Dr. Who reviewed.

What you're watching.
March 19 2006 4:12 PM

Geeks in Love

The new Dr. Who.

Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston hit the ground in Dr. Who 
Click image to expand.
Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston hit the ground in Dr. Who 

The pilot of Doctor Who (Sci Fi, Fridays at 9 p.m.) combines themes from all kinds of media experiences: the chick lit of self-actualization, the Kim Cattrall vehicle Mannequin (1987), and Norman Mailer's patented rants against plastic. Rose Tyler, our heroine, has a tedious job at a London department store, a tacky home life with a fantastically nattering mother, and a complacent romance going with a sweet and contemptibly dopey boy. She begins her transformation one day around closing time. Down in the basement, she attracts the unwanted advances of a posse of homicidal mannequins, a crew that the audience could find menacing only because the effects look so cheap that their very awkwardness is a freak-out.

Nonetheless, Rose is executing some commendable woman-in-peril shrieks when a middle-aged fellow swoops in to the rescue. He's full of ready quips and interdimensional know-how, and the writers do not intend for his goofy charm to obscure his dashing melancholy. This is the Doctor, an enigmatic figure doomed to cruise through space-time helping various civilizations out of very silly scrapes. In the pilot, there is some kind of molten glob beneath London threatening to use its telepathic command of synthetic materials—witness the mannequins—to destroy the city. The second episode, set on a spaceship in the distant future, concerns a baddie who wants to spoil a viewing party for the explosion of the sun.

Advertisement

This new Who, constructed by the BBC, is a revamp of the classic science-fiction series. Its merits, limits, homages, and heresies are doubtlessly the subject of robust conversation in certain circles that I'd rather not get too familiar with, but to my novice's eye, it's pretty decent hokum—fast, corny, genial, honest in its schlock. And though it's got the time-travel hook of the original and abounds with galactic mumbo-jumbo and spiffy gadgets, it reads less like speculative fiction than romance.

Billie Piper—a British pop star soon to be adorning screensavers at finer engineering schools everywhere—brings limitless pluck to her portrayal of Rose. In Spice Girls terms, the character is two parts Sporty and one part Baby—but, more to the point, she's a post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer figure, a self-possessed wiseass who entertains some ambivalence about her supernatural gig. She's on equal footing with Christopher Eccleston, who plays the Doctor as a notably alienated alien, a sweetheart full of secret sorrows. Yes, the show tells its fan-boy audience, there's a plump-cheeked gal out there for you. The two of you can talk about the end of time until the end of time. This is geek love.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 10:23 AM From Fringe to Mainstream: How We Learned to Panic About Terrorists Crossing the Border
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 18 2014 9:57 AM “The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire,” Explained in GIF by an Old Children’s Toy
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?