Sunday, 4 November 2012

Doctor Who (Series One)

I'll start with a quick history of Doctor Who for the uninitiated. Doctor Who is a British family-friendly sci-fi show that's been around since 1963 and is approaching its 50th anniversary. In terms of longevity then it's kind of like the British equivalent of Star Trek, although those shows couldn't be any more different in terms of style. Doctor Who is about a humanoid alien (a Time Lord) who comes from a planet called Gallifrey and calls himself "The Doctor". We're never told what his real name which is why the show is called "Doctor Who". The Doctor travels through space and time in his spaceship called the TARDIS (which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space). The TARDIS looks like a 1960s' police box, is much bigger on the inside, and the Doctor doesn't have complete control over it. The Doctor has adventures, defeats evil, and is assisted by a sonic screwdriver and a number of travelling companions. These travelling companions are usually human females. The Doctor's most famous and iconic enemies are the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master but he's fought many different foes over the years. The Doctor also has a certain amount of lives or "regenerations". Instead of dying the cells in his body can regenerate, which alters his appearance in order to eradicate the damage to his body. He still retains all of the memories of his previous self but he has a new face and - to a great extent - a new personality.


From 1963 to 1989 seven different actors played the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Doctor Who was eventually cancelled in 1989. This was partly due to the fact that viewer ratings had fallen and partly due to the BBC's unsupportive attitude. They had always regarded Doctor Who as a bit of a joke and had always been baffled and bemused by the success of their own show. Despite Doctor Who being hugely popular they had always insisted on keeping the production costs as low as possible and had never allowed the producers a big budget. Nevertheless the Whovians (Doctor Who fans) did everything possible to convince the BBC to make another series, so they did make an attempt to revive the show again in 1996 with a made-for-TV movie. The BBC co-produced this with 20th Century Fox and the movie starred Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. It was made with the intention of tapping into the US market and had it been successful it would have led to a revived TV series. But it didn't work out. McGann's performance won much praise from fans but since the movie was poorly-received in the USA the show was left in limbo. This eventually changed in 2005 when Russell T Davies was asked to revive the series.

Russell T Davies had previously written the TV show Queer as Folk and the BBC miniseries Casanova. Davies wanted to update Doctor Who for the 21st century and borrowed ideas from modern dramas, most especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville. Episodes of Doctor Who would now be about 45 minutes long, would be mostly standalone, and would be part of a 13 episode series. Updating Doctor Who was a massive challenge for Davies, his team of producers and writers, and the show's two main actors (Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper). This was because the responsibility on them was huge. There was an enormous amount of expectation and it was a project that many thought was doomed to failure. This was because Doctor Who had become open to ridicule in the nine years since it had been taken off-air. This was due to the classic series' cheap-looking cardboard sets, rubbish special effects and occasionally questionable acting. Many wondered whether a new series could work. Would the acting be better? Would the production values be higher? Could Doctor Who still appeal to a new generation that hadn't been brought up on the show? The answer to all of these questions was a resounding "Yes". Despite some weak episodes it became a massive hit. It became one of the most popular and talked-about shows on TV, won a stack of awards and critical acclaim, and even launched two spin-off shows (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures). It proved that there was still a big market for fantasy/sci-fi shows and the BBC and ITV would produce several other shows in an attempt to cash in on Doctor Who's success, the BBC's Merlin being by far the best of these. Doctor Who is still going strong seven years later but the head writer/producer is now Steven Moffat, who has also written and produced the shows Jekyll and Sherlock. However, this post is going to be a review of the first revived series of Doctor Who only and will contain spoilers from the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who.

Before I get onto the actors and the episodes in this first revived series I'll make one thing clear. Doctor Who was a very hit-and-miss show when Russell T Davies was still in charge. You could see an episode that was absolutely amazing one week and then the next week you could see an episode that was absolutely abysmal. I'll always be grateful to RTD for bringing the show back but in my honest opinion he just isn't that good a writer. In his five year stint on the show as Head Writer/Executive Producer he only wrote two episodes that I really, truly enjoyed (Midnight and The Waters of Mars). The best episodes of his era were actually written by other writers (e.g. Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell). However, that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the RTD era of Doctor Who. Overall it was still brilliant television.

The Doctor
Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor
The actor who was cast to play the 9th Doctor in this first revived series of Doctor Who, after much speculation, was Christopher Eccleston. As I'd never seen the classic series before 2005, Eccleston was my first Doctor. I have to be honest here, Eccleston is my least favourite out of the three actors who have played the Doctor since 2005. Apparently your favourite Doctor is always supposed to be the first one that you watched but that's not the case with me. That's not to say that I don't love Eccleston though! He brought something new and different to the character and he had many great moments during his time on the show. He made for quite a dark and brooding Doctor, he brought a lot of gravitas and intensity to the role, and he had a genuine edge to him. You would never want to cross with this Doctor! This particular Doctor was the one that the show needed to have at the time. This is because the Doctor is now the last of his kind. At some point in between the 1996 movie and the revived TV series, the Doctor's own people the Time Lords waged a vicious war against the Daleks. This was called The Time War. As a result of this war, Gallifrey was destroyed and all of the other Time Lords were killed. As you'd naturally expect then, the Doctor is suffering from a pretty big case of survivor's guilt and is struggling with depression - and Eccleston played this brilliantly. That's not to say that Eccleston's Doctor couldn't be funny though. Although comedy acting doesn't seem to come as naturally to Eccleston as it does with David Tennant and Matt Smith, Eccleston did have some funny moments on the show. There's his first meeting with Charles Dickens in The Unquiet Dead for example, and his dinner table scene with Margaret the Slitheen in Boom Town. I also liked that Eccleston got to keep his Mancunian accent for the part and his shaved-head-and-black-leather-jacket look really suited him. Eccleston had a very nice chemistry with Billie Piper as well. So why is Eccleston my least favourite of the New Who Doctors then? Well, I think the main reason is simply that he was only around for one series. We just never got the chance to see that much of him. I feel like the 9th Doctor was this really cool guy that moved away and now I really wish that I'd gotten to know him better. I don't feel that I "know" the 9th Doctor as well as I know the 10th and 11th Doctors.

