New Who in Conversation: Smith and Jones (S03E01)

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun!

“Smith and Jones” – Season three, episode one

The Doctor – David Tennant

Martha Jones – Freema Agyeman

TEHANI:
I loved Martha from the moment I met her. She’s funny, smart, cool and works well under pressure. I love her dysfunctional but ultimately awesome family and her obvious and instant difference to Rose and Donna (clearly marked by her telling the Doctor about the events of the past couple of years that Donna had missed entirely). Well, in the beginning…

Is it just me or is Tennant more relaxed in the role in this episode? It’s almost like he’s taken a breath and gone, yup, I’m the Doctor and everything is ooo-kay.

TANSY:
There could certainly have been a bigger time gap there, for the Doctor, which allows him to have relaxed a bit into himself. And I think it helps for David Tennant to not be the new boy any more.

I’m also a huge Martha fan! This is a great introduction to her and her family – and it really is a game of contrasts between her and Rose. She has a life, something not as easily walked away from, and is only interested in an adventure or two before returning to her career and attachments. She’s also capable, clever and quite flexible.

Like Donna, she’s also perfectly capable of smacking the Doctor around when he gets too high handed … and does it rather less abrasively than Donna did in “The Runaway Bride”.

DAVID:
Once I got over how familiar she looked, neatly explained away of course, I was really impressed with Martha. I agree about the contrast with Rose, it is almost as if they were trying to find the complete opposite. I am in no way calling Rose stupid, but one of the things they emphasise about her is her limited education and the narrowness of her experience of life. The way her journeys with the Doctor expand these horizons is a major part of her character arc.

In Martha we are presented with someone who is well educated and has a very nimble and inquiring mind, and who immediately grasps the ramifications of what has happened to the hospital and the patients, yet can still grasp the wonder of what she is seeing (and how brilliant an image is this hospital sitting on the surface of the moon, bathed in “Earthlight” as the Doctor so elegantly puts it?). You can see how much she impresses the Doctor from the word go (and I was equally as impressed). Terrible doctor though, fancy running around with the Doctor instead of attending to her patients! :-P

TEHANI:
And don’t they run! I really find that motif of running around with the Doctor so much fun. Tansy, did that start with Four, or is it just that I don’t know the earlier Doctors to remember it?

TANSY:
I think it started with Troughton really, but it was never emphasised in the narrative of the show so much as with Christopher Eccleston’s first episode. “Running down corridors” had become a meta comment about the show from fans and satirical sketches, but it became something more in the new show.

DAVID:
When we first meet Rose, she really is almost a child, still trying to work out who she is and what she wants to be, while Martha is an adult, much more confident in her identity and goals. It’s very much like the different between the two Mickey’s, pre and post parallel universe. Martha seems very centred, and I am looking forward to watching her interactions with the Doctor, I have high hopes that it will be on a much more equal footing. I was a bit dubious about the last five minutes though, almost portrayed the Doctor as an intergalactic predator, cruising the dimensions looking for impressionable young woman to pick up in a vulnerable moment!

TANSY:
Ha yes, there is a bit of that, particularly as he’s still on the rebound from Donna turning him down. Though I don’t think you can argue this interaction is LESS predatory than Christopher Eccleston and “by the way it also travels in time” – at least Martha is a bit older and more of a sensible decision-maker. Also this Doctor presents as younger so there’s less of a visible age gap.

TEHANI:
I don’t know about this. It was actually a bit disappointing, to see Martha presented so quickly as quite enamoured of him, after such a great episode of her being all smart and independent and awesome. Why do that? I mean, sure, we all know it’s realistic – cute, super smart, funny and apparently really quite powerful guy sweeps you away, you’re probably going to get a bit of a crush pretty quickly, but after Rose, we could have done with a break from the mooning about, don’t you think?

DAVID:
No arguments here! :-P

TANSY:
I like the fact that the way Martha chooses to come aboard the TARDIS is as different from Rose as is her personality – he’s really (sure) offering her a simple jaunt, a holiday away from her real life, with the promise that she’ll be home again straight away. One trip… the gateway drug!

DAVID:
Is it just me, or does Ten come across as completely and utterly insane in this? Tennant looks like he is having so much fun and he drags you along with him, it’s impossible not to get caught up in his wild eyed enthusiasm. He really does remind me of Four at times., he just seems so at home in his role as the Doctor.

TEHANI:
Love the bare feet! He’s manic in this, that’s for sure. It really reflects true Doctor Who for me!

TANSY:
I do like the Tenth Doctor in this particular episode – he feels rejuvenated and enthusiastic about adventuring. Believe me, David, you’re going to get used to ‘manic energy Ten!’ There’s a lot more where this comes from. But yes you get a sense that, a year in, the actor knows exactly what he wants to do with the character, and has the confidence to put that into practice. It feels a more experimental and creative version now, with a new person to bounce off. There’s a joy in that – he gets to experience the universe anew all over again.

DAVID:
While the Judoon were adequate aliens, Finnegan was a magnificent villain. The actress who played her was perfect, and that straw was a lovely little touch. Just goes to show that in the end acting is more important than special effects in a creating an effective and appropriately evil monster, one only has to compare Ms Finnegan and the Empress from the Christmas special.

TEHANI:
Agree! Florence Finnegan (played by Anne Reid) is scary by being so ORDINARY.

