Doctor Who 2005 in the US?

December 31, 2005

Doctor Who’tis the season — for not much worth watching on TV. From Thanksgiving until the first few weeks of January, there just isn’t much on TV. Reruns, reruns of reruns, recycled old holiday programs and end of the year retrospectives.

If TV is a vast wasteland, the holiday season is ground zero.

Me? Well, lately I’ve been watching the return of an old favorite – Doctor Who.

Doctor Who, the venerable BBC sci-fi potboiler originally ran for 26 seasons, from 1963 through 1989. I spent a few years in the 80’s watching Tom Baker’s run as The Doctor, late nights and weekends on PBS.

This year, the BBC dusted off the old series, updated it, and started a whole new run.

You know what? It’s brilliant.

It’s still the same old recipe – take one enigmatic and quirky time traveler, a fussy time machine, and a companion (preferably contemporary, young, and female) and toss them into situations where trouble occurs. One week it might be aliens on earth, the next week a ghost story from the past, another week problems in the far flung future. Add in just enough special effects to get the point across, and a strong element of “don’t take yourself too seriously”, and season to taste.

But hey — it was a good recipe, and it’s just as tasty now as ever — maybe even a little moreso.

One of the things that always made it interesting was the way they handled lead changes. Every so often, The Doctor regenerates — and comes back as a different actor, who brings his own often wildly different spin to the part.

The 2005 series brought us Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor, cocky, confident, and with a fairly pronounced Northern UK accent (“Why do you sound like you’re from the North?” “Every planet has a North”).

Unfortunately, for reasons of his own, Eccleston decided to only do one season as The Doctor, leaving us with David Tennant as The Doctor number ten. I’ve not yet seen a Tennant episode, but I’ve liked him in other stuff, and he has the potential to do this up right I suspect.

One important issue the BBC had to face in bringing the show back after a 16 year hiatus was that a substantial portion of the audience would have seen (or at least would remember) very little of the original series. This means they had to make it accessible for new viewers, while still keeping the hardcore fanatic fans of the original happy.

They seem to have walked this line nicely. The show is fairly true to the original canon, but assumes very little prior knowledge.

They’ve complemented this by adding a 30 minute “follow-up” behind-the-scenes show — Doctor Who Confidential — for each episode, narrated by Simon (“Shaun of The Dead”) Pegg (who also guest stars in episode seven).

In addition to the usual behind-the-scenes fare, Confidential also includes a lot of material from the original series, setting the current episode in the historical context.

Like I said — it’s brilliant.

It’s entertaining, fun, and wholly accessible to new audiences.

Unless they’re American, of course.

Not that we wouldn’t get it — just that we’re not allowed to get it.

There are rumors that the show was offered to some of the more obvious US outlets (*cough* SciFi Channel *cough*), but only if they’d also buy up a ton of reruns of the original series, which was apparently a deal-breaker.

Of course, since the 2005 series ran last spring (a typical BBC 13 episode run), the DVD set is already out — you can buy it from Amazon UK (who quite happily sells to the US — something to remember the next time you want an import CD.)

Unfortunately, it’s Region 2 encoded, so you won’t be able to watch it on most US DVD players.

I’m sure sooner or later we’ll be offered an official way to watch it.

In the meantime, for the brave and/or clueful out there, torrents are readily available in all of the usual places, plus there is a huge binaries group on Usenet which has all of the current series and a lot of the original.

Not that you should go get it in any of those ways, no matter how bored you are with holiday reruns.

I’m just sayin’.

(How’d I get it? Santa must have left it on my Media Center. Yeah. That’s what happened.)

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