There have probably been countless terabytes of information written about the new Doctor Who since its return five years ago. Whilst I am loathe to add to this data pollution, as a wise Icelander once said, "I've started so I'll finish..."The first few months of 2005 were torture.
Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but it seemed to take a long time to get to Easter when the first episode was due to be broadcast. All sorts of bit of information were leaking out in the press. The new Doctor was apparently going to be played by Christopher Eccleston whom I remembered from The League of Gentlemen and 28 Days Later but didn't know much else about. What I'd seen of the costume made him look more like The Navvy than The Doctor, but I would suspend judgement until I'd seen him in action.
I was more worried about the casting of the companion. Billie Piper? In my mind this seemed like a big mistake - dangerous stunt casting. Had they learned nothing from the casting of Bonnie Langford during the McCoy era?
Time ticked on and I kept having dreams about the return of the show. Shouldn't I have grown out of this sort of behaviour by now? Wasn't it just a TV programme? Then I read an interview with Mark Gatiss (now revealed as one of the new series writers) in which he said when he'd heard it was coming back he couldn't sleep. I was in good company then.
People were talking about the executive producer Russell T Davis. Again I didn't know much about him aside from the fact that he'd written a Doctor Who novel I'd ignored in the nineties and something called The Second Coming which had also starred Christopher Eccleston. And that Queer As Folk programme that people had said was groundbreaking.
The tension was becoming unbearable. Billboards started to appear everywhere. Then an impressive looking TV trailer "Do you wanna come with me..?"
Lots of planets have a North
It was here. I'd seen various clips and trails during the saturation media coverage, but nothing quite prepared me for its appearance on TV. As the time-to-go ticked down I was unavoidably reminded of Today's Sport, a roundup that used to follow the early evening news on BBC1 on Saturdays in the seventies. It was the last thing on before Doctor Who and always seemed interminable. It was adding insult to injury - the televisual day had already been swallowed up by Grandstand, as infinitely dull as it was long, couldn't they just let us have the rest of Saturday to ourselves?
Come on... come on...
My first reaction to was that the theme tune seemed to have reverted to the Delia Derbyshire version; there were some additional bells and whistles but a lot of the original was still quite high in the mix.
But the show itself? It was difficult for my brain to get a handle on it at first. This was something old and familiar in a completely new form. Modern. Funny. Self-referential. And the Doctor... so this was the Ninth Doctor. No regeneration, although it was implied that it had only recently happened. It was difficult to get a handle on him too. "Yes I can, here I am, this is me, swannin' off..." Was this the same man whom we'd last seen fighting the Master in San Francisco in 1999?
I was won over. Even though there were elements I was unsure of it was far better than I could have hoped. And despite my fears, Billie Piper could act.
It was successful too. Even though I'd been vaguely embarrassed about my uncool obsession for years now everyone was switching on and the media attention was unprecedented. Surely it couldn't last?
Almost immediately the tabloids broke the story DOCTOR WHO QUITS!
It seemed Christopher Eccleston was leaving after only one series. To this day it's not clear to me as to whether this was planned or not. Having a regeneration at the end of the first season certainly helped introduce a new audience to the concept - but was this done by design or was it just incredibly good luck that the leading man of the BBC's new flagship drama just happened to leave the only show where a change of lead was not only acceptable but expected?
Whatever had happened behind the scenes the tabloids went into a frenzy of speculation about the identity of the Tenth Doctor. Their questions were soon answered; the new leading man would be one David Tennant, an actor who'd recently starred in Russell T Davis's recent TV drama Casanova. I began to feel a sense of Deja Who as they cast the leading man from another of the Executive Producer's previous successes; what's more wasn't this Tennant guy a bit similar to Eccleston? Time would tell.
The new series rolled on, sometimes brilliant, sometimes OK, always welcome. The standout story for me that first year was The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, a marvelous two part tale that seemed to show just what this new show was capable of being. Surprisingly, the writer was Steven Moffat, the guy who'd written that Coupling comedy show on BBC2.
The new dramatic technique suited Doctor Who. On more than one occasion I could see modern influences, including the occasional nod towards Joss Whedon-style characterisation and dialogue - just watch time-travelling Rose's reaction in the scene in Father's Day when her Dad inadvertently flirts with her - straight out of Buffy!
I broke my arm and an exhibition of sets and props came to Brighton Pier for the summer. The newly designed Daleks seemed perfect. Then we found out what Bad Wolf was and the Doctor regenerated again...
There was going to be a Christmas Special on Christmas Day followed by an interactive episode on digital TV immediately afterwards. It seemed the public just couldn't get enough Doctor Who.
The episode itself was good fun, although you now got the impression that everyone involved in making it now knew that they had a hit on their hands. It resulted in a subtly different atmosphere.
The new Doctor was great - he seemed to have been born for the part and confessed in many an interview to have been a big fan in his youth. This explained why, despite looking like Jarvis Cocker, he seemed to be chanelling Tom Baker's Doctor a lot of the time. K9 returned. So did the Cybermen. The new range of toys looked fantastic - a million miles away from what had been available when I was a kid.
The show got more and more popular over the next few years, resulting in insanely high ratings on occasion. In the public's eyes it didn't seem to be capable of doing anything wrong.
I will never bring back The Master. I will never bring back The Master again. Don't be ridiculous of course Kylie Minogue isn't going to be in the Christmas Special!
It was one way to deal with press leaks I suppose.
They made animated versions alongside the regular series. Spin-off shows appeared, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, supposedly adult and child-friendly versions of the parent. Plus of course there was the behind-the-scenes show Doctor Who Confidential. And a behind-the scenes show for kids, Totally Doctor Who. The public lapped it all up. In addition to Doctor Who Magazine (still going strong, thank you) a children's magazine/comic, Doctor Who Adventures, hit the shelves. And more toys. And Dalek cookie kits. And backpacks. And underpants. And voice-changer helmets.
However, after a while elements of the stories started to bother me. Was I alone in feeling that something wasn't quite right? Don't get me wrong, I thought it was brilliant that it was on the air again, and furthermore a resounding success. It was just that increasingly I found that aspects of the show didn't sit well with me. I found myself starting to have to "put up with" poor plot elements or come up with convoluted in-universe explanations for things that just didn't make sense. That is, narrative sense.
This came to a head in the finale of Season Four in which all the companions, their families and associated characters from the spinoffs came together to fight Davros who had decided to "destroy reality" for no very good reason. The story felt like the kind of thing made up by a child playing with his action figures and wanting to include them all in the game, even two versions of the Doctor (both Blue Suit and Brown Suit editions). It ended up with the TARDIS towing the Earth across half the galaxy.
However, there were still brilliant episodes being made and broadcast and a lot that I was enjoying. It just felt as I was now living in an inverse of the world pre-2005 - everyone liked Doctor Who whereas it was me who had misgivings about parts of it.
And the Tenth Doctor had been steadily getting far too big for his Converse trainers.
To be concluded...
Dimensionally Transcendental Confession 13: In which the series has a year off and I run out of sins to confess.