Doctor Who

Saturday, March 26, 2005 by

“Nestene consciousness? Easy!” And so it proved, as Doctor Who finally made it back in a frenzy of publicity, courting an outrageous level of anticipation is it came.

After weeks of “run for your life”, Christopher Eccleston chuntering on about the fans’ fidelity to Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, chucklesome enthusiasm from Russell T Davies (from hereon in to become another formidable three initials in the programme’s history), and empowered super fans delivering detailed recon on the position of every trailer (including that “never to be repeated” one at 0130 hours last Saturday), GMTV interview and And Finally on Wales Today – it all came and went in a dizzying 45 minutes.

But could it ever feel like the same programme again? Would we really believe in the Doctor now he was being shaped by people us fans (and, yes, I am a fan) looked upon as peers? These folk; they’d been shameless enough to dabble in fanzines, unauthorised spin-off videos and the ignominy of TV tie-in novels. How on Earth could we accept their authority in running the show, without questioning every decision made? First time around, it was entirely different, of course. The bearded men at the BBC who put words into the Time Lord’s mouth, they were unimpeachable professionals beyond our reach – their judgment couldn’t be questioned. However, now it’s us at the controls, with all our fannish concerns and hang-ups.

Or so I thought beforehand, anyway. I feared this new version of the show would speak too loudly of the decisions made (and not made) in the way the BBC’s online Doctor Who drama, “The Scream of the Shalka” had in 2003. But in fact, I was completely wrong. Tonight’s 45 minutes absolutely, unquestionably, authoritatively felt like Doctor Who, and what’s more, Doctor Who being done for everyone. Opting not to refer to him as a “Time Lord”, drawing a veil over mentions of the Chameleon Circuit, neglecting to name-check Gallifrey – none of these felt conspicuous by their absence. There was no sense that a meeting had been called wherein every Who-related stock phrase was anxiously appraised and then checked in or out. Instead, they just didn’t happen to come up.

But these are things only people who spend their Saturday night trying to rubber-stamp their opinion onto the programme care about. And, let’s face it, who are we in the grand scheme of things? While I fretted about whether or not I was going to get my programme back, Doctor Who returned with a fun, slight tale full of random scares, lots of running around, loads of charm but surprisingly little in the way of jeopardy. It was as though, first time out, the Doctor just wanted to tell us he was back, and remind everyone of how much fun he could be.

This was the character stripped to the bone, an amusing, fun-seeking bloke in a time machine with a penchant for oblique explanations and a nose for danger. Okay, so at times it felt as though Eccleston was skating off the material, meaning the few moments when he did dig deep and turn on the gravitas didn’t quite ring true (“I am talking!”), but that didn’t matter, really. This was all about introductions, popping in to say hello.

The reintegration of the character was seamless and little short of sensational, but it was just a start. If tonight’s episode didn’t really deliver in terms of menace – or even a wholly coherent story (and, to be honest, the same could be said of a lot of RTD’s work) – it put everything in place for a cracking series to come. So, it was a hugely enjoyably slice of telly, yes. But it’s surely the least of what we’ll be receiving over the next three months.

With a likeable Doctor and a terrific companion in place (Billie Piper doing a sterling job of ensuring the character didn’t come across as the overly peppy go-getter she might have done), Doctor Who is Mr Saturday Night again. Even my mum said it felt like the same old show we used to watch together as a family . Sci-fi that mums can enjoy – that’s exactly what the series needs to be.


Comments are closed.