Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rise of the Cybermen

Dear Gary—
Rise of the Cybermen gives us just that—the rise of a re-imagined and repurposed cyber race in a parallel universe. It is a chance to wipe the slate clean of the confusing, convoluted, and cockeyed history of Original Who Cybermen. Cybermen of old first appeared in The Tenth Planet with a readymade and long but clouded past. The show never chose to explore the true rise of the Cybermen, how they came to be or how they came to move their home planet of Mondas (twin planet of Earth) out of their own galaxy. This was an opportunity lost. In subsequent serials the Cybermen hop scotched their way through the Doctor Who universe, their story always littered with gaping holes.
Rather than going back and trying to piece together a coherent record of the Cybermen from the patchwork pattern laid down, New Who has decided to start from scratch; new Cybermen; new origin story; even a new universe. The result is a much more effective and menacing villain, yet a tad mundane and slightly Saturday morning children’s hour.
It starts with their creator, John Lumic. The rich narrative of Mondas is dispensed with entirely; it is unclear if Mondas even exists in this parallel universe or what has become of its inhabitants who in that alternate reality had turned to cybernetics for survival. Perhaps Lumic has some connection to Mondas. However, for all intents and purposes, Mondas is nonexistent and it is one man and one man alone who is responsible for the Cybermen. John Lumic. As such, the mad and crippled Lumic is the epitome of a comic book super villain.
He sits in his chair hooked up to various contraptions (echoes of Davros) snarling and barking with unreasoned repugnance. His insane desire to extend his own life combined with his egomaniacal pride in his brilliance has led him to the ultimate human upgrade: “a living brain jammed inside a cybernetic body, with a heart of steel; all emotions removed.”
Lumic has been forcibly upgrading the homeless and forgotten peoples of the Earth, creating an army of Cybermen. His desire for immortality has led him to the maniacal belief that all humanity will benefit. His goal is to upgrade the entire population. This is a distortion from Classic Cybermen. The overriding motivation for Classic Cybermen was always survival. While Lumic has the initial desire for his personal survival, the converted and upgraded lot has no such drive. Their prime objective is simply to save, elevate, and give eternal life (to paraphrase their creator Lumic). It is actually an act of benevolence in some twisted way.  Except that those who resist are killed. And this brings these new Cybermen dangerously close to being nothing more than alternative Daleks. The vital distinction, however, is that Daleks exterminate any and all that are different, only converting when they need to reinforce their ranks, while the Cyberman convert any and all that are different, only deleting those who are incompatible.
A word about the new conversion process—this I do not understand. The new Cybermen themselves are forbidding with their military precision and relentless march; their redesign is terrifying; they are cold and calculating, yet horrifyingly pitiable (“Why no emotions?” “Because it hurts.”).  Their aim to turn all of human kind into these monsters is gruesome. But what one would expect to be a delicate and meticulous operation is accomplished in a couple minutes by the cartoonish one-size-fits-all hack and slash machine. It deflates the terror and turns it into a playschool shock theater. I cannot take the process seriously.
The Cybermen aside, we still have the parallel universe to contend with.
The episode starts with the TARDIS falling out of the time vortex, which the Doctor declares is impossible. “We’re in some sort of no place; the silent realm; the lost dimension,” he further states. “Otherwise known as London,” Mickey says, proving the Doctor wrong. Mickey quickly works out that this is a parallel universe; this is only a sign of things to come for Mickey. This and the next episode very much belong to Mickey. The Doctor, meantime, throws up his hands and gives up, proclaiming the TARDIS DOA. Luckily for him the TARDIS gives him a sign that there is still some life left in her and the crew is given 24 hours shore leave while the power is recharging.
The prospect of a parallel universe is intriguing; however the way it plays out is all too convenient. Aside from hints of a literal upper class high above in zeppelins, curfews, and a homeless problem, little is disclosed about this world. It is merely a backdrop and excuse for the obviously manufactured drama to follow. By some miracle, out of the whole wide parallel universe the TARDIS has landed in London, and not just parallel London but the one parallel London in which both Peter Tyler (alive in this world) and Mickey’s double (Ricky) are hot on the trail of John Lumic and his cyber creations. This is stretching credulity beyond its breaking point; however it does provide some nice character moments.
How great is it to see Peter Tyler alive and not just well but prospering? Of course things are not all peaches and cream, what with alternate Jackie (who by the way is a hoot). Rose’s defiance of the Doctor in seeking out her father is predictable, although I’m not so sure why the Doctor is so adamant against her finding him. After all, he willingly had broken time laws to take her back to visit her real father before his death. There are some genuine moments between Rose and alternate Pete and Rose and alternate Jackie that make the whopping coincidences forgivable though.
Interesting that there is no alternate Rose or alternate Doctor. I find it hilarious that the closest thing this parallel universe has to a Rose is a dog. But oh how cloying a statement that Rose is one of a kind. As for the Doctor—I suppose there could be an alt for the Doctor kicking somewhere about; after all there is a Torchwood, but I expect that could have been started for different reasons. It would be a fascinating tale to tell if the Doctor ever did meet his double, but that would be a different story. It is this story, Rise of the Cybermen, that is being told, and as such there is no room for two Doctors.
There is room, however, for Mickey and his alt, and they make up for anything else that is lacking. Noel Clarke does a fantastic job conveying the two personalities, but I think equally or even more impressive is the job he does in depicting the emotional journey that Mickey goes through in this and the next story. From the hurt he feels when the Doctor and Rose make him the butt of their joke, to the realization that the Doctor will always go running after Rose and never him, to the discovery that his alternate self has the respect and admiration of his gang, Mickey is measuring up his own self worth. And the mixture of pain and joy at meeting his alternate grandmother, dead in his world and alive in this, is truly touching.
By the way, the abuse his grandmother heaps on him goes a long way in explaining why Mickey has always taken it from Rose. Rose laughing as she tells the Doctor how the grandmother used to slap Mickey tells a lot about Rose as well. Mickey is one young man who could benefit from counseling and an in-depth review of his relationship patterns.
By chance, Mickey and Ricky and the gang converge on the very house where the Doctor and Rose find themselves and where Lumic and his merry Cybermen are planning a siege. It is a bit of a mystery to me why Lumic, who had rejected out of hand the suggestion of presenting his cyber innovations for Geneva’s approval, bothers with seeking the endorsement of the President of Great Britain to start our serial. I can only imagine that being the super villain that he is, this is his way of rubbing it in when the President offers his resistance to the Cybermen at Jackie’s party at the end. Another mystery is why Lumic needs to get all of the security arrangements and access codes from Jackie when his Cybermen just come crashing through. I suppose that bit was simply to display the powers of his ear pods and to revel in his sinister side.
