Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dr Who

Britain started seeing new episodes of Dr. Who last year but, typically, it took until last month before they showed up in the US on the SciFi channel.

For those who don't know what I am talking about, Dr. Who was a long-running science fiction show on British television. It started in the 1960s and finally wrapped up in the 1990s. The main character is called the Doctor. He is a Time Lord, traveling in time and space with a tardis which looks like a 1960s police call box. The tardis is larger on the inside than the outside and contains living areas, stores of clothing, and all sorts of useful stuff. Unfortunately, it is not very reliable. It often turns up in the wrong year or place.

The original show was able to run so long because the Doctor, who is not human, can regenerate. If you kill him he comes back as a different actor. I think the show went through seven or eight different Doctors during its original run.

The most popular Doctor was Tom Baker. While some Doctors were grouchy, Baker's version was nearly always up-beat. Originally, only the Baker version was broadcast in the US and it was a revelation when fans discovered that there had been three previous Doctors. This turned into a bit of disappointment when fan actually saw the early episodes. While the special effects in the Baker version were cheap, the effects in the 1960s consisted of special lighting. In fact, it took some time before the tardis was even introduced.

After an absence of more than a decade, the Doctor is finally back. Surprisingly in a show that was out of production for so long, it feels just like the old show. The new Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, has the same energy that Baker had. The effects are cutting-edge (for television) but still manage a bit of cheesiness.

Then there is the Doctor's new assistant. Like Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor always has to have an assistant to explain things to. This is usually someone from modern-day England and most often a woman. Note - there has never been a hint of sexual tension between the Doctor and his assistants. Even the current one, Rose, is indignant when someone suggests that she and the Doctor have a relationship.

A few things have been updated. The Doctor accidentally brought Rose back a year after they left instead of a few minutes later. She found her mother had been posting "missing" signs and her boyfriend was under suspicion. That never happened in the original.

A recurring set of villains in the original series were the Daleks - a sort of high-tech fire hydrant, These were a bit of a joke. they were supposed to have conquered Earth in the future but they couldn't climb stairs. In the new series, the Doctor found the last Dalek in a collection of alien artifacts. After the Dalek was revived (of course), he showed why his kind was dangerous. He had a force field and could levitate up stairs.

It was always understood that there was some sort of life-form inside the fire hydrant. We finally got to see one after Rose convinced it that it felt good to stand in the sunlight.

Fearing type-casting, Eccleston has already left the series. His replacement and the actress who plays Rose have both been signed through the third season.

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