Cut to 2014 and I'm binge-watching the new DOCTOR WHO serials with the raw hunger of a thirteen-year-old geek. It's awakened something in me. The television shows I watched between then and now to keep the sci-fi flame alive (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and THE X-FILES, for example) weren't as consistently great as this new show. I've analyzed the reasons why, in no particular order, but the first one is huge:
- The writers have a plan. They know where the current season's arc is going--but more than that, they plant seeds for stories which won't pan out for years. Yet individual episodes stand alone. It's an incredible feeling when you sense drawstrings coming together, followed by the thought, "Oh shit, that was mentioned two seasons ago!" It's almost like watching LOST, except Doctor Who showrunners aren't winging it as they go along. Rather the opposite. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER went off the air in 2003. In September of that year, the BBC went to Russell Davies to bring the Doctor back. I only mention BUFFY because it feels like Davies learned at least one big lesson from Joss Whedon: write a season toward an ending. When you watch Doctor Who you're in a creator's confident hands.
- The Doctor is a great, original character. Americans never see their heroes facing down bad guys completely unarmed. The Doctor uses psychic paper and a sonic screwdriver, which aren't weapons at all. He hates guns. He rarely resorts to physical contact. It's all about using his wits. How many fictional characters can you name who face down violent adversaries without needing to punch them out? You're forced to regard him as a hero because he doesn't act the way we would in similar situations. Yet he's an alien who utterly admires human beings. And he routinely tells them how incredible mankind is as a species. He feels about us the way we used to feel about ourselves when we landed on the moon.
- The Earth is threatened all the time. Seriously. All the time. Saving the Earth is a tired cliché. Especially in comics. You watch any given Star Trek series, and other worlds are usually under attack. But creating legitimate threats to our entire planet is hard to do with any originality. It's similar to the reason why it's hard to come up with powerful enemies for Superman. The writers of DOCTOR WHO aren't afraid to tackle cosmic-level danger. You throw alternate timelines and dimensions into the mix, and you've got crazy-ass situations you won't see in any other show.
- The Doctor is lonely. He's a tragic figure. The last of his kind. Loneliness is arguably the show's entire theme. It's palpable. It's relatable. He feels alone, but he can't survive by himself. Which brings us to:
- The Doctor's Companions (usually) become the best humanity has to offer. If you're fortunate enough to travel with him, it's only because The Doctor realizes you have the capacity to be brilliant or brave and he can trust you with his life. He wants to awaken a sense of adventure in a companion, and along the way show them how he sees humanity. Close-minded people need not apply. When a companion contributes something unique, The Doctor recognizes and appreciates their contribution. He helps willing individuals grow as people, like an amazing intergalactic mentor. And after their adventures with him are over, he does everything in his power to care for them--even when they're beyond this plane.
- Rose Tyler and the Companions to follow are memorable. Rose's role is obviously a significant one, but even the one-off companions from the various holiday specials are strong characters. (Note: despite what I thought before watching these current adventures, the Doctor's companions aren't female only. Wilfred Mott, specifically, was an incredible choice.)
- Christopher Eccleston was good as the Ninth Doctor. He was having fun and set the tone.
- David Tennant took it to another level as the Tenth. He ran with what Eccleston briefly accomplished with one season, fleshed it out, and made the alien Doctor more human. He infused his two hearts with pain and gave him a soul. And when he had to go, you truly didn't want him to.
- Matt Smith looks worthy as the Eleventh. I'm only two episodes into his tenure, but with Steven Moffat as the current lead creative force, there's very little to worry about.
Am I a Who fan now?
Say it with me, in David Tennant's hearty growl: