Five Years Ago

23rd March 2010 • Blog Post by Seb Patrick •

We’re very firmly into “That Time Of Year”, now – the time when information about a new series of Who is leaking into the ether, thicker and faster than even we can keep up with. And this time, the stakes are higher than any time since the show’s revival – essentially, this is a fresh “year zero”, with the added fact that it’s been two years since we had a new full series to look forward to. Simply put, anticipation for the show – in our books, at least, and I’d suspect in many of yours – hasn’t been this high for half a decade. And naturally, it’s got me thinking about the way myself and Capps looked forward to those first RTD episodes, back when we knew so little about what to expect – and sent me digging through old blog posts and emails as a reminder. So join me as I half-inch a set of TARDIS keys and hurl us back to five years ago, March 2005…

Actually, let’s make a couple of stopoffs on the way first – to a few posts made in ’03 and ’04 after the initial announcement of the series’ return. Annoyingly, my blog couldn’t even manage more than a brief “Meanwhile… it’s back!” (linking to the announcement) on that fateful day in September, but I did at least begin to consider casting when the first wild stories started showing up in the press…

Seb’s blog, 2nd Oct 2003
Tom Baker seems to think that Eddie Izzard will be the new Doctor Who.

Hmm. Mental. I don’t think it’ll happen (Baker is a bit bonkers), but it would be pretty damn cool if it did. Although I think Izzard is too much of a “name” – you wouldn’t be looking at him thinking he was the Doctor, you’d be thinking it was Eddie Izzard in a TARDIS. Likewise with Richard E. Grant, and even Anthony Stewart Head for that matter (“Ooh, look, it’s Giles! Fighting Daleks!”). I think an unknown, or Paul McGann, would be the best bet.

I still stand by at least part of that – I’d still like McGann back one day. Never going to happen, of course. Anyway, what we didn’t know was just how right RTD and the crew would get it with Eccleston.

I was generally quiet on the issue of Who from then on, but around a year later, work on the series was well underway, and The Mirror had another amusingly inaccurate story. No point in posting my reply (it involved a lot of scoffing), but it’s a rather amusing historical artefact:

The BBC may have shelled out a whopping £250,000 for the right to use the Daleks in the new series of Dr. Who – but the metal monsters only pop up in one episode.

And when the big moment comes, in the eighth instalment, there’s only one of them. It turns out he’s a bit of an antique who has survived on the space station where he is killing off the crew one by one.

And, gasp, that’s the only time we’ll clap eyes on the old-style daleks.

When they next appear, in the 13th and final episode, their shuttlecock shapes have been redesigned for the 21st century. Our sci-fi snoop revealed : “They have evolved into terrifying things that look a bit like spiders.” Eek.

Yes, it’s the whole “spider Daleks” thing from the failed John Leekley 1990s pilot (and as once rather cleverly worked into the DWM comic strips by Alan Barnes), dredged up once again. You could put this down to the continued, baffling insistence that for Daleks to work in the 20th century they have to look like big metal spiders; alternatively, you could go with my preferred theory, which is that the Mirror were well and truly taken in by someone taking the piss.

As 2005 began, I wrote a post on my LiveJournal listing the ten things I was most excited about for the coming year. Of course, the number one slot was a no-brainer…

Seb’s blog, 3rd Jan 2005:
1. Doctor Who – Even if we hadn’t been waiting sixteen years for a new series of Doctor Who, this would be something to get excited about. The BBC are throwing everything they’ve got into this, it’s got a lot of money behind it and it’ll be in the sort of timeslot it deserves (prime-time Saturday night, probably the Jonathan Creek slot). And it’s being made by people who know exactly what they’re doing, and they’ve made a ballsy choice of lead actor. I really don’t think there’s any doubt over this – it’s going to be fantastic.

Well, I was right. And in retrospect I’m also highly amused by my choice of superlative at the end, there.

