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Tony Grist

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Dr Who: 4th Season Finale [Jul. 6th, 2008|09:48 am]
Tony Grist
I don't think anything in this article really counts as a spoiler, but if you haven't seen the episode yet, you might want to look away.


I don't remember when I last got so excited about the season finale of a TV show. Last week's cliff-hanger really got me going. And was I disappointed with the outcome? No. I thought I would be but I wasn't.

A four year story-arc was brought to a satisfying end.  Not happy, but satisfying.  Russell does soppy but he doesn't do sentimental. A lot of what went down was pretty ghastly. Rose and Donna deserved better- but that's life in the 4th dimension:  travel with a Time Lord and you get burned.

What Russell has brought to the show is emotional depth. A lot of fans hate him for this, but I'm not one of them. I like to feel a connection with the characters, to be moved by their predicament. I've been watching Dr Who since the sixties- I remember all the Doctors- and the show in its previous incarnations may have been brilliantly entertaining, but it never made me want to cry- the way Russell's Dr Who has made me want to cry.

It's the way he writes them; it's also the actors he employs. New Who has always gone for the best. Chris Eccleston and David Tennant are finer actors by several degrees of magnitude than any of the guys who played the Doctor before them.  I love all the Doctors (well maybe not Colin Baker) but they were a rag-tag bunch- bit part players, small-time character actors, vaudevillians; none of then had the range, the subtlety, the presence of Eccleston and Tennant . Yeah, I know all you Tom Baker fans are going to disagree- but the guys a ham, a scenery chewer who got lucky; he's not a man you'd ever want to see play Hamlet- which is Tennant's next role. And then there are the companions: here it's been a case of taking interesting niche artists and stretching them. Billie Piper was a teen popster; she became a shining star. John Barrowman was a lead in the West End musical theatre; he became the nation's first gay heart-throb. Catherine Tate was a well-loved TV comedian- the female Matt Lucas- and now she's established herself as a dramatic actress of remarkable range and power.

When it came to individual episodes, Stephen Moffat and Paul Cornell were the names you looked out for.  Russell's episodes were often a little bit stupid- maybe because he takes the sci-fi element less seriously than he should-  but the arc of the show, its emotional colour, its grandeur (I don't think that's too big a word) are all his. He has dealt with big issues- love, death, friendship, power, the loneliness of the human condition- and, while never letting up on the fun,  has treated them seriously, responsibly,  without cheating. It wasn't a forgone conclusion that Dr Who would work in the new century- the earlier stab at a revival had been embarrassingly bad- but he pulled it off, creating a version of the show that honoured its past, while taking it places it had never been before. People will be watching these four seasons of his for as long as TV lasts, not just out of nostalgia or brand loyalty, but because- taken as a whole- they are quite extraordinarily good.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ingenious76
2008-07-06 11:15 am (UTC)
You forgot to mention John Simm as the Master last year - that was taking someone best known for stage and cult Tv (Cracker, the Lakes, LoM)and turning him into major prime time property. RTD definitely goes for the best.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-07-06 01:28 pm (UTC)
And who'd have guessed that Derek Jacobi would one day appear in Dr Who?
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From: bodhibird
2008-07-06 11:21 am (UTC)
I love Tom Baker as much as anyone can, but I have to admit that it's not that I think he's a brilliant actor; it's that I think he was uniquely suited to the role. He played himself, and that happened to mesh brilliantly with the character of a time-travelling misfit.

Now that I've been through a lot of the original series, refreshing my memories of Baker and watching the Doctors I never saw, I'm considering giving the new one a go.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-07-06 01:33 pm (UTC)
I don't think you'll be disappointed. The people who've made the new series are all fervent Whovians. They love and respect the old show.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2008-07-06 01:32 pm (UTC)
You're right about the emotional depth. He does the ambivalent ending well. Yes, we defeated the Daleks, but there was a cost. I don't know whether the echoes of Flowers for Algernon with regard to Donna were deliberate, but the whole thing was very moving, even if some of the SF elements were occasionally on the silly side.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-07-06 01:35 pm (UTC)
I keep meaning to read Flowers for Algernon. I've even got a copy somewhere....

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From: amritarosa
2008-07-06 07:19 pm (UTC)
Agreed on all points. Now I'm just sad we have to wait until Christmas for more.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-07-06 08:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah. It ought to be on every week.
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