So I Finally Watched Doctor Who…

The TARDIS - it's bigger on the inside

For ages, everyone told me I had to watch Doctor Who.  So I finally did–and they were right!  I always say my main interest is stories, not exclusively books…so why not a review of a TV show with truly brilliant storytelling?  And it gives me an opportunity to be gleeful about Doctor Who!

The history of the show is complicated.  It ran on the BBC for 26 years, starting in the sixties.  One reason it took me a while to start watching is because I just didn’t know where to start.  But finally enough people told me I could just begin with the recent series, which runs from 2005-present, and that’s what I did–you can too.

The premise has to be every storyteller’s dream, because it’s so limitless.  The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, and he travels around the universe in the TARDIS, which from the outside looks like a blue phone booth–but it’s bigger on the inside.  It has incredible power, and can travel through time and space.  So you can go into the future and have a sci fi show–go into the past and meet Queen Victoria–invent all kinds of aliens, which sometimes resemble the supernatural (which means you can have ghost stories)–and if things ever get dull, recast the Doctor and give him a new sidekick.  You see, the Doctor never dies, he just regenerates with a new face, which is how they can now be up to the 11th Doctor.  He usually travels around with a companion, but the companion is open to replacement.

So you have a premise with pretty much no boundaries.  And the show itself is exciting, witty, suspenseful, hilarious…  I’ve just finished Season Two, so I can’t yet comment on anything after that.  But the first two seasons are fantastic.

I admit it did take me a few episodes to get into the show.  The recent series opens with the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston.  He’s a sort of goofy action hero, who will save the day, while grinning and making jokes.  At first I wasn’t sure I liked it–then I had a complete turn-around and loved it.  One cool thing about a constantly funny hero is that when he does turn serious, it means a lot.  His face goes solemn and the tension rises through the roof.

The Doctor regenerates at the end of Season One, to be replaced by David Tennant.  He’s goofy, but in a different way.  Still very mercurial, but he gets serious more often.  It took me a few episodes to forgive him for not being Christopher Eccleston, but by the time he crashes a white horse through a mirror into a French ballroom, I decided I loved him too.  He brings a whole new level of awesome to the character.

I have not yet watched enough to get to know the Doctor’s later companions, but for the first part of the series he travels with Rose.  She rises above really bad make-up to be a quite good character, and there’s excellent chemistry between her and both Doctors.   When I say “chemistry,” though, I don’t mean romance, and that’s actually something I love about the show.  The Doctor and Rose are very, very close–but they’re friends.  There isn’t even any flirting or innuendo.  They’re just really, really good friends.  You don’t see that very often in TV.

Another thing that strikes me about the show is its confidence.  I think it comes of having a forty-year history and apparently an enormous British fanbase.  I don’t quite know how to explain how a TV show can be confident–but I think it’s that they present sometimes absurd things and treat them seriously.  They don’t mean it ironically, it’s not campy, and yet instead of laughing at them–I end up believing them!  For instance, the Daleks.  They’re this alien race that’s totally ridiculous-looking, these rolling tank things that look like they belong in Lost in Space, and they roll around with funny voices saying, “Exterminate!  Exterminate!”  But the Doctor says that they’re the ultimate evil and very dangerous, and he and everyone else takes them very seriously, and I find myself looking at other alien races on the show and thinking that they’re not as threatening as the Daleks.  Really, I don’t know quite how they do it.  And sometimes, the show does know it’s being absurd, and has really funny episodes as a consequence.

Some TV series will have funny episodes, and tragic episodes, and spooky episodes.  Doctor Who manages to do it all at once.  There are terrifying aliens, really clever lines, heartbreak and hilarity.  And the show is often absolutely riveting.

8 thoughts on “So I Finally Watched Doctor Who…

  1. ensign_beedrill

    I love Doctor Who. SO MUCH. Best show on television right now. And I can’t even watch it ’til it comes out on DVD, haha.

    It took me a few episodes to forgive him for not being Christopher Eccleston
    Me too, but now ten is probably my favorite Doctor. I’m glad you started with the 2005 series; that’s the way I recommend people new to the series start. That’s how I started. Then I went back and watched all of the old episodes (it took nearly two years!). At least… all of the ones that still survive. Apparently it was common practice for the BBC to just trash episodes, so there are a number of missing ones.

    Daleks are scary! Probably the reason they look so ridiculous is that they have been around since the very beginning. They made their first appearance in the third serial. (Back when the show started, the stories were told in serials of usually four to six episodes. Which when you go back to watch them, it kind of makes them a bore. You could take a lot of those four-thirty-minute-episode-stories and make them one hour-long episode.)

