TV Review: (Nu) Doctor Who Series 3 (Spoilers)

As we have seen in the previous two posts, the first series of the new era of “Doctor Who” laid the groundwork to set the tone and introduce viewers to the show, while the second series managed to have fun and build upon it, albeit with a new Doctor, whose run would last until 2010. The third series not only continues these adventures with a new companion, but it also allowed itself to delve deeper and explore heavier and thought provoking themes, while allowing its actors, particular David Tennant, to showcase their acting skills in great performances.

It also saw the introduction of Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), as the Doctor’s newest companion, and it also saw the introduction of Donna Noble (Catherine Tate).

Most of the episodes, including the Christmas Special (“The Runaway Bride”) were written by Russell T. Davies. Steven Moffat wrote the “Doctor-lite” episode “Blink”, which has become a favorite of many, and is oftentimes used as one of the first few episodes most Whovians recommend non-Whovians to watch to start getting them going. Paul Cornell wrote the two parter “Human Nature/Family of Blood”, which aside from being episodes that is also praised highly, was based on a “Doctor Who” novel Cornell wrote entitled “Human Nature”. Future showrunner Chris Chibnall wrote “42”, while the other episodes were written by Helen Raynor, Stephen Greenhorn, and Gareth Roberts.

Series favorite Euros Lyn only directed “The Runaway Bride” for this particular series. Other episodes were directed by James Strong, Charles Palmer, Richard Clark, Colin Teague, Graeme Harper, and Hettie MacDonald.

Writing wise, I felt that they were more experimental as they allowed themselves to try to go for heavier and more thought provoking themes without it being too heavy handed. They also tried to delve into particular characteristics of the main characters, and in particular, with the Doctor. However, sometimes, they did get too ambitious and it ended up with the execution being a huge miss, but you can definitely appreciate the effort that they put in at the same time. The CGI was definitely getting better, but it is nowhere as smooth as it got starting from Series 5, and not as improved yet as it would be in Series 4.

Also, I felt that the overarching connective theme for this series wasn’t too subtle and not too in your face, and achieved a good balance this time around.

Acting wise, Tennant was definitely given many avenues to shine in this series, and I believe that Series 3 and 4 were when the Tenth Doctor was at his peak in all ways- both in his best moments and in his worst.

Agyeman was also fantastic in this series, and that’s saying a lot as this series has been criticized for not fully developing her character. However, she did well with what she was given, and upon rewatching this series again, I discovered that she did have more great moments that I previously thought there was. In the end, Martha Jones is a highly underrated companion that I think deserves a little bit more of our attention.

Murray Gold’s music finally found its stride with this series, right from “The Runaway Bride” and “Smith and Jones”. My favorite tracks from this series include “All the Strange, Strange Creatures”, “Martha’s Theme”, “Martha Triumphant” ,”Boe”, “The Dream of a Normal Death”, “The Doctor Forever”, “Donna’s Theme”, and of course, and “This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home”.

Some of my favorite episodes, mostly the back half of this series, can be found here- “Blink”, “Human Nature/Family of Blood”, “Utopia”, and “The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords”.

All in all, this series can be hit and miss for some, but I can appreciate what they were trying to go for. Upon rewatching it, I remembered how fond I am of this series, and how much I loved Martha Jones as a companion. This series is actually ranked as my fourth favorite in NuWho, and Martha is my second favorite companion of the modern series.

Now before delving deeper into what I liked and didn’t like about series 3, here’s your warning to turn away because there will be spoilers!

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This series actually kicked off with the Christmas Special, entitled “The Runaway Bride”, which introduced us to Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Many didn’t really like how shrill she was here, but if you look at it from Donna’s perspective, it is understandable why she was so upset. After all, she got snatched up just as she was walking down the aisle!

