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Doctor Who time travels anew

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The 1960s saw the premieres of two science fiction series that continue to persevere to this day. The first appeared in the United States, 1966's "Star Trek," a series that has seen several revivals over the past four decades, including last year's film of the same name.

By the time Americans got "Star Trek," though, the British had already had three years of "Doctor Who." The series became a seminal science fiction landmark in the UK, and ran for the next twenty-six seasons. Faltering ratings led to its cancellation in 1989. Aside from an attempted revival in 1996, the series was off the airwaves for the next sixteen years.

In 2005, Russell T. Davies brought "Doctor Who" back to British television, allowing a new generation of viewers, and old fans alike, to fall in love with the series. Five years later, the show has reclaimed its throne as the king of British sci-fi, garnering both critical and commercial acclaim.

The American response to the series, however, has always been lukewarm at best, with only the most hardcore science fiction fans giving the show a chance. This is truly a shame, as "Doctor Who" has always managed to be one of the most original and varied shows on television.

The set-up for the show is a simple premise that allows for infinite possibilities. A mysterious man known only as the Doctor travels around the universe in his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), a time machine that allows him to go wherever and whenever he wishes. Along with his other pieces of alien technology, including psychic paper and a sonic screwdriver, as well as his traveling companions, the Doctor sets out across time to help as many people as he can.

Of course, a single actor playing the same role over the past forty-seven years would be hard to believe. The Doctor, as a member of the Time Lord race, has the ability to regenerate when mortally wounded, taking on a new physical form each time. The 2005 revival began with the ninth incarnation of the character, played by Christopher Eccleston ("28 Days Later").

The reason for the series' difficulty in breaking through to American audiences is not a surprising one. Though the revival has aired in the United States for several years now, many have been driven away by the idea of catching up with the decades of continuity already established, a lot of which is referenced in the Russell T. Davies run.

The truth is, however, that the revived series has made every effort to be as accessible to new viewers as possible, explaining anything that the viewer may be unfamiliar with. Further, the episodes were renumbered, with the 2005 season as the new "season one."

However, the series remained a tough sell for American audiences, even when David Tennant ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") took on the role of the Tenth Doctor, garnering high praise and becoming one of the most popular Doctors in the show's history.

Those who are fans of the show have certainly remained consistently impressed. Derin Gbade-Alabi, a senior in computer and electrical engineering, was a fan of David Tennant from the beginning.

"I really liked David Tennant's run. It was thought-provoking and entertaining. Tennant is talented, lively, funny and has great hair," Gbade-Alabi says.

However, Tennant's run recently came to an end, with the character regenerating into his eleventh incarnation, played by Matt Smith. Tennant's departure, however, is not the only big change as the show enters its fifth season; Davies, show runner and head writer since the show's return, also took his leave after Tennant's last episode, as did a majority of the production crew. Taking over for Davies is Steven Moffat, a writer of some of the revived series' most critically acclaimed episodes, who promises to bring a fresh tone to the series.

"For me, ‘Doctor Who' literally is a fairy tale," Moffat said, in a recent interview. "It's not really science fiction. It's not set in space, it's set under your bed. It's at its best when it's related to you, no matter what planet it's set on."

Moffat's claim is that the show will lean more towards the personal, fantasy stories than the bombastic sci-fi tropes that made up the bulk of Davies' episodes.

Of course, the most important new face is the Doctor himself, played by Matt Smith, a relatively unknown actor and the youngest person to ever play the role. As with every other actor before him, Smith's take on the role is entirely his own, and he shows a certain level of manic glee when on-screen, different from Tennant's controlled wackiness or Eccleston's somber attitude.

Sarah Dashow, a junior in english, was pleasantly surprised by Smith's performance after seeing the premiere.

"When Matt Smith came in, I'll admit I was a bit skeptical. Despite this, though, his first episode delivered, and managed to get rid of any doubts I had."

Also new this year is Karen Gillian as Amy Pond, the Doctor's traveling companion. The premiere manages to quickly set-up a unique relationship between the two characters, exploiting the show's time travel concept to craft an interesting back-story for the new character.

It's important to emphasize that this is almost an entirely new series altogether. Everything from the interiors of the TARDIS to the theme song and logo are different, making it clear that any ties to the past will come second to the narrative being developed for the new actors and production team. It's still "Doctor Who" as long-time fans knew it, but it's been made more accessible for new viewers.

For science fiction fans who've never given "Doctor Who" a chance, or for viewers looking for a new show to watch as American programs enter their summer hiatus, the fifth season may provide the perfect jumping on point. With so many new elements both on and off the screen, Steven Moffat's tenure on the show might just be an awakening for new fans, as much as it is a brand new day for the diehard viewers.

"Doctor Who" airs Saturdays at 9 P.M. EST, on BBC America. Reruns can be found both on BBC America and online.

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