When a show has run out of ideas and becomes a confusing, outlandish mess, it is said that the show has "jumped the shark," or, in some circumstances, was "written by J.J. Abrams." Sadly, almost every show eventually reaches this point. Sometimes the Shark is a wedding. Sometimes the Shark is a new location. Often, it is Ted McGinley. This knowledge causes many of us to approach each new season with trepidation. We sit paralyzed wondering if the show will fall from the narrow tightrope between Jumping the Shark and stagnation. But thanks to Dr. Who, we now have an alternative; a moment of excellence we hope a long-running show can reach that justifies our loyal viewership. I like to call this event "Flying the Shark."
For those unfamiliar with the show, Dr. Who is a long-running British sci-fi TV series. It originally aired in the 60s, took a hiatus in the 90s, and was re-launched in 2005. The show follows the adventures of The Doctor, an alien time-traveler who explores the galaxy with a string of beautiful Earth women. Despite having access to any, and all, weaponry the universe has ever seen, the Doctor's only sidearn is his trusty sonic screwdriver, a device that can do pretty much anything required to move the plot along. In addition, if the Doctor suffers a mortal wond, he can "regenerate," saving his life, but also randomly changing his appearance and personality. Luckily, despite the infinite number of forms he could take, he always comes back as a good looking white guy with a British accent. Essentially, it's a plot device that allows the actor playing The Doctor to be replaced every few years. Currently, the show is sporting its 11th Doctor. Each Doctor is essentially a mix between James Bond and the Nutty Professor (or Steve Urkell and his cool alter ego Stefan Urquelle), with each actor finding their own comfortable place on the continuum.
But enough about the background, you want to hear about Flying the Shark. In the latest Doctor Who Christmas special, the Doctor arrives on a planet with an upper atmosphere that is so dense, schools of fish swim through the skies. Unfortunately, this atmosphere has fouled the controls of a spaceship carrying two of the Doctor's friends, and unless he can convince the curmudgeonly miser who controls the atmosphere to let the ship land, his friends will die. I don't want to go into any spoilers, but I will say that the episode is loosely based on A Christmas Carol. Now, that isn't exactly the most original of ideas. In fact, A Christmas Carol has been done to death. But the fact that I'm praising this episode as the height of excellence should tell you something about just how creative a take on an old classic Dr. Who is able to produce. The entire episode is witty and clever. Most of the story is incredibly sad (if you are a crier, you will cry), and yet, it's a comedy. It's a Woody Allen movie with good looking people. And here is the highlight: At one point, the Doctor hitches a shark to an old carriage, and flies.
Again, being wary of spoilers, this scene exemplifies everything that is great about Doctor Who. The Doctor doesn't usually solve problems by being a super-hero. He solves them by getting the other characters to solve them. He inspires them to be better than they were before they met him, helps them face their fears, and to appreciate the beauty and wonder around them. Flying a shark through a futuristic town that looks like Victorian England, but is on an alien planet, is silly. In fact, it's ridiculous. It also perfectly exemplifies Doctor Who. When chased by a flying shark, some TV characters would run from it, and some would kill it. The Doctor flies it. Beat that Fonzie.