Shockingly, terrifyingly, it’s been a decade since the new series of Doctor Who began.
I’m trying to remember if I ever imagined that New Who would last ten years, back when the new series was first announced. I suspect not. I think I was so caught up in the excitement of having all those new stories that the joy of the present cancelled out all thought of where it would go in the future. And the past had taught me not to expect too much.
The classic series was cancelled before I was old enough to see it, but I’ve plenty of memories of the 1996 TV movie; the run-up, broadcast, and fallout. I remember reading a copy of DWM while on holiday with my family in France, and thinking how silly Paul McGann looked (rest assured, feelings regarding Paul McGann’s appearance have changed substantially in intervening years). And a sort of expected disappointment at there being no series commissioned (the kerfuffle of the attempted special, The Dark Dimension, had soured me to having any expectations that Doctor Who would ever really return).
So when my father called me some eight years later and told me Doctor Who was coming back, I thought it was some sort of joke. And then I ran to a computer and, lo, twas true! Doctor Who! A whole new series! On telly! Saturday teatime, just like it used to be! Bloody hell…it wasn’t going to be terrible, was it? Were they going to do it properly? Did these people know what they were doing?
I remember the announcement of Christopher Eccleston –a proper actor! – and how well received that was in fandom, and then the announcement of Billie Piper and the terror that it was eighties stunt casting all over again. I remember the fireball trailer. And the news that the first episode had leaked. And, ah, acquiring that and watching it, sort of terrified, and then slowly relaxing as, yes, it wasn’t *brilliant* but it was pretty good, wasn’t it? Lots to like, lots of potential, lots of pretty cool moments. And thank goodness, Piper was actually a good actor.
And it was fun. Of all the things I was afraid of, I think that was the worst. Thanks to a decade of Doctor Who books that wanted to be edgy and grown-up and taken seriously, I was half-convinced the new show would go the same way, and forget that it was meant to inspire delight and wonder and joy.
After Rose aired on the telly, I actually missed the next two episodes – I was away in South Africa – and the online reaction to the news that Eccleston was leaving after only one series. (Causing the temporary shutdown of Outpost Gallifrey, at the time the largest Doctor Who forum online.) At the time I felt kind of gutted – I was just getting used to him, dammit! – later on, that developed into oh-so-much annoyance for whoever leaked the news because how cool would it have been if the audience went into The Parting of the Ways unspoiled?
The slow realisation that there’d been a war and Gallifrey was gone was something I denied until it was impossible to do so. I loved Gallifrey, and their hats. More than that, I loved the Doctor as a rebel, not as the last of his kind. I understand the emotional hook was very appealing, and that it meant losing a lot of, often very silly baggage, and it gave the Doctor a strong emotional arc for those first few seasons, and may very well have been integral to the success of the new show, but…well, I’m very glad it’s back now, and I hope we get some excellent hats soon.
I remember being so excited at the start of Aliens of London because it was doing things I’d never seen Doctor Who do before: the companion was coming home and seeing her family! But they were a year late! (It seems a little silly now, after ten years of families and homes, but at the time I was on the edge of my seat just to see how that played out between Jackie and Rose and Mickey and the Doctor.)
In the week running up to Dalek, every time the trailer played I ran to my telly screen to watch from about three inches away, and cranked the sound up. I was quite giddy, and the episode lived up to some pretty lofty expectations.
At some point, I was fearful of ever watching classic Who again. How could those silly old stories ever compare to this beautiful shiny new series? Was classic Who ruined for me forever? Had my show come back, only to destroy itself to me?!? (No, it hadn’t, as it turns out, but for a bit, I was genuinely worried.)
The last scene in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances was where my Mum fell in love with New Who and decided Eccleston was her favourite Doctor. I considered this vaguely disloyal from someone who’d been watching since 23rd November 1963.
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways was epic, and a week of being incredibly careful to avoid spoilers since the whole story arc had been plastered across pages of British newspapers. I remember the tension as the Doctor chose to be a coward and the TARDIS materialised and Rose stepped out, and when the action moved into the console room and we knew the Doctor was about to regenerate…I may have cried, quite a bit. Ahem.
It’s a magnificent year, that first season. I adored it madly at the time. And I still think its splendid now, though New Who has brought me other seasons that have supplanted its place in my heart.
And it’s magical, what the team of people making that season managed to do: reignite a national passion for a telly series that was viewed by most of the public as a dusty old relic with silly acting and wobbly sets, and make it one of the BBC’s most popular and beloved shows, giving it the foundation it need to still be going strong a decade later.
Thank you very much all. You did good.
Other things I did this week:
– This week’s Verity! podcast is about the companions who’ve been most affected by Doctor Who’s missing episodes.
Awesome stuff from elsewhere:
– This fanmade trailer for 2005-2015 sums up Quite A Lot of why the series is winning, and also made me laugh outloud (“Fantastic!” “Allons-y!” “SHUT UP!”).