In late 2004, meanwhile, we finally get our first glimpse of Cappsy talking about Who – although he seemed to have his dates a little mixed up, and with his interest in Who only nascent at this point, he seemed far more concerned with a certain Red Dwarf alumnus’ connection with the show:

Cappsy’s blog, 17th Dec 2004:
On the whole, though (and I realise this is most likely cursing it) 2005 is shaping up to be a good year, indeed. There’s new Dr. Who in January (with VisFX from Mike Tucker)

And this is the thing – despite being a wholesale Who nut nowadays, it’s a little-known fact that it was actually the new series (and the subtle nudging of Julian Hazeldine) that sparked Mr Capps’ interest in getting into the show. As he explained, with first broadcast drawing near:

Cappsy’s blog, 18th March 2005:

How does a 21 year old male sci-fi fan fail to watch any Doctor Who during his childhood and only manage to start watching episodes a few weeks before a high profile new series starts?

By being very, very stupid.

And yet only a week later, he was already joining in the fanboy speculation game, as – on the night before “Rose” – discussion briefly flared up on an email discussion group that included us two, Ian, John and Tanya:

Date: 25 March 2005 23:04
From: Jonathan Capps
To: Observation Dome Admin

I reckon The Master is going to show up towards the end of the series. The only evidence I have for this is the brief mentioning of an Anne Robinson doll on Jonathan Ross tonight.

That’s all.

Date: 26 March 2005 00:19
From: Seb Patrick
To: Observation Dome Admin

Nah, if the Master was going to be in it, I’d have heard by now,
because it would be a Big Name. I hold out hope that Derren Brown is
going to play him, but it’s not happening.

The Big Unknown To The Public Scoop is that the Daleks appear in the
last two-part story as well as Rob Shearman’s episode six…

Christ knows what insider information I thought I had, considering it was a good eighteen months or so before I’d start working for a certain writers’ agency; I presumably meant “it’d be on Outpost Gallifrey by now”, as if it was some secret place that the rest of the Obs Dome crowd didn’t know about.

(That said, it’s interesting to note that, considering how much the group of us tend to blather about Who nowadays, there’s less archived discussion in my inbox than I might have expected; New Who might have made a new “old” fan out of Cappsy, but I think it also reawakened a love of the show in a lot of the rest of us as well; certainly, although I’d read the odd novel or DWM issue and thrill to any mention of the show in the wider media, it was rare that I’d actually watch an episode of the show in the years after the McGann movie. Anyway, March 2005, for this particular group of friends, was a far cry from the gang who whenever possible always gather to watch a new series premiere, finale or special; but then, you could also attribute that to, a few of us aside, being in the earlier days of our communal friendship)

Anyway, back to the Master-related speculation, and Cappsy has a cracking bit of reasoning behind his theory:

Date: 26 March 2005 00:35
From: Jonathan Capps
To: Observation Dome Admin

Ahh, but, this is from the Radio Times episode guide:

“The Doctor comes across someone he thought was long dead. Uh-oh”

That’s for Boom Town, the last episode before the two parter finale. Of
course, this is very tenuous but I love to have one wild theory to cling on
to :)

Okay, okay, it’s easy to laugh in hindsight. But it’s fun, too. In other news, earlier that month the issue of internet piracy had begun to rear its head, with the news that an almost-but-not-entirely-finished version of “Rose” had somehow found its way online before broadcast (a godsend for tabloid newspapers, who were now able to print screengrabs of the episode on the day it was shown; you wonder just how many of those editors remembered back to only eighteen months earlier, when they considered Who such a joke that the likes of Paul Daniels were mooted as potential Doctors). As the leak went public, I was torn:

Seb’s blog, 6th Mar 2005
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.

And I did wait. Quite proud of myself there, and watching it “live” (Graham Norton’s interruption aside) turned out to be absolutely the right decision.

Meanwhile, by comparison with the collective “Pffft” granted to this year’s 3D trailerganza, we were all getting rather more excited by the snippets of footage leaking out:

Date: 26 March 2005 01:12
From: Seb Patrick
To: Observation Dome Admin

How fucking brilliant was the montage on tonight’s Jonathan Ross,
though? Simon Pegg, and everything!!

