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The Queen has a new favourite Doctor

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2006-02-25 National Post.jpg


The Queen has a new favourite Doctor: Original series lasted over 26 years with over 700 episodes produced during that time

The box set of the newest season of Doctor Who missed a great advertising opportunity: It could have been labelled "Official purveyors of DVDs to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II."

The story is that the first set of discs was ordered last summer by Her Royal Highness, a fan of the Doctor since the series premiered on the BBC in 1963. She thought her vacation at Balmoral in Scotland would be a good time to catch up with the Time Lord's latest adventures. The news appeared in Britain's Daily Mirror under the headline "Ext-ER-minate!", which is pretty funny if you're up on royal nomenclature as well as Doctor Who bad guys.

In any case, every peasant and colonial can now enjoy the first new season of Doctor Who in 17 years; the five-disc set was released last week. Doctor Who originally ran for 26 years and more than 700 episodes before going on hiatus in 1989. But it was never officially cancelled, and last year the BBC brought it back with the ninth actor (Christopher Eccleston) to play the titular hero. Billie Piper joined the cast as Rose Tyler, the latest of the Doctor's brave, virtuous and often comely human companions.

The discs include a condensed version of Doctor Who Confidential, a 13-part series that takes viewers behind the scenes. It discusses, among other things, the romantic tension between Rose and the Doctor, seen almost from the moment they meet in the first episode. "They row, they have tiffs, they're like a married couple," Piper says, although she adds, "Reading the scripts you just can't put your finger on what their relationship is actually about."

Whatever it is, it gets a boost when the Doctor gives Rose a key to his TARDIS (a time machine that looks like a phone booth and is much bigger inside than out), but hits a rough patch when the dashing Captain Jack (John Barrowman) arrives in a spaceship described by the crew as "Millennium-Falcon-cum-camper-van." He's got charm, an American accent and all kinds of sonic weaponry, whereas all the Doctor has is a sonic screwdriver (albeit a better gizmo to carry than even a high-end Swiss army knife). The two lads vie for Rose's affections; some things never change.

Thankfully, much has changed since the 1960s, when Doctor Who's special effects budget and materiel looked like it comprised whatever the craft services people had left over after feeding the crew. The 2005 series, while not quite on par with big-budget Hollywood productions, nevertheless uses computer graphics and other new techniques to create its aliens and spaceships.

Still, low-tech solutions are used when they work. The Daleks, robotic killers with a hankering for universal domination and a strong dislike for the Doctor, first appeared in a 1963 episode as chunky suits with actors inside. Today, says Simon Pegg, narrating the making-of, you'll still find "just a nice guy called Barnaby" inside the costume.

In this and other respects, Doctor Who remains a wonderfully pragmatic show. The sonic screwdriver, says head writer Russell T. Davies, is vital because, "You want villains to get in his way, you want motives to get in his way, you want great big chasms to get in his way, but you don't want a door to get in his way." It's a perfectly acceptable solution, he concludes, "so long as the sonic screwdriver never solves the plot in the end."

Similarly, the show's science is delivered on a need-to-know basis. Steven Moffat wrote an episode that features nanotechnology, but admits: "I think I'd half-read something somewhere that I didn't remember very well, and I certainly didn't go back and look it up again because it's Doctor Who ... you're not making a documentary; you're just making up something that sounds vaguely credible and uses roughly the right words."

In any case, the show's makers have enough to worry about without fact-checking their science; during 10 months of shooting they made 13 episodes that involved creating a 51st-century spaceship, an Earth-orbiting space station in the year 5 billion and a futuristic Earth Empire. They also had to recreate Cardiff in 1869, London in 1941 and the fashions of 1987; this last task used their entire budget for hairspray and shoulder pads.

Eccleston as the Doctor is likeable and sexy, cuts a dashing figure in a black leather jacket and is allegedly the Queen's favourite. "He's got the grinning madness of Tom [Baker], but he's got the vulnerability of Peter Davison," says Clayton Hickman, editor of Doctor Who Magazine, referencing some of the earlier actors, "and a little bit of that excitedness that Paul McGann brought to it."

He also signed on for just one season, so already there's a new Doctor, played by David Tennant. If, like the Queen, you think Eccleston is the best man for the job, you'll probably find this box set seems bigger on the inside.

Colour Photo: CBC; Christopher Eccleston, right, and Billie Piper have an unusual romantic chemistry in Doctor Who, which returned to television in 2005.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Knight, Chris (2006-02-25). The Queen has a new favourite Doctor. National Post p. Toronto, p. TO30.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Knight, Chris. "The Queen has a new favourite Doctor." National Post [add city] 2006-02-25, Toronto, p. TO30. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Knight, Chris. "The Queen has a new favourite Doctor." National Post, edition, sec., 2006-02-25
  • Turabian: Knight, Chris. "The Queen has a new favourite Doctor." National Post, 2006-02-25, section, Toronto, p. TO30 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Queen has a new favourite Doctor | url= | work=National Post | pages=Toronto, p. TO30 | date=2006-02-25 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 September 2019 }}</ref>
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