Sunday, 26 October 2014

Who 2

Or possibly, Who too.

I'm moved to change my plans for this week's post and to re-visit the Doctor after my post last week received more hits than the previous eight put together (thank you) - it seems not everyone agrees with my verdict on Peter Capaldi's incarnation though...

My opinion was, broadly, that he's the best thing since sliced bread (or rather Tom Baker - not sliced), and I like to think that this week's BBC 1 episode, In the Forest of the Night , rather proved a point or two.Although this was set in a very believable London, Capaldi's Doctor emanated a very strong sensation of 'alien' and that, when all is said and done, is very Doctor-y. I was even moved to chase down and watch the first of the Tennant episodes, and the parallel was close.

The Doctor has faced many enemies in the past in whatever incarnation he happened to be at the time, from rubbery giant worms through (vaguely) metallic Cybermen and Daleks (respectively to the young me, known as 'silver-paper men' and 'pointy-eye pepper pots'), to Time itself. He considers himself above any law in the need to protect a 'new' species such as us poor humans, and is - in Capaldi's very correct characterisation - more than happy to sacrifice the few for the many. Seldom, though, has he traveled with a companion who understands this, whether she entirely agrees or not, so Clara Oswald (an interesting name choice given real human history) is a breath of fresh air.

Companions have come and gone with remarkable frequency (some of them even managing to survive), and in its modern incarnation we have seen some of the strongest fellow travelers yet. Billie Piper's character, Rose Tyler (the Bad Wolf), was central to the plot for, quite literally, years and we saw her grow into the role in a manner that was as pleasing and powerful as it was different.

Before the 'new' Doctor arrived with a deeply amusing ear-tweak (thank you, Mr Eccleston), we were treated to more than 30 different partners/companions/waifs/strays, from the 1963 Susan through to Grace who traveled with the eighth Doctor (albeit briefly). One, Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, even had her own television series.

The earlier Doctor's were strictly forbidden by the BBC to become romantically involved with their companions, and in (poor) Peter Davison's case he was not even allowed to touch Nyssa or Tegan... Much later, the wonderful Catherine Tate character, Donna Noble, faced a dilemma thanks to mishearing the then Doctor (Tennant) explain that he just wanted 'a mate' - hearing it as 'I just want to mate'...

In any case, the latest companions (very much NOT assistants, as Rose Tyler vehemently tells Sarah Jane) are much more involved and independent creatures with Clara Oswald demonstrating the new trait admirably. Even the recent Doctors seem to take them more seriously with Tennant's incarnation actually refusing to travel with anyone following the 'loss' of Donna Noble (at least, until his next regeneration).

But there are more than direct companions who enrich the Doctor. I mentioned in my last post that Bernard Cribbins, who most current Doctor Who fans recognise as Wilfred Mott (Donna Noble's grandfather), was also an earlier companion to the Doctor. He appeared as Tom Campbell, a companion to Peter Cushing's Doctor in the 1966 film about a Dalek invasion of the planet and despite a forty year absence beside a Doctor, I gleefully recognised the link (poor old thing that I am).

Then there was Rose Tyler's mouthy mother, Jackie (Camille Coduri) who inadvertently saved the entire planet with a flask of tea, boyfriends such as Mickey Smith and Rory Williams, The Master in various guises, the occasional Brigadier, the mysterious River Song, and, of course, K9. My favourite though must be Penelope Wilton's character Harriet Jones - she introduces herself to all and sundry as 'Harriet Jones, Prime Minister' and I still snort a laugh or two when the 'We know' line comes back, even from aliens.

Companions have always been important to the Doctor (and the scripts) and were always a focal point within the various series. It's fairly obvious that the likes of Louise Jameson's Leela, Janet Fielding's Tegan and Mary Tamm's Romana were there to add some glamour to the mix (they certainly appealed to teenagers), and I count myself fortunate that I was old enough to NOT appreciate Bonnie Langford's Mel Bush (don't!) in quite the same way. These days though, as glamorous as the likes of Amy Pond and Clara Oswald might be, the Doctor's latest companions are very strong-minded, independent characters who provide context for the Gallifreyan. For the first time in a very long time (fortunately not a Doctor-based time-frame) we can see the dilemmas that he faces by seeing a knowing and intelligent human take on the situations.

The current Doctor appears more alien than ever as a result - a darker character with a deep sense of the bigger picture but with little or no sense of the tiny details. He's facing any number of conundrums about his past self (or rather, selves) and these are perfectly framed by the strong-willed Clara. The series has a couple of episodes left and [spoiler alert] we're going to see an old enemy or two. Quite how Capaldi's Doctor will react is, for me, as fascinating as my admiration for his take on the role.

We shall see. Unless the silver-paper men get us first.

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