Archive for the ‘Season 2’ Category
It is interesting to note that the three-episode arc of “Tooth and Claw,” “School Reunion,” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” has instigated more of my writing than anything else, anywhere, ever. (For example, this is the 4th post resulting from one conversation about one of the three episodes.) The reason for this I think is how much great character stuff happens in these three stories.
Across this arc we see the best and the worst of Rose. In “Tooth and Claw,” we see her compassion for the frightened maid, and her courage and leadership in helping the women escape the barn. But she’s also at her most callous in this story, provoking the Queen and joking with the Doctor in the face of others’ fear and grief. In “School Reunion” we see her petty jealousy, but we also see her overcome that jealousy for friendship and a unique bond with one of very few women who understands her experience. In “The Girl in the Fireplace,” we see the depths of her compassion and her commitment to help others, as she sets aside any feelings she may have about the Doctor in order to comfort and save Reinette.
This arc sets up Rose’s downfall. Rose spent S1 learning to trust the Doctor and herself, and expanding the boundaries of her own capability. In S2 she’s out to have a good time. She has stopped worrying about the risk, having perhaps too much faith in hers and the Doctor’s abilities. She never considers the real danger posed by the werewolf, and cares too little for Lady Isabel’s loss.
These three episodes are Rose’s last hurrah. Fans on rewatch can see the darkness gathering ahead. I don’t doubt the Doctor sees it too, though he’s happy to ignore it as long as he can. But not until “Rise of the Cybermen,” when she faces finding and losing her family all over again, when she loses Mickey, does Rose begin to understand the cost of her adventures. She’s young enough to think she’s invincible, and that the good times will last forever. After S1 she may even think she’s earned it. The balance of S2 serves as a nasty surprise.
Rose isn’t the only one who gets rearranged this season. “School Reunion” sees the Doctor face the consequences of his lifestyle. It sees Sarah Jane learn to accept what has happened to her, to see the good as well as the bad – setting her up for her own televised Adventures. “Reunion” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” set up Mickey’s final transition from idiot to savior of worlds. None of these characters is ever the same again.
There’s a quote from “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” that feels relevant here:
“Every time you see them happy, you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.”
They’re going to be sad later.
Recently I joined a gym, which, otherwise being apropos of nothing, has allowed me to start listening to Verity Podcast again. The ladies are always great fun, disagreeing with each other in the best way possible, full of nerdery and love for Doctor Who. This season, each Verity gets an episode to gush about her favorite story, and the first of these was “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
“Fireplace” is one of a finite set: written by Stephen Moffat during the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who, and as a result, one of the best of the modern series. It’s a beautifully made historical, with monsters and silliness and a smart, courageous woman who just happens to have been a real person. It features one of my favorite TARDIS trios: Ten, Rose, and Mickey Smith. It’s the midpoint of Mickey’s travels with the Doctor, a last hurrah before the peak of his character arc. It’s a brief stop on Rose’s slide out of the Doctor’s life.
For most fans, one of the key peaks and pitfalls of this episode is the romance. Many adore it; many others, feeling differently about how the Doctor should relate to his companions, despise it. When I first watched it, on my whirlwind pass through S2-4, I barely noticed.
I am not a romance fan. I don’t read bodice-rippers. I don’t watch rom-coms. Generally I feel there is too much emphasis in our society on romantic love and marriage as an end goal, as if happily-ever-after were really a thing. I dislike romantic tropes, such as people who hate each other and treat each other poorly discovering they’re really in love. I’m not interested in other people’s sex lives. As a result, I didn’t even notice the romantic arc of Rose’s story until it was over – and then I was so invested, so engaged – and it was handled so well – that I loved it anyway.
With Reinette, I see much that could be interpreted as romantic that doesn’t actually have to be. I accept that she’s probably in love with him – or, in love with the idea of him, as she doesn’t really know him at all. And of course the Doctor loves the kind of person she is: courageous, adventurous, intelligent, pushing at the boundaries of her world. But what breaks his heart in the end is not losing her, but failing yet another fragile being who counted on him. This Doctor takes every failure personally to heart. In addition, the reason he failed her was that he couldn’t wait to get back to Rose. He couldn’t wait for Reinette to pack a bag and go with him; he had to see that Rose was okay, even though he had to know that leaving Reinette’s world for a moment risked leaving it forever. He took a gamble for Rose, and Reinette lost. Of course he feels shattered and guilty.
