Our First Time… Watching DOCTOR WHO

There are many in the television industry who believe that if a show doesn’t catch an audience right out of the gate, it will never be able to gain a following. It’s this logic that causes networks to cancel a series after two episodes… and which completely ignores the fact that by this standard, legendary sitcoms CHEERS and SEINFELD would have been dead before concluding their first seasons. In this recurring feature, we’ll sample episodes of shows which we’ve never seen despite their having been on the air for a season or more and try to determine just how easy it would be for a newbie to jump in midstream. This week, we look at BBC’s DOCTOR WHO

The Premise, Best As We Can Tell: It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a doctor who travels in a phone booth reminiscent of the one featured in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s far less popular sequel, jumps through time, and protects the earth from aliens.

What it Reminds us of: Those episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION that featured “The Traveller.” Episodes, which incidentally, now seem far less cool and original having now realized how heavily they were inspired by DOCTOR WHO.

What Works: Thanks to an easy-to-digest premise and a sweeping John Williams-esque score that had us wondering if we had accidentally stumbled into a Steven Spielberg flick, our first taste of TARDIS pretty much had us hooked from the get-go. Sure we have no idea as to what TARDIS actually stands for (if anything), or why, for that matter, the good doctor is so intent on protecting this loveable planet we call earth. But nonetheless, full marks go to the newly introduced eleventh doctor Matt Smith, whose charisma and energy simply oozed off the screen to the point that we’d be shocked if NBC execs weren’t already on the line with his agent in an effort to secure him for an American series of his very own. That and it certainly didn’t hurt that Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), the doctor’s newest travelling companion inexplicably spent the entire episode traipsing around in a skirt more befitting fellow-countrywoman Billie Piper (SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL).

What Doesn’t Work: The episode’s villain — which to us looked like a giant eyeball that may-or-may-not-have walked off the set of Dreamworks Monsters vs. Aliens — wasn’t nearly as menacing as we would have liked. Also not up to snuff was the…

Accessibility: Although DOCTOR WHO is clearly a phenomenon, it would have been nice for BBC to take a moment to consider those few neophytes that may not know the difference between a TARDIS and a Time Lord by offering up a quick “For Dummies” synopsis at the start of the series. “A Brief History of WHO” if you will, to answer a few lingering questions that certainly would have made our introduction to the WHO-niverse that much easier as we scratched our head throughout the premiere as to what exactly the doctor’s association with our planet is, why he used to look like David Tennant and if there is in fact anything a sonic screwdriver can’t do?

Tune-in Factor: Despite the fact that Space — the network that airs the show in Canada has yet to get with the decade and broadcast their roster of shows that practically scream for High Definition in just that. We’re already (to borrow a line from our favorite fictional President) asking, “What’s Next?”

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  • tvwatchtower

    You may have missed it, but BBC America did have a one hour primer show to recap/re-introduce the show to anyone who has not seen “Doctor Who” before. It was very helpful to explain who The Doctor was, his previous companions, the villains and what has come before. It is probably available online too since you did not get a chance to catch it.

  • sretav

    Space aired the one-hour primer directly before the premiere episode Saturday night.

    I'm with you on the HD though. I can watch the Rolloffs in HD on TLC HD but not Stargate universe, Caprica, Smallville, and now Doctor Who?

  • Agree 100%. Although nothing screams 'first world' problem like whining about a lack of high definition programming, SPACE's lineup deserves an HD feed so much more than JON & KATE on TLC

  • joshemerson

    I've always wanted to watch this show. Maybe I will sometime! BBC America has an HD feed but stupid DirecTV doesn't carry it yet. But I could watch Heidi and Spencer in HD on MTV. Thanks DirecTV.

  • Amanda

    The HD thing is so true. And what sucks is Doctor Who used to air on CBC in Canada and we got it on the HD channel, but they didn't film in HD back then. But if the episode was longer then an hour plus commercials, they would cut stuff out. On Space they don't do that. So I guess that's the trade off, full episode or HD.

