I guess I should start by clarifying what kind of geek I am. Foremost, I'm a cult/exploitation, kung fu, and surrealism geek. I've fallen out of love with comics, only following a series or two via trades. I was never into sci fi that much, though I probably know as much about Star Wars and Star Trek as any late 70's early 80's geeky kid does. So, if they had conventions where people dressed up like Ogami Itto or the Oily Maniac while attending screenings of The Milky Way and a gallery showings of Max Ernst paintings, I'd be in heaven.
I grew up with Doctor Who during its peak in popularity and, in my opinion, quality with the Tom Baker run. When it comes to Doctor Who, I've watched nearly all of them (that exist) but really only revisit the Baker run. I admit that nostalgia and cheesy, low rent fun is a small part of that love but I also think the scripting and inspired characterization was at its best during the 70's. Otherwise, nostalgia be damned, I wouldn't bother.
When it came time for Doctor Who to get a new modern restart, I wasn't too up in arms about a re-imagining, a semi-maturation of the series. In a post X-Files fantasy world, such things have to be done. There is a much larger and more mainstream adult-geek market to tap into, one that wants some self-consciously sly conceptualization along with its monster-of-the-week thrills. But, so far, I've found the new Who to be pretty hit and miss. With that said, lets get to some brief impressions of season three, shall we? And by the way, this isn't in strict order, but you'll see why.
I'm not going to bother with a concept synopsis. I don't imagine many people are going to click on Series Three of any show, much less one with nearly 50 years of history, and expect the mythology to be explained. You've got the Doc, whose lead many lives, travels through time and space, always landing in some kind of alien mess where he and his companion must save the day.
Tweed ferret David Tenant's second tenure as the Doc begins with the usual Christmas special, The Runaway Bride, a breezy, mostly comic episode with Britain's current Tracey Ullman in residence Catherine Tate, who actually signed on for series four. The season's first two official episodes are Smith and Jones and The Shakespeare Code which basically serve as the formal introduction to the Doc's new companion Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman. The problems with Martha are apparent form the get-go. It isn't that Agyeman is a bad actress or Martha is a poor character but the angle of Martha being romantically attracted to the Doctor never quite gels. Despite the season long build by the writers, there simply isn't the intangible conviction, that chemistry, between Tennent and Agyeman. Smith and Jones is fun and fast paced with the Doctor and Martha in an alien hospital where an uncompromising space police force is hunting a blood sucking creature.The Shakespeare Code is a bit undercooked period attempt with Martha and the Doc encountering the famous bard while a group of witchlike beings terrorize the Globe Theater and threaten the staging of Willy boy's latest play.
Two parters this season are Human Nature and
The Family of Blood and Daleks in Manhattan and
Evolution of the Daleks. In Nature/Blood, the Doctor has made himself human, wiped his identity from his memory, and teaches at an early 20th century British boys boarding school. The identity mask was done in order to avoid capture from a race simply called The Family, who hope to capture him and use his regenerative energies to survive their ticking clock lives. Martha is instructed to bide their time and trigger him when the time is right, but with the Smith persona falling in love, this becomes a far trickier situation than they planned. The Dalek arc features the duo in Depression era NY fighting off the Daleks, who are turning unemployed transients into subservient pig men while setting up operations in the Empire State building. This is where the show's old school campiness braces against the newer serious tones. I mean, pig men are hard to take serious, or at least, as serious as they are intended to be taken here.
The rest of the stand alone eps this season are The Lazarus Experiment, 42, Gridlock, and Blink. One the serviceable side you have The Lazarus Experiment where The League of Gentleman's Mark Gatiss' co-stars as Professor Lazarus, who, name says it all, develops a machine the reverses the aging process with a deadly mutative side effect. In 42, the Doc and Martha are trapped on a spaceship that is falling into a sun and to make matters worse a crewmember is possessed by an alien spirit intent on destroying everyone. The gimmick is that, like 24, they have the shows running time and title to save themselves, but really that ticking clock idea is ultimately irrelative and the ep plays like most Who shows: threat-panic-action-solution. On the more solid side you have Gridlock where the Doc and Martha become separated on New Earth's massive motorway, a flying car jam of millions who wait years just to move a few feet and rumors abound of an underlying monstrosity underneath the sky highway. Blink is among the new series best. A prime example of a successful show where the title character has little screen time and inventive use of a low budget monster. In this one, the Doc and Martha communicate from the past with junior Scoobie Sally Sparrow, who discovers a series of clues left by the Doctor to warn her of The Weeping Angels, a series of alien statues that can transport people into the past and feature a unique defense system- they cannot move yet remain indestructible when you look at them but look away and they quickly attack their unsuspecting prey.
