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New 'Doctor Who' is out of this world

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When I heard the Sci-Fi Channel was airing a new version of the classic British science-fiction series "Doctor Who," my interest was piqued. You see, the Doctor and I go back a ways.

When I was a young nerd-in-training. the local public television station in the city where I lived was one of the few that didn't show episodes of "Doctor Who." But I had heard about it from friends who had seen it in other cities — one pal had been to London and attended some kind of "Doctor Who" convention and came back with tales of fantastic aliens and murderous robots.

The novelization of those "Doctor Who" episodes were available in my town, though, so I regularly bought up the ultra-slim paperbacks and devoured them one after another. In my head, I could visualize the mind-expanding brilliance of the series, the otherworldly sets, the fantastic special effects that I was just sure had to be part of "Doctor Who."

And then, when I was 13, I attended my first and last science-fiction convention. One of the "attractions" was a screening of a classic "Doctor Who" episode. I remember sitting inside a dingy little hotel conference room, thrilled that the years of "Doctor Who" buildup were finally about to pay off. I was about to see the best science-fiction show ever! The lights went down, the screen flickered, and I proceeded to view what had to be the shoddiest-looking piece of television ever made. The act ing was stiff, the sets were obviously made of cardboard, and I've seen better special effects on "Are You Being Served?" In this episode, the Doctor was supposed to be battling these giant space tortoises or something, and I swear they just cut in footage of real pet turtles crawling around a terrarium.

So that was quite a letdown, and when my family moved to a new city where "Doctor Who was on every Saturday morning, I rarely could bring myself to watch it. The gulf between my imagination and British television's reality was just too wide.

Anyway, "Doctor Who" was a cult hit that finally petered out in 1989 and, aside from a bad American TV movie in the mid-1990s, hasn't been heard from much ever since. But the show was remodeled and revived in Britain last year, and the first episodes just arrived in America on the Sci-Fi Channel last weekend.

And it's really quite a hoot, faithful to the goofy charm of the original series while doing the serious upgrading and improving that was so desperately needed. Right from the opening credits, which use the spacey original theme music and show the Doctor's TARDIS — which looks like a 1950s emergency phone booth — winging through space and time, you know you're in good hands.

For the uninitiated, the Doctor is a renegade space/time traveler who zips through the cosmos battling bad guys, trading quips with aliens and otherwise having a grand old time. For this new version, Christopher Eccleston ("Shallow Grave" and "28 Days Later) plays the Doc.

Several actors have played the role in the past, and some have been too cerebral, others too goofy. But Eccleston hits it right down the middle, playing a guy who knows he's totally superior to the humans he meets but can't help liking them, especially his fellow traveler Rose (Billie Piper).

In the first of last Friday's two episodes, the Doctor met up with Rose while trying to save London from being over run by sentient department store mannequins. You see, this alien consciousness was able to animate plastic, using the London Eye Ferris wheel as a transmitter, and ... you know, not many "Doctor Who" plots hold up on paper.

Just know that everybody seemed to be having a good time, and this is that rare science-fiction show that not only puts an emphasis on comedy but is also pretty funny.

I don't know who Piper is, but she's pretty great as Rose, sometimes gobsmacked at the wonders that the Doctor shows her and other times amusingly unfazed. She and Eccleston develop great chemistry: part father-daughter and part friends, with maybe a little sexual tension thrown in for good measure, quite quickly.

The second episode was even better, as the Doctor and Rose whisk forward a few mil lion years to watch the destruction of the Earth with a roster of VIAs (Very Important Aliens), who for some reason decide to commemorate Earth's passing by playing what they think is one of our world's great pieces of art: the '80s pop hit "Tainted Love" by the group Soft Cell.

Fans used to getting their fix of gritty, violent science fiction every night from "Battlestar Galactica" (which coincidentally is also a remake of a cheesy old sci-fi series) might have a little trouble to adjusting to the whimsy of "Doctor Who."

But I'll bet even they'll catch the groove of this amiably daffy show, and Sci-Fi will have another remake on its hands that tops the original.

What's next, an Emmy-quality re-imagining of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"?

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  • APA 6th ed.: Thomas, Rob (2006-03-21). New 'Doctor Who' is out of this world. Madison Capital Times p. B1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Thomas, Rob. "New 'Doctor Who' is out of this world." Madison Capital Times [add city] 2006-03-21, B1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Thomas, Rob. "New 'Doctor Who' is out of this world." Madison Capital Times, edition, sec., 2006-03-21
  • Turabian: Thomas, Rob. "New 'Doctor Who' is out of this world." Madison Capital Times, 2006-03-21, section, B1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=New 'Doctor Who' is out of this world | url= | work=Madison Capital Times | pages=B1 | date=2006-03-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=30 March 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=New 'Doctor Who' is out of this world | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=30 March 2023}}</ref>