Well the wait is finally over. After being put on the release
schedule and then taken off again, the first season of the new, revamped
Who has finally made it to region one. A long time fan of the
original series, I was a bit apprehensive when approaching this new version
that was touted as being updated for the 21st century. More often
than not, remakes like this don't work well (as the string of recent movies
based on classic TV shows illustrates.) I needn't have worried however.
The 2005 version of Doctor Who keeps a lot of the charm and excitement
of the original (as well as the premise), while making the series easily
accessible for new viewers. A great show that will surely create
a new generation of fans.
Okay, most of you probably already know this, but for those who aren't
familiar with the long running SF show, here's a bit of history.
Who started in 1963 with William Hartnell creating the role of The
Doctor, a mysterious and crotchety old man who traveled through time and
space with his granddaughter Susan, and two of her teachers. They traveled
in the TARDIS, a device that looked like a small London Police Call Box
on the outside, but on the inside was a huge time machine.
The show was a hit but in 1966 there was a problem. Hartnell became
ill and had to leave the show (though some say it was the new production
team rather than illness that caused the departure.) In order to
keep the show going the producers and writers came up with an ingenious
idea: Since there wasn't much known about the Doctor (aside from the fact
that he was an alien) why not have him die and then regenerate his entire
body in the form of a new actor. This turned out to be not only a
good gimmick to keep the show going, but also made the main character more
interesting and mysterious. As the show went on, more details of
exactly who and what the Doctor was slowly emerged. It turned out
that he was a 700+ year old Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who stole
the TARDIS from a repair bay, which explains why it doesn't always work
as well as it should, and was on the lam. He did this because he
didn't see eye-to-eye with the rest of his race. He much prefered
to get involved and help people out when he could rather than just sit
back and watch things happen like the rest of the Time Lords.
As the years went on the show continued to be popular and the BBC went
through many actors playing the Doctor and even more traveling companions.
That is until 1989 when, after facing countless alien menaces and seven
incarnations, Doctor Who was put "on hiatus" due to low ratings.
It was widely reported after the show's cancellation that the BBC was
looking for a buyer for the show. There was an attempt to launch
a new series in 1996 starting with a made for TV movie produced by Universal
in the US. While the movie was aired in both the US (on Fox) and
Britain, but it was generally abhorred by fans, and the less said the better.
In 2005 the BBC finally decided to relaunch the series. It is
the first season of this new, updated show that has just been released.
The new series:
This season opens by recalling a story from a previous incarnation of
the Doctor. Like the first story from Jon Pertwee's run, the Autons
(though they are never referred to by that name in the episode) are trying
to invade the Earth once again. They're taking the place of
clothing dummies in department stores in London, including the one that
young Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) works in. At closing one evening,
Rose goes down in the basement to find the head of maintenance only to
stumble upon a group of the plastic invaders. Fearing that their
plot has been discovered, the aliens try to kill the hapless woman and
would have surely succeeded if not for a lanky stranger with big ears who
pops out of nowhere. He manages to save the clerk, blows up the building
destroying the menace and then leaves Rose to get home by her own means.
The next day Rose still isn't sure what happened when this odd man,
who only identifies himself as "The Doctor" (Christopher Eccleston) shows
up once again, this time at her door. It seems that the menace isn't
totally eradicate and the mannequin's arm that Rose brought home is still
alive and murderous. The mysterious Doctor easily deals with
the animated apendage, and Rose, drawn to the dynamic if quirky man, decides
to follow him and see if she can figure out just what's going on.
Over the course of the story, Rose makes herself useful and helps the
Doctor quite a bit, so when the aliens have been finally vanquished, he
invites her to join him in his travels in his time machine, the TARDIS.
With a new companion by his side, the traveler through space and time starts
a new series of adventures, relying on his wits to solve the problems that
seem to crop up where ever he goes. The pair travel to the far into
future to see the Earth's destruction when the sun turns into a red giant
and into the past to meet Charles Dickens, not to mention saving the present
day Earth a couple of times.
Things have changed since the last series ended however. First
of all, time has passed, a lot of time. The Doctor is now over 900
years old, and things haven't gone well for him in the intervening years.
As is revealed in the second episode, he's the last of the Time Lords.
The rest of them are dead, apparently having perished in a horrible war.
Being the very last member of his race, and having seen the rest of his
people perish, has caused him to be filled with a lot of pain that is always
lurking just under the surface. This is a trait that the other Doctors
haven't had, and it adds a new dimension to the show. As the series
progresses viewers find out what happened to this seemingly all powerful
race, and just who was responsible for it.
