Jack Bauer vs. the Doctor

Last week I made a few comments about Fox's long running series 24 and its protagonist Jack Bauer, who I've seen referred to as Jack Bauer: terrorist killer. After a long hiatus from the show, during which I heard a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, I turned it back on and wasn't thrilled with the amount of violence. My unenthusiastic reaction to the show was still on my mind when I watched last week's BBC America episode of Dr. Who, the long running, recently revamped series about the last of the Time Lords, who spends an awful lot of time running from aliens and scrambling about trying to save various worlds, including our own, (which for some reason is often in danger at Christmastime).

The Doctor, who doesn't go by any other name, is the last survivor of a race that can time travel and was involved in a horrific war that annihilated almost everyone. He's now quite old by earth standards, nearly a thousand, although he looks rather young. He's a bit of a braggart and a showoff and likes to take new companions around the space/time continuum and introduce to them to exciting events and people. Episodes I watched recently featured a visit to Pompeii on volcano day and a liaison with Shakespeare, who needed rescuing from a scary witch/alien trio.

The doctor is frequently at odds with other species that are bent on domination or eradication of those who are different. For instance the Daleks have a war cry of "Exterminate" and the Sontarans set up an elaborate plan that would allow them to wipe out pretty much all life on earth. I think we know Jack Bauer's approach to alien interrogation; it would no doubt involve something I'm far too squeamish to watch. I'm guessing he would beat up or torture the *Daleks or any Sontaran he could get his hands on, trying to get information that wouldn't do him much good in the long run, but the Doctor has a very different approach. When the Doctor wants information he asks for it. When he wants to know the name of his enemy, he asks for it, invoking galactic law. Once the Doctor has the name of the species that's causing trouble, he has access to an immense storehouse of knowledge, in part because he's been alive for so long. Then he's usually able to figure out a way to foil the troublemakers.

The Doctor is also extremely good at talking the baddies out of their nefarious plans. He'll go to great lengths to use words instead of violence, taking risks that will keep the viewer either on the edge of their seat or hiding behind their couch. But in an episode that aired recently on BBC America called Midnight, the Doctor's cleverness and ability to talk quickly got him into terrible trouble. When an alien intelligence invades a tourist shuttle the doctor pleads with the other passengers, begging them not to attack the entity. He asks them what sort of impression humans should be making, but the tenor of the shuttle takes on a Lord of the Flies feel as the passengers panic and begin to suspect the Doctor of collaboration with the alien. The worst part of humanity emerges as the terrified passengers debate doing violence to the Doctor. But still he tries to talk them down, using his voice and logic instead of his fists or other weapons. I'm convinced Jack Bauer would have just shot everyone and called it a day.

Using violence to get your way isn't just morally wrong (after all, isn’t that why Jack hates the terrorists? Because they use violence as a form of political protest?), it's also lazy. It's lazy writing, it's lazy acting, and it's boring for the viewer. You can throw in all the heart thumping music in the world but if we're watching the same old scene for the hundredth time, with the same expected outcome, we're not going to be interested or engaged.

How many times have we seen a movie, or a television show, or read a comic or book, where the protagonist wants some information and proceeds to beat it out of their opponent? (Of course on the flip side of the coin we also frequently see our heroes beaten to get information but of course we expect them to keep their mouths shut, because that's what heroes do, isn't it?) I find the Doctor and his thoughtful and effective techniques a welcome change. Did I mention that he's cute, charming and funny? You can watch Doctor Who on BBA America (http://www.bbcamerica.com/content/123/index.jsp), the Sci Fi channel (http://www.scifi.com/doctorwho/) and on DVD.

*It would actually be funny to watch Jack try to beat up a Dalek since they're made of metal…

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from mr. nobody who says, "Kara, that new judge on American Idol, is one of the most annoying people I have seen on TV in years. Whenever ANYONE has a useful comment to make she has an increbily rude comment to make about everything, she feels that whenever someone is singing, if they mess up, she has the right to sing with them and it just annoys the hell outta me. She never stops blabbering and arguing. It's a show to help people become better singers, not have snide comments made at them. The contestants should be competing with each other, not the judges." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.