NIGHT OF A THOUSAND COMPANIONS
Brought to you by Nu-Hand, the revolutionary plot device which allows you to circumvent canon whenever you feel like it!
I will say right now those first five minutes of Night of a Thousand Companions were some of the corniest corn I've ever corned. Seen. Actually, combined with the last five in the previous episode -- the slow-motion Love Run, OH NOS LOOK OUT PCHEW PCHEW PCHEW, and then the bit where Tennant goes all Highlander on us (HE IS IMMORTAL! HE HAS INSIDE HIM BLOOD OF KINGS!) just built up the cheese that eventually oozed out of the coppiest-outtest deus ex machina I've seen in a long time, and it came in three teeth-gnashingly rotten parts:
1. "Oh, I just used my AMAZING REGENERATIVE POWERS to heal myself, but I didn't WANT to change my body!"
Gnash! go the teeth. Time Lords aren't supposed to dictate the terms of their regeneration, no matter how cute and cheeky they are by nature about breaking the rules. I mean, what good are these story rules if you're not going to follow them?
Ok, sure, Romana got to pick out a few bodies before she settled on Lalla Ward's (and good on her for that pick) but her regeneration was purely voluntary. Ten, well, he was too busy having CGI shoot out of his head and hands to have a say in the matter. (Besides, there's another theory that says Romana could choose what she looked like cause she was a girl, and maybe girls get an infinite number of regenerations unlike the guys do. What do you say to that, Sergeant Retcon?)
2. "...so I healed myself and redirected the rest of the powers to my convenient Hand-In-A-Jar! Brilliant! Molto bene! I'm so clever! Et cetera!"
Gnash! Gnash! So the CGI shooting out of Ten's hands was Concentrated Regeneration Power and all he had to do was point it at the jar and transfer it? Good god, it's fortunate for us he did, because what would've happened if he'd just let the regeneration go and flail his arms all about? Holy cats, he could have hit all his TARDIS pals with the beams, or maybe crossed the streams, or... my!
3. (the sound of TINY WINDCHIMES as the Doctor blows the leftover Regeneration Pixie Dust off the Hand-In-A-Jar)
Okay, Russell T. Davies, you can fuck right off now. Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.
The arbitrariness of the entire thing just irked me. I honestly can't deny the regeneration itself was important; it's crucial to the story's resolution and all, but the events leading up to and following it were so contrived it hurt. It would've been best treated as the event which merely served as the appropriate stopping point between the two episodes, but to build it up as a true cliffhanger, well, made it seem even less sincere. It wasn't a "oh nos, what will happen?" cliffhanger; we know what happens when the Doctor regenerates. He lies down and is surrounded by nifty special effects, and then hey presto he's all new. This cliffhanger, then, relied on speculation outside the actual narrative. We were meant to think "Wait, David Tennant is being written out now? I didn't hear he was going! Who is going to replace him?" And when a show relies on meta-cliffhangers to keep people glued to the set, my god, we're all in trouble.
On the other hand, we always do have to end on a cliffhanger, don't we? Why didn't we then use the part where we have to wonder if Rose will ever talk normally again?
I think I'm just most bugged about the "I can alter my regeneration willy-nilly!" bit, and have been trying to come up with non-contrived ways which could've allowed the Magic Pixie Dust to transfer to Hand-In-A-Jar without Ten doing it cos he's so clever and all. I could see TARDIS intervention, perhaps, or Donna reaching out and grabbing him in the middle (has any human ever actually been in physical contact with the Doctor during the regen? Not usually; they just let him lie there and do his thang) but anything but Roger Rabbit's "I could only do it when it was funny!" kind of reasoning. Anything!
It soured me for a while, but not for too long, because I eventually grew happy with the episode because of the following good bits:
I. DALEKS SPEAKING GERMAN
You can either argue it was historically appropriate or overexplaining; I'd go for the former and chalk it up to clever staging. You can't quite accuse RTD of overexplaining the Nazi angle; Terry Nation had always conceived the Daleks as a Nazi analogue, and both the Daleks and the Nazis did tend to go about all shouty-like, getting their orders from one main guy in charge (with a severe cult of personality) and talking on about their species superiority and how everybody else who was inferior was gonna perish. Davros has always been this insanely cold-blooded bad-ass murderer figurehead with insane schemes to rule all. If you didn't see the parallel before now, you probably wouldn't have been edified by Martha's watching the Daleks float on by hollering EXTERMINEREN! or however they were hollering it. I thought it was great; of course the Daleks are gonna holler in other peoples' languages when they're busy taking over their respective countries and you don't have the TARDIS nearby for translation.
II. K-9 OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE
Yay! Yay for K-9! Good dog! It was good to see you just appear from out of nowhere, help Mr. Smith with the TARDIS stuff and then help keep Luke safe! I'm so sorry the new people with the doggy license are turning you into a CGI Aibo, even though I know your remote controls always make you difficult to operate on set. But frankly, since every other companion-type who'd been instrumental in helping the Doctor out over these past few years had shown up (well besides the dead ones, even though we got the Academy Awards montage of them without even enough time to clap for our favorites) I was kinda expecting we'd get the tin dog. Hooray for expectations met!
