“The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your Children of Time transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor. You made this.” -Davros
This is the best of the series so far, I think, though there are better standalones and finales scattered through the rest of the series. The acting throughout is wonderful, especially in the smaller parts. Martha has grown into the mature and strong individual whose absence was lamented in series three. Rose returns with Mickey, and receives what she wished for though not quite how she wished for it. Harriet Jones, MP, disgraced former Prime Minister returns for redemption. Donna’s parents are pitch perfect throughout the season. Her mother is terribly shrill, but as the series progresses we get a feeling of the love that underlies the nagging. He grandfather is an older version of the Doctor: still wide eyed with wonder while a sadness lurks beneath.
This is the first series of the new “Doctor Who” with a focus more on the companion’s growth and less on the Doctor’s. The Doctor is more or less static this series after spending the first three in a flux of anger, love and recovery. Donna on the other hand, the temp from Chiswick, becomes one of the show’s most memorable companions. Her arc is similar in many ways to Rose’s, minus the love affair with the Doctor. She begins as an office temp, the middle-aged job equivalent of a shop girl, and grows into something more while never cutting out her own roots. And for a moment she touches god, she touches the infinite, and actually becomes a Time Lord. It breaks her, like it broke Rose, but this time there is no miracle of regeneration. The Time Lord in Donna has to die in order for her to survive. She reverts to what she was before her travels with the Doctor, loses all the perspective, the depth she gained. The sight of her shallow again, her sound and fury all directed again at the mundane instead of at the stars nearly breaks the Doctor to see it. It breaks the hearts of her mother and grandfather, who found themselves proud of her for the first time in her life.
Series one shows us what it means for the Doctor to lose himself, find himself, and then lose it all. Gods can’t die, they just regenerate. As long as the idea is there, they persist, faces morphing to match each new age, but with all the baggage and wisdom of centuries past. Series four shows what it means for one of us to lose herself, find herself, and then lose it all. Humans don’t die, they just regenerate.
That’s what having kids means. They’re you, with a different face, and none of the experience. The entire fourth series is replete with that imagery of generations. The Doctor has a daughter. All his spark of wonder, none of his wisdom. The Doctor has a son, a copy of himself who makes the same mistakes as his father. The great myth of history is that if we got a chance to do it again, we’d fix our mistakes. In “The Doctor’s Daughter,” generation after generation of soldiers are born without histories, memories, fighting a war that was there before they were born. An infinity of history taking place in only seven days. It looks absurd to us, but this is human history from the point of view of the gods. Germany invented a thousand years of history and tradition in a decade in the 19th century, and almost burned the world down around it in the blink of an eye. Fifty million dead in the name of a fatherland that didn’t exist a century earlier. As soon as Donna becomes an adult, she has to give it up, becoming the overgrown child again with no context and no memory.
From the point of view of a god, children are as much horror as they are miracle. They’re a stunted regeneration.
The stand alone episodes also revolve around children. In “Partners in Crime,” the antagonist uses Earth as a nursery, introducing the cutest killer aliens in history, little white staypufts composed entirely of human body fat. The two parter “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Poison Sky” feature the overgrown teenager Rattigan, both genius and idiot. The Doctor spurs him to grow up, to act like an adult instead of a child.
A generation of humans takes 20 years or more, a generation of ideas can take a few minutes. Memes replace genes as the primary vector of evolution, our ideas mutating and radiating a thousand times faster than genes can manage, although the essential mechanism is the same. But it means that we can obtain immortality not just through children, but through the passing of our ideas, our intellect, our ideals to others. Children of our mind. In “The Fires of Pompeii,” the Doctor leaves behind a family who worships him as its family god, the patriarch inspired to leave behind a shallow life to become a doctor. He’s not the same, but he’s a new generation. The idea is revisited in “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” highlighting that Agatha Christie is remembered a million years in the future. Long after our ancestors die out, or become hopelessly muddled with a dozen other bloodlines, our ideas can burn on, immortal. Of course that’s what the Doctor is, what gods are, in the first place: immortal ideas. Ideas can live forever, maybe adapting, regenerating with a new face, but the same underneath.
The two parter “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” touches on these themes from a different point of view. The largest library in history, encompassing an entire planet, built to house the consciousness of a dying little girl. She can’t have life, so she is instead given ideas. The people who die in the episode leave behind ghosts in the computer, shadows of their former selves. Donna is trapped in the computer world, has a husband and children. Ms. Evangelista is saved too by the computer, changing though from beautiful and stupid to ugly and brilliant because of a transcription error. That’s all life really is anyway, a series of transcription errors. If life could reliably make copies without errors, we’d all still be amoebas. The books of the library were built from the massacred forests of the Vashta Narada, ideas transcribed on corpses.
These themes come to a head in the finale, which although a bit of a disappointment in general terms, is fantastic in the thematic details. Martha, Rose, Sarah Jane, and Captain Jack, the old companions, all return, each trying to save the world on their own, standing apart from the Doctor, a generation coming of age. They’re all willing to destroy the Earth in order to save it, the precise decision that the Doctor made all those centuries ago to win the Time War when he eradicated the beauty of the Time Lords along with the horror of the Daleks. Time is a circle. The Daleks always come back, because evil always does with every generation. But the opposite is also true: good and beauty always come back with every generation as well.
“I just want you to know, there are worlds out there, safe in the sky because of her. That there are people living in the light, and singing songs of Donna Noble. A thousand, million light years away. They will never forget her, while she can never remember. But for one moment… one shining moment… she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe.” -The Doctor
Steven Lloyd Wilson is the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. He is a hopeless romantic who can be found wandering San Diego’s strip malls and suburbs looking for his mislaid soul and waiting for the revolution to come. Burning Violin is still published weekly on Wednesdays at www.burningviolin.com, along with assorted fiction and other ramblings.