April 22, 2010

Doctor Who? Doctor What Now?

Print More

“So… All of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will: Where do you want to start?”

A quick caveat: I know most of you (and by most I mean Cornellians or related readers who read this blog because of its umbrella publication, and not those of you lovelies with absolutely no idea what the Cornell Daily Sun is but have google alerts up for whatever show we’re talking about) … Most of you probably have never even heard of Doctor Who. What it is, is this legendary show/phenomenon/institution that’s been on in Britain, with a limited cult following in the US, that’s been around for about 40 years. It’s about a super alien (who is kind of like god), who flies around space and time in a blue police box and saves the world a lot, while at the same time, showing some lost soul who has the potential to be brilliant, the stars. Or, in other words, the audience. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, enough so that I’ve written papers about this shit, and my life goal is to work for the show at some point (o hai Steven Moffat). But if that doesn’t make sense, or you don’t care about the personal details, I’ve provided an easy little link to figure it out, people.

People who’ve seen (and love) Doctor Who always talk about their “first Doctor” the way we do our first love, first lover, etc.  It’s understandable: TV’s an attachment-forming medium, and Doctor Who is one of the few — perhaps only — shows that challenges that habit, by throwing us a new Doctor every few years or when someone wants out of that contract. You spend some years—usually, formative ones— growing used to a face, a certain eccentric wildness, some bizarre quirk be it a lapel made out of broccoli, a long scarf, oversized ears or a silly catch phrase. And then suddenly one day, they take him away from you, and in a poof of shiny CGI light (maybe just sparkly glitter in the old incarnation of the series) there’s a new man standing there, asking you to go to Barcelona with him.

My first doctor was Christopher Eccleston. That’s actually not entirely true: My first doctor was Peterwee, but I was so young and confused at the time by the show that I never really fully latched on. But when I started watching again a few years ago, I was introduced to Christopher Eccleston: big guy, silly ears, goofy and somewhat withdrawn disposition. He was dark, humble, the kind of loveable douche who quickly grows into a loveable doof.

And then one day, they took him away from me. I had forgotten about the regeneration thing, and suddenly this skinny dude with weird hair and a complete lack of humility. He was sexy in that freakish, ferrety way only British superstars like Thom Yorke can pull off. I didn’t like him, I didn’t trust him and even when I finally fell for him, I still missed Nine.

But when he left, after I had finally gotten used to him, and more than used to, but loved him (how can you not love David Tennant?), they replaced him with this young, creepy-sexy kid. Black hair, weird face, hipster bowtie. I was hesitatingly excited; suddenly I was expected to accept this man like he had been the same. How can you stay attached to the same character who is supposed to be, sort of, the same man, but always has a different face and disposition? That’s just some bizarre shit, right there.

But really, I must be easy: It only took Matt Smith about 10 minutes to reel me in. After a long frenetic introduction with him tasting and spitting out different kinds of food [for me, classic new-Who: Christopher Eccleston’s ADD-esque sniffing around Rose’s apartment, Tennant arguing with Jackie about the perfect regeneration cure], he finally sits down at a table with his young companion, the young Amelia Pond — a first time, little actress who captured my heart way too quickly, and is played by the older Amy Pond’s cousin, but that’s getting ahead of myself — and with just the right amount of serious, focused, honest sympathy, not patronizing, but not melodramatic, sounded out her fears.

“Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of box, man eats fish custard, and look at you, just sitting there. So you know what I think? Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.”

What’s new — and exciting — about the Amy Pond/Eleven pairing is that suddenly we have a less accessible companion, or a companion who is just as mysterious as The Doctor himself. As I mentioned, the Companion conceit has always been the best way for the audience to have emotional access to The Doctor … until we finally got close enough to Ten that we didn’t need Rose, or Martha, or Donna to get who he is and where he is coming from. Eleven is someone entirely knew — he feels familiar and right but completely strange at the same time, and there are things he isn’t telling us. But for once, Amy isn’t going to answer those questions for us or tell us who he is, because we just don’t know Amy. And I find that — and the parallel between the two of them — so intriguing. The argument over whether Amy’s grown-up kis-so-gram/stripper status … well, you all know how ridiculous I would find that, but it would be just like a Doctor to be unfairly judgmental of such a thing. He’s not a doctor in the same way that she’s not a policewoman, and even though her facial expressions are like Gwen’s (in ways, she’s running from her life the way Gwen was), she’s not. She’s something else, and she’s alone, and I have a feeling that, whether it is connected to the no-ducks-in-the-duck-pond thing or not, we’ve barely touched Amy Pond’s surface.

As for who this doctor is? Well, he’s a little weirder, a little normal-er, a little different, a little familiar. He’s not our first, I’ll say that. But I’m beginning to think Matt Smith/Eleven might end up being more perfect than whoever your first, or mine, was.

Meet your 11th (or first) Doctor on Doctor Who, BBC America, Saturdays at 9 p.m./8 central.

Original Author: Julie Block