This back, of course, when Simon Pegg appearing in things was EXCITING, as he was Our Simon Pegg Off Of Spaced And Big Train and not Hollywood Superstar Simon Pegg. That same montage, meanwhile, had also sparked the following somewhat overzealous reaction over on LJ:

Seb’s blog, 25th Mar 2005:

Blimey. I had been to the pub that night, though, according to an earlier entry. I’d been getting excited about trailers earlier, of course, with this post about the “D’you wanna come with me?” spot:

Seb’s blog, 17th Mar 2005:
The new, 50-second long Doctor Who trailer – the first actual proper trailer, with actual proper footage from the programme – almost makes me weep. The shots of an alien spaceship flying over St. Paul’s and crashing into Big Ben, and a futuristic missile over the White Cliffs of Dover, have me convinced that “Aliens Of London” will be the Best Thing In The World, Ever; while you really can’t say anything to this [nb – picture of a Dalek went here] other than “ARGH, WHY IS THIS EPISODE SEVEN WEEKS AWAY!?!?”

Okay, so I was as wrong about “Aliens of London” as Cappsy was about “Boom Town” (although it’s an ep that looks much better in the context of the other three “blockbuster two-parters” so far). What hasn’t diminished over time, either, is the quality of that initial trailer – it still sparked hairs-on-neck-tingling excitement about the show’s comeback in a way that nothing else has ever quite managed since. Even if it did blow things by showing us the TARDIS interior too early.

There was plenty of stuff that we didn’t blog or email about at the time, as well – I’ve a vivid memory of seeing, for the first time, the giant promo poster that adorned Watford Junction station for a good month or so, and being staggered that Doctor Who could be taking such a prominent position in the public’s consciousness. It’s something we don’t really have to think about when looking forward to Moffat’s first series, and probably the biggest difference (that, and the sheer volume of online discussion, video clips and so on that we’re now privy to) between then and now. Doctor Who is massive again, it’s just the natural order of things, and it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always that way.

But what about you? Feel free to share your own memories of the pre-Series 1 buildup in the comments below. And as for what we – and others around us – thought of “Rose” and the other early episodes, well, that’ll have to wait until another time…

Seb Patrick once met Paul McGann, who immediately pretended to be Mark McGann. He writes for Den of Geek, BBC America, Film4 and the official Red Dwarf website, among others. He owns over thirty toy Daleks and wishes the Dapol factory tour was still open.


12 Responses

  1. Jonathan Capps

    I have no idea where I got that January date from, but considering my main source of information at that time was Julian, I think it’s safe to blame him.

    I’ve been desperately digging through my emails to find discussion, but I think I was only really talking about Who to Julian on the phone (usually seconds after it ended) which was super.

  2. I have to say that I am looking forward to this series as much, if not more, than I was back in 2005.

    Everything is up in the air, we know so little about it, its really, really exciting.

    And I reckon it’s gonna be great.

  3. Andy M

    I caved and downloaded ‘Rose’, but in my defence I was in New York the weekend it aired.

    I vaguely remember thinking it’d be 13 episodes, nobody would watch it and it’d disappear for another decade. The first 2 episodes didn’t really blow me away so it wasn’t until the Gatiss episode that I knew I was wrong.

  4. Jonathan Capps

    A lot people say that End of the World didn’t impress them much, but at the time I was convinced it was the best thing I’d ever seen. Until The Unquiet Dead came along, that is. I still hold it in very high regard now. Almost as highly as Rose.

  5. Hendiadys

    I have to say that I am looking forward to this series as much, if not more, than I was back in 2005.

    Me too, by a long way. I think the five years of Who we’ve had in the meantime have made me aware of what I wish Doctor Who was being, and I’ve become very aware that all my favourite bits have either been Moffat bits, or very much in tune with his approach. In 2005 I might have been a little unaware of the show coming back until Rose was about to be aired. And there was something about it that made me feel it wasn’t quite right yet. I recall hoping with each year that the change from Rose to Martha, and then to Donna, and then to no companions, would somehow make the show finally become brilliant, but in the end my misgivings were just issues I had with RTD’s style and storytelling methods. 2009’s Easter Special was so disappointing that I was soon just wishing for 2010 and the build-up we’re experiencing now.

