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The Regeneration of "Doctor Who"

by Pete Mesling, Fearfodder editor

Dr. Who The year was 1963. The country was England. The phenomenon that was about to erupt onto television screens across the land was a charming science fiction program for children entitled "Doctor Who." It almost didn't pass go, premiering, as it did, in the immediate shadow of President Kennedy's assassination. But luckily someone at the BBC refused to be discouraged by the show's poor reception that first night, and the pilot, "Unearthly Child," was aired again. This time, people took notice, and they continued to take notice for the next 25 years (give or take).

The key to the success of "Who" lay in the clever invention of the main character's ability to regenerate. William Hartnell was the first actor to play the Doctor, and when he left the program it easily could have been curtains for the whole shebang. But it wasn't, of course. Three years after his initial appearance, the Doctor regenerated into a new body and was suddenly portrayed by a different actor: the inimitable Patrick Troughton. Five more thespians would step into the enviable role for the original series. There would be a couple of highly regarded films starring Peter Cushing (hunting daleks rather than vampires for a change) and an American television movie starring Paul McGann and Eric Roberts. Outside of novelizations and radio broadcasts, that was about it. Until 2005, that is.

Enter Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as his assistant, Rose: the two main ingredients in the resurrected "Doctor Who" series that recently finished airing its first season. The special effects are a lot better than in the classic program, and the episodes tend to move along at a more accelerated clip (there was actually a six-hour story back in the '80s!), but Doctor Who fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief, as the new series is every inch a chip off the old block. Season one is over now, and so is Eccleston's stint as the renegade Time Lord. But there's no sign that the program is in any danger of fading out. Great writing and a sky-high production value have formed a solid foundation for the new incarnation of "Who." If producer and writer Russell T. Davies is smart--and he seems to be--he'll build on that foundation to take the program into even more daring waters for its second season.

I suspect there are at least three things that most fans of the original series would like to see happen in round two: an appearance from the Doctor's arch villain, the Master; more outer space and less Earth; and an adventure or two that revolves around the interior of the Doctor's fabulous vessel, the TARDIS (that's Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which is bigger on the inside than on the outside, but we won't get into all of that here. Still, it's surprising just how many bones the first season of the new series has thrown to long-time fans, while simultaneously offering up a refreshing introduction to a whole new generation of viewers. There is the reemergence of the daleks, for one thing. Always listed among the Doctor's scariest foes in the original series, they now have abilities that make them even more terrifying. There's also more than a hint that the Doctor may be a bit ambivalent sexually, which is interesting, since he used to be a very asexual being.

One minor problem with the new series is that it plays up the Doctor's dark side (I didn't really know he even had a dark side). And though it's sad to see Christopher Eccleston leave the program just as he's finding his stride, it may be the best solution to the problem of how much of an existentialist the producers should make their lead character. True, each successive regeneration is known to further trouble the Doctor's already untoward psychological makeup, but he's still the hero of the day, the voice of virtue and benignity. Much would be lost if the new "Doctor Who" were to lose sight of those strengths. It's easy to be optimistic, however. Though he's only clocked in a few seconds of screen time at the very end of season one, David Tennant -- the next incarnation of the Doctor -- has great promise. There's a crazed twinkle in his eye that seems to say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

Posted by Mac Slocum on September 5, 2005 10:32 AM
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I absolutely loved the return of the Doctor! Shame to see Eccleston leave so soon - he had amazing presence and the storyline between him and Rose was fantastic!

Maybe I was too into Eccleston (as an actor, obviously), but when I saw Tennant I was disappointed. Hope he proves me wrong!

-- Posted by: Brad Mullet at September 5, 2005 4:00 PM

Being a Doctor Who fan I'm glad that the series is back but I was never that optimistic about Chris Eccleston staying in the part for that long....

....and how right I was! He even had the vanity to blame being type-cast as a reason to leave!

