The End of the World
The Unquiet Dead
Aliens of London
World War III
The Long Game
Father's Day
The Empty Child
The Doctor Dances
Boom Town
Bad Wolf
The Parting of the Ways
New Series Season One


The New Who Is Old - The Nature of Season 27 by Adrian Loder 2/8/05

Season 27, huh? Why, I must be some kind of continuity-fetishist, desperately trying to fit the new Who into some mold created by the 40 years of prior history. Unable to cope with change, a fan of a certain Who and can't deal with RTD's new vision, right?

No, no. Yes, I had reservations about certain directions the show had taken - certain aspects that made me cringe, but as the season worked its way along, I came to a few realizations, and I think that these things illuminate the nature of the new Who. Really it isn't change I have an issue with - the particular changes that were made, or, in some cases, the way in which they were implemented, left me unsatisfied. Yet no matter what, I still enjoyed it week in and week out, and finally, when Father's Day came, there was a kind of epiphany, so let's start there.

I felt at the time, and do now, that Father's Day was the perfect melding of what came before with what Doctor Who is in the here and now. This has been explained satisfactorily in my review of that episode, so there will be no reprise here. I was, however, quite keen to see other takes on the show. In particular someone put forth the opinion that were it not for little, tenuous links like Daleks or U.N.I.T. this really wouldn't be a continuation of the old at all but rather a reboot, indeed it was very close to being such as it was. Nevermind that the creator of this rebirth, as well as the BBC website, officially proclaim otherwise - let's look at the essence of the show.

What, really, ties the new show to the old? Well, it was created by a longtime fan, it is being produced by the BBC, some of the writers have worked on other, previous incarnations of the show (novels, Big Finish), incoming director Graeme Harper worked on episodes of the so-called 'classic' series. Internally, the title character is not just the same in principle, he IS the same guy, his incarnation is the one following the last to be seen on TV (and indeed heard and read), and his opening episode displays him checking out his new digs, as it were. The trappings are the same - TARDIS, sonic screwdriver, there are (or were) Time Lords, Daleks, Autons, Cybermen. In other words, all the peripherals are the same, but, though the internal content - plot, characterization, etc - have certain similarities, there are many differences from what has gone before. The Doctor is by turns effervescent and cheery, and incredibly serious; he can be uncompromising and almost cruel in judgement, yet sometimes cannot bring himself to be a destroyer; he gives of himself for humanity yet is more brutally critical of people and his companions than he has ever been before; he is brilliant yet he often screws up completely and has left a wake of bodies as big as he ever did in the past. He is contradiction embodied and while showing similar traits, the whole is unlike anything we've seen before.

In addition, a greater emphasis has been placed on the consequences of the Doctor's actions - taking people away from their loved ones, in particular, as it has explored mother-daughter, and lover-lover relations, though not always effectively. The Doctor has been more consistently prone to romantic feeling, and stories have often been critical of the Doctor and his ways, above and beyond the past. These things are hardly forbidden, but some of us have been upset with them, or with how they've been employed. Indeed, I hated the domestic aspects, but then when they were done well, in Father's Day, I became reconciled to their place, provided they were handled with real feeling and had a place in the essence of the story being told.

In short, the little things, the tenuous links, are the same as before, but the character of the show is radically different. But does this make it but a hop, skip and a jump away from being a series reboot?

Let's look at the Hartnell era - a crotchety, sometimes doddering, sometimes manipulative Doctor who, when placed in a bad situation is often just as interested in getting out, out, out as anything - as opposed to later incarnations who felt it their duty to stay and fight injustices they came upon. He involved himself consistently with Earth's history, and had little contact with those of his own kind, revealing next to nothing of his past. He is also the only Doctor to have given evidence of family ties. Compare this to the Fourth Doctor, say, in the Hinchcliffe years - things are entirely different. This Doctor was committed to fighting injustice, visited alien worlds predominantly, was often physically involved, only played the fool to get his enemies to drop their guard, was capable of great humor in the face of danger and rarely touched the history of Earth. His companions were very different, the women largely self-assured and capable, as opposed to screaming coffee-makers like Susan, Vicki , Dodo and Polly (though in fairness Polly busies herself with coffee in The Moonbase, with Troughton's Doctor rather than Hartnell's). In terms of television shows, they were completely different. The only real ties were that the character, though played by a different actor, was indeed the same person; he traveled in a TARDIS; if we stretch to Troughton, he had a sonic screwdriver; he encountered Daleks and Cybermen; the show was called Doctor Who and it was made by the BBC.

The point should be clear. This new series is, in fact, no more different from what came before than later parts of the original were from other, earlier parts. If Tom Baker-Who is part of the same show as Hartnell-Who, then so is Eccleston-Who, 16-year hiatus or no. As Rob Matthews has stated, Who is a 40-year accumulation of shows, audios, books and the like that have formed a body of material collectively known as Doctor Who. This is the only reason why we view the new series as being a departure - because what has gone before has agglomerated into a kind of homogeneous ball, with certain, broad characteristics being painted across the whole. But on closer inspection, these are a deception, forged by human beings that, like most people, must categorize, sort and file things, order them into a logical hole that they then can easily refer to and characterize. In truth, though there have been certain links maintained - links still carried on in the new BBC series, as well - through the series' history in all media, the fact is that radically breaking from the past is, ironically, one of Doctor Who's most consistent traits. In failing to be a mere homage to the old, the new Who is in fact closer to the spirit of the old than if it were being written by Robert Holmes, Brian Hayles and Eric Saward, and produced by Innes Lloyd, Phillip Hinchcliffe or John Nathan-Turner, aping the past as much as possible.

We may protest the particular alterations, but on looking at the old in detail I think it is obvious that the divergences and mere peripheral links to the past are wholly in tune with the sprit of the past and in fact make it clearer than ever that this new show is very far indeed from being a series reboot. This is why I call it Season 27 - because, cancellation and rebirth or not, it is.

I also want to add a note on continuity. There have been some contraventions of prior history in the adventures of Doctor number 9 and some are quite funny - I certainly dug Aliens of London and World War III - more than most, it seems - but 'first contact'? Hahahahaha... The Web of Fear? The Invasion? Spearhead From Space? Terror of the Autons? Come ON. However, as amusing as this is, there is something that the continuity-obsessed need to realize - trying to patch over these things is more fun, and more rewarding, than too much complaining. Granted, sometimes Robert Holmes' 'I will contravene continuity simply to make a point and not with any rhyme or reason behind it' gets irritating. You can't just rewrite history every story, BUT, in a fictional world, so much can be done, and accomplished, and re-done, that really you can alter the past or at least bend it some and still be alright. Indeed, continuity should be a guide, but not a straightjacket. An excellent story should receive precedence over continuity, granting it isn't something that would alter one of the two or three fundamental basics of the show's premise. And as The Discontinuity Guide shows, you can come up with an explanation for anything, and it is, indeed, great fun to try.

Eventually one has to come to the realization that Doctor Who has now stretched over more than a hundred writers, directors and producers in multiple media and that to expect a strictly, internally-consistent whole is just foolish. Impossible. Just as the universe seems to be programmed with several strands of chaos embedded in an otherwise logical and orderly whole, so, too, are there such things in a phenemenon as broad and long-lasting as Doctor Who. Eventually you have to accept it and simply be happy that the big, huge important things are, more or less, consistent. That, in itself, is a minor miracle.

So, to be brief - all hail the new series of, rather, Season 27 of Doctor Who. And thank you to everyone who brought it back.

Time And Relationship Discussions In Space by Daniel Saunders 9/8/05

The basis of the new series' popular and critical success is that it has successfully reached a family audience. The makers of the series had to fight hard to make it a family show, as almost everyone in the industry insisted that such an audience no longer existed. Modern television programmes tend to be created with a particular, narrow, demographic group in mind. For a long time it has been assumed that only young children and geeky, obsessive fans watch science fiction. The fact that the new series has shown that the family audience still exists and can be catered for with supposedly "niche" science fiction may well be the greatest achievement of Russell T Davies and company. Also worthy of praise is the care with which this programme has been created, or rather, re-created. There has been an attempt to introduce many of the series' key concepts, to make the show intelligible to a new audience while not alienating anyone who remembers the original series by altering things needlessly. Only those facts that are essential to a new audience have been introduced and this has been a gradual process. For example, we find out that the Doctor is an alien in episode one, but there is no mention of his ability to change his appearance until episode four and even then the reference is oblique; only in the final episode do new viewers really find out about the process (at least, that's how it should have been had the press not, as usual, ruined everything in its ruthless search for a scoop). Conversely, many of the things mentioned here were only introduced late in the original series' run. For example, the fact that the Doctor and his companions can understand alien languages is addressed in episode two, while the original series did not do so until season fourteen. This implies that much care was taken in deciding what was essential and what was not. If nothing else, the season deserves much praise for the very way it appeared on our screens.

The acting was the most successful aspect of the season. Christopher Eccleston succeeded in scenes containing suspense, emotion, character conflict, comedy and, indeed, dancing, without appearing to be a composite of characteristics changing according to the needs of the plot. The most obvious example, among many, is the last scene of The End of the World. The sudden shift from a big, emotional revelation to a decision to get some chips could easily have descended into bathos were it not for Eccleston's careful performance. Billie Piper's acting was comparable to Eccleston's despite his far greater experience; the success of the "going for chips" scene is due as much to her as to him. It is harder to assess the performance of the other regulars, given their smaller amount of screen time. John Barrowman portrayed Captain Jack with suitable gusto, but Bruno Langley, Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri were less impressive, although Clarke managed to recover from a bad start in Rose to make Mickey much more sympathetic by the end of the season. The guest cast was much less memorable, largely due to the fact that the regular characters were the focus of many of the episodes, but Shaun Dingwall, Florence Hoath, Simon Callow and Simon Pegg all stood out (note to the casting director on season two: employ more actors called Simon!).

Actors can only deliver good performances with well-written characters. Rose was an excellent audience identification figure. In order to give viewers who were not familiar with or receptive to science fiction a way of entering the fictional world, Davies took time to establish her everyday life in the first episode. Her reactions to her travels are realistic, as incredulity, shock and confusion give way to excitement and curiosity (with terrible consequences in Father's Day). Captain Jack I liked less, at least in his first story. There, he seems to be something of a wish-fulfilment character, but unfortunately, his wishes do not correspond to any of mine. I find people who, like Jack, are arrogant, self-opinionated and sex-obsessed, profoundly irritating. Fortunately, he is more likeable in the later stories, probably because he is sidelined in Boom Town and is in danger for most of the final story, so that he lacks time to boast, although this does mean that he turns into a slightly generic action hero. The most surprisingly effective regular character was, appropriately, the Doctor himself. This Doctor dances to the popular music of both the forties and the eighties, dresses fashionably, uses modern slang and ultimately has a deep emotional bond with his companion, although it was wise to leave this ambiguous, not just because it would have polarised the audience (both fans and, to a lesser extent, non-fans), but because the nature of the show's format requires a degree of distance between the concerns of the viewers and those of the Doctor; if he had a clear romantic relationship he would seem less alien, just as if he had a job, a mortgage and a list of household chores to do. This reinterpretation of the Doctor was successful because he was written in a consistent way. Had he alternated between his new persona and the type of eccentric-academic-cum-dotty-bachelor-uncle we saw in the original series, he would have seemed completely false. As shown on screen, he felt at times like a rounded, complicated, yet still sympathetic character, one actually shaped by his experiences rather than plot necessity. Naturally, he still retains many old characteristics, including his sheer joy in life, travelling and adventure, shown by his constant cries of "fantastic!" His strict moral code is also present. He is disgusted by killing and eschews violence except as a last resort.

However, at times he shows a callous side to his character not seen previously, perhaps caused by his experiences in the Time War. This is shown in the ruthless actions he is willing to take to defeat his enemies, notably in The End of the World, Dalek and Boom Town, where he seems to have a wider definition of "the last resort" than we have seen previously (at least in the television stories). It also manifests itself in a less tolerant attitude to humans, with "stupid ape" being almost as much of a catchphrase as "fantastic!" In many episodes he fails to consider or care how those around him will react to events, seen most clearly in his naive shock and anger at Rose's understandable actions in Father's Day.

However, this leads to the first serious flaw of the new series. The first few stories see the Doctor develop, as he becomes more tolerant of the emotions of people like Jackie and Mickey and less ruthless, concluding neatly in Dalek. In later stories he is less callous, especially in his attempt to avoid the obvious, but brutal, way of resolving the time paradox in Father's Day. However, Boom Town and The Parting of the Ways then unexpectedly suggest he will resume his ruthless attitude of the first half of the season, but having seen the way the events of Dalek changed him, the audience does not really believe this will happen. This deprives the season's finale of some of its tension and means that there is less of a sense of the Doctor developing across the season.

This attention to the development of the regular characters is the greatest and most controversial difference between the new series and the old. It is not the case that Doctor Who can not feature both characterisation and plot. In most fiction plot is simply the interaction of characters with each other and with events. Science fiction is one of the few genres where characters can be ignored in a story that is still successful. Wells and Asimov, for example, produced stories that had no realistic characters, but succeeded because of the strength of the ideas in them. However, the two can be married. Philip K Dick was able to explore abstract philosophical ideas through realistic characters who drove his plots. This emphasis on driving the plots is key. One reason the new series' character-based nature has attracted criticism is that too often the character development has been used to garnish a self-contained plot rather than being an essential ingredient. The plots of Dalek and Father's Day are intimately connected with their characters. Their storylines are simply the outcomes of the interaction of the characters in a believable and natural way.

Conversely, in some other stories, especially those by Davies, a self-contained adventure story has had some character-based scenes added. The Long Game is perhaps the best example. The scenes with Adam barely connect with the main storyline concerning the Jagrafess. This approach becomes a huge problem in the final episode, where we constantly cut from the exciting events on Satellite Five to yet more discussions about the dangers of time travel and how upset Rose's family will be if anything happens to her, immediately dissipating the tension. I think the difference is that Davies seems to see science fiction character drama as a mixture of character-based scenes and plot-based scenes, while the other writers see it as science fiction stories driven by their characters' personalities.

The second reason these character-based stories have been controversial is the fact they focus on the TARDIS crew. In many of the stories of original series, they reacted to problems that started independently of their presence. As a result, the supporting characters were very important. For example, Davros drives the plot of Genesis of the Daleks and it would be harder to rewrite the story without him than it would without the Doctor. This occurs less frequently in this season. This may simply be because the shorter story length does not allow as much time to develop the guest characters, explaining why many of those explored in depth are defined by their interactions with the regulars (such as Pete's relationship with Rose) or by comparison with them (the differences between Rose's acceptance of the alien and Dickens' disbelief or the similarities between the violent actions of the Doctor and the captured Dalek), although there are a few exceptions, most notably Nancy.

However, it does feel like the production team is trying to attract a new audience by adding a soap opera element. A lot of criticism of the new series seems to use "soap opera" as synonymous with "focused on the regular characters", but I see it as meaning that the scripts are focused on the mundane aspects of the characters' lives, rather than their reactions to the unknown and unexpected. The fact that Boom Town focuses on Rose is not a problem; the fact that it focuses on her relationship with Mickey is, because dumping your boyfriend is the same whether it is because you are leaving the country or leaving the planet. There is no science fiction element to the plot strand and it therefore feels out of place. Conversely, her reactions to the aliens in The End of the World or to watching her father die in Father's Day are more clearly based on the consequences of space and time travel and are therefore more appropriate to the nature of the programme. In an action-packed series like Doctor Who, this attention to the lives of "ordinary" regular characters has the additional problem that there is no way that they could realistically put themselves in such danger every week and still enjoy the experience. In Dalek, Rose, facing imminent death, tells the Doctor that she is still glad she joined him and immediately the internal consistency of the fictional world is destroyed. Since the first episode, the viewers have been invited to identify with Rose, but they would almost certainly prefer to live rather than spend a short time travelling in the past and the future. As a result, they either no longer identify with a character introduced primarily for that purpose, or ask why at the end of the adventure Rose does not go back to the safety of her home.

The shorter story length is also responsible for many of the best and worst aspects of the stories themselves. Like the title sequence, they move at incredible speed. This means that unlike the original series, there is no need to pad the stories with pointless capture-escape-chase-recapture sequences. However, there is also a much greater use of plot devices to keep the story moving, most notably the sonic screwdriver, used here to do almost whatever the story requires. Other examples include the strange transformation of the TARDIS interior in Father's Day, presumably intended to stop the Doctor going back and resolving the problem immediately, Adam's ability to phone home in The Long Game (shouldn't he have reached 2005, not 2012?) and "Margaret" keeping equipment vital to her plan on display in her office. There are excuses for this, besides the time factor. Any fast-paced story is likely to have some convenient or inexplicable plot devices and many of those listed above did nothing to damage my enjoyment of the story. Rose and Father's Day make a virtue of this confusion, intentionally making the audience as bewildered as the characters.

Nevertheless, in several stories there is a feeling that the writer has been lazy and this is a particular problem regarding the story resolutions. Rose, Boom Town, World War Three and The Parting of the Ways all end with convenient (currently spoiler-protected) plot devices. When a conclusion feels forced and unnatural, the whole narrative retroactively seems less worthwhile, as it did not drive the story to a conclusion, in the same way that a football match can seem pointless if a penalty shoot-out allows one team to win despite not playing as well as the opposition for the preceding ninety minutes. The endings of Dalek, The Long Game, Father's Day and The Doctor Dances flow naturally from the events leading up to them and so were more satisfying than the others.

A second problem with the shorter episodes is the fact that there is more to telling a successful story than just rushing from plot points A to B to C. Atmosphere and detail are also important. The Unquiet Dead does not have the chance to build up the atmosphere it needs to be a great horror story. The Long Game suffers from not having enough time to establish the nature of the society it is set in, a problem as the plot is intimately connected with the way it is being run. The concentration on the regular characters as opposed to the guests also deprived some of the stories of a sense of tension. It is difficult to care about what happens to characters like the Steward, Suki, Doctor Constantine and Lynda, as we do not find out enough about their personalities to get any real sense of who they are. In many cases, the sense of shock when someone dies or relief when they are saved is due to the ability of the actors to make them likeable, rather than because it is possible to identify with the characters them as real people. The episodes do not need to be expanded to the length of old four-part stories; an extra fifteen minutes would probably help to solve these problems, although this would make the series almost impossible to sell abroad.

I have up until this point attempted to be as objective as possible. However, there is one other thing that affects my enjoyment of this season a little. This is for purely personal reasons, so I do not intend it as a criticism, but I would not be presenting my views on the season accurately if I did not mention it. There is a huge difference in saying "this does not appeal to me" and "this should not have been done" and I stress that this is purely the former. To successfully appeal to a new audience, I am fully aware that the new series has to be modern and it is. Moreover, for the first time, Doctor Who is cool. The original series was popular, but never cool. The new Doctor wears a leather jacket, reads Heat magazine and dances to pop music, while his companions are constantly flirting and engaging in sexual banter. I'm not likely to ever do any of these things nor (and this is the point) to want to do so. It's cool. I'm not. It's not that I dislike these things per se or that I think they have no place in Doctor Who, but I am just not on the right wavelength to really connect with this series and its lead characters, even though I can see it is good, just as some people cannot connect with the Williams or Hartnell eras (two favourites of mine). I am not surprised by this at all, as I knew the new series would be more like modern telefantasy, not to mention the novels and audios, none of which I like that much, than it would be like the original series.

However, I stress that this is not a criticism, in many ways it is praise. While I watch Quatermass and The Prisoner, the rest of the audience, that essential family audience I mentioned at the start, watches Buffy and Sex in the City and this is aimed at them, not me. This is a very good season indeed and I would not be surprised if there are some well-deserved awards on the way to BBC Wales, regardless of the fact that I fight the urge to stop watching whenever the TARDIS crew start flirting with each other.

A Review of the first two episodes by Larry Summers 26/3/06

I have seen only the first 2 episodes of the new 2005 Doctor Who. I was a big fan of the earlier Doctor Who. I don't like the new offering, so far. Doctor Who should be about the Doctor, but this new version is more about Rose Tyler and friends. I like the new actor for the Doctor - great attitude. I like that Rose is more human than the earlier companions.

I do not like the huge change in history where the Doctor is the last Time Lord left. There were many dynamics in previous stories between the Doctor and Time Lords.

My opinion will not be permanent until after I see how the Daleks are portrayed. I have always felt that the Daleks were portrayed a bit too stupid, and I am hoping they have become a more worthy foe. I have seen some images of the new Daleks. The Dalek-look was kept - which I think strange. It could have been an area for some new creativity.

BTW - Rose's Mum is daft. Please keep her off screen. (Yes - I am a man and it is obvious that the new show is meant to attract a more feminine audience. I get that, but it doesn't do much for me...)

A Review by Rob Matthews 1/5/06

It may not in the future be remembered as part of the season proper, but in the trailer for the 2005 Doctor Who series, Christopher Eccleston walked about the TARDIS set promising us 'The trip of a lifetime.'

That, as it turns out, was not merely a bit of nice-sounding but empty sloganeering. It turns out to be somewhat of a key phrase for the 2005 series; indeed, I think it's just as apt an umbrella title for the season as The Key to Time was for season 16, or The Trial of a Time Lord for season 23. The beauty of the Who format lies largely in its capacity for continual (cyclical, perhaps) reinvention, and the preoccupation with 'life', or perhaps more specifically, 'a lifetime' was what constituted the main shift in emphasis in the 2005 season from those before.

Of course, Doctor Who has always been in one way or another about the subjects of life and death - the Doctor, after all, is a bloke who goes around the universe saving people's lives and defeating those who want to kill. But more often than not in the TV show that's been 'life' as - for want of a better term - a possession, something which belongs to you that bad guys threaten to steal, something that you might herocially surrender for the sake of others. Or it's 'life' in the plural, as an essence, a huge breathtaking panoply of gumblejacks and bumblebees to be regarded with awe and humility. Life, Drathro, life. It's indomitable, indomitable.

But life as it is lived, life as the day-to-day interaction of who one is with what one does, life as an accumulation of experiences, values, prejudices, perspectives... that's not something which has ever in any thorough way been part of the Who formula on TV. It has for periods in the books, and in the audio stories, but not in the original television series, not with any consistency or conviction. In fact, you could more or less guarantee that if one of the Doctor's companions started talking at any length about their own life and what they wanted to do with it, it was because they were either leaving the show (Jo in The Green Death) or joining it (Peri in Planet of Fire). Characterisation, you'd be forgiven for thinking, was something that Who production teams only paid attention to in emergencies. Occasionally, in the case of certain companion characters, like Nyssa and Mel, this inattention became glaring. Usually, though, it was more a matter of plot taking precendence over character, and in the main certainly wasn't a problem as such.

Doctor Who, in it's original run, was never something that could be described as a 'character-driven' show. Indeed for many fans in the run-up to the broadcast of the new series, the idea that it might end up becoming one was anathema; this was a show built to explore ideas, not characters, it was sci-fi, not soap opera. A few continued to make this argument once it finally arrived on air and Rose Tyler turned out, as pretty much expected, to be a character who nabbed a far greater slice of narrative attention each week than the majority - if not all - of her 'companion' predecessors. And unlike all of them, she even dragged her mother and boyfriend into the series with her! At least Tegan's auntie Vanessa had the decency to get herself killed by the Master as soon as humanly possible...

So far as one can tell this was, and is, based on the fear of a horrifying feminisation of a show whose most hardcore fanbase consists of blokes, dammit, geeky blokes. Because, you know, blokes don't like mushy stuff as it detracts from action and explosions and car chases and shit, and geeks don't like mushy stuff because it detracts from spaceships and federations and concepts and attempts to build a 'continuity' and shit. So there's a kind of double-strength resistance there.

I don't have that much sympathy for anyone whose unwillingness to engage with the new show arises from prejudice of this ilk. Not because I don't share the blokey disdain for shows where people just blather on about girly matters - oh, believe me, I do -, but because I recognise that Doctor Who the television series - whether this one or the one that, say, Philip Hinchcliffe produced - is not made for an exclusive audience of geeky blokes.

Indeed, one surprisingly refreshing thing about reaction to the new series is how little our nichey fannish opinions actually matter now. When us reviewing types are discussing the merits or demerits of the show, we have to bear in mind (although many of us don't) that it's a completely different animal from the Who we fans have been enjoying in the years since the old series went off air. Different in that it's no longer something aimed directly at us. In reviewing, for example, a Virgin or BBC book you'd likely have some idea of what fan consensus is on certain subjects, or of how fandom might react to, say, Lawrence Miles murdering the Third Doctor in Interference, or Gary Russell deciding to write the Sixth Doctor's swansong adventure. You might look at them with these things in mind, even if offering an opinion differing from what you perceive as the fan consensus.

But now that fan consensus itself is not the be-all and end-all of opinion on the show anyway. To the audience for whom new Who is intended, Spiral Scratch, Zagreus, The Tomorrow Windows, Sometime Never..., Fear Itself etc are simply not a context, and the show can't be talked about wholly in terms of satisfying our expectations, since that is not primarily what it's built to do. Doctor Who stories are being reviewed in, like, actual newspapers now, not just on sites like this, and you can bet your arse that no columnist in The Times is going to take issue with, say, Father's Day because its treatment of time paradoxes differs from that depicted in Day of the Daleks or No Future. No-one in The Independent is dissing The End of the World for showing a different 'end of the world' from that suggested in Trial of a Time Lord or Frontios or what have you. They're able, instantly, without all our silly baggage, to see the show as it is.

I'll likely bash this point home to the point of condescension, by the way, and I do apologise for that, but it's just because I'm so continually surprised at how often it goes unacknowledged in online fandom: This series is not just for me, and it's not just for you, either. It's a show that's for everyone. In the case of the original series, it was a programme made primarily for kids but built for the enjoyment of families too, evolving to incorporate more and more elements for adults as time went on. In the case of this new one, it's more overtly a case of being made simply for the whole damn BBC audience, anyone who might happen to tune in, and hence is as suitable for kids as anyone else. I mentioned Philip Hinchcliffe there; even he - rightly the most venerated of producers by fans - considered Doctor Who to be a show that fits into the 'light entertainment' bracket. And that's just the context for which the new series is being made, hence it's the context in which it should, first and foremost, be seen and judged.

I 'discussed' this, incidentally, in rather frenzied fashion in a top ten list of bad criticisms of the new series a little while back, and my pal Joe Ford suggested to me in an email that some of my points implied 'that how I look at Doctor Who is the right way and how others (no matter how petty) is the wrong way.'

I felt a bit contrite at first, having rather regretted pressing that 'send' button anyway, knowing that fans talking about fans usually lead to trouble, but ... actually, thinking about it some more... yes, looking at a television series in a purely petty way, looking at it with an agenda, is in fact the wrong way! You can't just ignore what the show is, and what it is is a big, expensive license-funded Saturday evening family entertainment programme starring an acclaimed actor and an ex-pop star, that was an enormous gamble for the BBC. It's not just the latest release from Big Finish or something.

I think Joe - and hence perhaps others who read that marginally regrettable outburst - may partly have thought I was taking issue with people's preferences, because I griped about the kind of fan who'll say 'The Unquiet Dead is real Doctor Who' - but if so he couldn't be more wrong. I'm not bothered if people like things that I dislike, or vice versa, what I care about is that they write a proper argument, as opposed to just assertions; there's absolutely no point in bothering people with your opinions if you can't back them up with a rationale; Steve Cassidy's discussions of Father's Day and Bad Wolf, for example, are great negative review of episodes I personally like.

Point is, if you want Doctor Who that's for a niche market of fans, then carry on buying the books and the audios, because that's where you'll get that kind of Doctor Who. And as someone who enjoys that niche market himself - because it's capable of taking a great basic concept and exploring it in far more depth and breadth than a mainstream TV show allows -, I'll happily say here I don't think it could ever be wholly supplanted for me by a mere TV series. Indeed, I'm hoping the 'cult' side of Who will remain with us alongside the TV show, and maybe even push itself harder to do things that TV can't. Sadly, that's just 'hoping' rather than expecting - and to be honest it's looking less and less likely.

But back to the idiot box, and as I was banging home, it's a series with something for everyone. And that's not me merely making excuses for the introduction of intrusive soap opera elements to our precious, finely-honed perfectly-oiled, need-no-tinkering cult franchise, by the way. Nope, because the 'soap opera' criticisms that have popped up in certain corners of fandom are exaggerated in the extreme. There were a negligible amount of genuinely soap operatic scenarios in the 2005 season - in fact, one admittedly very tedious argument between Rose and Mickey in Boom Town about covers it, and you couldn't fill even five minutes of Family Affairs with that. Rather, the underlying objection seems to be that Rose - a mere 'companion'! - has been fleshed out with a history and a life, and is essentially being portrayed as a human being rather than a formula-serving cutout ala Tegan, Peri or Mel. This, I can only surmise in bewilderment, is taken as a betrayal or a misunderstanding of a tried and true formula.

If so, I think it's an unimaginative viewpoint. 'Classic Doctor Who' (CDW?) sagged whenever the people making it treated it as merely formulaic; all the best periods of the show (season 7, the Hinchcliffe years, seasons 16, 18, and to some extent 21, plus the high points of the Cartmel years) came as a result of the makers of the show taking a step back, looking at how the show was working, how they themselves wanted it to work, making changes of emphasis and commisioning or accepting scripts that worked for their own visions. Look at Robert Holmes rewriting everything that came his way during his tenure as script editor.

And the use of Rose Tyler - the idea of her as part of the central dynamic of the series - demonstrates care, thoughtfulness, and just plain old-fashioned professional competence on the part of the show's lead writer. The very opposite of the laziness or betrayal or selling out that's implied in some of the criticism I've read (I say 'implied' because its rare for those critics to make coherent statements, instead taking bizarre, seemingly personal swipes at Russell T Davies tellingly themed around his sexual orientation). Davies has evidently asked himself the simple question of just what it is about the show that he finds so appealing. At its very barest bones, what is the single great idea that propels the show?

Is it the alien do-gooder travelling through time and space?

Nah... it's the idea of an ordinary person like you or me, going on an extraordinary journey with the alien do-gooder who travels through time and space. That is the starting point of RTD's (to give him his fandom codename) vision for the series, and that is the idea he has tried and - oh my paws and whiskers! - actually succeeded in communicating to a mass audience. He hasn't made it successful all on his tod, of course - everyone who's been involved in the series has had their part to play, and it wouldn't have been a success without the acting, the up-to-date FX work, the other contributing writers; ideas originated by Paul Cornell and Robert Shearman in particular appear to have contributed significantly to the overall flow. Nevertheless, all evidence points to that tubby convivial Welshman being the one who gave it that all-important sense of focus. He's the one who had the Doctor sneer "You could fill your life with work and food and sleep" to Rose in episode one, and gave us Mickey's quietly aggrieved response "It's what the rest of us do" in episode thirteen.

Oh dear, there I go complimenting Russell T Davies on a job well done. How gauche. I do rather want to take issue with a suggestion made by Jonathan Hili in his Bad Wolf review that 'when everyone's stopped worshipping RTD' we'll all be able to see the flaws in his work. Partly because the notion that fandom is giving undue praise to Russell T Davies is, well, pretty far from my own perception of fan consensus, which to my mind has rarely risen above 'grudging respect.' Certainly I think fulsome praise has been a rarity in our elite little ghetto. But also because of the implication that anyone who has anything good to say about Davies' work is therefore being wilfully blind to its flaws. That's simply not the case. I'll come to the flaws in a bit.

Ah, and while I'm responding to things that have been said on site, it's also occured to me that I should clarify something I suggested in a review of Father's Day, about this series being more a 'reboot' than a direct continuation of the old. I won't be so fatheaded as to assume you've read and or/remembered that review of course, so to summarise: I suggested the new series could be seen as more a reboot than a direct continuation of the old :-)

In writing a review of the season (likely to be found somewhere above this one), Adrian Loder took issue with that statement thus:

'The fact is that radically breaking from the past is, ironically, one of Doctor Who's most consistent traits. In failing to be a mere homage to the old, the new Who is in fact closer to the spirit of the old than if it were being written by Robert Holmes, Brian Hayles and Eric Saward, and produced by Innes Lloyd, Phillip Hinchcliffe or John Nathan-Turner, aping the past as much as possible ... We may protest the particular alterations, but on looking at the old in detail I think it is obvious that the divergences and mere peripheral links to the past are wholly in tune with the spirit of the past and in fact make it clearer than ever that this new show is very far indeed from being a series reboot.'
It's an argument broadly in tune with my own - which is rather odd, I guess, given that it's meant as a rebuttal. Like I said up there, one of the best things about Who is its ability to continuously reinvent itself. I'm not sure why Mr Loder should happily point out the frequency with which 'CDW' broke from its past while at the same time taking umbrage at the notion of a 'reboot', however. Perhaps the term has different implications for him than it does for me (a more recent piece of his suggests he's not quite decided on the issue). After all, the fact that some precedent exists for a rebooting-style process hardly makes the suggestion that one has taken place recently invalid, does it? And I still don't think you can reasonably deny that 'new season one' or whatever we're calling it qualifies as one of the bigger radical breaks-with-the-past. I don't think the old series would ever have dared to destroy Gallifrey offscreen in a between-seasons time war, for example (even though arguably it could have done with a bit more of that kind of bold rethinking every now and then). Usually the status quo at the end of one season would carry across to the beginning of the next; even the fact that Colin Baker refused to appear in Time and the Rani, for example, didn't stop an ersatz 'Sixth Doctor' appearing in the prologue to that story anyway. And just from a production point of view, there's no carry-over from the last televised season in terms of cast and crew. Not to mention that this new series is not the under-budgeted, neglected (by them upstairs) show the old one was when last on air.

More importantly, unlike arguably every other season of Doctor Who before it, this one could not assume a basic carry-over of audience from the previous year's run. Philip Hinchcliffe is a name that, again, springs to mind when you think of people who've given the show a overhaul, but he didn't do that all at once, or within the same context. Hinchcliffe inherited a healthy, popular show from Barry Letts and, able to assume a certain level of 'built-in' devotion on the part of its core kiddie audience, went on to develop the show in a way that would bring in more adult viewers as well. Russell T Davies' Doctor Who, on the other hand, was the risky resurrection of a defunct show with a caricatured reputation for 'wobbliness' and whose only remaining fans were a minority of weirdos who do odd, mad things like sitting here drafting and re-drafting this review for hours even though I've been sitting in the same hunched over position at work all day and my back's bloody aching.

The important point about 'reboot' in the context of my own argument is that this was a show built primarily for people who had never seen Doctor Who before. People who don't know what a TARDIS is, or who the Doctor is, what he does, where he's from etc. Even though a good part of its audience undoubtedly were people who'd seen it before, they were not the audience to whom it was a priori addressed. Doctor Who 2005 is, in practical terms, a new show; one that, if viewed in a vacuum, with no prior knowledge of the franchise, stands up as a self-contained piece of entertainment.

Russell T Davies' explanation (to fans, mark you) of why he decided against any regeneration sequence to introduce the Ninth Doctor speaks volumes about the clarity of his approach. He pointed out, IIRC, that without the establishment of any emotional investment in the character, a scene which showed the Doctor changing his face would merely be an odd, irrelevant event. See, no-one would have thought that about showing the Doctor's rushed pre-credits regeneration in Time and the Rani because that was a new series of a continuing show, and the emotional investment could be assumed to have carried over from the previous season. This, on the other hand, has been in every important way a new show. Certainly it's been intended by its lead writer as a definite continuation of the old one (something that is reinforced in season 2 when Sarah Jane and K9 turn up), but that still remains a secondary issue of interest only to existing fans. And even we ought to have some damn perspective.

