Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Happy Fifteen Anniversary To New Who!

Just realized another anniversary slipped by me, what with the End Of The World currently happening and all. March 26 was the FIFTEENTH Anniversary of the return of Doctor Who! Fifteen years! How is that even possible?

Doctor Who ran on the BBC from 1963 (premiering the day after JFK was assassinated!) and ran until 1989 totaling a whopping 861 episodes! Holy Crap! That's a LOT of episodes!

There were numerous attempts to bring the show back over the years, but most never panned for various reasons. The BBC in particular demonstrated an appalling lack of interest in resurrecting the show, which is odd considering the amount of money they were raking in from various Who-related merchandise.

For years producer Philip Segal attempted to relaunch the show in America, without any success. Finally in 1996, the Fox Network agreed to film a TV movie that would serve as a pilot for a new series. 

The TV movie, simply titled Doctor Who, was a co-production between Fox, BBC Television, BBC Worldwide and Universal Television. With a budget of $5 million (an amount the original show could only dream of), the movie featured updated special effects and impressive CGI graphics.

Unfortunately the ratings were less than spectacular, and the project died then and there. While comic book and sci-fi fans were well versed in Doctor Who, the vast majority of Americans were unfamiliar with the character and tuned out in droves. It was just too weird for the general public.

Finally in 2003, producer Russell T Davies convinced the BBC to do a proper revival of the show. Unlike the original Doctor Who, which featured multi-part stories, each episode of this new series would be self-contained, clocking in at forty five minutes. This was intended to help speed up the pace of the show.

Davies claims he wanted the tone and structure of the show to be similar to such American series as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Smallville. In particular he liked Buffy's trend of featuring a season-long arc that built up to a confrontation with a "Big Bad."

In 2004, actor Christopher Eccleston was cast as the Doctor. Unlike old school Doctors who generally wore outlandish period-inspired costumes (often festooned with question marks!), Eccleston's wardrobe was downright pedestrian. He was decked out in a plain t-shirt, pants and boots, topped off with a black leather jacket. He wouldn't have looked out of place on any street in England or America.

British pop star Billie Piper was cast as his companion Rose Tyler. Virtually unheard of at the time in America, she was a big deal in Britain, releasing several bestselling albums.

Filming began in mid-2004 in Cardiff, Wales. The new series premiered on March 26, 2005, and was a certified hit, as the first episode titled Rose pulled in 10.5 million viewers in England. That number rose (heh) once the series debuted in other countries.

If I'm being honest, Eccleston isn't my favorite Doctor. He wasn't terrible in the role by any means, but I just never warmed up to him for some reason. He seemed too somber and morose, lacking the manic energy and eccentric charm of previous incarnations of the character. He finally started growing on me toward the end of the season, and then of course announced he was leaving the show. Typical.

The first episode not only introduced us to Rose Tyler, but her mother Jackie and boyfriend Mickey Smith as well. This was the first time any iteration of the series had given the Doctor's companion an actual family, who became recurring characters. It was a welcome change.

In a stroke of absolute genius, Russell T Davies figured out a way for the show to be both a continuation of the original and a fresh start at the same time. When we first meet this new, recently-regenerated Ninth Doctor, he's the same character we all knew and loved from the old series. 

But he also reveals that he's completely alone in the universe, as his race the Time Lords have all been wiped out in a mysterious and massive cataclysm.

By not explaining what happened to the Time Lords right off the bat, Davies leveled the playing field. Long time fans were just as in the dark about what happened as new viewers. Brilliant!

I'm not a huge fan of Rose, as it's kind of an awkward watch. The tone is all over the place, as there are moments of genuine terror juxtaposed with humor that seems very out of place. In fact the whole first season of the new series is kind of rough, as the show is very obviously struggling to find its groove.

Fortunately David Tennant (my second favorite Doctor) came along in Season 2 and showed everyone how it's done. That's the season in which I became an even bigger fan of the show than I had been before.

Eh... it's just too bad that Doctor Who has sunk to its current, unrecoverable depths. I hate to say it, but I think it's time to retire the series again.

Anyway, Happy Fifteenth Anniversary To New Doctor Who!

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