Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Doctor Who: Do British People Know How to Write Happy Endings?

I feel like this all needs to prefaced with a loud, "Hear me out, y'all."

Because to explain my love for Doctor Who requires me to explain at least a little about Doctor Who, and to do so is to make me sound ridiculous. So let's start with the background.

Doctor Who is a BBC series whose history spans more than forty years. Its most recent incarnation started in 2005, a modern continuation of a classic science fiction story. On its face, Doctor Who is a show about a time traveling alien and the humans who join him for the ride. But at its heart, it's about redemption, bravery, loyalty, family, and, yes, love. (It's also quite funny.)

Since it's inception in the '60's, ten actors have portrayed the lead character, known only as The Doctor. He's very old (nine hundred something?), the last of the Time Lords, a species of aliens who look just like humans, but have two hearts and the ability to travel through time and space. And when he get mortally injured, he doesn't die--he regenerates. (Hint: this comes conveniently whenever the current actor decides to stop being The Doctor.)

Aside from being an updated version, the 2005 series also became the first Doctor Who chapter to really, truly be a love story.

Because this series came with Rose Tyler.

Rose was introduced as the companion to the Ninth Doctor. In season one, she tags along on his journeys and generally, you know, gets captured and then has to be rescued. And there are some cute, shippy scenes (I particularly liked "The Doctor Dances"), but the chemistry just wasn't there.

Also, in season one, pretty ridiculous things happen. (I think they were still finding their groove somewhat.) Their first couple of adventures involve everything plastic becoming animated and traveling to the far-far-future where the last living human is just a flat piece of stretched skin with eyes and a mouth, plugged into the wall.

But that's the thing about Doctor Who. If I sat here and explained what a Dalek is, you'd roll your eyes like Mae did the other night when I tried to explain the awesomeness of the show to her. But it's also hard to explain the emotions stirred by these characters. At the very beginning of "The Impossible Planet," I said to said, out loud, to myself, "Oh, man, y'all, the TARDIS is going to effing save the day, and it's going to be AWESOME." And then, when in the next episode, the TARDIS totally saved the day? I jumped up and down and hollered with excitement. Because it was awesome. (By the way, for non-watchers, the TARDIS is their spaceship. It looks like a police box and is pictured in that top Christmasy snapshot. It's bigger on the inside. And it is awesome. Also, that's what she said.)

Okay, back on track.

So season one was a struggle for me. But the end of season one is where it gets AWESOME, because that's when the Ninth Doctor regenerates into the Tenth Doctor.

Because, yeah, she was close with Nine, and yeah, he kissed her to suck the essence of the time space continuum out of her so she wouldn't die or something, but he had large ears and an annoying accent and really not that much chemistry with her. And then as soon as Nine became Ten......Things. Got. AMAAAAAZING.

AND ME AND ROSE WERE, LIKE, ZOMG UPGRADE. Because this one, not only is he way hotter on a scale of hotness, but he's also funnier and goofier (in a good way) and touchy-feelier (in a good way) and way way way sexier AND HE WEARS GLASSES AND A SUIT and he's so charming and JUST OMG I LOVE TEN. The chemistry is SO GOOD. They hug and hold hands all the time, and they just say the SHIPPIEST SHIT.

No seriously. Their "hey, how ya doing?" hug makes Jack and Kate's "hug of all hugs" look like a friendly pat on the back.

See, when the Doctor regenerates, he doesn't just change appearance. He changes personality, too. He retains his memories and his feelings, but the way he interacts with the world is very different. This one, for instance, is witty and charming and perfection in a way that his predecessor just wasn't. (Sorry, Nine.)

Okay, so throughout season two, they go on all of these adventures. And it's great because now, Rose is a full participant in the travels. At the beginning, she just kind of did stupid shit and had to get rescued, but now she's learned from the Doctor and they basically just run about saving each other now. In fact, toward the end of season two, Rose (and the mothereffing TARDIS) saved the Doctor a lot more than the Doctor saved her.

