Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter (2008) Review

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Jenny 2

“The Doctor’s Daughter”, an episode you never quite look at the same way again, once you discover David Tennant and Georgia Moffet are actually married in real life (having tied the knot years after they worked together on this episode). Part of me wishes “The Doctor’s Daughter” was the first two-parter of Series 4 instead of “The Sontaran Stratagem“. Because the plot of this episode is the Doctor suddenly gaining a daughter cloned from his DNA, who’s also a brainwashed soldier, his least favorite type of person. The Doctor must overcome his prejudices, take responsibility for her, and try to set a good example for her. And at the same time, he must also try to put an end to a bloody war between rival factions of settlers, which he later discovers has wiped out several generations in just a week. That sounds like a considerably more interesting premise for a two-parter than the Sontarans’ secret master-plan in “The Poison Sky”, especially since it’s a very personal story for the Doctor, and with the length of two episodes, the emotional core of this episode could have been even stronger – but it wasn’t meant to be. The pacing of “The Doctor’s Daughter” can feel too rushed in places, since it has to juggle character development of the regular cast and the titular guest character with a whole lot of ambitious world-building for the period the Doctor and his friends have traveled to, but for the most part, it manages to walk that line in a satisfying way. In regards to the tone, “The Doctor’s Daughter” is partially meant to be a more light-hearted episode, a good mystery romp filled with plenty of running, but it does have a more mature, contemplative side to it. It expands on many of the themes and ideas of the previous two-parter, laying down the show’s moral stance on senseless warfare much like “Planet Of The Ood” did with slavery, while also giving David Tennant’s Doctor a chance to shine by giving us deeper insight into his character.

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Ten 9

The episode doesn’t waste any time kicking off its main premise when a progeny of the Doctor is cloned from his DNA without his consent, and naturally, he wants nothing to do with her, because she was born and bred to be a soldier with no desire to be anything else. After the Tenth Doctor’s sanctimoniousness reached an irritating high in the previous two-parter (with signs of it continuing in this story), it’s incredibly satisfying to see Jenny call him out on his prejudices and hypocrisy – pointing out that he still thinks like a soldier himself and is hardly any better than her, despite his efforts to distance himself from his past. Eventually, the Doctor does take a shine to her – seeing how she can learn and grow and adapt – and tries to mentor her, admitting that he wants her to be better than he is while she still has the chance. Like most NuWho Doctors, Ten’s cheery, easygoing exterior often masks a lot of inner sadness that’s pushed up to the surface in this episode. Jenny’s presence dredges up a lot of old wounds and some painful memories that he’s tried to forget. The Doctor’s entire family died because of the Daleks, and as much as he likes Jenny, he’s afraid to get attached and risk that kind of heartache again – and Ten’s fears unfortunately prove to be warranted. The Doctor offers Jenny a spot in the TARDIS, which is practically a death sentence for guest characters on this show, and not long afterwards, she gets shot, just as the Doctor was finally accepting her as family. David Tennant is extraordinarily good at portraying his Doctor’s pain and anguish, and I think the writers started playing to that strength in Series 4, because there are a lot of episodes in this season that find new ways to break Ten’s heart – like Astrid’s death, or Pompeii’s destruction, or Jenny’s ‘death’, or River’s sacrifice, or Ten having to mindwipe Donna. Ten manages to put an end to the fighting and set a good example for the settlers, but it’s quite a hollow victory compared to what he lost, and what could have been.

As Series 4 approaches its midway point, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) has grown a lot more comfortable as a sidekick, knowing what to expect out of TARDIS travel by now (more or less), and she’s acclimated well to the whole experience. As we saw in “The Fires Of Pompeii” and “Planet Of The Ood“, Ten and Donna generally aren’t afraid to lay down some uncomfortable truths or give each other some tough love if it means stopping each other from making big mistakes, or encouraging each other to be the best that they can be. Donna is tickled pink by the idea of Ten suddenly becoming a father, and since she’s basically an outsider in this conflict, she can see how the Doctor being stuck in his ways and constantly rejecting Jenny is hurting her, so she encourages him to let go of his past and accept her for who she is and who she’s trying to be. Donna is the Doctor’s best friend, but she also acts as his conscience in this episode, showing that she has her own brand of wisdom that even a genius like the Doctor needs sometimes. Ever since the show’s revival in 2005, the companions have acted as the heart of the TARDIS team, and Donna fits that role surprisingly well. “The Doctor’s Daughter” also demonstrates a different part of her growth: she’s a lot more perceptive and eagle-eyed now that she knows how important noticing the little details can be. Throughout this episode, Donna picks up on things the Doctor and Jenny miss while they’re squabbling, inconsistencies with the background of the time period that don’t add up, and by the climax, she puts her super temp skills to good use – she’s the one who solves the mystery of what truly happened between the Hath and the humans. When it comes to her scenes with Martha, I’m still enjoying the sister-like camaraderie and mutual respect they have, from one companion to another, and I’m glad to see that, even though Martha has decided that TARDIS travel isn’t for her, she’s given Donna her blessing.

