Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Doctor Is In...

Well, thanks to Netflix, I'm finally getting around to a viewing of Doctor Who, Season Two. I had heard a lot about it over the last year from fans and friends alike. Mostly positive things; but I still wasn't certain how I would respond to David Tennant as the latest regeneration of my favorite time lord (following the departure of Christopher Eccleston).

The first episode I watched, "The Christmas Invasion," did little to assuage my fears. In this story, a race of alien invaders called the Sycorax attack Earth on Christmas Day. I won't complain that this is yet another Whovian invasion-of-Earth story (which I once calculated compromises a whopping 26 percent of the original series..) because every Doctor must broach "his" invasion tale in his own way (like every James Bond must go through his paces). Besides, the story was borderline inventive in spots, particularly the aspects regarding alien "blood control" of all A-positive people on Earth. Disappointingly, the Doctor was sidelined for a good part of the tale, still recovering from his latest regeneration. When he did return to full health, it took our hero about five minutes to defeat the straw men Sycorax (who arrive in a very cool and very menacing spaceship). I don't remember the Doctor being quite *that* powerful that he could defeat aliens in such short order.

And frankly, I thought Tennant was a little over-the-top in these climactic scenes. It wasn't all his fault. It was written that way: as though the writers wanted to establish in a very, very brief amount of time that the Doctor was still funny, still charismatic, still smart, still a fighter, still our champion, and on and on. I understand fully and completely the need and desire to accomplish all that with a new lead actor. But I guess the upshot is that I still had some doubts about Tennant as Time Lord. I discussed the episode with my wife Kathryn, who loved it, and I attempted to clarify my feelings. Ultimately, I felt "The Christmas Invasion" was fun, fast-moving (it really moves at a breakneck pace...) but somehow more deliberately and overtly campy than I remember the original Doctor Who series being. I laughed out loud two or three times during the episode, but it was silly humor that undercut the seriousness of the situation at points. I love the scene with the malevolent Christmas Tree on the attack but I'm not convinced it really fits with the Sycorax narrative. It is a great image, and a great scene, however.

The second episode "New Earth," I watched with the same level of anxiety, though I found much more to enjoy and appreciate in this installment. There's a delightful body-switching subplot that is legitimately funny (especially in a scene set in an elevator shaft...), and overall the episode is an interesting (and ingenious...) variation of the Night of the Living Dead ethos. The episode occurs in a futuristic hospital facility on New Earth (in the amusingly-named New, New York City) and involves the age old "science-gone-awry' concept. In this instance, the physicians at the hospital (a race of sentient cat people...) have overreached in their desire to cure human diseases and have created a whole race of "plague people." In short order, these plague people are on the loose and with one gnarly touch, they can infect you with every disease known to man. Again, the pace of the episode is breakneck, the science fiction concepts are strong, and there's a lot of humor. I liked this show a lot; and especially the enigmatic material about the million-year old Face of Boe.

And Tennant was growing on me.

By the end of "Tooth and Claw," the third episode I watched, all my trepidations and reservations had begun to disappear. The series was winning me over. This is a great - even classic - episode. Again, I had what I suppose are snobbish reservations when I saw the preview trailer. A Doctor Who episode about a werewolf? Oh boy! How lame! But this impression was flat-out wrong. The episode (by Russell T. Davies) was brilliant, original and totally inventive, involving a werewolf cult in 1879 that is attempting to replace Queen Victoria and usher in The Empire of the Wolf. I loved the isolated setting (a rural mansion...), admired the discussions about mythology vs. science and history (involving the arrival of the monstrous "werewolf" on Earth), and in particular dug the surprise ending, which I won't reveal here, but which fans of the Royal Family will no doubt enjoy.

The next Who episode was "School Reunion" and by golly, now I'm hooked and absolutely in love with this show. This episode involves the return of two beloved companions from series history, the "tin dog" K-9 and journalist Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) from the early Tom Baker (Fourth Incarnation) years. This episode managed to put an entirely fresh spin on the Doctor/companion relationship and reveal new aspects of it. For perhaps the first time, the audience can understand why the Doctor chooses to live how he does. I must admit, I unexpectedly found myself moved by this story. I may have even shed a tear or two, especially at the end. In terms of story, this tale pits the Doctor against a fascinating enemy called the Krillitane (given human face by Rupert Giles, Anthony Stewart Head), which "assimilates" the best qualities of all the races it conquers. Here, the Krillitane stratagem is beautifully explained, and one senses the Doctor is even tempted at one point, to sign on. At least until dependable (and still gorgeous Sarah Jane) reminds him of the "human" side of the equation. Great stuff. Perhaps it was in this episode that I fully accepted Tennant as the Doctor. When the episode started, I realized I wasn't seeing Tennant anymore, but rather a character I loved. A character with humor, and importantly - history.

I'm looking forward to the next episode, "The Girl in the Fireplace." When do the Cybermen show up? I can't wait.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:40 AM

    Like you, I was a skeptic initially. By the end of the second series I've come to be a devoted Tennant fan. You are in for some real treats as you watch the rest of this series. And with the advent of the third series on the US SciFi channel, I have become even more impressed. It shouldn't be a spoiler given the amount of press it received, but Rose leaves at the end of series two. And while I might be in the minority, I say 'good'. Her antics frequently grated on me. The new companion already looks very different and intriguing. Bring on series three!

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  2. Anonymous12:21 PM

    I have yet to warm to Tennant, even after two series, I must say. Ten is set up as so powerful, as you mentioned, but Tennant doesn't seem able to deliver on power as an actor. When he tries it, he comes off like a kid playing dress-up. He's too hyper, bitchy (the Harriet moment in TCI), and cold (his catchphrase is "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," but he delivers it so flatly). Tennant isn't entirely untalented as an actor, but he's wildly uneven and more dependent on the quality of a script or a director than an actor of his status should be.

    Despite that rather large reservation, I enjoyed several episodes of S3 very much indeed, much better than S2 on the whole - in part because he gets a companion who fits him better, even if he doesn't always appreciate it. I just don't understand the adoration in fandom of Ten and Tennant - I'm hugely disappointed in both.

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  3. astrid9:26 AM

    I haven't finished all of season 2 yet...so it may not be fair to say this seeing as how I don't have the details of how Rose leaves the show, but I say good riddance, too. She's turned the Doctor into a sappy lovesick puppy and I do not like it one bit. I was so excited when Mickey began to tag along but well... sorry no spoilers for John! ;-P Suffice it to say, I don't like the idea that the Doctor could possibly fall in love with his companion. What's so special about Rose? It's okay for her to have a crush on him, but not the other way round, please! Argh. Will he ever incarnate as an older man again? Will he ever have a companion who's NOT an obvious foil for sexual tension?

    I like David Tennant for the most part but you're right, John, his weak moments come mainly from the writing; with a few exceptions.

    You'll LOVE Girl in the Fireplace.

    I am going to reserve judgment until I see the rest of the season but as of now, I'm on the fence.

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