Monday, 5 April 2010

Out with the old, in with the Who

As I’ve alluded several times, I was no fan of Tennant’s Doctor Who. I consider his time at the helm to be the dark days of Who, masterminded by a no-talent prancing puppet master, who had his banal characterisation dance about onscreen like some incredibly annoying know-it-all office clown. Aside from the odd enjoyable episode here and there, usually written by the now in charge Steven Moffat, Tenant’s time as the Doctor was plagued by poor writing, bad acting, toe curling self congratulatory self indulgence and awful, shameful, raping of beloved character’s memories. Perhaps the most upsetting thing was that I seemed to be the only one who thought so – nearly everyone universally applauded his shenanigans – I felt like I was taking crazy pills! So it was with much baited breath, and hope in my heart that I watched the first episode of the new series, with the shiny new Matt Smith as the Doctor, along with the promise of a shiny new companion and a shiny new Tardis. Surely now these mugs (ahem, that’s you, gentle reader) would now be reminded that Who can be a thing of greatness, not the risible kids show it had transmogriphied into, that used its status as a kid's show as an excuse for mediocrity. And after watching, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself in declaring that Matt Smith is an infinitely better Doctor than Tennant ever was on the strength of a single episode, but I can say with some assuredness and without hyperbole that Matt Smith, is an infinitely better Doctor than Tennant ever was.

Straight away, he’s more interesting to watch. Unlike the nervy, trying-too hard young fella I saw on Jonathon Ross, Smith’s Doctor is refreshingly in-human - weird and oddball, without any of the “wacky zaniness” (idiocy) of Tenant or McCoy. He’s playful, mysterious, knows what’s going on without telling everyone around him that he does, and after a process of learning as opposed to going "aaaahhh its a [insert obnoxious know it all answer here]" . He's funny, he's rude to people. Of course it helps that the writing and directing is much improved. Gone are the shackles of Davies’ tedious baggage; farewell Rose Tyler and her verminous kin, not to mention the total disaster that was Donna “shoot me in the teeth” Noble; don’t come back, your ham was well and truly baked many years ago. Instead say hello to the brilliantly played, and quite easy on the eye, Amy Pond, as played by Karen Gillen.

The first episode, always a tricky one for an incoming incumbent, sees the Doctor crash land immediately after the regeneration in a sequence that worryingly bore the glitzy thrill seeking of Davies’ tenure. A minor aberration, quickly rectified by a tasty new title sequence, and we’re into the episode. A ginger Scottish child is praying to Santa for help. Straight away; great – you wouldn’t get that kind of humour from Davies, he’d probably think people wouldn’t get it, or be worried it might offend someone. The Doctor appears, struggling out of the upturned Tardis, to declare “could I have an apple?” Regeneration has made him hungry it seems, but unsure what he likes, they set about cooking most of the fridge’s contents. It’s been a while since I actually laughed at an episode of Dr Who. This is looking promising.

So the story proper eventually sets in, Amy has a crack in her wall through which she hears voices. It emerges that a rip in space time (again, really?) is in her wall, and on the other side is some kind of alien prison. Prisoner Zero has, it seems, escaped. Just as the investigation is underway, The Doctor is called back to the Tardis which is , post regeneration, about to explode – a minor inconvenience, a quick 5 minute time travel will apparently sort it out. So off he trots to return directly, only by the time he gets back, in an immediately obvious to all but him kind of way (he didn’t have the benefit of the trailer after all) several years, not minutes have passed, and little Amy Pond is now a leggy ginger kissogram who looks rather handsome as a policewoman.

As the realisation that the mysterious Doctor character of her childhood has returned sets in, the mystery of the escaped alien picks up where it left off – having been happily hiding out for years in a room unnoticed by all due to some psychic dampening field or some-such, the toothy snake-like alien has been resident all this time in Amy’s spare bedroom, occasionally venturing out in the guise of patients of the nearby hospital where Amy’s nurse boyfriend works. But now the Doc’s back, the alien is revealed and the pursuing prison wardens, giant floating eyeballs natch, are looking to flush it out by incinerating the whole planet, so now he has but 20 minutes to save the planet, without a Tardis or Sonic Screwdriver which inconveniently exploded moments earlier in another thumb of the nose to Davies’ reliance on the handy gizmo as a solution to all situations.

It was a very promising start. Smith is charming and unusual with his wacky big face and a great ability to deliver lines in odd ways, Pond is (also) charming and believable as the frustrated Scot out of water, with a great range in equally nutty facial expressions. In their scenes together, there was already a nice chemistry, a plausible rapport between them- undoubtedly the benefit of casting decent actors and giving them vaguely sensible dialogue, not to mention an actual story/history together that developed nicely throughout. The new Tardis looks, well it looks okay, didn’t get a great look at it – it looks a bit cluttered to be honest, like its not quite finished yet – maybe it’s not? The aliens were hammy and Doctor Who-ish, but not in an offensively trite way (see; the Slytheen/the Ood/face of Bo/any one of Davies' dumbass brainchildren) – the shape shifting creature mimics groups of people, and gets confused about which mouth to speak out of, leading to man and dog barking furiously, or woman and children sharing one voice – logical, amusing, a bit creepy – hurrah, Dr Who is back!

So what didn’t I like? The bow tie. The hacking the internet to chat to NASA etc to get the "zero" message out was all a bit daft, in a Russel T kind of way, although Patrick Moore is always welcome. And even though Smith ultimately revelled in the victory, it was funny and not obnoxious, as Tennant inevitably was every time he opened his fat know-it-all face. Sorry, its my problem I'll deal with it - anyway, yes that was about all I didn't like, which is a fantastic turnaround from a programme I'd all but given up on - great start, keep it up kids!


S1nnerman said...

Where do I start? *sigh*

Munial said...

Start wherever you like, you are wrong...

TheUnwashedMass said...

What did you think of the second episode? I thought the first one was top, but the second one was a bit of a sloppy mess. Smith and Gillan are pure skill, though.

Munial said...

it was a bit on the sloppy side yes - still much better than most of Tennant's if you ask me! They're both so watchable.. Angry Doctor! But yes, it was a bit nuts in places. Next week looks good..

S1nnerman said...

The 2nd episode had great potential that was a little squandered. A real dilemma for the Dr - save the space whale (with big sharp teeth for some reason) or save the people. It was just over a little bit too quickly. With Gillan suddenly chipping in and saving the day. I'm struggling with Smith though ... he doesn't have the gravitas (yet) one would expect of the Dr. Obviously I'm at odds with Munial but that's nowt new ;o)