Doctor Who Series 4 episode 6 review – The Doctor’s Daughter

Spoilers aplenty in our review of this week's Doctor Who...

Plenty of spoilers here!

Tonight’s rather good – though badly plot-holed – effort from writer Stephen Greenhorn (who also wrote last season’s The Lazarus Experiment) and director Alice Troughton was once again undermined by incessant music telling us when to cry, when to be excited, when to reflect…we’re lucky series composer Murray Gold hasn’t got a ‘bouncy spring’ player in his orchestra, or they’d probably punctuate the jokes with ‘twang’ effects, Carry-on style.

Producer Phil Collinson at least spares us the ‘rimshot sting’ on punchlines. Collinson is doubtless a very busy man indeed, but he really ought to make time for the extras in his DVD collection, where he’ll find a phalanx of interviewed movie composers saying, over and over again, that a good score is just as much about when there isn’t any music. Silence is also an instrument in a score, creating tension, letting the actors perform and the story breathe, and maximising the effect of music when it comes.

I know I’ve moaned about this before, and I’ll stop moaning about it when they stop washing Who senseless with a score that should accentuate the story but instead becomes – by repetition – meaningless muzak.

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Okay then.

Last week’s end-of-episode Tardis hi-jack lands the Doctor, Donna and semi-reluctant passenger Dr. Martha Jones in very familiar Who territory – a dank and fairly cheap series of underground tunnels, where they are almost immediately set-upon by the human contingent in an eternal war that is being fought with the liquid-breathing – but actually rather nice – ‘Hath’.

Desperately in need of back-up troops, the soldiers force the Doctor’s hand into a cloning machine, which the breakneck pace of the show dictates must produce a fully-formed (and fully dressed) female spin-off Doctor-clone within ten seconds. The nameless, fully-trained blonde that emerges is played by Georgia Moffett, the daughter of fifth Doctor Peter Davison.

Why Donna and Martha are not cloned is never explained, but it certainly would have cost the show focus to have two Tate-style whingers running about, so let’s be glad of it. A skirmish with the sinister-looking Hath erupts immediately, and Martha is taken prisoner by the liquid-breathing aliens whilst the Doctor and Donna are led to General Cobb (Excalibur’s Nigel Terry, who puts in a customary first-rate performance).

Cobb informs them that the humans are engaged in a relentless war that has gone on for generations following the Hath betrayal of a mixed human/Hath colony centuries ago. Cloning machines now fuel a war that apparently will never have an end until the ‘source’ is found – a mythical and potent object which the warriors associate with God.

The Doctor discovers a hidden section to the map that both sides are using, inadvertantly sending the humans and the Hath on collission course. Our Gallifrean hero wears his pacifist credentials on his sleeve, and when he objects to Cobb’s genocidal intentions, is locked up along with Donna and his impromptu progeny, whom Donna has named ‘Jenny’ and who is now feared to share the Doctor’s peace-loving ideals.

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Over in Hath-land, Martha Jones wakes up next to her wounded captor in the debris of an explosion, relocates his shoulder (having had some difficulty finding it) and instantly makes a friend of the aliens, who aren’t nearly as nasty as they look.

In fact the monster of The Doctor’s Daughter is really the war-like Cobb, who equates peace with victory at any cost. The fine points of the Doctor’s pacifism are discussed whilst trapped in the cell, where Donna begins to see a logical pattern in the apparently banal number-plates that are riveted onto the walls of the underground complex.

However, it’s not another ‘big bad wolf’ scenario, and Ms. Noble is destined to solve it by episode’s end. In the meantime, the Doctor’s course is clear – escape and bring peace where there’s war. Writer Greenhorn gets them out of the cell with a rather lazy ‘seduction ploy’, and by the inclusion of the classic ‘dumbest guard in the world’ character, but never mind – our heroes are free, and suddenly the Doctor realises that his ‘daughter’ shares old assistant Leela’s trigger-happy habits. Despite his reluctance to accept the Moffett character as any part of himself, he starts handing out lectures – and actually seems to be softening…

I’m tempted to theorise that it’s the medium budget episodes of Who that satisfy most these days. The confined corridors and straightfoward matte painting that greets Martha when she escapes to planet Messaline’s rather gothic surface aren’t budget-breakers, and a story like The Doctor’s Daughter has to stand on the quality of its ideas and writing…which, for the most part, it does.

I am biased, being a tremendous Baker-ite; this episode is quite redolent of Baker-era Who, with plenty of dark and cheap corridors to run down and two under-manned warring factions for the Doctor to bring peace to, if he can. But the dizzy pace of the series doesn’t relapse into John-Nathan Turner-style languidness, and the make-up and design of the Hath is excellent. They could have walked straight out of Bioshock, and it’s almost a disappointment that they’re so nice.

Donna’s role as the Doctor’s conscience is beginning to take shape, and I must admit that it’s refreshing to have an assistant who therefore serves a purpose other than needing to be rescued and asking ‘What’s that, Doctor’. Tate has toned down the grating voice a tad, which is welcome. Hopefully Tennant will eventually stop shouting too – it’s a dramatic tool that (like excessive music) becomes meaningless if over-used.

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Freema Agyman acquits herself well in a moment of tragedy on the planet’s surface (how does an alien with scuba-breathing equipment on drown, by the way?), and we see that the ‘problem’ – the BBC clearly believe there was one – with Martha Jones was that she had been under-written and under-motivated; they’re not making the same mistake with Tate, and I do feel sorry for Agyeman in that respect.

The BBC, unwilling to take Who canon so far out of its roots as to have the Doctor regenerate female, has literally split off part of his character into Moffet’s new and equally nameless Gallifrean. There is early promise in The Doctor’s Daughter that Moffett will join the Tardis crew, at which point we know her death is inevitable – assistants are announced and feted a year before the series goes on air. Greenhorn cunningly uses this to convince us that Moffett’s death at Cobb’s hand at the end of the episode is for keeps (more about the future of Moffett’s clone-Doctor here).

It isn’t. Putting an audience through the wringer with a character’s death, only to revive them later, is admittedly a pretty cheap trick; but this is outshone by the big surprise at ‘Jenny’’s career-choice at the conclusion of The Doctor’s Daughter. Wow.

Daughter interestingly showed a tender – and very hurt – side to the Doctor which we rarely glimpse, particularly in his initial denial of Moffett’s validity as his own flesh and blood. It was also interesting to hear the Doctor refer to his previous child (or children, since Carol Ann Ford played William Hartnell’s granddaughter originally).

It wasn’t clear from the writing just how the Tardis had been summoned/hijacked into this episode at the conclusion of The Poison SkyDaughter‘s end-of-episode post-mortem was a clumsy, dated flourish that, to boot, shed little light on the matter. Oh well…

Next week, the Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie – let’s hope it’s better than Black Orchid.

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Check out last week’s episode, The Poison Sky, which was reviewed by Simon and Martin.

Doctor Who interviews at Geek…

Peter Davison Louise JamesonElizabeth SladenSophie AldredNick Briggs