Doctor Who, BBC One (UK) / BBC America (USA), Saturdays 9pm
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The original Doctor Who TV series ran from 1963 to 1989. The new series began in 2005, in the U.K., but I didn't see it until 2006, when it aired in the U.S., on Sci-Fi Channel. (That network would air the first four seasons, before American rights were picked up by BBC America, which had already been airing reruns of seasons 1-4, and then became the primary American distributor of the series from season five onward.) So... Quick recap of the old series: there's this human-looking alien called "the Doctor," who is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He has a time machine/spaceship called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension In Space). The tardis is disguised as a 1950s British police box (which is like a phone booth), but it's bigger on the inside. He uses it to travel throughout time and space, and has lots of strange and exciting adventures, sometimes even on Earth. Sometimes he travels alone, and sometimes with one or more Companions. The Doctor is centuries old, and occasionally regenerates a new body, so he can be played by different actors. But it's not just his appearance that changes, he also gets a new personality when he regenerates... but the one constant is that he's always a hero (and kind of a rebel). But Time Lords can only regenerate eleven times (under normal circumstances). And the new series begins with the ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston).
Anyway, when I first started watching the series, I didn't like it as much as my recollection of the old series, which I'd grown up watching in the 1980s, much of it in reruns (Though there are plenty of older episodes that I've still never seen, I've seen at least a little bit of every Doctor, and a great deal of most of them.) I did think the production values of the new series were much better than those of the old, and I did like the new show well enough, but I also thought it could sometimes have a bit of the familiar cheesiness of the old show. But also like the original, there are some great stories and characters and it's just really fun (and sometimes a bit scary). And the new show grew on me over time. I'd definitely say it gets better as it progresses. One great thing about this series is the level of continuity. Like, there are major things referenced throughout a season or seasons, which may be totally obviously leading up to something, but then there are also things established that you may not even notice or think about beyond their importance to what's going on in the episode (or things that seem to be of no importance whatsoever), and later those things may come together in unexpected ways, leading up to something quite major. Bloody brilliant. (This is something I may not have really been aware of until the end of season one, but once the trend was established, it was easier to notice it in subsequent seasons... or at least it's more expected.) And in fact, when I started rewatching season one, ten years after it first aired, I thought it was much better than I remembered. Seriously, there is an amazing level of poignancy to it.
Series One (2005)
The Doctor gets a new Companion, a 19-year-old shopgirl named Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), who comes from 2005 London. When she joins him, they have adventures throughout time and space, though they do occasionally stop back into Rose's time and place, where they also end up having adventures. And they visit Rose's mother, Jackie, and also Rose's friend/ex-boyfriend, Mickey Smith. (Rose's father, Pete, died when she was a baby, but we'll see him in one very emotional episode.) Anyway, throughout this season (and the next), Rose turns out to be one of the best Companions the Doctor has ever had. She's basically an ordinary 21st century girl, but she has the same sense of adventure as the Doctor, she's rather clever and daring and can take charge of situations when she has to. Once she's gotten the hang of things, she quickly becomes accustomed to times and places and beings that are beyond her imagining. She's definitely a match for the Doctor, a good friend, and... you know, unlike some of the Companions he's had in the past, she's quite helpful. You know, she serves a purpose beyond just being someone for Earthbound viewers to relate to, in the midst of all the madness of the Doctor's life. (Which is not to say he hasn't had some great Companions before, because he definitely has.) Another interesting thing about the new series is that it occasionally explores the consequences of the Doctor's lifestyle on the friends and family who are left behind when someone becomes his traveling companion.
I should also say that a lot happened between the end of the original show and the start of the new one (or actually, between this and the 1996 TV movie that came after the original show). At some point, there was a huge Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and both races were pretty much completely annihilated. (I imagine that people who read all the novels, listened to audio dramas, and so forth, would know more about it than I, since I haven't read/listened to any of that. But maybe such things don't actually say much about the Time War. I don't know.) Anyway, the Doctor is the last of his kind, which imbues the new series with much of the poignancy that I alluded to, earlier. Of course, most of the time the show is just fun and exciting and there's a lot of humor. But references to... well, the Doctor's loneliness and regret... pop up from time to time. Meanwhile, lots of other stuff happens. One big thing is that the Daleks (who were supposedly extinct) appear a couple of times in season 1. And at one point (in the very distant future) we're introduced to an ancient being that appears to be just a giant head, who is called "the Face of Boe." (We'll see him again in both the second and third seasons.) And... I'll refrain from mentioning too many plot developments, but I must mention that the Doctor and Rose are joined in their travels, for a few episodes, by a former Time Agent (now a con man) from Earth's 51st century, called Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). He's left behind at the end of the first season, but we'll see him again, eventually. I also need to mention that throughout the season, there were a lot of references to something called "Bad Wolf," the meaning of which is finally made clear at the end of the season. Also at the end of the season, the Doctor regenerates, so the second season will feature the tenth Doctor (David Tennant).
