Saturday, June 28, 2014

Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts: Doctor Who Season 1 Holds Together Remarkably Well!

The Good: Interesting characters, Decent acting, Good plot development, Most of the special effects
The Bad: Some ridiculous moments, One or two episodes are duds on their own.
The Basics: Doctor Who was resurrected with a surprisingly cohesive season that had the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler going on an adventure through time and space that is packed with devastating consequences for humanity.

There are a few seasons of television that, because of their serialized nature, hold together better as seasons than the individual episodes might indicate. A good example would be Lost (reviewed here!), which did a decent job of foreshadowing, then developing and telling a story with novel-like depth. On a much smaller scale, Doctor Who resurrected from a several year hiatus with a new Doctor and a story that threaded elements through virtually every episode in order to tell a story that was actually better as a whole narrative than it was (objectively) from its individual episodes.

The seasonlong story of Doctor Who in its “first” season is one of an alien time traveler (the Ninth Doctor, a Time Lord) who appears on Earth in the mid-2000s where he rescues shopgirl Rose Tyler and takes her on a journey through time and space. I write “first” in quotes because Doctor Who was aired on the BBC for decades before it was cancelled in the late 1980s. While the new Doctor Who is not a direct continuation of the series that aired before, it is supposed to fit into the same franchise universe and continue the story of the eccentric Time Lord who is only known as The Doctor. So, while not truly the first season, the 2005 – 2006 season of Doctor Who is the first of the “modern” Doctor Who seasons.

Rose Tyler is working at a shop in London when the Ninth Doctor appears as mannequins around her suddenly animate and attack her. Grabbing her hand and involving her in the plot to save the world from an alien race that was orphaned following a conflict The Doctor was involved in, The Doctor offers Rose a life away from her mediocre existence. Leaving her boyfriend, Mickey, behind, Rose journeys with The Doctor in his time machine (the TARDIS) to the end of the world, Dickensian Cardiff, the near future, Rose’s past, and a space station in the future that exerts dominance over Earth in a way that alters memories The Doctor has.

The Doctor and Rose thwart an alien invasion of Earth and end up in World War II London where people are being transformed into gasmask-wearing monsters. Throughout the season, Rose learns about her goofy and mysterious Doctor, who is wrestling with the consequences of his actions in the Great Time War. Those consequences led to the destruction of the entire Dalek race, though Rose and The Doctor soon discover the eradication of the Daleks was not as complete as the Time Lords thought. As Rose and The Doctor work to protect Earth from various alien and corporate interests, they discover that the Daleks still have the potential to destroy Earth’s future, which forces both the human and Time Lord to risk their lives to save humanity.

The Doctor is a seemingly immortal Time Lord, who is the last of his kind. Having wiped out his race in an act of sacrifice that saw the end of the Daleks, with a number of races acting as collateral damage, he rescues Rose Tyler and finds delight in sharing exploring time and space with her. While he is frustrated by her occasional emotionalism, he has an understated love for her and is thrilled to have someone to travel in time and space with. He utilizes his time machine, the TARDIS, and a tool, his sonic screwdriver, in conjunction with his wits to get himself and Rose out of the dire situations in which they find themselves.

Rose Tyler is a young woman who finds her heart split between Mickey (back in her native time) and The Doctor, who offers her the chance for limitless adventure and a level of danger that appeals to her. She loves her overbearing mother (who hates The Doctor) and was deeply affected by the death of her father when she was very young. So, when given the chance to explore time and space, she utilizes the opportunity to meet her long-lost father, with somewhat disastrous results. While she flirts with a genius she and The Doctor find in the near-future in Utah, his avarice is a big turn-off to her when he accompanies the pair to the distant future. Through their shared experiences, Rose comes to trust The Doctor implicitly and she finds herself willing to risk her life and sanity for him.

Thematically, the first season of Doctor Who is surprisingly unified. Amid all of the various times and places The Doctor and Rose travel, they encounter people, aliens and entire systems motivated by greed. The Doctor acts as a foil to that; entirely without care or commerce, he flies through time and space. The somewhat hapless nature of his existence and adventuring gives him a moral high ground from which he combats the forces of commerce he and Rose more often than not find themselves in conflict with. That sensibility by which The Doctor and Rose fight against brazen greed and oppressive capitalism makes the season pop as it leads both characters to acts of sacrifice and selflessness that rationally set up an emotionally satisfying climax to the season.

The Ninth Doctor is played by Christopher Eccleston and he is amazing in the role. Eccleston gets to play a character who is alternately serious and utterly goofy, passionate about having fun (and bananas!) while at the same time wickedly smart. Emotionally connected, Eccleston gets the chance to play an incredible array of emotions and he makes the part of the Ninth Doctor work because he plays with exceptional range, but always seems to be portraying the same character. There is, for example, no hint of menace in the Ninth Doctor like he played his character from 28 Days Later (reviewed here!). It’s a shame that this was the only season Eccleston played The Doctor on, but Eccleston keeps the role special and distinctive.

Billie Piper, who plays Rose Tyler, has great on-screen chemistry with Eccleston. Piper initially seems like she might have been cast for her classic good looks, but she proves that she can act when Rose is able to successfully make the transition between adventurous and terrified. Rose Tyler ends up running a lot with The Doctor and Piper is able to keep up physically with Eccleston as well as play off him for great banter.

If nothing else, the first season of Doctor Who completely justifies the show’s return to television and as one who was never a fan of the series, the fact that it bowled me over so completely makes it easy to enthusiastically recommend.

For a more complete understanding of what the first season of Doctor Who is about, be sure to check out my reviews of each episode in this boxed set. The first season includes the episodes:
“The End Of The World”
“The Unquiet Dead”
“Aliens Of London”
“World War Three”
“The Long Game”
“Father’s Day”
“The Empty Child”
“The Doctor Dances”
“Boom Town”
“Bad Wolf”
“The Parting Of The Ways”


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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