Doctor Who Review 2005 – 2009

09/01/2010 at 10:31 pm (Doctor Who, TV)


The last five years in the TARDIS

I think this is the most I’ve written on anything…

I’m not saying this to justify it to anyone, and for most regular people it’s just a TV show. For an awful lot of people it’s just not their cup of tea. That’s fine. To each their own. But Doctor Who has been something of a best friend to me since the age of four. Righting wrongs and fighting evil with a sense of humour, intellect, abrasiveness and even, at times, charm.

As the show shuffled into the mid eighties, I have to be honest, I lost a bit of interest. I enjoyed a handful of Sylvester McCoy’s era, and then, in 1989 the show stopped. I was honestly stunned. I felt a little guilty that somehow my negativity towards it would mean that it would never be seen on TV again.

“But Doctor Who is always on…”

Although there was the US funded TV movie in 1996, it was not this that sustained the interest. It was a collection of fans, of writers, novelists, artists, publishers, and so many creative and talented people that kept it going while it was off air. Many of which, quite rightly, have seen Doctor Who through to its present successes.

And so, almost like a spectre that existed out of the peripheral vision of the general television viewing public of the UK, in 2005 Doctor Who returned – a proper series. 13 episodes. Christopher Eccleston!  Billie Piper… Really? Well, for anyone that’s familiar with Toby Hadoke’s one man show, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, they will know he captured that moment perfectly: “the pop singer?”

And Executive Producer Russell T. Davies.

Now there’s a name that sends opinions spiralling. You know what? I still want to give the guy a great big hug. He brings in the quirks, the silliness and the soap elements to a TV show that for years people were saying, “if it comes back it should be more gritty.” Why? I love the nonsense side of Doctor Who (yes, they pushed the panto a little too far in the last few years of the original show), and it’s a programme that thrives on it.

It leaps from horror, to comedy, to thriller, sci-fi, fantasy and melodrama, usually within moments of each other. All that was retained. And much like William Hartnell’s original portrayal of the First Doctor, that was so strong and memorable ensuring its success, Christopher Eccleston’s performance was perfect for its return. But then, with an announcement following the success of the first episode, Rose, and a ratings win of around 10 million viewers, it was announced that Eccleston was leaving at the end of the series.

I think this was the first time I’d put myself in the shoes of a football fan. You get a star striker, and he performs fantastically, and then leaves straight away. I was not happy. The remaining 12 episodes were tinged a little by this disappointment. Still, it was a great rollercoaster of a ride, and an impressive first series.

The family connection with Rose Tyler’s boyfriend, Mickey, and mother, Jackie, weren’t too jarring, and gave the companion character some extra depth. I still find the Slitheen, Davies’ farting alien con artists a little embarrassing, but it was a good way to connect to children’s humour; kids are the lifeblood of the show. Even as an adult fan I have to admit that. Also introducing omnisexual (sex pest) ex-time agent, Captain Jack Harkness portrayed by John Barrowman, this new series was great fun. I was enjoying it.

The key point of the series was the broadcast of the episode Dalek. I don’t want to negate the rest of the series, but this is what locked Doctor Who in place. This made it real again. I grinned from ear to ear for the duration. The series continued apace, and I loved these brand new adventures with the Doctor and Rose. And then with a grand dalek fleet, the kind I’d always dreamed of seeing on TV, the Ninth Doctor was gone.

Christopher Eccleston was replaced by this guy, David Tennant. I’d seen Casanova. I thought he was good in that. The costume was a tad more “Doctor-ish”, which was great. I just couldn’t quite take to him. I found him a bit arrogant – which is a typical Doctor trait – but Rose became that too.

“I miss Chris,” I thought.

The second series lost nothing in adventure, re-introducing the cybermen as another classic monster with a twist. However it was the episode School Reunion that was one of my highlights of the series. The lone dalek, and glimpse of an original cyberman in Eccleston’s run, firmly placed these adventures in the same universe as those of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Who episodes. But it was Sarah Jane Smith, played timelessly by Elisabeth Sladen, and the appearance of tin dog K9 that linked the original to the new.

I can’t quite put my finger on one key thing that disappointed me about this second series – it had a few weaker stories perhaps. I prayed I wasn’t getting complacent about getting my show back. There was nothing wrong with David Tennant per se.  But the Tenth Doctor and Rose were just a bit… smug. I will say that, across the four complete series, I felt that the end of Doomsday had the strongest ending. For as much as I have enjoyed Russell T. Davies’ stuff, I won’t miss his use of the convoluted final episode. I still say that as an actress Billie Piper was great in the role, and was a wonderful surprise. But this is Doctor Who. Companions come and go, as do Doctors. I was also starting to warm to the Tenth Doctor.

