Friday, August 26, 2011

Doctor Who

Doctor Who returns to BBC America tomorrow night. Andfor the first time ever, I will be there.

Doctor Who was the one major sci-fi franchise I never got into. Star Wars hit me at 5 and made me a life long sci-fi fan. By 7 I was looking for more than (at that time) a single movie. And there on channel 11 was Star Trek, which I never gave up. Aliens, Predators and Terminators came in high school., the X Files, Blade Runner and the Matrix after college. Joss Whedon, Battlestar Galactica and LOST after the wedding. I even gave Babylon 5 a shot for a couple of seasons. But there was never room for the Doctor.

It was too British, too cheap, too sixties. I would stumble upon it on PBS now and then and simply wait for Monty Python's Flying Circus to come on. Every now and then I'd meet another geek and after gleefully trading Trek stories they would steer the conversation towards Doctor Who. I'd tell them I'd never seen it and watch them shrink back, disappointed.

Then in 2005 the BBC relaunched it and everyone loved it. They changed the lead and everyone loved it more. They changed the lead again and people fell blindly, madly in love with it. And they started streaming it on Netflix. I gave in.

I started with the 2005 relaunch. I watched five years of episodes in two weeks. So I was into it.

The franchise always seemed a step behind the genre zeitgeist, especially in 1996 with an aborted backdoor pilot that tried way too hard to be X Files and Deep Space Nine. Not anymore. The BBC learned how to reignite from Star Trek and how to balance fantasy, horror, character work and long arcs from Whedon and Abrams. The inherent goofiness was accepted but turned way down each season until the time Steven Moffat took over it evaporated completely. The rules were established quickly enough for me to get it and were flexible enough to allow for a wide range of stories. I liked it. A lot.

It's the ultimate nerd show. Foppy, tweedy, full of complicated pseudo science most people will never get and surprisingly non violent. Despite the fact that every episode has a monster out to eat you, even when it revolves around Shakespeare or Van Gogh, there's rarely any fighting. Lots of thinking, lots of running, very little shooting. This is a show where the hero is not the toughest, the coolest or the bravest. It's the one where he's the smartest. No wonder nerds love it so.

The show also changes tremendously based on its lead actor. It's like when a new exciting British writer takes on an established superhero comic. Christopher Eccleston felt like Grant Morrison, sci fi concepts thrown at you so fast you can't unravel them led by a frenetic soccer hooligan. David Tennant was like Paul Jenkins, still British, still far out but with the heart of a romantic and a softie at that. Matt Smith is Neil Gaiman, melancholy, desaturated, poetic, grim and written by Neil Gaiman. It's all alluring and bringing me back tomorrow night for more.

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