We have not really seen the Doctor as a family man since he left his granddaughter behind at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. He is a lonely adventurer so to see him playing happy families would detract from that too much. Stephen Greenhorn’s script plays with the idea by cheating: make him an instant daughter, and then take her away. There are a couple of problems with that: firstly, the ‘generated anomaly’ that is Jenny takes a lot of believing – a machine that can create a fully formed, clothed adult in seconds: I like a bit of pseudo-science, but that’s Star Trek levels of silly, and in a story that’s going with high-concept sci-fi more than just about anything from the Russell T. Davies era, some kind of internal logic matters here in a way that it wouldn’t so much in a fairy tale Steven Moffat script, for example.
Secondly, the feelings the Doctor develops for Jenny, whilst brilliantly performed by David Tennant, do not make a lot of sense in the extremely short time he has known her. Her death does something to the Doctor we have never seen before, sending him into a murderous rage from which he only narrowly manages to recover. Whatever he says about being ‘a man who never would’, you can tell by his expression that he is a whisker away from pulling the trigger. That said, it is an amazing moment, which concludes with an inspiring speech. There is some irony here in terms of the Doctor being the man who (at this stage) killed all his own people, and Tennant therefore plays it very cleverly as somebody who says he ‘never would’ but clearly almost just did.
The moment when the Doctor admits he was a father before is significant for new viewers and old fans alike: for the newcomers it is an exciting surprise that helps to emphasise his loneliness and loss; for those who have watched the older stories, it is a lovely link to the very start of Doctor Who, when the Doctor travelled with his granddaughter, Susan. But this serves to provide an unfortunate contrast with his relationship with Jenny. The intention is obviously that a paternal instinct has been triggered, but it would have been useful if Jenny was written as much more Doctorish rather than being basically Buffy dropped into a sci-fi show.
Martha is separated from the Doctor at the beginning of the story, avoiding a situation where the Doctor is being accompanied by too many companions. Although this is arguably a necessity, and strengthens the logic of Martha’s desire to leave the Doctor and move on, it is a shame to have her back only to be tortured and sidelined from the main plot. It seems odd to bring her back for a couple of stories just to reiterate the reason why she left in the first place, something of a pointless exercise. It doesn’t help either that the Hath are not the most inspiring alien race, and without proper communication Martha has to talk to herself for most of the episode.
Another big pinch of salt is needed for the resolution to the main plot, with the multiple generations in a week idea making a kind of sense as long as you don’t think about it too much. Also, although it is a neat little mystery and well integrated throughout the episode, it does not actually carry much weight in that it is of limited significance to either of the main plots: the war is still a war despite the amount of time, the Doctor is still there to end it, and it makes no difference to his relationship with his instant daughter. The episode would have basically functioned exactly the same without it. So it’s interesting, but actually not much more than a bit of sci-fi thrown in for good measure, and this is why I keep going on about Doctor Who being fantasy, which it is most of the time. When it tries to be sci-fi, you get this: a Star Trek concept that doesn’t allow the status quo of the series to change. It sucks out all the… well, magic. As soon as the Doctor gets his daughter-ex-machina, we know she’s going to have to die, because the Doctor doesn’t travel around with a daughter.
So this is one idea that I think would have been handled much better in the Steven Moffat era. I really don’t think he would have done this episode if he weren’t intending to make Jenny a recurring character and properly explore all the consequences and implications. And why not do that? Instead we get a tacked on happy ending, which still doesn’t avoid the reset button because Jenny is off on her own, and never heard from again, quietly forgotten by Doctor Who. Until Big Finish pick up the pieces…
I mentioned above that Jenny is basically Buffy in a sci-fi story, and although it would have made more sense for her to actually be a better reflection of the Doctor, I can’t deny that seeing a Buffy-type character fighting in a sci-fi war is actually a lot of fun. She might not be the right character for this episode, but she’s definitely a very entertaining one.
