I will admit this up front: I am a Doctor Who neophyte. I have not watched the series from its inception, I don’t have strong feelings about whether Tom Baker or David Tennant made the best Doctor, and I don’t really even understand the concept of a time lord. All I know is that my husband and I recently discovered season 5 on Netflix Instant, and we are loving every bizarre and frenetic minute of it. Purists criticize the latest season for pandering to American audiences (gosh, we wouldn’t want the show to make money, would we?), but if that’s the case, I say, pander away.
Boasting the writing talents of Steven Moffat (Coupling and Sherlock) and Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk and Torchwood), the show is like Blackadder meets Star Trek, with a healthy dose of The X-Files mixed in. It’s simultaneously intelligent, whimsical, mysterious, addictive, and more than a little absurd. But it’s also surprisingly emotional.
Last night we watched an episode in which the Doctor and his partner-in-time, Amy Pond, travel to nineteenth century Arles to save Vincent Van Gogh from a horrible fate (other than his self-inflicted gunshot wound). At the end of the episode, they bring the misunderstood and depressed artist aboard the TARDIS time travel device and take him to the Musée D’Orsay in 2011, where Van Gogh tearfully listens as a critic ranks him among the best and most influential artists of all time. After the Doctor and Amy return Van Gogh to his own time and place, Amy is ecstatic, certain that their confidence-boosting mission will inspire Van Gogh to paint dozens more of his electrifying paintings. When they get back to the museum, however, they find that Van Gogh’s output has not changed at all, and worse, he still killed himself. Amy despairs that they were unable to help him, yet the art critic notes that the year after their “visit” was one of the most prolific and vibrant of Van Gogh’s career. The execution of what could have been a hackneyed “Can we go back and change the past?” plot device was so effective that I actually found myself tearing up at the end.
As with every great show, there are stand-alone episodes such as the one I just described, and a greater plot arc that unfolds throughout the series. The show has heart as well as action, and it’s a joy to watch the characters interact with each other and react to each zany plot twist thrown their way. Here are a few of the show’s unique attributes that make it almost impossible to resist:
1. An infectiously optimistic hero. We don’t find enough optimism on television or otherwise. Matt Smith’s Doctor is refreshingly naïve, boyish and charming, but not without flaws. Sometimes he is overconfident, and his sense of alien otherness can make him blind to human emotions.
2. A spunky sidekick. Amy Pond, the fiery redhead who has dreamed of the Doctor since his TARDIS crashed in her garden when she was a child, is tough talking and smart, although I am bothered by her penchant for very short skirts. I’m quite certain there are many fans not bothered by this in the least.
3. A cool hook. A dapper time lord, the last of his kind, travels through time and space with his friends, trying to right personal wrongs and avert global disaster? Awesome. And the fact that the new Doctor is adorable and wears a bowtie is an added bonus.
4. Sci-fi of the fluffiest kind. Although I’m sure treatises have been written about the world-building of the Doctor Who series, you don’t need a degree in Quantum Physics to understand the show. You do, however, have to be able to tolerate outlandish alien creatures, cheesy special effects, and occasional general silliness.
5. A super cool icon in the TARDIS, a time machine shaped like a blue police box on the outside, but dimension defying on the inside, much like those cool tents with extension charms in the Harry Potter books. They even make mini die-cast TARDISes, perfect for those who love collecting quirky memorabilia and don’t mind being called nerds. (I’m talking to you, Craig Ferguson.)
6. A communal forum of fans who both love and hate the show in its various incarnations, but will always provide a wealth of reasons to discuss, argue, and celebrate the power of good storytelling.
The next episode of Season 6, which airs in September on BBC America, is titled: “Let’s Kill Hitler.” Now how can you resist that? Pandering or not, I can tell you this particular American will be watching.
Has anyone else recently become a Whovian? What TV shows do you love?