Nine of the Ninth Doctor’s best moments on the ninth anniversary of his arrival… Yes, the anniversary was on Wednesday the 26th, but new Doctor Who’s all about Saturdays, just as it should be…
IT SEEMS LIKE JUST A FEW DAYS SINCE THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON’S CASTING AS THE DOCTOR… AND IT WAS. And sure as that Type-40 TARDIS is still stuck as a Police Box, just over a year later he made his first appearance on prime time BBC1. The build-up was lovely if a little understated, fuelling long-term and fair weather fans alike as they grasped for snippets of the theme song and story hints as this new leather jacketed character leapt around shouting “Do you want to come with me?” “We already are” we might have all shouted in unison if we weren’t asking “When the hell are you going to start?” instead.
It was unclear then (though it never should have been) how or if this Doctor would fit in. Would it really be the same Doctor, linking directly to the classic series? Would some elements change? Would the show be rebooted, chucking off millions of hours, pages, CDs, strips of continuity..? Sure enough, was screened on 26th March 2005. And it didn’t really answer any of those questions. True to the classic series, we’d have to wait…
So as after respite from last November’s Whovember, what better time to get back on that British wagon train to the stars: The Ninth Doctor’s top nine.
Astonishingly not all of these are from The Parting of the Ways, still I consider, by way of massive hint, the new series finest hour.
9. Rose – “Run”
A rare remake
A great entrance, and no doubt something showrunner Russell T Davies had thought about at length. Like his successor, current showrunner Steven Moffat, Davies must have toiled over this for years. It was crucial that this Doctor stepped out of his Police Box just as fully-formed (yet mysterious) as he had when he emerged in the fog of Totter’s Lane in 1963. Here the scrap yard was replaced with a department store, the granddaughter replaced with a, frustrated but ambitious London teenager.
And the story, brilliantly, was lightly drawn from Classic Who’s greatest writer Robert Holmes. Yes, he created The Sontarans, much of the Time Lords, the Master… But the Auton mannequins sat motionless on the high street, the personification of Hitchcockian suspense… Until they surprise a Bobby… Were one of his best. Here they make for a rare remake for the series (only bested in content by the underwhelming Silurian debut) and why not? A strong build-up of tension (broken only by Graham Norton) and then that hand in the dark…
8. The End of the World – “I’m a Time Lord, the last of the Time Lords”
And then off for chips
I pondered that Time Lord moment, but in the context of the show nine years and seven seasons on, it sticks out a mile. The show’s all about the Time Lord, but not the super Time Lord.
In Rose, you may strain to hear the dying Nestene Consciousness scream “Time Lord”… But here he said it.
Yes, the moment from that second episode has to be executive producer Julie Gardner’s favourite. That speech to Rose, that confession… Those keywords checked off in the midst of commuters all unaware how this figure had saved them, their descendants, their ancestors many, many times… And then off for chips. ”You think it will last forever…” It’s another moment that Moffat impressively managed to expand during the anniversary. Back then he was the impossible alien. Now he was discovered. It was the concept that the show would be built on…
7. Bad Wolf – “Would the Doctor please come to the Diary Room”
A light start to a pivotal episode
Popular Culture can’t ignore itself. This light parody checked all the boxes, managing to involve Davina but not aping the reality behemoth too exactly or too much (see the disappointing Dead Set for that). Davies, quite rightly a long-term fan of Big Brother had hinted at some kind of Who/Big Brother parody for some time. But here it was a light and familiar start to pivotal episode.
For Big Brother critics it was a particularly dicey move, but nine years on while Trinny and Susannah-style fashion shows and The Weakest Link have disappeared from the schedules… Big Brother’s back to its heady heights. Alongside Doctor Who.
6. The Unquiet Dead – “At such a cost, the poor child”
The Doctor’s darker hue
After the disposable plot setting of Rose and the nonsense whodunit of the majority of The End of the World, The Unquiet Dead did far more than establish a present, future, past season template. It really hinted at what Doctor Who could do while making a good stab at the horror that has always been at the heart of the show. It wasn’t perfect… Often criticised for being a light attempt at a classic story, later period pieces would add more spectacle and of course, this is this episode that supposedly lost us Eccleston.
But there are highlights, not least the Doctor’s darker hue, his fallibility and the hard decisions that should be woven into every story. Death is a heavily woven into Who’s fabric of course, coming every episode – but as the mid-70s and mid-80s showed, it needs to be handled correctly. The Unquiet Dead did that and also, it premiered on my birthday. Darker Who on my birthday. Fantastic. But it would get better…
5. The Empty Child – “Nobody here but us chickens”
An irresistible mystery
Mark Gatiss’ The Unquiet Dead had stoked some Who horror flames, but its zombie-ghost facade was cartoonish compared to this. Negating ghosts, period celebrities and zombies Moffat’s first Who classic had a comfortable two episodes to ramp up the pressure, the mystery and the horror. Here the Ninth Doctor has time alone to stalk around a mystery.
From a telephone that shouldn’t work to a door side encounter with classic ‘haunted’ house tropes. This Doctor is caught in an irresistible mystery, that instantly tests his instincts. “Ain’t nobody here but us chickens” he says, laughing sever-so-slightly nervously as he’s torn between protection and running. Failure to do either would be dereliction of the Doctor’s mantle…
The lone Dalek concept was a left perfectly by the Classic Series
To think that there was a chance that Daleks wouldn’t appear in that first series, or at all… After pondering that, it’s worth considering this story with its back-up aliens. The Toclafane would later show up in the series three finale as the chilling coda of humanity.
As it is, this loose adaptation of Big Finish’s Jubilee and penned by that play’s author Rob Shearman himself, improves with every viewing. A siege story in the classic sense, this meeting of aliens must be one of Who‘s most watched moments. The lone Dalek concept was a left perfectly by the Classic Series, and perfectly set up by the Alien comparison.
In hindsight the last the Doctor saw of his copper nemeses were some ravaged Dalek shells as he grafitti’d Gallifrey with “No More”. Both species were destroyed… And then, the last remaining members of each came face-to-face in near-future Utah. The Doctor at his most vengeful, a Dalek at its most duplicitous… The ultimate destroyer and then unstoppable force but not always the way you think.
And to start, a fan pleasing surprise. A wonderfully simple, empty cyber head, oddly a Revenge of the Cybermen iteration … the Cybers almost met the new Doctor first… if only they’d stuck with that classic design a season later.
3. The Doctor Dances – “Just this once, everybody lives!”
A true fan wrote this
The myth of the Doctor being the most dangerous man in the universe took five seasons to grow, but it was clear from the beginning that his travels were fraught with danger. After seeing more than a few characters, not least in The Unquiet Dead fall foul of his intervention… Or solution… This was joyous. A true fan wrote this and packed the plot with hard science-fiction to boot.
2. Bad Wolf – “Rose, I’m Coming to get you…”
This was about the Doctor and his companion.
Arguably the greatest moment in modern Doctor Who. Packed with promise and its unavoidable recall to the Time War. Jumping forward to the cliff-hanger resolution, imagine those Dalek missiles hurtling against a fleet of fully manned TARDISes during that war, weapons and crafts zapping through time zones while in fully manned console rooms Time Lords fly this way and that, regenerating in an endless domino effect around a central console… But of course, this wasn’t really about the Time War.
This was about the Doctor and his companion. Many co-travellers have brought the Doctor back into the fold, ever since the original crew quite reasonably created him. Oddest of all is the most recent, where despite a pleading afterword from Amy Pond, it took a mystery as deep as The Impossible Girl to pull him back in. Again, with recent hindsight, Rose is the Doctor’s first companion since he lost Cass in *that* crash on Karn… Eight or so years before we saw this Doctor’s origins, the show had recovered its confidence and swagger.
The pitch is never better – it’s simple and effective: the Doctor is happy to warn them: he’s going to storm into the heart of the Dalek ship and rescue Rose. Because that’s what he does.
1. The Parting of the Ways – Saving Bad Wolf
What was Bad Wolf’s cost?
As 2013’s The Time of the Doctor showed once again, Bad Wolf is a concept too good to be constrained by one season. There’s no doubt that such a light arc benefitted from coming in the first series, but it was the fantastic pay-off that made it.
Having taken a holiday while plot arcs took a firm grip on television science-fiction, New Who had time to unfold mysteries one by one. Bad Wolf, as light as a line of dialogue, a glimpse of a German bomb, or a smudge of graffiti scattered across a few episodes was perfect fodder for Whovians. No arc since, certainly not recent complications, would recapture that simple delight.
But in the end, what was Bad Wolf’s cost? The Daleks survived, Rose as well… The true cost was the Ninth Doctor. A short, rather miserable existence that wouldn’t know the redemption of the 11th Doctor (nor temporarily the 10th). Locked in a war with the Daleks, his only comfort was that the Daleks were destroyed once and for all.
It’s very unlikely we’ll see the Ninth Doctor again, thank goodness we’ll never forget him. Three Doctors and seven series on, his departure isn’t showy or nostalgic – his regeneration really is fantastic.