By request of nate.lynch
Originally the phrasing of this request made me think it was asking for some sort of death match pitting three very different media properties against one another… but eventually, sanity settled upon me, and I realized it was really a request to write about one or the other of them. As it happens, I watched the first season of Doctor Who (by which I mean the first new season, aka the Ninth Doctor) while flying to and from the UK over the past week (because clichés). And… count me impressed. Um. Well, generally impressed.
I mean, no question about it: Doctor Who is super cheesy. The more I’ve watched, though, the more I’ve come to feel that’s by design. I don’t necessarily agree with the choice, but at least it is a choice, and the show seems fairly self-aware about its corniness. Plus, it makes the tonal shifts more meaningful; when the Doctor suddenly becomes serious or angry, it has considerably more impact than if he were always angry. (Sorry, Dr. Banner.)
As I watched through the first season, I realized I’d actually already seen the first 10 episodes or so, several years ago. At the time, they made roughly zero impression on me; I’d actually forgotten that I’d watched them until the demonic forms of “Father’s Day” started to rouse a vague sense of familiarity. And this is why I went back and watched some of the earliest First Doctor episodes — to build a greater sense of understanding of the show. Even though I only made it through the first four or five arcs of the First Doctor before losing interest, that small grounding made the more recent viewings so much more meaningful. A lot of the mechanisms and elements that modern Doctor Who carried over from the classics were just sort of glossed over until late in the first season (I think it was roughly 11 episodes before the Doctor explained why the Tardis looks like a ’60s London police box). Without that grounding, I had trouble immersing myself in the show; but once I had a better understanding of what it was all about, I enjoyed the series far more.
The turning point came with my second viewing of the episode “Dalek.” I’d heard of Daleks before my first time through the Ninth Doctor’s episodes , but had no real comprehension of what it was all about. Having invested myself in more of the series’ lore, though, I found my second viewing of “Dalek” took the episode from vaguely confusing to genuinely fantastic. Christopher Eccleston ran through quite a range of emotions opposite a prop that looked for all the world like my grandmother’s old steamer trunk — and thanks to the advent of computer graphics, the show runners were finally able to present a Dalek as something that seemed genuinely threatening. Yes, it’s basically a pepper shaker with a plunger sticking out of the side, but its deliberate movements and imposing physicality (and ability to fly) were a far cry from the First Doctor being able to defeat a room full of Daleks by knocking them on their sides.
Something I didn’t appreciate before as well was the Doctor’s gradual change of personality over the season, from coldly critical to affectionate and heroic. He never dropped his habit for snarky comments, but they grew less pointed over the course of the season. They became less critical and more playful, basically. And his attitude toward the Daleks changed considerably, too; had he faced the entire fleet early on in the season (say in place of the episode “Dalek”), he almost certainly would have wiped out the Earth to stop them. But he softened and became less of an absolutist, leading to his “demise” in the season finale and, even before that, his surprisingly forgiving treatment of, er, the farting alien woman with the ludicrous name. No, I’m not looking up the proper spelling.
Also, the supporting cast for the season proved to be really good. Rose managed to avoid being overly cloying or obnoxious as a point-of-view character, and she too evolved: As the Doctor became less difficult to relate to, Rose became a little more so as a result of her travels. And Jack Harkness brought a welcome bit of American brashness to what is otherwise a rather twee production. Plus, it was pretty daring to have had an openly bisexual (well, more like pansexual) character — and not only that, but to make him a good-looking, rugged, guy’s guy as opposed to the usual Hollywood cop-out of relegating alternate sexuality to hot women or stereotypically effeminate/evil/foppish men.
So, like I said, I’m generally impressed. I do find the show’s tendency for the Doctor’s world-saving exploits to center primarily around London something of a stretch, but what the heck… Japanese pop media always revolves around Tokyo (Shin Megami Tensei, for example), and everything Hollywood barfs out has to do with New York, L.A., or San Francisco (such as Star Trek — see? We’re full circle). I can forgive the BBC a bit of solipsism. Plus, there’s the cheese factor; Doctor Who just doesn’t have the budget of a major U.S. show, and that’s how it’s always been. I guess it’s kind of a tradition at this point.
I suppose I will have to continue watching this show.