Who’s Your Doctor?, Part II
Way back when, in March 2011, I wrote “Who’s Your Doctor?”, a tribute to the original Dr Who series, and citing my favorite and least favorite episodes of the first 7 Doctors. Actually, I didn’t include William Hartness (#1) and Patrick Troughton (#2) because I hadn’t seen their entire body of work.
Now, as Season 7 of Dr Who premieres on BBC America tonight, I thought I’d write about the three “reboot” Doctors – again, reviewing my most and least favorite episodes of each one: Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
Doctor #9 – Christopher Eccleston
A decent actor to reboot the series. He decided to only stay one season, so there isn’t a large repertoire to choose from. Besides, season 1 was mostly about his companion, Rose Tyler, and as the season progressed, bits and pieces of the Doctor’s life were revealed. Two enemies from the original series made appearances: The Autons (in the premiere episode “Rose”) and the Daleks (“Dalek”).
Three themes became evident in the reboot. One, there would be greater character development and attention paid to the companions. In the original series, the companions were mainly foils for the Doctor, so that he could show off his intelligence and problem-solving abilities. Now, though, the companions (and other characters as well) are better developed and not two-dimensional. This decision by the producers and creators thus enabled the Doctor to grow and develop as well, making him more three-dimensional. That never happened in the original series. Make no mistake, though – this series is called Doctor Who, and that’s its focus. But there’s more to the show than just the Doctor. There’s a greater emphasis on how his decisions and actions affect all those around him – changing them, altering their relationships, and sometimes even bringing out what’s worse in him and them. And the decision to do that has paid off in spades, as the show has been a finalist and/or winner of British TV Awards every year.
The second theme was that each season (or series, as they call them in England) would have an arc from episode 1 till the series finale. Each story still stands on its own (although there were two-parters here and there), but when looked at from beginning to end, you can detect a theme or arc that works well. Personally, I like that concept. It shows a deep commitment to the show on the part of the creators, and not just a hodge-podge collection of disjointed episodes (although there were exceptions in the original series: “The Key to Time” story with Tom Baker; “Trial of a Time Lord” with Colin Baker, and producer John Nathan Turner ran several 3-episode arcs when he was in charge).
The third theme was the steady reintroduction of some of the Doctor’s greatest foes – the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sontarans to name a few, as well as one of his earlier companions, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who played her, died in April 2011, unfortunately). There were a couple other surprises as well that I don’t want to reveal here, lest I spoil it for anybody.
Favorite episode: Hard to choose, mainly because I was just happy and excited to see Dr Who back on TV again, with honest-to-goodness decent special effects. However, my favorite was “Father’s Day”, where the Doctor and Rose traveled back in time when her dad was killed in a car accident, and Rose saves him, and basically screws up everything. The Reapers were a neat creature, and the characters – Rose and her parents (who make repeat appearances throughout the first 2-3 seasons) – are fleshed out nicely.
Least favorite: “Bad Wolf” was kinda meh for me, where the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack Harkness (who would spin-off to the series “Torchwood” – an anagram of Doctor Who, by the way) find themselves on the Game Station, which is like a perpetual reality tv/game show center. The theme “Bad Wolf” is carried through the series, which gives it continuity (as well as into Season 2, at the end), and the end of the episode reveals a Dalek invasion fleet.
Doctor #10 – David Tennant
Tennant reminded me a lot of Tom Baker – all teeth and hair, controlled eccentricism and dramatic (sometimes too much so). His incarnation rocketed Dr Who’s popularity. He traveled with three companions during his tenure – Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble (British comedienne Catherine Tate).
Favorite episode: Mostly everyone I talk to loves “Blink”, which really is an excellent show – suspenseful, scary, ingenious, and we’re introduced to the phrase “timey-wimey” – and we’re introduced to the magnificent aliens The Weeping Angels, creatures that only move when you don’t look at them. And who cannot look at each other.
Creepy. But that’s not my favorite.
I really liked “Midnight“. The Doctor is trapped with other tourists in a crashed shuttle, and an unspeakable entity possesses one of the tourists, who parrots all the other tourists, until focusing exclusively on the Doctor. Word for word, until… Tense, claustrophobic, psychologically draining – well written and well acted.
Least Favorite: Oh gosh – “Partners In Crime“, from that same season. People dissolving into little blobby fatzoids called The Adipose? Pretty weak way to start the season. Fortunately, the season did improve – by bringing back The Sontarans and Davros, creator of the Daleks.
Doctor #11 – Matt Smith
It took me several episodes to warm up to Matt Smith’s interpretation, and now, I really like him. The writing keeps getting better, the story lines bolder, and the companions – Amy Pond, her boyfriend/husband Rory (who I think more than any other companion has developed into a well-rounded character), and the ubiquitous and mysterious River Song.
Favorite episode: It’s a tie. I couldn’t choose just one.
“The Doctor’s Wife” – clever portrayal of the relationship between the Doctor and his TARDIS. Sounds weird, but it’s really good. And some of the trials Amy and Rory go through while trapped on the hijacked TARDIS are disconcerting to say the least. Poignant, heartfelt, tense, witty.
And the other – “The Girl Who Waited“. What does it for me in this episode is that we get to see what traveling with the Doctor really does to his companions. Amy and Rory’s relationship is stretched, as she gets separated from the Doctor and Rory at a quarantine facility, and when they attempt to rescue her, they shift forward 40 years. So which wife does Rory save?
Unfortunately, I can’t find clips of “The Girl Who Waited” beyond trailers, and they don’t do the episode justice.
Least favorite: Easy – “The Vampires Of Venice“. Complete throw-away.
There have been some great things already in the Matt Smith years – more Angels, the return of the Silurians (a bit weak, alas), a new alien called The Silence (as soon as you stop looking at them, you forget they exist), an episode with Winston Churchill, another with Vincent van Gogh (another fave), the mystery of River Song is revealed, and in the Season Six opening episode, the Doctor is killed. Whew!
…there has been one thing about the Doctor as of late that has bothered me. The clip below says it all.
“Rule number one: The Doctor lies.”
Now, in my scattering memory, I don’t recall lying being the Doctor’s calling card and first rule. And the more I’ve been thinking about it, it seems that more and more, lying has been used by the Doctor as a means to an end. I haven’t time to explore this further, but I hope to in the future. For you fans, feel free to discuss it in the combox. Does it seem to you that the Doctor engages more in deceitful tactics now (such as with his “psychic paper”) than in the original series? This is something I’m going to pay closer attention to now that Season 7 is upon us.
So – in the words of the 11th Doctor – “Geronimo!!!”