'Doctor Who' begins with mystery


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Every fan of "Doctor Who" knows to avoid eye contact with a Weeping Angel, and surely the man who created the murderous statues should know that. But as he spoke to reporters on a conference call Wednesday, his eyes were wide open.

"I'm looking at one right now because it's in my backyard," he said when asked about his favorite "Doctor Who" monsters. As for favorite episodes, he said it's almost always the next one, which on the day in question was "The Bells of Saint John." The show premieres Saturday on BBC America and heralds eight new episodes during the sci-fi show's 50th-anniversary season.

'Doctor Who'

When: BBC America at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Also on Wednesday, the television phenomenon that debuted Nov. 23, 1963, in England, won a Peabody Award for achievement in broadcasting. The Peabody announcement read: "Seemingly immortal, 50 years old and still running, this engaging, imaginative sci-fi/fantasy series is awarded an Institutional Peabody for evolving with technology and the times like nothing else in the known television universe."

Mr. Moffat, who succeeded Russell T Davies as lead writer and executive producer of the series in 2009, didn't want to delve into the anniversary.

"You always want to make it special, but the show must be seen as going forward; it's all about the next episode, the next season," he said. "It's not about nostalgia. If you're thinking about the Doctor, it should be about how he will solve the mystery of [new companion] Clara ... the show must never feel old, and a 50th anniversary can play against that."

The all new adventures were foreshadowed last season and in the Christmas episode. Clara "Oswin" Oswald appeared as the pretty, personable would-be companion who died both times she encountered the Time Lord and his TARDIS, the iconic time-travel machine that looks like an old-fashioned British police box on the outside and is "bigger on the inside."

Jenna-Louise Coleman replaces Karen Gillan's Amy Pond as the Doctor's sidekick and as someone who is "impossible," reappearing where and when she shouldn't be, she is a source of fascination for the 11th and youngest Doctor, played by Matt Smith.

"The companion is important because she is the person to whom the story happens. A hero saves the day and is the person you stand back and admire, and that's the Doctor," Mr. Moffat said. "With the Doctor, we never see how he begins his journey and we will never see how it ends or why he embarked. With the companions, their stories are complete."

The turnabout with Clara this season is that the companion is the enigma. In all the years of "Doctor Who," the human who joins the alien Time Lord for adventures in time and space has been the amazed party. Now, the companion is a mystery, and that fact that she's beautiful and feisty is just what this Doctor ordered.

"She's a terribly, terribly good actress," Mr. Moffat says of Ms. Coleman. "You can be as beautiful and as charming as you like, but that's nothing if you can't deliver. She has great comic timing and she just looks right with Matt Smith. It's an instant poster when you stand them together."

Fifty years are proof that the basic "Doctor Who" story has stood the test of time. Mr. Moffat, who also updated "Sherlock" for the BBC and PBS's "Masterpiece Mystery," has followed all 11 Doctors since childhood.

" 'Doctor Who' is unique in that -- aside from (usually) great storytelling and performing -- it allows the viewers to make their own moral judgments, rather than battering them with a prepackaged response," Dave Thompson, author of "Doctor Who FAQ" (Applause Books, $22.99), said via email. "Admittedly, this has been less of a feature in recent seasons, and the show's success is now built upon its own equally unique bombast and sense of self. But long term, it appeals because it questions but does not answer."

As a boy, Mr. Moffat was an avid Whovian who found the historical episodes -- the ones with no monsters or aliens -- dull; he couldn't wait for episodes that would scare him with Cybermen, Ice Warriors or Daleks. That's reflected in his own inventions, such as the Weeping Angels and the Silence, and we may soon be adding to that list with the Spoonheads of Saturday's episode, which delves into our WiFi-connected world.

The arc of the season, which includes episodes by Neil Gaiman and Martin Gatiss and a guest-starring role for Diana Rigg ("The Avengers"), is all about solving the mystery of Clara, "the girl who died twice," as a video clip points out. A sweet "Prequel" on the BBC site shows the Doctor meeting a very young Clara as they both sit on a swing. It's reminiscent of when he met the youthful Ms. Pond and their bond as fellow travelers.

We got to know Amy from childhood through adulthood, marriage and motherhood, all things until she left the TARDIS, making room for Clara's arrival on the scene. We know the Doctor is quite picky about who walks through the doors of the TARDIS, Mr. Moffat points out, and he's always hesitant -- dangers lurk wherever the Doctor touches down. And whoever becomes his companion is someone he will know over a huge amount of their life span and a tiny amount of his. "I'm fascinated with that," Mr. Moffat said.

He's also fascinated with what compels someone to join the Doctor.

"What sort of person would run through those blue doors? A lot of other people would run the other way. Imagine someone ready to run away with a clearly insane man in a time machine?"

Until now, companions have been adventurous humans who determine to help the Doctor make sure his two hearts are in the right place. In the case of Clara, though ... that's for Mr. Moffat to know and the Doctor and his millions of followers to find out.

mobilehome - tvradio

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Read more from author Dave Thompson in the POPi blog at www.post-gazette.com/popi.


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