Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 3x01: "Smith And Jones"

Written by Russell T. Davies
Directed by Charles Palmer

Martha: “People call you ‘The Doctor’?”
The Doctor: “Yep.”
Martha: “Well I’m not. Far as I’m concerned, you’ve got to earn that title.”

And as far as I’m concerned my reason to entertain Saturday evening television is back as the best Sci-Fi/fantasy programme is back on our screens. Now Torchwood was brilliant but flawed, Primeval a tad disappointing and as much as I enjoy Lost and Heroes, they still don’t hold as much resonance as this series does.

For the past three weeks we’ve been inundated with trailers and you couldn’t pick up a magazine without seeing both David Tennant and Freema Agyeman staring right back at you and if I sound like I’m complaining, well don’t worry I’m not, it’s just with all this unabashed hype I couldn’t help but wonder if “Smith And Jones” would live up to my expectations and you know what, it actually did!

Just like “Rose”, Season Three’s opening episode opens up with Martha and within the space of five minutes we know enough about Martha’s personal life than we arguably need to but at the same time, it’ll prove essential in her decision making later on in the episode.

So who are the family behind little Miss Jones? Well there’s a nagging mother called Francine who’s organising a 21st birthday party for Martha’s brother but she doesn’t want her soon to be ex-husband Clive and his brain-dead girlfriend Analise anywhere near proceedings. Although I’m not particularly fond of Francine I get her point. Not only is the actress who plays Analise so mind numbingly annoying but you kind half wonder if she was written to be like a Jade Goody/Danielle Lloyd type of dimwit?

The interpersonal stuff however is dealt with reasonably well but seeing as I cannot empathise with either parents and wasn’t given much to form a balanced opinion on Leo, the only person from Martha’s family I do seem to like is Tish, who has been described as quite ambitious. The theme is that Martha seems to be one family member people have a tendency to dump their problems on and that makes me kind of relate to Martha in that respect.

When Martha and Tish aren’t trying to come up with reasonable ways of diffusing tensions between Francine and Analise at Leo’s party, Martha bumps into The Doctor on her way to work who greets her by giving Martha his tie and walks off. It’s basically the first WTF moment of the episode but again it plays its part towards the end of proceedings.

With Rose Tyler being a shop girl, the writers have had to come with some ways of distinguishing between her and Martha Jones and aside from race and family background, Martha is also a medical student, which despite having a reasonably bedside manner (she’s not too arrogant but doesn’t appear to be an idiot), fails to impress her supervisor Mr Stoker when giving her own diagnosis on a sweet old dear called Florence Finnegan. Then again just because the OAP looks sweet it doesn’t mean she’s got something nasty working in her devious mind but I’ll get to that soon.

Martha quickly has her second encounter with The Doctor when he turns up as the patient John Smith and there’s a delicious moment between them when she figures that he has two heartbeats and he gives her a flirtatious wink. Moments like that are likely to anger either Ten/Rose shippers (not me) or purists who prefer their Time Lord more asexual but it’s rather subtle and cute to warrant any real complaints.

In between another call with Tish and jesting with Julia, Martha’s first bit of adventure really kicks off when abrasive couriers come storming into the hospital and a black cloud over St Thomas’ Hospital transports the entire building to the moon, which will be a nice way of informing certain people that this season won’t be entirely earthbound.

The cause of this change in location come from a hoard of intergalactic police called Judoon, who surprisingly come across as more threatening that promotional had lead me to believe that they would do. They’re here for a particular reason and they are willing to go to any lengths possible to obtain their goal and anyone who objects is in for some major execution.

With a slightly similar mentality to the Cybermen this lot grab a medical student named Oliver and cleverly use his protests for mercy as a way of being able to speak English and although they only kill one person and are technically not evil, you still need to watch yourself with them as well.

For instance, they’re after something alien and like a few people; I thought it might have been The Doctor. Their way of trying to sort through humans and aliens within the hospital works brilliant as they attempt to catalogue what is human and destroy what is alien. However the very thing that they happen to be looking for is the very thing that is clever enough to fool their scanner.

