Saturday, May 10, 2014

Doctor Who as Catharsis; or, It's the FEELS dammit

I haven't written about Doctor Who for a couple of months. Not because I haven't been watching it, and especially not because I haven't been thinking about it. I am at the end of Series 6. I might even be officially done with S6; I am not sure where the Christmas episodes fit in. The difference between where I am now, and where I was last time I wrote a blog about the good Doctor is that I have seen all the reboot Doctors. I have one more series to be caught up, but until Peter Capaldi makes his debut later this year, I am, at least for the minute up to date (sort of). So, a return to the question of "Who's your Doctor?"

For some, I guess, this answer is easy. I have heard, and read, accounts of fans knowing immediately with whom their loyalties lie. All I know is that, for me, it isn't Matt Smith. At the beginning I would have laid the blame on him for being too young, too silly, too frantic, too slick...just too much. Then I blamed the writers for not writing stories that allowed Smith access to my favorite aspect of the Doctor, the fact that he is just "Sorry, so, so sorry." But, now, I am pretty sure it isn't Matt Smith, it's me.

Doctor Who is at its best, for me, when it is sad. Not just sad, but those heart-wrenching, kleenex moments, when I want to cry out loud; I am happiest with DW when I am hiccoughing through my tears. It is catharsis to engage in a little harmless sobbing. Matt Smith, so far, hasn't really stood a chance with me. I think that accepting what I love about Eccleston and Tennant is an undercurrent of painful loss that makes them just imbued with buckets and buckets of pathos. And, as I have said well, apparently, I like to be sad. I do like humor, and as I have said, I wouldn't like Doctor Who if it isn't funny. But, I like my jokes as foils to darkness. Laughter through tears? Yes. Laughter because it is a relief to laugh after crying? Yes. Pure comedy doesn't work as well for me.

So much of what appeals to me about Doctor Who is the underpinning of the trope of loss. Everyone is so broken and I suppose in what is prolly a little too revealing of a statement, I like that. I like crying when Rose and Ten get separated. I refuse to imagine Rose happy with her fake Doctor. I see her as having been tricked into settling--a trick that you cannot convince me that she will never be appeased by. I refuse to think that even memory loss can allow Donna peace. It is clear that even the *blessing* of ignorance will never allow her bliss. And don't even get me started on Rory, that poor guy. He guarded Amy for 1000 years, and he still has to wonder if she loves the Doctor more...Anyway, the major appeal for me is that no matter how much Nine and Ten joke or smile, at the end of the day I can see that they are haunted. I can see their ghosts, and I like that.

It is only as I see these later Eleventh Doctor episodes that I am beginning to see his ghosts, and it makes sense that I am beginning to like him more.So, unless S7 is just one big Eleventh Doctor cryfest is seems that I am still back to choosing between Nine or Ten. Well, I'm still not sure. I liked Ecceleston before the DW because of his amazing Jude in the film version of Jude the Obscure. Just watch that movie without crying I dare you. I came into this show already predisposed to Christopher Eccleston's 9th Doctor. He is broken, rough, and drowning in pathos.

Even as sure as I was that Eccleston was the one for me, it didn't take long for me to fall for David Tennant's 10th Doctor hook, line, and sinker (come on, "I don't want to go" and that music from Bad Wolf Bay? I can cry right now thinking about it). As much as I like Ten,  if I am honest, I prolly like the character of "David Tennant" better than the Doctor. (Come on David Tennant, you know we'd so be friends!) I am to the point where I can't choose between Nine and Ten.

As I am on the cusp of Series 7, I know enough (spoilers) to know that the Doctor will lose Amy. And, knowing he is going to be broken again, I like him more already. With this perspective in mind, I have begun to see Eleven as being a Doctor who is frenetically (and futilely) trying to outrun his losses. Joking and running to forget his past; and with that view, I like him better. Does this make me cruel? A sadist? Maybe, but I do know the more the show makes me cry, the more I like it.

Who knows, maybe Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor will be the saddest of all, and settle this whole debate for me.