Sorry Chris but your no Tom Baker, not by a long chalk mate.

Dave Tennant is a far better choice plus hes a fan of the series aswell.

I'm sure he'll put his heart and soul into the part and not do a bunk after one set of adventures.

-- Posted by: Chris Bale at September 6, 2005 11:18 AM

Chris Eccleston was not the Doctor. Too many things in the 2005 season ruined it for me. I hope the upcoming season with David Tennant will be more like Doctor Who than the previous one was.

-- Posted by: Matt at September 7, 2005 5:22 AM

Chris brought it back, and did it well--we have to give him that. (And as for his being no Tom Baker--well, give him six more seasons and then see who's associated with the show most!) Now it's up to David to keep it all going!

And I have no doubt he will.

-- Posted by: Jeremy at September 10, 2005 10:24 PM

How to say it...
This feeble attempt at a ''re-imagining'' of the seminal science-fiction series in all of history,is nothing short of a calculated insult to the fans of the originals.
The Doctor in a buzz-cut and a leather jacket?Spare me.
having a tarted-up pop-strumpet as his ''companion'' demeans the role that Liz Sladen and other wholesome actresses once portrayed with spark and dignity.
It's as bad or worse than that filth masquerading as Battlestar Galactica.

I have been a fan of the original DW series for many years,and I am sad to say that I have seen it return in this mockery of it's former glory.
Maybe I have regenerated one too many times,but this poor substitute needs to be apologized for,and by the people responsible for it;the BBC.

All they care about are their numbers and their sales,not the betyrayal that they have just committed on legions of loyal fans,myself included.
As of this moment,they are the enemy.

-- Posted by: Dominic at March 20, 2006 2:03 AM

I truly enjoyed Christopher Eccelston in the role. He played it well. The beginning of the first episode when he first met Rose and introduced himself and immediately followed it up with "Run for your life" reminded me of Tom Baker. I felt right at home with his character ever since.

He also brought a true feeling to the role having lost his race and being the one responsible. Having to make a choice to kill your entire race and wiping them from existence in order to save the galaxy would be a burden no one would ever want to make.

I feel that we lost him way too soon. Although after seeing Christmas Invasion I have to admit that David Tennant will most likely make a fine Doctor. I will miss Christopher.

Hopefully they could talk him into returning in a year or two for a guest appearance to join David to save the world. "The two doctors" again would be cool.

I cant wait to see the new Season.

-- Posted by: DJ Douglas at April 12, 2006 1:52 AM

Speaking as I do, from the opposite side of the big puddle, I have to chip in my two cents (pence?) worth.

I have just finished watching series one with Chris Eccelston and just started watching series two with David Tennant and I must say that both have done a great job in portraying everybody's fave Timelord.

While I very much enjoyed Tom Baker's Doctor, I see Eccelston's Doctor more as a cross between Hartnell and Pertwee. That knack of getting tetchy and yet running right into the action ala Pertwee. Tennant (at least what I've seen of him) is more like a hyperactive college professor. Especially when he pops on those glasses (But NOTHING will ever comapre to Tom Baker's Scarf!!!).

As far as DW being ruined by the updating the sets, etc I'm somewhat ambivilant about it. The new TARDIS interior emphasizes the ALIENESS of the Doctor but soemtimes seems too cluttered as opposed to the stark barrenness of the, say, Tom Baker era.

There have also been comparisons made to the changes in DW as opposed to the changes (re-imaging) of BG. To me, there is no comparison; the producers of DW pulled it off and the producers of BG frakked it up.

While I know that series 2 has already been broadcast in England, I'm looking forward to the finale featuring the Dalek AND the Cybermen.

I can only imagine what series 3 has in store (hopefully more interstitial references ala Sarah Jane and K-9). Maybe we can see what they do with U.N.I.T.??

All of the above is IMHO, of course.


-- Posted by: startrekanmore at November 13, 2006 8:44 PM

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