Friday, November 15, 2013

The Day of the Doctor (Dr. Who)

While some of my fellow blogmates can tell you all about Downton Abbey, the British import that has me rethinking the whole revolution thing is Dr. Who.

Yes, I’ve become a Whovian. I wish I could say it goes way back, as if that would make it more understandable and explainable, why, at the time of my life when I should be focusing on mystery, I’ve had a sudden fling with a sci-fi show that’s been around for fifty (yes, that’s 50) years.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the program (or should I say programme?), Dr. Who began airing on the BBC in 1963. It tells the story of the last of the Time Lords, simply called the Doctor, as he travels through time and space in a Tardis (resembling a blue police box) with his often human companions. Armed with only a sonic screwdriver, the Doctor also has another keen Time Lord ability: he can regenerate, a skill that has been helpful in explaining the eleven different manifestations of the Doctor, to date. Producers were freed from the task of finding a similar-looking actor to play the same character. Each Doctor, instead of dying, has morphed into the next incarnation--each with a different appearance and slightly different personality, while retaining the combined memories.

It’s probably been two years since I watched my first episode, streaming the first Christopher Eccleston (9) episode: Rose, 2005. I found the story structure somewhat similar to that of Sherlock Holmes. The companion reveals the Doctor in much the same way Watson revealed Homes, allowing the more enigmatic, mysterious, and distant character to become gradually more knowable and sympathetic in the eyes of the viewer through the filter of the familiar and knowable.

It is perhaps Rose, this first companion of the new incarnations, that lured modern viewers into the Doctor’s universe. (And while I have seen some of the old episodes since, I will say that the new doctors, thanks to modern cinematic techniques, some brilliant acting, and slam-bang storytelling, are much more compelling.) But Rose does more than travel with the doctor, she falls in love with him and humanizes him.

While Rose was his companion, the doctor regenerated again, introducing David Tennant (10),
whom I will say is my favorite doctor, exhibiting the perfect combination of drama and quirky comedy. As an actor, he’s brilliant. And the chemistry with Rose was fabulous…until Rose was sucked into an alternate dimension. (Later events leave her with a human version--similar to a clone--of the Doctor, hopefully growing old together and living happily ever after.)

I could explain more, but the retelling starts getting a little confusing. The Doctor has more companions, regenerates again, and gets married (it’s complicated--I mean, really complicated). Matt Smith’s Doctor (11) finished the most recent season staring into the face of another of his own incarnations--a man he refuses to allow the name of the Doctor, presumably because of some heinous action. “The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, is like…it’s a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise….He’s my secret.”

John Hurt, the actor who plays this man, says only, “What I did, I did without choice…in the name of peace and sanity.” And thus fans were left with a humdinger of a cliffhanger. Who is this man? What did the Doctor do? Where does he fit into the timeline?

That secret it about to be revealed…I think. One never knows when a skilled storyteller is going to reveal what, but the upcoming episode, “The Day of the Doctor,” which will be simulcast around the globe, features Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt. Questions abound as to whether David Tennant’s character will be the human version from another dimension or the full earlier incarnation. Of the upcoming episode, IMDB only reveals: that “the Doctor and Clara are still stuck in the Doctor's timeline, and the only way out is to open the lock on the Doctor's darkest day, The Time War.”

Viewers have been fed little bits about this Time War (a fictional conflict great enough to merit its own Wikipedia entry) fought between the Daleks and the Time Lords, and the Doctor was supposedly the only one who survived it. (Although we’ve seen other Daleks and Time Lords since--time travel is funny that way.)

The Internet is awash with theories, and I have a few of my own. But I’ll be sitting in front of my television (or should I say telly?) on November 23rd, with my fish fingers and custard, prepared to be amazed.

And if you haven't caught the Dr Who fever yet, don't worry. BBC America is planning days of marathons in preparation of the big event, so you have plenty of time to get caught up...


  1. I love me some Dr. Who! Plot lines are crazy and the special effects sometimes laughable, but it doesn't really matter. Story telling and characters trump everything else. And Dr. Who has that in spades.

  2. Lisa, I agree. The storytelling... The plot lines are mind-blowing at times. I think that's what drew me in. I got tired of television I could multitask while watching without missing anything. A show you have to watch, sometimes more than once to catch everything, was just what the Doctor ordered.

    1. Now see... I love watching shows like Castle and NCIS for that reason, too. However, the evenings are when I sit with my family in the living room and blog, do social networking, etc, while they watch TV.

      Shows like Dr. Who and Sherlock - even Elementary - make me sit and stare at the TV for hours at a time and I'm not productive at all.

    2. Yes, I do the same thing with a lot of shows, but everyone needs true downtime. For me, Dr. Who can do that. I also find it seems to charge up my creativity when plotting. It's not that I write sci-fi, but a little Dr Who helps me think outside the stale box. No idea why.

  3. It seems that Dr. Who just blew up in popularity in the last 3 yrs or so. Was it Tennant? or the internet, or re-release on new media. I know it's been on PBS since I was a kid but sci fi in black and white didn't interest me unless is was a giant spider or a shrinking man...

    that said... I love Dr. Who because out of that story came the inspiration for one of my favorite fictional characters, Jamie Fraser.
    and being an Anglophile as well...what's not to love about the Dr.?

    great post Barb!

  4. Oh, yes, waiting not so patiently for this episode! I too only saw an occasional episode pre-Eccleston, and wasn't over impressed at the time. My son got us watching the "new" versions, and I love it! The cheesy "monsters" are the best part, they are so bad sometimes. Except the weeping angels - DON'T CLOSE YOUR EYES!!

  5. I don't know--I think there are a number of different draws. I know I started watching in the Tennant era, but I started with the Eccleston episodes first. For me it was the storytelling. I've watched some of the old ones since, and they're OK, and interesting to see how the Doctor evolved, but they're not nearly as compelling as the new ones. Reboot, successful.

  6. Oh, Marquis--the weeping angels. Shiver. One of the best monsters ever. That and the Silence. But I loved the whole River Song story arc.

  7. Right Barbara? The angels are definitely the scariest! And yes, River - "spoilers!"

  8. And the Slitheen might be the most fun. But the adapose creatures were adorable.

  9. Okay, I've seen maybe ONE Dr. Who episode (my cousin used to watch it back in the Tom Baker era). I hadn't realized it's been on for fifty (50!) years. I think someday I'll have to start at the beginning and catch up.

    What a brilliant cliffhanger!

  10. Start with the new ones, DeAnna. The storytelling is amazing, and there's some common structure with mystery, I've noticed, in when information is revealed. It seems it's all about secrets.

    I think a good amount of credit would have to go to Steven Moffat, show-runner of Dr. Who--and creator of the new Sherlock.

  11. Who knew? Dr. Who and General Hospital both celebrated their 50th seasons this year. Amazing.
    I used to watch Dr. Who every weekend (Tom Baker era) with my parents. I wanted a K9 unit.


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