Maybe this is a British thing, but I find it really interesting how the Doctor very rarely like, swoops in Jack Bauer-style and saves everybody. Mostly, he empowers the people around him, including Rose and the guest stars of the week, to become heroes. And it makes him all the more loveable. (Random thought: Is Jacob on a similar mission on Lost?)

And then, at the end of season two... Oh, it's so heartbreaking.

Watch out for spoilers, because seriously, this is good stuff, so if I've convinced you to watch the show, just go watch it now and don't read the rest of this post. If you're thinking, Oh, this sounds like the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard, but that Caroline is an amusing girl, so I'm just going to finish this post for the hell of it, then by all means, continue.

Something goes haywire on an adventure (one of those season finale-worthy adventures where EVERYTHING is on the line) and Rose gets transported to another dimension. It's actually very similar to what's been happening on Fringe, only in this universe, there's no magic elevator to take you to that other dimension. It's a fluke that Rose ended up there anyway.

The Doctor rigs the TARDIS to project his image to her; he's running out of power and the hole in the universe is closing. This is all they've got. They're both crying, and she tells him she loves him. He responds, "Rose Tyler, I..." before the power runs out and they're both left alone, in two different universes, crying in pain.

Okay, so compare these two scenes:

Same basic concept, right? Beautiful British people desperately in love with each other but separated by really bizarre and unfortunate circumstance. Only in the American version, Desmond and Penny get cut off after they get their "I love you"s out of the way (a couple of times). The British version is just painful and...other words that mean really painful.


That's not the end!

Rose, seemingly lost to the Doctor, returned for three episodes in 2008. See, she'd been trying that whole time to escape her alternate reality and return to the Doctor, and she finally succeeded in catapulting herself into his dimension. Reunited at last, the pair had a couple of epic hugs and saved the world again.

This is where it gets weird. (I know, right? Like it wasn't already weird.) Because here's the thing. Never in the history of Doctor Who had they had such an epic romance on their hands. Something had to be done to give Rose an ending that wasn't tragic; and any ending that didn't involve her living happily ever after with The Doctor would be unbearably tragic.

The Doctor gets shot by a Dalek (think R2-D2, but evil, and English-speaking) and may be forced to regenerate (OH NO!). But instead, he's able to use his regeneration energy to save himself and put the rest of that energy into a discarded hand he had lying around. (He'd had his hand cut off before, during his Nine-to-Ten regeneration, but because he was still regenerating, he just immediately grew another one. UGH THIS SHOW IS RIDICULOUS BUT IT'S OKAY 'CAUSE IT'S ALSO AWESOME.) So he kept the cut-off hand in a jar.

Well, then, left to her own devices, this woman, Donna Noble, who I don't really know because I skipped all the episodes that didn't involve The Awesome That Is Rose Tyler, touched the hand. And poof--she created a Second Doctor.


So this new Doctor, 10.2, looks just like our beloved Doctor, has the same memories, same sense of humor, same personality, same affection for Rose, but he has a couple of different features:

1. He's half-human.
2. His emotions are more attuned to his old self. This part didn't really make sense, but we'll go with it.

Basically, he's crazy. He doesn't have that whole "let's let others play the hero and leave the guns at home" thing. So he destroys an entire species, and even though it's the Daleks and they're evil, Doctor 10.1 is really upset and kind of pissed that he's getting blamed for genocide. (Hey, you would be, too.)

Okay, so 10.1 takes Rose and 10.2 back to the other dimension. Because the world's not safe when there are two Doctors out and about, and this new one's really dangerous. And our Doctor, Rose's Doctor, tells her that he's leaving 10.2 in her care because the way he is now is the way The Doctor was when he met Rose--angry. And she made him better. (No, really, he says that. "You made me better.")

Let's do a Gilmore-style pro/con list of this situation.

He's half-human, so he can spend his life with Rose.
He's still The Doctor, really.
He's desperately in love with Rose (and tells her so, unlike 10.1).

No more adventures.
Um, he's evil.
Uglier suit.

So, forget everything I've said up until now. Forget about the plastic coming to life and the Daleks and the regeneration and the cut-off hand becoming a whole human man. And think about this conundrum:

Is it better to have a whole life with a man who is almost the man you're in love with, or to have a few moments of a life with the original?

