THE NEW DOCTOR WHO, BBC AMERICA, 2010
I was never a Doctor Who fan. There are many such fans where I work, but I could never get into the series: it seemed too retro and too cheesy. And then one night, I was watching Graham Norton and he had David Tennant as a guest. A few weeks later, Norton featured Catherine Tate. I was intrigued. Late to the party, when Tennant left the series, I started watching. Over the Winter Break, 2009, BBC America treated me to a Doctor Who marathon that went on for days and days. I watched every episode. To my amazement, the series were surprisingly good, inventive and well-written scripts, complete with Cybermen. Usually I listen to television while I am reading, writing, or grading papers; but for almost a week, I sat and watched hours and hours of a police box transporting a Time Lord around the universe. From time to time major British actors would pay a visit, Dereck Jacobi, Timothy Dalton and the wonderful John Simm, from Life on Mars, played the Master, bringing Tennant’s tenure to a close in a series of movies. It takes great acting and inventive writing to make the marvelous lunacy of Doctor Who so compelling. The question today is: is there life after David Tennant?
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the number of viewers for the Saturday night debut of the New Doctor, Matt Smith, was a record. So what did we think? There are those who will argue that Christopher Eccelston, the Ninth Doctor, was the definitive Doctor. For most of us, our knowledge of the various other eight doctors does not go that far back. Our favorite is David Tennant. Doctor Who is as important part of the British cultural landscape as Elvis is a part of ours in America. Even Hugh Grant and Rowan Atkinson have spoofed the character, while Michael Jayston and Peter Cushing played him for real in the Sixties. Doctor Who, however, has thoroughly American roots. The entire aesthetic of the series was born in the Thirties, created in the science fiction serials, which played in movie theaters every Saturday morning, long before television. The contemporary Doctor Who series has carefully retained the H. G. Wells vision of the future, complete with its Victorian gadgets. The Daleks, who wave their robot arms, one a plunger and one a whisk, and repeat, “exterminate,” could have been made on the set of Metropolis. Although Star Wars came from the same sources, George Lukas modernized the Saturday morning serial. Doctor Who and his protagonists retain their old fashioned charm.
Because Doctor Who is a British series, space aliens consistently attack London or its environs, just as aliens in American films unerringly find Los Angeles. The British react to aliens with admirable stoicism. For some reason, the area of the British Isles is a fragile one and is riddled with leaks. Creatures from the primordial past charged through light-filled holes in Primeval and aliens who had lost their way slipped into Cardiff to be picked up by Torchwood. In the first episode of the new Doctor, there is a crack in the universe and an alien has been placed in a prison cell that only the Doctor and his future partner, Amy Pond, can discern. The new Doctor Who is no David Tennant; Matt Smith may be OK, but he will have to win us over. That said, the first episode, which introduced the new girl sidekick, Amy Pond, was not too bad. Karen Gillan has to follow Billy Piper and Catherine Tate. She is cuter than the other two but, so far, she seems to lack their dimensionality. But Amy was working as a Kissogram when she and the Doctor become partners, so she has promise. No doubt in time, both of these actors will settle into their roles, and while we shall sorely miss Rose and her family and Donna Noble and her family, future episodes promise a major role for Winston Churchill. Always a crowd pleaser. The TARDIS is still intact and we can only hope that the Doctor will pay visits to Sarah Jane and to Torchwood in the future.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger