I've been thinking about a trite analogy to start this review off and I think I just got it. Join me, won't you?
Getting into a new Doctor is like trying on a pair of shoes. You know the feeling –- you're at the Kmart on a Saturday afternoon, endlessly switching pairs until you think you've found something you just might like to take home.
You finally buy the shoes and head out. Over the next few days you start breaking them in, never quite sure for that first week if they're going to work out. Will they turn out to be too big? Will your heel keep on slipping out while walking up hills? Or, after all this agonizing over a pair of shoes, will they actually last a few months?
And so it is with David Tennant, the 10th and latest incarnation of Doctor Who.
Hey, I was like any other rabid Who fan when I saw the first Christopher Eccleston episode about a year ago. I didn't know if he would work out. Turns out he became a great doctor, and made me believe this series is going to seriously succeed.
And then he goes and regenerates. So now we're in the same situation all over again – back in the Kmart after close to two decades of looking for some shoes (and I don't count that Paul McGann crap).
After three episodes, and miles of walking around, here's how I think the Doc is panning out.
They got away with Rose and the Doctor kissing in the final episode of the first series. If they keep on pushing this in this manner, the show will fail. Nuff said.
Even if that faux pas didn't occur, this episode still wouldn't have sat well with me. It's the first time we're seeing Tennant in the regular series; the Christmas special was very focused on the regeneration and a stable Doctor probably had some 10 minutes of screen time. Here he is completely regenerated, we're seeing his personality and I'm trying to figure out if I don't like it or if I just miss Eccleston.
I don't really fault the plot (except the psychic paper is getting to be a bit of a cop out a la sonic screwdriver). Admittedly, the solutions to the Doctor's problems resemble sitcoms in that while things seem impossible for the first 40 minutes, a eureka on the part of the doc gets the kids in bed in time for a nice 45-minute show.
I must admit, the last few minutes of the show make an offhand comment earlier in the broadcast seem brilliant. Making random comments about occurrences in the past (and then have them happen in the doc's future) requires good writers and this series has them.
I point to the whole "Bad Wolf" references in the first season as another example. Time travel scripts ain't supposed to be written by middle school kids, and you can tell these aren't.
The show is beautiful, I don't mind staring at Billie Piper and ya got to admit – there's a story arc that the classic series didn't even conceive of taking a stab at, excepting the Key to Time.
But near the end of the show, as Tennant shouts out his happiness, I've got to ask myself if I'm just happy because the show is back on, or too embarrassed by Tennant's over-exuberance to keep watching.
OK, dumb question.
Tooth and Claw
Bad ass monks. You just can't go wrong with these. As a big fan of Doctor Who and kung fu, I'm certainly not going to complain when you combine the two.
One reoccurring issue that doesn't sit well with me is that the duo can't seem to get away from Earth. Every episode has either been set on Earth, on a space station orbiting the planet or on "New Earth." The second season is slated to have at least one episode on an alien world, but that doesn't compare to the first Doctor (and I mean the first Doctor) when it comes to skipping town and hitting other worlds. Hell, he was fighting tin foil monsters on different planets before you could say "block transfer."
Regardless, I'm digging this episode. Bust out your d20s and grab your silver bullets – it's time for some lycanthropy. This comes with a twist, though, as Rose and Barty Crouch Jr. fight the baddie in 19th century England alongside the queen.
The effects set the mark for quality TV. You won't be disappointed in the slavering beast running through the halls of a castle searching for blood. Likewise, the sets themselves are gorgeous. The rooms are filled with detail, and the costumes are elaborate.
The room where the final confrontation with Teen Wolf happens is likewise amazing (check out the "telescope,") but once again there's this 10 second period where the camera actually has a "eureka" pan shot around the Doctor as he figures out how to save the day in time for the next BBC show to come on.
I admit, the new Who is starting to grow on me a bit, even if only for the scripts. The foundation of Torchwood (a secretive organization and the name of a spin-off series that should air later this year) is revealed in this episode. Like most good fanboys, I can't get enough in-depth planning and references of things to come or continuity with the classic series.
Which brings me nicely to –
I am sold on the new series because of this episode and because of the return of one of the best companions – Sarah Jane Smith.
To me, so far, nothing has been more fulfilling than the correct linking between the new series and the old. At one point during the show, Sarah tells the Doctor that he didn't drop her off in South Croydon as he intended at the end of "The Hand of Fear," the last classic series episode she appeared in (not counting "The Five Doctors" and such).
Come on, that rules. Any writer who can properly pull off a reference to an episode that happened some 30 years ago – and get it right -- gets my vote. Hell, they couldn't even do that in the old series.
Old fans get the joy of seeing K-9 in this episode. New and old fans get to see interaction between the characters that never happened in the classic series. The conflict between Rose and Sarah over the Doctor was inspired, and it gives this show and the whole series an intensity of emotion that was unheard of in the old.
Ultimately, that emotion, the play between characters will keep bringing me back to the series, not the special effects, though this episode doesn't skimp in that department.
The show obviously has the financial backing to give it a good shine. It could have just kept it at the level of eye candy, bringing back a great series and turning it into nothing more than beautiful trash that would have lasted a season or two.
Instead, they've got good people steering this ship, writing episodes that lay a new canon for the Doctor while staying true to the old. The final analysis is this: You need to get these episodes and watch them.
These shoes are going to turn out just right.