Doctor Who’s 2005 Return

[Doctor Who returned as an ongoing series to UK TV screens on March 26, 2005. To mark this 10th anniversary, I penned the following words for an episode of Who Wars. This isn’t a review, or my in-depth thoughts on the actors or production. This is simply a snapshot of my own feelings, upon hearing the news, through to the end of the first series. Click the link above to hear me narrate it.]

When it comes to the big moments that happen around us as we live out our lives, people will often remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about something big. The passing of a beloved politician, a terrorist attack, a major sporting event, and on it goes.

So you’d think I might remember what happened when I heard Doctor Who was coming back to our screens. I mean, Doctor. Who. The TV series of my youth. Something I’d joined clubs for, written fanzines about, appeared on television in support of and a dozen other stories I could tell you if this was the story of me as a slightly odd, but passionate, youth growing up with the show.

But the reality is, something had changed. I was a 28-something in the early months of 2004, hearing that the show was coming back with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and it just didn’t hit me in the same way it may have hit others. Why? To this day I couldn’t really tell you. It just didn’t.

So, while I freely admit I wasn’t bouncing off the walls with excitement and certainly can’t remember where I was or what I was doing, I do remember some confusion. What did this do to the Richard E Grant audio Doctor? Why wasn’t Paul McGann coming back? I’d actually come to know and love the McGann Doctor through the Eighth Doctor Adventures (or EDAs) from BBC Books, and although I didn’t think much of his only outing in the TV movie, I thought he deserved to come back.

(Now for a quick sidetrack. It was around this time that I also remember thinking, “Doctor Who merch has been fairly easy to get this past decade, and for little money. If I want more stuff like some 1960s annuals, or other rarer collectibles, it makes sense to get them now, rather than in a year’s time when everyone’s nutty for Doctor Who again…” Yes, folks, I had genuine faith even a year out from April 2005 that Doctor Who was about to make a significant comeback. Accordingly, I set about buying many of the things I’d always wanted and you bet your life, sitting here a decade later, I’m so glad I did it. The combination of Doctor Who becoming super-hot, and the fact that collectibles tend to appreciate somewhat well over a decade regardless, made those buys quite worthwhile!)

But back to the series. I tried to let the year between learning about the comeback and the day I would see the first episode pass with little expectation. I tried to stay off newsgroups and forums. I toyed with the idea of buying DWM again, but after a few issues I stopped — partly because it was ruining the vibe I was trying to create before seeing the new series, but also because DWM had become way, way, way more expensive that it used to be, here in Australia, than when I was buying it religiously in the mid to late 1980s. In general, I was just trying to let the year go past without feeling too anxious or weird over the return of something that had once meant so much to me.

And that’s quite odd to say in some ways because, between 1989 and 2004, I’d done a pretty good job at letting the show go. The 1996 TVM and an EDA habit notwithstanding, on the whole, I’d stayed far away from Doctor Who compared to many of my peers from the Classic Era, despite it having once been so important to me. And I guess this put me in good stead for the wait between 2004 and 2005 because I knew on some level that if I started getting too into the idea of it coming back – and the new show was terrible – I’d be mightily disappointed. So I steered as clear as possible and because that’s what I’d been largely doing up until that time, it was easier than it might sound.

As the new episodes got closer, I started to wonder how I would see them in a timely manner. Our government-run ABC — the spiritual home of Doctor Who since the mid 1960s in this country — had either made it clear, or was perhaps being unclear, about when it would show the episodes. I’m not sure which, however, what I do remember is having the sense that I’d need to find another way to see them, if I wanted to join in any online conversation, etc. After talking on a forum about it, a lovely chap in the UK took pity on me — a total stranger — and offered to send me each episode on DVD after it aired. I presume he had a DVD recorder, or similar. He didn’t even want money for this. As I recall, he saw it as a way to give back to Doctor Who fandom. And so, DVDs started arriving at my door; sometimes the following Friday after the Saturday transmission in the UK, but generally a day or two into the week after that. It wasn’t ideal but, gosh, it was better than the alternative.

This also enabled me to see things that would only screen in the UK and, indeed, some things which I’ve never seen again. One that sticks out in my mind is a documentary about the eight Doctors prior to Eccleston. I believe this aired immediately before Rose went out in the UK. Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but that documentary has never ended up as a DVD extra, or even easy to find on YouTube, since then? I found stuff like this absolutely priceless and I cherished every disc in the post.

Although it goes without saying that I was loving it, the 2005 series of Doctor Who had a shadow hanging over it as well. We knew from the start (if I recall correctly; or at least very soon into the series), that Eccleston had already quit as the Doctor. I remember being indignant about it at the time, feeling that people should take on a role like The Doctor in much the same way as they’d take on James Bond or Batman or some other iconic role. You can’t just dip your toe and say, “Hey, that was fun!” and bugger off after one movie or one series or whatever. Of course, many years later it would finally emerge that Eccleston hadn’t been enjoying the best of times on the show.

“I left because of politics. I did not see eye to eye with them. I didn’t agree with the way things were being run. I didn’t like the culture that had grown up around the series. So I left, I felt, over a principle.”

In the end, when all was said and done, and the final Dalek ships had been blown from the sky, and we had our first glimpse of the Tennant Doctor, I looked back on the 2005 return of Doctor Who with happiness. Yes, I could start to already see what episodes had worked (The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, Dalek, Father’s Day, Bad Wolf, The Parting of the Ways), and what ones I didn’t like (The Long Game, Aliens of London, World War Three), and in some ways it was still hard to believe that the show was really back. Further to that, people who weren’t old-school fans like myself, were actually picking up the ball and running with it, too. It genuinely felt quite surreal at times to me.

Being realistic, there’s probably little else that series one of Doctor Who could have given me as a viewer. It wasn’t perfect at all times, yet it was a perfect start to Doctor Who returning to our screens and, even now, my wife considers Eccleston to be the best Doctor and I look back on episodes from that series, and the one after it, as some of the best of Nu Who. What was your experience?