Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Richard E Grant's emergence as the ninth Doctor Who - albeit in cartoon form - will also herald the character's full regeneration on television

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A NEW series of Doctor Who is like the passing of Halley's Comet - a celestial event occurring sporadically, scrutinised closely by fans, and which causes an otherwise earth-bound populous to look into space. It is an event. And now, after exactly 40 years of roaming the universe's highways and byways the white heat of a Doctor regeneration is coming into orbit once more. Richard E Grant is the face of the ninth Doctor. More accurately he is the voice, as he only exists as an internet animation.

The space-time continuum has moved through eight barren years since the last and eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, appeared in a much-lamented TV movie. Its lack of mainstream success exterminated any hopes of a new series and the Doctor has languished in a production black hole ever since. Finally the Tardis has come to rest online.

This Thursday on BBCi, the BBC's internet site, the ninth Doctor will step from his police box and, the producers hope, from the shadows of the previous eight in a specially commissioned six-part adventure: Scream Of The Shalka. This time around Withnail And I star Richard E Grant steps into the Doctor's well-travelled shoes. According to Shalka's executive producer, Martin Trickey, the actor's otherworldy look and pointed enunciation made him first choice for the part.

"We drew up a list, and it very quickly became a very short list with Richard E Grant sitting right at the top. He was always up there," he says. "He seemed very keen. But he'd never seen Doctor Who as a kid because he wasn't living in the UK."

In contrast, scriptwriter Paul Cornell's youth was spent immersed in the Doctor's universe.

"I played it in the playground," he admits. "But I was too frightened to see it initially. I fully expected the Doctor to lose, and after he won I was so pleased and amazed. It had the effect on you of a story by the Brothers Grimm, that wonderful release for a kid of seeing something scary that turns out to be alright in the end. I wasn't just behind the sofa. I was in a completely different room."

Cornell describes the new Doctor as "a gothic hero dressed in an Edwardian suit" and "darker than before". The online version does not deal with the Doctor's much-mooted sexual ambiguity. Speculation has been helped no end by Queer As Folk writer Russell T Davies being hired to write the new TV series, due to premiere in 2005.

"The thing is, the Doctor is completely sexless anyway, so gay or straight is very hard to tell, "Cornell laughs. The scriptwriter, whose other credits include Casualty and Coronation Street, is equally cagey about the new instalment's plot. He likens it to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and sums it up as: "Alien forces threaten ordinary little British town in Lancashire."

The Time Lord has protected us from a rogues gallery of Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti, and The Master for 40 years, but he could not protect himself from his most callous and unfeeling enemy: sliding ratings. When in 1989 just three million viewers tuned in to a show that attracted 16m during its Tom Baker peak, the BBC pulled the plug.

So why does Cornell believe the Doctor still has relevance?

"He's kind of a hero you don't get very much these days," he explains. "He doesn't believe in violence; he believes in outwitting the monsters. He's very attractive to bullied kids in the playground for that reason. And I think all of us who have got careers out of this, and there are a huge number at the BBC especially, were all bullied kids."

Despite the airwaves remaining silent, the Doctor's adventures have continued online. Shalka is in fact the culmination of a series of internet webcasts, previously featuring existing Doctors. Sylvester McCoy lent his voice to Death Comes To Time; Colin Baker was involved in Real Time, and Paul McGann starred in Shada, a "lost" TV script written by the late Douglas Adams back in the 1970s. All the webcasts featured rudimentary animation to visualise what were essentially radio dramas. But according to Trickey, Scream Of The Shalka is more akin to a cartoon thanks to the work of animation house Cosgrove Hall.

Last weekend a few episodes were shown at Panopticon, the UK's largest fan convention. Cornell and Trickey say it was rapturously embraced, much to their relief.

"It's amazing how many people love it so much when it hasn't been around for over a decade. But the passion is still there," says Trickey.

Doctor Who's notoriously fickle fans, of course, may be harder to please. For Cornell, the huge expectation and pressure of creating a new Doctor almost sent him scurrying behind the sofa.

"It's incredibly terrifying," he admits. "And with a very demanding fan-base, they know what they like from Doctor Who. The trouble is in 40 years Doctor Who has been so many different things that it is very hard to get two fans to agree on exactly what it is."

And those four decades of production, while being a deep well of material to draw upon, are something of a poisoned chalice. In order that the Doctor didn't trip over the long scarf of history, Trickey decided to cut links with his past.

"We've really tried to avoid looking back," he says. "There are so many different stories that have happened over the years. If you try and keep the continuity completely, you get into huge quagmires about 'did he do that'. For anything that has a great following, people will argue about continuity issues."

According to the Doctor Who website, the biggest issue dividing the fans over the new series is the casting of Grant. Being the star of a internet show, does he really constitute the ninth Doctor? Such debate does not worry Trickey. "The BBC said it was the ninth Doctor, so that's great. Is it part of the canon? I don't know. There's a big argument raging on the message board. I just hope people enjoy it. That's the main thing. Whether people choose to see it as the official ninth doctor or not is really up to them."

Either way it is a bold move on BBCi's part, testing Doctor Who fan loyalty in a new medium. The next six weeks will determine whether Richard E Grant's online ninth Doctor will go supernova or implode.

GRAPHIC: Who are the Doctors? From left, in chronological order: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann; The ninth incarnation of Doctor Who marries the voice of Richard E Grant with internet animation Photograph: BBC

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  • APA 6th ed.: McCracken, Edd (2003-11-09). Richard E Grant's emergence as the ninth Doctor Who - albeit in cartoon form - will also herald the character's full regeneration on television. Sunday Herald p. 7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McCracken, Edd. "Richard E Grant's emergence as the ninth Doctor Who - albeit in cartoon form - will also herald the character's full regeneration on television." Sunday Herald [add city] 2003-11-09, 7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McCracken, Edd. "Richard E Grant's emergence as the ninth Doctor Who - albeit in cartoon form - will also herald the character's full regeneration on television." Sunday Herald, edition, sec., 2003-11-09
  • Turabian: McCracken, Edd. "Richard E Grant's emergence as the ninth Doctor Who - albeit in cartoon form - will also herald the character's full regeneration on television." Sunday Herald, 2003-11-09, section, 7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Richard E Grant's emergence as the ninth Doctor Who - albeit in cartoon form - will also herald the character's full regeneration on television | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Richard_E_Grant%27s_emergence_as_the_ninth_Doctor_Who_-_albeit_in_cartoon_form_-_will_also_herald_the_character%27s_full_regeneration_on_television | work=Sunday Herald | pages=7 | date=2003-11-09 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=7 February 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Richard E Grant's emergence as the ninth Doctor Who - albeit in cartoon form - will also herald the character's full regeneration on television | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Richard_E_Grant%27s_emergence_as_the_ninth_Doctor_Who_-_albeit_in_cartoon_form_-_will_also_herald_the_character%27s_full_regeneration_on_television | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=7 February 2023}}</ref>