Review: Season Premiere of Doctor Who
It’s only taken 47 years, 754 episodes, and 11 different actor portrayals of the infamous and iconic Doctor, to reach the point we are at. In 2005 the modern incarnation of the Doctor-Who franchise came to modern life, with the wonderful English actor Christopher Eccleston taking on the key role of the inexplicable Doctor.
Since then, another actor portrayal by the Scotsman David Tennant brought the series into the popular light. Eccleston’s single season presented a strong onscreen presence which gave way to a softer, more inquisitive Doctor after just 13 episodes. After 36 or so more episodes (some made-for-tv specials, a few webisodes, and some animated OVAs) Tennant has stepped down to be replaced by a relative newcomer to the acting world (only started acting in 2003, after a back injury ended is aspiring football [note, soccer] career.
But the change in lead characters only represents the image on the screen. Perhaps the more important change, is that Russell T Davies, long time producer and often director of the series, has stepped down from being the creative lead for the show. In his stead, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis, and Steven Moffat. Additionally, as is often the case during this time of transition, the Doctor has a new cohort in his adventures, in Karen Gillan.
With the basics covered, lets address the elephant in the room. Does Matt Smith bring the necessary skills to play the roll of The Doctor. In short, perhaps. Only time will tell. It isn’t the first time in these modern incarnations of the franchise, that the key roll has swapped between actors. When Eccleston handed the flag to Tennant, I was wary. Eccleston’s acting was spot on to the mental image of the Doctor which I held from my youth. He was lively, energetic, with a streak of anger that was not to be trifled with. Tennant seemed much softer and more of an actor to appease the female crowd; pretty looking.
But as the Tennant seasons wound on, you quickly forgot that there was the trade. Tennant found his groove, and gave his all. The actor masked his thick accent and brought a dynamic energy to the roll. The Doctor became a character both gentle and brutal, humorous and serious. Tennant was able to switch on a dime, from a loving father to an maniacal tyrant without any exposition. In my mind, he was the greatest Doctor to have don the blue police-booth.
Smith, with his youth and unique looks, make for a very dramatic change. Smith, 27, is the youngest actor to have played the part. Peter Davison, at 29, was the youngest actor to play the Doctor, up until this season. But that youth may not equate to a better representation. Each actor, through their looks, voice, and natural acting methods, brings a different spin to the Doctor, and whether Smith’s imagination of his part agrees with the audience.
This first episode of the 2010 season (which is an easier way to represent the series than saying 32nd-ish) had a completely different feeling to me. It was chaotic. I could not identify where the chaos was coming from. Throughout the episode, it seemed that the Doctor was at a loss for thought. We are made to understand that the rejuvenation process by which the doctor heals, and regenerates a new form, is a traumatic event; but the episode starts with the doctor crash landing for no, good apparent reason. Whether this moment is supposed to be a continuation of the ” End of Time” episode from last season, or something else, it seams that 5-minutes of prior footage would have answered all my questions.
The doctor crash lands in a little girls back yard, and promptly tells her… “Don’t be scared, Do exactly what I say, and Don’t ask silly questions.” This told to a young girl who is at home alone, at the age of 10 (or so). To me, this not only seemed completely out of character, but very inappropriate. These words that may have been said, tongue in cheek, but that wink to the audience did not translate.
As the episode continues, the Doctor runs from place to place, rambling almost incoherent sentences, demanding actions of people who he apparently knows, but we have never met before, and achieving magical clairvoyance skills. During one scene, he bursts into a elderly woman’s house, without warning, and starts running amuck. Prior experiences with this type of situation, the Doctor would typically present his psychic paper and show some sort of calming false identity. Just moments later, he is some how able to perceive the vision of other people who are gathered around him, and determine what they are doing presently, and in the past.
Perhaps the most glimmering hope is that brought by Karen Gillan, playing the role of Amy Pond. A grown up version of the young girl who he met during the initial crash landing encounter. Her aggressiveness as a youthful sidekick, and ability to say “no,” and to question the doctors actions brings a well grounded enthusiasm to the show, without being over the top.
Essentially, the episode left me longing for the old days. Even campy episodes are better than this, when the campy-ness makes sense. But this, was not what I was expecting. I don’t put the blame on Smith, but instead on the new writers, directors, and producers of the series. I feel that they dropped the ball, when they should have been scoring a 3-pointer. They were given this key opportunity to show why the British, and world audiences what could be an amazing adventure.
Of course, I will watch next week, and the week after that. I may not think it is the best, but I have a strong admiration for the series. I will trust that it will continue to grow, and hopefully correct course during coming episodes.