This weekend saw the return of Doctor Who for its 10th (new) season and the last for Peter Capaldi. I have always had a hot/cold relationship with the Doctor (the one on TV, not my GP. I’ve always really liked her; but her hands can be a bit cold). As a child Tom Baker was my Doctor. I loved him. He was funny, eccentric and the stories were genuinely exciting (for a 5-year-old). Looking back on those shows yes, the scenery moved, the special effects were neither special nor effectual and the acting was…well a bit hammy. But it was the 70’s, all TV was like that. I was watching an old episode of Upstairs Downstairs on ITV 3+1 (which by my reckoning makes it ITV 4, but it wasn’t, as that was showing Family Guy at the time). Again, the sets wobbled (a bit) and it was all a bit staid…and this is regarded as a classic. Alas trying to compare an old TV series and new TV series is impossible. It was of the time, and for the target audience (i.e. me) it was great.
But then in 1977 a revelation happened. It was Star Wars. On the big screen, no sets wobbled and the effects were more than special; they were amazing. This prompted a series of American TV “look-a-likes” including Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979) which ITV bought and my head was turned. My fondness for the sanctimonious K9 was replaced by the charming Twiki (“Biddi-biddi-biddi…what’s up Buck?”); the sets were amazing and never involved a trip to a quarry in Cornwall and the special effects were, well, special. (Saying all this, again, if you watch episodes back on YouTube, time has not been kind on them either. I refer the reader to my point in paragraph one.) I’m afraid I missed the tail end of the Tom Baker years as my Saturday evenings had been hijacked by them pesky Americans.
Meanwhile (mainly because I was no longer watching) Doctor Who was suffering. After 7 years (172 episodes) Tom Baker left and was replaced by Tristan off All Creatures Great and Small. The BBC seemed to decide that Saturday evenings were too competitive and moved the series to twice weekly…in the week! This was perfect as I could return to my first love in the week, whilst still seeing my more exciting American mistress on the weekend (I’m going to stop this analogy right now). Peter Davidson was, by some, considered to be a bit bland as a Doctor, but there again they hadn’t seen Colin Baker yet, so they were being a bit premature. I really liked Peter Davison’s Doctor and wanted to go out and buy a panama hat, a shirt with question marks on the collars and attach a stick celery to the lapel of my school blazer; but that would have resulted in me having the stuffing kicked out of me at school, so I refrained on all three counts. For 69 episodes, Doctor Who was back on track, then Colin Baker (31 episodes) came along and it moved back to Saturdays. The rot seemed to set in then so by the time Sylvester McCoy (42 episodes) arrived, the Doctor was changing more frequently than Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet. Eventually it was axed in 1989 by BBC 1 controller Michael Grade.
In 1996 there was a one-off movie with Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor; but it was nearly a decade later in 2005 when Queer as Folk writer and Doctor Who aficionado Russel T Davies rebooted the series with Christopher Eccleston playing the Doctor. It went down a storm, so Eccleston, learning a trick from the previous three doctors, left after 13 episodes. Bummer. Luckily the 10th Doctor David Tennant had more staying power and over his 47 episodes took the Doctor to greater heights than ever before. So he left and Matt Smith took over as “the youngest ever Doctor” in 2010. (I think it must be said that even though Matt Smith was the youngest actor to play him, he played the character old. The way he talked, his mannerisms, his vocabulary, was more reminiscent of William Hartnell, whereas Eccleston and Tennant both seemed to be channelling Baker.)
In this “new series” the stories, sets and effects now matched (more or less) Hollywood and the quarry in Cornwall was never used; but Cardiff was. A lot. There was a slight “year zero” rewriting of history with this new series though. This weekend’s series is billed as “season 10” whereas in fact it’s season 36. The new boys like to make reference to the original series when it suits, but a lot of the time they seem to distance themselves (in time and space. Sorry that was a lame Tardis gag). The only problem I have found with the new series is the pace. It’s too fast. I don’t mean that the action is too fast (ok I do mean that a bit; I did have to watch David Tennant’s episodes a couple of times to catch up with what was going on); but the whole pace of the series. Perhaps the writers are more aware that the series could be axed at any point so they want to get everything into every season…just in case it is the last. Unfortunately, this has led to it becoming the televisual experience of “turning it up to eleven”, forgetting that next season they have to turn it up to twelve.
Every season finale got bigger and new more complicated concepts were created, parallel existences were created, the Daleks were beaten, but not quite, or were they? I can’t remember. Oh and his sonic screwdriver. Never did the other Doctors quite rely on their sonic screwdrivers to get them out of scrapes like this lot did. By the time Matt Baker came along they had run out of options so had to start on the Doctor having a wife and child and introduce the silence. The show had disappeared up its own black hole and I gave up on it… again.
Then Capaldi appeared as the 12th Doctor. With the hair of Pertwee, the humour of Baker and the snappiness of Hartnell, he properly embodied the Doctor better than any of his predecessors. He has also decided to leave after 3 seasons, so this 10th (36th) outing is his final one. As with all season openers when a new companion is introduced, the story is theirs. So we met Billy, who fell in love with a fellow student, who turned into something out of the Abyss, so they went and met some Daleks via the end of time to try and get rid of her, only to realise that Billy just had to dump her properly. It’s called closure. I think that was it in a nutshell. Along the way there were some laughs, some action and some frights (I ain’t mopping up that puddle on the patio). You know what. You’ve got me. I’m back in the Doctor Who fold and the season is on series link. I think it’s going to work out with this Capaldi bloke. Oh hold on…..