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War! Hunh! Good God, y'all!...Doctor Who, 2008 Series

(Yes, another post pinched from LJ.)

So, we've seen the Doctor as a guilt-ridden, melancholic survivor of a double genocide; a happy, joyful, exuberant young man who seems unaware of the consequences of his actions, and as a chastened, mature man who inspires such awe, and keeps such distance, that he is comparable to a living God. Moving forward, however, the Doctor finds himself again and again in the role of a general, waging war after war, usually against his own wishes. In a way we have come full circle, or, rather, we see the Doctor as he might have been before the ravages of the Time War. By the end, the light has gone from the 10th Doctor's eyes, and he is essentially ready to die. True, there are some specials before the 10th Doctor regenerates into the 11th, but, essentially, his story has been told.

The story of the Doctor intervening in wars and uprisings and insurrections and every other form of conflict is a familiar trope that classic Who returned to again and again, beginning in just the second serial ever broadcast, "The Daleks." True, the Doctor's desire to insinuate himself in these conflicts was never great, and it certainly lessened over time, but even the 7th Doctor wasn't against committing breathtakingly violent acts of war--cripes, he tricks Davros into blowing up Skaro itself in "Remembrance of the Daleks." The new series, however, has largely avoided the war tropes that were prevalent in the classic series, instead focusing on the main characters in smaller-scale, more emotional stories ("Father's Day," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "42") or dealing with the threat of sneaky alien invasions ("Aliens of London"/"World War II" or "The Idiot's Lantern") instead of full-on armed conflict. Even when the Doctor does have something of the old insurrectionist surface, it's often framed in the notion of "correcting" history ("The Long Game"). The closest we came to the old model was probably in the Cybermen storylines, though there it fell to the Daleks to really take them on in "Doomsday." (Remember how shocking the few scenes of war we did get were, such as the ones in "Human Nature?" That was mainly because there were so few of them.) Even with WWII as a backdrop, in the 2005 series two-parter, we see almost nothing of the war.

The 2008 series, though, address the ideas of war and insurrection head-on. True, it starts small enough, with a couple of stories which flesh out the character of Donna, mercifully, and understandably, evolved from her appearance in "The Runaway Bride." We start with another "sneaky alien" story in "Partners in Crime," then move on to a nicely structured "correcting history" episode in "Fires of Pompeii." By the third episode, though, we are plunged headlong into nothing short of an all-out slave rebellion. So, let's start there:

"Planet of the Ood": This is a good old fashioned "Doctor lands on alien planet and helps free a repressed populace" storyline, the first one we've really had since the new series began. In an initially violent uprising, the Doctor is witness and ally in the Ood throwing off the shackles of human slavery. Plus, we get lots of guns. It is directed by Graeme Harper, after all.

"The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky": UNIT's back--the military force that the Doctor used to work for! Well, technically, he still does work for them... Plus the Sontarans, the most warlike race in the Whoniverse. (The Daleks aren't warlike so much as genocidal. There is a difference.) There's an alien invasion (albeit a rather sneaky one at first), plus lots of guns, and the aforementioned UNIT in a storyline that harks back in many ways to the 3rd Doctor's era.

"The Doctor's Daughter": From a classic 3rd Doctor story we lead directly into a story that could plausibly have featured any of the 9 previous Doctors. The Doctor and his companions land on a alien planet and immediately have to contend with two opposing armies. Even the whole Jenny storyline merely highlights the notion of the Doctor as a (somewhat reluctant) warrior. (Incidentally, one of her better comebacks, about the desire of every soldier being to stop the fighting, appears questionable when uttered just a week after we've had an experience with the Sontarans.)

Clearly, "The Unicorn and the Wasp" is a feather-light episode meant to be a breather before we enter the truly heavy second half of the series. It simply can't support a lot of scrutiny, so I'm not even gonna bother. (But isn't it fun?) Also, while I adore the Stephen Moffatt two-parter "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" it doesn't feel quite right in this series. It feels more like a lead-in to what the new Executive Producer wants to do with the show once RTD leaves. By a similar notion, "Midnight" is a story that RTD himself admitted that he had always wanted to do, so he took his last chance to do it. It does deal with inter-personal conflict in an interesting manner, however, so it's not completely off-topic.

[As an extended side note, any readers I may have (Hello Gillen & Lizzie!) may wonder how I can blithely cast aside episodes that don't seem to me to fit what I've decided RTD's themes are. Well, put bluntly, I just do. Mainly, I remind myself that the brilliance of Doctor Who lies in the fact that every week is a new start and that a truly extended overarching theme would make the show rather tedious.]

With the last three episodes, we quickly tumble along towards the culmination of everything that's been implied along the way. "Turn Left" is truly a story about war, but with a twist. We see life as it might be during or just after a devastating conflict. Military control, forced relocation, and in a terrifying analogy to WWII in the "labor camps"--a whole world in chaos is implied through the domestic plight of the Noble family. This brings us to the end: the end of the 2008 series, the end of (almost) every dangling plotline, the end of the DoctorDonna, and, indeed, the end of the 10th Doctor as we have come to know him. This Doctor, who was born from the guilt of war will both die and be reborn in its flames. The finale sees oppression, resistance, armed conflict, and cries of war across the galaxies.

We begin with the Daleks' conquest of Earth. (Total geek moment: The Doctor mentions that someone once tried to steal the Earth before--this was the Daleks in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," which, in Earth historical terms, won't happen for another 50 years or so. Okay, geek moment over.) We get UNIT, Torchwood, shooting, guns, explosions, the whole war movie shebang. It is not until the multi-directional stand-off, however, that the costs of war become apparent. The Doctor, the purveyor of peace, the man who never would, is not only a general, but he turns those around him into soldiers. Sarah Jane, Martha, Rose...all of them are not only willing to die for the Doctor, they are willing to kill for him. Worst of all, the Doctor's alter-ego, Doctor 11b let's call him, becomes the man the Doctor once was and never wanted to be again. In the end, the Doctor, or Doctor 11b at least, commits genocide. This is a series steeped in war, blood, and death.

In the end the 10th Doctor's actions, and his inactions, leave him where he was when we first encountered the 9th Doctor: alone, battle-scarred, and guilt-ridden. The light is gone from his eyes. The 10th Doctor was defined by his energy. His experiences have taken everything from him. It is time for him to pass away...and for the 11th Doctor to come to be.


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