Thanks to the prodding of some good friends, a former boss, and panelists at GMX (Geek Media Expo) I finally decided to delve into the world of Doctor Who. While some suggested I should start back in the early days of Doctor Who, I decided my limited knowledge from friends would help me enough to where I could simply begin with the 9th Doctor. So I began to watch Doctor Who: The Complete First Series, which I shall now review for you.
To discuss Doctor Who I feel I must first initiate the unitiated with a little knowledge of the history, themes, and overall aura of this epic series. Doctor Who was created by the BBC as a children’s show in 1963 and, with a few interruptions, has run up until the present making it the longest running sci-fi series to date. The premise behind each episode is that a man, simply known as the Doctor, travels through time and space with a female companion both to explore and, more often than not, takes part in the troubles of the time whatever they may be. Much like in the Bond films the Doctor, who is part of an alien race known as the Time Lords, has been played by various actors over the years. Likewise the companions change over the years as well; however, they are both replaced not only by new actors but new characters as well, while the Doctor remains the same character regardless of who the actor is. The Doctor’s vessel for travel is called the TARDIS, which stands for “Time and Relative Dimensions in Space” and is made out to look like an old fashioned London Police call box. Doctor Who: The Complete First Series, which features the 9th incarnation of the Doctor, begins the revival of the series after an extended hiatus.
Knowing the above information may not only impress upon you the significance of this series for sci-fi and British TV, but it also is good introductory information that is helpful should you pick up with any Doctor.
For viewers the story of the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, begins one day when a young lady in modern day London is attacked by walking mannequins. The girl’s name is Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper, and thanks to the Doctor’s sudden appearance she is saved. However, this encounter is merely the beginning of her troubles, as Rose and the city are threatened en masse by the marauding mannequins. Once again Rose then encounters the Doctor who helps her and the city out. Rose, both intrigued and perplexed by the Doctor, decides to accept the Doctor’s invitation to tagalong to see the vast reaches of both time and space. Leaving her boyfriend Mickie, her mother, and her otherwise ordinary life behind, the Doctor and Rose then begin a series of journeys which take them through space and time.
In their travels Rose and the Doctor witness the end of the earth, a mysterious plague in 1940’s London, game shows of death, the return of the Doctor’s greatest foe, and much more. Likewise Rose’s own life is explored, as travels to London, modern times and past, flesh out some of her own history and personality. Minor characters also are given some continuity as they are brought back for later episodes in the season, while a number of references and character throwbacks to earlier Doctor’s are included as well.
My favorite part of Doctor Who thus far is not the fantastical stories as much as it is the characters that inhabit those worlds, including Rose and of course the Doctor himself. First of all, I was indeed quite taken, and simultaneously amused, by the many secondary characters featured in only a couple episodes of the series. My favorites by far include Charles Dickens, Lady Cassandra, Mickie, Jack Harkness, and Harriet Jones. Most of the above are human characters, and the last three in particular are those based in our time and our world. Mickie is perhaps the most important of the above characters, serving as Rose’s boyfriend who tries to keep Rose grounded both literally and figuratively in their world. Lady Cassandra, who is the self-proclaimed “last human”, simply for looks alone keeps me laughing. Lastly Charles Dickens, who is indeed a representation of the author, and Jack Harkness, who is in many ways a portrayal of Americans in general I feel, both lend a sense of humor and familiarity in a show that is otherwise surprisingly mature for a kids show.
Delving into the regular characters I’ll cover Rose now who is the companion de jour for the 9th Doctor. Especially early on in the series Rose I feel serves as the audience’s voice as she questions both the Doctor for his history and his decision making rationale, especially in some of the more crazy scenarios. Perhaps due to his age, stated to be near 900 years old, the Doctor often comes off as callous and uncaring; however, Rose who is led often by her heart it seems is able to reach the Doctor and helps bring out the best in him. Out of all the characters Rose seems to be the most relatable, since she shares both the curiosity and worries one would expect when traversing into such new territories.
Of course, one cannot discuss Doctor Who without discussing the Doctor himself. Having not watched any other Doctor Who episodes at all I certainly came in with a clean slate of feelings for Eccleston, so understandably I have less bias against the actor than others who might be fans of a certain Doctor. So all I’ll say to the acting is that I thought Eccleston did a quality job being the Doctor, and I’m sad to see he only stuck around for one season. For now though I’ll focus on the character of the Doctor himself, who is an enigma in more ways than one. Certainly his history is relatively unknown, and his disposition majority of the time would lead one to believe he is quite cheery. However, as more is revealed about the Doctor himself his past seems more and more dreary, and his smile is revealed to be nearer to a mask than an actual expression of his true emotions. Certainly the Doctor seems genuinely excited about traveling and exploring with Rose, and for some episodes the past is not brought up, at length anyways, so he seems pleasant throughout the episode; however, when any crisis emerges, or especially when he meets his greatest nemesis, I feel the Doctor reveals his hurt and at times reveals his alien emotions as well. While he is quite loveable when he’s cheeky, I realize that without a companion his hurt might overwhelm him. I am already surprised that Doctor Who is supposed to be a kids show due to the surprising amount of deaths in each episode, but what makes me question Doctor Who’s target audience the most is the Doctor’s own demons and how he chooses to deal with them.
Having not watched many British TV shows I didn’t quite know what to expect in terms of overall production quality for the sets, costumes, and various worlds. So when I saw the great variation of production value between the sci-fi scenery, London’s cityscape, and the costume designs I was more than a little surprised because I imagined Doctor Who to be a high budget show. I realize now that perhaps for a British TV show this could have quite a high budget, and certainly for recurring elements, such as the inside of the TARDIS, some expense must of been required. However compared to American TV shows, especially the London scenes in Doctor Who: The Complete First Series, Doctor Who’s sets and character designs seemed quite cheesy by comparison. Being a fan of Japanese TV dramas though I’m quite used to having the same varying levels of budget and production value, so this wasn’t so much a turn off for me as much as a unexpected surprise.
Having been privy to limited factual information about Doctor Who prior to watching Doctor Who: The Complete First Series I expected a childish show featuring a Doctor quite similar to Dr. Doolittle only for aliens. I instead encountered a rather mature show that presented me with a wonderfully eclectic cast of characters, while providing the aliens, drama, and imagination defying sci-fi experience I had come to love in my time exploring the sci-fi genre. Put simply if you take the familiarity of Star Trek, mixed with the charm and wit of British TV, and then provide great focus on character development, enhanced by succinct writing and fewer episodes per season than Americans are accustomed to, then you get the entertaining Doctor Who.
Score: 4 out of 5