Doctor Who - Ten Years New


Steve Taylor-Bryant remembers back to the day Doctor Who came back to our TV screens...

The 26th of March 2005. A splendid day. I was still considered young, there was only 280 days until 2006, Sven Goran Eriksson's England side had just beaten Northern Ireland, and television was about to become exciting for a whole new generation of British science fiction fans. The sabbatical/massive executive error was over and The Doctor was coming back to episodic television for the first time since 1989. Fans lobbying a network for the return of a show is nothing new and it obviously helps if the face of the lobbying group is a talented television writer in his own right and Russell T. Davis was our saviour.

I had always liked the penmanship of Davis. From children’s television to the sublime Queer as Folk, which was a massive success both sides of the Atlantic, Davis had the Midas touch when it came to creating and contributing to shows. The thought of Davis bringing his balance of adult and children sensibilities to the show was an exciting prospect but it would be in the casting that the shows comeback would be judged on and Davis turned to a man he had worked with before, a rising star of British drama, and an actor of award winning talent – Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston had starred as Stephen Baxter, the son of God, in Davis drama The Second Coming and had received critical acclaim in Shallow Grave, Our Friends in the North, and the superb Cracker as well as taking on roles in Hollywood blockbusters like Gone in 60 Seconds. The team bringing back Doctor Who was a formidable one and expectations were at fever pitch.

We were all fans of the older show. Whether your favourite Doctor was Hartnell or McCoy, the show had always cast well and written better, and we wanted more of the same but perhaps with less shaky sets. Davis wrote most of the first season himself, penning eight of the thirteen episodes, and introduced companions that would take more screen time and importance than previous travellers in the TARDIS. Captain Jack Harkness would be introduced later in the season in an episode written by Davis successor, Steven Moffat, and would become a huge part of Davis future with the creation of Torchwood in future years, but is a young lady that would steal the comeback and become vital to the way the new version of Doctor Who would work.

I only knew Billie Piper from awful bubble-gum pop songs and had no idea what a great actress she actually was. The character of Rose set the bar for all future companions with her range of emotions and normality. A council estate girl who had lost her father when she was young would eventually have the entire power of the Time Vortex, so Billie got to take Rose on quite a journey.

Eccleston was quirky, dark, humorous, and full of the emotions you would expect a Doctor to have and, whilst he’s not my favourite Doctor, brought a Hollywood feel to the character producing big performances week on week, knowing exactly when to shine or drop back. When we were told Doctor Who was returning I had some wants. I wanted a Doctor that acknowledged his past mistakes and felt the guilt he should have for the death and destruction he had caused across the centuries. I wanted a companion that was modern and refreshing, not just a woman to follow the Doctor around like a lost puppy. I wanted new stories and old foes. I got everything I wanted and more. The other characters introduced were as well cast and performed as well as the main cast, Rose’s mother Jackie a particular delight, and the writing was the most consistent the show had received since probably early Tom Baker. From The Autons in ‘Rose’ to The Daleks in ‘Parting of the Ways’ the level of mischievous baddies was also top drawer and it is the only season of the new version of the show where I can put my hand on my heart and state there wasn’t a bad episode.

The show was back, my own children were now experiencing the fear and awe that I had as a young child and I was watching them as much as the screen just as my parents had with me in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. The only downside was that Eccleston saw that he may be pigeon holed as an actor and only committed to the one season, and quite honestly the show has never been as strong since but that’s for another conversation.

Russell T. Davis and Christopher Eccleston reignited my love for an ageing show and reinvented science fiction television for my children. Thank you gents you were fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and do you know what? So was I.

Image - BBC