A real step back in time on new Dr Who

Dr Who
Saturdays, 7.30pm, ABC1

What is it?

The seventh season of the BBC's iconic science-fiction franchise, featuring a mysterious time traveller known as the Doctor (Matt Smith), who travels through time and space in a ship disguised as an old-style London police box. He is accompanied by two companions, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). Side note: it is actually (roughly) the 33rd season, if you include the show's "classic" era, from 1963 to 1989.

Our view

In a genre which so often gets it wrong - Babylon 5, anyone? - Doctor Who is a franchise with room to breathe and, thankfully, room for reinvention. Matt Smith is the 11th Doctor in the show's five-decade history, and each actor has brought something different and distinct to the role. (Except Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy's Doctors who were, let's be honest, slightly annoying.)

The original series of Doctor Who was very much defined by the actor playing the lead role. The updated series, which launched in 2005, seems to be more writer-dependent, shaped in tone and feel by the hand at the helm, rather than the hands at the controls of the Doctor's Tardis.

The current executive producer, Steven Moffat, plays with a darker palette than his predecessor, and the science fiction blossoms as a result. There's a smidge less silly, and a smidge more spooky, but no less of any of the qualities which make Doctor Who what it is: chases, technological gobbledegook, strange aliens and lurches between melancholy and mirth.

In short: lots of topsy, turvey, timey, wimey.

The seventh season premiere was a nod to the show's five-decade history, featuring not just a return of the show's signature villains - the salt-shaker shaped Daleks - but also cameo appearances of a bunch of old Dalek models, including the silver-and-blue Daleks from the original serial that introduced them and the tank-like "Special Weapons Dalek" from the original series' latter years. (Gift with purchase: the black-domed "emperor's guard" Daleks.)

The second episode subscribes to that rare thing in television: truth in titling. (You listening, Australia's Funniest Home Videos? The ACCC has you in its sights.) The episode is titled Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and it features dinosaurs on a spaceship. It also features Egypt's Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele), along for the ride, whom the Doctor, inexplicably, nicknames Neffy. (To borrow a favoured quip from a past doctor: "Brilliant!")

Doctor Who has come a long way from a universe of rubber-suited aliens, but the essence of the show, and the very big themes it conjures, are still there. 1966's The Tenth Planet had threadbare production values but touched on what it meant to be human. 1975's Genesis of the Daleks looked equally creaky but touched on genocide and genetic modification. Though it seemed primarily pitched at children, Doctor Who's greatest storytelling strength is that it never shied away from grand and, sometimes frightening, themes.

In that sense, and fused with contemporary television's production values, the new Doctor Who is a coming of age, the new season and its dark themes, doubly so.

In a sentence

Topsy, turvey, timey, wimey - good old-fashioned fun.

Best bit

The Parliament of the Daleks, ruled over by an enormous, one-eyed blobby Dalek who, if he was in your band, would sing bass. And all the dusty old Daleks buried in the basement of the asylum.

Worst bit

There's a worst bit? OK, the totally naff Technicolor Daleks which were created last season in the episode Victory of the Daleks. Their red, blue, yellow, white and black casings are a clear nod to the coloured Daleks of the 1960s-era Doctor Who feature films, which starred Peter Cushing, but end up looking like giant toys. I say "pfft" to your "New Paradigm", Daleks.

Next episode

Saturday, 7.30pm on ABC1, or on earlier on iView shortly after its UK broadcast. (Roughly 6am Sunday mornings.)

Worth watching again?

Yes, though it's best watched with a little background knowledge. Either pop a fan in front of you and hand-crank as needed, or keep Wikipedia open on a second screen to answer any niggling questions about Skaro, the Daleks, the Time Lords or the Doctor.

Grade: A. For a whole lotta fun.

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