Thursday, March 26, 2015
DOCTOR WHO: 10 Years of the Modern Era
"Do you wanna come with me? 'Cause if you do, then I should warn you. You're gonna see all sorts of things -- ghosts from the past, aliens from the future, the day the Earth died in a ball of flame. It won't be quiet, it won't be safe, and it won't be calm...but I'll tell you what it will be -- the trip of a lifetime!"
-- The Ninth Doctor, Doctor Who 2005 Trailer
Things were pretty dire for Doctor Who fans back in early 2003. It had been seven long years since the 1996 TV Movie introducing Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and fans had pretty much accepted that the Eighth Doctor audio adventures from Big Finish Productions were the "official" continuation of their beloved series. The celebration of the show's 40th anniversary consisted mainly of the disappointing Big Finish audio drama Zagreus, and Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka, a Flash-animated webseries featuring Richard E. Grant (who later appeared on the TV series as The Great Intelligence) as a new Ninth Doctor, Sophie Okonedo (who later appeared as Liz Ten) as his new companion Alison Cheney, and Sir Derek Jacobi (who later appeared as the Fifth Master) as an android replica of The Master reprogrammed by the Doctor.
And then on September 26, 2003, Doctor Who fandom regenerated itself once again with the announcement that Doctor Who would finally return as a full-fledged BBC television series in 2005. We later learned that Christopher Eccleston would be the Ninth Doctor (effectively negating Scream of the Shalka from Doctor Who canon), and pop star Billie Piper would be his new companion Rose Tyler. Best of all, we learned that the new series would be a continuation of the original series, not a silly reboot that no one who truly loved the show wanted to see.
After some teaser trailers that made fans even more excited, the first episode of the modern era, "Rose," debuted on March 26, 2005. The Russell T. Davies story was essentially a reworking of Jon Pertwee's first story, "Spearhead from Space," featuring the return of the Autons after 34 years. "Rose" was a pretty simplistic story, designed to introduce the mysterious new Doctor, the ordinary London girl Rose, Rose's clueless boyfriend Mickey Smith, and her exasperating mother Jackie Tyler. The production values and special effects surpassed anything fans of the original series could ever dream of, putting to shame the old wobbly sets and costumes made out of tin foil or bubble wrap. No, "Rose" wasn't a perfect episode, but it was certainly enjoyable enough, especially for long-suffering fans that were just glad to have new Doctor Who after all that time.
However, just as the new series began its run of ten years and counting, fans were stunned by the news that Christopher Eccleston was leaving the show at the end of Series One. The reasons behind the decision remain a mystery to this day, with rumors speculating of possible friction between Eccleston and the producers, or Eccleston's abrupt desire to not be typecast in such a high-profile role. Whatever the real reason, fans were extremely disappointed but continued to watch as the mysterious Time War was introduced, the Daleks returned, and David Tennant became the Tenth Doctor at the end of the tearful "The Parting of the Ways."
Tennant, a longtime fan of the classic series, quickly proved to be a welcome replacement to Eccleston in Doctor Who's very first Christmas special, "The Christmas Invasion." As fans adjusted to the new new Doctor in Series Two, they were treated to the return of beloved companion Sarah Jane Smith, as well as the return of the Cybermen and a long-awaited battle between the Cybermen and the Daleks.
Series Three introduced Freema Agyeman as new companion Martha Jones, Catherine Tate as Donna Noble (Martha's eventual successor in the TARDIS), and John Simm as the Sixth Master (regenerating from Jacobi). Series Four brought Donna into the forefront, reintroduced the Sontarans, introduced us to Tennant's future real-life wife (and daughter of Peter Davison) Georgia Moffet as Jenny, the Doctor's future wife River Song, and teamed several past and present companions in an epic battle against the Daleks and their returning creator, Davros.
David Tennant's final year as the Tenth Doctor in 2009 consisted of five specials scattered throughout the year instead of an actual season. Each special paired the Doctor with a one-off companion, ranging from the Victorian era character Jackson Lake to Donna's grandfather Wilfred "Wilf" Mott in Tennant's final story, "The End of Time." New Year's Day in 2010 was heartbreaking for Tennant's fans, but exciting as Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, arrived with a thunderous "Geronimo!"
2010 was an important year for Doctor Who, as Davies stepped down to make way for new showrunner Steven Moffat, whose episodes for Davies were generally regarded to be some of the new series' best. Series Five hit the ground running with Smith's first episode "The Eleventh Hour," which introduced us to Karen Gillan as new Scottish companion Amy Pond and her eventual husband Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). In addition to the return of Moffat's creation the Weeping Angels, fans were treated to the return of the Silurians and the mind-boggling alliance of many of the Doctor's enemies.
Series Six featured a season-long mystery of the Doctor's "death," the revelation of River Song's true identity, the introduction of the creepy Silence and Madame Kovarian, the TARDIS given human form in a wonderful episode by Neil Gaiman, and the first appearance of the Paternoster Gang of Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny Flint and the Sontaran Strax. Series Seven, meanwhile, suffered from a number of hiatuses spread across 2012 and 2013, but saw the departure of Amy and Rory, the arrival of Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, the introduction of the Brigadier's daughter, Kate Stewart, and the return of both the Great Intelligence and the Ice Warriors after far too long.
Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary in 2013 was far superior to its fortieth, with the shocking return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor in the mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor" that finally gave the Eighth Doctor a regeneration sequence. On November 23, 2013, the anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor" paired the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors with a mysterious secret incarnation called the War Doctor (Sir John Hurt) that played such an important role in the Time War. The War Doctor's creation seemed to be a result of Christopher Eccleston's decision not to reprise the Ninth Doctor for the special, a decision that only added to some fans' resentment held for the actor since 2005. The special also featured the long-awaited return of the Zygons and most importantly, Tom Baker, in his first appearance on Doctor Who since his final Fourth Doctor story "Logopolis" in 1981.
Matt Smith's final story, "The Time of the Doctor," followed a month later as a Christmas special, wrapping up a number of dangling plotlines since Series Five and giving the Doctor a brand-new life cycle of twelve regenerations so fans didn't have to fear the previous limit of thirteen lives. After saying a tearful goodbye to a hallucination of Amy Pond, the Eleventh Doctor abruptly regenerated into the Twelfth, now played by Peter Capaldi.
The show returned for Series Eight in the fall 2014, following another long hiatus and with only twelve episodes instead of the traditional thirteen. Capaldi's first series as the new Scottish-accented Doctor proved somewhat rocky, with his somewhat brusque demeanor coming off a bit too harsh for some fans. Others, however, rejoiced in having an older Doctor that wasn't always likable once again, proving that you just can't please everyone. Series Eight featured Clara as a teacher at Coal Hill School (taking the show back to its 1963 roots), the introduction of Clara's boyfriend Danny Pink, the return of Moffat's Clockwork Droids from Series Two, and a surprising alliance of the Cybermen with the first female Master, played by Michelle Gomez.
So where now? Doctor Who is expected to come back for Series Nine later this fall, with Missy/The Mistress/The Seventh Master starting the season off in the opening two-partner. Beyond that, we don't really know, which is always a good thing. Here's hoping the next ten years are just as wonderful and wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey...