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Doctor Who, on BBC One (UK) / Sci-Fi & BBC America (USA)
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Caution: spoilers!

The original Doctor Who TV series ran from 1963 to 1989. The new series began in 2005, in the U.K., but I didn't see it until 2006, when it aired in the U.S., on Sci-Fi Channel. (That network would air the first four seasons, before American rights were picked up by BBC America, which had already been airing reruns of seasons 1-4, and then became the primary American distributor of the series from season five onward.) So... Quick recap of the old series: there's this human-looking alien called "the Doctor," who is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He has a time machine/spaceship called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension In Space). The tardis is disguised as a 1950s British police box (which is like a phone booth), but it's bigger on the inside. He uses it to travel throughout time and space, and has lots of strange and exciting adventures, sometimes even on Earth. Sometimes he travels alone, and sometimes with one or more Companions. The Doctor is centuries old, and occasionally regenerates a new body, so he can be played by different actors. But it's not just his appearance that changes, he also gets a new personality when he regenerates... but the one constant is that he's always a hero (and kind of a rebel). But Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times (under normal circumstances), for a total of thirteen lives. And this new series begins with the ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston). (Well, we'll call him the ninth Doctor, anyway. He might technically be the tenth, but that's a story for another time. Same rule applies to all subsequent regenerations in the current revival of the franchise.)


Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)
Between the first and second series, there was a special called The Christmas Invasion, in 2005. (Though technically it's considered part of series two, and can be found on that series's DVD.)

Series Two (2006)
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Just as "Bad Wolf" was the recurring theme of season 1, the recurring theme of season 2 is "Torchwood." In most episodes, we just hear subtle references to it, with no explanation whatsoever. But in the second episode, the Doctor and Rose visit 1879 Scotland, where they meet Queen Victoria. The episode is set at the Torchwood Estate, and at the end of the episode (after the time travelers have left), Victoria decides to create something called the Torchwood Institute, which is meant to defend Earth against aliens or anything paranormal. In the third episode (set in the present), the Doctor is reunited with one of his former Companions, Sarah Jane Smith. And just as the first season dealt with how the Doctor's lifestyle affects the friends and family of his Companions, this episode addresses how the Companions themselves are affected when their time with the Doctor ends, and they have to go back to living normal lives. Not that Sarah Jane has really led a "normal" life since the Doctor "dumped" her; she still has adventures on her own... or not quite on her own. Since her time on the series ended, she had a spin-off in 1981, called K-9 and Company, in which she was joined by a robot dog, K-9 mark III. (Though the spin-off didn't make it past the pilot.) And K-9 plays an important role in this episode of the new Doctor Who. Presumably, Sarah Jane and K-9 have had lots of adventures together, over the years, even if we didn't get to see them. But we'll get to see more of them, since this episode led to a more successful spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. (Incidentally, the villain in the reunion episode was played by Anthony Head.) It's also at the end of this episode that Mickey begins traveling with the Doctor and Rose.

Episodes 5 and 6 involve an alternate universe, where a scientist created an "upgrade" for humanity, turning people into Cybermen. In the old show, Cybermen were a major recurring nemesis, though I've never been aware of their origins. I just knew they weren't from Earth, as they are here. So I don't really think of these as "real" Cybermen, but... they look pretty much the same, they act and speak pretty much the same, and... well, basically the are the same. Just... not. Anyway, they (and the alternate universe) will play an important part at the end of season 2. But first... there are other adventures for the Doctor and Rose. (But not Mickey.) In another two-parter, they meet a group of humans in the distant future, who... well, I don't want to reveal what that story's all about. A minor part of it involved an alien slave-race called the Ood (who I think look rather Lovecraftian). I just want to mention them, because we'll see them again in later seasons. In another episode, on present-day Earth, there's a group of people who are aware of the Doctor's existence, and want to find him. They call themselves LINDA (London Investigation 'N' Detective Agency), and... well, they're kind of funny. (And they'll be mentioned again, later.) Another episode was set around the time of the 2012 Olympics. (It's kind of neat that the Doctor and Rose would go just six years into Rose's future, I think. And it's one of the few benefits I can see to the host city of the Olympics being named so far in advance.)

