This was quite a treat for the fans. Any connection to the Classic series is always welcome, but bringing back one of the original Doctors is a big moment and this was the first time it had happened since Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005. Putting together the Fifth and the Tenth is an interesting choice because they are (or were) defined by their youth, so this is an exercise in looking at similarities as much as differences, and that’s a rarity. Steven Moffat looks for common ground between the two Doctors such as the brainy specs, and invents some that wasn’t there; dialogue like “pretty sort of marvellous” and “skinny idiot” is far too 21st Century to be authentic to the Fifth Doctor. But some acknowledgement of similarities is important when two Doctors meet. It was one area where the original multi-Doctor story (The Three Doctors) went wrong. When two Doctors are placed on screen who don’t seem to share any character traits at all, it is hard to accept them as the same person, which is already requiring a huge mental leap from the viewers.
But when Doctors meet there has to be a clash. Imagine meeting ourselves from many years ago. Would we even like that person at all? The main criticism works in the opposite direction. Would we like our future selves? Five’s opinion of Ten amounts to a complaint that he talks too much, which actually cuts right to the heart of how humour is included in modern Doctor Who:
There is something very wrong with my Tardis, and I’ve got to do something about it very, very quickly, and it would help, it really would help if there wasn’t some skinny idiot ranting in my face about every single think that happens to be in front of him!
That stings a little, because he has a point. Comedy often comes from the Doctor playing the fool, and coming up with witty observations. In comparison, Ten idolizes Five to the extent that Five thinks Ten is a fan, and here’s where we start leaning on the fourth wall, because much of what Ten says is in the script to express the feelings of Moffat and Tennant, as much as the Doctor.
Importantly, we have to recognise that the script functions perfectly well either way. If you (puzzlingly) need Doctor Who to be immersive viewing, even a charity sketch, then this can all be easily rationalised. Line up your past self from ten, twenty, thirty years ago, the child you, the teenage you, the young adult you. It’s fair to say you would like what you see in some past selves more than others. You might even view your child self through rose-tinted spectacles, for example, admiring some youthful qualities you see there. Some versions you might dislike – the fashion disasters, or the time in your life where you allowed a bad attitude to creep in perhaps, or the surly teenager. That time you thought a decorative vegetable was cool. Whatever, the point is that it is perfectly natural for a youthful, exuberant incarnation of the Doctor to look back on his past selves and think: Five was good; he was different; he had the right idea. And he has got those rose-tinted brainy specs on, because this is what he says:
Back when I first started at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you’re young. And then I was you, and it was all dashing about and playing cricket and my voice going all squeaky when I shouted.
… the implication being that Five “lightened up” a bit. That’s not quite the reality though. Five was generally a good deal more serious than Four, and his adventures were often much darker and more miserable. It works reasonably well as a memory of Five’s earlier stories, and that is clearly what’s invoked here, with the mention of Nyssa, Tegan and the Mara. Ten is being shown as a fan, and we all have our favourite eras and probably are more willing to forgive the negatives from certain Doctors more than others. I openly admit to that when it comes to the Second Doctor. I can’t pretend to be unbiased. Fandom is about love for something, and Ten is like a fan meeting his hero. That’s what makes that big fourth wall break so magnificent.
Because you know what, Doctor? You were my Doctor.
That’s David Tennant speaking (to his future father-in-law, amazingly enough). Whoever is your favourite Doctor, he speaks for us all. We can all pick one and say “he was my Doctor”, often the one we first watched as a child. And so, I have to acknowledge that as much as I love the Second Doctor era and would always confidently argue that Patrick Troughton was the finest actor ever to appear on the show, I must echo Tennant’s words here. Because yes, Peter Davison was my Doctor too.
All my love to long ago. RP
The view from across the pond:
For the 2007 Children in Need special, Steven Moffat gave us Time Crash. And while Dimensions in Time bordered on a travesty, Time Crash was a meticulously crafted love letter. Steven Moffat can be utterly brilliant and when he sets his mind to writing a love letter to Doctor Who, he gives us a truly enjoyable experience. Linking Martha’s departure and subsequent crash into the Titanic, we take a trip down memory lane. Literally.
The idea is simple enough… well, I say that without a degree in temporal engineering, but simple enough in story terms. The Doctor’s TARDIS crashes into … The Doctor’s TARDIS. This lands two Doctor’s together in a situation that could result in an explosion the size of Belgium. Peter Davison (real life father-in-law to David Tennant) finds himself in the Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS. The change to the TARDIS console doesn’t seem to bother him as he goes about the console doing his work until he bumps into his older self. Or should I be saying that from the other perspective? The Tenth Doctor doesn’t seem to notice there’s another person on board, going about the console doing his work until he bumps into his former self. Tennant’s signature “What?” then launches the episode.
It’s important to note that a good love letter does not have to be long. This comes in under 10 minutes in length (7-ish, if I recall correctly). But in that short time, Moffat gets a lot in! The standard humorous antagonism is there between the two Doctors and it is always fun watching them poke fun at one another. (I’m especially fond of the “not many men can pull off a decorative vegetable”, in reference to Davison’s stick of celery!) But Moffat cleverly inserts other ideas. (He’s an idea-man at heart.) To illustrate the point that these are the same individual, the Tenth Doctor says to get used to this face because “one day, you’re going to be shaving it”. It is a brilliantly clever line. Moffat also does something which he used to similar effect in Twice upon a Time; he explains why the actor looks different due to “shorting out the time differential”. Let’s face it, we viewers know that the series has been on for a long time and the actors age (or pass away, as was the case for William Hartnell). To explain that in the context of a show about a nearly immortal character is incredibly good writing. Moffat was covering all the bases. And he even covers the reason the TARDIS can change its internal appearances so much! Like a computer, it’s a desktop theme. (And Nine and Ten liked Coral!)
The story is resolved by the Tenth Doctor saving the day in timey wimey fashion. Taking that literal trip down memory lane, he is only able to save the day, because he remembers being the Fifth Doctor watching the Tenth Doctor perform the action. Five needed to see Ten fix the issue to remember the solution so that by the time he becomes Ten, he can recall how to fix it to begin with. It’s marvelously fun, silly, awesome and in all ways, what we love about Doctor Who!
And even then, the love letter doesn’t end there. When Ten addresses Five, he says “you were my Doctor”, and shows him the trainers he wears and the “brainy specs”. Even though this was written, it absolutely feels like Tennant is telling Davison something from the heart. (Probably not a bad thing to schmooze your father-in-law from time to time regardless!) As the two part company, reference is made to the classic series, referring to Tegan and Nyssa, the Mara and Cybermen. It’s a touching tribute. It doesn’t ignore the current run either, as Davison acknowledges the fan group L.I.n.D.A. It’s summed up perfectly at the end. Five says “To days to come…” raising a spiritual toast to his own future and the future of the show. Ten replies “All my love to long ago…” signing off on a perfect love letter to a magnificent show. A perfect multi-Doctor story. ML