Doctor Who #860: Death of the Doctor Part 1

"Think of all the lives he touched. The whole planet should be in mourning, but no one knows."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.25 2010.

IN THIS ONE... According to UNIT, the Doctor is dead, but Sarah Jane, Jo Grant and the kids discover the alien undertakers aren't on the up and up.

REVIEW: Russell T Davies writing an 11th Doctor story? It happened! While Part 1 has its moments, I can't help but be irked by its various RTDisms. Aliens that look like Earth animals, for example. Not only is it rather convenient for the universe's "undertakers" to look like vultures, but the Shansheeth are TERRIBLE designs. Completely unrealistic muppets. It's a bit embarassing that Doctor Who fans might come to this story specifically as their only sample of the Sarah Jane Adventures. UNIT's big new base might be cool, but again, an obvious old school effect - it LOOKS like a painting. Given there's also a quarry planet, this all could have been done on purpose as part of the nostalgia tour of getting classic companions together, but if it is, it just doesn't work. Oh, and the UNIT base has Graske putting around in it, except they're not Graske, they're Groske, because RTD thinks that's funny or clever. And what's this big rocket UNIT plans to launch? I hope it's got other duties except as a glorified hearse for the Doctor's body, because that's an awfully big expense. (Spoiler: It doesn't feature again, so it's a needless effect.)

Complaints aside, where RTD shines, like always, is with character interaction and emotion, and the episode delivers a lot of that. Hearing of the Doctor's death, Sarah Jane responds with forceful, even aggressive, denial. She mistrusts everything and everyone, and it's up to Clyde and Rani to play the adults, put things in perspective, and calm her down, while still letting her grieve in her own way. Things get brighter when Jo Grant (now Jones) shows up, infected with Katy Manning's buoyant spirit though still recognizably Jo. She's the total opposite of Sarah Jane, with her huge activist family, traveling the world and fighting for very real causes (as opposed to fantastical alien ones). She's clumsy, and absent-minded, and a motormouth, and warm, and loud. She has the things Sarah missed out on, but it's also touching to see Jo's heart break a little when she hears the Doctor's returned several times to see her successor, but never came back for her. Happily, it's not an antagonistic, jealous relationship. They like each other, compare notes fondly, find things in common, and hey, it's not all just one big clip show with images from the classic series. The director lets it play out as dialog, focusing on the companions' perceptions.

We'll hear about other companions in Part 2, but there's at least one nice surprise in Part 1. The Brig is once again stuck in Peru, but Liz Shaw is apparently on Moonbase! The future is now, but it's all very hush-hush! Neat! By rights, the Doctor's funeral should feature every living companion ever, but that's just not realistic. The compromise, classic Who's two best remembered ladies, is delight enough. The Doctor DOES appear, though only near the end (the same thing happened with Doc10 in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith), switching places in space-time with Clyde thanks to that bit of artron energy still in the latter's hand from the Wedding. Bad morph aside, it's some of that nonsense RTD science, but we'll see how playing Captain Marvel and Rick Jones goes in Part 2.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Lovely to see Jo again, and those scenes alone are worth the viewing despite the naff aliens.


Jayunderscorezero said...

You're not wrong in your observation about the aliens. And you're right: this was my first time checking out SJA and they are a bit of a turn-off for new viewers.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

To offer a differing viewpoint- as someone with a great fondness for 80s-era practical effects (Jabba the Hutt's palace, for instance), I found the Shansheeth a fun and refreshing change for the typical 'guy in makeup' or 'CGI monster that doesn't look so great because SJA doesn't ahve the budget for it.' Doctor Who hasn't done so much with puppetry since the 70s, but it's a unique look I'm glad they revisited. Perfect here? No. But I appreciated the effort- it made this one feel stand-out because it was trying something new. (Or... old, as the case may be).

I was again irritated by RTD revionism whe Sarah Jane is yelling about military people with guns on her property. This isn't the Sarah Jane that palled around with UNIT all through the 70s (or was it the 80s? ;-) ), this was RTD's revisionist version in the universe where every good guy is a pacifist who hates everyone that isn't. That character moment rang gratingly false; the 10th Doctor, you can justify as having been changed by the war (even if he's still hypocritical about his own past that way). But Sarah Jane? Doesn't gel.

But you are quite right about the characters otherwise. To me, the Jo-3rd relationship was everything that people talked up SJA-4th or Rose-10th to be (both of which fell a little flat to me)- tender, closer-than-close, really touching to watch. So, to have her back reacting to his 'death,' and finding out the Sarah Jane's seen him multiple times, was a particularly nice touch.


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