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DW 10th Anniversary: Favorite Arc

As I noted in the "favorite series" meme, while Series 4 is my favorite series, it's not my favorite arc. That honor goes to Series 3.

Series 3 is probably not a common choice for favorite arc, or favorite series, or favorite anything. Most people seem to point at "Blink" and "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" as two outstanding stories in the series, but then discount much of the rest as good enough and turn to other series for their season-long story arcs. However, Series 3 takes two different stories and weaves them together, developing them in each episode of the season.

The story arc that most people associate with Series 3 is that of Harold Saxon. He's first mentioned in "The Runaway Bride" as the Minister of Defense who gives the order to shoot down the Racnoss Queen's Webstar. In subsequent episodes, we see more mentions of him - campaign posters, news reports, casual mentions by characters - until "The Lazarus Experiment", when Francine tries to inform Martha that Mr. Saxon has named the Doctor as dangerous, and we now know that Mr. Saxon knows who the Doctor is and is in some way opposed to him. From there, we find out in "42" that Mr. Saxon is actively opposing the Doctor, to the point of subverting Francine against Martha. Then, of course, the final three episodes of the series gives us the big reveal, that Harold Saxon is actually the Master and has been preparing to take over the Earth with the Toclafane, hoping to also capture and disable the Doctor as part of the deal.

The other story is that of Martha and the Doctor. Martha meets the Doctor in "Smith and Jones" and immediately falls in love with him. (I will admit that this aspect of her is the one thing I hate about this season. If they had postponed her falling in love until "The Lazarus Experiment" and had her, as a reaction to her mother's reaction to him, realize that she was in love with him at that time, it would have sat better with a lot of the audience, as well as made that story a lot better. Of course, in DW time, it still would have only been a few days after she'd first met him, but in subjective viewer time, six episodes later would have felt better.) The Doctor, on the other hand, had just come out of his relationship with Rose and had realized that he can't allow himself to get close to a human (he realizes a little how this hurts Martha in "Gridlock") and that the relationship had made him ignore his responsibilities (this is demonstrated by how lost he thinks he is without Rose in "The Shakespeare Code"), so he overreacted and clammed up emotionally. Thus, Martha was seeking something he wouldn't give, and the Doctor became distant and callous. Without realizing it, he demanded more and more from Martha, until she finally stood up for herself and got out - possibly the best character growth in the entire show.

What's interesting is that even episodes that didn't seem to have much to contribute to either of the two story arcs were still essential to the series. "Blink" and "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" are both stories in which Martha must work hard and sacrifice for the Doctor but don't seem to otherwise contribute to the stories. However, "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" introduces the concepts of the chameleon arch and the perception filter, two important concepts in the final three episodes. If the audience had not been seeded with the idea that Time Lords could become human, the idea of the Master surviving the Time War by becoming human would have been ludicrous.

"Blink" is little more meta. In most stories, the Doctor tries to preserve the history that he already knows has happened. For example, in "The Shakespeare Code", he teaches Martha that if they don't stop the Carrionites, the history that she knows will never happen and she won't come to exist. "Blink" is different. In it, the Doctor goes back to 1969 and does things to set up the future that happens in 2008 so that all the right things happen to send the TARDIS back to him. This sets the audience up to understand the concept of the Master going back in time from the end of the universe to 2008 to set up the events that happen throughout Series 3. Most stories have reactive time travel, but "Blink" prepares the audience to understand proactive time travel.

The only story in Series 3 that I haven't mentioned so far is "Daleks in Manhattan"/"Evolution of the Daleks". It's really part of a different story arc, the story of the Cult of Skaro that is started in "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday" and ends in "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End". However, there are parts of it that contribute to Martha's story: Tallulah's love of and faith in Lazlo and ultimate reward could have influenced Martha to hold on to her hopes for the Doctor longer than she should have.

Thus, every single episode in this series contributed to the two story arcs, which spiral together into the season finale. To me, this was masterfully wrought. The frequent mentions of Mr. Saxon and the glimpses of his manipulation of Francine gave the audience enough information to speculate on what was going, while also watching Martha and the Doctor both degenerate until they force each other to grow up. On rewatch, you see all the clues and how they interweave. I much prefer it to the "here, have some random mentions of things, but you won't connect them until we tell you how to do so" style of the first ("Bad Wolf"), second ("Torchwood"), fourth ("bees disappearing" and "lost planets") and eighth (Missy) series, or the "here's a random glimpse of something the Doctor knows but can't find any clues about" style of the fifth (the crack), sixth (Kovarian's eyes and Amy's pregnant/not-pregnant state), and seventh (the Impossible Girl). Series 3 tells two separate but interrelated stories without relying on a bait-and-switch or distracting the audience with temporal trickery, and that's why it's my favorite.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 26th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
Don't forget-series 3 is also where we get confirmation on who the Face of Boe actually is. That's another fairly important thing going on during that series, especially the shotgun-on-the-wall of him telling the Doctor in Gridlock "you are not alone", which we find out in the end was referring to the Master, although now we could also believe that the Face of Boe knew the Doctor hadn't actually destroyed Gallifrey-that the Time Lords were safe, somewhere out there.

On my initial watch of Doctor Who, I didn't care for Martha. After Amy Pond and Clara Oswald, I've revised my opinion that she was the worst companion. In fairness to Martha, if I were in the same situation, I can't say that I wouldn't have felt the same way about the Doctor, although seeing her puppy dog around series 3 was pretty painful to watch at some points. Still, her character definitely grows over the course of the series, which is a good thing. All in all, there are a lot of good episodes in series 3. 42 is actually one of my favorites, though a lot of people don't like it. To me, it was so compelling because we rarely get to see the Doctor completely helpless and terrified, relying on his companion to do the saving in his stead. The only episodes I really didn't like from that series were Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks. Otherwise, I find the rest of them pretty solid.
Mar. 27th, 2015 08:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, I never thought of that, that the Face of Boe probably knows that Gallifrey hadn't been destroyed. Interesting.

