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Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who?

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The Doctor is In

Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who?

The Doctor is back on Earth.

After an absence of nearly a decade, Doctor Who's time-travelling TARDIS lands back on television. But, a lot has changed since the good Doctor left.

"This is a chance for a brand-new start," says Doctor Who head writer, producer and diehard fan Russell T Davies. "The new series will be fun, exciting, contemporary and scary - a full-blooded drama that embraces the Doctor Who heritage as well as introduces the character to a modern audience."

But with numerous changes from past seasons, the new series appears to be aimed at the new audience - something that might offend the large, already-existing Doctor Who fan base. After debuting in 1963, Doctor Who became a cult hit that averaged over 13 million viewers at its peak. Though these numbers filtered off towards the series' end in 1989, a TV movie was produced in 1996 and the show continues to draw huge numbers in syndication. And, the devotion of viewers doesn't end there.

Doctor Who fans are so passionate about the series that they've kept a monthly magazine alive during its extended absence. True enthusiasts continue to read Doctor Who books (150 original stories have been published since 1997) and listen to Doctor Who radio dramas. In fact, an annual Doctor Who convention takes place in L.A. (this year's was in February and next year's is already scheduled). These fans are not looking for a "brand new" show. But, as a producer of the successful but sensitive series Queer as Folk (British version), Davies is no stranger to controversy - a good thing, because the changes to Doctor Who are destined to stir some up.

In fact, so many things are different from the original series it's easier to say what isn't - the Doctor's worst enemy, the Daleks - and even then, the evil robots have received minor makeovers.

But is change really such a bad thing?

"Doctor Who has a remarkable fandom, which has kept the show alive while it's been off-air," says Davies honestly. "I'm sure they'll have the time of their lives - but equally it's the new audience I care about."

Neil Gorton, the man responsible for creating the show's ghouls and goblins agrees: "I think the initial reaction [of Doctor Who fans] will be joy and despair in equal measure. But, by the end, they'll all love it.

"We're not making [the new show] for the fans - we're making it for everybody."

That's the biggest difference. No longer just for sci-fi geeks, Doctor Who has something for the whole family - action, humour, science and not to mention an attractive cast.

"I think good drama attracts everyone," explains Christopher Eccleston, who brilliantly fills the Doctor's shoes wearing a modem, sexy black leather jacket. "A lot of sci-fi can feel remote, so we'd like the audience, young and old, to connect with the series."

And they will. Women will gaze at the intense and witty Eccleston while pretty pop-princess-cum-actress Billie Piper, who plays the Doctor's sidekick, Rose, is eye candy for the men. Kids will be captivated by the show's sleek style and fast pace, made possible by special effects company The Mill (Gladiator, see sidebar).

Aesthetics aside, however, the relationship between the Doctor and Rose 1s at the heart of the show as they travel the universe - an attempt by Davies to add more feeling (and a little less science) to the series.

"While the Doctor is alien, Rose is human," explains Piper thoughtfully. "She is the viewer's eyes and ears, and she experiences a world that I think secretly we all wish existed."

Adds Davies: "Chris and Billie fill the show with great emotion - all the awe, wonder, fun and fear you'd expect. I think sci-fi can be a little sterile sometimes, but not this show.

"From the moment they meet, the Doctor and Rose are soulmates," he continues, getting more excited as he talks. "They understand and complement each other. And together they have fun."

Doctor Who is fun, particularly for new viewers. But true fans may need time to warm to this change in focus and the changes to the show's more traditional

But again, change can be for the better. Though the Doctor's beloved time-travelling machine has not been mirrored after past versions, the TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, of course) is bigger and better - with the height, width and look of an original Police Call Box (the original emergency phones used in Britain by bobbies before walkie talkies). The outside door now leads directly into the control room, instead of the black void seen in past seasons.

"I made a conscious effort not to look at the old series that much," says production designer Edward Thomas. "You'll always have the diehard fans. They'll love the show for just being Doctor Who. My priority is the new audience."

And that is the approach to the series. The eerie theme song which used to send children hiding behind their couches has received a minor tune-up from musician Murray Gold (which Davies describes as "brilliant"). And a more family-friendly format has been introduced - the original four or six 25-minute episode storylines have been replaced with 13 45-minute single shows - which means viewers can miss an episode and still tune in the following week.

