A decade in, how’s the bold New Doctor Who bearing up to compared to its Classic predecessor
10 YEARS. 10 YEAR’S ALREADY. 10 YEARS. THE TIN ANNIVERSARY. AND THEY SAY TIME IS RELATIVE. Since Doctor Who returned on 26th March 2005 we’ve heard more about fixed and immovable points of time than ever before. Sure, they haven’t been treated too consistently over the past decade, but if ever there was a point that had ultimate mobility it was one spring day 10 years ago.
Jokerside’s always been kind to the show’s prolonged hiatus. For all the shame that Who was cut down at the all too young age of 26, when it was reaching a considerable 1980s high, and clearly by decision makers who had little objectivity, the hiatus has proved crucial to the show’s legacy. True, we might have lived without the American TV Movie, although losing Paul McGann would have been criminal. More important was the throng of fan activity that quickly swung into place to continue the Doctor’s adventures and keep the Sacred Flame alive during the lean early 1990s; imaginations starved that quickly adapted to generating content for themselves.
Keeping the Sacred Flame alive
The New Adventures came about through the chance inquisitiveness of Peter Darvill-Evans at Virgin Publishing, before BBC books found repeating that magic wasn’t that easy. Among the roster of Virgin’s subsequent New and Missing Adventures were Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts, Paul Cornell… On screen, the wittily disrespectful Curse of Fatal Death gave Steven Moffat a chance to script Who that wouldn’t otherwise have materialised. At the end of the decade, Big Finish roared into prolific recording, reviving those would be soon called classic doctors thanks to Nick Briggs, Gary Russell et al – creators who would have a significant role to play in 21st Century Who.
While many were dragged into the world of New Who following their involvement in the above, reputations enhanced by proven success, there’s no doubt that the looser editorial control in the early 1990s (that is, from the BBC) allowed Who to diversify and deepen far more than it could on television. And the legacy of creative explosion on New Who is undeniable, even as it sits proudly back its traditional Saturday family slot.
Masterful appropriation of fate
More importantly, when all these events combine, the hiatus became the ideal metaphor for the perfectly vague Time War. A non-descript, highly destructive war of which few could speak and the Doctor would take no little time to recover from: Masterful appropriation of fate.
Who loves a birthday, but has rarely managed to hit the date. There may be something coming up in Series Nine to celebrate this anniversary, which would be a neat reference to the Classic series 10th anniversary special, which may have fallen in Season 10 but was almost a whole year early. Whatever happens, we’ll be very lucky to see Three Doctors team up this time around.
So if you took 10 key points of Doctor Who – how would these first 10 years of New Who compare to the Classic Series?
THE TUNE AND THE TUNNEL
New Who has been lucky to retain Murray Gold for its entire run
Delia Derbyshire’s distinctive arrangement of Ron Grainger’s theme stayed broadly unmolested for seven years from the moment her second version had rung out at 17:16 on 23rd November 1963, just as the highly influential work of genius in the key of E should. There were a few minor tweaks of course – such as the echoes that appeared during Patrick Troughton’s first season. With colour and overhaul to the title sequence that had managed to last one doctor without sporting the protagonist’s face, came the first big theme change. Jon Pertwee’s first season in 1970 saw extra sting to match its Quatermass horrors arrive during The Ambassadors of Death. But the Third Doctor also saw his tune lose some of the introduction, completely mislay the middle eight and take fright at fading, opting for a stutter and eerie chopping.
In 1972, the brave ninth birthday year of the theme, Derbyshire acted as producer on Brian Hodgson and Paddy Kingsland’s modernisation of her most famous work. The result, using a Delaware modulator – a rare and heftily impressive piece of kit that had distinctively scored The Sea Devils among others – was hastily hidden in the BBC’s entire supply of dwarf star alloy, the episodes redubbed, with only a few pesky episodes escaping with it to Australia. There would be no further overhaul until 1980 – three years before a copy of the hidden version was leaked to a fan at the notorious black market Longleat (well, Hodgson sadly leant it to a fan at an anniversary event and never got it back)!
