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A science-fiction series with 'humour'

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1978-10-01 Newsday.jpg

  • Publication: Newsday
  • Date: 1978-10-01
  • Author: Marvin Kitman
  • Page: Part II, p. 2
  • Language: English


A science-fiction series with 'humour'

At the risk of being struck from the invitation list to the 50th anniversary celebration for "Battlestar Galactica" — a show so large in concept, so mammoth in execution, so Brobdingnagian in appeal, so gross in ripping-off "Star Wars" that it can't miss lasting five millennia, or so the seasons will seem — I would like to 'say that I personally prefer "Dr. Who."

The famous BBC science-fiction series premiered on WOR/9 Saturday at 6:30 PM, only 15 years after the rest of the world began seeing this brilliant, modest little half-hour series that cost but a few bob to make. Through my legendary mystical powers as a critic, and with the help of my videotape machine. I have already seen some "Dr. Who" episodes of the distant future (there are 98), including the great "Sontaran Experiment."

"Dr. Who" is a children's show, but not over my head at all. The average British third-grade student, it has been said. has more wit and intelligence than the average American TV network executive.

The series has an odd structure. It's actually a series of mini-series. The premiere episode, called "Robot," is the first of four parts. Most of the mini-series in the series are four parters. Some have two and six parts. All in all, there are 23 different mini-series which add up to 98 episodes. The odd nature of the series format must have been the reason why it was kept off American television so long. One wonders how the British children were able to keep it fixed in their little heads.

"Dr. Who" is a modest little science-fiction character (there have been four of the good doctors so far, the current actor being Tom Baker). The character has been described by my colleague at the London Sunday Times as "witty, humane, with a capacity for self-criticism and an ability to laugh at himself." Not quite your profile of American television's current leading sci-fi character, Commander Adama (Loren Greene). Cmdr. Adama is a heavy character, heavier than enriched plutonium, heavier even than my friend Stanley's mother's knadels (the densest substance known to modern man).

Dr. Who doesn't fly around in any of those big fancy spaceships, but in a London police call box (now obsolete). The erratic vehicle is called the Tardis (which I believe is an acronym standing for "time and relative distance in space"). This machine is temperamental and unreliable. It can deposit passengers in a century or on an alien planet other than the one where they want to be.

Anyway, most of the time Dr. Who doesn't waste his or our time with spaceships. He moves around in time and space via the invisible Transmat, which is very fast.

Dr. Who, of the planet Gallifrey, naturally has some superhuman powers. He has two hearts, a cold body temperature of 60 degrees and is what they call a "Time Lord." He dresses informally, in the manner of a Cambridge undergraduate, and has curly hair that makes him look like a Harpo Marx whose strings have gone zing.

He seems to like to travel with a female companion. His basic companion is Sarah Jane Smith, his trusty loyal assistant, but a freelance journalist by profession. Then there is Leela, a glamorous sort of female Tarzan whom Dr. Who found in some jungle culture. She never stands around screaming. waiting for someone to rescue her. By the time the doctor arrives, she's quite likely to have the monster slaughtered, skinned and ready to cook for supper. Leela is a bit on the knife-happy side, and she is perhaps too quick to dispose of her foes with the deadly Janis thorn a scratch induces paralysis, followed by almost instant death). She travels through time and space in her old jungle loin cloths. The ratings of the show went up in England whenever the good doctor was on an adventure with nubile Leela. You know those precocious British children.

The plot lines on "Dr. Who" are fairly comprehensible and dramatic—plus the show has humour, missing from "Galactica."

He's a funny guy, Dr. Who. Sometimes even wild and crazy. Traveling around in time and space in a muffler and an old raincoat? You can tell just by looking at him that he's a flasher (in the "Monty Python" satirical mold). But they can't say that about Dr. Who. It was a kiddie show in England.

Dr. Who is sometimes puzzling. He says dry and funny things. He delivers them in a funny way. It's the kind of humour that appeals to older people like me. It is humour like the Beatles displayed in that Richard Lester film.

In a future episode Dr. Who is on a case in 15th-Century Italy. He is wearing his muffler and raincoat. Renaissance men in their plumed hats and ruffled collars are about to run Dr. Who through with long swords. But first a prince asks. "Where do you come from?"

"Around," Dr. Who says.

When you tell those guys in plumed hats who are about to kill you something like "around," it's funny. believe me.

The problem with "Dr. Who" is that you don't get all the in-jokes, of course. In the coming "Sontaran Experiment" — the two-parter which comes up later in the season — Dr. Who rescues a British astronaut mission from the evil Field Major Sontaran. The astronauts are all Scottish. In the United Kingdom, this is an ethnic joke. Like Polish astronauts might be in this country. Much of the humor is a British thing. But science-fiction is supposed to be a challenge.

There are good monsters in "Dr. Who." The

Zygons are an invincible breed of Loch Ness Monsters who eat oil rigs in the North Sea for breakfast. Then there is Mandragora Helix (a green lady covered with emeralds). And the Daleks, those cute little fireplugs, who pre-dated "Star Wars." Also the Anti-Matter Monsters, the Cybermen, Wirrn, Kraals, Eldred, Xoanon, Krinoids, Weng-Chiang, the previously mentioned Sontarans, and the Giant Robot that begins the attempt to destroy the human race Saturday.

An unscrupulous but exceptionally gifted scientist takes over a scientific group. perverting its mission to nothing less than obliterating

mankind. A lot of Dr. Who's adventures involve 'stopping somebody from trying to destroy the human race. That's the plot in "Battlestar Galactica," too. You've got to understand that it's a group of nihilists who are into science fiction. as creators and fans.

The premiere's Giant Robot, and all the other monsters and amazing things in "Dr. Who," are designed and built by the costume, make-up and special effects department of the BBC.

I happen to think the special effects in "Battlestar Galactica" are weak. It seems like the same cartoon animation each time, three spaceships coming at us; or shooting at each other. and missing, like in a World War II movie. There is often no mystery. The great thing about the effects in "Dr. Who" is they have the human element, not just animation. I get a kick out of seeing Dr. Who take the Transmat to an alien planet. And when the Field Major's face melts in "The Sontaran Experiment" that's what I call a special effect.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Kitman, Marvin (1978-10-01). A science-fiction series with 'humour'. Newsday p. Part II, p. 2.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Kitman, Marvin. "A science-fiction series with 'humour'." Newsday [add city] 1978-10-01, Part II, p. 2. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Kitman, Marvin. "A science-fiction series with 'humour'." Newsday, edition, sec., 1978-10-01
  • Turabian: Kitman, Marvin. "A science-fiction series with 'humour'." Newsday, 1978-10-01, section, Part II, p. 2 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A science-fiction series with 'humour' | url= | work=Newsday | pages=Part II, p. 2 | date=1978-10-01 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=A science-fiction series with 'humour' | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024}}</ref>