Back in December I watched the first series of Doctor Who’s revival, with Christopher Eccleston. A solid enough series but I never really warmed to Eccleston as the Doctor, and it seems 12 episodes wasn’t about to change that. Fortunately his successor David Tennant got over three series, as well as being instantly likeable.
Season 2 was always one of the best for me, and Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler sealed the deal. Their chemistry was immediate, with a more light-hearted Doctor working well with the sparky Rose. Of course that made the series finale all the more devastating when the two of them were split up by a then-watershed moment of high spectacle as Daleks & Cybermen fought for control of Planet Earth.
Watching it all back, it wasn’t a perfect series by a long shot – later episodes like “Love & Monsters” and the horrific “Fear her” cast a cloud over an otherwise reasonable set of episodes. “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “School Reunion” were particular standouts though, especially as 1-episode stories. The Cybermen 2-parter, and moreso the “Impossible Planet” double felt a little stretched beyond their original premises, and struggled to keep the momentum up. Yet somehow The Doctor and Rose still make it all watchable.
With Rose out of the picture, series 3 introduced the much-maligned Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). I think the show was still improving here, and Freema had plenty to do, even if her family were rather annoying and the unrequited love plot never really went anywhere. But where Series 2 floundered towards the end, in the third series we got the “Family of Blood” 2-parter, and the amazing Doctor-lite “Blink”.
Bringing The Master back was a nice change from the “A-List” aliens, though John Simm’s cheeky schoolboy schtick really diluted the menace. Not least that cringeworthy of Rogue Traders’ “Voodoo Child” at the penultimate episode’s climax. Yuck! That said, I felt like Martha went on more of a journey than perhaps Rose did, even if it nearly destroyed her totally. Poor cow. I never quite grasped how much of Series 4 she ended up in though, half the episodes!
I was rather excited for the fourth season though, with Catherine Tate reprising her role from “The Runaway Bride” in a surprising dramatic role. Sure, shades of her sketch show characters were there but she was another slant on a companion. Though in contrast to Martha’s transferable skills as a trainee doctor, Donna had to rely on shoehorned moments in which to use her ‘temp powers’, somehow confused with a Rain Man-like intuition for numbers.
An even more solid lineup of episodes made up the series – with only a dire “Midnight” spoiling the run. I won’t mention the wrist-slitting Kylie-killing Christmas episode either… Donna-centric “Turn Left” was a great (if not entirely original) concept, and the Sontaran two-parter was perhaps one of my favourite classic baddie revivals.
Then of course there is the chaotic blockbuster of a finale, drawing a line under the Russell T Davies years. A great episode that was a worthy curtain call for the revived series cast. It’s just a shame Donna’s story had to finish like it did though.
Even more of a shame were the hopeless ‘specials’ that marked the last year of Tennant as the Doctor. They were average stories at best, and spun out over an hour was even more of a stretch. “Planet of the Dead” saw a particularly gruesome and slappably smug Michelle Ryan as a Tomb Raider rip-off character. “The Waters of Mars” was perhaps the highlight of the first three specials, though again an hour was a bit of a stretch.
Finally Tennant’s swansong “The End of Time” got things going properly, with a rather maudlin conclusion to a spun-out Master storyline. It at least went to show that the Doctor needs a companion, there just wasn’t the same sort of spark in those specials. It’s odd to think that Tennant’s tenancy (er…) was as much defined by his companions than himself, but that’s how I feel.
I had a bad dream that featured The Doctor last night, so I might give it a brief pause before I start with the Matt Smith years – I’m also a bit worried that I won’t like it, but then the whole reason for me starting this again is because I really enjoyed the anniversary stuff, so maybe it’ll be fine. At least I know the opening episode is good!