Favorite Ninth Doctor episode: "Father's Day"
Favorite Tenth Doctor episode: "The Satan Pit" ("Doomsday" is right there)
Favorite Eleventh Doctor episode: "The Girl Who Waited"

What is your favorite episode from each of the *new* Doctors? Are you a Nine? Ten? Eleven? Or something else?


  1. It's really funny how close your description here is to my relationship with Fullmetal Alchemist. For serious. But that's a story about accepting the death of someone you care about, and Doctor Who is... well, kind of also that, actually.

    But I totally agree with you that the sense of loss, the burden of immortality and that desperate loneliness is perhaps the most compelling thing about the Doctor, but then it's also paired with this unquenchable optimism and, usually, boundless compassion and it's fairly overwhelming in the feels department.

    But David Tennant is the only one who can do all those things at once. I like the Ninth Doctor a lot, but he seems to me rather grim and cautious, maybe a little bitter, enduring the consequences of being himself without the buoyancy of the Tenth Doctor (which is, of course, why it stands out so much when "everybody lives!") . And the Eleventh Doctor errs too far in the other direction, too much goofiness and awkwardness and if there are holes in his optimism (and there are), it feels like manipulation rather than a crack in the facade. But the Tenth Doctor hits it perfectly.

    (I haven't seen enough episodes of any of the classic Doctors to really pick a favorite; I know the safe choice is the Fourth Doctor but for whatever reason I find myself kind of drawn to the Fifth, who's a little more human, a little angrier, and has to try a little harder. But I've seen so few episodes that what do I know.)

    I'm assuming the favorite episodes listed here are the favorite episodes for the portrayal of the Doctor, not overall, right? With that assumption:

    Favorite Ninth Doctor Episode: Might actually be "Boom Town;" I love the conversation between the Doctor and the Slytheen where she is not having any of it. (But I do love him in "The Doctor Dances" as well, like a lot.)
    Favorite Tenth Doctor episode: Uh, this is really hard. "The Lazarus Experiment," in which there are hints he is suicidal? "Midnight," in which he reacts to actually being overpowered? "The Fires of Pompeii"?? But ultimately, maybe it's actually "Human Nature/Family of Blood" because that episode is The Last Unicorn (he's the unicorn/Lady Amalthea. Mary is Lir. Martha is, somehow, both Schmendrick and Molly), and The Last Unicorn is really my first experience with the emotions you describe here.
    Favorite Eleventh Doctor episode: Well, if you're picking "The Girl Who Waited," I guess I can too, even though the Doctor doesn't come off too likable in it; it's definitely my favorite Amy episode anyway. But I think "Vincent and the Doctor" was the one in which I liked him the most.

    Okay, have I proven yet I have no taste? I have no taste. But I suspect I watch the show a little differently from a lot of fans, in one or two ways anyway.

    1. If you have no taste, then I suppose I will have to join you in your tastelessness!

      I recently re-watched "Midnight" (I was watching with Daisy and she prefers the Tennant episodes). I liked it a lot more on second viewing. I love the story telling of the trajectory at the end of S5 where they are establishing that the Doctor just can not be alone. "Midnight" shows how he needs a companion to temper his arrogance. In "Midnight" it is as if he needs a translator, or at least another human to vouch for him. I also could not help but notice just how wonderful that acting performance is. Just perfection.

      Those episodes are, in fact, my favorite episodes from each season. At least, right now. I could pick others on any given day as it changes, as I watch. As a viewer I have different expectations depending on when when I watch them again. So, I tend to like different things.

      "Human Nature/Family of Blood" are odd episodes for me. I want to like them because as an individual story it is so good. So lovely and heartbreaking. I struggle with it a bit though. I don't *like* Joan Redfern or John Smith all that much. So, watching them go through their romance is odd as I get that it is highlighting the pathos of how difficult it is to be the last Timelord, and just how NOT human the Doctor really is, but at the same time, I want to kind of smack both of them for being annoying. Also, I have not read The Last Unicorn, so, alas, I may be missing something important there.