    Something I don’t remember from 2005 is my own genuine sense of curiosity about how the actor might play the Doctor, and whether it’d work. I’ve said it before, but I’ve watched a lot of Classic Who DVDs since then, and with them a number of extras such as Blue Peter and Pebble Mill interviewing Tom Baker, Peter Davison and Colin Baker prior to them each taking over the role. The interviews with Matt Smith on the date of the premier completely captured for me the excitement of those days (especially with the interviewer “taking a journey to the interview in the TARDIS” beforehand, which could really have been Wogan circa 1982), and I felt nothing like that in 2005.

    When did we know that Chris Eccleston would no longer be playing the Doctor? I have a feeling that we already knew in advance of the series starting, which I’m sure would have altered the 2005 buzz. Could be wrong though.

  6. Seb Patrick

    It was during the week after “Rose”‘s broadcast – we didn’t know it before “Rose”, but we knew before “End of the World”. May even have been that Saturday. I’ve got a blog post where I was speculating on the Tenth Doctor’s identity, but I’m saving that for a second feature on post-broadcast reactions!

  7. Andy M

    I’ve just remembered I didn’t have Freeview and was really upset at the prospect of not being able to watch DW Confidential. So in at least one sense it’s very different this time.

  8. The Face of Po

    I’d meant to get organised and dig out a few of my own scrawlings about my reaction five years ago… but I didn’t have a blog then, and I think my only written contribution was to a long gone music-related mailing list that may also have had a Seb on it.

    My initial response was scepticism. Having had my hopes dashed repeatedly during the 90s, and from the way that it came as the result of a “what shall we bring back?” poll, I suspected the BBC wanted to wash their hands of the whole affair and that nobody’s heart was really in it.

    I became more optimistic at the involvement of RTD and Eccleston, and the announcement that it’d be a 50-minute Saturday evening show made the whole idea seem suddenly realistic. Alarm bells started ringing again after the Piper decision, but I was still hopeful enough that they might be doing it properly this time.

    The promise of a new show definitely reawakened the old fan in me. Though I’d still been watching old episodes semiregularly and snapping up the BBC novels from The Works, it was only a few weeks before Rose aired that I dived into online fandom and remembered how obsessed I used to be with the show when I was younger.

  9. Pete

    I never watched Doctor Who as a nipper, mainly because in the very short timeframe between it being attractive to me and ultimately axed, it was scheduled against Coronation Street; which my Mum insisted we always watch.

    Despite this, I had a reasonably good idea of what the show was about. Prior to the TV Movie screening in 1996, Radio Times did a special pull-out guide to the show and, due to an interest in Sci-fi as well as a curiosity of anything long-lasting TV that goes through various, dramatic, changes, I read it from cover to cover several times. I managed to build up a rather strange knowledge of the show, despite never having seen an episode.

    I liked the TV Movie to a certain degree but not enough to seek out any older episodes. That said, I was interested in the mythology of the show and bought a couple of 8th Doctor Books, as well as the brilliant “The Nth Doctor”.

    I did eventually see a few Pertwee episodes when they were screened on BBC2 in the late nineties (Spearhead from Space being one), but I can’t say they particularly interested me. I’ve seen a few “Classic” episodes since then, and I still find the episodes far too straight-laced, despite their rather cheap settings. As a result of this, I find them very inaccessible. Although, having since watched “An Unearthly Child” and rather enjoyed it, I realise this is a huge generalisation.

    Anyway. I knew Doctor Who was coming back in 2005 but hadn’t taken a huge amount of interest due to my rather muted reaction to the “classic era”. I didn’t particularly enjoy “Rose” and still have HUGE problems with it. And Eccleston is OK, but I never really took to the guy.

    Over the years of the RTD era, my thoughts on the show have changed from “I don’t see what all the fuss is about” to “I really rather like this”. I don’t have any DVDs, but I have a bunch of my favourite episodes Sky-plussed and I’ve been counting down the days to April the 3rd for what feels like an eternity.

