The Noughties: Doctor Who's Decade. Part Two


16 October 2009 Cardiff Bay, originally uploaded by omicron_22.

Clearly, Doctor Who's best moment this decade was returning to television. Believe it or not, there are still some fans who consider it the nadir, either because they don't like the way that it's developed under Russell T Davies or because they miss the small community nature of fandom as it was earlier this decade. They're wrong. The franchise thrives through its popularity and would otherwise have withered within a few years.

Timey-Whimy

The departure of one of the franchises most unsung of companions, Charley Pollard, who travelled with the Eighth Doctor for the first half of this decade was a head spinner. The Edwardian adventuress’s tenure came to a close with Alan Barnes’s audio adventure The Girl Who Never Was. For reasons too complicated to describe here, at the close of the adventure the Doctor thinks Charley has left him voluntarily, and we’re led to believe she’s dead. For loads of fans that’s how the story concluded. Except for those of us who actually like the David Arnold mix of the theme and listened to the end, at which point we were greeted with a coda in we discovered Charley alive but marooned in the 51st century. A distress signal which is answered with the sound of the TARDIS materialising. The door opens. She gleefully steps inside but she’s actually been rescued by the Sixth Doctor and the adventures continue. Companions have often returned for adventures with a later incarnation (Sarah Jane Smith and ...), but this was the first time (I can think of) one had stepped backwards in relative time, with the added twist that she couldn’t tell this unfamiliar version of their collective future.

More Timey-Whimy

When the new series was announced and that it would be produced in Cardiff, my first reaction was to book an overnighter to the city. In other words, I visited the locations of the new Doctor Who and later Torchwood before they’d even been used, stood above the time rift even before Russell T Davies had decided where to put it. The excitement within the city was already tangible. I remember sitting in a coffee shop and listening to a barista talking about a job he’d been offered playing an alien because he’s tall “in some new series which is being film in Cardiff later in the year” and thinking what a good location Cardiff Castle would make (which it did eventually). The only problem is, like the people of Cardiff, it can be a bit difficult to suspend your disbelief when you see a street which is supposed to be doubling for some part of London, like the shopping centre invaded by Autons in ‘Rose’, when it’s quite clearly in South Wales.

Clatter

Taking up more space on the shelf than is necessary and falling to bits just four years later, the first release of season one of the revival was in the slightly squat shape of a TARDIS which opened up to reveal the console room inside. Some fans complained that when it was sent through the post, the discs fell out of the inside and scratched and others that it gave them an uncomfortable reminder of the police box shaped tin that Trial of a Timelord was supplied in on VHS. But the fact that it existed at all just a few years after even the prospect of a new television series looked like a myth made it incredibly special. Plus it’s a useful place to store some of the tat which has been given away with Doctor Who Adventures comic.

Wait, what, how long?

Some of us have quite a soft spot for The Infinite Quest, the much maligned flash animated adventure which appeared in three minute chunks during kids show Totally Doctor Who during the revival’s third year. An episodic faff around the four corners of time and space, it recalls those classic stories in which the travellers would pitch up in a different location each week, but with an umbrella story governing their hippity-hopping, in this case stopping a manic space pirate Balthazaar from gaining an powerful jewel. Very much for kids, it still has some lovely Doctor and Martha moments, not least at the close of the story when the timelord explains how he managed to escape the clutches of the space prison Volag-Noc, then spent the next three years reforming it. Martha registers surprise and then it’s gone. It’s never been referred to since and it renders his big speech in Christmas story with Kylie, The Voyage of the Damned, inaccurate, but it’s a wonderful demonstration that for the Doctor, time is relative.

Who?

There have been a fair few gauges as to how the popularity of the new series has exceeded expectations, but there’s none more extreme than the idea that six million people would tune in for a special episode of Doctor Who Confidential broadcast at tea time on a Saturday to reveal who would be following David Tennant in the role. In the past this was the kind of information that would have sneaked out in a press release and an interview with shots of a press conference at the end of the nine o’clock news. Yet here we all were, out hearts thumping through a lengthy description of all the previous regenerations with Russell T Davies saying some nice things about Paul McGann before Matt Smith’s face filled the screen to be greeted with a collective “Who?” from the uninitiated and smugness and glee from those of us who’d bothered to watch the (swiftly repeated on BBC Four) Party Animals the year before.


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