The second episode of the BBC’s new Doctor Who series has aired in England and is now making the rounds on the peer-to-peer networks. I was able to snag it Sunday night and watched it yesterday. I’ll try and keep my comments here spoiler-free.
The first thing that people like me who are watching this series “illegally” will notice is the new theme music. (Actually the first thing one notices is the use of a pre-credits “teaser” which many shows now regularly use, but the original series only used on a very few occasions.) The new theme is very much like the rest of the series so far: traditional enough to be familiar, but with nice modernizations that only add to it. I’m trying to find an mp3 of it.
Speaking of modernizations, we get a few more in this episode. The most surprising is Rose being accused of being the Doctor’s concubine and prostitute! I’m pretty sure no one ever asked that about a companion before, even Peri. We also get to see more of the new special effects budget, and the results are really nice. Here in America we’re used to cat food commercials with higher budgets than this series, but it’s clear that the effects people are going to make the most of what they’ve got.
The unfortunate thing is that we see for the first time the limit of the one-hour format. The plot of this episode is a mystery that’s never allowed to get overly mysterious. We’re introduced to a host of aliens, but only a tiny few of them get to do much, and therefore the revelation of the villain is not overly shocking, and the motivation for the villain sort of comes out of nowhere. Compared to, say, Robots of Death or Terror of the Vervoids the mystery seems a little weak. This is made up for, though, with some very nice interactions between the Doctor and Rose, and between Rose and other characters.
The most surprising thing is a certain card that is played. Without revealing anything, there’s an area we go into that I did not expect we’d visit anytime soon, and we find something out there I was not expecting at all. It’s killing me that I’m not able to talk about it, but I’ll give people some time to see the show before saying any more.
Of course, the biggest Doctor Who news is the ultimate good news/bad news story that the show has been renewed for another season and a Christmas special, but that season will be without Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. A lot of people are thrown by Eccleston’s decision, thinking it a prank or coming up with more elaborate theories such as “Davies (the producer) wanted to do a regeneration, so this is all according to plan!” (shades of Babylon 5!) My own personal theory is that Eccleston signed on assuming the show would only last one season, and then he could get in, have some fun, and get out. When the show was renewed, the fears of typecasting and getting “stuck” in the role came on, and he bolted. It really is a shame, because in this episode, Eccleston expands on the range of the character, going past simply mysterious and manic to sensitive and sinister, cutting straight to the contradictory double hearts of the character — the Doctor can be downright scary when he needs to be.
If I may wax geek even further here, I hope this impending regeneration takes the opportunity to get rid of one of the more silly aspects of the show: the 12 regenerations. There’s no reason for such a biological process to have some kind of exact, hard-coded number like that. Alls you gotta do is say that the process continues until the body just can’t take it anymore, and for most Time Lords, this averages a dozen or so. Simple.
All in all, I’m really enjoying this new season. I’m curious if the show is expanding its base beyond nostalgic fans like myself. Will X-Files, Star Trek, and Buffy fans be satisfied with this show? I’m not sure.
PS: A nice round-up of reviews of the first episode can be seen here.