    BTW, TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space if you haven't already looked it up. 😉

  • Kelly

    It's Doctor Who, not Dr. Who. And if you really want to see the best Doctor, watch the last 3 seasons with David Tennant as the tenth doctor. Eccleston, the ninth Doctor was great as well.

  • cassgirl

    Definitely catch that Ultimate Guide on BBC America. It has a most of the catch-up stuff you're looking for in it. Looks like they're airing it a few more times this week. Don't know about Space tho

  • nikkiholly

    oh, billie piper. she was a great assistant for the doctor. but amy pond seems pretty great so far. oh and TARDIS? Time and relative dimension in space. just in case you wanted the nerdy information.

  • Jason P

    The villain in this episode wasn't the big eyeball, but the lizard/snake thing that could change shape.

    TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space, which explains why it's bigger on the inside and why you can go in, walk to a distant room and back outside, and it would only seem like a few seconds to someone outside, instead of the “relative” few minutes (or however long) it actually took you.

  • Jason,
    While Prisoner Zero was clearly a baddie (hence the name, Prisoner Zero) did the giant eyeball not want to blow up earth?

  • crystalinad

    Honestly I am still adapting to the new season. There are things I like and things I don't. One of which is having to say goodbye to David. Of course that is the premise of The Doctor, he can regenerate and all, but I am still much more in love with the last Doctor than the current. Also, for those who haven't watched before I am sure it would be great to have a recap, or whatever, but I am so glad that they don't do that every season. When I read series of books I hate when they recap every single time. It is so redundant and dull, you can't do that when you are switching all your cast and want to start out with a bang. 😉

  • Nadia

    Love the Doctor Who! If that episode didn't convince you to start from the beginning (at least of the 2005 series) , I strongly urge you to reconsider.

  • Sandy

    Oh, I envy you! You have so much to dip into if you want to. I became a fan back in 1989 when I met Colin Baker (the sixth Doctor) at a science fiction convention and he kissed my hand. 🙂 Each of the eleven guys that played the Doctor has added something unique and wonderful – many people like Tom Baker the best as he was the one who played him the longest. (He's the super-tall one with the great long scarf, when you get around to checking.) And the show was rather cheesy in the old days, with its teensy budget, wobbly walls and special effects that look like they came out of a thrift store – but even so it was about the best SF show on television. I hope you get to catch up with some of all the Doctors, and let us know what you think!

  • EKI

    Hi there,

    I would suggest you catch up from the first season of the new 2005 series (with Christopher Eccleston). Although the FX look cheesy at the beginning, it is really good and has necessary input to the David Tennant 10th doctor era (seasons 2-4) which have been just awesome.

    And yes, TARDIS stands for something, I believe the T being for Time. I'll let you the pleasure of discovering it watching the last few seasons.

  • Er, no. Prisoner Zero was the evil villain of the piece, whilst the giant eyeball was merely an entity to which the Earth, its fate, and that of all its inhabitants was supremely unimportant. A little bit like we are to ants. If a few ants cause a nuisance in our kitchen, we destroy the entire nest. Which would make the Doctor some kind of bizarre cross between Mother Teresa and Mike Tyson in ant form, telling us to back off and getting rid of the ants from the kitchen for us. Ultimately, we're big and scary and potentially genocidal to the ants, but we're not actually /villainous/. That's solely the purview of the kitchen ants. D'ya see what I mean, there?

  • athena0606

    I jumped into the series with Christopher Eccleston def recommend starting there but aside from that you dont need a synopsis honestly by the third episode you see you figure out that the screw driver can pretty much fix anything and since the doctor doesn't believe in guns it works out. also the TARDIS does stand for some even the dr thinks its way to long to repeat. And lets face you gotta love a show with a built in premise that even the lead actor is replaceable 😉