This is a great revival that takes the strengths of the original show
and builds on them while making the series feel fresh, new and inviting
to viewers who aren't familiar with the original show. They've
updated the show a bit, changing the look of the interior of the TARDIS,
changing the logo and modifying the opening music, and making the show
more fast paced. One of the biggest changes is in the format of the
show. Doctor Who is now an hour long and many of the stories
are self contained. There are a couple of two-part episodes, but
they've done away with the four and six-part stories that marked the earlier
series. All in all this isn't a bad thing. It keeps the show
moving along at a good clip and eliminates some of the slower parts that
would sometimes plague the longer stories in the original series.
(I'm thinking of War Games here.)
Doctor Who has always been an interesting combination of characterization
and plot. While the individual stories are often plot driven, (how
is the Doctor going to defeat the Daleks and save the world?) the show
as a whole was more character driven. People tune in week after week
to see what mess the Time Lord is going to get into and how his companion
will react. Because of this, the actor playing the Doctor has always
had the weight of the show on his shoulders. A poorly executed Doctor
can really drag the show down, while an interesting lead can carry every
So how does Christopher Eccleston do in the role? In a word that
this Doctor uses frequently, fantastic. Probably best known (in England
at least) for his role as DCI David Bilborough in the excellent crime drama
is a very talented actor who has played a wide variety of roles in his
career. Watching this first season though, he gives the impression
that the Doctor was the role he was born to play. Retaining the eccentric
personality of the previous doctors, he makes the role his own by adding
a touch of sadness and deep pain as well as more than a dollop of humor.
His character can change from childish glee to being intimidatingly intense
in a flash and back again. He's extremely confident too, laughing
when he says that he has no idea how he's going to get out of a trap, sure
that something will pop up.
This confidence is infectious and really adds a lot to the show.
In one episode Rose has been kidnaped by a powerful alien enemy.
There's a fleet of nearly half a million warriors heading towards Earth,
and the invaders tell the Doctor that if he attempts to stop them, they'll
kill Rose. Against these insurmountable odds, the Doctor stares the
alien commander in the face and says "No!"
He continues "This is what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna rescue her.
I'm gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the [alien] fleet, and then
I'm gonna save the Earth. And then, just to finish you off, I'm gonna
wipe every last stinking [one of you] out of the sky!
To which the alien commander mocks "But you have no weapons! No
defenses! No plan!"
"Yeah, and doesn't that just scare you to death?" replies the Doctor.
Most American viewers don't know Billie Piper who plays Rose Tyler,
but she's a well known face in England. Dubbed the 'Pop Princess',
Piper had a string of hit records starting when she was just 15, her first
four singles all making the top 5. After her singing career took
a nose dive, as it often does for pop stars, Piper turned to acting staring
in a BBC production of The Canterbury Tales, and a couple of films.
When she was tapped for the role of Rose, most people in the UK were familiar
with the young actress.
She does a good, though not outstanding, job as this new Doctor's companion.
She's mainly hampered by appearing opposite of Eccleston, who is a much
better actor than she is. Still, Piper manages to do a credible job
in the role, complementing the Doctor's enthusiasm with a healthy does
of scepticism. She's not solely a hostage either, though she does
fill that role a few times. Roses has a good amount of pluck, and
assists the Doctor in dangerous jobs on more than one occasion.
As much as I enjoyed this series, I have to admit that the writing was
a bit uneven. Head writer Russell T Davis wrote a good number of
scripts and is certainly responsible for the tone and characterizations
that work so well. Unfortunately, the scripts that he penned are
the least exciting of the lot. He is great at characterization and
dialog, but most of his scripts are just slightly flawed. There will
be some aspect that doesn't work as well as it should. A good example
is the subplot that runs through the series involving Rose's mother and
boyfriend. They stay in London while she's off adventuring with the
Doctor, but her frequent visits allow them to worry about her and fuss.
This storyline is rather weak and the scenes involving it are the least
interesting. His scripts become a bit silly at times, such as in the episode
The Aliens of London. In this show the nemisis, the Slitheen
family, is marked by extreme flatulence when they are in human form.
This is obviously supposed to be comic relief, but it isn't really all
There are a couple of episodes that where very good, but the ending
didn't work as well as it should. While the resolution to Father's
Day was satisfying, some parts of it didn't make a whole lot of sense.
The last story, a two-part season finale, was filled with excitement and
edge of your seat suspense, but the deus ex machina ending was a bit of
Even the shows that are flawed are fun to watch and very enjoyable,
and the shows that manage to sidestep the pitfalls are just plain fantastic.
The opening story, Rose, was also a lot of fun and full of surprises.
The Empty Child is the most eerie episode of Doctor Who that's
every been broadcast, with a child in a gasmask stalking through war time
London chasing after homeless waifs asking "Are you my mummie?" The
conclusion to that story, The Doctor Dances, is one of best single
episodes of Doctor Who ever, with a excellent solution to the perplexing
mystery that started in the previous show and a very uplifting conclusion.
