David Tennant

Doctor Who (2005) s03e03 – Gridlock

Really nice direction from Richard Clark this episode; really nice. It’s a strong episode overall, because it’s set out in space in the future, which are usually the best “Who” episodes (so far), but this episode manages to do it with a bunch of regular humans.

Well, not regular humans. 5 billion years removed new humans. This episode is another in the “The Face of Boe” subplot, which started in the first season with the Face of Boe (voiced by Struan Rodger) just appearing in background then figuring in last season (in an episode involving cat person nurse Anna Hope, who appears here again) and it finally gets something of a conclusion here.

But the Boe stuff is overarching—and seemingly for future episodes in at least the season—while the main action has Tennant deciding he’s not dropping off Freema Agyeman yet (with her consent) so they go to the far future and off to another world. Only it’s New Earth, which we didn’t get to see last time and this time it turns out it’s gone all dystopian and people are traveling on the freeway for years to go ten miles to the promised lands of the suburbs.

Pregnant young persons Travis Oliver and Lenora Crichlow kidnap Agyeman so they can get in the three-or-more lanes, which forces a panicking Tennant—he really does bring disaster to those around him—to travel through layers of flying cars. He’s got to drop between cars, which means introducing amusing supporting characters, and he’s got the cars he spends more time in, which means lots of good dystopian melodrama.

There are also kittens.

So it’s a very cute episode in some ways and terrifying in others, as Agyeman and Tennant discover the secrets of the New New York, which involve giant monsters.

Lots of good material for both Agyeman (who realizes the possible consequences of her time-traveling on a whim) and Tennant. And the way writer Russell T. Davies is developing their relationship is rather nice. Agyeman has to figure it all out on her own here, making her much more of a partner.

The thing about Tennant lying to Agyeman about his home planet being destroyed is a little bit of a stretch though. It’s like Tennant’s biggest concern—she’s going to die before he can tell her the truth, not she’s going to die.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e02 – The Shakespeare Code

I was expecting more from The Shakespeare Code. Dean Lennox Kelly’s Shakespeare is rather wanting. The characterization of it all seems more Knight’s Tale than anything historical or original. There are numerous quotations throughout, usually David Tennant making a quip and Kelly saying he’s going to keep it and Tennant (or Freema Agyeman) worrying they gave Kelly the idea. There are more time travel timeline conundrum conversations in this episode than there have been in the previous twenty episodes. “Doctor Who,” we find out, operates on something akin to the Back to the Future model.

It’s one of the numerous shrugs in the episode, along with Kelly’s womanizing Shakespeare setting his sights on Agyeman, excited by her being a Black woman. We’ve also already had the “is it safe for me to be a Black woman here” conversation, which the show blows off awkwardly, especially given it’s about to be an issue with Kelly. Had “Doctor Who” really not had to think about race on the show until 2007? It’s striking since “Star Trek: The Animated Series” dealt with almost the exact same fetishization thing in the seventies.

The story involves witches trying to use Shakespeare’s words to unlock the end times. It’s a “magic is just science you don’t understand” bit of melodrama, with some occasionally rather scary witch sequences.

If Kelly were better and Gareth Roberts’s script were better, director Charlie Palmer might’ve had a winning little horror episode but it doesn’t really work out. It goes too big for the finale—they’re a tad too comfortable with their CGI—but, otherwise, the witch stuff is good. Christina Cole’d be a great villain if the episode didn’t waste so much time with Kelly.

What’s particularly funny about it is painfully the show wants to make Shakespeare cool and he’s really just a bro.

It makes Tennant fawning over him a little odd.

Speaking of fawning… the show name-drops J.K. Rowling quite painfully.

Anyway.

Agyeman and Tennant are fun on her one trip in the TARDIS—she’s not a companion yet—but it’s more of a fail than not.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e01 – Smith and Jones

New only-other-billed actor (but technically not the new companion yet) Freema Agyeman guest starred at the end of last season but is playing a different character here. Thank goodness. Agyeman is a medical resident, so it’s going to be the Doctor and a doctor going forward, which is a lot better than a vague IT tech (her previous role). She’s just trying to go about her very regular day—running into an energetic David Tennant on her way to work—and then finding him again when she’s doing her medical rounds. Only he doesn’t remember her.

Or does he remember her. It’s unclear. We’ve spent the episode setup with Agyeman—meeting her entire supporting cast, in what seems to be the show promising they’re going to be entertaining and not annoying like a certain someone’s supporting cast—and the episode does take a while to shift the narrative distance back to the familiar Tennant one. The much bigger emphasis is on Agyeman. And it’s great.

