Tuesday 5 November 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Tenth Doctor

I commented a couple weeks ago that the recent periods of Doctor Who somewhat eerily mirror the periods of my own life. I had my own wilderness years of sorts during the show’s wilderness years. In the early 2000’s, I relocated and started to build my life back up to something of a high point, and around the same time, Doctor Who came back and also built itself back up to a high point.

Of course, everyone has their own opinions on when the show has been at it its best, but for me, I do see the Russell T Davies years (both the ninth and tenth Doctors) as the years when Doctor Who was at its most consistent best. This doesn’t mean every episode was great and perfect, and it doesn’t mean there weren’t great and incredible periods before it (I wouldn’t have been a fan for all those years if there weren’t). There were weak episodes during the ninth and tenth Doctors’ periods and there were brilliant episodes, but the gap between weak and brilliant never seemed as great as the gap between weak and brilliant could sometimes be in the classic series. Just look at the difference in quality between “The Caves of Androzani” and the story that came immediately after it in the same season, “The Twin Dilemma”. There was an overall greater consistency under Russell T Davies’s control, and I was immensely satisfied with what I was watching, even after turning my rather critical eye upon it. And I don’t deny I can be very critical of what I watch.

As I covered last week, I loved Christopher Eccleston’s series. I was disappointed that he wasn’t sticking around, but I was eager to see what the new Doctor would bring to the role. Like most of the other Doctors, I hadn’t heard of David Tennant when he was announced, so I had no preconceived notions of him, but I trusted that he would be good. Before Series One has started, I had worried about the quality of the show itself, but those worries were now completely gone. I expected brilliance. Alas, there would be quite a wait for some of it.

CBC aired the 2005 Christmas special, “The Christmas Invasion” on the 26th of December that year, only one day after the BBC aired it. This was an improvement over the first series (which aired a week and a half behind the U.K.), but unfortunately, was not a sign of things to come. I was visiting my parents for the holidays, so watched the episode on their television, which was much larger than my own and had much better sound. The experience was incredible. I loved the episode and loved the new Doctor. Indeed, “The Christmas Invasion” remains my favourite Christmas special. Later specials have never quite equalled that one. I was primed for more of the tenth Doctor in the spring.

Except it didn’t come in the spring. Oh, it came in the U.K., but not in Canada. CBC decided to hold off airing it until the fall. (I suppose, in a way, Canadians got an advance preview of the delays that have afflicted the show in more recent years.) No one really seems to know exactly why, but CBC’s decisions regarding Doctor Who over the next couple of years would continue to be strange as they slowly severed their ties with the programme. This caused a major problem with avoiding spoilers. I no longer had to avoid them for just a week and a half, but rather for many months (even longer for the second half of the series, since CBC split it in two and held the second half back until January). There was pretty much no way to avoid spoilers unless I simply never went near the internet for the next eight months or so, and that just wasn’t going to happen.

I could have just found the episodes on-line and watched them that way, but at the time, my computer wasn’t that great, and I really preferred to watch them on a television screen (even if I had to put up with commercials) instead of a small monitor. So I resolved to wait. I regretted that decision before too long. Spoilers could show up anywhere. I could be reading Dungeons and Dragons messageboards in topics that had nothing to do with Doctor Who and suddenly, someone would mention how something reminded them of such-and-such that happened on Doctor Who, and I would groan as it spoilt something I hadn’t yet seen. It wasn’t long before I knew pretty much everything that happened in the whole series and I hadn’t even tried to find that information. It was a pretty good lesson on how much times had changed. When I was young, TVO could be two years behind in airing Doctor Who, but all I’d know about what was to come were the story titles and that there was a new Doctor (there always seemed to be a new Doctor). Doctor Who Magazine contained a few spoilers here and there, and occasionally, a novelization of a story that hadn’t aired in Canada yet would show up, but for the most part I could go spoiler-free. Not anymore.