Hmm, I'm being bit down on our fannish perspective again, aren't I. But, to be fair, blinkered-ness and banal bigotry are hopefully mere blips at the dark, joyless end of the fan spectrum. Actually, one rather interesting and rewarding thing about watching the new show with fan-eyes as opposed to normal-folk ones is that with the first broadcast of Rose, we were suddenly able to see with clarity just how much popular television has changed in the years between 1989 and 2005. No matter that we may have been watching the box all along, Doctor Who's been out of it for fifteen years - give or take a telemovie -, and when, more in hope than expectation, we pondered the idea of a new Doctor Who television series, it perhaps became more and more difficult to envision what that would look like and how it would play. Then with a rapid title sequence, a zoom-in on Earth, England and then London from space, an alarm clock, a council estate, breakbeaty music, Trafalgar Square, a boyfriend a shop... suddenly here it was. Doctor Who, as a mainstream show, on television as it is today. A perhaps-unnerving thing to see when you've been used to enjoying Who as a 'cult' thing and have for years been cultivating a healthy, aloof loathing of the crass Rebecca Loos and Jade Goody-infested mainstream. To me, just as a casual TV viewer, Rose represented a fairly hopeful forty-five minutes (all the moreso when the ratings came in and the announcement of a second series was made), because it appeared that the tide was turning away from 'reality' and 'celebrity' bullshit and that people wanted to see television that told stories, that was imaginative and inspiring, and that had some conscience. Television that says something a bit more worthwhile than 'clean your curtains' or 'buy some new clothes.' But conceivably there were also fans out there seeing the other side of the coin - not mainstream television being improved by the presence of Doctor Who, but Doctor Who being degraded by becoming part of mainstream television.

Someone a hell of a lot smarter than me talking about this subject:

'Since the 1980s, television - western culture in general, in fact, although it goes without saying that television makes it depressingly obvious in a way no other medium does - has become increasingly insular, petty, selfish and self-involved. Those who like to see the '80s as the Great Evil Predator of decades, near-legendary for its greed, excess and money-fetishism, tend to miss the important point; the defining trait of the '80s wasn't avarice, it was self-obsession. And this is the one thing that just got worse, after Thatcher and after "Reaganomics" and after the word "yuppie" stopped being funny. (Reagan was the first US President to have been portrayed in terms of lifestyles rather than policies, and very little about recent world history makes any bleeding sense if you don't bear that in mind.) Weird and optimistic as it seems now, there was a time pre-1979 when many of the people involved in television genuinely thought the medium could make connections between cultures and break open mind-sets. As a result, there was a time when "quality drama" tried - usually failed, but tried - to take in the entire span of human history and capability; a time when everything was about falling empires and rising civilisations, about grief and knowledge that spanned generations, about lessons so primal that all 625 lines would be scored into your brain like cocaine-damage. On the other hand, fashionable TV presentations in the twenty-first century are more likely to involve spoilt, wealthy American professionals whining about their love lives while standing next to the office water-cooler and acting as if having a crush on your manicurist were as dramatic as the Ride of the sodding Valkyries.'
It's Lawrence Miles, of course, in his remarkably prescient review of Rose; a review which, despite being written after only its first episode, remains by far the best analysis of the season as a whole that I've seen to date. And in that pithy, pissed-off passage he summarises pretty much my own view of what television is 'like' now. It's a medium that, in the main, encourages and cultivates selfishness and self-regard. I don't want to come across at all po-faced or superior in making this point, mind (Christ knows I have plenty of clothes with name labels on 'em, I buy CDs by Pharrell Williams and Madonna and wish I could get that damn blibble of flab off me midriff) - I'm just acknowledging what the state of play is. If the question floating around this review, and more importantly the new series, is 'what does one do with one's life?', the answer you'll get from your TV set is 'redecorate your house, take pies out of your diet and surgically remove the bags from under your eyes.' Permanent youth in aesthetically pleasing surroundings - not a completely mad if highly alluring Gatsbyesque dream, but a given; a right.

Anyway, if I might for a moment indulge in my own form of half-arsed cultural commentary (feels a bit lazy to use Larry Miles' genius as a crutch!), the language of popular TV appears to have changed a wee bit bit in the fifteen years between Perivale and Henriks. Basically everyone's banging on about themselves more. Yes, yes, I know the eighties are routinely characterised as a selfish decade too, but the distinction I'd make - probably fairly subjective - is that much of the television of that period was aspirational and larger than life; we may supposedly have wanted to be like the characters on screen, but they were not actually people with whom we could identify. Whereas in more recent years, things got grubbier and grittier (NYPD Blue as the nineties answer to Miami Vice, say), and narratives got more focused on the struggle of individual characters to maintain a successful career in a man's world / beat their alcoholism / stop having an affair with their boss / start having an affair with their boss / juggle their priorities at work with their on-off relationships with their boyfriends etc. You know, the gradual replacement of 'I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly!' with 'I'm gonna stop seeing my therapist soon, and I'm going to learn how to skydive to teach my friends a lesson after what they said at brunch today.'

All right, broadly speaking.

The rather self-regarding examination of what one's 'life' is looks to be a preoccupation that developed in the mainstream media in the late eighties and through the nineties - something I note merely because it was at the tail end of the original series' allegedly declining years, and in those years immediately following its unofficial cancellation. It was IIRC around then that the phrase 'Get a life' came into popular currency, all those My So-Called Life / This Life / Single Female Lawyer shows started springing up, and when allegedly fifteen year-old characters in Dawson's Creek said things like 'Our lives are inextricably intertwined!' with a straight face.

It would of course be outright ludicrous to suggest that individual lives had never before been the focus of drama, and that's not what I'm attempting to imply in making this observation; what I do think is that there have been subtle shifts, changes in vocabulary - as subtle, perhaps, as far more liberal use of references to 'my life' in TV scripts. The subject of what one does with one's life has gone, if you like, from an implicit concern to an explicit one. Perhaps because that's the easiest route to gaining audience identification, the very lowest common denominator: we're all alive and we all care what we do with the time we've got. And doubtless encouraging people to think about their lifestyles also makes them feel more like active participants in the whole consumerist caboodle. But, um, let's not go down that route here; I might start channelling some old student essay... anyway, good ol' Doctor Who doesn't even carry ads...

Frequently this preoccupation with 'Me!' results in irritatingly glossy shows about picture-perfect people being self absorbed. And it often seems pretentious too, self-important and lacking in perspective. Since I've been discussing this a bit nebulously, I'll provide a concrete example from an episode of Frasier I was watching recently on DVD (for those whom are bothered, it was the final episode of the second season): During the course of the episode Frasier Crane ends an apparently long week at work with a cumulatively bad day during which his friends and family bother him with all their various problems. Towards the end of the episode he gets in a grump and finally snaps at them for suggesting he's a party pooper. There then follows a short speech about how difficult it is to live the life of Frasier Crane - we hear of how he spends all his time ministering to the sick and troubled, and he reminds his loved ones that he has spent the day selflessly tending to each of them and so forth, each little piece of advice costing him a little piece of his soul or some such nonsense.

The scene, to my mind, represents one of those occasional lapses of judgement made by the Frasier writers which can only have resulted from them taking their characters just that bit too seriously. Frasier Crane is, after all, a man who works for about three hours a day, practises an artfully vague 'science', lives in a vast apartment in the centre of one of America's most popular cities, and has so much spare cash that in an earlier episode of the season he'd managed to buy and then inadvertently destroy a restaurant with no apparent dent in his finances as a result. For the vast, vast majority of us that's a fantasy lifestyle. Now, by all means expect us to laugh at his pomposity, to empathise with his difficult relationship with his father and even sympathise with his inability to sustain relationships with women (a good thing about that show was that it played its characters and their problems as real, not as easy-gag fodder) - but for fuck's sake, don't take him so seriously as to expect us to feel his bloody pain, or aggrandise him as some form of benevolent martyr selflessly dedicated to healing the psychic wounds of others at the expense of his own life. If you're going to portray him as a self-involved wanker, don't expect an audience that lives in the real world of real problems to be complicit in it. For a moment there, that was what the episode asked us to do, and, as I say, it's one of the more misjudged moments of that show's run.

Rather ironically, it was a scene broadly akin to this one which really confirmed my suspicions about the manner in which the new Who season was was playing out; it's that scene in World War Three, where the Doctor's on the phone with Jackie Tyler, fretting about Rose's safety: 'You think I don't know that? Because this is my life, Jackie. It's not fun, it's not smart, it's just standing up and making a decision because no-one else will.' Blech. 'Unctuous' is, I believe, the word. Because the Doctor, too, has a dream lifestyle - travelling around space and time with a beautiful-woman-probably, no council tax or TARDIS insurance to pay. While we can take his peril and hence his bravery seriously enough for it to work as drama, we don't want him taking himself seriously, because the moment he starts complaining about his lot and the weight of his responsibilities, it just sounds whiney. I think essentially that's down to him being a made-up character in a television series that's primarily escapist entertainment. You know, it's not deep introspective drama. And while I know the Seventh Doctor was caricatured as the 'angst-ridden' Time's-Champion-my-arse incarnation, if you actually look at his stories (the TV ones anyway), he was emphatically not a Doctor who complained about having the weight of the universe on his shoulders, even on those occasions when he more or less did; in Curse of Fenric, Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Remembrance of the Daleks, for example, he didn't feel it necessary to tell his companion what he was doing, let alone moan about it - no 'This is my life, Ace; sometimes you have to let planets get blown up for the greater good.' He only let on what he had on his plate, and reluctantly at that, when pushed on the matter by Ace ('Ermm yes, I'm fighting pure evil. Now shut up'). Hence to my mind the Doctor's little speech in World War Three plays a bit selfconscious and squirmworthy, whereas elsewhere in the episode when he replies to the Slitheen's vulgar derision with a very simple 'Yes. Me.' the scene has a far more powerful frisson. Similiarly, in The Long Game, the change in expression on the Doctor's face when Adam and Rose wander off and he's left to his own devices speaks far more about his character than that speech.

However, its clunkiness was ironically what drew my attention to how much better this sort of thing had been done in the season as a whole...

Well, that and the rather more thoroughgoing clunkiness of Boom Town, one whole episode which fell flat on its face for very similiar reasons - taking the idea of the Doctor and Rose's fantastical lifestyle much too seriously and expecting us to be bothered about poor Mickey being an unfortunate 'victim' of it. And that's not because you don't ever feel a bit sorry for Mickey - indeed, when this sort of thing is done right, done quietly, you kind of do -, but because that tension was already there anyway, and in just the right subtle shade; stating it too loudly, showing a bloke arguing with his girlfriend about her deserting him for a time-travelling alien, just shows the whole thing up as manifestly silly. There's a fine line of subtlety in writing a show about ordinary people getting into outrageously extraordinary situations, a point where being too naturalistic just becomes absurd. Occasionally the writing in this season stepped over the line, by not trusting us to recognise these tensions without its spelling them out. In the season at its best, however, the matter of one's lifetime, about how to use time, is there as an abiding concern rather than an overt one. As I already mentioned, there's that 'You could fill your life with work and food and sleep' line in episode one. Similiarly there's Rose wondering aloud as she ponders taking a job in a canteen, 'Is that it then? Dishing out chips?'

Is. That. It. Those are heavily loaded words, and that's one big It, full of the quiet despair that they do say afflicts us all. Much like the quietly-despairing sound of the ticking clock in the opening moments of that episode, counting away the seconds and minutes as Rose looks off into the distance. There's Rose sitting up in bed as her alarm goes off, only to be told by her mother that there is, on this occasion, 'no point in getting up.' The Doctor's reference to 'beans on toast' carries such depressing connotations he could just as easily have said 'living death'. Perhaps most obviously, mortality haunts Rose in the form of her father's death. Strangely less overt, there's the Doctor taking Rose to see the end of every bloody thing she knows for her debut spin in the TARDIS. I guess it can't really count as a spoiler to say he takes to her to see The End of the World.

To my mind, the first moment of greatness in the 2005 season is the scene at the very end of this episode. 'She's lucky to be alive', Jackie Tyler babbled glibly down the phone in episode one, but in this wonderful moment with the Doctor and Rose standing unmoving in a bustling metropolitan street, Doctor Who 2005 says that and means it: Rose is lucky to be alive. Life, simple living and breathing and experiencing, is the most precious, amazing thing of all. And what, if anything, gives it meaning, is truly knowing that it's going to be gone one day. It strikes just the right bittersweet tone, this scene - those joyless, dour 'chips' from episode one suddenly becoming things of beauty, just as joyless dour routine life can all of a sudden be recognised anew as a thing of beauty. That sense of looking at things from a renewed, unexpected perspective ... well, that's the joy of taking a trip in the TARDIS, part of the essential lure of the show. Here, in episode two of the new run, is something important the nineties telemovie overlooked. Soul, I think you'd call it.

