Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: David Tennant, Billie Piper
The best compliment I can give this season is that when I fancy watching a random episode of Doctor Who, this is the season I always come to. For whatever reason, the second season of Doctor Who and the first one that featured the amazing David Tennant as the Doctor has the most stand-alone, decent episodes. In fact, it may have some of the best episodes of Modern Who.
There aren’t really many overarching arcs when this season picks up, unlike the Matt Smith era where you will be struggling to remember how many cards are at play. We have just been given a new Doctor and after a sharp Christmas special, where Rose Tyler learnt to trust his new regeneration, it is pretty much business as usual. Underneath the surface there is the new organisation of Torchwood that, despite evolving into a spin-off season starring the fantastic John Barrowman, is for the moment in villain territory. For now they are not on the Doctor’s radar, watching him silently from the shadows. This season also introduces us to the idea of parallel universes, which brings up some interesting ideas as well as allowing Russell T. Davies to bring back another classic villain from the Doctor’s past, the Cybermen.
Does David Tennant handle the passing of the torch well? Despite Matt Smith amazing everyone with his manic depiction of the Doctor, a strong argument could still be made that Tennant is the best Doctor to have ever graced the small screen. Admittedly, the style and drama of Modern Who helps Tennant (Classic Who was never really concerned with character arcs, meaning that these days the actors evolve over time, rather than just being impressive), but the actor shoulders most of the responsibility. While Ecclestone was fairly out-there, making us laugh with the general odd way he went about things, Tennant takes this and raises the bar. Nothing against Ecclestone because he did a fine job, but David Tennant just takes every movement available to him and owns it. His smile and small laugh has an infectious kind of fun. His jerky movements are fun to watch and give us this idea of how alien he is. Maybe most impressive of all, the way he handles monologues. He rattles off scientific words like you would the alphabet, not tripping up or mumbling a single word. Yes, David Tennant takes on the role of the Doctor and passes with merits.
Billie Piper doesn’t fare too well. The actress herself doesn’t necessarily do a bad job, keeping the down-to-earth girl that was so important for the success of Season one. The problem here is that the writing is so poor. Russell T. Davies turns her into a crazy ex-girlfriend type, giving every other female cast member a dirty look (she almost ruins the return of Sarah-Jane Watson). She had much more chemistry with Christopher Ecclestone and while the two of them breeze by on their relationship with only flat notes to complain about, there is a sense that by the end of the season, change is needed.
The best episode of the season, and maybe of Modern Who so far, is ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. This is Moffat at his best, his wit and style contained into a single episode so he doesn’t get out of hand. The script is so clever and funny, paced perfectly, and allowing a romance to blossom out of a female character that isn’t a companion. In fact, the lack of chemistry I mentioned between Tennant and Piper is only really made clear when Sophia Myles and Tennant begin sharing the screen. They bounce off each other so well, Tennant channelling a schoolboy with a crush and Myles playing the damsel in distress, who is learning that her hero will not always be there for her. The action and mystery of the story is great, but Moffat is smart enough to end it early, so Tennant and Myles get to end the episode with the drama of their relationship. It is a great ending and one of the key examples in letting everyone know just how talented our new Doctor is.
The other key thing to note here is the return of the Cybermen. I am not their biggest fan in all honesty, because every time they appear in Modern Who, they lose a bit of their awe-inspiring power. In Season Six, they are both killed by love and then their entire fleet is destroyed by the Doctor on a whim. They have lost all of their intimidation. However, here they haven’t and I really appreciate how fearsome they can actually be. I have been told that Classic Who fans might be dissuaded by the plot holes and narrative gaps, but personally, as a newcomer to the Who universe, I found their appearance exciting and gripping. They even get an encore to tie up this season with, becoming the nemesis for the Doctor to end the show on. They take the Cybermen down a route that leads to the kind of story that you are partially surprised has never been attempted before. The cliff-hanger is incredibly exciting and leads to an emotional, action-packed finale, even if it comes complete with plot holes of its own.
Final Verdict: Despite some flat notes, the second season of Doctor Who could be arguably the glory year of the reboot series.