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REVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 5 Premiere

Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Stars: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Caitlin Blackwood

The Big Idea: In Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour, the baton is passed from David Tennant to Matt Smith as the latest incarnation of the enigmatic Doctor, who crash lands in a tiny English village after his violent regeneration lays waste to the controls and interior of his TARDIS. “The Eleventh Hour” is a British expression meaning “a time which is nearly too late,” and showrunner Steven Moffat returns to this theme throughout the premiere … the eleventh Doctor scrambles with seconds to spare to save his beloved TARDIS from imminent destruction; he races against a worldwide countdown to zero to save the Earth; and he finds himself nearly deprived of his newest companion not once, but twice, after committing the sin of arriving late (Tsk tsk, Time Lord. You’d think in 903 years you’d learn not to keep a woman waiting. Someone just might show up with a better offer … ).

To Watch or Not to Watch: Let’s start with the actors. I had my doubts about Matt Smith when he was announced – he’s appallingly young and light on experience, with his main qualification being the ridiculous hair seemingly required of all Doctor Whos. But I’m happy to admit I was dead wrong. Smith was born to play this role, with a performance that is somewhat reminiscent of Tennant’s frenetic energy, but which already has more nuance, more hint of the alien behind the face, than the 10th Doctor ever conveyed.

Karen Gillan is likewise a real find as his fiery Scottish companion – and she’s a ginger (Britspeak for redhead, which is funny because the Doctor’s one, oft-expressed regret about his varied regenerations is that he’s never been a ginger). While she’s not yet as comfortable in her role as Smith is, she goes from good to even better as the premiere progresses, and there’s a palpable sense that the circumstance of their meeting may make her the ideal companion to our interventionist hero. And from the male perspective, it doesn’t hurt that this ex-model is very, very easy on the eyes.

Finally, but definitely not least, Caitlin Blackwood plays a seven-year-old Scottish girl, home alone for the evening, whose backyard is demolished by the run-amuck TARDIS and similarly out of control, “not yet fully cooked” Doctor. It would be too big a spoiler to elaborate about the character, so suffice it to say she’s unafraid as she engages with this magical stranger and feeds him “Fish Custard” (you read that right) in a hilarious, not-to-be-missed comic sequence. Blackwood (the real-life cousin of Karen Gillan) is adorable and nearly steals the scenes right out from under Smith. Memo to Hollywood: This, not the endless parade of Dakota Fanning clones, is how child actors should present.

Meanwhile, the premiere’s plot is engaging, and bears up well under the burden of introducing so many different characters and backstories, while still maintaining continuity with Who happenings of the past. Old Tennant catchphrases such as “timey whimey” and “wibblely wobbly” get affectionate nods, the sonic screwdriver gets worked to (literal) exhaustion, and we find out that the TARDIS has a library in the swimming pool (or vice versa) after the crash.

The only misstep: the music. It’s jarring, usually at the most inappropriate points. Music should be counterpoint to a scene, secondary to the writing, not an overly loud insurance policy to alert the viewer that a character is in danger.

TV Screener Tidbit: Smith says he prepared himself for his Who gig by writing Doctor Who-themed short stories before he stepped into the role.

Doctor Who, season five, premieres Saturday, April 17 at 9PM ET on BBC America

‘The Rockford Files’ Remake: Who Should Be the New Jim Rockford?

UPDATE 2.11.10: I originally posted this last July, when buzz started that NBC was going to remake the classic James Garner drama The Rockford Files. The Hollywood Reporter recently mentioned Matt Dillon‘s name as one of the actors producers were persuing for the redo, but in the last couple of days here at TVScreener.com, fans have been excitedly voicing their support for Stargate: Atlantis star Joe Flanigan as the man who could fill Garner’s Emmy-winning Rockford shoes.

I agree, Flanigan would be an excellent Jim Rockford, able to pull off the humor, the leading man charm, the action bits … Rockford producers, the people have spoken (and are continuing to speak). Is Mr. Flanigan on your Rockford Files short list?

FROM JULY 2009:
NBC is remaking the ’70s PI drama The Rockford Files, the classic series starring James Garner as trailer-dwellin’ ex-convict investigator Jim Rockford. NBC is moving the action to modern day, and here’s hoping they also stick with the character being in his 40s or 40s (Garner was 46 when the show began in 1974), which should make for interesting casting.

A few suggestions off the top of my head: Christian Slater, Jason Bateman (not that he’s headed back to TV anytime soon with his hot film career in full swing), Paul Rudd (ditto the film career) and Matthew Perry, who has been trying to get back to TV series work since the failure of his NBC dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and his Showtime comedy The End of Steve didn’t make the cut at the cable network.

Any other ideas about who would make the perfect new school Jim Rockford?

‘CSI: Miami’: Show ‘Em Your Best Caruso Impersonation

You’ve seen them both: The original YouTube.com clipfest of David Caruso‘s one liners from CSI: Miami, and the sequel, Caruso one liners with his sunglasses used for emphasis. Classic. So classic, in fact, that Jim Carrey even paid homage to Caruso’s performance as Horatio during an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Turns out the actor and CBS have a sense of humor about the whole matter, and are now giving fans a chance to show off their own best Caruso impersonations. Upload a video of yourself reeling off a Horatio one liner, Caruso-style, and you could win $5,000. That buys a whole lot of Silhouette shades (the brand Caruso wears on the show).

The Original Caruso Clipfest

The Sunglasses Special Edition

‘Southland’: Canceled!?!

We already have the fall TV season’s most surprising cancelation: Southland.

The NBC cop drama wasn’t even scheduled to bow its second season until Oct. 23, but NBC has already pulled the plug, sadly, on the show that was one of the best network premieres last season. Part of the reason for the cancelation: NBC says the show’s too dark and gritty for the 9PM broadcast network hour, which, of course, is the latest slot NBC has available in primetime with the lame Jay Leno Show taking up 10PM Monday-Friday. Sigh.

Southland, a Warner Bros. TV production, started off as a midseason series on NBC last spring, taking over the timeslot vacated by another John Wells production, ER. The show won good ratings that dwindled as the episodes unfolded, but earned great critical reviews and had a loyal following heading into its new Friday night home for its second season.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show may be pitched to cable networks … Southland would fit in well with great dramas like Sons of Anarchy and Damages, don’t you think, FX execs?

Meanwhile, it’s bad enough that NBC’s new series – like the generically, forgettably-titled medical dramas Trauma and Mercy – have failed to wow anyone, but now the network is just throwing away the buzzworthy scripted series it could potentially nurture into a ratings hit?

Sad.

‘My So-Called Life’! Free! On Hulu! Right Now!

I’m excited (hence the embarrassing overuse of exclamation points), as should every fan of teen angst TV dramas be, because Hulu.com is unspooling the complete series run (okay, it only ran for one season, but still) of the classic Claire Danes series My So-Called Life.

The 1994-95 gem, which should hover at or near the top of any TV lover’s list of the best teen dramas ever, has been available on DVD for awhile, but how cool to have it so handy to watch right at your desk. All that Jordan Catalano-y goodness, available on your computer 24-7.

By the way, if you want to delve right into the greatest MSCL moment of all time – when Jordan walks down the hall to Angela’s locker and holds her hand in front of everyone! – you will want to fast-forward to 45:30 in the “Self-Esteem” episode below:

So, what was your favorite MSCL episode or moment?

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