WHO 50: 2008:
The Stolen Earth.

TV How many times since the fourth of August have you had the question? Personally, I’ve had it so many times, I’ve developed a kind of stock answer, a version of the stock answer I was using even before August 4th. You probably have your own by now, but here’s mine.

“If it isn’t going to be a woman, I’m glad it’s Peter Capaldi.”

It’s the kind of stock answer which has roughly the same effect as when I tell people that the Eighth Doctor’s my favourite. It’s so left of field, especially amongst non-fans or not-really-a-fans, that the conversation turns towards the less that predictable (“But he was only on television once.” “Well, yes but…”).

“If it isn’t going to be a woman, I’m glad it’s Peter Capaldi.”

This always leads the other person to express an opinion about whether a woman would “work” or not (you can tell a lot about a person from that answer) and away from Capaldi, unless they press the point in which case I just tend to say that I think he’ll make a fine Doctor and talk about how much of a fan he was growing up.

What does this have to do with The Stolen Earth? Because of the cliffhanger. Because of that bloody amazing and for us fans out in the world, bloody annoying cliffhanger. It’s Rose! He’s running, he’s running, he’s running, he’s shot, he’s regenerating and …

Now, Russell T Davies has said that he had no idea it would provoke the reaction it did. He was just fishing around for a cliffhanger which hadn’t been done yet and although regenerations have often been the point of a cliffhanger before, they’ve always happened at the end of stoties and after a new man’s already been announced taken over. Never before.

That it didn’t occur to him that people would really think this would be the moment when David Tennant shuffled off, turning into David Morrissey who had already been announced as appearing into the Christmas special or some other actor. That people would assume he’d have a proper send off.

Except, after all the Professor YANA business, Bad Wolf and the general tendency to go batshit crazy at the end of previous years, anything genuinely did look likely and in that moment, it did seem possible (however briefly) that indeed the following week's episode, Journey’s End would be about a regenerative Doctor’s first battle despite the title. It felt at the time like the end of an era anyway.

Writing my subsequent review (still here) I did of course realise, due to having a brain which thrumbs to the sound of Doctor Who’s narrative structure that there were plenty of ways in which this would be resolved the following week (the close up of the hand in a jar earlier in the episode a big giveaway) not least because that night Doctor Who Confidential showed Tennant talking to Davros.

But not everyone watched Confidential it seemed. Or is enough of a fan to pay attention to little details to do with hands and the like. Which meant that by the end of that day and well into the week, I was getting the questions. Is that it? Has David Tennant gone now? Who’s playing the Doctor next?

To which I was genuinely surprised and not a bit delighted. Having a brain full of mythology can ultimately dull the entertainment sometimes. One of the problems with this year’s eight episodes and many spin-offs is that because we’ve seen it all before, it’s rare that it genuinely surprises us. We tend to be able to think through things.

But more importantly, unlike the Capaldi question, I didn’t have a stock answer, plus with my foreknowledge gleaned from websites and Doctor Who Magazine and watching Confidential, I didn’t want to spoil their entertainment of not knowing, of genuinely being interested.

The conversations tended to fall into three genres. The first amounted to me lying about not knowing anything like an ambassador for the production office, and being just as excited as them to see what happened next, before steering the conversation towards convincing them to watch The Sarah Jane Adventures.

The second was with the slightly more knowledgeable viewer, but still not we, who knew that David Morrissey would be in the Christmas special and seen pap photos of the filming of The Next Doctor with David Tennant intact. They tended to want to know how he could regenerate now yet still be there at Christmas.

Again, I didn’t really know, but pondered (and to be fair these were real thoughts) if Cardiff was devious enough to have Tennant turn up on set in costume filming fake scenes so as not to give away the surprise of the regeneration in The Stolen Earth, or if he was playing a Hopkirk like ghost helping the newly regenerated Morrissey.

Sometimes I’d notice that such things had a precedence, like the appearance of Adric as a ghost in Time-Flight so that Matthew Waterhouse would be credited in the Radio Times so as not to spoil the ending of Earthshock.

Even as I write this, part of me wishes that they really had been this devious.

Then there was the odd person who was convinced that David Morrissey had already been announced as the new Doctor and people asked what I thought of him. I tended to say that I thought he’d be very good (he would have been and was), but more in the Eccleston mode of playing a role rather than himself. Or something like that.

Then, of course, a week later Tennant surprised everyone and regenerated into Catherine Tate, or something like that and plenty of the same people came back to me to ask, did you know, what did you know? To which I really didn’t have an answer but that was fine too.

Part of me wishes that the regenerations could be as much of a surprise to the viewer as most companions, that The Stolen Earth had been real. No fanfares, no specials on Saturday night, not even a midnight press release which was how Tennant was announced, no months of waiting for the next guy to take over.

What if Peter Capaldi isn’t the Twelfth Doctor? What if the whole thing is a line? What if he’s part of a big conspiratorial joke with Capaldi involved? What if he is the twelfth Doctor but only for a few seconds before a cataclysm leads to some other person standing there instead? Wouldn’t that be something?

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