Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Doctor Who?"

For anyone who hasn't gotten to see the latest episode, "The Bells of St. John," which came out in Britain on last Saturday, I won't spoil it for you. I can just say that it's awesome and I'm so excited that Jenna Louise-Coleman is on the show--she's an excellent companion.

Doctor Who has got to be my favorite show of all time. Thanks to my roommate a few years ago and my then-crush (now husband), I was corralled into watching the stand-alone episode "Blink" that covers the weeping angels during the time of the tenth doctor, David Tennet. It thoroughly creeped me out--as the weeping angels still do--but somehow got me interested enough to start watching. At the time, the eleventh doctor, Matt Smith, had just walked onto the scene, so I began watching the new episode of season 5 every week with friends and got hooked. I wanted to go back and start from the beginning, but I also wanted to keep seeing what happened to Rory, Amy, and the Doctor, so I confess I watched seasons 5-6 at the same time as I was going through season 1-4. I'm still a little confused about the timeline sometimes...but what the heck, he travels in time anyway. Who cares about chronological order?

Who is the Doctor? He's an alien with two hearts from the race of Time Lords who can travel through time. He has his beloved Tardis, his time machine with whom he sort of has a relationship, and always carries around his sonic screwdriver. He loves the human race and spends a majority of the episodes jumping around in human history saving the world from destruction. (While humans are unaware of it, the universe is grossly populated by all sorts of sentient life, many of whom think they can take advantage of human ignorance and take over.) In my husband's favorite episode, he goes off and helps Van Gogh defeat a scary alien monster. Sometimes he travels to other planets as well. It's a great all-around sci-fi show with enough sword-fighting, period costumes, famous historical figures, and modern save-the-day for fans of just about any genre to love it.

The Doctor isn't all good, of course. He's got his own demons too. Each iteration of the doctor (every so often a Time Lord has to regenerate, whereupon he gets a new body with new preferences in food and fashion and a slightly altered Doctor personality) deals with these inner issues differently--from the moody and dark David Tennet to the lonesome-puppy dog Christopher Eccleston. Matt Smith is probably my favorite; he gets sulky when he's upset, but he's easily made cheerful and upbeat again, and never quite makes sense when he's speaking fast and has the solution to everything.

Essentially the Doctor is lovable in every way, but what helps him stay this way are his companions. The Doctor's companion is always human and almost always a woman, though they have all been very different from one another. She provides the humor, sensitivity, and balance to the Doctor and to the show, whether through arguing with, supporting, or needing help from the Doctor. But while the Doctor always has to go off and rescue his companions from deadly foes, we all know that she is ultimately the rescue of him, because his companions are what keep him hopeful and courageous enough to keep sticking up for those silly but amazing human beings.

Doctor Who is a lot more than sci-fi. Between scary aliens (despite their hilarious look created in the 1960s, the Daleks are still a vision of pure evil) and cry-able good British humor, Doctor Who has a lot to say about the fight between good and evil, how to prioritize the life of one versus the lives of many, and why life is valuable and worth saving at all. I love Doctor Who because underneath it all, it is the simple, age-old story of friendship providing the strength for good to triumph over evil and for human (and humanoid) dignity to always be preserved. The Doctor has deadly enemies, but his sonic screwdriver is not a weapon and the Doctor abhors killing. When bad people die, it's because of their own weaknesses and weaponry.

This is pretty much the mark of what makes me like or dislike a show. If it has those elements and themes, I am happy. I love stories to end well, for good to triumph, and for the scars to heal. I love justice to be served. It is my hopefulness and idealism that make me this way, I know, but I also know that we all love that kind of story, even if we don't believe in it any more. It's the kind of story that's written in our bones and is the battleground of our hearts.

The other thing that is important to me in what I read and watch is the preservation of marital relationships. I can't stand shows where the characters have a flawed relationship and nothing fixes it up; it bugs me in the extreme to see people not bothering to work on their marriage, as though it's not important or marriage isn't worth it. (Consequently, I love movies like True Lies and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.) I also, until I got married, had pretty high standards for sexual content, and even in movies or shows where the people sleeping together is implied, I felt uncomfortable, like I was looking too closely into a world I didn't want to look into or arouse to imagination yet.

On both those fronts, Doctor Who gets an A+. In fact, most of my favorite shows are British simply because it's a lot easier to find a British show that has no sexual content than it is to find an American one. Americans are all about sex these days. (Europe thinks we're crazy. Anyone else who's seen It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World knows the monologue I'm thinking of...)

The Doctor is also keen to preserve the romantic relationship of his human companions with their boyfriends, husbands, etc. His efforts didn't work out so well with Rose, although she should never have even dated Mickey to begin with. But when Amy tries to kiss the Doctor and he realizes that he whisked her off to travel the stars on the night before her wedding, he quickly returns her to the right time and place in history and does a number of ploys to get her to remember she's in love with her fiance. And yes, they end up married. In fact (spoiler!), for two series, the newlywed couple Amy and Rory both get to be the Doctor's companions, and the three of them travel together, all saving the world. There are some incredibly deep episodes spun off of the dynamics of the married couple, such as in "The Girl Who Waited," S6 E10, and "Asylum of the Daleks," S7 E1.

It's one great show. Now that you know what I look for in TV and movies, of course, you can judge whether my opinion is one you should trust for your own viewing. But I recommend anyone who is willing to give it a go. I would recommend starting from the (new) Season 1 only after they have seen a few of the later episodes, as the first few episodes with Christopher Eccleston were a bit rough. I suggest starting with the stand-alone "Blink," like I did. Another clean place to start is season 5, where both a new doctor (#11, by Matt Smith) and new companion (Amy Pond, by Karen Gillan) both make their appearance. Like I've said before, they're probably my favorites so far--though it's hard to beat Catherine Tate's performance as Donna Noble playing across from David Tennet!

So go watch it! Have some fish fingers and custard! And don't forget: bow ties are cool.