I’ve been sitting on ‘Doctor Who’ related posts for a while now; I’ve got a half-written review of ‘Rose’ the first episode of the 2005 season of ‘Doctor Who’ written that I am unlikely to finish, mostly because I’m enjoying the show so much that sitting down to analyse it without becoming absorbed in rewatching the episode is currently impossible.
But now that it is confirmed that Christopher Eccleston will not be returning for the 2006 season and that David Tennant is to be the tenth Doctor I feel I can finally say something about just how good this show is, not just from the perspective of entertainment but also from that glorious thing called ‘writing.’
Oh, and there will be spoilers. Three episodes in and we have a spoiler of world-destroying proportions, so if you haven’t seen the show and want to watch it with a certain childlike innocence go away now.
Otherwise, press on.
One of the acknowledged problems with the Paul McGann telemovie of ‘Doctor Who’ is that it starts off with another actor playing the Doctor and then, about ten minutes in, presents you with Paul McGann. Now, those of us who love Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor think that this first ten minutes is damn nifty, but it must have confused and alienated a lot of the new viewers. It was pure fanwank having a regeneration in what was meant to be the pilot for a new TV series. It’s so continuity that really, it should have been done as a flashback in a later episode. Present your new character strongly and quickly. Russell T. Davies, the Executive Producer behind the new ‘Who,’ and the shows primary writer, knows this. Thus, whilst the fans will pick up on some obvious hints that Christopher Eccleston’s new Doctor has only recently become the ninth incarnation of his good self, the new viewers are presented with an interesting and likeable character as soon as he appears on screen.
And what an entrance.
The first story actually focuses more on the new companions, Rose Tyler, played more than ably by Billie Piper, who is a wonder to watch. Despite constant jokes by friends and flatmates about her previous career as a pop starlet, she is actually a very capable actress, and the first story would have fallen flat if she hadn’t been up to the job. ‘Rose’ (that being the first episode’s title) introduces the viewer to the Doctor via the companion, so it simultaneously has to set up a continuation and fresh start for a well-known character, it has to do this whilst giving us a very real and modern companion all at the same time. This is, of course, a good idea that could have been very easily mucked up. It isn’t, however, and a good thing too.
The art to this, in retrospect, was simple, like all ideas; I suspect eyes bled in working it out. The first story has returning villains (the Autons, last seen with Jon Pertwee) and their virtue is that they look like they could be human. Thus the first act of the story has the new companion being believably attacked by strange humanoid figures and aided by someone who might be in on a somewhat disturbing prank. Thus we sympathise with Rose and the mystery of this Doctor character grows. Thus, by the third act, when we know that the Doctor is something special, we have to realise this through Rose’s reactions and thus we like and understand her already. Sheer genius, and only surpassed by the second episodes, which focuses a little on the almost unnatural ability the Doctor has for persuading people who don’t even know him to take up travel in the TARDIS.
It’s enough to make me want to relocate to the UK right now so as to find a low level job in the BBC and start working my way up.
Anyway, perhaps more importantly, Davies has solved a huge problem, one that I didn’t even think of. This problem is ‘Who is the Doctor?’ It’s a strange problem; until the end of Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Doctor it hadn’t ever really come up, but once the Timelords appeared there was no going back. Davies is obviously aware that people want to know more about the show’s titular character, but like Andrew Cartmel, he doesn’t want to give the entire game away. So he’s done something really big.
You see, the Doctor is the last of the Timelords.
His world has been destroyed.
His people are gone.
There was a war.
We have had three episodes screen thus far and in each one we have learnt just a little more about the Doctor. The suggestion is that the Timelords got involved in a war that the eighth Doctor then became embroiled in, and that his entire species (and his homeworld) were destroyed, leaving him alone in the Universe. It’s the kind of thing that gets the fans anxious and very excited (this is, after all, big news, what with the Timelords being all high and mighty (and non-interventionist). It is also perfect for new viewers; we now know the Doctor really is something special and we’re being given packets of information about him all the time.
The show just keeps on getting better.
Christopher Eccleston is certainly a contender now for my of my three favourite Doctors, and it is a pity that he is not coming back for another year. Even so, I understand why. No one knew that the show would survive in the ratings (currently it averages about 8.6 million viewers per episode) and the BBC, being a publically funded corporation, probably couldn’t afford to keep a retainer on Eccleston (if the show had failed then they would have had to pay him for a second, non-existent, year and that would have been expensive). Eccleston is a good actor, and good actors get jobs. By all likelihood he had work lined up for the coming year, and with no guarantee he would have a second year of ‘Who’ he probably took it. I would have done. It was, as far as anyone could see, almost pure luck they were getting the 2005 season.
And what a season thus far.
More on this, much more on this, later.