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Dec 31, 2005

Twenty moments when you know that you're witnessing the greatest resurrection since Jesus

(With apologies to DWM, whose 1996 ‘Greatest Moments’ article this shamelessly plagiarises)

It’s New Year’s Eve, so what better time to look back at what has been a quite remarkable year to be a Who fan. But seeing as I’ve already done that, here instead are twenty moments which for me made the fourteen (and a bit) new episodes of Doctor Who this year so cherishable…

20. ‘How do I look?’

The Tenth Doctor chooses his new clothes.

To begin at the end. In what was a largely lightweight and inconsequential Yuletide romp, one thing stood out (side-burned) head and shoulders above anything else: David Tennant’s cheeky, charming and charismatic full debut as the Tenth Doctor. And if one moment said more than any other that this is the Doctor, then it was the one when Tennant donned his new ‘geek chic’ apparel and strode into Jackie Tyler’s flat to Rose’s approval. Clothes maketh the man, indeed.

19. ‘We’ve got incoming’

The TARDIS rescues Rose from the Dalek ship.

The stakes had never been higher: the Doctor and the Daleks at loggerheads one last time, with the Doctor’s time-travelling chum the prize. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the Doctor leads a daring rescue mission into the heart of the Dalek fleet, materialising his ship around Rose and her Dalek captor. No-one - least of all the Daleks or the viewers - expected that one.

18. ‘Here we go then. History!’

Rose takes her first steps into the past

It’s a scene which the old show had reduced to something of a non-event after twenty-six years: the Doctor’s new companion takes her first, faltering steps into a world once only accessible via the history books. But whereas the likes of Tegan and Peri during the original series’ dying days would have done so with barely a backwards glance, Rose Tyler’s reaction is akin to Neil Armstrong stepping out onto the moon: full of wonder and bewilderment. And as a result, the viewer is filled with these feelings too.

It’s a beautiful moment, and one that often gets overlooked when compiling such definitive lists. So here it is to remind us all how important such quiet moments are; and to prevent us from getting so blasé about this show’s limitless possibilities ever again.

17. ‘So, Rose Tyler, where would you like to go: forwards or backwards in time?’

Rose takes a trip with a mysterious stranger

The moment when ‘Rose’ detractors (and there were a few of us) finally had hope for the future. Left largely cold by the debut doings of Nestene nonsense and domestic drudgery, the opening moments of ‘The End of the World’ at last tapped the vast potential of this most unique show. As the Doctor tantalises Rose with futuristic opportunity after futuristic opportunity (pumping the TARDIS console like a pair of old bellows as he does so) we’re off at last on this most fantastic of trips; the trip of a lifetime, you could say…

16. ‘It means I’m gonna change’

The Ninth Doctor says goodbye.

Oh, if only that BBC spokesperson had kept his lip buttoned three months previously. Given all the behind-the-scenes speculation following Eccleston’s sudden departure, you can’t help but view the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration without thinking ‘what if I’d never known’. Detractors will try and convince you that the scene is horribly tacked-on, given the necessity of providing the first series with a sense of closure. But there’s no denying the power and emotion of the Ninth Doctor’s final moments, as he prepares his best friend for the coming change. And Tennant’s cough’n’spit levity afterwards merely heightens the emotion rather than undermining it.

15. ‘Who am I, love?’ - ‘You’re my Daddy!’

Pete Tyler saves the world

In an episode when Doctor Who became a domestic drama with sci-fi trappings, this moment above all shows how successful such a marriage can be in the right hands. Paul Cornell’s story of love, loss and second chances remains by far series one’s most successful blend of fantasy and domesticity; and the moment when Shaun Dingwall’s Pete Tyler realises his true place in history is as human and heroic as Doctor Who has ever got.

14. ‘Culture Shock - happens to the best of us’

Rose finds that some things are bigger inside than out.

It was always going to be the signature moment of episode one: the TARDIS interior, experienced by viewers of a new generation for the very first time. That we see it - as indeed we see everything else this episode - through Rose’s eyes is as pivotal a moment as any in this inaugural outing. The purist may have preferred a complex, tracking shot from exterior to interior (as was in fact originally planned), but the way in which Rose first enters, then leaves, then re-enters the TARDIS (having, of course, walked all around it just to check) is as effective a way of representing the impossibility of the Doctor’s time/space machine as any.

13. ‘No’

The Doctor makes a stand against his oldest enemies

Imagine you’re the Doctor for a moment: your entire species has been wiped out in a war with your deadliest enemy; your only consolation being that they too were wiped out. Then one day you find that not all your sworn enemies died and that the sacrifice of your brethren was all for nought.

And to add insult to injury, they’ve got your best friend prisoner and are threatening to exterminate her too.

