Oh, come on - all I did was change!
Watching these seven minutes of pure characterization, it suddenly struck me - if this little story was scripted, filmed and recorded after The Christmas Invasion, what would it be like to go straight from the end of The Parting of the Ways to the Christmas special? We have for the first time a proper retcon, a story written to plug the gaps. Had Children in Need not wanted this sketch, what would have happened?
Unless this sketch (which I intend to call Afterlife), is merely the first scene of The Christmas Invasion shown a month early how well the Tenth Doctor's debut would have fitted with the Ninth's swansong?
Without it, we would have lost the crucial re-affirmation that the cute bloke with the floppy hair was the big-eared Northerner new viewers had tuned in for the previous series. Without seeing these first few minutes of culture shock between Rose and the new Doctor, without the establishing of just why the hell The Christmas Invasion is set at Christmas (instead of, say, The November Invasion, which is where the Mickey/Jackie scenes seem to take place in The Parting of the Ways), how much would leave us scratching our heads. It would be as jarring as The Twin Dilemma as it opens, not on a rerun of the regeneration, but two idiots we've never seen before playing backgammon.
The thought occurred to me right away. Only able to view Afterlife on a tolerant internet café RealPlayer, it is unlikely that this charity sketch will be screened on Australian TV and definitely no time soon (indeed, at time of writing, the story appearing on DVD is not one hundred per cent confirmed).
Having managed to see Dimensions in Time at a Doctor Who convention I at last shared the horror of other Doctor Who fans at the last Children in Need special, and RTD's script shows someone who learned the lesson - assuming he needed teaching at all. With seven minutes, there's no way in hell you can tell a decent story, and there's also the small matter that it can't spoil the upcoming Christmas special. The answer? A character piece, simple but not unimaginative.
The idea of the story solely concerning showing Rose accepting that David Tennant is the Doctor for better or for worse is a cunning one. It's disposable enough to miss, but casual viewers will be able to grasp the point immediately and they and new viewers will watch to see what this new incarnation is like (the rest of us fans would have watched anyway).
It's hard to judge the Tenth Doctor's character on this single viewing, but that's precisely the point. He's meant to be vague, nothing more than an extrapolation of the toothy madman pronouncing "Barcelona" in that strange way he does. The new Doctor manages a great range of facets. His snapping at Rose recalls the first Doctor, hopping around the console reminds us of the eighth, while his suspicious cover story about Captain Jack reminds us of the manipulative seventh, and overall Afterlife is a kind of condensed cross between Castrovalva and The Twin Dilemma, with a shockingly young and vulnerable-looking Doctor suffering manic moments of insanity.
But while you can point to the Doctor's delight at crash-landing and say 'That's Tom Baker, that is,' or feel a return of Troughton as the Time Lord shuts up for two minutes and lets his companion doing the talking, the only real Doctor Tennant is impersonating is Christopher Eccleston. He too was ranting, chatty, enthusiastic, apparently suicidal and any line the Doctor says in seven minutes could easily have come from his predecessor's mouth. The most obvious moment is when the Doctor finishes setting the coordinates and stands back, arms folded, mirroring the stance he used in The Unquiet Dead and Aliens of London.
There are a few moments that I think show what we might come to know of as the Tenth Doctor (but then again, I could be completely wrong - only time will tell). Just as RTD's The Second Coming had Christopher Eccleston's Steven Baxter just the Ninth Doctor with one heart (they even like the same lack of sugar in their coffee), it would be well to consider RTD's Casanova as the audition for the Tenth Doctor. The bit where the Doctor bursts out about hopping and slowly realizes that Rose isn't joining in, steadily losing his enthusiasm before finishing in embarrassment recalls the (few) scenes where Casanova's charm falls to work. His gentle teasing of Rose, breaking down her barriers reminds me of Casanova's plan to crack Henriette's façade and get her to admit her feelings.
So, basing the Tenth Doctor on Casanova, we will have a Doctor will numerous abilities and social skills, improvising madly on the turn of a dime, with a nice line in self-depreciating wit and the ability to become a desperate man ala Davison in The Caves of Androzani. And his catchphrase will be 'That's weird.' Or maybe just 'Jings!'.
I'll read this again in a year's time and either gloat or squirm.
Of course, while the whole point of the skit might be David Tennant, the story is firmly based on Rose. Billie Piper hasn't lost anything in the months between series and she plays the Tyler girl nicely on the brink. Of course, the Ninth Doctor told her plainly what was going to happen but Rose doesn't blindly accept that - as she says, she's seen beings change their appearance before her eyes before. But it's not hard to see her suspicion of the Tenth Doctor is more motivated by the desire for his predecessor. It's so much easier to think the Doctor's been teleported out and locked up by Slitheen than realize her best friend has changed in body, mind and soul.
Surely no regeneration story has ever been as poignant as Rose's simple question: "Can you change back?"
The original series usually managed to skip over this by careful positioning of companions. Ben and Polly get on with the Second Doctor just as well if not better with the First, and they didn't spend much time with him anyway. There's no Jamie and Zoe to suffer culture shock in Spearhead from Space, and Tegan and Nyssa barely knew the Doctor before his regeneration in Logopolis. Crucially, Adric did and him not being present for the early days explained the alienation of those two companions. Mel's blasse reaction to the Seventh Doctor is one of the more forgivable crimes of Time and the Rani.
The exceptions are Sarah in Robot and Peri in The Twin Dilemma. In the latter, Peri takes a believable amount of time to accept the new Doctor is the genuine article, but it's undermined as its clearly not the same Peri who watched in tears as her friend died saving her life. She dislikes the Sixth Doctor but shows no real affection for his predecessor, bar a defense of his good looks. Sarah's reaction, however is more subtle - after the change, she begins avoiding the Doctor for most of the story. Time and time again she walks out of UNIT HQ, only returning because of this giant robot and fascist scientists. It is notable the only time in the story she and the Doctor share any real feelings is at the endings, when he offers her a jelly baby and the chance to travel with him again respectively - and she accepts both.
Likewise, the Doctor's casual insults of Jackie convince Rose of his identity just as much as his reminiscing of the time they first met. And its unsurprising but still affecting that the moment Rose smiles and finally begins to open up to the new Doctor he starts vomiting five-dimensional bile and running around with no hint of sanity.Afterlife is just what was needed after The Parting of the Ways, and judging about the amount of care and attention and importance in it, is probably vital for The Christmas Invasion as well. We're left with the impression that Tennant has the potential to be a brilliant Doctor, but not sure exactly what that Doctor is like, and the most convincing reaction to seeing a man change his face since The Power of the Daleks.
Oh, and they used the word 'regeneration'! You mark my words, 'Skaro', 'Gallifrey' and 'symbiotic nucleii' will be the next old series mythos to be used, it's only a matter of time!
Oh, come on - all I did was change!