“Do you wanna come with me?”.
By 2005, Doctor Who had not had a proper run of episodes on television for over fifteen years. Whilst adults might have looked back on it fondly, it was nonetheless treated as a bit of a joke. The Doctor’s greatest threat was not the Daleks or the Cybermen, but a reputation for bubble-wrap monsters and gaudy costumes. Despite the best efforts of so many people, the time traveller appeared to be stuck in the past.
And then, almost miraculously, he came back. Yet when Christopher Eccleston asked the audience to join him in the Series 1 trailer, something seemed a little odd. The colourful cravats, question mark jumpers and comically long scarves were nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was a practical leather jacket and a V-neck jumper. But Eccleston was not just asking old fans to trust him with their favourite show, he had to persuade new audiences to join him too, promising “the trip of a lifetime”. Under head writer and executive producer Russell T Davies, the show had to prove it could be a serious, intelligent, and engaging piece of drama.
Doctor Who works best when it successfully blends the ordinary with the extraordinary, and Series 1 is a sheer joy to watch
It certainly did. Doctor Who works best when it successfully blends the ordinary with the extraordinary, and Series 1 is a sheer joy to watch. Entire dissertations could be written about the brilliance of individual episodes. From the disturbingly relevant ‘The Long Game’, in which a futuristic fake news empire encourages xenophobia, to the emotional ‘Father’s Day’ in which Rose breaks time trying to save the dad she grew up without, this is quite possibly the greatest run of episodes Doctor Who has ever had. Who can forget a gas mask zombie child asking “Are you my mummy?”, a killer version of The Weakest Link or a Slitheen spaceship crashing into Big Ben? Even the Daleks, their ‘sink plungers’ encouraging countless examples of toilet humour over the previous decades, got the last laugh when one brutally crushes a man’s skull.
But what about the Doctor himself? The Ninth Doctor is, to quote the characters themselves, “fantastic”. Eccleston consistently puts in a flawless performance week after week. His character struggles to deal with the effects of an off-screen Time War, but also retains the humour and charm of his eight predecessors. It’s also fascinating that it is often not the Doctor who saves the day, but someone he inspires or helps. This Doctor is, somewhat appropriately, someone who makes people better.
Despite its serious nature, Series 1 is ultimately optimistic about humanity and its future
As brilliant as those thirteen episodes were, Eccleston decided to move onto other projects. However, despite leaving after just one series, the Ninth Doctor and Christopher Eccleston still retain a special place in fans’ hearts. If it were not for them, then Doctor Who could have easily failed and never returned. And fifteen years later, the show keeps going as now Jodie Whittaker battles evil across the cosmos. Recently, Doctor Who passed an important milestone. It has now been back on our screens for longer than it went away. And in that time, much has changed. The show has become a lot more popular with women. In the first episode of Series 1, a cheeky reference is made about the male-dominated fandom. “She’s read a website about the Doctor? She’s a she?”. And now both a large section of the audience, and indeed the Doctor herself, are women. Likewise, we’ve had LGBT+ companions on television, starting with the omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness. Mickey Smith also allowed us to see black characters inside the TARDIS. Despite its serious nature, Series 1 is ultimately optimistic about humanity and its future. It recognises that there is injustice and cruelty, but it offers hope too.
It is also satisfying knowing that the actor who ended the fifteen-year hiatus has returned after his own fifteen-year break
Most fans felt it was a shame we would never see Eccleston reprise the role but had quietly accepted it. And then, fifteen years after he left, he returns, in the form of twelve new audio dramas from Big Finish. I expect several floorboards will need to be repaired as fans’ jaws dropped right onto them. He’s back, and we could not be happier. It is also satisfying knowing that the actor who ended the fifteen-year hiatus has returned after his own fifteen-year break. Already fans are hoping they had their own TARDISes so that they could go straight to the day of release in May 2021.
A decade and a half after Series 1, the Ninth Doctor is once more asking us if we want to come with him on the trip of a lifetime. My answer is still a resounding yes.