Timestamp #190: Human Nature & The Family of Blood

Doctor Who: Human Nature
Doctor Who: The Family of Blood
(2 episodes, s03e08-e09, 2007)

 

Martha Jones: The woman who waited.

The chase is on as the TARDIS door swings open and our heroes hit the deck before an energy beam slams into the console. The Doctor sets the TARDIS into motion but their enemy is following them courtesy of a stolen vortex manipulator. He tells Martha that, as long as they never saw her face, they can be safe. Their lives depend on a simple pocketwatch.

Dr. John Smith snaps awake from a nightmare as a maid named Martha delivers his breakfast. He tells her of a fanciful dream, one in which he is a time traveler named the Doctor. She reminds him that it is 1913 and that he is merely human. After he dresses, Dr. Smith goes about his lessons at Farringham School for the Boys as Martha works alongside fellow maid Jenny. Two unpleasant cadets sling not so subtle racism at Martha, but she dismisses it. Jenny notes that those boys may be running the country in a matter of years, but Martha quietly responds that they probably won’t. World War I is just on the horizon.

Dr. Smith later encounters Matron Joan Redfern, the school nurse, and they awkwardly hit it off. The encounter ends as Dr. Smith falls backward down the stairs. Matron Redfern tends to his injuries as Dr. Smith muses about his dreams and Martha tidies up. Smith talks about having two hearts – Redfern clinically dismisses that notion with a stethoscope – and shows the matron his Journal of Impossible Things. She’s wowed by his drawings and stories, but takes it anyway to read it later. She later discusses the mysterious doctor with Martha and emphasizes that she remember her place.

Later on, young Timothy Latimer is bullied by Hutchinson. The aggressor is irritated by Latimer’s knowledge of things he shouldn’t know, and Jeremy Baines defuses the situation by offering to fetch a beer from a secret stash in the woods. Martha and Jenny also share a drink outside the local pub – they’re not allowed inside due to their social status – as a green light flashes across the sky. Smith arrives and explains it away as a shooting star before retiring for the night. With Smith safely tucked away, Martha runs off to investigate, and Jenny tags along.

The light turns out to be a ship and Baines runs into it, quite literally. He’s able to get aboard just before Martha and Jenny arrive, and the ladies return home. Meanwhile, Baines talks with the ship’s occupants, the Family. He asks to see them but they refuse before attacking and taking his form. Baines returns to the dormitory without any beer, acting not quite like himself. The students call it a night while Latimer nervously polishes his boots.

The next morning, Martha checks in on the powered-down TARDIS while she remembers the events following their pursuit through time. The Doctor used a device known as the Chameleon Arch to become human, literally rewriting his DNA, and hide in 1913 to wait out the Family. He left her a set of twenty-three recorded instructions, including the last-resort directive to open the watch in an emergency. Martha tearfully wishes that he would return home.

Young Latimer visits Dr. Smith and finds the pocketwatch. He sees premonitions of what resides inside and takes the device, opening it and learning about Time Lords. Unfortunately, this alerts the Family to the Doctor’s presence. Baines (the Family’s Brother) telepathically calls back to the ship and orders the soldiers to be activated.

The soldiers take the form of scarecrows on a nearby farm. They assimilate Mr. Clark on the farm as the Family’s Father and Lucy Cartwright (a nearby girl in the wrong place at the wrong time) as the Family’s Daughter.

Smith is engaged in weapons training as Latimer deals with visions of the pending war. Latimer is dissuaded by the thought of killing African tribesmen with machine guns, and Hutchinson takes the opportunity to punish Latimer. Meanwhile, Redfern and Smith take a walk and talk about warfare. Smith saves a woman from death by falling piano with a cricket ball and a good arm. They walk the countryside and talk about Smith’s journal, and when they stop to fix one of the scarecrows, Smith talks about his childhood in Gallifrey, a place that he’s not quite sure about. Later that night, Smith and Redfern share a romantic moment that is interrupted by Martha, prompting his companion to seek solace in the TARDIS.

The Doctor didn’t leave instructions for what to do if he fell in love. Especially if it wasn’t with her.

Latimer has an encounter with the Family as the scarecrows assimilate Jenny as the new Mother. She returns to Martha’s side and learns some clues about the mysterious Doctor Smith, but Martha realizes that something is amiss. She runs to Smith, dodging the Mother’s laser fire, and discovers that the pocketwatch is missing. She fails to convince Smith of the truth, and after striking him, is dismissed from his service. She runs to the TARDIS (encountering Latimer en route) as the Family snoops about in Smith’s office.

Smith and Redfern attend a local dance as the Family track the schoolteacher down. Martha arrives with the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and talks with Redfern, leaving the dancing duo speechless with the device from Smith’s dreams.

The Family arrives and vaporizes the doorman and the organizer of the party. They put the pieces together, but Smith still can’t recall anything. The Family wants a Time Lord, so they threaten Smith, Martha, and Redfern, but without the pocketwatch he is unable to do anything.

The standoff ends as Latimer cracks open the watch, distracting the Family. Martha takes the Mother’s weapon, forcing them to release Redfern and prompting Smith to evacuate the building. Martha is ambushed by a scarecrow but escapes. The Mother taps into Jenny’s memories and sends the Father to the west in search of whatever Martha walked to each day.

Smith rouses the school to defend against the Family’s invasion. The Sister gleefully sneaks inside to spy on the defense as Martha confronts Smith, urging him not to engage in violence. The headmaster demands an explanation but believes Smith and Redfern. Martha and Redfern search for the pocketwatch – Latimer listens to it as it whispers caution in his ear – as the headmaster and Mr. Phillips confront the Family outside the school’s gates. The Son taunts the headmaster with visions of the coming war, then sends him back inside for Smith after vaporizing Phillips.

The headmaster rallies his students, now his soldiers, to war. The Son does the same with his scarecrow army as the Father discovers the TARDIS.

Meanwhile, Martha baffles Redfern with her knowledge of medicine, something that a “girl of her color” shouldn’t know. Redfern leaves to tend to the students and plumbs the depth’s of Smith’s childhood history. She also plants the seed of pacifism in John Smith’s mind.

Latimer and Hutchinson share the younger boy’s visions of the future. Convinced that they survive the battle, Latimer runs but finds the Sister. He opens the pocketwatch and stuns the Sister with a vision of the Doctor at his most merciless, keying the Family into the need to find Latimer and the watch.

They begin the assault and the students mow down the scarecrow army with tears in their eyes, poignantly punctuated by the strains of “He Who Would Valiant Be.” The headmaster assesses the destruction – not a life was lost since they were all filled with straw – and is soon vaporized by the Sister. Smith orders a retreat as the Brother reanimates the scarecrow army and storms the school. Latimer distracts them again with the watch, saving his classmates from execution. The students and staff evacuate the school as the Father brings the TARDIS to the front doors.

Martha shows Smith the blue box and Redfern confirms what the schoolteacher wrote in his journal. Smith has a breakdown and runs into the woods, and Redfern offers them a place to hide as the Family spools up their next assault. The cottage belongs to the Cartwrights, whose daughter is now the Sister. The family is now dead. Latimer arrives soon after with the watch in hand, explaining that he was scared and that the watch asked him to wait. He’s seen the Doctor – “He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and can see the turn of the universe. And, he’s wonderful.” – but Smith refuses to take the watch.

The Family begins an assault on the village. Smith takes the watch, momentarily speaking in the Doctor’s voice, and listens in horror as Martha explains the plan. Smith doesn’t want to go but finds out that if the Family wins, they will be free to burn the universe. Redfern embraces the doctor, and together they share a vision of what could be if Smith remained: They marry, have children, and he dies happy.

But the Doctor could never have a life like that.

Moments later, Smith arrives at the Family’s ship and begs them to stop the bombardment. He offers them the watch and asks them to go, but the watch is empty. It was a ruse. The Doctor has returned, and he’s set their ship to self-destruct.

The Family and the Doctor escape from the ship in time. The Doctor, in his kindness, imprisons each member of the Family in a unique way for all eternity instead of executing them: The Father is wrapped in chains forged at the heart of a dwarf star; The Mother is enveloped in the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy; the Sister is trapped in every mirror in existence; and the Son is a scarecrow, protecting the fields of England.

They all get their wish in the end. They all get to live forever.

The Doctor returns to Redfern when all is said and done. The school is closed for the time being. He won’t change back for her, but he offers her the chance to travel with him. She declines since the wounds of loss are too deep. Especially since had the Doctor never come to her time, no one would have died.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and tells Martha that it’s time to move on. He thanks her for her sacrifice, and then together they bid farewell to Timothy Latimer. The Doctor gives Latimer the watch as a good luck charm before disappearing into time and space once more.

Years later, on the battlefield of World War I, Latimer checks his watch and tells Hutchinson that it is time. Latimer saves his former classmate from incoming fire, looks to the sky, and thanks the Doctor for his good luck. The Time Lord’s example continues to influence.

Farther into the future, a wheelchair-bound Latimer attends an Armistice Day ceremony and spots the Doctor and Martha, each wearing poppies. The silently acknowledge each other as the service continues.

 

This is one of the deeper stories in Doctor Who lore.

First, by taking the hero and title character out of the mix, the show takes an opportunity to look over the mythology with reverence to the history of the show. The Journal of Impossible Things contains the basics (the former eight faces of the Doctor, the TARDIS, the console room, and the sonic screwdriver) along with specifics from across the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s travels.

Second, it introduces a critical plot device of the biodata module. Carried in this story by the popular time travel trope of a pocketwatch (which we have seen before), it further plays with the ability to separate a Time Lord’s essence from his or her body, much as we saw with the Watcher at the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration. It also introduces the Chameleon Arch, which can literally rewrite a Time Lord’s DNA to any other form.

This brings up an interesting theoretical tangent: What of Susan? It will be definitively established in the future that Susan left Gallifrey with the First Doctor, and since off-worlders are generally prohibited on Gallifrey, we must assume that she’s at least Gallifreyan and potentially trained as a Time Lord. But the First Doctor was also comfortable leaving her behind on post-invasion Earth, circa 2164. Would he have left her behind, knowing that she could potentially regenerate in the presence of otherwise ignorant humans? Is it possible that he use the Chameleon Arch prior to their stop at 76 Totter’s Lane to change her into a less conspicuous human being?

We may never know, but it’s fun to speculate.

Third, I am quite impressed with Martha Jones. I mean, sure, she really wants the Doctor to love her, but her relationship with the Time Lord evidently goes much deeper than romantic love. She willingly sacrifices her mobility, her rights, and her freedom in order to save the Doctor and the universe at large. The amount of racism and discrimination levied toward her in this story is heartbreaking and far from acceptable, but Martha stands strong in the face of it. She withstands the assault on her character in service of the mission, her responsibility, and her love.

She does this because she loves the Doctor, but on a level (honestly, unbeknownst to her) far exceeding anything she ever expected. And the Doctor trusted that she could fulfill her mission.

Martha surpasses Rose with this story. She’s an independent, strong, and worthy companion, even if her emotions are a bit misguided.

Finally, in a beautiful nod to the origins of this franchise, the Doctor named his parents as Sydney and Verity. That statement was, in fact, true.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Blink

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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Timestamp #189: 42

Doctor Who: 42
(1 episode, s03e07, 2007)

 

Would you like to swing into a star?

As the TARDIS careens through time and space, the Doctor hooks Martha up with a superphone, calling it a privilege of her status as a frequent flyer. The TARDIS jolts to a stop on a crippled starship that only has forty-two minutes until it crashes into a nearby star.

