Television Revision: Doctor Who – Season 1

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By Andrew Williams
April 10, 2013

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).

Now, this is a story all about how… The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) is the last of the Time Lords; a race almost eradicated in a war with the villainous Daleks. He joins forces with young British woman Rose (Billie Piper) and together they have adventures throughout space and time.

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Happy days? It took 16 years for Doctor Who to find its way back to television after it went off the air in 1989. It was worth the wait. Under the stewardship of showrunner and longtime fan Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who made a triumphant return to the BBC in 2005, to widespread popularity and critical acclaim. Still going strong today, Doctor Who embodies everything we want from our escapist entertainment, oozing inventiveness, charm, intrigue, and an adventurous spirit.

Based on my experiences with the modern incarnation of Doctor Who, it seems the show’s success relies on three key planks: the chemistry between the Doctor and his companion, the effectiveness of the season-long arc, and the consistency of the stand-alone episodes. This first season is reasonably successful on all fronts, but doesn’t really nail any. Eccleston and Piper are individually very good and fleetingly great together, even if the scripts don’t give their relationship enough room to develop. The season-long arc is ingeniously plotted, yet still ends messily, and the individual episodes are occasionally patchy. These are all muted criticisms. However, they condemn the first season of Doctor Who to a sum that’s slightly less than its parts.

The final frontier: A slightly inconsistent launching pad for much better things to come, Season One of Doctor Who is a whimsical, adventurous good time.

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Top three episodes: 6) Dalek. The debut of The Doctor’s most iconic villain is also the emotional and dramatic high point of this new incarnation, and the best episode of the lot.  3) The Unquiet Dead. A guest appearance from Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) is a highlight, in a story that reminds us of the importance of curiosity. 9) The Empty Child. Future showrunner Steven Moffat (Sherlock) pens his first episode, an intriguing wartime ghost story that introduces Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) to the Doctor Who universe.

Worst episode: 10) Boom Town. Written as a late replacement for an episode more instrumental to the overall arc, Boom Town unfortunately sees the very, very smart Doctor acting very, very stupidly.

Season MVP: If Tom Cruise had been around to play the part of Han Solo, he may have turned out something like Captain Jack Harkness . An example of writing and performance working in perfect harmony, Barrowman provides the show with a jolt of energy that rockets it to the finish line.

3.5/5

Doctor Who – Season 1 is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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