Review: The Doctor’s Daughter

Sorry for the delay with this review. I wrote it Saturday night to discover that wordpress.com was down, and haven’t been on the PC much since then. But here it is…

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Overview: The TARDIS takes off of its own accord, whisking the Doctor, Donna and a hijacked Martha to the subterranean caverns of an alien world in the midst of a war between humans and what I’ll call an icthyan (fish-like) race called the Hath. The Doctor is immediately forced to undergo progeneration and an offspring is created in order to serve in the human army – the Doctor’s Daughter.

Story: Placing the Doctor and company in the middle of a war between factions who really don’t understand what they’re fighting about isn’t really anything new. It’s been staple Doctor Who fodder literally since story two – The Daleks. In that classic story the ancient Dals and Thals entered into a war for reasons of purity that no longer make any sense, and the war continues to the present day simply because war is the only thing the two races know. In The Doctor’s Daughter, the soldiers have fought for untold numbers of generations with only the programming of the progeneration machines to give them their memories at creation. With entire generations being created and then killed in the war on a daily basis it becomes clear that the true cause of the conflict and the nature of the objective has been lost to time.

Or at least that’s the impression that the viewer is given, but if you haven’t seen the episode yet I’ll encourage you to keep close attention to the specific wording used when the Humans talk about their history. There are clues literally scattered throughout the story, and Donna spends the better part of the entire episode just trying to figure out what it all means. The final discovery doesn’t really have a level of significance to the overall plot – rather, it just serves to make the entire war a little more ironic.

The conflict aside, the matter of the Doctor now having a Daughter is a little more “near and dear” to the hearts of the fans. A cursory exam of “Jenny” (as she is named by Donna) shows that she at least shares the Doctor’s two heart anatomy, but there is a lingering question left throughout the story about whether or not the technology involved is really good enough to clone a Time Lord. The entire end of the episode actually somewhat hinges on the fact that Jenny doesn’t appear to share all of the Doctor’s physical abilities. I’ll not go into much more detail than that, but it’s probably pretty obvious what I’m hinting at: the core question becomes, can Jenny regenerate?

The existence of a Daughter brings out some more conflicted emotions from the Doctor, and Donna makes the same comment that Martha made back in the third series’ Gridlock – that the Doctor never really talks. The Doctor tells Donna that he has been a father before, which would seem to indicate that the producers are taking quite literally the first Doctor’s role as Grandfather to young Susan. There is a whole realm of the Doctor Who fiction canon that speculates about whether or not Time Lords can reproduce at all, or if they in fact use mysterious looms to create new members of Time Lord families. That question doesn’t get answered at all – all we know is that the Doctor says that he’s been a father before and that he knows his family is dead. Taken at face value that is really all he says, but there is still a lot of emotion there when the Doctor is explaining these things to Donna. At the end of the story, when the Doctor believes that he has lost his daughter, his initial reaction isn’t nearly as strong as when he lost Rose back at the end of the second series…which I guess is understandable, considering he’d only met Jenny around five minutes into the episode. But one wonders – if these progeneration machines are capable of making reasonable facsimiles of Time Lords, shouldn’t the Doctor be taking them a little more seriously?

Characterization: The Doctor is back to being the quintessential heroic pacifist, trying to bring sense to a war that seems to have no reason for being. The complication of having a new Daughter doesn’t really directly change his mission in the episode, but as he grows more attached to her – or the idea of her, at any rate – he seems to think more about what he has lost. As always this is a really strong outing from David Tennant, who has not failed to impress this entire season.

Donna proves once again to be remarkably capable and really only has one or two cringe-worthy moments in the episode. She takes special notice of the clues scattered around the environment and actually solves the riddle by the end of the episode, while also trying to understand the Doctor’s apparent disinterest in the fact that he now has a daughter.

Martha is pretty much relegated to Adric duty in the episode – getting separated from the party and making her way back in time for the big finale. The significance of her journey seems to center around her budding friendship with a Hath that she helps to get over a dislocated shoulder and her sense of loss when he inevitably dies. The scene where the Hath gives his life for Martha is frankly pretty much devoid of any impact, and Martha’s pained reaction just doesn’t really have any gravity…perhaps because I found myself wondering if the guy with actual gills couldn’t just swim his way to safety. Maybe I just thought about the problem too much.

Jenny is an interesting character. The process of creating her gives her artificial memories and skills, but Cobb (the human leader) seems to infer that since she is from “pacifist stock” that she is in some way unreliable. That does seem to bear out through the episode, but one wonders whether or not she did inherit some of the Doctor’s nature or whether his sheer force of presence affected her as well. She is given the choice between killing and using non-lethal means to achieve her ends a couple of different times in the episode, reminiscent of many past Doctor Who adventures. Her zest for adventure (and running…the running line that Donna pulls out is a gem) seems to definitely be an inherited trait, and one can’t help but wonder what if any affect this episode will have on future stories. Of course, it would be irresponsible to not mentioned that the Doctor’s daughter is in fact the Doctor’s daughter – Georgia Moffett is the real-life daughter of the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.

Supporting performances in this story were largely pretty forgettable. The human leader, Cobb, was pretty much just another military man that couldn’t let the war end…soldier type #3 in the Doctor Who lexicon. Nigel Terry pretty much gives a workmanlike performance as Cobb, and I had to do an IMDB search before I realized that this was the same man that played King Arthur in Excalibur.

Overall: A solid episode but definitely not the best of the season. A lot of by the numbers plot work that uses the conceit of the Doctor having a daughter to make things at least more interesting, if not good.

Next week, the Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie. My wife is on pins and needles for this one, she’s a huge Christie fan so I’ll be curious to see what she thinks.

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