New ‘Who’ Preview

Posted: April 16, 2010 in Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

I was going to write at length about the nuances of the new Doctor Who until I realized that would be a bit cruel to those of you who have been patiently waiting for BBC America to start airing the new series (this Sunday, primetime, catch it!).

So instead of picking apart why the new series has been FRICKING AWESOME, based on the first two episodes, I’ll just use my impressions of them to give you a few good reasons to tune in.

First up:

This Doctor is a Bit of a Dick.

After four seasons of David Tennant’s Doctor as a kind of manic space Santa/Tinkerbell (and don’t get me wrong, I LOVED Tennant’s Doctor – but season 3 did culminate with everyone on Earth basically clapping their hands to bring him to full power, so he could save us all – and yes, I loved the moment, but STILL), here’s something new(ish): a Doctor who is not going to stand around putting up with your stupid crap. He is not interested in being charming or making friends. He is clearly more excited about being The Guy Who Knows Things You Don’t.

The first victim of the new(again, “ish”) Doctor’s suffer-no-fools ethos? A ten-year-old girl.

Our new Doctor barges into little orphan Amelia’s life, confidently telling her to follow his lead and “not ask any stupid questions,” then later demanding she feed his new food cravings – and angrily tossing them aside (or out the door, in one of my many favorite moments of the premiere) when they don’t meet his expectations.

Matt Smith’s Doctor, while reflecting some of Tennant’s manic tendencies, is NOT Tennant, and it becomes clear pretty early on in the series. Which is to say, any pre-show complaints that Matt Smith can’t fill Tennant’s shoes are to be thrown out the door.

Actually, it’s not even an issue: with a new showrunner, a revamped storytelling engine, and a new visual language, Matt Smith is stepping into a whole new pair of shoes. And he does so with utter confidence.

Doctor and Companion Are Lying to Each Other:
This is the first time in the new series where I’ve seen the Doctor/Companion relationship built on deception. Sure, you can make a case for Eccleston’s mid-season accusation that Rose only hopped on the TARDIS to prevent her dad’s death, or Tennant taking on Martha without letting her know about her rebound status. But this time there are mutual secrets being kept. And that makes things far more interesting.

(Has this happened before, old-school Who fans? Let me know.)

It Embraces Storybook-Horror
A man in a flying box who wields a magical screwdriver is already a bit of a fairytale, and even Davies’ iteration has pushed this aspect with phrases like “Bad Wolf,” but new showrunner Stephen Moffat is pushing it to the forefront (visually, as well as thematically – the first two eps feature lots of primary colors, hooded individuals, and unconventional dog-growls).

Moffat has built tension in his past Who episodes by reminding adults of the things that scared them as kids: losing track of their mothers; statues that take on foreboding shapes; clockwork noises in the dark. Under Moffat, it’s the everyday that should scare you the most. The things creeping around exactly where you’re not looking? Not only do they exist outside your imagination…they mean you harm, too.

“Look where you don’t want to…just out of the corner of your eye,” the Doctor tells Amelia Pond. This is the new mission statement of the series. There are monsters under the bed. There are creatures in the closets you never open. There are doors in your house you don’t know about.

Moffat’s Doctor is investigating the primal fears of the modern human experience. And that’s what should keep you watching.

Anarchy UK
Tennant’s Doctor had a great “Fuck Yeah” moment in his first episode, where he overruled the Prime Minister by telling her he could bring her down with just six words (“Does she look tired to you?”), but in the second episode Smith has two chances to destroy the British Empire of the Future. And he takes it each time.

(He also pokes a quick jab at democracy in general, and I kind of hope this mentality keeps. I like the idea of a Doctor who points out how stupid human governments can be; he’s the Doctor – he HAS to see how fricking stupid our process can be [though, from what I understand, Time Lord governing wasn’t such great shakes, either]. In any event, how else will the British children get their gateway into the complete horror beheld in Torchwood: Children of Earth?)

Uncool is the New Cool
If Eccleston was the “War-torn Survivor” and Tennant was “The Lonely Traveler-God,” Matt Smith is something different: “The Mad Professor.” Maybe the best trick BBC pulled was releasing images of Smith’s Doctor costume nearly a year before his first episode aired. It allowed viewers to get over the fact that Smith’s Doctor didn’t have the too-cool-for-school Eccleston fashion sense, or Tennant’s geek-chic style. Doctor #11 aims for full-on professorial eccentric: bow-tie, suspenders, leather patches on a tweed blazer, Doc Martin boots. At first glance he looks, well, a bit ridiculous. A young man dressed like a medieval history teacher.

It takes all of five minutes of him in full-costume screen-time to get over it. The new look fits the New Doctor: A Mad Professor in a Magic Box, happy to correct others while contradicting himself, schooling humanity while rolling his eyes at their ignorance, and trying to nail down this newest student, Amy Pond, as she tries to figure out how to cope with this imaginary friend who become real at the worst possible time.

So there you go: four more reasons to be excited for Sunday. Enjoy meeting the new Doctor.

  1. Dave says:

    “Doctor and Companion Are Lying to Each Other”? Well, there was Turlough – not a suspiciously-mature looking schoolboy after all, but an alien spy planted by the Black Guardian.

    Moffat’s on record as saying that this is pretty much Peter Pan, although I think he’ll probably be getting closer to Grimm than Barrie as the series progresses.

    The uncool-is-cool look and Smith’s more temperamental demeanour are strongly reminiscent of the earlier Doctors – Hartnell (1) and Troughton (2) especially.

    As an aside, I really need to cut-down on my use of hyphens.

  2. th3chicg33k says:

    There’s definitely a bit of anger just teeming right below the surface of the 11th Doctor. And you can definitely see his frustration with the carelessness of humanity. After watching the third episode, I can honestly say that this Doctor has a bug up his bum. Although it’s a bit of a harder edge than what we’re used to, it’s definitely a nice change of pace from the brooding David Tennant.

    Oh, and next week is the return of the Angels. That should be quite interesting.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    This third episode – SPOILERS but not really – is the third inaugural “How This Doctor Deals With The Daleks” episode.

    Eccleston had to deal with a singular Dalek as another final survivor of the time war, and responded to him in that survivor’s-guilt way that he started with. Tennant, when confronted with them at the end of the second season (and in subsequent episodes), brought a bit more righteous fury (which sort of explains how the Doctor-clone reacted in the season 4 finale).

    Now we’re at Smith, who was pretty awesome at keeping his rage at a slow burn, a “What are you people playing at now?” irritability, until it finally popped with his “I am the Doctor, and you are the Daleks!” moment. The Daleks still bring out a surprising (and if we weren’t sure of what the Daleks do, we’d call it irrational, just like everyone around him does here) rage at their mere existence, but he tries harder to fight that feeling. At this point, it’s tempered by an exhaustion that they still exist at all.

    One more nicely played moment for Smith, in an episode that could’ve just been a “New Doctor Meets the Daleks Again” checkmark on the list.

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