I DON'T KNOW! I've been thinking about this for days and days, and I just don't know.

Here's the thing, British people. Would it have killed you to give these two a plain ol' happily ever after? Did you really have to make 10.2 kind of evil? Did you have to leave Rose with a REALLY DIFFICULT PROJECT?

I mean, seriously. I should've known. I really don't like the U.K. version of The Office, because David Brent has zero redeeming qualities and the whole Tim/Dawn business is never really resolved (no epilogue). I'm really not putting down British film and television, because the fact that things don't end happily doesn't mean it's bad. I mean, the very fact that I've spent the last five days ruminating on the relative merits of spending forever with someone who's not precisely what you asked for means this show is quality. But all I'm saying is, you guys gave me this and The Office and Love, Actually, in which almost everyone ends up miserable and alone. But then you also gave me Notting Hill which not only includes a happy ending, but also an epilogue. So maybe you're not as one-dimensional in your romantic comedies as I've made you out to be. I apologize, Great Britain.

I think ultimately, it's all going to be okay for The Doctor and Rose. Because Rose Tyler will make him go from almost to perfect. She'll make him better, the same way she made The Doctor better. And they'll have adventures together, just a different kind. They can get married, have children, be happy.

And as a viewer, the most important thing that Ten gets to live on. We know that, come Christmas, Ten is going to become Eleven. And while I'm not sure if I'll be interested in seeing that Doctor, I do know that it makes me happy to know that, unlike any of his predecessors, my Doctor, Rose's Doctor will survive.

Hey, they could even come back.

7 Responses to “Doctor Who: Do British People Know How to Write Happy Endings?”

Julie said...

It was an awesomely bittersweet ending I couldn't decide whether to love it or hate it........ I'm glad however that we had that ending that we can imagine them living a happy life somewhere instead of the image season two left us... both alone, in pain, missing their significant other. And yeah with that ending it does leave them the opportunity to come back to the show sometime after ten leaves us (I personally can't wait to see what the new doctor will bring to the show).
It is a crazy show and it's one of the best. You can't really describe it you have to watch it. (I loved your description of the daleks by the way and evil R2D2) So people just finding out about Doctor who go and watch it!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, no! You must have seen the episodes with Donna in them. If you haven't...you must. There is another horribly tragic ending right there.

To be honest, I am still quite surprised Rose settled for Doctor 10.2, I wouldn't have been nearly as satisfied.
(But everything you say about 10>9, I agree with, despite being quite fond of 9...)

lydia said...

omg, my otp of otps. <3

they are so epic.

i don't completely agree on the ten 2 being evil front. he's just nine-is in the way hat he's not very happy.

and, yeah. mostly i think its rtd. not so much british tv in general. he just aims to break us.

Unknown said...

I don't think 10.5 being evil. Man i do agree on the Love story bit. So sad was journey's end. I hate to admit it I am a shipper and sometimes doctor who really gets me. Though its not the reason I watch it (love classic who as well)

I am still grieving DT's departure!

Anonymous said...

To be honest, Doctor "10.2" (love how you put that) isn't evil, not even kind of. He's just emotional. He's the Doctor; only on his period...

Did I hear mention of you skipping episodes that didn't involve Rose? Not cool! Considering series 3 is the best series (plain and simple) Martha Jones was just so amazing, and that love situation was even more depressing and (I feel) more representative of British relationships.

Being British, I feel we don't have need for a happy ending. Sometimes, and I know it sounds bad, we like to see failure. It's more suited to life. Not even comes neatly wrapped in an equilibrium shaped present. Hence why I love British cinema and TV. We're pessimistic and loving it!

Unknown said...

Upon further watching, I realize I was wrong about the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor (or whatever people want to call him). I phrased it wrong to begin with, but you're right to say he's just "emotional."

Also, since I wrote this entry several months ago, I have gone back and watched most of the series. I've been DVRing them when they air on SciFi or BBC America and am slowing slogging through them. I will say that I LOVE Donna. I think "Midnight" is the episode I have to watch next. Martha bothers me. Sorry. I don't care for her.

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