Saturday, 9 May 2015

Opinon Piece - Everybody Lives

We recently revealed that Ingrid Oliver will be returning as Osgood in Series 9. If you're unaware who Osgood is, the character is a UNIT scientist who has an obsession with the Doctor. She was also killed off during the season 8 finale, Death in Heaven. Despite only two appearances - and having only half a name - the character of Osgood quickly became a fan favourite, and her death set fandom weeping. Now the character is being brought back to life, I would like to take this opportunity to address the issue of characters returning.
"Everybody lives Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!"
- the Ninth Doctor, The Doctor Dances
Don't cry, you'll be back soon.
The practice of bringing back 'definitely dead' characters seems to have started with Rose Tyler, companion to the Ninth and Tenth Doctor. At the end of the Series 2 finale, Doomsday, Rose was trapped in a parallel universe, never to see the Doctor again. I know this means she didn't die, but she kept saying "This is the day I died" so I'm going to run with that. Her departure brought one of the most emotional farewells Doctor Who had ever seen. It was a real tear jerker that kept Kleenex in business. I do have my own personal gripe that she kept saying in the previews that she would die but only ended up trapped, but that's another article altogether.

The main reason that the exit worked so well was that it was just that, an exit. Lost forever, never to be seen again. Fans who had only started watching the show from the revival had lost the first companion they'd ever know. But then, two years later, Partners In Crime showed a brief glimpse of Rose on a screen. Oh. Then in Turn Left, Rose returned for another series finale. As nice as it was to see Rose again, it kind of reduced the trauma from her initial exit. At the end of Journey's End, she once again wound up 'trapped forever' in the parallel universe. Only this time, that fate was less worrying. It took a lot of "No, this time you actually ARE trapped" and even then we know how the show runners like to bend the rules, so we now bid more of a 'bye for now' to Rose Tyler.

Over the past few years, this idea of characters returning from the metaphorical grave has been used a number of times. Clara kicked the bucket twice. Amy got shot but saw the light. Jack pops his clogs several times an episode. And Rory seemed to have a loyalty card with Heaven.

The many deaths of Rory
The latter companion seem to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that dead characters can come back. Rory dying became a running joke even within the show itself, with the character making reference to it himself. Although this is meant as a bit of humour, it only serves to highlight that death is no longer a threat in the series. Characters die, but we know, in the back in our minds, that the show runners will find a way to bring them back if they want to. Yes, we all cried for weeks when Osgood died, but then days later fans had already started campaigns to bring back Osgood - or #BringBackOsgood if you're a Twitter fan. No other show on TV could have people protesting to bring back characters who are 100% dead, and yet Doctor Who gets away with it.

With the Doctor, we know he's not going to die at the end of every episode. It's something we've come to accept. The thrill is now in how he is going to get out of the trouble. Back in the day, regeneration was a surprise. Death was a surprise. But now with the shows popularity, it's hard to get away with surprises, so we know month in advance who the next Doctor is going to be and therefore know the Doctor's not going to die until we start seeing leaked photos of the new Doctor filming.

I'm back!
I stated earlier that the idea of bringing back dead characters started with Rose, but in fact the show has been doing it for years. I can't talk about defying death without mentioning everybody's favourite renegade Timelord, the Master, who has been dying on and off for years. The Master takes over the body of Tremas in The Keeper of Traken to avoid death. After being executed at the start of the TV Movie, he steals another body. Then in Utopia we learn the Time Lords brought him back to life to fight in the Time War. After being shot in Last of the Time Lords, he returns again in The End of Time. But again, this is another case of 'He's dead, but we know he'll be back'. The Master is one of the most popular villains of the show, so of corse it makes sense to keep bringing him back. Because he's a Timelord, he can sort of get away with it. Before the Time War, the Timelords could grant him another regeneration cycle, which made perfect sense and was a valid way of keeping the character alive. But it's when mad women start brewing potions using Lucy Saxon's DNA that it starts getting a bit silly. Doctor Who has always been based on science. Although there's fantasy and the occasional unexplained impossibility, the majority of what happens in the show can be explained by science. That's how we buy into it, because a scientific explanation - no matter how barmy - makes it believable.

Think about the 2005 episode Dalek. The reason that episode works so well is because it's one Dalek that wipes out most of the staff. It electrocutes and exterminates them and it makes you think "Jeez, this Dalek means business." As the death count rises, you realise the Dalek has no mercy, so when it gets to the point where it's about to kill Rose, you fully believe - and expect - it to kill her. Some deceased characters have stayed dead, and the death has been all the more impactful for it. Think of Adric, Jabe (The End of the World), Gwenyth (The Unquiet Dead), Lynda (The Parting of the Ways), Chantho (Utopia),  Adelaide Brooke (The Waters of Mars)... all of their deaths meant something. If Adelaide had come out of the house and said "Only joking, I'm not really dead" it would have spoiled the whole moment.

Osgood (deceased-ish)
The trouble with bringing dead characters back is that it has started to affect the way we feel about characters dying in the show. Death is less of a threat, as we know that any character can be brought back. So when our favourite characters die, instead of mourning them, we start brainstorming ideas for how they're going to be brought back. Another argument I have for this is that a lot of children watch the show. For some this may be their first experience of watching someone die. But if they grow up thinking that people come back to life all the time, it's going to mess with their heads when a deceased relative won't come back. We need to bring back the 'dead is dead' policy and stop people from thinking that anyone can just come back to life. Until this happens, the threat of death will never be very powerful.

Moffat stated that the idea of killing of Osgood in Death in Heaven was to show how crazy the Master was by killing off a much loved character. It had great effect. Many were saddened by the loss of such a great character. But now she's back. Although we don't know how or why yet, I'm sure there's going to be quite a few theories thrown around as to how she survived. Was the Master's blast a teleport? Will Osgood be a Zygon? They may have kept her print from Day of the Doctor. Is Osgood Captain Jack's daughter and she can't die either? Who knows, stranger things have happened. I'm sure Moffat has got something clever up his sleeve... at least I hope he has.

Although most of this article has been opposed of the idea, I'm not altogether against bringing characters back. Sometimes it can work. The basic premise of the show is time travel, so there is a certain freedom to revisit characters. Take River Song for instance. River dies in her first episode, but we had a number of adventures with her afterwards due to the Doctor meeting her at different points in her timeline. So it can work, but it needs to be done right, with a strong rationale for bringing them back and a plausible explanation for how they return.

So there you are. Those are my thoughts on bringing back characters, but what do you think? Should the dead stay dead? If not, who would you like to see return from beyond the grave? Let us know in the comments below.