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Martha 3

The titular guest character, Jenny, has a pretty solid and heartwarming character arc over the course of “The Doctor’s Daughter”. Early on, Jenny is shown to be a perky and capable young woman, who’s stubborn, fearless and dedicated. Like all the other clones in her unit, she was born and bred to be a soldier, and all she really knows is fighting. She’s basically been brainwashed, but as she observes the Doctor and Donna’s peaceful, nomadic way of life, she steadily grows to be so much more than her ‘base purpose’ and the circumstances of her birth – she starts to forge her own identity. The Doctor’s constant judgment and rejection doesn’t sit well with her at all – taking him down a peg at one point when he starts to get a bit too high and mighty – and she makes it her mission to gain his love and respect, showing her first signs of being an individual. Once Jenny starts to question the way things are and challenges the status quo, she starts to unlearn her conditioning. With the Doctor’s encouragement, she starts to use her head more often, and violence is no longer her first answer when it comes to solving a problem. Even amongst the other clones, there’s no other being in the universe like Jenny, since she’s part Time Lady, and she happily embraces the things that make her unique. During the last act, she gets shot saving her dad, content with the knowledge that he’s come to love her. If it were left at that, it would be the usual, tragic case of fridging someone the Doctor cares for to break his heart, like what happened with Astrid, but during the coda, a time lord’s handy talent of regeneration revives her – giving her a second chance at life. And that rebirth marks the point where Jenny’s life truly begins, setting off to live out her new dream of seeing the stars and experiencing all they have to offer her. Despite the storytelling potential of a reunion, Jenny never did appear in the series again after this episode, and our poor Doctor still thinks she’s dead to this day – but at least she’s happy.

Picking up where we left off in “The Poison Sky”, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) gets dragged along for the ride in this adventure. The episode kicks off with Martha admitting to Donna that she has missed TARDIS travel a little, before she swiftly gets separated from the others in the gang. Compared to how she was written in “The Sontaran Stratagem”, Martha resembles her Series 3 self a lot more in this episode, and not just because she’s sporting her Series 3 hairstyle, but because her characterization puts a lot more emphasis on her status as a healer than a fighter – and that’s a good thing, because Martha was at her best in Series 3. Martha basically takes on the role of the Doctor in her own subplot. Because of her compassion, Martha puts her medical knowledge to good use and helps out one of the Hath soldiers, Peck, who she later befriends. Since our heroes are split up between the Hath and human factions of settlers, Martha’s subplot helps to humanize the Hath and show that they’re not monsters, they’re not so different from their human counterparts. Martha is determined to help out her friends, and Peck basically becomes her companion. She encourages him to leave home, broaden his mind to new ideals and new experiences, explore the unknown and help to save lives – and then it gets him killed: he dies saving his new friend’s life. Martha has her share of trauma over how terrible the consequences of the Doctor’s lifestyle can be, and how many good people she saw die in the Master’s hell-world, even if she doesn’t always show it, so she’s as horrified and devastated by Peck’s sacrifice as you would expect her to be. Jenny’s senseless ‘death’ on top of that basically reaffirms to her that, as great as seeing the universe can be, she made the right choice walking from it when she did and she’s happier back at home, parting ways with the Doctor and Donna on good terms and wishing them both the best of luck with their endeavors.

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Ten 10

The deliberate placement of this episode by Russell T. Davies is kind of fascinating to consider, because it’s a redux of how the previous season was structured. In Series 3, you had a Helen Raynor two-parter followed by a Stephen Greenhorn episode that was its own separate story, but also built off some of the themes and ideas of the previous two-parter: like mortal men growing a bit too ambitious for their own good for selfish reasons, and mad scientists trying to do the impossible, tampering with human nature. In Series 4, you once again have a Helen Raynor two-parter followed by a Stephen Greenhorn episode that expands on some of the themes and ideas from “The Sontaran Stratagem”, like senseless violence and bloodshed, clashing egos, clone armies that can be used to wage never-ending wars, and the Doctor’s own personal biases about the matter. The main conflict for the episode is established early on when the Doctor and his friends are dropped right in the middle of two warring factions of colonists in the future, regular human beings and fish people called the Hath, who are fighting over territory. The biggest instigator of the violence is a religious fanatic, General Cobb, who the Doctor must stop from committing genocide. The Doctor later discovers that the great human / Hath war has only lasted a week, but both sides have burned through countless generations of clones in that time – which is quite insane, but it’s exactly the kind of weird, bizarre and ambitious ideas I like to see from this series. Once Cobb is subdued, at the cost of Jenny’s life, the Doctor manages to bring peace to the settlement with a big speech about ‘the man who never would’, setting an example of what sort of men they need to be to avoid to making the same mistakes, which (like the Doctor’s brief stint as space Jesus last season) either works for you as a triumphant moment, or comes off as preachy to an eye-rolling level.

