Thursday, December 8, 2011

Musings on Watching the New Who

I have been watching the new Who (BBC) recently thanks to my recent purchase of the British Doctor Who series one through four box set. As someone who grew up watching and loving the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh doctors (Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy) in the 1970s and 1980s--I wasn't old enough to watch the series when it debuted in November of 1963 with William Hartnell as the Doctor--I had some trepidation about watching the new series when it was revived in 2005. As a result I started watching it only recently.

My reaction? Since I have only watched series one and series two and just finished the two part Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks (3:4 and 3:5) episode at this point I need to point out that my comments must remain tentative but here I go anyway. There are, as some critics have noted, differences between the new Who and the old. Yes the new Who is more "American" than the old. Its pace is much faster with lots of jump cuts and makes extensive use of CGI. Yes the new Who clearly has higher ups at the Beeb on its side. Classic Who, as many critics have noted, wasn't much loved by the powers that be at the "staid", at the time, old BBC. It thus has a higher budget and superior sets and much better special effects than the old. And yes, the new Who is a bit coy about its relation to the old. The drawings and photographs of the Doctor in the past in the first episode of the series, Rose (1:1), are images solely of the ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), something that bothered an old Who viewer like me who wanted the new Who to do a shout out to the old.

On the other hand there are some continuities between new Who and old. The new Who like the old has a bit of the pedagogic in it. The new Who like the old is aimed at the young demographic but can also be enjoyed by the older crowd like me. The sonic screwdriver, the TARDIS (if with a somewhat different look), the Doctor's human companions, the most "beloved" of the Doctor's enemies, the Daleks, and even K-9 and the most beloved Doctor companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) are back. The Doctor (Eccleston and David Tenant) remains a bit arrogant, a bit eccentric, a bit wide-eyed, and a bit self-involved at times even if he is much more emotionally scarred (and somewhat scary as a result) in the new series thanks, in large part, to the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. The new Doctors also seem much more emotionally attached (almost romantically) to his companions, particularly Rose (Billie Piper) than the old Doctors.

So what is my reaction to the new Who's that I have watched so far? I liked series one and two of the new Who quite a bit. Series three, however, has seemed to me to quickly descend into repetition. Perhaps it is because the show really misses Rose, who was separated from the Doctor in the outstanding series two finale Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (2:12 and 2:13) ending up in an alternative dimension with her alternative father, her mother, and her sometime boyfriend Mickey. The relationship between the Doctor (David Tenant) and Rose's companion successor, Martha (Freema Agyeman), just doesn't seem to me to click at least at this point in my viewing in the same way that the Doctor's and Rose's relationship did on so many levels including the emotional one (Dr. Who channeling Buffy?; Buffy was, as Who revival creator Russell T. Davies has said, one of the templates for the new Who). Oh well, I will keep watching to see if it rises again to the levels it reached in series one and two but it is hard for me not to be somewhat disappointed in the revival of Doctor Who at this point. C'est la vie.

So I finally finished series three of Doctor Who and I have to say that my claims about the demise of Doctor Who were a bit premature. The last six episodes of series three were very good to excellent and "Blink" (3:10), written by Stephen Moffat, was, like Moffat's series two episode "The Girl in the Fireplace" (2:4), and Moffat's series one episode "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" (1:9 and 1:10), brilliant, some of the best television I have ever seen.

What was so interesting about series three is that Doctor Who is really starting to look a lot like Buffy. Something that Buffy and its creator and writers did so well, particularly in seasons two through seven, was to lay down clues in earlier episodes that would culminate in later episodes and in particular in season finales. Series three of Doctor Who uses the same strategies and it is in the three part series three finale that we finally get to see what all those clues that were being laid down through out the course of series three were leading to, the resurrection of the Doctor's moriarty, The Master.

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