Monday, October 23, 2006
Spoilers for the latest episode of "Doctor Who," plus some brief heretical thoughts on a bit of vintage "Who" coming right up...
So, on the recommendation of people here and elsewhere, I Netflix'ed the Tom Baker-era "City of Death" to see an example of the original series at its height. But what it mostly accomplished was to remind me of how terrific the modern series is.
Don't get me wrong: Tom Baker is a riot as The Doctor, and an obvious inspiration for David Tennant's performance, and with a pseudonymous Douglas Adams on the script, the dialogue is absurd and absurdly witty. (My favorite moment: when the dumb lug of a private eye smashes the sonic screwdriver into functionality, and The Doctor asks if the guy wants to be his scientific advisor.)
But I had a hell of a time trying to get past just how cheap the old show looked, not even the special effects, but the low-quality videotape, the minimalist sets and, most of all, the clumsy blocking. The modern show may not have the slickest production values, but it moves, you know?
Now, I understand that the old show had to operate on a shoestring budget, and in the context of both that and the era in which it was produced, I understand why the whole endeavor resembles a cross between a live TV show from the '50s, public access, and a Saturday morning puppet show. But having seen the Eccleston/Tennant version, I've been spoiled. And if I got so frustrated sitting through what many have claimed is the height of classic "Who," I don't know that I'll have the patience to go back and watch more. And I say that as someone with a healthy appreciation for old movies and TV shows that are even stagier than this. Sorry.
For me, "City of Death" stood in especially awkward contrast to Friday night's "The Girl in the Fireplace," which also had The Doctor dealing with historical figures, paradoxes and malevolent aliens. Even though I don't believe The Doctor would be dumb enough to not remember the different rates time passes on each side of the fireplace, his unconsummated love story with Madame de Pompadour moved me at least as much as last week's reunion with Sarah Jane.
I know it's not fair to compare an emotionally heavy episode to a four-part light romp, but I'm more engaged on every level -- including the comic -- by the newer series. If I had started watching the original as a kid, I would no doubt feel differently, would let nostalgia allow me to ignore the clumsiness of it all the same way I like to go back and re-read fairly primitive superhero comics from the early '80s. But like The Doctor and Reinette, I can't go back and rewrite my own past. It is what it is.