Bye: The Doctors Revisited (Christopher Eccleston)

(37 comments)

It's surprising how easily this era slips into history. On the one hand, there is nothing being said here that was not said in DVD commentaries and Doctor Who Confidential ten years ago, often by the same people. And yet there is none of the breathless self-promotion of Confidential, which is what this most obviously resembles. The imminent, thrilling need to celebrate the basic existence of Doctor Who is absent. Just as the tail end of the classic series was drained of all its conflict, this is drained of all its triumph.

For those who remember what the Eccleston series actually felt like as it happened - that is, classic series fans - this is slightly disorienting. Eccleston is basically explained as "he was a Doctor for the 21st century and not quite what anyone expected." And yet the scenes shown are exactly the ones you'd expect, with no real oddities among them. In marked contrast to the McCoy era, where we spent bizarre amounts of time on Time and the Rani, here we get Eccleston's Emmy reel.

The issue, one quickly realizes, is that this is essentially the first time these set pieces of the "Doctor Who Season One as vital text in television history" argument have been done without Russell T Davies, who continued his politely silent 2013. And, of course, Eccleston is absent as well. As with the McGann episode, there's a hole in the middle of this narrative.

It is worth noting that there is actually some suspense at this point in time. This went out on September 29th, the day after it was announced that there would be a trailer soon for Day of the Doctor, but nearly two months after the announcement of Peter Capaldi. "What is Doctor Who these days" was an astonishingly relevant question, with, at that moment in time, essentially three Doctors besides the incumbent having some sort of active "what's going on with" question, one who'd never appeared, and one who'd only had a minute of speaking time.

The result was a historical moment where there was a past/present line on what Doctor Who was that Eccleston was exactly on the wrong side of. Which was at the time useful. Doctor Who was not a young series - it was already into season numbers well higher than most shows get, and it was at the time highly visible that it was a half-century old. Finding ways to justify calling your "this is where you should start watching" point as recent as possible mattered. So declaring Eccleston to be history was an easy decision to make.

And he's history by his own choosing, admittedly - we should remember that the entire landscape of Doctor Who would have looked different right now had Eccleston been in Day of the Doctor, or, at least, certainly this special would have. But no, right now the scale of Doctor Who is very much 2006-14. And all of this is bluntly literalized in the closing moments of Moffat's introduction to Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, when he mentions the fleeting appearance of David Tennant as a highlight.

Given this, the choice of stories is appreciated. There were only three candidates, since the timeslot is based on a classic series four-parter. They were never going to show Aliens of London/World War Three, which made it an either-or choice between Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. They decide to go for the Davies story, in all its glory. They let this era stand on its own terms, in other words. And it's similarly interesting to hear Moffat describe the "everybody lives" scene in terms of what it communicates, instead of in terms of its quality, in a way that reinforces the historicization by not subsequently colonizing it as a prototype of the present. Which speaks volumes, in the end. This is, perhaps, the most fundamental respect you can pay the Eccleston era - to trust it absolutely to stand on its own merits.

(An idiosyncratic observation - the clips from this that they choose include the "the Doctor tells the Daleks no" scene from Bad Wolf, and is cut to highlight the fact that when he does, all of the other characters in the scene do a simultaneous head-take, in the most gloriously artificial way imaginable.)

Comments

ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 2 months ago

So, seven Eruditorum posts left till the last post on February 9th, if I'm counting right. That must leave the last two Doctors revisited specials, An Adventure in Space and Time, The Day of the Doctor, The Five(ish) Doctors, and Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead, but I'm drawing a blank for post number seven. The science of Doctor Who with Brian Cox? A post on the general 50th anniversary specials/ tie in media? Or, (and this seems very speculative) a post on The Light at the End?
I'm not expecting a confirmation, of course, I just like playing the guessing game.
Also, if it hadn't been for the 90 minute timeslot, what story would people have chosen? For me, it's a toss up between "The End of the World" and "Dalek".

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Blueshift 2 years, 2 months ago

The historicisation of the 9th Doctor era is really interesting to me. Nowadays it is treated by the general public more as a prelude to the greatness of the Tennant era, a necessary evil in setting the scene and entirely in context of what comes after, whereas at the time it was huge in its own right. Even fandom acts the same and yet at the same time in the last (or was it one before that) massive story poll on... I think it was Gallifreybase, the Eccleston erea came top rated over all the others.

I thought it was great at the time, and still do now.

