Saturday 26 March 2005 saw Doctor Who return to our screens, heavily promoted by the BBC, with a promise of thirteen new episodes for the Time Lord and a clean slate. This was Doctor Who for a new generation. The show had been cancelled officially in 1989, but cancellation didn’t quite suit the saga…
In 1993, a Children In Need special was produced: Dimensions in Time. In 1996, BBC One aired the American-financed Doctor Who: The Movie and then in 1999, Big Finish started producing audio plays based on the series with the original actors and, finally, as we hit 2003, an animated miniseries Scream of the Shalka was produced, but this was swept aside with the announcement of a ‘proper’ relaunch for the show.
I had never seen Doctor Who prior to its 2005 relaunch – I was very young at the time – but my parents and grandparents seemed very excited about it. They’d watched the series’ original 1963-89 run, and still had a few bits and pieces of merchandise from over the years. My grandparents even had a TARDIS tin! There was something very strange about Doctor Who from the trailers on BBC One and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch it, but as we’d travelled up to see my grandparents, and they too wanted to watch Doctor Who, there was no escape. Resistance was futile.
Those forty-five minutes probably changed my life. Or, at least, influenced my interests. I had never seen anything like Doctor Who before. Star Wars was set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and therefore didn’t feel real to me. Harry Potter‘s adventures around Hogwarts seemed to take place in a magical realm unlike our own but Doctor Who set itself in our world.
Opening episode, Rose, introduced us to this new world, to a very real character in Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and the fantasy elements came to us, not the other way around. The alien invasion wasn’t hordes of shapeless monsters but shop window mannequins, who were rampaging across shopping centres, through the streets and gunning people down. It was almost like a documentary to a five-year-old and I’ve never looked at mannequins in quite the same way.
Then there was the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), who on the outside looked human but acted so differently, strangely. He knew how to save the world, and he could save it – just about. There was something very relatable about the Doctor but also something fantastical, bizarre. He wasn’t human, but he was most definitely one of the good guys. Despite having seen the TARDIS on the front cover of Radio Times, the reveal of the inside was incredible to my younger self. I suppose I hadn’t quite understood from photographs what it was and how it worked but seeing it in full, with that great establishing shot pulling away from Rose, and revealing the entire console room was just magic. Just under two years later, I’d finally get the amazing TARDIS playset from Character Options, and it was well worth the wait.
It probably sounds a bit hokey to say that the theme music had an effect on me too, but I still feel that there is something unearthly about Murray Gold‘s first rendition of the Doctor Who theme. I think it’s the mix of recognisable instruments with bizarre alien sounds, the mix of reality and science-fiction, that made Rose as an episode work brilliantly as an introduction to Doctor Who. It’s constantly filled with these contrasts. The TARDIS looks inconspicuous on the outside, but is revealed to be an alien spaceship on the inside. The Doctor looks human, but is in fact a 900-year-old Time Lord from Gallifrey. The Autons look like shop window dummies, but are in fact the servants of the Nestene Consciousness. The world we’re in looks like our own – with council estates, shops, sequences in central London – but its changing to something else, a world not quite like our own, where alien invasions are commonplace.
A lot of credit has to be attributed to writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies, who wrote such a wonderful script, and embodied the show with a new life without sacrificing on what makes Who, Who. His script – along with every other from Series 1 – can be found in Doctor Who: The Shooting Scripts 2005 book (and is well worth a read), and he last year novelised Rose as part of the Target books range. Julie Gardner too deserves a lot of credit, as her collaborations with Davies gave Doctor Who five glorious years on British television (before, of course, a whole new team took over in 2010 to great success to). Christopher Eccleston will forever be my Doctor, and his performance is wonderful in every episode he’s in. I hope he one day returns to the show in some form, but until then, I love revisiting his episodes. Regardless of what you think of Rose Tyler, Billie Piper is excellent in the show, and grounds the show in a variation of reality. Oh, and of course everyone else in the cast and crew – names I don’t even know, who might not even be listed in the credits – who helped to regenerate Doctor Who. Without your contributions, a whole generation of kids wouldn’t be scared of bins. Or, even worse, wouldn’t be Doctor Who fans.
So many things have changed in the last fifteen years. Doctor Who isn’t the same. My life isn’t the same. And the world isn’t the same. But Doctor Who has consistently been a lovely escape from reality, whether it be discovering classic episodes of the show from its early years, or watching how the series has unfolded over the years since.
The Doctor, the TARDIS and the showrunner have all regenerated, but the show is still fundamentally the same. I don’t think I’ll ever have quite the same attachment to a series of Doctor Who that I do for Series 1, but I’m always excited to see what each new year brings. Just this month, Series 12 finished on TV with The Timeless Children, and the 1967 story The Faceless Ones has been brought back to us in the form of a new animation. It may have been fifteen years since Rose aired, but Doctor Who is far from being all over…