Doctor Who (Series 1-4)
Aired On: BBC
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
Hello, Governor. It's me, you're long absent web reviewer and social deity with a brand new article from across the pond. My absence as of late is directly related to how I was introduced to the subject of the review (and no, I did not move to England). After the birth of my child, television watching became a rare occurrence in our home, and the sparse amount of time me and my wife did have for digital entertainment was relegated to shows we both wanted to watch. Unfortunately, I have more free time than she does to watch television, but still did not want to watch any of 'our shows' without her. As a result I resolved to only watch shows that she either had no interest in or had never heard of before. Which is how I stumbled across this hidden gem. Today, I'm bringing to you a quick review and critique of the BBC popular revamp/remake of the old sixties classic, Doctor Who—which is consequently the longest running sci-fi series, ever.
In 2005, after a two decade absence from the BBC network, a brand new Doctor Who series was lunched with a new look, a new feel, and a new Doctor. For those who are not familiar with the Doctor Who lore, it goes something like this: The Doctor is a Time Lord—a race of humanoids who are technologically superior to humans and—as the name suggests—have mastered the intricacies of time and space. Time Lords, aside from having two hearts, live for hundreds of years, and have the ability to regenerate up to twelve times when their bodies are fatally damaged. This regeneration has the convenient side-effect of changing the appearance and sometimes the personality of the Time Lord. This little plot device has been instrumental in the longevity of series, for if an actor wanted to bow out the following season, the writers could simply write in a regeneration and recast without breaking continuity.
That's where we pick up, with the introduction of the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston (Heroes, G.I Joe, Gone in Sixty Seconds). What happened to the Eighth Doctor of the 1996 Americanized Doctor Who Movie, is not stated in the series, but nevertheless, we have a new Doctor. He's younger, faster and no less eccentric than his predecessors. We meet him through the eyes of young Rose Tyler (Billie Piper, Secret Diary of a Call Girl), a woman with a footloose and casual life. When her place of employment blows up due to animated plastic mannequins, she is thrust into the world of the Doctor, taking a place by his side as his Companion, a role that has often—but not exclusively been filled by equally young, pretty women.
Together, Doctor and Companion, travel through time and space via the Tardis (Time And Relative Dimension in Space), a special spaceship with a living and nearly omnipotent being at its heart, disguised as an old fashion police box...oh, did I mention it was bigger in the inside. The adventures of the first season takes the audience through a host of different places and times, meeting a few new alien threats to Earth, and a reintroducing us to some old favorites such as the Daleks and the Cybermen.
Companions and Doctors in this world are never fixed points in time, so the cast does rotate from year to year, allowing for a fresh experience at times. Amongst those that accompany the Doctor in this first season alone is Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke, Kidulthood, Adulthood), and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, Torchwood), a 51st century, omni-sexual conman who finds redemption in his bid to help the Doctor save the universe.
At the end of the first season, the Ninth Doctor dies and regenerates into the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), but the lovely Rose Tyler remains, as does the off-beat and often slap-stick tempo of the show. Tennant's incarnation of the Doctor, however, adds a new angle to the show in the form of believable chemistry between Doctor and Companion, a chemistry that was sorely and plainly lacking between Eccleston and Piper.
This series builds on that tension and that romance, even as they fight through many of the same enemies as the first season. The culmination of both the repeated enemy engagements and the unrequited love affair, is the battle of Canary Wharf, in which both Cybermen and Daleks invade Earth, forcing Rose Tyler to choose between dying or abandoning the Doctor she loves forever.
The third season follows Tennant and his new Companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman, Law and Order: UK), in much the same way as it did the previous season. The comparison is so apparent, in fact, that I was left feeling as though the writers were using discarded Rose Tyler scripts, substituting her name for Martha Jones' name and changing little else. It wasn't a bad season, and it saw the return of Jack Harkness and the reintroduction of the old show favorite—the Master—but I felt this season could have benefited from a break in the usual formula of wide-eyed Companion, falls for exciting alien Doctor.
That change of formula came with brilliant and much appreciated energy with the introduction of Donna Noble (Catherine Tate, The Office), a saucy, irreverent, opinionated, loud-mouthed, temp, who had been introduced the season prior for a one shot episode, only to end up as the Tenth Doctor's final companion. Her character was pure gold and a much need change of pace for the show. It gave the audience time to get away from the love angle of the previous seasons and gave the show a sharper comedic touch.
The final season with Tennant brings together all the previous companions of this show and even some from the original show, for a final and ultimate confrontation with the ubiquitous Daleks. It sees Rose, Jack, Mickey, Sarah Jane, K-9, Donna and Martha Jones, joined in a common battle. It even manages to bring out, Darvos, former scientist and creator of the Daleks, out of the ashes of the original show for another go around. This final season wraps up Tennant's version of the Doctor and offers the fans a farewell to all his companions as the show moves into its fifth series, with a new Doctor and a new look for the show...but that's for another review.
All in all, Doctor Who (2005-2009) is a fun, entertaining, high-speed, fast talking, thrill ride, which blends all the aspects of the original show with a modern and inventive look. Tennant, I think did the best job, as his personality matched well with all his companions and he had an energy in the role that worked well. That's not to say there weren't lulls in the show, however. Though that had more to do with the writers than the actors. I don't understand why a series with an average of 13 episodes per season ends up with so many filler episodes and continuously bring back Cybermen and Daleks throughout the show. No matter how many times or ways they kill or stop these aliens, they continue to return, taking prominent roles in the story, and still, the creators have a hard time coming up with original enemies to pit against the Doctor. But that's a minor complaint, as the dynamic between Doctor and Companion—especially in Catherine Tate's season—is the primary appeal and driving force of the show.
The writers also employed something known as arch-words, which is say a story arch that is hinted at by repeatedly mentioning a word or phrase. In the first season it was Bad Wolf, in the second, it was Torchwood, in the third it was Saxon. In and of themselves, the words mean nothing, but said enough times and in the right contexts and they shine lights on themselves, letting the audience know that they mean something important and to keep an eye for them in the future. And these little words always deliver, whether they point to genocide, introduction to a spin-off or the return of an archenemy.
So what's my verdict on the first four seasons of this revamped show? It can a tough show to swallow for those that are not fans of the original right out of the gate, or if you're interested in clean, sleek, Star Trek-like sci-fi shows, or if you're not British. There is quite a lot of camp and cheesiness to the show; even when the subject matter gets dark—such as the decimation of the world's population—the reactions of the characters can white-wash the impact on the story. So, I'd understand if people find it hard to get behind. I myself only wanted to watch it because I became a fan of Torchwood—an anagram for Doctor Who, by the way—and wanted to see from where the character of Captain Jack Harkness came. My advice anyone even remotely interested in sci-fi is to give this new inception of Doctor Who a chance, it may seem like a little, goofy show with silly special effects, but much like the Tardis itself, it's bigger on the inside.