I’m certain I’m ambivalent.
Chunks of this episode had me cringing and rolling my eyes, which is something I hoped the new show had left behind over the last couple of years.
Thankfully the episode wastes no time in explaining the episode title. Not a daughter, so much as an instant pop-in-the-microwave sort-of-clone. Which is as contrived as it gets and about the shallowest possible way to do a ‘Doctor experiences fatherhood’ episode — but at least it doesn’t open any cans or release any worms, or indeed chuck a hand grenade into the middle of Doctor Who fandom.
David Tennant is great here. He gets to display a real range of emotions in this episode and he’s fantastic. At one stage I thought we were going to have yet more shouting about guns being bad, but this is his least shouty, least manic episode in ages and it benefits hugely from his more naturalistic approach. When he talks about the Time War for the eleventy-first time, for once Tennant hits something close to the level of conviction and shock that Christopher Eccleston brought to similar scenes. It helps of course that the Doctor gets something of a rollercoaster ride of emotion in relation to his newfound “daughter”, and I’m almost tempted to say that the reflective scenes in which he talks about his past with Donna are enough to justify the concept of giving him a daughter.
I say “almost” because, frankly, if we ever see his annoyingly perky, annoyingly plucky daughter again, someone had better be hitting her in the face repeatedly with a spade. They’re aiming for some tugging of the heart-strings in the naive innocent with no past coming to experience the universe with fresh eyes, but she’s entirely one note and the script barely even attempts to develop her into a rounded character. Ironically it feels as if the writers designed her to order and created her out of whole cloth in a matter of seconds. There’s a joke here about the clone being half-baked but I’m too lazy to make it. She’s so bright and optimistic she makes Captain Jack’s first appearance look positively rounded, and feels very much like she has emerged from a production line of quirky Joss Whedon-esque heroines primed for a cookie-cutter spin off. The final sequence of her blasting off for the stars is one of the most teeth-grating in the show’s history. I can’t help but feel that she’ll inevitably be back later in the year.
I must formally lodge an official ‘groan’ at the astonishingly predictable scene in which Cobb shoots the Doctor and Jenny hurls herself in his way. Leaving aside the fact that other Time Lords seem significantly less resilient than the Doctor to being shot through one heart, it’s cheesy convenient plotting of the first order. I can’t say I’m overly impressed by both sides laying down arms quite so readily either, but I’ll forgive that part because the general drama of the Doctor’s response to the shooting works well.
As for the actual main plot, it suffers from being crammed into very few scenes, competing with the Doctor’s Daughter thread for time, but it’s not terrible. It feels like quite a pleasing pastiche of a golden age SF short story (or an episode of The Outer Limits) and the SF elements, while contrived, are actually pretty interesting for this show. I like the numerical sequence of outward construction, the short space of time in which war and history devolve to myth, and the fact that ruins are actually vacant ‘show homes’ ready for habitation. Certainly it’s rare to see this level of actual SF concepts in modern Who. It’s fair to say that the ideas are better than the execution, and that they’re more clever than they are plausible, but kudos to the show for trying. Shame the terraforming device works by smashing the glass and standing well back while the planet becomes habitable in the space of a few hours, but this is the far future so I’ll cut them some slack.
The Hath are a decent design too, although they suffer from being more obviously a prosthetic rubber head on someone’s shoulders than the Ood. At least they’re not blokes with Rhino heads.
Where Tennant is better than average this week, his companions aren’t quite so impressive. Catherine Tate suffers from being a bit too shouty — something she never does well — but I continue to be impressed with the level of intelligence and agency that Donna displays. This isn’t the first time she’s contributed a major bit of problem solving, and it’s very welcome. Likewise Martha is a mixed bag here, with some good scenes but mostly being relegated to wandering around
Skaro the planet in a C-plot. Freema Agyeman’s performance is a little wooden in places, and the godawful scene in which the Hath jumps into the puddle to save her failed to move me on any level. On any good level anyway.