THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE SOME TIME AFTER
THE TV EPISODE "THE
RUNAWAY BRIDE" AND
IMMEDIATELY PRIOR TO
THE TV EPISODE "THE
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
WHEN MARTHA JONES
AND HER LIFE WILL
31ST MARCH 2007
Whereas Doomsday bled straight into The Runaway Bride, the first episode of
the third series feels much more like a clean sheet. Smith and Jones begins without any
pre-title sequence – the first episode to do so since Rose - and it makes sense. Whilst I would only take the Doctor’s jokes about having spent “fifteen years as a postman” with a pinch of salt, there is no doubt that Smith and Jones is set considerably after the events of The Runaway Bride. This is a new series with a new companion and as such, a new start.
And companions so rarely impress right from the word go, but Martha Jones does just that; Freema Agyeman is truly exceptional in this episode. She portrays her character with such confidence that the viewer feels like they really know Martha within just a few short minutes
of screen time.
“As far as I’m concerned you’ve got to earn that title.”
spring to mind, but not the same ones that I would use to describe
Rose. For starters, Martha is more academic than Rose; a career
girl, even. She is also a cut above her peers in almost every sense –
Smith and Jones makes no bones about demonstrating how Martha
differs from fragile colleagues like Julia and Morgenstern. When they
find themselves stranded on the moon along with the entire hospital,
Julia turns into a gibbering wreck whilst Morgenstern sets himself up
as a cowardly collaborator. Only Martha has the presence of mind to
try and reassure the hospital’s patients, and think logically about the
physics of their situation.
Russell T Davies recycles many introductory elements that he first used in Rose here –
not just the patent and necessary ingredients, but things such as the whole ‘holding hands’ “Run!” sequence. A hospital corridor may not be as cinematically grand as Westminster Bridge by night, but in a Doctor Who sense I suppose it is at least a bit more traditional!
In the past, I have criticised the revived series’ umming-and-arring and about whether or not the people of (roughly) contemporary Earth are ready to accept the knowledge that they are not alone in the universe. After all the Doctor’s spiel about a “brand new planet Earth” in The Christmas Invasion, Stephen Cole’s novel The Feast of the Drowned established that the population had gone back to believing that the Sycorax and the Slitheen etc had been no more than high-profile hoaxes, something more recently confirmed in Torchwood, where Gwen was initially under the impression that recent alien incursions were the result of sort
Martha, however, lost her cousin in the Battle of Canary Wharf (Ah. That explains it…) and as such knows better. If the 21st century is indeed “when everything changes”, then Martha
is certainly ready, and the Doctor appears to recognise this right in her. This means that he doesn’t have to waste time trying to convince her that aliens exist. Of course, when she looks out across the surface of the moon and sees a platoon on intergalactic alien storm troopers heading straight for her, she would’ve had a hard time denying their existence in any event.
I’ve always thought the platoon of Cybermen marching across the surface of the moon in
The Moonbase was one of the most enduring images of the Patrick Troughton era, and whilst I doubt that in the future the Judoon’s dramatic moon landing will ever be held in such high regard, for me it completely hammered home just how good Doctor Who is in this day and age. No suspension of disbelief is required – the Judoon look like they mean business. Their spaceships may look phallic, but the standard of the CGI is outstanding.
The Judoon landing isn’t the first stunning visual in the episode though - the hospital under the black cloud is a simple, but striking image, as so eloquently described in the script: “like in a cartoon where a man has a cloud over his head”.
However, as this story sees the series effectively start from scratch again, as one would have thought the main plot is not head-scratchingly complex. It is, however, a damned sight more compelling than the A-plots of either Rose or New Earth. In essence, there is a blood-sucking Plasmavore hiding inside the hospital where Martha works and the Judoon – an intergalactic police force – are called in to apprehend her. However, in order to do so, they have to transfer the hospital to the moon (“neutral territory”) because under intergalactic law the Judoon have no jurisdiction over Earth. The second problem that the Judoon face is that plasmavores can disguise themselves; their very nature means that they can easily absorb the blood of another species so that they may pass themselves off as, say, human beings.
“You’re quite the funny man, and yet I think laughing on purpose, at the darkness.”
