Sunday 4 April 2010

New Who?

Easter Saturday brought the latest rebirth of the long-running British fantasy series Dr Who. With a new man Moffat in charge after 5 years of Russell T Davies the show now has a new theme tune, a new Tardis, a new Doctor, a new assistant. And as this is the first full series in 2 years, to allow for a creative re-think, my expectations were high that the new series would be, well, new. On the evidence of the one episode so far I'd say that the all new version has evolved. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on your attitude towards the RTD years.

Myself, I've been a casual fan since Hartnell scared me as a kid in the 60s. I've dipped in and out, enjoying it when I liked the Doctor or when the show had one of its infrequent dabbles with sci-fi, and ignoring it when it didn't click. At its best the show did what all old classic British cult tv did of being a triumph of content over style. The scenery shook, the acting was wooden and the special effects weren't special, but the characters, ideas and stories were memorable. The new re-incarnation had a big enough budget to resolve the style issues, but the content never quite scaled the heights of old. Except, that is, for the stories written by new head man Moffat. So it follows that we could be in line for a golden era. And as it turned out the best thing about the new version is the Doctor. I had doubts about Matt Smith, but he has the right mix of fun and seriousness. He brings energy to his performance and his odd features means he looks appropriately different. By the end I had the distinct feeling that he'll make the role his. I couldn't say the same for his assistant Amy who didn't dispel the feeling that she was picked purely to appeal to 12-year-old boys, but perhaps if she's allowed to wear more clothes later she'll be less irritating.

Peri-style casting aside I had hoped the show would become more adult. But instead the adult bits were mildly smutty innuendo with Amy working as a kissogram girl (rather improbably in a small English village) and the Doctor deleting cache memory after finding mucky stuff on the Internet. But then again this is a fun bit of light entertainment for the kiddies on a Saturday night. Producing a show to delight children that adults can still watch must be well-nigh impossible, and perhaps I was wrong to think the show would change too much. Certainly the opening scene came over as a perfect bit of children's fantasy and I'm sure the young ones were hooked by the time the Doctor started dipping his fish fingers in custard.

The story was a lightweight one and amounted to a giant alien eyeball that had been to the Vogon school of diplomacy decides to blow up the earth to kill an escaped shapeshifting prisoner, but luckily the prisoner is in the first place the Doctor looks. Additional details included a variation on Moffat's Blink aliens and a variation on the time travel idea in Moffat's Girl in the Fireplace. I'd got fed up with Davies re-hashing ideas, so I hope this was to give a feeling of continuity. Other than that I felt there was some subtle rejection of Davies' various cliches. The Doctor appeared irritated at using his screwdriver like Harry Potter's wand; the running bits to liven things up seemed more tongue-in-cheek especially with Amy struggling to leap over anything in that short skirt; and Amy's convenient family of dead parents, endearing aunt and gormless boyfriend didn't feel as if they'll feature much… And the plot resolution didn't make an ounce of sense as always, but unlike Davies' pompous resolutions it was fun and appeared to involve getting Patrick Moore to phone everyone on the planet with the message zero. I've worshipped Patrick for longer than I've watched Who, so any program in which he saves the world is fine with me.

There were many other small good things like the appealing child actor who played the young Amy, a montage of old Doctors, a sense of fun throughout with plenty of jokes, and an epic speech by the Doctor that was so good he did it twice. After writing this I had a quick read of the forums and it's getting universal acclaim, so I'm sure it'll be very popular and it is sure to keep the kiddies glued to their sofas, either on or behind, for the next three months.

1 comment:

Nik Morton said...

Good overview, Ian, thanks. Yes, I enjoyed it in parts and thought the new Dr did very well. The canny glimpses of future episodes is a crafty move and it looks like this new incarnation promises a lot. It was a pleasure to see the Dr actually being threatening towards the aliens, instead of trying to save all creatures because they're just misguided...