When I was a boy I used to visit my grandparents often. While I was there, I ended up watching a lot of films and TV shows from an era I was not familiar with. From drawn out westerns to the heroic exploits of a WW2 film, there was always something different on. However, one show I never expected to see involved a man with messy hair and colourful clothing, his face contorted into a look of fear as he fled from what looked like a killer pepper pot. I was told that years ago the children of the nation cowered in fear as those creatures rolled through the streets and asserted their dominance. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the cheesy acting and the bad effects, putting it to the back of my mind. It would not be until the year 2005 where I found out what I had witnessed, a British classic known as Doctor Who.
In my school days I used to hang around with a friend who would praise the show often, even recruiting me to become a character in his home made Doctor Who adventures. And before you ask, I was a Krynoid Agent that had gone from being bad to redeeming himself. From dinosaurs to destruction, no wheelie bin was safe when we were rolling. But when he told me about the revival of the show, I was hesitant. After all, this was the same show with killer pepper pots, why should I waste 45 minutes watching something I wouldn’t enjoy? Alas, I eventually yielded and sat down that fateful night of the 26th of March in 2005 to watch it with my family. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed every single moment and my love of the show was sealed right there and then.
For those of you who are unaware, Doctor Who is a show that focuses on the character known as the Doctor, a time travelling alien who plucks unsuspecting companions from the present day to travel with him in time and space in a blue police box known as the TARDIS. It is here that the Doctor saved Saturday nights through his exploits, facing down some of the fiercest foes I had ever seen in a series. What made it that much more iconic was the variety. One week he would be fighting living plastic dummies and the next he would be taking on gas mask wearing zombies asking for their mummy. As for the pepper pots? Well they did return but not as comical as before, with a single one firing death beams of presumably pepper to take down a whole underground bunker. Trust me, it makes sense in context.
The first season delivered a stunning tour de force with it’s leads Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper whose acting helped draw in a new generation of Doctor Who fans. Coupled with it’s incredible writing including fan favourite writer Stephen Moffat, the series had gone from an old relic of a bygone age into one that was cool to like again. This was helmed by the show runner Russell T Davies and has been widely credited during the first four seasons of the revival. Heck, it got me so invested in the show that to this day I still have my Sonic Screwdriver as well as a TARDIS teapot. Incredibly British, I know. I even ended up travelling down to England with my family where we got to see a museum exhibit for the Doctor Who experience. It was fantastic, absolutely fantastic.
But all fantastic things must come to an end and after 13 episodes, Eccleston stepped down and a new actor was brought in. Much like James Bond, each iteration of the character is portrayed by a different actor and this time it was the turn of Casanova heartthrob David Tennant. I’m not going to lie, the first time I saw him take to the role I was horrified! How could this guy just waltz in here and steal the limelight from someone who had portrayed the Doctor so well? But little did I know that he would soon become one of my favourites in the entire run. Despite his youthful appearance, the Doctor carried a heavy burden in the story, often talking of a Time War that took away his home planet. Despite being a brilliant narrative set piece to explain away why the show had been gone for so long, it showed that there was a lot more to the mystery man in a blue box. He was kind, comedic and most of all curious. But above all, he abhorred violence and sought to resolve things through diplomatic means. As a fan of action shows like Dragon Ball Z, this was certainly different.
But the sole factor in selling me on the show was it’s relatability. I could sit here and talk for hours about the brilliance of The Doctor Dances, the heartbreaking reality of Father’s Day, or the fear I felt watching Dalek for the first time. Even though Season Two had some less than favourable episodes for the time, the crushing finale more than made up for that. I was such a big fan of the show that I watched the finale while I was on holiday in Spain. And yes, I did not see that twist coming at all. And with the incredible chemistry Tennant had with his companions in Season Three and Four with Freema Agyeman and Catherine Tate, I wanted to watch more adventures with these iconic characters. They were an escape for 45 minutes into a wonderful world of adventure and poignant moments that to this day I still think of.
But then things changed. In 2010 I left school and by that point I was venturing into the world of true adulthood. Higher education awaited me and by the end of the final part of Tennant’s run I was feeling a little fatigued with it all. But out of curiosity I decided to tune in where not only had the Doctor been replaced by Matt Smith but the head show runner was fan favourite writer and long time fan Stephen Moffat. And as I tuned in and watched eagerly…I didn’t feel that spark. That joy that I had felt five years ago when the show started was no longer there. The Doctor was childish and impulsive, something that just did not click with me. And while the actors did do a fantastic job, their relationships did not hit the same emotional beats I had grown to love. I think this is because of one particular issue, that being the scale of the Doctor’s adventures. While he was well known throughout the show, the Doctor always felt like a traveller, someone who happened to stumble upon the right place at the right time to save the day.
