12th Apr2009

winchoo get new WHO!?

by jerad.formby

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I went to a karaoke bar and met a hip/fun/sci-fi couple. They were all about the new Battlestar Galactica. The gal sheepishly told me behind her hand that they’d even (shockingly) gone to a convention.

Adorable. I love nerds. I love geeks. I love trekkies. I even have love for Star Wars fans (although I think they got a raw deal). There’s another group out there that’s on the tip of my tongue. Whovians.

There’s a New Doctor Who episode set to air in Britain. Naturally they get everything Who before we do. I have no idea when we’ll see it here in the states, but this information made me think back on that karaoke bar.

While we were yelling fan love at one another, I mentioned the Who. The man-nerd said he’d only seen the first episode of the “new series” and asked me when it “got good.”

I told him that it was good right out of the gate and he shrugged it off. Not worth his attention.

Hey Star Trek, do you even know the doctor?

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Doctor Who is worth your attention, karaoke-man-nerd-guy… and its worth your attention too!

If you haven’t given it a chance yet, try and keep this new Easter Special Episode on your radar. It’s called “Planet of the Dead.”  Give it a look see. The concept of the show is simple to slip into and experience –there isn’t a long canon you need to know. Even though it is the longest show in sci-fi history, don’t let that daunt you. Just climb into the Doctor’s time machine for one hour and see if it sticks. Do it for me. Do it because you have nothing going on after the 8th of May!

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The show is super-slick and easy to follow. There’s this Time Lord guy. He’s from another planet. He has a fantastic machine that moves through time and space. He has a particular adoration for Earth. He always has a human with him to be our audience surrogate.

Just in cast you’re wondering. I’ve seen some older WHO too, although I haven’t seen a lot. But I’ve seen enough to say something like this:

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I’ll trek this out a little for you. Michael Piller, co-creator of DS9 and VOY had an edict when it came to the development of any new Trek series. The captain had to be human. The reason is simple –the surrogate factor. If the audience who watched the show wanted to identify with anyone, it would have to be the captain. In essence, that concept acted as insurance that each of us could be captain of the show. Thank you, Mr. Piller.

On Who, however, the surrogate is not the person who runs the time machine… the surrogate is the companion to the Doctor. This could go directly against Piller’s concept, but believe me, the stories give these companions a lot to do. Plus, some of these companions are making about as much money as a lot of us. Super-relatable people.

The companions have always been with the Doctor –and keep it in mind that Doctor Who started before Star Trek. It has been around forever. In fact, it ran season after season until the late eighties. At that point, the writing had become so plain jane and the budget to produce it had gotten so very small that nobody really watched it anymore.

The problem wasn’t the concept. It just needed a break. Sort of like another show we know.

Russell T. Davies, the fella behind Queer as Folk, was approached by the BBC to develop a New Doctor Who for them. Davies was and is, an all out-rocking Nerd. More specifically, a Whovian by all measure of the word. He loved the idea of working with Doctor Who and bringing to the concept his particular dramatic approach. In order to get close with the Doctor, Davies looked to a lot of American television for inspiration –specifically Joss Whedon’s shows.

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It was a little difficult to take his new approach, because he intended to respect the existing 26 year canon. Some Who villains appear to be cheesy. Davies didn’t want his show to apologize for the obvious changes in budget and storytelling technology –he wanted to re-introduce the villains with ‘updated looks.’ Sounds like another approach we know.

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The new show hit the ground running and it hasn’t looked back. To give the new show instant credibility, Davies cast Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor.

Eccleston never was a Whovian. He wasn’t much for sci-fi in general, but he’s said that as a child if he was watching television he always preferred Star Trek to Doctor Who. So of course, I call him my doctor. They say that when you first start watching Doctor Who, the first Doctor you watch the most becomes your doctor.

The Doctor, you see has a little trick to cheat death and continue to exist season after season. When he’s killed, he regenerates into another actor. Eccleston is the ninth doctor. The special that’s about to air in Britain features the tenth doctor David Tennant.

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Tennant actually is said to be the most popular doctor ever. Everyone loves him in the role. I do too.

The joy of the role being handed off is that each actor gets to build the time lord however he likes. They can borrow pieces of their performance from previous doctors and they can always bring something new to the table. It is said that with each regeneration a new aspect of the Doctor’s personality is revealed. It has got to be a fascinating process for an actor to build a time lord.

The writing stays familiar enough, but even it will change slightly to support new aspects of the Doctor. For example, recurring characters that didn’t get so much as a handshake from Eccleston will receive full on hugs from Tennant. So even as the concept is revisited with each new doctor, the material itself is capable of interesting transformations as well.

The material makes me think back on that karaoke bar and those Battlestar nerds. They dismissed this show out of hand when Eccleston’s first appearance aired. They sited the episode as a little too silly for them. I can see why a viewer could be mislead into believing that. You do have to keep in mind that its intended for family viewing. But that doesn’t mean that Doctor Who is not capable of broad and amazing dramatic strokes.

