Doctor Who

Saturday, June 18, 2005 by

If you still required irrefutable evidence that the programme you had been watching for the last 13 weeks was indeed Doctor Who, then there it was as the ninth Doctor breathed his last and turned into Doctor number 10. As soon as I saw him, I wanted to smack David Tennant’s impossibly smug face for making it so that Christopher Eccleston was no longer the Doctor. This new boy with the funny affected English accent even had the audacity to act a little bit smug and have chiselled, overly styled hair as he delivered his meagre couple of lines to camera. What a bastard.

But of course this is exactly how it felt all those years ago when Peter Davison succumbed to Colin Baker. I mean exactly – that same mixed up tumble of excitement and grief. In retrospect, it is easy to forget just how brutal the whole idea of regeneration is; you’re given no time to mourn the loss of your old friend, and – worse still – all the attention is given to the usurper who has just taken his place.

As with almost everything he has had to say on the subject of Doctor Who, Russell T Davies was absolutely right when he said the modern viewer needed to have their own regeneration. The demise of Eccleston’s incarnation rounded out the 2005 Doctor Who experience perfectly, heralding the last sortie in Davies’ devastatingly effective and audacious campaign to reoccupy all of the many and various dramatic territories that had fallen to the series all those years before. Indeed the plot of these last two episodes – that of a meticulously planned invasion to restore a fallen power to their previous might – is in retrospect a perfect analogy for what this series has achieved, except in the real world ITV1 were unable to get their hands on the kind of handy deus ex machina that Rose managed to knock up.

Indeed if there are any lingering doubts over this series of Doctor Who, it is that only about three of the stories have been able to provide a wholly satisfying and logically thought out conclusion. In tonight’s episode, the use once again of the TARDIS’ mysterious abilities to restore order still smacked of a cop-out even though Davies had at least gone to the trouble of establishing this solution a couple of weeks beforehand. However, that aside “The Parting of the Ways” offered perhaps Davies’ most robust plot yet, and was certainly his best episode of the series. In particular, the scenes with Rose back on Earth deserve a mention for providing that wonderful mundane and recognisable context to events this series has excelled in (and in truth has never been a significant element in Doctor Who before). But more importantly, it also ensured that the space operatics were never able to become too bloated even when we were witnessing millions of Daleks floating into battle. Of course, let’s not overlook that for those fans of the “Yeti on the toilet in Tooting Bec” school of drama, here was a story in which the Earth and the Doctor were effectively saved thanks to Rose’s mum calling in a favour from some dodgy bloke. Brilliant. Just imagine what fate would have befallen mankind if the geezer in question hadn’t been into haulage.

Another hallmark of the series has been its great visual moments and set pieces and tonight here they were in abundance, complete with possibly a number of echoes to Doctor Who adventures of yore. For example, that bit with the Daleks appearing outside the space station to exterminate “Lynda with a Y”; was that supposed to be a homage to their famous emergence from the Thames in “Dalek Invasion of Earth”? Similarly, the Barcelona business at the end of the episode seemed to be a self-conscious reference to the never quite transmitted conclusion to the Colin Baker story “Revelation of the Daleks” (which incidentally shared a number of common plot points with this adventure).

And then there was that moment when the holographic Doctor turned to face Rose to tell her to live a happy life. Actually this wasn’t a homage or reference to anything at all from what I could see, but it was a fantastic example of the gut-wrenching ability of the new Doctor Who to make you shed a few tears (even if in the cold light of day this time it was perhaps a bit too soppy). The number of genuinely emotional moments in this series (particularly during the latter half of the run when – quite rightly – the viewer has grown closer to both the Doctor and Rose) has been a major, but very welcome surprise addition.

As the end titles appeared it was difficult not to feel emotionally spent, if not a little overwhelmed. This episode, perhaps more than any other in the series, dragged us along by the scruff of our neck. The wanton destruction, character moments and technobabble all flew by at a tremendous speed, such that at times it was difficult to know quite where we were in terms of the scale of the threat, and whether or not the Doctor was going to be able to overcome his adversaries. Not that this mattered – a chaotic story totally fitted the bill, and as Davies himself alluded in the following episode of Doctor Who Confidential, this was a tale that knew it could chuck the kitchen sink at us, just so long as when we finally got to the regeneration scene, it was given the appropriate clarity and scale to ensure it properly transcended all that had gone before. And whilst I may have some quibbles about the actual realisation of the regeneration (again a familiar feeling, upon first viewing no regeneration effect has completely worked, although curiously most of them seem to look fine when you take a look back at the tapes), its significance both in terms of what it meant for the characters and also for the series as a whole was well realised.

This assuredness has been at the heart of everything Doctor Who has done in 2005, right down to being bold enough to introduce a linking plotline (although the dénouement to the “Bad Wolf” story was perhaps less original than Davies might care to believe) and having the Doctor kiss Rose and it not feel crap. In the final analysis, the entire series has, without a doubt, been a triumph, eschewing bringing back Doctor Who as it was before, in favour of creating a programme based on our happy – but not entirely accurate – recollections. As a result, not only has it been the most successful television comeback of all time, but with the two Steven Moffat penned episodes, has even had the cheek to come up with the best Doctor Who story ever. Who would have thought it 13 weeks ago?

But what of series two, and David Tennant? Well, I think it’s fair to say that with Davies at the helm the programme is in safe hands (although curiously not so much when he is actually writing the episodes). He has an intuitive understanding of the series and has demonstrated an amazing ability to sneak off with our dusty old preconceptions and return them to us beautifully buffed up so that they somehow look almost unrecognisable (this week for example, he reupholstered the concept of regeneration). As for Tennant, well he will have to run the gauntlet as all Doctor Who actors do, facing down our preconceptions and proving himself worthy of our respect. Christopher Eccleston managed it in about 10 seconds, and I think Tennant might even do it in less – given that on second viewing of the crucial regeneration scene I was already warming to the bastard.


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