Doctor Who: Series One

Doctor Who: Series One

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

After being saved from aliens by a mysterious human-looking being known as "The Doctor" (Christopher Eccleston), working-class girl Rose Tyler (Roe Piper) finds out that he's actually an intergalactic traveller who uses a time machine called “The TARDIS” (which looks like a blue police box). Accepting his invite to come travelling, the pair set off to navigate through space and time...

Let’s face it, Doctor Who has never been the coolest show on the box. Though having the honour of being the longest-running science fiction programme on television (going from 1963 to 1989 before cancellation), it's also long-since been tarred as a 'geeks only' type show. Given this and the fact that your average's viewer's only knowledge of it would be an off-key Dalek impersonation, who in their right mind would’ve thought this could work?

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Russell T Davies, that’s who. Bringing the impressive writing skills and adult approach that he got him noticed during acclaimed work like Queer As Folk (where he made a few Doctor Who in-jokes) and The Second Coming (on which he worked with Christopher Eccleston), Davies was undoubtedly the right man for the job. Yes, it’s flawed and a bit daft at times, but for transforming a show that virtually nobody thought was worth bringing back into impressive Saturday night TV, the showrunner deserves all the back-patting he gets.

Aside from Davies, this is largely thanks to Eccleston. Though apparently influenced by Tom Baker, Eccleston puts his own unique sonic screwdriver-wielding stamp on the role. While the leather jacket, wide grin and bursts of manic enthusiasm in a distinctive Northern accent (which the show makes neat reference to) make for an informal version removed from the middle-class predecessors, this Doctor is also guilt-ridden and haunted by past events. One minute delivering potentially-clunky exposition, the next offering us deep observations on the human race, Eccleston’s performance lives up to his catchphrase of “fantastic!”

Sadly though, it's still hard to see non-geeks giving it a try. Unlike comic adaptations which are designed to be accessible to the non-fanboy, the same isn't true here and Davies' good work is likely to be ignored by close-minded audiences. Though there is good support from little-known popstar Piper, newcomer John Barrowman and a host of guest stars (including Simon Pegg, Simon Callow, Richard Wilson, Paterson Joseph and Bruno Langley), your average viewer will probably still give it as wide a berth as the Doctor finding a revengeful Dalek.

Thankfully for the ‘Whovian’ fans out there though, Davies also makes mostly wise choices with what he keeps from the old series. The TARDIS is still bigger on the inside than the out, but this time the interior is totally different. We see old enemies, such as the Autons and the Daleks (as well as nods to others) but there are new foes to face like the interestingly-named Slitheen of Raxacoricofallapatorius. However, Davies best move was to have every episode involved Earth as per his pitch: “If the Zogs on planet Zog are having trouble with the Zog-monster ... who gives a toss?”

While its unlikely to have the masses tuning in, the reintroduction of Doctor Who has to be seen as a success. Sure, it bounces from inconsistent sillyness (The Doctor on Big Brother? What the hell?), to profoundly moving, but its often impressive and Christopher Eccleston is simply phenomenal. Overall, just about what the Doctor ordered.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2009
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Russell T Davies' resurrection of the time traveller.
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