But not because he was in love with her.
Another question raised in the Verities’ podcast is the recurring Moffat-ism of the Doctor meeting companions in childhood. One of the ladies asked if those who have a problem with River Song’s lifelong entanglement with the Doctor have the same problem with Reinette. However, I see Reinette’s situation as more similar to Amy’s than River’s: each has an impactful experience with the Doctor at a very young age, and builds him up in her mind as a heroic figure he can never live up to it real life. Each develops something of an obsession with him. I don’t feel that the Doctor’s meeting with young River is impactful in the same way: the little girl stuck in a spacesuit already has too much going on to be impressed by the Doctor. My problem with River isn’t as much that she met the Doctor young, as that her entire life was bent and designed around him. Reinette and Amy developed common pre-adolescent feelings for him, some of which were later shattered. River’s problem is on another level entirely.
In addition, Moffat is not alone in having the Doctor cross paths with someone at multiple points in their lives. On Davies’ watch, Nine meets Rose and Mickey as children, though his impact on them at that time is minimal. Ten meets young Elton Pope, whose resulting lifelong obsession gets him in trouble in the end. I’ve said before on this blog that Davies is obsessed with romance: Rose, Martha, Astrid, and it’s rumored he had romance planned for S4 before Catherine Tate agreed to come back. (Which is sort of a two way problem: does he limit romance to a certain age and body type, or did he change direction because of the character Tate established in “The Runaway Bride?”) Moffat appears to be obsessed with sex: vampy Amy, River, Marilyn Monroe, and Queen Elizabeth mostly happen on his watch.
Still, we can’t blame Moffat (entirely) for that.
I have probably written plenty on this topic by now, but in case I missed anything I meant to say, here’s the comment I left for the Verities:
I despise romance as a genre, and I still love this episode. Partly it’s just so well done: I got caught up in the adventure story, and didn’t really notice the love story until later. Also, I don’t see it as necessarily a love story in the romantic sense. I think the Doctor saw in Reinette what he sees in any of his companions, and he was heartbroken in the end because he failed her. Just as he has (in his view anyway) failed so many of them.
I’m not sure I saw it on the first pass but over time I definitely see this as a story about faith. The Doctor always jumps in feet first when there’s someone to save, and to hell with the consequences – and somehow it always turns out. He knows when he plunges through the mirror that there’s no way back, and yet he does it believing that he will make it back anyway. (This gets spelled out even bigger in “The Satan Pit,” where the Doctor destroys the safety net only to come up against the TARDIS in the shadows.) Rose too has faith – and her own desire to save the day. If he had asked her whether he should save Reinette or stay behind with her, I feel quite confident she would have told him to get on that horse – and come back in the end too. Which of course he does, because he’s the Doctor. I think this episode showcases Rose’s compassion and faith as well as the Doctor’s, as well as the strength of their friendship. And I don’t think he abandoned her, in any case: the TARDIS took Rose home once, and I’m sure she’d have done it again if called on. As if Rose would ever have left the Doctor behind. (again, see “The Satan Pit.”)
Madame de Pompadour was quite an interesting person historically. She was married, and was mistress to the King, and was the first of that King’s mistresses to befriend the Queen. (The Doctor’s comment about this being France was dead on.) She was interested in science and art and politics and brought the most intelligent and well educated people together in her house to talk about things. I think the Doctor would definitely have admired her. I really enjoy the way she’s portrayed in the story: smart, fearless, fiery, and also feminine. As in the show, she died of tuberculosis slowly and quite young, leaving behind a grieving King. She’s an excellent choice of character for an episode of Doctor Who. I’d love to see more fascinating women from history on the show.
I could probably go on – the Verities present a whole polyamory angle I would never have thought of before – but for now I think enough is enough.
I put on “Love and Monsters” tonight for the express purpose of cleansing evil Rochefort from my mind with adorable Elton Pope. It worked brilliantly, of course. But I also got something out of the episode I’ve never seen before.
At the end of the story, Ursula has to live out her life as a paving stone. Previously I’ve considered it just a bit of RTD silliness, a little icky if you think about it too hard, maybe a little bit dumb. Forgettable if nothing else. But on this pass I got a whole new take.