Anne Reid (The Curse of Fenric) is totally terrific as the Plasmavore, aided and abetted as she is by the most wonderful of gimmicks – a straw. Just a normal, everyday straw and yet Doctor Who takes it and turns it into something menacing. Watching her exsanguinate Roy Marsden’s (Human Resources) consultant is very nasty indeed - it will certainly put children off wanting to visit their grandmothers for a while!
The Judoon, though, are even better. Humanoid rhinos in leather centurions’ skirts with the silhouette of Sontarans are incredibly striking visually, and aurally they’re even bit as distinct. Nicholas Briggs’ delivery of their native language is awesome; completely alien, yet in an all new and extremely amusing way. All those O’s!
It’s also refreshing to find a race that is not just portrayed as bad per se. Obviously they are not good either - all the “justice is swift” stuff is, at best, thoroughly callous – but nevertheless their apparent amorality makes them a lot more interesting than, say, the immoral Slitheen. They also inject a lot of humour into the episode; there is a delightfully comic moment where after giving Martha a thorough (and, one would imagine, very uncomfortable) scan and det-ermining that she is in fact human, they immediately doll out “compensation!”
More negatively, the Slabs were a bit of a rubbish monster – they were just two blokes in leathers and motorcycle helmets! In any other episode they could have looked quite sinister, but next to the Judoon they just looked like cheap miniatures!
Ultimately though, what really sets Smith and Jones apart from Rose is that by now, the new audience knows the Doctor. They aren’t in Rose’s shoes, they’re in his. This means that we can all share the Doctor’s amusement as he mouths “bigger on the inside” in perfect synch with Martha and the like. The Doctor has seen the reactions of countless companions to the TARDIS interior and by now, even the new audience have seen the same thing about five or six times. Naturally, Davies ensures that although repetitive, such scenes are far from boring. In particular, Martha’s feisty comebacks to the Doctor’s cryptic statements range from disc-erning to downright amusing. “Not pompous at all then…”
“Your spaceship is made of wood.”
And the production team are certainly on
the ball when it comes to garnering media
interest. Bludgeon a fleeting, sensationalist
snog into your first episode for the most
tenuous of plot reasons (“that was a gen-
etic transfer!”); cut it into about a million trailers; stream it online; even stick it in The Sun; and there you have it - nine million or so viewers guaranteed. A cynical, but smart move that
I cannot really fault. And to be fair, the snog doesn’t spoil anything; I actually quite like to see the Time Lord getting about a bit in his old age. Besides, I don’t think that anyone can argue with the emotional resonance that episodes like The Girl in the Fireplace and Doomsday have. A bit of romance simply helps to tell a better story.
“Forgive me for this, it could save a thousand lives; it means nothing.”
However, this is not romance. This is attraction – and one-way attraction, according to this week’s Doctor Who Confidential. Like poor, tragic Charlotte Pollard before her, it seems that Martha is destined to be the victim of unrequited love. Her quips about the TARDIS being ‘intimate’ and the Doctor wearing tight trousers certainly imply that she’s attracted
to him, but equally, the look on her face when he says “good” in response to her statement
that she is not ‘remotely interested’ in him speaks volumes.
There is so much more to enjoy about this episode too – that lovely time travel trick with the tie; Murray Gold’s soaring orchestral ‘Martha’ waltz; David Tennant’s madcap performance as he tries to expel röntgen radiation through his left shoe! There is even the odd line to get the forums buzzing tonight – “Mr Saxon was right about aliens…”
On the whole though, my first impression of Martha and of this third series are profoundly positive. I had my concerns when I first saw the rather lacklustre trailer for this season at the end of The Runaway Bride, but this episode quashed any nagging doubts that I had. It really is more of the same, but better. Indeed, I’m sure that with Martha onside and with his “brand new sonic screwdriver” (now there’s a novelty hit single if ever there was one) in his brand new suit pocket, this third series has the potential to be even better than the last. Smith and Jones is certainly the revived series’ best opening episode to date, leaving the exposition-crammed Rose and the workmanlike New Earth in its wake.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? Martha’s dialogue makes it clear that this episode takes place after the events of Doomsday (mid-2007), though not necessarily The Runaway Bride (Christmas 2007). Nevertheless, we take the view that this episode (and thus all of the 2007 season’s “present”) takes place some time in 2008.
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