So what do you think they were looking? An insanely gorgeous 900 year old Time Lord, a space pig, maybe remnants of the Lady Cassandra or Victor Kennedy? Well seeing as it’s none of them; the real thing they are looking for is that not so sweet old lady Florence Finnegan and by God, isn’t she a nasty piece of work or what?

It turns out that dear old Florence is on the run from the Judoon for killing a child princess from another world and the only she has avoided detection so far is by passing herself off as human by feasting on human blood but obviously that’s not working enough if the Judoon knew which hospital to transport to the moon after all.

Probably more known for playing more demure roles, Anne Reid is quite creepy as the callous and conniving vampire like creature known as a Plasmavore. Her means of survival are characteristic but audacious and unfortunately for Mr Stoker, Florence is quite happy to suck him dry and all with the clever and rather original use of a straw.

It’s a pity, I like the idea of vampires on Doctor Who especially given how wonderful werewolves worked last season and I certainly wouldn’t have minded seeing some sharp teeth even if the straw method exudes the right amount of discomfort you should be feeling when watching this episode.

As the Judoon continue their mission of cataloguing people while Florence has plans of destroying part of the earth in a scheme not properly explained, The Doctor and Martha has some intense moments together that definitely explain why these two could be good for one another.

Martha’s reaction to being transported to the moon is certainly an eye-opener. She can believe in aliens and questions the air that they shouldn’t be breathing on the moon but it takes a fair amount to convince her that The Doctor is an alien and this is obviously after she had discovered her mystery man having two heartbeats. It takes some getting used to.

Her attitude with The Doctor however is quite spiky and so far never in a way that feels like Russell is deliberately trying to separate Martha from Rose in every way imaginable. I like that she questions why he sucking up so much radiation after the abrasive couriers are revealed to be a slave race known as Slabs, who are working for Florence.

The radiation is used to put one of them out of order and there’s a prodding quip about the Slabs working in pairs. It’s prodding because The Doctor knows he never stays solo for too long and also because he’s proved too intriguing for Martha to walk away from this debacle and never think of him again even if Donna could do that.

The much publicised kiss between The Doctor and Martha stems from a deliriously silly “Genetic Transfer” moment because when Martha deduces that Florence is the alien, The Doctor uses her as a distraction for the Judoon so he can apprehend Florence in his own unconventional manner.

The Doctor put Martha in a dangerous position with the Judoon. Given the fact that they aren’t the most patient of races, they could’ve easily killed her when their scanners detected alien within her and it’s lucky for Martha that she was able to convince the Judoon not to harm her otherwise The Doctor would have another death on his conscience as such.

Now The Doctor’s confrontation with Florence was delightful with David Tennant clearly cutting down on the overexcited schoolboy persona of last year. Playing dumb was fun and I am amazed that Florence just assumed The Doctor was an annoying patient as opposed to be an alien of sorts. Her draining The Doctor made for another gory moment and Martha’s grief was kept to the right side of naturalism.

If I haven’t made it clear then my like for Martha Jones should be known – I think she rocks. Not only did she deduce the air about the moon but she was also able to get the Judoon to identify and execute Florence as the threat and her death is done as swift as the poor bloke who got it for merely assaulting another person.

As guest aliens go this week, both the Judoon and the Plasmavores easily outdo the cat nun nurses and zombie patients from “New Earth” and I liked the somewhat unpredictability of them. The Judoon caused damage while trying to exact justice and if it wasn’t for Martha chastising them, everyone would be stuck and eventually dead on the moon.

The return to Earth for Martha is like the aftermath of the Autons attack in “Rose” when a family member checks if the assistant is alright in a bumbling manner and this time, it’s Tish who checks that Martha is okay which is consistent as Tish saw the hospital and I also got the impression that Martha might be more close to her than other people in her family.

Now with the threat out of the way we needed a reason for Martha to ditch her family and career and go travelling with a complete and total stranger and an argument at Leo’s party between Analise and Francine in the street would be incentive enough. Face it Martha you need excitement and The Doctor needs company and dynamic wise, these two have a connection.

