Starring: Matt Smith and Karen Gillan
Summary Judgement: If you’ve managed to avoid watching Doctor Who over the last 40 years, now is a great time to start. If you’re like me, somebody who only got serious about the show with Christopher Eccelston and David Tennant, you may be a bit disappointed.
Right then, Doctor Who Season 31, that’s right, 31 seasons, where have you been? Alternatively, this could be Doctor Who Season 5 or 6 depending on how you want to keep score. Whichever way you cut it, the longest running science fiction show in the history of the known universe is back for another season. I suppose I’m happy about this. As a child, I loved watching Doctor Who for hours at a stretch when it was on public television. Furthermore, the Doctor Who theme turned me on to electronic music. However, I can only call myself a proper Doctor Who fan since 2005 when the show reemerged from its nine year hiatus. On that note, I have a few reservations about this season.
Before proceeding farther, a word on Time Lord physiology for the benefit of those ignorant of such details. Although The Doctor looks human, he is in fact the last member of an ancient and enigmatic race called the Time Lords. Yes, this is important so keep reading. As the species’ name suggests, these beings had infinite command over time and space. The Doctor, no that’s not his real name, it’s the title he picked for himself upon graduating from his Time Lord Ph.D. program, travels about time and space in space ship that looks like a 1950s police box. From time to time he comes to Earth to pick up new travelling companions or to save the planet from its various and sundry extraterrestrial foes.
Early on in the show it was decided that replacing the actor who plays The Doctor would be handled by a maguffin called “regeneration”. Whenever a Time Lord is mortally wounded he or she “regenerates” into a new person: same character, different quirks and personality traits. Most recently The Doctor was portrayed by BAFTA (That’s the British Emmy) winning actor David Tennant. I will gladly forefit a measure of impartiality to say that David Tennant is my favorite Doctor. Hopefully Tennant doesn’t turn into a post-Doctor Who paraody of himself, doomed to live out his years signing autographs for inappeasable nerds like yours truly. However, with acting skills like these, I think Tennant will land on his feet.
-Always brings a tear to my eye.
So out with the old and in with Matt Smith, the youngest person to ever play The Doctor. Smith’s arrival in the show produces some mixed reactions. Smith’s first episode, written by recently promoted head writer Steven Moffat, has a fantastic story that is classic Doctor Who. We’re also introduced to the Doctor’s new travelling companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). The story features some running, some aliens, a bit of intrigue and a nice resolution that brings The Doctor and Amy together. Another feather in Moffat’s cap is that he has dropped some hints about story arcs that are going to develop this season. How to impress Adam 101: Carry the plot from one episode to the next. For those taking bets on the season’s culminating big bad wolf, I’ll put even money on Daleks or Cybermen, three to one on the Sontarans and ten to one on The Master.
Without a doubt, this season represents the best possible time for a newbie to jump aboard the bandwagon. At the same time, the Eccleston/Tennant iterations of The Doctor explored the character’s inner demons. Much of this turmoil, including the Doctor’s guilt/shame for surviving a war which saw multiple species, including his own, destroyed, seems to have evaporated with Tennant’s regeneration into Smith. Smith seems to be a character absolutely unburdened by any of The Doctor’s past issues. Hopefully Moffat has the sense to allow for some further exploration of The Doctor’s darker side. Although BBC press releases describing Smith’s Doctor as “the nutty professor”, do not fill me with hope.
After watching Smith’s first episode as The Doctor, I can’t help but wonder if the BBC has stacked the deck against him. How can anybody expect a relative neophyte actor to live up to David Tennant’s acting legacy? Smith will definitely need some time to develop The Doctor into his own character. Right now, it seems like the rookie is doing a piss-poor David Tennant impression more than he is making the character his own. I mean, changing Tennant’s catch phrase of “Allons-y”, something that developed organically, into “Geronimo” seemed like a bit of a ham handed gimmick. Naturally, I’ll give Smith and Moffat some time rework the role. Then again, what if Smith is just a transitional Doctor? Since David Tennant was much beloved as The Doctor, people will naturally grumble about whoever follows. So why not pick somebody unremarkable for the short term so that when the next actor comes in to play The Doctor he won’t seem that bad by comparison. I know, I’ll probably end up eating crow on this one, but time will tell.
I’ll wrap up on a fanboy note. The layout of the TARDIS often changes with each Doctor. Sometimes they are subtle changes, other times they are distinctive reinventions (often due to budget windfalls at the BBC). Smith’s TARDIS seems like it was designed by a mental patient armed solely with crap he picked up from Sanford and Son’s junk yard. Yes, I know it is a petty complaint; again, I’m an implacable nerd. My sincere and honest hope is that the quirky and absurd nature of The Doctor’s time machine will not be wholly reflected in The Doctor’s personality. Matt Smith has the potential to bring a unique energy to the character, but let’s not forget that after 900 years, The Doctor has some baggage.
In sum, not a bad first start to the new series. Matt Smith is going to need to take the training wheels off the TARDIS if he wants to live up to the legacy that has been left to him.
Overall Score: 77%
Oh and I hate the new version of the Doctor Who theme. Again, I’m a relentless nerd and thus prone to fanboy outrage.