With a title as contentious as The Doctor’s Daughter, one can’t help but feel cheated within the first three minutes of this episode of Doctor Who when the cute pouty girl we’ve seen trailed endlessly this week isn’t actually the Doctor’s daughter, but a knock off bit of DNA created at the top of the episode.
Still, at least the meat of this episode isn’t undersold from that point onwards, because the next 45 minutes are actually pretty good as the Doctor, Donna and guest-companion Martha land on a colony planet in the far future. The colony was supposed to be a place where humans and the alien Hath could forge a new culture together. Sadly, things went Pete Tong fairly quickly and soon the humans and Hath were at war, a war that has been raging for generations in the underground corridors and chambers of this nightmare world. Soldiers are genetically created on both sides from whoever is near to hand, in this case the Doctor, and the gang are soon involved in the search for the Source, the mystical relic that the gun-toting General Cobb (Nigel Terry) thinks will help the humans win the war.
After last week’s run-around with the Sontarans, we still get plenty of running around, but there’s a different feel to this episode than we’ve had in previous weeks. The tone is darker, and there’s also a sense that things have settled down a bit - Donna is no longer the new girl, and we’ve hit that mid-season running speed that makes everything that bit more satisfying.
Obviously, the main question about this episode is: the Doctor’s daughter? What gives? Well I’ll admit to feeling cheated that she isn’t the real thing and it’s a bit of techno-gubbins malarkey to give the Doctor something to emote against. I don’t quite buy the bond that springs up between the Doctor and Georgia Moffett’s Jenny (a name she is given rather quickly). She is a genetically engineered soldier with military tactics and skills programmed in, and knows what to do with a gun, much to the Doctor’s horror. But why does he care, she isn’t really his daughter? But, if you want to buy this element, it’s best to look the other way for what is a very solid episode. Moffett, continuing a family legacy in the* Doctor Who* world, is brilliant. She has a sexy innocence, and works well with Tennant and Tate - in fact, you can almost feel a proto-Tardis teaming in the making here. Perhaps the emotional thrust is credible as this is the closest the Doctor has come to having a piece of his civilisation back (the Master aside), and yes, we know there was a big time war, blah blah blah.
The Doctor’s Daughter does become a chase through corridors as two opposing forces search for the Source, with the Doctor, Donna and Jenny keeping ahead of Cobb and the humans, and Martha having fallen in with the Hath very early on. The Hath are lovely, avoiding the usual monster cliché by not actually being able to speak. The design work here is brilliant and the Hath come off as a rather memorable Doctor Who alien with their fish-like faces and bubbling breathing apparatus bolted on. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they were cute. And Freema Agyeman steps up her game again, being given the more difficult task as Martha is separated from her friends and has only non-speaking aliens to act against. Good stuff.
And yes, Donna Noble is a bone fide companion. It doesn’t feel wrong for her to be there any more, she’s not the new girl. She fits into the tone of the series so naturally now, and her partnership with David Tennant works very well indeed as they continue to riff off each other’s skills and strengths. And Tennant has so much mastery over the Doctor now, it’s hard to find anything new to say. He is the Doctor, period.
In between the running and shooting, writer Stephen Greenhorn remembers to find time for a nice upbeat ending, tinged with sadness. The truth behind the Source is nicely different and gives us a satisfying ending, although giving the Doctor a ranting speech about guns (they’re bad m’kay?) seems like Who by numbers just for a second. We know he doesn’t like guns, but he is a soldier of his own making. Yes, we do get it.
And of course Jenny didn’t die - her shooting gives the Doctor chance to emote more, and then bugger off in the Tardis, only for Jenny to come back to life just as soon as he’s gone. She fires off into the depths of space to find new adventures, one can’t help but feel that we haven’t seen the last of Jenny, the Doctor’s daughter.
Next week, it’s celebrity historical time as the Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie in The Unicorn and the Wasp. Going by the trailer, this could be the best of the new season yet.