Saturday, April 17, 2010

Episode I - A New "Who"

My last couple of entries have been pretty negative. Let's switch gears.

"Doctor Who" is back after the fireworks of David Tennant's departure from the title role three months ago. The new season brings us a new Doctor, a new companion, a new Tardis, a new title sequence, and even a new logo for the show. That last one is a major improvement right off the bat. I won't be missing the radioactive surfboard. Hello DW/Tardis icon!

It's difficult to judge the new actors and the new creative folks behind the cameras after only one installment, but if the rest of the season is like the premiere, "Doctor Who" is in safe hands. I expect that Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillian as his new companion, Amy Pond, are going to take a few episodes to settle into their characters. But going on very preliminary initial impressions, Matt Smith should be fine. He's got the energy without being as manic as Tennant, the ability to shout ridiculous lines of dialogue with any hint of irony, and he's a little odd looking, which endears him to me immediately. I'm not sure if he can go to the dark and serious places that "Who" sometimes explores, but I look forward to watching him try. Karen Gillian is a lovely, bright presence, though the little girl who played the younger Amy upstaged her. I was actually a little disappointed that the seven-year-old couldn't be this series' companion.

Of the writing, I'm more apprehensive. There's no question that Stephen Moffat, the new head writer, has turned in scripts for some of the best hours of the new "Doctor Who" so far, winning three Hugos in succession for them. I loved the earlier episodes he did, but was severely disappointed by the "Silence in the Library" two-parter from the last season. It had a very uneven tone, had no clue what to do with one of the major characters, and recycled several earlier ideas. Moffat has a tendency to use the same themes and little gimmicks in his stories, such as the effects of time dilation, creepy repeated phrases, monsters who follow rules, and wistful romances. Some of these work better than others. For instance, I never get tired of his exploration of time paradoxes and time dilation, which is one of the most fascinating elements of "Doctor Who" that the other writers sometimes forget about. Conversely, though all of Moffat's episodes have had their little moments of humor and lightness, his tone is darker than Russell Davies, the previous head writer, and tends toward the somber and thoughtful. I worry that we'll lose some of the fun and kitsch of "Doctor Who" if Moffat steers the series too far into dramatic waters.

The premiere episode was fine, with a lot of good one-liners and a lot of breakneck action in the midst of a very sweet time-travel story. A few semi-spoilery thoughts: Though budget cuts for the series were reported, it doesn't show in the production quality - at least not yet. The introductions to the doctor and to Amy (twice) and the new Tardis were all handled very well - though I did have to roll my eyes at the end of the episode when it was revealed that the new companion is yet another runaway bride. I'd have thought Donna Noble would have filled the quota for a very long time. The peripheral characters didn't make much of an impression, and Amy's familial and romantic relationships haven't been well defined yet. The bulk of the running time was wisely spent acquainting us with the new leads, and cementing their relationship. It seems to have worked, because the buzz around the series has been very positive so far and I'm certainly sold on them.

Looking ahead, we've got a few familiar faces coming back from the earlier Moffat episodes, including River Song from "Silence in the Library" and the supremely creepy Weeping Angels from "Blink." So far Moffat's avoided using any of the usual "Doctor Who" villains like the Daleks or the Cybermen, but previews have confirmed they'll be showing up later in the series too. It's good to have the Doctor back. I know it's only been a few months, but it still felt like he was away for far too long.

No comments:

Post a Comment