The Ninth Doctor

Doctor Who returned last weekend after a 16–year / 9–year haitus, depending on whether you believe the failed American collaboration with Paul McGann as the Doctor existed or not.

I was first introduced to Doctor Who back at 6th Form, when an Enthusiast lent me some videos, a sort of sampler selection covering various incarnations of the Doctor. I watched them, and I didn’t get it. I just didn’t get it. God knows, I tried. I’ve watched amazing amounts of rubbish in my time — Highlander, for instance, or Space: Above and Beyond — but even I struggled with Doctor Who. The terrible cheapness of it all, the hammy acting and embarrassing scripts, the appalling effects and A-level Theatre Studies-quality sets and actors…telling the Enthusiast I didn’t like it was like when your favourite 5-year old child approaches you with a drawing they’ve made in class, and you have to take them aside and gently break it to them — “Ah, little Johnny. I appreciate the effort you’ve made, but this is actually complete shit.”

I didn’t grow up with Doctor Who, having started watching it during the final storyline of the McCoy era, so perhaps that accounts for some of it. Approaching this series as an adult was much like approaching the original Star Wars trilogy as an adult; without the benefit of nostalgia, you tend to see the flaws. No, I was with Michael Grade on this one; the show just had no merit (and the Daleks were clearly rubbish).

So now, it’s back. The BBC have decided to take it seriously again and give it a decent time slot and budget. Christopher Eccleston is the Doctor and Billie ‘Why you gotta play that song so loud?’ Piper as the companion Rose. Reviews have been mostly very enthused about the first episode. And I still don’t get it.

Was the plot great? No, not really; Shop dummies are coming to life and the Doctor finds the mother brain or whatever it was and kills it, The End. Was the acting anything special? No, not really; Eccleston, having spent most of his career acting as a dour Northerner appeared to have cribbed from some sort of cheap ‘How to Act in a Slightly Jumpy and Quirky Way’ book that he found on eBay, which contains just one chapter entitled “Speak quickly, in short sentences, with a sort of a smirk, that ought to do it”. Was it funny? Jesus, no; plastic dustbins burping after eating someone, the Doctor being attacked by a plastic arm and Rose not noticing, Rose’s cowering boyfriend clutching her…

It wasn’t bad, that’s about the best thing I could say about it. I didn’t hate it. Perhaps I’ve just been spoilt by Battlestar Galactica, Dead Like Me, the entire Joss Whedon catalogue and even the current season of Enterprise. Maybe I’m just expecting too much, but I cannot, for the life of me, understand the appeal of Doctor Who.