Monday, December 27, 2010

'Doctor Who' Season 1 (2005)

Starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper
Developed by Russell T. Davies

Holding the record for the longest-running science fiction television show in the world, "Doctor Who" returned to TV screens after a hiatus of some time.  In this incarnation, Christopher Eccleston stars as the Ninth Doctor, along with his companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).

The premise of "Doctor Who" requires some explanation, but is actually deceptively complex.  There were a race of beings known as Time Lords, of whom the Doctor is the last.  The rest of the Time Lords sacrificed themselves during the legendary Time War to stop the evil Daleks from destroying all of creation.  Only the Doctor remained, and now he travels alone in his TARDIS ship, which can travel through both time and space. 

In this new series, the Doctor comes to Earth in the present day and encounters a young department store clerk named Rose, who is being chased through her store by living plastic mannequins.  After the Doctor blows up the store to destroy the mannequins, he offers Rose the opportunity of a lifetime: to come with him on a journey through time and space, to see fantastic alien worlds, the far future and the distant past.  For the next twelve episodes, Rose and the Doctor will do just that.  They'll come across the ghosts of the dead in the 1860s, witness the ultimate destruction of the planet Earth billions of years in the future, travel to space satellites and witness other strange places and creatures.

But all the while, something is coming.  Everywhere they go, Rose and the Doctor encounter the phrase "Bad Wolf".  What does it mean?  Is someone drawing the Doctor into a trap?  And why is it that time isn't flowing the way that it's supposed to? 

The first season of the new "Doctor Who" is a ton of fun.  There's a cleverness, and a sort of joyful streak that runs through the whole thing, never taking itself too seriously.  It knows when to have its characters in mortal danger, but also when to do so with a wink and a nod.  The general storytelling is also rather bonkers, throwing out wild ideas like living plastic, alien ghost zombies, and an airborne virus whose symptoms are physical changes like scars and gas masks growing into faces.  But the shocking part is that it all works.  Almost any other show might collapse under such silliness, but "Doctor Who" thrives on it.

In the title role, Christopher Eccleston does fine.  At times, he seems uncomfortable with the role, like he's forcing himself to be silly when he doesn't want to be.  But for the most part, he's an electric presence, injecting a sense of unpredictability into the proceedings.  He's a bit better at displaying a certain darkness within the Doctor, and the loneliness with being the last of his race.  His hatred of the Daleks is pretty intense, as well. 

Former pop star Billie Piper stars as Rose, the Doctor's companion.  She's appropriately spunky, but also naive and scared.  She shares a good chemistry with Eccleston; the two get along famously on screen, and developing a deep affection for each other.  Their relationship forms the emotional heart of the show, and it's charming and fun. 

No show is perfect, of course.  Some episodes are better than others, as one would expect.  The first episode isn't particularly impressive beyond it's wacky concept.  But other episodes are pretty spectacular, including a jaunt to a space station to witness the end of the world, a futuristic reality show where losing means death, and aliens wearing skin-suits trying to sell the Earth for scrap.  The final two-part episode, featuring the return of the Daleks and their Master, is a great finale to the season.  It's appropriately huge and epic, tying together little hints sprinkled throughout the rest of the episodes. 

"Doctor Who" is a lot of fun.  It's cheesy, sure, but on purpose.  The cheapness of the production might put off some, but with a little investment, it's totally worth it.