The Good Doctor

We interrupt your normal blog to bring you a bit of dialog from Doctor Who:

Our heroes are trapped in a hallway with baddies coming from both sides. A vaguely Buck Rogers-esque character, Jack, whips out what can only be described as a ray gun.

Jack: “Okay, this can function as a sonic blaster, a sonic cannon, and a triple enfolded sonic disruptor. What’ch’you got?”

The Doctor: “I’ve got a sonic… uh… nevermind.”

J: “What?”

D: “It’s sonic. Okay, let’s leave it at that.”

J: “Disruptor, cannon, What???”

D: “It’s sonic. Totally sonic. I am soniced up!”

J: “A SONIC *WHAT*???”

The Doctor Dances — 2005

Growing up, I used to watch the old shows late night on PBS. I was such a fan of Doctor Who, in fact, that I taped each story; and still today have a rather large bunch of tapes, (which upon viewing are in some cases turning out to be sadly deteriorated). Some of the stories were terribly stupid, but most were quite fun, and some were even quite intelligent. Some of the most popular stories were written by Douglas “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Adams, and that type of humor was not uncommon. Mixed in with such wink-at-the-audience shows were various types of stories, from gothic horror to “rubber monster of the week” to political manuverings on the Doctor’s home planet.

In 1996 an American producer made a TV movie, with the intent of bringing the show back as a series of specials. The show had a strong actor, Paul McGann, playing the lead role (and the return of the previous actor, Sylvester McCoy, just long enough to pass the torch), great special effects, awesome sets, a romantic interest, strong villain, and no coherent plot to speak of. Unfortunately it tanked. It really bothered me at the time, too, because I really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t. It’s not like the previous show always had strong plotting, so what was it (other than the non-Doctor-Who-like car chase) that make the movie so bad?

It took seeing the new series to realize what the problem was — the TV movie took itself waaaaay too seriously. Even in a serious story, humor is the bread and butter of Doctor Who. Above all the show has to have a sense of fun, or it just doesn’t work. The old series was fun; the TV movie was simultaneously melodramatic and flat.

Our heroes are momentarily out of danger…

J: “Who has a sonic screwdriver???”

D: “I do!”

J: “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ‘Oo-hoo, this could be a little more sonic!’?”

D: “What, you’ve never been bored? Never had a long night? Never had a lot of cabinets to put up?”
The Doctor Dances — 2005

Another strong point of the new series is that the characters all have strong personalities. Being the type of show it is, the shows are obviously very plot driven, but even then many of the stories, while entertaining in themselves, act just as much as a vehicle for character interaction. This is a very good thing. If you’ve watched a lot of science fiction, you’re familiar with shows and movies that are nothing but plot. A perfect example: Think of your favorite quote from Star Wars; now think of a good quote from The Phantom Menace. Which was easier? I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Still later…

D: “Come on, we’re not done yet! Assets! Assets!”

J: “Well I’ve got a banana, and in a pinch you could put up some shelves.”
The Doctor Dances — 2005

I can give the 1996 special credit for one excellent scene, when the Doctor “regenerates” (essentially, he comes back to life in a new body after having died — a process, convenient for bringing a new actor into the role, long established in the original series). He dies this time in a hospital, and regenerates after having been put in the morgue for a few hours. They do an interesting back and forth between the Doctor regenerating and the graveyard shift morgue tech watching the movie Frankenstein on TV. It’s about the only really unique moment in the whole movie, and is well done.

The new series is full of interesting situations, and good characters. As a nice little side benefit, the specially effects are pretty damned good this time around. (In reference to the old show, I do not use the phrase “rubber monster of the week” without cause!) Topping it all off, the Doctor and his primary companion, Rose, have a strong relationship that adds a whole different level that never really materialized in the old series. The new series is an outstanding restoration of what made the old show great, while giving it new levels it never had before. And never do the producers or writers forget that the whole point is to have fun with it.

This show “rawks”*. 🙂

Update — July 10, 2005: Okay, having just watched the third-to-last episode (“Boom Town”) for the first time, I have to add one caveat to the above endorsement: Don’t Watch the “Next Episode” Previews!!! I just watched the one for the second-to-last ep, (“Bad Wolf”), and they completely spilled the beans on a huge twist in the story. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. It’s a cool twist, too, but I would have hugely preferred to actually be, you know, surprised by it.Whatever you do, don’t watch any previews. Just see the episodes. And somebody please go strangle whatever BBC stooge put it together.

Update: “Teacher, Jeff is copying me!”

* At the insistence of my wife, I have changed the spelling of the word “rocks”, (and added the quote marks).

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