Anyway... the final two episodes of the season give us our first real look at Torchwood. There are also two separate invasions of Earth: one by Cybermen, and one by a different alien race that I don't want to spoil. But I must say it was awesome to hear the two races trash talk each other, and (temporarily) forget about their conquest of Earth, to fight each other instead. The first of the two episodes also feature the first time the Doctor says "allons-y!" which subsequently became a popular catchphrase. And... the season ends with Rose leaving. (It's quite poignant- again with the poignancy!- because she'll never be able to see the Doctor again.) A few months after season two ended, the first season of the spin-off series Torchwood, which featured Captain Jack Harkness, began.


The Runaway Bride: This is the second Christmas special, which is technically the start of series three, but sort of between seasons. It's set up at the end of the final episode of series two, when the Doctor takes off in the tardis, alone... and then a woman in a wedding dress suddenly appears, to the great surprise of both the Doctor and herself.

Series Three (2007)
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The Doctor is joined by a new Companion, a medical student named Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). And of course they have a number of adventures in time and space, and of course they occasionally return to Martha's own time, where we get to see her family a bit. (Her sister, Tish, was played by Gugu Mbatha Raw.) I don't want to reveal anything about most of their adventures, but there's one episode, "Blink," which is significant for introducing a terrifying alien race called the Weeping Angels, who would immediately become a new fan favorite nemesis. It's also notable as a brilliant time travel story of a different nature than what we usually see on the show. And it introduces the phrase "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey." (The episode also featured Carey Mulligan.) Another episode features Derek Jacobi. While Jacobi only appears in one ep, it's the start of a three-episode arc in which the Doctor and Martha are joined by Captain Jack Harkness (between the first and second seasons of "Torchwood"). It's also in this season-ending arc that the true identity of a British politician named Harold Saxon is finally revealed. I won't spoil that (at least not yet), but he's a pretty great villain. And his name had been heard in passing, throughout the season, as he represents season three's major story arc. Anyway, after the Doctor and Martha and Jack save the world (again), Jack returns to Torchwood. But not before relating an anecdote about his past, which suggests a shocking possibility to Martha and the Doctor. (The first time I watched the episode, I thought Jack had no idea what it might mean to them, but watching it years later on DVD, I realized that a couple episodes earlier, Martha had said something in his presence that should have meant something to him, even if he never let on. So I don't know.) Oh, I also want to mention that watching the show on DVD, there was a song in the season finale, "I Can't Decide," by Scissor Sisters. I had no recollection of that from the first time I saw the episode, but now it's been years since I became a fan of the song for a totally different reason. So I found it hilarious that it was used in this ep, in the way it was used.

I also need to mention... it had been strongly implied in season two that the Doctor and Rose had developed romantic feelings for each other, though nothing came of it. (The first time I watched that, I was opposed to the idea of the Doctor having such feelings for anyone. Rewatching it years later, it made sense to me, and added to the poignancy of how their time together ended.) But this season... Martha developed feelings for the Doctor pretty much immediately. So a big part of the subtext of the season was her feeling like he didn't really see her, was oblivious to her feelings. And she always felt jealous of Rose (whom she'd never met). This could have made Martha seem like a sort of cliche, or something... but it really didn't. Because she was an amazing character in her own right, very intelligent and brave and steadfast, and without her... well, the Doctor, the Earth, and pretty much the universe would have been doomed. But in the end, she decides to stay with her family in her own time, both because she wants to help them deal with the emotional repercussions of... things that happened... and because she knows the Doctor will never return her feelings. But while it's a bit sad, the parting of the ways was definitely happier than that of Rose and the Doctor. And we'll see her again, someday.

There's an animated microseries called The Infinite Quest that's set sometime during the third series, though it's probably not canonical.


At the end of the third season finale, after the Doctor has left on his own, the Titanic unexpectedly crashes into the tardis. This leads to two things: the first is a minisode called Time Crash, which aired as part of the BBC's annual "Children in Need" charity special. I'm not sure if it's canonical to the series, but it's certainly amusing. The second, and more important thing, that the crash leads to is the third Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, which is, of course, technically considered part of series four.

