Doctor Who

Ryan Vu

Doctor Who retains the old Who's oh-so-British irreverence, so it actually lives up to the appellation 'kid's show for adults'.

Doctor Who

Airtime: Fridays, 9pm ET
Cast: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper
Network: The Sci-Fi Channel

They don't make children's shows like they used to. No matter that this newest take on Doctor Who is ostensibly designed for young people. It comes to the States from the UK and from the past, and though updated by a writing team headed by Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk), it retains the old Who's oh-so-British irreverence, so it actually lives up to the appellation "kid's show for adults."

The premise is the same as ever: a mysterious time-skipping alien known only as the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) travels between history's hot spots via a '50s-style police telephone-box-cum-time machine called TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension[s] in Space), accompanied by a group of feckless Earthly companions. Hilarity ensues. The chief difference, aside from the bigger budget (note to purists: the special effects are still ridiculous) and switch to shiny digital video, is more of a desire to connect with the culture of the present.

The first episode, "Rose," offered a critique of consumerism in the form of an alien invasion by plastic. Attracted by the mess of pollutants in Earth's atmosphere, a giant blob-like "Nestene Consciousness" animated London's plastics in an attempt to get rid of all that annoying bio-matter. Naturally, the mall was the most dangerous place to be. The scene featuring hordes of eerily impassive walking mannequins wiping out London's buying class was definitely one of the best end-of-the-world scenarios around, combining both B-movie silliness and a genuine sense of the uncanny.

The relationship between Rose (Billie Piper), the Doctor's assistant, and her mother (Camille Coduri) exemplifies the series' new direction. With Rose suffering from youthful anomie and her mum floating about in a post-boomer haze, they took turns parenting each other. Rose's relationship with the Doctor is fully platonic, give or take a handholding or two. His equally non-sexual relationships with past associates could always be read as concessions to a prepubescent, socially awkward male audience: he was a mysterious recluse who wowed his beautiful female companions not with conventional sex appeal, but with superior knowledge, cleverness, and the promise of adventure.

At the end of Episode One, the Doctor coaxed Rose away from her weakling boyfriend (Noel Clarke) and into his time machine, the sci-fi nerd's version of a red convertible. His resistance to romance then seems an admixture of pride and angst. Though Eccleston's schizophrenic performance jumps back and forth from madcap glee to melancholy, he remains consistently nervous around the ladies.

Rose and the Doctor's second adventure, "The End of the World," was set up as the Worst Date Ever. Five billion years into the future, the universe's "filthy rich" are shuttled around in a corporate-owned space station for the purpose of viewing "artistic events," such as the demise of Earth. The episode took easy aim at the wealthy, such as the horrific Lady Cassandra O'Brien (Zoe Wanamaker). The "last pure human," she's had so many cosmetic surgeries that she's reduced to an uppity, racist sheet of translucent skin. She misrepresented both her species' physical appearance and culture (sending off Earth with a "traditional ballad" by Britney Spears), as, the episode implied, all people of wealth do.

If there was a whiff of undeath to such aristocrats, "The Unquiet Dead" gave us literal walking corpses, made so against their will. The third episode centered on bodies and their social consequences, adopting Victorian Gothic tropes. This followed on the first episode's focus on plastic and the second's on bodies as fashion. The third took us back to 1869 to show us that bodies are nothing but vessels, though no less valuable because of it. When Rose objected to the Doctor's decision to allow a group of alien spirits to occupy human corpses, he replied, "Why not? It's like recycling!" Both the empiricist skepticism of celebrity guest Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) and the pious supernaturalism of a servant girl (Eve Myles) were undercut by the revelation that the spirits were not angels or ghosts, but aliens, whose goals were completely, disturbingly understandable.

More than bodies, more than money or commodities, the submits that time is of most value. At the end of Episode Two, Rose bemoaned the fate of her planet: "We were too busy saving ourselves, no one saw it go." Rediscovering the value of her own life is ultimately what she owes to the Doctor. The few hints we get about his terrible past (he's the last of his species) undercut his pretense that he doesn't have one. As someone with no personal narrative, his can base his self-worth solely on helping others find and keep theirs. Not to "save lives" (how can duration be important to a time traveler?), but to rejuvenate them by, paradoxically, revealing just how huge the sandbox really is. What in some hands would only justify nihilism is in his a meaningful measure of value.

"Everything has its time and everything dies," said the Doctor at the end of one episode. Does the same logic apply to a Time Lord? The sprightliness and intelligence of this newest incarnation suggests that the long-running show will hang on at least a little while longer.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.