The newly revamped classic BBC sci-fi series finally launched on Saturday night and I was, naturally, at the TV like a shot. For all the money poured into the production it felt rather tame compared to the Who of Thoughtcat’s youth (which is saying something, as “my” Doctor was Peter Davison), and it did try a bit too hard to be trendy. That said, respectively, an attack of faceless child mannequins was fairly unnerving, and the Beeb could have done (and indeed have done) a whole lot worse than Christopher Eccleston as the new Who and Billie “Second Billie of the Day [sic]” Piper as his Lovely Assistant. The peppering of the script with essential Who factoids (what TARDIS stands for, the fact that it’s bigger on the inside than out, the sonic screwdriver etc etc) also grated a bit, but then the BBC are looking for a new audience and I should hand it to writer Russell T. Davies for managing to both entertain and give everyone a crash course on all things Who in the space of less than an hour. It’s good to hear that the Daleks will return at some point, although the news that “this time they can fly” surely represents a fundamental misconception of what Dr Who is all about: the whole point of the Daleks is that they couldn’t climb stairs! It was one of their main weaknesses! It’s a bit like revamping Superman without the Kryptonite.
I thought Ecclestone was a good choice for the new Doctor, as the BBC’s increasing dependence on unheard-of whacky oddballs to portray him, culminating in the preposterous Sylvester McCoy, was one of the reasons the series self-destructed in the late 80s. No doubt our friends in the north (ho ho!) are happy to finally have a Doctor not sporting a Home Counties accent, and the pairing of the Mancunian with Piper, a Londoner, is inspired. It was also good to see the sense of humour (another Who essential) in evidence, such as when Ecclestone tore the head off a malignant plastic alien, and found time in the ensuing chaos to grin broadly at the grotesque object in his hands. It was in fact something of a revelation to see Ecclestone smile at all – the Doctor may actually be the first role which has ever made such a demand on the notoriously intense actor. Maybe this series will give him some practice, and he’ll go on to play other smiling parts on the big screen in the future? I sincerely hope so.
On the whole I enjoyed the first episode and don’t plan to be anywhere other than in front of the box at 7pm for the next several Saturdays. I hope it gets scarier, though.