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Carry on Doctor (Time Out London)

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Starring Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper and Daleks who can go upstairs, 'Doctor Who' returns to our screens this month, after a break of nine years. Here, writer Russell T Davies exclusively reveals how the sci-fi classic was brought back to life

1963 The year I was born. Seven months later, Doctor Who enters the world.

1966 The Doctor's dying. He falls to the floor of the Tardis, and regenerates into a new man. William Hartnell becomes Patrick Troughton, and some clever backstage bastard has invented a way of keeping the show alive forever. One of my sisters is yelling, and I'm sitting by the window, scared to death. Maybe that's when it happens, when my addiction is forged. I love 'Doctor Who'.

1974 Now we all love him, as Tom Baker becomes the Doctor.

Everyone is watching 'Doctor Who' now. Even girls! Kids and students and anyone with a television revel in the scarf and the jelly babies and the sheer, unbridled madness of it all.

God, it's good.

1989 'Doctor Who' vanishes more or less unmourned. It becomes a small, amateur legend, kept alive by websites and fanzines and obsession and gay men.

1996 A quick return. Paul McGann blazes on to BBC1 in a vaguely Americanised version. And it's lovely! Glossy and lively, with a wonderful, passionate Doctor, not to mention 9 million viewers. But in the US, it's scheduled against 'Roseanne', and dies again.

1997-2002 I wait. The career is going nicely, and I'm happy working for ITV and Channel 4. Every so often, there's a call from the BBC: 'Would you like to write so-and-so?' Including, believe it or not, 'A Tale of Two Cities in Outer Space'. And every time I say 'No, but how about "Doctor Who"?' 'We'll get back to you.'

2003 They get back to me. Suddenly, it's happening. BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey says yes. I don't know how it happened I still haven't asked why they decided to bring it back. I don't want to analyse it too much, and I don't want them to analyse it too much. Let's just do it.

2004 Pre-production is depressing. The tabloids are touting names for the Doctor, including Jamie Oliver and Paul Daniels. How low has the image of this programme sunk, that they could even consider casting chefs and magicians? And how many good actors would be put off by all this bollocks?

Thank God there's one who doesn't read the tabloids, or doesn't care. Chris Eccleston emails me, out of the blue. He's been out jogging, he's been thinking about the Doctor, and he wants his name to be put on the list. Chris Eccleston! We are saved. Mal Young at the BBC had already proposed his name, but I laughed it off, thinking that we didn't stand a chance. But at the same time, Chris had been looking for something different. He knows, better than anyone, his reputation for being grim and northern, which is more a result of the parts he chooses to play. Now he wants something to prove that he can be light, warm, funny.

Then Billie Piper walks into the room. She's got a cold, and I think: At least I'll be able to tell people I caught a cold off Billie Piper. Again, the tabloids have already been touting her name, but Pete Bowker, writer of one of the BBC's 'Canterbury Tales' ('The Miller's Tale', in which Piper starred), whispers across at the till in the canteen: 'She is magic.' She auditions.

Pete's undersold her. Billie becomes Rose Tyler the first Doctor companion to have a mother and a boyfriend and we have the team.

July 2004 Filming begins. It's bedlam. Most TV drama involves people sitting in offices, kitchens or bedrooms, talking. This show has got prosthetics, green-screen, explosions every single day. At one point, filming in the grounds of a country house just outside Cardiff, Phil the producer and I yearn for a scene involving two people just walking down the street. Oh, the simplicity. For years, I've been reading production anecdotes in Doctor Who Magazine about how aliens faint in the heat, pyrotechnics don't go off, Daleks can't move.

And here it is, happening in front of me. Faint, fizz, bump. But the only way to learn these lessons is to go through them, from scratch, as if the programme has never been made before.

Cast and crew bleed from the eyes, but keep going. Even in the chaos, there are hints of glory. Penelope Wilton striding down Westminster at five in the morning. The first sight of our new, gleaming Dalek (you have to go up and touch it, you just have to). Two extras transformed into aliens by putting wicker place mats over their faces. Simon Pegg as the best villain ever. And Chris and Billie together, in every scene, with every line, every glance. Proper magic.

2005 Calmness has descended. We now run the show, instead of the show running us. The Mill, our Soho FX house, is creating images of alien vistas, WWII, Victorian Cardiff, and monsters. Lots and lots of monsters. That's my favourite thing about 'Doctor Who'. While 'Star Trek' might voyage forth in the hope of friendship and diplomacy, the world of 'Doctor Who' is stuffed full of death, danger and disaster.

Every institution is corrupt, every creature is out to kill you, every new friend is likely to die. And still the Doctor never carries a gun. What a lunatic. What a hero.

Which brings us up to date still filming, but with a transmission date in place. It's strange, as a fan, to watch this happen. I've seen this show go through the highs and the lows. It went from attracting 19 million viewers to being a cheap joke.

I've heard every comedian short of material talk about the Daleks' inability to go upstairs (not any more they climb now), and I've shared pub conversations with people not fans, just people with vivid memories of the terror, the maggots, the shop-window dummies coming to life. Where are we heading now, I wonder, a high or a low?

In the end, it doesn't matter. Doctor Who is that very rare thing, a TV original, and the fact it's coming back now means it will always come back. Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Robin Hood and now the Doctor classics which get retold, reinvented and reborn, as all good stories should. I hope people enjoy the 2005 version no, I honestly hope they love it but there are many more versions to come. Maybe some three-year-old will be sitting by the window while his sister yells, and he'll watch something which, in 40 years' time, he'll write for himself. 'Doctor Who' starts on BBC1 on March 26.

10 things you didn't know about Doctor Who

1 The first episode was broadcast the day after the assassination of JFK, so viewers' minds were rather preoccupied.

2 Roy Skelton was the man originally responsible for voicing the Daleks and the Cybermen. It is not known whether he provided the voice for the children's game Speak and Spell.

3 The device that kept the series going the 'regeneration' of the Doctor was necessitated by the departure of William Hartnell who had to leave the show because was suffering from multiple sclerosis.

4 The use of vampire bats in the 1980 episode ''State of Decay' resulted in complaints from the RSPCA, and questions were asked in Parliament.

5 When Michael Grade first tried to axe the show in the '80s, he was forced to change his mind after a deluge of complaints including two death threats. Staff manning the BBC's complaint lines insist that more calls have been fielded about the programme being off air than on any other subject.

6 Doctor Who's time machine, the Tardis, is now at the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings near Bromsgrove in the Midlands. The version on display does not contain the libraries, gardens, swimming pool and cricket pavilion enjoyed by the Doctor.

7 In the Doctor's last incarnation a glossy American production with Paul McGann as the Doctor the Master was played by Eric Roberts (brother of Julia).

8 Set on the eve of the millennium in gang-ridden San Francisco, the above mentioned feature-length adventure featured the timelord's first screen kiss. Dr Grace Holloway, played by Daphne Ashbrook, was the lucky recipient.

9 The flashing discs on the Daleks were actually indicator lights from a Morris Eight car.

10 Peter Davison's rather limp Doctor wore a stick of celery on his lapel that turned purple in the presence of certain gases he was allergic to. Celery is also said to be a powerful Gallifreyan restorative.

GRAPHIC: 'We're safe up here,' remarks Jon Pertwee The new Doctor: Christopher Eccleston relaxes at home Tom Baker contemplates intergalactic Crufts

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  • APA 6th ed.: Jivani, Russell T Davies and Alkarim (2005-03-09). Carry on Doctor (Time Out London). Time Out London p. 14.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Jivani, Russell T Davies and Alkarim. "Carry on Doctor (Time Out London)." Time Out London [add city] 2005-03-09, 14. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Jivani, Russell T Davies and Alkarim. "Carry on Doctor (Time Out London)." Time Out London, edition, sec., 2005-03-09
  • Turabian: Jivani, Russell T Davies and Alkarim. "Carry on Doctor (Time Out London)." Time Out London, 2005-03-09, section, 14 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Carry on Doctor (Time Out London) | url= | work=Time Out London | pages=14 | date=2005-03-09 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 February 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Carry on Doctor (Time Out London) | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 February 2024}}</ref>