...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 3249 (part two): DOCTOR WHO: The Doctor Dances: Everybody Lives, terms and conditions apply, there IS a War on!


Are you ready to get fully sonic-ed up? The World may not END when "The Doctor Dances", but I'm not so sure about letting Daddy Richard SING!

Still, no rest for the wicked and no pauses for sticky buns as we carried straight on with our celebration of Doctor Who's anniversary, with the Grand Moff giving it both barrels in part two…

Is it just me or is there some kind of subtext going on here?

Oh all right, the text is hardly that sub: dancing is sex, and the key to this episode is admitting that you "dance".

Key developments occur with each of the Doctor's admissions to Rose that he actually does have an emotional side, even a sexuality: Jack rescues them from the hospital as the Doctor takes Rose's hand to dance; the Doctor asks the universe to "give him a day like this" but he earns it when he shows Rose that he's "got the moves"; the episode concludes with him finally telling Rose he can dance and he ends up with the girl in his arms.

And arguably while he keeps up his jealousy of Jack – his Captain envy – and his refusal to admit it, the situation gets worse and worse, with the Child appearing, and then pursuing them – even though a wall – and then the other gas-mask Zombies closing in right as the sonic-off reaches its height. Fortunately, Rose remains level headed enough to take them down a peg – and floor – getting them out of one tight spot and into the locked room where they can start to, um, unbutton.

That keeping sexuality a secret causes damage is made explicit in several key scenes. Consider the moment where Nancy gains power over bullying Mr Lloyd when she reveals that she knows that the extra cuts of meat are a result of his having an affair with the butcher.

That's quite a nasty scene, and certainly drains our sympathy for Nancy – odd how Nancy the thief is sympathetic where Nancy the blackmailer is not when her motivation, feeding the street kids, remains the same – especially when we learn that she has her own sexual secret.

But it serves the purpose of flagging up the fact that the mores of World War II Britain were not exactly the same as those of the Twenty-First Century audience. (Actually, there was a certain amount of tolerance: there was a war on, you could die tomorrow, people made allowances. Nevertheless, Mr Lloyd is clearly not in a position to be more open about it.)

And it's also necessary to remind us that Nancy is not whiter-than-white, because it has to be credible that she has been lying throughout the story.

Despite the near paranoid paroxysms that the Internet message boards go into over the "gay agenda", it appears more common to be bi-sexual in this series: Jack is bi (or indeed "omni", as the publicity always puts it), Ianto (mostly Torchwood, but "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End", too) has a Cyberwoman as a girlfriend before he has Jack as a boyfriend; Mickey Smith is exclusively straight but the alternative-universe Ricky Smith may not be… at least not until someone had the script for "The Age of Steel" changed. And that's just the companions!

Characters like the Cassini "sisters" in "Gridlock" or Yuri's brother and his (never seen) husband in "The Waters of Mars" are in same-sex relationships now but we can only infer that that makes them gay not bi. (In fact, being exclusively gay is probably even less likely in the year Five Billion than it is in the Fifty-First Century.)

So Algy is the only explicitly exclusively gay character in the new series – Jack establishing that Rose won't be able to distract him tells us that Algy does not fancy girls.

(The Doctor tells Donna that she isn't in with a chance with Davenport the footman in "The Unicorn and the Wasp" but this is just his inference… well, probably, unless he's doing that "psychic" thing that the eighth Doctor did all the time in the TV movie.)

It's nice that this reveal comes just after, and very much undercutting, the big, "hero" music as Jack, Rose and the Doctor march out to the bombsite to face the final challenge.

You can compare all this with that other World War II-set story about repressed sexuality: "The Curse of Fenric". As the story that sees Ace maturing from a girl into a woman, and considering the repercussions of mother and baby, she does get to distract the guard – or at least boggle his brain with ur-sexy sounding technobable. Dr Judson and Commander Millington exist in a state of mutual blackmail over a homosexual past. And of course Miss Hardaker implicitly – explicitly in the novelisation – has had experiences at Maiden's Point that lead to her puritanical warnings and harsh treatment of Jean and Phyllis which in turn leads to their deaths and her own by vampirism, which itself is often a metaphor for sex, disease and death.

In another parallel, "Fenric" also features a character – Reverend Wainwright – who has lost faith in the future. Here this falls to Nancy as she starts to go into culture-shock at all the things she's seen. Rose's quiet confidential admission that the British win the war is heart-warming in the face of Nancy's entirely credible belief that the future belongs to the Nazis. Certainly better than the "mouse in front of a lion" speech forced into the Doctor's mouth in the previous episode. That would be a mouse that ruled an Empire covering a quarter of the planet then, would it?

This is some more of the egregious British national-mythologizing among several of the Pertwee-esque lectures delivered alongside "nothing in the world can stop it", "there isn't a little boy in the world" and "don't forget the Welfare State".

And surely the Welfare State was Lloyd George and the previous War; the Doctor must be confused or he's thinking of the National Health Service (introduced as all parties promised following World War II).

In fairness, there is the odd anachronism here and there – Mr Moffat himself has owned up to open reel tapes being a bit previous for 1941, though a wax cylinder might have seemed ludicrously antiquated compared to the "classic" spooled tapes image, and anyway isn't it actually a shout-out to all those fans who used to record their Doctor Who soundtracks from the telly?

In spite of perhaps the silliest sonic-screwdrivering yet – "setting 2428D" reattaching barbed wire; he must be taking the rise, surely – this is a story that relies on the Doctor using his wits to solve the problems presented to him.

"Go to your room!" is brilliant. It resolves the cliff-hanger in a totally believable way that you are left wishing you'd thought of. And entirely coincidentally – or so it seems until you realise all the gas-mask zombies are linked; that tipping their head on one side thing that they all do is really effective at conveying that – it also solves the parallel cliff-hanger of Nancy and her late brother, and – even better – unexpectedly sets up a peril later in the episode. Compare it with another "instant solution" cliff-hanger resolution like the "zap… you're all dead" opening of "The Age of Steel" and this is light-years ahead.

Like any good mystery, once the answer is revealed you can go back and see all of the clues along the way: the Om-Com (Omni-communication?) explanation of how the Child talks through fake telephones and wind-up toys was a clear sign that he's using the same technology as Jack; the nanogenes were literally waved under our noses again this episode as the Doctor reprises Rose's hand repairs; and of course "are you my mummy" over and over and over so you forget that it's the important question of the story.

The space junk being an ambulance is a lovely touch, reminiscent of classic sci-fi tropes where the most innocuous of future technology can cause untold damage just by being left carelessly in "primitive" cultures. And memo to the TV movie: this is how you use an ambulance in Doctor Who.

Jack – who is redeemed in this story by learning a lesson about courage and responsibility (Oh No! cries Alex. It was the Pertwee homilies!) – should, of course, have spotted Rose as a ringer way earlier when she failed to rise to his comment about the Chula warship he was selling being the last in existence, what with the real last Chula warship in existence being the one that they were standing on!

But you are able to watch the Doctor putting the clues together as he finally works it all out – the nanogenes being the cause and Nancy herself being the solution. Lovely too the way he prompts Rose so that she is able to work it out as well. A subtle rebuke to Captain Jack: almost saying "my companions have to be good enough to spot this sort of thing".

Does everybody live?

It's repeatedly been pointed out that they're in the middle of World War II; there's quite a bit of non-nanogene related death going on all around them (assuming you don't argue that the nanogenes don't kill anyone, at least not any more than the Doctor kills Donna in "Journey's End"). But we see the Doctor control the re-programmed nanogenes and release them – he's says he's told them to turn themselves off when they're done… but define "done". He could, just about, give them one day to fix all the humans. Not just the gas-mask zombies. All of them. So maybe, for one day in 1941, literally everybody lives.

He really does deserve more days like this. But it's good to see the ninth Doctor, the damaged Doctor, getting one really good day this close to the end. He's finally learning to live again. Just in time to die.

