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.
“It’s like Stephen Hawking meets the speaking clock!”
Mickey might think he’s the tin dog, but in fact he’s the hero of his own story. From coward to champion, here are some things that make Mickey Smith great:
Mickey has one of the best character arcs of all time. When we first meet him, he wants nothing more out of life than to hang out with his girl and maybe watch a little football. Aliens – even human-looking ones – are too much for him. By the end of RTD’s era, he’s an experienced operative in Earth defense.
Mickey is smarter than he thinks. He saves the world by hacking a nuclear missile, and later saves another by hacking a Cyberman. He recognizes trouble at Deffry Vale and calls for backup. He knows when to stay behind in one world, and when he’s needed back in the other.
Mickey has a good heart. He defends Jackie with his life, even though she’s spent the last year making it miserable. He refuses to abandon his grandmother a second time. He forgives Rose the mess she left him in, and in the end, loves her enough to let her go.
Mickey takes good care of Martha. A lot of fans seem angry at the pairing, but to me it makes perfect sense. When you run with the Doctor, you can’t go back to life the way it was before. In each other Mickey and Martha find someone who understands. They share an experience, a heartbreak, and a commitment to protect their world from things no one else is willing to see.
“I once saved the universe in a biiiiiig yellow truck.”
Last weekend I watched ‘Night Terrors’ and ‘The Girl who Waited,’ the next installments in my S6 rewatch. I was startlingly unmoved to say anything at the time. Instead, it struck me that much of S5 and S6 comes across as ‘so-so’ while I’m fairly certain none of S1 did. (Possible bias at work here.)
Since then I’ve thought a bit more about ‘Waited’ in particular, especially in light of what I said about ‘The Next Doctor.’ ‘Waited’ features an abandoned and aged Amy, who acquired amazing new skills and knowledge in her struggle to survive and battles bitterness against those who left her. She is strong and smart, and she is angry. Karen Gillan plays her gorgeously. However, weirdly, it’s not her story.
It’s Rory’s story. It’s Rory who has to make the choice, who faces losing the woman he loves no matter what he does. Young Amy might as well be a plastic doll, and Old (sorry) Amy is essentially the villain.
Writer Tom McRae was previously responsible for S2’s ‘Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel,’ another compelling, emotional story about choices and loss. Although Rose is primarily featured in that one, I think it’s actually more Mickey’s story. Mickey takes responsibility both for his gran and for the legacy of his AU counterpart; he chooses to stay behind for them, finally giving up Rose (as far as anyone knows) for good. But there are no plastic dolls in this story. Rose’s story and the Doctor’s may be secondary but they are no less compelling or authentic.
I’m not saying anything is particularly wrong with any of these stories, but they do offer some food for thought.
‘Night Terrors,’ I observe, is written by the ubiquitous Mark Gatiss. Gatiss’ credits include ‘The Unquiet Dead,’ ‘The Idiot’s Lantern,’ ‘Victory of the Daleks,’ ‘Cold War,’ ‘The Crimson Horror,’ ‘Robot of Sherwood,’ and the outstanding docu-drama ‘An Adventure in Space and Time,’ a mixed bag to say the least. The episode is scary, and I do enjoy the relationship between the boy and his father, but overall it fails to stand out. The worst I can say is that I have nothing much to say.
Coming up next: ‘The God Complex’ and ‘Closing Time.’