Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

“Doctor Who” returns from mid-season break


Last Saturday’s return of “Doctor Who” re-introduced a vivacious new heroine, and promises an exciting second half of the seventh season of the relaunched British sci-fi series.

The original series took off in 1963, was cancelled after 26 years in 1989, and came back with a TV film in 1996, before finally taking off again in 2005. Since then, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith have played the ninth, 10th and 11th incarnations of the Doctor. British and American viewership has skyrocketed in past years, and the show has taken on a more somber, continuous narrative. Although “Doctor Who” still employs the same wacky humor and some of the same cheesy villains, it has been showing higher production values and more engaging plotlines in the past eight years.

For those unfamiliar with “Doctor Who” — one of Britain’s most beloved TV shows — here’s a brief explanation: The last Time Lord (an alien named the Doctor) travels the universe saving various civilizations from evil with the help of human companions who he picks up along the way. The Doctor has the ability to regenerate after being killed, breathing new life into the show as new actors are brought on to play the title role. This also makes it easy for new viewers to become engaged, as the introduction of a new Doctor or new companion usually gives the show a clean slate — which is happening now.

Before the recent mid-season break, the Doctor’s two companions — the cherished married couple, Amy and Rory Pond (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) — left the show, much to the dismay of dedicated fans. They have been replaced by a new companion named Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman). Clara is a bubbly young governess, who just happens to die repeatedly and sporadically and reappear in various points in history, without her knowledge of her previous lives.

Clara’s story is enigmatic, and should provide for an infuriatingly mysterious, clue-filled, and plot-twisted couple of seasons. It remains to be seen if she will live up to the emotional and comedic draw of previous companions. The gangling, clumsy and unbelievably endearing Smith plays the current incarnation of the Doctor. He has proven himself to be as dynamic and unique as his predecessors, and he has also kept the role the longest. Although Smith is well loved, it’s hoped that he will kick it up a notch in the second half of the season.

We’re seeing a lot of changes in “Doctor Who.”  With the introduction of Smith in 2010, we saw the show become more streamlined. It is now modernizing and targeting a very specific audience. 

Lead writer and producer Steven Moffat knows that a huge percentage of his viewership is made up of internet-savvy teenagers, and he takes advantage of this. His characters now reference Twitter, and Clara is sometimes shown hacking computers.

Although it’s willing to move with the times, the infatuation with social media within the story is bound to frustrate some longtime fans. “Doctor Who” is about a world in which every day people can be swept away to places and times more interesting and eye-opening than their own. This is a world that in all honesty, has no need for references to Twitter.

Another effect of the modernization of “Doctor Who” is slightly disappointing. With the streamlining of the series, we have also seen a decline in larger, less glamorized companions (like those previously played by Billie Piper and Catherine Tate) and an increase in model-featured, flirtatious vixens (like those played by Gillan and Coleman). While both of these recent actresses have fully contributed to the spirit of “Doctor Who” with their sass, tenderness and intelligence, it would be nice to see a bit more diversity in future casting.

The most recent episode, “The Bells of Saint John,” in many ways returned to some long-standing traditions of the pre-Matt Smith era of “Doctor Who.” These included the old trope of evil corporations, (ironically) soul-sucking technology and terrifying catchphrases. “The Bells of Saint John” returned the setting to the comfortable home turf of London. Not only was this refreshing, but it helped to craft an exciting and driven episode.

It will be very interesting to see how Moffat reinvigorates the seventh season. The coming episodes promise exciting new villains and new settings, which have always kept the show from going stale. It will also be interesting to see how Smith adapts himself to interact with Coleman, and how she will set herself apart from previous companions and earn the love of the viewership. It’s up to the team at this delicate halfway point to reinvent the series — as they do with every cast turnover — and make new and interesting choices.

In addition to new episodes every Saturday, another event that “Doctor Who” fans will have to look forward to will be the 50th anniversary episode, which will feature former ”Doctor Who” stars Tennant and Piper.

 Elise Martorano can be reached at [email protected].

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