Sunday, October 01, 2006

Trust Him



I barely feel like I have the authority to blog about Doctor Who, given the depth of its history and webfandom. I'm no Who-head (I don't even know if that's the correct term), and before it was recently revived for the BBC to alarming acclaim, I had only seen the odd Tom Baker episode in the daytime, as is required for every British citizen. Yet here I am! Honestly, who'da thunk that a revival of a super-niche Saturday evening adventure show from Britain by the creator of Queer as Folk would be debuting its critically-acclaimed new season behind a critically-acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica? The world's clearly gone topsy-turvy.

However, in America I think Who needs all the pimping it can get, even though it's THE thing to watch in the UK (and David Tennant is just like, the coolest guy ever). There's a lot of reasons why Who could be a big success in the States, but it's just SO wonderfully yet dangerously rooted to its Englishness. On one hand, you have a delightful, rough-edged, truly LONDON leading lady in Billie Piper, completely undiluted and yet totally accessible to American audiences. On the other, who the hell outside of our dinky little island would have understood the evil What Not To Wear-bots from the end of the last season? For that matter, who even knows what the hell a police call box is? Even with a more conventional leading man in David Tennant (personally, I think that the other mooted choice of Bill Nighy would have been easier to market), Who is just too out there to become anything but a cult critics fave.

Forget all that, though! Because Doctor Who is AWESOME. There's literally nothing on television that's like it--nothing even comes close. Russell T. Davies, the man behind the revival and one of the best British TV dramatists working, perfectly balances the cheap-and-cheerful adventure heritage of the series with knowing humor and genuine character drama. Just when you think it might all be getting too cheesy, Davies yanks the rug from under you. I can't count on my hands how many times I've said, out loud, "I LOVE this show!" after Who has hit me with yet another emotional suckerpunch. Neither of Friday's two episodes--the Christmas special and season 2 opener--fully hit the masterful stride the show had attained by the end of its first season, but don't get too worried. You'll be eating out of Tennant's hand soon enough.



Yes, what of this Tennant character? He's replaced the already beloved Christopher Eccleston after only one season, and he's already replaced the leather jacket with a pinstripe suit and Converse All-Stars! Who does he think he is, right? I personally was highly averse to the idea of a cast change so quickly into the burgeoning new series, but now I can't imagine it all going down any other way. Tennant has a different and ultimately more suitable spin on Davies' idea of the Doctor being alone in the universe, his people lost to him in a mysterious time war. Eccleston, befitting his status as a heavily dramatic actor, played the Doctor as quite dark and brooding, with occasional lapses into bizarrely chirpy comic antics. It was just the right side of bonkers and I loved the Ninth Doctor, but I don't miss him.

Tennant is essentially perfect for Davies' imagining of the Doctor. His chemistry with Piper is crackling, as seen in Friday's episode "New Earth", where both the Doctor and Rose were possessed by saucy minx Cassandra, allowing for immediate hijinks playing on the everlasting sexual tension between the Doctor and his companion. Tennant, who was brilliant in Davies' previous miniseries Casanova, has a disarming, exitable newness to him, but he has no trouble showcasing the haunted edge to the Doctor--his intense sharpness towards the Prime Minister in "The Christmas Invasion" just one of the many alarming mood swings the viewer can look forward to. By having the Doctor regenrate so soon into the series, Davies gets to explore one of the most unique gimmicks of the show, and he pulls it off with grace. In "New Earth", Rose, like the viewing public, is confused by the Doctor and unused to his new personality, and the strange mix of sameness and newness that comes with any re-casting of a television role. It's all perfectly in keeping with the Who mythology yet wonderfully meta for the newer viewer.

With the phenomenon that Doctor Who has become in England, I'm worried that not even Davies is up to handling the flurry of cast changes and the two spin-offs (one, Torchwood, hits the UK very soon and is referenced about a million times in this season) he has planned. So far, however, Who's revival has gone swimmingly and with very few blemishes to its name. Stick with this show even if you weren't totally grabbed by Friday's airings--you can't keep your heart hard forever. I'll continue to dutifully blog away and hope those ratings stay strong. Maybe next time I'll get my review in before the deadline as well!

1 comment:

123 said...

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