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Home arrow Reviews arrow TV Review arrow Doctor Who - Series 1 Wrap-Up Friday, 23 June 2006
  Doctor Who - Series 1 Wrap-Up Print E-mail
  Written by Arnold T. Blumberg
  Friday, 16 June 2006
 

ImageThe early trailers hailed it as "the trip of a lifetime," but way back in March when the journey was just about to begin, viewers had no idea how literally that simple slice of hyperbole was meant. Series 1 of the new Doctor Who was much more than a revival of the classic sci-fi saga; it was the self-contained story of a lost and lonely battle-scarred survivor of a dreadful holocaust and how he finds a reason to live again only to sacrifice that life for another. This was the story of the Ninth Doctor's life from (near) birth to heroic death, and what a trip it would be.

The first few episodes of the new show were a tightly plotted tour of the many possibilities inherent in the series' premise. From their first meeting in "Rose" to the end of the first two-parter with "World War Three," the Doctor introduced Rose and the audience to what TARDIS travel was all about, taking us to the Victorian era, the far distant future, and then back to the present for an intimate look at the repercussions of time travel on the ones you leave behind. It was a brilliant way to relaunch the show, allow us to grow comfortable with our new TARDIS team, and provide newcomers with all the basics they would need for further adventures. As for the farting Slitheen - well, let's move on, shall we?

OK, there were certainly flaws. Producer and writer Russell T. Davies has an annoying tendency to play to the lowest common denominator with toilet humor that can't help but drag the show down to the unflattering level of schoolboy snickering, and some of his "clever" meta-commentary - flatulent aliens with actual zippers in their heads, no less - felt more like a sketch sending up Doctor Who than Doctor Who itself. But interestingly, those elements all but vanished once we reached episode six and the series' dramatic stakes were raised.

As the first major "event" episode, "Dalek" was not only a triumph but a bit of a surprise for fans who expected the new series to radically redesign the quintessential Who monsters. In retrospect of course, it seems nonsensical to do so; the Daleks have always been one of the most easily recognizable and brilliantly designed sci-fi creations ever conceived. Why reinvent the wheel? Besides, the production team wisely realized that the key to reintroducing everyone to the terror of the Daleks was not in creating a new look but reinvesting the original with the proper sense of dread and power necessary to send a new generation of fans scurrying behind the sofa. Between this episode and the heart-wrenching "Father's Day," the new show was also demonstrating that it was capable of far more than lightweight Saturday evening escapades; it could move us on a much deeper emotional level.

Episode seven, "The Long Game," was the crucial turning point in the season, and few realized just how vital that episode was in positioning everything for the final dash to the finish line. A stunning cinematic two-parter set during the Blitz introduced us to dashing third TARDIS crew member Captain Jack, and with him he brought along a bit of sexual ambiguity that had critics and fans talking for weeks. "Boom Town" was the calm before the storm, an episode that finally forced the Doctor to face the consequences of his actions. But the big two-part finale was without a doubt the crowning achievement of the new series, with a quirky pastiche of reality shows giving way to a space opera of the highest order. The Daleks were back, and the last battle of the Time War had begun.

It all came down to the last few minutes of episode 13, "The Parting of the Ways," when virtually every element of the production came together in a somewhat clichéd but emotionally powerful climax. In fact, what was perhaps most astonishing, at least to a diehard fan of old like myself, was how much Davies & Co. pushed the romantic/sexual subtext of the Doctor/Rose relationship from the outset. The 1996 TV movie long since turned many fans permanently against the notion of the Doctor ever showing romantic tendencies or daring to - horrors! - kiss a girl, and yet these elements wound up lying at the heart of the 13-part tale of the Ninth Doctor's rebirth and redemption.

The kiss in "The Parting of the Ways" wasn't just the climax of the episode but of the entire first series. And although it clearly does serve a specific practical purpose in the plot - the Doctor kisses Rose to draw out the lethal vortex energy and save her life - it also just as clearly served a metaphorical purpose as the consummation of a 13-week love affair. With one kiss the Doctor shows how far he's willing to go to save the woman he loves. It was a meaningful act filled with emotional significance, and I find it very telling and somewhat appropriate that given the asexual nature of the past Doctors, when he finally does make this symbolic romantic gesture, he must die.

The first new series of Doctor Who in 16 years wasn't about a Time War or Daleks or Autons - it was about one man's love for the woman who saved his soul. And it was indeed the trip of a lifetime. But fortunately for Doctor Who fans around the globe, while the lifetime may be over, the trip has only just begun.

I'll see you right back here when the holiday decorations are all up, as the Tenth Doctor and Rose deal with a very special "Christmas Invasion!" A-

This review was originally posted to coincide with Doctor Who's series one premiere on BBC ONE in 2005.

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