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Jul 03, 2005

Season One: The Trip of a Lifetime?

Coming_backSeptember 2003 – it seems like only yesterday. I remember the early morning phone call to John Paul: “It’s coming back! It’s coming bloody back! Can you &%$£*&@ believe it??!!!!”; I remember trying not to weep with joy when I broke the news to the wife, and I certainly recall how I failed to muster any excitement from my daughter. For a split second I felt like I’d won the pools and I even performed a celebratory Tim Henman air-pump. It felt that good.

I think I managed a whole twelve hours before I succumbed to “the fear”.

You see, even as the news was still sinking in, there was one unavoidable certainty: if Russell screwed it up there would be another decade – at the very least! - of waiting. Again. If it failed a very large line would have been drawn under the history of the programme and that, most probably, would have been that.

It felt like Who’s last hurrah; its last chance to grab the BBC by the lapels and scream in its face “Look at what you’ve squandered all these years!” It also felt like our last chance to convince the not-we that our love for this show wasn’t an autistic desire to immerse oneself in a comfortable nostalgia zone, it was, in fact, a celebration of the best TV format in the world, and the greatest hero that British culture has ever produced to boot. Nothing more, nothing less.

SoarawayAnd then the news began to filter in (filter being the operative word in an age where it’s possible to convince the world that Norman Lovett has been cast as Davros): they went and hired a great, versatile actor, they confirmed 13 episodes in the hallowed prime-time Saturday slot, fan-friendly script writers had been assigned, the return, loss and subsequent return again of the daleks (what would we do without The Sun, eh?) made us whoop with joy, the TARDIS wouldn’t be a rapping postbox, and the original theme music would get a dusting off – hurrah! It was like Russell was systematically crossing off items on our “most wanted” list.

Then they went and designed the logo. Just try to remember that nobody died.

Even the stunt-casting Billie Piper (or so I thought) couldn’t dent the impenetrable wall of optimism I’d managed to build around myself. This wasn’t just going to be the best series of Doctor Who ever made, it was going to be the best television show ever made! The very future of the medium was at stake. No pressure, then.

And then they told us that the new series would be screened in late March and my hopes were cruelly dashed. Well, that’s that then, I thought, we’ll be lucky to garner 5 million viewers in the daylight hours, and even then we’ll still be perceived as a niche interest (even if 5 million is a pretty good figure in this multi-channel world). Even though I don’t necessarily trust the accuracy of the BARB panels I’m also pragmatic enough to realise that they are the only thing that counts (despite what the BBC itself may profess). What happened over those 13 consecutive Saturdays was simply incredible, and despite a very close call with Ant and Dec, our show trounced the competition; it even managed to leave one show all but cancelled in its wake.

And if we’d only waited until winter – double figures every week, easy.

ZappedBut even with the sunshine Doctor Who decimated the myth that families won’t come together for “appointment TV” and it showed programme heads that reality shows don’t have to own Saturday nights anymore. If I was in charge of ITV I’d be dusting off Sapphire and Steel as we speak.

When I first launched this blog it was my intention to invite my 16 year-old sci-fi despising daughter to take part. She was going to be my reality-check barometer but she went and got herself a boyfriend instead. But - and I can’t stress this enough - she watched every single episode of the new series without the threat of being grounded hanging over her even once. And there’s the reality of the situation right there: it’s a hit with the general public. Not only that, it’s penetrated the British consciousness on a scale probably not witnessed since Dalekmania in the 60s (just this once I am too young to know for sure).

It’s always pissed me off that Nicol grew up without her very own Doctor (she was only a year old when Sylvester walked off into the sunset) and as she finally leaves her childhood behind her, I’m happy to report that she finally got one. She was visibly upset when the ninth Doctor popped his clogs, and while it will probably be a while before she asks to borrow my Troughton DVDs, she suddenly doesn’t look at my “hobby” with quite the same look of pity and embarrassment.

We all know it’s true, we’ve all got our own stories about this: Damon’s conversation in WH Smiths, your work colleague’s sudden interest in the history of the show, the sounds of excited children when you’ve hovering next to the Doctor Who section of a store, Bad Wolf graffiti suddenly turning up in underpasses...

Sure, it’s been a contentious ride at times – the northern accent, the homoerotic subtext, the domestic settings, the innuendo and scatological humour, the snogging fer christsake! – but what is truly amazing is how fandom has been prepared to take these challenges to the established status quo in their stride, a few mentalists on Outpost Gallifrey excluded, of course. What looked like pure anathema on paper has revitalised the show (whether you like it or not) and I simply can’t believe that a bona fide Doctor Who fan couldn’t find something they liked, if not loved, about this new series.

After all, it’s still the same old show – rubber monsters cackling insanely in glass tanks, mad businessmen doing the dirty on mankind, screaming daleks, creepy cliffhangers, eccentric wit, unconvincing special effects – and if you had offered me that 18 months ago I would have snapped your hand off at the wrist.

To cut an already long story short, season one exceeded almost all of my expectations. The quality of the writing, acting, direction, visual effects and design have been simply staggering. There hasn’t been one link in the chain (with the possible exception of Keith Boak and a slightly over-zealous Murray Gold), and with the unstoppable juggernaut that is the BBC Publicity Dept behind it, it just goes to show what’s possible when you really put your mind to it.

QuitsThere is the little matter of Chris leaving and spoiling the party but I think I summed that up best on the Reasons to Be Cheerful thread when the news initially broke. I’m sure we’ll learn the truth one day, but whatever happens I’d like to thank Christopher Eccleston for giving us (and the ninth Doctor) the trip of a lifetime. Corny, but true.

And here we are today with a guaranteed 1,264 minutes of new Doctor Who on the horizon, just out of reach. And it doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

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Doctor Who: Series One
Doctor Who: Series Two
Doctor Who: Series Three
Torchwood: Series One
Torchwood: Series Two
The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series One
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The Tenth Doctor Novels
Stripped Down Series 1
Stripped Down Series 2
Stripped Down Series 3
Stripped Down Series 4
Stripped Down Series 5
Stripped Down Series 6