Speaking of the ear pods—I find it really hard to believe that every person on the planet is sporting these. Aside from the horrible fashion statement, the inconvenience, the cumbersomeness, the expense . . . are people really that stupid? OK, you can look at people today and their cell phones and iPods and tablets and all manner of gadgetry—but that’s the point—there are all manner of gadgetry; all manner of shapes and sizes and manufacturers. Where one pops up fifty varieties follow. Everyone has something different because everyone is different; and some (namely me) have none.  And then there is the whole everyone stops dead in their tracks at the exact same time no matter where they are or what they are doing aspect. How many car crashes result? Not to mention any number of activities one could be doing that would be inconvenient or dangerous or embarrassing to have interrupted in that manner.
Rise of the Cybermen is a set-up episode full of such flaws, massive coincidences, and contrivances, but it still manages to be sufficiently entertaining. It ends on the cliffhanger of our heroes being deemed inferior. “Delete. Delete. Delete.”
Of course, Gary, we know how this works . . .
to be continued . . .

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Girl in the Fireplace

Dear Gary—
“There is a vessel in your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book, so that he may step from one to the other without increase of age while I, weary traveler, must always take the slower path.”
On the slow path myself, I have finally arrived at The Girl in the Fireplace. There are a few elements that disturb me, however the episode is so beautifully done that I tend to forgive them. The costumes are exquisite, the sets elegant, the monsters spooky, the script witty, and the acting superior. The story has romance, humor, action, thrills, and pathos. It is a Doctor Who story worthy of the canon.
“It’s a spaceship. Brilliant! I got a spaceship on my first go.” This is Mickey’s first journey in the TARDIS and I have to say it is about time. One of the better things about this episode is the old school nature of the Doctor and his companions (although paradoxically this leads to the more disturbing aspects, but more on that later).  Mickey’s presence restores a balance in the TARDIS dynamic; it is no longer the Doctor and Rose show played out for their own private amusement.
“Don’t wander off. I tell them, I do. Rule one.” Rose and Mickey have broken rule one and wandered off; and I can’t help but reminisce, Gary, about Ian’s disgusted reaction (“Why? Why do they do it?”) in The Dalek Invasion of Earth when he and the First Doctor return to find Susan and Barbara gone. This is what companions do; good old fashioned Doctor Who companions. They wander off.
Rose and Mickey make a good team, at least now that Rose has gotten over her displeasure with Mickey’s addition to the TARDIS crew and has taken him under her wing. There is some good natured humor between the two and again between the three when the Doctor reappears. (“You’re not keeping the horse.”)This is the easy-going relationship that has been underplayed for a long time. No tension, sexual or otherwise; no hidden meanings; no exclusive, members only club mentality; just some honest fun.
Exploring the ship, Mickey and Rose discover human body parts hard wired in, giving new meaning to that pervasive barbeque smell. While I have serious doubts about the efficacy of this patchwork repair job, the idea is horrific and lends grim undertones to our story. However, the Doctor and Reinette (AKA Madame de Pompadour) make up the heart of the tale.
“The monsters and the Doctor; it seems you cannot have one without the other.” Reinette is on the slow path through life, meeting her “fireplace man” when a young girl with monsters under her bed. The clockwork monsters in creepy mask and wig are straight from a little girl’s nightmare. But the monsters have a nightmare of their own; the Doctor. The Doctor can take the “quick route,” stepping from the monsters’ spaceship in the fifty first century into various points of Reinette’s life. It is a poignant love story played out through the trickeries of time.
Both are a bit starry eyed; the Doctor is star struck with the famed Madame de Pompadour while Reinette is worshipping the hero of her childhood dreams (complete with white horse).  However they establish an intimacy, facilitated by the Doctor’s mind meld: “To walk among the memories of another living soul.” Brushes with danger and the sense of urgency serve to heighten their feelings.
The clockwork androids are scanning Reinette’s brain, waiting for her to be “complete,” or in other words, waiting for her to reach the age of 37 when they believe her brain will be compatible with the ship, providing the last missing part they need to complete their repairs. The Doctor smashing through the mirror on his charger is the dramatic high point in this romantic fiction that is full of self-sacrifice and bittersweet emotions. The Doctor saves Reinette, but in so doing effectively strands himself in eighteenth century France. The Doctor is resigned to living life on the slow path with his newfound love, however Reinette leads him by the hand to the fireplace of her youth; a doorway back to the TARDIS. Buoyed by the discovery that this last link to the ship is miraculously still working, the Doctor invites Reinette along for the adventure of a lifetime.
The Doctor has just said goodbye to Sarah Jane in the previous episode School Reunion. She had been a link with his past before the Time War, a reminder of happier times. Now he meets another mature woman of beauty, wit, and charm. Is it any wonder that he wants to sweep Reinette up into the heavens with him? His joy as she accepts his offer is infectious, and his sorrow when he returns for her moments later only to discover that he is too late is heart breaking.
It is a beautifully done love story. And this leads me back to the beginning and those disturbing elements.
In and of itself The Girl in the Fireplace is a superb Doctor Who story. It has lighthearted companions, thrilling action, and an emotional punch. However, The Girl in the Fireplace does not stand alone. It is the fifth episode in a fourteen episode second season. As such, it is in the middle of the unfortunate arc of the Doctor and Rose. For some unknown reason the Doctor has invested Rose with qualities and importance well beyond her. He has hesitated in saving whole universes because it could mean the death of Rose. He dotes on her to the exclusion of others. And then along comes Madame de Pompadour and he is willing to strand Rose (forget about Mickey for the moment—the Doctor probably has) on a spaceship thousands of years out of her time, and he does this not to save the world or the universe or time or anyone other than Madame de Pompadour.
I can’t help wishing, Gary, that the rest of the series was more like The Girl in the Fireplace. Stand alone episodes without wearisome arcs; dashes of humor (“bananas are good”) with no surrounding sexual tension; companions who can wander off without the constant need to validate themselves with the Doctor.
