Saturday, June 22, 2024

Who Wants to Travel With the Doctor?

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“Texts from the Tardis” is a new series from The Fandomentals, in which we compare the analysis of a first time viewer (Pete) to a long-time Whovian (Andy). It will include actual texts from our watch-alongs as well as more in-depth discussion of the episode.

Please note: Andy’s reactions may contain non-specific references to future episodes, such as a commentary on themes or character growth, but will not include discussion of actual plot points so-as to avoid spoiling Pete! Please do not spoil Pete in the comments!

DW E1 Doctor OnWell, it took me several years and some not-so-subtle hints, but I finally convinced Pete to watch Doctor Who!

Pete and I live on opposite sides of the country, so to stay in touch we trade off recommending TV shows to each other. We both love vicariously experiencing the wonder and joy of discovering a new favorite (yes, I am obsessed with Mark Oshiro, thank you) and over the years we’ve developed a good sense of the overlap between our tastes. First was Buffy and the West Wing, then Pretty Little Liars (how on earth did I sell you on that?) and after that came Lost (totally lives up to the hype).

Hah, I watched PLL because I needed leverage to get you to watch Lost. Worth every Ezria break up.

Episode 1: Rose

Whenever I start a new sci-fi show, I always feel cautiously optimistic. There’s a whole new universe to explore and get to know! And I hear that there is space travel and time travel in this? And they change the Doctor like every year? And people meme it out of context all the time. But like…what if it’s boring?

Pete, sometimes you just have to do a trust fall. Like just leap out the door, into space, and trust that there will be an oxygen tunnel to catch you.

…you are spoiling me already aren’t you?


Or even worse, what if it’s poorly done? What if the writing or acting is bad, or the science is bad? Sci-fi television as a genre has a tendency to be very flawed due to the limitations of the medium — like how everyone speaks English on Stargate, or how reversing the polarity isn’t a real thing! But I almost always learn to look past those flaws, and with our very first episode, it is immediately apparent that Doctor Who is going to be character driven.

Yes! The show takes a little while to find it’s voice in Season 1, spending a little too much time on the Alien-of-the-Week type stories, but any time they slow down and let two characters just talk to each other…magic!

“I can feel it. The turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. And the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, ‘cause if we let go…That’s who I am.”

This episode in particular is all about Rose. It’s right there in the title. When the BBC decided to reboot this 50 year-old show, instead of dropping us in on the Doctor, we get to know Rose first. The first time we see the Doctor, it’s through her eyes. This is a pretty well established storytelling device (introducing the audience to a new world via the character’s introduction) but in this context, it also serves to establish Rose as of equal importance as the Doctor.

Rose seems like she has the potential to be independent, but is lost. In the introductory montage, it’s clear that she doesn’t want to be in any of these places. She has a boyfriend, but this is the only time we see her when she isn’t staring off into space. (No pun intended!) But like most of us, she doesn’t seem to know where she does want to be instead.

Enter stage left. The Doctor.

I know from basic spoilers that he is a Time Lord. I know that Time Lords are somewhat immortal. And I know that each season has a different “incarnation” of the Doctor. Beyond that, all I know is he’s a handsome devil in a leather jacket. And…I’m learning that he plays fast and loose with individual lives. Rose’s boss: dead. I’m not placing his death at the Doctor’s feet, but that was a person who was killed and he just told someone who knew them that they were dead. Not a sigh, or even a brow furrow. Just “Lah-di-dah, let’s move along now. Oh and hey, your boyfriend, Ricky?  He’s dead too.” Except he wasn’t and the Doctor knew there was a chance of that and didn’t say anything. (And I think his name is Mickey, not Ricky.)DW Text Boyfriend trashcan

It does make me feel better that the Doctor was kind of about to be bargaining for the fate of the human race, and possibly in turn the galaxy. But still. A wise man once said  “Either they all matter or none of them do.” Room for growth? Or philosophical differences?  We shall see.  But either way, won’t it be exciting?

You know, I’ve never thought about the Doctor’s behavior in that way before, but I think you are definitely right that his nonchalance is a little disturbing. But we also see him offering the Nestene Consciousness a chance to surrender: this isn’t a man who busts in to shoot first and ask questions later. He respects life when it’s alive, but he’s become numb to death. This episode hints a little at the reasons for that.

Ultimately, that’s why he asks Rose to travel with him. It’s not because she saved the world, it’s because he wants her to save him.

We are talking the whole of space and time. All of it. Not just our infinitesimal little portion of it.  To say this is the opportunity of a lifetime would be an understatement. And I literally stopped and re-assessed all my life choices when I heard about the Mars One program.

Sometimes I feel bad for Mickey, because Rose left him behind. I think about how I would feel if I got this kind of opportunity and all I’d want to do would be to share it with my friends. Mickey had to watch Rose run away from him. But then, how could you say no?DW E1 Would you travel with the doctor

That was definitely something I considered as well. But the Doctor made it clear: stay or go. No friends allowed. And of course you have to say yes! But that doesn’t mean you have to leave your friend standing in street wondering what will become of you. Say goodbye, maybe wrap up some loose ends.

