There's No Sense Being Grown Up if You Can't Be Childish Once In a While

I just thought I'd take a moment to point out that this Friday Doctor Who will be showing on (non-PBS, non-BBC America) American television for the first time since the disastrous 1996 Fox telemovie.  I'd also like to point out that this is the revival that began airing on the BBC a couple of years ago, and that it has been met with critical acclaim by all who've seen it (which, admittedly, is just British folk and Sci-Fi geeks at this point).  It debuts this Friday night at 9 PM on the Sci-Fi Channel with two one-hour episodes.

This excites me as a dork generally and as a Doctor Who fan specifically.  If you would indulge me to listen as I provide some brief background on the show?  Alright.  The show premiered August 23, 1963 (the day after the Kennedy assassination).  It was placed on hiatus 26 years later in December of 1989 (one month after the Berlin Wall fell).  The show's about a benevolent alien (a Gallifreyan Time Lord) who calls himself The Doctor and travels through time and space ... being ... helpful.  That is to say, the general format for a Doctor Who adventure is that The Doctor (plus whatever companions he currently has in tow) finds himself on some planet (usually Earth) at some time (the present the plurality, though by no means the majority, of the time) and discovers that there is something bad happening.  This may be an alien plot, or a natural disaster, or some similar species of unfortunate event.  The Doctor (plus companions) spend a few episodes fixing the problem, and then they're off to their next adventure. 

A few interesting things about the show: First, the longevity.  The secret here was a rather convenient contrivance created a few years into the show's run.  The shooting schedule was such that a number of different directors and crews worked on the show.  Further, while there was one head writer (the "script editor"), individual serials were written by a rotating stable of writers.  Producers changed over time as well.  And The Doctor's companions were always getting written in and written out of the show, so those actors were non-essential.  The only person in the entire Doctor Who production who was actually essential to the show was the actor who played The Doctor himself, William Hartnell.  In 1966 Hartnell decided to leave the show, and it seemed the show might be over.  Then somebody hit upon an interesting idea: why not kill The Doctor off, but not really kill him?  And so the Regeneration contrivance was born.  The premise is that when a Time Lord sustains a mortal injury he doesn't die immediately.  If he can be allowed to recuperate he will regenerate.  The process leaves him young and healthy and ready for more adventures, but in a completely new body.  Moreover, the instability of the process can cause a radical shift in personality.  So, in other words, they find a way to kill off the old actor and replace him with a new actor.  The upshot of this is that there have now been ten incarnations of The Doctor, each unique and interesting in his own way (no female Doctors, though.  Regeneration apparently doesn't screw with sex or gender).  The other interesting thing about the show is the format.  Traditionally, the show comes in half-hour episodes, but those episodes never stand alone.  Rather, the show is serialized.  The shortest stories you'll see are two-parters, typical stories are either four or six parts, and the longest-running serial was the twelve-part season-spanning "The Daleks' Master Plan."  What all this means is that, thanks to the flexibility of setting (anywhere in time and space) and length, the show's writers have a great deal of leeway in doing what they like with their serials.

The show's something of an institution in England, and a lot of British TV writers spent some time on the show (Douglas Adams was head writer for a season.  Interested fans might want to pick up the serials "The Pirate Planet," "City of Death," and "Shada," all three of which were written by Adams exclusively).  And now the show's back on the air.  I spent most of high school dreaming of Doctor Who returning from hiatus, and now here it is, complete with Genuinely Good Actors, Non-Terrible Special Effects, and Sophisticated Plotlines, three things that, for all that I love the show, it has never really had in the past.  So, I'm quite looking forward to this Friday evening.

It's probably a good thing that I don't have cable back in New York; between the return of Doctor Who and a critically-acclaimed re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica both airing on Friday nights, I don't think I'd ever make it to board game club meetings.  If they ever start airing new Mystery Science Theater episodes I may have to get cable again.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on March 16, 2006 2:30 AM.

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