Andy Simpkins is Moderately Vexed by… No, Ponders on, the all-new 'Doctor Who'
Published: 28th June 2004
Different... that is the first word that comes to mind. Different in the fact that I can only use the following comparison: Imagine you have moved away from your old neighbourhood, and many years later, you return to see how things have fared in your absence. Sure, the buildings of your childhood are still standing but there are changes, both subtle and startling. The houses look smaller than you remember, some may have been renovated or completely demolished to make way for something bigger and more glossy or simply had a fresh coat of paint on the front door. That was similar to the feeling I had when the opening titles rolled by and I saw the familiar shape of the TARDIS careening through the vortex and swooping by the title.
Different in the fact that it is so new and yet it still retains all the familiar facets of the shows that had gone on before. 15 years is a long time to be away and another feeling is that in using the previous analogy, you walk up to one of the houses front doors and hesitantly bang on the door. Feelings of hesitation and expectation are there in equal doses and when the door opens to allow you egress to what is within, you cannot help but feel a moment of nervous anticipation at what lies within.
Gone are the four episode story arcs to be replaced by a 45 minute format which is more American viewer-friendly. All the action is compressed into this and the verbal interplay is still there. One thing that I did not quite get to grips with at first was the use of extensive special effects, including CGI effects which technology, back in those halcyon days, was lacking. This can be both a blessing and a curse because American viewers are spoon-fed special effects in their sci-fi series on an almost daily basis. I was heartened to see that these effects in the new show were used sparingly and only when the situation demanded it whereas in American sci-fi, special effects tend to swamp the programme and shove the vital character interplay into second place. It is obvious that the BBC wanted to make the new series one of their Saturday night flagship shows and it shows in the way they have thrown money at the series in order to both win the old guard of Doctor Who fans over and also their offspring who have only had DVD's and videos of the original series to watch in order to find out what their parents were raving about.
And now for the characters: Chris Eccleston, at first, may seem a peculiar choice to play The Doctor. But given some of the dramas he has appeared in the past, I am sure he will grow on both the old guard and the new generation of fans who even might be watching the programme for the very first time. All the previous Doctors have had one thing in common, that even though they came from a small planet in the constelation of Casterberus, they all seemed to be very well-educated and had a decidedly Home Counties accent. To pick an actor who had a decidedly Mancunian accent was quite a leap of faith by the casting crew. One thing I will definitely say in his favour is that he still displays the same beguiling mixture of childish and impish innocence and the angst of a man who knows far too much than is good for him but cannot impart that which burdens him to someone who wants to listen. To illustrate this point, there is a scene where The Doctor is in Rose's home and is confronted by her mother clad only in a dressing gown. She makes her intentions blatantly known but in the face of a sexually charged atmosphere, The Doctor delivers a perfectly innocuous remark and carries on his way. This continues on with the tradition of The Doctor not getting romantically involved with any of his assistants. A calculated risk was also taken by the choice of costume given to the Doctor. The Edwardian Dandy look is out and replaced by something more down to earth and even grungy: someone who dresses in black always bears the mark of an outsider.
Assistants in the past, apart from a few token males, have always been female and had a propensity, when faced with danger, to scream and scream again. However, in these liberated times of the emancipated female unhindered by the 'glass ceiling' of limited career prospects and is confident in her sexuality and abilities, is represented here by Rose. Locked in a drab existence with her mother, a dead end job and her emotionally weak boyfriend, she first encounters The Doctor as he is dealing with a particularly nasty sort of alien intelligence. Spurred on by an overwhelming sense of curiousity, she eventually finds out who this mysterious black-clad stranger is and eventually decides to accompany him on his travels, leaving behind her safe but drab existence.
Billie Piper, I thought, was an unusual choice of person to have as The Doctors new assistant. In the past, she was only notable for a couple of throw-away bubblegum-pop chart hits 4 or 5 years ago and a 4 year drink-sodden marriage to ginger-haired millionaire and radio tycoon Chris Evans. I did not watch the heavily modernised and up to date versions of 'Geoffrey Chaucer's:The Canterbury Tales' but I have been told that she displayed inner depths as an actress. I assume it was in line with the producers leap of faith in choosing Chris Eccleston as the new Doctor. It displays a casting away with what was deemed safe and acceptable in favour of something that was a little more risque.
This new series is definitely a show for the new millenium. One final comparison I must use is that if you were driving along in your car and upon approaching a corner, you shift down into 2nd gear when you should have changed down into 3rd, you experience that lurch when you suddenly decelerate but you soon shrug it off and carry on motoring. I remain cautiously optimistic but I wish the new show all the best and I sincerely hope it can live up to the formidable legacy left by its predecessors and maybe even surpass it. After all, these are ... different ... times...