One dreadful dilemma. One simple word of defiance. Followed by arguably the most balls-to-the-wall statement of intent ever given by any Doctor, ever. And anyone who doesn’t have all the hairs on the backs of their necks standing up at this point is simply not alive…

12. ‘Are you frightened, Rose Tyler?’

The last Dalek self-exterminates.

Believe it or not, but some people hated this episode. A Dalek with emotions, you say? You’d never have had that in the ‘glory days’ of the seventies! But what some people forget is how those same halcyon days largely reduced the series’ most notorious nemeses to the level of characterless ciphers. And replaced them with a half-human spokesperson who wasn’t such a dull conversationalist.

Robert Shearman changed all this. For a show littered with stories titled ‘…of the Daleks’, never before had the show addressed its most infamous creations with the level of depth and belief shown here. Because for all its relentless desire to exterminate anything that was unalike, here was a Dalek that was at heart a fragile, frightened creature conditioned to obey its prime directive. And when Rose’s DNA ‘infects’ it - producing a hitherto unknown conflict of interests - it leads to one of the most moving death-scenes in Doctor Who yet: a Dalek whose only desire before death is to feel the rays of sunshine forever denied it

11. ‘Are you my Mummy?’

Dr Constantine is unwell.

When you’re a kid, Doctor Who is all about being scared shitless behind that mythical sofa. So when the show came back after all those years, many questioned whether the show’s potency in sending children scurrying would be diminished in these oh so savvy times. It’s a challenge that Steven Moffatt clearly relished.

Doctor Who

has always worked best when transposing the very ordinary with the very bizarre. So when the man who’s best known for playing grumpy old Victor Meldrew suddenly starts pleading ‘Are you my Mummy?’ and coughs up a gas mask, you’ve got a pretty good recipe for scaring the bejesus out of any watching eight-year-olds; not to mention thrilling the memories of the forty-somethings in attendance.

Moffatt’s scripts - not to mention the above image - proved to be one of the outstanding delights of season one. And who’d have thought that ‘Are you my Mummy?’ would become a catchphrase across playgrounds throughout the country?

10. ‘Vworp, vworp’

The TARDIS crash lands at Christmas

Remember ‘Time and the Rani’? Yes, I know it’s not a pleasant Who memory to dredge up, but I mention it for one pertinent reason. Because it’s the only time prior to this year’s Christmas special when the TARDIS is seen to literally land on a planet’s surface (although in ‘Rani’s case, with a somewhat less spectacular ‘rainbow jet-stream’ effect).

A rather facile reason to include it in a list of this year’s twenty golden moments, you may think. But there’s just something so cool and kick-arse about the sight of the TARDIS bouncing like a spinning top off the buildings of Rose’s home estate that it just demands inclusion. And when those rather under whelming trailers for ‘The Christmas Invasion’ began (ooh, deadly Santas and spinning trees, everyone…don’t get too excited, will you) it was only the sight of the TARDIS literally crashing back onto the scene that finally got the pulses racing for the first time since June.

Funny how no-one apart from Mickey and Jackie came out to see what all the noise was about though…

9. ‘Rose, I’m trying to resonate concrete’

So, does the Doctor dance?

There are so many moments to mention from Steven Moffatt’s two-parter that the risk would be to fill a top twenty from these ninety minutes alone. So, if we’re going to be harsh let’s boil its success down to fundamentals, shall we.

Doctor Who

has always worked best as metaphor. And with its themes of underage pregnancy and cross-gender (and indeed, cross-species) sexuality, it’s no surprise that ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ is the most explicit examination of the Doctor’s, ahem, preferences ever seen in the show (at least yet…you kind of get the impression that RTD and co. will be revisiting this area in the not too distant future.)

Dancing as a metaphor for sex is of course a time-honoured device. But to see it in our favourite show is still a surprise, even in these enlightened, liberal times. That it’s done so well is just one of the delights of these two episodes; that it’s done with Moffatt’s trademark wit and honesty is just the icing on the cake. The highlight? It has to be the absolutely charming scene in which an entrapped Rose and Doctor skirt their feelings by almost (but not quite) dancing with one another (with only a rather untimely transport via Captain Jack interrupting proceedings). The Doctor’s self-effacing attempts to undermine Rose’s gentle needling (‘What makes you think I don’t…dance’) and Eccleston and Piper’s beautiful chemistry makes this one of those many scenes this year to leave a broad grin right across your face.

