As 21st-century time lords go, Matthew Smith fits right in.
Christopher Eccleston had been the chosen one to update "Doctor Who" for the BBC and then American television, before David Tennant took the role and ran with it in 2005. Both actors' quirkiness and chemistry with companion Rose brought TV's longest-running sci-fi series back to prominence, and Mr. Tennant has lately been the leader in "Who's your favorite Doctor?" polls.
Now Mr. Tennant and show-runner Russell T. Davies have handed the reigns to Mr. Smith and writer Steven Moffat. "Doctor Who" returns at 9 p.m. Saturday on BBC America, preceded by an hour-long "Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide."
It's obvious from the start that a familiar hand is at work in the storytelling, and 27-year-old Mr. Smith is as game as his predecessors in committing whole-hog to the crazy and delivering the drama.
We get acquainted with the just-regenerated 11th Doctor as he and his time-traveling police box, the TARDIS, come crashing into the life of 7-year-old Amelia Pond. The precocious redhead has been praying for help to close a crack in her bedroom wall and stop a voice that says, "Prisoner Zero has escaped." The Doctor seems heaven-sent, with the bonus that he's a bit of a loon.
He deduces that the crack is a fissure in time, but he's still getting in touch with his new Whoness. So he hops back aboard the TARDIS and promises Amelia that he'll be back in five minutes.
Well, there's five minutes and there's Doctor time. It's more than a decade before he returns to find grown-up "Amy" Pond (Karen Gillan), who has endured therapy and ridicule because of the rumpled Doctor who dropped from the sky.
A typical "Doctor Who" save-the-world adventure ensues, this one destined to persuade Amy to join the ranks of Doctor's companions.
There also is an ominous warning that "silence will fall" because of cracks in time -- and there's a crack about who caused the problem.
The Doctor, though, is busy living in his first Matthew Smith moments -- at one point he declares, "Who the man?!," then vows to never say that again. He's further distracted by a new sonic screwdriver (memorabilia alert) and spiffed-up TARDIS, which he greets as, "You sexy thing."
Mr. Smith immediately brings to mind the audacity and derring-do of Mr. Tennant. His Doctor is a chip off the bold blokes of "Who" lore.
Sharon Eberson: 412-263-1960 or firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 15, 2010 4:00 AM