Television Review: "Doctor Who"

September 1, 2012

I’m officially obsessed with the BBC’s Doctor Who, the world’s longest-running sci-fi show with 784 episodes as of this writing. To be honest, I didn’t know live-action television could be that good! All my previous shows have ended in disappointment. Firefly was good but was too short-lived to keep my attention. House had great dialogue and an interesting plot device (medical detective story ftw!) but devolved into senseless drama unsuitable to such a logical main character. Young Indiana Jones is fun for the history, but the acting is only so-so; Macgyver is hilariously campy but that’s about all it’s got. *MST3K *is really a series of movies, not a real show. All the other shows of which I’ve willingly watched more than a couple of episodes have been animated. Doctor Who is, like, awesome. It combines all the things I want in my mindless entertainment: problem-solving, fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, futurism, technobabble, plot continuity (hurrah story arcs!), and a stance against violence. It’s even free from swearing, drinking, drugs, and taking-actions-you-know-you’ll-immediately-regret, which is my #1 pet peeve in most comedies. Did I mention it was a comedy? It’s hilarious. My only complaint is that sometimes the monsters are too scary. (Yes, I’m a wuss.)

The theme or thread that runs through the show (at least since 2005) is the essential worth and value of human life. The universe is an awesome and exciting place, and we have an important place in it. According to the Doctor, humans are sometimes clever, sometimes stupid, but essentially good and progressive and kind, and our humanity is worth fighting for, not just in the sense of continuing the existence of the species but in the sense of “preserving” the qualities of our humanity. In the episode The God Complex, every character who has a faith (of some kind or another) finds a room with their greatest fear inside. The Doctor finds a room with the younger version of Amy Pond, whom he let down as a child. Although it’s never revealed explicitly in the episode, I think the Doctor’s faith is in humanity - hence his fear of disappointing Amy. What’s not to like about a show starring an intelligent and funny alien adventurer who thinks we humans are the best thing going? The show reminds us to believe in ourselves and hold on to our values, which is generally a trite and obvious point for a show to make, except that somehow coming from the Doctor, this seems like a really wonderful and encouraging sentiment. The show’s premise is that the Doctor knows something about everything, he’s been everywhere and every-when, so his valuation of humanity is more authoritative than our own. If he says we’re brilliant and great, then we must be. So I applaud the BBC for finding a way to make a TV show that encourages us all to be the best we can be, without insulting our intelligence or sugar-coating the message. Humans screw up and make terrible mistakes in the series, and the Doctor can’t always set them right, but he does give the other characters, and us, reason to hope that we’ll turn out ok in the end; he’s already been there and seen that. In the meantime, we all need to muddle through as best we can. Need I point out that this show is so very British?

The new (seventh) season of Doctor Who* premieres in the US tonight at 9pm Eastern time on BBC America.*