Adherents of Doctor Who pt 1

We’ve travelled to the 19th century and met Charles Dickens; we ventured in to the distant future and met the Moxx of Balhoon and the Face of Boe; we watched London get invaded by aliens twice and met the last Dalek… and then again thousands of years later. Doctor Who returned and took us and Rose on a rollercoaster “Trip of a Lifetime” – charted here on Kasterborous every week in Christian Cawley’s reviews.

In this article we’re going to look back over the 13 weeks with the help of various friends of Kasterborous – basically, anyone who isn’t me is going to be asked what they thought about the long awaited return of Doctor Who.

In order to intelligently discuss the highs and lows of Doctor Who in 2005, we’ve gathered the opinions of some friends of Kasterborous who are well known in Doctor Who fandom.

Jean Marc Lofficier is the author of The Universal Databank, The Doctor Who Programme Guide, and Doctor Who – The Terrestrial Index which have long been used as reference by fans and writers alike, for almost 25 years.

Andrew Skilleter is a renowned artist and illustrator whose range of work has spanned across nearly three decades and numerous media, from the Target range of novels, the BBC videos, BBC Doctor Who exhibitions, posters and postcards just to name a few!

Barnaby Jones is a founder member of the OFFSTAGE theatre group. According to the groups website, he “sometimes gets accused of being a human being. He denies this.”

Carolyn Edwards has worked for Big Finish & BBC books, as well as for various fanzines, including ‘In-Vision’ and ‘The Doctor’s Recorder’. She recently provided the cover artwork for BBV’s DVD ‘The Doctors – 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond’. The 1996 Doctor Who TV movie started her painting Doctor Who characters in earnest, inspired by Paul McGann’s portrayal of the eighth Doctor.

We also have the views of some chaps less well known in the world of Doctor Who fandom, but intrinsic to world of Kasterborous.

Anthony Dry is the driving force behind Kasterborous, the man who got the ball rolling and who provides the stunning design and majority of the artwork to the site.

Brian A. Terranova is the American link, a very capable reviewer with strong opinions and a 21st century beat poet image.

Finally we have our friend and the man behind Doctor Who news site, Martin Hoscik.

We’ll begin by setting the scene, for those of you among us who are new fans. Doctor Who was seen about 5 years ago as a done-deal. It was old hat, he was yesterdays news, relaunching just wouldn’t work (we’d seen it fail in the US) and all that would continue would be the novels and the audios. But around the same time, a feeling started to grow within fandom that actually, yes, it could be done and it could be done right. Sadly we all knew then that the BBC just wouldn’t be interested after getting burnt with the TV Movie starring Paul McGann and the failure that was the second series of Reeves’ & Mortimer’s version of “Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)”.

So what did our panel think of the news that Doctor Who was coming back?

Carolyn Edwards: “I reserved judgement at first, despite the extensive and promising hype.” Martin Hoscik was similarly reticent – “I was struck by mixed emotions, pleased on one level but fearing a disaster of ‘Crossroads’ proportions”. That would have been quite a disaster, but then didn’t we have one of those already?

What probably stands out for most viewers of Doctor Who in 2005 would be the performances of the stars, Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. As the official Ninth Doctor Who and the first actor to play the part in nine years, how exactly did Eccleston do? Andrew Skilleter was impressed – “Christopher Eccleston is a powerful, in your face actor that demand one’s attention – almost too powerful at times! It is a blow that Christopher Eccleston had to depart so soon – two series would have been better.”

Barnaby was more than impressed: “Christopher Eccleston was a revelation as the Doctor, to be honest. His flippant yet serious attitude, his alien yet human qualities, his happy yet melancholy disposition. It was a tour-de-force. Sometimes the mugging and constant grinning came across a little too forced but that’s only nit-picking. He was, and is, a magnificent Doctor.” On the departure and the regeneration, Jean-Marc Lofficier was similarly disappointed by this: “Eccleston could have easily made a mark comparable to that of Tom Baker, given time, and I regret his departure.”

