Saturday, 3 April 2010

The new Doctor - spoiler-free first impressions

Like many Britons of my generation, I grew up with Doctor Who. The programme was a fixed feature of many of my Saturday evenings, enthralling me with the imaginative story-lines and the great performances of Tom Baker and then Peter Davison. I avidly read the novelizations of the stories, which provided my only access to the earlier adventures of the Time Lord in the days before video releases. As I grew older, the low production values and the relegation of the show to weekday evenings meant that I watched the show infrequently, and while I was saddened by its cancellation in 1989, I was not heartbroken.

When the series returned in 2005, I was interested to see what the BBC would do with one of my childhood favourites. I was not disappointed. Gone were the wobbly sets and frequent use of gravel pits, but the quality of storytelling and character portrayal remained high. Christopher Eccleston and then David Tennant each made the role their own, as did the talented women who played their companions. Doctor Who became a great success around the world, captivating a whole new generation.

The end of the last season saw the departure of both Tennant and the architect of the new version, executive producer and writer Russell T. Davies. So, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch the first episode of Matt Smith's time as the Doctor. At twenty-seven years of age, Smith is the youngest man to take on the role, three years younger than Peter Davison was when he first took ownership of the Tardis. I feared that this choice of lead character would mark the juvenilisation of the show, especially since he was to be accompanied by Amy Pond, played by the twenty-two year old Karen Gillan. Thankfully this was not the case - Dr Who 90210 it was not.

Smith's realisation of the Doctor owes much to the performances of David Tennant. This is hardly surprising since the producers would not want to deviate too far from a portrayal that proved so popular, and because Smith has yet to develop his own characterisation. The chemistry between Smith and Gillan drove the story forward in the absence of many mind-boggling special effects - a wise move by the production team. Hopefully, Smith will be allowed to move away from Tennant's Doctor and find his own voice in subsequent episodes, which will maintain the quality of the last few seasons. My only criticism regards the new theme tune that lacked the bombast of the proceeding one, but this is only a minor flaw.

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