Doctor Who – Smith and Jones (episode 1, season 3)

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I watched the first two episodes of the new (third) season of Doctor Who before I went into hospital.

Episode 1, Smith and Jones, has the task of introducing Martha Jones, the new companion. Like all “introduction” episodes, it has a lot of work to do, and a great deal of the narrative is spent establishing who Martha is, what her background is, what motivates her, and suggesting how she is going to relate to the Doctor (as well as differentiating her from Rose Tyler). The plot is simple, accordingly (I won’t go into it here – you can read a synopsis at Outpost Gallifrey).

Both David Tennant and Freema Agyeman perform well – a little Tennant eating of the carpet (though much less than last season) and a gratuitous kiss, but otherwise the leads work well together, and have a good dynamic, boding well for the future, I think. The supporting players, especially Anne Reid as Florence Finnegan, and Roy Marsden as Mr Stoker, the consultant, are also impressive, especially Reid, who manages to simultaneously convey menace and vulnerability. We don’t see as much of Marsden, as he is despatched reasonably early in the episode. Ben Righton’s medical student Oliver Morgentern is also well played.

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The episode opens with the title sequence, in contrast to the usual format of a pre-sequence trailer. In a manner similar to Rose, we’re introduced to Martha Jones, who it is established early on is at the centre of a complex family, with some broken or at least strained relationships. She is intelligent, resourceful, more mature than Rose Tyler, and inquisitive. Her training to be a doctor equips her with a degree of intellectual sophistication which makes her dialogue with the Doctor more meaty. Early on in the episode, when the hospital is transported to the moon, Martha is depicted as being one of the few calm people in the building (in fact, the only calm ones are Martha, the Doctor, Mr Stoker and Mrs Finnegan). She also has an insight into what has been going on on the Earth for the last few years – unlike so many characters in the series who ‘buy’ the official line about mass psychosis or hypnotism, Martha is aware of the attempted invasions of Earth by the family Slitheen, the Sycorax, the Cybermen and Daleks, and the Racnoss. During the episode the Doctor almost appears to be auditioning Martha for the role as his companion. His reactions to her response to the situation, and her behaviour, almost seems like testing, at the very least scrutinising. It seems, perhaps, that he has taken Donna’s advice (given in The Runaway Bride) seriously – he needs a companion, and he’s seeking a new and appropriate one, despite his protestation at the end of the episode that he’d “rather be on his own”.

The Doctor is more restrained and at ease with himself – in a way more subdued and internal, though still capable of eccentricity. The Doctor’s alienness is underlined, and his willingness to put aside social convention or at least manners displayed – he dismisses Martha’s friend Julia with a series of rude asides in a manner similar to Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. The Doctor’s knowledge of the situation he finds himself in is limited, though he knows more is going on than he expected to find. His physical vulnerability is underlined, and also his willingness to perform acts of self-sacrifice if needed. I found myself shocked at first at the Doctor’s easy capacity to kill one of Mrs Finnegan’s henchmen, until it was revealed that the henchmen, Slabs, are not actually alive. His readiness to arrange for Mrs Finnegan’s death (for he must surely have understood that was what would happen) is striking, though perhaps consistent with recent behaviour.

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We’re introduced to two new alien races – the obviously alien Judoon, a police force with heads like rhinos and an unyielding ethical policy, and the humanoid Plasmavore Finnegan. The Judoon are realised very well. For a few moments, as they stride across the surface of the moon, I thought (even though I knew it was not to be!), that perhaps these were Sontarans, as the costuming was similar. The nice touch of portraying the Judoon as simply doing a job – not bad, and not the baddies of the story, and unveiling the real baddie as Mrs Finnegan, was something I appreciated. Anne Reid, a versatile and under-rated actor, plays Mrs Finnegan with a relish and an almost Hannibal Lecter-esque quality (the scenes with the straw stand out).

The continuing references to Mr Saxon (posters, and in this episode a mention) are present. They presumably represent hints at a story arc (a la ‘bad wolf’ from season 1).

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Visual effects are well used here, and judiciously. There are some obvious ‘set pieces’, such as the hospital on the moon and the landing of the Judoon space ships, but on the whole this is about character, dialogue and plot rather than special effects. The score, by the reliable Murray Gold, supports rather than overwhelming the story. It seems to me there is a difference in tone in the incidental music in this episode, but maybe that’s just due to the new theme for Martha.

I enjoyed this episode, and I think it has a lot going for it. As far as introductions to seasons, it stands out above Rose, which probably had a lot more work to do (reintroducing the series and a new Doctor, as well as a new companion). I’m not as against New Earth as others – I thought it was a decent story that stood on its own reasonably well.

All in all – a creditable, enjoyable and worthy start to the season!

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