This is a brilliant quote from the Dr, seen in the second episode of Season 2, titled “Tooth and Claw”.
The BBC’s new production of its classic series, Doctor Who, weathered its first major casting change admirably. Most actors remain in the lead role for at least three years, but for Christopher Eccleston, one year was enough, and his Doctor (aka ‘Nine’) died in the season one finale. In keeping with Who tradition, the Doctor, upon his death, regenerates into a completely new body. Taking the TARDIS controls from Eccleston is another Russell T Davies alumnus, David Tennant (who headlined Davies’ production of Casanova) as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor (aka ‘Ten’). Tennant had his work cut out for him, following Eccleston’s marvelous turn as the Time Lord, but he made the transition so seamlessly that the character truly seems like the same man in a different body.
Aiding this transition is largely the same writing and production staff, as well as the same co-star (Billie Piper as Rose Tyler) and supporting cast (Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler and Noel Clarke as Mickey Smith). It’s to Tennant’s credit that he not only immediately puts his own stamp on the character but maintains Eccleston’s level of chemistry with the supporting cast. Ten is physically younger than Nine, more brash, more impulsive, less tormented by guilt, but still achingly lonely. His loneliness becomes a running theme throughout the season, touched on in nearly every episode. Eccleston played the Doctor as he played Steve Baxter in Davies’ The Second Coming (a tormented otherworldly being); Tennant plays the Doctor as Casanova (a young, lovelorn romantic hero).
The Doctor’s romantic attachments, in fact, become the vehicle by which Davies explores the central theme of loneliness. Ten and Rose build upon and deepen the romance that Nine and Rose began in the first season. Their love is palpable; they’re often literally willing to die for each other. In the UK, the series is family-oriented and rarely strays beyond the PG level, so this romance is never physically consummated; the characters don’t even kiss. Despite this–in fact, because of it–their feelings are all the more poignant. (And how often do we see a depiction of true and abiding love on television that doesn’t involve some kind of bump-and-grind?) By the end of the season, the relationship has come full circle: the Doctor has taught Rose all he can; it’s time for her to leave him and put to use all the things she’s learned. Their final separation is tragic but yet also hopeful: despite the sadness, the viewer knows Rose will thrive in her new environment. Billie Piper’s send-off couldn’t have been more positive or more lovingly written (and it leaves open the possibility of her returning to the series in the future for a guest spot).
Nobody who leaves Who is ever truly gone. The tremendous “School Reunion” brings back an old fan favorite, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). Again, romance is the means by which Davies explores the Doctor’s impact on his companions’ lives. The story is beautifully written: suspenseful, funny, romantic, and poignant. Sladen slips back into the role effortlessly, and Anthony Stewart Head provides a wonderful villain in the sinister Mr. Finch. Romance also infuses the imaginative “Girl in the Fireplace,” in which an army of clockwork repair droids from the fifty-first century stalks Madame de Pompadour (Sopia Myles). The Doctor is clearly smitten with the young Reinette, but the episode’s conclusion showcases how the heartbreakingly short human lifespan will always thwart such attachments.
But romance isn’t all the second season has to offer: old foes return (Daleks, Cybermen, Cassandra) as well as old friends (Harriet Jones, Sarah Jane, K-9, Pete Tyler, the Face of Boe). Also, the settings finally get away from Earth for a few episodes, and there are a couple of trips to Earth’s past. The recurring characters develop beautifully, especially Mickey Smith, who finally comes into his own as a hero. Particularly good is the two-part story “The Impossible Planet”/ “The Satan Pit,” which finds the Doctor and Rose in a bleak space station on a planet perpetually circling a black hole. But the real standout of the season might well be “The Christmas Invasion,” an hour-long special that aired on Christmas day, 2005. This episode allows the supporting characters–and by extension the viewers–an opportunity to adjust to the new Doctor, and it allows Ten to establish his heroic bona fides. The guest cast is marvelous, particularly Penelope Wilton as the UK’s new prime minister, Harriet Jones. An argument between the PM and Ten at the episode’s conclusion is brilliant, worthy of the West Wing, showing that Davies isn’t afraid to challenge his viewers’ perceptions of heroism and villainy.
Other highlights of the season are “The Rise of the Cybermen”/ “The Age of Steel,” the chilling “Tooth and Claw,” the off-beat “Love and Monsters,” and of course, the brilliant finale, “Army of Ghosts”/ “Doomsday.” Of all the episodes, only the disjointed “Fear Her” feels sub-par. The overall quality of the season is remarkable, given the amount of backstage shuffling that took place (e.g., the timing of Piper’s departure was initially unclear; a few episodes underwent last-minute rewrites). And yet another challenge looms ahead for Davies as he reinvents the show in the wake of “Doomsday,” which writes out literally the entire supporting cast. Only two seasons in, and an era has already ended.
Much of the season’s success is owed to Tennant, who has quickly established himself as one of the most popular Doctors in the show’s long history. His own love for the series and the character shines through every moment he’s on scene, and he effortlessly conveys the Doctor’s past through his expressions, body language, and vocal inflections. If Eccleston was “Doctor Modern,” Tennant is “Doctor Classic-Modern,” melding perfectly the older and more contemporary portrayals of the character. His chemistry with Piper is nothing short of magical, and he also plays wonderfully off the supporting and guest actors.
As with the first season, the second season is best viewed in pristine DVD rather than the hacked-up versions shown on TV. The boxed set includes the usual extras; viewers should make the Pudsey Cutaway/ Children in Need special their first stop–it’s an essential prologue to “The Christmas Invasion.” Season two is proof positive that Doctor Who can hold its own with pretty much anything else currently on television.