Next Time…With hindsight, is nobody just the slightest bit suspicious that Torchwood appears to have taken an extended vacation just at the point where a lady Slitheen takes over the mayoralty of Cardiff and the TARDIS parks exactly on top of their Hub? Oh never mind. Marvellous Margaret is back for dinner-a-deux in "Boom Town".



MatGB said...

is nobody just the slightest bit suspicious that Torchwood appears to have taken an extended vacation just at the point where a lady Slitheen takes over the mayoralty of Cardiff and the TARDIS parks exactly on top of their Hub

No, because at this stage in the Doctor's personal timeline, Torchwood doesn't exist yet. He has to go back in time to meet Queen Vic, which changes the timeline in a minor enough fashion for Torchwood to now exist in the future.

The Doctor, inevitably, changes the way the world works when he jumps around it, creating split dimensions--Inferno and Pyramids of Mars both confirm this, it's just that Rusty doesn't want to make it explicitly clear because, well, he probably hasn't thought it all through properly.

Let's face it, Torchwood definitely didn't exist during the UNIT era as we saw it, right?

Millennium Dome said...

It’s a nice thought, but really if the Doctor’s presence in “Tooth and Claw” changes history, what would have happened if he hadn’t been there? It’s not like we’d have had “our” history but without Torchwood – we’d have had the Empire of the Wolf!

There are too many examples of the Doctor causing established history: the first Doctor could hardly pick up Ian and Barbara from a recognisable 1963 if his future third self hadn’t prevented Linx giving Irongron advanced weapons in the Thirteenth Century, or his fifth self stopping the Terileptil plague wiping out humanity in 1666, or his tenth self stopping the Carrionites making hell on earth in 1604.

Likewise with “future history”: the Doctor might not do a lot to thwart the Dalek Invasion of Earth, but Ian and Barbara do. Yet the Earth starship of the Sensorites (which in their timeline they encounter first) cannot exist unless the Dalek Invasion is defeated. And the Dalek Invasion in the Twenty-Second Century itself would play out very differently if the second Doctor hadn’t fixed all those Cybermen invasions of the Twenty-First.

The example of “Pyramids of Mars” seems to be an interesting one. What it appears to suggest is that history “assumes” that the Doctor will (at some point) come along and sort Sutekh out. But when the Doctor actually arrives, free will gives him the opportunity to muff it all up, so Sutekh (or indeed any baddie, even in the established “past”) could win.

It would be nice to think that in “Tooth and Claw” the Doctor is pre-destined to save Queen Victoria, but – possibly because he’s doing that lovey-dovey mucking about with Rose – he gets it a bit wrong, and Torchwood is created by mistake.

Where it all falls down is that that Torchwood does exist in the Doctor’s personal timeline before “Tooth and Claw” because we see them shoot down the Sycorax in “The Christmas Invasion”.

MatGB said...

Gah. OK, just destroy the theory straight off, see if I care.

So, TW existed regardless, but had been completely hidden from UNIT et al, despite being active, especially in Cardiff.

And they built the lift after the TARDIS had been there, but not necessarily the time we first saw it landing there.

Um, or something.

Millennium Dome said...

Sorry Mr Mat :(

My best theories for "where was Torchwood in the UNIT years" are:

EITHER – Torchwood are looking exclusively for Mr Dr David, because they don't realise about regeneration and Captain Jack never tells them and Mrs the Queen Vic never saw the TARDIS, so Mr Dr Jon is safe

OR – at some point before 1960, Torchwood actually CATCH one incarnation of the Doctor and so rescind Directive One ("get the Doctor") 'cos they've got him; they lock him up for forty years until sometime about the year 2000 that Doctor ESCAPES so Directive One ("get the Doctor AGAIN") is reinstated just in time for Yvonne Hartman to catch him at Canary Wharf. I should say!

If the Government know that they have Torchwood, it might explain why they keep overruling UNIT.

And, if Torchwood are going round nicking all alien stuff, then the Brigadier would be all the more likely to keep HIS alien completely secret. And as for that Green Death business, what an opportunity to get one over on the Cardiff Crowd.