“The Doctor’s Daughter is directed by Alice Troughton, who does a fine, solid job of helming the episode, giving the pacing plenty of lively energy, particularly during the various chase scenes up and down corridors. The set designers have their work cut out for them in this episode, much like they did in “Voyage Of The Damned“. “The Doctor’s Daughter” is a base-under-siege story that’s set almost entirely inside an industrial complex, so plenty of sets had to either be dressed or created for this episode, and they’re all pretty convincing – looking suitably lived-in for a worn-down, dusty camp setting. The costume department is put to work creating another new alien species for this episode, and the design for the Hath has to be one of the better ones from the RTD era. Like so many other alien species from this period, the Hath are hybrid animals – half human and half fish – and they strike a nice balance between being quirky, surreal and a tad unsettling in a more distinctive way than the cat people from “New Earth” did. Like in the previous two-parter, CGI is used pretty sparingly in “The Doctor’s Daughter”, since there aren’t a lot of stunts or effects in this episode that actually require it, but when it does appear there are some surprisingly gorgeous shots crafted by the Mill in this episode: like the windy storms whipping around on Mesaline’s surface, or the Source’s iridescent light terraforming the planet. Murray Gold’s score is on top form as usual in this episode. “The Doctor’s Daughter” kicks off the episode’s score with plenty of playful mystique, featuring a sweet electric guitar riff on “The Doctor Forever”, while “The Source” veers sharply into the opposite direction, being a deeply morose and moving track filled with tender strings and gutting brass – it’s easily one of Murray’s most beautiful pieces from the season. Naturally, there a few new renditions of “Martha’s Theme” in this episode, along with a surprisingly somber take on “This Is Gallifrey”, a longing leitmotif that’s rarely ever used.

“The Doctor’s Daughter” is a flawed episode, particularly in regards to how much information has to be crammed into just forty-five minutes, but as a whole it’s a pretty sturdy mid-season episode, and a pretty moving morality tale about the Doctor and the people he inspires.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Martha 4

* “You are completely impossible!” “Not impossible. Just a bit unlikely”.

* “Where did she come from?” “From me” “From you? How? Who is she?” “Well, she’s… she’s my daughter” “Hello, dad!”

* “Now, then. I’m Dr. Martha Jones. Who the hell are you?”

* “Donna, you can’t extrapolate a relationship from a biological accident” “Child Support Agency can” Damn, Donna.

* When the fish people gather around Martha and start stroking her hair, there’s a hilarious moment where she’s clearly not sure if she’s just become their pet.

* “But, I didn’t do anything” Martha summing up what she contributed to the previous two-parter.

* “You need to get yourself a better dictionary. When you do, look up genocide. You’ll see a little picture of me there, and the caption will read, over my dead body!” Actually, Ten, the picture would most likely be you nuking Gallifrey in a past life, but the humans didn’t need to know that.

* “I’d like to see you try that” I think we all can agree on that, Donna.

* “Let me distract this one. I have picked up a few womanly wiles of my own over the years” It is a travesty that we didn’t get to see Donna try that.

* “You can stay down here and live your whole life in the shadows, or come with me and stand in the open air. Feel the wind on your face. What’s it going to be? It’s up to you. But nothing’s going to stop me!” Hell yes. There’s the Martha I know.

* “So, you don’t have a name either? Are you an anomaly, too?” “No” “Oh, come off it. You’re the most anomalous bloke I’ve ever met”.

* “So what do you do?” “I travel through time and space” “He saves planets, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures. And runs a lot. Seriously, there’s an outrageous amount of running involved”.

* Easily the funniest scene in the episode is the one where Jenny backflips through a whole laser grid, like she just wandered out of a “Kim Possible” episode. Even for this show, that sequence was ridiculous, and I loved every minute of it.

* “So, you travel together, but you’re not together?” “What, no, no way. We’re friends, that’s all. I mean, we’re not even the same species. There’s probably laws against it” That didn’t stop Rose, honey.

* “I’ll tell you something, Doctor. Something I’ve never told you before. I think you’re wrong” Well, that’s a weird line. Donna has told Ten he’s wrong about things loads of times.

* “Jenny, be strong now. You need to hold on, do you hear me? We’ve got things to do, you and me. We can go anywhere, everywhere, you choose. You’re my daughter, and we’ve only just got started. You’re going to be great. You’re going to be more than great. You’re going to be amazing”.

* “Two hearts. Two hearts. She’s like me. If we wait. If we just wait-” “There’s no sign, Doctor. There’s no regeneration. She’s like you, but maybe not enough” “No. Too much. That’s the truth of it. She was too much like me”.

* “Why would I ever give up all this? I’m gonna travel with that man forever” In hindsight, this is the point where the audience should have started to suspect something awful would happen to Donna. Rose started talking like that in Series 2, and we all know how that season ended for her.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Doctor's Daughter Martha 6

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4 Responses to Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter (2008) Review

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (2008) Review | The Cool Kat's Reviews

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