Between the first and second seasons, there was a special called The Christmas Invasion. This is where we first get to see the 10th Doctor in action.
Series Two (2006)
Just as "Bad Wolf" was the recurring theme of season 1, the recurring theme of season 2 is "Torchwood." In most episodes, we just hear subtle references to it, with no explanation whatsoever. But in the second episode, the Doctor and Rose visit 1879 Scotland, where they meet Queen Victoria. The episode is set at the Torchwood Estate, and at the end of the episode (after the time travelers have left), Victoria decides to create something called the Torchwood Institute, which is meant to defend Earth against aliens or anything paranormal. In the third episode (set in the present), the Doctor is reunited with one of his former Companions, Sarah Jane Smith. And just as the first season dealt with how the Doctor's lifestyle affects the friends and family of his Companions, this episode addresses how the Companions themselves are affected when their time with the Doctor ends, and they have to go back to living normal lives. Not that Sarah Jane has really led a "normal" life since the Doctor "dumped" her; she still has adventures on her own... or not quite on her own. Since her time on the series ended, she had a spin-off in 1981, called K-9 and Company, in which she was joined by a robot dog, K-9 mark III. (Though the spin-off didn't make it past the pilot.) And K-9 plays an important role in this episode of the new Doctor Who. Presumably, Sarah Jane and K-9 have had lots of adventures together, over the years, even if we didn't get to see them. But we'll get to see more of them, since this episode led to a more successful spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. (Incidentally, the villain in the reunion episode was played by Anthony Head.) It's also at the end of this episode that Mickey begins traveling with the Doctor and Rose.
Episodes 5 and 6 involve an alternate universe, where a scientist created an "upgrade" for humanity, turning people into Cybermen. In the old show, Cybermen were a major recurring nemesis, though I've never been aware of their origins. I just knew they weren't from Earth, as they are here. So I don't really think of these as "real" Cybermen, but... they look pretty much the same, they act and speak pretty much the same, and... well, basically the are the same. Just... not. Anyway, they (and the alternate universe) will play an important part at the end of season 2. But first... there are other adventures for the Doctor and Rose. (But not Mickey.) In another two-parter, they meet a group of humans in the distant future, who... well, I don't want to reveal what that story's all about. A minor part of it involved an alien slave-race called the Ood (who I think look rather Lovecraftian). I just want to mention them, because we'll see them again in later seasons. In another episode, on present-day Earth, there's a group of people who are aware of the Doctor's existence, and want to find him. They call themselves LINDA (London Investigation 'N' Detective Agency), and... well, they're kind of funny. (And they'll be mentioned again, later.) Another episode was set around the time of the 2012 Olympics. (It's kind of neat that the Doctor and Rose would go just six years into Rose's future, I think. And it's one of the few benefits I can see to the host city of the Olympics being named so far in advance.)
Anyway... the final two episodes of the season give us our first real look at Torchwood. There are also two separate invasions of Earth: one by Cybermen, and one by a different alien race that I don't want to spoil. But I must say it was awesome to hear the two races trash talk each other, and forget about their conquest of Earth, to fight each other instead. The first of the two episodes also feature the first time the Doctor says "allons-y!" which subsequently became a popular catchphrase. And... the season ends with Rose leaving. (It's quite poignant- again with the poignancy!- because she'll never be able to see the Doctor again.) And then, when he takes off in the tardis, alone... a woman in a wedding dress appears, to the great surprise of both the Doctor and herself. This leads to the second Christmas special, The Runaway Bride.
A few months after season two ended, the first season of the spin-off series Torchwood, which featured Captain Jack Harkness, began.
Series Three (2007)
The Doctor is joined by a new Companion, a medical student named Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). And of course they have a number of adventures in time and space, and of course they occasionally return to Martha's own time, where we get to see her family a bit. (Her sister, Tish, was played by Gugu Mbatha Raw.) I don't want to reveal anything about most of their adventures, but there's one episode, "Blink," which is significant for introducing a terrifying alien race called the Weeping Angels, who would immediately become a new fan favorite nemesis. It's also notable as a brilliant time travel story of a different nature than what we usually see on the show. And it introduces the phrase "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey." (The episode also featured Carey Mulligan.) Another episode features Derek Jacobi. While Jacobi only appears in one ep, it's the start of a three-episode arc in which the Doctor and Martha are joined by Captain Jack Harkness (between the first and second seasons of "Torchwood"). It's also in this season-ending arc that the true identity of a British politician named Harold Saxon is finally revealed. I won't spoil that, but he's a pretty great villain. And his name had been heard in passing, throughout the season, as he represents season three's major story arc. Anyway, after the Doctor and Martha and Jack save the world (again), Jack returns to Torchwood. But not before relating an anecdote about his past, which suggests a shocking possibility to Martha and the Doctor. (The first time I watched the episode, I thought Jack had no idea what it might mean to them, but watching it years later on DVD, I realized that a couple episodes earlier, Martha had said something in his presence that should have meant something to him, even if he never let on. So I don't know.) Oh, I also want to mention that watching the show on DVD, there was a song in the season finale, "I Can't Decide," by Scissor Sisters. I had no recollection of that from the first time I saw the episode, but now it's been years since I became a fan of the song for a totally different reason. So I found it hilarious that it was used in this ep, in the way it was used.
