Saturday, April 11, 2009

Big Trek/Doctor Who Weekend

Though the new Paramount Star Trek movie doesn't open in the U.S. until May, premieres have already been held in Australia and New Zealand (plus a sneak preview in Texas), while an enormous flood of advertising and publicity lets loose, and the first reviews are in, with Trek Movie's promised later today. Update: Here it is.

After assiduously courting the traditional fan base, the new Trek honchos are going hard after a wider, younger audience that knows Trek only vaguely, perhaps as an antique. I caught an ad for Star Trek on TV with fast-cut action and "sexual situations" sequences that promises that this "is not your father's Star Trek."

Well, at least they didn't say "grandfather's."

Meanwhile, in the UK the BBC will air the Doctor Who Easter Special, Planet of the Dead. It's the second of the five final David Tennant episodes, written by Russell T. Davies--the Doctor's last romp before the final darker stories. In their publicity blitz, Davies revealed this: "I would have loved to have done a Star Trek crossover. The very first year, we talked about it. Then Star Trek finally went off air. Landing the Tardis on board the Enterprise would have been magnificent." He was talking about Star Trek Enterprise, the most recent Star Trek TV series.

There are a lot of such Trek/Who mashups on YouTube, but coincidentally the series from just released their "Easter Special" which continues the story they started at Christmas. It starts with the same scenes from the original series that several other such mashups use, but it gets more creative later, and it's technically the best I've seen. Here's another link to both, via Trek Movie.

The next actual Doctor Who special won't be seen in the UK until fall, perhaps November. The last two are likely to be around Christmas and New Year's. with a shorter than usual gap before the 2010 season starts with the new Doctor, Matt Smith.

According to Outpost Gallifrey, Canadians will see Planet of the Dead in June on the SPACE channel. They've already had last Christmas' Special, The Next Doctor, in March. The U.S. has seen nothing, and as far as I can tell, nothing has been scheduled. My guess is that if the Sci-Fi Channel--excuse me, the Sy-Fy Channel--continues to be the U.S. outlet for Doctor Who, none of them will be seen here until shortly before the 2010 season starts. Or at least not until all five are available. There just isn't the built-in interest here as there is in the UK, and they'll probably try to save on publicity costs.

There are rumors about the final episodes--for instance, that all the 10th Doctor's companions will be back, along with the Master--but all that's been confirmed is that Donna Noble will be in the final episode, and that the Doctor's final companion will be her grandfather, Wilfred Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins. It's a surprising choice, and caps Cribbins' unlikely participation. He had just a one-time small part, when the actor playing Donna's father became terminally ill. Cribbins was hired as Donna's grandfather on short notice, and actually re-did some scenes (preserved on the Series Four DVDs.)

But Tennant hints that there will be several special guests.

As for the interviews, the Times piece promises to tell "Why David Tennant and Russell T. Davies are leaving Doctor Who," but it's the same mumbo jumbo. The reason I'm leaning towards is easier to see in Davies, who is going Hollywood for the forseeable future. It could well be the same for Tennant. Leaving Doctor Who while they are still legendary gives them the proper aura to get some Hollywood stardom and bucks. They may already know they're getting opportunities England can't offer (though Tennant denies he has any future commitments.) Tennant is probably also weary of being under the microscope in the UK.

I still think Tennant leaving will be next door to disastrous for Doctor Who, especially in America. Like Davies, Tennant knew everything about Doctor Who through its entire history and he was involved in making sure the new series was right. Smith admits he knows nothing (although the new showrunner, Steven Moffat, is also a fanboy.) Tennant was a real asset to the show with the media and fans. Smith doesn't seem to have that kind of weight.

That may not matter so much in the UK, where boys wear Doctor-style suits with their Converse sneakers to school, chant SONTAR-HA! in the schoolyard and imitate the Doctor's WOT? WOT? from the Voyage of the Damned Christmas Special. But if Matt Smith falters, re-branding Doctor Who in the states--even with the rumored changes, like a new Tardis interior--may prove difficult.

What makes it a hard sell for me is the sense that we were about to see a more powerful, mature Doctor--a sense ironically put forward in the two Season Four episodes that Stephen Moffat wrote, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. He meets a woman with whom he's had a powerful relationship--in a future incarnation--and through her he learns a bit of what he is to become. This character (played beautifully by Alex Kingston) could recur--(Tennant hints in one of his interviews that she might in his final episodes) but she would look more like Matt Smith's mother. Similarly, the Doctor's daughter, introduced in Season Four, would appear to be Smith's sister.

In any case, there was the sense that the Doctor's character would grow. Now with a regeneration, he faces yet another identity crisis and period of adjustment. Back to square one. That's not the change I can believe in.

Of course, a teenage Doctor (okay, he's 25 or something)--especially with one of the rumored teen idol blonds to be his companion--may attract a different audience. Still, I quoted Moffat in an earlier post suggesting that the Doctor should be played by an older actor. Apparently he was kidding, changed his mind, or has to live with what the BBC could afford--since these days, I suspect, money is an object.

Younger actors playing mythic roles seems to link the new Star Trek with the 2010 Doctor Who. Maybe the jolt of novelty as well as fresh creative visions will work in both cases. On the other hand, did you see the latest Flash Gordon series? I mean, when it existed?

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