Having been on a twenty-six year hiatus before a movie came out that was more canned American trash than a nostalgic experience for the casual viewer, I, along with every other fan of Doctor Who, was both excited and nervous when they revealed they were going to continue the series. The BBC had also announced that they were considering it as a prime time show, and it would be financed as such.
To those not familiar with the history of science-fiction shows and finance: Star Trek: the Motion Picture was given more money than any two of the other Star Trek films (other than the 2009 one) put together, and is considered amongst the poorest; Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan, was made on just under a third of the budget of the original, and is considered the best Star Trek movie and one of the best sci-fi movies ever made.
Russell T. Davies (Executive Producer and Head Writer for all of Christopher Eccleston’s era) had been desperate to get one of his favourite shows from childhood back on the air, and he had succeeded. The question remained: Would it be any good?
Less than ten minutes into the first episode, audiences were able to breath easy knowing that the answer was a resounding yes. The pace was quick, but not unintelligible. The music really did add atmosphere, as did the direction and the camera angles used. The clothes were far less flamboyant and more likely to go unnoticed than some of the costumes seen in the previous series. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper really sold their characters of the Doctor and Rose, so while this was a silly first outing (featuring walking plastic killer shop dummies called Autons) we knew we’d be back for more.
The Doctor & Rose Tyler
Eccleston’s time as the Doctor is amongst the best throughout the history of Doctor Who because it tries new things, tests new directions and explores the motivations of the characters (both good and bad).
The most critically acclaimed episode of this season is the two-part “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” for its quick narrative and its introduction to audiences of John Barrowman’s recurring character Captain Jack Harkness. However, it didn’t add anything new besides that. In fact it was more a return to the days when Doctor Who was about making children hide behind the sofa (something that Steven Moffat has stated as one of his objectives when penning his scripts). By contrast, amongst the most inspired are “Dalek” and “Boom Town”, which are outstanding in their exploration of the Doctor’s character.
“Dalek” reveals that the Doctor sacrificed the Time Lords in order to save the Universe from the Daleks, and in that episode he finds himself having to sacrifice Rose in order to save the Earth. For a man that has lost so much, this is unbearable, and he decides to save her, regardless of the consequences. In this episode, the Doctor truly feels hate towards the Dalek – poignantly shown when Rose points out that the Doctor is pointing a gun through her in order to kill the Dalek. In “Boom Town” the Doctor is made to face facts: he is someone who has killed on many occasions, and been responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of deaths, and has never had to see it to the end. It is never shown conclusively if he could, as the TARDIS offers up a plot device by turning his enemy, one who never had a chance to say “no” to committing her crimes due to her upbringing, into an infant, with the opportunity to live life to its fullest.
One of the largest strengths of this series overall was the chemistry between Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper and John Barrowman, who really did seem to revel being in each others company. That the Ninth Doctor is truly unique amongst his incarnations, while still being instantly accepted as the Doctor is a testament to how well written he was overall. The character pieces revolving around the Doctor, his companion, and how Rose’s departure affects her family and friends is an interesting side that we have never seen to this point.
The biggest failing of this series was its overarching plot. “Bad Wolf” was just too thin, and Rose’s transformation came out of nowhere. This use of deus ex machina almost ruined the finale of Doctor Who for me on the spot – but luckily there was a consequence. The Doctor would have to sacrifice himself in order to save Rose: the final act of the man known as “the oncoming storm” to the most feared creatures in the Universe. This stapled a firm belief in my mind that while the intense action of episodes like “Bad Wolf” and “World War Three” were fun enough to watch, it’s the character building episodes that would be remembered fondest for longest.
As Christopher Eccleston regenerated into an even younger man, viewers found themselves wondering how someone that young could play a man who’d lived hundreds of years. And then…“do they get younger with every regeneration…?”