Dalek, which reintroduces the Doctor's most popular enemy, actually
makes the mobile garbage cans seem formidable and dangerous, and the episode
where Rose goes back to see her father who died when she was an infant
is touching and very memorable.
This season also has a fair amount of continuity, with sub-plots evolving
over the course of the season. Not only the story about Rose's mother,
but also just what happened to the other Time Lords and just who or what
'Bad Wolf' is, a phrase that keeps popping up in different times and places,
with ominous implications. This gave the show a bigger feel, like
each episode was part of a larger whole.
Another thing that works very well is that the series reminds viewers
that, though he looks human, the Doctor is an alien. He's on the
Earth, but not part of it; a visitor who is amazed at the things we take
for granted. As such he has a nice way of commenting on the human
condition (and occasionally waving the Union Jack at the same time.)
A good example is in The Empty Child where the Doctor gets to cheer
up a young orphan "living rough" in London at the height of the blitz:
1941. Right now, not very far from here the German war machine
is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes.
Nothing can stop it. Nothing. Until one tiny, damp, little
island says "no". No, not here. A mouse in front of a lion.
You're amazing, the lot of you. Don't know what you do to Hitler,
but you frighten the hell out of me.
For long time fans of the series, there's also some familiar trappings
that are revisited. The TARDIS is still bigger on the inside than
it is on the outside, but the interior look has changed pretty dramatically.
Gone is the antiseptic white main room, being replaced with a cavernous
space with tree-like roots running vertically thought it. The central
column still rises and falls as the TARDIS travels, but the control panel
looks even more complicated than before.
The Doctor still carries his trusty sonic screwdriver with him and it's
as handy as ever. The absurdity of the device is mentioned though,
as Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), an ex-time agent from the 51st
century, points out: "Who looks at a screwdrivers and thinks
'Ohhh, this could be a bit more sonic.'?"
A great revitalization, this show has all of the charm of the old series
while being more palatable for today's viewers. Whether you're an
old or new fan, this show has something to offer.
The thirteen episodes that make up this season come on four single-sided
DVDs with another disc filled with extras. All five DVDs come in
a fold out case that looks like a police box while compacted and shows
an image of the inside of the TARDIS when unfolded. A nice looking
package, there is also a boolet that has an introduction by head writer
Russell T Davis and a synopsis of each episode.
The show comes with a 5.1 DD English soundtrack that is overall very
good. They make good use of the full soundstage during the action
sequences and this is very effective. Hearing a Dalek's metallic
voice emerge from all corners of the room makes these villains seem even
more intimidating. The one complaint I have with the audio is that
sometimes it's a bit too busy which makes it hard to hear the dialog.
At the beginning of The Empty Child the Doctor and Rose are chasing
an object through the space/time vortex and there's a lot of noise in the
TARDIS making it hard to hear what they are saying. On the upside
it create a frantic mood, which is what the director was going for.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is good and quite solid.
The image is generally sharp with good contrast. At times the colors
are a bit weak, I imagine it was shot that way, and some details are lost
in some of the dark scenes but these are minor quibbles. Overall
a nice looking set.
This set is just packed with extras. First off there is a commentary
track on each and every episode with various people involved with the show;
writers, directors, and actors. The one conspicuous absence is Christopher
Eccleston. He does not appear on any of the commentary tracks, which
is too bad. Billie Piper gives her thoughts on two episodes,
Day and the last episode of the season, A Parting of the Ways.
In addition to that, each disc has a few other extras too. There's
an interview with Christopher Eccleston, a couple of behind the scenes
reels, several short items that explain how a particular effect was created,
an interview with John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) and several TV
commercials advertising the series.
That would be enough to please most fans, but the fifth disc is devoted
to a very in depth look behind the scenes of the new show. Doctor
Who Confidential, which takes up the entire fifth disc is a 2 hour
and 45 minute feature (broken into 14 different episodes) that completely
covers the making of this new series. This is an excellent addition
to the package and really rounds out the set. These apparently are
the edited versions of the show however, with each episode running at about
12 minutes. While I haven't seen the unedited versions, these play
When all is said and done, this a fun, exciting, and eminently enjoyable
season. Christopher Eccleston has a lot of fun in the role.
Obviously influenced by Tom Baker's take on the role, he brings a good
amount of humor to the Doctor while still keeping the show serious.
He has quickly become one of my favorite Doctors. The
stories are very good, and though there are a few flaws in some shows,
the quality is excellent overall. If you've never seen the show before,
never feat this set is very accessible to novice viewers, while long time
fans will have just as much fun revisiting this classic character.
The set is just chocked full of extras too, which were very enjoyable and
added a lot to the package. One of the better SF shows I've seen
recently, this set is highly recommended.