And no, the world didn’t end when this Doctor danced…

8. ‘Will the Doctor please come to the diary room’

The Doctor wakes up in the Big Brother house

Okay, what’s to love about this scene? How about director Joe Ahearne’s disorienting, heads-down spinning shot of the Doctor awaking in that confined space. Or how he emerges into a strangely familiar environment of art deco furniture, earnest Joe Public everymen and that pulsating soundtrack that has come to define reality television for this generation. I have little time for Big Brother, let alone the whole raft of knock-off (and even to this layman’s eyes, pale) imitations that litter our schedules. But I’ve still got Russell T Davies to thank for what is undoubtedly the closest I’m going to get to becoming an aficionado of this modern phenomenon.

‘Bad Wolf’ aired just a couple of weeks into Big Brother’s most recent series; and it’s hard to think of another occasion when Doctor Who and popular culture collided with such resonance in the popular zeitgeist. If ever a moment came this year when the show became ‘relevant’ for the mainstream audience, this was it.

Oh, and notice how the Doctor’s hearing seems to faze out as that iconic theme tune’s crescendo rises (a trick Ahearne repeats later that episode as the shell-shocked Doctor reacts to Rose’s apparent death at the hands of the Anne-Droid).

Many feared this thrusting of Doctor Who into the reality format would be a post-modern trick too far. Fortunately their fears proved foundless. ‘You have got to be kidding’, says the Doctor as the titles crash in; but for the watching fandom sitting there in fear, the joke really was on them…

7. ‘Everybody Lives. Just this once’

Nancy, nanogenes and a nice ending (for once)

The two-parters this year were a bit of a mixed bag: ‘Aliens of London’ set such an under whelming precedent that even an episode a whole lot better than ‘World War Three’ would have failed to make up for it. And while ‘Bad Wolf’ had an entertainingly novel spin on modern TV gone mad, it was really about setting the groundwork for the apocalyptic season finale to follow. So, it’s to Steven Moffatt that we - once again - turn to see how these things really should be done.

‘The Empty Child’ was good. ‘The Doctor Dances’ redefines that adjective. This is simply forty-five minutes of some of Who’s most heart-warming, heartbreaking and human moments. And for once the underlying threat is no clichéd, alien threat intent on enslaving mankind for its own nefarious ends. It’s simply an accidental fusion of human frailty and alien technology; with in the middle a little boy who only wants to find his Mummy.

But this is really all about why Christopher Eccleston made such a great Doctor. The inspired revelation, the sensitive encouraging of Nancy to confront her past and finally the sheer joie de vivre at - for once - managing to save everyone. And with just three episodes to go of both this series and the Eccleston era, the unadulterated exhibition of the Doctor’s delight acts as a marked counterpoint to the moral and ethical dilemmas yet to come in Cardiff and the year 200,100.

Simply Who at its very, very best. I think we could all do with more days like this, don’t you?

6. ‘Rose, get in the church’

The TARDIS is just a Police Box

Note to The Mill: you can keep your shots of alien spaceships crashing through Big Ben and recreations of Blitz-torn London (though I remain forever grateful to you for finally fulfilling my childhood dream of fleets of Dalek ships swooping down as though TV Comic has come alive).

Because Doctor Who’s one great strength during its halcyon days of cash-strapped, minimalist thrills was that it encouraged the imagination to fill in the blanks that budgets couldn’t satisfy. So my favourite special effect of season one remains the one that isn’t very special at all: the Doctor returns to the TARDIS in the altered future of ‘Father’s Day’ to find that it’s exactly what it is in real life; an empty box into which we transposed all out beliefs and imagination all those years before.

And Eccleston’s shocked reaction echoes our own: for we don’t need fantastic sets or snazzy special effects to remind us that what should lie beyond those doors is a fantastic, dimension-defying time and space ship. Our imaginations managed that years ago, and it’s nice to know even now that those same imaginations still fuel our fan hearts.

5. ‘Oh, look at you’

Something familiar in the alien museum.

Right from the start, something felt different about Rob Shearman’s ‘Dalek’. Of course after ‘Rose’, this was the one the fans had been waiting for the most: the return of the Doctor’s most infamous nemeses after some seventeen years; finally to be granted after seemingly endless off-screen negotiations had threatened to scupper their return at all.

But I doubt if any but the Internet-immersed were ready for the bonus that confronted us in the first few minutes. The Doctor and Rose have landed in an alien museum, littered with relics and specimens from a thousand worlds; a Slitheen arm, a Roswell chronometer; and of course the thing of beauty that - quite literally - takes the Doctor’s breath away.

In an episode that was all about one iconic return, it seemed something of a guilty pleasure to have a second one. But that gorgeous, gleaming Cyber-head that stares oh-so-sadly out at the Doctor pretty much set the precedent for this new series’ first dip into classic status. And firmly whetted the appetite for their impending return this spring.

Just a shame the new design doesn’t live up to this one’s billing…

4. ‘Oh no, not again’

The stiffs are rising again in Victorian Cardiff

The price of having a new all-singing, all-dancing Who for the 21st Century has been the loss of one of the original series’ most memorable elements: the cliff-hanger.

