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.


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