Still, best not to dwell… Brian Terranova was more positive about the Doctor’s recent lifespan: “Mr. Eccleston has brought us the most diverse era of Doctor Who and he was only with us for a year, not bad really, he was Fantastic! Though I still feel he was underused. Still change has always been a constant of the show and it is nice to see that some things don’t change.”

How did Eighth Doctor-phile Carolyn take to the new Doctor? “Christopher Eccleston’s prickly northern Doctor, with his rapid fire grins and … snappy dialogue and aloof manner were well balanced with plenty of good humour and sometimes surprising bursts of emotion. I liked the fallibility beneath the mystery. He made mistakes, was prepared to live with the consequences, and his arrogance was only skin deep.”

Anthony, any more you can add? “Eccleston was brilliant as The Doctor, a definite mix of Tom Baker/Davison”. Barnaby adds to this sentiment “Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal … seemed to take on the Tigger-esque quality of the previous Doctor, played by Paul McGann, as well as the intense seriousness and introspection.” Martin agrees, “Eccleston was delightful in his portrayal of a Doctor recovering from, and dealing with, his own actions.”

Russell T Davies himself came in for a lot of fire from some areas of fandom over the quality of his scripts compared to thos by Rob Shearman and Steven Moffat – was this deserved? Or was it all just a matter of taste? Jean-Marc: “So far I have liked all the stories, with a particular fondness for the political allegory of Aliens of London/World War III and thumbs up for the creepiness of The Empty Child.

I think Russell T. Davies has been very successful in using certain story devices from shows like Buffy, which itself was much influenced by British TV.”

Barnaby, meanwhile, has sympathy with the RTD-aimed criticism. “Russell T Davies is a genius for getting things done, for pushing the envelope, for delivering the unexpected, for being so enthusiastic, and for over-seeing some of the best ‘Doctor Who’ we’ve ever seen… but… he has a bit of difficulty writing for the show itself. It’s a common complaint, I’m led to believe. Perhaps it’s the workload forced on him, being the Executive Producer and main driving force?”

Brian is much more upbeat on this matter – he’s like that though, “One of the best, or dare I say THE best, written seasons of Doctor Who ever”. Ant is less positive – “…For me at least (it) tended to fluctuate. For every ‘The Unquiet Dead’ or ‘Fathers Day’ there was an ‘Aliens of London’ or ‘Boom Town’ and all too often i thought, the new series revolved far too much around Rose. As much as I admired the acting of Billie Piper and the background to her life, there was just too much of it.”

Martin is far more positive, “Not in my wildest dreams had I expected to be treated to such a lavish and stylish drama, packed with wit, charm and unqualified love”. Andrew had his own take on the writing: “. I knew I had to view it as a Saturday early evening drama for the 21st century and given its 45 minute format it would be unable to directly follow in the tradition of the original Doctor Who, with slowly developing story lines… I wasn’t keen on the occasional soapworld mini-story lines or the parody of today’s culture. The continual return to Earth I see as part of the game plan to keep the non-genre audience but perhaps it was overdone? I appreciate it’s a dilemma.”

Brian felt that although the “pacing of …”Rose”… was too rushed and the Doctor was underused, each week the stories just got better and better, and I have never wanted an entire week to end so quickly before, just so that it would be Saturday again.” Carolyn was impressed not only with the scripts but the characterization, “I enjoyed watching Micky and Jackie’s characters develop, as they returned again and again. Captain Jack was fun too and I did wonder for a time just whose side he was on.

“I loved the music and the writing, particularly Robert Shearman’s Dalek and Paul Cornell’s Father’s Day, both of which I found particularly moving. Also worth a mention, for getting me really involved, and for thrilling and chilling me, were The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances.”

Next week we’ll see what the panel thought of Billie Piper, the series’ low points and what they’re looking forward to about the Tenth Doctor’s adventures.

Illustration courtesy of Carolyn Edwards

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