The show itself seems thrilled to have her. Meanwhile, Tennant’s still sad about Rose going—the episode’s an indeterminate period after the Runaway Bride special—but then the episode’s like, look how much more fun we can have with Agyeman and Tennant than we ever did with Tennant and Billie Piper. Why is Russell T. Davies all of a sudden writing a much stronger female character? Well, basically because it’s the character establishing and it’s a lot easier to establish a stronger female character than to build one up from “shop girl.”

The story’s also great—a bunch of intergalactic mercenaries has transported Agyeman’s hospital (including Tennant) to the moon so they can search it for a rogue alien. Presumably not Tennant. It could also be evil patient Anne Reid, who’s absolutely fantastic. The mercenaries are rhino-faced aliens, which works out awesome (especially the budgetary gymnastics).

Not great special effects but sometimes quite good direction from Charlie Palmer, and a great energy thanks to Agyeman—and to the more fun approach to the action.

Now, hopefully they can keep up the momentum.

Doctor Who (2005) s03e00 – The Runaway Bride

How does the Doctor (this time David Tennant) usually respond to his companion leaving the show for, presumably, their own projects? Does it matter if you inherent your companion from the last Doctor? Have English school teachers been reading themes on this subject for decades now?

I’m vaguely curious about “Who” canon stuff. Not enough to Google. I’m willing to go into it as tabula rosa as possible.

So I didn’t know there was a Christmas episode between seasons two and three and I gave myself a bit of a spoiler for next season (but not worse than the preview at the end of Runaway Bride).

Runaway Bride does not feature a new companion for Tennant, rather a done-in-one sidekick, in this case the Bride (who’s not actually running away), played by Catherine Tate. The episode does not feature any appearances by anyone left behind last season, but it does take place immediately following the climactic events. So Tennant’s in a seriously bad mood this episode. Presumably. Again, we don’t get any idea how he’s experiencing the loss, not really.

But Tate’s the perfect foil for his mourning. We get to see Tennant acting opposite a much fuller performance than usual, getting to see that the Doctor and the guest star chemistry only with the companion. Tennant’s did his best with sidekick slash love interest slash ward slash protege Billie Piper but the show never delivered on the pair’s initial promise.

So it’s an inglorious postscript farewell to Piper.

Like she got her farewell two-parter and it was nice and all but give them a few months and writer Russell T. Davies is showing the promise of a stronger female character opposite Tennant.

Tate and Tennant are great.

The story’s about her getting transwarp beamed from her wedding to the TARDIS. Tennant gets Tate back to groom Don Gilet all right—albeit a little late—and then it turns out there’s a giant star-looking space ship (you know, for Christmas) attacking the Earth and Tennant’s going to need her help to save the world.

Bad villain though. It doesn’t seem to be Sarah Parish’s fault as much the part itself. Parish’s an energy vampire. Might have to do with the special effects too.

But a good, fun episode. The show’s got a much less lethargic tone than it did towards the end of last season, lot more slapstick. Davies has finally decided it should actually be fun instead of pretending to be fun.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e13 – Doomsday

The BBC does market research, don’t they? I’d love to see what their “Doctor Who” market research says as far as target audience. For instance, this episode—the momentous, earth-shattering (literally?) season finale, which will change the Doctor (David Tennant) forever–has the many experienced heroes, including ostensible eccentric space and time genius Tennant, completely flummoxed over an object.

Over a Dalek-shaped object.

It’s like writer Russell T. Davies remained really confused over the beginning of Superman: The Movie into adulthood instead of asking about it when he was… oh, geez, he was fifteen. No, no, not much chance there.

Hopefully he’s just trying for the tween male viewership.

Though it is the first “Doctor Who” to confuse me… I’m still not sure if the Cybermen and the humans team up to fight the Daleks. If so it’s a very short team-up. Maybe it was a coincidence.

Anyway.

The episode’s less about the (limited budget) invasion of the planet Earth from extra-dimensional aliens and more about getting the pieces in order for a cast change. But what kind of cast change… even though the episode still has Billie Piper narrating her last adventure, there are always possibilities.

Wait, wrong franchise.

We also learn it’s been three years since Piper and Tennant left Noel Clarke in an alternate reality where he could feign macho convincingly. It was like four or six episodes ago? The second half of season two has a three year present action. Is there a chart for the timelines? It’s like the show’s made for rerunning out of order.

Shaun Dingwall’s back because the alternate universe is back but he’s a drag in the alternate universe and continues to be a drag this episode.

Piper gets to face off with some Daleks.

Then there’s the big finale, which is effective and surprising and then Davies keeps beating the stick against it until you’re just relieved when it’s all finally over, who cares the casualties.

