I can remember being a wee tot and watching Tom Baker era Who on PBS. I don’t remember many details about it, other than the ridiculously long scarf. Years later, I remember watching the painful American television attempt to bring Who onto primetime. And it seemed that the entire Who franchise was a thing of the past until 2005 when Russell T. Davies revitalized the franchise. I saw Series 1 of the Davies run back in 2007, but circumstances prevented me from keeping up with it until now. In the last month I have ravenously torn through three seasons and four specials. Here are some of the reasons why Doctor Who, out of all the many sci-fi franchises, stands as my favorite.
Humanist Superhero – The Doctor, despite being a native of the more technologically advanced Gallifrey, loves humanity even in their darkest moments. Ever since the character’s 1963 debut he has been accompanied by a human companion for the express purpose of exposing humanity to the wonder of the universe. Some of the best moments in Davies’ run was the look of joy on The Doctor’s face when a citizen of Earth glimpsed a dying sun or their own home planet from a distance. Because The Doctor is able to traverse the timestream he is aware of the stages of evolution humanity must go through to reach their pinnacle. This is spotlighted the most in The Waters of Mars, when The Doctor places human lives above the strict rules of the Time Lords in interfering with predetermined events. Its probably the most heroic moment in the entire run.
Donna Noble – Hands down my favorite of the companions. Noble is played by comedian Catherine Tate, which makes her an odd choice, as most companions were played by relative unknowns. I was pretty skeptical of Noble at first, but she grew on me faster than any the other ladies who accompanied The Doctor. Noble stands out as my favorite because there was never a romantic element between she and the Doctor and because Tate was able to play her as both cleverly funny and incredibly heroic. Noble’s arc in season 4 is one of the most exhilarating and ultimately heartbreaking. Noble was one of the most human companions, her story ends with her in a very simple mundane place, and that is why she is so endearing. She really is the companion who could be us, a person who sees themselves as nobody, but rises above it all.
The Weeping Angels – “Blink” an episode tucked right in the middle of Season 3 is my favorite Doctor Who story ever. I’ve always been a sucker for time travel stories that loop around in history and turn time into a “big ball of yarn” as The Doctor puts it. This story, featuring a “before they were famous” Carey Mulligan barely has the Doctor in it. Instead we have Sally Sparrow (Mulligan) uncovering a mystery involving herself and living statues that send you hurtling through time with a touch, while they devour the residual life you never got to live. There’s something fascinating to me about these creatures who move only when you aren’t looking. They prey on the distracted nature of humans in the 21st century, always missing those important details. When the Weeping Angels reappeared there were some more developments, including that what ever held their image in turn became them (i.e. video camera footage, the human eye staring).
River Song – This is another time travel story that is all twisty and turny in the way I love. The Doctor meets River Song apparently many decades after she first met him. Their is a very close relationship hinted at that the Doctor has not yet experienced. River even carries a blue journal that chronicles their adventures, but was advised by a future version of The Doctor never to give his younger self any “spoilers”. River Song appears to be a rogue, always showing up in the custody of a military authority or on the run from someone. Her exact relationship with the Doctor is heavily hinted at being a romantic one, possibly his future wife. But something tells me the obvious answer is not the one that will ultimately be revealed to us.
Tradition – What I love most about the Russell Davies’ Doctor Who revival is its uncompromising embrace of the original material from the 1960s thru the 1980s. In America, we have a strong inclination to inject “bad ass-ery” into everything, out of some lack of confidence it seems. I absolutely love that all the goofy and silly villains from The Doctor’s past have reemerged unchanged. The Daleks. The Cybermen. Davros. The Time Lords. All there in their over the top sci-fi glory. Its those retro aspects that make watching the series feel like reading a comic book (a la Grant Morrison in particular).