I caught the debut of Matt Smith (the new Doctor on Doctor Who) on On Demand yesterday. (I love On Demand, BTW. I do wonder, though, why every On Demand program I’ve used has an outright user-hostile interface, but I imagine within a few years some entrepeneurial lass or lad will correct that and do quite well for themselves. In the meantime I puzzle over mysteries such as why some Doctor Who episodes show up under “Primetime on Demand” and others under “BBC America On Demand.”)
But I digress. The eleventh Doctor. I think I’m quite fond of him. More importantly, I’m quite fond of Doctor Who under Steven Moffat’s leadership. After only one episode, I already feel more confidence in the writing. It has that slightly hokey feel that Doctor Who should have, but manages to never cross into severe eye-rolling territory, as Russell T. Davies was known to do now and again. The regeneration was well-done, and there was a lovely dash of Moffat horror thrown in throughout. It also seems like Moffat is going to play around more with the time-travelling complexities, which strikes me as a fun way to explore the character. “Oh, I said 5 minutes and it turned out to be 12 years? Oops!” Vintage Doctor.
As for young Mr. Smith, I enjoyed his performance quite a lot, which is impressive considering my recently developed but still emotionally significant secret crush on David Tennant. Smith is drawing a bit on Tennant but he’s doing his own thing, too. He has just the right mix of cockiness, world-weary wisdom, adventurousness, and just-barely-beneath-the-surface timelord-y angst. And I believed he was the Doctor pretty much from his first moment on screen, which, as Moffat said, is ultimately the only test that counts. There were a few moments now and then where his youth came through in a way that felt like it was due more to Smith’s own youthful uncertainty than to the Doctor’s timeless exuberance, but they really were only a few moments, and I’m sure Smith is only going to get better as he grows into the role. Also, love the outfit. Bowties and suspenders are definitely due for a comeback.
And Amy Pond seems promising as a new companion. Proactive and sharp and a bit different from the ones we’ve seen before. Looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season has in store for us…
Part 3 of my recommendations of great SF from 2009 – fantasy & scifi on the screen, including film, television, and other miscellaneous forms of dramatized entertainment. (Just wait until you see the miscellaneous.) These are the works that I’ve nominated for the Bradbury Award (basically, the Nebula Award for Dramatic Presentation – technically not a Nebula, but it’s pretty Nebula-like since it’s nominated on voted on by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Some of my recommendations pretty much follow the mainstream, others less so:
Up: One of my favorite Pixar movies to date, write up there with Wall-E and The Incredibles. So many things I loved about this. The fact that a cranky old guy is the hero (not just a colorful supporting character). The fact that many laws of physics are defied but no one cares because it’s awesome. (E.g., I’m no expert, but you probably can’t walk around pulling along a house held aloft by hundreds of balloons as if it were a giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.) And the fact that the metaphorical, character, and plot arcs all come together so beautifully.
Doctor Who – “The Waters of Mars”: I’m a recent convert to Doctor Who and this special was one of the strongest from the show. I love that they’re pushing David Tennant’s Doctor to such challenging new places before he takes his final bow. And, as they’ve done in many Doctor Who episodes, they’ve taken something ordinary – water – and made it disturbingly horrific.
Pontypool: This independent film is sort of a sophisticated zombie apocalypse story. The premise is that you are infected with insanity not by a blood or saliva, but by the English language itself – certain words carry the virus. Wonderfully original surreal science fiction horror. If you can find a way to see it, then do so.
District 9: Despite some drawbacks, this was one of the most sophisticated and thought-provoking pure science fiction movies to come out in a while. Broke a lot of new ground for SF on screen.
Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” Music Video: Yes, Lady Gaga. This is a ground-breaking pop music video akin to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and like “Thriller” it is firmly rooted in the SF genre, drawing on traditions of horror, science fiction, and surrealism. In five minutes Lady Gaga makes a stonger artistic statement than James Cameron does in 162 minutes of Avatar. I know I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, so I may need to write an entire post on this one…
So those are my personal top five dramatic presentations in SF from 2009. The new Star Trek movie was also entertaining, but not much more than that – and I do hope for more than just entertaining when it comes to Trek. Despite my swipe at Avatar, I found that entertaining too, and I was very happy any time I was watching luminescent alien landscapes in 3D. But the story and characters were just not interesting enough to put it in my personal top five. This year’s Harry Potter movie was my favorite to date and probably would have made my top five if there weren’t such other good contenders this year.
I also am waiting to catch up on Season 4 of Doctor Who before watching David Tennant’s final appearance, otherwise that one might have made it too. Similar note for Torchwood: Children of Earth and Moon – heard they’re both excellent but haven’t seen them yet. And, lastly, oh how I wish the last episode of Battlestar Galactica had been even worth considering for a nomination, because it was a really awesome show up until that disappointment…
Still to come: recommended books, and possibly a note on why we should enthusiastically embrace Lady Gaga as a member of the science fiction community.
For years friends have been telling me I have to check out Dr. Who, but I resisted it like , um, like something that resists another thing a lot. Then on a long airplane ride I discovered a few episodes were among my in-flight entertainment options. I watched one, then another, and another until I had spent most of my flight on adventures in the TARDIS. More recently, Hassan and I have been working our way through the new incarnation of the show from the very start. I love the unabashed over-the-topness of it, the Doctor’s wonderful combination of glee, confidence, and goofiness in the face of intergalactic danger. A few of my favorite moments so far are…
Captain Jack Harkness is captured by androids who disintegrate his clothes live in front of a global television audience. Captain Jack: Am I naked in front of millions of viewers? Android: Absolutely. Captain Jack: Ladies, your viewing figures just went up.
Harriet Jones explaining, “There’s an act of Parliament banning my autobiography.”
David Tennant pulling together his outfit shortly after he regenerates as the new Doctor. Tennant pulls it off the combination of self-discovery and casual wardrobe-searching beautifully and I am officially attached to him as my favorite incarnation of the Doc (though my sample is admittedly small so far).
Jack Harkness is an especially fun character and I’m looking forward to the Torchwood marathon that will follow close on the heels of the Dr. Who marathon.
Of course, the show’s not perfect. The endings often seem rushed and tend to rely on deus ex machina a bit too often, and the “science” makes Star Trek technobabble look like rigorous scientific inquiry. But these are minor forgivable foibles for a show that offers such a fun ride almost every time.