Doctor Who So Far (So Good?)


I must admit that when I heard the news that a brand new Doctor Who was coming to our TV screens again I did have some mixed feelings. Would the new series be a huge disappointment? Worse still would they want to reinvent the things that made Doctor Who what it was? However, the more I heard Russell T Davies, the shows executive producer and writer, talk about his plans for the program the more I was reassured.

Perhaps I should confess (if you haven?t already guessed) that I am a lifelong fan of the program, having watched it from the very first episode An Unearthly Child. This story started in an everyday environment, Coalhill secondary school where science teacher Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and history teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) begin to speculate about the mysteries surrounding one of their pupils, Susan Foreman (Carol Ann Ford). So strange is this girl that they decide to follow her home, to a junk yard in Totter?s Lane. Here they encounter The (first) Doctor (William Hartnell
) and then virtually stumble into the TARDIS. The only aliens in this story are the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan, and they are mysterious enough, especially the Doctor. His character is ambiguous and subsequent episodes imply a selfish individual willing to manipulate others and possibly commit murder to achieve his aims. The companions, Ian and Barbara are the ones we are intended to identify with and, as teachers, act as an interface between the viewing audience (of which many would be children) and the strange universe that the Doctor has virtually kidnapped them into. Incidentally the title of the series is a question, not the Doctor???s name.

Perhaps Davies could have approached the first episode (Rose) of the new series in a similar way? The Doctor is a mysterious character especially in a new incarnation. I can understand the temptation to put high production values into the first episode. He must, like all fans of the program ? myself include – bristle with irritation when it is criticised for wobbly sets etc, by people who hardly seem to have watched it and appear to be passing on received wisdom. But, by including an alien invasion in episode one, didn?t he miss an opportunity to explore the Doctor???s alien mystery? In the end it all seems very rushed and messy.

Episode two (The End of The World) seems worse. At first there is an impression that we?ve stumbled into an episode from the Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy, (Restaurant At The End of The Universe in fact) with a collection of weird and wonderful aliens who seem to add nothing other than act as room decoration. Again this seems an attempt to counter the past criticisms regarding ???men in rubber suits? that the program has suffered from, but we?re left with the impression that the baby?s been thrown out with the bath water. The episode even includes the ?getting through the rotating blades? clich?? that was so well parodied in Galaxy Quest.
I did like the twist that the most alien looking character in the story was the last supposedly ?pure? human.

Davies has been lauded as a great writer, but can he write science fiction? Based on the first two stories I think not. He seems to consider science fiction as mainstream fiction with novelties added.

It is left to experienced Doctor Who and science fiction writer Mark Gatiss to show us how it can be done in episode three (The Unquiet Dead). An excellent story that has well written dialogue, a plot that was paced just right for the 45 minutes (proving that it can be done without being rushed), and convincing characters that are well played. This was a story that raised my spirits (pun intended) after the very disappointing second story.

One final word regarding the TARDIS. Whilst the exterior appears sacrosanct the interior design seems to be ?up-for-grabs? with each new production of the series. I suppose this is fair enough, and to be honest the new design is growing on me, but there is one very important omission. There are now only one set of doors to the exterior, the porch having been removed. Why is this important, because just like in a church, the porch represents the transition from the profane to the sacred? It emphasised the refuge, the ?holy place?, that is the inside of the TARDIS compared the profane outside universe with all its evils and dangers. Now the TARDIS doors do just look like they belong to a shed.

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