In the 10 years leading up to 2015 things haven’t been quite so stable. The title sequence accelerated during the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, with three versions in five years after a half decade of stability. And two of those sequences were gratuitous to the point of nausea. It seemed unlikely that he fire and ice time vortex of 2010 could be beaten in the horror stakes, until the After Effects flat-template of galaxy sludge that saw Matt Smith off – even pointlessly changing font effects to match the episode themes in series seven (those guys really must have been bored with just half a series a year). The only thing notable about ‘the title sequence which must never be forgotten lest it be repeated’ is… The Doctor’s Face. Well a bit of it. Yes, the Classic Series took until its second Doctor, while this time we were near the end of its third incarnation.
Previously the simple and effective title sequence of Russell T Davies’ watch had let the music do the talking. Quite unbelievably and quite exceptionally New Who has been lucky to retain Murray Gold on composing duties for its entire run. A phenomenal talent, Gold’s range is an undeniable fit for the eclectic show, but he’s also happy to tinker with the theme. Referential to Derbyshire’s arrangement, if lacking middle-eight and gaining strings, 2005’s opening version was a hit. It darkened and deepened towards the end of the Tenth Doctor, partly due to BBC changes on closing credit length. Earlier, the entrance of the new series’ second Doctor had been rewarded by an orchestrally lush new middle-eight, or “band aid bit” as Gold almost called it.
With the Eleventh Doctor and the reboot for reboot’s sake Gold dug deep, producing something new, brand new. It now had a fanfare, that slowly became quite a reasonably addition actually, even though that meant most of the original theme was lost. Again, this darkened, all the way to a special anniversary tweak during Day of the Doctor. Things righted again with the arrival of the Twelfth Doctor, where a mildly smug clockwork title sequence saw Gold up the futurism and chuck in some bells. It took a while, but as it was polished by episode three proved a dynamic and dramatic theme to one of New Who’ best series.
TIME TURBULENCE OR COOL BOWTIES?
Despite a far more stable personnel base nothing can stay unchanged in these new-fangled days of mp3. But hey, if there’s a show that’s all about endlessly tinkering with tech…
The Time Lord engineers who questioned what idiot would steal her were spot on
It appeared to us in that totters yard in the fog of 1963 as a Police Box and 10 years later, despite having flown around the cosmos and being grounded for three or so years, it was still the same. The prop changed here and there of course, in fact prop 1b that was introduced in season four lasted all the way to colour, looking rather knackered in Season Eight before it inexplicably turned a ravishingly bright blue the following year. That prop dropped a few inches and lost the original’s white surround panels. But mostly, the changed happened where there was more space: inside.
The console room changed radically, from the huge and sub-compartmentalised Hartnell version through to the Third Doctor not going anywhere near it when he was first exiled to Earth. That said, the roundels remained. In 1963, Ian and Barbara lead us into the TARDIS, after hearing their errant pupil Susan Foreman inside.
And it only took until the third serial The Edge of Destruction to find out that the TARDIS was more than just a ship.
In 2005, we had escaped the huge gothic “I’m a Time Traveller” interior of the McGann movie but the Brachaki white interior had mostly remained intact during the classic series was well gone. Instead Rose brought us into the rather affecting coral interior that would see us through the show’s fresh first five years. That console room interior, obliterated by the Tenth Doctor’s radiation-hyped regeneration was versatile, soft and nicely vertical, unlike the over-done mess that the regenerated TARDIS brought out for the Eleventh Doctor. That spewed every colour over a ridiculously unnecessary lobby. Fortunately, it proved short-lived with the Doctor’s mid-end crisis revealed a finer eye for costume and TARDIS interior – far more redolent of Bryan Hitch’s 2005 Jules Vernes design.
It’s gone from strength to strength since then, even though Series Seven’s Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS didn’t show it off nearly enough. In Series Eight it shone wonderfully darker than ever, with a few random book cases and chalk boards. Even though the War Doctor had temporarily reminded us about his “round things” a year earlier. The exterior, so chillingly revealed as Rose runs past in the first episode stayed true and non-shaking until the great reboot of Series Five, where it reclaimed the dark blue, dimensions, white frames and other accoutrements based on the 1963 original.
