DOCTOR WHO: NEW EPISODES
8 p.m. Saturdays
n I must admit that even as a hardcore fan of the seminal British sci-fi series “Doctor Who,” I was completely and wholly skeptical that Matt Smith, who plays the 11th Doctor, could pull off the character. If you don’t know anything about the series, here’s a primer: The Doctor is a human-appearing alien called a Time Lord, who flies around in space and time in a machine that looks like a blue police box (don’t ask why… it’s too complicated), usually accompanied by a comely female companion. When he gets injured to the point of death, the Doctor does a spiffy little trick called Regeneration, which means he comes back as pretty much the same character, only in a brand new body. How else do you think the series has been on 47 years, pal? Yes, there have been weird-looking Doctors in the past, but Matt Smith is a whole different breed of weird. He’s very young, for one thing, with a face only a mother could love. New show runner Steven Moffat has him decked out in a bow tie and tweed suit most episodes, making him look like a gawky, teen-age door-to-door salesman. All that said, his latest companion (Amy Pond, played by the redheaded and fabulous-to-look-at Karen Gillan) is great, and I love “Doctor Who” so much that I decided to put aside my love for 10th Doctor David Tennant and give Smith a shot. I’m glad I stuck it out. Smith, though a little more twitchy and bonkers than Tennant, is absolutely fab in the role, bringing a depth and mystery to the Doctor that others have lacked. Now, Smith and Co. are back for an all-new season. It started three weeks ago with a bang: An episode (filmed in America for the first time in “Doctor Who” history) built around a mysterious incident in which an older version of the Doctor was killed before our very eyes; an event which appears to be shaping up as the linchpin the season will orbit around. Too, in the grand tradition of “Doctor Who,” this season introduces an all-new evil for our heroes to fight: The Silence — rubber-faced baddies in black suits who exert mind control over humanity in order to make people forget they’ve seen them the minute we look away. As an added geek bonus, this week’s episode, “The Doctor’s Wife,” features a script by the legendary fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. Definitely check it out (and if you need to catch up, the runs of the 9th, 10th and the first season of the 11th Doctor are all on Netflix Instant View).
NETFLIX PIX: MARWENCOL (2010)
n There is something about an amazing documentary that a fictional movie will never be able to touch: that certain knowledge that even when the projectors turn off and all the popcorn is eaten, all the pain and joy and courage and cowardice of the lives you saw on the screen is still going on somewhere in the world. If cinema is a celebration of the human imagination, documentary is a celebration of humanity itself. That said, it’s hard to remember a documentary that has moved me more than 2010’s “Marwencol.” It’s the story of Mark Hogancamp. In April 2000, Hogancamp walked out of a bar and was attacked by five teen-agers. The beating they delivered was unmerciful, turning his face to pulp and leaving him in a coma for nine days. When he finally woke up, Hogancamp had to learn to live again: to walk, to talk, to feed himself. Maybe worse, he had no memory of his life before the beating, and was left profoundly brain damaged. After his insurance ran out, Hogancamp was kicked out of the hospital and forced to find his own therapy to bring himself back from the brink. Always a World War II buff, Hogancamp began playing with 1/6th-scale World War II figures — something like G.I. Joes — to help regain his fine motor skills and coordination. As his real world shrank, cut off from friends and family by his disabilities, Hogancamp’s fictional world expanded. Eventually, using old doghouses and junk, he built a 1/6th scale, WWII-era Belgian town that he called Marwencol. Populated by figures he hand-painted to resemble his flesh-and-blood friends, it’s a real place to Hogancamp, full of intrigue and brutality that often reflects his fears about the world. Though he started Marwencol solely for himself, Hogancamp eventually rose to some fame as an outsider artist after a neighbor showed some of the photographs he took of Marwencol to a gallery owner in New York. Though “Marwencol” initially seemed a little goofy, I eventually found myself nearly moved to tears by this story — by the depth of feeling Hogancamp has for the plastic people who populate his town and his difficulties in separating his real world from his fantasy world (as when he became innocently infatuated with a married neighbor, and told her his doll and the doll he made to resemble her were getting married). In short: This is a lovely doc, one that speaks volumes about the healing power of art and the resilience of the human mind. It definitely should be in your Netflix queue.
— David Koon