Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is he the Doctor of Whoville?: A "Doctor Who" Premiere Review

I have this odd habit of taking up hobbies that I know will increase my nerdiness exponentially because they'll increase my nerdiness exponentially. A few years ago, for example, I decided that I wanted to start reading comic books. Not so much because I was excited to dive into an abstruse 60-year old continuity, but because I wanted another nerdy habit.

There's something comforting about nerd culture: it's like an instant community. Even if you never actually make any effort to meet your new "friends" (by, say, going to a comic book convention), you still can be secure in the fact that, if you wanted to, you could welcome 40,000 sweaty, socially awkward dudes into your life. That sounds like a terrible porn.

BBC's venerable sci-fi serial "Doctor Who" works the same way. In addition to the normal staples of any nerdy endeavor with a decently-sized fanbase (conventions, fanzines, cute girls who dress up like things you never thought could arouse you), "Doctor Who" fandom sports a few features that only the most elite of nerdy cultural touchstones can trumpet: its own subgenre of (probably crappy) music; its own fan magazine; and, perhaps most impressively, a series dedicated solely to the making of "Doctor Who", which runs immediately after "Doctor Who." Put that in your space pipe and space smoke it.

It was so impressively nerdy that I just couldn't resist.

Conveniently enough, BBC America decided to premiere the first episode of a new season of "Doctor Who" just when I decided to start watching the show. Or, more accurately, I bowed to the corporate juggernaut and started watching because I saw all the commercials. So, apparently, did a lot of other people.

Not only is this a new season of the show, but it even features a new head writer; Steven Moffat takes over from Russell T. Davies, who served as show runner from the show's relaunch in 2005 up until "Doctor Who: The End of Time" in 2010.

Even more exciting, however, is the fact that the fifth series of the new "Doctor Who" features a brand new Doctor, played by dashingly-square-faced young actor Matt Smith. Smith takes over for David "Barty Crouch Jr." Tennant as the eponymous Doctor. Although I haven't heard much controversy about the choice of Smith as the new Doctor, David Tennant was fairly beloved in the role: Doctor Who Magazine even named him Best Doctor of all time.

I'm, therefore, in a somewhat odd position as both a "Doctor Who" neophyte (I tried to fit "Who" into "neophyte" somehow, but I just couldn't do it) and a reviewer. A beloved show runner and star have just left the show, but I have no particular attachment to them because I never watched their version of the show. This allows me to look at the show with fresh eyes, but it also will probably prohibit me from being suitably judgmental. So if I'm not enough of a dick about the new season, I apologize in advance.

So what did I actually think of the episode?

I loved it! Funny, whimsical, eccentric: this episode of "Doctor Who" had everything I was told to expect as a new Whovian. The yarn spun by Moffat was suitably enthralling, if not totally original. A space prisoner escapes through a rift in, what else, the time space continuum, and his space prison wardens threaten to blow up Earth if "Prisoner Zero" isn't turned over in twenty minutes.

More impressive, though, was the fact that the episode managed to tell an engaging story while introducing a new Doctor, a new companion (Amy Pond, played by a truly bangin' Scottish redhead named Karen Gillan), and set the tone for what is essentially a new show in just over an hour. It was, all in all, a damn good faux pilot.

What really sold me on the show, though, was how wide-eyed and innocent the whole thing seemed. The Brits have a knack for creating engrossing fictional worlds that manage to be child-like without being childish (Harry Potter, the books of Roald Dahl, etc.). "Doctor Who" doesn't spend all its time trying to seem cool, like American sci-fi; even my beloved Star Trek reboot only got to theaters because it made everybody young and hot and on fire. The show manages to be tongue-in-cheek without being arch or ironic.

As I've said before, I appreciate all the sincerity I can get in this thoroughly insincere world. I'm happy to have a new fix.