I am still enjoying the show, and The Girl in the Fireplace is a definite high note; however “the path has never seemed more slow.” And so Gary, I, weary traveler, continue on . . .

Friday, April 4, 2014

School Reunion

Dear Gary—
Sarah Jane Smith! K9! Now we’re cooking with gas, as my dad would say. Now this is a Doctor Who story. I have no complaints. Oh, there are a few quibbles with the plot, but who really cares why both Mickey and Sarah Jane keyed in on the school with the flimsiest of evidence or how Rose and the Doctor found it so easy to get jobs there, especially Rose given the bad stuff going down in the cafeteria. Any good Doctor Who script can be full of holes and unanswered questions yet somehow rise above. School Reunion rises above.
I have to start with the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. She steps into the role as though she had never left, except with an added maturity. “I got old,” she tells the Doctor, but she has aged with grace. She meets the Doctor on a more equal footing, something only a few companions have ever done (Barbara, Ian, and Romana to name the select few).
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart made a habit of returning to Doctor Who and always elevated the story when he did so. However it is not merely the presence of Sarah Jane that enriches School Reunion, but also the emotional depths mined as a result of the character’s return. The episode resonates with love, regret, longing, and loss; it explores the nature of companionship with the Doctor and the inevitable heartbreak that accompanies it, both for him and the companions who invariably get left behind.
“You can spend the rest of your life with me,” the Doctor tells Rose, “but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on; alone. That’s the curse of the Time Lords.” That’s the first time I ever really thought about it. Prior to this I took the revolving line of companions as a matter of course. Companions come and companions go; some leave, some get left, some, a very few, even die; the Doctor always carries on. There have been brief moments of reflection as the Doctor takes his leave of the departing, but another always arrives to fill the hole and the action always sweeps us up and former followers quickly become nothing more than pleasant memories.
I have to go back to the First Doctor, to William Hartnell, for the two partings that took the hardest toll upon the Doctor. The first was Susan, his granddaughter; his flesh and blood; his last link to his home and his own people. After considered thought he left Susan behind for her own good at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth; he gave her a future and a life that she could never have in her aimless travels with him. It was bittersweet with deep felt loss but with the promise of hope (“go forward in all your beliefs . . .”). Second there was the parting from Barbara and Ian in The Chase. To this day I regard this as the most devastating. From all indications these two were his first true companions. Susan had been, well his family, his granddaughter. They had been on their own in exile from their home planet when Barbara and Ian stumbled upon them and into TARDIS life. It started out hostile, but the four soon became close friends. These were people the Doctor could share experiences and adventures with, people he came to care deeply for. And they were people who left him.  With joyous heart they returned home, Doctorless, and William Hartnell’s elegantly understated “I shall miss them” spoke volumes.
Jump ahead to the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker in The Hand of Fear saying goodbye to Sarah Jane Smith: “Oh, Sarah, don’t you forget me.” Sarah didn’t want to leave; oh, in a fit of pique she packed her bags and threatened to leave, but she was only trying to get a rise out of the Doctor; she never expected to be unceremoniously dumped back on Earth. The Hand of Fear is very much Sarah Jane’s story and the freeze frame at the end highlights the poignant nature of companionship with the Doctor. Tom Baker’s warm, “Oh, Sarah, don’t you forget me,” combined with the affectionate moments he had shared with Sarah during the episode and the lonely quality of the following, The Deadly Assassin, deftly characterize the loss the Doctor feels without ever overtly stating it.
However life and adventure goes on for the Doctor and new companions find their way into the TARDIS and these brief moments of angst are forgotten. School Reunion, however, brings them front and center.
“How lonely you must be, Doctor,” Finch tells him. How many friends has he seen come and go from his life? In hindsight and with the explicit statement of School Reunion, it is more understandable why many of the Doctor’s relationships were slightly contentious (and in particular I’m thinking Tegan).
It is a beautiful moment when the Doctor first spots Sarah across the teacher’s lounge. He has not forgotten her; neither has she forgotten him. “I used to have a friend who sometimes went by that name,” she tells him when he introduces himself as John Smith, and she continues, “He was a very uncommon man.” And then Sarah sees the TARDIS and all those memories well up as she turns to find the Doctor, a new Doctor with a new face and a new companion, but still the Doctor, her Doctor. “It’s you.”
The Doctor has not forgotten, but he has moved on. He can look on Sarah Jane with fondness and pride. Sarah, however, has some unresolved feelings that manifest in moments of, not anger exactly, but more reproach. “You could have come back,” she charges. I don’t picture Sarah Jane Smith pining away just waiting for the day the Doctor returns; I’m sure she got on with her life; but I’m also sure that she thought of him every day and wondered. “I waited for you. I missed you.” How could she not? “I thought you must have died.” She had no closure. Oh, and I really do hate that modern invention of ‘closure,’ Gary. Life is messy and chaotic and does not follow a script. It is convenient, though, as a shorthand way of saying that Sarah had an extraordinary man come into her life one day, sweep her off into untold adventures in the stars, and then left her behind with so many questions unanswered and so many expectations unfulfilled.
Now she knows that he did not die; he just never returned. He was off living his life.
“You could have come back.” It is an accusation.
But she also understands. “I couldn’t,” the Doctor tells her. He had to spell it out for Rose, but all Sarah needs is that simple, “I couldn’t,” and the look of sorrow in his eyes. Sarah understands. And so she deflects the pain with humor and a playful reproof: “It wasn’t Croydon. Where you dropped me off, that wasn’t Croydon.” (It was Aberdeen.)
The presence of Sarah also demands an inspection of the Doctor’s new relationship with Rose. Rose is as usual jealous at first sight of Sarah Jane and it brings out her cruel side: “Well, he’s never mentioned you.” But then she begins to internalize and process. If he has traveled with Sarah in the past and never mentions her in the present, what does that mean for her? “I thought you and me were . . .” Rose is thinking in her typical teenage romance mentality.  “No, not to you,” the Doctor reassures her emphatically when she asks if her fate will be the same. It’s rather rash and irresponsible of him, because inevitably it can’t be anything else but, but Rose isn’t ready for that truth.
Rose does come to some measure of understanding, not through the Doctor but through Sarah. It starts with her customary high school approach (fitting that they are in a school). Sarah tries to counsel her but Rose becomes defensive and combative. She briefly drags Sarah down to her level as they compare experiences with the Doctor.
“Mummies,” Sarah begins. “I’ve met ghosts,” Rose counters. “Robots; lots of robots,” Sarah returns. “Slitheen—in Downing Street,” Rose tops. “Daleks,” Sarah answers. “Met the Emperor,” Rose triumphs. In the end, though, it is Sarah who wins out with: “THE Loch Ness Monster,” (Terror of the Zygons). The two end up sharing a laugh as they compare Doctor notes. I can only hope that the maturity of Sarah is wearing off on Rose.
It’s not just Sarah Jane Smith who returns, though; it is K9 as well. The tin dog. “Oh my God, I’m the tin dog.” K9 meet Mickey Smith. The secondary companion. Because the Doctor does not always travel with a single companion. Sometimes there is a K9. Sometimes there is a tin dog.
Mickey does not have the respect that even a tin dog has, however. Mickey has been used and abused by both Rose and the Doctor. It is wonderful to see K9; it is wonderful to have John Leeson return as the voice of K9; it is even more wonderful to see Mickey come into his own. “I’m not the tin dog,” he ultimately concludes, “and I want to see what’s out there.” He wants to travel with the Doctor, not as an afterthought or a joke, but as a full-fledged partner. And it is not Rose that is the draw for him; if it were Rose he would have jumped on board long ago; and it is not just the Doctor; it is a new-found sense of self worth and confidence that prompts him.
I view this episode as both Rose and Mickey finally growing up; as Mickey and Rose moving past their school years.
Given all that is going on with the return of Sarah and K9 and the exploration of what it means to be a companion of the Doctor, there is still a plot that is unfolding, and as Doctor Who plots go it is passable. There are some problems, but overall, with everything going on, they are worth the overlook.
Anthony Head as the main baddie Finch contributes greatly to this act of absolution.  As the headmaster of the school and the leader of the Krilitanes he is magnificent. “But we’re not even enemies” he reasons with the Doctor. It is a bit uncharacteristic of the Doctor to be dead set against an alien without even knowing its motives. Granted, he turns out to be right, but that is only courtesy of the script.
“Show me how clever you are; work it out,” Finch challenges the Doctor. Using the intelligence and imagination of the children, Finch and the Krilitanes are out to crack the Skasis Paradigm, otherwise known as “the god maker; the universal theory.” Skepticism aside regarding whether such a code exists or could be cracked by several dozen kids on computers, who is the Doctor to decide that a race can or cannot utilize such a theory if they can figure out a way to crack it? If such a code exists and it is so easily cracked, someone is bound to crack it sooner or later (Daleks or Cybermen anyone?). Why not Finch and the Krilitanes? At least they are offering the Doctor some say in their New Universe Order. However, I can understand why the Doctor turns them down in their ‘god maker’ proposal. Finch uses the presence of Sarah Jane, suggesting the possibility of everlasting youth and beauty, and he dangles the promise of re-writing Time Lord History. But the Doctor has a time machine; he has the TARDIS. He could re-write history any time he wanted to. He has never and will never do that and has stated as such. There is no true lure there.
But Anthony Head and the bats and the kids and the music and the rats and the thrill—it’s all good. It keeps the heart pumping and the pimples goosing.
“Forget the shooty dog thing.” Ah, that makes everything good.
The school is blown up, the Krilitanes are blown up; K9 is blown up. The Skasis Paradigm is uncracked. There are no gods made. All is right with the Doctor Who universe.
“Goodbye, Doctor.” Sarah Jane is taking her leave. Sarah Jane is grown up. The Doctor isn’t quite ready to say goodbye, but Sarah forces him. “Everything has its time,” she told the Doctor earlier, “and everything ends.” Her travels with the Doctor are at an end and she has moved on. This is one lesson she has taught the Doctor.
The lesson she teaches Rose: “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”
And finally, her own reward: “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” (Along with a fresh K9 model courtesy of the Doctor.)
Goodbye, Sarah Jane.  I wouldn’t have missed you for the world.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tooth and Claw

Dear Gary—
Pauline Collins! I can’t say enough about Pauline Collins, even though I’ve seen very little of her work. My first and for the longest time my only exposure to her was through Wodehouse Playhouse. I wonder, Gary, if you also watched this as it was aired by PBS around the same time that the original Doctor Who series was playing in our TV market. I can’t remember if I was introduced via the written word or the screen version, but I have had a lifelong love of Wodehouse similar to Doctor Who, and much credit is due to Pauline Collins. (“When cares attack and life seems black, How sweet it is to pot a yak.”)
The next thing I ever saw her in was Doctor Who—the Second Doctor’s The Faceless Ones—and that was only since starting this correspondence just a few short years ago, and much of that serial is regrettably lost. Even still, in the little that remains she makes as much of an impression as she does in Wodehouse. What a loss that she never took the production team up on its offer to make her a companion.
It is only recently, within the past few months, that I Netflixed Upstairs Downstairs on the strength of her presence in the first couple seasons (plus a bonus of Jean Marsh, another notable Doctor Who alum).  One of these days, too, I really have to watch Shirley Valentine. As long as I have started this lengthy aside, I will continue. Shirley Valentine is one of two movies that I had wanted to see at their respective times of release (the other being 2003’s The Station Agent) that I never did catch but that stuck with me through the years as ones I really needed to get around to some day. I was fortunate enough to finally find The Station Agent and was not disappointed. (And to aside within my aside—when I first got The Station Agent via Netflix I watched it alone; Dave had no interest; then we started watching Game of Thrones and lo and behold Dave suddenly re-queued The Station Agent because of Peter Dinklage, and doesn’t that speak volumes about the merit of good, solid actors and how they can elevate the material.) I now have Shirley Valentine in my Netflix DVD queue but unfortunately its availability is listed as ‘Unknown.’
All of this leads me to Tooth and Claw. Pauline Collins guests as Queen Victoria, and she is far and away the best thing about this episode.
The Doctor and Rose are back on Earth (sigh) in 1879 Scotland, but they are still on a lark. It’s a little bewildering, actually, how these two manage to find giddy moments of glee amidst the death and destruction of Tooth and Claw. It’s almost as if the tragedy is playing out for their sole enjoyment. Victoria is so not amused.