Pack a clean pair of underwear?

Hell, I didn’t even think of that. But again, it didn’t seem like the Doctor was offering the chance to do any of those things. How do you run full speed out of the arms of someone you love? I can’t understand that.

It does make sense if she doesn’t really love him though. Or maybe just not enough. I think if had she stayed (with or without having met the doctor) she might have married Mickey and been just as lost with him as she is in the rest of her life. Just going through the motions. The living plastic.

Well thanks Pete for depressing the hell out of me. I’m now going to be haunted by how sad Rose’s life would be without the Doctor.

“How can you live an ordinary life once you’ve seen magic?” is a theme that shows up not just in this show, but in fantasy/sci-fi more broadly. That yearning for adventure, for magic, is what draws a lot of people to these kinds of stories. It would be easy to call it escapism, but I think Doctor Who in particular is about searching for meaning in the universe. In this episode, the Doctor and Rose literally save the world. Of course Rose wants to do it again. What else could possibly measure up?

Episode 2: End of the World

So if you had a time machine, would you travel to the past or the future?

That’s a tough one. While I have spent an embarrassing amount of time imagining how I would rescue Alexander Hamilton from his death so that I could take him to see the Broadway musical about his life, I think I’d have to say…forward. I’d like some reassurance that this election isn’t the first stage of the apocalypse just now.

I think most people would choose forward. I would personally choose 1-2 thousand years into future. Enough time for mad progress but not so long that the Earth has blown up.

I’m pretty sure the moon will fall on us before the Earth is in any danger of blowing up, so you know, one less thing to worry about.

I feel like humanity has a fairly good understanding of the historical events of the last thousand years, and the progress we have made in that time is remarkable. I would want to see if we could continue to exponentially accelerate as time went on or if we would bottom out and destroy ourselves in a global war.

So where do the Doctor and Rose go?  The end of the earth.


DW E2 Classic EarthI didn’t think I would weep for the earth’s demise, but Rose had to go and put it into a different context for me..

“All that history and no one even saw it pass. We were too busy worrying about ourselves”   

I mean, all the life on the planet had moved on. It had nurtured so much, would create no more…and it’s people didn’t even watch it go. They had gathered to watch its destruction like dinner theater and not the passing of something great.

Rose didn’t see it happen, but she felt its loss and she cried. That’s who Rose is.

One of my beefs with this episode is that Rose is not in it nearly enough. I’m pretty sure Rose is compassion personified. I mean, in this episode, not only is she distraught over the death of her planet, but she’s also missing her mother, making friends with the plumber, and arguing for mercy for Cassandra.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is being cheeky about having absolutely jack-all to present the other guests in honor of the occasion. “Air from my lungs.” Why do I find this deeply hilarious? Oh right, I am a sucker for camp.

And there is a ton of camp in this episode. We’ve got the Doctor being a cheapwad, Tainted Love, and Adherents of the Repeated Meme. These are my people.

The more I see of the Doctor, the more I think I was wrong about him. He isn’t cavalier with lives, he saves every life he can. And he does so at great personal risk. I don’t know how the whole “immortal Time Lord” thing works but since his whole species apparently died in a war, it’s safe to say there are limits. Sometimes they don’t come back. Maybe he’s not numb so much as he just accepts the things he can’t change.

So we have to talk about the pretty tree lady who turned out to be an Earthan. How would that go when our species met? The vegetarians and vegans would be considered war criminals. I can’t imagine a human parallel.DW E2 Britney

I’m picturing a salad bar of ears that were grown in a lab.

Your brain is a terrifying place. But seriously, the plants we eat are non-sentient. They are not self-aware. By almost all our definitions, they are not alive. (I say almost all, because according to this article plants apparently gamble. How they have enough awareness to do that when they don’t have nervous systems is anyone’s guess.)

Okay if we are going to go on a safari about the nature of consciousness, we also have to talk about the Face of Boe and Cassandra. How would it feel to live as a giant head in a jar? Or a flap of skin in a frame?

I’m afraid I have more questions than answers. Cassandra obviously didn’t care about anything other than not dying. Would sacrifice like that be worth what you could see and learn? As someone who doesn’t have access to a time machine and has a maximum lifespan of oh, 120 years, I can’t say with any certainty that I would say no.

We might find out within our lifetime. Scientists have made amazing progress transferring memories back and forth between computers and rat brains. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out how to preserve human brains. We might all end up living through eternity as robots.

Nuh-uh. As this episode proves, adorable semi-autonomous robots always turn out to be evil. Maybe we could be giant heads in jars instead. What’s his deal, anyway?


It’s Bob Barker isn’t it?

Sure, let’s go with that.


Images courtesy of BBC,  Fox, and Paramount.

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