I'll start with a quick history of Doctor Who for the uninitiated. Doctor Who is a British family-friendly sci-fi show that's been around since 1963 and is approaching its 50th anniversary. In terms of longevity then it's kind of like the British equivalent of Star Trek, although those shows couldn't be any more different in terms of style. Doctor Who is about a humanoid alien (a Time Lord) who comes from a planet called Gallifrey and calls himself "The Doctor". We're never told what his real name which is why the show is called "Doctor Who". The Doctor travels through space and time in his spaceship called the TARDIS (which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space). The TARDIS looks like a 1960s' police box, is much bigger on the inside, and the Doctor doesn't have complete control over it. The Doctor has adventures, defeats evil, and is assisted by a sonic screwdriver and a number of travelling companions. These travelling companions are usually human females. The Doctor's most famous and iconic enemies are the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master but he's fought many different foes over the years. The Doctor also has a certain amount of lives or "regenerations". Instead of dying the cells in his body can regenerate, which alters his appearance in order to eradicate the damage to his body. He still retains all of the memories of his previous self but he has a new face and - to a great extent - a new personality.
From 1963 to 1989 seven different actors played the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Doctor Who was eventually cancelled in 1989. This was partly due to the fact that viewer ratings had fallen and partly due to the BBC's unsupportive attitude. They had always regarded Doctor Who as a bit of a joke and had always been baffled and bemused by the success of their own show. Despite Doctor Who being hugely popular they had always insisted on keeping the production costs as low as possible and had never allowed the producers a big budget. Nevertheless the Whovians (Doctor Who fans) did everything possible to convince the BBC to make another series, so they did make an attempt to revive the show again in 1996 with a made-for-TV movie. The BBC co-produced this with 20th Century Fox and the movie starred Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. It was made with the intention of tapping into the US market and had it been successful it would have led to a revived TV series. But it didn't work out. McGann's performance won much praise from fans but since the movie was poorly-received in the USA the show was left in limbo. This eventually changed in 2005 when Russell T Davies was asked to revive the series.
Russell T Davies had previously written the TV show Queer as Folk and the BBC miniseries Casanova. Davies wanted to update Doctor Who for the 21st century and borrowed ideas from modern dramas, most especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville. Episodes of Doctor Who would now be about 45 minutes long, would be mostly standalone, and would be part of a 13 episode series. Updating Doctor Who was a massive challenge for Davies, his team of producers and writers, and the show's two main actors (Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper). This was because the responsibility on them was huge. There was an enormous amount of expectation and it was a project that many thought was doomed to failure. This was because Doctor Who had become open to ridicule in the nine years since it had been taken off-air. This was due to the classic series' cheap-looking cardboard sets, rubbish special effects and occasionally questionable acting. Many wondered whether a new series could work. Would the acting be better? Would the production values be higher? Could Doctor Who still appeal to a new generation that hadn't been brought up on the show? The answer to all of these questions was a resounding "Yes". Despite some weak episodes it became a massive hit. It became one of the most popular and talked-about shows on TV, won a stack of awards and critical acclaim, and even launched two spin-off shows (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures). It proved that there was still a big market for fantasy/sci-fi shows and the BBC and ITV would produce several other shows in an attempt to cash in on Doctor Who's success, the BBC's Merlin being by far the best of these. Doctor Who is still going strong seven years later but the head writer/producer is now Steven Moffat, who has also written and produced the shows Jekyll and Sherlock. However, this post is going to be a review of the first revived series of Doctor Who only and will contain spoilers from the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who.
Before I get onto the actors and the episodes in this first revived series I'll make one thing clear. Doctor Who was a very hit-and-miss show when Russell T Davies was still in charge. You could see an episode that was absolutely amazing one week and then the next week you could see an episode that was absolutely abysmal. I'll always be grateful to RTD for bringing the show back but in my honest opinion he just isn't that good a writer. In his five year stint on the show as Head Writer/Executive Producer he only wrote two episodes that I really, truly enjoyed (Midnight and The Waters of Mars). The best episodes of his era were actually written by other writers (e.g. Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell). However, that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the RTD era of Doctor Who. Overall it was still brilliant television.
|Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor|
|Billie Piper as Rose Tyler|
Favourite Episodes: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (by Steven Moffat), The Unquiet Dead (by Mark Gatiss) and Father's Day (by Paul Cornell).
Least Favourite Episodes: Aliens of London/World War Three (by Russell T Davies), The Long Game (by Russell T Davies) and Boom Town (by Russell T Davies).
Favourite Guest Stars: Simon Callow and Eve Myles (in The Unquiet Dead), Penelope Wilton (in Aliens of London/World War Three), Simon Pegg (in The Long Game), Shaun Dingwell (in Father's Day) and Richard Wilson (in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances).