Doctor Who: The Old vs. The New

By Johnny Apocalypse


Everybody's favorite Doctor, Tom Baker.

Ever since science fiction began gaining popularity, there have been epic sci-fi series.  Robert Clark's 2001: A Space Odyssey series.  George Lucas' now complete Star Wars double trilogy.  Star Trek, and every version of it to date.  And then, there's the cult masterpiece, Doctor Who.

For years, Doctor Who has been the longest running science fiction series, with 26 seasons under it's belt, two movies with Peter Cushing (which essentially bastardized much of what the show stood for), a 1996 television movie introducing the Eighth Doctor, as well as a series of books and audio dramas (kind of like the old-timey radio shows).  And now, in 2005, Doctor Who has finally come back, starring the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston.

But how does the new show stack up against the classic series?  It has it's ups and downs, but for the most part, it's a decent series.  But in order to truly compare and contrast the two, we'll have to cover a little background of the show itself.

The premise is simple: The Doctor (that's his name, not Doctor Who, as often mistakenly believed), is a time-traveling alien with two hearts and 13 lives available.  Whenever the Doctor's body gets too damaged or just worn out, he "regenerates" into a new body and personality.  The Doctor would pick up fellow travelers (usually humans), and take them around the universe, battling evil trash-cans called Daleks, half-man and half-machine monstrosities called Cybermen, his arch-nemesis The Master, and a long range of other baddies.

Before the new series, and even before the TV movie, there had been seven Doctors.  While the Fourth Doctor is the all-around favorite (and longest running), each Doctor is a great character.

William Hartnell played the first Doctor, and was a crotchety old man of mystery.  Not much was known about the Doctor, except that he liked to say "hmm" an awful lot, and even though he wasn't terribly active, he had brilliance and sneaky plans radiating from every orifice.  He never really hinted that he was an alien, aside from having an incredible time-traveling machine that was bigger on the inside then the outside.

After the first Doctor got too worn out from his first battle with the Cybermen, he regenerated into Patrick Troughton.  This Doctor was the first to really have a strong sense of humor, as well as being overtly dramatic in several situations.  Being a might bit younger then Hartnell, Patrick could be much more animated, as well as actually running from time to time.  This led to the first ever Doctor Who catchphrase, "When I say run, run!"  Unless you count "hmm" as a catchphrase.



The current Doctor and his "assistant."

After Troughton's contracted three years were up, he regenerated into actor Jon Pertwee.  And while Pertwee's acting background was primarily in comedy, he took a serious approach to playing the Doctor.  This Doctor enjoyed reversing the polarity of the neutron flow (another catchphrase), and complaining about the alien race from which he came, now revealed to be the Time Lords, who had grounded him to Earth for not going along with their belief about avoiding interference with all the evil and nastiness running around the universe.  Luckily, Pertwee was still rebellious and wouldn't be caught dead by any pissed off trash-cans trying to take over the universe.  Pertwee's era was important, in that in introduced two arch enemies- The Master, an evil Time-Lord, and Omega, a Time Lord who got trapped in a black hole and went stark raving bonkers.

After Pertwee showed a bunch of over-sized spiders who was boss, he regenerated into Tom Baker.  This Doctor was tremendously funny, and liked to play the fool while figuring out a staggering plan to tear new assholes into a bunch of aliens.  His approach quickly made him the favorite Doctor of all time.  Baker's era was characterized by fighting mostly non-series villains (the Daleks and Cybermen only popped up a few times), such as the Zygons and the Nimon, as well as having a few episodes written by the legendary Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker's Guide fame.

But alas, the fourth Doctor couldn't last forever, and was replaced by Peter Davidson, the youngest man to play the Doctor at the time.  This Doctor was far more compassionate, as well as being a bit more explosive when he got pissed.  Davidson was around when Doctor who hit it's 25 year anniversary, which brought back Omega, and had all 5 Doctors come together to battle some evil doers.

After Davidson, Colin Baker took the role (he's not related to Tom).  Sadly, my local public-access station skipped all of the sixth Doctor episodes and west straight to the seventh, so I really don't know what this incarnation was like.  In the books he seems like a pretty good guy.

The seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy, started his first season with slapstick comedy.  After this wasn't well received by audiences, it became a bit more serious, with McCoy some-the-times hinting at the Doctor's darker side.  He was joined by Ace, the prettiest companion ever, which combined with some good stories made this Doctor's years one of the tops in my book.

After McCoy's final episode, "Survival", the show was cancelled (or as many fans liked to believe, but on hiatus).  For years, the only thing that brought Doctor Who back to the screen were a bunch of rumors, and a book series.

Finally, in 1996, Paul McGann took the TARDIS key from McCoy, and fought The Master in San Francisco.  While many Whovians (as the series' fans are known) weren't pleased with the movie, I thought that McGann was fuckin' fantastic as the Doctor, a perfect mix of the Troughton/Tom Baker humor and Davidon's compassion.  When the schmucks at FOX and BBC decided to avoid turning the movie into a series, the Eighth Doctor was limited to books and audio plays.

And before I start getting plagued by e-mails asking who my favorite Doctor/episode was, I'll tell you now.  My favorite Doctor is either Tom Baker or Pertwee tied in first place, followed by McCoy, McGann and Troughton tied in second place, with Davidson in third place until I get all of the others figured out.  And I knew there are a lot of people who hated McCoy, but they can blow me.  My favorite episode is either "The Pirate Planet" with Tom, or "Spearhead from Space" with Pertwee, depending on my mood.

