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Doctor Who 3.1: Smith and Jones

And so it’s back. From outer space. Well, the moon at any rate.

The first episode of the new series of Doctor Who introduces medical student Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) - a level-headed character who, when thrown in to unusual situations, takes a deep breath and gets on with things — but still has time to marvel at what she sees as she goes.

And there’s a lot for her to take in. Her hospital gets transported to the moon (in a comparatively poor transition with a thunderclap that sounds like it comes straight from a stock sound effects LP from the 1970s). It’s invaded by a platoon of Judoon, rhino-like policemen-for-hire looking for a vampiric plasmavore, who herself has two leather bikers to do her dirty work.

As with last year’s series opener, New Earth — also written by Russell T Davies and also set in a hospital — the science-fiction element of the story doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. An MRI scanner, capable of being tweaked to kill everything within 250,000 miles? On an NHS budget? (Seriously though, it could kill everything on Earth — even from the moon — but Anne Reid plans to escape by hiding behind a screen?)

Also in common with last year’s episode, though, the sci-fi is secondary to character development — in particular, how a new Doctor-companion team works together. And there are lods of great character moments for both. We get to see that Martha is analytical, methodical, but caring — pausing to give Roy Marsden’s dead consultant what little dignity she can. And Agyeman proves that she’s up to the job, thus far at least.

She’s certainly more than capable of acting the straight man to David Tennant’s Doctor — on top form here, serious and intense when needed, but superbly comedic when allowed. A lot of tips and winks to the series’ conceits (sonic screwdriver, two hearts, “bigger on the inside”) in ways that acknowledge the inherent lunacy, then quite rightly move on to the next excitement.

The weakest part of the episode is Martha’s family. Maybe it’s because we don’t see enough of them, but what is on view is little more than a sitcom caricature. This seems especially odd, because family relationships are one of the strongest aspects of Davies’ writing. Still, the same could have been said of Jackie Tyler and Mickey at the start of the first series — by the time they left at the end of the second, the prospect of never seeing them again was a huge blow.

Which brings me to the episode’s biggest strength. Freema may have proved herself capable to be the new companion, but she has big shoes to fill. And it’s to the series’ credit that it openly acknowledges the Rose-shaped hole and makes it a virtue. By doing that, it helps set up what should be an interesting series. Bring it on!

11 Comments

(in a comparatively poor transition with a thunderclap that sounds like it comes straight from a stock sound effects LP from the 1970s).

Nitpicking. The transition was perfectly fine.

Having been a fan of Doctor Who since it began in 1963,I find myself agreeing with you. I think the biggest enemy in this is Russell T Davies. His stories are not real science fiction more about different characters for the 21st Century than Doctor Who. There is no doubt that Freema has done
well in being the new companion and I look forward to seeing the rest of the season unfold. Well done BBC for allowing this classic programme to continue, but they really should ditch RTD and get someone else to write the bulk of the series. Anyone else might think RTD writes for Eastenders

I guess it's nice to read the odd charitable review, but if it weren't for the affection we all have for Who, would we have been so forgiving? The ratings flatter to deceive.

The frankly brilliant Tennant is the one bright spot in yet another dismal outing for this iconic series, but even he might have difficulty maintaining its cult status if this goes on for much longer.

The character development is great, but imagination is seriously lacking: has anyone noticed, for instance, how many of RTD's plots involve assimiliation of some kind or another? From Anne Reid to Maureen Lipman to Peter Kay and on and on...sort it out!!

This might work for 8 year-olds (I doubt that for many of them), but the Dr Who audience is much broader these days, and if the lamentable Torchwood is anything to go by, it's clear RTD has little idea how to create something of enduring quality for a more adult audience. The production values may have improved out of all recognition since the late 70s/early 80s Golden Years of Who but the scripts lack the depth and originality of their predecessors.

The SF content of Dr Who is wafer-thin, with so many plot-holes you could pilot the entire Colonial fleet from the new Battlestar Galactica (the best SF series on TV by some measure) through it.

It's my licence fee too, and my patience has worn thin...sort it out BBC!!!

The mob ARE fickle, aren't they?

The TVs have off switches, remember.

I agree the family Jones are weak at present, but then as you rightly point out Scott, I doubt that many first watching "Rose" would have anticipated warming at her family either. (not as everyone did but I think we cared more than expected). Nevertheless,if we're going to have another squabblesome family as earth backdrop may I suggest we have much less earth please. Personally I do have hope though; after all RTD was wise enough to play with the fans by saying there would be no other planets this season. Yeah, kept well to that.

I agree that the programme is at times very lightweight and childish and could be on CBBC. But we don't have the huge panels of writers who make U.S. dramas so complex and involving. Disagree about the old episodes being better though, they may have been entertaining at the time but they haven't aged well. I watched some of Tom Baker's episodes a few years ago and they were not even as good as episodes of Blake's 7 from the same period.

Of COURSE "the science fiction element doesn't stand up to close scrutiny". It's DOCTOR WHO. The show practically INVENTED willing suspension of disbelief!

Seriously, though, if she boosted the MRI magnetic field, it'd do bugger-all to anyone's brainstems but would burn out all the electronics in the area, which leaves her plan for escaping in the Judoon spaceships a bit screwed. Plus, how would she boost the power when the hospital had been disconnected from the Grid? Plus, why didn't the gravity decrease when they were transported to the moon?

On the other hand, since when did RTD's skiffy plots stand any sort of close scrutiny? He isn't interested in hard SF, and says so at every available opportunity!
(Which is why I prefer his scripts like Tooth & Claw, where he can just make the whole thing up and as long as it sounds good, it's fine. Stops boring farts like me reflexively spotting science-holes. Serves me right for being a science writer).

how can anyone flop doctor who from the first episode of a new series. this is the modern day, do we all have to expect the same storyline from when it started all those years ago. i think that the storylines are going to be better this year, as the graphics shown from saturday's showing of episode 1, it is going to be fantastic.

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Having watched DR, WHO, since 63. I still hold resavations on the portrail of the 10th doc, I guess I may be a old gurmp . and you could say, that C ris Elecelson , played it with stature, and a edgy ness, that wILL Hartnell had, and David, may be a Patric troughten, comeadic figure,as the DOC,but Im not sure that Russell T,has got the gratis and depth the programe may now need.though I did enjoy the episide on sat.but erm countanututy was shot, erm why if all other docs nedded raditaiton proection, dident the 10th doc,

Whatever we say or not the proof is in the pudding: 8 million or so heard in the UK last Saturday. It's survived two major transitions in its 2 year resurrection and it has a terrible Spring/Summer UK slot on BBC1. The longer it is sustained, the easier it becomes to bring in a few more esoteric and deeper plots (one thinks perhaps like Stephen Fry may have proposed). I do however think the extended franchise committments to the multitude of fictional spin-offs could weaken the parent series.

Ganesh

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Ganesh on Doctor Who 3.1: Smith and Jones
Whatever we say or not the proof is in t...
dennis slocombe on Doctor Who 3.1: Smith and Jones
Having watched DR, WHO, since 63. I stil...
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