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Doctor Who Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Doctor’s Daughter”

As a title, “The Doctor’s Daughter” conjures up exciting possibilities, but as an episode it leaves the viewer wanting more.

Doctor Who Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Doctor's Daughter”
Photo: BBC

As a title, “The Doctor’s Daughter” conjures up exciting possibilities, but as an episode it leaves the viewer wanting more. Is it surprising that the daughter in question is in no way “long lost” or any other sort of melodrama? Not really. Anything more concrete would be a massive intrusion on the overall narrative, and taking both fact and rumor into account, this season probably doesn’t need another such element. Instead she’s an instant genetic descendant of the Time Lord—created in the first minutes of the tale. It’s a disorienting moment, too, because it’s so unbelievable, even by Doctor Who standards. The Doctor (David Tennant), Donna (Catherine Tate), and Martha (Freema Agyeman) arrive in some sort of underground bunker. Within moments of stepping out of the TARDIS, a group of young soldiers appear out of nowhere, grab the Doctor, and thrust his hand into some sort of machine. The Doctor deduces it’s taking a tissue sample. Seconds later, two doors slide apart and out steps a beautiful blond girl, dressed like Farscape’s Aeryn Sun.

Martha: “Where did she come from?”
The Doctor: “From me.”
Donna: “From you? How? Who is she??”
The Doctor: “She’s…well…she’s my daughter.”
The Girl: (smiling) “Hello Dad!”

There’s precedent in the series for the Doctor having family before now. The most obvious is his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), who traveled with the First Doctor (William Hartnell) at the start of the series. Many have retconned the relationship and claimed that “granddaughter” and “grandfather” were merely terms of endearment and that the two were unrelated. Why? I suppose because at the time the concepts of Time Lords, regeneration, and even the whole two hearts thing were years away. Taking those factors into account, Susan’s eventual exit from the series (she stayed on 22nd century Earth and married a human) seems as irresponsible as the Doctor hooking up with a human companion. Regardless, I’ve never bought the theory and it only started popping up years after the fact for obvious reasons. Clearly in that first season and a half of Doctor Who, their relationship is exactly as it’s presented. These days, Susan’s place in the Who timeline presents bigger problems, because by all accounts she should still be alive somewhere despite the Doctor’s claim that, due to the Time War, he’s the last of the Time Lords (which he was already wrong about once). Maybe he knows something we don’t.

In “Tomb of the Cybermen,” the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) had a wonderful heart to heart with his companion Victoria (Deborah Watling) in which he speaks of his family. (Click here to view the scene. No… seriously. Click here and watch it. It rocks.) After that, nary a familial mention was made until “The Five Doctors” in 1983, when Susan returned. As much as I’d like to make hay over Susan’s role in those proceedings, I cannot. The story does nothing worthwhile with her or her relationship to the Doctor. And of course in the new series the Doctor has periodically mentioned that he was a father once, something he brings up again in this story.

Boy did I get off on a tangent there! The reason being, I guess, is because the pre-credits dialogue feels very hollow in light of all the facts. Why would the Doctor immediately refer to this genetic anomaly as his daughter? Surely there are a half a dozen other, far more scientific labels he should have applied to her in those moments, and indeed he does as the story moves on. It’s presented as is for dramatic shock value. The idea would’ve been more powerful if he’d begrudgingly used the label after getting to know her and understand their connection as the story progressed. Since that’s exactly what happens over the course of the episode, it only reinforces the bogusness of the initial setup. Speaking of bogus, where did her clothes come from?

“The Doctor’s Daughter” also has a B plot, but it’s barely worth discussing because it fails to engage in light of the story’s primary goal. The tale of the Messalines vs. the Hath may have been a good one if it were the central focus, but it seems to be here more than anything else to reinforce the Doctor’s distaste for weapons and war (something that was also stressed in the Sontaran two parter). To anyone familiar with classic Who, the Doctor’s recent pacifism comes as no surprise, but the new series has never verbally emphasized it as thoroughly as it has in the past three episodes. There must be a reason for this and I’m wondering if it will come into play at season’s end.

The story technically has a sort of C plot as well, which follows Martha’s dealings with the fishlike Hath. Oddly, it’s in this material that the episode achieves its only real narrative success. The Hath are a fascinating alien species, primarily because the script foregoes the TARDIS translation of their dialogue, although it appears Martha understands what they’re saying even if we don’t. Martha shines in her experiences with the Hath and her friendship with one of them is a highlight, as is the scene of him sacrificing himself to save her. Agyeman’s screams of agony in that moment say more about how Martha’s changed via the Doctor, UNIT and Torchwood than ten pages of dialogue could ever manage. The details of her encounter with the Hath go unmentioned when she finds the Doctor again. She no longer needs his interpretation or acknowledgement of fantastic events in her life. She is perfectly capable of being her own doctor. Some might see her presence here as pointless since she spends the majority of the episode away from the Doctor; I would argue that only away from him does she warrant inclusion.

But back to Jenny, the Doctor’s daughter, who is so wonderfully brought to life by Georgia Moffett, despite the flawed script. (For the uninformed, Moffett is the real life daughter of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, so the episode’s title works on two levels.) The primary character arcs are of understanding and realization. Both the Doctor and Jenny are at odds when the story begins: She is a soldier and he a pacifist. As the narrative continues, she quickly understands the deeper meaning of her “father,” and he in turn learns that the Messaline objectives imprinted on her at birth can be overcome. It’s not a fair exchange per se, but it’s probably the only reasonable one given that she is hours old and he’s 900+ years. He genuinely comes to care for her and when she takes a bullet for him he is devastated, and we are reminded of the scene from “Last of the Time Lords” when he cradled the dying Master. But the moment is less potent than it should be, because having seen the scene with the Master, we immediately say to the TV, “Regenerate!!” But Jenny dies in the Doctor’s arms, and it’s only after her passing that he considers regeneration.

The Doctor: “Two hearts. Two hearts just like me. If we wait…we just wait…”
Martha: “There’s no sign, Doctor. There’s no regeneration. She’s like you, but maybe not enough.”
The Doctor: “No. Too much. That’s the truth of it. She was too much like me.”

It’s a nice enough sentiment despite the flawed execution (why would Martha make the call?), but the final scene of the episode, after the time travelers have departed, shows a familiar life force coming from Jenny’s mouth. She awakens and is alive and well. Regeneration? Not in the traditional Time Lord sense. This seems more like Captain Jack’s ability to cheat death. Jenny takes off in a spaceship and heads out into the universe to carry on her father’s missions. Supposedly it was Steven Moffat’s idea to keep Jenny alive at the end. Unless you’ve been living in a cave (or simply don’t pay attention to such matters), Moffat was recently confirmed as the new showrunner for Doctor Who, beginning with the fifth season, which will air in 2010. So Moffat saw dramatic potential in the character, and if the story is true, it would appear that his showrunner status was granted long before the public was informed (which is fine… just thought I’d mention it). The adventures of Jenny Who could make a good spinoff—though the last thing this franchise needs is another one… unless the powers that be intend to bring either Torchwood or Sarah Jane to a close. It seems far more likely that Jenny will return to the Doctor Who narrative before any such series.

All speculation/rationalization aside, it’s still hard to believe the Doctor would view Jenny as his daughter, mostly because he has had a child or children of his own that were presumably not created via a genetic sample. People he spent time with. The Doctor is lonely, but he’s not so desperate for a connection that he would invest such emotion into a being like this. He may be a man of science, but what the new series has proven time and again is that he’s even more a man of romance. Yes, there was romance in this situation, but I just don’t see that it was enough to warrant his eventual view of Jenny. Perhaps I am limited in my thinking here. I dunno. Bring on any criticism to the contrary. Weaknesses aside, “The Doctor’s Daughter” begs to be discussed, which must be a positive.

Lastly, I made no mention of Nigel Terry’s presence. He played Arthur in Excalibur so many years ago, and I didn’t even realize who I was seeing until after the episode was over and I hit the internets for more info. Wow! Nigel Terry. He’s aged. Speaking of, if his character was at most a week old, why did he look to be in his sixties? And I still don’t understand how/why the Doctor’s severed, bubbling hand was the conduit for this entire affair. That’s just silly. The Doctor should talk to the hand and get back to me.

Next Week: It’s time for the seasonal “TARDIS crew meets someone famous from history and they’re in awe of him/her” episode. This time it’s Agatha Christie and the story is “The Unicorn and the Wasp.” Just once I’d like to see them meet a historical figure who’s truly deplorable. My vote would be for Jim Jones. I’d love to see the Doctor insisting that situation shouldn’t be altered.

Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: Meet the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan as she should be met, in the first episode ever, “An Unearthly Child.” When I say episode, I mean it. Don’t watch Parts Two-Four of the story. Just skip right ahead to “The Daleks” if you’re into the whole thing.

For more Doctor Who recaps, click here.

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