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18 February 2015

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

Day 779: The Doctor’s Daughter

Dear diary,

I can’t help but feel, watching this episode, that Martha’s involvement is little more than the programme trying to both have its cake and eat it. They need someone to pair off with the Hath, so that we can see them from a point of view other than that given by the humans. Equally, they want Donna to stay with the Doctor to help him come to terms with the sudden arrival of a new daughter. Solution? Have Martha kidnapped in the TARDIS at the end of the two-parter, and shove her off with the Hath so that we’ve got someone to cut to.

In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem, but it just comes across as so obvious, because Martha has nothing to do for the episode. Her entire storyline, really, is ‘get back to the Doctor in time to leave’. There’s a nice character moment when she uses her skills as a Doctor (and makes a point of saying that it doesn’t matter who her patient is, he needs treating), but after that it’s simply a case of getting to the right place before the episode ends. Even her trek across the surface of the planet feels devoid of any real jeopardy, because she feels so superfluous to the plot. I’m not entirely sure how I’d fix that issue, but maybe make the reason that the TARDIS shuttles off to this time and place related to Martha in some way? Just something to make it feel like there’s a reason for her presence.

The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Martha’s side of the narrative is all a bit… sloppy. I made a note early on that the Hath not speaking a recognisable language was a really nice touch because it gave them something unique, and made a point of checking if I was right in thinking that they originally did have a translation that we could understand… but then the episode answered that for me, because there’s several moments where Martha calls back to something her Hath friend has said, and by the time he reaches his sticky end, she knows his name. It just feels like less attention has been paid than usual, and it’s a pity.

Especially so because the other half of the episode, with the Doctor, Donna, and Jenny is rather nice in its own way. The idea of having the Doctor confront the idea that there’s another Time Lord (of sorts) around, having lost them all once, and then so recently lost the Master again, is great, but it never quite feels like it really gets there. We have moments - the Doctor describing a Time Lord as being more than just where you come from, as though he’s desperately trying to find a way to not face what’s happening is lovely, as is his confession to Donna that the part of him that can look after and nurture a child of his own died with Gallifrey - but they flicker into life and then burn out in the blink of an eye. As with the Sontaran episodes we’ve just been through, it feels like we’re another draft away from really cracking the interesting points of the story.

Actually, maybe that’s what needs to be done? Sorry, I’m working this all out in my head as I go. Maybe I you could solve my two big issues with this episode simply by swapping the roles of Donna and Martha? Donna gels wonderfully with the Doctor in this one (but then you can pretty much take that as read), but Martha was actually there when the Doctor cradled the dying Master. She has a connection to him as ‘the Last of the Time Lords’ that Donna simply doesn’t? It would make it feel - narratively - as though there was a better point to having Martha involved with this story, and I can’t help thinking that I’d have loved to watch an episode of Donna struggling to get back to the Doctor while getting increasingly irritated by the fact that she can’t understand the Hath.

Before long I’m going to just start sounding bitter about this one, but I have to bring it up before I sign off for today - Jenny’s survival at the end. It just, again, feels like the episode having its cake and eating it. They want a big emotional moment where the Doctor has grown to like this person and then had to watch her die, but it also wants to pay off the suggestion that she might be capable of some form of regeneration. Also, it’s been said for years that Steven Moffat suggested Jenny be kept alive at the end, so we’ve had to endure countless questions of when she’s coming back!

Sadly, for me, The Doctor’s Daughter has been the low point of Series Four, and if I’m honest, the low point of the 21st century run so far…

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