Equally bewildering are the crouching tiger hidden dragon monks; traitors to their country and their God for no apparent reason.  The only explanation offered is that they have turned from God in order to worship the alien werewolf creature that landed on their front doorstep in 1540. However, why they would worship the thing is beyond me. They feed it local livestock at the rise of each full moon, provide it with a youngster from the village from time to time in order to house its being, and keep it under lock and key and controlled by its fear of mistletoe for good measure. However, there doesn’t seem to be any promise of power or wealth or glory to account for their devotion. I suppose I could buy that the faith of these devout men has become twisted and in unison they have turned their religious fervor over to the wolf, except that does not account for the one stating, ”May God forgive me,” even as he turns the innocent household staff over to his lupine god.
The monks plan is to have the beast bite Victoria in order to establish The Empire of the Wolf. They’re not in any hurry about it though. This particular order of brethren has been waiting around for a couple hundred years hoping for the current monarch to coincidentally pass by during the cycle of the full moon. Couldn’t they simply have let the thing loose in the countryside and soon there would be an empire full of werewolves? Or is it vital that only the Royal Family be infected? But once infected, wouldn’t the Family then be running around the countryside biting people? And how exactly is this going to help the monks? Do they plan on keeping the Queen in a cage with mistletoe scattered about so they can rule in her place?
Best to look upon this story as one of the fairy tales and folklore that Queen Victoria revels in even while she disparages the supernatural. As such it is quite fun and exhilarating. If it were not for Rose and the kung fu monks, this could have been a decent gothic piece. It has the requisite setting and atmosphere, and for the most part the actors equip themselves with all due seriousness. The monks, however, bring a jarring sense of the bizarre and Rose lends an air of levity that blunts the horror. The Doctor treats the plot with the gravity it deserves, except that is when Rose distracts him with a wink and a giggle. (I do love how the Queen stops Rose short in mid snigger with a stern, “Do you think this is funny?”) And so this one goes down as a child’s bedtime story more than anything. As Victoria would say, “Fanciful tales intended to scare the children; but good for the blood, I think.”
Like all good fairy tales, it has a magical ending. A giant diamond cut to dazzling perfection that the Queen just happens to have on her person; with some major precognition her husband and Sir Robert’s father had come up with divine inspiration to build a massive light chamber disguised as a telescope and powered by the diamond; the Doctor stumbles upon the plot and the solution at the most opportune time; everything comes together in phenomenal fashion; and they all live happily ever after.
“I’ll not have it. No, sir. Not you, not that thing, none of it. This is not my world.” Queen Victoria will not admit the fairytale beast. So while she can reward Sir Doctor and Dame Rose with knighthood for saving her life and her empire, she banishes the pair from her world.
“I don’t know what you are, the two of you,” she tells them, “or where you’re from, but I know that you consort with stars and magic and think it fun. But your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death, and I will not allow it.” She then leaves them with this advice, “You will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good, and how much longer you will survive this terrible life.”
The Doctor and Rose don’t take the sentiment to heart. They saunter back into the TARDIS chuckling to themselves over their private joke. Victoria, however, is in earnest as she leaves the Powell Estate. Thus Torchwood is born. The very institute that destroyed the retreating Sycorax ship in The Christmas Invasion which in turn led to the Doctor’s merciless condemnation of Harriet Jones. And so it all comes full circle for this facetious and unforgiving Doctor.
“And if this Doctor should return,” Victoria proclaims, “then he should beware, because Torchwood will be waiting.” It is a hint and a promise for things to come.
Another enjoyable episode, Gary, but yet another in which the Doctor doesn’t particularly hold up well upon close examination.  On the surface is Sir Doctor of TARDIS who consorts with the stars, but lurking beneath is the man of death and destruction who thinks it fun.
But it is still and all happily ever after, Gary . . .

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New Earth

Dear Gary—
“Oh, I don’t know; just larking about. New Earth; new me.”
This is the first full adventure for the Tenth Doctor and Rose, and after the dark and somber season with the Ninth Doctor it is refreshing to have a romp. New Earth is a romp. It is the Doctor and Rose and familiar foe Cassandra from The End of the World larking about.
But it’s not entirely appropriate.
It is something like—and I cringe to think of and refer to and leap ahead to—The Silence. Everything seems fine on the surface, but out of the corner of one’s eye, on the fringe of one’s mind, there is something that doesn’t quite fit but is too slippery to pin down.
And I really wish I had not thought of that analogy, Gary, because now I have that stuck in my mind as I go forward in my viewing. Something has co-opted my beloved Doctor Who, something that is behind the scenes manipulating and shaping and hidden from view. However, I’m not going to start recording slash marks to commemorate.
I prefer to skim along the surface and take this as the entertaining lark it pretends to.
So let me start again. A new New Earth if you will.
At last the Doctor and Rose have made it to an alien planet, even if it is New Earth. Baby steps. It’s only taken an entire season, but baby steps. Rose even comments on the alien ground beneath her feet, fragrant with apple grass; although given previous comments this is not her first visit to another world, only the first that has made it to screen.
Rose is a bit too gushy to start, staring adoringly at the Doctor, reminiscing about their ‘first date’ and declaring her love of . . . traveling. The Doctor, too, basks a little too much in this attention, but the light and airy tone is a welcome change. This New New Doctor has set aside the grief and guilt and gloom of his previous generation, or at least has buried it deep within.
“This is beyond coincidence; this is destiny” Cassandra says upon discovering Rose in the New Earth hospital where she has been lurking and listening since her supposed demise. It’s an even bigger coincidence that it is the Face of Boe who has brought the Doctor and Rose to this hospital, especially since Boe doesn’t stick around to impart his momentous secret to the Doctor. His only purpose seems to have been to gather the three together. Perhaps he knew of Cassandra’s presence, or perhaps it is one vast coincidence, or as Cassandra concludes, destiny.
I also have to wonder why Cassandra has waited all these years before transferring herself. Surely she could have found a suitable body from the thousands of cured patients and visitors who pass through the hospital every day. Or is this part of the unbelievable coincidence that her transference process wasn’t ready until that particular moment when Rose and the Doctor happened to arrive?
Whatever the reason the result is great fun. Billie Piper playing Cassandra inhabiting Rose’s body is hilarious. When Cassandra crosses over into the Doctor the farce reaches some over-the-top heights. It is curious that Cassandra, who has spent billions of dollars and undergone hundreds of operations in order to flatten herself suddenly delights in having curves. It kind of renders pointless all of the deaths she has caused in order to maintain her trampoline figure. That’s one of those slippery, out of the corner of one’s eye distractions that is forgotten with the bouncy castle comedy.
