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29 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 759: Smith and Jones

Dear diary,

When this first episode went out, I remember walking to the shop afterwards practically skipping with happiness (under a big full moon, no less!), because I’d enjoyed it so much. Having been less interested in ‘current’ Doctor Who during 2006, this suddenly felt like I was right back in the thick of it again. It’s by far the strongest season opener the programme has given us since the revival, and there’s lots of little things in here to really enjoy. Thankfully, I’m pleased to say that I’ve rather liked it this time around, too, and I think I’ve picked up on things that I specifically like in here.

One of those things has to be Martha. I’m not sure when it started, but there’s a general feeling among Doctor Who fans that Martha is a rubbish companion, and that no one ever really liked her. Is that true, though? I remember liking her the first time around, and I’ve never had any problem with her in the years that followed either. Maybe she’ll grow unspeakably rubbish as the series progresses, but certainly she’s off to a flying start in the companion stakes today. There’s large portions of this episode that are simply designed to thrust her into the companion position, and get her to shine. 

There’s lots of keeping a cool head during a crisis (and it’s even nicely - if unsubtly - demonstrated by the way her college reacts during the same scene, and making the Doctor single Martha out as the one to accompany him on his investigations), thinking logically and reasonably (the windows aren’t airtight, she reasons, so they must be getting their oxygen from somewhere), and just generally getting a bit stuck in when everything is going a little bit mad around her. My favourite ‘Martha moment’ (possibly of her entire tenure, thinking about it) comes when she’s out on the balcony with the Doctor, and they’re doing their proper introductions;

MARTHA

People call you the Doctor? 

DOCTOR

Yeah. 

MARTHA

Well, I'm not. As far as I'm concerned, you've got to earn that title. 

DOCTOR

Well, I'd better make a start, then.

Reading it written down, it could almost be read as flirty, but that’s not how it’s set out. It very much puts the Doctor on a different playing field, having spent especially the last season with a companion who completely worships the man, and never doubts him for a second. It’s good to see the Tenth Doctor having to work a bit to earn someone’s trust (even in The Runaway Bride, he kept telling Donna to just trust him for a while), and I love the dynamic of the two characters both impressing the other throughout the episode.

And then we do get some flirting! That final scene in the alleyway is a fantastic first look at the TARDIS for Martha (I’ve only just noticed that Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who has a thing about alleyways and being asked to travel in the TARDIS - it happens to Rose in, um, Rose, to Martha here, and to Donna in Partners in Crime next series. There’s something in that - the Doctor skulking round the back streets looking for his new companion! But the way these two characters play off each other here simply works for me, and I can’t help but love the way the Doctor repeats the ‘bigger on the inside’ line behind Martha on her way in!

It’s an incredibly strong start to a new series - I’ve spent a lot of today veering between giving it an eight or a nine out of ten (and it’s not often anymore that I have to really consider my score; after two years of doing this marathon it’s boiled down to something of a gut instinct), but I’ve played it safe and give with an eight for now. This isn’t going to be the only high point in this run of episodes, and I fear I’d be peaking too soon.

Still, I’m pleased to say that all this time later, Smith and Jones can ramp me up and excite me for the ‘new’ series - it does exactly what a season opener needs to, better than many others.

 

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