Thursday, March 26, 2015

Celebrating Doctor Who - Like The Phoenix, With Renewed Spirit

Christopher and Billie

"The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't get through that door, and, believe me, they've tried"

"Do you want to come with me?" Every time I think about those first brand new trailers advertising the absolutely amazing truth that the Doctor - the time and space traveller whose adventures originally spanned three decades, from 1963 to 1989 - was set to return, I get that warm fuzzy feeling. If the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann had the tagline "He's back... and it's about time", then surely, 2005 was the moment for all of us to shout, "Yes it is!" and celebrate by re-watching our DVDs; reading the Target Books, Past Doctor Adventures, Eighth Doctor Adventures, comics; and listening to our collection of Big Finish audio dramas...

There was to be a new Doctor in town, and his name? None other than respected English actor Christopher Eccleston (whose film work had, up to that point, included Shallow Grave and the highly emotional drama Jude). It was to be both an exciting yet risky move, with everyone involved knowing that there was no room for failure or low viewing figures - the BBC's faith in Doctor Who had diminished during the mid-to-late eighties, and a comeback had to equal success or risk further cancellation.

Feelings for director Geoffrey Sax's "movie" had clearly been mixed, resulting in a possible television outing for the Eighth Doctor being rejected. One critic had even criticised, "If the series is to return it will need stronger scripts than this simplistic offering..." [The Handbook: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to the Production of Doctor Who]

On 26th March 2005 viewers sat to watch the big event. The moment had been prepared for (see what I did there? No? Watch Logopolis). From the moment it began we were introduced to Rose, an ordinary working-class girl; it was through her eyes that we meet the Doctor. Though this was a different man altogether, there was something deeply comforting about his presence. He knew things. And he owned a blue telephone police box, a strange thing to have in the early 21st century!

In the past, the Time Lord's companions had been mostly singular figures separated from family to travel in the TARDIS, either reluctantly or by choice. But this new show would be a far more solid experience, exploring family life and the consequences of entanglements with the Doctor from this point of view.

Any doubts regarding singer-turned-actor Billie Piper's casting were laid to rest once she was given the opportunity to show just what a good actress she really was - if anyone thought there to be pressure on the lead, then just imagine the weight of expectation on the choice for companion. But, as it turned out, the opening episode "Rose" received positive reviews, and the first series looked to be pretty safe in the hands of its current team. Doctor Who had cleverly opened with a popular enemy to those familiar with the show - the Autons had originally appeared in Spearhead from Space (in 1970) and Terror of the Autons (1971) - while still being accessible to a new audience without pre-knowledge of the programme's history.

It was also pure genius that the incidental music was composed by Murray Gold, whose scores gave the new series both a perfect flavour and identifiable edge.

For the first time in years, Doctor Who was being written and handled by people who understood it, and who had been lobbying passionately for its return. The Mill’s Television and Film studio had handled the visual effects, their involvement promising nothing less than beautiful imagery. And every angle had been considered, designed, and executed. "Rose" wasn't just your average sci-fi episode: it was a phoenix, regenerated from all that had come before it, with renewed spirit to take on a new Universe, a place that had missed and needed... the Doctor...