By Series Six of the new series we’d seen the TARDIS as a woman of flesh and blood. And in fact, the Doctor’s Wife who chose him (let’s not believe Clara, although the Time Lord engineers who questioned what idiot would steal her seemed spot on)
TARDIS OR SIDRAT?
The Classic Series saw a strange mix of incessant tampering and neglect, no doubt much to do with the churn of crew and format. New Who series may have got its timings off, but prudent changes have allowed deeper exploration of the TARDIS than ever from the luxurious setting of stability.
THE TIMELORDS AND GALLIFREY
For a show devised to avoid them, the Time Lords,have been referenced far more than in the first ten years
Get ready for a lot of Robert Holmes. Astonishingly Gallifrey wasn’t mentioned until December 1973, one month after the show’s tenth anniversary. Well, on television – the comics had jumped the gun that summer. That said, we had been there, notably at the creepy climax of The War Games when it resembles a vicious Krypton and then the Three Doctors and Colony in Space where it’s a little more panto. As for the Time Lords, they’re presented as a mixed bag, imperious and gold-like severe when the forcibly regenerate the Doctor in The War Games and rather useless in the Three Doctors. They only piqued interest outside their renegade sons (The Monk (and arguably The War Chief) were well cast distractions) come Terror of the Autons in 1971. There writer Robert Homes has fun with a rather Pythonesque entrance for a snide Time Lord envoy, heralding the arrival of the Master an astonishing eight years into the series.
We only learned that the Doctor is a Time Lord at the end of his second incarnation, six years into the show. As for anatomy, it was good old Robert Holmes once again, in the first Third Doctor story Spearhead from Space, who correctly made us aware that a Time Lord possesses two hearts (the First Doctor had clearly been having a bad day when he mistakenly used the noun singular)… Under the Third Doctor’s watch we saw many Time Lord abilities come on a bound, including expanded telepathy and enhanced resistance that his first two incarnations had demonstrated.
With a whole heap of history to uncover, the new show could take it slower. Well, it helped that Gallifrey was gone and every Time Lord (bar two) was dead. The Time War was surely not only a great dramatic motivator and excellent reboot tool but also a way to shape Time Lords into something new. ‘Time Lord’ is the only thing the Nestene Consciousness growls in the very first episode Rose (it only really liked talking to Mickey) and the Doctor would disclose more about his race’s name, some abilities and more about the Time War itself one story later. It would take until the end of the second year and his second new incarnation for the Doctor to mention Gallifrey, notably using it as a threat, although he was going through a very emotional spell. By Series Three, we took a trip to a rather stunning Gallifrey itself via flashback, and even stepped aboard the planet in the Tenth Doctors final adventure The End of Time and the 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor in 2013. The problem is that, as much as the show has been built on their disappearance and the compelling idea that long temporal war had changed them, we never really saw that in practise apart from Timothy Dalton’s gloriously nuts Rassilon. See the soldiers in Arkadia in The Last Day, or the military who give in to the Doctor’s audacious plan…
Various bits of Time Lord lore had popped up since, including the unexpected return of a Time Lord hypercube in Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife (2011), a convoluted method of communication not seen since 1969’s The War Games. In fact, things have gone far further than they had during the classic series’ first 10 years. By Series Eight, we finally get confirmation that Time Lords are not born as such, that the Doctor almost joined the military, while we see the barn he slept in as a child (although we’d already been there…) We know more about the Doctor and Time Lords than ever, and that remains a dangerous game in a show with this title.
MIND PROBE OR DEATH ZONE?
For a show devised to avoid the dull monotony of the Time Lords, three New Series incarnations have visited Gallifrey and we’ve met a number of legendary Time Lords. Referenced far more than in the first ten years, for everything we’ve uncovered at least the mystery of Gallifrey’s whereabouts looks set to stay.
