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“Doctor Who” might be the world’s most perfect series because it never has to end. (Let’s ignore the hiatus in the 1990s.) On the air nonconsecutively since 1963, “Who” comes with a built-in reboot system: a lead whose alien properties allow him to regenerate his body (letting a new actor fill old shoes).
So fans who know where to look already will be aware of the Doctor’s latest incarnation: He has gone from plucky-yet-worldly-wise David Tennant to bow-tie-wearing goof Matt Smith, who debuts Saturday on BBC America. Additionally, his traveling time machine, the TARDIS, has been revamped into a steampunker’s dream, and his traveling companion has gotten even younger, perhaps to match up with Smith’s wide-open, baby face.
There’s little to be said about “Who” that fans don’t know; for example, they probably know just how the series is going to find a loophole in the Doctor’s 13-regeneration limit (Smith is No. 11). But newcomers to the series owe it to themselves to start making this appointment television as it’s some of the best-produced, cheekiest and imaginative storytelling on the tube. It’s family-friendly and adult-pleasing, over-the-top and nightmarish, witty and deep all at the same time: “You are not of this world,” someone tells the Doctor; the longtime savior of Earth replies, “No, but I’ve put a lot of work into it.”
Hard to tell how Smith’s Doctor stands up yet. He spends a long time doing slapstick spit-takes with a child in her kitchen, and easing into the main plot (a spaceship run by a giant eyeball is seeking a prisoner who hides in the girl’s home) takes time. But by the time the Doctor’s full powers regain strength, Smith finds his feet and summons the menace and authority to make that eyeball blink. In that moment, he becomes the Doctor.
However, there’s a dismaying trend away from scary and into silly in the Doctor trend (Christopher Eccleston, the first since the 2005 series re-start, was eccentric and sinister even when laughing). But the fact is, the Brits known how to be self-deprecating and tell a ripping yarn at the same time. Those just now hopping into that big blue box for a trip around space and time are in for a treat, because even when imperfect, “Doctor Who” is always worth keeping your eye on.
Airdate: 9-10 p.m., Saturday April 17 (BBC America)
Production: BBC Wales for BBC One
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Executive producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis
Writers: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Toby Whithouse, Simon Nye, Chris Chibnall, Richard Curtis, Gareth Roberts
Producer: Tracie Simpson
Director: Adam Smith
Director of photography: Owen McPolin
Production designer: Edward Thomas
Costume designer: Ray Holman
Casting: Andy Pryor
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