Bye Rose. Next!

Thanks to the Christmas special, The Runaway Bride, with a big, fun performance by Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, I was back on track with Doctor Who. It still stands as my favourite Christmas special now.

New season, new companion. Promising newcomer, Freema Agyeman is thrown into the fray as Martha Jones. Freema had big boots to fill already. To use The Avengers as an analogy, Martha Jones was Tara King to Rose Tyler’s Emma Peel. Tough gig.

I really enjoyed the third series, packed with some great scripts, notably Human Nature/Family Of Blood and Blink. It is towards the end of this run that Russell T. Davies’ love for the self-referential really comes into play, with Captain Jack leaping on the TARDIS as it dematerialises in Cardiff.

This re-introduction of previous characters works for Davies’ story, using friends and family as a strong emotional core.  This is taken a few notches higher, when the Doctor’s old enemy, the Master returns.  This was not an unexpected turn as there seems to be a check list of enemies to make a comeback. The Master was played tantalisingly for a few moments by Sir Derek Jacobi, and then in a kooky fashion by John Simm. Following a ham fisted denouement, love-struck Martha leaves the Doctor to go about his adventures.

Again, all alone, the Doctor is embroiled in an adventure with Kylie Minogue on a spacefareing version of the Titanic in Voyage Of The Damned. I’m going to employ the principle of “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Series four started, as they often do, with fun and frolics. My goodness, I was so pleased to see the return of Donna Noble. Catherine Tate brought this character to life in a role that was clearly written for her. My favourite of the new series companions, Donna just wanted to have a life outside the suburban, everyday humdrum, as her mind had been expanded a little by her Christmas day adventure. She wasn’t after a romance, and just loved her life with this skinny alien in the pinstriped suit. Bezzy mates in space. That’s more like it!

As the adventures pounded across another 13 episodes, it was clear we were heading for big things. Rose! Jackie! Mickey! Jack! Martha! Sarah Jane! Another Doctor(?)! Including characters from spin off shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, there was bound to be a big showdown with another major baddie: Davros, creator of the daleks. We got our female Doctor, in the form of the DoctorDonna, and that was really good fun.

At the end of this stack of hokum all of our heroes fly the TARDIS, and Earth, home to  receive their send offs. Especially an interminably whining Rose, who gets a human version of the Doctor – poor bugger won’t be able to outlive her – and she’s still not happy. Donna gets her memory wiped. I was not best pleased, and cried like a baby. “Sort this out, Davies,” I muttered through my sobs.

The okay Christmas special, The Next Doctor (which wasn’t helped by my ex’s boyfriend saying, “this is a load of shit,” most of the way through it), was spoiled by the daft Cyberking. But it did the job. David Morrissey was a good, unusual, companion and Dervla Kirwan seemed to be enjoying herself. Then we got the drought, and the beginning of the end for the Tenth Doctor.

I shall employ the same tactic when talking about Planet Of The Dead as I did with Voyage Of The Damned.  Moving on…

With intense nervousness, I watched Waters Of Mars. All the trailers showed promise, with a sinister tone to suit the Autumn evenings. That helped I think. Doctor Who was always, originally, an Autumn/Winter show when I watched it as a kid. It seems to work in that atmosphere. It was a gripping, intense story, that took the Doctor to a different place emotionally. And he screws up. Big time. I know people would be watching thinking, but he’s the Doctor, he’s gone mad! Yeah, he does that now and again. Not so cute now is he?

The End Of Time was one of those Doctor Who Marmite moments. A lot of people hated it. I can see why. It seemed odd, disjointed. Almost dreamlike. As if it was a series of snapshots. I personally liked the style. It was unsettling in a way. This horse that you’d been galloping on was almost trying to throw you off.

I enjoyed this tomfoolery, the last hurrah for the Tenth Doctor and David Tennant. I laughed and cried, and was exhausted by the end. It was Bernard Cribbins’ Wilfred Mott though, that cemented the touching moments with the Doctor’s self sacrifice.

Again, we see previous friends and companions. Travelling through time, he saves Martha and Mickey, and Sarah Jane’s son, Luke, from tragedy. He gets Jack a shag out of the Voyage Of The Damned’s midshipman Alonso Frame (Being Human’s Russell Tovey), and gives Donna, via her mum, Sylvia and grandad Wilf a winning lottery ticket. I wonder if the Doctor actually thought, “well, she’s stupid now. Money’s the only thing that will make her happy.”

And with a massively explosive regeneration, David Tennant was gone. Forming from his fading, burning features comes the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. From that first “ooh” face, I think I’m going to like this guy.

It’s been five years with two Doctors and a success, I’m happy to say.  I hope it stays that way. For all of his detractors, it was Russell T. Davies that brought my show back. It also has to be said that the one thing that did become evident quite quickly, was how much David Tennant was, and is, a great ambassador for the show.  He clearly loves it, and undoubtedly worked incredibly hard to sustain and raise ratings, and generate revenue for the BBC – off screen and on.

So, with the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond in the TARDIS, here’s to some more crazy malarkey in time and space for 2010…

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8 Comments

  1. sarah said,

    wholeheartedly agree with everything you say … i was wary of matt smith, but after seeing the trailer for the new series, im eager to see if he can live up to my future husbands effort … i doubt it but he’ll get points for a good effort

  2. Dave Wood said,

    Well I think that’s an excellent, very fair and positive appraisal of the new series.

    I look forward to reading what you think of the new guy.

    • peacockpete said,

      Thank you both for your comments and support. Can’t wait for the new season. Not sure when’s the best time to blog about it – if it should be after the first or last episode.

  3. archie_pelago said,

    Matt seemed to be apeing David a bit too much, but then I probably felt like David “wasn’t right” at the time, after Christopher blew us away with the Doctor’s return.

    The absolute most positive move about the new series (regardless of choice of actors) is that Steven “Blink” Moffat is in the hot seat. Blink was “Doctor Who” in a nutshell – no jaw-dropping special effects, just a captivating (and clever) storyline based on the old DW premise of giving everyday, mundane, things a sinister twist. Bravo.

    • peacockpete said,

      There was a bit of the DTs about the first few moments of Matt Smith performance, it has to be said. It must have been tough to keep the energy up for the rest of that scene without drawing from that similar performance, at least for now.

      I didn’t mention in my post about the Grand Moff, but I have high hopes for him as a producer. His scripts have been incredibly well rounded, even dealing with complex time travel concepts in a palatable and accessible way.

      While “Blink” is a brilliant example of that creepiness that we want from Doctor Who, from reading interviews with Steven Moffat, he’s still keen to keep that light entertainment feel. I understand the need for this, as it is still a family show afterall, but he certainly knows his stuff.

      • archie_pelago said,

        Yes, fair enough – let’s all not line up to be Moff divers until we’ve seen what he can do with the added pressure 😉

        One of the interesting things for me (from Blink) is that a DW novice (who happens to be interested in the concept of time travel in other contexts) loves that particular episode and keeps asking questions (such as “how does x know y?” etc) and I am then able to plausibly explain the whole thing as if it were fact. That makes it quite a powerful example of good storytelling.

        Personally, I like the “trick” that the Doctor’s video replies are replayed twice to two different “real time” conversations (to the same people, even) and yet make different (but perfectly reasonable) sense each time.

        If Steven can avoid losing that sort of cleverness while still giving us some classic Saturday night entertainment then I’m looking forward to the best series so far.

        PS. FWIW, loved the “Waters on Mars” episodes, but was slightly underwhelmed by the series finale (though I sort of understand why RTD wanted to tip his hat to some of those characters … just seemed a bit too indulgent for my tastes).

      • peacockpete said,

        The interesting thing with three of Steven Moffat’s four Doctor Who stories so far, (Girl in The Fireplace, Blink and Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead) is that they do handle the knock-on effects of time travel in a very coherent way. Although Doctor Who is a programme about time travel, there’s not many Doctor Who stories about it, other than dropping off your main characters in different time periods.

        I can imagine Moffat bringing this trick into longer story arcs now, which, if successful (and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be) will be a really good payoff for the audience without affecting standalone stories.

        Hee hee – “Moff divers”.

      • archie_pelago said,

        Yes, good point – it’s true that time travel has been used more as a device to vary the theatre and provide a few choice in-jokes (for those of us in the relevant character’s future, I mean) and not as an integral part of the story.

        If some time travel threads can be woven through an arc over the entire next series, then that would be … err … “awesome”. You’re getting into “Lost” territory there though (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you managed to grit your teeth through “the difficult second series”).

        I’m not dissing the non-timetravelly stuff though – visiting other planets and/or times just for what they are/were/might be is fine too, but preferably with a bit of a sinister edge (“The Empty Child” was particularly chilling :)).

        Whatever, I think it’s safe to say we won’t see Matt finding Bessie in a lockup somewhere with a freshly laundered cravat waiting to be donned. Kudos to RTD for handing over before it got to that, at least.

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