Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nine, Ten, Eleven (This is a LOT More Than Just Counting)

In the wake of watching the latest Doctor Who Christmas special (which tore my emotions into itty bitty pieces of confetti and, of course, caused me to curse Moffat), I thought it was very intriguing how Eleven dealt with his pain and grief. Throughout the course of the series, we’ve seen all three incarnations of the Time Lord Victorious deal with the loss of companions and those he loved very differently. Each Doctor seems to unearth a new layer of pain within himself every time he loses someone and Eleven’s grief over Amy and Rory was no different in that regard.

So I thought it would be interesting to chart the way in which Nine, Ten, and Eleven have dealt with their losses and what this says about each of them as incarnations of the same person. Because truly, it’s revealing when you realize that this person – this alien, traveling through space and time – is not three actors. He’s not even three regenerations, really. He’s ONE man. ONE Time Lord. And ONE person who has suffered.

Nine: “He’s like fire and ice and rage…”

Too many people I know would gladly skip over the Ninth Doctor’s era and jump headlong into the Tennant seasons. But, in doing so, you would miss out on one of the most integral parts of Doctor Who – the journey. When we first meet the Doctor, he seems rather… goofy. He has a silly grin and a kind of boyish air about him that makes Rose keen to trust him and enjoy his company. What is so brilliant about Christopher Eccleston, that a lot of viewers of the show often forget once they start season two is that he embodied the Ninth Doctor completely.

Nine was an angry, hard Time Lord. Lest we forget that (as we often did, whenever he happened to be in the company of Rose), episodes like “Dalek” served to remind us of how willing The Doctor was to torture the Dalek – the thing that had destroyed his race, his life, his home, his EVERYTHING. This creature that no one else in the entire universe would mind being extinguished, only has one savior to thank – Rose. The Ninth Doctor was ready to kill the Dalek. He was merciless toward it and cold. It would have actually brought him joy to see the creature suffer such a death. But Rose, gentle and human Rose, stopped the Doctor from doing so.

And that’s where the companions come in, really. Each companion on the show has served a different purpose. Rose’s humanity and her gentleness is what saved The Doctor’s life, her life, and the lives of entire planets on multiple occasions. Martha’s determination and dedication – her willingness to persevere is what saved the world. Donna Noble’s bravery, her fearlessness, and her destiny made her the most important woman in the world. And Amy Pond – brilliant little Pond – with her faith in The Doctor and her willingness to always set him to rights, her loyalty to him as her best friend, her Raggedy Man… well, that saved the world, too. And it saved her husband. And HIS dedication saved the world. Now, Clara’s (or Oswin Oswald or WHOEVER SHE IS) wit, her intellect, and her adventurousness will save the world, too.

It’s easy to forget the Ninth Doctor once we meet the rather dashing Tenth incarnation of him. But it’s important NOT to forget Christopher Eccleston’s version, because the Ninth and Tenth and Eleventh are all a part of the Doctor as a being. The Ninth Doctor was full of fire and ice and rage. He was angry, and when he lost (or was about to lose) people he cared deeply about, he became even angrier. There was a hatred, buried deep down. He hated the Daleks for surviving. He hated humanity, sometimes, for being so stupid. But he also hated himself – hated that he was the last of his kind, hated that he would inevitably lose those he cared most about, hated himself for all the pain he had caused. There was a lot of darkness in Nine, and a lot of pain that accompanied that darkness.

But there were always his companions – his Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness, and even Mickey Smith – to show him the light of humanity and remind him why he saved Earth time and time again.

Ten: “… he’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun.”

Ah, yes. Ten. He is also, usually, everyone’s favorite Doctor. And it’s impossible to deny David Tennant credit for his brilliant portrayal of the Time Lord. It’s sad to me, however, when I hear of people who cannot – or will not – appreciate the amazing work that Christopher Eccleston and Matt Smith bring to the Doctor as well. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE Tennant. I absolutely adore everything about the Tenth Doctor, flaws and all. But I will not be so blind or narrow-minded as to believe that he is the only person to ever play the Doctor. Because, truth be told, I have a lot of love for Matt Smith these days.

Nevertheless, Ten was something special and different. He was fun, fast-talking, giddy, and lovable. He was witty and clever and knew that he was both things. And he was endearing. He often acted like a child, intrigued by species and situations, anxious to determine what would happen if you fiddled with this or tinkered with that. David Tennant played this incarnation with exuberance. It was heartwarming to see him interact with Rose Tyler, to fall in love with her. It was gut-wrenching to watch them be yanked apart from one another. It was enjoyable to see Smith and Jones in action together, and comedic to watch the Doctor-Donna exchange dialogue and scenes.

But slowly and surely, the pain resurfaced in the Tenth Doctor. It began, nearly imperceptibly, after Ten lost Rose in “Doomsday.” Barely having enough time to recover, in “The Runaway Bride,” we see him daydream at Donna’s wedding – his mind drifts and remembers Rose. Inside the TARDIS, a remnant of Rose still remains – her jacket – and the Doctor takes it from Donna’s hand with a pained expression and places it out of sight. Instead of acknowledging the pain that he feels, the Doctor ignores his darkness. Where Nine would have exploded and raged at innocents or evildoers, Ten shuts down completely, pushing the pain and loss as far down as possible.

This, unfortunately, has the same effect that exploding at someone would. Very soon, time begins to catch up with Ten. And that is where the responses of the Ninth incarnation resurface – the episode that stings me the most is, perhaps, “The Waters of Mars.” In this episode (and throughout the entire series, really), the Doctor affirms that there are fixed points in time he cannot rewrite. He arrives on Mars shortly before such an event and begins to help the crew before realizing that their deaths are imminent.

Having once, with companions by his side (for he is alone during “The Waters of Mars”) been able to humbly save others, Ten works to rescue the crew… for his own brilliance. It had been previously confirmed to the Doctor that his death would be preceded by three knocks. And this adventure – this ability to save nearly everyone on the crew on Mars – proves to Ten that he is the Time Lord Victorious. He believes that he has cheated death, that time will learn to bow to HIM. The most biting part of the episode comes when Adelaide, the ship’s captain and woman Ten has told all these things to, goes into her own house and takes her own life, thereby reworking time as it should have been to begin with. Ten, with utter shock and despair, realizes what he has done and how dark he has become. Even after Ood Sigma and the cloister bell all but confirm his rapidly approaching demise, Ten is defiant – he WILL beat death.

There’s a sort of darkness to Ten that creeps up slowly on viewers, and sucker punches them during “The Waters of Mars.” The way that Tennant’s incarnation deals with his pain and his loss is by attempting to avoid the repercussions of that pain. Because, by the time we reach “The Waters of Mars,” Ten: loses Rose, loses Martha, has to wipe Donna’s mind of his very existence, watches River Song die, leaves Wilfred, and embarks on travels alone.

It’s harrowing, really, how much loss Ten buries deep within him. That is why the darkness that surfaces – all of the suffering and heartache and utter pain – is so very dark and bleak. And that is why, again, he is always urged by former companions to not travel alone. When the Doctor travels alone… well, bad things happen. He stops remembering why humanity is worth saving. He stops caring, because he dwells too much on his pain and what he’s lost. And he is sometimes hesitant to open himself to new companions (more with that shortly in regards to Eleven). When Martha Jones becomes his companion, Ten insists that he’s not replacing Rose. Martha claims she never said she would try to. And I think that was the first bit of hesitancy we ever saw from Ten, with companions. Usually the Doctor is so keen on showing off to everyone, he is excited to have a human being (or more) aboard the TARDIS.

So Ten’s darkness stems from the inability to deal with his pain and his loss, which builds upon Nine’s anger and despair.

But Eleven, as we witnessed most recently, deals with his pain and loss differently.

Eleven: “… he’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”

In between “The End of Time” and “The Eleventh Hour,” I took a few days off from watching Doctor Who. I knew that if I wasn’t careful, I’d fail to appreciate Matt Smith’s Doctor whilst mourning the loss of Tennant’s version. It was a great decision, really, and one that I always encourage friends to follow suit with, considering the emotional weight that Tennant’s last episode carries. When I began “The Eleventh Hour,” I was intrigued but not convinced of this new regeneration. He seemed childlike and carefree – a bit goofy, but filled with more innocence than Nine or Ten. And then, toward the end of the episode when “I Am the Doctor” swells and Eleven instructs the Atraxi to run… well, THAT was the moment I knew that this wasn’t an innocent Doctor or a child. It was the same Time Lord, fueled by the same dedication and devotion. Same Doctor, different face.

Over the course of Eleven’s seasons, we’ve seen him grow pretty dark himself at times. “Amy’s Choice” is an episode entirely devoted to a dark side of the Doctor – the Dream Lord alter ego. Eleven is a secretive Doctor – he, unlike babbling Ten or stout Nine, will not always tell his companions his plans. When he knows they have to make difficult decisions or that they are facing sudden and imminent demise, he prefers to keep them out of the loop. He, like Ten, tends to hold on to secrets and pain. He keeps companions with him to balance him out – to remind him of humanity – but he doesn’t always share everything with them.

