Monday, July 14, 2008

Captain's Log: David, Please Come Back!

Here in the U.S. we're just about to get to the last three episodes of the Doctor Who season via the Sci-Fi channel. It's a good time to pause and take stock, before the grand finale begins, with its blizzard of returning characters and end-of-season cosmic drama. ( Slight update: The last episode of the season became the first Doctor Who ep to hit #1 for the week in British TV--a week that included the Wimbleton tennis tourney. Contrast that with the U.S., where Dr. Who is slightly less popular on the Sc-Fi Channel than reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Through forgetfulness as well as choice, I've seen more episodes this year than usual only on YouTube . It's a matter of picking your poison. If this were reading a novel, it would be like this: would I rather be forced to stop reading every few chapters while somebody shouts the same inane things at me for ten minutes, until I just about forget what I just read, only to find when I resume reading that several pages had been ripped out of the book... or would I rather read the whole thing through, but with the book underwater?

So it's a wonder any of it comes through. Still, the season seemed to begin with the lighter touch Russell T. Davis promised on one of his commentaries last season, plus a lot of revisiting old aliens (Ood, Sontarans) and eventually the requisite visit to an author in earth's past (an oddly reverent turn with Agatha Christie--you'd think she was Shakespeare or somebody.) It was all entertaining, with "The Doctor's Daughter" the clear highlight of the first half.

Then came Stephen Moffat two-parter, "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead," and everything immediately went up a notch: the invention, the writing, the acting, the thrills. Plus a wonderful echo of his first Dr. Who script, that rapturous line, "Everybody lives!" I'll come back to these in a moment, but props as well to Russell T. Davis script that just aired here Friday, "Midnight." It had all the makings of yet another disaster movie in space, a la Titanic, with the passengers getting knocked off one by one, often in self-sacrifice. But wily Davis took a different turn, and it became a claustrophobic study in panic, prejudice and suspicion of difference, the unknown, of the Other. It's not really clear that the bad human behavior is imposed by the alien presence, so we're left with the likelihood that it's just bad human behavior. It makes me wonder if the Doctor is going to be so anxious to save humanity next time, since these humans literally wanted to throw him off the bus.

I haven't seen this with commentary yet (which I can do on YouTube) but I'll be interested to hear about the wonderful actress who had to repeat David Tennant's lines immediately after he said them, and then say them simultaneously. I did experience the second Moffat episode with commentary by Moffat, Davis and Tennant, who mostly gossipped about the announcement--apparently just made at the time--of Moffat taking over the series in 2010. They were silly, talked fast and often unintelligibly; it was mostly entertaining but also frustrating since they seemed to have nothing to say about the actual episode, and apparently no longer care if they do or not. It may have taken self-indulgence a little too far, but some of it was fun.

Anyway, the point of all this is to say: David Tennant, don't leave! His acting in these episodes has never been better, but the most exciting element of it came in the Moffat story, in which the Doctor meets the woman he will fall in love with in the future, and she tells him something about who he will become. We see Tennant's Doctor begin to grow into that, and it's never been clearer than Tennant has a lot more to show us about this character. He is already the Doctor as surely as Tom Baker was in his long tenure in 70s (and could have been for even longer), and I really want to see him as the Doctor for at least one season with Moffat.

The series has finished in England, and Tennant begins playing Hamlet in a few weeks time. Apropos of what I've just said about Tennant/Moffat and the rumor that Moffat wants Neil Gaiman to write for his Doctor, here's Gaiman riffing on Tennant's Doctor as Hamlet: "To be, or not to be, that is the question. Weeelll.... More of A question really. Not THE question. Because, well, I mean, there are billions and billions of questions out there, and well, when I say billions, I mean, when you add in the answers, not just the questions, weeelll, you're looking at numbers that are positively astronomical and... for that matter the other question is what you lot are doing on this planet in the first place, and er, did anyone try just pushing this little red button?"

See what I mean? He's got it right! Weeell, not completely right, he's got a few things a bit wrong--too many weells and shouldn't that be "this great BIG red button?"

(By the way, just saw Gaimon's Star Dust on DVD, and loved it. Don't miss the deleted scenes!)

To finish the Whonews, at least from my point of view, I saw somewhere that now the Doctor's dog, K-9 is getting his own show. That follows the first spin-offs, The Sarah Jane Adventures for kids, and Torchwood for young adults. Sarah Jane's first season played on the Sci-Fi Channel this year, just before Doctor Who. I caught a few of those, and liked them. I'm looking forward to a DVD. I especially liked Luke, her adopted son, a young biological version of Data. Elizabeth Sladen proved she could carry a show, and lead a series, so let's see more! (She's also one of the Doctor's companions who figures in the final episodes of this season's Doctor Who.)

Torchwood is seen over here only on BBC America, which is beyond my means. But recently I rented the first two DVDs of Torchwood's first season, and although I admired the professionalism of the whole thing, I didn't much like several of the stories, and the general tenor of the thing doesn't appeal to me. The ones I saw seemed to be motivated by getting away with more sexiness than was possible on Dr. Who: an episode about an alien who comes to earth to live off sexual energy was pretty dumb, and basically an excuse for sexual situations (all combinations girl-boy, boy-boy, and girl-girl snogging one after the other.) And an episode about a Cyberbabe with a thoroughly unbelievable story as an excuse to do a real sexy version of the robotbabe in Metropolis. The ending was a violent mess. I'm certainly not complaining about the sex, and the actors are all appealing and skilled, but the stories, and the attitude just aren't for me.

So my next DVD look at the franchise will likely be this fourth Doctor Who season. Can't wait to actually see it!

And to return to our marque theme for a moment, it turns out that Patrick Stewart is not only playing Claudius (Hamlet's stepfather) opposite Tennant, but at his own suggestion, he's playing the Ghost of Hamlet's father (who is Claudius' brother.) Stewart talks some Trek as well as Hamlet in a recent interview with the Times.

1 comment:

Supernetuser said...

Being a female sci-fi fan leaves room for maneuvering in that universe. We have so many great rolemodels these days. Sarah Jane is just one of them. Doctor Who picks such smartaleck companions. David Tennant is better than the other dude from season 1. My goodness, if I could travel, I'd go to see Hamlet myself. I haven't been excited about TV in years since I've seen Torchwood.