    In the previous comment you mentioned favorite Doctors and best installments. I personally like the new series the best, so you’re on the right track. There’s some great stuff to come and some truly creepy enemies. I love that kind of stuff… like the Angels and the Vashta Nerada. I liked the season with Donna the best (fourth, I think?). If you’ve just finished season two, you already know Donna. Or will know her soon enough… she turns up in the Christmas special. Tennant is my favorite Doctor. Also, and a lot of people will tell you this if you ask around, I love Tom Baker (the fourth). He’s really eccentric, and my sister knitted me his scarf for Christmas last year (fourteen feet!). My very favorite serial of the older series is Genesis of the Daleks. Tom Baker is the Doctor, and Sarah Jane Smith (a very popular character) is the companion. Harry’s there, too. I love Harry, but he didn’t feature in too many episodes. That story might give you a little more insight into the Daleks and why they’re so scary and some of the history between them and the Doctor. I also really liked The War Games which featured the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Anything with the Master in it, especially Anthony Ainley’s, is probably worth a look. I recommend finishing up the new series, though, before diving into the old series, because it’s very big!

    I actually really like all of the Doctors. My least favorite are the first—he’s a crochety, arrogant old man—and the eighth, but he only featured in one movie and most of it was him fighting off post-regenerative craziness. Favorite companions are Donna, Tegan, and Lalla Ward’s Romana. I also have a soft spot for Ian and Barbara. And Jamie. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is another favorite character of mine, and he features heavily in the third Doctor’s early episodes.

    1. I have mentioned, haven’t I, how much I LOVE your long, detailed discussions of things? 🙂 I am impressed (but not surprised) by your dedication watching the entire 26 previous seasons (or at least the surviving ones).

      I did briefly meet Donna, and have met Martha in a few episodes since I wrote this post. Not sure yet how I feel about Martha, not a big fan of Donna but curious to see how it goes when she gets an entire season. It keeps taking me a few episodes to warm up to Doctor Who characters… Loved the transition from Rose to Martha, though, that he didn’t just blink and move on.

      I think I need to check out Tom Baker just to find out why he has a fourteen foot scarf! I’ll probably hunt down Genesis of the Daleks. I met Sarah Jane in the new one, so it would be fun to see her in the original!

      Anyway, now I definitely have a lot to go on figuring out where to start on the old one–thank you! 🙂

  2. I think the Brits are very good at pulling off confidence in TV shows. They have a different way of looking at things (especially in their humor) than we do in America, but it’s still appealing to Americans. And changing Dr. Who to a new actor is not only good storytelling, it’s brilliant for keeping production costs down – no “prima donna” actor playing the lead for a long time, getting very popular with the fanbase, and then demanding a huge salary to continue! 🙂

    1. True, they do avoid Star Trek’s problem, with Leonard Nimoy requiring very large amounts of money to put in an appearance as Spock! (although…I’m sure he earns it back for them) It also means they can keep the series going for forty years, and the lead character doesn’t have to age.

  3. Swamp Adder

    Oh gosh, I was a fan of Doctor Who even before I was a fan of Star Trek! I admit the new series doesn’t really do it for me, though — I’ll always prefer Classic Who, just like I prefer Original Trek. ; ) I agree with you that the nearly-limitless premise is one of the best things about the show.

    The Daleks are one of those things that have been part of the show since the beginning, and they were the main reason why it became popular in the first place — so they have to keep showing up, no matter how goofy they seem nowadays. ; )

    1. Nice to hear an opinion from someone who knew Doctor Who before the remake! I think most people I’ve talked to watched the new one first. A bunch of the old one is on Netflix, and I’ve been wanting to check it out too. Any recommendations on favorite Doctors, or best installments to watch?

      And the Daleks are fantastic. Goofy, yes, but somehow it works…

      1. Swamp Adder

        Heh, I always feel awkward about making recommendations, since it’s impossible to know whether the other person shares my tastes or not — but I’ll give it a try.

        As ensign_beedrill mentioned, the old series had half-hour episodes that formed serials of usually around four to six episodes each. Four-episode stories can be watched all in one go, if you feel like sitting down for something like a two-hour movie, but for ones longer than that it’s usually better to split it up and watch it in two- or three-episode chunks. Or just watch one episode at a time. Whatever floats your boat.

        They say that your first Doctor is always your favorite, and that’s certainly true for me — my first Doctor, and the only one I was really familiar with for a long time, was Four, and he’s still my favorite. A few of my favorite serials with him are The Ark in Space, The Seeds of Doom and The Pyramids of Mars.

        Recently I decided to watch the whole show all the way through, starting at the beginning, and at this point I’ve almost finished the First Doctor era (I hadn’t seen any of the First Doctor before this). I agree with the fan consensus that Dalek Invasion of Earth is the best First Doctor serial. I also particularly liked The Aztecs and The Gunfighters (even though a lot of people apparently dislike this one because it’s so silly — I found the silliness entertaining).

        1. No need to feel awkward, I promise not to get upset if I watch the Fourth Doctor and don’t like him! So thank you for the recommendation on which serials to try. 🙂 And I find silliness entertaining too–I like it when they get silly on the new one! Between you and ensign_beedrill, my head is spinning a little now, but more information is better than less…once I sort through it!

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