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Who's for some Who?

Jim Jepps

Good jobThe new Doctor Who, accompanied by much hype and speculation turned out to be okay. There had been derision that the Doctor would be played by a proper actor (Christopher Ecclestone) who might actually take the role seriously and Billie Piper would be unable to string two words together without seeming like a total numbskull. As it happened both of them have done a sterling job, particularly Ecclestone who manages a lightness of touch delivered with all the rectitude and gravitas of an archbishop having accidentally taken his first tab of acid.

The impressive task this show has set itself is to please two very different audiences. One adult audience who remembers with nostalgia hiding behind the sofa staring at a really fake plastic spider crawl up John Pertwee's back and an audience who are children today who expect more from their special effects and are generally talked down to by many television shows. Surprisingly it seems to have done both - whilst also satisfying the slightly less important group of die hard Dr Who fanatics who should just get a life (sorry).

But the backlash has begun. News reports are coming in thick and fast that Dr Who is too scary for kids (for example here) but frankly if Dr Who doesn't at least try to put the willies up you what on Earth is it trying to do? The producers should be commended for doing the unthinkable in the modern era, trying to give kids a fright, and the show certainly has moments of real bite, but the tension is always surrounded by a disarming sense of fun -  a perfect balance for the show in my view, and thank the lord for those who think even kids stuff can be used to stretch you a little.

Okay, I'm going to say a couple more positive things and then something a little more critical - if you're not ready to hear anything bad about the show may I suggest this link to "Who Space" as an alternative.

Billie Piper. I thought she'd be rubbish, and, I'll admit that I was looking for her to be rubbish. Jeez Louise it's true - I'm a curmudgeon. However, she's really good - and luckily for her she has been given a far more positive and courageous role than she might have been. Each episode has seen her be the right to the Doctor's wrong at least once, if not more so. Excellent.

The production values are high enough to satisfy today's jaded palette without going into the territory of so many of today's sci-fi shows and overwhelm any redeeming value with wham bamm what's the point of this man gimmickry. Which again shows that a lot of thought and time has gone into making sure this works - because if it hadn't that would have been that I think, no more chances for our lovable quack (what is he a doctor of anyway?)

Okay, in the context of these positive remarks I want to say there is a problem with the plots on the first three shows in that they are totally derivative. The first show was a rip off of an old Pertwee Who, the second a mirror of the Hitch hiker's 'Restaurant at the end of the universe' and the third - whilst being gently twisted into a neo-ghost story which was nice was the second time in three shows that evil aliens had wanted to take the Earth's resources killing mankind in the process. And incidentally both times the Doctor tried his best to be nice to the aliens and Billy Piper was suspicious - caution that was proved right on both occasions. I like the fact that the Doctor doesn't hate all interstellar immigrants but I wouldn't mind his open mindedness being proved right occasionally - perhaps this will come later in the series?

We'd better hurry up and use all our fossil fuels before we catch the eye of any more greedy monsters.

Having said that I still think the show has proved the doubters wrong and satisfied those that had wished it well. They've updated the old format so in our more earthy and cosmopolitan age we have replaced the upper class patriarch with a working class adventurer and the female roles are more suitable for today's tastes. There is a touch of darkness and sadness in the show that I'm sure is going to have been fully developed by the end of the series, and perhaps this is connected to the fact that Ecclestone is going to drop the show after this one series. This is understandable from his point of view but where this leaves the show after he's set such a high standard it's difficult to tell - perhaps like the royal family, when this one goes let them be the last.


April 2005


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