Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Doctor's Dozen: Favorite Portrayals of Doctor Who, Part Three

Note: This post is the third part to my list of favorite portrayals of Doctor Who, and the rationale behind those choices. To read the first of the series click here and to read the second part click here.

8. The First Doctor (William Hartnell): The Grumpy Doctor

William Hartnell: The First Doctor

The Doctor who started it all is also the one that tends to rank low in these kind of lists. As much as I love William Hartnell's ornery first incarnation, I must also confess I understand that, as he doesn't have the same charm as other high ranking Doctors. Yet this formal, intelligent, cranky old fellow has some dimension to him, even a dark side that I find fascinating and raises some complex question about the Doctor's personality and his past.

During one of the early episodes of the show, the Doctor and his companions are being slowed down by an unconscious caveman they are carrying around, while they are yet on the run and in great danger. The Doctor, seeing the possibly dire consequences of their compassion, takes a rock and contemplates killing the caveman before one of his companions stops him. It's an interesting moment in this early stage of the series, reminding us that we really don't know who this man is, what his past includes, nor how far his moral core does (or does not) extend.

The first Doctor is a far cry from the compassionate, pacifistic version of the Doctor we get in later incarnations, and often reveals a man with a selfish streak, a natural arrogance, and a hidden agenda, despite his good qualities. And we get glimpses of that in later incarnations of the Doctor, such as with the Sixth Doctor's drastic change, the Ninth Doctor's testiness, the Tenth Doctor's actions in "The Runaway Bride" and "The Waters of Mars," as well as the Eleventh Doctor's encounter with a darker version of himself in "Amy's Choice." This legacy of a repressed, dark mystery in the Doctor's life and personality lives on, notably with the introduction of the mystery Doctor played play John Hurt, which we'll learn more about in the upcoming 50th anniversary special.

I also have to mention that these early episodes of Doctor Who have a psychological quality which is missing in the sometimes camp-filled middle years of Doctor Who. The black and white enhances that quality as they come off more akin to The Twilight Zone than the early Star Trek series. There's an edge there that has been resurrected in many of the episodes in the later series. The whimsy and magic of Doctor Who is counteracted with a dark, conflicted complexity that makes for a compelling element to the series. And the seeds were planted way back in the First Doctor's beginning of the series 50 years ago and has yet to be fully answered.       

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Doctor's Dozen: Favorite Portrayals of Doctor Who, Part Two

Note: This post is the second part to my list of favorite portrayals of Doctor Who, and the rationale behind those choices. To read the first of the series click here .

4. The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison): The Good Doctor
Peter Davison: The Fifth Doctor
Peter Davison's cricket playing Fifth Doctor may have been the gentlest and kindest Doctor of them all. Interestingly enough, in the episode "The Five Doctors," it is the Fifth Doctor that gives his arch enemy the benefit of the doubt when the Master tells him that he is there to help him at the behest of the Time Lords (which was true), while the Third Doctor merely writes the Master off as his unchanging enemy. It is the Fifth Doctor that is one of the first to take on a compassionate worldview, the first to forgive, the first to be friendly, and the first to put his life on the line for others (which he ultimately does for his companion Peri in the episode "The Caves of Androzani" when he sacrifices his regeneration to save her life).

Not as manic or witty as many of the Doctors, Davison's Fifth Doctor was more grounded. Yet he was, of course, the same power house when it came to intelligence (despite the fact that he was more prone to good natured confusion) and could go toe to the toe with the various bad guys in the series. Yet the Fifth Doctor seemed more prone to reasonably talk (or, in classic Doctor Who tradition, run) his way out of these conflicts than past Doctors. In this way he was more of a pacifist in nature. If he could talk down his enemy or find a way to defuse the problem, he would take that road. 10th Doctor actor David Tennant cites the Fifth Doctor as one of his inspirations in the role, and you can see the aspects that Tennant picked up from Davison (Tennant liked Davison so much that he married into the family! Tennant married Davison's daughter Georgia Moffett, who he met on the set of Doctor Who. Moffat played the 10th Doctor's cloned "daughter," Jenny... now work that family tree out!). 

It's also interesting to note that the Fifth Doctor started out with a comparatively large amount of companions, with Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric all being quite fond of the Doctor, creating what seemed to be a friendly ensemble on the show for a while. This was a social Doctor, who loved company, and loved making close, sincere friends.  

