Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Doctor Who - Series One (2005 Revival)

Today we’ll be talking about the first season (or “series”, if you’re British) of the revived 2005 Doctor Who TV show. After the failed attempt to bring the show back in 1996 with the American TV movie plans to get the Doctor back on the air lingered for the next few years. Writer Russell T Davies, a longtime fan of the series, made it his goal to retrieve the show from hiatus. Talks began in 1998 before the show eventually returned in 2005. Davies wanted to update Doctor Who for the 21st Century and took cues form modern drama, notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His show would be about 45 minutes long per episode and encompass season long storylines with a “Big Bad” style of antagonist. Apparently there were some other pitches for revving the show floating around the BBC at the time, including a straight up reboot of the series and a “Gothic-style” show (Whatever the hell that means). Regardless of what you think about Davies as a writer and a showrunner I think that we got the best of the bunch. The net result was the show was a big hit and continues today, production having recently started for Series 7.

Anyway this will probably be the first of a series of Doctor Who reviews. While it’s impossible for me to talk about the first series of the new Doctor Who without comparing it, at least somewhat, to the proceeding series as well as Classic Who I will base my final option and the Panda Score solely on this season on its own. Is this season actually any good or highly, highly overrated and overexposed?

Full review after the jump.

[Warning: The following  reviews possesses relatively minor spoilers, but spoilers none the less.  Read at your own peril]


Either this is The Doctor or it's a scene from The Matrix: The TV Series
Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) is an absolutely average 19 year old girl in an absolutely average life. She has an average boyfriend, an average job at a shop and an admittedly not so average mother but still life is pretty normal for her. This all changes when she ended up staying late at work only to find herself at the mercy of walking, living mannequins. She’s saved by a peculiar man who appears to have no name, only referring to himself as “The Doctor” (Christopher Eccelston). Despite escaping death she soon finds herself entangled with the mysterious stranger as he, in his own words, is trying to save the world. 

Obviously this season sees the first appearance of a new Doctor; specifically the Ninth Doctor. Before we can talk about the show itself I feel we must first look at how well the show introduces its new protagonist. Played by Christopher Eccelston the Ninth Doctor is a darker figure from (most of) his past incarnations as the result of the Time War. Basically the Time War is an event that occurred sometime after the Eight Doctor’s TV movie but before the first episode of this show and basically was giant conflict between the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, and the Daleks (I’ll keep it at that because I don’t want to spoil the few details about the war we’re actually given in the show). The emotional toll of the war clearly weighed heavily on the Doctor as he comes off as an impatient quick tempered cynic who looks down on humans (Often calling them “stupid apes”). He is far quicker to violence than I’m used to with the character’s other incarnations (At least in the first half of the series). He often appears jovial, witty and charming but it’s clearly established that this is masking his own guilt-ridden existence stemming from his actions during the war and the demise of his people. Thankfully this is simply how he begins and he actually has a character arc from the first episode of the season to the last; he changes over the course of the series and the jovial nature becomes less and less him putting on appearances and more him being like the Doctor he used to be. This really begins taking shape in the two part story “The Empty Child”/"The Doctor Dances”  (Written by future showrunner Stephen Moffat) and through to the last episode. 

Two things kind of bother me about the Ninth Doctor though: 1) He lacks the eccentric charm that his previous and future incarnations are famous for. I mean for God’s sake his costume is basically just him in a black leather jacket. It’s almost as if the character was designed a bit too much for modern audiences and lost a lot of the fun that the Doctor is known for. 2) I’m getting ahead of myself here but the show’s uneven tone is also reflected with the Doctor as he goes from too serious to inappropriately silly at unwanted times. These are faults with the writing, mostly the fact that this is a new show that hadn’t found it’s voice yet, but what saves this incarnation is the wonderful acting of Christopher Eccleston. He is, in the Doctor’s own words” “fantastic” and he really helps sell the Time Lord as being likable, keeping us invested with him until character development actually makes him likable (Which takes about half the season, really). I’m not sure another actor would have been able to do such a good job with this role; it had to be Eccleston. The tragedy of all this is that he only got to do one season. Had he continued even one more he would have benefited from greatly improved writing and the Ninth Doctor would have had even more time to develop.

