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"Doctor" in the House

Somehow I've managed to miss out on the Doctor Who craze for most of my life. I've caught a few episodes here and there of the Tom Baker incarnation and of course I am familiar with the Doctor's most famous villains, those salt shaker-shaped aliens called the Daleks. Yet, I've never really connected with the character or the show (that might have something to do with the way sub-par special effects). So I was wary but open-minded about the BBC's new Doctor Who series, which premiered in the States last week on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Re-envisioned by Russell Davies (creator of the original British Queer as Folk), this Doctor Who is several worlds away from the original 26-year-running cult series. Managing to retain the original's sense of camp and whimsy, the new Doctor Who features Christopher Eccleston as the latest incarnation of a being known only as the Doctor, the last of an alien race called the Time Lords. He travels through space and time in a ship called the T.A.R.D.I.S. (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), a ship which cleverly appears to be a 1950s British police call box... and which is a hell of a lot bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Which brings us to Rose (former pop singer Billie Piper). In the show's pilot ("Rose"), the Doctor arrives on Earth to stop an alien invasion and meets shopgirl Rose, a thoroughly bored department store assistant sleepwalking through life. But Rose's dreary life becomes deadly when her store's plastic mannequins come to life and try to kill her. Rescued by the Doctor, Rose finds herself caught in the battle to stop the Nestene Consciousness--a bubbling vat of goo capable of controlling anything plastic--from annihilating the human race. The Nestene Consciousness is able to send out a signal through the London Eye (that huge ferris wheel) and seize control of the mannequins all over London, turning them into deranged, plastic killers (creepily, their hands house lethal shotguns). But ultimately, it's up to the rather acrobatic Rose to save the Doctor and together they end up averting a global disaster. The Doctor gives Rose the choice to remain stuck in her meaningless existence or join him in exploring time and space.

Of course, Rose chooses to join the Doctor as his companion on his quest (because, well, there wouldn't be a show otherwise). In the second episode, "The End of the World," Rose and the Doctor travel from the present day to the very limit of time on Earth... a.k.a. the End of the World. Five billion years in the future, the Earth is about to be incinerated by the expansion of the sun. Its inhabitants have all departed and intermingled with the other galatic races, but aboard a space station, an elite group of alien watchers is gathering to see the final minutes of the planet. The Doctor and Rose manage to sneak aboard the station and, using a psychic business card, the Doctor is able to secure them safety and freedom aboard the station. There, they meet the Last Human, a vain, pureblooded female who has taken cosmetic surgery to new (and hilarious) extremes: she is a now a single, flattened piece of skin with a face. As the group gathers to watch Earth's demise, a murderer stalks the station and kills off several of the guests and the station's steward... and nearly succeeds in killing Rose. And it falls to the Doctor to save the day, so they don't all end up toast when the sun expands.

I didn't quite anticipate how taken I'd be with Doctor Who. While I thought that the second episode was far superior to the first (the special effects, while significantly improved, are still a little, er, television-y), I was immediately sucked in by the show's out-there mindset and British quirkiness. Adding to that is the wonderful interplay between Eccleston's Doctor and Piper's Rose, who brings a refreshing humanity and Cockney spunk to their adventures. They are a sensational duo and I was impressed with Piper's Rose, who wasn't pigeonholed into being either an ingenue or a badass.

Eccleston brings a sense of controlled mania and joy to the role of the Doctor; it's quite apparent that the Doctor does what he does because he loves it, rather than some responsibility he feels (somewhere, Uncle Ben is rolling in his grave). It's a pity then, that Eccleston left the show early on, to be replaced in the role by Viva Blackpool's David Tennant. While I am sure that Tennant will be a wonderful Doctor (and have heard that the switcheroo is actually written into the plot), I'll miss Eccleston. In the end, he's the one that made me really root for the good Doctor in the first place.

But, ultimately, in a show as wacky and surreal as Doctor Who, I suppose change is part of the program.

"Doctor Who" airs Friday nights at 9 pm on Sci-Fi.

What’s On Tonight

8 pm: College Basketball (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); What I Like About You/Living with Fran (WB); America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC); Nanny 911 (FOX); WWE Friday Night SmackDown! (UPN)

9 pm: Heist (NBC); Reba/Modern Men (WB); In Justice (ABC); Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy (FOX)

10 pm: Conviction (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I’ll Be Watching

9 pm: Doctor Who, naturally. Didn't you read the above?

In tonight's installment of Doctor Who, entitled "The Unquiet Dead," the Doctor and Rose travel to the Victorian era, where they team up with Charles Dickens to battle an ethereal villain. What other show could boast that as an episode description?

But I'll also bve TiVo'ing the following: Little Britain, Creature Comforts, and spoof psychic show High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman on BBC America. Just because it wouldn't be a Friday night without something British on the telly.

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