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McNamara's Picks: 'Dr. Who,' 'Atlantis,' 'Charlie Brown Thanksgiving'

November 21, 2013|By Mary McNamara
  • David Bradley as William Hartnell, the very first Doctor.
David Bradley as William Hartnell, the very first Doctor. (BBC )

"Dr. Who," "Dr. Who" and more "Dr. Who."  By now even those few Americans still disavowing their inner geeks and/or Anglophiles must know the British sci-fi classic "Dr. Who" is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary (yes, it debuted in Britain on the day of the Kennedy assassination, small comfort, but comfort nonetheless.) No other show has been as influential, ubiquitous and impossible to quench as the story of the lonely Time Lord wandering the galaxies in search of people and planets to save. 

Through television's niftiest narrative sleight of hand, a defining characteristic of a Time Lord, along with his two hearts, is the tendency to regenerate every few years. This means he's very difficult to kill, but more important, no one will ever get tired of the guy who's playing him. Ten actors have played the Doctor since William Hartnell debuted the part, three since the show was resurrected and yanked into the modern age in 2005 by Russell T. Davies. Companions too have come and gone, as have numerous nemeses, historical figures and signature images. (Who can forget the flying fish of 2010's Christmas special or the boy with the gas-mask face in 2005's "The Empty Child?"

Having jumped the pond with the advent of BBC America and the general geekification of everything, the Doctor is on his way to replacing James Bond as the ultimate British hero.  

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Not surprisingly, the BBC and BBC America are pulling out all the stops to celebrate his mid-century birthday. Old episodes of the modern doctor have been running constantly on BBC America (and are also available on Netflix), dotted with various half-hours devoted to commentary. Mini-sodes and trailer teasers have been available online and on iTunes, and on Friday, "An Adventure of Space and Time" will take viewers back to the earliest days. Written by "Dr. Who" (and "Sherlock") writer (and actor) Mark Gatiss, the docudrama stars David Bradley as Hartnell and tells the story of the team who first conjured the Doctor, the TARDIS and the vast configuration of time and space.   

But all of this is just the appetizer. The main course comes Saturday night with "The Day of the Doctor," an anniversary special airing simultaneously in 75 countries, including the UK and the U.S., on theater and television screens. Written by Steven Moffat, who took over leadership of the series two years ago, it promises to be a love letter to the fans, uniting past doctors 10 and 11 (Matt Smith and David Tennant) and maybe a few more; old companions, die-hard enemies and scenes from the infamous Time War. Add to that enough canon easter eggs to keep Whovians parsing for months to come, and you have a television event that may well be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  

 Allons-y! Back episodes, BBC America, all the time. "An Adventure in Space and Time," Friday, 8 p.m.; "The Day of the Doctor," Saturday, 8 p.m.

"Atlantis." Since you're watching "Day of the Doctor" anyway, you might as well stay tuned for BBC's new fantasy action adventure, a crazy yet undeniably appealing mess of Greek mythology, early mathematics (Pythagoras is a character) and very fake Mediterranean history, perfect for people who still miss "Clash of the Titans" or are just a little too old for the Percy Jackson series.  

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 Meet Jason (Jack Donnelly), a super-handsome, super-sad guy in search of his father who disappeared, the way fathers often do, in a tragic submarine accident. Having inexplicably raised enough money to hire his own bubble sub, Jason has just caught a glimpse of the father ship (called the Oracle) when he is drawn into a bright light and quickly finds himself cast naked and gleaming onto the sands of a strange and foreign land.  

This turns out to be Atlantis but looks a lot like Morocco, (which it is), not to mention every sandy, colorful market-riven city to ever appear in an action adventure film. It plays more like Crete, though, since the king is Minos and there is a Minotaur, which Jason will eventually defeat with the aid of his new friend Pythagoras (wimpy math-head played by Robert Emms) and a rotund slacker named Hercules (Mark Addy, formerly King of all Westeros). So Jason is Theseus, except he's really not, because he also hangs out, in another episode, with a pre-serpentine Medusa, who winds up saving him from being sacrificed to Poseidon's bulls. (Historical note: Bull-leaping is a real thing.)   

But, if you're not a classic mythology purist or looking for something more than a pretty fun, occasionally hilarious sword 'n sandal romp, "Atlantis" is worth a look. Family-friendly too. BBCE America, Saturday, 10 p.m.

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