The Master and Doctor are always presented as matched rivals
Moriarty! Yes, the Doctor’s implacable nemesis was the third big bad to come back, three series in (let’s not count the Macra). Pretty quick considering the new series was built on the Time Lords’ destruction.
In the Classic era, the Master had taken eight years to arrive on Earth. Then, he dominated the entire Season Eight. That incarnation’s final appearance came eight months before the show’s 10th anniversary date. Eights. That wouldn’t go down well on Discworld. A coward, prone to hanging around with idiots (under his hypnotic control) and strangely obsessed with miniaturisation… but always well turned out.
His reputation preceded him in 2007, with the fantastic set-up episode Utopia. The rewarding casting of Sir Derek Jacobi was also a nice nod to the 40th anniversary carton Scream of the Shalka – soon revealed that the Master had been around all the time, hiding in power as Prime Minister Harold Saxon. A bold move, and no doubt with a mind to inverting his overuse in the classic series. Here there was a little of that longevity as there was his infamous goatee. The Master was killed after the two-part finale (death preferable to a lifetime with the Doctor), before he returned deranged and blond in The End of Time and female in Series Eight.
It’s been quite a ride through few appearances, although latest incarnation Missy will be returning in the Series Nine premiere. If anything has stayed true, it’s the template that Delgado and Pertwee set in 1971: The Master and Doctor are always presented as matched rivals, never more true than when they regeneration matched in Utopia.
CLEAN SHAVEN OR DESIGNER STUBBLE?
Often thought of as overused in 1971, the Master never quite recovered from the tragic death of Roger Delgado. Now, there’s every chance that Missy is no gimmick and the chance to recreate a glorious nemesis that the Twelfth Doctor needs.
THE DALEKS & CYBERMEN
Who’s most “easily defeatable” monsters
The big two of big bads, the handles and roundheads, enjoyed mixed and differing success in the Classic Series. The Daleks have fought every incarnation of the Doctor, with their only notable break coming between kind of end – Evil of the Daleks (1967) – and kind of reboot – Day of the Daleks (1972). That gap was impressive as subsequent rests haven’t lasted very long. By their second appearance the Daleks had conquered planet Earth, by their third they had time capabilities and by 1972 they were struggling with paradoxes. Just over a year after the show’s tenth anniversary, a classic serial would not only re-tune the Dalek time-line from the beginning, laying the seeds of the Time War, but also ensured they’d never again appear in the Classic Series without their iconic creator Davros in tow.
The Cybermen were lucky to creep into the First Doctor’s final serial and soon became a definitive Second Doctor foe. Four appearances opposite that Cosmic hobo may have featured some revered classics but also lead them to a break that ensured they missed his third incarnation (and quite unfortunately would only fight the Fourth Doctor once). On the way they evolved through looks from their creepy antisceptic debut to the metallic ghosts of the tombs of Telos and the fine-drilled military machines iconically marching down the steps of St Paul’s in The Invasion.
In 2005 they were the giant question mark hanging over the Daleks, with alternative plans laid should the unthinkable happen. Because yes, it was unthinkable – the Doctor without the Daleks. In the end it turned out happily, and RTD drew on Big Finish and master playwright Robert Shearman to bring the pepperpots back in answer to Who’s Alien. By the two part series finale, still one of the show’s highlights, they were in full deadly force… Until Bad Wolf wiped them out. They’ve returned every year since, and by the fourth series had even dug out their creator Davros. Series Five saw the debut of the ill-though New Paradigm, but as they settled down through the period Moffat intended as a rest for Who’s most “easily defeatable” monsters in 2011 they forged a new career mixing multiple colours and continued to surprise with a Prime Minister and Parliament. 2011’s Asylum of the Daleks even managed to reference many battlefields from the despots’ first decade: Aridius from The Chase, Kembel from The Daleks’ Master Plan, Vulcan from The Power of the Daleks, Spiridon from Planet of the Daleks and Exxilon from Death to the Daleks.
