Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fewer Highs, Fewer Lows: Doctor Who Season 3 Is An Understated Improvement!

The Good: Decent performances (for the most part), Some good plots, Season’s larger arc, Cool characters
The Bad: One or two episode “misses,” Inconsistent special effects
The Basics: David Tennant’s tenure as The Doctor continues with his pairing with Martha Jones and a return from an enemy from his past!

In the modern Doctor Who, it is clear that Russell T. Davies had some ambitious ideas that worked incredibly well as season-long concepts. With the reinvigoration of Doctor Who (reviewed here!), Davies introduced a season-long “Bad Wolf” motif before insinuating Torchwood into the second season episodes (reviewed here!). In the third season, the serialized element is Harold Saxon and it is not as strong an idea as the Bad Wolf that preceded it or the Darkness which followed it. That is not to say that the concept of Harold Saxon is a bad one or he does not make a compelling villain – it is and he does. The problem is the execution.

The fundamental problem with Season Three of Doctor Who as a whole storyline Is that in order to make it work, it requires the season’s adversary to hide in plain sight. Unlike the villain in the latest season (reviewed here!), who hides in a TARDIS-like folding of time-space for the entire season, the third season’s adversary utilizes a psychic field to manipulate the citizens of Earth before he is revealed. While other people of decent power are influenced by the psychic field (most notably Captain Jack Harkness), The Doctor is not . . . but he only becomes aware of it the moment it becomes convenient to the plot. In other words, from (at least) the third season premiere on, The Doctor should be aware of the psychic field and searching for the cause of it. In addition to weakening the overall perceptive ability of The Doctor, this also undermines the usefulness of the Doctor’s primary tools, the TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver. In the third season of Doctor Who, those two devices become virtually identical to the main computer on the original Star Trek (reviewed here!). On Star Trek, the main computer almost always knew what was going on in space, time, and aboard the ship; it just needed characters like Spock to actually bother to ask it questions to tell them what was going on! Apparently, the sonic screwdriver could easily detect the cloaking field that allows Harold Saxon to come to power, The Doctor just doesn’t know to ask it!

I start my review of the third season of Doctor Who with such a seemingly insignificant nitpick because there is actually very little wrong with the season. Some of the best episodes of the series are in the third season and there are fewer real misses than in the second season. Russell T. Davies hits a real stride in the third season and, arguably, it is because he has a better companion to work with. The third season of Doctor Who introduces Martha Jones, a medical student who has her own ambitions and has more trepidations about traveling with The Doctor than Rose did.

After figuring out who the bride who appeared in the TARDIS was, The Doctor saves Christmas with the help of Donna Noble, a brash woman who has no interest in traveling with him through time and space. Following that, The Doctor is astonished when aliens arrive on Earth and remove a hospital . . . and place it on the moon! Martha Jones is at the hospital and she aids The Doctor in holding off the interstellar police who stole the hospital and exposing the alien infiltrator who is feeding on humans. As a reward, The Doctor takes Martha Jones on adventures into the past and future.

Attempting to return to her own time, though, puts The Doctor and Martha Jones in New York City during the Great Depression . . . at the mercy of the Daleks! But saving the Earth once again from the Daleks and returning Martha to her own time only puts the pair at the mercy of a mad scientist who seems to have figured out how to regenerate human beings! The Doctor is forced to hide in the past (and a human body) to escape a family’s carnivorous nature. The story comes to a head when a stopover on Earth brings Jack Harkness to the TARDIS and, in trying to flee him, the TARDIS leaps to the end of the universe and there, they find an evil The Doctor did not count on!

Martha Jones is an intriguing character and she has a pretty wonderful arc in the third season. Jones starts out as a young woman meeting The Doctor when he is vulnerable and feeling alone about traveling. But Jones has her own ambitions and she does not want to play second fiddle to The Doctor’s memories of Rose, so she starts with a lot of boundaries. As they share risks, Martha becomes attached to The Doctor, but she is smart enough to realize that he is wrong for her and that leads to her arc’s resolution.

Jones is ably played by Freema Agyeman and she has a screen presence that allows her character to credibly hold her own opposite David Tennant’s Doctor. Tennant does a good job with all of the Doctor’s technobabble in the third season, but his greatest performance moments come when he has to play The Doctor as vulnerable and human. Rather astonishingly, for the final arc of the season, Tennant and John Barrowman play off one another as if they worked together as The Doctor and Harkness before!

Ultimately, the third season of Doctor Who is one of the better ones, largely because it gets more right than wrong. It’s not the most exceptional series of episodes, but there are fewer failures and the focus on characters is stronger than some of the plots.

For more information on this season, be sure to check out the episodes encompassed in it. They are individually reviewed at:
"The Runaway Bride"
"Smith And Jones"
"The Shakespeare Code"
"Daleks In Manhattan"
"Evolution Of The Daleks"
"The Lazarus Experiment"
"Human Nature"
"Family Of Blood"
"The Sound Of Drums"
"Last Of The Time Lords"


For other movie and television reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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