However, I did like Tate’s performance, especially in the quieter and more emotional moments, and the fun that both Ten and Donna seemed to have during this Christmas adventure. I knew right there and then that these two would do good as a sort of “best friends” kind of team, the kind of friend that you just have genuine fun with, and the kind of friend that you can count on to have your back, especially when you’ve gone down the deep end, which was what Donna did in the end for him. Also, seeing the first glimpses of Ten’s fury was haunting and terrifying.

I am glad though that they didn’t team up yet in the end, because I feel that Donna still needed time to sort things out and grow a little, and the Doctor wasn’t ready yet I think for a full time partnership like that. He still needed to heal a bit.

Now, let’s go to the episodes I loved in this series.

“Smith & Jones” was a perfect series premiere for me, as it managed to accomplish a lot of things. It was a great scifi story; and it introduced us to Martha Jones, and how her dynamic with the Doctor would be. It also gave us the Judoon, whose prosthetics were made out of rubber, and I absolutely loved it.

“The Shakespeare Code” was a fun romp throughout the Elizabethan era, and one that I just had a lot of fun with as I am a big fan of Shakespeare, and because they made words the thing that had all the power.

“Gridlock” was hit or miss for some, but I thought that it was a great episode that not only provided something to think about, but also provided a turning point in Martha’s and the Doctor’s relationship with each other. Here, the Doctor finally realized that he had been too busy showing off and didn’t really spend any time to get to know her, while Martha decided that she had to be a little bit more active in getting at least a friendlier relationship with him, which was why she got him to talk to her at the end of the episode. And from then on out, even though there were moments where he still didn’t see how much she cared for him, he treated her more like an actual friend. That moment when he described Gallifrey to her was just a great scene.

I also loved how the cars driving in endless motorway seemed to be a metaphor for life, and how they held on to that glimmer and idea of hope that they had about living in New New New New New (I have no idea how many News there are) York.

Also, I love seeing the Face of Boe, and I remember wondering what his dying words meant.

Then we have  “Human Nature/Family of Blood”, which is on my list of favorite NuWho episodes of all time. This one really showcased Tennant’s acting abilities, as he had to turn into a human to escape the Family who was hunting him down for his Time Lord essence, and Martha, poor Martha, had to wait and take care of him for two months in pre-World War I England.

It was also this episode in which both of their characters were defined. Martha will always be there as his support system, whether or not he mentions her and whether or not her heart gets broken over and over again. Martha really had it rough here, and you could just feel for her. However, unlike last time, I appreciated how much strength Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes) had as she let John Smith/the Doctor go for the sake of the world.

Also, the Doctor himself, and in particular, this Doctor, was defined while they were trying to convince his human self to open the fob watch and become the Doctor again. Aside from that definition, it was also interesting to see him struggle and make a choice, although difficult as it was.

And of course, here, we see the second shade of him going all dark with his fury. It’s really something to behold.

Aside from being a wonderful Tennant episode, this was an episode in which Martha as the companion really shone.

“Blink” was the Doctor-lite episode, starring a pre-fame Carey Mulligan, and it was just perfect. This was the episode that got me into “Doctor Who”, and featured the creepiest villains I have ever met in Who history- the Weeping Angels.

I loved this series finale, whose story arc began in “Utopia”, and continued throughout “The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords”.

Many people do take issue with the two part finale because of how it was resolved, but even after the second watch, I still loved and enjoyed these episodes.

The build up leading to the revelation that Professor Yana (Derek Jacobi) was well done, and I just loved John Simm’s portrayal of the Master. Now here was a villain who knew EXACTLY what he was doing, even though he was a little bit insane, and who evenly matched the Doctor. Also I love the Master-Doctor dynamic, and my heart broke for Ten when the Master refused to regenerate.

The Toclafone were actually pretty disturbing, especially after the revelation that they were the future of the human race.

However, the real stand out here is Martha. I know that many take issue with the fact that she went around the world telling the Doctor’s story, without putting any value towards herself, but then again, this is Martha. Martha will always be willing not to be the hero, and would rather help assist those who need to be the hero. Martha’s journey also allowed her to become stronger and more confident, which ultimately shaped her into becoming the perfect asset that both UNIT and Torchwood would need.