The starship is automated and the entire crew is assembled with the Doctor and Martha, but the compartment where the TARDIS landed is too hot to pass through. Basically, the travelers have no choice but to help save the ship. The engines look like they were intentionally destroyed and the auxiliary engines are protected by password-locked blast doors. The sonic screwdriver is no use. Martha goes with crewman Riley Vashtee to figure out how to access the auxiliaries while the Doctor joins the rest of the team in the infirmary. The captain’s husband, Hal Korwin, is literally burning up. The Doctor sedates him and leaves Abi Lerner (the ship’s medical attendant) in charge to conduct bioscans while they get back to work on the engines.

Martha and Riley are moving quickly through their tasks (with a little help on happy primes from the Doctor) as the crew works out their plan. Martha calls home with her next question (“classical” music regarding The Beatles and Elvis Presley) but her mother is unimpressed with her urgent attitude. Meanwhile, Korwin wakes up and attacks Abi with sun-hot eyes while telling her to “burn with me.” All the Doctor’s group find is a vaporized shadow on the bulkhead. The test results puzzle the Doctor and Captain Kath McDonnell tells everyone to watch out for Korwin.

Unfortunately, the warning comes too late for crewman Erina Lessak.

As the Doctor and McDonnell discuss Korwin’s condition, Korwin finds Dev Ashton and infects him with whatever this condition is. Ashton then pursues Martha and Riley, cornering them in an airlock. Ashton attempts to jettison them, but the Doctor is able to stall him.

Meanwhile, Korwin finds McDonnell and tells her that it’s her fault. Scannell freezes Korwin, momentarily stopping Ashton, but the Doctor is too late to prevent Martha and Riley from being ejected toward the sun. The Doctor calls Scannell and demands a spacesuit, leaving McDonnell alone with the engines and her dead husband.

Martha implores Riley to have faith in the Doctor as they plummet toward the sun. Riley’s family is all but gone, and Martha takes a moment to call home and say goodbye. Her mother probes about the Doctor (while an agent of Harold Saxon monitors the call) as Martha asks about trivial life matters. Tearfully, Martha disconnects.

As the Doctor suits up, McDonnell traps and kills Ashton. The Doctor goes outside and magnetizes the hull, pulling the escape pod back to the ship. While he’s out there, he finally sees what’s threatening them: The sun is alive. When he comes back inside, he’s infected with the same affliction and understands what has happened. The crew bled the star dry for fuel and now it wants revenge. The Doctor demands to be placed in the same stasis chamber that killed Ashton in order to freeze the star out of him.

At the same time, Korwin comes back to life and interferes with the freezing process. While McDonnell goes to deal with Korwin, the Doctor orders Martha to dump the fuel pods. McDonnell lures Korwin to the airlock and blows them both out into the star.

Riley and Scannell finally reach the auxiliaries just as Martha orders them to dump the fuel. As the particles return to the star, they crewmen restore the engines and the Doctor is freed of the star-being’s influence. The ship is safe.

Riley and Scannell are left alone on the ship as the Doctor and Martha say their farewells. Martha shares a kiss with Riley as she closes the door, then sharing a moment with the Doctor as he gives her a key to the TARDIS. She calls home and her mother asks her to come by for dinner or tea. Martha asks what day it is, and Francine replies that it’s Election Day. After they disconnect, Francine hands her phone to Saxon’s agents.

Dark times lay ahead.

 

The pace and pressure were frantic throughout this episode as everyone just tried to stay alive. The Doctor’s mood swings during his possession by the star are a tribute to David Tennant’s acting skills. Malevolent and creepy one second, then frightened and apologetic the next. Simply beautiful.

The creeping menace of Saxon’s influence over Francine is also a nice touch, showing us a reverse on the Rose/Jackie relationship. While both mothers are concerned for their daughters, Jackie trusted the Doctor to a degree.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Human Nature and Doctor Who: The Family of Blood

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #188: The Lazarus Experiment

Doctor Who: The Lazarus Experiment
(1 episode, s03e06, 2007)

 

Tonight’s event: The Last of the Time Lords vs The Immortal Scorpion King.

The Doctor returns Martha to her flat, intent on dropping her off at the end of her journey on the morning after she initially left. The reprieve is shortlived when Martha’s mother calls with news that her sister Tish is on the news. Professor Richard Lazarus has discovered how, with the single push of a button, to change what it means to be human.

The Doctor is obviously intrigued.

Before the demonstration, Professor Lazarus and Lady Thaw discuss their plans, intent on providing Harold Saxon with an intriguing show. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Martha arrive in their finest black-tie, despite the omen that bad things tend to happen when the Time Lord wears that suit, and meet Martha’s family and a platter of “nibbles.” The meeting between the Doctor and Martha’s mother is tense, to say the least, but he is saved by the professor as the demonstration begins. Lazarus steps into the giant chamber at the center of the room and, with a little help from the Doctor as the device nearly overloads, emerges decades younger.

He has created a fountain of youth.

Lazarus makes the rounds later with Lady Thaw, but he’s stopped by a sharp pain. He snags a platter of hors d’oeuvres and wolfs it down to quench what the Doctor recognizes as an energy deficiency, somewhat similar to his own regeneration. Lazarus and the Doctor spar momentarily before the professor departs. The travelers set to work on the mystery, using the DNA Lazarus left as a farewell kiss on Martha’s hand to start their investigation.

The DNA fluctuates during their analysis. Similarly, as Lazarus and Thaw share a drink in his office, the professor transforms into a scorpion-like creature after insulting the woman about her age. Lady Thaw doesn’t survive much longer.

While Martha’s family debate over the Doctor’s presence in Martha’s life, Lazarus returns to the floor in a different suit. He summons Tish with a lecherous leer as the Doctor and Martha discover what’s left of Lady Thaw. Lazarus leeched the life-force out of her.

