Thursday, May 03, 2007

Into Space, Time And Beyond Imagination - Why I Love Doctor Who

Martha (re The Doctor): “His name is The Doctor. He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. He never stops, he never strays, he never asks to be thanked. But I’ve seen him. I know him. I love him and I know what he can do” – Last Of The Time Lords.

It’s a mouthful but it’s certainly a nice way of describing the undeniable awesomeness of this particular show. I knew of the original series but it was something that bypassed me. Thanks to this series however I’ve amended that mistake and have been hunting for certain stories but when it comes to the new series of Doctor Who, I was hooked instantly. I didn’t need a few episodes or nagging from certain people because everything about the opening episode “Rose” pulled me in.

We had a strange man in a leather jacket and Northern accent with two heartbeats and the ability to travel through time and space in a police box and the sad knowledge that a Time War eradicated his species.

As for our gateway into this crazy environment we got a 19 year old in a dull shop job who was drifting through life looking for a reason to feel alive and a part of something important. In fairness that’s pretty easy to relate to, I’ve done a fair amount of drifting myself so in some ways I could relate to that myself. I think many people can, have and done, which is why for this series Rose works so well as a companion. She may not be the best companion in this series history but as gateways go, she played an essential part in the phenomenal second time success for this series.

In some ways it’s amazing that Doctor Who is a success the second time around. You’d think people wouldn’t have the time for a series with a less strenuous plot compared to the likes of Lost but sometimes the most simple of premises can be the most effective ones. Also much as I love the new Battlestar Galactica, it would be kind of a shame if it was the only other series that had success second time round. Russell T Davies more or less has said in some of his interviews that many people would jack in their lives for the opportunity to travel in time and space – I know I certainly would and as a hero, there’s something pretty unconventional about The Doctor. He’s not necessarily a lady killer (despite the fact we’ve seen him smooching Rose, Martha and Captain Jack) but this is a hero who has gone from looking like an elderly gentlemen like William Hartnell to more prettier (and nubile) specimens like Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. He’s also opposed to violence and in nearly every episode; he’s even given his adversaries a chance to redeem themselves.

Of course many of them have been stupid to decline that generous offer and during moments of devastation, The Doctor can exact some pretty extreme judgements. In “The Runaway Bride” he slaughtered The Empress Of Racnoss’ kids and in “The Family Of Blood”, he gave the psychotic family their wish to live forever as long as they didn’t mind being trapped in every mirror and being used as scarecrows. Eccleston’s Doctor had angst; Tennant’s despite the charm could almost you sorry you were even born. He didn’t react too well when Harriet Jones tried to defend earth by nuking the Sycorax’s ship in “The Christmas Invasion” and in possibly a moment that makes The Doctor come across as being a bit of a dick, he tried to avoid Captain Jack by going to the end of the universe in “Utopia” (though going that far was more TARDIS involved). Plus he was pretty hot and cold with the brilliant Martha Jones in some episodes of Season Three.

Either way, he makes for a refreshing hero – noble in one sense but also capable like any hero of falling into the darkness. Some of the dark moments make this series as the series’ ability to blend humour and scares is what separates it from most UK TV.

It also helps that the production team are actual fans of the former series. Both Billie Piper and new cast member Catherine Tate may not have been avid viewers but the likes of Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson grew up with this series as did David Tennant and John Barrowman and from a crew perspective, a show like Doctor Who has to be one of the more intriguing jobs to be on.

Over here, it’s become every bit as tabloid fodder and scrutiny as likes of soaps and reality and often the clever plots and dialogue and powerhouse acting serve as a reminder of how futile those particular genres are now becoming. This is the closest to a detailed series over in terms of plotting, characterisation, internet fan base, DVD sales and heck, actual episode titles. It’s weird that many UK shows don’t do that with their dramas.

Unfortunately there is a flipside to all that scrutiny and that mainly means plots being largely revealed months before we actually see new episodes. We all knew when this series would return that influential villains such as the Daleks, Cybermen and The Master would be popping up and thanks to the likes of The Sun, we got perhaps too spoiled. Season Four looks set to bring back the Sontarans and the rumours of Dalek creator Davros returning have also surfaced.