You see this guy coming at you; you're already dead
 Okay, that was a lot of goddamn words.
The show itself is uneven, but that’s not to say it was bad. The 45 minute modern drama format works well for Doctor Who and the faster, more action oriented pace, gives it a welcome distinction from Classic Who. If you have never seen a single episode of the old show in your life but are a fan of various American science fiction shows you’ll find this revival to very easy to get into. I enjoyed the places the Doctor’s TARDIS took us this season for the most part. I really liked the different kinds of tales written this season. This exactly why Doctor Who is such a cool show because it can be a Christmas ghost story or a quasi-zombie story or futuristic Whodunit. Of course the underlying theme appears to be “Damn, Space-time Continuum! You Scary!” Which is fine. Also this series taught me to be very afraid of the Daleks. The episode “Dalek” re-introduces the Doctor’s archenemies and in a way that I legitimately changed my original opinion (“Dude, that’s just a trash can with a plunger glued to it”) to something more appropriate (“The couch! Get behind the damn couch!”).

On the downside things fall on the too silly side too damn often. We have a few really well written episodes but then we get "Aliens of London"/"World War Three" where any tension in the episode is ruined by the fact that the deadly enemies are little more than fart jokes. Seriously. All they do is fart! Later in the penultimate episode “Bad Wolf” the Doctor and Rose are trapped in futuristic versions of British game shows Big Brother and The Weakest Link, complete with a robot version of Anne Robinson. That’s just f**king stupid. There’s a real sense of “I’m not sure what I’m doing yet” all through the series, which is understandable as the show just started up after years of hiatus. It still affects the quality of the series as a whole.

Poot!
It’s been said that Davies was inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer in regards to the style and it shows, especially from Davies’ seemingly sick enjoyment of making bad shit happen to his characters. Rose, the Doctor’s companion for the season, is not great. I could write an entire blog about why I deeply hate this character but as far as this season goes there’s no need to talk about everything. Basically the fact that the character is purposely portrayed as being so completely ordinary that she becomes defined by her growing feelings for The Doctor, which is not really the way to build upon a strong female character. Add how badly she treats her boyfriend and mother like crap and her idiotic actions in the episode “Father’s Day” (Written by Paul Cornell) I was not able to connect to Rose at all (And yet this was probably her at her best considering how bad things start getting next season). Ricky Mickey Smith is a sad story because the first half of the show he is kind of vilified despite his only crime being that he was an ordinary fellow (He’s a bumbling coward but really how would you react when everything you know suddenly turns out to be wrong). Thankfully the show eases up on him but then we just feel bad for the way his girlfriend treats him. Nothing wrong with Rose’s mom Jackie though. Captain Jack Harkness is great ; he’s funny, he’s charming and, like the Doctor, has a character arc (Not as good as the Doctor’s but still…). Plus John Barrowman is on the short list of dudes that I probably wouldn’t say no to if he should up at my house and told me we were going steady. Him, Nathan Fillion and JGL.

That's my Cap'm!
Bottom line is that the first season of the new Doctor Who show is simply “alright”. It’s good but it’s not great. There are a lot of high points; Eccleston’s performance, the various settings, key episodes and Captain Jack to name a few. But there were also a lot to be desired. Davies had a good idea with the show but this early into the project he hadn’t figured out how to put it together seamlessly. That said there’s nothing about this series that should lead anyone to dislike it. It’s a decent enough introduction, or re-introduction, to the franchise and possesses a glimpse of greatness. The best episode of this season was “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” and the low point had to have been “Aliens of London”/”World War Three”. 

I give Doctor Who Series One 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


Pros 

-Great acting from Christopher Eccleston

-Great use of the show’s main plot device, the TARDIS, to showcase several different kinds of story 

-Good grief, where was Captain Jack hiding that gun?!?!? 

Cons 

-Some characters (including Rose) are kind of hard to watch 

-The show’s tone is extremely uneven 

The next time we talk about Doctor Who should be a review of Series Two (Once I finish re-watching it). So stay tuned for that.

@JasonBetaMagnus

4 comments:

  1. You have no idea how happy I am that you finally did a Doctor Who review! ;) I agree with you on quite a few points here! Awesome job!

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  2. doctor who jackets

    Review: Doctor Who - Series One is great and its doesnt fails in 1996 but its much better

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  3. Like this post. Good work keep it up.

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  4. I enjoyed reading this! Thank you. Honestly - I spent so much time for watching the season but this season is best its is a complete package of thriller and Action.He played a Very difficult role in this season i really liked it and He is Doctor Who Black Jacket looking is dashing and cool in this jacket.

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