The Cybermen, but had the rug pulled from beneath their moonboots as soon as they appeared in the new series. Inevitably the second great monster come-back they emerged in the two-part Age of Steel story in Series Two. But unlike the Daleks, these were new. It was a parallel universe and the Cybermen parallel Earthmen rather than the hauntingy sad Mondasians of our universe. Now Cyber-conversion meant slotting an emotion purged brain into a metallic body and some dire catchphrases. After their debut it’s been perplexing which Cybers are Mondasian and which parallel, as our own have somehow morphed to match their counterparts the long way round. That said, they’re appearance isn’t as prone to changing now but having being horribly underserved by plots and constantly used as pawns, including by the Doctor, the highs of The Next Doctor and Nightmare in Silver haven’t come close to their 1960s hey days. Even when the climax of Series Eight saw them return to those legendary London steps.
SILVER OR GOLD?
In the modern age, Daleks have struggled to reclaim their place amidst their entropic ubiquitousness. In recent years there’s been little planning, little plot and far more cameo appearances as they’re reduced to a universal vermin. Dalek, The Parting of the Ways and Asylum show would they could be, but they’re lucky, if not time-dodgingly convenient to have escaped Evil of the Daleks style retirement.
Cyber progress has slowed and muddied in the new era. Far more, unfortunately, logically ordered and hive like even Gaiman’s attempt to make them scary again could only go so far. The sadness, the body-horror, the real reason for those tear drops… It all really needs some urgent attention.
THE SONTARANS, ICE WARRIORS & SILURIANS
If you’re classic you’re generally an extra…
A neat element of the New Series is that the big bads effectively arrived in the same order as the Classic Series:Daleks, Cybermen, Master, Davros… But when it comes to the lesser division of Who monsters, it was quite the wrong way round. Despite making a big splash in Series Four, Sontarans actually failed to appear in the classic show until one month after the classic series’ tenth anniversary, the same story that first mentioned Gallifrey.
Ice Warriors are a strange one. A monster very much of two Doctors they predated Star Trek’s 1980s treatment of Klingons. Against Troughton they were dangerous foes, in future ice ages and space misadventure. Against Pertwee they were nominally friendly, part of an intergalactic future of peace, although retaining a clear cold-blooded side. And then they disappeared.
The Silurians memorable entrance to Doctor Who came in the show’s Eighth Season, remembered thanks to a pacey Malcolm Hulke script that didn’t steer clear of environmental and ethical greys. But still, it only spawned cousin-race the Sea Devils opposite the same Doctor and only triggered one further appearance in all the classic series.
The New Series made a good attempt to treat Sontarans as the clone race they are – but since then, particularly thanks to the occasionally very amusing Strax – Sontarans have become a joke. Way too many appearances, played for constant laughs, highly disposable (and that’s alright because they like to die!)… If ever there was a race in need of frightening up it’s the spud heads.
Sadly, when the Ice Warriors reappeared 40 years after their last hiss it took a highly derivative, mix of The Ice Warriors, the Thing and Alien to waste several notable guest stars and shamelessly put the priority on getting the lizards naked rather than exploring their moral complexity.
With most other monsters returned to the New Series, it was a nice idea to turn to those Terra-Reptillia the Silurians come Series Five. Sadly their entrance, this time opposite the New Series’ third Doctor was the reboots first real remake, A centre-piece two parter, it sits awkwardly in a bleached season and doesn’t bear comparison to the original. Since then the Silurians have been seen more than ever, often in force, but mainly through mysterious Victorian detective Lady Vastra. Pertwee would never have seen that coming.
COLD OR WARM BLOODED?
It’s a rough lot for Who’s second string. While the first 10 years ensured dedicated, plotted stories that showcased these races, the reboot has seldom given them more than a single chance. From following a good man to war to the Pandorica Alliance, if you’re classic you’re generally an extra.
By November 1973 we had seen three incarnations of the Doctor, 10 seasons, 355 episodes and 69 adventures (serials).
By March 2015 we’ve reached the fourth new incarnation over eight series, a number of specials, 110 episodes and 90 adventures (serials).
GAP YEARS OR FESTIVE SPECIALS?
