Sunday, November 30, 2008

Doctor Who Season Four

For the last few months, friends on Facebook had been dropping hints at how wonderful season four of the new Doctor Who was. With each episode broadcast, they'd update their status: "This is AMAZING!" and "I can't BELIEVE it!" and "Better and BETTER!"

In the meantime I have been totally in the dark, waiting for the DVDs to arrive. Now that I've watched the complete season -- and the commentaries -- I can only say...

...well, yeah. It's pretty incredible.

For some reason these new Doctor Who seasons always fail to grab me for the first five episodes. During the process of introducing the new companion, and "seeding" the story arc, and exposing us to gobs of Russell T. Davies' envelope-pushing wonkiness, the initial stories always seem a bit DESPERATE. And coming on the heels of the previous year's Christmas special -- in which we learned oppressively heavy-handed truths about the Great and Wonderful Goodness of People Who Will Sacrifice Themselves For The Greater Good -- well, I found it hard to swallow the season four setups.

Part of the problem was that I couldn't watch Catherine Tate without thinking of the "Go On, Just GUESS!" woman.

So even though I had a tough time taking Tate seriously as Donna -- not just her, but also the season's somewhat desperate theme that she is the Most Important Person In All The Universe -- and even though the first "two parter" was pretty rotten (as usual), suddenly there was...

..."The Unicorn and the Wasp." The Doctor and companion find themselves in the middle of an elaborate murder mystery which involves Agatha Christie and a giant wasp, and the wasp is actually an illegitimate love-child who tends to "buzz" his esses when he gets very angry...

...and it's just about the funniest thing I've ever seen. Next comes the "Silence of the Library / Forest of the Dead" two-parter, surely one of the SCARIEST Doctor Who episodes ever...until the NEXT episode, "Midnight," which is not just terrifying but also an enormously risky dramatic venture which Davies refers to as "The Goblin in the Corner." I'm amazed that "Midnight" ever got made, and I'm even more amazed that it worked so perfectly.

After that the totally bleak "Turn Left" -- complete with nuclear destruction, refugees, and concentration camps -- and the season finale that brings past companions and spin-off characters together for an amazing punch-out with Davros, and Sarah Jane looking her worst nightmare right in the face...

...and then, to finish it all off, the most tragic and depressing companion farewell in the history of the series, as she is sentenced to forget all of her triumphs and once again become the shallow, pathetic, doomed and blinkered person she started off as...

Wow. Brilliant. Far too often it's wanky and ridiculous and WAAAY too confusing -- the final episode in particular -- but at its best, season four is some of the most amazing television I've ever seen. If you don't feel I've spoiled everything for you, you really should check it out.

PS: Want some great fun? Listen to the commentary for "The Doctor's Daughter." It features Catherine Tate and Georgia Moffett, who have an absolute blast remembering the filming of the episode...but sitting on the same couch with them is the poor guy who conducts the orchestra for the musical score. Tate and Moffett totally exclude him in a way that could be interpreted as deliberately the end he goes completely silent, steamrollered by the overpowering girl-party "no boys allowed" estrogen bond. It makes you want to cry.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Doctor Who is back!! I have not seen episodes in years (Tom Baker was "the" Doctor for me, although I also enjoyed performances by Jon Pertwee and the first Doctor - was it Hartnell?)

And I remember ditzy Sarah Jane Smith, and another companion, warrior-like Leela. Lots of good adventures. And that theme music!

I'm glad that they revived the Doctor Who franchise. Eldrad must live!

The special episodes - if you know, are they on broadcast TV or only on cable?

Adam Thornton said...

I don't actually know how or when the shows are broadcast; I think the Sci-Fi network might show it in the USA, but later than in other countries; the new "Doctor Who" got a bit clobbered by the simultaneous return of "Battlestar Galactica."

Yes, Tom Baker was certainly "my doctor" (and Leela kicked butt). And yes, Hartnell was grouchy number one (and wonderful in his own way!)

Sarah Jane was a surprisingly un-ditzy companion really (especially compared to Jo Grant, who she followed). She was supposed to be the capital-F feminist character who was self-sufficient and gutsy, though usually she just had to scream.

The Cult of Sarah Jane has (deservedly) grown to the point where she's received her own spin-off series (mainly aimed at pre-teens) and occasionally appears in Doctor Who proper.

The new incarnation of Who is a bit different from the older in that it's faster-paced and much more emotional. Think of it as "Old Who" meets "Buffy" meets "Queer as Folk."

Eldrad!!! If you search for Eldrad in this blog, you'll find my own personal tribute to her. Him. It.

Eli McIlveen said...


Donna - fine companion, occasionally shouty and too often called upon to get weepy, but a good strong foil... extra points for the moment where they meet again, and for CT and DT's impressions of one another when they merge.

Sontarans - looking good. Plot - poop.

As always, RTD's over-the-topness was hard to take - especially the parade of "greatest hits" he pulled out for his last season finale. And Rose gets her own copy - what? But then there was "Midnight"... once again the small, low-key, low-budget episode was probably his best.

Library - trademark Moffatt and lots of fun. Looking forward to his tenure as executive producer.

Adam Thornton said...

I'm looking forward to Moffat as well. My first worry was that he'd lose the occasional "light-hearted" tone which adds variety, but then I remember "Proper Dave" and "Other Dave."

I've ordered RTD's "Writer's Tale" book...apparently it's a great read.

Anonymous said...

Egad! That is an awesome tribute to Eldrad! And you used a wonderful shot of his/her/its female gender stint.

It was an imaginative story line, that progression from a fossilized-limb archaeological find, to gemlike female, to monster-from-hell.

Not a bad "job" for a hand!