Thursday, October 11, 2012
Thursday, September 6, 2012
What follows are some thoughts about Davison's twenty Doctor Who serials (arranged chronologically): serials, to my mind, worth watching whether you're a fan of the genre or not, because at their heart, they boast a spectacularly fine actor doing spectacularly fine work. As you'll see, there are only seven or eight serials that I consider truly great, but Davison is rarely less than impressive, and frequently he's stirring. It's been nearly forty years since Davison made his TV debut, a full thirty years since he assumed the title role in Doctor Who. A year ago, I'd never heard of the guy; now I'd be hard-pressed to think of a television actor I admire more.
The Third and Fourth Doctors typically traveled with one or two companions, but Davison was often saddled with three; as a result, the Fifth Doctor's TARDIS has long been labeled "crowded." But the notion of a "crowded TARDIS" misses the point. Doctor Who began, after all, with four aboard the TARDIS, and certainly, if you watch First Doctor William Hartnell, sparring and conspiring with the marvelous William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Maureen O'Brien in a good adventure like "The Rescue," "The Romans" or "The Web Planet" (or a great one like "The Crusade"), you're unlikely to view the TARDIS as "crowded." In Davison's case, it's not the amount of baggage that's the problem -- it's the contents. His companions were a scrappy lot; not that they were, overall, an untalented bunch -- but each came with his or her issues.
Peter Davison rose to fame as Tristan Farnon on the British TV series All Creatures Great and Small. I confess I knew as little of All Creatures as I did of Doctor Who, but like millions before me, I warmed instantly to James Herriot's fictionalized accounts of his veterinary practice during the Great Depression. But although, based on my affection for Davison in Who, I expected him to be excellent, I was still unprepared for the effect that Tristan, that "debauched choirboy" (as his brother calls him), would have on the series once he arrived on the midday train in episode two. Until then, the series is charming and winning, but -- befitting both the setting of the original stories and the era in which the TV series was produced -- a little sedate. Davison quickens the pulse. In a town filled with do-gooders, Tristan is the devil on everyone's shoulder, and Davison's presence and physicality -- the way he smoothes back his hair, or the cigarette forever tucked between his fingertips -- feels at once modern and timeless. He ignites the series. (It's the way the anti-hero, usually John Garfield, used to arrive late in the game in Warner Bros. movies of the '30s and disrupt the happy domesticity -- and you were grateful; you hadn't realized how tame the film had been until it acquired a little of that much-needed, ne'er-do-well energy.)
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Entertainment Weekly recently ran a cover story on the TV series Doctor Who, lauding it as one of the cult classics of all time. I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who -- never even heard of the show -- until Christmas Day, 2010. My husband and I were vacationing in South Florida; the house there had BBC America, and as we were channel surfing, there was a 2005 episode entitled "The Christmas Invasion." We decided to take a look, and entertained and intrigued -- and since the house also had streaming Netflix -- we decided to explore further.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Speaking of "The Fifth Anchor," it's from the sixth season of Murphy Brown -- easily, to my mind, the most re-watchable and purely pleasurable of all the seasons: a resurgence for the series after the dismal fifth season. It's not as weighed down by the self-congratulatory topical references that now mar the first few years; instead, its experienced show-runners and largely new writing staff apply their talent and enthusiasm to a string of episodes that feel as timeless as they do timely. The many highlights include "Angst for the Memories" (featuring an Emmy-winning guest shot by Martin Sheen), "Political Correctness" (a merry skewering of a concept that had just come into widespread use, which the FYI lawyers insist on calling "cultural sensitivity"), "Ticket to Writhe" (which neatly dispenses with Miles' girlfriend Audrey, played by Jane Leeves, who had moved on to Frasier), "Sox and the Single Girl" (in which Murphy inadvertently steals the President's cat), "The Anchorman" (in which Jim inadvertently purchases a gay bar) and "It's Just Like Riding a Bike" (which Matt Roush, then writing for USA Today, deemed, correctly, the show's "sexiest-on-record" episode). But more than any of those, there's "It's Not Easy Being Brown," probably the series' funniest half-hour, in which Murphy, in order to improve her Q rating, goes on a children's show called Mulberry Lane and ends up having it out with a sassy puppet named Kelbo. The fur, literally, flies.