The Companion
Billie Piper as Rose Tyler
Back in 2005 there was almost as much speculation on who would play the Doctor's companion as there was on who would play the Doctor. When it was announced that Billie Piper would be playing the companion many eyebrows were raised. At the time Billie Piper was still better known for her short singing career and her marriage to Chris Evans than her acting, so many questioned her casting and wondered if she'd be any good in the role. However, after putting in some very impressive performances, Piper was able to turn the critics and fans around. She won several awards during her two-year stint on the show and proved that she could act. I have no problems with Billie Piper and I think she did an excellent job playing her character Rose Tyler. But Rose Tyler on the other hand... I can't stand her! I know a lot of people love her but I'm not one of them! My dislike of Rose was never so strong that it stopped me from enjoying Doctor Who but I'm certainly happy that she's no longer on the show. I dislike Rose's character for several reasons. In series one though, the main reason why I dislike her is because I absolutely hate the way that she treats her mother Jackie and her boyfriend Mickey Smith. In the opening episode, Rose doesn't even notice that Mickey has been kidnapped and replaced with an Auton but once she does she's understandably worried that he might be dead. But once Rose realises that Mickey is actually OK she just ditches him and runs off with an (almost) complete stranger! She doesn't even reassure him by saying that she'll be fine and that he shouldn't worry about her! She gives no indication of when he should expect to see her again either. And in the very same episode Jackie calls Rose up on the telephone to see if she's alright after the Auton attack. Rose actually laughs and hangs up! How insensitive is that?! And then there's the Aliens of London/World War Three two-parter. At the beginning of this two-parter, Rose arrives back in modern-day London to find that it's been exactly 12 months since she left with the Doctor instead of 12 hours. Unsurprisingly Jackie has been beside herself with grief and anxiety during this time because she naturally thought that Rose is dead. Mickey has suffered too. He was accused of killing Rose when she vanished, was shunned by everyone, and was subjected to hate mail and abuse. Given that this is Britain, he was probably the victim of a vicious smear campaign by the tabloids in order to discredit him and make him look guilty. However, Rose shows absolutely no guilt or remorse for what she's put Jackie and Mickey through! Rose doesn't even go over to Mickey's house to check on him and see if he's OK! Mickey is the one who checks up on her! Rose then goes off to travel with the Doctor again and proceeds to flirt with him, Adam Mitchell and Captain Jack Harkness. When Rose is reunited with Mickey in Boom Town she allows the Doctor and Jack to make fun of Mickey and put him down without a murmur of complaint. And yet in that very same episode, when Rose finds out that Mickey has cheated on her while she's been away, she's actually hurt and angry! It's obvious that RTD wants the audience to sympathise with her! Well, how can anyone feel sorry for her when Rose has only got what she deserves! She has absolutely no right to complain when she treated her boyfriend this badly! This is the main reason why Rose bugs me so much in this series although I also hate how Rose whines and sulks whenever she doesn't get her own way. But, to be fair, Rose does have some good moments in series one and she did work well with the 9th Doctor. In fact I much prefer Rose's relationship with the 9th Doctor over Rose's relationship with the 10th. Rose was specifically created to be a bright and bubbly girl companion in order to counter Eccleston's dark and brooding Doctor. On the whole it worked and made for a good dynamic. However, because Ten was so much more exuberant and cheerful than Nine, the dynamic between Rose and the Doctor wasn't the same. Also, series two has Rose and the Doctor falling for each other and I'm not a Rose/Doctor shipper at all.

Favourite Episodes: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (by Steven Moffat), The Unquiet Dead (by Mark Gatiss) and Father's Day (by Paul Cornell).

Least Favourite Episodes: Aliens of London/World War Three (by Russell T Davies), The Long Game (by Russell T Davies) and Boom Town (by Russell T Davies).

Favourite Guest Stars: Simon Callow and Eve Myles (in The Unquiet Dead), Penelope Wilton (in Aliens of London/World War Three), Simon Pegg (in The Long Game), Shaun Dingwell (in Father's Day) and Richard Wilson (in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances).


Matilda Mi said...

You know what? I've watched the first three episodes so far and one of the first thoughts that came to my mind was: "That girl is really annoying." So you're not alone! And I laughed soooo hard when she didn't realize that her boyfriend was a plastic-thingie.

I'm not a very enthusiastic fan... yet... (anything can happen, I'm only three episodes in!) but I did love Dickens very much :)

Hannah said...

Ha ha! United in our dislike of Rose Tyler! :D Although I wouldn't have such a strong dislike of her if she wasn't so popular. You would not *believe* how many fans love her!

Stick with Doctor Who. Trust me, you won't regret it! It was a very hit and miss show when RTD was still around but when it was good it was amazing :) Steven Moffat's episodes are all fantastic. And you've still got his S1 two-parter story to look forward to! You'll see much better companions in Martha and Donna. And the show's a genuine British institution so you can tell people that you're watching it for "cultural" reasons :D

Ah, yes, The Unquiet Dead. It's such an underrated episode! I especially love it when the Doctor critiques Dickens' work. And when Dickens says "What the Shakespeare?!"

Sorry if this double posts. I'm typing on my phone and that sometimes happens when I do that.