'Have a fantastic life. Do that for me, Rose.'
If you've seen the series it's hopefully quite unnecessary for me to spell out how these concerns come to a head in The Parting of the Ways. But if that scene on the street is the first great scene of Doctor Who 2005, then Rose sitting with Jackie and Mickey in that cafe in episode 13 is the last.

So, yeah, Doctor Who - this Doctor Who - is explicitly about life, and it's quality. It's also, as Russell T Davies points out, 'about death really'. Which sounds like a contradiction, but of course, isn't when you think about it. Life is all the more precious in the Doctor's universe precisely because it's a place where you can witness death at every turn. I mean, who'd have thought Jabe would have died in End of the World? In a manner suprisingly similiar to the vision of 80s script editor Eric Saward, 00s Who gives us a brutal universe where death is not the simple matter of 'just desserts' one might expect from escapist storytelling. In the context of recent history, I doubt the larger part of the audience finds the notion of arbitrary atrocity at all questionable.

Not that they should anyway, IMO, but it seems that people generally are unable to quite believe that non-recent history actually happened; like these crass voices in the media suddenly questioning the existence of a benevolent God after the Asian tsunami - Stalinist Russia, say, or Hitler's Germany apparently having never tarnished their confidence in this matter.

Still, though this probably speaks of a shallow and forgetful media culture which only debates these timeless arguments in the same faddish, transitory sort of way it might discuss the merits of the latest single from the Sugababes, Doctor Who has frequently been at its best when addressing the prevalent anxieties of its time. And it's been even better when doing this in a subtle way that will outlast that particular stretch of time.

Whether Who 2005, with its glib Iraq references and Big Brother/Weakest Link parodies will do so, remains to be seen. I'd guess some of it will and some of it won't. The End of the World, for example, seems a timeless sort of tale. But it's clear enough that RTD and co have looked outwards in their conception of this incarnation of DW. It's obvious enough which chord that scene of Big Ben getting smashed in by a spaceship was meant to strike. Ditto the bad guys chanting about blasphemy. The revival of the show might have been motivated by nostalgia, but the approach certainly wasn't.

Did I just say death can be found at every turn in this universe? Well look, it's even right there behind that console, death with big lugs, a goofy grin on its face, a Mancunian accent and a battered leather jacket that's seen a lot of action. At the risk of appearing pseudo-something-or-other, I think one thing worth noting about the Doctor's world - the Whoniverse, as we tend to call it - is his status as the last of his people, survivor and orphan of an all-consuming war. That gives him a different edge that even us old-guard fans can fully appreciate as new. He's been a mysterious mischievous space hobo before, and he's been an exile from his own august super-civilisation, then a wandering rebel who purposefully rejected his own deeply corrupt pseudo-benevolent people, and for a while he was a possibly godlike being just pretending to be a mischieveous space hobo. This time he's both victor and victim: as last man standing after the time war, he has technically won, while at the same time having lost everything - his attitude to this somewhat pyrrhic victory being first revealed in Robert Shearman's Dalek episode. Two factors are very pertinent in establishing this new bipolar role for the Doctor - firstly his culpability, the fact that it was, so to speak, his hand on the trigger that ended the war in which the Daleks and the Time Lords 'burned together', making sense of his determination to exist only in the moment ('This is me, right here and right now' etc) and perhaps excusing a little that moment of self-importance in World War Three. The other factor, only revealed after the Dalek episode, is that the homeworld the Doctor lost wasn't the country club of some decaying oligarchy comprised of time-policing rotten old bastards. It was, the Doctor seems to genuinely believe in Father's Day, a truly benevolent civilisation, and importantly, as suggested in the same episode, it was a place where the Doctor had family that he actually cared about. Including, The Empty Child goes on to very strongly imply, children and grandchildren.

I think that's worth noting in this particular fansite sorta context, since it's the kind of thing we sometimes overlook when it doesn't fit in with our - occasionally almost unconscious - continuity theories and assumptions. If we're thinking the planet the Doctor lost was the corrupt (TM) Robert Holmes Gallifrey and his only relatives there were the grotesque Cousins of the NAs, we're not quite seeing the character that's being presented. He's a man who's lost his loved ones and is constantly trying to escape from his own feeling of guilt, from himself. In the recent Christmas Invasion, the reborn and reinvigorated Tenth Doctor denied Jackie's suggestion that he and Rose simply go around looking for trouble. And while that may yet hold true of Tennant's Doctor, it's clear enough in the early episodes of the 'first' season that looking for trouble is indeed precisely what EccleDoc was doing. He is, if I may employ a dull cliche to describe an engaging and nicely layered performance, a man on the edge.

And in light of this conception of the character, a few complaints about the overall narrative of the season dissolve; most obviously, the criticisms of Eccleston's occasional bouts of forced cheeriness in the role miss by a mile the fact that the Doctor is the one forcing the cheeriness. Look at when he bops about a bit to Tainted Love - that doesn't look like a man who's actually enjoying himself, and it's not meant to. There's far more genuine cheer in his observation that "That's not supposed to happen" when he scents trouble later on.

More controversially, there's his Doctor being obviously in love with Rose. This never once felt like a problem for me the way it did for some - perhaps surprisingly, given that I didn't at all like the romance with Grace in the McGann telemovie. In retrospect, and in the face of compelling new evidence, I'd say my objection was less to the idea of the Doctor getting a bit now and then, than a reaction to it's being so obviously contrived, tacked on just so that the foppishly dressed Doctor wouldn't look too gay to people in the midwest. Oh, and Grace was rubbish, passing up the opportunity to go off in the TARDIS and have adventures. But also because the telemovie was so much of a mishmash, a bunch of sound and fury in search of a clear identity it never quite established. Its disparate aspects, of which the Doctor-Grace romance was one, never really gelled into a coherent whole.

Doctor Who 2005, on the other hand, does have a clear identity, and the Doctor-Rose relationship has not just been shoved onto an existing formula like some kind of sexy elastoplast. On the contrary, it's a crucial part of the formula here - as I think I've noted in other reviews, the cumulative story of the season is the love story of the Doctor and Rose. And though some of that may come across as strong stuff to those of us accustomed to an asexual spoddy Doctor, let's not forget that by the standards of most TV series it's fairly subtle and chaste - hell, the Doctor only finally kisses her to save her life. He's not exactly a lothario.

Still, that he loves Rose is quite clear. And, cut him some slack, why not? She's his shot at redemption. Here's a nine hundred year-old man who's travelled the universe and seen planets die and civilisations fall, including - as I may have mentioned - his own. Here's a man who states with suppressed anger that he did not survive the Time War by choice, a man who actually appears to feel a beatific sense of relief when he's told that he's about to die. And here's Rose, a sparky girl stuck in a rut on Earth, someone who's seen probably seen nothing of the world, maybe even nothing outside of London. Someone who will see the universe with the fresh, innocent, wondering eyes the Doctor has long since lost and thinks he'll never get back, while still being a bit handy in a fight. Given this, I find their relationship quite beautiful, and utterly plausible. Rose might not be the first 'stupid ape' he's hung out with, but it's a friendship that takes on a new importance and a greater emotional investment when you see it as the only thing the Doctor has left. Given this context, those occasional displays of petulant jealousy aren't as jarring as is sometimes suggested. Having lost everything, the Doctor doesn't want to lose Rose too.

Thirdly, there's the, let's say, 'finality' of the Time War - I've noticed fans occasionally expressing dismay that dribs and drabs of Daleks, who were supposed to have completely perished in said war suddenly turn up out of nowhere. The complaint being that the series blithely contradicts the backstory it's set up for itself just for the convenience of the episode at hand.

But, but, but... look at who's making the claim that the war has ended and no-one but him survived: it's a man who desperately wants to believe that it's all over. The Doctor, as we finally discover, had been clinging on to a belief that the annihilation of his own people had a silver lining, that they had taken down with them the biggest force for evil in his universe. The idea that the enemy could have even in some small form survived is not one he wants to acknowledge.

(incidentally, it is any case surely far better for the show to paint its background in broad strokes at first - 'There was a war and I'm the only one left' - and add details as we go - 'Whoops, no I'm not' - rather than have the Doctor say something like 'There was a war and only six of us survived, plus one of our enemies. You'll probably meet the Rani sometime, Rose.')

Hell, the Doctor in many ways seems to rub in the inevitability of a visit from the ol' Grim Reaper. Death is, as Clive informs us in episode one, his constant companion. And he 'brings the storm in his wake', a belief shared by net-conspiracy geek and Dalek legend alike. It's little wonder that one of the most truly joyous moments in the whole series is the Doctor's 'Just this once' in The Doctor Dances. Say what you like about Steven Moffat's undendingly glib, overtly contrived, smartarse dialogue (seriously, do - I'd love somebody else to notice it too), but he certainly understands the concerns of the show.

And if the Doctor is linked with death, well then, I guess it's Rose who represents life. You know, the kind of life he's never had.

"Who says you're not important?"
Despite that annoying recency effect where the newest thing is always considered to be the best and anything from the past becomes glibly caricatured, Rose Tyler is not an exceptional Doctor Who companion. Tabloids tell us that she's 'feisty' (ungghhh...) compared to the screamers of the past, in much the same way as broadsheets tell us RTD's Who is far, far better than the old show ever was. But of course, both assertions are total bollocks (the mainstream media might be able to recognise the virtues of the new show, but it still has fuck all clue about those of the old). The attention lavished on characterisation in the scripting makes her feel more special than most, but divorced of that Rose is an emphatically average companion for the Doctor. She's not 'all instinct and intuition' like Leela, not tenacious and out to prove herself like Sarah Jane, not super-smart like Romana, Nyssa or Liz Shaw, and while admittedly fairly gorgeous, she's not unbelievably beautiful like Romana I, or near-pornographic like Peri. She's an everyman, or I suppose more accurately, an everygirl. A bit braver than some - and she did get the bronze! - but she's basically, capital O, Ordinary.

But as new Who tells us with every breath in its body, that's important. Even an ordinary life is an extraordinary life because that's all there really is, an ordinary life multiplied by billions. The ordinary lives throughout this season are given a level of attention that's rarely been seen in television Who before. Which is why Rose's ordinary life has a 'mythology' too. The 'legend' of her father's death as inculcated in her by her mother, leaving school for Jimmy whatsisface (details of which presumably being held in reserve for season 2), a casually volatile relationship with her mother and a boyfriend she's seemingly stayed with out of habit. As I seem to keep saying, Rose is the focal point of the entire season, and that's particular true of that opening episode which bears her name. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the hints of the Doctor's backstory in this episode are flat and unconvincing by comparison. All that 'I couldn't save your world, I couldn't save any of them!' stuff fails to really hit any emotional note (not helped by the lack of musical accompaniment in that scene), and the bit where Eccleston yells 'I am talking!' at the Nestene Consciousness is frankly no more or less convincing than when Sylvester McCoy attempted to convey innate power by suddenly shouting. This imbalance was, however, redressed in the next episode, with the Doctor-Jabe scenes beautifully bringing out the inner turmoil of his character. (And again, wasn't that single tear far more effective than any 'woe-is-me' speech?)

Is a Doctor Who that's primarily focused on its central duo, that's structured as an ambiguous love story, 'soap opera'? I certainly don't believe so. In terms of form, soap operas by their nature have no beginning, middle or end, whereas the 2005 Doctor Who season does. In terms of content, soap operas are about the domestic and emotional lives of a wide assortment of characters. In a soap you'll seen thirteen extra-marital affairs and two drunken kitchen punch-ups a week, whereas in Doctor Who you'll see one life-saving kiss and one 'emotional' argument scene that doesn't really come off per series. Plus four attempted alien invasions. And, as suddenly became clear to me in the festive context of The Christmas Invasion, the Sarf-East London council-estate dahn-the-market milieu of Rose's home life owes far more to Only Fools and Horses than Eastenders.

