Wednesday, July 09, 2008

TV: Bye-Bye Russell T Davies

Russell T Davies sure knows how to write a send-off ... his own.

Davies is leaving Doctor Who with the conclusion of this year's series 4 of the revival of Britain's most loved Science Fiction show. It was a season that really got off to a rousing start with last Christmas' Doctor Who Special, Voyage of the Damned. A tear-jerker send-up of the Poseidon Adventure with singer Kylie Minogue standing in for the as-yet-not-here Doctor Who companion. It was first-rate TV fare.

The new companion that debuted this spring was Donna Noble, played by Brit comedic treasure Catherine Tate. She first surfaced as The Runaway Bride in the 2006 Doctor Who Christmas Special. A little bit older than typical Doctor companions have been (With the exception of Elizabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith), Donna was more than a bit contrary. As written, Donna was a little aggressive, a little shrill, and beat down by a disapproving mother who spared praise, but rarely criticism.

All in all, it made Donna just a little bit unlikable. And that made for a difficult series 4 of Doctor Who until the concluding trilogy. The first ten episodes weren't completely devoid of good material. And Donna's inner good nature and native brilliance had occasion to shine. The best of the lot was probably the Fires of Pompei (#2) and the second-half of a two-parter, Forest of the Dead (#9). There had been lots of entertainment value in The Doctor's Daughter (#6), although it depended on so many co-incidences and startling bursts of insight by Donna, that it strays from the best-of list.

The annual literary figure interaction of the year featured a trip to visit Agatha Christie in the dreadful The Unicorn and the Wasp (#7). It was almost as bad as the largely Donna-less Midnight (#10). That featured a group of the most unpleasant people ever put into a locked room on TV. A wasted hour.

I thought the follow-up, Turn Left (#11), was almost as bad. It reversed the prior episode by being almost purely Donna, with only brief glimpses of the Doctor at beginning and end. It was a butterfly episode, showing what would have happened had Donna Noble turned right at a key time and ended up not meeting the Doctor at all. The distopian future of the Earth was decidedly unpleasant TV. And that was two episodes in a row of non-entertaining TV. I didn't hold out much hope for Davies to turn the season around.

How wrong I was.

The Stolen Earth (#12) and Journey's End (#13) are fabulous TV. All the little threads are tied up from the whole season, dating all the way back to Minogue's character's heroic self-sacrifice last Christmas. In fact, it's hard to think of a major character from the revival of the show that does NOT make an appearance over the last two hours. Rose Tyler, seen briefly in two previous episodes, is all over the finale. There's the reunion, the breaking of that reunion and a parting of the ways that harkens back to her last departure from the Whosian universe. Not completely as sad as the original, but heart-string tugging.

Not to try to compare it with the good-bye The Doctor gives Donna, but that wrenching departure might be sadder. It is no longer his own private hell to have to say good-bye to the lady who saved the universe. Others know, and the sadness on their faces makes the moments all the more poignant.

There is a virtual blank slate for Davies' successor as Doctor Who show-runner to begin with. Steven Moffat, who wrote the outstanding episode Blink (series 3 #10), moves into the creative directorship of the show, which will take 2009 off. There will be a Christmas special this year and probably a special or three next year. But spring 2010 looks interesting now for more than the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Moffat will probably need a new Doctor by then. David Tennant has been brilliant after replacing Christopher Eccleston, who headlined the first year of the revival. But three years of Tennant might be enough. His ability to show goofiness and sadness, brilliance and smack-the-head forgetfulness, is exceptional. He will be missed. But I think it's time. Davies dallied with a regeneration of The Doctor in The Stolen Earth. Instead of a new Doctor, we briefly ended up with three. By series end, we were back down to just Tennant's solo Doctor.

And he is solo. No current companion. Rose Tyler is back in her unreachable dimension. Martha Jones is engaged (and probably Torchwood-bound). Donna is, well, not available. And Sarah Jane Smith has her own adventures (and son) to worry about. A future companion, Alex Kingston's Professor River Song from Forest of the Dead, awaits a different Doctor. She's not getting any younger, yet supposedly meets The Doctor when she's younger. With 2010 still a year and some months away, wouldn't be surprised if they decide to make that pairing happen rather quickly. And that's okay with me. Professor Song seems a delight and a match for the manic pace of being a companion.

It's funny, but the after-taste is always the way you rememeber something. Forget the good if it ends badly, or vice-versa, a good finish sends a bad start into obscurity. It's the latter way I will remember Russell T Davies.

Just like he probably planned.

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