People go through terrible things in life. People lose limbs, get paralyzed, suffer disfigurement and pain – and in the end, often find they’re still themselves. Ursula and Elton don’t get the life they hoped for. Ursula doesn’t get the body she expected. But they’re still here; they’re still themselves; they still have each other.
RTD hasn’t been great at portraying disability. His sympathy here may be entirely unintentional. But in the end we have characters whose lives will never be the same, will never, in some ways, be right – and yet those lives remain worth living.
In sickness and in health, for better or worse, as long as we both shall live.
I can’t not wrap up with my favorite quote from the episode: one of my favorites of all time, and one of the truest things ever written:
When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder.
And so much better.
When Peter Capaldi got the call, the one that began “Hello, Doctor,” he was in Prague, playing the nefarious Cardinal Richelieu in BBC’s The Musketeers. My uncle, a longtime fan of all things swashbuckling, was crushed. My show had stolen his best-beloved villain. Having now watched The Musketeers, I can sympathize: Capaldi is amazing, and the show is not the same without him.
“Who will be my equal?”
Capaldi as an actor is never the same twice. In spite of the similarity of their features, one would never confuse the Doctor with the Cardinal, or John Frobisher with Caecilius or Malcolm Tucker. But far more terrifying than this transformation was the one that took place in Series 2:
Marc Warren’s Rochefort outdoes his predecessor in depravity and treachery. But this vicious, villainous hypocrite was once a sweet boy named Elton Pope.
“But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”
The transition is jarring.
Series 2 of The Musketeers ended with Rochefort’s violent and well-earned death. Warren was amazing in the role: monstrous without being cartoonish, an entirely real if thoroughly disturbed human being. Still we were glad to see him go.
Up next: “Love and Monsters,” an often-maligned episode which I for one could watch over and over again. Elton is, after all, one of us.
As I mentioned in my last post, Martha expresses occasional jealousy of the Doctor’s other women, for example in ‘The Shakespeare Code,’ ‘Human Nature,’ and ‘Utopia.’ But the biggest episode for jealousy in New Who is ‘School Reunion.’
It’s hard to say who starts it. Rose’s voice is a bit crisp when she asks ‘who’s this?’ of Sarah Jane. But Sarah Jane has venom on her tongue when she comments on Rose’s age, and it’s all downhill from there.
Rose knows little of the Doctor’s past, and nothing of his prior traveling companions. She hasn’t experienced much rivalry for him in the past – there’s a brief flare-up with Lynda in ‘Parting of the Ways,’ but mostly she has felt secure in her relationship with the Doctor. She’s startled to see Sarah Jane, but it isn’t until Sarah Jane attacks that the claws really come out.
And boy do they come out! Rose certainly has a ‘mean girl’ side. But she doesn’t unleash it until Sarah Jane has made two disparaging comments about her age and one about her relationship to the Doctor. Her guard was up, but she’s clearly not the one on the offensive.
And why does Sarah Jane attack? She’s delighted to see her old friend again. But once the glow has faded, thirty years of doubt and pain return. The Doctor abandoned her. She decided he must be dead, and mourned him, and got on with her life as best she could; admittedly, not well. Seeing him again, she realizes it was his choice not to come back. Seeing him with a younger version of herself highlights everything her life hasn’t been for the past thirty years. She got old; he not only stayed young, but replaced her with a younger model. She’s hurt, and she lashes out at Rose.
Rose too is hurt. She has traveled with the Doctor all this time, thinking – naively perhaps – that she was someone special. Now she knows she’s only the latest in a long line. Worse than that, the Doctor will likely leave her behind to be forgotten, just as he did Sarah Jane.
Fortunately, Rose quickly sees the ridiculousness of their predicament. She and her best friend only ever fell out over a man; she knows it’s a silly thing to do. She stops herself, and invites Sarah Jane to see what they really have in common instead. Sarah Jane leaps at the chance. The next thing anyone knows, the two are fast friends.
Of course, they have more in common with each other than anyone else either of them has ever met.
This experience effectively banishes jealousy for Rose. She has only compassion for Reinette, a woman admittedly in love. She admires Martha from their very first encounter. She grows up; she takes Sarah Jane’s advice; and when her heart breaks, she doesn’t let it stop her.