The hotly anticipated anniversary episode of Doctor Who aired last night and reviews have generally been pretty positive (albeit with the usual element of patronising adults who don’t pay enough attention claiming it’s too confusing for children, while the children themselves, who do pay attention, don’t find it so at all). It was an adventure with an admirable balance of fun and emotion, fine performances from the three Doctors – David Tennant, Matt Smith and bonus sort-of Doctor John Hurt – and a better role for Billie Piper than her many other previous returns to the show.
Of course it wasn’t completely perfect. The focus on the revamped era of the series at the expense of the older version was inevitable (and, given the befuddled, nonsensical rambling cameo from iconic past Doctor Tom Baker, probably a lack of his now significantly more corpulent namesake Colin was all to the good), but only drew attention to how Christopher Eccleston wanted nothing to do with it, which is a shame because he was excellent in the role and his absence makes no sense in-universe.
The multi-time period narrative actually was less of a tangle of time lines than one might have thought, but still left some gaps and questions. The main question I pondered on as the episode ended, however, was: if you’ve traveled extensively throughout the universe, seen almost all of space and time, why would you use Cup-a-soup as a reference point?
Yes, at one point in yesterday’s blockbuster anniversary the Doctor attempts to describe something using the analogy: “It’s like Cup-a-soups except you add time, if you can picture that. Nobody can picture that. Forget I said Cup-a-soups”. It’s one of those analogies that answers no question, but it does raise plenty.
John Hurt’s grumpy older seeming Doctor, concerned that his more youthful successors with their cool shoes and childish speech patterns are signs of an impending mid-life crisis, asks: “What’s a Cup-a-soup?” So it’s obviously something that the Doctor has learned about since regenerating after Hurt’s version. It also begs the question: is it really “Cup-a-soups” and not, in fact, “Cups-a-soup”, which would be a more accurate pluralisation? Most importantly, though, is that yet again, as with freezer fish fingers and custard powder, the Doctor has expressed an interest cheap, processed, mass produced food. Why?
Cup-a-soup is akin to Pot Noodle in the world of food that just barely manages to fulfill the minimum requirements of actually being food, all packaged in one lonely, depressing container. It’s essentially the closest thing that the real world has to Futurama‘s Bachelor Chow. Are we to understand that the Time Lords, a race significantly more advanced and futuristic than our own, have moved beyond the need for food that is anything more than fuel? Because that would be a bleak future to suggest in a family show.
It’s possible, though, that the Doctor’s lonely bachelor foods are designed as a further indicator of a point that the writers seem keen to drum home at the slightest opportunity: that the Doctor’s tendency to cut himself from the world and live a life of lonely singledom is not mentally healthy. It would be a little archaic for his companions (no longer glamorous “assistants”) to actually cook for him, but they can at least wean him off the Cup-a-soup.
Of course, it’s also possible that the show’s writers, led by Coupling‘s Steven Moffat hope to use the Cup-a-soup reference to make the Doctor more relatable. “Sure, he’s an essentially immortal alien time travelling adventurer, but he still eats the same crappy pseudo-food as you”. It’s even possible he picked this up living a laddish Men Behaving Badly-esque lifestyle when he briefly moved in with James Corden, for some reason.
Whatever the reason for the Cup-a-soup Doctor, the upcoming end of Matt Smith’s tenure in the leading role means that once Smith turns into Peter Capaldi, we can only hope to see a Doctor with a more exciting array of culinary adventures than something straight out of a packet. I mean, he’s happy to eulogise about Van Gogh, but could the new Doctor meet a great chef about whom he shares the same opinion?