The Doctor and Martha return to the floor only to receive word that Tish and Lazarus are on the roof. While they rush to the rescue, Francine meets a mysterious stranger who tells her that Martha should choose better friends. Martha and Doctor interrupt Tish and Lazarus as the professor muses over T.S. Eliot. Tish is angry, but that is shortlived as Lazarus reveals himself. Jones, Jones, and the Doctor run as the building goes into lockdown. The Doctor tosses his sonic screwdriver to Martha so she can pick the lock while Lazarus storms the show floor. The Doctor cannot save one of the attendees, but he is able to save Martha’s family by goading Lazarus into a chase through the building.

Martha sees her family to safety as the Doctor climbs through the utility room. She’s able to open the main doors and let everyone out, but she also turns the power back on. To her mother’s chagrin, she rushes to the Doctor’s side. Meanwhile, the Doctor sets a trap with gas and an electrical spark, but the explosion doesn’t stop the monster.

The mysterious man returns and whispers secrets in Francine’s ear about the Doctor. Back on the show floor, the Doctor and Martha seek refuge inside the Lazarus capsule as the professor scorpion switches it on. The Doctor works feverishly to reverse the polarity and reflect the energy into the monster. They find Lazarus back in human form, soon to be taken away by an ambulance.

Francine greets the Doctor with a slap to the face. As the ambulance crashes, the Doctor rushes to find the EMTs drained of energy. Francine is upset that her daughters join the investigation. They follow the scorpion’s energy to the nearby Southwark Cathedral and find a human Lazarus talking about his childhood during the Blitz. The Doctor empathizes as he makes plans, and Martha eventually lures the beast to the top of the belltower. The Doctor uses his sonic in concert with the cathedral organ to stun Lazarus. The scorpion falls the stone floor below and dies on impact, transforming one last time to the old man he once was.

Martha and the Doctor end up back at the TARDIS, and he offers her another trip through time. She doesn’t want to be just a passenger, so he offers her something more. As she rushes into the TARDIS and they dematerialize her phone rings. It’s Francine on the other end with a message from Harold Saxon: The Doctor is dangerous, and Martha is not safe.

 

What could be an otherwise average story does a lot to move the ball forward for the second half of the season. The Doctor/Martha relationship is fairly well established, but now we get the added friction of distrust from Martha’s closest allies courtesy of the mysterious Mr. Saxon. It almost makes up for the CGI scorpion, which is dodgy while still being one step above The Scorpion King‘s big reveal from 2002.

The season’s been pretty good so far. Let’s see if this head of steam keeps the train on the rails.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: 42

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #187: Daleks in Manhattan & Evolution of the Daleks

Doctor Who: Daleks in Manhattan
Doctor Who: Evolution of the Daleks
(2 episodes, s03e04-e05, 2007)

 

It’s the tallest genetic experiment on Earth!

It’s Manhattan in the 1930s. The show’s about to start and showgirl Tallulah is talking to her boyfriend Laszlo, one of the stagehands. They’re making plans to go away together, but after Tallulah goes on stage, Laszlo has an unfortunate encounter with a pig creature.

Later on, the TARDIS materializes at the base of the Statue of Liberty and Martha is excited to finally visit New York City. She spots the (under construction) Empire State Building and finds the date on a newspaper: November 1st, 1930. The mystery of people vanishing from Hooverville piques the Doctor’s interest. So, it’s off to Central Park they go.

As the Doctor explains the history of Hooverville (and similar locations across the United States), the watch as community leader Solomon breaks up a fight over a loaf of bread. The travelers talk to Solomon, who questions why a building like the Empire State can be built while people like him are starving in Manhattan.

At the Empire State Building, a businessman named Mr. Diagoras pressures his foreman to speed up construction on the roof mast. When the foreman refuses, Diagoras introduces him to the masters over the project: The Daleks, specifically from the Cult of Skaro. The foreman is taken by a pair of pig slaves for the “final experiment” while Diagoras gets a new set of orders. Dalek Caan needs more bodies for the experiment.

The Doctor and Martha ask Solomon about the disappearances, but their discussion is interrupted by Diagoras asking for volunteers to work in the sewer. When no one volunteers for the dollar a day wages, the Doctor and Martha step up, joined by Solomon and a young man from Tennessee named Frank. They probe the depths of the sewers and find a pulsing green mass of alien flesh, square under the Empire State Building. The Doctor examines it before shoving it in his pocket.

Meanwhile, Diagoras has workers placing Dalek spheres on the building mast, disregarding the risk of death for the men. After they leave, Dalek Caan joins Diagoras and muses about humanity and how a city like New York can survive while Skaro cannot. Noting how Diagoras thinks like one of them, Dalek Sec orders Dalek Caan to bring the human for the final experiment.

The Doctor and his sewer crew don’t find the collapsed tunnels that Diagoras hired them to clear, but before the Doctor can send the humans back, they encounter a lone pig slave. They are soon surrounded and running for their lives. They escape but Frank is taken after holding off the pig slaves.

The ladder and manhole lead right into the theater, and the Doctor, Martha, and Solomon soon meet Tallulah and her (stage prop) handgun. She asks them about Laszlo, but our heroes don’t have any info to offer. The Doctor uses electronics in the theater to develop a scanner for the alien mass while Solomon returns to Hooverville to defend his community. Martha and Tallulah discuss Laszlo – someone is still leaving her roses every day, but won’t reveal their identity – while Martha hems and haws about her relationship with the Doctor.

The Daleks begin the final experiment, and Diagoras fears that he will be changed into one of the pig slaves. Dalek Thay questions why Daleks need DNA from inferior species and Dalek Sec counters that their xenophobic quest for purity has resulted in their extinction. Dalek Sec opens his shell and grabs Diagoras, merging with the human as the casing seals shut around them.