I also loved the ending, as Martha left on her own accord, for the right reasons, and among all of the Doctor’s companions, she’s the one who had the most command of her own fate, and managed to live a great life with no regrets afterwards.

Now, let’s go to “42” and the “Lazarus Experiment”. These two episodes are pretty divisive, as some liked it, and some just downright hated it. I thought that these were two very strong episodes in which Martha was able to prove what she is capable of doing, and “42” gave us more of the Doctor using his quick wits tor try to defeat the monster. Aside from this, “Lazarus Experiment” was an important turning point for Martha and the Doctor because from this point onwards, the Doctor accepted her as a proper companion aboard the TARDIS.

These two episodes also tackled interesting and deeper themes, but the over all verdict can be hit or miss at times.

The same can also be said about “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks”, which a lot of people did not like. However, I can see what they were trying to go for here, and I liked how the delved deeper into the Doctor actually trying to give Dalek Sec a chance, as he was the only Dalek who dreamed of becoming better than just killing machines. (Also, Ten’s monologue was good here). However, I do admit that despite the good concept, it was too ambitious for its own good, something that happened A LOT in this series.

Many criticize Ten for his not so great behavior towards Martha, but for me, this was just a natural consequence of him still not being over Rose. However, Martha being a great support system for him did help him move on, and it made him realize that his next companion shouldn’t really be based on any romantic interest that he or his companion might have for each other. Also, it is a recurring character trait that the Tenth Doctor can, at times, be quite insensitive and cheeky.

However, in the end,  I do believe that he greatly respected Martha’s capabilities, and I think that Martha was able to help him be a little bit more open as compared to their earlier travels together, as she started calling him out when he doesn’t reveal his entire plan to her.

I also do think that their parting was really amicable, and she’s one of the few who left out of her own accord, without having anything catastrophic happening to her, as mentioned earlier.

I can say though, that despite Ten’s many flaws which became even more apparent in this series, and things that he did that led to disastrous consequences (deposing Harriet Jones actually allowed Harold Saxon/the Master to become Prime Minister), this series and the fourth series showed the Tenth Doctor at his peak. Also, Tennant gave such brilliant performances this series as his character was given more to work with.

Ten’s best episodes here are “Human Nature/Family of Blood” and the series finale.

Martha, as a character, is an amazing and highly underrated companion. She is highly observant, intelligent, practical, resourceful, level-headed, with a sense of adventure, and can keep up with the Doctor even if he doesn’t tell her all that his plan entails. Part of her character journey includes the realization at the end that she is brilliant, and that it was time for her to top playing second fiddle to the idea that is Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). (I’ll talk more about her in depth in my character guide about her).

I love how she ended her stay in the TARDIS, with her being strong enough to realize that her relationship with the Doctor wasn’t really healthy, so she needed out. However, she did say that she would keep in touch, and I love how the Doctor looks at her fondly as he says goodbye to her.

However, I do agree that the writers could have done so much more with her character than what was presented, but Agyeman was still fantastic, no matter what.

All in all, Series 3 was a strong installment in the run of Nu Who, and is one that I look back to fondly. There were moments in which their high concepts were too ambitious and ended up being executed poorly, but you can see the potential hiding underneath its surface. (Also, the CGI here was a little bit campy at times). However, the back half of the series is just amazing.

Upon rewatching it, I discovered that I do look fondly back upon this series, and is ranked as my fourth favorite one among all the NuWho series. It also reminded me how great Martha, especially armed with the knowledge as to what she becomes in the future. Because of this, she is now my second favorite companion in NuWho.

So, I hope that you as a viewer can give series 3 a second chance, because there are some pretty good stuff in this series.

What did you think of Series 3? What were your favorite and least favorite episodes of the series? How did you like Donna Noble and Martha Jones? How was the Tenth Doctor for you here? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

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