Sunday, June 7, 2015

10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn: Series Three

Hi there! Welcome back to another installment of 10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn as I review and rank the episodes of the modern incarnation of Doctor Who.  As I did for Series One and Series Two, I will rate and rank the episodes of Series Three. I will remind everyone that this list has no factual basis, it's just my opinion. Your mileage may vary. 

So we got to keep the same Doctor for a 2nd year but there was a changing of the guard in the role of the companion. Rose was gone as of the end of the previous series and there was a lot of agonizing about that. If you discovered Doctor Who for the first time with the advent of the revived series, then Rose was your first and only companion for two years. While she may have had her detractors, for the most part Rose was a popular and beloved character. Following her as the next companion would not be easy. 

Enter Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones. She not only had the difficult task of taking up where the popular Rose Tyler left off, Freema was the first woman of color to be cast as a companion so I'm sure that brought its own pressures. 

When measuring up companions, Martha somehow tends to not be as well regarded as Rose, Donna, Amy or Clara. Which is a shame because Martha was the most capable of all of them. She was on her way to becoming a doctor, she didn't need this time travelling spaceman to make her feel special.  Which it makes it rather ironic that she has feelings for the Doctor. I think that didn't serve Martha well. It was as if the new rule for Doctor Who companions is they must all fall in love with the Doctor. 

But even this unrequited affection for the Doctor served to burnish her character. When Martha Jones leaves the TARDIS, it is of her own free will. Martha is the one companion who has pulled that off, leaving physically strong and mentally with most of her marbles intact. 

Series Three suffered a bit from some stories varying wildly in quality. Doctor Who was like the little girl with a curl on her forehead; when she was good, she was very good; but when she was bad, she was horrid. 

So let's get this show on the road, shall we?  

#14 Evolution of the Daleks *
#13 Daleks in Manhattan *
As I did for Series One and Series Two, I'm ranking two parters as separate episodes. However, since I've lumped this particular two-fer right next to each other at the bottom, let's save some time and look at 'em both in one slog. 

And a slog it is. A Doctor Who story set in Depression era New York has a lot of possibilities but most of that gets pushed back as so much window dressing for the big Dalek plan. Which is, apparently, to make pig people. Bad casting and over the top caricatures of New York accents ("La-zlo!") really hurt these episodes. I give Part 1 a slight edge over Part 2 mostly because the first part doesn't make us have to watch a human Dalek mashed up with tentacle porn. Seriously, the effect of the human Dalek's head is old school Who. Geez, even John Nathan-Turner with his slashed late 1980's budgets could've done better.  

#12 The Last of the Time Lords **
What can be said about a season finale that has the Doctor reduced down to a freeze dried house elf and a resolution that relies on the power Faith? Hope? Clapping really hard to bring Tinkerbell back to life? My only qualms about putting this one so low on the lists? John Simm's totally insane portrayal of the Master and the vastly underrated Freeman Agyeman who carries the weight of the narrative as Martha Jones, crossing the globe on a lonely and mysterious quest. 

#11 42 **
I was surprised to find myself ranking this one so low. I remember there were some great moments with Martha and that whole "Burn with me!" thing that was really, really creepy. The conceit that this is taking place over 42 minutes sounds promising but it winds up make the episode seem rushed. 

#10 The Lazarus Experiment ***
Mark Gatiss puts away his writer hat to chew some scenery as Dr. Lazarus, the super genius who is out to cheat death but becomes a monster...literally. The Doctor runs afoul of someone's mother again (seriously, mothers and the slapping!) while the Doctor can't quite say good bye to Martha and nor should he. She gets to shine here, jumping into the fray to help the Doctor and save the day...while wearing some really nice shoes (well, the Doctor noticed!). I don't rank or rate this higher simply because it feels like we're treading water a bit in this episode. And there are significantly stronger episodes coming down the pike.  

#09 The Shakespeare Code ***
Martha's first adventure with the Doctor in the TARDIS is a clever period piece as we meet the Bard himself and a trio of witches with wicked plans for Shakespeare...and the world! The witches are over the top but that's part of the gag. It's a bit much to hang a premise on the idea that Shakespeare's words can open rifts in space. But the main draw is William Shakespeare himself, a boisterous man with a sly tongue and a heavy heart. And the Bard puts the moves on Martha... and the Doctor! 

#08 Smith & Jones ***
Alien rhino cops zap an entire hospital to the moon to capture an extraterrestrial vampire granny who sucks blood through a straw. 

God, I love Doctor Who! 

The Doctor and Martha first meet and he's duly impressed with this young woman keeping her head together in a most surreal and dangerous situation. We get to see Martha's extended (and rather dysfunctional) family and no wonder she takes off with a skinny time traveler with a magic box. And he apparently is a really good kisser as the Doctor engages in a (ahem!) "genetic  transfer" with Martha to stay ahead of the Jundoon. It leaves Martha gobsmacked for most of the series. 

#07 The Runaway Bride ***
Before we get to Martha, we meet Donna Noble and what a piece of work she is. Loud, obnoxious, bossy, self-absorbed...and those are her good qualities. But Catherine Tate's performance still makes her an enjoyable and rather sympathetic character. The monster is very scary looking with a very bad sense of humor. A pretty solid and entertaining episode. 

#06 The Sound of Drums ****
#05 Utopia ****
One of the reasons The Last of the Time Lords is such a disappointment is that it gets an incredibly strong pair of episodes to set it all up. 

