Friday, May 12, 2006

In the Mood

Rose: Doesn't the universe implode or something if you dance?

The Doctor: Well, I've got the moves, but I wouldn't want to boast.

There are numerous aspects of “The Doctor Dances” that elevate it above not only other Doctor Who, but other television sci-fi fare as well. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the resolution of the plot, which, if you’re an avid watcher of sci-fi TV, is such a refreshing surprise that you likely never saw it coming.

I’ve become accustomed to sci-fi shows falling back on MacGuffins and technobabble to escape sticky situations. Viewing “The Empty Child”, when the gas mask zombies were initially unveiled, I took for granted it would all be explained in a way that was wholly unremarkable. When it was revealed that the gas masks were made of flesh and bone, and were actually part of the heads of these creatures, I assumed that it was some sort of “weird Doctor Who thing” I’d come to accept by the end – hey, the imagery was cool enough that I’d have accepted most any explanation without balking too loudly.

The nanogenes hovered covertly above every other aspect of the story and were quietly set up early in Part One. The answers were there all along, and writer Steven Moffat's seeding of the affair is so expertly handled, the viewer wants to kick himself for not seeing it coming. The resulting dramatic effect engages on levels that sci-fi television rarely achieves, and the viewer feels the Doctor’s euphoric reaction as well.

“Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!” – The Doctor

Could the nanogenes fall under the heading of “technobabble”? Since the premise makes perfect sense within the context of the story, I’d argue no. Technobabble typically falls under the “don’t ask, just deal with it” category, and the nanogenes are so deftly explained, that the viewer, provided they’ve paid attention, should have few - if any - questions about them by the conclusion.

Together, “The Empty Child” & “The Doctor Dances” form perhaps the greatest Doctor Who “movie” ever created: History, sci-fi, romance, action, scares, humor, double-entendre, social commentary, dancing and Glenn Miller all come together, delivering exactly what the Doctor ordered. They are a perfect argument that all stories in the new series should be two-parters, if not for the fact that few writers would likely be able to achieve what Moffat does, were they given twice the amount of time.

All from a man whose greatest prior accomplishment was the Britcom Coupling, which often redefined the sitcom format. I’ve got massive love for Coupling, but even as well written as the series is, I’d never have guessed that based on it Moffat could pen sci-fi drama so well. (He proved himself no one-hit wonder with the recent Series Two DW installment “The Girl in the Fireplace”.) Up next for Moffat? Something called Jekyll starring James Nesbitt. Don’t know much about it, but between Moffat and Nesbitt it’s gotta be a winner.

“Rose! I just remembered…I can dance!” – The Doctor

Anyone not sold on Christopher Eccleston by this point in the series may as well give up. By the time the Doctor dances, he’s proven that he gets exactly where the character is coming from. The Doctor and Rose’s relationship is taken to yet another level and the arrival of Captain Jack is a wake-up call for the Doctor to appreciate her in areas where he’s thus far been negligent. Eccles plays the notes perfectly, and it's fitting that the story ends with a class act like Glenn Miller.

My overview hasn't done this story justice. I could write 20 pages on it and maybe still feel I hadn't paid it proper tribute. (I never even got around to praising the outstanding special effects work both episodes feature - perhaps the high point of which are the sequences in "The Empty Child" with Rose dangling from the barrage balloon, high above London, in the midst of an air raid.) I would never say that this is as good as Doctor Who gets, because that might imply it's all downhill from here, which isn't the case. But the story was a bold, risky experiment (it doesn't even feature a "normal" monster of the week) that paid off on every level. It may not be as good as Doctor Who gets, but it's certainly better than I, as a long-term fan, ever imagined it would be.

Rose: Actually, Doctor, I thought Jack might like this dance.

The Doctor: I'm sure he would, Rose, I'm absolutely certain. But who with?