      "The Girl Who Waited." Oh, I loved that one. Rory is by far my favorite in the eleventh doctor episodes. I just love him. That episode is soooo good. Although that is the episode when I realized that Stephen Moffat does not have the slightest interest in setting up stories realistically. He is just sure we will just accept his premises without question. I can't remember the name of the episode, but the one were the people are mining acid. Why are they mining acid? Um. Because. Why do the Doctor and Rory go into a room and leave Amy behind... well, actually Rory would not do that... but okay, and we need that premise, so let's just go with it okay? The truth is Amy and the Doctor would leave Rory, but Rory leave Amy behind? Nope.

      I watched "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe" after writing this blog post or I would likely would have included that as a favorite. I LOVED it and it pushed me into my newfound Matt Smith acceptance. The end when he cries for joy? Love it.

      "Vincent and the Doctor" is really good. And just my kind of heartbreaking. The story telling is stellar, as well. They were completely limited in what they could do, well, because history, and still were able to give the depressed Van Gogh this wonderful sort of moment of happiness.

      I am prolly going to watch S7 in the next couple of weeks. So, updates soon!

    2. I'll probably watch it soon too, although it may be a few weeks before I can. I'm excited :)

      This conversation is so making me want to re-watch all these episodes, especially Midnight. We'll see if I get a chance!

      I think for understanding the Family of Blood episodes it really helps to love Martha. You do seem to understand what The Last Unicorn is about (and I wonder if you'd like that book. You actually might; it's quite witty and very sad), and her playing the role of Schmendrick is so emblematic of the role she plays during her time in the series. She has talents, she knows more than a lot of the people around her, and by God she's going to get to the happy ending although she is in no way empowered to do so. So I enjoy the story on a philosophical level, but I also love her in it. (I also love her being the Dark Lady in "The Shakespeare Code" because of course she is, and then walking the world...

      And then similarly, I suppose, I love "The Girl Who Waited" because Amy is so fierce in it; and it's kind of an interesting counterpoint to "Vincent and the Doctor" because in that episode, the Doctor knows this can't last, he understands that they are only giving Van Gogh a moment of happiness and not changing his life, but he hides that from Amy, whereas in "The Girl Who Waited" you have Amy with THE TRUTH and it's terrifying.

      So I guess I often pay more attention to the companions than the Doctor? Heh. That's interesting.

      Anyway. I'm glad we agree about a lot of these things (although I'm still pretty sure I like "Boom Town" and "The Lazarus Experiment" more than average, heh).

      But. A favor. Please convince me that "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" isn't sexist. Because this is the kind of rhetoric that made me think I couldn't be a parent, the sort of extreme valorization of motherhood.

    3. A couple of notes.

      1) I need to rewatch the Martha years. I didn't really give her a chance the first time. I only watched her season one time.

      2) I will consider reading The Last Unicorn, I am pretty sure I have a copy of it around here somewhere. I tried to read it a couple of times before and never really got very far.

      3) As to the sexism in DWW, unfortunately I think you are right. I do have a small theory that might save it a bit, but I'd need to watch it again to be sure. My theory would be that the Doctor is also a mother in this episode. It's not perfect because the trees reject him for not being female, but he is called "the Caretaker" in this episode and not the Doctor, so I can't help but see him as a male mother here. Also, it is clearly supposed to be a fairy tale and we forgive extremes in fairy tales more than in other stories. Hmm. I don't know if I can help you as much as I'd like to.

  2. Ack, embarrassing, I seem to have changed Joan's name to Mary, not sure how that happened, this is a retraction and apology.
    (but while I'm at it I'll note that I've just noticed two things: 1) I seem to like episodes in which the Doctor becomes vulnerable and isn't in control of the situation, and 2) it's mostly very specific moments that I have in mind when I choose episodes. The Tenth Doctor gasping for breath at the end of "Midnight," the Eleventh Doctor walking slowly up the stairs in "Vincent and the Doctor" while Amy rushes ahead, etc.)

    1. There is something compelling about a powerless god isn't there?

      Mary? Joan? Both are equally annoying ;) (and slightly racist, god bless Martha in those episodes, she is an absolute saint).

    2. She shows great restraint in that one for sure (and I do like how she reminds us that history, not so great actually). I love how she gets angry about things to herself, though, too.