But, back to the article.  For about eight or nine years, rumors abounded about whether or not Doctor Who would ever come back.  Finally, in 2003 or 2004, the BBC announced that they were in fact bringing the show back.  While I always prayed that McGann would be allowed justice and at least be brought in for a season or two, it was eventually announced that Christopher Eccleston ("Gone in 60 Seconds", "28 Days Later") would be the Ninth Doctor.  I thought it was a strange choice, but I put a dash of faith in the producers and eagerly awaited the new series.

With the premiere episode, "Rose", I wasn't at all disappointed.  The show was pretty well updated for modern times, with Eccleston damn good as the Doctor, and giving him a strong companion, Rose Tyler, played by singer/actress Billie Piper.  While most of the Doctor's companions would just freak out whenever being threatened by an alien, Rose will jump forward and try to pull something brave.  After all, in this post-Buffy era of television, timid female characters could probably organize some angry feminist picketers pretty quick.

But how well does the new series stack up to the classic?  Does Eccleston really embody the Doctor when compared to the first eight?  Are the new aliens suitable enough to pose a credible threat?  Do the improved special effects add or detract from the show?

As previously mentioned, each Doctor's personality diverges from the others, and the Ninth Doctor is no different.  Eccleston has a great mix of humor and seriousness, as well as a new trait for the Doctor.  While the previous Doctors could be arrogant, Eccleston is downright rude sometimes.  There are a few different points in the new series where he calls humans a bunch of "stupid apes", even though it became widely known during Tom Baker's reign that humans were the Doctor's favorite species.  This small bit aside, Eccleston does a good job.  He is also the first Doctor to be so open about his love of trouble.  While you always got the sense that the Doc has loved saving the universe, Chris is ecstatic about it.  In "Aliens of London", Rose is visiting with family and friends on earth, while the Doctor is bored.  But since the series can't just be about reuniting with loved ones, here comes a massive alien space ship, tearing ass through the sky and ripping a chunk out of Big Ben.  The Doctor's reaction: a big smile and maniacal laughter.  Good stuff.

How about alien menaces?  Yeah, they're pretty decent, and the series has already sprouted it's first running bad guys; the Slythereen (god knows how it's really spelled).  The Daleks came back for a quick episode, but this Dalek showed compassion.  Compassion!  Sure, it's an interesting new idea for the series, but I love the old, evil trash-can lookin' motherfuckers, always screaming "exterminate!" and blowing shit up.  Sorry, guys, but a Dalek with emotion just doesn't seem appropriate.

One problem with aliens, though, isn't about races but planets.  There are no alien planets to date in the new series.  Rose mentions going to one with the Doctor, but it seems likely that it will be the subject of a book instead of an episode.  For shame!  Why not leave Earth for a bit, and visit Skaro, Mondas or Kashyyyk?  Yeah, yeah, I know that Kashyyyk is a Star Wars thing, but Doctor Who and wookies would have to be a winning combination.

The only thing the show is really missing in terms of evil-doers is The Master.  This guy was not only one suave, evil bastard, but he's the perfect nemesis for the Doctor.  I'd love to see Eccleston and a new Master going hand to hand in an episode.  No finicky space gadgets, no incredible plan by the Doctor, just an all out fist-fight.  And who should play the Master, you might ask?  Well, aside from myself being the obvious choice, I'd try offering Pierce Brosnan the part.  Since it looks like he's done with James Bond, maybe he could give The Master a try.

So, the good guys and the bad guys are both pretty decent (aside from a depressed Dalek- for sooth!), what else can we cover?  Special Effects?  Sure!  The new Doctor Who has not only been updated by theme and character, but also aided by professional-looking sets, spaceships and some computer animation.  Why, any Doctor Who fan should be creaming their pants, right?  Wrong!

Let me begin by saying that I am a cult film/B-movie fan, and I think that bad special effects are the only way to go.  It's just like telling the audience "Our stories and characters are so good, fuck computer animation!"  It takes a lot of confidence to make an awful-looking rubber monster and call it an advanced alien race.  Sure, the new monsters could be more believable, but where's the charm?  And what happened to the cardboard spaceships?  I wants to see those things dangling by wires, dammit!  Glowing TARDIS console my ass.

But that's just my take on the issue.  If you like fancy special effects, you're all set.

My only real complaint about the show is the lack of long stories.  The older show was half-hour episodes, usually three or four connected together to make a full story.  The new show is one hour long, with many of the conflicts being solved in the last five minutes.  This leaves the ending especially rushed, like the writers had to run to the pisser and wanted to finish the last page before leaving the typewriter.  Some episodes are two-parters, which helps, but it just isn't the same.  One cliffhanger in place of three?  Just not my bag, baby.

What else can be critiqued about the new show?  Scripts?  They seem pretty good to me.  Directing?  Updated style that suits the show perfectly.  Doctor's outfit?  Not quirky like his predecessors, but it fits.  Good looking companion?  Yeah, but Ace has Rose beat hands down.

All in all, the new series is some good stuff.  It's not exactly the old Doctor Who, but it's great in it's own way.  Eccleston is definitely up to the part and the show is fun and lively.  What more could you ask for?  Well, Tom Baker, but that's not going to happen.

 

 

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