Monday, October 23, 2006

One Tiny Observation About Russell T. Davies' Casanova

When I wrote about Russell T. Davies' 2003 miniseries, The Second Coming, I remarked that Davies and star Christopher Eccleston carried over a great many of the lead character's mannerisms and attitudes when they created the character of the ninth Doctor. Which, at the time, was rather amusing. Now that I've seen Davies' 2005 mini, Casanova (pretty good. Very funny. Not nearly as smart or as moving as The Second Coming, but then, what is?), starring David Tennant, I'm starting to worry. You see, Tennant's Casanova is the tenth Doctor.

It's not just a matter of the actor repeating some physical tics (and anyway, I've seen Tennant in one or two other things and, while he many not have the greatest range in recorded history, he's certainly got more than one character in him). When Tennant reads his lines, you can see him wearing a pin-striped suit instead of gaudy, quasi-period dress. And those lines are thoroughly Doctor-ish:
Casanova: I'm a spy.
Grimani: A spy?
Casanova: Yes, that's right, a spy. Of course, being a spy I shouldn't say I'm a spy or I could get spied by a spy.
Grimani: I suppose you can prove it?
Casanova: What? You want me to spy on something? Look, there's a canal, I spied it. Look, it's still there. Look, and again.
In Davies' hands, Casanova is a thoroughly good man whose default mental state is an almost overwhelming selfishness. A man with the attention span of a hummingbird who is capable of a terrifying single-mindedness ("Are you a magician?" Casanova is asked by a fellow prisoner when an unjust accusation lands him in prison. He thinks for a beat. "I can be"). A seductive innocent. Sound familiar? (Honestly, just see for yourselves.)

In many ways, this actually clears up a lot of the issues with Tennant's performance as the tenth Doctor (while, obviously, raising other issues with Davies' writing of said character). No wonder the two best episodes in Doctor Who's second season were "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "School Reunion," which both repositioned the Doctor as an interstellar lothario, engaged in an endless sequence of deeply meaningful romances with women whom he eventually abandons. Unfortunately, this characterization isn't a perfect fit, and whereas Casanova can be summed up as a pleasure-seeker who always wants more than he can get, the Doctor is--or should be--a little more complicated. The result, as I've noted elsewhere, is a character without a heart. Now we know why.


Andrew Stevens said...

I'll first go on the record as an old-school Doctor Who fan. I am a fan of the old show primarily because of the unique character of the Doctor and the absolute brilliance of the format. (The monsters? I can take 'em or leave 'em. Mostly leave 'em.) In neither season do I believe Davies has done a particularly great job of writing the character. In most ways, I too preferred the Eccleston incarnation. On the other hand, the Eccleston incarnation often struck me as a manic-depressive lout mooning over a nineteen year-old and it was rather depressing to watch one's hero turn into that. So the Tennant incarnation isn't all bad.

It's interesting that you detected a unity of theme in School Reunion and Girl in the Fireplace and I have no doubt that's right on one level. I thought School Reunion was fabulous, but I disliked Girl in the Fireplace principally because it contradicted School Reunion. Reunion gave a perfectly good reason why the Doctor does not fall in love and Fireplace promptly shattered it. Yes, I know, the "mind meld" thing and they went to great pains to make us believe that Madame du Pompadour was the most remarkable woman in history or something, but I still didn't buy it. I should say, though, that Girl in the Fireplace was a very stylish episode. Had it been an episode of Star Trek starring James T. Kirk, I think it would have been the best Star Trek episode ever made. As Doctor Who, it just didn't work. The Doctor is too special a character for me to believe in a love story for him which lasts all of forty-five minutes.

Sadly, Robert Holmes has been dead for twenty years so we'll never know what the greatest Doctor Who writer of all time could have done with the new show's budget and format. I'm not knocking Russell T. He's done a lot of great things with the show and I have to give him credit for the herculean task of bringing it back in the first place, but sometimes I have to curse the injustice of the world that Bob Holmes never got this kind of opportunity.

Sophia said...

Yup, your thoughts are exactly in line with mine. I couldn't believe, watching the first half (I never got round to watching the second) how blatantly RTD had lifted everything for the second season of DW. I understand that he's got a personal style and personal interests, and I actually love Tennant's schtick as both characters, but it's just kind of... creatively bankrupt to not even attempt a change.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Now that I've had some time to reflect, what really gets to me is that in The Christmas Invasion, the self-plagiarism isn't quite so blatant. There are obvious points of intersection between Casanova and the Doctor, along the lines of the similarities between Eccleston's Doctor and Steve Baxter, but they're not the same character. The Doctor is more serious, not as frivolous or as obsessed with romance as Casanova.

By the time we get to the second season, the frivolity and romance have been amped up. I liked Tennant's performance in TCI, and started souring on his Doctor during the second season. I haven't been able to put my finger on the exact reason for this until now.

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