Series three ends with a three episode arc, Utopia,
The Sound of Drums, and Last of the Time Lords, that reintroduces one of the Doctors top reoccurring nemesis, The Master, as well a guest starring return of spinoff character Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). In typical Who fashion the story goes from the end of the universe and the last human beings besieged by the mutated Futurekind to present day Earth where a reincarnated Master has become the Prime Minister of England with his typical doomsday plans to enslave/destroy humankind. I have to say I absolutely hated this arc in large part due to the reinvention of the Master. The original conception was very Bond villainesque, an older, goatee'd, typically sneering brilliant madman, very much the Doctors Time Lord opposite. As portrayed by John Sims, the Master is now younger, hammier, and a total spazz. Sure, the other incarnation was a cardboard villain cutout but he could at least be foreboding and was a genre appropriate rival. The new Master is about as malevolent and cunning as a game show host.
The man responsible for the Doc's new launch is Russell T. Davies, apparently a Brit tv drama figurehead unfamiliar to this Yank. A major change that I'll assume was part of Davies strategy that doesn't jibe with me is the sexualization of the Doctor and the notion of his female companions feeling "abandoned" by the time traveler. For me, the idea is handled in a very awkwardly and became downright repetitive. It was especially annoying during the Rose run, attaching mixed feelings to Rose's loss of her father at an early age, while the Martha Jones run played up an unrequited romance bond. Not bad idea's but they are just poorly executed with a heavy hand.
These dollops of dramatic tension actually dull two of the most intriguing aspects of the Doctor as a character- his sense of living life as a chaotic, noble adventurer and being incredibly, unmistakably alien. Sure, I know the Doc wasn't originally sexualized because it was a show for kids. The first incarnation was an older man with a granddaughter, so, though obviously never really addressed, one knows he was up to hanky panky at some point in his life. During the dashing Pertwee run, he showed some bits of affection and even jealousy towards his companions. But, even as the show got hipper, the Doc's got younger, and the companions sexier, the show creators stood fast to the notion that he was almost an asexual creature (much like Who fans- yeah, I went there). More often than not, the Doc was usually weird, eccentric, often gruff and superior, and was never really distracted with hormonal feelings for people he encountered. Now with the weight of the Doc being someone who acknowledges attraction, it gives a humane weight and complication that I don't think the character needed and actually deadens what made him a unique sci fi hero. This soap opera element also adds a further wrinkle. Are all his companions going to be female from now on, potential love interests? Making that the ulterior or main motivation for his companions actually limits the show and opens potentially problematic door regarding introducing male or younger companions like in the shows classic era.
The series is perfectly fine and has steadily improved season to season. While not top notch or seamless, the production does a good job stretching their budget to make the most of general design and effects. The actors, for the most part, are well cast. I just believe that the current show runners are a tad misguided in how they have chosen to sophisticate the series. I think the shows fans want it to be fun, pulpy, with a bit of grown up wit. It is possible to mix in those elements without becoming too weepy (look at the strong seasons of Buffy), which is exactly where the new show too often veers. It is a little worrisome that it has succeeded- at least, I assume it has since it has spawned two spinoffs already- because, since it wasn't a massive blunder, the shows creators might settle with what they have got rather than working towards more improvement in every department.
The DVD:BBC Video
Picture: Presented in
Anamorphic Widescreen. While the polish of the visuals, sets, cinematography, and such can make the show a little one note, that is true of most any show (take X Files glaringly Canadian settings poorly doubling for US locales). Transferwise, the image is very crisp and clear, sharp, with vibrant colors. Minor quirks exist, the odd scene with some poor contrast and high grain levels and occasional minor aliasing.
Sound: Audio is limited to one tight
English 5.1channel with optional English subtitles. Excellent sound design with only one glaring problem... or maybe it is more a personal peeve. When I complain that the show is a bit overly dramatic, I think you could chalk 70% of that to the bombastic music. It is cued way too wall-to-wall and is so overblown it often drowns out the dialogue and atmospheric effects. The bulk of the old series was memorably synth scored, and its too bad they didn't keep that tradition instead of this Howard Shore/Hans Zimmer route.
The extras are quite vast and plentiful. Aside from rewatching the eps with commentary, I imagine it will take most viewers two nights to shift through them all.
All episodes have commentary by various cast and crew members, from Tennant to show runner Russel Davies, guest stars, production designers, producers, and so forth. Spread across the discs are various featurettes: David Tennant video dairies, a set tour by Agyeman, clips from a live performance, preview trailers, as well as outtakes and bloopers. A solo disc houses two hours and thirty-two minutes worth of Dr. Who Confidential featurettes covering aspects of each episode.
The new Doctor Who is a fine sci fi, fantasy series. Three seasons in I think the show is still without its problems, but it certainly has improved and might be finding a stride. The DVD presentation of Series Three is spot on, technically sound, and loaded with extras. Therefore I'll go with a "Recommended".