|Doctor Who: The Complete First Series (2006)
Starring: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke
When it was announced that “Doctor Who” would be returning to television…well, it’s a terrible oversimplification, of course, but let’s face it: the people who got the most excited about the news were either card-carrying geeks or British.
The good Doctor has never translated very well into the U.S. market; those precious few non-geeks who do know him probably only recall how he looked during the years that actor Tom Baker was playing the part, when he was sporting a floppy hat, trench coat, and rainbow scarf...but, in truth, “Dr. Who” premiered in 1963 and remained a staple of British television for twenty-five years. Since departing the airwaves in 1989, there was an attempt at reviving the series with a two-hour television movie in 1996 (it aired on the Fox network in the States), but the reception was lukewarm and things remained silent thereafter…until last year, that is, when BBC Wales brought it back under the creative director of Russell T. Davies. Davies, best known for creating the groundbreaking BBC series, “Queer as Folk” (which Showtime remade for American audiences), had a longtime love of “Dr. Who” which he’d never been shy about expressing. That love comes shining through with each of the thirteen episodes in Davies’ first season of the show.
A quick crash course in the “Doctor Who” mythos, for the uninitiated. The Doctor – that’s all he ever introduces himself as, leading to the inevitable question, “Doctor Who?” – is the last surviving Time Lord. He’s originally from the planet Gallifrey, and he travels through time and space in the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), which appears on the outside to be a police call box from the 1950s but is actually far larger on the inside. (Work that one out in your head, why don’t you?) He’s essentially immortal; when his body dies, his essence is reborn in a new physical form…which is a hell of a great way to keep the show going, since it means that anyone can play the character.
The 2005 version of Doctor Who is played by Christopher Eccleston (“Shallow Grave”), the ninth actor to take on the mantle. He plays him with a quick, occasionally-goofy wit, as well as a heart that, while not right on the surface, isn’t so far below that you don’t see it on occasion. On this trip, the Doctor’s companion is Rose (former pop star Billie Piper), a salesclerk in a London department store who gets caught in the Time Lord’s wake when he finds himself battling the Nestene Consciousness, which first appeared in a 1970 episode of the show. It’s the first of many ties to the original series to appear during the season; in later episodes, we get a quick cameo by a Cyberman (in a trophy case) as well as a pair of appearances by the series’ most iconic villains, the Daleks. (“Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!”) A few episodes into the run, the Doctor and Rose pick up another traveler: Captain Jack, a 51st century Time Agent who’s openly bisexual. (It really isn’t a significant plot point, though, which shows a major difference between UK and US television; here, it would’ve been sensationalized all to hell.)
If you’ve ever caught an episode of the old series and thought, “Well, the writing’s alright, but the special effects are for crap,” now’s the time to tune in again. The show, clearly working with a larger budget than ever before, spends more time on location and less in the studio, so cardboard sets are nowhere to be found, and the effects are consistently fantastic. The scripts, some by Davies himself, are often suspenseful (there are a couple of two-parters, though cliffhangers become decidedly less shocking when you can just pop on the next disc and see how things turn out) occasionally creepy, and full of moments of significant emotional impact. There are also a ton of special features on this set – five HOURS worth – to keep the longtime fans happy, offering all the ins and outs of the making of the show.Talk about taking a familiar property and reaching heights you never could’ve imagined; this is right up there with “Battlestar Galactica” for the most successful sci-fi reinvention in recent memory. If “Doctor Who” had been like this all along, there never would’ve been anything geeky about liking it.