On my first watch, I liked Martha, but she didn't stand out to me like Rose and Donna did. On re-watch, though, I could see she was solid, intelligent, compassionate, and dependable, and she's grown to be my second-favorite companion. (It just occurred to me that in a way, Rory is male Martha. He's also solid, intelligent, compassionate, and dependable, and also hopelessly in love - it's just that his target is worthy and reciprocates.) And I also noticed on re-watch that her two episodes in Series 4 were very important for her story, because you really get to see how she's grown up and that she's become independent and has outgrown her need for the Doctor.

"42" is also one of my favorite episodes! Like you said, it's rare to find anyone who feels the same way. I loved the time pressure the episode imposed on the story, something they haven't done since, until "Mummy on the Orient Express" (one of the only episodes I liked in Series 8), though they broke the momentum of the episode with that overly long shot of the Doctor screaming silently, "I'll save you!" But I agree with you that the Doctor being helpless and relying on the companion to save the day is a very rare occurrence and made the episode wonderful. And it foreshadowed how many more times Martha would have to do that. (I wonder if that was what they were trying to do with "Fear Her", but it just got lost among the rest of the mess in that episode?)
Mar. 27th, 2015 09:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Mummy on the Orient Express was one of the only episodes from series 8 that I enjoyed, too. The rest of it kind of felt like the Clara Oswald and Danny Pink show, not Doctor Who.
Mar. 27th, 2015 09:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah... We've been referring to Series 8 as "The Clara Show" for months now.
Mar. 27th, 2015 03:43 am (UTC)
Series Three is a brilliant series!!

Apr. 1st, 2015 08:51 pm (UTC)
I love the way you describe the developing story arcs and the slow introduction of crucial themes, very good points ^_^ And I agree that Martha's love should have been brought later in the season… oh well.

My memories are a bit dim on some parts, but I also thought some stories played on the power of words, of music, or minds having a great influence by sheer power of thought—I'm thinking of "The Shakespeare Code" most of all, and wasn't there something about a traditional song leading the gridlocked people home in Gridlock or did I invent it?—that kind of set up the finale resolution of the message Martha relayed, thought at the same time by all of humanity, gaining power enough to annihilate the Master's plans…
Apr. 5th, 2015 02:38 am (UTC)
Oh, oh, yes, good point! I hadn't noticed that they'd introduced the idea of power of thought and words long before the finale.

There was a hymn that was sung by the drivers in "Gridlock", but I think I read that the point the writer was trying to make was almost the opposite. The idea was that the drivers drew their faith and their determination to keep driving forever from the hymn, and Martha hears that and it bolsters her faith in the Doctor, but the Doctor takes a different lesson from it. He realizes that the drivers, taking faith from the song that eventually they'll escape, are lulled into taking no action of their own; he realizes that there's a downside to having faith in something beyond yourself. And thus, at the end of the hymn, he makes the decision to act on his own to save Martha.
Apr. 15th, 2015 07:02 pm (UTC)
That struck me during the Shakespeare episode in my last rewatch… Expelliarmus! ;)

Ohhh, yes, that sounds quite right. I didn't remember the difference in reactions, but that's pretty interesting.
Apr. 21st, 2015 05:27 pm (UTC)
Interesting thought about faith. I don't know, but from what I was taught, faith is important, but you take that leap after you have done everything in your physical power first. I have to agree with the Doctor on this one; do what you can, do everything you can... then faith will carry you through the rest. Not sure if he got the last part of the message, but that's how I see it.
Apr. 21st, 2015 05:12 pm (UTC)
Something I was thinking as I read this. First of all, Martha is a very underrated character; she showed a huge amount of courage to get out from what is a very addictive life (see Clara about that one, she doesn't have that kind of courage).

Let's take a quick look at Ten's three companions in brief:

1. Rose -- while at the beginning, she was good for the Doctor in that she got him out of his funk, in the end, I think she was not such a great influence on him at all. She encouraged behavior that should not be in a Time Lord (or anyone, for that matter), and he let her get away with far too much. So she was not good for him.

2. Martha -- He was quite indifferent towards her at best, and abusive towards her at worst. You are right, he pushed her and demanded things he shouldn't have from her. She was right to get out. The Doctor was not good for her.

3. Donna -- Both of them had come off of disastrous relationships when they first met. (See above for why I consider Rose to be a disaster.) She, at least recognized that and refused to travel with him, but did urge him to find someone, recognized that he did need to have someone around. When they later found each other (through Donna's persistence after realizing she might have given up a huge chance to make a difference), neither of them wanted a romance, just friendship. And that's what they became. They traveled around together, helping wherever they could. Donna encouraged his best behavior, and he encouraged the best out of her. They were better together, and they healed each other. In short, she was good for him AND he was good for her. Finally, he got it right!

So of course the rug had to be pulled out from underneath him!

Both Martha and Donna showed a huge amount of growth during their tenures with the Doctor. Martha, by realizing she had better things to do than pine over someone who would never respond. Donna, by finally realizing that she was well-suited for life with the Doctor. Donna would have given him her forever, had it not been cut short by that memory loss thing.

I have to agree about the story arcs. Even if Donna is my favorite companion (no, really?), for an arc, Series 3 really didn't disappoint. Things were well-connected and nothing was left hanging mid-air. No "switcheroos", either.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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