The Doctor examines the alien flesh blob as Martha watches Tallulah’s show from just offstage. Martha spots a pig slave watching the show from across the stage and navigates through the performance to get a closer look. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds the numbers 467-989 and isolates the point of origin to Skaro. Martha chases the pig slave, which soon captures her, and the Doctor and Tallulah pursue them into the sewers. They soon discover the Daleks in the sewers and the Doctor is immediately put on edge.

On their way back to the theater, they encounter Laszlo, now transformed into a pig slave but able to maintain his intelligence. He is the pig slave that Martha was pursuing, and he was leaving the roses for Tallulah. The Doctor asks Laszlo to take him to Martha.

Martha is added to a lot of future slaves, including Frank. They are soon joined by the Daleks, whom Martha recognizes from the Doctor’s stories. The Daleks assess the slaves by intelligence and divide them into two groups: Future pig slaves and candidates for the final experiment. As they are led away, the Doctor and Laszlo join Martha’s group as Tallulah heads back and gets lost.

They end up in the lab where Dalek Sec is finalizing his evolution. The Doctor prompts Martha to ask about the experiment and the Daleks explain that the Children of Skaro must walk again. The Doctor is beside himself when Dalek Sec’s shell opens to reveal a Dalek-human hybrid.

The Doctor reveals himself as the Daleks prepare to process the slaves. He taunts them – time was that four Daleks could have conquered the world – and confronts Dalek Sec about what he feels. He shows them a radio and muses about its wonders before springing his trap. He uses the sonic screwdriver to produce a high pitched noise from the radio, then runs with the prisoners to Hooverville. The Daleks give chase while Dalek Sec remains behind. Daleks Thay and Caan discuss their doubts about Sec’s plan.

Solomon’s community, now armed with rifles, defend Hooverville against the pig slaves that come to retrieve their prisoners. When the pig slaves have fallen, Daleks Jast and Caan arrive in the air and start bombarding the village while Sec watches from the Empire State Building. Solomon tries to reason with the Daleks, but the Daleks exterminate him in response. That act causes Sec, who was moved by Solomon’s courage, to gasp in sorrow and despair. Martha is horrified and the Doctor is angry. The Doctor demands to be exterminated, but Sec spares the Doctor’s life. The Daleks are apprehensive but follow Sec’s order to bring the Doctor back to the lab. Martha tries to follow, but the Doctor asks her to help the wounded while slipping her the psychic paper.

Sec explains that the deaths were wrong. As the first of his kind confronting the last of the Time Lords, he talks about how he tried to rebuild the Dalek race. Eventually, he landed on a Frankenstein-level experiment to wipe human minds and reformat the brains with Dalek information. They have over a thousand empty shells ready for experimentation and genetic splicing, and all they need is power. Enter the dalekanium plates on the building’s roof and a large solar flare.

Sec’s plan would remove the Dalek mentality from their next evolution, but Jast, Caan, and Thay are unsure. Despite their reservations, Sec says that they will follow his orders. He also suggests that the Doctor could take them to another planet and let their new civilization grow in peace. The Doctor sets to work on the plan.

As Martha, Frank, and Tallulah make their way into the Empire State Building and examine the construction in progress, the Doctor continues his work. He also apologizes to Laszlo because he can’t reverse the stagehand’s physical changes, but he confides that if helping Sec will save the universe, he has to try. Martha finds the revised plans that added the dalekanium to the roof as the experiment goes awry. The Daleks revolt against Sec and change the genetic solution to make the subject pure Dalek. The Doctor and Laszlo make a break for it and meet up with Martha’s group while the Daleks restrain Sec.

The Doctor and his acrophobia climb the mast and start work on the Dalekanium. Meanwhile, the pig slaves assault Martha’s team. Laszlo falls before the fight, and Martha evens the odds with a makeshift lightning rod. The Doctor’s work is halted when he drops his sonic screwdriver, so he improvises by embracing the mast as lightning strikes. The bolt slaughters the pig slaves, but the new Dalek-human hybrids awaken and prepare for war. Dalek Caan takes command as Sec protests.

Martha and Frank find the Doctor and his screwdriver. The Doctor snaps out his shocked state and makes a plan with Martha’s team. They race back to the theater and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to signal the Daleks. They have no choice but to face their ultimate nemesis.

The hybrids burst into the theater and surround the Doctor’s team. Thay and Jast, with Sec in chains, take aim on the Doctor. Sec tries to sway the hybrids and his captors, then sacrifices himself by stepping in front of the bolt meant for the Doctor. The Doctor addresses the hybrids and convinces the Daleks to let them kill him. The hybrids refuse to shoot, questioning their orders. The Doctor’s DNA got mixed into the genetic structure, and that revelation sparks a firefight between the Daleks and the hybrids. Thay and Jast are destroyed, but Caan issues a self-destruct command that kills all of the hybrids.

The Doctor returns to the laboratory and faces Dalek Caan, the last of the Daleks and the last of the Cult of Skaro. In the face of the recent genocide, the Doctor offers to help Caan, but the Dalek uses an emergency temporal shift to escape.

Martha and Tallulah bring Laszlo to the lab. The pig slaves were only meant to live for a few weeks, but the Doctor springs into action with the gene lab to save his life. In the end, Laszlo and Tallulah find a home in Hooverville.

Martha and the Doctor return to the TARDIS. Before they leave, Martha asks if he’ll see Dalek Caan again. The Doctor is sure of it.

 

This two-part story is filled to the brim with action and intrigue, and it’s a good chance to finally introduce the Doctor’s mortal enemies to his new companion. The narrative is true to the Dalek history while adding some interesting (but somewhat silly) twists.

