Tom Baker was my first Doctor. Growing up in Miami, I watched re-runs of Doctor Who on the local PBS affiliate alongside Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. Because of some sort of distribution issues with Lion TV, PBS played Tom Baker’s first two seasons over and over again. But I never tired of them, of watching shows like Baker’s debut in “Robot” or the scariness of “The Seeds of Doom.” Ever since then I’ve measured every other Doctor up against Tom Baker. The recent additions to the Pantheon of incarnations of Doctor Who brought us Christopher “how could you leave after one season?!” Eccleston and David Tennant, both of whom brought fierce energy and panache to the role. Tennant in particular plumbed the depths of the Doctor’s soul—his melancholy, his loneliness, and at the end of his tenure, even the dark tattered edges of the power and responsibility that come with being a Timelord. What an act to follow!
On Monday, I was one of the lucky few to be at the Paley Center’s NYC Doctor Who Premiere with new producer Steven Moffat, companion Karen Gillan, and the man who is the new Who—Matt Smith. It’s already been said a few times—but despite the flustered initial murmurings of the Doctor Who community when this young, some said too young, and relatively unknown actor was chosen to take on the mantle of Doctor Who—Matt Smith slips as smoothly into the role as no actor since Tom Baker did in his day. He may be young, but Matt Smith’s eyes are old, and he brings a faithfulness to the part that goes back to William Hartnell’s turn as the first Doctor, and a freshness that augurs well for bringing new generations of fans to the show. Karen Gillan, as the companion, combines beauty, psychological depth, and a back-story that will ensure a rollercoaster of a relationship with Matt Smith’s Doctor. You thought Rose Tyler put David Tennant’s Doctor through the wringer? I suspect that this new Doctor/Companion relationship will make that a distant memory.
So what about the actual show? I have to agree with many of my online colleagues that it is a mixed bag. A wonderful, magical mixed bag, but a mixed bag nonetheless that combines some of the great character work and poignant plotting that we have come to appreciate from Steven Moffat’s writing with some of the giddy irrationality that marked much of Russell Davies tenure as the producer who brought the Doctor back from the dead. It also does a lot in a very short period of time, shot with a sense of visual style and storytelling that tops anything that’s come before it. And despite its flaws, it was a pretty awesome debut that left me hungry for more (as hungry as the Doctor finds himself very early in this show.)
During the Q and A following the screening, one of the many newbies in the MTR audience asked Moffat to explain the history of DoctorWho; Moffat quipped, “Do you remember the Kennedy assassination? Well, the first episode of Doctor Who aired the day after.It’s about a man who can travel in time. It’s a television show set at every point in history at every place in the universe.It’s not bound by logic or genre.” Does this mean we’ll get to see a Doctor Who Western episode or maybe even a musical episode at some point?(Moffat, I hope you are listening.)
When this writer asked Moffat what he could tell us about Neil Gaiman’s script for Matt Smith’s second season, he replied, “NOTHING! It’s very, very good. I can’t tell you anything except that it will be on television and it will be in COLOR!” You heard it here first: the Neil Gaiman show will not be in black and white. When I followed up by asking if he would consider working with American writers like Michael Chabon, Moffat replied, “We have no particular prejudices against the Americans.” (crowd laughs) Matt Smith then asked me, “Does he want to work on the show?” Someone should get on the horn with Michael Chabon or his agent and whisper into his ear that he should write for Doctor Who. (Writing about the event, io9 has already taken this exchange and written about how Moffat wants to work with Michael Chabon, so maybe seeds are already being planted.)
Other fun tidbits from the Q&A include what places the actors would like to see the series go. Gillan said she’d like the TARDIS to show up at Woodstock (yes, please!), and Matt joked that, “Jimi Hendrix would be an alien,” before he went on to talk about how he would like to see the Doctor pay a visit to Atlantis, but “working in water tanks would be very expensive.” Let’s start the campaign here to get the Doctor and Amy to both Woodstock and Atlantis.
Some final thoughts from the evening: Steven Moffat is a very clever, funny man and if he brings the same kind of storytelling prowess to the new shows that he brought to his scripts for “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink,” then Doctor Who fans worldwide will be chortling with joy during his tenure as producer. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are not only a charming and smart pair of actors who from episode one have made an indelible impression, but they are both taller than you would think. And I hope that Matt Smith gets what he desires, which is “to have a good crack” at being the Doctor.
I conclude by agreeing with the evening’s moderator in his closing remarks: “The TARDIS is in good hands.”
Hugo Perez is a writer and filmmaker who wears many hats, both metaphorical and literal. Read more about him at www.m30afilms.com.