First airing back in 1963, the franchise slightly predates Star Trek, and ran practically without interruption until 1989. Then there was a TV movie in 1996. Finally, the series was resurrected and revamped for a modern audience in 2005, inspiring at least three spin-offs in the form of Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and, most recently, Class. That is more than enough time and exposure to firmly entrench Doctor Who as a long-lasting and iconic fixture in the annals of science fiction, utterly dwarfing the tenure and influence of nearly every other franchise that can be named. Many are the pop culture parodies and references.
…so, how is it?
I mean, it’s obviously got to be pretty good, right?
Yes. Yes, it is. It is pretty good.
I can’t really speak for the “classic” Doctor Who, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the modern version. I was lucky enough to catch it right at the beginning, just as it was broadcasting in America for the first time. From our first introduction to Rose Tyler, to the most recent season finale cliffhanger, where the latest Doctor meets the earliest (recast, of course, this being over five decades later), I have followed the show through its countless twists, turns, plots, evolutions, wonders, horrors, tragedies, greetings, and goodbyes. It was a natural addition to my lineup in “This Week on TV.” I most recently posted my thoughts and questions concerning the next Doctor, but this review isn’t about the future, it’s about the past, no matter how “wibbly-wobbly” the Doctor would say time is.
The thing about Doctor Who is, it isn’t just one kind show. It’s a show that becomes slightly different shows as it passes through the years and between lead actors, production crews, and managerial hands. What stays the same is the basic premise: a time traveler from another planet, passing through in his blue box that’s bigger on the inside, helping out, protecting people, stopping monsters, with the help of his trusted friends and companions. What changes is the cast, the texture, the technical aspects, the drama, and where the weight of the show falls most heavily, what it’s really about.
In the original renewal, with Christropher Eccleston and David Tennant taking turns as the lead, the show focused most on the things the Doctor has lost, on his lonely journey through time and space, the last member of an extinct, once-mighty people. When the show changed directors and Matt Smith became the Doctor, the story was about his humanity and compassion, his relationships, and it was as much about his friends as it was about him. In the latest series, featuring Peter Capaldi in the lead, it became much more detached and weaker in a way and felt more about the people around the Doctor than it did about the Doctor himself, and practically everyone who survived their time with him ended up outgrowing the need of him.
So, if it can change so much, what is really constant? What can we expect, and what do the fans really love about it?
We love the characters. After so many of them, especially companions to the Doctor, still they keep surprising us with someone new and unique. The Doctor changes from one character to another, each one brilliant and crazy, but with different quirks and personalities. The villains are clever and powerful and menacing. The new cast we meet with each new episode never grows stale.
We love the adventures. With all of time and space at the Doctor’s disposal, there is limitless excitement to be had, crossing countless worlds, meeting new races, exploring intriguing civilizations, facing dangers the likes of which most mere mortals would tremble to behold. Facing dreadful, terrifying monsters that annihilate worlds or devour children.
We love the inspiration and emotion. Always, the Doctor takes a stand for those who lack the power to stand for themselves. Always, he tries to save everyone. Always, driven to inhuman feats of genius and daring by his human devotion to a morality that is based on compassion and rightness, always does the Doctor stand triumphant in the end. Sometimes, at very high costs to himself, his friends, and the people he is trying to save.
In short: we love the stories.
And, as much more as there is to say, that is the best place to end.
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.