Thursday, May 04, 2006

Why You Should Be Watching the New Doctor Who

The new DOCTOR WHO has been airing in America for a couple of months now (Fridays on the Sci-Fi Channel at 9/8c), and it's near the end of its first season run (the second being well underway in its native Britain.) If you haven't been following it, May 5's episode is a great place to jump in, kicking off a two-part epic written by COUPLING's Steven Moffatt. I got to see the series thanks to the R2 DVD releases, well after it had aired in Britain but some time before Sci Fi even picked it up, so I can safely say you're in for a treat.

The Doctor is an alien adventurer who flies around the cosmos and back and forth in time in a machine called the TARDIS, fighting evil and saving the universe and generally having a good time. His partner is Rose Tyler, a shop girl from modern day London who's enjoying the opportunity to lead a less-boring life. Craziness ensues.

So what's good about it? In brief, it's one of the most purely fun shows on television. Shows like 24 and the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA embrace a "grim and gritty" approach to drama, which I suppose reflects our modern post-9/11 anxieties about the world, but it's been the dominant tone in big and small screen drama for a while now, and it's great to see a series come along that's just plain joyful. There are tense and sad scenes, and tragic things occur, but on the whole the show doesn't let us forget that the Doctor and Rose are on an Adventure, fighting the good fight and seeing all sorts of wonderful things. Even the saddest episode, the recently aired "Father's Day", has a certain sweetness to it- this is not a cynical program.

Christopher Eccleston brings a wonderful intensity to his performance as the Doctor, who's haunted by the destruction of his home world in an enigmatic 'Time War' but reacts with boundless enthusiasm to a meeting with Charles Dickens or the arrival of a spaceship in 20th century London. (In the UK, Eccleston's already been replaced by David Tennant, who's gotten good notices as well.) Billie Piper, who plays Rose, was actually a pop star in the Britney mode before proving her acting chops in a miniseries version of "The Canterbury Tales", and is never less than charming and thoroughly believable in her role. The show is more character driven than its earlier 1963-1989 incarnation, reflecting modern TV drama, but still captures the endlessly imaginative and adventurous spirit of the original.

The upcoming Sci-Fi Channel episode, "The Empty Child," features a visit to WWII London, the introduction of rogue time traveller Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), and a new monster-of-the-week who- well, I don't want to spoil things, but I'll say that while I've gotten tired of the "spooky kid" cliché from numerous horror movie trailers, this is a unique twist. The end of the second episode, "The Doctor Dances," affirms everything I've come to love about this show. So, watch it, TiVo it, do whatever you need to do to jump on board. You're missing out.

As for British readers- you lucky bastards are already getting the second season. You don't need my endorsement.

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