TANSY:
I really like the Judoon! I think their design is one of the better ‘Earth animals as aliens’ renditions, though that particular trope is getting old now, and it would be more powerful if it wasn’t coming after the cat nuns and the pig in a space suit. I love their way of talking “BO SHO WO KO” – we always do that when we need a rhino noise when reading to our toddler. So convenient to finally have one. Thanks, Doctor Who!

Also I think the idea of them is intriguing – they’re set up as bad guys but in fact are an intergalactic police force with entirely their own agenda. Their methods are definitely questionable but I like the way that demonstrates that Earth isn’t actually the centre of the universe – and just because they represent law and order doesn’t mean they’re on the Doctor’s side! I think his tendency to get in trouble with or work outside the authorities is an important character trait.

DAVID:
I think that is a very good point. It’s refreshing to see aliens other than those bent on the Earth’s destruction because they are evil, or seeking to conquer the Universe, aliens who actually don’t care about the planet except for how it intersects with their interests. And, it is a bit of a running gag about how one insignificant planet seems to attract so much trouble, one wonders whether the Doctor’s loves the planet because so many exciting things happen, or so many exciting things happen because he loves the planet!

If the Doctor were a Dungeons and Dragons character he would surely be Chaotic Good rather than Lawful Good (I don’t play D&D, so any readers who do will have to forgive me if I have stuffed that up). His relationship with authority figures and law enforcement agencies has always been rather tense, that was one of the reasons why I loved his relationship with the Brigadier so much. The contrast between the anti authoritarian Doctor and the “Establishment” figure brought out the best, and worst, in them both.

TEHANI:
One has to wonder if the questionable methods are commentary on military in the “real world”? How much of Doctor Who IS that?

I think “Smith and Jones” is a really good episode overall (the last few minutes notwithstanding) – probably could be an interesting gateway episode to Doctor Who for new viewers, with the great introduction of Martha and the manic energy of the Doctor, plus aliens both weird and eerily evil, set both on Earth and off. It had me giggling and also tearing up – good sign!

TANSY:
Yes I think the show as a whole (New Who, that is) has been very clever about gateway episodes – not just the first of each season which have mostly done well at giving jumping on points, but the Christmas episodes as semi-standalones, and having several eps through the season which you could watch independently, knowing nothing about the show.

It’s fascinating to me, because Doctor Who is one of those shows so heavy with years of continuity – and yet this is what it has always done, starting again with new companions and new Doctors, each season having its own identity even though it was more episodic in the old days. Having said all that, while I liked “Rose” a lot, I think this is the best first ep of a new season of the new show so far. Clear cut and confident, which is good because losing Rose could have a had a hugely detrimental effect on the reputation of the show – she was our point of view character, after all!

DAVID:
Very true, and that’s why it is good idea not changing the Doctor AND the Companions at the same time, it allows a degree of continuity if there is a familiar face or two floating around. It’s why I actually think the Second Doctor’s regeneration was, at the time, a bit of a risk (Tehani, without spoiling it too much for you, the Doctor was forcibly regenerated, exiled, and his Companions sent back to their own times – with their memories wiped!). After all, the whole regeneration thing wasn’t as established in canon as it is now and it could have gotten very messy.

TANSY:
Hmm, not to spoil it for you, David, but there’s at least one episode coming in your future that I think argues against your point. I’m also a big supporter of the complete change of cast between the Second and Third eras – sometimes it’s nice to start from scratch! I agree we wouldn’t want it every time, though.

I do think it’s good for the show to regularly change up the supporting cast, and that each companion offers something completely new. I find it interesting that the most damning accusations fans tend to wield at new eras of the show is usually any hint of repetition – is there any other show that has such pressure on it to be completely different every season?

DAVID:
Well, I will just have to wait and see! :-)

I have probably not been involved enough in fandom to have heard that sort of criticism, but I think that is a little unfair. I can’t think of any other show that has reinvented itself as consistently and sometimes as bravely as Doctor Who. To be able to span almost half a century and manage to avoid becoming dated and stale is a hell of an achievement. And, while it was born of necessity, the idea of regenerations was a stroke of genius and it means that if worse comes to worst there is a bit of a “Get out of repetition jail free” card!

We’ve seen all sorts of styles and directions, both successful and unsuccessful, from dark and brooding to fairly light hearted. There are lots of criticisms that can be levelled at Doctor Who, but I don’t think repetition is one of them. I can’t even think of a season where they weren’t trying to do something new at least every few episodes, though I’m open to correction on that.

There is no one more critical than a fan, though, is there? :-P

TANSY:
So true. And the new version of the show has worked very hard to keep changing things up, despite that being against pretty much everything that people expect from the rest of modern television!

Something I only just noticed – the big difference between this episode and “Rose” is that the Doctor himself doesn’t interact with Martha’s family, which suggests they’re going to be a lot less personally relevant to him than Jackie and Mickey were.

But of course we can’t really discuss that point until later, can we? Time to move on?

TEHANI:

Let’s!

We have already talked about:

“Rose”, S01E01

“Dalek”, S01E06

“Father’s Day”, S01E08

“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10

“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13

Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani

“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special

“New Earth”, S02E01

“School Reunion”, S02E03

“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04

“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06

“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13

Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani

“The Runaway Bride”, 2006 Christmas Special

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “New Who in Conversation: Smith and Jones (S03E01)

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