Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's much bigger on the inside!

Well any Doctor Who purists are going to hate this post because when I say Doctor Who I am referring to the new incarnation of the show that re-appeared thanks to Russell T. Davies back in 2005.  And to add insult to injury I’ve never watched a single episode of Doctor Who classic. Nor do I have any real desire to do so, based on my complete and utter disagreement with most comments posted on the TWOP forum by classic Doctor Who fans.  Basically the things they hate about the new show and compare disparagingly with classic are the things I love about the show.  

And, fair warning, this is going to be a very long post.

So with that out of the way I can start gushing about what a fantastic show Doctor Who is.  I have to admit the first few episodes did not immediately grab me.  Somewhere in the middle of season 1 however I became completely smitten.  It is because of this initial impression, that I urge any new viewers to give it a few episodes.  It’s not until episode 5 or 6 that the addictive drugs kick in.  The problem is that at first glance, the show can seem silly, goofy, and shallow.  And well it is often silly and goofy but it most certainly is not shallow.  What at first seems to be fluff is only the outermost layer of a most delicious and chewy treat.  

First, a quick synopsis.  The Doctor is an alien that bears a striking resemblance to a slightly goofy Englishman.   He’s a Time Lord to be exact and as new Who starts we meet Doctor #9 just after he has lost his world and his people in a war with archenemies the Daleks.   The Doctor likes to travel space and time saving the universe and he’s particularly fond of a small rainy island on a planet called Earth.  He can do all this universe saving because the time lords are technologically advanced and uber brilliant.  Oh yeah and he has the coolest ship ever called the Tardis which looks like a 1960s call box but “is much bigger on the inside.”  The other thing to know about the Doctor is that he likes to travel  with a companion, usually a human who serves as the viewers entry into the adventures because while the Doctor looks human, and even sometimes acts human, he is not human which becomes a very interesting theme throughout the New Who.  Oh and one final thing.  Doctor Who was initially intended for kids.  So you get episodes with farting aliens and some other silliness but as long as you are not too high brow to soldier through these moments you’re in for some awesome telly. 

So what’s so fabulous about Doctor Who?  Well with the traveling in time AND space the adventures to be had are almost endless and the stories are usually creative and interesting.   There’s the fantastic and campy sets and props. There’s the prevalence of the 2 and 3 parter that provide a change of pace at least 1-2 times a season. There’s the almost across- the -board high level of the acting.  But what really does it for me is the relationship between the Doctor and his companion.  

We’ve had 2 Doctor’s (time lords don’t die they just regenerate with a whole new look and body – hence why the show could run for 40 years – clever Brits :0) in the fist 4 seasons both really excellent.  Chris Eccleston was Number 9 and filled the role during the first season.  His Doctor was darker, harder, and angrier with a bit of scary edge.  Don’t get me wrong he was also goofy and manic but always with an underlying streak of violence.  Number 10, played by David Tennant, is hyperactive and over the top and really fabulous.  It’s a great combo because as mentioned above number 9 has just lost his planet and his people in the time war.  He is filled with violence and loss, a little bit of self loathing and an undirected desire for revenge.  The events and companion of season 1 serve to lessen the sway of that darkness and the result is the lighter but not less substantial number 10.  The most important thing to know about the Doctor is that he is profoundly lonely and each of the 4 seasons have dealt with a different aspect of the loneliness as explored through the eyes of and the relationship with the companion.

There were 3 companions over the first 4 seasons.  During seasons one and two we have Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, arguably the most important of the companions.  She also shows up briefly in Season 4.  Season 3 is Martha Jones and Season 4 is the heartbreaking Donna Noble.    

First Rose.  We meet her as a 19 year old living in a flat with her mum and working in a shop.  She’s clever but uneducated and is looking ahead to a life of mundane dullness floating just above the poverty line.  She meets the Doctor when he blows up her shop and after a few more encounters where she proves her strength despite her immaturity; the Doctor lures her into the Tardis with the promise of time travel.  The first thing he does is take her to the day the Earth explodes and thus subtly put them on the same footing.  Rose is great and is by far my favorite companion though I’m not sure this is a popular opinion.  Billie Piper surprises, well, everyone I think, by turning out to be a really terrific actress, with fantastic chemistry with both Chris Eccleston in season 1 and David Tennant in season 2.  The writers also take her character through a believable evolution from a young working class girl with more sass and heart than confidence who has a wide-eyed wonder at the world the Doctor has opened for her, to a confident, almost arrogant girl who devastatingly falls in love with the wrong alien and loses everything.  There are times in season 2 where she is hard to take with her possessiveness of the doctor but it’s the doctor forgetting that he is not human and letting a part of him fall in love with her that’s to blame.  How is a 20-year old supposed to act when adored by a god?  Rose serves to heal the Doctor of the hurt from the time war but then crushes him in a new way by reminding him that he is not human and that he is very truly alone.   

Martha Jones is quite different from Rose.  She is young but closer to 24-25 and more mature than Rose. She comes from a middle class background and is studying to be a Doctor.  She’s beautiful and smart and has a bright future before her.  It is because of this, coupled with the fact that Freema Agyeman is a rather meh actor in my opinion, that, at least for me, Martha Jones was not nearly as likeable a companion.  She is extremely competent, more so than Rose, and is actually called upon to be more self-sufficient and make more sacrifices.  But still.  One of the aspects of the show that is so addicting is the idea of a random human being given the chance to live up to their full potential, travel through time and space and save the universe.  It is an opportunity to be ones most noble self and to live a life that matters and is significant.  When that random human is an unremarkable person working a job to pay the bills completely unaware of their nobility it is beautiful and so easy to root for.  When that random human is a successful, remarkable young lady already embarked on a noble career saving people’s lives it is less compelling.  Still, Martha serves her function, by developing an immediate crush on the Doctor and being wonderful and then strong enough to give the doctor the finger when he very studiously decides not to notice.  You see he’s just seen what havoc he can wreak in his companion’s and his own life by letting himself open up too much.  So with Martha, he closes up and is really rather cruel to her at times with his coldness but he learns this too is not the answer and he must open up and accept the pain on both himself and those who choose to travel with him.   Being closed away makes him too dangerous and causes him to lose touch with his more human and less godly side. 

The companion for season 4 (and also the special between season’s 2 and 3) is Donna Noble.  Donna is a 30 something with little ambition or skill with life.   She has even less going for her than Rose and even less reason to believe in herself.  Her transformation as number ten’s companion is pretty epic as she finds that not only is she self-sufficient but quite a bit less self-involved and compassionate than she appeared to be in her “normal” life.  She’s a great companion, very funny, and is a great friend to the doctor, which is just what he needed after Rose and then Martha’s crush.  What happens to her at the end of the series is arguably one of the most heartbreaking things to happen on this show.  We’d been shown, quite forcefully, in series 2 that life for the companions post doctor is pretty devastating – they’ve experienced wonderful things, been heroic and now they have to go back to mundane life.  However they get to hold on to that heroic part of themselves and they are changed, for the better, forever.  Donna must go back to everyday mundane life but she doesn’t get to remember that she can be heroic.

I don’t go in to series 5 and 6 here.  I’m having some trouble warming up to number 11 and these “new” adventures.  But I’m thinking I may need to re-watch s. 5 and watch s. 6 when I’m in the right frame of mind.  Because this show is too good to give up on!

So… Who’s your favorite companion and why?  Do you enjoy the doctor’s complicated relationships or do you just wish they’d get on with the farting aliens, already?

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