Accompanying the humor is action. When things start getting too dark, when the Doctor’s ire is raised, when the Sisters of Plentitude’s hideous secret is exposed, the walking plague starts sweeping through the hospital putting the Doctor/Cassandra and Rose/Cassandra on the run. There is no time for exploring the philosophical and ethical questions evoked by the Sisters’ living flesh. There is no time to consider the Doctor’s rather bold statement: “I’m the Doctor, and if you don’t like it, if you want to take it to a higher authority, then there isn’t one. It stops with me.”
And when they run out of room it’s time for some unrestrained, joyous, simplistic, and highly improbable resolution. Having mixed up a medicinal cocktail from various IV bags, the Doctor exults, “I’m the Doctor, and I cured them,” as he walks around simply touching the infected with his miracle hands.
“A brand new form of life,” the Doctor proclaims. He doesn’t stick around to find out what kind of life this is, though. Grown specifically to be disease carriers, restricted to miniscule cells for their entire existence, having no contact, no stimulation, no learning; what kind of life will it be for these suddenly freed beings? How will they be treated by the city at large? How will they care for themselves? That’s not a concern for the Doctor, though.
Rounding it all out is a bit of pathos, provided by Cassandra of all people. We get a hint of it when she re-inhabits Rose after having just left one of the diseased. “They’re so alone,” she says in a brief moment of reflection before the Doctor whisks her back into the action. It is left for the Chip inhabiting Cassandra, however, to deliver the real goods. Chip, the half-life, the force grown clone existing solely to cater to Cassandra. Chip offers himself up freely to his mistress, a body for the taking.
“Oh sweet Lord, I’m a walking doodle,” Cassandra/Chip says. And then, uncharacteristically, unexpectedly, the Cassandra/Chip comes to the realization: “I’m dying, but that’s fine.”  Cassandra of vain and murderous intent has suddenly grown a conscience or a soul or something. Perhaps it has been all of the body jumping she has done; or perhaps it is simply convenience of the plot as much of New Earth has been. Whatever the reason, Cassandra has decided that everything has it’s time and her time is done. And the Doctor overlooks all the evil that she has done and takes mercy on her in this her last hour.
Don’t look too closely, Gary. Just sit back and enjoy this sentimental moment as the Doctor takes Cassandra/Chip back to a simpler time to meet herself at the precise instance that had been captured in a good old fashioned home movie (where on New Earth did Cassandra dig up that millions year old projector anyway?) when she was last told that she looked beautiful. It is so very touching as human Cassandra cradles the dying Cassandra/Chip. She does have a heart, or at least had a heart at one time. A poignant and ironic end to ‘the last human’ Cassandra. (Although, Gary, I wouldn’t put it past her to have body jumped again into one of those party goers; but don’t look too closely.)
I don’t want to look too closely at New Earth; I don’t want to see The Silence; I don’t want to record slash marks. But I do have to note this: “It’s said he’ll talk to a wanderer; to the man without a home; the lonely god.”
Oh good God, Gary. “The lonely god.” Just look away . . .

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Christmas Invasion

Dear Gary—
“Tell them, this is a day of peace on planet Earth. Tell them, we extend that peace to the Sycorax. And then tell them, this planet is armed and we do not surrender.”
Harriet Jones. Good old Harriet Jones. Leave it to Harriet Jones. Harriet Jones, Prime Minister.  I start with this simple response of Harriet Jones to the alien threat to her planet because it addresses several of the major points I want to discuss about this episode, The Christmas Invasion.
First is that day of peace she mentions, the Christmas of our title. And I’ll start with the purely superficial nature of it. We have the music, the decorations, the presents; all setting the mood and establishing the atmosphere; Jackie full of longing and sadness as she contemplates the gift she has set aside for her missing daughter; Mickey desperately trying to hang on to some semblance of happiness as he attempts to shop with Rose on the bustling holiday streets. A touch of normalcy that Rose comments on as ephemeral and unreal compared to her TARDIS life.
And then the Santa-faced robots of death, the unreal masked in normalcy, reestablishing the standard in Rose’s topsy-turvy life. These are only nominally dealt with as ‘pilot fish.’ They kind of come and go, just a distraction really. “Remote control; but who’s controlling it?” That question is never satisfactorily answered. But it is never really important; they are summarily dismissed by the action to follow as the pilot fish they signify; a precursor to the real threat; dispersed into space when the real action heats up; purely the superficial.
There is a deeper layer to that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But I hope, in the Doctor Who world of The Christmas Invasion, that it is unintended. I hope that I have read too much into it. Because the promise of that ancient day celebrated through the ages, the implication of eventual rebirth and resurrection—I really and truly hope that Doctor Who did not deliberately link this religiously symbolic day to the Doctor’s regeneration. (Now if this had taken place at Easter . . . .)
“Doctor, help us. God help us.” Harriet Jones again. It is that—that linkage of the Doctor to some all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present being—that makes me pause; that makes me shiver; that makes me wonder, along with Harriet Jones, “What does that make you, Doctor? Another alien threat?” Heaven help us if the Doctor Who universe ever dares to make the Doctor not a super hero, not an idol, not a superstar, but a god. The whiffs of super hero and idol and superstar are bad enough; setting the Doctor up as a god, whether of tin or gold or dalekanium, would be catastrophic. (To quote another Christmastime fare Christmas in Connecticut: “Catastrophe, what is it?” “It’s from the Greek: it means ‘a misfortune, a cataclysm, or a serious calamity.’” “It is good?” “No sir. That’s bad.”)
But let me set that aside, because these are only whiffs and hints and suppositions.
Let me instead just settle on the regeneration. I don’t mind a purely superficial linkage to the day, and given Doctor Who’s disdain of the spiritual I can take this on a simple secular level, Harriet Jones’ ‘day of peace’ aside.
This ninth regeneration that the Doctor undergoes hits him hard and he is laid up for much of the episode. This allows for an exploration of two of the other elements embodied in the above quote that I opened with, and those are Harriet Jones and the nature of leadership. With the Doctor sidelined it is up to the rest of the cast to deal with life and with the Sycorax, the alien threat who were also mentioned in the opening quote.