Interesting to recall that those 'soap!' accusations are not wholly new - funny to think of it now, but the same remarks were made quite a few times about season 19 in the early eighties as well. As a very wise and wonderful person once remarked of said season -

'With an unusually extended lineup of companions in the TARDIS, it seems that it was decided the best way to replace Tom's one-man show would be to establish some kind of group dynamic. Many fans have commented that there's more of a soap opera feel to this series than before, and I think that's true. Unfortunately, this was the season's major failing. For one thing, the stories were linked by rather clunky opening scenes in which the characters would make some pointless reference to the previous adventure. More importantly, though, soap opera just doesn't work when you can't mention sex and no-one drinks; The attempt to inject a soapy element made it look more like a kids' show. Sexuality was conspicious by its absence. I don't expect a TARDIS shagathon of course, but a frank admission of human nature - or indeed a bit of an explanation of Time Lord-nature - is necessary if you're going to go down that route. We got both of these with the Virgin books only because the concept was free of the shackles of 'kid's show' . Benny Summerfield or Chris Cwej would certainly never have made it to our television screens.'
Oh alright, it wasn't a wise and wondferful person, it was me. And, sad to admit, I was talking largely out of my arse. It's obvious enough to me now that references to shagging and spirituous beverages might be what constitute "soap", but they certainly aren't what make something 'adult'. Awareness of mortality is. And that awareness is the one thing the new series possesses consistently which the original run only had in individual stories, here and there. It's what gives this season its distinct character. The 'trip of a lifetime' is a re-learning of the innate worth of life, and the forging of values. And not just for Rose either - throughout the season we see the Doctor continually inspiring others to take a stand, become heroic (like Jabe, Gwyneth, Harriet Jones, Captain Jack, Mickey, and even finally Jackie Tyler).

Alright, here's some genuinely wise words, written pre-season by Andrew Wixon -

'The only objective and unselfish reason I can think of for wanting the show to come back is that it's a good show. Not good as in well-written or well-acted or well-directed, because God knows it was never 100% consistent in any of those areas, but morally good. Virtuous, in fact. Hit me if I start saying 'never cruel or cowardly' but I think it's great that there's going to be a show of such warmth and wit and humanism on our screens again, saying important things about compassion and the power of individuals to make a difference, and the dangers of surrendering control of your life to a machine of any kind. These are important things, too seldom said on British TV these days.'
Now, I don't know how Andrew himself has felt about this new series, but, by gum, I certainly thought of his words as Rose Tyler tried inarticulately but powerfully to express the 'better life' the Doctor had shown her, and I felt such a sense of triumph. New Who might not have demonstrated every single solitary strength of the old show's run, but - and I've said it all along - it was never, ever reasonable to expect it to do so. What is has done is recreate the show for a whole new audience, stimulated the imagination of a new generation of kids and adults alike, and successfully reignited the fire in the belly of the old. 'You take a stand, you say no, you have the guts to do what's right!' may not sound profound divorced of context and Billie Piper's excellent performance, but in an arena where attention-seeking idiots seek empty fame by entering a spartan house full of cameras for a couple of months, or where some hunchbacked little shrew rakes through fat people's shit and berates them because it doesn't smell of jasmine and gardenias, or where statuesque actresses stand next to picket fences looking over the road and wondering 'As long as they sort through their mail and park their cars nicely, how much do we really want to know about our neighbours?' like they're performing Hamlet... well, it's very, very welcome. Us fans are accustomed to Doctor Who, to its imagination, its fun and and its sense of morality. Now a whole bunch of other people have got to see that too. Doctor Who's not only got itself comfortably nestled in that 'mainstream' of which I was so suspicious, it's even started to lead the way a bit; just looking through this week's TV guide I can see time-and-space shows (Life on Mars, Hyperdrive, Eleventh Hour, Johnny and the Bomb) that likely owe their being commissioned to the success of Doctor Who. None of 'em can be as remotely as good as Who of course, just as Torchwood won't be anything like as good, but how cool that they want to be!

Steve Cassidy's absolutely right in his Bad Wolf review when he says that Russell T Davies has been playing it safe so far. But, given Who's once-tarnished reputation, the cautious approach is understandable and unsurprising. One should also bear in mind that what's unadventurous in terms of the legacy of Who as a whole still constitues far more imaginative viewing than whatever's on the other channel at the time!

Oh, and how appropriate to this incarnation of the show Murray Gold's arrangement of the theme tune is - some fans continue to crave the eeriness of the Delia Derbyshire version, but this bombastic and life-affirming version is far truer to the trip-of-a-lifetime ethos. Gas-masked kiddies, airbrushed zombies and the like aside, RTD's Who is a rollercoaster as opposed to a ghost train.

As a literal journey, mind you, the season had a far stronger sense of volition during its first five episodes than at any point later (excepting, perhaps, the thrilling denouement). In terms of where they went and what they did, these five shows got the series off to a more or less perfect start, pseudo-farting or no: Rose saw an ordinary girl's ordinary life turned upside down by the arrival of the alien time-travelling Doctor; End of the World took us to the far future and introduced an assortment of alien races and thought-provoking concepts while expanding importantly on something momentous that happened during that war mentioned in episode one; The Unquiet Dead took us back in time and clarified that the Doctor's life can sometimes involve scary monsters and famous historical personages; and Aliens/WWIII gave us a contemporary invasion-of-Earth story more developed than the earlier Nestene one, while at the same time expanding on Clive's discussion of the Doctor's appearances throughout Earth's history (he was, apparently, involved with something called a United Nations Intelligence Taskforce...)

All great. Forwards in time, backwards in time, back home with Rose to pick up some clothes and a toothbrush, and now the real journey begins. The Doctor's showing off what this ship of his can do, a ship that can go anywhere... next stop has got to be an alien planet, yeah?

Um. Well, no. No, next place we saw was a bunker under Utah. But there was a dirty great Dalek there, and it was more badass than the Daleks had been in years, if rather emotionally brittle, so that successfully papered over the slight sense of disappointment at being back on Earth again. Then the next week... well, at least it wasn't Earth. It was a space station. Erm, orbiting Earth. A bit like the one in The End of the World. Okay. What about the next week then? Oh, back to Earth again. But at Rose's request, I guess, and what a good episode it was.

And then... oh great, an alien weapon! And it's heading for the centre of... London. Oh, for fuck's sake. Where the hell are we going to go next, back to sodding Cardiff?!


No way round it, this was one of the major disappointments of the season. It simply didn't live up to the Doctor's original promise of a ship that can go anywhere, and at the same time it cut us off somewhat from Rose Tyler as our point of identification. Because after all, we didn't get to see the Horsehead Nebula, or Justicia, or Raxacoricofallapatorious, or Womanwept, or the Glass Pyramid of Sancloon - but she did, offscreen. That was a rat I smelled right off in the opening moments of Dalek, when the Doctor stepped out of the police box talking about the TARDIS being pulled off course. Off course from where, I wondered - where was the Doctor taking Rose, and was she looking forward to it? Surely she hadn't been to other planets already, without us?! Then of course it was hinted in the next episode, The Long Game, that she had, though this was only explicitly stated close to the end of the season in Boom Town.

Time and space, Mr Davies. You've omitted one of them, and its an absence even the normal people are starting to notice! Hope you'll that sort that out soon, even if it does mean biting the bullet and visiting a quarry. Just tart it up with some CGI if need be, ya wimp...

Let's not kid ourselves - even outside of the Pertwee era, the show has always spent an inordinate amount of time on Earth. The Web Planet was, as noted on its recent DVD release, the last Who story to feature a supporting cast with no humans in it. But Earth has never before been the only bloody place the show takes us to week in, week out, and it's starting to get claustrophobic. A little sprinkling of the exotic goes a long way and, it's worth repeating, to not bother with Rose's first steps on an alien world was a simply staggering omission.

Davies has indicated in interviews that he's only interested in stories set on alien planets if there's a human element there to keep the emotional connection with the audience, ie - colonists from Earth on a hostile new world or something. Hopefully season one's establishment of a vast (and suspiciously NAish) Earth Empire in the will provide him enough scope for this. I understand we're finally going to see at least one new planet in season 2, so we're getting there in baby steps.

The season's other big problem: deus ex machina. Far too much of it. A bit of a disappointing ending to Boom Town was telescoped into a bit of a disappointing ending for the season as a whole. The far more cohesive Christmas Invasion, however, showed encouraging signs that this might be ironed out for the next season.

The third: Captain Jack. God, he was irritating with his "outrageous" bisexuality. One more rubbish 'Can I have a kiss? No, not you, Rose, I was talking to the Doctor, ho ho!' moment and I'd have tore off my own genitals.

Oh, and of course the Bad Wolf episode, while serving the purpose of 'grounding' a show popularly - if utterly wrongly - perceived as old-fashioned and chintzy in the landscape of latter-day television (albeit in a way that now seems unnecessary, given the success of the season), is going to date much quicker than the rest.

Though I have to add that I think Steve is unfairly reductive in his 'Daleks control reality television' summary of the plot of that story - the Daleks have infiltrated Earth's empire and reality TV is simply, so to speak, the loose thread which reveals this when picked at. Steve's wording implies that the Daleks actually care about the content of Earth's media, but you'll note from the episode that they quite specifically don't. Lethal games shows are merely one more way for them to 'harvest the waste of humanity'.

Still, you'd be hard-pushed to deny that this stands up as one of the more consistently good Who seasons. If - and this is arguable - it hasn't quite scaled the greatest heights of the old (for all its flaws The Dead Planet is far more daring television than anything in Who 2005; ditto Inferno, Deadly Assassin, Robots of Death, Ghost Light and numerous others), it hasn't dipped anywhere remotely near its lows either.

Oh, as it's his one and only season, I guess I should also say something about Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. Well, interesting to see the role of the Doctor interpreted in a purely actorly way by a bloke who's up to the task; when he's first left alone with that Dalek, for example, it all feels a bit Shakespearian, and it's difficult to imagine the combination of vulnerability and intensity displayed here from any of the previous Doctors. Given that his is, if you buy my argument above, a Doctor very much associated with death, it's also remarkable that Eccleston still makes him such a lot of fun to be with, so there's no doubt as to why Rose wants to be in that TARDIS with him. There's quite a bit of child-friendly mugging in his performance too, but that remains consistent with a Doctor who's putting up an exaggeratedly happy front a lot of the time. He's a force of nature and - apart from that bit I mentioned with the Nestene Consciousness - never less than believable. In fairness, even that was probably due more to us not yet feeling immersed in the Doctor's world at that point. He's also a Doctor who had, say it softly, an 'arc' - most Doctors are essentially a presence, eccentric and benign, but this one was a character, with shit to sort out in his head. This was his only season, but it really was his season and I daresay he's established a rough mould for the next few incarnations.

I don't think I'd ever name Eccleston's Doctor as a true favourite of mine, mind you. Like Pertwee, he's more a Doctor I objectively admire than really love.

God, I've dribbled on, haven't I? Time to wrap up. So, in conclusion...!

Oh, something I found strikingly poetic and would like to end on: companionship. Us Who fans have gotten used to to 'companion' as a sort of job description, some pretty tag-along who can get locked up and ask quesions. But this time around companionship, friendship, is re-established as something redemptive and inspiring and crucial to the quality of life. The Doctor tried to deny society, human warmth, 'domestics', but ultimately he can't, and that saves him from living death, from becoming a monster. Rose brings him back to the fold.

And at the end of the season we see the grotesque mirror image of the Doctor's condition - those who have already become monsters. Humanity's waste, the dispossessed, hiding in the dark space (such a powerful image of loneliness), loathing their own inescapable humanity and filled to the brim with malice, their self-hatred displaced onto any and all others.

'You hate your own existence' the Doctor says, in recognition. Rose, in more ways than one, saves him in the nick of time.

Doctor Who can, as some of us like to say, be anything. So when it chooses to be something, just one thing, when it's Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, Slitheen, Gelth and Daleks and frequent visits back to Cardiff, satellite five and a council estate, we start to lament all the things it could have been, what we would have made it had we been in charge. It's a show with limitless possibilities, so of course it's always going to feel like there's some avenue not being explored.

