As a kid I was a fan of Doctor Who, a show I watched during the Tom Baker years.
A friend told me that the new (2005) Doctor Who was a really good show, with money for effects that the old show (rather charmingly) lacked. So I rented Disc 1 of the revived series, with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor.
It was good but not great. I found it silly (and not in the jolly, charming way of the old series) and very derivative of bad, cheesy American science fiction like The Fifth Element. I liked the actors fine, but didn’t love the writing. I decided to pass on renting more.
But then blogger Mark Chu-Carroll, computer scientist and winner of the 2006 Science Blogs geekoff, blogged about how much he was enjoying Season 2 of Doctor Who. And I thought to myself how shows need a little time to become themselves, to build worlds and relationships out of nothing, out of a bunch of gathered strangers. Maybe the show got better as it went on. Maybe I’d been too quick to judge.
I really wanted to like it. I loved Doctor Who as a kid, loved the character, loved the humor. I wanted to be a timelord when I grew up. And that theme music…there’s just something about it. As an adult, I’m the kind of person who knows that there are patterns for a Doctor Who scarf online. (There’s actually a great story behind how the Fourth Doctor’s trademark getup incuded a striped scarf nearly 20 feet long, handknitted by a woman named Begonia Pope.) I wanted the adult me to have a show that she could love, just as the child me did.
So I rented Disc 2, and that’s where the show found its stride, in the episode called (to give nothing away about the villain) “Dalek.” For those who don’t know the Doctor Who mythos, the Daleks are the Doctor’s primary nemeses. They’re cheaply constructed, almost silly characters that look like evil steampunk R2D2s. But they have horrible tinny electronic voices that are really kind of scary. And their Borg-like militarism and lack of individuality is also frightening. They’re suprisingly effective villains, and they were done justice to in a good episode.
I’ve read that “hiding behind the sofa when the daleks come on” was part of the childhood of a generation of English people.
And Disc 3 is where the new series becomes not only good but classic genre television. The episode “The Empty Child” is THE best combination of science fiction and horror that I have ever seen. It’s not really scary but deeply, deeply creepy, with one haunting and truly unsettling moment. It keeps the mystery going, never revealing too much or too little about what’s really going on, and the conclusion is — that rare thing! — fairly logical and very satisfying. There’s a real trick to making a creepy mystery, drawing the viewer in as you deepen it, and then solving and resolving it in a way that is believable and satisfying within the world that you created. And this episode delivers.