Tony’s over the moon.
Series 2 of New Who had begun in a hospital, with the new Doctor full of beans and grins and appalling smugness, keen to prove himself healed of his post-Time War angst.
Series 3, Tennant’s second, also began in a hospital, but by then, the Tenth Doctor had remembered reasons to be miserable. He’d lost the woman who had brought him out of the darkness, and while Donna Noble had helped to get him moving again, she had also seen something terrible in him, something merciless. Something that needed someone else to stop him. And, when he’d offered her the chance to be that person, she’d refused.
The Tenth Doctor we meet in Smith and Jones is still full of geeky cheeky chappie charm, but he’s also a man in need. He’s not about to take just anyone with him, and on some level he knows he’s not ready to travel with someone again, to simply pick up a replacement Rose and carry on as if she’s not lost to him forever. But he just can’t resist a mystery.
Smith and Jones puts the initial spotlight very much on Martha Jones. Just as Rose had started with its focus on Rose Tyler’s day, so Smith and Jones accords Martha that same privilege, showing us the diplomatic nightmare of her family life and her place within it as the ultimate peacemaker and problem-solver. Her family’s much closer than Rose’s was, and any hope that Doctor Who would be less of a soap opera in the post-Rose era is immediately quashed as we learn that while Martha’s one of three children of Clive and Francine, and there’s a family extension in the form of Clive’s blonde, tanned shopaholic girlfriend, Annalise. Smith and Jones advances us from the Rose set-up of the shopgirl who’s just drifting through a life of work and telly and chips and sleep - we’re moving on to a final-year medical student with a degree in solving other people’s problems. Martha’s clearly got more of an analytical head on her shoulders, as well as more oomph and ambition long before a mysterious stranger sweeps into her life. Martha has plans, and the dedication to make them happen. She’s a breath of fresh, more grown-up air.
Smith and Jones though is very much a training wheels story, with the Doctor seeing who is actually useful to him, who has the breadth of imagination to understand a wider universe than the one to which they are accustomed. It gives us a base under siege with added outrageous knobs on – the hospital transported to the moon, the wannabe-Sontarans-so-hard-it-hurts-their-horns Judoon, (a species revealing a growing Russell T Davies passion for alien species derived from Earth animals), the evil little old lady who’s actually a blood-sucking internal shape-changer with a straw and a couple of rejects from ‘Planet Zovirax’ (who presumably were quite cheap to costume). It all has a fairly robust interior logic – in events we haven’t seen, a Plasmavore bites a princess, and has the ‘outer space police for hire’ set on her trail as a result. The Plasmavore’s stopped off on Earth for some solid R&R, and the Judoon have caught up with it, isolating the location where it’s trapped. But – and this is where the logic starts to fall apart – the Judoon are just a little bit thick. It’s slightly depressing when your story hangs on the thickness of your enemies, but considering he relies on them not having a technological solution here (they have personal scanners, how hard would it be to apply that on a larger scale and do a single sweep? See? The story depends on their thickness), Davies pushes the peril with a solid pulse and director Charles Palmer serves both the viewer and the purpose of the story – to prove Martha worthy of travelling with the Doctor – well. The lesson of the Sontarans, that stupid people can still be extraordinarily dangerous, is drilled home even harder with the Judoon, who are solid, pen-pushing nutjobs with a Judge Dredd fixation – ‘Verdict, guilty. Sentence, execution,’ indeed! – and whose animatronic rhino head explains in financial terms why the villains of the rest of the piece are a human-looking woman and two blokes in bike helmets.
With the Doctor pretending very badly to be human and Martha asking the right questions when the hospital is air-lifted to the moon, the Plasmavore pretending rather better, the Judoon on the march with their guns and their deadly felt-tip pens, Smith and Jones works really hard to get the urgency of its situation across, adding a ‘we’re all going to asphyxiate’ ticking clock to the base under siege format and then, almost in case we were tempted not to sweat about that, adding in a demented plot by Plasmavore Florence to overload an MRI in a way which – apparently – will fry every brain stem within hundreds of millions of miles. It’s mad, mad, Doctor Who plotting with more than a touch of Blue Peterism about it (‘We’ll be showing you how you can take an ordinary hospital MRI machine and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction…’), but it does the jobs it’s required to do, pushing the situation further and further from normality and forcing Martha to cope. If she had no trouble sorting out the intricate emotional balances of Leo’s 21st birthday party, let’s see how she copes with being stranded on the moon with a blood-sucking old alien lady who brings her own straw, a couple of extreme leather fetishists, thick space rhino police for hire and the magic markers of doom, and the only one who seems to make any sense at all being a tall, thin, mad-haired bloke who kisses her out of nowhere and claims to be an alien.
As it turns out, for the most part, she copes excellently well, accepting the wider universe of aliens easily, for all she retains her scepticism about Mr Smith’s claim’s until the evidence is in front of her eyes. The story also allows David Tennant a couple of glory moments of incredible silliness – the whole ‘shaking the radiation out of his shoe’ sequence is mad, but it’s rather endearing, puppy-like madness, and Tennant’s on great form pretending to be a postman when he first encounters Florence. It’s both funny and human enough that we get an insight into what the Tenth Doctor imagines being human must be like. And while we’re talking about Florence, let’s give some props to Anne Reid, an actress who’s made half a career out of playing older, relatively dowdy ladies (which in itself proves her chops as an actress), but has enough glint in her eye to turn on a twinkle, dropping the register of her voice to become something rather more complicated. It’s a skill she showed more than twenty years before Smith and Jones in the ‘Mr Right’ mockumentary in Victoria Wood – As Seen On TV, and she clearly perfected it in the meantime, because Florence is effective and chilling, the malevolence of a vampire speaking through the eyes and mouth of this old lady. If the dialogue’s a little overblown towards the end – ‘Burn with me!’ – Reid delivers it like she means it, giving it all the oomph it needs.
Then there’s the kiss.
Oh dear, the kiss. The kiss is given a perfectly valid in-story reason, while feeding the needs of those viewers who in the early Tennant years felt it was somehow necessary to have some romance in the show beyond that which had developed over the Rose story-arc. The point at which the kiss becomes a bad idea is in the reaction that was written for Martha – the bedazzled, unrequited love story that extended from that single kiss through all of her first season with the Doctor. In a sense, much of the good work that Smith and Jones did to establish Martha as a strong, together person in her own right is undone by the personality change engineered for her by that kiss.
Smith and Jones was a great steady opener to Series 3, establishing for the first time what long-term life could be like for the Tenth Doctor after the loss of Rose. Martha was given solid skills, a calm personality and an enthusiasm for the universe that made her a worthy and likeable successor to the London shopgirl. Sadly though, the kiss and the unrequited love story that was to follow it would make Martha exactly what neither the Tenth Doctor nor an audience that had had its fill of romance needed for Series 3, a doe-eyed hanger-on rather than the capable would-be doctor that Smith and Jones for the most part made her. It wouldn’t be until Last of the Time Lords, faced with incalculable loss and a year away from the influence of the Doctor, that Martha would reclaim her senses and the strength of character that Smith and Jones showed she had.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk