I downloaded Season 3 of Doctor Who a few weeks ago (yippee for Bittorrent!) and have watched the whole thing, so for any American fans who haven’t seen the last episode (scheduled for Friday Night here on the Sci-Fi Channel) you may want to skip this post.
I was a bit disappointed that Billi Pier left at the end of season 2. Rose was the perfect foible for the Doctor; smart, inquisitive but quick on her feet. She gave him just enough room to explain things for the audience but was smart enough to pick up where he was going and finish it for us. Instead of feeling like the dumb kid with the safety pads and crash helmet she kept us right there with him. Plus, she was just as likely to save his ass and didn’t put up with being a damsel in distress. Martha is just as able if a bit more mature and quicker to put two and two together (as exemplified in the scene in Human Nature, when Martha realizes right off that Jenny has been hollowed out by Mother of Mine and offers her tea with meat pies in it to verify. Rose wouldn’t have caught on until the laser pistol came out).
But season 3 was, from the point of view of the characters, a transitional period. Martha is kept at arms length well into episode four, Daleks in Manhattan, when it becomes necessary for the Doctor to trust her. Still, she doesn’t get a TARDIS Key until the end of The Lazarus Experiment, a full six episodes in. She even mentions at least two or three times early on that she feels like a replacement for Rose and though the Doctor Denies it, in some ways it’s true. Rose and The Doctor had a much more emotionally involved relationship than he has had with any of his previous companions. Even Romana was just a hanger on and she was a full on Time Lady. But we always knew the Doctor would only fall in love with a human.
I really like that the producers are going with a seasonal arc that builds up to the reveal of a classic villain at the end. As popular as the Daleks and Cyber Men are, their is no better adversary for the Doctor than the Master, and having him be the Big Bad for Season 3 fit in neatly with the overall theme.
Starting off with The Shakespeare Code, Season 3 was all about story telling and the power words have to shape our lives and our identities. The brilliant conciet of wordplay and invention, with the Doctor providing several of Shakespeare’s famous phrases to him and Martha improvising the banishing spell to cast off the Witches by stealing a spell from Harry Potter, works on several levels. All the world is a stage, after all, and we make the play up as we go, burrowing the lines from whatever source is handy.
Even before that, in Smith and Jones, we start off with what is a standard dodge on the Doctor’s part, playing Mr. Smith. Except it’s not a dodge; The Doctor is Mr. Smith a man with no name who can be everything to everyone because he has a chameleon circuit built into his brain. While disguised identities have always been a staple of Doctor Who stories, this season everyone was pretending to be someone else, with the twist that who they pretended to be ended up defining who they really are. We see this again in the Family of Blood Two Parter, where the Doctor becomes a human named John Smith and for a moment, is willing to let the world be destroyed just to have the hope of a future like every other normal human on Earth: growing old, loved by a family. But the Doctor being the Doctor, he can’t let a good story get in the way of saving the world.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the best episode of the season, Blink which really takes these themes and runs with them. The idea of one half of dialog being embedded on DVDs as easter eggs is just really smart, plus the whole Wibbly Wobbly explanation for Time and causality is just great.
This all comes back full circle with the introduction of the Master in Utopia, hiding in human form at the end of the Universe, building a fairy tale utopia for the desperate last humans hoping to hide form the death of everything only to be turned into maniacal gremlins, lobotomized by fairy tales and twisted into a Paradox that could undo everything, simply because they wanted to believe in a happy ending.
And of course, saving the day by unleashing the ultimate weapon: a story about the Doctor, told to everyone on Earth, so that they will believe, is not just Tinkerbell brought back to life by wishing hard enough, it saves us from the Nihilism of false hope provided by governments and religions by giving us something real to believe in, an old man whose been to the future and knows how it will end but carries on anyway for the fun and joy of telling a story to whomever will listen.
Phil Plait, the best Bad Astronomer around, has a bit of news on Season 4.