Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Doctor Who: RTD's 10 Best Moments

My original title was RTD: 10 out of 10 (and also 9), but I thought maybe search engines would have trouble finding it. A couple weeks ago, I got some heat for not including Russell T Davies in my Top 5 Doctor Who writers. At the time, I acknowledged his vast contribution to the franchise, but also balanced that with what I thought were huge groaners in his work. Don't get me wrong, there's more good than bad, but the bad kept him out of my Top 5. But since there is interest in RTD's work, here are my 10 favorite moments of his (as with the previous article, I've only taken from those he has the writing credit for, and I've put them in chronological order). And of course this means you can expect a 10 Worst Moments article next week. For now, let's look fondly back on the RTD era...

"Run!" - A reintroduction (from Rose)A young shop girl with a single parent gets up in the morning, goes to her crummy job, winds up going to the basement filled with mannequins - creepy, but not unusual - and then they start moving and a strange man comes out of nowhere to say "Run!" and we're off. It's the perfect way to reintroduce Doctor Who to a new generation, a wonderful example of the show's dizzying mix of fantasy and the every day. We're taken along for a ride just as Rose is and our world will never be the same. Oh, and running down corridors, always important, that. That's a terribly efficient mission statement.

Dinner with the Slitheen (from Boom Town)
Though many rank Boom Town among the worst of New Who (as a throwaway story featuring ye olde farting aliens), I think it showcases one of RTD's greatest strengths - heartfelt and revealing conversations between rich characters. Blon Slitheen, having her last meal with the Doctor before being ferried to her unpronounceable homeworld for execution, puts the Time Lord's own actions into context, exposing his guilt for having committed a double genocide in the Time War. RTD lulls us into a false sense of security with comedy routines before going in for kill with heady drama, a veritable template for his run on the show.

Eating chips is not enough (from The Parting of the Ways)
Sent back to present-day London as the Doctor prepares to destroy the Daleks at the cost of his own life (and that of Earth) in the future, Rose must face the prospect of an ordinary life and cannot bear it. As Jackie and Mickey spin their gossip and order chips, Rose shows she's been changed by her experiences. Is she better than they are, or has she just been shown a better way? My inevitable breakdown follows hers, right on the cusp of the mind-blowing revelations about Bad Wolf.

That sort of a man (from The Christmas Invasion)
The 10th Doctor's introduction is an entertaining journey of discovery for the character himself, but it's the point at which he finally knows himself that always gets me. He's defeated the Sycorax at swordplay, and walking away is attacked from behind. A thrown satsuma opens a trap door that sends the Sycorax leader plummeting to Earth, and the dead serious Doctor says "No second chances. I'm that sort of a man." Chilling. He then proceeds to make Harriet Jones' government fall with only six words...

Elton and Jackie (from Love & Monsters)
If Boom Town isn't always appreciated, Love & Monsters is positively reviled by some fans. I'll certainly talk about stuff from the last 15 minutes next week, but everything before then is rather good. I especially like the spring-fall romance between Elton and Jackie, which takes Jackie well beyond her role as comedy relief/nagging mother, infusing her with real pathos. She is suddenly a real woman, and so becomes more real in earlier episodes on repeat viewings. A collection of funny, sweet and sad moments. RTD really is at his best doing sentimental soap (readers should not perceive a negative connotation in either of these words).

The "death" of Rose Tyler (from Doomsday)
Taking second place in my recent ranking of Companion Farewell scenes, there was no way Rose's original departure wouldn't make it into this list. A lot of the moment is carried by the haunting music and of course, the performances, but someone had to write the damn thing, and that's Davies. Just going by the amount of sobbing at my house even when the Doomsday theme starts, it really did the job.

"I do what I like!" (from Last of the Time Lords)
A very brief moment that comes after Martha's apartment explodes. She starts to call her family and the Doctor cautions her not to, sparking the angry line above. In a single sentence, we get everything that's wonderful (and unRoselike) about Martha. The Doctor can't help but follow her after that.