It reminded me of moments like in The Fires of Pompeii where the Doctor returns to save a family during the volcanic eruptions, or the beautiful finale of The Doctor Dances where he proudly proclaims “everybody lives Rose, just this once everyone lives!”. It was human, something audiences could relate to. But I feel like ironically, the further the show went on, the more they leaned into the Doctor as being the be all and end all of the universe. So long as he had some trusty fish fingers and custard at his side then all would be well with the world. Another fun fact, it doesn’t taste as bad as you may think! Before I go on though, I don’t want you to think that the Smith run was without heart. To this day episodes like Vincent and the Doctor and the speech from The Rings of Akhaten are some of my favourites also.
My interest was briefly rekindled by the amazing 50th anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor which I will confess I did see in the cinema, and what an episode that was. Each moment was carefully crafted into everything that made the show what it was, including a finale that I’m sure more than lived up to the hype. Prior to this I even sat through a Q&A event with the director of said episode…who swiftly proceeded to spill no beans on the special as he wasn’t allowed.
Nevertheless, my interest in the show still waned. Maybe I was just the right age when the show came out but the more I carried on the more worried I became that maybe the show wasn’t for me. That is the beauty and the curse of Doctor Who. On the one hand, a new show runner and actor can breathe fresh new life into a series. But if you don’t like that portrayal then that too becomes detrimental. Even when Peter Capaldi took to the role I found that despite loving his performance I was less than enthused with the writing. One such episode I remember vividly disliking was The Zygon Invasion for it’s poor choice of imagery to it’s nonsensical actions by the cast. Sadly, this is the season where I stopped watching the show. After it’s rather perplexing finale I decided to hang up my multicoloured scarf and call it a day. Sure I popped back to watch the odd episode or two but I was not enthralled.
Then we arrived at the Jodie Whittaker era of Doctor Who, this time headed by show runner Chris Chibnall. Other than it being a changing of the guard so to speak, this era was of course noticeable for featuring the first female Doctor. I must admit, I was curious to see where they would go with it as it was stated that they would have more of an emphasis on history. The inner historian in me was extremely happy but unfortunately, what followed was a less than interesting outing. Whittaker to me shared a lot of the same mannerisms as Smith which, while not bad, did not entice me as much. Coupled with some questionable writing it made for an oncoming storm the likes never before seen. It would not be until the next season that retconned the entire character of the Doctor to which unfortunately, many were less than thrilled about. And if I’m perfectly honest, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel somewhat the same.
It is unfortunate how a series once highly praised has now become a target of ridicule and scorn. And yet, despite all of the naysayers proclaiming that this was the end of Doctor Who, there are still fans out there. When I was at my final comic convention in 2019 before the pandemic hit, there were still plenty of kids dressing up as Whittaker’s Doctor with a smile on their faces. I also had the pleasure of listening to Colin Baker again who, during one of his panels, spoke about how people had told him the impact that the show had on their lives.
That is the duality of Doctor Who. With a new iteration of the Doctor comes with it an entirely new identity both in character and writing. While I myself have not been a fan of the current show for a long time, that does not make anyone else’s enjoyment any less valid. Doctor Who is a show of infinite possibilities, a universe where anything can happen. And with that come risks, much like when the show returned. After all, the reboot was riddled with issues, from dodgy CGI to drama that could have been attributed to a soap opera instead of a space adventure. But isn’t that why we love this show? The utter ridiculousness of it all, leading to one grand ending.
I’m not here to convince you which Doctor is better than the other. At the end of the day, you are free to love whatever iteration you like whether it be the frantic antics of the later seasons or the more dramatic storylines of the early episodes. There is something for everyone in this show to both love and dislike. And that in itself is the true miracle of Doctor Who. Whatever direction it goes in, I will always have those memories of my childhood enjoying what I loved. And at the end of the day, nothing could take that away. Even with the Big Finish audio books releasing alongside the series, I think it will be a long time before Doctor Who disappears. And that is what it is to be a Whovian.
Are you a fan of the series? Use the contact page and let us know your favourite memories of the series, we would love to hear about it. As always, stay safe, stay awesome and, most importantly, stay hydrated!