• 26th March 2015 • Feature by Seb Patrick •
In a way, the buildup was more exciting than the event itself.
I mean, yes, we got that first episode and it was (almost) everything we’d hoped for. It established the paradigm. It introduced the show to a whole new audience while successfully reintroducing it to the existing one. It made itself something new and then carefully, over the course of thirteen episodes, eked out a sense of history (“Dalek”, of course, is where it all really came together; although I’ll always find it amusing that, trailers aside, a Cyberman was seen in the revived show before a Dalek was).
And it changed the TV landscape. It really did. In lots of big ways, and lots of subtle ones. And it made it so that being “a Doctor Who fan” will never again mean what it did for all the years, on and off, that I was one from 1988 to 2004. The world was a different place at 7.45pm on 26th March 2005 from the one it had been at 7.00pm.
But that was all to come. Because when I think back ten years, I don’t really think about the experience of actually watching “Rose” (which, flaws and all, I still think is an utterly brilliant piece of television that I happily enjoy rewatching). I think about everything that led up to that.
Like the sheer excitement and wonder of seeing the Doctor and the TARDIS in huge giganto-vision on billboards around the country (particularly an absolutely massive one at Watford Junction station that sadly I never got a picture of).
Or of the agonising over whether or not to watch the leaked version of the first episode. I wrote this on my LiveJournal at the time:
I still can’t make my mind up about whether or not I’m going to hunt for the first episode of the new Doctor Who when I get home. Can I hold out until the end of March, or am I desperate to see it now? Gaah, I don’t know. I want to see it, but I don’t want to spoil the magic of sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday night and watching it for the first time. If someone gave me a link to the Hitchhiker’s movie, I’d watch it straight away. But with Who it’s something else. I think I’ll wait. I think. I hope.
… but actually, after that post, I don’t think I deliberated about it for much longer. I was pretty comfortable in my decision not to watch it, because I knew there would only ever be one opportunity to sit down and watch this brand new revived Doctor Who for the very first time.
(Something else that swayed me was the news that the leak didn’t have the proper opening titles music on it. I wanted to experience the whole thing properly, as it was meant to be. Of course, what we didn’t know at the time was that the broadcast version wouldn’t be shown completely as it was meant to be, either.)
(Oh, and yes, you can all laugh at me now for having been so excited about the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie.)
And then, of course, there was The Trailer. I first saw this on a computer in the offices of Empire magazine, where I’d somehow blagged doing a week’s work experience. With no disrespect to the good people of Empire (where I had a mostly excellent and fascinating week), I think this was probably the most exciting thing that happened to me in those five days.
I mean, even now it’s just bloody brilliant, even when you know that “Aliens of London” doesn’t live up to those clips. Absolutely perfect at setting the tone, that sense of exploration and wonder that would become the revived show’s stock-in-trade. And although I didn’t think it at the time, they were right to change the theme music again before broadcast.
(But I still wish the console room had been lit more in white than the orange and blue we ended up with.)
(In fact, they shouldn’t have shown us the TARDIS interior in advance at all, really, should they?)
And then there’s even the little things, like being sat on a train on the broadcast day reading The Mirror and coming across the page where they’d tried to spoiler the entire episode by publishing a load of grainy screencaps of that illegal download. I think the article was mainly concentrated on how ridiculous the wheelie bin scene was (which, to be fair, it was, but there’s bucketloads to write and already written about the tonal inconsistencies in series one’s direction work). They did a similar thing twelve weeks later by splashing the Dalek Emperor all over the place, too.
People around me, I’m sure, were baffled by how much I was talking about this bloody Doctor Who comeback, which might have been an occasional piece of front-page news (when it was announced, and when the casting happened – I’ll still never forget the edition of the Mail that dropped through my parents’ door proclaiming that Bill Nighy had been cast while everyone else had Eccleston) but which otherwise didn’t really mean all that much to the wider world. But it was so huge, and so exciting, and most importantly we just had no clue at all what to expect from it.
I guess the point – if there is one to all of this – is that nowadays, there’s always a certain level of anticipation and buildup around Doctor Who; but when there is, it’s everywhere. The show is known to be one of the biggest things on television, it’s the kind of thing that gets a prime-time live special purely to announce who’s going to be playing the lead role in a year’s time. And for that reason it’s pretty easy to take that anticipation for granted.
But back in 2004/05, it really didn’t matter so much to quite so many people. And for that reason, every little piece of the buildup felt so much more personal, and that’s why it’s made up of all these small, strange, disjointed pieces of memory. In 2005, Doctor Who was something I pretty much enjoyed only on my own (save for the odd conversation with friends from university who were far more obsessive fans than I was). I was disconnected from any sort of wider fandom, having spent chunks of the 1990s only really reading about it from afar in magazines. In 2015, I’m friendly with people who’ve actually worked on the show, and I sometimes get paid by the BBC themselves to write articles about it. A lot of cool things have happened to me over the last decade, and many of them have been as a result of this stupid programme, and because of the fact that I had a quiet, slow-burning love for it that exploded when it re-emerged into the wider consciousness.
We all knew long before then, of course, that Doctor Who could be a brilliant and wonderful thing that could shape our lives in a hugely positive way. But ten years ago today, everyone else began the process of discovering that, too.
Of course, none of the rest of us really have anything on this guy: