Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's On The Telly?

No book review this week, since I haven't finished the book. I think this week I shall talk television. There isn't a lot I watch, really. A few network crime dramas, and both Food Network and the Cooking Channel, with a little Travel Channel thrown in there, as well. No, I do not watch "reality" shows. There is nothing real there to watch. Nor do I watch the so-called talent shows on the major networks or much in the way of what passes for comedy these days. What I am going to talk about here is a many year obsession from the BBC. And that is Dr. Who.

For those who have been living in a television vacuum filled with American Idol and Survivors, Dr. Who is a long running British science fiction show about a time traveling fellow who gets in and out of scrapes large and small with the help of his wits and intelligence. Oh, and a companion or two. The show began in 1963 and ran regularly until 1989. There was a movie done in 1996, and the series was restarted on a regular basis in 2005.

There have been eleven actors who have portrayed the Doctor over those years, and that is one of the most intriguing aspects of the show. When a change is necessary, the character, as an alien humanoid Time Lord, has the ability to regenerate a new physical form, and, to some extent, a new personality, freeing the show from the usual problems of losing a lead.

I have known eight of the eleven Doctors and am slowly working my way through the others. All have had their good points, some more than others, and if you put 10 Whovians in a room, you will probably get heated discussion on the “best” Doctor. The 2005 revival of the show is a direct continuation of the earlier series, with the ninth incarnation of the Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston. He was followed by David Tenant and the current eleventh Doctor is portrayed by Matt Smith.

I will say that my favorite Doctor is the fifth, as played by Peter Davison. But David Tenant’s tenth Doctor had me hooked at about five minutes into his first episode and he is a very, very close second favorite. I also have to say that it took several episodes to warm up to Matt Smith, but I am now a firm fan. He absolutely soars as the Doctor, getting better and more comfortable in the role with every episode. His Doctor is frightening and comforting, frenetic and calming, brilliant and completely missing the point, all in the space of one or two sentences. In a recent episode (The Almost People) where he played dual roles as the Doctor and a doppleganger Doctor, his timing was spot on playing against himself. It’s a real pleasure to watch him perform.

The new series is much darker in tone than a lot of the older shows. It is far more grown up and the stories are deeper, with many continuing arcs embedded. Still, most of the individual shows are self-contained and the main story is told in one or two episodes. We’re given hints at the larger themes along the way. Current show runner Stephen Moffat is brilliant at dropping just enough information to let you think you almost have it figured out, and then he drops yet another bombshell. The writing is generally quite good, although there have been some misses (this season’s pirates episode, The Curse of the Black Spot, for one) and some quite wonderful stories (The Doctor’s Wife, written by Neil Gaiman) as well. This show is television as it should be: entertaining, engaging, it makes you think, laugh, cry, it frightens you and gives you hope. You should be watching it.

Oh, and just so you know- if a big, blue police box suddenly appears in my backyard… Well, I may be away for a while. Or I may be back yesterday. You never know with the Doctor.

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