Stolen voices (from Midnight)
Surrounded by huge, almost absurdly epic stories, Midnight presents quite the opposite and stands as Davies' leanest story. It's basically just the Doctor in closed compartment with a bunch of people who turn against him and each other. The monster is "played" but never seen. It's a fantastically creepy take on an annoying childhood game, first repeating everything people say, then catching up and finally overtaking and stealing a person's voice. Famously written in short order when another story fell through, Midnight is a good example of what RTD can do when he isn't tempted to the dark side by the special effects department.

The "death" of Donna Noble (from Journey's End)
Rose's departure made #2 on best farewells list, and Donna's #3. It is a real heart breaker to see her potential unrealized again, and Sylvia's apparently sudden flare-up of motherly instinct is worth the wait. How dare the Doctor question it. And though Doomsday made us bawl, as the end of romances often do, there's something equally poignant about the quiet loss of a friend, as when Donna fails to recognize the Doctor, completely unaware of what both of them have lost.

Two old souls (from The End of Time)
Every scene between the Doctor and Wilf in The End of Time is a winner, but the first one, in the cafe, stands out. Here are two old souls, one deceptively older than the other, feeling the weight of their age and the foreseeable end of their lives. The Doctor admits to much in this scene - that regeneration kills an individual, that he needs someone to keep him in check - and he dispels it all with a sarcastic "Merry Christmas" before it overwhelms him. It is often said Logopolis has a funereal feel, but this outdoes it with its two old soldiers facing up to their mortality.

Runners-up: The spin of the universe, "Do you smell chips?", "I could save the word but lose you", The absence of a plan scares the Daleks, Fighting the Hoix, "You need someone", The tie trick, The Master's return, "I do what I like", Near misses for partners in crime, Sylvia gives up on Alt-Earth, Alt-Donna's sacrifice, The death of Harriet Jones, The Children of Time fly the TARDIS, "I don't want to go" .

Those are mine, what are yours?

8 comments:

kingbeauregard said...

Thanks, man! I like a little RTD praise (and criticism where appropriate too).

My favorite: Eccleston threatening the Daleks, and scaring them half to death precisely because he has no weapons and no plan. Then in the next episode, the Doctor ready to accept his own death as part of the way of things.

Matthew Turnage said...

I'd probably have to work in the Ninth Doctor threatening the Daleks as well.

Ten speaking to the Judoon in their own language from The Stolen Earth might make my list, just because I think the Judoon are probably the best new aliens to come out of the RTD era.

If co-writing credits count, I'd also add the "Time Lord Victorious" from Waters of Mars.

kingbeauregard said...

As far as "Love and Monsters" goes, the Elton / Jackie scenes were good for exactly the reasons given; but my preferred way to watch the episode is to shut it off right after the "Don't Bring Me Down" performance (i.e., right before the appearance of This Week's Monster). Up to that point, the episode is lots of fun, with people simply getting to know each other and becoming friends. Happiness is such an elusive condition on "Doctor Who", and every now and again, I just want to people being happy. (See also: the Amy/Rory wedding reception.)

De said...

Margaret Jones, or Harriet Jones?

Siskoid said...

That was a strange brain spaz to have...

Craig said...

A very nice list, from RUN! onwards. I'd have been tempted to choose "the turn of the earth" over it, but RUN! is such a kicker. I would, however, include Davros's shown-in-the-trailer rant from Journey's End for sheer spitting lunacy.

Anonymous said...

Good list, though I'd have to find room for "The Master's return", which only got an honorable mention here. Though I can understand not including it in a list specifically related to RTD since the direction, editing and music by Murray Gold all helped make the scene as fantastic as it was. But if it's a list of best moments from the revived series, I gotta put that scene near the top.

Jim said...

The end of Gridlock when the Face of Boe dies and also the stirring and sense of perseverance from hearing the hymn.