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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24 thoughts on “Holding Out for a Hero

  1. Ah, so there’s a word for it!
    A story has always seemed incomplete for me without some kind of winding down / reconciliation. I suppose that’s why I usually do it in my own stuff.

  2. This is probably the most balanced, fair assessment of Martha/S3 I’ve seen all year. I agree with everything you said. I don’t think we’ll get a real happy ending, just an artificial one, as you said. And that’s a bit depressing.
    Thank you for writing this.

  3. I agree…
    I really don’t know how to feel about Martha. She’s full of energy, and resourceful but… even if I’m 23, even if I went to university, even if I have a weird family, I don’t feel close to her…
    She can leave or stay after this year I DON’T CARE!!!
    I cared about Rose. I cried with her, I laughed with her, I was afraid for her… and totally broken-hearted after Doomsday…
    But Martha Jones?
    No… And that’s a shame…
    Her personality was not very well developed (we don’t know about her tastes (Rose liked chips… what does Martha like?), her hopes (other than becoming a doctor), her dreams, her friends…)… and then, as you said, she is not the caring friend the Doctor needs right now…
    This is maybe why I love so much Lucy Saxon and the Master… They’re so funny, and they have such an amazing complicity… The Doctor and Rose had that too… Sort of, the Doctor has it too with Jack… But not with Martha.
    They’re good friends… they work well together… but I really can see them as lovers….

  4. Maybe I’m the eternal optimist, but I have the feeling that Jack will be sticking around for awhile next season. After all S2 of Torchwood has been delayed for an entire year…. Why else than to let Jack travel with the Doctor for the first half of S4? That would help heal him more than anything else they could do, bar finding Rose.
    Of course, each season tends to end on something of a cliffhanger (s1-regeneration, s2-the bride) so what will this one be? Maybe at the finale, the Master will banish the Doctor into another universe… and when he returns, he’ll have spent a lifetime with Rose and will be his old self again. He’d be a bit sadder than before, but a good sad, one that would heal, whereas the Doomsday scar will never heal. And with Jack around, the healing would go quickly, and he’d also have someone around to “stop him” and keep him sane.
    It’d be one of the better scenarios they could do, but of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll happen. We can only wait and see….

  5. Resolution
    I think the darkness is intentional, has been being set up for a long time. I think The Master has always been the shadow of The Doctor, and this has been a big setup for the union of opposites, the resolution of the Doctor and the dark side of himself, the crazy side that was broken just before we saw Nine. I think Jack may be a route to that, as an emotional conduit for the Doctor’s repressed emotions. And in the end, I think you will get a more whole Doctor, one who is more at peace, more able to go on. He might not be the Manic thing that Ten has been thus far, but all that energy seems to be on the surface and to be a brittle cover for the sadness and anger underneath, and a Doctor who is at peace with any of that is going to be a better/happier person.
    This all may end up unsatisfactory in overt story terms, though, as it’s all stuff that underlies the narrative, and the narrative may end up seeming strained by the weight of accomplishing the above. I think this change is important, though, in some ways, because Dr. Who has been essentially static, status quo, forever. I think The Doctor as hero must transform in the same way that real life people must transform. He’s been running from himself since Doomsday, and the Master is symbolic of all the music he has not been facing. The sound of the drums, indeed. I thought RTD wouldn’t bring back the Master, but this is the perfect way to do it.

  6. Re: Resolution
    I agree absolutely about the Master as the Jungian shadow side of the Doctor. In fact, I was just commenting to someone else – parrotfish – it’s a great discussion BTW – that back in the Baker years we had the Master all moody and Byronic and the Doctor playing the fool. Not only have they reversed that with New Who, they seem to be deliberately echoing it (the Teletubbies scene and the jelly babies both reference classic DW).
    RTD is an athiest who uses religious rhetoric – he frequently echoes Philip Pullman, who does the same thing. The more I think about the language of classic Christian hymns, the more parallels I see
    “Crown him the Lord of Years
    The Potentate of Time
    Creator of the rolling spheres,
    Ineffibly sublime.”
    and then –
    “fruit of the mystic rose,
    as of that rose the stem;
    the root whence mercy ever flows,”
    and a ref to “rose victorious”
    Coincidences? There’s an awful lot of them. And RTD started all this in Gridlock.

  7. I’d love to see more of Jack but I can see problems if they’re together very much. RTD’s view of relationships is heavily sexualised and there is just so much UST bubbling away there. A lot depends on whether Martha stays, and on what basis. I’m also probably one of the very few people who’d love to see the dynamics of a Rose/Ten/Martha team because, arguably, he needs them both.
    There’s also the issue of the TARDIS “shaking off” Jack – or maybe that will be sorted out after her workover from the Master.
    The strange thing is, what the Master did to the TARDIS is, for me, the hardest thing to forgive.

  8. Re: Resolution
    Oh, I’d say he started it sooner than that! The Heart of the Tardis, the Vortex, the….Self? Rose took it into herself and couldn’t handle it, but he thought he could (and was reborn in the process, via Rose). Now, the TARDIS is redirected in the opposite direction, towards the shadow’s will, and I guess that’s an almost inevitable conclusion of the way he’s been living through these seasons…can’t run from it, eventually it will boil over and manifest as the master! yay!
    I had forgotten about the jelly babies, that’s fantastic. I primarily saw the master in Pertwee and Davison years, so I missed that, I think. I think I still have some big blanks in my Baker years (watching DW on public TV in Texas will do that, I suspect). Who played the master at that time?

  9. Ancient of Days
    You’re right, and I think that is why, grieved as I was, I totally accepted the parting of Lyra and Will, but I’ve endlessly resisted the Doomsday one. Yet, in theory, both multiverses are equally open to any possibility. But they knew it was coming, and they were given time to prepare for it. Also, both were given immediate sources of support afterwards. I really missed that when I saw the stage version – Will’s position seemed bleak indeed without Mary Malone.
    And, while I have your attention:
    I’ve been trying to work out why the sight of the Doctor at the end of TSoD upset me so much. I can handle an old man – Jacobi was awesome, but not one with empty and dead eyes. And I think I’ve got it. The TARDIS is the Doctor’s daemon. He’s been severed.
    “In Lyra’s heart, revulsion struggled with compassion…..she put her arms around the skinny little form to hold him safe….the cold body in her arms was so light that in one way he was easy to manage, but he was inert; he sat stiffly without moving” (Northern Lights, p217).
    Martha’s expression as she sees the Doctor aged?
    And, then, from “Amber Spyglass” (p431)
    “‘Oh Will, he’s still alive, but.. the poor thing…’
    Will saw her hands pressing against the crystal, trying to reach to the angel and comfort him, because he was so old, and terrified, crying like a baby and cowering away into the lowest corner.
    ‘He must be so old….I’ve never seen anyone suffering like that. Oh Will, can’t we let him out?”
    Not with a bang, but a whimper.

  10. Oh, definitely! How could he do that to the TARDIS?! I’m surprised the Doctor was able to function after seeing it, that he didn’t just lose it completely. But then, he’d gone awhile without the TARDIS, apparently, when stuck in 1969 with Martha after the Weeping Angels stole it. So maybe he’s more used to the idea of being without it.
    When they were on the ship and he said, “Do you hear that?” and shortly afterward found the TARDIS, I kept wondering what it was he heard. But now, I suspect he heard the TARDIS screaming and/or dying.

  11. Thank you very much. I do, in fact, like Martha a lot. In fact, I soon fell foul of shipper wars because I liked Rose, too! Even now, it’s not so much Rose that I miss as the Doctor the way he was with Rose. And I wouldn’t want him back just to ride Vespas and piss around. He did need to face his demons, and that’s been very interesting to watch. But I don’t think I could take another series of it.

  12. Re: I agree…
    Yes, exactly. And I’ve a feeling we were meant to feel like that about her. Every time I see Freema interviewed I think she’s lovely – vibrant, lively, warm….but that’s not Martha, and I’m sure if they wanted Martha to be that way, Freema would deliver. So maybe it’s the perception filter thing, and we’ll find there’s been some blindness going on. She’d make a wonderful companion/friend, but he can only see her in terms of what she isn’t, the lover he lost. And she sees him similarly, the man she wants to love her in a romantic sense, but he cannot, or won’t.
    It’s way beyond a romcom. Much deeper and darker than that. It’ll be interesting to see whether she’s regarded as expendable, or allowed some character development in S4.

