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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Doctor Dances”

(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 9: “The Empty Child”)

I’m rewatching the first series of the new Doctor Who with an eye toward looking where the show has gone since.
Could lead to dancing…

The primary factor that sticks out for me now, rewatching this episode for the dozenth time, even more prominently than it did way back when — it was obvious even on a first viewing — is how “The Doctor Dances” sets up the weird little triangle of the Doctor, Rose, and now Jack, and also, in the larger sense, of how it sets up the motif as the Doctor as a man. He is deeply stung by Rose’s utter blindness to seeing him as a man, which is certainly nothing like anything we were ever offered before on the old incarnation of Doctor Who, when he was always presented as very much asexual and aloof:

“Why is it always the great-looking ones who do that?” –Rose (when Jack teleports away)

“I’m making an effort not to be insulted.” –the Doctor

“I mean… men.” –Rose (who appears more confused than appreciative of the fact that she’s just insulted him)

“Okay, that really helped.” –the Doctor (chagrinned)

His attitude and the look on his face suggests that this is not something he’s used to, being dismissed like this. And frankly I can’t understand Rose’s blindness — is it really just that she’s so young? She’s met lots of other really alien aliens by this point: how can she not see that the Doctor is hardly alien at all compared to some? Or is it just that he’s older than her… and I don’t mean 900 years older than her, either. Would she react the same way to a human man of the same apparent age as the Doctor and just assume that he’s too old to be interested in, you know, that? Are fortysomething guys just too old for her teenage brain to process, never mind alien guys?

“I trust [Jack] cuz he’s like you, except with datin’ and dancin’.” –Rose

“You just assume I don’t… dance. Nine hundred years old, me, I’ve been around a bit. I think you can assume that at some point I’ve danced.” –the Doctor

I’m guessing it’s the alien thing, though, because Jack is not all that much younger — apparently — than the Doctor is.

I think it’s just that she’s a bit of prude, actually. The look on the Doctor’s face when Jack insists that he, not Rose, is the one to distract Algie:

He’s delighted at Rose’s discomfort, and even more so when he tries to ease that discomfort and only makes it worse: “Relax, he’s a 51st-century guy. He’s just a bit more flexible when it comes to dancing.” And then he just gives up and teases her: “So many species, so little time.” She’s almost repulsed by this: maybe she’s realizing that although Jack may be human, culturally he’s fairly alien to her, too.

Still, there’s something she finds hypnotic about the Doctor — and he about her — because they don’t even notice when Jack beams them to his ship! “Most people notice when they’ve been teleported,” he says with a laugh. “You guys are so sweet.”

Not that Jack isn’t going to try to worm his way between them… though he’d think of it as just plain fun, probably, and nothing malicious. By the time we get to the next episode, it’s pretty clear to me that lots has happened between the end of this and the beginning of that, and stuff that probably justified the Doctor’s dark warning as this episode closes:

“Welcome to the TARDIS.” –the Doctor to Jack

“Much bigger in the inside…” –Jack

“It better be.” –the Doctor

Ah, and also: the fact that the resolution of the mystery turns on the Doctor realizing that it concerns the secret of a “teenage single mother in 1941”… I cannot imagine the classic series ever implying that the Doctor thinks about sex, even in such a fairly detached way. But I’ll be on the lookout for any instances I might have missed when I blog about the old show.

Another thing I’ll be looking out for: another story like this one, in which there turns out not to be an actual villain and no nefarious plan to take over the world, just something good gone wrong. And in the end, it’s really nothing the Doctor does that fixes things — the nanogenes figure out their mistakes themselves and make it right themselves. This is radically different from anything we’ve seen before, that I remember offhand. And perhaps the Doctor doesn’t remember too many examples of such a happy ending, either: “Oh come on, gimme a day like this, gimme this one,” he begs the universe, and then he gets that day. “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!”

Random thoughts on “The Doctor Dances”:

• Hey, how come the Doctor hasn’t run into Time Agents before? Especially someone like Jack, who runs roughshod over the timelines? Aren’t the Time Agents kinda like Time Lords, policing the timelines? Surely out of professionally courtesy, there would have been some contact between the Agency and Gallifrey, no? Or was the Agency beneath Gallifrey’s notice?

• The Time Agency stole two years of Jack’s memories, and he wants ’em back — we never did find out what that was about. Torchwood has almost made me forget that Jack has this whole big mysterious history before he ever encountered the Doctor!

• Squareness gun:


Somehow this very same gun, apparently, later ends up in the possession of Dr. River Song. I’d love to know how.

• Speaking of guns: this idea that the Doctor has a special aversion to guns gets a real boost in this episode — he blew up the weapons factories from where Jack got his squareness gun, we learn. But as future episodes will demonstrate, he’s pretty hypocritical about this… and as the classic show often demonstrates, he’s had no hesitation about picking up guns in the past. (I’ll point out those instances in my blogging on the old series.)

• Jack’s gone all Dr. Strangelove:

• Emergency Protocol 417:

I heartily approve of any emergency protocol that calls for alcohol.

• Great quotes — there’s tons of them in this episode:

“I’ve traveled with a lot of people, but you’re settin’ new records for jeopardy-friendly.” –the Doctor to Rose

“I like bananas. Bananas are good.” –the Doctor

“It’s the special features: they really drain the battery.” –Jack, about the squareness gun

“Funny little human brains. How do you get around in those things?” –the Doctor

“When he’s stressed he likes to insult species. Cuts himself shaving, does half an hour on lifeforms he’s cleverer than.” –Rose to Jack

“Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, This could be a little more sonic?” –Jack

Life is “nature’s way of keepin’ meat fresh.” –the Doctor

“Look at you beaming away like you were Father Christmas.” –Rose to the Doctor
“Who says I’m not: red bicycle when you were 12.” –the Doctor (what?!)

“Funny thing: last time I was sentenced to death, I ordered four hypervodkas for my breakfast. All a bit of a blur after that. Woke up in bed with both my executioners. Lovely couple — they stayed in touch. Can’t say that about most executioners.” –Jack (four hypervodkas? sounds like something Zaphod Beeblebrox would order)

(next: Episode 11: “Boom Town”)

MPAA: not rated

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