The Doctor/Martha relationship is still solid enough for me, but the will-they-won’t-they aspect is my least favorite part.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Lazarus Experiment

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #186: Gridlock

Doctor Who: Gridlock
(1 episode, s03e03, 2007)

 

Atlanta traffic might be bad, but at least we don’t have killer crabs.

A newscaster delivers a traffic report as an elderly couple in a stalled car wait for the police. They are under attack from an unknown creature, and the creature wins before they can be rescued.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor offers Martha a trip into the future. She wants to visit his home planet, but the Doctor deflects her attention with musings about the architecture and the orange skies of Gallifrey. The way he looks… it’s heartbreaking. He sets a course for New Earth, the same place he took Rose on their first adventure together. The Doctor is excited, but Martha considers it a rebound relationship.

As they arrive, the Face of Boe directs his attendant, Novice Hame, to find the Doctor before it’s too late. Meanwhile, Martha encounters the New Earth version of a drug bazaar. The Doctor watches a young woman buy a dose of Forget after losing her parents on the motorway, and the transaction provides a distraction for a couple to kidnap Martha and drug her with a Sleep patch. With enough people on board, the car now qualifies for the express lane.

The Doctor pursues on advice from the pharmacists – he threatens that he will personally close the street down that night – and Martha meets her abductors. They are Milo and Cheen, and Cheen is pregnant so they’re looking for a better place to live. The upside is that they’re only ten miles away, but the downside is that it will take six years to travel the distance.

The title of the episode is Gridlock for a reason.

The Doctor enters the motorway and, after choking on exhaust, meets a cat person named Thomas Kincaide Brannigan and his human wife Valerie. They also have a litter of kitten kids, colloquially known as Children of the Motorway. The Doctor is astounded by the pace of the motorway, but he has no way off his current car. Brannigan refuses to move to the fast lane due to safety concerns for his kids, but he does connect the Doctor to a radio-based network of drivers who help him track down Martha’s location. Some of the drivers on the motorway have been there for over twenty years.

The Doctor questions if the police even exist in this endless traffic jam. Meanwhile, Martha learns that there are creatures living in the smoke layers beneath them, possibly in the air vents. As they all sit in the eternal traffic, the radio broadcasts a devotional that buoys the spirits of the commuters. Milo and Cheen’s car is finally granted access to the fast lane, but the exits are all closed. In fact, they’re perpetually closed, and the creatures are on the attack as the cars keep making the loop.

The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to jump from car to car, descending on foot. He leaves his coat – it was given to him by Janis Joplin – and muses about how he lied to Martha while he was showboating, then poses as a traffic patrolman as he bounces down the levels and encounters a host of characters.

The Doctor reaches the last level before the fast lane. He clears the smoke for a moment to get a clear view of the monsters below. They are the Macra, and they’re attacking cars in the fast lane. Martha’s car uses a submarine trick and cuts power to rest on the floor of the motorway. Unfortunately, they only have eight minutes.

The Doctor explains that the Macra feed on toxic gas, once building an empire of slaves (in the Second Doctor’s era) to mine gas for them. These Macra are no longer intelligent, but instead non-sentient hungry beasts. His attempts to stop the Macra is interrupted by Novice Hame, who explains that she’s dedicated her life to redemption for her past crimes over the last twenty-four years after she teleports them away. The world died in seven minutes after a drug named Bliss evolved into a lethal virus. Novice Hame has spent the ensuing years taking care of the Face of Boe while New Earth labors under a self-imposed century-long quarantine. The citizens in the motorway were saved from the virus, but are enslaved in their salvation.

The Face of Boe implores the Doctor to save the human race.

Martha and her abductors talk about the Doctor as their air supply dwindles. She places all of her faith in him, and its enough to sway her captors to power back up and drive through the Macra. The Doctor detects their license signature and, with a burst of life energy from the Face of Boe, opens the entire motorway to the world above. Martha’s faith is redeemed as her car emerges into the light of the sun and sets a course for the Doctor and the senate building.

As Martha arrives, the Face of Boe’s containment tank shatters. Martha asks who Boe is, but the Doctor only knows of the legends. The legend also tells that Boe will share a final secret before death, and the last of one race shares fate-changing words with the last of another.

“Know this, Doctor: You are not alone.”

And then he dies.

Martha and the Doctor return to the TARDIS, strolling along the now-defunct Pharmacist’s Row. Martha demands that the Doctor explain the secrets of Gallifrey and his history, and as the city raises their voices in the song of the devotional, the Doctor finally tells her of his home and the Last Great Time War.

 

This story is fairly light on story, but it continues threads set down from the beginnings of the revival era. The character development between the Doctor and Martha is great stuff, especially as Martha settles into her role as companion and helps the Doctor heal.

The Christian themes in the story are strong, from the discussions of faith in the Doctor – a literal deus ex machina, remember – and the salvation found in heading toward the light to the use of two Christian hymns as diegetic music. The travelers on the motorway sing “The Old Rugged Cross,” a 1912 hymn written by American evangelist George Bennard, and the recently freed citizens of the New New York sing “Abide with Me,” an 1847 hymn written by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte.

Finally, we saw the return of a classic enemy, although in a much-reduced state. They are left to waste away in the bowels of the motorway, which is somewhat troubling, but certainly not as much as it would have been had they been fully sentient.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Daleks in Manhattan & Doctor Who: Evolution of the Daleks

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #185: The Shakespeare Code

Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code
(1 episode, s03e02, 2007)

 

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

A woman named Lillith smiles as she is serenaded by a bard. She offers him a trip upstairs for his efforts where she reveals herself as a witch-like creature. She introduces the rest of her coven, Mothers Doomfinger and Bloodtide, and they consume the young man.

Going out on a limb, I’d say he’s not getting lucky tonight.

As the TARDIS hurtles through the void, Martha asks about how the time capsule works. The Doctor is elusive but is more than happy to introduce her to London 1599. She’s concerned about A Sound of Thunder, the Grandfather Paradox, and slavery, but the Time Lord eases her mind with the spectacle around them and urges her to “walk like she owns the place.” Oh, and they can also check out the freshly-built Globe Theater.