That should not, however, stop us appreciating what it is here and now, in this moment. Doctor Who can indeed be anything, and to prove it, here it is as a popular TV show. It's been a success without sacrificing the intelligence, frivolity anti-authoritarianism and morality that make Who what it is, and that's heartening.

No. That's fantastic.

The Year of the Eccel-Doc by Terrence Keenan 15/5/06

In two days, I watched all 13 episodes of the RTD inspired Doctor Who and, overall, was impressed. The look, the effects and the performances were all very strong. The show was geared for reaching a wide audience, rather than for hardcore fanboys/fangirls. And it wasn't as Buffy-influenced as I feared it might be (though there are a couple of moments that are straight from Buffy, which we'll get to in the individual episode breakdowns).

The show worked well within the 45 minute episode format. However, that led to one of few things I felt was lacking about the series: a lack of worldbuilding and relaxed storytelling. Instead we get situations and "character pieces." Only in the two parters, did you get the sense of and worldbuilding.

As fas as the individual epsisodes go:

Rose: It's a kick-in-the-ass opener. Does a bang-up job of introducing the Doctor, Rose and establishing their relationship right away. The conspiracy bit was well done, and thankfully wasn't continued on. It's a strong start to the New Who.

The End of the World: I liked this one a lot. It's a nice little mystery, set against a brilliant idea: the rich and powerful are still interested in only themselves, even when the world is blowing up around them. The last human concept was brilliant as well. The Unquiet Dead: Mark Gatiss hits the first home run of the season, a gothic piece full of atmosphere, character and a cool alien race, the Gelth. This was the first one to really get the inner fanboy raving. A side note: Lawrence Miles took a bit of a kicking from fanboys on the web when he blasted this story as anti-immigrant/racist. Um, I think MIles makes an interesting point, however, the "nice aliens are really bastards underneath" is such a cliche in Sci-fi, that he would have probably made a better point attacking the lack of originality, then adding social implications.

Aliens of London/World War Three: Too many moments with Jackie and Mickey whining and moaning, combined with adolescent fart jokes drag down some interesting concepts and ideas. The plot is brilliant in itself, and the exectuion is strong, but after the third Slitheen fart joke, I was annoyed. Could have been so much better.

Dalek: This is the first story that really should have been expanded out to two episodes. Robert Sheman's rewrite of Jubilee works well enough, but I felt like things were slamming together far too fast for the ending to play out as strong as it should have. Dalek begs for atmosphere and a slower pace. Strong, but could have been so much better.

The Long Game: A bit of fun, this one. Anything with Simon "Shaun of the Dead" Pegg is going to be good. Although at times it smacks of filler (the whole Adam plotline), I found it quite entertaining.

Father's Day: It contains Billie Piper's best performance as Rose, and shows the entire cast stepping up to the plate. The chance to do the "another chance/paradox/what if plotline" in Who was worth doing, even though it has been done by most sci-fi/fantasy series in one form or another, just to see what the Who take on it might be. However, Father's Day made me cuss out the TV as I watched it. Why? Paul Cornell's subtle-as-a-frying-pan-upside-the-head manipulation of the viewer's emotions. None of it felt natural. The opening narration by Rose, the bits with young Rose and Jackie, the way the story develops, are all designed to have the audience crying. It's the Who equivalent of Beaches. If you want a real emotional moment in Who, grab your Fenric DVD and watch the Doctor dismiss Ace in is final confrontation with Fenric. That's a true humdinger, and it comes naturally. So much potential wasted.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances: The best of the season, by far. Steven Moffat manages to come up with a wild story that has great bits of humor, an intriguing plot that twists at the right time, killer performances, and some genuinely scary moments. It's the only pair of stories where I felt a world was really being created for the viewer. And the ending packs a real emotional punch. And it felt real and honest.

Boomtown: It's the most Buffy-like of the new Who. Tons of domestic bits and long conversations, with a bit of action and a deux ex machina at the end. The worst of the new season, as it really felt like we were wasting time and tying up subplots before moving on to the end.

Bad Wolf: Um, the first 30 minutes of this episode annoyed me. Parodying games shows is just wrong, especially when you are trying to gear up toward the big finale. (It's my prediction that this episode will age as poorly as the first couple of years of the JNT reign, which just scream "living in the 80's".) However, the last few minutes almost make up this, and what an awesome moment it is when the Doctor tell Rose he's going to rescue her. The return of the Daleks, as a huge force of evil and chaos is brill.

The Parting of the Ways: The Who equal of Buffy's Prophecy Girl. And just as well executed. The resolution of the Bad Wolf season-long plot was unexpected. The Daleks were better executed than in Dalek. Although I wish it had been the Doctor who had destroyed the Daleks once and for all, the whole season has been gearing towards Rose having her big "Slayer Moment". Overall, sloppy, but quite good.

Who has been reborn for a new audience and a new time. And sucessfully reborn at that. Despite a few minor kinks and a couple of stories that I found disappointing. The year of the EccelDoc was well done.

A Review by Tal Hazeldon 9/8/06

27.1 Rose
Fantastic! P-p-peet-tzah!

27.2 The End of the World
How can something so silly be so fun? Ok, I'm hooked. More, Russell T!

27.3 The Unquiet Dead 27.4 Aliens of London
We're watching it on the telly like everyone else.

27.5 World War Three
At least Micky proved fun.

27.6 Dalek
So, a Dalek can be an interesting conversationalist after all. Give us more, Shearman.

27.7 The Long Game
Yes! It's Simon Fucking Pegg!

27.8 Fathers Day

27.9 The Empty Child
It's official now, the resurrection of Doctor Who is here. Best summed up with Doctor Constantine's reply, "[I'm] dying I, should think. I just haven't been able to find the time."

27.10 The Doctor Dances
This is more than resurrection, this is rapture. No need to stand in the corner Jack, I'll dance with you. Best story ever. Who was it that said, "Tears through joy is my favorite emotion"?

27.11 Boom Town Doctor Who should never be limited. Some fun dialogue to be found here. Female villains work well in Who.

27.12 Bad Wolf
Rack it up Russell T. This is gonna be good.

27.13 The Parting of the Ways
Yes, Chris. You were fantastic. Don't go.

No matter where you go, there you are... by Thomas Cookson 7/4/07

When Russell T. Davies took the helm of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who, he had inherited a British institution. One with a boundless, eternal capacity to run as a neverending story that would always speak to young audiences. One that sadly went a bit tits up in the 80's, suffered to dead wood and ultimately needed a mercy killing, but would die remembered as a major embarrasment.

Russell had to turn a train wreck embarrasment into the height of cool with his 'midas touch', and he seemed to have the right idea on how to wipe the slate clean. The Time War was a novel idea to give the show's continuity a state of grace, and spare us any more tedious Gallifrey adventures a la Arc of Infinity. He also had the right attitude to the show of trying to return the show to the golden age of the 70's and to avoid all the mistakes of the 80's. The plan for Season One seemed to fit the idea of having the perfect season of Who, with a story arc, a believable companion to experience it all through, a Doctor who was mysterious and unsafe, and Daleks that were actually indestructible. Basically having Spearhead from Space, The Ark in Space, Talons of Weng-Chiang, Power of the Daleks and Curse of Fenric all in the same season.

The 80s was terribly low on inspiration, leading me to think that had the Sylvester McCoy era format of only four stories a season been introduced back in the Davison era, the show would have been much improved. The 45 minute story format of the new series ensured that we'd get concise and efficient adventure stories with no room for didactism or lengthy TARDIS-interior scenes or intrusive continuity. With the new pilot Rose, the ante of pacy storytelling had been upped, in the same way that Genesis of the Daleks had done for the show back in 1975. In terms of reinvigoration of the old, Dalek seemed like the perfect example of condensing Dalek lore to its briefest and letting the action and battle of wills continue unabated.

Russell T. Davies had some very unconventional ideas of how the modern Doctor should be, which all seemed rooted in creating a Doctor that the youth could dig. The ninth Doctor is “not your daddy’s Doctor Who”.

There was a tendency for this new Doctor to be macho and to shy away from the classics of literature or indeed from literate terms, and to use common slang in a conformist and unprogressive way (aside from the old school, highly literate scripting of him in The Empty Child). This had always bothered me about the new Doctor. The reason is because I've always valued the Doctor as a nonconformist, articulate and learned character, especially as a male character. In the current 'lad' culture, I find that very important and precious. It was indeed my highest hope for the revival of Doctor Who.

To steal a point from Tat Wood about the state of the 80's era of the show:

"Doctor Who had always been based on an idea of literacy as power against the powerful, developing the individual's self-knowledge and ability to understand others, and above all conveying the basic message that things as they are isn't all there is. Now it all goes philistine and illiterate. The boy-Doctor and his teen titans only ever read instructions manuals."
Replace the last two words in that quote with 'heat magazine' and you're near enough. But Christopher Eccleston made that Doctor work wonderfully. His Doctor was streetwise. He was patchy and damaged in a way that made him everything the Sixth Doctor should have been. His Doctor was an active ball of energy and anger, set apart from humanity. Under those concepts, this character of the Doctor worked. The slang jargon wasn't exactly Doctorish, but it was distinctive, and his trashy pop-culture references actually seemed to suit the pathos of the character, as though he was always trying to fit in and make a good impression with people. So what could have made the program seem like it was desperate to be seen as cool, actually seemed to become part of the character.

Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor was also fairly rude and mean, but for the most part it was something that characterised his alien-ness and his damage, with a tendency to refer to humans as 'stupid apes'. His riballing of Mickey in Aliens of London actually hint that the Doctor has become evasive and uncomfortable with people and that being inane and rude is his defense mechanism. There was of course also that controversial scene in End of the World, which at the time didn't bother me that much, given that the Doctor has been known to adopt a 'live and let die' approach before this (Remembrance of the Daleks, Planet of Fire, Creature from the Pit). The surrounding controversy of that scene amidst fandom indicates to me that the Doctor has existed in the minds of fans as an archetype of peace and mercy for so long that people just aren't open to the idea that the Doctor as a character might change or develop over time.

But what makes the Doctor mean doesn't necessarily make him unwatchable, and rarely has done, for the simple reason that he's often mean in a way that suggests alien-ness. Unfortunately, this rule did get broken for me in The Long Game where the Doctor invites Rose and us to delight in him bullying Adam, and for me that episode did leave a bitter aftertaste. But of course I liked to think that this was something we could get past, and indeed as the season went on, the Doctor did seem to develop more humility towards others, in Father's Day and Bad Wolf. So it seemed like part of the character's development and in that it was refreshing. It wasn't a betrayal of the character because it was fundamentally about the spirit of the Doctor in that it was about the damaged Doctor getting back to his old compassionate self.

There was a wonderful way that the show took the Doctor through the grieving and healing process, firstly for the primal scream therapy in Dalek, and then (and not a lot of dramas do this, since hope doesn't make as good drama as misery) showing him come out of his shell in a moment of joy in The Doctor Dances.

I had initially gone along with the Anorak Zone's view of the Ninth Doctor as a grinning goon who kept gurning and interrupting the gravitas. But when he was gone, I realised that I actually had fallen in love with the character precisely because he had tried so hard to make a good impression and feign jovialness to try and overcome his moodiness and damage. It's a bit like what I said once in a film review on Nikita:

"Luc Besson displays a wonderful skill for framing and capturing a moment of joy between the couple, or of sexual foreplay. Not a calculated sense of climaxing joy that typically comes from Hollywood films, but one of genuine character spontaneity which dares to be badly timed and embarrassing, and which is far more human and from the gut."
Christopher Eccleston may have rattled off the odd references to Reality TV and pop music, but he still came across like an alien with higher concerns who simply had an awareness of modern pop culture, a passing interest in said culture and an ability to walk the walk amongst humans. You could still believe this was the same Doctor who was fond of Shakespeare and visited the Louvre. Actually, the comparisons with other Doctors make his Doctor seem really unsafe in his blend of vibrancy, reckless proactiveness and belligerence, as though whenever he enters the room, everyone sharing the same room becomes that bit more mortal. Sadly, that's why Tennant's similar exciteability doesn't come off well because he inhabits a safer series, so it all seems for show with him.

