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TV Picks: 'Doctor Who,' Cosby, Burnett, Silverman, Americana

November 22, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • David Tennant, right, as the Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in "The Day of the Doctor," marking 50 years of "Doctor Who."
David Tennant, right, as the Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith as the Eleventh… (Adrian Rogers / BBC Worldwide )

"The Day of the Doctor" (BBC America, Saturday), "The Night of the Doctor" and "The Last Day" (online, at your will), "An Adventure in Space and Time" (BBC America, Friday). "Doctor Who," the television show/British national monument about an alien gadabout who travels all of creation, from end to end and first to last, in a living blue police call box, turns 50 Saturday. It will be marked properly, not with a look back (though there have been those as well) but with an actual, brand new, extremely special episode, "The Day of the Doctor," whose particulars are being kept very secret, except for the bits that aren't. What we do know is that it will feature, dream-teamed, the current occupant of the part Matt Smith (the Eleventh Doctor), and his predecessor David Tennant (Doctor 10). For the uninitiated, the character regenerates every so often, taking on the shape of a new actor -- but every fresh Doctor remains identical with all his previous selves. It's not like Sean Connery and Roger Moore playing James Bond one after the other; rather, it's as if James Bond looked and acted like Sean Connery one moment and, after a brief interlude of special effects, looked and acted like Roger Moore the next. (And then the Connery Bond and the Moore had an adventure together, side by side.) We know as well that Billie Piper will reprise her role as Tenth-Doctor companion Rose Tyler, and that John Hurt will be in it, also as the Doctor, in some way yet to be explained. (Let's call him Doctor Too.) Surprises are in store, one assumes.

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Some hints are contained in the online prequels "The Last Day," which seems to be a scene from the Time Wars (POV, but whose?), and "The Night of the Doctor," in which Eighth Doctor Paul McGann, who had previously played the role for the space of a single TV movie (and myriad radio dramas), gets a long-awaited second screen appearance. (That means we have jumped back, timeline-wise, or timeywimeyline-wise, into the space before the series was revived, in 2005, after its 1989 cancellation -- but I see I am confusing you.) It probably won't be necessary to watch "Night" in order to comprehend "Day," but watch it anyway. If McGann (more lately of "Luther") hadn't already been the Doctor, and if the position hadn't already been filled -- Peter Capaldi is soon to replace Smith -- he'd make a great next one.

Also preparatory to the big event is "An Adventure in Space and Time,” a new TV movie (written by sometime "Who" scripter Mark Gatiss) about the beginnings of the series -- an origin story, as they say in the comic books -- with David Bradley, of "Broadchurch" and "Blackpool" and Harry Potter films as First Doctor William Hartnell. (He has the forehead for the part.) It's a tale of old changing times, as an unlikely trio (flashy Canadian head of drama Sydney Newman, played by Brian Cox; first female BBC producer Verity Lambert, played with sharp-elbowed elegance by Jessica Raine; and first Indian director Waris Hussein, played by Sacha Dhawan) mounts a low-budget science-fiction show that gets little respect until 10 million people tune in. (Thank you, the Daleks.) Unlike Hartnell, whose failing health led him to leave the series at 58 (thus triggering the regeneration scenario, as Patrick Troughton became the Second Doctor), Bradley, a vigorous 71, seems to be everywhere, all the time. A superstar among character actors, he's the right man for this job. The forehead is just a bonus.

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"Carol Burnett: The Mark Twain Prize" (CBS, Sunday), "Bill Cosby: Far From Finished" (Comedy Central, Saturday), "Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles" (HBO, Saturday). Tragedy grabs the headlines, but comedy has as much to tell you about who you are and how things are; it cuts deep, but it leaves you laughing. It puts things in perspective and in proportion. It can make you a better person (or, to be fair, a worse one, depending on the comic).

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