So, how did the new production team compensate? Simply bring it forward forty-five minutes and stick it before the opening credits. Easy, you say? Well, like much on offer this year, such innovation produced mixed results. But nowhere else did it evince the spirit of the old show more successfully than here.

A dead woman rises, strangles her grieving grandson and escapes into a winter’s night; spewing gaseous Gelth as she zooms towards the camera. Cue opening theme sting.

Marks out of ten for shivers down the spine: eleven.

3. ‘You think it’ll all last forever…‘

The end of ‘The End of the World’.

In the old days, this episode would have ended with the Ninth Doctor unmasking the saboteur, saving Platform One from destruction and bidding brief adieus before making off for fresh adventures.

In 2005 this wouldn’t have been enough. While the Doctor’s been busy saving the day and Rose has been avoiding being fried by the sun’s corona, planet Earth has been quietly engulfed by its expanding star. And everyone was too busy to notice.

Cue the Doctor to put everything in context. Given the vantage point of a time-traveller, all this has happened before, is happening now and is yet to happen. So he takes Rose back to the familiar world of buildings, people and chips to remind her of the fact. And makes a startling revelation of his own as a result.

‘Everything has its time and everything dies’. Russell T Davies’ beautiful eulogy to the transience of life and the need to appreciate it while it’s here (all wrapped up in a post-9/11 sensibility) is the moment when new Who set out its stall to be so much more than an exercise in cheap nostalgia. It may have been the end of the world, but otherwise this is pretty much the start of everything else…

2. ‘Doc-tor!‘

Enemies Reunited

We may have awaited ‘Rose’ and the series’ debut like a parched man awaits his first oasis-bound drink, but this is the moment we’d all been secretly clenching our collective sphincters for these past near-enough two decades. The Doctor. A Dalek. And that most repeatable adjective, sure to flood playgrounds across the country again the Monday after.

It’s beautifully lit (again, Joe Ahearne deserves so much kudos for this year’s success), perfectly pitched and - with Eccleston’s acting and Nicolas Briggs’ immaculate voicing - simply effective in how it underplays this first meeting between the series’ two most recognisable icons this year.

But what it all comes down to is just three words: ‘Doc-tor…The Doctor’. And a million fan-boys wet themselves with just how perfect this first meet-up of old ‘friends’ is.

In hindsight, it’s difficult to see how this scene could have failed to work. But imagine how in lesser hands we could have had a ‘so, we meet again Time Lord’ style reunion, with no doubt Davros putting in a ‘surprise’ reappearance. Be thankful that - in this case, as it so often is - less was more. And be thankful that a certain Roger Hancock finally loosened his grip on the Nation’s inheritance; as it scarce bears thinking about how less memorable this year would have been without this moment.

1. ‘Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life’

The final words that every ‘Who’ fan would love to give

And so we come to this. The moment this year which simply refuses to fade from my mind’s eye; a moment so pure with Doctor Who’s underlying ethos of doing the right thing and appreciating life in all its mundanity that it absolutely demands a thesis all of its own. But there’s no time for that. And its simple message of loving life and embracing death deserves no more words, as such prevarication would only undermine the brevity of this beautiful scene.

So, how to encapsulate this moment best? How about the subtext of the TARDIS being allowed to ‘gather dust’ and fade away as an elegy to the show’s indomitable spirit during those sixteen years in virtual wilderness? Or how Eccleston’s hologram turns to Rose, as though he would know whilst recording it that she would by that stage be standing at his side?

But for me it’s that look and that final phrase that lingers so long now since first seeing it back in June. If ever nine words encapsulated why I’ve stood by this show - and it me - ever since it first grabbed my attention and refused to let go all those years ago, this would be it. Because for all its trappings of science-fiction, Victoriana and genre-splicing storytelling, Doctor Who’s uniqueness stems from its honest belief that doing the right thing when no-one else will is the most heroic thing anyone can do. And that this lonely, altruistic alien with whom we’ve all travelled through good times and bad appeals to the very souls of every hardened Doctor Who fan. If you ever wonder why you’re here typing on this site, as friends and even family fade away from your lives, then play this scene just one more time. And wonder no more.

It’s certainly why I’m here. Happy New Year, everyone…

Comments

Thank you Sean for the best roundup of everything I, and I think everyone, loved about this year's series. It just melts my heart to remember those lovely moments -- especially the last one -- and look forward to many more.

At the risk of parroting e, another beautiful post.

Thanks Sean, you just completely summed up the last year for me. Many fond memories and bittersweet goodbyes and a comprehensive reminder as to why 2005 will be forever etched into the modern television mythos for years to come.

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