Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy Birthday Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor Awaits

Remember Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister in Love, Actually? He gives an updated pop-culture version of the John of Gaunt “This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle . . . This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” speech:

“We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that.

How is it possible that Doctor Who didn’t make the short list? Now there's a national treasure.

The debut of Doctor Who joins the notable anniversaries this week: Gettysburg Address 150 years on November 19; Kennedy assassination 50 years ago on November 22; and the next day, Doctor Who premiered on the BBC, on November 23. It was a hit in Britain for decades, then ended in 1989, and when it came back in 2005, it found a large American audience.

I only started watching Doctor Who on BBC America in the 2005 reboot led by Russell T. Davies.  I caught the tail end of Eccleston, driven there by the incredible recap writing about the show from Alan Sepinwall and Ross Ruediger. It was a little hard to follow the idea of a Time Lord at first, but Eccleston drew me in and sold it, in spite of Billie Piper. I am not a Rose fan. But no matter.

What I love about the series is how deeply imaginative it is. The stories go back in time to the days of Shakespeare or Pompeii and ahead in time to the end of the world in this and other galaxies-—following a Time Lord means all things are possible.

One Martha Jones episode with the Tenth Doctor, “The Lazarus Experiment," is set in today’s London. The villain of the week is a 72-year old doctor looking for the a fountain of youth, which turns him into a raging, really scary-looking CGI monster. In his lucid moments, he remembers back to the London Blitz as a child, when his home was destroyed. The last scene is in St. Paul’s, where he was brought as a child for safety, and where he ultimately goes from monster back to man. I found the story very moving, and important that a show basically targeted for children would create a plot around the last of the generations who saw WWII.

The monsters in general are the creepiest, most elaborate, scariest things on tv. And yes, there was a really gross spider monster, the Empress of Racnoss, which, as I discussed, my arachnophobia, was hard for me to watch.

And then there are the Daleks, the evil nemeses of the Doctor with the really cool voices. You could write about them forever, but it wouldn’t do them justice. They are one of the great fictional destructive forces of all time.  (See photo below, but don't be fooled by their party hats.)

Quick Doctor Recap & The Original Fans
1. First Doctor, played by William Hartnell (1963–1966)2. Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton (1966–1969)
3. Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee (1970–1974)
4. Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker (1974–1981)
5. Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison (1981–1984)
6. Sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker (1984–1986)
7. Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy (1987–1989 and 1996)
8. Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann (1996)

The Time of the Time Lords War

9. Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston (2005)
10.Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant (2005–2010)
11. Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith (2010 - 2013)
12. Twelfth Doctor, will be Peter Capaldi

Russell’s new incarnation of the show had a deep, rich history to build on, now with great CGI effects and the modern Doctors of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant.

I envied the original fans who first started watching as kids and have seen the Doctor through all his regenerations and all his companions. However, when it returned in 2005, they were not all happy.

Some impassioned hatred from one blogger: "Why do I hate it...? Where do I start? Bad dialogue, bad plotting, bad acting, bad jokes and bad science. Sentimental, patronising, inconsistent and too eager to please. Some of it is so cringeworthy I actually blush while I'm watching it."

From blog comments on The Telegraph: "The earlier Doctor. Who, of the Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton eras, were paced much more slowly allowing for the drama to develop, whereas this series is all flash bang wallop, and strangely seems stuck in the 1980s, in its sensibility. Just not very good at all.”

David Tennant: THE Doctor
The BBC has been running documentaries for each doctor. It's a wonderful history of the creative life of a series, and of each actor, as they progress, talking about "their" Doctor, the one they grew up with.

For me, and many, David Tennant is the Doctor, the way William Shatner is James T. Kirk. There may be other actors who play the role for various reasons, but they don't count.

Tennant showed a deep and unique understanding of the potential essence of this character, over 900 years old, sad and happy traveling along, knowing he needs a Companion to temper the darker side of his nature.  Tennant expressed the sheer power of the Doctor in a way that Matt Smith cannot. (Eccleston had flashes of that good/evil power too.) David Tennant is also a true fan of the series, in a way Matt Smith is not. I count the Tennant episodes as some of the most enjoyable TV watching of my life. And what are the odds that the tenth Doctor would be named TEN-Nant? Mystical, right?

Doctor Who: A True "We Are the World" Experience
Big Kudos to the BBC for celebrating 50 years of this creativity with a worldwide simulcast of their anniversary special. Literally. Uniting fans across the globe to experience the story at the same time.  I am very luck to be heading down to see it in a theater. See you on Twitter.

[Updated from a 2008 post]


Claire said...

Oh, I'm so glad you've found and love the new Dr. Who. People sometimes look at me funny when I tell them they should watch it.

Blink is fantastic, btw. I can't wait for Season 4 to start playing here!

Mangonel said...

Yes yes yes! Dr Who is rather fab. And 'Blink' is bloody terrifying.

Did you hear the Doctor, fighting the man-scorpion thing with sound waves in St Pauls Cathedral, saying 'It's not working! I'll have to turn it up to eleven!'

I kid you not.

Tim Footman said...

My first memory of DW is from 1972, half way through the Pertwee era, when I was four years old. I really envy people who have only recently discovered it, because you've got so much ahead of you: not just the original series, plus Torchwood, Sarah Jane, etc, but the Target novelisations, the Missing Adventures, Big Finish, the Weetabix collection, deep-into-the-night arguments over whether the Peter Cushing movies were canonical...

And, yes, Blink is true behind-the-sofa stuff.

M.A.Peel said...

Claire, when/how did you start watching? Was the original ever broadcast over here? Where did American fans come from before last year with Sci-Fi and BBC America?

Hey Mangonel--I just read that the church is Southwark Cathedral (on the South Bank, near London Bridge) not St. Pauls.

Tim, a colleague just told me that there is a very fervent fan base in Chicago. I made need to seek them out to engage in the finer discussion points of true DW fandom.

peteski said...

Thru the miracle of bit torrent we are all caught up and hesitantly await the new season - with a new older side kick. Tennent is a little too Roger Moore (never mind Anthony Newly) for me and I think everyone liked Blink so much because there's just the right amount - not much - of him in it.

HOWEVER Karen who continues to carry the Doctor Fandom Torch (& has listened to every DW audiobook ever recorded) from the couch says: "Welcome to the party!".

ps. a good web resource for DW is

M.A.Peel said...

Hiiiii Karen--glad to be part of the large DW family.

Claire said...

I remember seeing some Doctor Who on PBS when I was a kid and watching it, even though I had no clue what was going on.

I started watching the new Doctor on SciFi and got hooked because of the incredibly thoughtful recaps on Television Without Pity.

I've now gotten my mom hooked and we're just about done with the Eccleston season.

Ross Ruediger said...

Peel -

Just found this lovely post. Very nice - and as someone said before, you've got so much to look forward to if and when you decide to look into the classic series. Glad to know you're still watching! S4 starts next Friday night on the Sci Fi Channel. Stop by The House Next Door and chime in on my recaps if you care to.

M.A.Peel said...

Ross, I am sincerely excited that I've "joined the pary" now as Karen says, and I look forward to moving on to season 4 with you and the rest of the fans.

Peteski said...

NOT the biggest Tennent fan, but Matt Smith (right now watching it) makes him seem like Marlon Brando in comparison, acting-wise.

ps. Billy Piper!

Ellen O'Neill said...

Peteski, I thought the anniversary episode was really good. I like Moffat much better as a writer than a showrunner. Is there an end date to his tenure?