Doctor Who (BBC 1)
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…..
To receive updates from Shouting at the Telly, either subscribe using the buttons above, like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.
3 thoughts on “Doctor Who (BBC 1)”
Oh, you started so well, and then fell into the Gaping Hole of Lazy Journalism that awaits many an unwary traveller while negotiating the overgrown jungles of the Classic Series. Doctor Who wasn’t axed by Michael Grade in 1989. Grade wasn’t even BBC Controller as he had already magically Regenerated into Channel 4 Controller at the beginning of 1988. Yes, Grade was responsible for the 18 month hiatus in 1985, but it was the BBC (no mustachioed villain, no Big Bad) who cancelled Doctor Who four years later.
Apart from that, not a bad article. I’d definitely agree that the new series has got faster and more action-paced (Eccleston’s series looks pedestrian by comparison), but disagree that this is just Doctor Who. All drama (and especially SF drama) has got snappier over the past decade (and I watch a lot of it so I know from whence I speak). It’s how Television is now. Doctor Who’s just keeping up with the competition.
One last question though. Who’s Matt Baker?
Thank you for kind comments/corrections. I was relying on my memory and didn’t check the Grade fact. I will alter the article accordingly. Would you agree that it was the controller of BBC One Jonathan Powell who decided to “suspend” the series? I also agree that all drama is faster as I eluded to with my comments about how staid some of the dramas of the 1970’s look.
As for the Matt Baker slip, I think it would be great to have a geordie doctor! And let’s be honest, he’s already all over the BBC One schedules on Sunday to Monday, so why not Saturday as well? 😉
Thanks again for the comments
Haha! A Geordie Doctor? “Gallifrey and s**te!”
As to the corrections, I hope you took it in the jovial spirit it was meant. it’s so difficult to not sound grumpy and vindictive in comments without peppering it with endless smilies!
I guess it probably was the BBC One Controller at the time who had the final say in suspending the series in 1989, but Jonathan Powell isn’t anywhere near as well known as Michael Grade (who was very vocal in his dislike of Doctor Who when he put it on hiatus during Colin Baker’s tenure), so it’s not surprising he isn’t specifically blamed.
However we as fans might have felt about the 1989 cancellation, it’s hard not to see it as being justified though, purely by audience viewing figures. A few years ago I decided to undertake an analysis of the ratings for both the new and classic series, and attempt to put them in context of their time. Considering at the time there were only 4 terrestrial channels, an average of 4.2 million viewers for a programme that you’ve got no chance of seeing again (unless you’re one of the lucky few with a VCR) does indicate that very few mainstream viewers cared. And we’re not talking Overnights vs Finals, as back then all viewing figures were finals.
[The below is for your information only, probably best if you don’t include my link in the Comment as although I’m happy to have the odd viewer, I know what Doctor Who fans are like if they don’t agree with something – my Guestbook will go into meltdown!]
Here’s my thoughts on Season 26. Feel free to view the rest by clicking on Home (which will also allow you to get to my take on the new series – I haven’t addressed New Series 10 yet). Any comments or corrections from you are more than welcome.