Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last Temptation

Astonishing how much power the revered classics of pop culture can still dredge up when they happen to fall into the right hands.

British TV sifu Russell T Davies ("Queer as Folk") took charge of the revival of "Doctor Who" after a 16-year hiatus, and despite being a deep-dyed fan who honors the program's traditions and revels in the fine points of its mythology, he has improved and updated the series in ways that continue to surprise me as I watch my way through the episodes of the third new season, the second in which The Doctor is portrayed by the great David Tennant, a true heir to the antic spirit of Tom Baker.

Among the "production values" that Davies has ramped up are the dramatic ones. Tennant helps, of course, committing to the role whole-heartedly, but so do the radiant actresses who play his companions, Billie Piper and Freeman Agyaman. What they give us is not quite psychological realism, although the characters they play do have a full complement of grown up emotions. Put it this way: Tennant is young and attractive enough that the sexless, school-msterish relationship between the Doc and his companions is no longer the only option.

I thought it would be hard to match the impact of the season two finale, in which The Doctor and Piper's Rose Tyler are wrenched apart. But it was trumped by the two-parter in season three, "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood," in which the two-hearted alien Doctor conceals himself from some implacable enemies by transforming himself into a human -- a fubsy private school instructor in England circa 1913 who has no knowledge or memory of his extra-human nature.

The obvious echos are, I think, completely intentional. Not pretencious. Not offensive. Just obliteratingly great.



Christian Lindke said...

I'll have to start watching the new Doctor, but Torchwood (which I know is a spin-off) scared me away.

Tulkinghorn said...

I'm glad you're there.

The fourth series actually has my favorite among the companions: the decidedly mature (and fully grown, if you know what I mean) Catherine Tate, who has already appeared at the end of season 2.

She's mostly known in the UK as a sketch comedian... Her most popular character meets Tennant here. Cracks me up every time, but note the very good chemistry. Am I bovvered?