But it seems not all fans are happy - rumours suggest changes to the logo have sparked threatening emails to cast and crew.

Yet despite its differences, fans old and new should give the good doctor a chance. With everyone behind the show being a major Doctor Who fan (Davies, Gorton and Thomas all say working on the show is their "dream job"), the Doctor Who tradition is in good hands. And a wider audience just might ensure the Doctor keeps travelling in the future.

Who's Who

Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who)

Born: 1964, Lancashire, England

What he's done before: He first came to film fans' attention as Derek Bentley in the 1991 Brit flick Let Him Have It and in Shallow Grove. Since then Eccleston has played opposite Nicole Kidman in The Others, with Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, and in Gone in Sixty Seconds with Nick Cage. His last TV role was as a messiah in The Second Coming.

Billie Piper (sidekick Rose Tyler)

Born: 1982, Swindon, England

What she's done before: After enrolling in theatre school, Piper landed several TV commercials and a spot in an episode of The Eastenders. But when scouts for Virgin Records spotted her, she was signed to the label as a budding pop diva. Her first single, "Because We Want It", propelled Piper to No. 1 on the Brit hit charts. Her follow-up single, "Girlfriend", also hit No. 1. She relaunched her acting career with a string of critically acclaimed roles in projects such as The Canterbury Tales and Bella and the Boys. Now she is the young and quirky sidekick to Doctor Who.

"Mill"ion Dollar Effects

Ghosts and monsters and aliens, oh my! With the help of Europe's only Oscar-winning special effects company, The Mill, Doctor Who is back on the small screen. And now anything is possible.

Doctor Who is the first TV series for The Mill. The company's long list of big-screen credits includes Tomb Raider, the Harry Potter films, HBO's Band of Brothers and Gladiator, for which the company earned an Oscar in 2000. But TV is a whole new experience.

"If you look at shows like Buffy and Smallville, you visit the same environment - or the same special effects - time and time again," explains Robin Shenfield of The Mill, adding, "The TARDIS takes the Doctor everywhere.

"For Gladiator, we produced 100 visual effects shots over seven months. For Doctor Who, we're producing about 100 shots every four to five weeks."

With such a large quantity for the small team of 30 to produce, it takes approximately one month to complete an episode. But Shenfield promises the amount of work doesn't influence its high standard.

"You can never ask a writer to write around what they think might be achievable in visual effects. Everything can be done."

Enemies Exposed

Don't worry; the Daleks are back - just with a few 21st century upgrades.

"When you have a villain who's so motivated and bad, it really helps define your characters and put your heroes at their very best," says Nicholas Briggs, the man behind the voice for the Doctor's evil tin enemy. "The goal was to make them instantly recognizable, but be the best Daleks you've ever seen. Instead of going to a garden centre and seeing what you could find, we've designed something for every aspect of (the creature]."


  • Formerly car indicator lights, the side head lights have been modernized.
  • The head panel now has lines on it.
  • The end of the arm features a designed probe - instead of the sink plunger (above) used before.
  • The head is moved by radio control instead of manually (although someone sits inside to move the creature's arms and guns).
  • Mesh has been placed over the front opening and the operator inside wears black tights over his head, in hopes of preventing a glimpse inside.
  • Finally! Viewers will see the evil creature that drives the Dalek! Davies had a clear idea of its appearance, but unfortunately it's top secret.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: Fox, Brenda Hampton, Linda A. (2005-04-02). Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who?. TV Guide (Canada) p. 18.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Fox, Brenda Hampton, Linda A.. "Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who?." TV Guide (Canada) [add city] 2005-04-02, 18. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Fox, Brenda Hampton, Linda A.. "Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who?." TV Guide (Canada), edition, sec., 2005-04-02
  • Turabian: Fox, Brenda Hampton, Linda A.. "Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who?." TV Guide (Canada), 2005-04-02, section, 18 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who? | url= | work=TV Guide (Canada) | pages=18 | date=2005-04-02 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 May 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Are diehard fans ready for a modern Doctor Who? | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 May 2024}}</ref>