The number one rule, of course, as River Song says is “the Doctor lies.” And we never hear that with any of the other incarnations. So how then, does Eleven deal with pain and loss? In “The Angels Take Manhattan” (an episode I still choose to pretend does not exist), once Eleven discovers the last chapter of Melody Malone’s novel, he – much like a child – is sent into a tailspin. As River tells Amy in the episode, the Doctor does not like endings.

As an aside, I think that the most painful aspect of Amy’s departure for Eleven is that their stories have been connected throughout her entire life. No other companion or person on the entire planet (or other planets) has ever had that relationship with him. To lose his Amelia Pond would be devastating – and it IS. My best friend Simi and I enjoy watching new episodes of Doctor Who together. Last night, as we often do, we commended Matt Smith on his performance. The actor has such a nuanced way of shifting his facial emotions. One moment, he is a smiling, goofy Doctor… but the next, when you hurt someone he cares about or cross him, his stone-cold eyes and tightened jaw stun you. This is something that Matt Smith is particularly brilliant at – shifting emotions – and it’s something that Eleven does frequently.

In “The Snowmen,” the latest Christmas special, we see how Smith’s incarnation is dealing with the loss of his beloved Ponds. And the discovery leaves us, and the characters, intrigued. The Doctor has retired. Sure, he walks around on the Earth a bit, but instead of whizzing around through space and time like Nine or Ten would, instead of GOING and DOING to try to avoid the pain like Ten did before “The End of Time,” Eleven simply… stops. He shuts down. The TARDIS is idle, atop a cloud in the sky. The Eleventh Doctor may roam the Earth, but he does not allow his TARDIS to stay there. He does not want company. He does not want to be involved. He does not want another companion. So he isolates himself to prevent that – to prevent the hurt and the loss and heartache he knows will occur if he returns.

Even while the Earth is being threatened, Eleven seems to take little to no interest. Where a perky and energetic Doctor might have zipped around, attempting to discover why random snowmen keep appearing and growing, Eleven does nothing. He tries desperately to avoid Clara (Oswin Oswald, WHOEVER YOU ARE), to become involved. And he does a wonderful job at it, too. But it was painful to watch. It was painful to know that THIS is what happens when one Time Lord endures too much. Eleven hit his breaking point. And he just… stopped.

It’s something interesting because I don’t think we’ve ever seen a Doctor struggle so much to stay uninvolved, to have no empathy for the human race. Sure, Nine and Ten used to have those moments – they would gripe and complain and become angry at the human race. They would assert that humans deserved it and that they should stay uninvolved. But they had companions. They had humanity with them to prevent their incarnations from doing such things.

Eleven has no one. Even his behavior toward Strax was unnervingly angry and cold. He refused to assist Madame Vastra, even when she beckoned him. The moment that Eleven actually did something, the ONE moment where he took action was when Clara (Oswin Oswald, WHOEVER YOU ARE) passed Madame Vastra’s test. She was to use one word to convey the disparity of her situation, to explain to the Doctor why he should help and what the problem was. The one word that she chose was related to the house she was a governess at.

Incidentally, that one word? “Pond.”

(Steven Moffat really gutted me with that line. Simi and I audibly groaned, hands over our hearts, and sighed.)

That one word that Clara (Oswin Oswald, WHOEVER YOU ARE) chose was the ONE word that could motivate him. When Eleven was dying in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” little Amelia Pond was the one he persevered and lived for. And so the word “Pond” made Eleven take action, even if it was only momentarily.

Because the truth of the matter is that within each incarnation of the Doctor is something dark, something scarred, something broken. Nine, Ten, and Eleven all dealt with pain and with the loss of the people they loved most differently.

But they are all the same – the same Time Lord, the same survivor, the same hero. No matter how dark they become, or how goofy and light-hearted they may appear externally, each incarnation of the Doctor is dealing with something painful. And those companions? Those humany-wumany, seemingly insignificant people?

Well, they’re the most important people in the whole of creation.

1 comment:

  1. Jen, this post is brilliant. And possibly made me cry a few times. It absolutely kills me that people SKIP Nine. Eccleston is so electric in that role and doesn't get enough credit for resurrecting the series and paving the way for Ten and Eleven. I also don't understand when people claim Ten is "too angsty." What else should he be? Tennant's ability to go from "Doctor, the Doctor, fun" to "Oncoming Storm" mode at the snap of a finger is unbelievable. And dear, sweet Eleven. When he goes as all dark and twisty, you KNOW that things just got real. Every one of them is irreplaceable.

    Awesome and insightful commentary!! -S