Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Doctor Is Most Definitely In

This Saturday, the brand new season of Doctor Who premieres on Space here in Canada. I've had an opportunity to see the first two episodes of the new season in their entirety, so I can provide a spoiler-free review of the new direction!

At the end of David Tennant's final special, The End of Time, we had to say goodbye not only to the Tenth Doctor (arguably the most popular iteration of the character in the series' history), but also to the man who brought the series back and shepherded it since its return; Russell T. Davies. Admittedly, Davies had some recurring themes that he fell back on a little too often; deus ex machinas, the "lonely god" interpretation of the Doctor, romantic subplots, recurring secondary characters that sometimes recurred a little too often. But, without his thoroughly modern vision, the series would never have been the success it was.

If possible, even more reason for the huge popularity of the series was due to Tennant's brilliant performance. I've already written about his departure in a couple of blogs and he really will be missed. Matt Smith has big shoes to fill, so the question is, does he fill them?

The answer is a resounding yes. The Eleventh Hour, the debut for Smith's Eleventh Doctor cements just what we can expect from this new incarnation, and new showrunner Steven Moffat seems to have been correct in describing this Doctor as "bonkers". He is far more manic and energized than even Tennant was in the role. And his youth is not a problem at all. I completely forgot he was young in about five seconds and wholly bought into him being a 900 year old Time Lord. There are a couple of growing pains in the first episode where he seems to be trying a little too hard to be eccentric, but these are extremely fleeting, and are to be expected. His off-kilter looks actually help, as they serve to emphasize his alien-ness. His performance is rooted in the physical a lot, which is refreshing, and he has effortlessly captured the central qualities of the Doctor; his sudden flights of brilliance, his incredible sense of morality, his geeky yet undeniable badassery when it comes to facing up to monsters. All in all, he could be as great as Tennant ever was. Certainly he is as promising as his predecessor was in his early outings.

Now, for his partners in crime. New showrunner Steven Moffat was really the only choice to succeed Davies, as he had written the most consistently brilliant episodes of the new series; The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. It'll be interesting to see what he does with his hand now on the wheel. The first two episodes, it must be said, do not rise to the level of those earlier scripts, but they've got a lot of setting up to do, and each contains some brilliant moments that focus on character and concept in a much less soap operatic way than during Davies run. He deftly creates a new bond between Doctor and companion with a heartfelt little early scene that immediately sucks you in with its wit, sincerity and light touch. And his way of connecting this new Doctor to the entire history of the show immediately reassures the audience that we are in good hands. His choice to change the main titles serves to give the world a spookier feel, but the new theme is not an improvement; maybe it will grow on me.

Finally, we've got the new companion in the form of Amy Pond. Karen Gillan, like all female companions, is of course fetching. And she serves the role of asking the Doctor all the right questions and being our stand-in on all these adventures. But it's the little extra things that make a great companion. So far, her small moments of fear, delight and strength make her a welcome addition, particularly in the second episode The Beast Below, where we see her make a mistake and learn from it.

I'm excited about the new direction of my favourite television show ever, and I can't wait to see what new adventures this new team has for us. Warning: Slight Spoilers Follow: It appears we'll see the Daleks return, along with River Song and the Weeping Angels from Blink.

"Trust me, I'm the Doctor".

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