Monday, 12 August 2013

The Doctor Dances

And this is when the Doctor Who-ometer exploded.

William gave it an 11. "The saddest story [a mother losing her child] becomes the best day ever!" he said. Christopher, in measured tones, gave it a score of "a billion". "It made me happy," he said. And what else is there to say? This episode is simply joyous. I'm completely fine with their scores. If nothing else, the 10s they gave Aliens of London make a lot more sense now. 

The Doctor Dances is an explosion. A sudden outrush of love and joy (and nanogenes) after the oppressive darkness of war and death threatened to end everything.

We should see it coming, but we don't. Just as Nancy, clinging to life in a nightmare London without hope, can't imagine that the war could ever be won. This exquisite moment should tip us off that a happy ending is on the way, but it doesn't. Rather than giving Nancy hope, that scene makes us see her despair all too clearly. It's in this scene that stiff upper lips start to tremble, and our British reserve will be another thing that gets swept away in the upcoming explosion of emotions. I cry every time. 

Nancy has to step forward and declare herself, but it's the Doctor that pushes her. He gets his own moment too, light blazing from his hands in the darkness and everybody lives! At last, the Doctor is in. "Twenty years till pop music! Don't forget the Welfare State!" He describes the broad, sunlit uplands of the post-war social compact, the rewards due to a generation that has given its all: the NHS, the Beatles and Doctor Who. It's basically the Olympic opening ceremony, isn't it?

And as the Doctor is looking forwards, Doctor Who is looking backwards, not just at the war, but at itself as part of the cultural reaction to that conflict. Everybody knows that Terry Nation invented the Daleks as Nazis, just as Mastermind's black chair was inspired by Gestapo interrogation techniques. Here, at the height of the threat to Britain, the reborn Doctor fights for diversity and individuality and love against the threat of enforced homogeneity, all of us looking the same, and all empty inside.

But before all that there's so much more to love. "Go to your room!" is one of the best cliffhanger resolutions we've had: it's unexpected but immediately makes sense. The Doctor shines today, pilfering Jack's gun and demolishing weapons factories off screen, all the while brandishing a banana ("Bananas are good!") and a sonic screwdriver. Quietly, underneath all this, decades of assumptions about the Doctor's sexuality are being thrown out of the window. A few years earlier this would have caused a nerd riot, a bonfire of the anoraks, but the universe has changed and deep down we all know that the Doctor dances. Even if, post-River Song, you are still in denial about that, take consolation from the fact that this scene gives us the line, wonderfully delivered by Eccleston, "Rose, I'm trying to resonate concrete." Bliss.

I'm looking forward to watching all the other new episodes again, just to see if anything can match this. There's good stuff coming, excellent stuff, but I wonder... The programme is now fifty, but I think even if it should last a hundred years, people will look back and say this was Who's finest hour. 

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