Well, I didn’t see this coming ten years back.
When Doctor Who first returned, my greatest fear was that it would immediately fail. I didn’t have any worries about the content, that I would dislike it, that it would be a big pile of TV-Poop, I just didn’t want to see it linger unloved for a season or so and then be shuffled off-screen once again. Unloved. Unwatched. An embarrassment. If that had happened, I don’t think we would have seen it come back for a long, long time. Perhaps not at all in my lifetime.
Of course, quite early on the announcement came that it was being commissioned for two further seasons, so I could rest easy. Whatever happened, I was getting three full seasons of new Who. Since that point, I’ve never felt the need to worry or obsess over the shows safety. There’s been no point where it’s failed to pull in a substantial audience and left itself open to questions about its future (whatever some dumb-dumbs might try to make you believe).
TEN YEARS. Which TV Shows last ten years? Especially on UK telly? Especially-especially UK sci-fi/fantasy?! It’s outlived three shows created to sit in its place during the off months, and still shows no signs of slowing down.
I was recently on top-dog Who podcast Reality Bomb discussing (badly) ten years of new Who, and I commented that the moment where the new series really bedded in for me, really made me feel like I was going to be all in on this newy-new version of my beloved show, was ‘Dalek’. There’d been tone issues for me once or twice before this point, ol’Burpry Bin, Cartoon-Plastic Mickey and farting Slitheen, but with ‘Dalek’ came an episode I wanted to hold tight. It seemed perfect, and did what many thought impossible; it made the Daleks a credible threat to new viewers. It didn’t even try to radically overhaul them, it trusted the original design and instead just wrote a damn fine episode. (Also, the swiveling mid section, THAT WAS COOL AS HECK, why did they forget that so quickly?!) I enjoyed much of what came prior, but this was the first one to truly blow me away. And, of course, then we were treated to the likes of ‘The Empty Child’, ‘Fathers Day’ and ‘The Parting of The Ways’.
(Speaking of ‘The Empty Child’, if you’ve read any of this blog, or my tweets, then you may have been able to read between the lines and guess I’m something of a Moffat fan, but when he was first announced prior to season 1? NOPE. Oh, I enjoyed his comedy work, but I just could not understand how that guy was now writing for Doctor Who. The ‘Coupling’ guy? Mr ‘Chalk’?! Welp… what a dummy I am. From his first story, he knocked it out of the park, and is now way up there with my favourite Who writers. From ‘The Empty Child’ to ‘Blink’ to ‘The Eleventh Hour’ to ‘Listen’, he’s written some of the finest Who we’ve ever had.)
Sorry, still rolling that number around me bonce.
(Yes, this post is something of a ramble)
So why has it managed to survive for so long? What were the early decisions that allowed a wide general audience to grab hold of our show again and hold it tight to their hearts?
Firstly, RTD really nailed what Who needed to become in order to thrive in the modern TV landscape. All of time and space, monsters, adventure, laughs and scares were all well and good, but you needed more than that. You needed characters that LIVED. Cutouts wouldn’t do, a lack of a real interior life, we needed characters we believed in, that had an emotional life and relationships that made viewers care. That made them invested in these crazy adventures. RTD knew this and so we got a war damaged Doctor, and a companion in Rose that people could relate too, that had wants, needs, a disappointing life and, quite importantly, a family.
Many classic Who fans often derisively dismissed this fleshing out, the focus on the companions none-TARDIS life and family, as ‘soap’. These people should be avoided at all costs.
Next, RTD made sure this was still a show for all the family. It would have been very easy to have made the show for adults, it’s probably what many classic Who fans would have done. It’s what I would have done. We’re all idiots. That would have been a HUGE MISTAKE. RTD knew this, part of the shows magic was that it was a show for everyone. Not just kids, not just adults, but all of us.
Well done RTD, you clever man.
My last high-five is to the man who sometimes feels like the half-forgotten man of Modern Who, Christopher Eccleston. When he was announced as the Doctor I was knocked for six. For so long the part had been seen as a bit lightweight, whenever names for new Doctor’s were raised in the press, they’d mention the likes of magician Paul Daniels and hairy lifeguard David Hasselhoff. They were mocking the role, basically. And then Eccs was announced, a serious, respected, ‘real’ ACTOR. This was a statement of intent. This show was not a joke, it was here to be taken seriously. I’ve no doubt that his involvement turned many peoples heads and allowed them to give the show a chance. He gave it some extra legitimacy.
Many bemoan the fact he left so swiftly, and seems reluctant to return, or even really talk about the show, but PHOOEY to them. He did what was needed, did it brilliantly, and we owe him a lot.
On that same podcast I mentioned earlier, I chose a defining moment in modern Who. No, it’s not from a Moffat story, I like other episodes and writers too, ya jerk. It’s from that first season. It’s the cliffhanger to ‘Bad Wolf’, the penultimate episode of the season. That exchange between the Doctor and a Dalek, that stirring, heart in mouth back and forth encapsulates so much of the show and of the Doctor. It’s a chaotic, brave man, willing to throw himself headfirst into the jaws of almost certain death without weapons or a plan in order to help out another. I’m not ashamed (okay, I’m slightly ashamed) to admit that I literally punched the air during it. I have not done so before or since. Because that reaction’s kinda weird. But yeah. This moment pulled it out of me.
Happy birthday Doctor Who. Still the best story world ever, ever.
Here’s to many more.