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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Forest of the Dead”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 8: “Silence in the Library”)

Today I watched “The Stolen Earth” for the first time (if you must comment on that one before I get around to proper-blogging on it, please do so here), and the “Forest of the Dead” for the fourth or fifth time. So I’m, you know, kind of a basket case at the moment. Kind of still picking up the pieces of my brain from one side of the room and the pieces of my heart from the other.
If they were gonna do this kind of stuff to us, why did they bother to bring back Doctor Who at all? Seriously. It’s cruel. Every time I hear that theme music and see the TARDIS falling through the Vortex in the opening credits, it’s like being tickled anew all over again, and I have to giggle and marvel to myself about how I still cannot believe we have Doctor Who again. And then every episode is like torture. Gorgeous, wonderful, exquisite torture, the kind of total rapture you want from your entertainment, but still: They’re killing me. I’m gonna have to die from sheer not-being-able-to-take-it-ness. I’m going to lie down and expire from the unending Whogasm.

You know what I hate, and by “hate” I mean “love” (with a little bit of hate mixed in, too)? They — and by “they” I mean Russell Davies and the other writers, but primarily Steven Moffat, and David Tennant a little bit, too, though it’s kinda not really his fault because he’s just doing what Davies tells him to do (just doing it too damn well) — they are eliminating the need for fan fiction, and, dammit, just as I’ve gotten started with mine again after a very long hiatus during which I thought I had grown up. (Which, believe me, makes me feel like the biggest dweeb ever, but I can’t help it. When they pay you handsomely to write episodes of a TV show, that’s cool. When you do it for free for your own amusement, that’s just sad.) All the desire on the viewer’s part for thematic richness and emotional complexity hinted at but not fulfilled in the source material, the desire from which fan fiction springs, is actually being fulfilled by the show itself. Not that most fanfic achieves any kind of thematic richness or emotional complexity at all, of course, never mind filling in what’s missing from the source material, but it wants to do that.

But there’s nothing missing from the new Who. Everything that we would want to see is here… and then some. And you’re so wrung out after each episode that you can barely get your head around it, never mind getting your head around creating more of it. (That won’t stop me, of course, and I suspect that being the world’s biggest Doctor Who fanfic-writing dork is what’s going to get me through the chasm barrelling down on us next week as Who ends for six months.)

There is so much crammed into the concept of Dr. River Song — and I have to say that I simply adore Alex Kingston about 1,803 times more than I did before after this juicy portrayal of a woman worthy of the Doctor — and into the Doctor’s reaction to her that just unpacking it all is an adventure in itself. What the hell could possibly be preventing the Doctor from telling anyone his name — that seems to be the implication of his “There’s only reason I would ever tell anyone my name. There’s only time I could,” that he is forbidden from revealing it except under some extremely special circumstances — and what could she be to him that would fall under those circumstances? Surely it cannot be something so prosaic as, say, they’re being married? Which we could well assume from their reaction to Lux’s comment about how they’re “squabbling like an old married couple.” That would be lovely for them, I’m sure, and certainly we can at least assume that they are passionate lovers, if from nothing else but the way she looks at him, but how would even that connect to knowledge of his name?

When is the Doctor ever speechless?

When has the Doctor ever been this sad?

When did the Doctor ever get decked?

What a woman! “I bet I like you,” the Doctor tells her. “Oh, you do,” she responds, obviously thinking wonderfully wicked things about how much he likes her:

All that said… he is a selfish, thoughtless bastard. He sees, right here in the little girl, the upshot of uploading a human mind to a computer and leaving it there for all eternity: It goes mad. It does strange and unexpected things and then goes even madder. And he condemns River to this? Did he even really “save” her, or just a ghost of her consciousness? (And is that better, or worse?) Is she supposed to wait for him there forever? Does she imagine that maybe he’ll show up one day and download her into a new body? Does he imagine he’ll do that? “Everybody” doesn’t “live”! (Perhaps her ghost of consciousness needs to tell itself that, but that’s not the same thing as it actually being true.) River will wander a lonely purgatory — four friends, all likely destined for their own insanity, a crazy little girl, and the humanoid avatar of an antivirus program are hardly decent enough society to keep an intelligent woman occupied for long — possibly forever, and why? Because he couldn’t bear to let her go? That’s horrific. And very, very selfish.

But we’ve always known that, at least in these new Davies-created incarnations of the Doctor. He’s much more complex, much darker, much more alien than we’ve ever seen him before. And much more magnificent, too. And yet there’s this, too: For River to lament that this Doctor is sort of unfinished, unripe, not quite yet her Doctor, how much more magnificent can he be as she knows him?

I simply do not understand anyone who is not madly in love with the Doctor, with his grand flaws and all.

Random thoughts on “Forest of the Dead”:

• I love all the stuff with the little girl flipping the TV around, coming upon scenes from the library with different music that suggests she’s watching drama, action, mystery, etc. And Donna, in the “book” of her life, jumping directly from one relevant bit to another, skipping over the boring transition stuff. It’s all like how we watch TV and movies, and read fiction… how we understand stories, that the boring bits are indeed all left out, but that we can assume they happened. But it’s about how a life like that is not worth living.

• And yet… the Doctor is an actor in his own life. We’ve always known that his buffoonery is an act, that his bluster is an act. But we see it very clearly here, immediately after he is rendered speechless by River’s whispering in his ear. He flounders around for a moment trying to find his bearings, and then he leaps into a performance-rant about his sonic screwdriver and hair dryers, and it’s all about pushing away his own confusion, trying to forget it. It’s one of Tennant’s many amazing moments in this episode.

• “A million million books hatching shadows”? Don’t they always do that, though… something about repeated memes…?

• Oh, how cruel to have Donna miss her guy by mere seconds… and he can’t call out to her! Moffat is a bastard.

• Great quotes:

“I trust that man to the end of the universe, and actually, we’ve been.” –River, on the Doctor

“Dear God, you’re hard work young.” –River to the Doctor

“Why am I handcuffed? Why do you even have handcuffs?” –the Doctor
“Spoilers.” –River

“I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away, and he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the door with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor and the TARDIS, next stop, everywhere.” –River

“This isn’t the real me? This isn’t my real body? But I’ve been dieting!” –Donna

(next: Episode 10: “Midnight”)

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MPAA: not rated

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