Rose proves to be predictably dependent on and useless without the Doctor. Threatened by a marauding Christmas tree all she can do is fumble around for the sonic screwdriver, place it in the Doctor’s limp hand, and pathetically plea for help in his unconscious ear. Even on his sick bed the Doctor is able to sit up and with the flick of his finger save the day. When the Doctor lapses back into his comatose state Rose just gives up and hides in the TARDIS. Directly confronted with the Sycorax she does manage some bravado, although they understandably laugh in her face.
Jackie is more practical in her approach, offering suggestions, and even if rejected at least she is trying, not to mention highly amusing. Her interactions with the Doctor are some of the best moments. And even though Rose is dismissive of and rude to her mother, it is Jackie’s common sense provision of tea that ultimately cures the Doctor.
Mickey more or less stands in the background and still hasn’t seemed to have learned his lesson with regards to Rose. However he does have the presence of mind to look up pilot fish and he at least attempts to hold off the deadly tree with a chair.
It is Harriet Jones, however, who really steps up. She might not have the answers, but she has the confidence, the poise, and the determination necessary to lead (apart from her rather hokey and desperate address to the nation). “I’m proud to represent this planet,” she tells the Sycorax, taking full responsibility.
She is brave, but she does not possess the knowledge that only the unconscious Doctor has. Revived by Jackie’s healing tea, the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS just in time. This newly regenerated and Tenth Doctor is first finding his voice; he does not yet know who he is; he is still defining his leadership style.  He emerges from the TARDIS and is relaxed, casual, charming, disarming; he ignores the Sycorax as he reunites with old friends before turning his attention to the “great big threatening button” and flippantly deriding the alien threat, calling the Sycorax bluff.
“You stand as this world’s champion?” the head Sycorax asks in response to the Doctor’s challenge.
“Thank you,” the Doctor replies. “I’ve no idea who I am, but you just summed me up.”
Not quite declaring himself a god, this Tenth Doctor nevertheless holds himself forth as protector of the Earth, placing the fate of the world in his newly and doubly regenerated hands. It is a bit presumptuous, but then Harriet Jones had done the same. The Sycorax hold over the Earth has been exposed for the “cheap bit of voodoo” that it is, the hypnotic spell over all of the A Positives has been broken and they have all stepped back from the edge (although surely one or two of these billions would have toppled over either accidentally or on purpose—whether by murderous or suicidal intent), and all that remains is the huge spaceship full of menacing aliens to be warned off for good. With sword in hand the Doctor duels his way to victory and sends the defeated on their way.
And then, this newly regenerated Doctor who hasn’t fully defined himself but who fancies himself Earth’s Savior does something that is unforgiveable. He breaks one of the most important and dearly held Laws of Time, the one Law that he has consistently championed throughout his many generations until now. He blatantly and deliberately and irresponsibly alters history. With six words. (Never mind that the whole idea is ludicrous.)
Up until that point the Doctor had been touting Harriet Jones as the architect of Britain’s Golden Age. With his six little words (no matter how ludicrous) he single handedly ensures that this apparently momentous era never comes about. (And he wonders why the future Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire is stunted, or looking ahead a season, how Harold Saxon ever came to power.)
I can only look back to the Third Doctor and The Silurians. When the Brigadier blows up the entrance to the Silurian cave the Doctor calls it what it is, murder; and he finds it hard to forgive; however he does not let it stop him from continuing to work with UNIT and the Brigadier. Never once does he intimate that the Brigadier is unfit for duty. And the Brigadier was never the architect of any Age, golden or otherwise.
I’m going to continue on my soap box, Gary, and I’m going to present a hypothetical. What if the Sycorax had not encountered Earth at the time and place they did? What if instead they arrived in 1861 Washington, DC? What if instead of Harriet Jones it was Abraham Lincoln who met and eliminated this threat? Would the Doctor have acted the same?
Beyond the altering of the time line, I have to wonder if the Doctor’s action (no matter how ludicrous) is justified. Harriet Jones did fire upon a retreating enemy, there is no doubt. However it was not a decision she made lightly. Her drawn and haggard face tells the tale of the toll this day and this decision has taken on her; it is something that she will have to live with for the rest of her life; but it is something that she stands by and takes full responsibility for. She perhaps acted hastily and arguably without authority; but she had to act fast; and this was one of those tough calls a leader must make, right or wrong.
 Harriet Jones does have some compelling arguments on her side. She has seen what the Sycorax are capable of and knows that they are likely to return. She has seen the Sycorax murder two men before her eyes; she has seen their defeated champion break his sworn vow and attempt to stab the Doctor in the back; she has witnessed them taking one third of the population hostage and demand half the population as slaves. She has no guarantee of peace from the Sycorax regardless of the Doctor’s efforts. And she has no guarantee that if the Sycorax do return the Doctor will be there to meet them.
“I’m sorry, Doctor,” she tells him, “but you’re not here all the time. You come and go. It happened today. Mister Llewellyn and the Major, they were murdered. They died right in front of me while you were sleeping. In which case we have to defend ourselves.”
Harriet Jones did not make her decision lightly. When the Doctor hears her defense, when his grand and glorious gesture as Champion and Savior of the World is not perhaps met with all the halleluiahs that he would expect, when he is told that he cannot always be counted on, he makes his snap decision with cold calculation. “Don’t you think she looks tired?”
“I don’t know,” the Doctor says when trying to define his new self. “See, there’s the thing. I’m the Doctor, but beyond that, I just don’t know. I literally do not know who I am. It’s all untested. Am I funny? Am I sarcastic? Sexy? Right old misery? Life and soul? Right handed? Left handed? A gambler? A fighter? A coward? A traitor? A liar? A nervous wreck?” And then later, after killing the Sycorax leader: “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man.”
There is one more word the Doctor should add for his consideration: sanctimonious.
That was my long-winded diatribe, Gary, and I’m glad to have gotten it off my mind. Because I really do enjoy the Tenth Doctor. The overwhelming defining word I would give to David Tennant’s portrayal would be entertaining. And this premier episode is most entertaining, even if those few brief moments at the end mar it for me.
Just skimming along the surface and ignoring the troubling undercurrents, The Christmas Invasion is amusing and witty and thrilling; “very Arthur Dent” to use the Doctor’s own words. The final Christmas celebration and the Doctor’s contemplation of a new wardrobe are a joyous contrast to the often somber Ninth Doctor scenes. The TV reports calling for the downfall of Harriet Jones just a scant few hours after some whispered insinuations is idiotic, but I’ll let that go. And then there is just the touch of solemnity as the Doctor points out that the snow everyone is making merry in is actually the charred remains of the Sycorax before he and Rose plot out their next course for fun and adventure.
I’m looking forward to that next course, Gary.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Christopher Eccleston

Dear Gary—
Christopher Eccleston was shortchanged. Or perhaps it is Doctor Who that was shortchanged.  Or maybe I am the only one feeling shortchanged.
I would have loved more of the Fantastic Four combo of the Ninth Doctor, Rose, Captain Jack, and Mickey as they adventure out into time and space on the lark of a lifetime. We get a brief glimpse of this in Boom Town but nothing more. The Ninth Doctor is never really allowed any fun; and the show during his run is big on the T of TARDIS but has all but forgotten about the S.
It is a shame that the show took the entire season to establish Doctor Who as something old that is new again.
Not that I’m complaining. OK, I guess I am complaining. But I wouldn’t be if Christopher Eccleston had stuck around to reap the benefits of this seed season.
But maybe his purpose, and the purpose of this single season, was simply to reestablish the show, experience the birthing pains, and send it off into the world to grow as an independent being. In that it and he succeeded admirably. And so I guess nobody is shortchanged.
We never get a regeneration scene for this Ninth Doctor. He is presented to us fully formed but an enigma, much like the First. He is the first, in a way, as well as the second in the sense that he is bridging the gap between Classic and New; and yet he is the ninth in a long and continuing line. It is a lot to ask of one actor; Christopher Eccleston fulfills it all.
His primary function is as The First—that is, the first to forge the character for a new generation that generally speaking has never had the luxury of viewing Doctors One through Eight. If the show didn’t succeed in capturing this new audience it would have been doomed.
The improved special effects and compact, single 45 minute episode format helped with this, as did, dare I say, Rose. I really wish I hadn’t taken this sudden dislike of Rose; it only came about as a result of considered thought. That is one of the hazards of action packed, special effects laden adventures—they don’t always hold up upon close inspection. Their very nature requires the fast paced, cursory perception of first acquaintance. On that level Rose works; just don’t scratch too far beneath the surface like I did.
Merely on the superficial, Rose represents the audience, someone we can identify with as an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstance via the Doctor; and we get to know the Doctor through her eyes; this new Doctor; this first Doctor for a new generation. Through Rose we learn that the Doctor is not of this world; through Rose we travel with him in time (not so much space); through Rose we experience the TARDIS and alien threats and adventures beyond expression.
Rose also helps the initiated audience span the gap from the Classic to the New series along with the Doctor. This is probably Christopher Eccleston’s next most important role; that of secondary Doctor. Without gaining diehard fan acceptance New Who still might have succeeded, but certainly not to the extent that it has. Based on several seasons of hindsight, Eccleston succeeded beyond expectations in this role. However, I can only speak for myself and not for the hordes of dedicated, lifetime fans on the impact of his tenure (although I am sure you will forgive my inevitable extrapolation).
As I have said before, Gary, I had my doubts going in to the premier episode Rose. Based on the debacle (in my view) of the previous attempt to revive Doctor Who with the TV Movie, I did not let my expectations get too high. Just because a show calls itself Doctor Who does not mean that it will be true to the spirit of Doctor Who. Christopher Eccleston and the production team of the new series, however, did not disappoint.
As Christopher Eccleston first extended his hand with the single word “Run” he took not only Rose but me and an entire audience along with him. What better way to proclaim himself? Any aficionado of the prior history of the show would understand without further explanation. Once he does utter the phrase, “I’m the Doctor, by the way,” it is merely a formality. He already is the Doctor in a multitude of minds.
What sells it more than anything is his supreme confidence; Christopher Eccleston inhabits the role, much the same way William Hartnell did so many years before. I never get the sense, with this Ninth Doctor, that there were countless hours and numberless people behind the scenes determining how this particular persona of the Doctor should be shaped and portrayed and developed. Doubtless there were. I am sure that endless discussions and preparation preceded the introduction of this new Doctor. Much time and thought and effort went into the making of the character. But in a single word, “Run,” Christopher Eccleston took it all on as his own.
And he was off and running. (Sorry Gary, I couldn’t resist that.)
Along for the ride are the constant of the TARDIS and the reemergence of the sonic screwdriver, two icons of the series but with fresh looks, updated for a modern era. Also bridging the gap are some familiar foes like the Daleks and the Autons who receive similar face lifts.
Underscoring the entire season and the regeneration are the ill-fated Time Lords. When the First Doctor entered that long ago junkyard of I M Foreman the Time Lords were not even a gleam in Doctor Who’s eye. As the series progressed, however, they were conceived and born and eventually produced fully formed, kicking and screaming into the Doctor Who universe (much to my dismay if I may say, Gary). I can’t help but breathe a sigh a relief that the new series decided to kill off these illustrious Galactic Ticket Inspectors. In so doing, the show runners imbued the Doctor with a depth and a sense of mystery for both old and new enthusiasts alike.
The catastrophic loss, revealed slowly and subtly with immutable grief but at times punctuated with sudden bursts of anger and always underlined with crushing guilt, defines this Doctor and instills his race with the majesty and mythos that had been tarnished during the Classic years.
Finally, and of somewhat diminished significance, Christopher Eccleston is the ninth in a long line of Doctors. One of many. The latest generation. The newest incarnation. Taking over from a string of actors before him.  Preceding what one can only hope will be a string of actors to follow. The Ninth Doctor.
Unfortunately he was never able to develop the role fully beyond the confines of the first two burdens placed upon his character. The Ninth Doctor carries not only the responsibility of the Time War and the destruction of his planet and people, but also carries the weight of Doctor Who itself.  It is a lot to ask of one man, one actor, one Doctor.
He carries it off brilliantly, but this is where I feel that he, we, and the show have been shortchanged. Because he is never allowed to break free of those shackles and explore the universe unfettered in the TARDIS. He is never free to just be the Ninth Doctor.
We get flashes of him, for example in the aforementioned Boom Town, but also in his delight of mystery in The Unquiet Dead, in his interactions with Jabe in The End of the World, and in his Big Brother House segments of Bad Wolf to name a few.  For the most part, though, he is carrying the weight of Gallifrey or ushering Rose through alien adventures or reintroducing Doctor Who to the world.
I maintain Eccleston solidly as my number three, with increased respect and admiration for his portrayal.  And so, Gary, I send this out, a new path embarked on this slow path of mine . . .