Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Latest Doctor

I had meant to post something earlier, either late yesterday or sometime earlier today, but in truth it is amazing what one drumstick of Tryptophan and a 3 year old nephew can do to me. Christmas night I had to wake up from my nap to go to bed. Monday I woke up too tired to go Boxing Day shopping even if that didn't mean standing overnight in front of some store to get the best possible bargain - I did that once and once was more than enough.

Television on Christmas, and for most of the week before and after, is pretty dire stuff mostly made up of reruns, made for TV movies and more reruns. Even sports were pretty weak. The NHL doesn't play on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day - never has - and the NFL moved all of its Sunday games to Saturday so as not to play on Christmas - which may be something new. There was probably a Bowl game of some sort (actually no, there wasn't), but the only pro league to be playing was the NBA, which had two game (I suppose I could wonder if this is some sort of commentary on the family values of the league or its players union but frankly I'm not that interested). About the biggest thing on TV on Monday was the last "episode" of ABC's Monday Night Football. This is of course one of the many differences between North America and Britain. While we become comatose from overingesting turkey and don't notice the raft of reruns on Christmas, the British eat goose - well except for the Scots who save their feasting for Hogmanay - and watch TV - usually special episodes of shows, some of which have long since vanished from the air except at Christmas. Of course the one special that was most awaited - on both sides of the Atlantic - was Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion if only because it was the first real appearance of the new Doctor, David Tennant. The show aired on Christmas evening in Britain and on Boxing Day evening in Canada and all I can say is that while I miss Christopher Ecclestone a lot, David Tennant really isn't bad at all, given just how much - or rather how little - we actually saw if him.

The episode actually starts on Earth, with Rose Tyler's mother Jackie decorating a tacky white artificial Christmas tree and looking wistfully at a Christmas package she has prepared for her daughter. The scene then cuts to Rose's old boyfriend Mickey as he's working at a garage. Suddenly both hear a familiar - to them - sound: the TARDIS. However, unlike most appearances of the time ship this time the old blue police box is falling out of control crashing into things before finally landing in the courtyard of the housing estate where Jackie and Mickey live. The doors open and from them emerges an unknown figure. He rushes around confused but knowing who they are. He finally says "Merry Christmas" and collapses. Rose comes out shortly there after and when her mom asks where The Doctor is she is informed that this is him to which Jackie responds "What do you mean that's the Doctor? Doctor Who?" At which point the theme starts.

I wanted to emphasize this because you really don't see much of The Doctor in this episode. According to the TV listings the episode was supposed to last 90 minutes but the actual running time was closer to 75 or 80 minutes with commercials which means that the show itself ran about 60 minutes without commercials. Of that Tennant's version of The Doctor was only active on screen for what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes. For the rest of the time the focus was on Rose Mickey and Jackie, and on Harriet Jones, Prime Minister. This emphasis on the human characters seems a bit odd. In the case of the Rose storylne it is in keeping with the series' concept in which Rose is less of a screaming sidekick and more of a heroic figure on her own. In this case though she is made painfully aware of just how dependent she is on The Doctor. When she, Jackie and Mickey are attacked by various Christmas related menaces (a quartet of musical Santa Clauses whose instruments double as weapons, and a whirling Christmas tree) she's forced to revive The Doctor long enough to defeat the initial menace - in this brief conscious moment he describes them as "pilot fish"; scavengers picking around a greater threat. This however disrupts his regeneration, to the point where one heart stops and he seems near death again. This has the side effect of stripping her of the ability to understand any language spoken, which is granted to her by the TARDIS. It's something that brings home not only how dependent she is on The Doctor but also how used she has become to being with him and to the adventure of being his companion. She loves it, and Mickey at least understands just how addicted she is to it, even though he doesn't like it.

The main crisis faces Harriet Jones as Britain's Prime Minister. As part of the "new Golden Age" Britain has launched a Mars probe - Guinevere I - which is due to land on Mars on Christmas Day. In fact the probe is intercepted by an alien space ship headed for Earth. The aliens, who we shortly learn are called the Sycorax, are claiming Earth - and its inhabitants - for their own. Jones is forced to choose to surrender Earth or else "They will die." As it turns out they are the roughly one third of the Earth's population who have A+ blood (this figure is totally accurate by the way; 34% of the population of earth has A+ blood). Every person with A+ blood goes to the highest building they can find and stand on the edge (this includes the Queen and the entire Royal Family) In desperation Harriet goes on television asking for the help of The Doctor, if he's on Earth. The Sycorax bring her and several of her advisors up to their ship where they kill the designer of the Guinevere probe and Harriet's UNIT advisor. They lose interest in Harriet however when they detect an energy source from Earth - the TARDIS, with Rose, Mickey, and an unconscious Doctor aboard. Rose and Mickey are captured, but some spilled tea helps to revive The Doctor, something which Rose realizes when she suddenly starts to understand the words of the Sycorax leader. Once he steps out of the TARDIS, he makes short work of the Sycorax plot (it turns out that they're using something akin to hypnosis as a bluff) and rapidly defeats the Sycorax leader in single combat. He tells the remaining Sycorax to leave Earth and to never return, and to tell any other races they encounter that Earth is defended. They don't get a chance - Harriet Jones uses an adapted alien weapon to destroy the Sycorax ship, angering The Doctor immensely. Harriet's logic for committing what The Doctor calls murder is compelling - the Earth survived this time only because The Doctor just happened to be on Earth this time - but he regards humanity as the real monsters, and he does take action against Harriet personally.

The episode has a nice fun feeling to it even without The Doctor being present as much as he normally is. He shows up and saves the day with incredible ease. The Sycorax as a menace are the sort that he can defeat. They seem to be a gentler version of the aliens from Independence Day travelling the galaxy looting what they can but I had the distinct feeling that they were more like interplanetary conmen, trying to convince the unsophisticated yokels that they have magic available to them. The Sycorax are defeated easily because they're an insignificant menace - to him. In fact he literally defeats them wearing a pair of pyjamas. It serves well in its role as an introduction for Tennant. On the whole he isn't bad, although at times his accent, enunciation and the speed with which speak can on occasion be hard to understand. Of course I at least initially said that about Eccleston as well. As an actor he's an interesting physical type, and once we see him more extensively in the role we'll probably become more comfortable with him in the part. Mostly though this is an episode isn't really about introducing us to Tennant and more about how humans interact with the Doctor and the degree to which his relations with them have an effect on their actions.

(I should mention Torchwood. We have the impression that Torchwood is the name of the weapon itself, but apparently it's something more. It is in fact a spin-off of Doctor Who - the name is an anagram - which will feature John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and will debut on the BBC in the autumn of 2006.)

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