And then there’s an immediate setup for the next season.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e12 – Army of Ghosts

One Earth episode without Camille Coduri was clearly too much so she doesn’t just appear in this one, she also pretends to be daughter Rose (Billie Piper) and play companion to David Tennant. Coduri and Tennant don’t grate as sharply as one might’ve feared (hard to imagine her and Christopher Eccleston stuck together so much for an episode subplot)….

But I’m forgetting the most important part—the episode opens with Piper narrating. This story is the last one she’s ever going to tell (not really, because there’s a cliffhanger, so she’s referring to a two-part story). During the resulting flashback montage, Eccleston shows up for about two seconds (and not his face); does all “Who” ignore previous Doctors or is it just with Eccleston? If so, rather inglorious.

After the intro montage and narration setup, Tennant and Piper go to present-day Earth so Piper can visit Coduri and get her laundry done. Sleeping arrangements and laundry facilities on the TARDIS… are they ever discussed?

Right away, Tennant and Piper know something’s wrong because the Earth is now visited on a regular basis by ghosts. Investigating leads them to the mysterious Torchwood Institute, run by a game but too thinly written Tracy Ann Oberman, who are actually causing the ghosts by punching holes in the universe or something.

Doesn’t matter. What matters is Tennant knows they’re not ghosts—doesn’t say how he knows, “Who”’s de facto atheist, after all—and he tries to get Oberman to knock it off and do some investigating.

Unfortunately, we—the audience—know the Cybermen are back as they’ve slowly been taking over Oberman’s staff, principally Freema Agyeman and Hadley Fraser, who are conspiring to do something. Will Tennant be able to save the day, even though he’s got Coduri at his side so Piper can investigate on her own?

Not sure, because it’s a cliffhanger. It’s also a bit of old home week for Piper, because the Cybermen aren’t the only ones back from another dimension….

Noel Clarke’s back, playing tough again.

Clarke’s not good tough, but he’s a lot better tough than whiney.

Better than I was expecting direction from Graeme Harper, on par writing from Russell T. Davies (on par for Russell T. Davies, I mean).

The bookend is annoying and the cliffhanger reveal’s a trope.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e11 – Fear Her

For an Earth episode, especially one with a strangely disjointed narrative with dueling MacGuffins, Fear Her is okay. There’s not a very high bar for the Earth episodes so getting to see David Tennant and Billie Piper doing an ad for the 2012 Olympics in London. They show up—six years into Piper’s future—to watch the games, but land of a street where kids have been disappearing lately.

It’s a bit of a race to see who’s going to take the lead on the investigation—Tennant or Piper, as she’s finally coming into her own (again)—and we quickly learn there’s something weird going on with (only Black kid on the block) Abisola Agbaje. By we in this case, I mean the audience, because we find out right away Agbaje is vanishing kids and turning them into living drawings or something, while her mom, Nina Sosanya, doesn’t want to see there’s a problem.

But it also doesn’t take Piper and Tennant much time to figure it out either. And once they do, the episode kind of spins its wheels but in a fairly nice way. Tennant’s good with the family drama and Piper’s effective worrying about the missing kids.

And Euros Lyn’s directing so when the episode gets around to putting Agbaje in danger, it’s well-executed danger.

The big twist is… fine. It’s not actually a big twist and the show can’t figure out a way to pretend otherwise. Then writer Matthew Graham (an experienced TV writer and show creator—the great “Life on Mars”) just does some wonky fan service, Anglophilia thing. Before some padding with Tennant and Piper being such great pals because just as Piper feels like they’re going to be a great team forever… Tennant feels a great disturbance—and fears something terrible is going to happen.

Then we get the very spoiler-y preview of the season finale.

Again, it’s a qualified okay episode—it’s an Earth episode without the bad stuff but also without any of the good stuff in the actual good Earth episodes. It’s nice getting Tennant and Piper just doing a regular adventure.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e10 – Love & Monsters

It’s a not bad concept episode (written by Russell T. Davies, which seems weird but whatever) about a regular bloke (Marc Warren) who records a video diary on his digital camcorder to upload at 160×120 to his FTP server to share his story about the Doctor. I mean, it’s a YouTube doc before anyone knew there’d be YouTube docs. At least Davies knew where the format was going.

And once it’s clear the Doctor (David Tennant) isn’t showing up as a principal, the episode’s fine. It’s always amusing—Davies goes for more smiles than laughs and the episode’s mostly well-cast so the cast quickly endears.

When Warren was a kid he saw the Doctor in his house. As an adult, he lives through the alien invasions of the last two seasons and joins a group of other alien enthusiasts and they soon get talking about the Doctor. Eventually, they become a family, which is great until a government agent (Peter Kay) takes over their group and sets them about Doctor-hunting.

