BBC’s ‘Dr. Who’ Returns, Along With ‘Coma’ Redux: Review

'Doctor Who'
Karen Gillan and Matt Smith get a chilly reception on a hostile wintry planet in BBC America's "Doctor Who." The British science-fiction piece debuted for the first time the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Source: BBC via Bloomberg

Until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have known a Dalek if it served me lunch.

A novice in all things “Doctor Who,” the loopy British sci-fi series that debuted the day after President Kennedy was assassinated, I’ve just screened it for the first time.

I think I get it.

“Asylum of the Daleks” opens the show’s Series 7, debuting tomorrow on BBC America. Four more episodes will air throughout the fall, with additional installments to follow next year.

So, Daleks. They’re chest-high, thimble-shaped cyborgs with flashing lights, arms that resemble toilet plungers and voices that sound like Jabba the Hutt filtered through a voice synthesizer.

These sinister robots have been bedeviling the good Doctor since 1963 -- that’s in real time -- and the new episode reportedly gathers every Dalek model built over the years, a series first.

That means infinitely less to me than it does to “Who” fans, but I enjoyed “Asylum” all the same.

Prison Planet

Without spoiling certain plot points (the screener was made available to critics on that condition), “Asylum” finds the Doctor (Matt Smith), and sidekicks Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) doing battle on a wintry prison planet housing the baddest of the bad Daleks.

There will be skeletons, a talking squid-like creature, humanoids with flashlights protruding from their foreheads, and any number of special effects that aren’t quite as cheesy as you’d imagine. Almost, but not quite.

Mostly, “Doctor Who” is fast-moving and fun-silly but not stupid, and without a hint of the pomposity that’s burdened just about every American sci-fi series since “Lost.”

Next week, the Doctor confronts a spaceship loaded with dinosaurs, and my “Who” experience will double.

“Doctor Who” airs Sept. 1 on BBC America at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2

‘Coma’ Redux

In the secret, high-tech medical facility of A&E’s two-part thriller “Coma,” patients trapped between life and death hang gracefully from the ceiling, horizontal marionettes.

When visitors arrive, the unconscious are swiftly transported to a sort of modernized Murphy bed, robotic arms tucking in the comatose all nice and snuggy.

More impressive than terrifying, really.

“Coma,” starring Lauren Ambrose, Steven Pasquale and Ellen Burstyn, is based on the zeitgeisty Robin Cook novel and Michael Crichton’s film adaptation of the late 1970s.

A post-Watergate nation convinced of rampant conspiracies and moved by the tragic, right-to-die legal case of the vegetative Karen Ann Quinlan found its bete noire (and a sexy feminist hero played by Genevieve Bujold) in “Coma.”

Today, the dark story of an evil-doing hospital that induces comas for profit prompts mundane musings. The malpractice premiums alone must be more frightening than anything in this slow moving production.

Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) plays Susan Wheeler, a medical student at the Atlanta hospital made famous by her pioneering heart surgeon grandfather.

When patients being treated for minor ailments fall into comas, Wheeler begins snooping around.

She finds an ally in a hunky surgical resident (Pasquale), a rival in an ambitious psychiatrist (Geena Davis) and a foe in the iron lady (Burstyn) running the secretive facility where the hospital’s comatose are shipped for storage.

James Woods and Richard Dreyfuss also make appearances, as colleagues of Wheeler’s late, beloved grandfather.

What Wheeler uncovers (those suspended patients are only the beginning) is hardly unexpected. A greater mystery remains unanswered: Are those cool beds available online?

“Coma” airs Sept. 3 and 4 on A&E at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **


What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Very Good
**     Good
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include New York Weekend and Craig Seligman on books.

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