Doctor Who

Saturday, May 14, 2005 by

Who and I have never really got on.

Maybe it’s because, when I was at the age where kids are supposed to get into the programme, Colin Baker was in charge. More likely it was just a general disinterest in sci-fi in general. Either way, apart from idly sitting through a few William Hartnell stories on BBC2 in 1992 – hardly the most obvious way to get into it – while waiting for something else, I’d never even sat through a whole episode of the series. Not Jon Pertwee, not Tom Baker, not even Paul McGann.

In later years I started to learn a bit more about Who, probably thanks to the fact that most people who write about telly are Doctor Who fans (Paul Cornell, author of tonight’s episode, is an obvious example). And when Whovians started running out of things to talk about with regards to the programme itself, they ended up discussing everything with vague Who connections, which is where I started to get a bit more interested. So I’ve got “The Talons of Weng Chiang” on DVD, but only because of the footage of John Noakes and Lesley Judd making a Doctor Who Theatre on Blue Peter that’s included. And I started buying Doctor Who Magazine for the articles about the programme’s scheduling over the years, Michael Grade and DWM itself. But I never got round to watching Weng Chiang, and the bit about Who I liked the best was still the ludicrous conspiracy theories entertained by the more paranoid fans.

So when the new series was announced, scheduled at peaktime Saturday night, I couldn’t help but assume it was a grand folly. The writer of Queer as Folk? The star of Shallow Grave? A fanbase who are the most rabid in the world? And at seven o’clock? There was surely no chance of this succeeding. Still, I thought I should, as a telly fan, watch the first episode to see how it shaped up. And then I watched the second, and the third, and now I can’t miss it.

For a brand groaning under the weight of fans’ expectations, it’s somewhat amazing that Russell T Davies and his team have come up with a confident, endearing and hugely entertaining series. There’s something about Christopher Eccleston’s prominent grin that tells you everyone involved is having a whale of a time making the programme – not surprising, with most of the production team probably pinching themselves that they’re involved with a series they are huge fans of – and it comes across on screen. It’s an enjoyable romp, basically – perhaps something Whovians might be unsure about, but exactly the sort of thing I want to see on Saturday nights and, as the ratings would suggest, the general public do as well.

As far as I’m concerned, the decision to locate most of the stories on Earth has been a wise one. Davies has said the excitement for him when he watched the series was the idea that a monster could be lurking round the corner of every street. What it’s also done is ensure the programme doesn’t get bogged down in its own mythology. Everything that happens in the series is taken from, basically, the viewers’ perspective. This instalment was a case in point – why couldn’t Rose go back to the time her dad died? It’s exactly the sort of question you’re asking sitting at home, and you get proper answers, not “it just does”. This is science fiction for the people.

It also means there’s a great deal of emotion in the series. Rose’s interactions with her dad this week were really well done, with masterful performances from those involved – especially Billie Piper – and a denouncement that, even if you could see it coming from early on in proceedings, was nicely handled without spelling it out in huge letters. You’d never have imagined welling up at an episode of Doctor Who nine weeks ago, but now it seems the most natural thing in the world. For my money, though, the best aspect about the series is the relationship between Eccleston and Piper – both showing genuine affection and exasperation for each other. Hearing the pair banter makes for one of the most realistic double acts on telly, and you’d happily spend more time with the pair.

So the series itself is undoubtedly a hit. But perhaps what I like the best about the new Doctor Who is what it signifies. It’s absolutely hammered ITV1′s piss-poor opposition, Celebrity Wrestling, and that really is the best TV news of the year. A well-written family-orientated drama has triumphed over a cynical and poorly-made piece of light entertainment, and it’s important to remember how brave a scheduling decision this was by BBC1. Here’s a programme the whole family can watch together and has had tons of imagination thrown at it, and what could have been a self-indulgent mess has become a national treasure. It’s what the Beeb should be doing – and it’s what ITV should be doing. This could be a major sea change in the development of Saturday night television. I reckon that, for these reasons alone, it’s the best thing to happen to telly for years.

And it’s Doctor Who.


Comments are closed.