If Kay were good, it’d be great. Instead, he’s not, and it’s a not bad concept episode. It’s zany. There’s not a lot of Tennant and Billie Piper, as they’re guest stars in Warren’s life, but when they show up it’s fun and funny. Slapstick. There’s slapstick. The slapstick’s really cute.

The plot eventually involves Warren stalking Piper through Camille Coduri and an attempted seduction scene as we get to see what life’s like for Coduri when Piper’s not around. Also Mickey’s not around, which is another sadness for Coduri. It’s… the best Coduri’s been in a while. There are asterisks, but more relating to Davies’s writing and Dan Zeff’s direction.

Zeff’s okay. Better than a lot of “Who” directors without being one of the good lot.

Shirley Henderson plays the girl in the group who Warren’s crushing on. It’s a not exactly a cameo but kind of like an extended one. Maybe she’s a “Who” fan?

It’s cute, at least until the punchline, which is incredibly problematic if you give it much thought.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e09 – The Satan Pit

So, the title sort of gives away the big reveal. The Satan Pit refers to the giant hole in the middle of the planet, where they’ve already dug twelve miles down and sent David Tennant and Claire Rushbrook to investigate. She wants to go in the existing pit, as opposed to the tunnel they dug.

Tennant, however, doesn’t really think going into the pit is a good idea. Even if it’s not Satan. But it sure sounds like it’s Satan. What’s his story? Think Star Trek V. Yes, indeed, “Doctor Who” comes along and does Star Trek V almost twenty years later, makes it great, but also shows off what the “Who” franchise can do in contrast to what “Trek” can’t.

But the episode isn’t director James Strong or writer Matt Jones resting on their “gods in need of starships” laurels; it’s not even just a straight “Who” episode, with Tennant dealing with the Devil (or at least trying to convince Rushbrook they really don’t need to go investigate whether or not its Satan in the pit), while Billie Piper leads the humans above as their slave army of Oods turns lethal—the telepathic Oods prove susceptible to Satanic suggestion. So not only is it great Trekkie sci-fi, it’s great sci-fi action, and then there are all these great character arcs. Piper, captain Shaun Parkes, Rushbrook, Tennant—more about him abandoning Piper in their last moments versus fretting over what god needs with a starship (initially), plus Danny Webb as the security chief. It’s just a great episode. And a great two-parter. Definitely the most successful episodes of the series to date.

And it’s still the same technical team, which is a surprise. Strong just knows how to get Ernest Vincze to light better?

Perfect ending too. It all just works out so well.

If only the show can keep up this new momentum… they really do need to stay clear of the plant Earth. “Who” is better at the broad extraterrestrial sci-fi than the earthbound stuff. It also helps giving Piper and Tennant actual character arcs.

So big cheers for writer Jones and director Strong. They finally give Tennant a show deserving of him.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e08 – The Impossible Planet

The Impossible Planet has just what “Who” needs… right now anyway. There’s a new director to the series (James Strong) and a new writer (Matt Jones), and they give the series a push in a better (arguably best so far) direction. Is there going to be any momentum… probably not. “Who,” even the two-parters, is episodic not just in its storytelling but also its making. For whatever reason, Strong’s able to do a lot more with cinematographer Ernest Vincze’s DV lighting and Mike Jones’s editing than anyone else this season or last.

The titular planet has no name in the episode, not even a designation. David Tennant and Billie Piper go bandying about the galaxy and find themselves in some future time at an Earthling research station. The station is on a planet trapped in a black hole’s gravity well but immobile because of a huge power source. The researchers are digging to the core to discover what’s the power.

There’s Claire Rushbrook as the scientist, Shaun Parkes as the acting captain, Danny Webb as the security chief, Will Thorp as the archeologist (they’ve discovered some billion year old civilization), Ronny Jhutti is the tech nerd, and MyAnna Buring is the bosom-y maintenance tech. Because it’s 2006 and they’re still British, after all.

Writer Jones writes distinct characters with enough meat for the actors to flesh them out, with Strong directing the actors, which the show could use a lot more often.

Once Tennant and Piper get oriented—they also discover the humans have a bunch of slaves (called the Ood, who “need” to be slaves so it’s all right, otherwise they’d lemming apparently)—there’s a big earthquake (Impossible Planet quake) because black hole rippling the planet and the TARDIS falls in, stranding Piper and Tennant.

So as they get used to the idea of not just being trapped in a time and place—with Piper a lot more comfortable with the idea of homesteading with Tennant than vice versa—the researchers are just about to get to the core and they’re all about to find out exactly what’s going on. There are various hints—including demonic possession and the Ood acting weird—before it’s clear “Who” is about to try a different take on a very familiar fail of a different sci-fi franchise….

No spoilers (yet), but thank goodness they got the right director for this one.

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