Doctor Who: Smith and Jones [Episode 3.1]

Smith and Jones is the opening episode of Series 3 of Doctor Who, starring David Tennant, and introducing the first new companion since the revival series started, Martha Jones.

Previous Episode: The Girl in the Fireplace • Next Episode:  Gridlock
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

Plot:  Investigating an alien presence in a hospital, the Doctor checks himself in as a patient, where he is examined by an intelligent young medical student, Martha Jones.  The entire hospital is mysteriously and suddenly transported to the moon, surrounded by a force field keeping the air in.  This has been done by the Judoon, a race of ruthless alien bounty hunters who are looking for an alien criminal.  This turns out to be one of the patients, an old lady named Mrs. Finnegan, who is a blood sucking alien shape shifter that passes for human by killing the head doctor and absorbing his blood.  Martha discovers this and is pursued by one of Mrs. Finnegan’s “slabs” – a slave drone made entirely of leather (!), but she is saved by the Doctor.  When the Judoon find the Doctor, they realize he is not human and begin to pursue him, believing him to be their quarry.  The Doctor distracts the Judoon by kissing Martha, transferring trace amounts of his alien genetic material, which confuses the Judoon’s scanners.  Meanwhile, the Doctor pretends to be a human and allows himself to be captured by Mrs. Finnegan, who is adjusting an MRI scanner to emit a pulse that will kill the Judoon, but also everyone in the hospital and half the earth.  The Doctor tricks her into sucking some of his blood, which apparently kills him, but also of course only confirms to the Judoon that she is an alien, leading to her execution.  However, the scanner has been activated and is going to explode, and the hospital is running out of air.  Martha gives her last breath to revive the Doctor, who is able to stop the scanner from killing everyone just in time.  The Judoon withdraw, and fortunately return the hospital to the earth before everyone asphyxiates.  The Doctor leaves, but returns later that night and takes Martha with him.

Comments: Smith and Jones  is a bit of a lightweight episode, where everything is a bit silly, the guest characters are all pretty one dimensional and/or annoying (like Martha’s family), and the Doctor can outrun pursuing monsters and laser beams just for the sake of the plot.  It’s redeemed, such as it is, by some striking imagery (primarily the visuals of the hospital being on the moon – including the view of the earth), a good sense of fun, and the positive camaraderie between the Doctor and Martha.  David Tennant gets a number of manic moments, which he is good at, but the end result is nothing particularly special.  You know that if even the main character seems a bit bored by all the running around he’s having to do, that your story isn’t as sharp as it could be.

Ultimately, though, the entire point of the episode is really to just introduce Martha, which it does well.  Martha is likable, attractive, and intelligent, impressing the Doctor and us with how she handles the unusual circumstances of the story.  There’s a bit of a callback to the Doctor’s first meeting with Rose when he grabs her hand and yells, “Run!”  The way Martha “falls” for the Doctor is pretty justified – you can see how it actually happens here – but it’s too bad so much is made of her attraction to the Doctor, and that it ends up as such key part of her character arc.  Even by the end of this episode, it gets a little annoying.

Mrs. Finnegan makes for a pretty disturbing villain, although that’s undermined by  the goofy quality the show creates around her appearances.  I’m not really a fan of the way the show under Russell T. Davies would often try to take the horrifying moments and turn them into something sort-of-amusing by using victims that the audience wants to mock – that’s what happens here with the unpleasant and stuffy Dr. Stoker.  I find it kind of tasteless.

The Judoon are a diverting enough alien, with a reasonably unique appearance (space rhinos) and a clear and specific agenda – it’s always good to find a potential villain whose motivation isn’t to take over the earth or just kill everyone.  But they are, like the rest of the story, a bit silly and lightweight, and not something you’re in a hurry to see again (although one was used to pretty amusing effect in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures that I saw once.)

I recognized guest star Roy Marsden from the (in my memory, anyway) great British espionage series, The Sandbaggers. He is quite good in this episode as the stuffy Dr. Stocker, but the character himself is pretty boring and unmemorable.

The dialogue by Russell T. Davies is mostly serviceable here, but there are a few moments that stuck out to me as I reviewed it recently.

• As the characters take stock of the fact that they are on the moon, the Doctor coldly rejects Martha’s colleague Julia as not being as “companion-worthy” as Martha is.

Doctor:  Question is, how are we still breathing.
Julia:  Well we can’t be!
Doctor:  But obviously we are, so don’t waste my time.

• This is followed by a decision to go outside onto a balcony to investigate further.

Doctor:  Fancy going out?
Martha:  Okay.
Doctor:  We might die.
Martha:  We might not.

• When the Martha asks the Doctor about his species…

Doctor:  I’m a Time Lord.
Martha:  Right!  Not pompous at all, then.

•And then as the Doctor proves to Martha that he is time traveler by quickly visiting her the morning before he met her.

Doctor:  Crossing into established events is strictly forbidden…except for cheap tricks.

• There are a couple lines that seem to me to be quite poetic, although they don’t really go anywhere.  First, as Dr. Stoker deals with all that’s happening…

Dr. Stoker:  Names?  What are names now when something unnameable is marching toward us across the moon?

• And then, as Mrs. Finnegan prepares to kill the Doctor:

Mrs. Finnegan:  You’re quite the funny man.  And yet, I think laughing on purpose at the darkness.

Things to watch out for (Warning: includes veiled Spoilers for the rest of the season):  The big easter egg about what is coming up are the references to Mr. Saxon – a comment made on the radio at the end (where we heart that apparently Mr. Saxon believes in alien life), and a poster behind Martha in the alleyway that says, “Vote Saxon.”  Reference to Mr. Saxon was previously given in the preceding Christmas special, The Runaway Bride.

Also, the plot point of the Doctor (and the alien pretending to be human) is a bit of a theme for the season, and will play out in a very important way in some upcoming episodes, in particular Human Nature and Utopia.

Incidentally, I believe this is the first episode since Rose to not include a pre-title sequence.

Making sense of it all (Warning:  blatant spoilers for the rest of the series):  Mr. Saxon turns out to be the new Prime Minister of England, well known to Martha Jones, who is indeed actually the Master, the Doctor’s old Time-Lord arch enemy from many episodes of the original series.  He will make his debut later this season in Utopia, where we see the events that led to him arriving on earth to infiltrate the government.

Last Word:  Watching this episode the benefit of several years worth of hindsight reveals there are lots of similarities between it and the 5th Season opener, The Eleventh Hour.  In addition to introducing new companions (with roughly the same pattern of initial weird meeting, followed by main adventure, followed by Doctor coming by later and extending invitation to travel), it also takes place largely in a hospital, involves an uncaring alien race searching the earth for an murderous fugitive, and has the sonic screwdriver get destroyed and replaced by the end of the episode.  The difference is, one of these episodes is awesome, and one of them is only average.  Guess which one this is?

Previous Episode: The Girl in the Fireplace • Next Episode:  Gridlock
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Smith and Jones [Episode 3.1]

  1. I’m in pretty thorough agreement with about everything you’ve said here. I really wanted to like Martha as a companion more than I was able to, and the reason I couldn’t does come down to that annoying constant-pining-for-the-Doctor that seemed to overwhelm her character-arc throughout the series.

    Other than that, I remember finding this one mostly fun but generally forgettable.

  2. I never disliked Martha. I actually liked her quite a bit. But I do think she unfortunately never got past that thing of being the girl whom the Doctor didn’t go for.

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