Holding Out for a Hero

It may be a little early to do a retrospective on S3, and there’s no shortage of speculation concerning the narrative. I tend not to rush into reaction posts, though I love reading them from other people. I like to watch at least twice and then let my emotions settle down before I comment.

And, right now, S3 leaves me exactly where I started emotionally, depressed and in a state of mourning. Only I have a feeling that’s going to persist, no matter what eleventh-hour resolution they pull out of the bag. I think my abiding image of S3 will be the Doctor with dead eyes, in a wheelchair, catatonic with despair. Visuallly, it sums up where he’s been emotionally for a long time.

I was thinking I’d wind down after Saturday by working through S2 again, but now I’m not sure if I could bear it. That image of the Doctor will hang over it like a pall, colouring the carefree moments most of all. It’ll all be a bit like watching the first episode of “Testament of Youth” – the more golden the summer of 1914, the more painful it is to watch with hindsight.

CS Lewis coined the term “eucatastrophe” whist commenting on Lord of the Rings. It means, the emotional catharsis of a narrowly-averted catastrophe, and it needs very careful management, no matter how complete the plot resolution appears to be. The emotions generated by watching the ordeal of a hero are not easily dissipated, unless all the viewers share in the suspension of disbelief right from the start. And the only way to make that happen is to make the heroic figure formulaic and restrict our emotional identification with him (usually him, anyway). Think Superman, think Luke Skywalker, think Indiana Jones. But, once you’ve crosssed that line,  you’ve crossed it. Tolkein never even attempted it with Frodo Baggins, and New Who has blown it out of the water completely.

And that’s when you need a leisurely, carefully managed eucatastrophe. LOTR (the book, and even to some extent the movie) takes a very long time to wind down after the climax. Despite the huge pressure of keeping the theatrical release to a reasonable running time, Peter Jackson lingered over the reunion scene straight after Mount Doom. We needed that. We’d spent many hours invested in the characters. And the reason he did that, and Tolkein before him, was that despite the resolution we needed a period of mourning, to come to terms with the truth that Frodo would never be the same again, that he’d be permanently scarred by his journey. We had to integrate our  new perception of the character into the changed reality of Middle Earth post-war.

Now, when we met Nine, he was in exactly that place, and Rose healed him – maybe not completely, but far more than anyone would have believed possible. I think maybe even the writers were a little startled by Billie Piper’s ability to inhabit that role, right from the moment she looked at him and gently took his hand at the end of EOTW, and asked for chips. She followed it up with the emotional journey of “Dalek”, her own catharsis in “Father’s Day” and, ultimately, her rebirth as Bad Wolf. She had the most astonishing warmth and empathy – she was memorable not so much through what she did, but merely what she was.

I didn’t like everything about Rose. It took me weeks to warm up to her and Ten together; they were intensely irritating at times. But she gave the Doctor a safe place, and by the end of S2 he was getting there. But I see very little evidence that those lessons have stuck. For one thing, though she has many great qualities, Martha is not warm and nurturing, which he so clearly needs. Her family background probably explains that; though close, it’s a lot more competitive and abrasive. He’s too wounded to change her, and she’s not the right person to change him. Jack seems to be his only hope, but even that emotional journey has been completely overshadowed by events.

I’m not sure they’ll be able to resolve all of this, or even that they intend to. I’m on the point of losing faith. There’ll be a superficial happy ending, but I don’t want that. I want the kind of resolution we saw in “The Satan Pit” – where the Doctor triumphantly affirms his belief in Rose, the representative of all the love, connection and humanity he needs and lacks. It doesn’t necessarily mean Rose has to return, though they seem to have backed themselves into a corner where, at the moment, there’s no obvious substitute for her presence. It doesn’t have to mean ditching Martha. I like her, but I do think she needs a balancing presence in the TARDIS, and we aren’t seeing that happen.

So, I just don’t know……and we aren’t getting the eucatastrophe, the re-entry that resigns us to the changed state of our hero. And I do want him to be a hero. I need to believe he can pull through this – never mind the Toclafane and the Master, that’s incidental. He needs to get his spirit back. Because if I don’t see that happening, there’s no real point in my continuing to watch. I need my stories. I can have RL any time.

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