At least a couple of people were very happy indeed that this episode got made: David Tennant and Georgia Moffett, now happily married, and with a real-life bit of timey-wimey: Tennant’s father-in-law is Fifth Doctor Peter Davison. For that to all start here, in an episode that is all about family, seems very poetic. RP
The view from across the pond:
Not long ago, I was speaking about season openers and how they are often a bit slow because they have to have more build-up. Well, The Doctor’s Daughter is no season opener, and it doesn’t waste time hurling us into the action. It doesn’t let up right away either. Picking up from where the previous story left off, the Doctor, Donna and Martha are thrown into the middle of a conflict and before anyone can breathe, the Doctor has a genetic sample taken and a daughter is born.
This gets awkward right away because Tennant would go on to marry that daughter in real life and have a daughter with her. To compound matters, his wife really is the Doctor’s daughter, since Georgia Moffett’s father is former Doctor, Peter Davison. So get your head around this… the Doctor had a child then married her and had a daughter with her? So the Doctor’s Daughter is the Doctor’s Daughter who gave the Doctor a daughter… Great jumping gobstoppers! It isn’t as creepy as it sounds, but it takes a bit to follow it all. I’ve said it before: only in Doctor Who could a thing like that actually make sense.
So the Doctor has a machine-created offspring that is both beautiful and lethal. Like a good action figure, she comes complete with the entire English language and her own set of clothes. Gone are the days of coming out of a machine as an oozing mess and having to adjust! Oh, to cut out those early formative years with a quick data dump! I could have spared my family all those moody teen years. But she’s a power house and ready to learn from her dad, even if the Doctor isn’t ready to accept her right away. We’re also given one of those rare reminders that the Doctor has been a father before; an easy fact to forget when we look at the youthful Tennant or even younger Matt Smith. (Donna’s reaction is perfect!)
The episode is frenetically paced but doesn’t really do a lot. It introduced a character that had all the potential in the universe to return, only to have the idea dropped in the bin, never to be heard from again. This is more tragic when considering that the writer, Stephen Greenhorn, specifically wanted a major event that would have a lasting effect on the Doctor. Sadly, the episode ends where he thinks his newly created daughter is dead, so the Doctor has no reason to go looking for her. Some of the comics have brought her back, but canonicity in the comic books is notoriously questionable, so I’m not sure we can count it. And so Jenny is gone for all intents and purposes. Meanwhile, the Hath are a marvelous race that both look awesome and end up being a peaceful species. I love it when Doctor Who shows us creatures with actual motivation rather than just “monsters” that destroy because they have nothing better to do. Why don’t they just get Netflix? But there are two things that make this episode rise above one of those lightweight breather episodes.
First, there’s Jenny’s death and unexpected regeneration (without changing). For the fans, it truly is brilliant, and one can’t help but cheer when she comes back, but it does leave a lot of questions about why the Time Lords are “gone” if there’s technology out there that can basically make more of them, assuming they don’t mind all being related to the Doctor. (This might make for a mad universe, but a fun one!) It also begs the question: this technology was created by humans? Ignoring those things in favor of a good story, the next thing is what makes the episode. The Doctor, enraged that a warmongering fool, Cobb, shot his daughter, he picks up the gun, puts it right up to Cobb’s head… and then puts the safety on and says:
I never would. Have you got that? I never would. When you start this new world, this world of Human and Hath, remember that. Make the foundation of this society a man who never would.
In that moment, the Doctor represents a paragon; something beyond our ability to see past grief and rage. He represents hope and heroism. Like Rose said once before, he shows us a better way of living our lives. This moment of the episode encapsulates what the series is all about. We’re not seeing the Doctor-as-messiah with this story. We’re seeing a flawed man who maintains a strict moral code and reminds us that we too can follow his lead. It won’t be easy, but it can be done, and he embodies the hero perfectly. It’s a powerful moment in an episode that is largely fluff but does help rise it above that fluff.
And of course, it has the benefit of adding a true Child of Time to the real world. I’m certain that’s what it’s called when two Timelords have a kid in real life. If that child does not grow up to be a Doctor Who fan, maybe her parents are just speaking Hath? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Unicorn and the Wasp