far as I'm concerned
you've got to earn that title..."
Another ordinary day at London's St. Thomas' hospital for budding Doctor, Martha Jones. Until she meets the Doctor.
And whilst he seems strange, her days becomes even stranger as she she encounters a warrior-like alien race, the Judoon.
EPISODE ONE REVIEW
And we're straight into the iconic theme music and swirling vortex of time and space (its design tweaked, if you look carefully enough). And we better check; yes, David Tennant remains the drama's lead. You can never be too certain if the tabloid press or DOCTOR WHO fan websites are to be believed.
Oh, yes, it introduces Freema Agyeman into the glare of the flashing lantern light.
SMITH AND JONES launches a crucial third series for DOCTOR WHO. In a fickle television industry where the memory of viewers and critics alike are notoriously Alzeimic, a third series is probably make-or-break.
DOCTOR WHO NEW SERIES has a quality and appreciation that is perhaps only matched by. Now there's a thought; what is it matched by?
However, the expectations increased year-on-year SERIES 3 is one for consolidation, a "deep breath" by BBC WALES in preparation for development in SERIES 4 and 5. (By the way, back in September 2003, DOCTOR WHO was given a "green light" by BBC DRAMA for five years, and not, as others assert, an annual re-commission). Can the series improve on plotline & storytelling (less "soap" and more "fantasy drama", character development (let go of Rose Tyler), concept & design (reduce the number of times the small set of metal steps are used in set decoration), and, more importantly, a resolution to fight "leakage" & "Ruiners"?
It's a "big ask". Does SMITH AND JONES attempt to tackle it?
Firstly, the Agyeman issue. The doom-mongers and critics that commented that the actress was "wooden" and "staid", unsuitable for the series after a stunning performance (that incrementally built over two series) by Billie Piper, are now gorging on plate of 'umble pie. Can you hear that? The sound of indigestion. Agyeman is breath of fresh air and confident in her role and being a part of the successful series. Intelligent, questioning, personable and garrulous young women that is, in a nice twist for the series, seemingly equal to the Doctor.
For CLASSIC SERIES fans, think of Martha Jones as a Nyssa-Tegan hybrid, I think, but with the volume turned down.
Martha Jones: We could die any minute. But all the same, it's beautiful.
Martha Jones: We're on the bloody moon!
Martha Jones (astonishingly smitten, after "the kiss" from the Doctor): That was nothing.
Unfortunately, yes, unfortunately, the Martha Jones character baggage, at the moment, seems less successful. Personally, I have little interest in the DOCTOR WHO equivalent of FAMILY AFFIARS; depicting Martha's family as strong yet dysfunctional in some hope that fans will become loyal to them as they - supposedly - did en masse with the Tyler clan. Been there, done that, move on. It would have a better experiment to made Martha a single parent struggling with her medical career.
Of course, the next "companion" must be an orphan, like the CLASSIC SERIES' Victoria Waterfield, who is saved by the Doctor from a environmental disaster (coincidentally caused by the Doctor's intervention).
The ever valuable David Tennant continues to impress in the role-he-was-born-to-play (buy a big enough headstone, David) and, and this is so difficult to say, his characterisation of the Doctor eclipses that of Tom Baker in its passion, alien-ness, conviction and quirkiness. Naturally, that is the result of resolute crafting by, primarily, Russell T Davies but Tennant relishes every line of every scene of every script.
Martha Jones: Got a Brother?
The Doctor (resigned to the fate): Not anymore.
The plotline twist (one of two that worked exceptionally well) of the Doctor "dying" to save planet Earth again (I'm fine with that.) only to be saved, with her "final" breath, by the young medical student was rewarding.
The challenge, and from just viewing one episode for this series, for Tennant personally is how can he continue to be as fresh and as charged as he was during the filming of his first episode. Thankfully, he seems to be in this for the long haul (at least for three series?) for which fans and television producers should be grateful for.
SMITH AND JONES has the distinction of being the first SERIES opener that meets the expectations of a premiere episode - new character set-up, Earth setting with a twist, a chase through endless corridors, and a creative array of aliens that have substantive backgrounds (if T. Davies does one thing well is that he established, sometimes in just a few words, a rationale & history that lies in polar opposite to the CLASSIC SERIES of aliens with an "evil" intent).
Having avoided those terrible websites that published 'under-helmet' photographs, the Judoon were replete & effective in their roles of a freelance Police force complete with a squeaky handy 'magic-marker' device. Oh, the squeak. Foley artists genius. Genius.
The sculpted Judoon 'head mask' was, again, genius and harkened back to the quality & humanity that were created by John Friedlander in the 1970s but, this time, enhanced by animatronics. Not a subtle as the animatronics of the Slitheen but nonetheless equally effective. And, yes, another action figure toy opportunity.
The second alien was, sadly, less successful. But it could have been if it had not been for the thorn-in-the-side Ruiners, as T. Davies calls them. Anne Reid's Florence Finnegan/Plasmavore being "flagged-up" as the enemy within the episode by TOTALLY DOCTOR WHO and CBBC NEWSROUND spoilt the plotline, leaving me thinking, "I think I'll cut my toe nails tomorrow."
I am sure that I am not alone (including millions of kids) in thinking that BBC WALES' publicity is becoming an enemy of the Doctor in a fashion that would have the Dalek rubbing their suckers/guns together with glee.
In revealing plotline or character revelation, less is more. We need someone to say, "Enough is enough. Shut your mouth."
I suspect that Finnegan/Plasmavore's take on Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector was witty enough on the page but was poorly realised. The Plasmavore concept, internal shape-shifting alien that assimilates through biology & DNA) is one that future series could address within a darker and more threatening environment
New to DOCTOR WHO, Richard Clark's direction SMITH AND JONES seems sterile, compared to TOOTH AND CLAW and character-piece BOOM TOWN , and failed to - ironically whilst set within a hospital - feel a pulse let alone a heart beat. Was this continuing-drama (soap for the primetime) HOLBY CITY or DOCTOR WHO? I am still deciding. However, the jewel in Clark's debut was the stunning visual effects, demonstrating that SERIES 3 is far more polished, thoughtful and visionary than many of North American television imports. The impossible bumblebee built Judoon spacecrafts pushed the design envelope even further as did the H20 scoop "storm".
Overall, SMITH AND JONES was as satisfying as the first warm day of spring after months of winter gloom, but then again we'll miss the snow & rain & twinkling lights of Christmas. It was a rattling good yarn (but ditch the "family soap") however the cautious and uninspiring direction failed to alight the screen with anything more than adequacy.
For the viewing kids and adults alike, SERIES 3 has to be more than just adequate - it must be inventive, significant and genuine.
2007 will be make or break for DOCTOR WHO.