  13. I don’t think we’re meant to enjoy it – except on the superficial “ooh, scary monsters” level. And that’s okay, but I want things to lighten up now. As I’ve said, I invest in heroic narratives partly to impose some hope and order on the chaos and bleakness of RL.
    And, from my perspective of working in a school with 5-11 year olds, I think they pick up more than people realise, and I’m concerned that they’re teetering on the brink of compromising the Doctor’s heroic status in their eyes. In a recent “Confidential” someone talked to DT about how “Doomsday” had upset their kids, and he seemed genuinely surprised, as if he’d assumed only the adults would pick that up. But kids these days see relationship break up, and mum and dad crying, all the time. I’m not sure it’s good for them to see the Doctor going through it week after week on TV.

  14. I’d forgotten that bit, yes. I’m certain that is what finally broke him. He’d have survived the ageing, I’m sure – he’s done that stuff before.
    As I said to someone else, in Philip Pullman terms, the TARDIS is his daemon, the physical manifestation of his soul, his essence, and to sever someone from their daemon is the worst thing you can do to them. And RTD refs Pullman all the time – the lovers in HDM end up in separate universes, parted for ever.
    There’s a difference between him being parted from the TARDIS and seeing her destroyed – the closest I can get to it is the difference between being parted from the woman you love, and being made to stand and watch while she’s brutally raped. But it’s probably deeper, even, than that.

  15. Re: Resolution
    So, where is Bad Wolf in all this, I wonder? The Holy Spirit? Or some secular, benign spiritual force – perhaps the human race’s ability to love, to nurture and to survive. Both possessed in abundance by Jack and Rose, but lacking in the Doctor, and through Rose he discovered that was what he needed and started groping towards it.
    The Master? I know the most famous Master was Roger Delgado, who died in a car crash in the mid 70s, though he may have acted against Pertwee rather than Baker. If you get the chance to download it, the most recent Confidental is very informative on all this.
    John Simm is the Sixth person to play The Master, including the movie (which RTD seems to have accepted as canon). And Mister Saxon is an anagram of Master Six.

  16. “I think my abiding image of S3 will be the Doctor with dead eyes, in a wheelchair, catatonic with despair.”
    Okay, I didnt’ see that part, but… yeah. Well. You’re so right, and thank you for putting all of that out there. Silly as it may seem, I get really emotionally invested in my fandoms. DW can be very inspiring to me, and people might laugh, but it makes me look at life differently. And I care about the doctor because he’s such a powerful symbol for me, and when he acts like a jerk, it bothers me, and when he’s shown suffering, I feel empathy. I know it’s fiction, but again, it’s all symbolic. We *relate* to these things. Doomsday left me feeling cold, and Jack’s return was just starting to warm things up again. Now this?
    As an aside, I do feel a little put out about the over-the-top stereotypical portrayal of America. It’s only feeding into the whole anti-US sentiment running rampant in the media. So we’re not perfect, you don’t have to make us out to be nothing but an exaggerated bundle of flaws. Thanks for that, Russ.

  17. Re: Resolution
    On the Master – I prefer Roger Delgado, but saw a lot of Anthony Ainley as well. I did Not like the movie Master, but what can you do, the movie was not so great in general. As far as him being the sixth actor to play the Master, I seem to remember the Master being out of regenerations back in Davison days, and perhaps also (instead?) in the movie? How is it that he regenerated again?
    Where else has John Simm appeared – his appearance got a few fandom squees, but I don’t know him? I mean, I looked on IMDB and all, but didn’t really pick up what the big deal was.
    Bad Wolf is a synchronicity-style manifestation of the Vortex, I’d say, and the Vortex is Everything, The Universe, The Self. Connectedness to it all, which he sorely needed at that point. Were I not an atheist, I’d say just god, simply enough. The face that Moses can’t look on without dying. And the Dalek god that was killed through this interaction with a larger god, thus mechanistic living, without connection to a larger whole – god, The Environment, The World – is only part of the entire picture.
    I have noticed Torchwood folks still find bad wolf references, esp. in Capt. John Harkness – on the stairs in the old building. I wonder what, if any, relationship there is between The Doctor and Bilis Manger, Abaddon, etc. Though Jack being immortal and absorbing all that deathly energy, I can see why he might be hard to deal with as another semi-immortal. Though he could be representative of Death, and that fits with my notion that the doctor will be reborn through him somehow (as he was through Rose). My only real question at the moment is will he have to actually die and regenerate again? That is my main wonder about the coming finale.

