Monday, April 17, 2006

Tom Baker was the quintessential Dr. Who, and everyone who played the part afterwards had to decide how much to be like him and how much to be different. Dr. Who on Channel 16 faded away with Sylvester McCoy, and it soon left the air in England altogether.

It was revived last year with much better visual effects and much less of a direct link to its origin as a childrens’ show. But it is also well acted and especially the writing is better than I could have hoped or even imagined.

The first episode I saw was the second part of “World War III,” and the beginning wasn’t terribly promising. It took a few minutes for me to warm up to Christopher Eccelston’s Doctor--- a working class bloke in a leather jacket, close cropped hair whose dopey manner (though very Doctorish) didn’t seem to fit. But it didn’t take long for him to win me over. And in “Dalek” his portrayal of a Doctor who is deeply angry, even bitter and hardened, was riveting. There already seems to be more of an apocalyptic edge to this edition of Doctor Who, though the sense of hope, if not confidence, is also there.

Eccelston played the Doctor for only the first season. He’s been replaced by David Tennant. But the production team is intact, and they’re planning on returning some old characters (liked the beloved Sarah Jane Smith of the Tom Baker era), deliberately modeled on what The Next Generation did in bringing back elements of original Trek, including some major characters.

In only the two episodes I’ve seen, I’ve been impressed that Doctor Who could be reconceived, including not only effects but lessons learned from plays and television in England that dealt with social history as well as science fiction from elsewhere. But then, Doctor Who always had that tradition of quality drama nearby. Not only did its monsters speak with impeccable stage English accents, but they sometimes were positively Shakespearian.

Does any of this transfer to Star Trek? Admittedly, not a lot. The idea of new Doctors was built into the series since the elderly actor playing the first doctor became too ill to continue. (The Doctor occasionally “regenerates” his form.) So it doesn’t say much about replacing actors who established the characters of Star Trek.

As for whether a similar strength of imagination and quality of writing and production is possible, there are major differences. British TV, with its access to theatre and intelligent television, as well as to the dramatic and comedic traditions of Oxford and Cambridge, is very different from the hermetic hothouse of Los Angeles TV. Of course, that does happen to be where Star Trek started, so it's hardly impossible.

Still, the fact that this imagination and creativity exists anywhere is heartening. Maybe there is a future for a reimagined Star Trek. As long as they don’t forget its soul.

1 comment:

Edward Ott said...

The new Dr. Who rocks. i think we all get hung up on baker for fro many of us he was our first dr. who and he was dr. who for so very long.