Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tom Baker: Watching Doctor Who

"I don't watch Doctor Who. I didn't watch Doctor Who when I was in it, so I'm not going to be watching someone else."
-Tom Baker, SciFiNow #45, p.43-

I love Tom Baker and all of his quirky, candid, sometimes wacky thought patterns. Even though his thoughts appear bat mad at times, they can actually be quite reasonable really. And Baker was recently awarded Favorite Doctor in Doctor Who Magazine #474. The man does have staying power. But what about some of those other doctors.

I'm quite thrilled about the impending arrival of new Doctor Peter Capaldi. And, unlike Baker, I for one am looking forward to watching Doctor Who again. His arrival here on BBC America is just days away. There are loads of folks out there waiting with baited breath. You know who you are.

I've been spending a good deal of my free time bingeing on Doctor Who. I've made a concerted effort to watch the series and catch up by experiencing the evolution of the character, companions and stories in succession. I still have a good ways to go. As of this writing I have reached Doctor Who, Series 3, Human Nature (based on a 1995 Doctor Who novel) and Family Of Blood. I'll share a few brief observations and reflections on Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant.

Human Nature is certainly one of the most interesting approaches to a Doctor Who story within the Tennant run. I went to sleep before finishing it, but I'm looking forward to returning to it.

Eccleston's Series One, for me, is undeniably the most impressive, most consistently interesting of the first three years to date. Eccleston's performance is nuanced in a way that seems to oscillate between the darkness and the light, the levity and the sadness in a way that Tennant doesn't quite match. Tennant is likely the more popular, handsome Doctor, but his quick, cheeky wit, though likable, doesn't always reach the heights of Eccleston's Doctor turn that walked a fine line with such ease.

Also of note, Billie Piper's companion, Rose Tyler, is damn near perfection. She has am everyman or everywoman feel but is certainly street smart. She's effervescent and wide-eyed in her voracious appetite to see the universe. She draws us in as much as the Doctor Who character. Her chemistry with Eccleston was perfection. Interestingly, Rose has a wonderful romantic chemistry with Tennant too, and that gives Series Two a completely unique flavor.

I definitely fall within the percentage of people out there who prefer that near perfect year featuring Eccleston. But, I have yet to finish the Tennant run in its entirety. Perhaps the verdict is still out, but Eccleston, now on HBO's The Leftovers, was excellent. Tennant is still very good. Also, Tennant, does expertly capture some emotional moments in Series Three following the departure of Rose lending his Doctor a degree of loss. This underlying sense of sadness is captured beautifully by Eccleston following revelations regarding the Time Lords in Series One. And perhaps there is a slightly less jovial tone to Series Three with the absence of Billie Piper too.

New companion Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman, is certainly fine, but there is something lacking in her dynamic with Tennant. Quite frankly Billie Piper was a tough act to follow and Jones delivers solid work as Tennant's partner, but the magic of those first two series is missing for me.

Maybe there is the undeniable variable of the excessive bingeing effect, but Jones is an okay companion at the moment. Still, the final verdict is out for now.

In general, particularly with the Tennant run, there are some exceptional moments and sequences within some stories that are just average, but when those moments happen they are awesome. Many of those moments occur when Tennant reflects on his old companion Rose emphasizing the power of that relationship to him and to the series.

I hope to return to a completion of full analysis on the Eccleston run soon. As for the Tennant run, some real highlights from Series Two for me have been New Earth featuring Cassandra, of course School Reunion and the emotional convergence of the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, Steven Moffat's The Girl In The Fireplace and oddly enough Love And Monsters by Russell T. Davies. The latter barely features the Doctor and Rose at all and is a most bizarre Who tale, but is so enjoyable for the fact it steps away from formula so completely.

Series Three Human Nature steps away from that formula too and is even more successful in doing so. I have yet to complete this series and thus far it has been filled with great moments, but not exceptional Who episodes. Again, that may be the bingeing effect. I did really appreciate the unusual Gridlock and a story about denizens trapped inside of a traffic jam for years. Each car had a fully realized personality connected with each driver. Some of the Who stories never quite explain how certain things could possibly be, but we're expected to roll with it.

Thus far the edge goes to Eccleston pretty handily for me. Eccleston is boundless in his enthusiasm with energy to spare. Eccleston revitalized a character and a series (with Russell T. Davies) somehow alternating between an insatiable desire for exploration and discovery whilst infusing the character with a twist of masked sadness like no other. Despite the controversies surrounding his departure and his ephemeral reign as the Doctor, perhaps Eccleston was the genius in shining bright for a single season before his untimely regeneration. And yet, I'm still open to another assessment on Tennant as my journey with him continues.

In general, it's easy to see why Doctor Who is such a beloved series and why it has such a voracious fan base. It's a wonderful concept, but I wonder if I need to take a brief respite from the show following my conclusion of Series Three.

As for Peter "Am I Good Man?" Capaldi, he looks magnificent as a choice for the Doctor. I hope he delivers. So bring on Capaldi.


El Vox said...

I'm with you on both Tom Baker and Eccleston. Eccleston is the better of the newer rebooted Who. Tennant for me only had two reactions: the warm and whimsical, and shouting, "Run." Which quite frankly got old for me.

Matt Smith was just to darn quirky for me--although I lay the blame for a lot of the newer reboots on story (Steven Moffat) and direction. There are some good episodes among their run, like Blink, and a few others, but there's some real duds, and some I couldn't finish at all because they were such a turnoff and too silly.

I wish they had reigned in both Tennant and Smith more, ie. had them play the doctor a bit straighter, granted they are trying to appeal to a younger crowd that me. I did like Rose, but didn't care for Amy Pond too much. I think some of that may be that she seemed to be the doctor's equal or didn't seem vulnerable enough.

Smith's episodes did pick up with the addition of the companion, Clara, and I'm glad to see her teamed up with Capaldi. It looks they will have him play the character a bit more straighter, that teamed up with Clara, looks to be a good idea, and I look forward to those episodes, though I'll have to really wait for the DVDs.

El Vox said...

Doctor Who Season 8 episode titles:

Episode 1: Deep Breath.
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Episode 2: Into The Dalek
Written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Introducing Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink.
Episode 3: Robot Of Sherwood
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Paul Murphy
Episode 4: Listen
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Episode 5: Time Heist
Written by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Episode 6: The Caretaker
Written by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat
Directed by Paul Murphy
Episode 7: Kill The Moon
Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Episode 8: Mummy On The Orient Express
Written by Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Episode 9: Flatline
Written by Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Episode 10: In The Forest Of The Night
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Directed by Sheree Folkson
Episode 11/12 Dark Water/Death In Heaven
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay

Dog In Space said...

Very astute El Vox, but I wouldn't have expected anything less.

"warm and whimsical." haha. It kind of feels that way at times. And so the real depth and range we got from Eccleston is slightly absent and feels that way. Series Three has definitely had a slightly more melancholy tone since losing Rose, but there is little electricity between Martha and the Doctor.

I'll reserve my thoughts on Smith for later. I haven't seen enough to comment fully.

Moffatt has certainly done some good stories like The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink as you say, but I gather he has overseen some duds and I've seen a few myself thus far.

I do agree with you that Doctor Who has always been aimed at a mass audience, kids included. And given your points about Tennant and Smith, this is precisely why I am apoplectic about Capaldi. It looks a little more appealing to me. I'm hoping for a slightly more mature Doctor.

Anyway, wanted to take time to write back to your thoughtful reply.

I'm quite excited about the new Doctor. I hope it works well.

Roman J. Martel said...

Whoo Hoo more Eccleston fans! Sometimes I think my wife and I are the only ones. :) I really liked his approach to the doctor, especially the darker edge he brought forth. Mr. Muir felt it was a result of the wars and being more of a veteran in tone. i think that is a very accurate reading.

But we'll have to disagree about Rose. I really don't get the appeal of her character. She was fine and all, but I liked Martha a lot more. In fact, I was a bit disappointed that the Doctor spent so much time pining for Rose when he was traveling with Martha. I kept thinking "hello, could you just throw some attention to the companion who is... you know.. right next to you?!?" Anyway, Rose had her moments, but she just didn't click with me as much as Martha did.

But Donna... ugh.. Let's not go there yet. ;)

Tennent also had his moments, but felt a bit too user friendly I guess. I understand his appeal, but Eccleston felt more like an actual alien. Smith is pretty good in my book. I like his wacky ways. But I'm not sure if the stories are delivering and Amy Pond started out fun and cute but is now growing tiresome. (we are still working our way through Smith's seasons).

Anyway looking forward to finally reaching the Capaldi episodes, but we'll try to finish off Smith first. Wow that sounded sinister.

Dog In Space said...

I'm getting to the year of Donna Noble. Should be interesting.

It's funny. I get the impression Smith is very good. My son says he is his favorite, but that, as you say, the material isn't always great that he has to work with.

We shall see there too.

Not much of a Martha fan but I love your point about paying attention to the girl next to him. That is funny.

I just completed watching Utopia and once again it the post Rose-effect and Martha was like the rebound girl who's not very appreciated. Ha.