  18. Re: Ancient of Days
    I’m not as up on Who canon as I might be. What is the process by which a Time Lord acquires a Tardis? Clearly the link is very strong but is it there from birth, as with a daemon? Or is it, perhaps, more like Impression in Anne Macaffrey’s Dragon books? Or like the matching of a wizard and his wand? IOW, something that happens laterA in life?
    I don’t know.
    Martha, of course, is losing everything. Except, maybe, the Doctor who might – as an old, enfeebled man (who could, however, regenerate) finally acknowledge his dependency on her.
    Also something of Thomas Covenant who is returned something he loves (The Land), but broken.

  19. TARDIS acquisition
    It’s called the Imprimitur. More accurately, the TARDIS acquires the Time Lord. Time Lords have to undergo a rigorous training programme (which the Doctor barely scraped through, the Master being his intellectual superior). There is then some selection process, which I don’t completely understand. But the general idea is that TL and Tardis become fused together in a deep symbiosis.
    One plot point I didn’t quite grasp in Utopia was how the Master managed to hijack the TARDIS, since the Imprimitur is meant to prevent anyone other than the designated driver taking the helm. However, this is partially addressed by the Doctor saying he fiddled the co-ordinates (a classic RTD canon/schmanon fudge)

  20. Re: Resolution
    My Master history is even patchier than yours, I think – like you, I thought that the movie began with the Doctor returning the Master’s body to Gallifrey. But he does have a history of reappearing in stolen bodies.
    According to DW Magazine, which is usually pretty authoritative, Tennant is on board for S4, though there are some tabloid rumours of him quitting mid-series. Plus there are LOTL screencaps showing that he returns to his young Tenth Doctor body.
    I like your Bad Wolf analysis. I’ve wondered too how they’re going to fit in all that Torchwood stuff. I mean, wouldn’t a people who’d just experienced the events of End of Days be a little sceptical of Saxon’s agenda? Must be that retcon in the water supply again 😉
    As for John Simm – I have three words to say to you. Life on Mars. He played a time-travelling detective, transported back to Manchester, England in 1973 for reasons unknown after a traumatic accident. Called Sam Tyler, ironically an anagram of “Masterly”.

  21. I’m British, and I’m with you 100% on the poor image of America. It’s a massive blunder when so much of the fandom is American. Even I could see it was cheaply stereotypical – and in a show that allegedly celebrates diversity, that isn’t good enough. I thought the NYC two-parter left a lot to be desired, also.
    I’m also with you 100% on emotional investment in the Doctor – I’ve never been quite this obsessed by a TV show before and I keep telling myself I should know better at my age. But, then, the quality of the writing and acting has been generally high.
    Oh, that icon. Kitty love.

  22. Re: Resolution
    So I guess I should check out Life On Mars?
    I am always a little skeptical of the real-world news re: actors and their bookings, b/c who knows if that isn’t disinformation? I mean, if the Doctor is going to change, then they’d want it to be a surprise, right, and not let news out that would confirm that likelihood?
    Very interesting discussion, thank you!

  23. “…and in a show that allegedly celebrates diversity, that isn’t good enough.”
    Exactly! DW has always been about breaking out of petty, limited, and illogical human perceptions, yet it goes on with international affairs on the intelligence level of a YouTube comment cascade.
    Sorry if I”m not making much sense, I’m very tired right now… but anyway. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. I’m obsessed to a point too, and I should know better “at my age” as well. But all things considered, it’s not that serious of a vice.
    Here, have another kitty icon 🙂

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