The Sound of Drums has John Simm going full tilt crazy as the Master who has gotten himself elected Prime Minister of Great Britain. (Maybe if a certain Time Lord hadn't gotten the previous Prime Minister deposed because he was in a snit...) The Master kills his cabinet, has a reporter killed (who keeps screaming through her murder) and assassinates the President of the United States, all in his insane quest for ultimate power. And we get some backstory on the Master from the Doctor, how the Master was driven mad by looking into the Time Vortex. 

But before the drums, we get Utopia. We get the return of Capt. Jack Harkness and a trip to the end of time where the last remnants of humanity are seeking to escape a dying universe to...someplace else, Utopia. The weight of the implications of where the Doctor, Martha and Jack end up are clearly felt as we see a world in darkness, trying to shore up whatever fire and light against the coming of the end. We meeting kindly, doddering Professor Yana who is eventually revealed as someone else, a Time Lord, the Doctor's evil counterpart known as the Master. Derek Jacobi does an amazing job of transitioning from Yana to Master. I wish we could've had more time with Jacobi as the Master

#04 Human Nature *****
#03 The Family of Blood *****
If Paul Cornell pulled at your heartstrings with Father's Day from Series One, he rips those strings to shreds with this amazing two parter. The Doctor has become totally human and has no memory of his Time Lord self. Martha keeps watch over him in pre-World War One England, limited in her abilities to do so by rampant racism and sexism as well as a Doctor who cannot help her. And it gets even more complicated when the Doctor, now the human John Smith, falls in love. Further complications arise when the Family of Blood shows up, single minded psychopaths who will stop at nothing to feed off a Time Lord. 

One more note: yes, we know David Tennant is awesome but this story should seal the deal for anyone with any doubts about this man's talents. There are no tricks of make up or hair style. The Doctor and John Smith look exactly the same. Yet they are very distinct as David makes subtle adjustments to the tenor of his voice, his posture. An exceptionally strong performance (or should I say "performances") from Mr. Tennant. 

#02 Blink *****
Hold on a second! The critically acclaimed, beloved masterpiece from Steven Moffat is on my number TWO? Have I lost my mind?! 

OK, let me get this out of the way: I love Blink! Positively love it! Brilliant writing and acting and...

...really, number TWO?!?!

Yes, this is an astonishingly good episode of Doctor Who... except I like to see more of the Doctor in a Doctor Who episode. That's not to say the diminished presence of the Doctor and Martha impedes my enjoyment. You get so caught up with Sally Sparrow that you almost don't realize the stars of the show are not in it. 

But I've always felt a little weird putting an episode that doesn't have much of the Doctor in it at the top of a list of best Doctor Who stories. It's like, "Doctor Who is really good when the Doctor isn't in it! Sorry David, Freema, but the best Doctor Who story EVER stars Carey Mulligan; no hard feelings, guys, okay?" 

So yes, Blink deserves every single freaking accolade ever heaped upon it. It is that damn good! But not a lot of Doctor so it's number two. My list, my rules.  

#01 Gridlock 
OK, I have lost my mind now! the best episode of Series Three?!  

I have to admit I've never given this episode its due. But it was during one of our Doctor Who re-watches here at the El family Fortress of Ineptitude. We were up to this point in Series Three and my daughter Miranda says, "This is one of my favorites!" I questioned why that would be. I had seen it several times before. It's a good episode but why would it be someone's favorite? And why would this nut case blogger writing this sentence put it at number one on his silly little list? Let's give this a whirl and find out. 

  • Something mundane made scary. Doctor Who loves to do that. In this case, it is that bane of a car driver's existence, the traffic jam, except it is not endured for hours but for years!
  • Strongly realized guest characters. Some of the people in the various flying vans are seen only for mere moments but each stands out as unique individuals. 
  • A testament to the strength of the human spirit. The Doctor may save the human race but there's a human race to be saved because they never lost hope, even while trapped in the traffic jam from hell. 
  • Scary monsters. Speaking of hell, something's lurking down in the smoke filled lower depths; we see...things edging to the surface. Fangs? Tentacles? Claws? It's hard to tell at first which makes them even scarier. And then the monsters come bursting out of the smoke and OH MY GOD, THEY'RE GOING TO EAT ME!  
  • Classic Who connection. The monsters are the Macra, alien creatures first (and last) seen back in the days of the 2nd Doctor. 

But the main thing that really drives this episode is the development of the Doctor and Martha. They spend most of the episode apart but each is driven by the other. Martha grapples with having faith in a man she barely knows and he's not exactly forthcoming about himself. Yet she's seen enough to know the Doctor will find a way. Meanwhile, the Doctor not only deals with the guilt that he put someone in danger but he realizes he's keeping her at a distance. 

In the last scene, Martha pulls up an old discarded chair in the alleyway where the TARDIS is parked. She sits down and makes it clear the Doctor needs to trust her. The Doctor does trust her and he proves it by telling her about his home, about Gallifrey. As he speaks glowingly of his home world, the camera moves up to the sky as flying cars whiz about a futuristic city. 

Gridlock at number one? Really.

Yes. Really. 


Once you've recovered from today's post ("I can't believe he put Blink at #2!" "The boy ain't right!"), let me remind you I'll do this again next week at this time as 10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn reviews and ranks the episodes of Series Four. 

Meanwhile there are posts on other subjects so I hope you come by to see what might appear. (I know I have no idea!) 

Until then, remember to be good to one another. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You  

Carl Kasell

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