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The Doctor will see you now ...

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Look Who's Back

About Time

With over 40 years of adventures, legions of loyal fans and a TV audience that now expects the production values of a Hollywood blockbuster, Russell T Davies is about to reveal his vision of Doctor Who to a new generation of viewers. No pressure then.

GRAHAME ROBERTSON and MARC ROBINSON look at the past, present and future of Who


PICTURE IT. 1963. A DODDERING OLD MAN, A COUPLE OF SCHOOLTEACHERS, A GIRL BORN IN THE 49TH CENTURY AND A POLICE BOX THAT WAS BIGGER ON THE INSIDE THAN IT WAS ON THE OUTSIDE.

Sounds absolutely daft, but who would have thought that a show originally conceived to be entertaining while educating would provoke thought and spawn generations of fans from all walks of life as well as turning the BBC and this fair country into the centre of the science-fiction world for many years to come?

William Hartnell gave life to the character but the birth was an uneasy one. Portrayed as a seemingly Victorian man with sensibilities that reflected that period and the stiff upper lip customary to the old English gent. The nation were - at first reserved but people soon became more comfortable with the enigmatic character as the ice melted, and the character's story expanded over the following 3 years.

This period also gave birth to one of the most enduring icons of the 20th Century - the Dalek. A plastic dome on wheels with a few plungers here and there, it somehow managed to both scare children and entrance adults. Yes there were other foes, but the Daleks were the adversary that virtually any person in the land can name even today. With the yin of the Doctor facing the yang of the Dalek connected. Needing each other. This relationship was to provide the foundations for over 4 decades.

The doctor is a Gallifrean, a being from 'anywhen', he has the ability to regenerate into another incarnation when the time comes, which was a convenient way to get new actors to play new Doctors keeping the character fresh with each thespians take on the Doctor uniquely different.

Following Hartnell's kindly grandfather, we were treated to Patrick Troughton's intense yet absent minded professor, who ushered in the disturbing Cybermen. Jon Pertwee's almost magician-like representation brought us fellow Gallifrean 'The Master' and some very creepy foes called the Autons.

Tom Baker's mad scientist and larger than life portrayal brought us the coat, the scarf and the little bundle of electric joy that was K-9. Peter Davison brought back 'The Master' and... erm... cricket. If Davison was the wet Doctor, then Colin Baker was the Doctor that probably damaged the franchise the most along with his irritating and short-lived sidekick Melanie Bush played by Bonnie (I'll thcweam and I'll thcweam) Langford.

Then we come to Sylvester McCoy's dark and knowing Doctor. The 7th incarnation gave us some of the most ludicrous and baffling storylines which helped to make him the most controversial Doctor as this was the point where the tele-visual journeys came to an end - some say because of McCoy but many others think the rot had already set in.

So that was it. RIP Doctor Who 1963-1989. Of course there was a tonne of fan fiction, official books and audio material but no matter how much pressure the masses applied, the BBC just wouldn't budge. Or so the Whovians thought...

Fast-forward 7 years into the month of May. The franchise had been handed to Fox Television and although the fans were worried that their baby was going to be slaughtered, Fox delivered a well polished television movie that the BBC could be proud of. Sylvester McCoy reprised his role as the much-maligned 7th Doctor and put on a performance that outstripped his debut in the role and arguably would have saved the series. The movie also saw the return of 'The Master' in the form of Eric Roberts and a plot, which sees our reluctant hero arrive on Earth in time for the millennium.

The Doctor is killed in a shooting and regenerates into the 8th Doctor played by Paul McGann who seems to have done his research into the role and has taken a best bit from a few of the doctors and cemented it with his own interpretation to give us a Time Lord to care about. The TV movie didn't do too well in America as it was up against the last ever episode of Roseanne but it enjoyed a moderate success here. The fans hoped that it would revive the series but, after many rumours and stop/starts, the idea was shelved though Paul McGann went on to record several audio-stories.

A brief yet affectionate revival of the galloping Gallifrean happened in 1999 for Comic Relief that had the Doctor being played by Rowan Atkinson who regenerated into Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and the superb Joanna Lumley - these actors were selected particularly because they had all been touted for the role at some point or other in the past.

We entered in to the 21st Century without him and we went about our business knowing the Doctor only as a fond memory (Unless you tune into UK Gold on a Saturday morning...), resigning ourselves to life without him. Again.

And so it was, the Doctor seemed to be trapped in time - a victim of the galaxies greatest evil - BBC Controller Michael Grade. Doctor Who quickly became nothing more than fodder for cheap clip shows and '100 Greatest TV Moments' Nobody reckoned on Russell T Davies, though. And fair do's, when Doctor Who breathed his last on BBC 1, Davies was penning episodes of The Chuckle Brothers.

The first inkling of an idea that Russell T Davies might be the right man to pluck the Doctor from obscurity came in 1999 with 'Queer As Folk A groundbreaking series, sure enough - and not because of the rimming. Here we had a main character who was a Doctor Who fan, and nowhere near the stereotype anoraked-Who fan we were used to seeing on telly. A young, sexy gay man with an (albeit slightly unhealthy) interest in the Doctor. If anything Vince Tyler's Who obsession was at the very heart of Queer as Folk and played an integral part in the character's epiphany towards the end of the first series.