It’s more of tetradecagon instead of a globe, but they get to see William Shakespeare nonetheless. The Bard makes a curtain call after Love’s Labour’s Lost concludes, and the Doctor is bewildered by the man’s vocabulary and his odd behavior. It seems that Shakespeare is under Lillith’s spell and he has just announced a surprise play that the Doctor and Martha have never heard of.

They visit Shakespeare a bit later as he and his actors talk about the upcoming play. The playwright is unaffected by the psychic paper – he sees it as blank, which the Doctor heralds as the mark of a true genius – and looks through the ruse of Sir Doctor of TARDIS and Martha of Freedonia. He even tries to woo Martha, though she’s put off by his racial vernacular. After a brief confrontation with Lynley, the Master of Revels – the witches dispatch him after he threatens to shut down the new play – the trio get to know each other. Shakespeare can see a considerable amount about the travelers as they talk. Shortly thereafter, the Doctor and Martha retire to their guest quarters and chat about magic and witchcraft.

The Doctor also continues to mourn Rose, which puts Martha off a bit as he inadvertently compares the two companions.

Lillith visits Shakespeare and acts as his muse, playing the puppetmaster as he unwittingly writes. Lillith also kills Dolly Bailey, the owner of the house. The next morning, Shakespeare muses about the Globe Theater and how the architect, Peter Streete, often spoke of witches. They rush to the theater and investigate why it is built as a tetradecagal. They then head to Bethlehem Royal Hospital, where Streete was committed after he spoke of witchcraft.

The actors rehearse their lines and summon a spirit, but they agree not to speak of it for fear of being committed. Meanwhile, our travelers meet with Streete and find him catatonic, but the Doctor uses his telepathy to help the architect to unlock his memories.

They’re also upset to find that the hospital’s inhabitants are whipped to entertain the gentry.

Streete reveals that the witches dictated the design of the Globe Theater. When the design was complete, the witches broke him and he ended up in the hospital. The discussion is stopped when Mother Doomfinger arrives and kills Streete with a single touch. The Doctor challenges her, and after he deduces that the fourteen walls of the theater are based on the fourteen stars of the Rexel configuration, he names Doomfinger as a Carrionite. The witch disappears as the Doctor explains that their “magic” is really an ancient science based on the power of words.

Lillith promises to kill the Doctor. Because that’s what she does.

The Carrionites vanished at the dawn of the universe, in the Dark Times, leaving it up to debate whether or not they actually existed. The Doctor deduces that the new play was supplied by the Carrionites, and its recitation will bring about the end of the world as focused by the lens of the Globe Theater. The Bard heads for the theater to stop the play as the Doctor and Martha rush to stop the Carrionites.

Bloodtide and Doomfinger use their power to stop Shakespeare. Meanwhile, the Doctor explains that time travel’s cause-and-effect is kind of like Back to the Future. They enter the house and confront Lillith. The witch names Martha, knocking her out instead of killing her since she’s out of her proper time. She attempts to name the Doctor but doesn’t succeed. She also tries to use Rose’s name, but that only makes the Doctor fight harder to save humanity.

She explains that the Eternals eventually found the word to banish the Carrionites into darkness, but the three “witches” used the power of Shakespeare’s grief over his young son’s death to escape.

She tries seducing him and fails, so she steals a lock of hair to weave into a puppet (or rather, a DNA replication module). Lillith stabs the puppet and the Doctor collapses, relying on Martha to restart the heart that the witch attacked. Lillith flies away to the theater.

As the travelers rush to the theater, the actors speak the words that open a portal and release a violent storm of energy. Shakespeare joins the travelers and the Doctor encourages him to reverse the magic through his wordsmithing. The Bard stumbles over the last word and Martha supplies “expelliarmus” ala JK Rowling.

The Carrionites and all the copies of the play are sucked into oblivion, and with the portal closed, the assembled audience erupts in applause. The Doctor finds the Carrionite globe and the witches trapped within. As morning dawns, Shakespeare flirts once again with Martha as the Doctor plays with props, including a skull that reminds him of the Sycorax. He also fits the playwright with a neck brace that looks historically familiar.

As the Doctor and Martha bid the Bard farewell, he reveals that he knows about their true nature as travelers in time and space. The scene is broken up by the arrival of Queen Elizabeth I. The Doctor is ecstatic to finally meet her, but the queen demands that the Doctor be executed for reasons unknown.

The travelers run, chased by guards, and barely enter the TARDIS before an arrow slams into the door.

And off they go again.

 

This was another fun adventure that capitalized on Martha learning about the new universe around her. It was especially fun for the Doctor to hang a lampshade on that with his remark about having to break in new companions.

The references to the franchise were particularly deep. The Doctor’s mind-reading ability came back into play (The Girl in the Fireplace, Fear Her, and The Sensorites), and the arrow in the TARDIS called back to both An Unearthly Child and Silver Nemesis.

We also get a call-back to the Eternals, first introduced in Enlightenment, and the concept of witches is not a new one in this franchise.

Behind the scenes, we’ll continue to see the witches’ loft as Sarah Jane’s attic, a move that helped to pay for what became one of Doctor Who‘s most costly productions.

It’s hard to find complaints about this story. Even the blossoming relationship between the Doctor and Martha isn’t terribly oppressive. If I had one issue to highlight, the chroma keying process was a bit off in the opening scenes and in the shots as our heroes rush for the Globe Theater.

Otherwise, this was a fun adventure with roots deep in franchise history.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Gridlock

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #184: Smith and Jones

Doctor Who: Smith and Jones
(1 episode, s03e01, 2007)

 

It’s a coincidence, but what a fitting story to chronicle just after Apollo 11’s fiftieth anniversary.