As I said, the Doctor was presented as an alien, which meant he was seen through a pair of human eyes, namely those of Rose. The Rose of Season One was a magnificent creation. She was believable and likeable. Although some described her as a 'chav', there was nothing alienating or mean about her. She was pro-active and heroic, responsible and compassionate and she often played as the Doctor's conscience. Has any great character ever suffered such a terrible fall in her following season?

The domestic world that Rose worked in, during Season One felt like a real place with a heart and pulse. It felt like our world, despite the cartoonish spin, there was a sense of real tedium, grit and belligerence to existence on the council estate, and more than that. An acknowledged sense of degradation that is all too familiar to our modern society. The dialogue was authentic enough to bring it to life and make it touching without trying too hard.

The season did very well to make the personal into the cosmic and vice versa. I would say that one thing about Series One is how it took the modern council estate and subverted it, made it part of a symbiotic whole with the past and future that the season took us to. Series One worked thematically because it was Earth-bound. As early as Rose there really was a sense of the eerie, and of undercurrents and the echoes of time just on a typical estate footpath. Come Parting of the Ways and you really feel that the nightmarish future is now, the ghosts of victims of Dalek wars to come haunting the present. As Rose grew in her awareness to this, there was a sense that the adventure and the emotional journey were one and the same.

Unfortunately, the gravity tended to be undermined whenever Russell indulged himself in moments of slapstick humour, and that was my real bugbear with Season One.

The other day, I watched Nightmare of Eden with my flatmate who is a major fan of the "serious" sci-fi of Star Trek and Stargate. He has often mocked my love of Doctor Who, but he laughed all the way through Nightmare of Eden, declaring it as high farce at its very best. He saved the copy of the story on Youtube to his internet history and let me know "You've won me over!"

Moments like that should be savoured.

So indeed, it seems sound all round that a head writer like Russell should inject some humour into his scripts. But I've got to say I'm not happy with the results. Rose had made me laugh plenty, but I had always felt that the frivolity in End of the World and Aliens of London seemed out of place. I had always found End of the World (which was closest to my expectations of the show being like Queer as Folk in space) malnourishing, and I'd tried to put my despondence at the farting around and witless satire of Aliens of London down to the fact that I'd been listening to Jubilee a lot and had higher expectations of more intelligent politics and sharper humour.

But no, it's the lack of discipline. What turns me off about the frivolity of the Russell's stories is the underlying contempt in the humour. Contempt for the characters, contempt for the story and script and atmosphere which I'll say feels very intrusive to the point of being brutal, as if the joke has barged itself in and insensitively tramples over the art. It took watching the Key To Time season to realise that it wasn't that I don't like humour in the show, but that I feel the tenderness has gone, and it's a feeling I had long before things went way too far with crude fellatio gags coming out of the blue. It goes without saying that at 45 minutes length, the characters seem to have gotten impatient and more belligerent, quicker to find an intellectual rival. Season One was a terrific series but I always much preferred the stories that Russell didn't write for that reason.

I have said that I preferred the episodes written by guest writers in Season One, but ultimately the season as a whole was a great team effort and Russell was arguably its mastermind. There were many defining gem scenes that Russell gave us. That scene with Rose on the phone to her mother in End of the World is beautiful, likewise the scene in the cafe in Parting of the Ways and sometimes his dialogue is so unpretentious and real, such as when Rose returns and Jackie says "What worries me the most is that you still won't say."

It was a very well planned season too. For the first half of the 13-part season, the show's accessibility is of paramount importance, which means that the line-up remains rigid and plots remain event-driven. After the halfway mark the episodes are able to bend form in such ways as to introduce another companion (The Empty Child) or to do episodes that are character driven (Father's Day). Indeed, Dalek took advantage of this convention to lead the audience to briefly believe that Rose had been killed, and I distinctly remember how I believed it too. Ultimately having ensured its core audience, the finale of the season (Parting of the Ways) is at liberty to pick up crucial plot points and linking bridges to earlier stories. In this case, the finale takes place in the same futuristic setting as the seventh story, The Long Game, which was crucially placed mid-season.

The season finale had a sense of a multi-faceted, culminated journey with everything reaching its proper conclusion, and allowed plenty of room for people to read into the little details or the vague bits that could say a thousand different things.

The 2005 season of Doctor Who is modernised and distinct from seasons of the show before it, by its culminated narrative that runs through the season, as well as its self-contained individual narratives for each story.

And narrative is a key point. The series was based heavily on traditional narrative ideas, moral tales and binary oppositions, and the new series did this well, using its characters to articulate its morality with passion. Placing binary opposition between Adam's greed and Rose's selfless loyalty, the demonic reapers and the sanctuary of the church. On an aesthetic level there is an immediate distinction between the Doctor and Daleks, man and machine, the regimented Daleks and the natural cohesiveness of the Doctor and companions, the vibrancy of humanity juxtaposed with the harshness of death. The Doctor represents life in all its forms; he fights to preserve life; he revels in the lives of those around him, knowing how fleeting those lives are; and on a basic level he regenerates and possesses various lives. By contrast, the Daleks represents death; conditioned to kill; and by the season finale they have even been harvesting the dead to swell their own form.

I liked the battle of wills in the story Dalek, because it managed to convey the Time War in spoken word and metaphor, with two survivors coming to represent the entire conflict in 45 minutes, the violence, the anger, the pathos, the suffering. It built greater concepts and images than those on screen, after all Doctor Who has often conveyed a sense of scope best through spoken word.

The morality was what made the show such a great viewing experience to share with my mother. The show had been very good-spirited and has particularly spread a message of how everyone counts, whether they be a dellboy or a Dalek. Indeed, the consistent theme of that season was of anomie, and of ordinary people saving the world and no-one else even knowing about it. The bitchiness of The Long Game always stuck out like a sore thumb in that regard (and sadly pre-empted much of Season Two's repellant sneering attitude), but even then it managed to attack the clique mentality, and although I've described the episode as being a washout, I'll say that recently my experiences in youth subcultures has taught me just how frightening group-think and a culture of denial can be, so I guess sometimes simplicity says it best.

To sum it up, though, all the poignancy and emotion, the strong narrative integrity made the first season of the show really potent and resonating. Going back two years ago to when I was watching it as something current, I remember how eagerly I was looking forward to each next story. I had actually stood up and given applause at the ends of Unquiet Dead and Dalek because I was that impressed with them, and the only other Who stories that have had me doing that were Evil of the Daleks, Seeds of Doom and Snakedance. At the end of Parting of the Ways I spent the entire day with a lump in my throat about to fall to pieces at any point for reasons I couldn't explain, just a sense of something coming to an end. I'd been left with something vivid and life affirming that would stay with me for most of the year. And I was really impatient to see Season Two from that point on, to the point of desperation, until the blubbathon of The Christmas Invasion completely deflated it.

All in all I hold the 2005 Season up as one of my favourite seasons, alongside Seasons 13 and 16. It was a grand year indeed.

Series 1: a Japanese view by Finn Clark 24/2/08

It's a fairly simple idea. Show a bunch of Doctor Who stories to a Japanese person (Tomoko) who'd never even heard of the show before and see what they think. So far we've been swapping between black-and-white stories and the Eccleston era, although she also caught some 2007 Tennant episodes on BBC1. Having just staggered through to the end of Parting of the Ways, this seemed like a good time to summarise what she thought of that opening 2005 season.

The first thing to say is that these episodes are hard for language learners. Admittedly they could hardly be worse than the impenetrable UNIT era, with its double whammy of technobabble and military jargon. The Invasion literally sent her to sleep and there aren't many Pertwee stories that I could even consider, but on the other hand it's immeasurably harder than the early Hartnell era with its crisp BBC accents. There's a startling difference between even the Hartnell and Troughton eras in how much naturalism the BBC permitted. However the Eccleston era takes that to a whole new level. Colloquialism, sloppy diction, broken sentences and regional accents... and that's just the Doctor! Hitherto I'd never really registered Eccleston's Northern accent, but this time I've found myself having to explain exactly what he's doing with the vowels in "funny" and "money".

And that's without mentioning the universe's ultimate evil: the Daleks. Forget their love of conquest and genocide. No, what makes the Daleks so terrible is their voices. Nicholas Briggs is at his worst in these stories, incidentally. Even I found myself struggling from time to time, whereas Tomoko initially failed to realise that those sounds were meant to be speech. She's been doing everything imaginable to get to grips with them... replaying their scenes, turning on the subtitles and consulting the script book. Nothing helps. Particularly bad is that they squawk everything in disjointed syllables. At least the Cybermen talk in recognisable English rhythms. Tomoko both hates and loves the Daleks. She loathes the sounds they make, but on the other hand she adores them and wants to watch Dalek stories. Apparently they're cute! As in the early sixties during Dalekmania, the Daleks are Doctor Who's greatest selling point. She enjoyed The Daleks (Hartnell: Serial B), but the real killer was Dalek (Eccleston: 6th episode). Remember all that Dalek porn? It worked. Flying Daleks! How cool is that? The correct answer, you'll be happy to know, is "exceedingly".

Oh, and apparently "exterminate" sounds a bit like the Japanese for "I want to eat ice cream".

Tomoko's other favourite episode was The End of the World, simply for its sheer visual opulence. It looks like a feature film, but it's a weekly TV show. That was an eye-opener, especially given that Japanese TV would be incapable of producing anything like it. That's not the only such example, incidentally... the use of Channel 4's Big Brother in a BBC show for Bad Wolf was also startling for her. I get the impression that Japanese TV is a bit more hidebound about things like that. Episodes she was less fond of include The Unquiet Dead (she doesn't like zombie films) and in particular The Long Game (which just wasn't very interesting, although the finger-clicking was funny).

From a language point of view, the easiest episode to understand was Father's Day. Rose is also comparatively straightforward, though with more SF elements. However, those episodes aside, I've generally had to explain some or all of the plot afterwards.

Overall, Tomoko likes Doctor Who and was even recommending it to a Japanese friend of her. Watching old and new episodes side by side has definitely made it more interesting for her, too. It's great fun to go from the BBC's flagship 21st century show, dripping with CGI, to a creaky televisual antique with laugh-out-loud production values. Crap monsters are a comedy highlight. When selling the show to that aforementioned Japanese friend, we followed up an Eccleston episode with bits of The Web Planet and the pantomime bear from Androids of Tara. She's also tickled by "loony" fans who'll do things like buying Davison's celery for #5,500 on Ebay for Children in Need, or buying a full-size Dalek from This Planet Earth for #2,395. Doctor Who's deliberate retro stylings (e.g. the low-tech bits on the TARDIS console) also struck her at the beginning as something that would need explaining to Japanese people, who'd perhaps expect SF to look more futuristic. She got over that pretty quickly, though.

It's been a worthwhile experiment and one that's still ongoing. If anyone else finds themselves in a similar position and wondering which DVDs to show a language learner, I'd suggest alternating New Who with:

HARTNELL - An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Edge of Destruction. The Daleks will be fiendishly difficult, but worth it. Meanwhile, the cavemen are easier to understand than you'd think, despite the grunting, since their dialogue isn't exactly Oscar Wilde.

TROUGHTON - Tomb of the Cybermen, The Mind Robber. Under no circumstances even consider The Invasion.

PERTWEE - The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters. Restricted choice. Even Carnival of Monsters is full of difficult Holmesian dialogue, but at least it's colourful and lively enough that you'll know what's going on anyway.

TOM BAKER - Season 12, omitting Robot.

DAVISON - Earthshock, Arc of Infinity, The Five Doctors. I've yet to check the technobabble levels in Earthshock, but the language in Arc of Infinity is surprisingly accessible and it brings back Omega from The Three Doctors.

COLIN BAKER - Vengeance on Varos, The Two Doctors.

MCCOY - Curse of Fenric, Survival, the TVM.

Steer clear of Master stories if you can, since technobabble and/or elevated dialogue seems to follow the character around. That's why you'll want to avoid both Robert Holmes and Pip & Jane Baker, which might be the only time you'll see those writers bracketed together. The Davros arc is complete on DVD if you're watching with a Dalek fan, but don't expect it to be easy. And have fun!