Thoughts on speculative fiction. Join in the conversation on books, television and film. I review everything I read or watch from the world of the imaginative and the fantastic.

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March 4, 2013

Pilot: Doctor Who


It didn't age that well, it's goofy, the premise was nothing unique for its time, and the acting was... well... British.

Now that I have your attention, and quite possibly your eternal hatred, let's get to what's good about the Dr. Who Pilot. I liked it. I like Doctor Who, but come on - the series begins with an almost five minute montage. Now, it's a montage of a really good looking British blonde that manages to establish that she, Rose, works in retail and has an adorable boy-toy, but it's still a montage. Oh, and it also introduces the score, which has really quite grown on me after many hours of having it stuck in my head. The saving grace of this pilot is definitely the two stars. Rose is a lot smarter than you'd expect, and the Doctor is immediately the kind of wise-ass you really hate to love.

I wouldn't even quite say that it's the writing that makes the Doctor and Rose likeable - at least as far as the pilot goes. The script boils down to Big Bang Theory-esque humor and a sci-fi plot that isn't really the reason you're watching. If you ask me, it's all in the delivery. I don't know where Christopher Eccleston came from but he knows how to throw out a nerdy one-liner with the perfect mix of self-depreciation and enthusiasm. Gets me every time.

In fact, with lines like "The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't get through that door, and believe me, they've tried!" it's a wonder Doctor Who made it from screenplay to piot and beyond. It's certainly over the top and it certainly makes you like it in spite of youself. Somehow that Doctor is just irresistible.

As for what the pilot is about, well, it's your typical alien invasion story. Okay, not quite typical because the aliens turn all of the plastics in Britain against humanity in an attempt to drive us to extinction at the hands of mannequins and, well, monstrous garbage bins. The mystery of this frist episode isn't so much what the invading alien race is, but what humanity's saviour – the Doctor – is. Because he doesn't seem to be human. He admits to being alien himself.

The Doctor is a Time Lord, an alien who uses a phonebooth-looking thing called a Tardis to travel through time saving humanity again and again from extinction, invasion, and our own stupidity. It's said of him that "He has one constant companion. Death." Well, that companion will become Rose, which is a much lighter turn for the series.

The pilot for Doctor Who doesn't in any way establish an arching plot. It doesn't give you even a slight hint as to where the story will be going. In this case, that's a good thing. So far, Doctor Who is episodic, but every episode is so entirely different that it is in no way necessary for the creators to tell us what to expect. The Tardis opens up the possibilities for stories to be told anywhere in the universe, at any time in history. Scenarios unfold in the past, present, and future, in places all over the world and planets all over the galaxy. The one thing the Doctor Who pilot fails at doing is telling us that. You might find yourself surprised at the range of locales the Doctor and Rose wind up in.

Indeed, it will take an episode or two before it becomes clear that the Doctor and Rose have very few limitations. The only recurrent element is that pretty much everywhere they go, humanity is about to face extinction, and the Doctor saves us from our fate. Or at least, he has so far.

It may not have aged fantastically, it may be a little cheesy, but I'll tell you what it has got: the tension to make you think the world will end in the very pilot. And again the next episode. And the next.

By the way, The boy-toy doesn't end up being nearly as hilarious and awesome as I'd hoped, but he does become the butt of some good jokes. "Are you drinking tea? No, no, no, that's no good. You're in shock; you need something stronger. Come on, we're going down to the pub, you and me, my treat." "Is there a match on?" "No, no, no, I was just thinking about you, baby." "There's a match on."

Good times.

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