Martha Jones is on her way to work when her mobile rings several times, each caller talking to her about her brother’s twenty-first birthday. In the midst of all these calls, she’s interrupted by a certain Time Lord who demonstrably takes off his tie. Once at the hospital, Martha bumps into a helmet-clad motorcycle rider in black, changes clothes, and tends to her patients as a medical student.

After dealing with a patient experiencing a salt deficiency, she spots two more motorcycle riders before moving on to her second patient: John Smith. The man has two heartbeats and is complaining of abdominal pain. Martha examines him and each of the medical students talks about the rise of static electricity as they move on to the next patient.

Later on, Martha talks to her sister on the phone and discovers that the storm outside is focused directly over the hospital. As John Smith walks by, the rain changes direction – straight up! – and the building rumbles as lightning strikes. Looking outside, Martha discovers that the hospital has been moved to the surface of the moon.

That cause a bit of consternation among the occupants. Okay, more like a riot.

Martha and her co-worker, Julia Swales, take stock of the situation. As Martha remarks that the building isn’t airtight – they should have died from asphyxiation long ago – John Smith congratulates her on her intuition and invites her to join him. They stand on a balcony in the Earth-light, breathe deep, and discuss extraterrestrials on Earth. From Big Ben to the Christmas invasion and the Battle of Canary Wharf (where Martha lost her nearly identical cousin, Adeola), Martha believes in aliens. John Smith introduces himself as the Doctor and apologizes for not saving Martha’s cousin. That event is still fresh in his mind.

Then they meet the Judoon.

Huge cylindrical ships land nearby and an army marches on the hospital. Meanwhile, the lady with the salt deficiency introduces Mr. Stoker, the medical student supervisor, to her friends in the motorcycle helmets. She also uses a bendy straw to start drinking his blood.

The Judoon storm the hospital, revealing themselves as rhinoceros-faced aliens, and use a universal translator to learn English. They catalog everyone they meet as human, complete with an X on each captive’s hands. Meanwhile, the Doctor tells Martha that the Judoon are police-for-hire, and if they find a non-human criminal hiding in the hospital, they will execute everyone inside as an accomplice. One patient tries to stop the Judoon with a vase to the head and he is immediately executed for assault.

Justice is swift.

The Doctor, being non-human, skulks away with Martha and tries to hack the computer system with the sonic screwdriver. He tells Martha that he spotted alien power cores a few days back and checked into the hospital as a patient to look around. Martha decides to ask Stoker for help in finding anyone with unusual symptoms, finds Florence enjoying her blood beverage, and the chase is on.

The Doctor and Martha take refuge in a radiology suite and the Doctor ambushes one of the motorcycle gang with an X-ray machine. He blasts the creature – a Slab, leather through and through – with 5000 times the radiation of a normal X-ray. He absorbs the rest of the roentgen (gamma) radiation and dumps it into his shoe, then ditches the other one to balance himself out. Barefoot on the moon, the Doctor finds that his sonic screwdriver has been destroyed before realizing that Florence can now pose as human thanks to her hemoglobin smoothie.

Sure enough, she’s soon cataloged as human.

The other Slab searches for the Doctor and Martha while she asks the Time Lord about traveling companions. They’re ambushed by Judoon who catalog the Doctor as non-human – Martha is truly surprised – and they run to the floor below. Since the Judoon are methodical, they won’t revisit a floor they’ve already audited. The pair find the exsanguinated Stoker, discover that the oxygen supply is starting to dwindle, and separate as the Judoon (surprisingly) storm the floor. The Doctor kisses Martha before running for the MRI suite where he finds Florence modifying the imager to fry every biologic within 250,000 miles. She’s intent on using the Judoon ships to escape.

The Doctor poses as a human and verbally spars with Florence. He mentions that the Judoon are changing their scans so Florence refreshes her disguise by drinking the Doctor’s blood. The Judoon barge in and scan the Doctor, declaring him deceased. Martha scans Florence, revealing her as non-human. Florence, a plasmavore, sets her MRI plan in motion before being executed (along with the Slab) and the Judoon leave.

Meanwhile, the hospital is about to explode.

Martha returns to the Doctor and performs a modified version of CPR, bringing him back to life. With oxygen levels critically low, the Doctor stops the MRI by pulling the plug and then carries Martha to a window as the Judoon lift off. Before they clear the moon’s gravity, they reverse the teleport process and return the hospital to Earth.

In the chaos that follows later, Martha watches as the Doctor enters the TARDIS and dematerializes. She goes home and gets dressed for her brother’s party, an event where Martha is mocked for her moon story – the public cover story is that everyone was drugged – before her family storms off. She spots the Doctor and follows him to the TARDIS. He offers Martha the chance to join him and she eventually joins him.

The “bigger on the inside” moment completely blows her mind.

The Doctor mentions his former companion, Rose, and tells Martha that she is definitely not replacing her. Martha replies that, despite the earlier kiss, she’s only interested in humans. The Doctor sets a course and the TARDIS hurtles away through the vortex.

 

The thing that impresses me most about this episode is the chemistry between Freema Agyeman and David Tennant. The spark is immediate and coupled with the pacing and the dialogue, this story is just fun. Martha is likable and smart, and she plays well with the Tenth Doctor’s zaniness. The downside, of course, is that the hints of a future romantic relationship are far too strong. We just left that party in Pete’s World.

The whole Saxon thread is back with this story after being teased in The Runaway Bride and Captain Jack Harkness. This season’s “Bad Wolf” gives us the added benefit that the mysterious stranger believes in life among the stars. We also get some callbacks as the Ninth Doctor’s sonic is destroyed – the last time we lost a sonic screwdriver like that was in the Fifth Doctor‘s era, and it was like losing “an old friend” –  and the Tenth Doctor muses about his love of bananas.

 


Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.