Oh, Adam doesn't count in this list of companions because A. he's an idiot, B. he's from the not-too-distant future, C. he's an idiot and D. he's an idiot with a ill-gotten computer implant in his head that opens up every time he watches The Addams Family.
III. DAVROS BEING THE MEANEST MEANIE IN ALL THE MEANIVERSE
You gotta admire his spunk. Destroy all non-Dalek matter in the universe and rule what's left? Now that's a whole new level of genocide, though I don't think he thought his cunning plan all the way through. I mean, if he destroys all the matter in the universe but his own, then there's not much else he can go take over the next time he feels bored and megalomaniacal. That's bound to cause some problems. I can imagine him down in his little dungeon creating planets out of LEGO and then ordering the Daleks to take them over, only one of them runs over the city and snaps the green board in half and now it's useless, and Davros gets all pissy and sulks for the rest of the day because THAT WAS THE LAST LEGO GREEN BOARD IN EXISTENCE.
Still, major points for having the stones (evil stones, but stones nonetheless) to try and pull off a plan such as this, and major points to Rusty for staying true to Davros' character. Yes, we'll let Rusty make his own villains camp and ludicrous, make them fart, make them horrible punsters, make them rub their hands together in that "oh, de-lish-us" fashion when contemplating their evil plans, whatever. We'll even give him a pass for including the Master in this group as hell, he's a Time Lord, he must occasionally regenerate into a metrosexual, right? But no matter how far RTD went with the other baddies, even he knew that when it came to Davros, he better leave well enough alone. So we get the ruthless killer, the grotesque and bitter misanthrope teeming with anger and hatred, hell, we get Davros and anything else would've been a complete insult. The closest we got to silly was the Daleks all whizzing about once their controls were co-opted, and a few reaction shots, ha! ha! let's watch the funny Daleks now! but it was over quickly and mercifully enough and it didn't make Davros out to be a fool. And that's good enough for me.
IV. "Oi!" "Oi!"
I kept saying this over the course of this season. I really didn't like Catherine Tate in The Runaway Bride but somewhere between that special and this season, the creative team sat down and went "okay, Tate's better than we thought at this, let's de-annoyify her by 75% and change some other parameters while we're at it" and what do you know, she came up with probably the best companion yet if only because her rapport with David Tennant on-screen was just that good. The scene where New Doctor (now with one-half the Time Lord of Regular Doctor!) realizes he's melded (ew) with Donna, and the echoing, and the playing off each other, yeah, that was probably the best scene of the entire episode. Just some lovely rapid-fire back-and-forth, and both sides held their own so well.
It's a shame, then, that RTD saw fit to kick Donna to the curb so harshly. Even if it turns out to be that oh hey, don't worry, she's coming back, that ring is probably the key, whatever, it still is harshly manipulative to take a good companion and kick her in the head. I mean, the whole thing goes like this:
DONNA: Why me? I'm not special! I'm only a temp! (repeat 20x)Of course this can't be anything but a setup for a return eventually. Even so, the whole "Doctor says goodbye for one last time" conceit was slightly illogical. Look at it this way:
DOCTOR: No, don't you see? You're the most important person in the universe right now! You're not a nobody! Oh, wait, yes, you are. Sorry bout that.
DONNA: I like gossiping with the girls!
DOCTOR: All right. I've had to go and wipe your daughter's memory so that she won't remember she's sharing her brain with half a Time Lord brain. Out of sight, out of mind, all that rot. If I were my seventh incarnation, I would have said "Out of sight, out of time."All right, maybe it's not as dramatic as that, but I'd have thought that if Donna were to never have any reminders at all of her running with the Doctor, then something like, oh, say, the sight of his face would be trigger enough. I guess not. But oh you humans, you better keep your traps shut or else her blood and explodified brains are on YOUR hands!
WILFRED: I don't understand why you're doing this but since you fly around in a big blue box, I'll take your word for it that it's for her own good.
DOCTOR: It is. If she were ever to have any reminder of her life with me, any whatsoever, she'd instantly remember everything and then her brain would explode. And she'd be real mad at me.
MOM NOBLE: So she's never to have any reminder of her past adventures with you, ever?
DOCTOR: None! If she does, I'll only have you lot to blame!
DONNA (entering, noticing the DOCTOR): Oh hey.
(LOGIC EXPLOSION KA-BLAMMMMM!!)
Another season down and on we go to the Christmas special, sooner or later. I'm going back now to watch the first Sylvester McCoy season. It's got some of the cheesiest, wackiest serials: Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen are just absolutely nuts, and McCoy played the Doctor in a zany way (he wouldn't turn dark until Ace came aboard) and so I want to see how well I'll tolerate it and if I'll chalk up the cheese to "oh well, it was 1987" or "oh well, I was a kid when they aired" or what. Gain some historical perspective and all that.