At 19:00 GMT on BBC One, Doctor Who returned to British television. Having been cancelled in 1989, the last audiences had seen of it was Fox Broadcasting Network’s unsuccessful sequel-pilot.
Russell T. Davies
The show’s re-launch was facilitated by writer/executive producer Russell T. Davies, a writer who’d been let-down by the BBC many times, and now only wanted to work for them if it involved Doctor Who. When BBC Drama Commissioning Controller Jane Tranter and BBC One Controller Lorraine Heggessey were able to commission a new series, Davies was approached, known to the BBC for his numerous attempts to relaunch the show himself. During the hiatus known as the Wilderness Years, Davies had written Damaged Goods for the Virgin New Adventures, the official continuation of the show before Fox’s unsuccessful attempt. This ninety-minute special was intended to launch a new series, but the United States ratings weren’t high-enough for this to happen. The New Adventures were noted for their more mature tone than the Classic Series, and the New Series has often drawn its parallels. This series of books was arguably a prototype for what was to come – BBC News announced the show was to return in 2005, produced by BBC Wales. Davies was appointed Doctor Who‘s first Head Writer. Script Editors were still present, but now merely liased between the them and other writers. As Head Writer, Davies made the choice to restructure the show’s format: serials of four twenty-five minute episodes were now condensed down to single, fourty-five minute episodes, with occasional multi-part stories. This would allow the show to refresh itself every week, with maximum variety. The first of these was Rose, which introduced new companion Rose Tyler, and the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston. Davies had made the decision to begin with a pre-established Doctor, rather than reintroduce the Eighth Doctor and immediately regenerate him – citing that Doctor’s unsuccessful pilot as proof of that not being the correct way to approach it. When the Ninth Doctor’s first seen, he could have had numerous adventures at this point already.
The success of the first new series since 1989 was enough for a Christmas special to be commissioned, and every year of the New Series has featured one – the latest episode is 2014’s, Last Christmas by mutual VNA writer Steven Moffat, who was recruited by Davies for Series 1. The choice had been taken to restart the season numbering to avoid confusion for new audiences over the alternative of calling it Season 28. This season was about the development of the Bad Wolf story arc, ending with the transcendence of Rose Tyler into the Bad Wolf by absorbing the Heart of the TARDIS and spreading the words through the Universe to lead herself to that moment. The season concluded with the regeneration of the Ninth Doctor into the Tenth Doctor. The Bad Wolf phrase was inspired by the name of the Bad Wolf Corporation, a television broadcaster working as a planetary government and controlled by the Daleks. Analysts have compared this to criticisms of the BBC themselves, and their compulsory license fee. It was even stated that the BWC execute license fee evaders. Its shows are futuristic versions of current programmes, being harvested by the BWC from society’s rejects. Analysts go onto postulate that the purpose of Series 1 was to not only relaunch Doctor Who, but to show audiences what they could be watching instead, and the barbarism of why they shouldn’t take that chance.
2006 was about Tyler’s departure. Another, Bad Wolf-like arc was threaded through the season, with Torchwood being mentioned numerous times. It was revealed this was an organisation established by the British monarchy to investigate alien threats. The finale of this storyline wrote-out Tyler, but the Tenth Doctor continued. Torchwood later became a spin-off series that crossed-over with Doctor Who several times.
2007 had a single companion: Martha Jones, who departed after one season having defeated the Master. As Series 1 had reintroduced the Daleks, and Series 2 the Cybermen, the Master became the third Classic Series villain to be given the season finale spotlight. This version of the Master was at the peak of a General Election campaign during contemporary Earth episodes, becoming Prime Minister. Davies has been noted for his political commentary, particularly with government corruption. It’s established that the Master succeeded Harriet Jones. Jones made a reference to being in the Labour party, while her “downfall” has been taken to imply the Master as being Conservative. Ultimately, it’s the Master’s Conservative party that enslaves the world with the intention of declaring war on the Universe. With Bad Wolf Corporation being an analogy of a unacceptably-powerful BBC, and Torchwood being a corrupt service acting on behalf of the Monarchy, it makes sense for the Master to be right-wing, as this is consistent with Davies’ previous themes.
2008 was the culmination of the previous three seasons. Every important character was involved in a grand two-part finale threatening to destroy Creation. 2005’s returning characters were Rose Tyler, Jacqueline Tyler, Mickey Smith, Harriet Jones and Jack Harkness. From 2006 Sarah Jane and K-9 – the only Classic Series characters given a return in the New Series. From 2007 Martha Jones, Francine Jones and Wilfred Mott. At this point Donna Noble and Sylvia Noble were recurring characters. This finale was both praised and criticised for featuring a high abundance of characters from Davies’ Headship, and the second half was compared to being a finale for his era as Head Writer.
But Davies continued into 2009 with a series of specials to allow the new management to take over. It had been announced the previous year that he was stepping down, to be replaced by Moffat, arguably the most popular writer not to be in charge. In Doctor Who Magazine, every episode written by Moffat had been voted the best of its year, with him being the only writer to have contributed to each of Davies’ seasons. With production on 2010’s season already in motion, 2009 chronicled the prophecy declaring the Tenth Doctor’s death, and his spiral into insanity. The year ended on the cliffhanger of the Master having taken over the Earth again, with the Time Lords returning. Davies had killed the Time Lords in an offscreen war to relieve the show of its baggage, and bringing them back was the main connection with the Classic Series.
With 2010 arriving, Davies’ final episode aired, showing the conclusion to the Tenth Doctor’s life, involving the return of the Time Lords, with the Master sacrificing himself to banish them into the Time War once more. The final scenes involved a reprise of previous characters created by Davies, to give them closure. These were all the final appearances of those characters. Davies’ era was over, and that of Moffat was to begin in April.
Steven Moffat had, like Davies, written for the Virgin New Adventures and was the only writer to be asked back each year. Taking the role of Head Writer, Moffat claimed his entire career had been a secret plan to secure the position.
As the 2009 specials were still being produced and broadcast, Matt Smith was already shooting scenes for 2010’s episodes. The driving theme was a recurrence of time fields that worked as a temporal plot device, leading into the finale that was an effective reboot. Previous events of the show were erased, with the two regular characters retaining their memories. 2010 was merely a facilitating year, giving Moffat the time and space he needed to establish a reboot, and to then begin telling the version of Doctor Who he wanted to see.
It was only in 2011 that his idea of how the show should function was presented. In a change to previous seasons, it began with the Doctor’s apparent death, with the series then being lead by a version of the Doctor from his past attempting to solve the mystery of, and escape, his death. While this came to pass, it introduced the audience to the Silence, and revealed their hatred of the Doctor as being caused by prophesied events setting-up future storylines.
But this story arc was minimalised in 2012, which was instead governed by a character development rather than a plot development. The five episodes of that year attempted to move companions Amelia Pond and Rory Williams into the appropriate place for their departure at the final episode of the year. There was no finale in the dramatic sense, instead more of a conclusion of two characters’ place in the greater story.
The storyline resumed in 2013, not least due to the impending fiftieth anniversary. While that year’s season further explained the story arc begun in 2010, it also introduced us to Clara Oswald. The episode explaining her significance also revealed a hidden incarnation of the Doctor – the War Doctor. For the first anniversary special after the Wilderness Years, Moffat had taken to explain it as being necessary within the narrative due to the Doctor being absent to fight in the Time War. The effect of this was that the Ninth Doctor was now the tenth incarnation, the Tenth Doctor the eleventh incarnation and the Eleventh Doctor the twelfth incarnation. Just as Davies had chosen to begin with a new Ninth Doctor, the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor was now shown to be in much more dramatic and unexpected circumstances. The Eighth Doctor returned briefly for us to see this, making him the overlap between the two eras. Now, the Wilderness Years had a narrative relevance, and the New Series had been bridged. As a concept, the New Series was effectively obsolete, as the missing years had been filled. Of course, the final episode of 2013 also introduced the Twelfth Doctor in the aftermath of the resolution of a story arc running four years.
Which brings us into 2014, a year notable for its military theme. The Doctor was frequently based in situations to test his militaristic attitude, which culminated in assisting UNIT against a Cyberman invasion perpetrated by the Master, who’d survived her last appearance. 2014 worked as a character study for the Doctor, and it ended with the conclusion that the Doctor, in the New Series, is not a good man. But he tries to be.
The New Series has been noted for its increased violence, and questionable morality from the Doctor, but everything behind this has been connected to the true story arc of these first ten years of the Doctor discovering who he is again. After the Time War, things were different. The music was louder, the stories were shorter and everything’s more emotional. But his world hasn’t changed, it’s just his perception of it. His mental state’s changed to see the world as a hyper-reality. But is that necessarily a good thing? Have Davies’ and Moffat’s artistic choices been right for Doctor Who, with the context of what it used to be? Is there much difference to you? These are all valid, and legitimate questions, but not something we can answer right now. The show’s current state tells us they’re both equal in ability for keeping the show running. How they come to be regarded can only really be assessed in the future. Perhaps for the show proper’s sixtieth anniversary, we’ll know for sure who made the best choices. But then that’s very much what the New Series is about: you can only connect the dots looking backwards. Everything becomes clear only when you look at it with the distance of hindsight. But now, for this occasion, I’ll say this: Moffat’s admitted he’s nearer his end than his beginning, and Mark Gatiss seems tipped to take over. Whether the show continues online, through a streaming service, or through television, we’ve advanced to the stage where it’s beyond cancellation. Sixteen years off air, and it continues to do well. The New Series is proof that everything leaves behind the legacy that rebuilds it. And the show needed that break, for it was the integral piece in a wall that, from this point, while there are platforms prepared to be a fall-back for what’s popular, won’t end.
Doctor Who: the New Series
My chosen episodes
2005: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances by Steven Moffat
2006: The Girl in the Fireplace by Steven Moffat
2007: Blink by Steven Moffat
2008: Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead by Steven Moffat
2009: The Waters of Mars by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford
2010: The Eleventh Hour by Steven Moffat
2011: The Doctor’s Wife by Neil Gaiman
2012: Asylum of the Daleks by Steven Moffat
2013: The Day of the Doctor by Steven Moffat
2014: Robot of Sherwood by Mark Gatiss