Season 30 Episode 6 – The Doctor’s Daughter, by Stephen Greenhorn

May 11, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

You know, I’m probably gonna be appalled at myself in the morning for saying this, wondering what the hell possessed me, but I have to admit it. I really, really liked this episode. It’s not saying much, but it’s easily the best episode so far this year, and although it was laden with cliches, it handled most of them in ways so fresh and imaginative that they seemed like brand new ideas. Oh yes, and Peter Davison’s daughter is absolutely gorgeous, which helped.

In answer to my own question from last week’s trailer, it turns out that no, she isn’t Susan’s mum. Thank goodness. Randomly encountering a powerful and dangerous warrior who turns out to be a family member is a sci-fi cliche as old as the Star Wars films, but making her out to be a brand new entity instead makes a big difference – even if genetic engineering is a pretty tired sci-fi concept in its own right. But I can forgive that, because it’s done differently. And because Georgia Moffett is absolutely gorgeous.

Jenny Raytion (I’m assuming that’s her full name from Donna’s words) is a very likeable character – played by a stunningly gorgeous actress, in case I forgot to mention it – but her name is clearly ripped off from Genny the Genetic Mutant in the Red Dwarf episode Polymorph. And comparisons with Buffy The Vampire Slayer are inevitable, and probably correct. But what the hell. She’s too gorgeous for me to care…

Sorry! Must concentrate!

The war-that-has-continued-for-generations scenario is another idea that’s so overused and so dated it should be embarrassing, Terry Nation-fodder at his recycling worst. But the stunning revelation that the war is also only seven days old casts it in a totally different light. And speaking of stunning, that’s the word I have for Georgia…

The Hath weren’t especially scary or original aliens – aquatic or piscine creatures have been used in stories like The Sea Devils before – while the theme of human enslavement of other species in Planet Of The Ood is picked up on and taken further here, as the humans appear the more bigoted and aggressive of the two species at war. There’s a possible subtext here, quite a rarity in new Who, as the Hath may possibly be another race of slaves, like the Ood before them, and the reason the terraforming device will be so decisive in the war is because the signs are that it will turn the planet into a world more suitable for the Terrans than the Hath. It’s good to be reminded that humans, so quick to insult people who do harm as being ‘like animals’, are the only species on Earth that is capable of genuine evil.

The performances from the regulars were uniformly the best they’ve produced all year – David Tennant finally takes himself off autopilot, and even Catherine Tate was remarkably self-contained and composed as Donna (except when going on about past temping roles on her CV again) – while the guest cast were uniformly mediocre; Nigel Terry, most famous for playing King Arthur in Excalibur in 1981, was predictably silly-sounding and unconvincing as General Cobb (and I’m speaking as a fellow West Countryman there), The exception among the guests is Georgia of course, who was, is, and always will be, the most perfect example of perfection EVER! And I don’t want to hear any arguments, got it? Leave her alone. *Folds arms stubbornly and pouts.*

There were a few cliches and contrivances that didn’t work so well.

Firstly, Jenny seems to be talked into becoming a non-militant rather too quickly and easily. Perhaps I’d have felt more persuaded if she had seen more examples of mercy in action first, rather than just deciding it must be true because the Doctor said so; given how nasty he was generally being to her, I’d have thought she would have been more resistant to his hypocrisy about soldiers.

The great treasure of religious adoration that just happens to be a scientific instrument – usually referred to in mythology as “the boon” – is a very staid plot device. That it was a terraforming unit is nothing terribly original either (although as my brother points out to me, there really was no way it could be anything else, given the situation).

The moment when Jenny snogs the lucky b*stard to steal his gun has been done so many times in the past they might have held up a placard from A Question Of Sport asking “What happens next?” at the start of the scene. I mean, seducing-your way-out-of-prison was even done at least twice in Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, and heaven help any series that feels the need to copy ideas from there.

Martha’s sideline role with the Hath, especially her detour to the planet surface, was almost totally irrelevant to the plot, and feels like enormous padding, like a typical Episode 3 from the old series. And it was sad that there was no follow-up on her Hath companion falling into the tar-pit. Her reunion with the others – she just happened to run into them after getting into the tower – was brought about entirely by coincidence rather than by rescue or ingenuity, underlining how throwaway her role in the story was; there really was no reason for her to be in the episode at all, as any part she had in helping to explore the Hath race could just as easily have been given to Donna.

Speaking of Donna, the “We’re-not-a-couple!!!” gag wasn’t funny to begin with, and has now worn out completely. No more. Please!

The scene when Jenny is gunned down was another excuse for a blubber, but for once the tears didn’t actually flow, while the emotion arose entirely naturally from the storyline. This is a refreshing contrast with the usual tack of putting the story on hold for superfluous emotional exposition. The Doctor’s eventual acceptance of his daughter parallels Pete’s eventual acceptance of Rose in season 2, but seems more convincing, and certainly more relevant. The Doctor pointing the gun at Cobb didn’t fool me for a moment, I knew he wouldn’t do it in cold blood. And thankfully his follow-up speech, rather than spilling over into sanctimony or demagoguery, was the simple, blunt anger of a man who clearly feels too tired and hurt to bother explaining.

The resolution, sadly, just began to veer towards deus ex machina, although without quite being guilty of spilling over the edge completely. A kind of bomb that turns a lifeless planetoid into a teeming paradise is at least as old as the second Star Trek film, probably older, and how it works so fast and on so wide a scale is not really explained. (They might just as well have had Rodimus Prime walk in and unleash the power of the Autobot Matrix Of Leadership.) And the manner in which Jenny was revived was both a little predictable and, not for the first time, distinctly sorcery-like. I’ll be generous and assume that it was exposure to gases from the terraforming device, possibly aided by her Time Lord physiology… or something. It’s reasonable enough to give it the benefit of the doubt anyway. I admit I was delighted to see her revived – oh she’s so gorgeous – and her enthusiasm for adventure certainly resembles the Doctor’s own. Almost certainly she’s going to have her own spin-off series, which isn’t good news really, because you just know it’s going to be a lazy Buffy rip-off for the sake of cashing-in a bit further. But Georgia will be in it, so I’ll watch it!

Overall, a terrifically clever way of breathing new life into a number of tired old plot ideas, as well as breathing desperately-needed life into a season that’s been dying in the fires of its own triteness. For the first time all year, we have a break from formula, even though it did a good job of disguising itself as the absolute opposite. It also underlines the importance of taking the series away from Earth more often, as it allows room for so many different scenarios and ideas.

I give The Doctor’s Daughter a rare mark for me, 8/10.

Oh and in case I haven’t made myself clear; Georgia… yes, definitely.

EDIT: I’ve downgraded it from 9 to 8. Since writing the review, I’ve realised that, while the idea that the entire war happens in a week is very clever, it in fact has almost no bearing on the plot at all. It would’ve been neater and more relevant if one of the original crew of the ship were still alive, and the war had been over a hunt to find him.

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