A decade after Doctor Who burst back onto our screens, Susan Calman has a proposition for its makers.
Before I start, let me just say all opinions expressed here are my own and should be accepted as such. The quality, or otherwise, of Doctor Who episodes, characters and storylines can cause online debate the likes of which would only normally be seen after Question Time. This article may also contain spoilers, so if you’ve been saving a decade worth of episodes to watch over the Easter weekend, stop reading now. Or avoid the bits where I’ve written SPOILER. Finally, I’m aware writing any opinion piece on such a treasured institution could cause offence or, indeed, anger. But I don’t care, because I don’t like Doctor Who, I love it.
It’s strange to think there are young people who only know Doctor Who as a fashionable, popular, cool guy who scores high ratings and excellent reviews. They don’t remember the bad times. The years of decline, criticism and low budgets.
I do. I’m not a fair weather fan; I stuck with the show when others scoffed at it. I didn’t mind the Kandyman, Paradise Towers and even Bonnie Langford. Yes. Even Bonnie Langford. I’ve defended Sylvester McCoy and Ace, sometimes to the point of anger when friends suggested the show was rubbish. And don’t start me on the whole Doctor Who mythology. I clearly recall standing on a chair one evening in a pub in Glasgow screaming, “The Doctor can be a woman!” as my friend shouted, “You make me sick!”
But, even though I’m a superfan, I was more than a bit concerned 10 years ago when the BBC announced the return of the show. Before that, the Doctor was last glimpsed on television in the American co-production starring Paul McGann, which, despite being enjoyable, didn’t really float my boat. Mainly because the Doctor had become almost foppish and was morphing, more and more, into a character in a Victorian romance. He snogged a woman, for goodness sake! The Doctor didn’t snog people! (Spoiler alert! The new series has quite a lot of sexual tension in it between a lot of characters and I think I’ve matured enough to deal with it. Well done me.) But a Heathcliff character wasn’t who my Doctor was. He was a loner, a Time Lord, a warrior, tortured by all he’d seen and done.
The question looming in my mind was: would the BBC allow the Doctor to be the alien he should be? Or would they produce a saccharine, fluffy, kids’ show that would slowly whimper and die as it landed, out of touch with contemporary culture?
The day it started, I cleared the afternoon and evening just so I could be completely prepared. I ate my dinner early to prevent distractions. I even bought a new television just so I could watch the coming of a new era on as big a screen as possible.
The theme tune started and I was in. And I mean IN! Christopher Eccleston was just right. Slightly detached, occasionally unhinged but, more importantly, quite real. With his leather jacket and short hair he had none of the ‘new romantic’ characteristics which had crept into the wardrobe of his predecessors. But, even more than the Northern charm of the new guy, the two things that made it work for me were Russell T. Davies and Billie Piper.
Russell T. Davies, best known at that time as the writer of Queer as Folk, was a credible creative with a dark sense of mischief and a deep love of the show. And, after the less than positive reception given to previous assistants, Billie Piper grew into her role with charm and emotion. Her departure, I’m not ashamed to say, made me cry.
The first episode wasn’t perfect, of course, but what it did was launch the series into a new dimension. It made it relevant and contemporary to a new audience and reassured those of us who’d loved the show in its original form that it was all going to be alright.
Any show which has fans poring over every detail will have critics. I have, at times, sighed over some of the stories and the meta nature of the plots. But I’ve also applauded, laughed and cried, in equal measure. River Song makes me clap my hands every time she appears. The fear of Blink stayed with me for some time afterwards. And when (SPOILER) Michelle Gomez appeared as the Master, I could be heard cheering miles away. I also called my friend up and shouted, “I TOLD YOU SO!” then hung up. I’m surprised we’re still speaking.
Anyone who knows me will be aware I have one ambition in life – to be the first female Doctor. A decade ago it became not just an ambition, but also an obsession. I didn’t just want to be the Doctor because of who he was but because the show itself was finally what it should be again. I want to be (SPOILER) married to River Song. I want to (SPOILER) go to a gay club with Captain Jack. I want to be an action figure. I’ve even got my outfit.
And so I conclude with a challenge. Whenever the BBC is ready to make that final brilliant step, I am. And at least when Peter Capaldi is ready to go I won’t even need to change the accent.1043 Views
Susan is a comedian and writer who sometimes appears on things like the News Quiz and QI.