Why you should be watching ‘Doctor Who’
TV Review | 4 out of 5 stars
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 08:04
As the show that inspired “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989), instigated a new interest in sci−fi, and was the stepping stone for BBC’s recently revitalized popularity, “Doctor Who” has deservingly become the longest running sci−fi show in the world, and for good reason.
When speaking of “Doctor Who,” it is important to clarify the distinctions between the series. The show originally aired from 1963 to 1989, followed by a film in 1996, and, finally, the most recent regeneration of the show that started in 2005. Russell T. Davies, the executive producer, handed the reins of the show over to Steven Moffat, who has been running it ever since.
Since its inception, “Doctor Who” has become notorious for its low−budget, manic charm. The ’60s weren’t exactly famous for innovative use of CGI, so the current iteration of the show is recognizably different, although the characters and stories are the same. The CGI has made the show’s more intense visuals better, but thankfully it still makes use of the fabled props and set design that made the “Doctor Who” name so famous. It is this combination that makes “Doctor Who” so unique; unlike its higher−budget sci−fi brethren, including “Battlestar Gallactica,”(2004−2009), the BBC show is a family show and has been marketed as such to great avail.
The show’s premise is somewhat convoluted. The Doctor, a 900 year−old “Time Lord,” travels through time and space in his spaceship, the TARDIS. It resembles a 1960s Police Box, thanks to its chameleon circuit which allowed it to blend in to wherever it landed, but which happened to break when the Doctor once landed in 1960s England. This is a convenient fact for the show’s budget issues.
The Doctor then usually finds himself a plucky companion to bring with him on his adventures, and along the way there are enemies made and alien planets visited. Like most sci−fi shows, “Doctor Who” requires the obvious suspension of disbelief, especially in the show’s cheesier moments. Without a little persistence, many viewers could be deterred from watching the show at all. But the new series benefitted from its lead actor, and Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal as the ninth Doctor was the key; his leather−jacketed, northern portrayal of the Doctor launched the show into unexpected popularity.
Obviously, the same actor has not played the role of the Doctor since 1963. The show’s way around this natural progression of age is merely to have the Doctor “regenerate” whenever he dies in the show, which, due to the reckless nature of his existence, happens rather often. Regenerating requires a new actor to play the Doctor. He comes back with a fresh face and personality, but retains all of his memories.
Eccleston’s transition to David Tennant’s tenth Doctor was met with apprehension from the more recent fans of the show, but their criticism soon turned to joy as Tennant exhibited a foolish, carefree, loveable version of the Doctor with great hair and a martyr complex. As more details about his past and the plans of his enemies are revealed over the episodes, the character of the Doctor only becomes more intriguing.
The current incarnation of the Doctor is played by Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play the ancient character so far. Smith started at the same time that Moffat took over as head writer, and it is hard to tell whether the extreme change in the atmosphere of the show is due to one of them, the other or both. Moffat, who is one of the creators of the other BBC masterpiece “Sherlock,” has a darker and more complex method of writing which frequently pays off in unpredictable ways.
Regardless of the change in the show’s ambience, the reason “Doctor Who” fast became a British national treasure is its playful nature and willingness to be silly. Episodes revolve around quirky subjects such as large green aliens pretending to be members of Parliament or Charles Dickens being attacked by ghosts at Christmas, but can become incredibly poignant: an episode in season five deals with the depression of Vincent Van Gogh. The audience is granted access to this world through the eyes of the Doctor’s companion, and we are shown how ordinary people can become extraordinary if given the right incentive. And after watching this show, who wouldn’t want a madman with a box to whisk them off to see the wonders of the universe?