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.