Hello There, Again
Doctor Who (2005): Series 2
There's a saying that you never forget your first Doctor. Admittedly that's part of why I have such affection for Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor despite the fact that he only appeared in one movie (and eventually a short) for a while there on screen. Certainly it's fair to say that the Doctor that brings you into the series Doctor Who is going to be the one I like the most. They're your gate3way into the world of this long-running show, and it was their personality you bonded with during their run.
For a lot of fans of the show Christopher Eccleston's sudden and quick departure from the show after only a single season had to hurt (still the shortest tenure in the series for any of the actual running shows, Paul McGann stealing the top crown of course). Eccleston, for a whole new generation of people seeing the show for the first time, was their Doctor and his leaving left a lot of people wondering how the show would recover and what the next era of the show would look like. It was a shock, and some fans still haven't gotten over it (I still hear fans lament that they didn't get more time with their Doctor).
Behind-the-scenes issues are to blame for Eccleston leaving, but I am still surprised that the BBC didn't try to find a way to iron over everything, to give Eccleston whatever he wanted so he'd stay on. Losing the Ninth Doctor right at the start of the run, effectively, does seem like a blow the series had to recover from. But then, the Beeb did find the perfect person to pick up the series and carry it on, showing that the change of the Doctor didn't have to be a bad thing: David Tennant's Tenth Doctor.
Honestly, Tennant's run didn't get off to a great start. His very first full episode (after a very brief appearance right at the end of the first series) was the pretty terrible "Christmas Invasion", an episode I've watched a few times and never can remember any details about it (I think Rose's mom was shrill, but then that's par for the course with that character). But once introductions were out of the way, and Tennant was able to settle into the role and properly make it his own, his performance as the Doctor really sang.
Where Eccleston's Doctor was aloof, Tennant's was much more charismatic. That's not to say either performance was bad; each actor put their own kind of spin on their character, playing them with a certain amount of their own personality. Eccleston has always seemed like a more reserved person to me and that's come across in many of the character he's played, here and in other productions. Tennant has never seemed as reserved or removed so his Doctor ends up being warmer in a way, more inviting, certainly more personable.
Considering that the Ninth Doctor was recovering from trauma due to the Time War it made sense that Eccleston's Doctor was more reserved. It also makes sense for Tennant's Doctor to be further along his path, further removed from that trauma; it's still there, but this is Doctor that's spent the last year-plus traveling around with someone he'd call a friend, having adventures and saving the world (and the universe) over and over again. It's a Doctor that found a bit of his old life and it's letting him recover which, in turn, let Tennant play someone more open and happier.
There is still darkness in this Doctor, and I'd argue Tennant's portrayal was even darker in places than Eccleston's. There's an edge that Tennant could bring out, letting him get nasty as he talked down to his foes right before he launched some counter-move that defeated their scheme and saved the day. This version of the Doctor would famously give ever villain a chance to correct their ways but, if they elected not to, he'd do everything in his power to destroy them (usually utterly). You played by the Tenth Doctor's rules or you were wiped from existence.
Tennant's performance was so strong here that it certainly out shine's Billie Piper's Rose. While I think her character gets a little better here than in the first season as the actress grew into the role, I don't feel like the show really had a solid handle on what to do with her beyond having her fall for the Doctor. It's not that the actress didn't put some soul into Rose, it's more that the character as written was just very one note. She's a hanger-on, drawn to the Doctor but not really adding more than that. Considering how active some of the later companions could be, Rose doesn't seem nearly as engaging.
I think the problem is the fact that her whole arc is love for the Doctor. Even in this season, with Mickey (or boyfriend) joining on the TARDIS for a time, Rose seems more interested in the Doctor (even getting jealous at times). She doesn't have a personal arc, a plot line of her own to show where she was headed. She just wanted to travel with the Doctor and be by his side which, really, is a lack of an arc since she already effectively achieved that (right up until she left at the end of the season by getting stuck in an alternate universe).
But, again we also have the issue that the episodes this season aren't as good as they could be. I have Russel T. Davies credit for getting the series up off the ground, but I have to admit that his whole era on the show is marked by interesting ideas but bland episodes. I've watched through this season multiple times over the years (whenever I felt like doing a run through the show), but I do find that if I want to pick up with an era of the Doctor I tend to shy away from these first three seasons now. I've seen then, I know the adventures... and I just don't care all that much. They just... okay.
The reason to watch this season is certainly to see David Tennant take over the role and make it his own. But aside from a decent episode or two, I think the rest of this series might just be disposable. There's a few worthy ideas but a lot of sloggy, half-baked episodes to get through. It can be fun in bursts but once you've seen what this season has to offer I just don't know if you'd come back for anything other than Tennant.
The Best Episode of Series 2
While I think most of this season is a wash (much how I felt about last season when it came to the stories themselves), there is one absolutely stand out episode that I find affecting every single time I watch it: "The Girl in the Fireplace". In this episode the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey end up on a spaceship that's abandoned and hanging in space. It's producing a ton of power and the heroes initially don't know why. But then they find it when they see a French antique fireplace where, on the other side, is actual 18th Century France. T he Doctor goes over, meets a girl named Renette, and over time, as he meets her again and again via various portals around the ship that lead to her life, realizes that she's Madam de Pompadour, a famous French 18th Century noble.
The magic of this episode is in the interplay between the Doctor and Renette. They only meet a few times in her life (as she "takes the slow path" as she puts it) but the chemistry between the two is absolutely palpable. The episode also plays a little fast and loose with time travel, letting the story weave a fanciful tale of time hopping and criss-crossing that's magical. It's fun, its funny, and then by the end its heartbreakingly bittersweet. This episode is so much better than any other story in the season that it absolutely makes the rest of them not even worth watching (you know, by comparison). An amazing high bar for the series, to be sure.
The Worst Episode of Series 2
Odd-ball episodes can bring magic to the show (see above with "The Girl in the Fireplace"), but the right tone has the be struck. "Love & Monsters" is an episode that doesn't find that tone at all. Told from the perspective of Elton Pope, a normal guy who gets sucked into a group of Doctor Watchers (people who study the Doctor and his companions), only to find this group is slowly taken over by an evil alien, the episode gives the show a different perspective on our heroes and tries to recontextualize what they do from an outside perspective. But it's also corny, silly, a little too weird, and generally just obnoxious. It's hard to care about the characters in this episode, and the evil alien is foul and disgusting, a total dud. This is the episode I'll absolutely skip every time when I feel like watching this whole season.