There are some TV shows that reward ongoing investment, giving a richness that can only be noticed and appreciated by those who are paying attention. The unspeakably long-lived British SF series Doctor Who always seemed to me to rely on that investment. You needed to have that investment to get past back story that was built for and clumsily contrived to bridge from educational kiddie show beginnings (and much of which was inaccessible due to the lack of existing copies of early episodes) and the awkward sets and rubber aliens. I don’t think that I ever knew a casual Who fan; you could watch an episode now and then of Star Trek, but if you watched an episode now and then of Doctor Who, you might have seen some character charm but would have struggled with the rest. (I know that I did.)
But after years of absence, new episodes were recently launched in Britain, and now they’ve made it over to the U.S. The Sci-Fi channel has run four episodes so far; I’ve only watched the first, but it was quite watchable. One could watch the first episode without having even known there were others; we are introduced to a young lady who will be the Doctor’s new assistant, and get to see him through her eyes. There are signs that there are back story, but only a little of which feels different from what one might find in the first episode of any series. We’re not faced with the Doctor’s history of regeneration (ever the cover story for “we’re recasting the lead”), not dragging in Daleks with their long history of conflict. While there may be some backstory for the antagonists of the episode (I honestly don’t know if they’ve appeared before), there is no confusion to be had in watching this one.
The production isn’t cheap, but on the other hand it’s not lavish. There are special effects that aren’t state of the art nor entirely convincing, but they’re fun without being cheesy. There are certainly ways in which I wish they had been more ambitious; this episode has what are basically killer mannequins, but sticks to a single mannequin style; it would have been fun to see some of the other sorts of mannequin one finds today (such as the ones with only the bottom half of the head)
But what it runs largely on is charm. The assistant is lovely and human. The Doctor is stylish in the way he casts himself above the human-level concerns… even as he proves to be misleading himself a bit in that way.
Was it deep? No. Was it something to be taken seriously? No, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a comfortable and enjoyable watch.
…and that leads to a dilemma. The series is, as I noted, on the SciFi channel. For a fair while, SciFi was running the John Edwards series, a show in which a “psychic” deceived people into believing he was talking to the dead for them. There’s a great difference in this world between telling a story to those who know its fiction and seeking to deceive (particularly targeting the bereaved, as Edwards did), and SciFi put themselves far in the ethical wrong by choosing that latter side. Well, the show went away a while back, so I thought perhaps it was time to forgive tthe network and move on. However, during the episode they ran ads for some new psychic show that they’re about to start. I don’t know if it will be as reprehensible as the Edwards series, but any show presenting psychics as real without some knowing investigation is doing a disservice to the viewers and to humanity as a whole.
(They also ran ads for the very show that I was watching; thank goodness for my Commercial Skip button!)