  10. si

    I was studying Science and Science Fiction at the University of Glamorgan, Trefforest, Pontypridd (One of our locals was the Market Tavern, where Martha’s family storm out of in Smith and Jones). I was studying alongside extras from that first series. And I couldn’t wait… my housemate downloaded ‘Rose’ for me a day or two before the broadcast, and I just *melted*.
    I was back in Sheffield for the actual broadcast, but my trusty video recorder down in Wales (I wanted the BBC Cymru tx, sad get that I am) did the deed for me. From my journal, 9th April…

    “Now then. Doctor Who. There’s something. Brilliant, isn’t it? I’m particularly looking forward to tonight’s episode, actually.
    That first week, all six of us – me, mum and dad, and the three kids, sat and watched ‘Rose’ – the first time in as long as I can remember that we’d all sat and watched TV together, and no one said a word for three quarters of an hours – apart from when Graham Norton made an unscheduled vocal appearance near the beginning of the episode. I was hoping it would just be a regional error, but I checked my tape down here, and it was on that too. In fact, I heard Jonathan Ross talking to Graham Norton this morning on the radio, and the event was mentioned. He seemed very apologetic.
    The Kids loved it. Dad loved it. I, of course, loved it. Mum wasn’t keen [despite laughing all the way through it], but then, she would say that, because she hates everything that Dad likes as a matter of principle. So then over to BBC Three for Doctor Who Confidential, which is great as well. Mum, of course, moans, but it gives her time to get ready for work before Casualty at 8.20, so I don’t know why she’s moaning.
    Anyhoo, we were watching Die Hard for the umpteenth time the other week – 30th March, it was – and the news was on halfway through it, as it the course for ITV. They reviewed the next day’s front pages, and I noticed something in the top corner of The Mirror’s. It wasn’t mentioned on the news, but my heart sank – ‘Dr Who Quits!’. What?! We put BBC1 on, and put the entertainment news on on the text, and, sure enough, there it was – Christopher Eccleston won’t do another series. I was – and, to an extent, still am – gutted. I heard (seventh Doctor)Sylvester McCoy on the Radio the following day, and he summed it up perfectly when he said that it was ‘sad, rather than shocking, news’. I do hope CE changes his mind, and does at least another series. Otherwise, it looks as though today’s kid’s will be seeing a regeneration sooner than anyone expected…”

    I actually wrote a rather pathetic letter to Christopher Eccleston practically begging him to stay. And no offence to Chris, but, it didn’t turn out bad at all…

  11. Hendiadys

    And no offence to Chris, but, it didn’t turn out bad at all…

    I was thinking the other day how perfectly this worked out, in fact. It sold the idea of regeneration early on, showing new audiences that Doctor Who isn’t fixed to the actor and, I hope, even prolonging the show’s life in the long term. If Tennant’s regeneration into Smith had been the first in the new series, the transition would have been unfathomable to some people.

  12. Hendiadys

    I wanted to put this somewhere, but didn’t really know where it should go. This thread seemed like the best bet.

    Doctor Who’s regenerations were modelled on bad LSD trips, internal BBC memos have revealed.

    …is the opening paragraph. It was discussed in these terms on today’s Today Programme as well, but it’s a really annoying misreading. You remember that rubbish Doctor Who programme that used to hate teh Thatchers? Well it’s only gone and done drugs!

    The memo they’re talking about actually says this:

    The metaphysical change which takes place over 500 or so years is a horrifying experience – an experience in which he re-lives some of the most endurable moments of his long life, including the galactic war. It is as if he has had the L.S.D. drug and instead of experiencing the kicks, he has the hell and dank horror which can be its effect.

    So no, his “regenerations” plural were not “modelled” on bad L.S.D. trips. When this memo was sent there was no concept of regeneration taking the character beyond Troughton. This is one memo’s suggestion for how Troughton’s Doctor might relate to the experience of change. It’s a shorthand way of explaining a certain type of madness, and doesn’t indicate at all that bad L.S.D. trips formed a “model”. Stupid.

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