Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

It's life, Doctor, but not as we know it

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1996-05-26 Sunday Times.jpg


Doctor Who returns tomorrow — to a world where the paranormal has become normal. By Mark Edwards

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, the seas sleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger; somewhere there's injustice; and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do."

And with that, he was gone. Those were the last words spoken by Doctor Who, in the episode Survival, broadcast in December 1989. The series was never officially cancelled; the BBC just never got round to making any more episodes. Until now.

Doctor Who has refused to lie down and die (as befits a time lord with 13 lives). Since the television series ended there have been two radio series, two series of Doctor Who novels, a convention industry to rival that of Star Trek, and a range of merchandise that includes "life-size" Daleks at £1,500 each.

And now, he's back on television. Tomorrow' night at 8.30pm, BBC1 unveils the new Doctor Who.' A coproduction between BBC Worldwide and Universal, the movie-length episode stars Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor. Transporting the remains of his archenemy, the Master, back to their home planet, the Doctor's Tardis malfunctions and crashlands in San Francisco on December 30, 1999. The Master (Eric Roberts), as you may have guessed, comes back to life and threatens to-- yup-- destroy the universe. Only the Doctor can save us. And he's only got till the year 2000 to do it.

So far, so reassuringly the same. But, as a co-production, the new Doctor Who has to work in America as well, so obviously there are changes to the old format. The first is that they've actually spent some money on the programme. The budget for the new episode was $5m. This has paid for a fabulous new Tardis — a vast, cavernous mix of gothic mansion and gentlemen's club.

The music has been rescored (goodbye Radiophonic Workshop, hello Spielbergian strings). The Daleks are missing and there are a few gratuitously Hollywood lines in the script. In the middle of a car chase, the Doctor's new assistant, Dr Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook), declares: "Great! I finally find the right man and he's from another planet!" Such forced American wackiness jars a little, but the other innovation implied in the last sentence (the Doctor and his assistant fall in love) is handled well enough —'though the sight Of the Doctor actually kissing a woman may send some traditionalists scurrying behind the sofa.

Fortunately, the Americanisation of Doctor Who has not obliterated English quirkiness: the new Doctor keeps a spare key to the Tardis in a hiding place on top of the door and still likes nothing better than a bag of jelly babies and a nice cup of tea.

When the Doctor regenerates (from Sylvester McCoy into McGann), we see two things we're not used to seeing in Doctor Who: expensive special effects and existential angst, "Who am I?" cries the new Doctor. Partly, his confusion is a plot device — allowing exposition for an American audience; but it's also partly it reflection of the new world the new Doctor has landed in — a world' where our view of aliens, spacecraft and the paranormal is defined by the edgy anxiety of The X Files and the inquisitive spirit of magazines such as Fortean Times.

The X Files has already spawned a Trek-like industry around itself, demonstrating that its central idea ("The truth is out there" ... hut someone is keeping it from us) has accurately encapsulated the mood of the times. One of the many spinoff books-- Jane Goldman's The X Files Book of the Unexplained (Simon & Schuster) — uses the series merely as a jumping-off point to examine real-life instances of UFO sightings, monsters, ghosts, crop circles, cattle mutilations and all the other high weirdness that X Files agents Scully and Mulder routinely investigate.

That we are increasingly willing to believe in the paranormal is also shown by the fact that Fortean Times ("the journal of strange phenomena") is the fastest growing magazine in the country. While Doctor Who thrived at a time when science fiction could be harmless fun, it has returned in an age when we're no longer sure if science fiction i's fiction. A new biography of Jung by Frank McLynn reminds us that Jung first became interested in the phenomenon of UFOs in 1951, and later concluded, according to McLynn, that "it was the spirit of the age that provoked the multiplicity of sightings. Because of the weight of post-second-world-war anxiety, unconscious contents of the psyche had projected themselves on unknown heavenly phenomena".- Jung noted that an initial view that aliens would be guardian angels quickly changed to a fear that they would be malevolent -- an altered. perspective that Fortean Times's publisher, Mike Dash, sees today. "We used to view aliens as handsome golden-haired Venusians," he says. "But nowadays we seem to believe they're hunched, grey dwarves,"

We are now quite possibly suffering from post-cold-war anxiety, and unconsciously embarking on a search for a new enemy. When you add this to what Dash terms "pre-millennial tension", then it's no wonder we're more than usually ready to believe in little green (or grey) men.

The new Doctor Who episode is only a pilot, and McGann has already expressed the fear that "I could be the George Lazenby of time lords if it doesn't do well enough to become a series, But it looks as if the zeitgeist in on McGann's side. It should be a viable television franchise — at least for the next four years. As Dash says: "After that, whether people just go 'Thank God for that' and go back to more mundane matters, that's the real mystery."

Caption: Who is be now? Paul McGann, centre, with Eric Roberts and Daphne Ashbrook

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

  • APA 6th ed.: Edwards, Mark (1996-05-26). It's life, Doctor, but not as we know it. The Sunday Times p. sec. 10, p. 15.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Edwards, Mark. "It's life, Doctor, but not as we know it." The Sunday Times [add city] 1996-05-26, sec. 10, p. 15. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Edwards, Mark. "It's life, Doctor, but not as we know it." The Sunday Times, edition, sec., 1996-05-26
  • Turabian: Edwards, Mark. "It's life, Doctor, but not as we know it." The Sunday Times, 1996-05-26, section, sec. 10, p. 15 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=It's life, Doctor, but not as we know it | url=,_Doctor,_but_not_as_we_know_it | work=The Sunday Times | pages=sec. 10, p. 15 | date=1996-05-26 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=It's life, Doctor, but not as we know it | url=,_Doctor,_but_not_as_we_know_it | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 July 2024}}</ref>