Doctor Who Series 1 (2005)

Where I come from, science fiction didn’t really hit the mainstream until about ten years ago.  Sure, it was always out there, but by and large, it wasn’t something the mainstream took notice of.  It’s still not on the level of football, but it’s getting there, inch by inch.  Hell, it’s not even a ‘boys only’ endeavor anymore.  Girls are actually enjoying it, too.  And a lot of them are pretty hot. 

In the circles I traveled when I was a younger lad, we were Star Wars nerds.  We read the books, could quote the movies, and we even had bootlegs of the Holiday Special, before they were readily available.  We dabbled in Star Trek, had heard of the original Battlestar Galactica, and a few of us really enjoyed reruns of V starring Mark Singer, while others hated it.  One territory we didn’t venture, however, was Doctor Who.

It aired on PBS, didn’t look particularly well done, and it was VERY British.  I wanted my science fiction heroes to look like Han Solo, or dare I say, William Riker.  The few minutes of the episodes I caught (because it aired right before Red Dwarf on Saturday nights) had an old guy with a scarf trying to give people jellybeans.  Riker never gave anybody jellybeans. 

But Doctor Who never seemed to go away.  I’d hear people talking about it in whispers, as if it were a closely guarded secret.  As I grew older, I also grew more curious.  So one day, while I was in the local comic book store, and it was just the clerk and I, I asked if he knew anything about Doctor Who. 

His eyes surveyed my expression, testing me.  Then he asked “Do you really want to know?”  I nodded.  He turned off the neon ‘OPEN’ sign and locked the door.  For the next two hours, I was held captive by a rabid Doctor Who fan, and learned every facet about the show; the mythology, the production timeline, and who played each Doctor and for how long.  After the two hours, I was either suffering from Stockholm syndrome or had actually become a Doctor Who fan without having really watched the show.

A few nights later, flipping through channels, I landed on what was at the time the Sci-Fi channel, and was captivated by an offbeat tale involving mannequins coming to life, living plastic, and a time war.  It was the first episode of the first series, and why it’s called the first series when the show’s been on the air for 50 years off and on I’ll never quite understand.  But it was fantastic. 

This series focuses on the adventures of the ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, and his lovely blonde companion Rose, portrayed by British pop star Billie Piper.  The episodes in the series are mostly stand-alone adventures, with three two parters thrown in for good measure.  If you watch them all, however, they do connect to form an overall story arc.

It’s a fairly short series in comparison to how American television works being only 13 episodes, but each one really is something special.  And there aren’t any worries if you’re not a long-time fan of the show; everything you need to know is explained for new viewers.  Old viewers won’t know what the hell is going on either, since all is explained by the end of the run. 

The series regulars are fantastic, with Eccleston doing a fascinating job at being goofy and fun one moment, and the next being a brilliant, unstoppable bad-ass.  The Doctor never uses overtly violent methods, always his mind (and the ever-trusty sonic screwdriver) to overcome his challenges, and while people do die over the course of the show, it’s done as tastefully as possible.  Think of it almost like a red shirt dying in an episode of the original Star Trek; because of their sacrifice you now know and fully understand the gravity of the situation. 

The revival of the series being done as well as it was can largely be accredited to Russell T. Davies.  Davies also wrote a significant portion of the episodes for this series, and the three others following it.  The whole series is great, but I do think more highly of some episodes than I do others. 

The End of The World is one of those, with the Doctor taking Rose to the day the Earth dies.  We get to see the last human, learn what history thinks an Ipod is, and enjoy a great adventure in the process.  Dalek is another episode that I will never forget, and without spoiling too much except what the title gives away, brings back an old enemy that should be silly and non-threatening.  Instead, it borders on terrifying. 

For me, a lot of what makes this show tick is it’s ability to make things that should be goofy and making them chilling.  In the story contained in the two episodes The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, we follow the Doctor and Rose to London, during the Blitz, where they encounter a child with a gas mask literally fused to his face.  The image and story are both haunting and unforgettable.  These are the episodes Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) makes his debut, and becomes one of the great fictitious captains in history. 

The show is an adventure like I have never experienced before.  If you’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who, start here.  You’ll be moved, you’ll be amazed, and you’ll be hooked for life.

4 out of 4

reviewed by Seth Moore

© Copyright 2010 John Shatzer