Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beta Versus Doctor Who

Doo-Doo-Dooooo...Doo-Doooooooo
So for months, and I mean months, The Lady has bugged me about writing about Doctor Who. If you’ve checked out her blog (She Geek) then you probably already realized it’s her main nerdy fandom. I myself only started watching early last year, going through the entire new series to that point and getting started watching various stories from the classic show. I’ve finally decided to give in to The Lady’s demands and do some reviews of the long running science fiction series, mainly in order to capitalize on that sweet, sweet Whovian fandom web traffic. So tomorrow I’ll be releasing my review of the first season from the new show. However it occurred to me that like myself prior to my Who Awakening last year most of my readers may not know that much about the show. And seriously there’s a lot to talk about. So I decided to have a little intro separate from the main review, mostly because I don’t want a 3,000+ word article.

Anyway Doctor Who is a British science fiction television show that first aired in 1963. In a lot of ways the series is the UK’s equivalent of Star Trek. A big difference between the two is that while the original Trek series was canceled after only three seasons due to low ratings Doctor Who was a hugely popular program heavily ingraining itself in British pop culture. That show managed to go on until finally being canceled in 1989 in a move that seems to have just as much to do with BBC politics as it did with ratings. In 1996 an attempt to revive the series was made in the form of an American television movie (Which is considered part of canon) but didn’t spin-off into the ongoing TV series some hoped. Finally in 2005, under the helm of Russell T Davies, a new series hit the airwaves and became a huge international hit. Today the new Doctor Who is filming its seventh season while also gearing up for the highly anticipated 50 Year Anniversary.

More on the Doctor after the jump.


 
Doctor Who & The Funky Bunch
The premise of the long running series is simpler than its near fifty year history makes it out to be. The Doctor is a brilliant and eccentric alien being (From a race called the “Time Lords”) who travels through time and space in his spaceship/time machine/police box combo the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space). Also, an important thing to remember when talking about the show is that the character is not called “Doctor Who” within the fiction (Aside from various tongue-in-cheek moments) and refers to himself simply as “The Doctor”. His real name, if he even has one, remains a mystery even today. In all his incarnations he is most depicted as a peace loving sort who loves traveling the universe and seeking adventure but is more than aware of his own great intellect and usually comes off as anything but modest.

The longevity of the show, I feel, comes down to two things: 1) the concept of “Regeneration”. Basically Time Lords have an ability to heal themselves when they are near death but at the cost of their appearance and personalities. Once regenerated a Time Lord will have a completely altered look and various aspects of their persona would have changed, making them almost a different person. Maybe when they were once patient they have now become extremely temperamental. Where they once possessed a serious streak they now are a wisecracking eccentric. This mechanic was done as a way to continue the show despite the fact that the original actor William Hartnell was getting too old to play the part. He was replaced by Patrick Troughton in 1966 who continued on as The Doctor, despite playing him very differently. Since then any time an actor wanted to leave or, heaven forbid, was asked to leave the show regeneration was written into the next script and a new person would take the reins. There have been eleven actors who have played a canonical version of the character; the most famous probably Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, though an argument can now be made for David Tenant’s Tenth Doctor, I suppose. Currently Matt Smith stars in the series as the Eleventh Doctor.

"Jelly babies, son.  Like a boss."
2) The fact is that The Doctor’s TARDIS allows him to appear anywhere in the universe at any point in history, be it the ancient past or the far future. But what that really means from a storytelling position is that Doctor Who can be any kind of story any writer can think of. You want a Western themed episode? Doctor Who can potentially do this. Want a Blade Runner-type cyberpunk adventure? Easily possible in Doctor Who. Want an extremely detailed and historically accurate depiction of the split of the Roman Empire between Rome and Constantinople? If you can do the research then Doctor Who can be used to tell that story. There’s almost no limit as to what can be done with the show and there has been numerous high concept uses of the plot device to write outside the box. So with those two things in mind the show is able to seamlessly reinvent itself, far more so than just about any other show in television history.

The Doctor has made many allies and enemies during his time, including a large amount of what are called “Companions”. In the show they are people, often but not always humans, who travel with the Doctor, partly because the Doctor likes to show off his skills and partly because he’s lonely (And other reasons that tend to change depending on the incarnations). In reality companions are used as the point of view character that the audience relates to since the Doctor, while fun and cool, isn’t really a guy we can usually see ourselves as. Usually his companions are pretty girls because why else would anyone watch a show unless it had some goddamn eye candy. Like any good serial star he also has a Rogues Gallery made up mostly of various evil alien races and a few individuals who the Doctor has defeated time and time again. The most famous of his enemies must be the Daleks, which you’ve seen at some point even if you didn’t know what it was. The Daleks are a race of immobile alien mutants who pilot tank-like vehicles and are hell bent on killing everything in the universe that isn’t a Dalek (And occasionally killing Daleks that aren’t Dalek enough). While The Doctor is peace loving and often depicted as a pacifist the Daleks are essentially space Nazis who have had all emotion except for rage purged from their genetic code. Somehow they managed to traumatize an entire generation of kids while at the same time generated a massive fan following from those same kids they made shit themselves. I’m not sure how that works.

Whatcha gonna do, brother, when Dalekmania comes for you?!
As for my exact opinion of Doctor Who? Well as far as the new series goes you’ll have to wait until the reviews. The classic series however, like any long running show, has its ups and downs. It pretty much a story by story basis for me but I’m still a rookie. I’ve seen quite a bit of the Fourth Doctor stories, less than a season’s worth of the Fifth Doctor, and a single digit amount of Seventh Doctor stories and that’s it. It was a very cheap production that hasn’t aged very well and can dip into the corny a bit too much for my tastes but so far I can say I really enjoy Classic Who. 

To say again tomorrow I’ll be reviewing the first season of the revival series so be sure to check that out.

Best. Companion. Ever.

No comments:

Post a Comment