The in laws were visiting so I assumed it would be slightly rude if the man their daughter chose to marry suddenly left the house on a Saturday night for a cinema trip when they had made the three hundred mile journey up to Scotland. Everybody was under strict instructions to keep very quiet for it, including my seven year old son. Everything in my house stopped to watch ‘ The Day Of The Doctor’ on BBC1, the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who.
Technically, we shouldn’t even be at the 50th. Doctor Who died a slow death in the late 80’s. I remember watching some episodes featuring Colin Baker whilst I was in primary school. They were dark, a tiny bit scary and I learned later were the object of ire for those campaigning against violence on TV. It was declared past its prime, a relic and rather than being cancelled there and then the budget was slowly reduce again and again until it vanished in a whimper with Sylvester McCoy in the lead role.
Doctor Who appealed to me. It went straight to the part of my brain that liked stories about aliens and time travel. The whole thing sounds a bit crazy when written down, an alien being who can travel through space and time in something that looks like an old police call box battles aliens from distant worlds. Also, he changes into somebody else when he dies and is usually accompanied by a female companion who will scream her head off at the nearest sign of danger. For a show about an alien it also seems very British in its eccentric design. A Paul McGann fronted ‘TV movie’ episode was screened in 1996 in association with BBC America but, in an event of sheer irony, I had a history essay to do that night which I had rather stupidly left until the last night possible (and probably failed, I can’t remember).
I actually found myself dreading the 2005 return mainly because of one person, Billie Piper. I had nothing against the girl on a personal level but I remember her as releasing some truly annoying pop songs and having no acting experience at all. BBC Wales, as the new home of the show was no longer in London, had taken the populist route and given her the job as she was a name. Christopher Eccleston would be a great choice for the Doctor but a small, blonde pop strumpet had no place near a Tardis. Thankfully I was wrong, the show was a roaring suggest and Billie Piper is now very much an integral part of the show’s recent folklore. So much so that she returned to mark the five decades. I’m pleased beyond belief that I can share the experience of watching Doctor Who with my son in the same way my Dad did with me.
As far as the episode itself went I rather enjoyed it. I know plenty of other people who have and will take the entire thing to bits but I don’t tend to want to do that with Doctor Who. I want Doctor Who to be a success, I want it to be good and appeal to as many people as possible simply because I remember it being killed off the last time around. There was a lot of fan service, the aforementioned Piper returning got everybody into a froth when the trailer came out but she was there not as Rose Tyler but as the operating system behind the bomb that The Doctor assumed would end the Time War. The Time War pitting the Time Lords against Daleks has been the backdrop since the show returned in 2005 but we’ve never seen it directly, only spoken references. Here, the version of The Doctor he always denied existed played by John Hurt contemplated setting off the device that would destroy both Daleks and Time Lords leaving him alone in the galaxy. Whilst previous events in the series have seen The Doctor think back to that day this episode allowed them to reconsider everything we’ve seen so far by having the current incarnation of the Doctor played by Matt Smith and the previous played by David Tennant join him. I always considered Tennant to be a good actor but he often veered into some kind of song and dance routine during his time at the helm, the pinnacle of which being an awful Ghostbusters skit during Season 2’s finale but here he settled back into the role after four years away. Smith and Tennant had excellent chemistry together and did a wonderful job of getting across that whilst they were different characters they were very much at heart(s) the same man. John Hurt brought gravitas to the show simply by being John Hurt.
Yes, the Zygons invading with Queen Elizabeth the first marrying The Doctor was all a bit nonsense but the idea of seeing Gallifrey during the war was appealing. The ending also changed the path of the series just in time for Peter Capaldi taking over the role after Christmas this year. The fact is that there will be kid’s watching now who don’t remember the Ecclestone being in the role and some yet who will have no recollection of Tennant being there either. Doctor Who must always find a way to attract a new fanbase otherwise it gets left behind. This forgotten show that the BBC first created, then supported, then destroyed, then brought back is now one of the corporation’s main earners worldwide. I cannot remember a time during the 80’s when Doctor Who was screened in America or translated into Korean. It could have all gone horribly wrong in 2005, thankfully it didn’t and we have a show watched by 10 million people on a Saturday night.