Doctor Who Retrospective: The Christopher Eccleston Era

*Spoilers below for Doctor Who season 1.

With the exception of the 1996 made for TV Movie, Doctor Who had been off the air for 16 years. Then in 2005, Russell T. Davies reintroduced the world to the character known only as “The Doctor”. Doctor Who was not a remake but a continuation of the show, which originally aired between 1963 and 1989. Many old fans rejoiced with the announcement of the new show and all the terror and adventure it promised. Where as, much like with the Harry Potter series, a new generation of children was embarking on the journey of a lifetime.

To briefly sum up the plot of the series is easy. The Doctor is the Last of The Time Lords, an alien race that polices the universe and protects all of space and time. Rose Tyler was a high school dropout who was growing tired of a life working in retail. Due to some extreme circumstances the two characters find themselves working together to fight off an alien invasion. That’s it. That’s the first episode. The remainder of the series is The Doctor and Rose having adventures through all of time and space.

The key to the success of this show is the actors. Davies cast the versatile Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor in his ninth incarnation. Joining him was former pop idol Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. In fact, I believe that it was the chemistry between the two that made the show such a success. Rose and The Doctor start the show off as friends or “companions”, but by the end of the first season more than a few sparks have been lit. This relationship leads straight into the second season where we see David Tennant take the reigns and become the new Doctor.

The first season was a nice introduction for fans new and old to the modern series. It brought some terrifying new thrills with the scary gas mask wearing orphans of a Blitz torn London. A futuristic game show satellite where you either win or die. And the return of classic WHO villains, the Daleks. It’s weird now to look at a Dalek and wonder why they look like saltshakers. But this show has never made a joke of them. Even if the gold menaces don’t frighten you, any fan will tell you how truly evil these creatures are! Another high point for this season was the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness played wonderfully by John Barrowman. Captain Jack only joins the show for the final five episodes of the season but he made such an impression on fans that he quickly became a recurring character in the show for the next three years. His popularity even earned him his own spin off show in the form of Torchwood for four seasons. I must praise this show, the BBC and Russell T. Davies for allowing this show to break boundaries and tackle certain issues and topics that weren’t being discussed anywhere else. Keep in mind that this was 2005, the acceptance of LGBT characters on television was nothing compared to what it is now and Captain Jack Harkness was sort of at the forefront of it all.

As much praise as I’m giving this first season I still have to point out that there were some rough patches. Some episodes felt too much like the older Doctor Who series and not in a good way. Some episodes exist only to set up clues for a plotline that wouldn’t be revealed until later. There were also the Slitheen, the villainous green aliens in the two-parter Aliens of London and World War Three. In this story the Slitheen were living amongst the human race by killing people and wearing their skin. That parts actually pretty cool. Except, because they have to shove their alien bodies into human meat suits, this causes them to have gas…like really bad gas. Never has it been more apparent that this is a kid’s show. It’s hard to take a villain seriously or be terrified of a monster when all they do is walk around farting. However, most of my problems with this season have little to do with plot or characters but mainly the lack of a proper budget. The show premiered in 2005. That’s after shows like LOST and Battlestar Galactica. However, if you compare production quality, Doctor Who leaves a lot to be desired. Doctor Who looks more like an American televised show from the 90’s than it does a sci-fi show from the new millennium. That mainly has to do with the fact that WHO never filmed in HD until 2009.

This is a great first season for a show that would become even more legendary that it’s original incarnation. That’s why it pisses me off when I hear fans say that they never watched the 9th Doctor’s season. It doesn’t make any sense! He was the sassiest of all the Doctor’s! Also, season one introduces the friendship between the Doctor and Rose, which strengthens the romance the two share in season two and onwards. The first season also has the introduction and kind of an origin story to Captain Jack Harkness. This season is what convinced the fans and the BBC to produce more episodes and to expand the budget. The legacies of the 10th, 11th and 12th Doctor’s have the 9th Doctor to thanks.

Christopher Eccleston portrayed one of the most intriguing versions of the Doctor. He walked the line between playing a goofy kid and a vengeful old man. But he did so, perfectly. That’s why it’s a damn shame that he only starred in thirteen episodes before he regenerated into the 10th Doctor. I believe the 12th Doctor said it best in the comic book The Four Doctors where he talks about his 9th incarnation saying that: “The Voord couldn’t find even a single timeline, in all those billions, where he was anything other than FANTASTIC.”

Christopher Eccleston

as

The 9th Doctor

(2005)

Episodes: 13

First Episode: Rose

Final Episode: The Parting of The Ways

 

Weakest Episode: The Long Game ~ In the far future, Satellite 5 broadcasts to the entire Earth Empire. Nothing escapes the eye of the sinister Editor (Simon Pegg) and the Doctor suspects mankind is being manipulated. But just who is the Editor working for? And does Adam have what it takes to become the Time Lord’s companion?

This episode is a weak idea stretched into a far too long story. There are certain clues revealed in this adventure that will pay off later in the season but other than that this episode is a waste of time. Speaking of wasting time, I feel bad for poor Simon Pegg. He’s been a fan of Doctor Who since he was a kid and this was his one shot at being in the show…poor guy. And don’t even get me started on Adam, the most annoying guest star this show has ever had…let’s just pretend he never happened.

Best Episode: The Parting of The Ways~ Rose Tyler has seen danger and wonders alongside the Doctor, but now their friendship is put to the test as Earth plunges into an epic war. With the Human Race being slaughtered, the Doctor is forced into terrible action. Will the time-travelers ever be reunited?

Let me just put this out there. Most Doctor Who season finales are either inspiring, or sad. Sometimes both. The season one finale is heartbreaking! We say goodbye to the 9th Doctor after he saves Rose by absorbing the time vortex. Also, this episode serves as the climax to the Bad Wolf story line that had been building all season. Rose finally saves the Doctor for once and Captain Jack begins a new chapter of his…life. All in all, the first season and Christopher Eccleston went out on a tremendous high note.

 

Best Lines:

The Doctor: I absorbed all the energy in the time vortex and no one’s meant to do that.

The Doctor winces in pain.

The Doctor: Every cell in my body’s dying.

Rose: Can’t you do something?

The Doctor: Yeah, I’m doing it now. Time lords have this little trick, it’s sort of a way of cheating death. Except, it means I’m gonna change. And I’m not going to see you again. Not like this. Not with this daft old face. And before I go –

Rose: Don’t say that!

The Doctor: Rose. Before I go I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what?

The Doctor smiles.

The Doctor: So was I.

The Doctor regenerates.

 

DOCTOR WHO: Christopher Eccleston Era rating = 6.4/10