What was also annoying was that CBC did so little to advertise the show, which was rather surprising considering they went all out with the advertising the year before. It premièred without a murmur and barely a murmur after that. Apparently, it continued to do quite well in the ratings despite this, but nonetheless, it started to become clear that CBC was unhappy with Doctor Who for some reason. Over the next two years, Series Three and Four aired much more promptly, but still with next-to-no publicizing. After the end of Series Four, CBC dropped Doctor Who altogether. There’s never been any official statement as to why as far as I’m aware. I’ve heard rumours, of course, but nothing substantial. Whatever the case, despite the fact that they had signed on as a co-production partner early on, CBC pretty much wanted out as soon as possible. I get the impression they only stuck with it as long as they did out of some contractual obligation.

Whether CBC was happy with the show or not, I was. I eagerly watched and recorded every episode. I bought the DVDs as soon as they came out. And I voraciously gobbled up all the news about the show that I could on-line (although I avoided spoilers most of the time). There was something incredibly infectious about the series at that time. As I said, I do consider it to be the period where Doctor Who was most consistent in quality. But it was more than that. David Tennant was a large part of that—not simply because of his performance (although I thought he was great there, too), but also his general attitude towards the programme. In interviews and public appearances, he exuded such incredible enthusiasm and love for the show. It was pretty much impossible not to be swept along in the euphoria.

The show also started referencing the older series a little more often now that it had established its own identity. Sarah Jane Smith appeared. More old enemies like the Cybermen and the Master also showed up. Even the Macra made an appearance! I was having such fun with the programme, and it spread out beyond just the core series as the spin-offs started. CBC carried the first season of Torchwood, but then dropped it. Nobody local carried The Sarah Jane Adventures, but there were other ways to watch them, and DVDs showed up eventually. There just seemed to be so much Doctor Who going around. It was a situation I never would have imagined just a few years earlier.

The first companion changes happened during the tenth Doctor’s time as well, establishing on the new series another major facet of Doctor Who’s longevity. I had actually grown somewhat tired of Rose by the end of Series Two, so I was actually kind of happy to see her go. I really liked Martha, but felt the unrequited-love angle was unnecessary coming right after Rose. Nevertheless, I did like how it was resolved in the end. Martha getting over the Doctor helped give her a strong identity separate from Rose. However, Donna quickly rose to become one of my all-time favourite companions. She was pretty much the perfect companion for the tenth Doctor.

All good things must come to an end of course. It was inevitable that both David Tennant and Russell T Davies would eventually move on, and by the time the announcement came, it wasn’t that surprising they chose to do it at the same time. It was a little disappointing that 2009 would just have a few specials rather than a whole series, but I was willing to put up with it. Doctor Who clearly wasn’t going away any time soon. It was a little bit more difficult to see the specials since CBC had dropped the show and Space had not yet picked it up (they would start with Series Five), but that was only a minor problem. “The End of Time” may not have been the greatest Doctor Who story ever (the victory lap at the end was particularly annoying), but it was a fitting end to the era. As sorry as I was to see the end of it, I was eager to see Matt Smith take over as the Doctor and Steven Moffat as showrunner. Moffat had written some of the most acclaimed episodes of the past few years, and I was confident he would take the show to new heights.

During these years, my own life was going just as well as the show. I had risen through the ranks to a decent job as an education director. It wasn’t the greatest-paying job in the world, but I made enough to get by. More important than that though, in 2009, I got married to a woman who is just as geeky and nerdy as I am. I was actually the one who originally introduced her to Doctor Who shortly before Series One started by lending her a few DVDs of the classic series. She was a very quick convert, and began watching the new series when it started. Over the space of a couple years, we did a complete run-through of the entire series, from “An Unearthly Child” all the way up to “Journey’s End”, which was the most recent one at the time we finished. We included the spin-offs during this run-through, too. (We have since started another run-through, and have currently reached the end of “Logopolis”. This time, we are also watching all the special features on the DVDs, which she wasn’t interested in seeing last time.) Life wasn’t all good. I lost two dogs during these years, one to cancer and one to an illness the vets were never able to identify. But I also got two new dogs, and on the whole, life was great.

Unfortunately, a major blow was just around the corner. Just a few days after Series Five started, I received a letter from work informing me that I was being laid off. The centre had recently been bought by new owners and they had decided to downsize. I was the junior director, so I was the one who was let go first. And in that same eerie way that the periods of my life and the periods of Doctor Who seem to coincide of late, I was about to be disappointed in the overall direction of Doctor Who (not just an individual episode) for the very first time.

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