Freema Agyeman has successfully proved her worth in her debut episode like her predecessor Billie Piper. Not every critic or viewer will be quick to sing her praises but Martha drives this episode fantastically and her rapport with The Doctor is a breath of fresh air. She’s undeniably captivated and somewhat scared of him but at the same time when he tries too hard to wow her or talk down to her she’s quick to talk him down.

This could be a very interesting friendship indeed as she signs on boards, insists on not be a replacement for Rose and notes the obvious factors about the TARDIS such as it being bigger on the inside and a bumpy ride. The Doctor may have said he wanted to ride solo but throughout this and “The Runaway Bride”, he clearly loves having help when and wherever he can find it.

Also in “Smith And Jones”

No Previously On or even a Teaser, we just went straight into the Opening Credits and aside from the logo looking more stretched out, there seems to be no other change.

Martha: “You came up to me and took your tie off.”
The Doctor: “Really, what did I do that for?”

Florence went into the hospital and was diagnosed with salt deficiency while Martha had thought she had diabetes. My Mum doesn’t use salt because of diabetes so maybe Stoker shouldn’t have been too dismissive.

Tish: “Martha, have you seen the rain?”
Martha: “Why is everyone fussing over the rain?”

Martha: “We’re on the moon.”
Julia: “We can’t be.”
Martha: “We’re on the moon. We’re on the bloody moon.”

Martha throws in some delightful mentions of “Aliens Of London”, “The Christmas Invasion” and “Army Of Ghosts”. She even mentions that Adeola was her cousin, which readers of the book “Made Of Steel” already knew.

The Doctor: “I’m The Doctor.”
Martha: “Me too if I ever pass my exams.”

Mr Stoker: “What are you?”
Florence: “Oh I’m a survivor, Mr Stoker at any cost.”

Isn’t it a little strange that three of our actresses in this episode – Freema Agyeman, Adjoa Andoh (Francine) and Anne Reid have all played different characters in the series before? Two of them were in the 2006 series after all!

The Doctor: “Something that looks human but isn’t.”
Martha: “Like you apparently.”

Martha: “You’re completely mad.”
The Doctor: “You’re right. I look completely ridiculous with one shoe on.”

The sonic screwdriver got destroyed but was replaced. I’m glad as I didn’t want to see that particular thing completely eradicated.

The Doctor (re Florence): “She’s clever, almost as clever as me.”

The Doctor: “You’re joshing me?”
Florence: “Afraid not.”
The Doctor: “I’m talking to an alien?”

Did anyone notice The Doctor delighting in the site of a shop? That was another reminder of “New Earth”. He certainly likes his shops, doesn’t he?

Judoon: “You confess?”
Florence: “Confess? I’m proud of it.”

The fourth mention of Mr Saxon appeared in this episode who believes in alien life form. He’s already been mentioned in “Love And Monsters”, “The Runaway Bride” and Torchwood’s “Captain Jack Harkness”.

Martha (to the Judoon Captain): “You can’t go, that thing is gonna explode and it’s all you’re fault.”

I also should point out that both The Doctor and Florence used electricity and radiation at different points by 5000%. Coincidence or what?

The Doctor: “It’s raining Martha. It’s raining on the moon.”

Francine (to Analise): “Since when did you watch the news? You can’t handle Quiz Mania!”

Just like with Rose, when The Doctor mentioned the TARDIS does time, Martha became a bit more interested. Here’s hoping we don’t get a “Father’s Day” type episode just yet.

The Doctor (re Rose): “Not that you’re replacing her.”
Martha: “Never said I was.”

The Doctor: “Ready?”
Martha: “No.”
The Doctor: “Off we go.”

Chronology: Are we in the year 2008 and if so what month in 2008?

Season openers tend to be a bit of a ropey affair for this series and while they are gonna be several episodes to come that will be better than this, “Smith And Jones” confirms two things – a) you’re gonna love Freema Agyeman and Martha Jones in equal measures and b) this is still the best thing on UK television bar nothing and with twelve more glorious weeks on offer, it’s time to sit back and revel in creative, fun and intelligent programming. The Doctor is back and this is the start of proving that he might be quite unstoppable in both ratings and public interest.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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