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Oh, My Time Lord

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Oh, My Time Lord; It Has Taken 16 Years And £10m But Doctor Who Finally Returns

BYLINE: GRAHAM KEAL The actors who played Dr Who are (left) William Hartnell (1963-66); Patrick Troughton (1966-69); Jon Pertwee (1970-74); Tom Baker (1974-81); (right) Peter Davison (1982-84); Colin Baker (1984-86); Sylvester McCoy (1987-96); Paul McGann (1996) and centre, Christopher Eccleston, the latest Time Lord; Montage, by Dean Peach; Scary monsters: some of the new monsters who'll be making us hide behind the sofa are, from left, the Autons, alien ambassadors from the year five billion, the face of Boe; Billie Piper is a role model for girls in her new role as Rose, her co-star Christopher Eccleston claims

New Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston is on a low stage in front of 300 journalists and BBC staffers.

For an intensely private man described in past interviews as "Eeyore with sex appeal" and "a buttoned-up miseryguts" he looks surprisingly cheery.

In fact he's clearly loving it. Gossip guru Jessica from The Mirror - one of the tabloid's notorious 3am Girls - accuses him of being one of the sexiest Doctor Whos we've ever had.

"Well, Jessica from The Mirror," beams Eccleston, "You can come again!"

Eccleston, 41, is known for the intensity of his performances and for his impatience with journalists who want to delve into his personal life.

So, his easy banter with massed ranks of hacks from Britain, Canada, America and Holland at thelavish launch, held at the imposing St David's Hotel overlooking Cardiff Bay, is rather astonishing.

But no more astonishing than his decision to take the role in the first place. How hard had it been to decide to live his life in a goldfish bowl from now on?

"Easy. I didn't even think about it. I read that Russell (Russell T Davies, chief architect of the Doctor Who revival, chief writer and executive producer) was going to do it and I emailed him saying: When you draw up an audition list, put my name on it'."

Eccleston is the ninth TV Doctor Who, not counting Peter Cushing, who took on the role for two movie spin-offs.

The definitive Doctor, Tom Baker, revelled in the fame and adulation the role brought him and is still enjoying it more than 30 years on, but was Christopher really readyfor such a wholesale invasion of Planet Privacy?

"Only time will tell, and I think there are still ways to remain private. Some people in the industry will use their personal lives ratherthan their performances to further their career. I don't think that's right.

"I've always hoped that theperformance I give will get me another job, and that that will be enough. If you give viewers a good performance, they will invest in you, whether you're sleeping with a goat or what ...

"I've met a number of Whovians', really serious Doctor Who fans, and they've been so kind to me and so generous and excited about the series.

"They're not interested in gossip about me, they're interested in the myth of the Doctor and in the series. So I think I can handle all that. I'll try."

Subsequent tabloid revelations alleging a passionate affair with a beautiful young Welsh actress he met while making the series in Cardiff (even though episode one is set in London) may have dented his optimism, but you have to admire his chutzpah.

The humour Ecclestondemonstrated at the press launch is equally evident in the first fastmoving episode as The Doctor recruits Billie Piper in his battle against the Autons, shop mannequins turned into hostile "living plastic" by an amorphous, glowing, alien blob.

Russell T's dialogue is sharp and funny and the special effects also show that the rumoured £10m budget (which Russell would not confirm or deny) has been very well spent.

There is also great chemistry between Eccleston's Doctor and new assistant Rose Tyler (Piper), a 19-year-old shopgirl with untapped reserves of courage and ingenuity.

The Doctor's previous incarnations have all been curiously celibate, but this is a sexy new Doctor with unspoken possibilities So is this Doctor Who's first romance? "I'm not going to give anything away like that, but as far as I'm concerned they love each other.

"I think it's love at first sight, but it's not perhaps a conventional love affair. It's far more mysterious than that - as is love, I suppose."

The duo's on-screen chemistry seems to have come naturally from their own compatibility and the intensity of the shoot.

"I think we were well cast. We had a great time. We were thrown together for eight months, six days a week, 14, 16, hours a day, both with our careers on the line, and I think we did really well.

