January 31, 2023

11 years ago the new Doctor Who returned

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2015-03-27-bb-ninerose-68c93By Chris Taylor From Mashable

[Just over eleven years ago], an old TV show returned to the BBC after a 16-year hiatus. Expectations were low. Prior to this day the show seemed, even to many of its fans, like a low-budget relic from another era.

Its very name recalled wobbly cardboard sets, rubber-masked aliens, scenery-chewing actors and impenetrable scripts filled with sci-fi jargon. There had already been one attempt to revive it — a 1996 TV movie made in collaboration with Fox. The best that could be said about that was the initial plans to have Michael Jackson play the title role came to naught.

But when Doctor Who returned a second time on March 26, 2005, with the episode Rose, it announced a clear new direction for the show from the very first shot. Instead of a traditional Who opening — the Doctor in his TARDIS control room, perhaps, or actors in silver jumpsuits about to fall victim to a bug-eyed monster — we began with a 19-year-old shop girl waking up in her messy bedroom. She rushes to get ready for work, kisses her mum goodbye, jumps on a bus, and messes around with her boyfriend at lunch in Trafalgar Square.

This was Rose, played by Billie Piper, best known at the time as a chart-topping UK pop star. She not only brought a measure of glamor to a geeky show, but also a giant dose of realism. Rose was defiantly working class; she lived in a block of flats, watched telly, had mugs of tea, went down to the pub, kept her family close. RTD has said he was aiming for a character that was utterly, properly British.

No previous companion to the Doctor had been fleshed out like this, or been made so accessible to the average viewer. There’s a reason why Who virgins are invariably advised to start with this episode, and why current Doctor Peter Capaldi praises it this highly:

There was something different about the Doctor, too. Gone were the string of predecessors in the role who spoke like upper-class Shakespearean actors and dressed like eccentric Edwardians with billowy hair. Christopher Eccleston, known for playing tortured souls with haunted looks, had a simple leather jacket and a buzz cut. This alien spoke with a working class North-of-England accent (“lots of planets have a North,” he explained). By the end of Rose, he’d flirted with Rose and had to fend off advances from her mum. This was not something the old asexual Doctors had to contend with.

For the success of this formula we can credit not just Eccleston and Piper, but showrunner Russell T. Davies, a consummate TV writer best known before Who as the creator of Queer as Folk. Davies understood that Doctor Who could work as a soap opera as well as a space opera. He gave the Doctor a dark secret he could brood over — he was now the last of his Time Lord race, and had wiped them all out himself in something called the Time War — and a budding will-they-won’t-they romance with Rose.

RTD, as he is universally known, was a rabid fan of the classic show — the villains in Rose were the relatively obscure but terrifying Autons, a plastic consciousness that inhabits showroom dummies, last seen on the screen in 1971. But at the same time, he understood when to replace the inherent cheesiness of the old format (with more believable Hollywood-like special effects), and when to turn it up to 11 (with over-the-top Hollywood-like music).

In this endeavor, RTD was lucky to be enabled by an equally talented TV writer, Steven Moffat. In his first season one outing, The Empty Child, Moffat not only introduced one of the show’s most popular new characters (Captain Jack Harkness, a glamorous bisexual time-traveler from the future), but also showed he could create brilliantly unusual and scary new monsters (a child with a World War II gas mask permanently attached to his face, transferring gas masks to the faces of all he encountered with the words “are you my mummy?”)

The show could have stumbled at the end of the first season, when Eccleston left under mysterious circumstances (he later explained he’d witnessed on-set bullying and clashed with management).

But Doctor Who’s greatest strength has always been the character’s ability to regenerate and change his face on the edge of death. RTD found the perfect next Doctor — David Tennant, an actor he’d recently worked with on a historical miniseries, Casanova.

With the winningly charming Tennant at the TARDIS console, the revamped Who was off to the races. Viewership regularly topped 10 million per episode. Tennant and Piper had even better chemistry than Ecclestone and Piper. The show gradually perfected a formula that appealed to all walks of society, young and old, geeky and not. Rose left the show, stuck in an alternate dimension: we got ever more able companions in Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). Captain Jack earned his own spin-off, the X-Files-esque Torchwood. And Moffat created the creepiest Who villains of all time — the Weeping Angels, statues that only bare their pointed teeth and attack when you’re not staring unblinkingly at them.

When RTD and Tennant both left, Moffat took over and picked the young unknown Matt Smith as his Doctor, with Karen Gillan as his fiery sidekick Amy Pond. For Smith’s first season, the show was widely promoted in the U.S. It worked beyond the BBC’s wildest dreams, and Smith became something of a heartthrob. His quirky, kinetic “madman in a box” version of the Doctor connected with audiences around the world.

By the time of The Day of the Doctor, the film-length episode that marked the 50th anniversary of the original show, Who was a bona fide global phenomenon. Day of the Doctor broke the Guinness World Record by being simulcast in 94 countries, both on TV and in 1,500 theaters.

The Doctor, Moffat declared, had gone from saving the planet to conquering it.

The show could have been hampered once again by the imminent departure of its lead actor, but Smith’s replacement — Oscar-winner Peter Capaldi, perhaps the most renowned actor to play the Doctor yet — had already been chosen, and even found his way into the anniversary special for a few seconds.

Capaldi’s first season, the show’s 8th, returned to the soap opera roots of Rose. Clara, the Doctor’s latest (and now longest-running) companion, stopped mooning over the Doctor and got a boyfriend, a character that came across for many as a more charming and intelligent version of Rose’s jealous guy, Mickey Smith.

And the Doctor got to brood over something new — his own propensity to do bad things for the greater good. The season concluded with his freeing realization that he was and always had been “just an idiot in a box.”

The show embarks on its ninth season this fall, hampered by the kinds of sky-high expectations RTD never really experienced. A whole Internet full of fans will dissect and criticize every episode, claiming as ever that it’s not as good as it was last season.

Moffat, an infamously ADD trickster forever fizzing with ideas, is already promising fresh twists that will make your head spin. Long-time fans may grumble, but the one thing they won’t do, they can’t do, is ignore it. RTD recently said the show was so popular now, there’s no way it will ever get axed again.

Love him or hate him, you are stuck with the infinitely renewable Doctor for another decade at the very least — if not for a century, or a millennium, or all time and space.

For more on this story and video go to: http://mashable.com/2015/03/26/doctor-who-2005-2015/?utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner#6KwX4zplGSqu

Original title (Mashable) Happy 10th birthday, new Doctor Who – [Exactly ten years ago Thursday]

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