Tuesday, March 14, 2006

TV Review: Doctor Who, New Series, Season 1

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Since the reimagined Battlestar Galactica is on hiatus for the next 7 months---sigh---and since the Sci Fi Channel is partially filling the void by airing the first season (series, for you Commonwealthers) of the somewhat-less-reimagined Doctor Who, I thought now would be a good time for me to post a review of the new season.

First, some background. Doctor Who chronicles the adventures, through time and space, of a mysterious extraterrestrial (but humanoid) character known only as “the Doctor.” In all but one story, the doctor is accompanied by one or more companions, who are usually young, humanoid females. A companion’s purpose is twofold:

  • She invariably gets into trouble and must be rescued by the Doctor.
  • She helps the viewer understand the story by asking lots and lots of questions.

One of the more famous aspects of the show is that the Doctor’s time machine, an old Type 40 TARDIS, is disguised as a police box. (Fortunately, the TARDIS is much bigger inside than out.) The original series was also famous for the very poor production values necessitated by its shoestring budget.

The original series ran from 1963 to 1989, taking a hiatus in 1985---that’s right, there were 26 seasons---and has become a pop-culture icon in the UK.

Because the show ran for so many years, numerous characters have moved in and out of the cast. Even the main character has be recast a number of times: 7 times, to be precise. This recasting is explained within the show by the ability of members of the Doctor’s species to regenerate.

The new version of the show was created/developed by Russel T. Davies (perhaps most famous for creating Queer as Folk) and first aired in the UK in early 2005. The renewed Who has been a smash hit in the UK; a second and third season were commissioned. (Season 2 should begin airing in April.

Season 1 of the new series introduces the ninth Doctor, portrayed by Christopher Eccleston and his companion Rose Tyler, played by former teen pop singer, Billie Piper. (Interestingly, Piper’s middle name is Paul, so she carries 2 names commonly given to male children.) Eccleston does a good job of making the character his own while being consistent with previous incarnations. Most fans rave about Piper, but I find her merely acceptable.

The new series does a good job of capturing the charm of the original. The feeling of curiosity and wonder is still there.

It’s certainly true that the production values are much better this go-round; the sets no longer shake, and the monsters are actually almost scary.

The writing of the series is, for the most part, quite good: both clever and witty. (The episodes not written by Davies are better than those that are.) It is important to understand, however, that Doctor Who is and has always been a “family” show, which means that it is aimed, in part, at children. This demographic targeting has several ramifications:

  • The show is more fantasy than science fiction; the technology presented in the show often has little basis in reality.
  • Sometimes plots elements can be a little, well, silly.
  • There is a certain amount of physical humor and, yes, there are a few flatulence jokes.

The viewer must keep the family nature of the show in mind, and take the series for what it is, in order to best enjoy it.

Overall, I give Season 1---or Season 27, if you prefer---of Doctor Who 7.5 out of 10. If I were under 14 or had kids that age, I’d give it 8.5 out of 10.

Doctor Who will air Friday nights on the Sci Fi Channel, starting this Friday, March 17. The first 2 episodes will be shown back-to-back this week. If it does well, Sci Fi may well pick up Season 2 and the spin-off series Torchwood.


  1. Anonymous12:46 PM

    ISS - You have too much time on your hands; and you dress funny.

  2. I checked out the show precisely for the same reason (i.e. no battlestar galactica or Numb3rs; yes, my friday nights are lovely), but unfortunately it failed to hold on to my attention.

    In other news, my name is Slobodan. Prepare to die!