The New Series has done a sterling job catching up with the pounding 60s rate of Who production, but has still found time to put up two incarnations nearing Tom Baker’s legendary haul of serials.
The lifeblood of the show has significantly thinned…
For its first 10 years, Doctor Who sat pretty on Saturday evenings with episodes around the 25 minute mark telling stories from one to 12 parts at a time. By the 1970s things had settled down, with only Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks going any way to forming a 12 part story. The major change came in 1970, when colour collided with the Doctor’s three year exile on Earth, joining the larger UNIT family. One thing remained important above all others – the cliff-hangers that propelled Doctor Who into playgrounds every Monday.
Since 2005, Doctor Who’s sat pretty on Saturday evenings, although the time has varied. More importantly, it took the new series until the middle of its sixth series to shine in its comfort zone: autumn nights. Fortunately, it swiftly found itself a Christmas Day staple following Series One, something that had only happened rather excellently during the 1960s. Recent series have seen the second core team of the 21st Century grow around the Doctor, and even brought him a desk at UNIT if he wants it. But With only three multi-part stories since the beginning of 2011 though, the main loss has hit right at the heart of Who: Less than a handful of cliff-hangers means the lifeblood of the show had significantly thinned.
SPRING OR AUTUMN?
A strong and healthy show can experiment. Having jumped series, introduced years of specials and slowly dropped cliff-hangers, Series Eight and Nine seem to have brought us back to the beginning, and neatly brought us a UNIT family as well, even if there’s no exile.
When you push regeneration things are going to get strange
Regeneration arrived with a bang in 1966, a brilliant solution to replacing the show’s leading man. The fabric of Who may not have been set in an instant, but it gave Patrick Troughton possibly the most important role: the man who could keep it all going. Those were very early days and even three years after the show’s tenth anniversary there was no need to worry about limiting this gift to showrunners. Why not arbitrarily say that Time Lord incarnations were limited to 13 – there’s no way there’ll be 13 Doctors?
When the show returned there was only one series before a whole new generation discovered the concept of regeneration. Simultaneously exciting and bitterly disappointing for the Ninth Doctor, the weight of continuing the show has fallen heavily on every Doctor since. In the last 10 years we’ve seen more regenerations than we could stick through a crack in time, and not just the Doctor’s. But sticking with a consistent regeneration effect has seen it become not just a plot point but a weapon. At the end of 2013’s Time of the Doctor the Doctor received a whole new cycle of incarnations, securing the show for the future. The whole arc of Series Six may contradict that story, but when you push regeneration things are going to get strange.
LUCKY OR UNLUCKY THIRTEEN?
What began as an innovative act of show-saving brilliance in the 1960s has been seized by the artron energy in the last 10 years. Regeneration is now an integral part of Doctor Who’s drama, and not just at the beginning or end of an incarnation.
Times have changed and so has the Doctor
Young and grumpy when we met him in 1963, 10 years on he was brash, grey haired and cape bound. In 2015, he’s eventually got to brash, grey-haired and lined jacket. The Twelfth Doctor is very much a product of the early and late 1970s, but times have changed and so has the Doctor. He can’t sit as distinctly ‘classic’ as the War Doctor did, or be quite so appalled if he catches an other self locking lips with a monarch.
The First Doctor may have had a granddaughter and become engaged on camera, but the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors well surpassed that with daughters and wives. As the latter said, “It does start to happen, yeah”. We’re overdue the explanation on his increased age and familiar phizog – questions we shouldn’t have to ask, but were unnecessarily thrown our way. Having recently solved his regenerative crisis, thrown off the Silence and even found himself quite rarely in need of a companion this Doctor could truly do anything… And hopefully for many series to come.
YOUNG AND GRUMPY OR OLD AND CHILDISH?
Still the main man, the new series has pushed the companion to the fore, creating stories, plot points and resolutions around them. But above all, when a new Doctor is cast its front page news more than ever.
FURTHER READING: For a closer look at the last 10 years of Doctor Who’s glorious return the New Series Whovember awaits.