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Doctor Who: Your Next Favorite Show

Trying to explain to my non-nerdy friends why Doctor Who is probably the greatest show on television is a challenge because its premise is so overtly sci-fi—the last of the Time Lords travels through time and space with a female companion (and sometimes her boyfriend), having adventures, saving the world, and exploring what it means to be human.  I find myself saying, using the same language as Friday Night Lights fans, “But it’s not about time travel! It’s about the triumph of the human spirit!”

It’s hard, I know, to get past the show’s overabundance of esoteric wibbledy-wobbledy time-wimey...stuff. The Doctor can reincarnate as different actors, for example, and the series currently airing is a reboot of a show from the 1960s, so the three doctors of this iteration are technically the 9th Doctor (Chris Ecclestein), the 10th Doctor (David Tenant) and the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith).  The companions also come and go, too which can be sort of confusing: there's Rose (the sweetheart) and her boyfriend, Mickey (the bro); Martha (the not-Rose); Donna (the misfit); and Amelia (the other sweetheart) and her husband, Rory (the dope).  But that’s all you need to know!  That’s it!  Everything else gets explained in the show, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter!  Because as I’ve explained before, it’s not about the technicalities and pseudo-science.  It’s about humanity! WATCH IT.

If you still aren’t ready to make the commitment, I’ve put together a list of some of the most important episodes.  I’m not going to say that you should only watch these episodes because obviously you should watch ALL OF THE EPISODES but these will give you a pretty good idea of the best and worst of Doctor Who.

First Episode Where It Gets Really Good: Season 2: Episode 4:“The Girl in The Fireplace”

Okay, so the first season is pretty universally agreed to be not great. The 9th Doctor lacks the intensity and charm of the 10th doctor and the boyish enthusiasm of the 11th, and the first season never really gets away from cheese and camp. This episode marks the beginning of the show’s maturation. Rose is at her best—confident, witty, and independent—and David Tennant’s 10th Doctor begins to show his emotional volatility and his disregard for the consequences his lifestyle has on the lives of those he touches. After a first season of run-ins with campy aliens more flatulent than frightening (literally, there are farting aliens), the clockwork villains in this episode are both imaginative and creepy. And as a final mark of the show’s step away from frivolous camp, this is the first episode to explore the consequences of the Doctor’s time travelling; if time is inconsequential to him, how do his actions affect those for whom time is inescapable?

The Worst Episode: Season 2—Episode 10: “Love & Monsters”

This episode aired after one of the most intense, brilliantly written episodes of the whole series, and it’s just THE WORST.  It starts off following this adorably British guy named Elton who gets involved with this group of people who are trying to find the Doctor, but mostly end up being friends and starting an Electronic Light Orchestra cover band.  So then this alien enters the scene and BLAH BLAH BLAH it’s awful, but in the end, Elton’s girlfriend becomes a sentient slab of concrete with just a face.  They make a joke about their sex life.  It’s uncomfortable.  The whole episode is campy and episodic and a throwback to the not-terribly intelligent episodes that started the series.  There may be worse episodes in the first season, but it’s the disappointment after coming down from such an amazingly complex episode that makes this one such a stinker.

The Best Episode:  Season 3—Episode 10: “Blink”

It’s hard to describe how terrifying this episode is because, in true Whovian fashion, the description of it sounds really stupid.  The episode stars Carrie Mulligan (Carrie Mulligan, you guys!) as a video shop clerk who keeps uncovering strange messages from a mysterious man warning her that she’s in danger.  She works to uncover the mystery ploddingly, but eventually discovers that she’s being pursued by an ancient race of aliens called the “Weeping Angels” which appear as statues but advance toward you as soon as you stop looking at them.  I KNOW IT SOUNDS STUPID BUT IT’S TERRIFYING!! The episode demonstrates a central conceit of Doctor Who—the mundane and unavoidable suddenly become a source of great danger—and the episode plays out like the best and most suspenseful Hitchcock.  If you only watch one episode of Doctor Who, make it this one; you won’t be able to stop.

Saddest Episode: Season 4—Episode 13: “Journey’s End”

Remember how in Battlestar Galactica, they FINALLY get to Earth and they’re all happy and celebrating and then at the end they’re all standing on the desolate, radioactive beaches, and staring mournfully into the cloudy sky?  Take the feeling you felt watching that and multiply it by a million and you’ll know what it is to watch “Journey’s End.”  This is the last episode for the Doctor’s most misfit companion, Donna, played by the brilliant comedienne, Catherine Tate.  Donna is sarcastic, biting, outspoken, and loud, but painfully insecure.  Despite being exactly what the emotionally complex 10th Doctor needs, Donna is never convinced that she is clever enough to be his companion.  At the end of her run in the show, Donna is not only given the opportunity to become infinitely intelligent, but she also gets to see herself the way the Doctor sees her: as a wonderful, capable human being, worthy of love and respect.  AND THEN IT ALL GETS RIPPED AWAY IN A TERRIBLE MOMENT OF TRAGIC IRONY.  You’ll need, like, eight boxes of tissues.

Scariest Villians: The Silence: End of Season 5/Beginning of Season 6

Picture this: You’re just living your life, making dinner, chopping up some onions at your kitchen counter, maybe listening to some Pandora and singing quietly.  You turn around to grab something out of the fridge and BAM! there’s a 7-foot-tall vaguely human creature wearing a suit and standing in your kitchen.  This creature looks at you, instructs you to kill yourself, then tells you to turn around.  The second you take your eyes off of it, you immediately forget its existence while it still lurks behind you, but subconsciously pour rat poison in your soup.  (That was a terrible example, sorry.)  Could you imagine what a menacing threat such a species could pose?  It could be standing behind you constantly, at work, at school, in your bedroom, in your car, and you would never know.  They could exist in the White House, in the offices of business leaders, in the homes of our friends and families, dictating the course of human affairs for—what? years? decades? centuries? The storyline involving the Silence is masterfully written and composed, and it’s some of the creepiest, scariest television you’ll ever watch.

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  1. Blogger Jeffery Blackwell | 9:41 PM |  

    OK, your Mom and I have been watching The Doctor on hulu. We're on season 3.

    I had heard about it for years, but had no idea how - wickedly brilliant - it was.

    So dream-like. And disturbing. It casually tosses reality around. And then smiles at your disorientation.

    I was devastated when I realized that Rose was not - NOT - coming back!

    Great review, Sam. This show is *very* hard to describe...

    Great job.

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