Friday, February 02, 2007

Doctor Who - Season 27 (2005)

Doctor Who - Season 27 (2005)

The legendary Doctor Who - in the UK the adventures of the good doctor are an institution, an ingrained part of popular culture. Doctor Who is apparently the longest running sci-fi show in the world, having started in the 1960s. I'd never gotten into Doctor Who before watching the revamped series that began in 2005; what little I'd seen had always turned me off. This new version of the series enticed me however - I suspect it was meant to draw in new fans as well as old - and I'm now eager to see more.

It's difficult to explain what this show's like, as it's quite uncnventional. It's about a being called simply The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston). He belongs to a race of aliens called the Timelords, who have the ability to travel through both time and space. The Doctor is an adventurer who visits different places and times and rights wrongs (if that makes sense). He travels in his ship, the TARDIS, which looks like an small, old fashioned police box (think phone booth) on the outside but is actually much larger on the inside. In the first episode, he comes to present day London to stop an alien invasion of the earth by plastic beings. It's here that he meets Rose (Billie Piper), a young woman who (in the tradition of the series) becomes the Doctor's travelling companion and co-adventurer. Occasionally they pick up another traveller, but usually only for a brief while.

The 27th series is 13 episodes long, and most of the episodes are standalone stories although there is strong continuity between them. There are also several two parters. A typical episode will have the TARDIS dropping Rose and the Doctor into some time period (strangely, all of the episodes take place on Earth) where some kind of alien or supernatural problem arises, requiring the Doctor to fix it somehow. Tonally, Doctor Who is light hearted, and a lot of the alien shenanigans are tongue in cheek. It does have its dramatic moments however, and there are times when it's quite poignant. There's even an episode that's quite creepy, with a little child who has a gas masked melded to his face wandering the streets of World War II era London.

The show is less pure sci-fi and more adventure, with only the loosest of sci-fi aspects thrown in to spice up the story, like temporal upsets and nanobots (although this is true of most television sci-fi, to be honest). There's a fair bit of good old fashioned human drama thrown in, particularly with relation to Rose and her mother and boyfriend. I can say one thing about this show - it's depiction of aliens is more imaginative than most, despite the cheesy effects. Amazingly, the Doctor's classic enemy the Daleks eventually take on a sinister and frightening visage despite looking like garbage cans with plungers for guns.

One of the most appealing things about the show is The Doctor. He is is a non-violent man of science who tries to think his way out of problems (a bit like MacGuyver I suppose). He's almost always cheerful, even in the face of danger, and seems to simply enjoy being a part of the universe. Despite all these virtues, including being selfless, the Doctor isn't above feeling fear or anger, as when he confronts the Daleks. A lot of the credit has to go to Christopher Eccleston, who seems to be having a great time as the Doctor (it's a shame he only did one season). Billy Piper does good work as the inquisitive Rose, and her relationship with the Doctor (purely platonic, by the way) is quite charming and makes for some amusing exchanges between the two. The guest and recurring supporting cast are hit and miss, although even the worst of them don't detract from the show too much.

Visually the show's a mixed bag - the special effects are mostly cheesy, and there is a look of cheapness to the photography and production design, but then again this is relatively low budget stuff so it's hard for me to cite it as a major flaw. The theme tune is nice, but the music is generally quite cheesy and doesn't really make much of an impact.

I enjoyed watching this first season of the new Doctor Who - it's imaginative and wacky and plays with a near limitless palette of ideas in a well established universe. A large part of this season's energy came from Eccleston, so it'll be interesting to see how his replacement fares in the next season. The show is definitely not for everyone, but sci-fi fans who don't mind a bit of goofiness will have a good time with this. That last comment is probably redundant, though, since most sci-fi fans will probably already have an idea what Doctor Who is about!

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