Sunday, October 01, 2006

Doctor Who: Don't you think she looks tired?

Sometime on Friday, NJ.com finally posted my "Doctor Who" column, not that it says a lot beyond "there's a new Doctor, and he's quite alright." More thoughts on The Doctor, past and present, comic up as soon as I find reading glasses for my psychic paper...

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I'm brand-new to this bandwagon. Never watched the earlier incarnations, save for stumbling across 30 seconds of Tom Baker now and then as a kid, laughing at the cheapness and moving on. Matt reviewed the Christopher Eccleston premiere, and as so often happened during our partnership, if he reviewed something I was ambivalent about, I didn't get around to watching it. But, as happened when he reviewed "Battlestar Galactica" and I ignored it, word-of-mouth from trusted friends and other sources made me finally give in and check it out. In the last couple of weeks, I've watched all but a couple of the less-crucial Eccleston episodes, and I'm kicking myself for not trying it sooner. Hell, I'm probably going to put some classic Doctor into my Netflix queue. (Any recommendations on that from the long-time fans? 26 years is a lot to choose from.)

So all of that being said, I can't approach these episodes with the kind of historical perspective that, say, Ross Ruediger is giving in his reviews over at The House Next Door. I can, however, compare David Tennant to Eccleston, and I think both come out very well.

Eccleston was wounded, a Doctor who had personally witnessed the destruction of his entire race. Moments of happiness, his friendship with Rose -- that was all a pleasant surprise to him, but his default states were sad, guarded, or angry. That's what made his overwhelming joy at the end of "The Doctor Dances" so moving.

In contrast, Tennant is brand-new. He has the memories of the previous Doctors but doesn't seem scarred by them. He's looser, goofier, more able to enjoy his travels -- and yet, when he gets mad, he's even scarier than Eccleston, because Eccleston's rage was always bound together with his own fear. (See "Dalek" for that.) When Tennant goes into a rage like the one at the end of "The Christmas Invasion," there's no sense that he's overcompensating. And because he remains a man whose brain is his most powerful weapon, he gets revenge on Harriet Jones with six simple words. Beautiful.

"Christmas Invasion" worked well as an epic-scale introduction to the new Doctor, while "New Earth" brought back one of the more memorable villains from season one, Cassandra the skin trampoline. I suppose it's inevitable in this day and age that every skiffy show has to do at least one body swapping episode at some point, but they had fun with this. (Cassandra in Rose's body: "It's like living inside a bouncy castle!") Rose and Tennant clearly seem headed for a less platonic relationship than she had with Eccleston, and this helped speed that along a bit. And the climax with the healing of the lepers reminded me of the "everybody lives" finale of "The Doctor Dances." Happy endings are nice sometimes.

What did everybody else think? And how big of a nerd do I sound when I say that this show and "Galactica" back-to-back could be the best two-hour bloc on television?

9 comments:

Toby said...

Enjoy, Alan!

I caught this new season earlier in the summer, and while there are some episodes that might leave you wanting to hit your own head with a brick, there are over-riding themes that run throughout that add up to a most satisfying storyline.

There's more I'd love to say but I'm not one to spoil in someone else's sandbox.

But as for your request about what to add to your Netflix queue from the 'Doctor Who' archives, I would suggest picking one story from each of the Doctors available there. That way you can sample each of their acting styles and the evolution of the production quality.... what there was of it.

In case you don't know the order, it's William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann (the one FOX tv movie) and then Eccleston and now Tennant.

When you do look for a Tom Baker story, there was one season that had an overall arc broken down into about seven individual stories. I think the Netflix descriptions will let you know which ones are included in that.

I've pretty much gone through all that Netflix has to offer regarding 'Doctor Who', and now have the two Peter Cushing feature length films to watch.

I've also been borrowing the tapes and DVDs of some friends who are hardcore Who fans, so I'm not quite sure which stories I saw from them or from Netflix.

But if Netflix has "An Unearthly Child", the first Hartnell story, I'd suggest starting there and then perhaps you can choose something at random for each of the successive Doctors.

(And just for the record, my personal favorite is Troughton as #2.)

sm said...

I'm far from a "Who" expert, but Troughton has been my favorite also. He's got a charming personality, and his companions are fun too. "War Games" is a really good Troughton story, although it's really long - 10 half-hour episodes.

Eric said...

I like toby's approach. Definitely start with "An Unearthly Child." For Troughton, I'd suggest a random Cybermen episode.

Pertwee, "Inferno" an alternate universe Spock-with-a-beard kind of show should hit the spot.

Tom Baker, "City of Death" written by Douglas Adams (and with a cameo by John Cleese) is a standout. So is "The Deadly Assassin" a companionless adventure that takes place on the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey. (And inside a computer generated reality called "The Matrix.")

Peter Davison - Castrovalva, his regeneration episode is really good. So is "Earthshock."

It's been too long since I've seen any of the later Doctors for me to make a recommendation.

J said...

I don't have cable, so will be waiting for the DVD release of Series 2. I wasn't a huge fan of Eccleston, though perhaps he was as appropriately erratic as the rest of the first series... but I liked Tennant immediately. His five seconds in the last episode made me want to go time-hopping in a way Eccleston never did.

As for old Who, try "City of Death." Co-written by Douglas Adams, it's really fun sf. It's a Tom Baker -- he's where most of America started off anyway -- and it's a stand-alone, so you won't have to worry about the sprawling Dalek history, etc. The companion at that point is a fellow Time Lord so there's less condescension than usual on that end.

Positive Beginnings - Hypnosis said...

Welcome to the insanity, Alan!

Seconding "City of Death," but also recommending the following:

"An Unearthly Child" - 1D
"Tomb of the Cybermen" - 2D
"Inferno"/"Spearhead from Space" - 3D
"Key to Time Series: Ribos Operation, Pirate Planet (Douglas Adams!), Stones of Blood, Androids of Tara, Power of Kroll (this one sucks so much I expect Mike Nelson to show up, but if you go in expecting that it can be fun), Armageddon Factor" -4D
"Caves of Androzani" - 5D
"Vengeance on Varos" - 6D
"Remembrance of the Daleks" - 7D
OK, watch the TV movie, but it sucks... Paul McGann, we never knew ye! - 8D

Revel in the walls that are always about to fall down. Thrill to the budgets that wished they could be called shoestring. But above all, enjoy the stories.

I'm also a fan of the novels, and can recommend just about anything written by Lance Parkin.

If you can, watch some of the episodes with a child between the ages of seven and ten. You'll discover new levels of appreciation. Especially the ones that might make an unaccompanied adult want to hit himself over the head with a brick... sometimes those are the ones the kids like best!

Anonymous said...

Very astute comparison of the two new Doctors, Alan. As for recommendations, my favorite is "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", a demented LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN-like parody of Victorian pulp, with lavish period detail, peeks into the bizarre future history of Captain Jack's time, and a killer robot with a brain harvested from a pig.

Also, Russell T. Davies suggested the following stories to BBC exec Julie Gardner when they were putting together the new series (all of which are on DVD, all of which stand out in one area or another, and all of which feature at least one wonderfully crappy monster):

"City of Death", about which enough has been said above.

"Spearhead From Space", The introduction of Jon Pertwee's Doctor and the plastic aliens from "Rose", an atmospheric Fities-style alien invasion story with an atypical amount of cinematic polish.

"The Ark in Space", a well-acted and claustrophobic story that recalls (and predates) ALIEN, as the Tom Baker Doctor has to save a colony of humans from insectoid aliens that gestate inside the human body.

"Genesis of the Daleks", one of the strongest influences on the new series, a six-part epic in which the Time Lords strand the Doctor in the period of the Daleks' creation with instructions to kill them in the cradle, a demand the Doctor finds difficult to carry out (another outing for Tom Baker, the preeminent Doctor not only for his long run, but his Shatneresque ability to jump in an instant from amusing hamminess to engrossing conviction).

"The Caves of Androzani", an unusually bleak adventure, as the Doctor's blithe adventurousness bites him in the ass in spectacular fashion, with he and his companion slowly dying from exposure to toxins and stuck in the middle of a multi-sided war of attrition over the planet of the title; generally considered the best story of the boyish, earnest Peter Davison Doctor.

"The Curse of Fenric", a tale of the twinkly but manipulative Sylvester McCoy Doctor from the final season of the original series, it's an overstuffed but ambitious thriller about the end of a centuries-long war between the Doctor and an old enemy during the closing days of World War Two.

Peter said...

You're exactly right when you say Doctor Who and Galactica back-to-back could be the best two-hour block on television.

We know Galactica will be excellent and having seen all of Who Series 2 I can tell you that you won't be disappointed. The Girl in the Fireplace, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit are just some of the great episodes. The best part however is the end of the series as it's basically an orgy of Doctor Who awesomeness.

There will be another Christmas special this December and then Series 3 starts in Britland this Spring.

Anonymous said...

There's actually a ton of official Radio Dr. Who with Paul McGann (who might be familiar to Hornblower fans as Lt. Bush) as the Doctor. Also, I too have seen this season already and IMO Tennant does a good job of playing Doctor. He's better at the Doctor's nonchalance in the face of mortal danger than Eccleston, I think, but sometimes plays it past being silly.
This season has, IMO, a pair of stand-out episodes, namely #4, "The Girl in the Fireplace," and #10, "Love and Monsters," which changed the show's focus away from the Doctor and companion. The two-parter mentioned above (Impossible Planet/Satan Pit) could've been overly convoluted but was enjoyable instead. (Those Ep numbers assume that "The Christmas Invasion" is numbered episode 0 of this season.)
There's also #3 "School Reunion," which will forge an alliance between Doctor Who fans and Buffy fans forever! And Mickey gets to stop being such a wuss... eventually. Good season-- can't wait for Torchwood.

J said...

This is months later, but weird enough I wanted to mention it...

Series 2's out on DVD, now, and I Netlfixed it. The first disc (Xmas/New Earth) came and, about 2/3rds of the way through "New Earth," switched to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

A defect, obviously, but the switch came at a really odd point. Doctor/Rose/Cassandra are running from the infected zombies, Cassandra's just possessed one of them and is talking about never having been touched... and then CUT there's this haggard looking young woman opening a door in an old house. Just as I was wondering if this was some sort of flashback, Lee Ermey showed up and some old guy's leg got cut off.

So, um, don't watch it with your kids.