Remember Davies drew oodles of genre inspiration from Joss Whedon. Were any of you shocked that a television show called BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER could move you to tears?

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I don’t find Who silly at all. I find it sincere. It’s a show that’s devoid of cynicism and that’s the reason I assume it doesn’t resonate with folks like those BSG fans. It’s just not hardcore enough in their eyes, I guess. Watching BSG sometimes makes me feel like I’ve been beat up because it just keeps coming.

Doctor Who makes me feel elated because it keeps coming. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the Doctor isn’t hardcore and sometimes downright scary.  I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the Doctor go toe to toe with Adama on some of those decisions he made!

The thing is that I’m a fan of both shows and I would put loads of Davies’ Who up against the handful of intense moments BSG brought me.

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Now is the perfect time to look at it, because we’re about to get an 11th doctor! You heard me. Tennant has announced that these final episodes will be his last. The final episodes are “specials” set to air through-out the year. The dates are undetermined in Britain as well as here in America.

When the casting for the new doctor was revealed, there was a lot of boo-hooing. Lots of fans from the olden days and lots of new and more current fans have been hating on the idea of the Doctor being played by a 26 year-old man. Shortly before the casting was announced, it was also announced by Davies that he would be handing the whole of Doctor Who over to guy named Stephen Moffat.

Moffat chose this new Doctor for us. For his vision. I say we trust him. Why? Oh, I don’t know, lemme think. Hmm. He’s brought us some great Who… in fact…

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So if this guy’s in charge from now on… this is your chance to get with Who and a new voice (of course Moffat’s stuff won’t air until 2010). Gosh. That’s a long time. Maybe it’s time for you to catch some re-runs on SCI-FI (I mean SyFy) or BBC America. Or Netflix. Or Blockbuster. Or just start buying DVDs like hot cakes.

All of you need to get caught up so you can be as frickin’ freaked as I am that we have no idea when the next “special” will air.

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  • zancho

    May the Doctor live long and prosper!
    just wanted to take the opportunity to aggree with our intrepid commentator Mr. Formby on the fact that Doctor Who is well worth the time of any fan of science fiction story telling.
    i’ve been consistantly sucked into the emotional drama written into these characters.and on several occasions been completely floored by the level of impact the current plot may have on our heroes.
    there is fanatastic, outlandish alien goodness to be found around every corner but just when you feel a tickle in your brain telling you that this particular alien has just gone too far into the realm of ridiculousness, the writers throw some good old fashioned human drama our way to reel us back in.
    pacing throughout the show is executed with much care and forethought. even when we see “slower episodes” you find yourself gripped by the constantly surprising twists written there.
    and when i say slower episodes it’s like saying i’m watching a formula one race as opposed to jet boat racing…the show dosen’t stop delivering and eventually i found myself no longer trying to read my way into the future of the show but simply holding on for the ride.
    acting is fantastic!
    every person on this show has fully embraced their roles. no one plays it half way! whether they are watching the earth getting ready to burn or deciding which outfit to wear, these cats play it to the hilt and on several occasions nearly had me weeping with how completely they sell the drama. don’t believe me? i dare anyone to watch Rose Tyler look into the time vortex and the aftermath of that choice and not get weepy.
    so yeah i’m a fan of the Doctor and spread the good word when i can. again, give this show a shot if you find yourself a fan of great writing, stellar acting, identifiable characters, and unrelenting science fiction fun!
    oh yeah, tennant is definatly my favorite doctor:)

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  • Michael Magnes

    Dr. Who has and probably always will be my show. I have watched it all my life and now 22 I can’t believe how popular it is now. I grew up being the only kid on the block who knew who Tom baker and Patrick Troughton(my favorite) was. And I got used to it. Then 2005 came and boom, Who became popular. I have to admit I was not that happy with the show at first, I felt it was too soap opera for me. But then came Tennant and the Girl in the Fireplace, Holy crap that is Who. Then I gave Eccleston a proper chance and I like him a lot as well, he nowhere near my favorite Doctor but I can go with him in a pinch. Then came The Impossible planet, once again that’s is Who and they kept coming. In fact I had been very pleased with the series until series 4, it fell sort for me and repeated things too much. And Tennant’s over acting has begun to ware on my nerves and I was very pleased to hear new Doctor was to be named. And yes I’m one of thos old who fans that’s actually quite young. I grew up with the ld show thyanks to my father and loved it for what it was. But there are some very bad eps in that era as well, The Keeper of Traken anyone.

    Matt Smith is to be the new doctor and the man in charge will be them man who wrote the best episodes in the new series? Happy I am yes. The first time I saw Matt I thought, okay he’s a little young but he looks ancient in a weird way. So I say hooray and can’t wait to see him go as the 11th Doctor.

    In the end though I will always prefer the old ones, the cheesy monsters, the bland console room. It’s how it all started for me. But I like this new show as well and while I will grumble about this or that and then go off and listen to a Big Finish audio(highly recommend for older fans) it is great to see Who so popular and healty.