We also knew in the first week of the series arrival that Christopher Eccleston was leaving and that David Tennant was replacing his as The Doctor. In June 2006, Billie Piper’s exit from the series as Rose Tyler was announced as was the arrival of Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones in the show’s third season.

Speaking of Freema Agyeman, the week of “Human Nature” being aired and after a fantastic interview with Jonathan Ross, The Sun told us she had been axed. To make things even nastier, they claimed it was on the ground of her character not working. Some lies are easy to catch out – Freema’s chemistry with David was perfect and Martha as a character. Granted people weren’t crazy about Martha having a crush on The Doctor but people didn’t hate her for it (I certainly didn’t) and after the transmission of “Last Of The Time Lords”, the actual truth was that Martha’s role would be reduced to five episodes which would suck if we weren’t going to be seeing her in three episodes in Torchwood’s second season so either way, in 2008, we’ll be getting a more mature Miss Jones both in the hub and in the TARDIS. For Freema, that’s a bit of a sweet gig.

Also it’s not like The Doctor will be riding solo for Season Four as Catherine Tate’s gobby Donna Noble will be the full companion for next year along with Martha for the latter half of the season.

Of course with so many rumours, there are a few that are false too – We aren’t meeting the Ice Warriors just yet, David Tennant’s not quitting and the series hasn’t been axed. A few specials in 2009 and a fifth full season in 2010 with Tennant more or less on board should kill that particular recurring.

More interestingly was the rumours of a big battle in the fourth season which would see The Doctor, Donna and Martha united with Rose, Mickey, Jackie, Pete, Captain Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane Smith against Davros. Well 2008 does represent the show’s 45th anniversary and excluding Tylers, it’s perhaps possible that there could be some truth behind this one. I did say possible!

So counting the upcoming Christmas special “Voyage Of The Damned”, how does the new compared to the old series? Well the effects are obviously better and the writing can be even more zeitgeist than before (especially episodes like “Blink” and the love of DVD Easter Eggs and such) but to me one thing that makes this series better than the old one is the structure. 14 episodes, with 3 two part stories (or in Season Three’s case two 2 part stories and a 3 parter for the finale) allows the stories and arcs to be more consistent and if you despise a particular villain like the Slitheen in “Aliens Of London”/“World War Three” or the Abzorbaloff in “Love And Monsters” you don’t have to put with them for too long.

As for the DVD’s, the show is glorious in that arena. Not only do you get commentaries for every single episode but some of them for Season Two were in-vision and there’s something very great about the condensed Doctor Who Confidential as well as video diaries on all three seasons box sets from Russell T. Davies, Mark Gatiss, David Tennant, Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman but the plethora of trailers, the Pudsey cutaway (Children In Need) scene, the 2006 Music and Monsters concert on the Season Three set as well as that brilliant interview with the gorgeous John Barrowman on the Season One set, this is a show built for DVD and not even the absences of TARDISODES or the cool 90 second trailers for Season Three fails to kill the buzz surrounding this show’s DVD treatment.

So far we’ve only dealt with two incarnations of The Doctor on this series. To say I prefer David Tennant’s Doctor is obvious but out of 42 episodes, he’s been in 30, affecting every televised season so far and the fact that this guy is every bit as much as a Doctor Who fan as I have become and millions of people way before me has helped. Eccleston’s Doctor was brilliant and it was a pity he only lasted a season because episodes like “The End Of The World” and “Dalek” showed his impressive range as an actor.

The companions have been more plentiful too. A great return from Sarah Jane Smith in Season Two’s “School Reunion” showed not only how brilliant she was as a companion to The Doctor but also the intrinsic flaws of being with The Doctor as well. For the first two seasons, Rose Tyler was in love with The Doctor and Billie Piper’s chemistry with both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant was electric but their relationship was never going to last as long. The hints in the latter episodes ushered her and The Doctor’s separation and by “Doomsday”, it was her being stuck in a parallel with on/off boyfriend Mickey, mother Jackie and an alternative version of her father Pete that would peek more interest that a battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen. Then again that episode had me balling like a baby so I can talk.