Series Four (2008)
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Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) was first introduced in the second Christmas special, The Runaway Bride, just prior to series 3. At the end of that special, she chose not to join the Doctor in his travels. But since then, she's found life on Earth boring and unsatisfying, so she's been looking for the Doctor whenever/wherever strange things are happening, the sorts of things she thinks he might show up to investigate. She finally runs into him and helps with one such alien plot at the start of series 4, and then becomes his new traveling Companion. I must mention that we see a couple of her relatives, a few times throughout the season, including her mother, Sylvia, and more importantly, her grandfather, Wilfred Mott (whom you may recall my mentioning in my review of "Voyage of the Damned"). I also feel I should mention that, while I made some effort to describe the Doctor's previous Companions, Rose and Martha, and all their admirable qualities, within my series reviews, I mainly took care of my description of Donna in my review of "The Runaway Bride." But of course we get to know her better over the course of this season, which rather makes me feel that my initial description of her is somewhat incomplete. Still, it's hard for me to think quite what to add. I could say that she's had lots of temp jobs, and the skills she learned at each of them frequently come in handy during her adventures with the Doctor. I could repeat (from my earlier review) that she is very funny and sarcastic, because it bears repeating. And despite (or maybe even, in part, sort of because of) her frequent gibes at the Doctor, the two of them turn out to be pretty good mates (by which I mean friends).

I should mention that the phrase "Doctor-Donna" is used probably a few times throughout the season (most notably by an Ood), and that that takes on a particular significance at the end of the season, which I don't want to spoil. But it's one of several recurring themes throughout the season that add up to the season's overall story arc. Other themes include the occasional mention of bees disappearing, and sightings of Rose trying to contact the Doctor (to no avail, at least until the end of the season), and various people telling Donna they're sorry for her loss (which sometimes seems to fit the present story, but other times seems more cryptic; its true meaning isn't revealed until the end of the season). So I can't really give this season a succinct arc title or description, like series one's "Bad Wolf," or series two's "Torchwood," or series three's "Harold Saxon." Still, if I was going to give this series an arc title, I suppose it would have to be "Doctor-Donna."

Anyway, of course they have a number of interesting adventures throughout the season, only a few of which I'll specify. There's a two-part story involving a Sontaran invasion, in which we see Martha again, working with UNIT. In another episode, the Doctor has a "daughter" named Jenny, who is created full-grown by a machine that involves a process... sort of like cloning. Or whatever. There's a two-part story that introduces a particularly frightening and deadly (though essentially unseen) species called the Vashta Nerada. More importantly, the story introduces a character named Professor River Song (Alex Kingston), who will become a very important recurring character. (It is undoubtedly, unforgivably spoilerish of me to say this, but the character and her whole story arc was inspired by the book The Time Traveler's Wife; which is, incidentally, completely unrelated to "Doctor Who.") And in the two-part season finale, the Doctor and Donna actually visit the headquarters of the Shadow Proclamation (a sort of "outer space police"), which had been mentioned numerous times throughout the revival of the series (and despite my frequently using the term "series" and "season" interchangeably, in this case I am definitely referring to the series as a whole, not just one season). But this was the first time we've actually seen it. Anyway, there is a major threat to the entire universe, which is why Rose has been trying all season to reach the Doctor. Aside from her, he'll also receive help from UNIT (mostly Martha), and Sarah Jane Smith (plus one or two characters from her show), and Torchwood (mostly Jack Harkness, though we also see Gwen Cooper and Ianto Jones, and the Doctor makes an amusing inquiry into Gwen's family history, which is a sort of in-joke nod to the fact that Gwen is played by the same actress who played another character in series one, in an episode set in 1869). And... there are a few other familiar characters, whose involvement I'd rather not spoil. But the most important person in the collective effort to stop the destruction of the universe is Donna herself. Well, mostly herself; I really don't want to spoil how she's able to help. But I do have to say that it leads to probably the most poignant parting of the ways yet, between the Doctor and one of his Companions. I won't spoil why it's so sad (except to say she's not dead, or anything). But I will say that it leads to a brief conversation between the Doctor and Wilfred, that highlights one of the reasons Wilfred is such an awesome character. ...And I should also say that I'm leaving out some other pretty major plot developments for other characters, some of which are much happier endings than the one Donna got.


After season 4, there was yet another Christmas special, The Next Doctor. And then in 2009-10, there were four specials, ("Planet of the Dead", "The Waters of Mars", and "The End of Time, parts 1 and 2"), which are technically considered part of season 4, even though that's really already ended, but they're not season 5 (which starts later in 2010). These specials marked the beginning of BBC America airing "Doctor Who" in the U.S., instead of Sci-Fi Channel. It was also sometime during the timeframe of the specials that the Doctor appeared in a story from series 3 of The Sarah Jane Adventures.


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