Saturday, January 05, 2008

Doctor Who Knew News

Doctor Who is deep into shooting the fourth season, with several "returns" confirmed. Catherine Tate returns (from last year's Christmas special) to be the Doctor's companion for much of the season, while Freema Agyeman returns as Martha Jones (she left at the end of last season) to travel with the Doctor for some episodes. But the big news in the Who Universe is the confirmed return of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

The rumor is that her return will be for three episodes, which will also mark the return of Davros, the leader of the Daleks from the classic series. This is big news because there was and apparently still is such passionate interest in Rose Tyler and her relationship to the Doctor, as evidenced by the number of fan-created "teasers" for these episodes on YouTube.

But her return adds to the questions about whether David Tennant will return as Doctor Who for a full fifth season. Billie Piper had suggested she could return for his last episodes, and Catherine Tate told a reporter she thought Tennant wouldn't return, while Russell T. Davis--exec producer and head writer, and the creative impetus in the wildly successful return of Doctor Who--is leaving the series, though it's not clear when. But Tennant has said only that he's committed to several specials previously announced, during the time he's starring in Hamlet on stage in London, and otherwise his returning or not returning hasn't been discussed.

I noticed in his video diaries towards the end of the third season that he mentioned that doing such an intensive series is something you can't do forever, and you have to know when to get out. So it may well be that he's thinking about it. The decision time will have to come (if it hasn't already) when those specials are being conceived and written, and that's some months away.

As for the present, Christmas in England again meant the Doctor Who Christmas special, which is officially unavailable here in the States, but come on, there's YouTube. I liked that this story kidded itself by having Londoners evacuate because for the last three Christmases, aliens wreaked destruction on the city. There are also some funny misinterpretations of Christmas by an alien Earthnologist. The story itself was mostly well done, but I don't get why meeting and quickly killing off so many people is holiday entertainment. It does do something I don't recall being done before concerning a companion, but I won't totally spoil that. When broadcast in the UK, the special captured half the total viewing audience, for the single biggest audience Dr. Who has had since its reincarnation in 2005. A few days later, episode costar and popular entertainer Kyle Minogue followed up snogging the Doctor with getting her OBE from the Queen.

Also on YouTube is the mini-episode for the BBC Children In Need special, with David Tennant's Doctor meeting former Doctor Peter Davison (1982-84, right after Tom Baker) in a Tardis two-hander. It's bright and funny, and a nice tribute to the classic series. There's so much continuity on so many levels between the old and the new on this series and behind the scenes. To further emphasize the generational relationship, Davison's daughter is appearing in a fourth season episode.

As for the past, which in the wibbly-wobbly of time, was recently my present, I've just seen the DVDs of season 3. Commentaries, video diaries and the "Dr/ Who Confidential cutdown" episodes all added to that sense of continuity between the old Who and the new, especially in the segments that Tennant himself directed, in which he talked to various people working on the new series who were inspired to go into TV by the old series (which includes Tennant. And the full Confidential program is, once again, on YouTube.)

Since this season is already history, it will be remembered and watched for Freema, who established Martha Jones as a real character as well as being a great companion for the Doctor. Also for the return of the Master, and another stand-out almost Doctorless episode with memorable guest performances, in "Blink," already voted a fan favorite. There was also an ep--maybe this one--taken from a Doctor Who novel, adapted by the same writer. Which is something that Star Trek should have done, on TV or even for a movie.

But at the moment what impresses me is how well the new Doctor Who handles history. The third season involves Shakespeare in 1599, and is historically accurate in terms of the plays and the mileu. (I learned from the DVD also that they got to film in the actual reconstituted Globe Theatre, which even Shakespeare in Love didn't get to do.) "Daleks in Manhattan" was set in 1930s Depression New York, and did it with admirable realism. A two-parter was set in an English military school just before World War I, with scenes of the war. And since I've just read a book about the London Blitz, I was reminded of details in the first season two-parter that were dead-on historically accurate. (Then again, Foyle's War--with stories based on real World War II happenings, including the Blitz, was a recent if not ongoing miniseries there--Tennant and several other Who actors had been in an episode.)

The details are linked to depth--that wonderful moment in season 1 where Rose tells the unbelieving girl that despite the apocalyptic Blitz, the British will win the war. And the continuity: the experience of the Blitz as a helpless young boy is the most important memory of the third season character, David Lazarus--the book I just read confirms that some people did shelter from the bombing in church crypts, as this character did. Two characters in the Dalek in Manhattan episodes mention being soldiers in World War I, and how it changed them, in very different ways.

The Brits take history seriously, both in the details and in the meaning. That appears to be part of the TV culture as well as the culture in general. Something not so true in the U.S., but really, really needed.

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