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Gazing into the Abyss: Michael Rawdon's Journal


Doctor Who, Season One

Tonight Debbi and I finished watching the first season of the new Doctor Who series. You may recall that I liked what I saw in the early going, so here are my thoughts on the whole season.

First off, since I love making lists, here's my ranking of the episodes, from best to worst:

  • Dalek
  • The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
  • Father's Day
  • The End of the World
  • Rose
  • Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
  • The Unquiet Dead
  • Boom Town
  • The Long Game
  • Aliens of London/World War Three
"Dalek" really stands head and shoulders above the rest of the season, as it closes the loop on the Doctor's post-traumatic stress disorder (very evident in "The End of the World") and makes him come face-to-face with what happened to the Time Lords and the Daleks, and how he really feels about it all. It's really just about the perfect episode for a revived series like this: Some little bits (and one big bit) recalling the first series, but also putting a new spin on both the Doctor and the Daleks by putting them each in a situation they've never been in before: The last of their respective races. It's sort of a growing up moment for the show.

"The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" is the most successful of the three two-parters of the season, by a pretty good margin. I've always thought that Doctor Who tends to be at its best when it's being a suspense (bordering on horror) series, and this story is a good one. It also brings some modern science fictional ideas into the Doctor's milieu, and introduces Captain Jack Harkness. I'm not entirely sure what I think of Captain Jack. I think that's because we get just a glimpse of him in the 5 episodes in which he appears, and he seems like a slime sometimes and like a good guy other times. Which is the point, really, but there's not enough to see the whole of him. I guess we'll find out more in Torchwood when it comes around.

I was somewhat prepared for what "Father's Day" turned out to be, since I'd read a novel by Paul Cornell a while back: I was prepared for it to be emotionally powerful, but not make a lot of sense as a story. And indeed the story doesn't make much sense, with the arrival of the alien things being kind of pointless, and all the talk of "paradoxes" that really aren't. But the episode is a good one because it works emotionally: It's a bit manipulative, but the tension between the Doctor and Rose, and Rose and her father are both very well played, and that's the important thing.

Those are the best episodes. The bottom three are the worst. I don't think anyone will disagree very strongly with my placing "Aliens of London/World War Three" at the bottom of the list, with its bathroom humor, silly-looking aliens, and generally silly story. "Boom Town" is a better try with the same set-up, but it's pretty thin material. "The Long Game" has the nonsensical plot of "Father's Day" (you're on a station in space and need to vent a lot of heat from one floor; do you vent it to the other floors, or do you vent it to space, which is already pretty cold?) with no emotional resonance whatsoever.

That leaves the middle quartet, which are all entertaining to various degrees, but not as strong as the top three. I'm not going to go into them all, but I do want to discuss the season finale, "Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways", which I was disappointed in. I found the revelation of the "bad wolf" to be pretty silly, especially since it occurs as part of a really dumb deus ex machina (very reminiscent of the 1996 Fox TV-movie). I was also disappointed that the Daleks return, as I think it cheapens the impact of "Dalek" to little good effect. There are a few good moments resulting from their inclusion, but I don't think it's worth it. Pulling out the Daleks as the "ultimate villain" is just so last century. So although the story had some good bits (especially Rose's efforts to help the Doctor in the second half) and it wasn't really badly told, I thought it was flawed from the outset.

I really have to talk about the acting in the series, which ranges from good to excellent. Christopher Eccleston is an outstanding Doctor, and I'm really going to miss him. His range of emotions and facial expressions, his unique (for the Doctor) appearance and manner, all contributed heavily to making the season a success. Billie Piper as Rose is not as strong as Eccleston, but that's hardly a slam; she's also a good actress, and has many fine moments, especially in "Father's Day" and "Dalek", which are central to making her character a key part of the series.

I found the season a bit odd as the TARDIS never leaves the vicinity of Earth that we see; no visits to alien worlds. That was kind of disappointing. I guess it was all in service of building up to the climactic two-parter, although I think they could have stretched some more if they'd wanted to.

Overall, although the series has some flaws (and what TV series doesn't?), I enjoyed the season tremendously, and I'm looking forward to the second season. Hopefully the writing will develop and become more consistent and that the series will improve with time.

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