Welcome back to Channel Chaser! As you may have guessed from the title of this week’s column, I’ll be diving in the wild, wacky world of the BBC’s sci-fi fantasy epic, Doctor Who.
It’s difficult to judge Doctor Who as a whole simply because every version of the title character is so fundamentally different; and to be clear, I’m just talking about the revival series that began with the Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, in 2005. Eccleston’s Doctor was blunt, standoffish, and played it cool at all times: a very close-to-the-vest kind of guy. The Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, was exactly the opposite; cheeky, frantic, hotheaded and totally out of control. Finally, Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor seems more like a combination of the two than anything else; filled with awe, wonder, and child-like enthusiasm and energy, but while simultaneously harboring a darker, more withdrawn side that can come out without warning.
In all my years of watching television, the Doctor strikes me as one of the most multi-faceted, interesting, and confounding characters ever created. He is lonely, first and foremost; as the last of a race that was once the greatest civilization in the universe and was destroyed in a horrifyingly cataclysmic war, he carries a survivor’s guilt that no one else can know. He also periodically undergoes regenerations, radically changing his looks, personality, and clothing tastes. Whether this is what makes the Doctor so interesting or not, I can’t say.
While he is at heart a good person and travels the cosmos in the hopes of seeing new things, meeting new people, and saving those in trouble, the Doctor also has a dark side; when roused to anger, he can be vengeful, arrogant and merciless. This duality makes him simultaneously one of the most beloved, as well as one of the most feared, beings in creation. He is also quite obviously a genius in most fields, along with tending toward eccentricity, and is quirky, awkward, and empathetic all at the same time. The many different faces of the Doctor–sometimes in a literal sense–is for me the biggest part of the show’s appeal.
To temper the Doctor’s self-destructive tendencies, as well as to boost viewer interest, he is joined in the main cast of the show by a variety of human companions who he chooses to travel the stars with him. As the Doctor has always been a male – something that I hope will change in the future – these companions are usually women and can sometimes fall in love with the Doctor, forgetting that he is alien, immortal, and essentially not human. Companions Rose Tyler and Martha Jones both suffered from this kind of emotional crisis, and Amy Pond struggled with it briefly; although Rose is the only one the Doctor ever comes close to reciprocating these feelings with.
Donna Noble is the exception to this, as she never once was shown to be romantically interested in the Doctor; this, along with her fiery personality and her unique willingness to back-sass the Doctor and call him out on his decisions, make her one of my favorite companions. Honestly, Martha, Rose, and lately Clara Oswald just don’t do it for me; I was especially annoyed by Rose because of her essentially sappy relationship with the Doctor. What exactly does he see in her, again? The title of favorite, though, has to go to the power couple of Amy Pond and Rory Williams; the dynamics between the two of them and the Doctor make for the series’ most interesting storylines.
Speaking of storylines, season-spanning arcs are something that Doctor Who revolves around, much like Supernatural; this, I feel is the show’s strong suit, as singleton episodes spaced between plot-arc relevant stories are much harder for me to get into. The first series’ “Bad Wolf” arc was really nothing to write home about for me, except for the blockbuster finale in which the Ninth Doctor said his final goodbyes. The Tenth Doctor’s “Torchwood” arc was a bit more interesting, and the Master arc of series three was Tennant’s crowning glory. The Dalek arc of the fourth series was a bit lower on the scale, but was quickly followed by the rise of the Eleventh Doctor and the Pandorica and Silence plotlines that both left me breathless from excitement.
Finally, I found that the most consistently interesting stories of Doctor Who featured one or more of the Doctor’s recurring enemies: the vicious, destructive Daleks; the insidious cyborg Cybermen; and the Master, a fellow Time Lord and the Doctor’s dark parallel. I would especially like to single out the Master, played by John Simm, for praise; he is an almost perfect villain, both empathetic and unspeakably cruel at the same time, as well as filled with the same uncontainable enthusiasm that makes the Doctor so fun to watch. While the Cybermen and the Daleks are much less relatable in comparison, their relationships with the Doctor are for me what makes them so interesting to watch, and over time their repeated appearances allow them to themselves take on a semblance of humanity that can be alternatively humorous and creepy.
My rating: 3.5/5
As you may have guessed, Matt Smith’s Eleventh is definitely my favorite Doctor so far. Smith brings all the power of Tennant to the stage, but with an irrepressible enthusiasm that you can’t help but smile at. The epic scale of Smith’s adventures, especially with the Silence, along with the light and fun tone they maintain, contributes to making his series unforgettable. Alone, I would give his seasons a 4.5/5, which balances out Eccleston’s relative 2.5/5 and Tennant’s 3.5/5. If you were looking to get into Doctor Who, I’d recommend starting with Smith: then you can dive into the darker, heavier territory of Tennant and Eccleston if you like. Not bad for a show I swore I’d never watch.
Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website. Check back every Friday for new articles.