I also need to mention... it had been strongly implied in season two that the Doctor and Rose had developed romantic feelings for each other, though nothing came of it. (The first time I watched that, I was opposed to the idea of the Doctor having such feelings for anyone. Rewatching it years later, it made sense to me, and added to the poignancy of how their time together ended.) But this season... Martha developed feelings for the Doctor pretty much immediately. So a big part of the subtext of the season was her feeling like he didn't really see her, was oblivious to her feelings. And she always felt jealous of Rose (whom she'd never met). This could have made Martha seem like a sort of cliche, or something... but it really didn't. Because she was an amazing character in her own right, very intelligent and brave and steadfast, and without her... well, the Doctor, the Earth, and pretty much the universe would have been doomed. But in the end, she decides to stay with her family in her own time, both because she wants to help them deal with the emotional repercussions of... things that happened... and because she knows the Doctor will never return her feelings. But while it's a bit sad, the parting of the ways was definitely happier than that of Rose and the Doctor. And we'll see her again, someday. (She appears in a few episodes of "Torchwood," now a doctor herself, and working for UNIT.)
At the end of the season finale, after the Doctor has left on his own, the Titanic unexpectedly crashes into the tardis, which leads into the third Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned. (There was also a roughly 8-minute mini-episode, which aired on charity special, I guess, called Time Crash. I'm not sure if it's canonical, but it's set between season 3 and "Voyage of the Damned.")
Series Four (2008)
The Doctor is joined by Donna Noble, as his latest Companion. She was first introduced in the second Christmas special, "The Runaway Bride." Of course they have a number of interesting adventures together. And there's a pretty epic multi-episode arc at the end of the season (which had been hinted at throughout the season), which involves a shockingly massive plot by Davros and the Daleks. And many of the Doctor's former Companions, and other people he knew, UNIT, etc., all work together to stop them. In the end, the Doctor is forced by circumstances to leave Donna behind in her old life, and once again sets off alone. (Oh, I also need to mention that Donna's mother and grandfather are seen a number of times throughout the season. Companions' families always play some part in the show, of course, but I particularly wanted to mention Donna's grandfather, Wilfred Mott, who was first seen in "Voyage of the Damned." He's... a pretty likable old guy, definitely nicer than Donna's mother.)
After season 4, there was yet another Christmas special, The Next Doctor. And then in 2009-10, there were four specials, ("Planet of the Dead", "The Waters of Mars", and "The End of Time, parts 1 and 2"), which are technically considered part of season 4, even though that's really already ended, but they're not season 5 (which starts later in 2010). These specials marked the beginning of BBC America airing "Doctor Who" in the U.S., instead of Sci-Fi Channel.
Series Five (2010)
So, this season starts out with the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith). And he is joined by a new Companion, Amy Pond. Um... the new Doctor is kind of retro in his fashion sense, and interestingly, so is the new tardis. I don't think I've ever actually seen the tardis itself regenerate before, though the interior design does generally seem a bit different from Doctor to Doctor, but I don't think I ever really noticed that during the original run of the show, with the first seven Doctors. Anyway, I like the new look. Also, the first episode sets up a new underlying story arc, as the previous seasons each did. I don't really know what to say about that, though. It was okay. I mean, the season finale was pretty cool, though I'm not sure I completely understood it. But mostly what I liked about the season were the standalone stories, just getting to know the 11th Doctor, and Amy. She really was pretty cool and clever and funny, among my favorite Companions ever, I think. And for part of the season, the Doctor and Amy were accompanied by Amy's fiancÚ, Rory Williams. Um... there may be some who say this season was a bit weak, and I can see that to a certain extent, but there was also a lot about it that I really loved. Not sure what else to say.
Between seasons 5 and 6 was another Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, which I think was my favorite one yet.
I saw half of season six, before losing access to BBC America in 2011, so I've fallen way behind. I will absolutely catch up someday, and continue my review.