As Russell T's star ascended, his passion for Doctor Who became very apparent. And it didn't escape the attentions of the BBC. When outnorthwest interviewed Russell in November 2001 to mark the broadcast of 'Bob & Rose' we asked him if he would like to write a new series of Doctor Who. He responded, "Well, it has been talked about, but television is so mad. The people who asked me all changed jobs and then the television people discovered that the BBC Film people wanted to make a film and that blocked any potential television revival. One day though! I will keep nagging the BBC."

The turning point seemed to come with 2002's 'The Second Coming', Davies' outstanding drama starring Christopher Eccleston as the Son of God, living in Salford. Russell's passion for quality fantasy, married with Eccleston's intense screen presence (our first glimpse of his Who portrayal perhaps?) produced the stand-out drama of that year.

A little over a year later, it was announced that Doctor Who would return to the BBC after nearly ten years with Russell T Davies at the helm. It was a no-brainer really. Nobody else could bring back such an icon with the required balance of quality modern TV writing and passion for the orignal. The announcement of Christopher Eccleston as the new Doctor, and Billie Piper as his new assistant wasn't far behind.

The Doctor is in good hands, and although the old-guard fans are up in arms that the new TARDIS seems "a bit wider", it's a safe bet we're going to get a British sci-fi series to rival the best that current US genre shows offer. Russell is determined not to fill this new series with gimmicks and nods to the past - so don't expect to see Tom Baker. He says, "If we were doing it for nostalgia... I'd think - what's the point of that? I fell in love with that programme when I was 8 years old. (The new series) is as much for those 8 year olds who sit there now."

Davies acknowledges the debt the new series pays to show-runners like Buffy's Joss Whedon. In an interview with the BBC he says, "Buffy was all about good writing. It showed the world that writing monsters and single one of us. What a man! I shook his hand once, did you know?"

Eccleston's travelling companion will be Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. It seemed an odd choice initially, but her acting credentials are in check. We're expecting nothing less than this countries Buffy. Billie herself is excited at taking on the role. In an interview for Marie Claire magazine, Piper says, "The great thing about this Doctor Who is that as much as it's science fiction, it's so much more about the Doctor's and Rose's dynamic and their journey educating each other."

So, the ingredients are in place for an essential Saturday night in. It might be up against Ant and Dec, but Doctor Who could very well turn the tide of cheap reality television and get kids hiding behind the cushions, families gathered around the television and gay men talking about science fiction in public once again. The final word must go to the patron saint of good telly, Russell T Davies - "I still have a hard time realising I'm doing Doctor Who. I think of a good, exciting scene, and then there's a ten second delay before I realise that this scene will actually exist!"

13 new 50 minute episodes of Doctor Who will


Top 5 Companions


OK, we haven't even seen her on telly yet, but something tells s we're in for a fully rounded, kick-ass Buffy-for-the-Brits in Eccleston's travelling companion. She's from a Council estate, she has a sex-Ife and she may even - gulp - fancy the Doctor!


LEELA

She bucked the trend of the screaming girlie companions when she joined Tom Baker's grinning Doctor in the late 70's. A fetching line in chamois leather did loads of favours for the dads, and dare we say the lesbians of the time.

ACE

The last proper telly companion (we're not including the Paul McGann one-off telly movie), Ace carried bombs in her pocket, beat up a Dalek with a baseball bat and, arguably, had more charisma than the Doctor she got stuck with.


SARAH-JANE SMITH

One of the few companions to straddle two Doctors (so to speak), there was something comforting about Sarah-Jane. Sure, she screamed on cue and uttered "what's happening Doctor?!" a few too many times, but we loved her for it.


K9

K9 was a robot dog, and along with Sarah Jane, starred in his own spin-off show 'K9 and Company' It was bloody awful. His biggest moment was surely a guest spot on 'Queer As Folk' in 1999 as Vince's special birthday present.


IN PRINT


Doctor Who thrives on the bookshelves. Russell T Davies began his Who writing career with 'Damaged Goods' The ninth Doctor will herald a new series of books.


THE CLOCKWISE MAN Stephen Cole [19th May] England 1924: the Doctor and Rose find themselves caught up in the hunt for a murderer. With faceless killers closing in, can they solve the mystery of the Clockwise Man before London itself is destroyed?

MOrISTER5 111510E Stephen Cole [19th flay] The TARDIS takes the Doctor and Rose to a brutal deep-space prison colony. Can they stay out of gaol long enough to discover who - or what - is behind the sinister scientific_ plot that threatens billions of human lives?

WINNER TAKES ALL lacqueline Rayner [19th may] While on Earth visiting Rose's mum, the Doctor and Rose become intrigued by the latest craze - the video game, Death to Mantodeans. Is it as harmless as it seems? And why are so people going on holiday and never returning?


COMPETITION

Thanks to our shiny friends at BBC DVD, we've got two copies of 'Doctor Who and The Mind Robber' on DVD to give away to two lucky readers. After an accident with the TARDIS, the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are transported into a dimension where fiction rules. Here they encounter a range of fictional characters and some ominous White Robots. DVD extras include a commentary, a 34 minute documentary 'The Fact of Fiction and actor Frazer Hines looks back on his career in Doctor Who and beyond. Just answer this question to win a copy:

What year did Doctor Who begin on television?

Send your answers to Doctor Who Competition, outnorthwest, LGF, Unity House, 15 Pritchard Street, Manchester M1 7DA.

Alternatively, you can email your answer to editor@outnorthwest.com.

Don't forget to tell us you name and address!

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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Doctor will see you now ... | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_Doctor_will_see_you_now_... | work=Out Northwest | pages=31 | date=March 2005 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 May 2022 }}</ref>
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