Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Ninth Doctor
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.
It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.
So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…
THE NINTH DOCTOR: CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON – 2005
During the years that followed the comparative failure of the Paul McGann led American pilot, it seemed that Doctor Who was consigned to the past, forever – a relic of a bygone age kept alive via audio productions, novels, comic strips and cheap-n-cheerful fan productions. There was a sudden rallying call when a new Ninth Doctor was announced for a web-based animation, but he was doomed to fall at the first hurdle, because something altogether more exciting was coming…
Somehow, all the elements were in the right place at last. The production of Scream of the Shalka – that animated webcast starring Richard E. Grant – had necessitated inquiries into exactly who owned what regarding Doctor Who following the baffling contracts tied up between the BBC, Universal Television and Fox Television in order to bring the Eighth Doctor to life in 1996. These issued had been used as an excuse to fend off any inquiries about the future of Doctor Who for some time, but Shalka’s team found out they were nowhere near as difficult to untangle as expected, and as a result, the BBC started looking to actively bring back a property that continued to make them an awful lot of cash.
In the years since Doctor Who was last in regular production, British telefantasy had continued to collapse inwards on itself whilst American programming flourished. Whilst US dramas like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought in huge viewing figures (The X-Files, at its peak, was hitting 10 million each week on BBC1), UK productions struggled to find their footing. Costly failures like Invasion: Earth and Randall & Hopkirk (deceased) failed to connect with audiences, so scepticism on the success of any return for Doctor Who was high.
Enter Russell T. Davis – the award winning writer, who started off in children’s television before jumping ship to adult drama, culminating in the seminal series such as Queer As Folk, Bob and Rose and The Second Coming. Enter also, the star of the latter show – Christopher Eccleston, a charismatic and enigmatic actor who had defied categorisation thanks to a string of critically acclaimed performances in productions as varied as Cracker, Our Friends In The North, Hillsborough, Elizabeth, The Others, 24 Hour Party People and 28 Days Later.
The combination of Davis and Eccleston lent enormous gravitas to the proposed new series, which was certainly called upon when it was announced that former pop singer Billie Piper would be playing the new companion. Fan derision turned ugly, forcing the BBC to close down its then popular cult message boards, and the team at BBC Wales, who would be producing the new show, closed all the doors and just got on with making 13 episodes of television.
The results were plain to see when the show returned in March 2005. Here was a bright, bold, witty and energetic new take on Doctor Who. Stories whizzed by in the standard American format of 45 minute episodes, and as The Doctor and Rose Tyler, both Eccleston and Piper were a revelation.
Sadly, as soon as it began, the Ninth Doctor’s era was over. A problematic shoot, as the production team struggled to hit the ground running, has since been blamed for Eccleston’s departure, though the true reason for his resignation remains unknown. Leaked to the press after only one episode, the remaining twelve aired under the shadow of a Doctor viewers knew was going to be gone way too soon.
Thankfully, with only a few wobbles along the way, this short run holds up just as well today as it did in 2005. The central, platonic love between the Doctor and Rose ties the series together, as a battle-scarred Time Lord, reeling from the then unknown effects of the Time War, began to find his humanity once more, and Rose realised there was far more to life than jobs, chips and telly.
And there were other delights in store, too. Noel Clarke’s character of Mickey Smith began as comic foil, but as the season progressed, he became more than just a reflection of the life Rose leaves behind, and began to set up his promotion to TARDIS crew-member proper the following year. As Jackie Tyler (Rose’s mother), Camille Coduri manages to steal just about every scene she’s in, and it’s no surprise she was asked back repeatedly.
Less successful is the brief introduction of a failed companion, Adam Mitchell, played by former Coronation Street actor Bruno Langley. The character isn’t exactly designed to be anything more than a two-dimensional failure, but being brought to life by a balsa wood performance doesn’t help make him any more convincing. Thank the heavens then, for Captain Jack Harkness, who turns up in the second half of the season and sticks around until it’s climax. Played with camp delight (of course) by John Barrowman, he’s the first openly pansexual character in the show’s history, gets far too many good lines, and offers The Doctor a much needed brash figure to bounce off.
New aliens are hit and miss, with many of them seemingly designed just to give the toy makers another figure to sell to kids, but those that work do so magnificently. The two leading villains are both brought to life by fine actresses. Zoë Wanamaker lends her voice to the last surviving human, Cassandra O’Brien – now reduced to a wafer thin piece of stretched out skin with a face in the middle, but no less bitchy than the cattiest queens on Canal Street. Elsewhere, Annete Badlaand overcomes a poor monster design and a weak opening story, to act her bloody socks off as failed world-destroyer Margaret Blaine Slitheen, giving what would normally be a cheap, budget saving episode some much needed oomph via a well thought out morality play between Maggie and the Doc.
In the end, though, this season belongs to the Daleks. Almost failing to appear (thanks to those darn legal issues), one lone specimen is enough to make audiences jaws drop in mid-season epic Dalek, and by the time they return with a truly ridiculous plot in Bad Wolf, they’re beloved national treasures once again. Their meddling forces The Doctor to send Rose home to avoid a nasty death, but when she manages to integrate herself with the TARDIS in order to get back to him, he’s forced to absorb the energy of the Time Vortex to save her, and this truly fantastic incarnation says his goodbyes… we still miss him.
STORIES TO START WITH:
The End of the World: The first real glimpse of what the new show could do, this is a witty delight which manages to fuse tree people, spitting, plastic surgery and Britney Spears into a bonkers delight. And you’ll want chips by the end of that gorgeous final scene.
Dalek: One survivor of the Time War meets another, and the result is an acting tour-de-force. Made the Daleks look genuinely scary for the first time since the early 60s, and finally convinced the naysayers that Billie Piper could hold her own against Christopher Eccleston, even when he’s acting his socks off.
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances: Still one of the finest pieces of television ever written, this is Steven Moffatt’s official debut writing for the show, and features a gas mask wearing child who makes you like him just by touch. Creepy in one breath, downright hilarious in another, and with a clever-clever ending that fills you with joy.
Boom Town: A fairly unloved episode, this budget saver nevertheless allows a rare four-way TARDIS team of The Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Captain Jack to lark around in Cardiff, with the Doctor taking the monster out for dinner. It’s all about the writing with this one…
Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways: So many surprises on first viewing… so many punch the air moments… and it ended with tears. Doctor Who was back, and it was bigger than ever before.
STORIES TO AVOID:
Aliens Of London/World War Three is a slightly rubbish two-parter, which suffered from being the first to enter production. It has its moments, mostly from good old Penelope Wilton, but it definitely needed another polish.
The Long Game is really the only let-down of the season, purely because on paper, the notion of a Doctor Who episode featuring Simon Pegg, Tamsin Grieg, and an alien called The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe is so utterly delightful, and this… well, isn’t. I still blame Bruno Langley, to be honest…