Between a Man and His Doctor
So, my most recent comic post may be problematic for some. By that, I am referring to those of you that have not yet watched “Doctor Who.” I hate to exclude people by making the comic too reliant on references to pop culture, so I thought long and hard on this strip. In the end, I had to post it. The comic is, to me, a blog of my life. Every week (or nearly so) Lawren and I meet to watch “Doctor Who.” We have done this ever since, much as in this comic, Lawren happened on me watching an episode in the living room and instantly began going through my DVDs and netflix queue. That episode was a top-notch episode – “Midnight,” written by former show-runner Russell T. Davies. In introducing Lawren I wanted to touch upon this common bond. On top of that, well, I work in entertainment. My life is pop culture. To avoid it in the comic would be disingenuous.
The moral: I have to post pop culture references or this comic will not capture my daily life.
That being said, I thought I might post a brief explanation and review of “Doctor Who.” I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum, but they will exist, so I repeat – SPOILER WARNING!
For those of you that don’t know the Doctor, “Doctor Who” is an extremely popular British television show. The first run of the series ran from 1963-1989. It began again in 2005 under the helm of Russell T. Davies. The series is about a Time Lord, The Doctor, who travels through both space and time in his TARDIS, essentially a space ship/time-machine that looks like a blue police box from the 50s. He usually has a human companion that accompanies him on his journeys saving humanity from aliens along the way.
When a time lord is mortally wounded they can use a Tardis to save themselves, at which point the time lord’s entire physical form and even aspects of his personality undergo essentially a regenerative metamorphosis. In this manner, the actor playing the Doctor has changed numerous times, but the story has been more or less continuous. There have been 11 doctors in all.
So, yeah, that is the quick version. It’s not pretty, and if you are a true fan of the show you’re probably yelling and screaming at my butchered summation. Sorry.
So, why do I love the show so much and why has it already appeared in my comic twice? My answer…
The show is brilliant.
”Doctor Who” is masterfully written, well-acted, and does just what I want TV to do: it entertains! Every week I watch as the Doctor and his companion face seemingly unbeatable odds and yet somehow after a mad-dash rush of action and detective work (that is often equal parts clever, delirious, sinister and manic), the Doctor saves the day. Better yet, the show takes me on this weekly adventure, while daring to do something of which so many shows in the past have been afraid to do; it trusts to the intelligence of its audience.
Yes, “Doctor Who” can be campy. Yes, it has crazy aliens and yes, if you’ve watched the first few episodes of the new series, the Slitheen introduce a fart humor that I could do without. My advice, however, is to keep watching. By episode six of the new series, “Dalek,” I was hooked. That is when the sinister hit, when the line between the Doctor and his enemies blurred. That is when I realized this show doesn’t take the easy route. And I love it all the more for this.
While the show entertains, blending action with intelligence and a bit of a camp, it does all of this while following a format that I find ideal for television. It utilizes an episodic structure to its storytelling, in which most episodes stand on their own -a story arc beginning and concluding in its forty-some odd minutes of television, or ninety some minutes if it is a two-part episode – yet crafts an ongoing serialized arc for each season. This is tricky line that the show must walk.
The balance between too much serialization and too little serialization is a common problem within the television medium. If your show is over serialized and enters a “bad” story arc, then you run extreme risk of losing much of your fanbase. I would speculate that “Heroes” suffered from this dilemma, as did “Lost.” This is not to attack those shows – I loved each to varying degrees – but the audience dropoff on those series is virtually irrefutable. On the other end of the spectrum, if your series is too episodic, then it can lack the ongoing character drama and progression that pulls many viewers into the show on a weekly basis. This is a common dilemma for a procedural show (medical drama, legal drama, cop drama, etc.). On the one hand, being non-serialized, they pick up new viewers easily, as their viewing experience is not weighed down by years of backstory. On the other hand, those viewers can easily switch the channel if character investment is not high.
For “Doctor Who” a seemingly perfect balance has been struck. A weekly arc anyone can follow, and an ongoing season arc that draws viewers back every week. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was another fine example of this style of TV storytelling, with its new Big Bad every season, interspersed with the monster/dilemma of the week episodes, and each episode itself often containing some easter egg hint at greater ongoing progression. For “Doctor Who,” however, the connection takes a slightly different twist. While there are ongoing character relationships, and continued characters and story progression throughout the season, within its individual episodes there are also tiny fragments often overlooked that come back to SLAM you upside the head with each finale! Events that end up tying each and every episode into a penultimate climax that you have to see to understand. I don’t know if this is something uniquely British, or uniquely “Doctor Who,” but it is definitely a feature that keeps me coming back to the show on a weekly basis.
My point: Go queue up your netflix, tune into your cable or satellite provider’s BBC station, and prepare for a show that is sometimes campy, sometimes sinister, but always entertaining and surprisingly intelligent! And no matter what you do, don’t expect to only watch one episode.
Well, unless you don’t like sci-fi or adventure shows. Then, I guess, do as you will. At least, however, give it a chance. Here are a few episodes I especially recommend watching before making a final decision:
- “Dalek” – Series 1, Episode 6 written by Robert Shearman
- “Father’s Day” – Series 1, Episode 8 written by Paul Cornell
- “The Empty Child” & “The Doctor Dances” – Series 1, Episodes 9 & 10 written by Steven Moffat
- “The Girl in the Fireplace” – Series 2, Episode 4 written by Steven Moffat
- “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” – Series 2, Episodes 8 & 9 written by Matt Jones
- “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood” – Series 3, Episodes 8 &9 written by Paul Cornell
- “Blink” – Series 3, Episode 10 written by Steven Moffat
- “Silence in the Library” & “Forest of the Dead” – Series 4, Episodes 8 & 9 written by Steven Moffat
- “Midnight” – Series 4, Episode 10 written by Russell T. Davies
- “Amy’s Choice” – Series 5, Episode 7 written by Simon Nye