Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Doctor Who returns

Unless you've been living in a makeshift anti-terrorism shelter for the last few months you probably would have realised that Easter weekend marked the return of the cult phenomenon Doctor Who.

Before I go any further I should point out that I am in no way a Doctor Who aficionado. I watched repeats of some of the early 'Who' when I was a kid and I remember it scaring the life out of me and it being one of the shows that helped form my love of Science Fiction. As for the later stuff, I watched bits here and there, but it didn't really grab my attention in the same way. So I come at this as a plain old Sci-Fi fan.

First off, the music. Nostalgia is a great thing, and hearing that famous tune again, albeit slightly updated, sent a shiver down my spine. I can only imagine what my Who-obsessed friends must have felt at the start ;-)

As is common (or so I am told) with new incarnations of the Doctor, the first ep deals with the coming together of the titular character and his platonic companion. In this case, the lucky lady is Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), a pretty cockney girl with no prospects and a dead end job. The opening scenes are very well shot, detailing a day in the monotonous life of Rose. It flashes by quickly and without incident, and uses simple imagery to excellent effect.

The action soon takes over though, as Rose is thrust into the new Doctors battle with long established villains the Autons (empowered bits of plastic hell-bent on destruction). For me, this is were the trouble begins. The episode moves quickly from one set-piece to another, this probably wouldn't have been too bad a thing if the brief interludes had contained reasonable characterisation. Unfortunately, we are treated to glimpses of Roses domestic life that are so bland we could be watching Eastenders.

However, when Christopher Ecclestone is on-screen the episode does shine. This new Doctor has a wonderfully surreal personality and comes across as both detached and playful. There were a few too many one-liners but this is a minor flaw.

There are a lot of hints at much more complexity which bodes well for the future, but as a pilot episode it does feel lacking. The story is one-dimensional and seems designed purely to get Rose and the Doctor together. The result is that when Rose chooses to join the Doctor on his travels, it feels rushed and with little reasoning.

I'd definitely say that the story is aimed at children. This is certainly not a bad thing. Doctor Who has been watched by millions of kids throughout the last 40 years. It has helped push several generations of children into the world of science fiction. So it could be argued that Doctor Who has always been aimed at a younger audience.

For adults there isn't the same magic, but the potential is there. It is only episode one and a lot had to be covered in a short space of time. I'd argue that it would have been more sensible to have a pilot ep of 90 minutes. Once the show gets into its stride I hope to see some more complex storytelling, as I feel it is still possible to do this while continuing to appeal to the youth market.

In summary, I'd definitely recommend watching the first ep of this new show. It is lacking in depth and some of the dialogue is poor, but I feel you have to understand the demographic it is pitched at. My 10 year old nephew loved it, and if more children his age start watching more sci fi because of Doctor Who, then I won't be arguing.

1 comment:

Dougal ;o) said...

Listen Trek Boy - it was the show they should have been making fifteen years ago and then it wouldn't have got cancelled.

'Rose' was a bit rushed as they had to introduce the characters and concepts to a generation of viewers who had never heard ofthe good Doctor or the TARDIS - no mean feat in 43 minutes.

Whilst that does make it feel a bit rushed in places I don't think it is any more lacking than something like 'Encounter at Farpoint' or 'Welcome to the Hellmouth'.

Two more episodes in and we've seen a space romp to the tune of 'Tainted Love' and a creepy Victorian-Gothic horror with a tour-de-force performance from Simon Callow.

and it's cleaned up in the Saturday night ratings...

The Doctor's back - and it's about time...