Begins tonight! TV Review'Doctor Who' Makes a Dazzling Return, and Who Are We to Resist Its Charms?
By Maureen Ryan, AOL.com
's 'TV Squad' - April 22nd, 2011
Just about anyone with a pulse can enjoy 'Doctor Who' (9PM ET Saturday, BBC America) -- it's that good and that much fun -- but if there are 'Lost' fans out there who've never tried this frisky British import, now's the time to get on board.
Never mind that 'Doctor Who' has been going for decades. You don't need to catch up on a lot of backstory unless you want to. Anyone -- whether they're 'Lost' fans or not -- can jump right in this weekend.
But the important thing for 'Lost' fans to know is that, as was the case with the ABC show, 'Doctor Who' doesn't dabble in time shenanigans just for kicks.
It may have a crunchy and delicious candy coating, but at its heart, the current era of 'Doctor Who' thoughtfully meditates on the intersection of time and memory and how one is inseparable from the other.
Both 'Lost' and 'Doctor Who' present characters who can't always be sure where they are in time and space, and all they have to cling to is their relationships with each other and their memories of how those relationships came to be. They don't fear death as much as they fear not remembering who they love and what they believe. It's a great foundation not just for adventures that take place across various timelines, but for stories with palpable emotional undertows.
As 'Doctor Who' executive producer and head writer Steven Moffat posits once again in the show's season premiere, a truly frightening villain isn't someone holding a ticking bomb. Okay, that can be pretty scary (and the show has its share of tense scenarios like that), but the worst kind of villain is someone who messes with what's inside your head.
Given all that, I'm forgiving when it comes to Moffat's affinity for stories that have dizzying structures or hinge on, as a classic Moffat 'Doctor Who episode from 2007 called it, "wibbly wobbly, time-y wimey... stuff."
Normally when a character utters a sentence with the words "time" and "paradox" in it, as happens in the two-parter that opens the new season, my brain begins to protest. They can be exhilarating fun, but sometimes the kind of puzzle plots Moffat unleashes begin to resemble the story problems that haunt my memories of grade school. Wisely, Moffat cannily packs his whizbang stories with so much wit, invention and heart that I'm willing to go where he leads.
And this 'Doctor Who' season premiere has more than its share of delightful bells and whistles. As FBI agent Canton Everett Delaware and time traveler River Song, respectively, Mark Sheppard ('Supernatural,' 'Battlestar Galactica') and Alex Kingston ('ER') provide terrific supporting performances, and the core cast of Matt Smith as the Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy and Arthur Darvill as her husband, Rory, have a crackling yet relaxed rapport.
For the season premiere, 'Doctor Who' shot scenes in America for the first time, and seeing the Doctor and his companions in such a truly alien setting gives the two-parter an epic sweep. The only downside to the location filming is that it makes the scenes shot in a very cheap and fake-looking Oval Office look that much less impressive (another minor discordant note: The fact that an actor who's allegedly playing Richard Nixon looks and sounds a lot like LBJ. Perhaps all American presidents look more or less alike to the Brits?).
Among the show's many pleasures is its dialogue, which may be the best on television right now. For me, the show's clever conversations recall the golden age of the Joss Whedon era, and, as was the case in the Jossverse, it's not all shiny smartness on display: There's a scene between River and Rory that is heartbreakingly written and acted, and Amy and Rory are put through different emotional wringers as well. Whatever the tone of a scene, however, Smith may be the perfect delivery system for Moffat's words.
I've been watching a lot of the Tom Baker era of 'Doctor Who' lately, and at times, Smith echoes Baker's line delivery style: Smith will hurtle through a line in a near-monotone, enunciating every word just so, and the way he stops in the middle or near the end of a long speech is sort of like a car hitting the brakes and screeching to a stop. Because you're always wondering when he'll stop and if if he'll crash (verbally), you pay more attention to what he's saying and how he's saying it. The charming smirk and the wrinkled forehead that he unleashes at the end of string of sentences are the perfect grace notes.
They're all delicious tricks, but if they were the only ones in Smith's arsenal, his Doctor wouldn't be one of the all-time greats. But, as he proved in his debut season last year, Smith's rubbery face and great range made him the perfect choice to play this mischievous character who, underneath the jokes and intelligence, is extremely serious. He hasn't just traveled around the universe having adventures, he's traveled around having his heart broken by the people he's had to leave behind during his thousand-year lifespan. Exactly how River Song fits into all that remains to be seen, but it's a treat to see Smith and Kingston play the flirtiness and the underlying sadness of that relationship with perfect pitch.
It isn't giving away a spoiler to say that, in some early scenes in 'The Impossible Astronaut,' the Doctor looks heartbroken, but hides it well from his friends. Not many actors could hunt evil supervillains while holding a sonic screwdriver and make you absolutely believe in the serious stakes that he's facing, but Smith makes it all look easy.
My only issue with BBC America is that the network could have been kinder and shown the two-parter all at once. I completely understand the business reasons for dividing the episode into a couple of installments, but making people wait a week to see how the thrilling story turns out seems cruel.
Sometimes, time is the enemy.DOCTOR WHO
Saturday at 9PM ET/PT on BBC Americahttp://www.tvsquad.com/2011/04/22/do...-karen-gillan/