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June 19, 2005

Some Less Conflicted Comments

Okay, so I was a bit divided about Batman Begins, but I'm less conflicted about the two TV series I watched yesterday and today thanks to internet downloads of international broadcasts...

So let me take a minute to talk about Doctor Who (2005) and Justice League Unlimited.

(Extremely limited spoiling again... but I'll go under a fold anyway.)

So, first, the Doctor.

I was introduced to the Doctor in 1979 thanks to the US publication of some episode novelizations. I was 14 and had slightly heard of the show reading science fiction fan 'zines of the era, but didn't really know much about it. The first of these was Terrance Dick's Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks, adapting the 60th story of the long-running series. The story spoiled me for most of the series, unfortunately, as it actually featured honest-to-goodness time travel as part of the plot (all too often, the Doctor only travels at the start and end of stories, sticking around as if just another native during the adventure). Here, bad guys (the titular Daleks) use their limited powers of time travel to manipulate events to lead to their conquest of Earth, said manipulation made possible in the future because they have conquered the Earth. Except, of course, the Time Lords forced an exiled outcast of their race (The Doctor) to set things right.

And what a character this Doctor was. It was a 1972 episode, so the Doctor was Jon Pertwee, who came across as a brilliant but more than a bit cranky pseudo-Victorian scientist, assigned to assist (and be watched over by) a United Nations anti-alien task force. It was all a bit silly, didn't really make too much sense, and I loved it. Of course, I was reading a book, so the Daleks came across as the frightening, inhuman death machines they're described as, not the comic dodgem-cars mated with a pepper grinder I later saw them looking like on PBS re-runs of the series. No, to my imagination, they were something really frightening, a relentless, heartless killing wave that could be pushed back but never stopped. (Sort of like what the Borg were much later in Star Trek: The Next Generation, at least before they started humanizing them for "greater drama").

I eventually saw and read a lot more Doctor Who. I've seen episodes with all the various versions (a clever writers trick allows the Doctor to be re-cast with a new actor whenever needed), and liked most of them. I suffered through a painfully mistaken attempt to Americanize the series that, thankfully, lasted only one two-hour special. And then, for nearly than a decade, it went away.

And now, it's back. And is it ever!

Writer Russell T. Davis, clearly a classic Doctor fan from way back, somehow convinced the BBC to bring the Doctor back, this time with a bit less cheese and a bit more SFX budget (though it doesn't always escape its roots; often, though, that looks to be on purpose). A brilliantly funny man, Christopher Eccleston, was cast in the lead, and this Doctor manages to have all the best and worst of his past selves. He's cross, razor-tongued, quick to judge, impatient, sarcastic, reckless, and just a little bit too harsh in how he deals out "justice". He's also funny, charming, impossibly clever, and given to forming deep and unshakable loyalties to the right people. In this case, that's the sweet but apparently unimportant Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), with whom he happens to cross paths in the first episode (entitled "Rose", so you know where the real focus is).

Through the 13 episodes of this series, we also meet several other recurring characters, including Rose's mother (Camille Coduri), who never really understands what is going on; her boyfriend Mickey (Noel Clark), loyal and true but just a little bit wrong to make it onto the Doctor's team himself; Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley), a near-future techno-nerd who is just a little too tempted by technology; and the roguish Captain Jack (John Barrowman), who can't seem to decide if he wants to seduce Rose or the Doctor. Plus tons of other interesting people, creatures, and things. The world is saved, the world is accidentally put in peril, the world is saved again. And a rollicking good time is had, including an amazing episode poking fun at BBC game shows (including an Anne-droid who mercilessly disintegrates the "weakest link"... voiced by Anne Robinson herself). And, in the end, it all ties up into a complex but astonishingly neat pattern.

And, amidst it all, the Daleks, still looking like they always have, are somehow made just as scary as they ever were in their descriptions.

This is worth checking out! And if the next series (coming in 2006, with a one-shot special for Christmas first) is anywhere near this good, then the Doctor is not going away again anytime soon! (And there are rumors I've heard about Cybermen, another old foe who could use a modern touch to make them as scary as they should be.)

Now, Justice League.

I commented in my Batman Begins review that I really like what the WB animated team has been putting together since they started Batman the Animated Series. Well, JLU is the culmination of that work, now broadened to include most all of the DC Comics universe (including many parts I never expected to see on TV). In the US, we've seen an excellent season so far, including some unexpected hostility between the government (especially a top secret group called "Project Cadmus") and some unlikely romantic sparks (or did anyone honestly see the Huntress and the Question as a couple in advance?). We've also had an astonishing degree of continuity, with references back as far as the first season of the Batman animated, and countless tiny plot threads, many probably not even intended by their original authors, picked up and run with.

Well, America, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Canada's YTV has already shown the next four episodes, a four-part epic that brings everything to a head. (The one episode left in this season, "Epilogue", is an obvious afterward, an anti-climax, and shows there next Friday, but since I'll be at The Black Road, I'll review the series now.)

What the US is still to see is a story arc the likes of which was completely unexpected, even with the high-quality work this series has shown from day one. Even the titles were designed to tease and excite JLU fans.

"Question Authority"


"Panic in the Sky"

"Divided We Fall"

Well, if you're a JL fan from, oh, the second season and, say, episodes 37 and 38, you may think you see a thread in those titles. You're right. And you're wrong. You probably went down the path they want you to follow, and if so, they will surprise you at every turn. Dwayne McDuffie, the writer of this arc, proves deft and clever. He also proves to know and care for the DC Universe deeply. This is great TV.

Don't miss it. The next four weeks (and almost certainly five; I don't expect "Epilogue" will disappoint) are ones of the record books.

Posted by ghoul at June 19, 2005 11:09 AM

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What source are you using to find the torrents for these shows (and others)?

Posted by: Michael Curry at June 19, 2005 03:52 PM

After a few lawsuits and threats of the same closed down my former favorites, I've mostly turned to torrentspy to find things.

Posted by: The Ghoul at June 19, 2005 04:28 PM

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