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Doctor Who 

In Great Britain, Doctor Who is Harry Potter-huge. And with good reason.

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BBC America, Saturdays, 9 pm

A blue police box doesn’t mean much to us Americans. But to the Brits, no matter how old, no matter how young, a blue police box is as iconic as the Death Star. As are killer pepperpot robot-aliens screaming “EX-TER-MIN-ATE! EX-TER-MIN-ATE!”

In Great Britain, Doctor Who is Harry Potter-huge. And with good reason: There have been 31 seasons, 47 years, and 11 actors playing the title role.

The Doctor — the eccentric Time Lord — is always hurtling through the stars, into the past, into the future, in his little blue police box spaceship. He’s always saving the day, running through corridors, waving his sonic screwdriver all about, and spouting off techno-babble. He’s always got a passenger or two hitching a ride, someone to talk to, someone to show off around.

But this season, the Doctor Who dream team’s in charge. New show-runner Stephen Moffat, currently the world’s best sci-fi TV writer, teamed up with Matt Smith, the best Doctor in Who history.

Moffat’s responsible for Who’s greatest episodes. Like all great sci-fi authors, (Asimov, Bradbury) Moffat takes an inspired idea, say, a stone statue monster that only moves when you blink, and then extrapolates the consequences to fantastic places.

David Tennant, the previous Doctor actor, threw himself into his role with a childlike glee. But you could always see Tennant acting. With Smith, the iconic Doctor quirkiness isn’t something he puts on — it’s like something that’s been bubbling inside him for his entire life that he’s just now letting out. Smith is the eccentric Time Lord.

He’s manic, he’s silly, he’s brilliant, he’s angry, he’s got a craving for fishsticks dipped in custard. He’s in a perpetual gangly and spastic dance on that zig-zag edge of genius and dangerous-weird. He’s Willy Wonka, with all of time and space as his chocolate factory.

Lately, we Americans seem to think creating good sci-fi means splattering it with bleak: Make it dark, make it dirty, make it raspy. But Who, channeling the joy of a Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett story, pursues clever and fun, and stumbles across good sci-fi along the way.

For up-to-date TV commentary follow Daniel Walters on Twitter @danieltwalters.

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