It’s hard to believe that today marks the tenth anniversary of the return of Doctor Who to television. On the one hand it seems no time at all since Christopher Eccleston was bounding around the Tardis control room, grabbing Billie Piper’s hand and urging her to run from the imminent danger of plastic mannequins; but on the other, it seems almost impossible to believe now that there was ever a time when the programme wasn’t actually on television, or that during the show’s 16 long years in the wilderness a whole generation grew up without the opportunity to get to bond with ‘their’ Doctor because there hadn’t been one.
As the clock counted down to that first new episode of the 21st century at 7pm on Saturday, March 26 2005, I remember that my overriding emotion wasn’t one of expectation, excitement or exhilaration but rather one of anxiety, angst and apprehension. We’d been waiting for this moment for so long, what if it arrived and it turned out to be dreadful? Or perhaps even worse, what if the show was fine but also completely different from the show we remembered and loved from our own childhoods? There’s a reason why “May you get what you wish for” is another of those spot-on ancient Chinese curses.
Before that night I remember having been buoyed by the mostly-good omens. I had confidence in showrunner and lead writer Russell T Davies, who had already established himself as a unique, innovative voice in British drama with his hit series Queer as Folk on Channel 4 which contained scenes involving Doctor Who and a guest appearance from K9 that put Davies’ genuine Whovian credentials beyond doubt. He’d also helmed the more recent BBC mini-series Casanova on BBC Three, which I remember enjoying a lot and thinking that its little known star would have made a rather good Doctor himself if only he’d turned up in time before the part had been officially cast but who had sadly now missed his chance. Still, no complaints about Eccleston being given the role instead: not the sort of casting we’d expected perhaps, but getting a serious actor of his stature and ability to play the titular Time Lord was a statement of intent that had instantly raised the standing of the show as a whole among both TV executives and prospective viewers alike, since it declared in no uncertain terms: “This is a proper high profile BBC flagship drama, not a kid’s show.” Read the rest of this entry »
The problem with creating a 50th anniversary special for Doctor Who is finding a story that not only has space for all 13 incarnations of the titular character, but one that actually warrants multi-Doctor involvement. It’s not like the Doctor should be going around and dropping in on himself every other week for tea and scones.
In current Who lore, there’s pretty much only one thing big enough to justify the Doctor calling up his own selves as reinforcements. The Time War was a rather brilliant concept introduced by showrunner Russell T Davies in 2005 so that he could sweep away the clutter of too much complex backstory continuity and free the show up for its reboot for a brand new audience complete with a new, dark and angst-ridden central protagonist unlike any Doctor previously seen in the classic era. It did its job superbly – but also became such a huge part of the show’s mythos that it was impossible not to prod and poke it further over the years. Even though RTD’s successor Steven Moffat has been less inclined to utilise it since he took over, the spectre of the Time War has continued to loom over the show and the character with an ever-increasing weight. And that’s because there was an unforeseen problem.
Put simply: the Time War ended when the Doctor annihilated two whole civilisations. That’s bad enough, even if one of them is the Daleks; but when the Doctor is responsible for the genocide of his own people it leaves a stain on our supposedly heroic character that becomes increasingly untenable. The pivotal moment is when you frame the emotionally loaded but entirely warranted question, “How many children did you kill?” as indeed the 50th anniversary special does. Once asked it cannot be taken back, and you soon realise that this act cannot be allowed to stand. No matter how much you try and rationalise it or quarantine off the guilt of the heinous atrocity onto one disowned incarnation of the Doctor, no matter how much the Doctor suffers with the burden of his actions, it will never be enough: a Doctor who did this can no longer be our or anybody’s hero. And that is a big problem for the show. Read the rest of this entry »