Peter Davison was also one of the Doctors most intimate with tragedy and loss. It was under the Fifth Doctor's care that one of his companions died, a mishap that haunted the Doctor with guilt until his next regeneration. Sensitive and gentle to the end, this Doctor was not prone to violence, nor did he easily forget those that were hurt, physically or emotionally, during their time with him. He took that lesson and that cross upon himself and made sure that another of his companions would not die because of being associated with... thus he saved Peri at great sacrifice to himself.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Doctor's Dozen: Favorite Portrayals of Doctor Who, Part One

Peter Capaldi: The 12th Doctor


It's official! The bookies and rumor mongers were right. Peter Capaldi has been cast  as the 12th incarnation of "the Doctor" for the long running British television program Doctor Who. Although I haven't seen him in a lot of his roles, aside from his appearance in the Doctor Who episode "Fires of Pompeii," I'm rather pleased with the casting.

Now I know that many people were vying for mixing it up and making the Doctor's next regeneration a political statement by making the Doctor female or a minority (which I totally would have been fine with, by the way, if they made the casting purposeful and organic to the story and the character). Yet I find it super interesting to see them cast an older Doctor (Capaldi is 55, the same age as William Hartnell, the first actor to play the Doctor), bucking the trend of casting younger, hipper Doctors since the show came back on the air in 2005. An older doctor is a nice throwback to the classic series, and is especially poetic considering the 50th anniversary. What makes me even more excited, however, is that Capaldi himself is a passionate fan of the series, having watched it since he was a kid. You want somebody who is invested and passionate about the show and has a history with it and who isn't just callously using it as the next rung in his career.

Doctor Who's showrunner, chief writer, and producer Steven Moffat has also mentioned that he already had Capaldi in mind for the role before this round of casting, when Tennant left the show in 2010, but Matt Smith ultimately landed the role that time around. That sort of lasting impression bodes well for us viewers. If he won over Steven Moffatt so readily, I'm ready to give Capaldi ample time and mileage to win me over. Frankly, I'm more than a little excited to see what he, Moffat, and the rest of the Who Crew do with the role in one of the most exciting periods in the show's history.

Thus as my own way of welcoming this new era of Who into our lives, I wanted to iterate my own personal favorite list of the 11 previous doctors, from first to last. In all honesty, I like all the doctors, and think they all brought something valuable, even special, to the role. But, come on, we know that we all play favorites. And I know many lists will be different than mine, and I expect those writers to defend their choices as vigorously as I'll defend mine. So with the big question mark of Peter Capaldi already factored in, let's get to the remaining of my "Doctor's Dozen":

1. The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant): The Soulful Doctor
David Tennant: The 10th Doctor
No big surprise or controversy here. There's a reason that David Tennant currently tops so many polls as a lot of people's favorite doctor, displacing even Tom Baker's iconic portrayal of the Fourth Doctor in many people's minds. Despite the excellent first series of the show after it re-started in 2005, it wasn't until Christopher Eccleston's Doctor regenerated into David Tennant's version that the show really got cooking. It seemed to be then that the show accumulated the fan base that it did.  I believe we can trace back the show's current success back to David Tennant's powerful and emotionally poignant portrayal of the role.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Turtle Power

Culturally speaking, the late 80s and early 90s may have had many flaws. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were not one of them.

My childhood of the early 80s had already been populated by the strange and the wonderful. He-Man. Thundercats. G.I. Joe. Transformers. Batman. My mother was exasperated by the strange and sometimes frightening looking characters in my toys, books, and TV shows. My sisters thought I was weird. The adults I would clamor to show my assorted oddities to would give me dismissive smiles. Oh, but many of my peers of young boys, as well as a number of young girls, understood. Childhood is best when it is allowed to be a time of imagination, wonder, and infinite possibility. A child's fears, a child's desires, a child's potential all come tumbling out in the stories they create around themselves.

And, oh, did I create stories... so much so that I decided to try and make story-making my profession. And I can't say that when I stumbled across those Ninja Turtles that they didn't put that desire into hyper drive. When I was in first grade is when I first remember coming across those green, anamorphic martial artists. I can't remember if I watched the cartoon first or if I got the comic book mini-series based on it (this was the version Archie Comics published based on the animated series, not the original series published by Mirage Studios...), but they took over my imagination in a pretty major way, and it was more than just a few month fad. I was attached to those turtles for several years.