‘You’re an echo, that’s all. A Time Lord is so much more. A sum of knowledge, a code, a shared history, a shared suffering.’ This is a very oddly structured episode. The teaser at the end of The Poison Sky promised intrigue which just doesn’t exist in this episode. We see Jenny’s creation as a sort of clone of the Doctor all in the two-minute pre-title sequence, and the rest of this plays out as a mix of Donna smugly mocking the Doctor about ‘dad-shock’ while Martha gets weepy about a drowned fish.
Despite the presence of some notable guest actors including Joe Dempsie and Nigel Terry, nothing about this is particularly convincing. The idea of the Doctor learning to get over the loss of his family in the Time War and to embrace fatherhood again is sort of sweet, but Jenny’s artificial nature, the fact that we don’t really get to know her, is likely to rub some viewers up the wrong way, like we’re being strong-armed into caring about the character because Donna says we should, rather than because she’s actually very interesting. This isn’t a comment on Georgia Moffett, who plays the role with a charming hint of Tennant, but there’s really nothing particularly special about the character beyond her gymnastic abilities.
Meanwhile, Martha’s presence feels like a missed opportunity as she’s quickly diverted into her own side plot. I suppose this means we get to know the Hath, the other side in the war on Messaline, but given they’re not one of the classic alien designs and their vocabulary is limited to indistinct burbling. I suspect had Agyeman not been in this, the episode might even have been stronger: Donna and the Hath might have had more comedy value, and it would have given the Doctor and Jenny more chance to bond.
And after five pretty lush-looking episodes, this is back to night-time quarries and mucky corridors. Plus, it returns to the unlikely idea that the Doctor is a ‘soldier’ apparently because he wants to stop wars and has a sonic screwdriver. Failing to make the most of its premise or its cast, or the headline-grabbing title, this is a disappointment, and one of the weaker RTD episodes.
Next Time: The Unicorn and the Wasp