Streaming TV Review: Doctor Who, Series 1 (2005)

Perhaps the one nice thing I'm willing to say about Netflix streaming (after the massive log-in service outage that occurred on Sunday night that they won't apologize for and the absurd price increase) is that they do have a deep catalog of streaming TV series. Even a year ago, you would be able to stream maybe half of a season of a TV show before you'd have to order the discs. This is now a rarity. One of the shows I've been able to experience for the first time is the long-running British sci-fi favorite Doctor Who. I knew all about the mythology. I could identify TARDIS from a line-up of phone booths and emergency boxes and I could explain the regeneration and many forms of the doctor. But I hadn't actually experienced the show until last week when I buckled. I resisted it because all too often I just don't like a sci-fi TV program. This is not one of those cases.

The 2005 revival of the series adds flashy computer graphics and a younger-leaning cast to the halls of Doctor mythology. The Doctor (played this season by Christopher Eccleston) returns to earth in 2006 to prevent the Autons--plastic aliens that mimick other species--from conquering the planet. In the process, he meets a young shop clerk named Rose. Because of the Doctor's efforts to destroy the Autons, he puts Rose out of a job. They continually bump into each other until they defeat the alien species together and launch off in the TARDIS--time traveling ship disguised as a police call box--for more adventures.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the series for me is the strange continuity. It's not enough that Rose and The Doctor bump into certain species again and again, like the Sylveens or Daleks; that makes sense. What is strange and wonderful about the series is the implication that we aren't even seeing the good adventures. Whenever Rose gets to visit her mother and boyfriend on earth, she talks about all these places and times she's visited that we haven't seen. A mention of one species might pop up again in a later episode when the species actually becomes involved in a plot-line we're shown.

There's even more to the continuity that is never explained beyond a plot device. One particular phrase keeps popping up all over the universe and time, yet Rose and The Doctor don't notice until it becomes convenient to the story. It's not that the writers made it up--if you look back, the phrase was constantly appearing. It's just an odd choice. Same with how the writers seem to undue continuity at will to create a more interesting episode than if they stuck to who was dead, who was a live, and who was banished from ever appearing on a certain planet again.

The individual episodes have absurd plots. That's really all there is to it. You just have to accept that there is a murderous race of obese aliens compressing their bodies into the skin of obese humans and expelling gas to just barely fit. You have to accept that the trash cans with shiny orbs and one arm can destroy all matter. You have to accept that the TARDIS will never be operated the same way twice. The conceit, near as I can tell, is that The Doctor and all alien life is so advanced that we are not meant to understand what anyone who isn't human is doing.

The technical elements on the show are all top notch. The CGI, even at its most cartoony, is designed to make sense in the context of a storyline; they can, when they want to, make it look quite real. The make-up team does incredible work producing various new species filled with realistic skin textures and all sorts of strange add-ons. I was particularly impressed by the race of living trees in the second episode. While all the outer space locations have a bad habit of looking like an empty warehouse or bare sound-stage, the set designers change out lighting, signs, fabrics, paints, and props enough to sell the different locations. The music and sound design is some of the most beautiful and inventive I've heard on television.

If you like science fiction and don't mind a series that makes no apologies for being episodic, you'll probably enjoy the rebooted first series of Doctor Who. The actors and scripts really sell the world the show creates in an engaging way.