April 9th, 2007

Baby and me

"Exterminate! Exterminate!"

Easter Monday. The day of that Resurrection. Well, call me Geoffrey Magdalene if you will, but this past Easter Sunday I saw my own resurrection.

Back when I was a kid - roughly aged 10 to 14 - my Saturday evenings were spoken for. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens were part of it, but at 7:30, there was Doctor Who, as presented on TVO by a woman who would later become a friend, Judy Merril (but that relationship is another story).

Already on air for over 15 years, Doctor Who was a British "sci-fi" program that looked like it was shot on a budget that would have made Ed Wood more than happy. The "special" effects were anything but special. Its aliens made do with make-up rather than rubber suits and its space-ships were obviously made of painted cardboard, even when seen on a 12" black-and-white screen.

But it didn't matter. What the BBC didn't spend on special effects, it clearly spent on its actors and, especially, on its writers.

Doctor Who was the kind of fantasy that was exciting and comforting at the same time. It's plots were serious (as how could the "end of all life in the universe" not be?), but it's characters - without insulting its younger democraphic with camp - made it clear to its older, that it was, well, just supposed to be fun.

And fun it was.

The Doctor himself, the 900 year-old lone survivor of a race known as Time Lords, was a classic pulp-hero, a being who loved being in the thick of things. He would save the world every week, the universe itself every second fortnight.

Yes, it sounds silly. It was silly. It was that rare entertainment beast: "fun for the whole family".

The plots were fast-moving and playing to the highest possible stakes. But the Doctor himself was having fun - no tragic hero, he sought out adventure and lived to perform good deeds, and no matter that he was seldom thanked for them.

If not quite fearless, he was bold, he was kind and he loved his life. He was pert and saucy and had no time for for social pretensions. He offered as much (and as little) respect to peasants or small children as he did to generals or super-villains.

The best comparisons I can come up with are to Herge's magnicent series of comics, The Adventures of Tintin and C.C. Beck's delightful Captain Marvel. All three managed the very difficult trick of providing suspense and good-natured humour at the same time, with plots intricate and engaging enough for an adult's sensibilities, while being simple and reassuring enough to excite a child without terrifying them.

As can easily happen, I lost track of Doctor Who not long after I moved to Toronto, back in 1979. The show itself carried on for another 10 years, but I saw none of the episodes, nor any reruns. Doctor Who remained only a fond childhood memory.

And as time went on, I grew afraid to revisit that happy place. So many childhood joys prove, on encountering them as an adult, to be a pale shadow of the memory.

But between my brilliant neice and the equally-brilliant sabotabby's recommendations (among others), when I stumbled across it on Sunday, I thought it was time to take my chance on viewing the Resurrection.

Well, what can I say?

The new Doctor (Time Lords, it seems change bodies roughly as often as actors leave television roles to try for the big time) is no Tom Baker - but thank god, he doesn't try. Nevertheless, he is impish and impetuous, witty and adventurous and in general a delight to watch and listen to.

He is a marvellous Doctor and his latest side-kick, Rose, is just as spunky and more than occasionally helpful than you can ask a sidekick to be. (A North American aside: Rose's boyfriend is black and it - from this side of the pond - it seems just a trifle strange, in a good way, that absolutely nothing is made of that fact.)

In the first episode of the revival, Rose is saved by The Doctor when the mannikens in her department store come to life (never mind - I told you you're not meant to take the plot seriously) and ends up joining him (as what 19 year-old wouldn't at least hope he or she would do when offered the chance to fly through both time and space?) on his adventures.

"Is it always this dangerous?"

[Maniacal grin] "Oh yes!"

And they're off.

Though twice as long as the original episodes, the new Doctor Who (well, I'm behind the times. Ecclesone quit after the "first" season and I have yet to explore the "second") is every bit as engaging as the original. The plots as convoluted, the Doctor as charming, and the supporting players as interesting.

If you loved Doctor Who as a kid, you'll love the revival. It you are a kid, then by god, you're in for a treat!

The special effects are better than they once were, but this show still puts its emphasis on the writing. Dialogue carries the plot, not body-counts or 100-decibel screaming.

But for now, I have to watch more. After four episodes, the Daleks (not to mention Davros) have yet to make an appearance.