Thursday, March 26, 2015

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Revived Doctor Who!

Happy Anniversary to the new Doctor Who series, which premiered ten years ago today on March 26, 2005! Wow! Ten years already? Where's the time gone (heh)?

Here we are four Doctors, ten plus companions and two sonic screwdrivers later, and the show's still going strong.

The original series ran for twenty six years, from 1963 to 1989. The BBC pulled the plug on the show in '89 due to low ratings and "franchise fatigue." Although the show officially ceased production, the network insisted it wasn't cancelled but was instead "on hiatus." Not sure I see how that's any different!

Numerous attempts were made to bring back the series over the years, without success. At one point Steven Speilberg's Amblin' Entertainment even attempted to revive the show. Finally in 1996, the BBC teamed with the Fox Network in America to produce a Doctor Who TV movie.

The movie starred Paul McGann as the Eight Doctor, and was meant to serve as a pilot for a new series. Reviews were mixed, as most fans criticized the script, but praised McGann's performance. Unfortunately the show was just too odd and too British for the American public, and low ratings scrapped any plans for a series.

Finally in 2003, the BBC worked out all the bugs and legal problems, and announced a new Doctor Who series to be headed by executive producer Russell T Davies. This time the production was based in Cardiff, Wales, instead of England.

Christopher Eccleston was cast as the Ninth Doctor, with Billie Piper starring as his companion Rose.

Eccleston's Doctor was much more serious than previous incarnations, as he struggled with survivor's guilt and the fact that he was the last of his kind. Piper's Rose Tyler shop girl-turned-adventurere helped bring this new Doctor out of his shell, and was a much-needed ray of hope for the morose Time Lord.

There were other differences this time around as well. In the original series, each story consisted of several multi-part episodes, each lasting half an hour. The new series would feature thirteen standalone episodes per season (with the occasional two parter), each lasting forty five minutes.

The budget was considerably larger for the new series too. Although the original show's papier-mâché aliens and cardboard sets had a certain charm, it was nice to see Doctor Who finally get the production value it deserved. At long last the interior of the TARDIS actually looked suitably bigger on the inside. It's about time! In the classic series, I thought the control room didn't look all that much bigger than the outside of the TARDIS!

The music was suitably updated too. Gone was the traditional synthesizer soundtrack, replaced by a sweeping, epic score performed by a symphony orchestra.

There was some concern in fandom as to the nature of the new series. Would it be a direct continuation of the old school Doctor Who, or would it be a reboot? There were pros and cons to both approaches. A reboot would likely alienate rabid fans of the old series, while a continuation, bogged down by decades of continuity, would probably confuse new viewers.

Russell T Davies solved the problem brilliantly. While the show was a continuation of the old series, much had happened to the Doctor since we last saw him. The Ninth Doctor was now the last of the Time Lords, as some mysterious incident had wiped out his people.

By leveling the playing field like this, fans were as much in the dark as new viewers, which was an awesome solution to the problem.

Ever since the show began in 1963, the Doctor's always travelled with a companion, usually a human, and most always female. The companion served mostly as an expository device, so he could explain things to them and thus to the audience. 

With the introduction of Rose Tyler, the importance of the companion was ramped up considerably, as she was very nearly the Doctor's equal. The new series also began the idea of the Doctor actually being attracted to his companion, rather than seeing them as just a friend. I'm not a fan of this development, as it skews a bit toward the creepy side. The Doctor's two thousand years old, give or take. He shouldn't be lusting after a twenty year old!

The inaugural episode Rose marked 
the first time we'd ever met a companions family, as we were introduced to Rose Tyler's boyfriend Mickey Smith and mother Jackie. It was an interesting take, and helped flesh out and humanize the Doctor's companion.

The Ninth Doctor's outfit got an update for the new millennium as well. Gone were the bizarre, garish jackets festooned with question marks (ugh). This new Doctor wore a simple leather jacket, t-shirt and black pants, allowing him to blend in (on Earth at least) rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

The Doctor's sonic screwdriver was also revised in the new series. In the past the sonic had been used fairly sparingly, but it now became an integral part of his arsenal, gaining new powers and abilities in each episode. Some fans complained that the sonic was now too powerful, functioning more like a magic wand than a tool. Producer Russell T Davies justified the use of the sonic, saying that since the new series' episodes were much shorter, the story had to move along at a fast pace. The Doctor could no longer afford to spend fifteen minutes trying to open a door, he had to open it instantly.

The new series proved popular under Eccleston's watch, but sadly he left after just one season. The show really exploded once 
Tenth Doctor David Tennant came on board. The show went from a British hit to a full-fledged worldwide phenomenon. Each episode now premieres on the same day all over the world.

We're now on our Twelfth Doctor, and the series show no signs of slowing down. I can think of few TV shows that have been around for as long as Doctor Who, and even fewer that've had twelve actors play the main character!

Here's to another ten (and more!) years!

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