Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

A new Who does it

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2005-03-24 Guardian.jpg


The new series of Dr Who is sharp, witty and still very scary, says Sylvester McCoy (left), a past inhabitant of the tardis. Just don't listen to the incidental music

Everybody says now that when Doctor Who was on, they were so frightened they would hide behind the sofa. I did, too, back in my day as the Doctor, but only because I couldn't face watching myself. Now I'm a mere mortal, it's nice to relax on the couch, instead of behind it, and let it wash over me.

I was a bit worried that the new series might not work. Paul McGann played the doctor in the big-budget American film version of 1996 and although I enjoyed it, something about it did not quite gel. But this new version with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as his assistant, Rose, is just wonderful. Part of its charm is the way in which it makes a sly wink to earlier series. Even the storyline of the first instalment harks back to a lost episode that the BBC never got round to showing - it had taped over it with Match of the Day or something. In it, shop mannequins come to life and terrorise a city, which is what happens here, in London's Oxford Street, in the department store where Rose works.

There is another lovely bit where a nerd is researching Doctor Who on the internet. We go back in time and see pictures of Eccleston's Doctor standing on the grassy knoll in Dallas, Texas, where Kennedy was assassinated. The interesting thing here is that the first Doctor Who in 1963 went out the day Kennedy was shot - the BBC repeated the episode the following week in case anyone missed it in the confusion. That is the kind of attention to detail that nerds really love.

But if there is one thing that is going to get the Whovians going crazy on the web forums, it is the new tardis. They have changed it! For one thing, it is brand, spanking new, as if it has come straight from the shop. My tardis, the original one, was so battered and bruised it would have been condemned as unsafe, but this one doesn't have a scratch on it. It is not very realistic: we all know now that when a space shuttle comes back to earth it has at least one dent. The inside is going to be the biggest talking point, though. It is like the inside of a body; it looks almost alive. There is a new control panel, too. Bigger budget, I guess, although it is still not big enough: there is one set that is supposed to be a dungeon beneath the millennium wheel, and it has that studio-bound feel.

It might have mostly been filmed in Cardiff, but you get a wonderful feel for modern, multicultural London. Just as Doctor Who in the 60s reflected the way in which Britain was swinging, exploding out of a cocoon of postwar gloominess, this shows the exciting, extraordinary London of 2005. I loved seeing the characters running across Westminster Bridge; it brought back memories of an old episode in which the daleks took the same route, with parliament in the background. The daleks look just the same, by the way, although I think they might have been put on a diet: they are a bit thinner now."

You can tell that the writers love Doctor Who, because of all the references to the old days, and the writing is crisper than ever. It is sharp and often very witty, but not overblown.

There is even a great Reithian moment. Lord Reith, of course, when he set up the BBC, wanted to educate people. And when Doctor Who was first aired, its job was to encourage interest in science. Harold Wilson, who was prime minister at the time, talked about the "white heat of technology" in the 60s. In this first episode, the Doctor suddenly stops and talks about the world. He describes how he feels it and stands on it and talks about the speed of the world spinning on its axis, and the circumference of the globe. Suddenly there's a little science lesson wittily and beautifully placed. It doesn't feel at all incongruous. Lord Reith would be dancing in his grave.

There are clever, subtle nods to current affairs too - the mannequins coming to life and massacring people on the streets touches on the modern fear of going shopping and being gunned down by terrorists. And there is a scary Jabba the Hut-type creature, a sort of jelly monster intent on destroying humanity by turning everything into plastic, because it needs all the plastic in the world to survive, which touches on ecological issues.

It is very scary, just like in the old days, but now children will be frightened of mannequins. And dustbins - there's a wonderful bit where a wheelie bin attacks someone and sucks them in before eating them up. And a sequence where Rose's boyfriend is turned into plastic and runs amok in a restaurant after his head has been torn off and his hands have changed into great anvil hammers! The theme tune is as eerie as before, although the incidental music is not up to much. It sounds as if it has been recorded on a cheap synthesiser in a back-room somewhere.

Eccleston makes a fabulous Doctor. Within minutes you truly believe that he has been around for 950 years. He has a frightening manic grin and rushes towards violence and danger with a lunatic's joy. It is brilliant to have such a great actor for the part. It's the way to go. When I got picked for it, quite a lot of people were apprehensive because I had only really been on children's TV at that point, so it's good to have somebody everyone knows already.

And Billie Piper as Rose is awesome, just wonderful to watch. She's real, she's there, she's now; she makes you believe the most unbelievable things. Apparently she's had quite a turbulent personal life, but I don't read the tabloids. All I know is that she is so right for the part. Russell T Davies says she is going to be our next great Hollywood export and on the basis of this performance, I can well believe it.

Sylvester McCoy was talking to Helen Pidd. The new Doctor Who starts on BBC1 at 7pm on Saturday. McCoy is appearing in Arsenic and Old Lace at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking.

Caption: Without a scratch ... the 2005 version of the tardis

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  • APA 6th ed.: McCoy, Sylvester (2005-03-24). A new Who does it. The Guardian p. 7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McCoy, Sylvester. "A new Who does it." The Guardian [add city] 2005-03-24, 7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McCoy, Sylvester. "A new Who does it." The Guardian, edition, sec., 2005-03-24
  • Turabian: McCoy, Sylvester. "A new Who does it." The Guardian, 2005-03-24, section, 7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A new Who does it | url= | work=The Guardian | pages=7 | date=2005-03-24 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 April 2024 }}</ref>
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