Of course two of my favourite companions have been pivotal. “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” debuted Captain Jack Harkness, a bisexual 51st Century conman/Time Agent who may or may not be the Face Of Boe but who has definitely had two years of his memory removed and currently runs a version of Torchwood. Jack is a cute little puzzle and easily the most sexualised of companions for this series and perhaps one of the most universally loved ones too. John Barrowman is not only hot to look but he’s made Jack into such a charming character, he even upstages The Doctor and like Tennant, Barrowman has chemistry with just about anyone he encounters. Plus Jack can be loyal judging by his willingness to die in battle with the Daleks in “The Parting Of The Ways” and also in his determination to help The Doctor and Martha with The Master in “Last Of The Time Lords”. But also Jack is loyal to his Torchwood team and even turned a chance to go back travelling in the TARDIS to help Gwen, Owen, Toshiko and Ianto deal with monsters in Cardiff. Let’s just hope his zesty, flirty humour also remains intact.

Then there’s Martha Jones - another gorgeous medical student played by relatively then unknown actress Freema Agyeman but a bit like Captain Jack, while The Doctor did care about Martha, a part of you felt she almost had to work extra hard for him to really notice her. She was willing to stay in an era where both her race and gender could be used to discriminate her in “Human Nature”/“The Family Of Blood” in order to protect The Doctor and she travelled through every part of the world as a fugitive in “Last Of The Time Lords” in order to stop The Master’s reign of terror. Plus her exit upon rewatching is dignified and poignant. She loves The Doctor, he does not feel quite the same and she recognises that and realises that things need to change. So she left to help her family recover with the solemn vow of returning.

The girl had me from the first five minutes of “Smith And Jones” and by the end of the season she instantly became one of my all time TV characters. Her return in Season Four with a mature outlook should be fun but it might the dynamic between her and Donna that could be more fascinating. Whether or not I will be enamoured with Donna Noble in Season Four remains to be seen but I have confidence that the writers will try and make me care about Donna as a character and if Catherine Tate can avoid going OTT, the chances of me liking could be good. This show works more effectively with The Doctor and two companions a lot of the time.

However every good show needs better villains and in terms of the original ones, creatures like the Gelth (“The Unquiet Dead”), Reapers (“Father’s Day”), Krillitaines (“School Reunion”), Clockwork Droids (“The Girl In The Fireplace”), The Ood (“The Impossible Planet”/“The Satan Pit”), Carrionites (“The Shakespeare Code), killer scarecrows (“Human Nature/“The Family Of Blood”) Weeping Angels (“Blink”) and the Toclafane (“The Sound Of Drums”/“Last Of The Time Lords”) are definitely effective and the treatments of the Daleks in the three seasons aired so far has been great. Okay so “Daleks In Manhattan”/ “Evolution Of The Daleks” deserved a stronger plot but their invasions/body counts in “Bad Wolf”/ “The Parting Of The Ways” and “Army Of Ghosts”/ “Doomsday” were thrilling as was the moral dilemma in “Dalek” when The Doctor’s emotions were used against him. The Cybermen so far have only appeared in Season Two’s “Rise Of The Cybermen”/ “The Age Of Steel” as well as “Army Of Ghosts”/ “Doomsday” and are still physically threatening but they need a bigger storyline in the future. As for The Master, well having two excellent actors in both Derek Jacobi and John Simm playing him and the homoerotic relationship with him and The Doctor fleshed out in “Utopia”, “The Sound Of Drums” and “Last Of The Time Lords” certainly made Season Three my favourite season. He’s still psychotic and even more ruthless in his attempts of victory and his for now death was incredibly sad.

Other former villains like the Autons and the Macra have only gotten an episode each such as “Rose” and “Gridlock” but with Season Four definitely returning the Sontarans and more than likely Davros as well, the ties between both the old and new series are nicely maintained. Overall this is pretty much the best thing on TV at the moment and here’s to many more glorious seasons to come.

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