

Describe this season in one word! Mercurial

Grade: B

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Watching New Who – in conversation with David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all (plus a seven-year-old daughter who is finding her own Doctors for the first time). We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun! We have already talked about:

“Rose”, S01E01

“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani

“The Christmas Invasion,” 2005 Christmas special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion,” S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04

“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, S02E12/13

Season Two Report Cards: David, Tehani, Tansy
“The Runaway Bride”, 2006 Christmas Special
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
The Shakespeare Code & Gridlock, S0302-03
Human Nature/The Family of Blood S0308-09
Blink S0310
Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Timelords S0311-13
“Voyage of the Damned,” 2007 Christmas Special

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6 Responses to “Watching New Who: Tansy’s Season Three Report Card”

  1. Grant Says:

    Adore “Blink”, “Human Nature”and “Utopia”. Very frustrated with “The Last of the Time Lords”. The Shakespeare episode was pretty wretched, but that’s because it seemed such a missed opportunity to me. Certainly I found it worse than “The Lazarus Experiment”.

    Martha shits me to tears – not just the writing, which is unfortunately, but also Agyeman’s performance, which always struck me as very wooden.

    The last five minutes of “Utopia” form the best cliffhanger in the entire history of the series.

  2. Louise Says:

    I love this season. Blink is great, of course, but there are some wonderful lines in the Family of Blood two-parter, both about the doctor and playing with the time period.

    However, much as I love the final three-part ending episodes of the series (i really do) I have one big issue with it…Sailor Moon Super S (the fourth season of SM? The one where she turns into the Messiah?) ends in pretty much the same way. SM is brought back to life by everyone’s prayers and uses the power of love to defeat the bad guy! So watching the end of DW season 3 I can’t help but picture Dobby Doctor turning into David Tennant, but wearing a Sailor Moon outfit. And yes I Googled it. There’s fanart.

  3. tansyrr Says:

    Louise, I need to see this fan art!

  4. New Who Season Three Report Card | A conversational life Says:

    [...] S3 Report Card and Tansy’s S3 Report Card through the clickies! (See our Season One Report Cards here and our Season Two Report Cards [...]

  5. Aqua of the Questioners Says:

    Let me plug again the awesomeness that is this vid about the Master:
    http://charmax.livejournal.com/83906.html

  6. Michele Says:

    Martha’s NOT the eldest – why does everyone keep making that mistake? It’s made perfectly clear that Tish is the eldest, the ‘perfect’ one – and that Leo’s the baby of the family – while Martha’s the middle child, the mediator and peace-maker, and the one who actually keeps the family together. That’s why her departure to go and care for her family (and finish her studies) is so important – Martha’s the glue in the Jones family, and without her there to help them through that PTSD, they’d all fall apart altogether. (That crap about her leaving because the Doctor never noticed her? Irritating as hell – like the whole damn unrequited love storyline. I still have a strong urge to smack RTD upside the head with a TARDIS for that.

    As for Freema Agyeman being a wooden actress – that was NOT her fault, it’s the terrible scripts she kept being given. Go watch her playing Alesha Phillips in ‘Law & Order: UK’ – she pwns because the writers are NOT afraid of her.

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