"Doctor Who's always been a hero, but there's been no heroine out therefor young girls or women. Now we've got one. She carries the series with me and she saves my life in episode one. A man and a woman do this thing together.

"She teaches him huge emotional lessons, and he teaches her, too. Billie pulls it off like that," says Eccleston, snapping his fingers.

As the most emancipated Doctor's assistant ever, former pop star Billie tackles everything from marauding shop dummies ("Who were they then? Students?") to the harpy-like Reapers and the ever-popular Daleks, but the really scary bit came earlier.

"Auditioning is the most terrifying part of my job," she reveals. "I have to audition for everything and I hate it but I have to go through thatprocess to feel that I've really earned the part on my own merit, otherwise it feels too easy."

She made an impressive acting debut in BBC1's rampant remake of The Canterbury Tales, as the object of Jimmy Nesbitt's lust in The Miller's Tale, but she was a trainee actress (having won a scholarship to the Sylvia Young Theatre School) well before she became a teen pop princess.

One impossibly optimistic journalist asks her if she remembers much about "the original Doctor Who", but she really would need to be a time traveller to do that.

William Hartnell flew the TARDIS as the irascible first Doctor in 1963 and Billie, 22, was 20 years too late for that.

"I do remember it being on but we never sat around and watched it as a family."

So, with no new episodes since 1989, apart from a poorly received TV movie starring Paul McGann in 1996, had she really grasped what a big deal this would be?

"Yeah, I did have an idea but at the beginning I made a conscious effort not to think about the scale, the size, the sheer amount of work and all the anticipation and expectation surrounding the show.

"It's only now, talking to all of you, that it's sinking in and I'm slightly overwhelmed, now that it's about to have its transmission. It's quite scary. I guess I'm just going to have to take it as it comes."

In fact Billie seems remarkably unfazed by all the hoo-ha.

As Rose she is "feisty, gutsy, impulsive, she's got balls" and you could say the same for Billie.

She is also friendly, frank, unpretentious, beautiful and surprisingly posh - more ex-Swiss finishing school than ex-pop star.

Yet aside from the stresses of by far her biggest acting role to date she also had the paparazzi to contend with as they stalked her over the break-up of her marriage to Chris Evans, which all came out during her stint in Cardiff.

Did the intrusive lenses get to her?

"No, not at all. It's a cliche, but when you're working with a crew for eight months you do become a family, so you are in a bubble, and I was pretty much oblivious to everything that was going on outside Doctor Who.

"I think I had to be. My focus wason my work and I think it would have suffered if I'd got caught up in anything else."

Even so it can't have been easy. Evans himself recently hinted that the long separations had a bearing on their break-up, but Billie dismisses the idea: "I don't blame thejob at all, not at all. I think whatever happened between Chris and I would have happened in the end anyway. I would never ever say that Doctor Who was responsible for my divorce. I think that would be stupid."

Her biggest problem technicallywas acting against the blank green screen which, in the finished films, contains all the special effects monsters which The Doctor and Billie are up against - "but when you see it, that's the most rewarding part!"

As for the stunts, she's confident enough to admit they are her weakest link.

"I've been really bad at stunts! I didn't realise how crap I was.

"Every time I did a stunt I ended up trashing the set. I didn't do anything terrible - just cut my gums a few times, and broke so many propsit's a joke. I think it's because I'm so keen to get it right and really go for it that I over-compensate, and then find myself in the matron's room

Doctor Who returns tonight at 7pm on BBC1 and runs for 13 weeks

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  • APA 6th ed.: Keal, Graham (2005-03-26). Oh, My Time Lord. Birmingham Post p. 43.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Keal, Graham. "Oh, My Time Lord." Birmingham Post [add city] 2005-03-26, 43. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Keal, Graham. "Oh, My Time Lord." Birmingham Post, edition, sec., 2005-03-26
  • Turabian: Keal, Graham. "Oh, My Time Lord." Birmingham Post, 2005-03-26, section, 43 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Oh, My Time Lord | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Oh,_My_Time_Lord | work=Birmingham Post | pages=43 | date=2005-03-26 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 September 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Oh, My Time Lord | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Oh,_My_Time_Lord | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 September 2019}}</ref>