Oddly enough though, a friends' attempted watch of New Who was defeated not by 'Aliens of London' which she liked, but by 'Dalek'. Not sure what the moral is there.

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Kit Power 2 years, 2 months ago

The Ecclestone era is still my favorite ever. Almost entirely because of Ecclestone himself.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 2 months ago

My guess is the last two Doctors Revisited episodes, the Capaldi reveal special, a revised post on An Adventure in Space and Time from what appeared in the second Hartnell edition, Day of the Doctor, The Five(ish) Doctors, and Silence in the Library.

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Matter-Eater Lad 2 years, 2 months ago

My Doctor.

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Max 2 years, 2 months ago

The Capaldi reveal special aired in August between the McCoy and McGann revisited specials. So I'm sure that if we were going to be seeing that, we would have by now.

Also, if precedent is anything to go by, there's sure to be a comics post in there somewhere.

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Blueshift 2 years, 2 months ago

I hope to see a post on the Day of the Doctor live aftershow debacle on BBC3. That was a fascinating... thing for all the wrong reasons!

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 2 months ago

What I loved about your Eccleston year posts was how you captured the tone of first watching them, the incredible exhilaration of Doctor Who being a freshly produced television show again, and the weird unbelievability of it. We're accustomed to thinking of Eccleston as this weird aberration: it was only one year, it was kind of a weird year where Davies hadn't quite figured out through the chaos of production how to settle his era's tone, and Eccleston today is the only surviving Doctor actor who never participates in any of the fandom culture surrounding the show.

Eccleston is the only actor to play the Doctor who, after the fact (and even before the fact) always treated it as a job. It bumped up his income bracket and let his agent sell him to studios producing edgy sci-fi action movies for his major paychecks. I remember a brief interview with Eccleston on the set of Thor II, where he was asked about his feelings on Doctor Who. He said some nice things, but it was quite low-key. The role of the Doctor becomes an essential part of the soul of every actor who plays him. Except Chris.

Ten years ago, I watched every new episode with such excitement. It really was the thrill of celebrating the basic fact that Doctor Who exists. We won't watch Doctor Who the same way again, now that the show has become part of the global pop culture landscape. The Eccleston year was the mad thrill of an insane gamble that was actually paying off. The Capaldi era is yet one more step forward in a fascinating show whose planetary prominence is assured.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 2 months ago

I think the moral is "ain't no accounting for taste". Always worth remembering when we divide Doctor Who (and I think we all do, don't we?) into "This is what I show non-fan friends to say 'Isn't this series amazing?'" and "This is what I bury at the back of the DVD cupboard before they arrive."

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 2 months ago

For me, the 9th Doctor era seems so long ago, yet still strangely recent. It’s being repeated in Australia, on SyFy, at the moment and seems to have aged reasonably well; although a bit clunky at times and you can almost see the writers and production team putting the future juggernaut together as they go.

This might have something to do with the fact that TV in general doesn’t seem to have changed so dramatically in the last 10 years (Your mileage may vary), when compared to say the first ten years of the original series. Looking back to the first season of Hartnell from somewhere near the mid/end of Pertwee and the change the program is so dramatic it’s almost unrecognisable as the same show.

Personally Eccles never quite gelled as the Doctor for me. Not saying he was bad, because he wasn’t and I’ll watch any repeat when it’s on. But I never reach for a 9th Doctor DVD when I need a Who fix. I’m not a Tennant fan-boy by any means, but he felt like ‘The Doctor’ for me in a way that the ninth never quite did.

Yet I still get a slight thrill every time the opening scenes of ‘Rose’ play, remembering that night when it all hung in the balance; would it be any good? Watching with my newish girlfriend (now wife and mother of our child) who was NOT a Doctor Who watcher, let alone fan, and thinking, ‘Well, that was okay. Pretty good really. At least they didn’t stuff it up.’ And rediscovering my own near dormant fandom.

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 2 months ago

And further on the historicisation of the era.

For myself, and I would imagine a sizable portion of older fans, Doctor Who was always a largely historical document. Sure there was current Who, but it’s past was shrouded in mystery and we were only given glimpses, through Target novels and B&W stills, and it was endlessly fascinating and tantalising. Like televisual archaeology. And then on through the wilderness years when it really was history.

I have found that I can enjoy almost any episode when viewed as a relic from the past. There’s no pressure on a past episode to carry the show forward, to be liked, admired, rated and ‘the best thing on TV, ever’. I can sit and enjoy the episode, in much the same way as I enjoyed the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee eras. And, after 1989, the way I could watch the show as a whole.

I enjoy the 9th Doctor ear as historical Who, much in the same way I viewed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Doctors as a kid. And for any new fans coming on board now, that’s exactly what it is.

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David Anderson 2 years, 2 months ago

I would expect at least one comics post. The Girl who Loved Doctor Who looks like it was designed to be Sandifer bait.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 2 months ago

Great point about choosing Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways to not let The Empty Child/Doctor Dances "colonize" the past into a prelude to the glory of the Moffat Era. A very classy choice on Moffat's part.

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Blueshift 2 years, 2 months ago

The historicisation of later stories as reflected by angst over the state of the show is an interesting one in itself. The most obvious example is the McGann movie, which at the time was Hot Stuff, and then when a series failed to materialise became downgraded to 'crap' as it had 'ruined Dr Who's chances of returning forever'. Now the new series is here, it is more of a curio. The same could perhaps be said for the Colin Baker era which many cite as having caused the show's death, though there has been less of a reappraisal of the stories without the angst that the show is now doomed. Of course, the later McCoy era was pretty much seen as a new golden age and then it got cancelled, but there is a subset that deemed McCoy as the nadir as well.

What I mean to say, is at the time, Who was back and entering a new imperial phase, and it was tremendously exciting and we tended to view the episodes in that light as well. I wonder how well the episodes will hold up now the glow of 'this is the most popular thing on television' has faded and we can look at them as entries on their own. One of my work colleagues the other week said he missed the glodry days of Who, and cited his memories of series 2. I look back at series 2 now, and see an awful lot of duffers there (and I'm one of those who liked Love and Monsters).

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 2 months ago

In a weird way, the 9th Doctor has become almost as obscure as the 8th. That's an exaggeration, because obviously the 2005 season is the first thing you see when you start the show on Netflix, but it seems like fandom-at-large has kind of pushed him aside to the same degree.

Still, thanks to Eccleston's absence from the 50th, the 2015 wall calendar has a page devoted to 8 but not 9, which would have seemed unthinkable in, say, 2007.

There certainly are Eccleston/9th Doctor diehards, but it's always exciting to meet another one. We seem to exist in small pockets.

9 is still my wife's favorite Doctor, and she's always so excited to find merchandise with him on it, because it's like spotting a rare bird or something.

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Alex 2 years, 2 months ago

I'm not sure any season of Who, no matter how good, will ever be quite as exciting as sitting down each week to watch an episode of this one - it was back!


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Ombund 2 years, 2 months ago

My guess would be: the last 2 Doctors Revisited posts, Night of the Doctor, Day of the Doctor, a general 50th anniversary post incorporating The Five(ish) Doctors, a comics post and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead.

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 2 months ago

Phil has said that he's not going to cover "Night of the Doctor" until the McGann/Eccleston book.

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 2 months ago

Haha, that One Direction interview that got a bit timey wimey.

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encyclops 2 years, 2 months ago

I enjoy the 9th Doctor ear

Some people think he has two. ;D

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Doctor Memory 2 years, 2 months ago

Is this the thread where the 9 diehards come out to each other? Awesome.

Because honestly, until the Capaldi's first season, Season One was for my money the series' high point. And that's nearly all down to Eccleston, who against all odds found the perfect tone for his character from the very first moment and never wavered from it, even in the crappier episodes.

Tennant got bigger productions. Smith got better publicity. But Eccleston was the better actor by leaps and bounds. And I wish to god the production team had realized what they had on their hands.

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 2 months ago

There should definitely be an Eruditorum post on One Direction day

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Aylwin 2 years, 2 months ago

Big ones. That's why he has such good hearing.

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 2 months ago

I love the Ninth Doctor's Season. My favourite doctor pretty much boils down to "Whichever Doctor I'm watching at that moment", but the Ninth Doctor was my first, and as a result, he's always special to me. Plus, that season's fantastic, one of Doctor Who's best. There's an uncertainty to the production, yes, but that means they're always pushing for something that feels a little weirder, a little more off kilter, a little more risky. Series Four and Five are also favourites of the New Series for, but the show didn't feel like it was taking risks in quite the same way until, well, until last year (I love Series Eight).

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 2 months ago

*favourites of the New series for me

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 2 months ago

I love the internet... you make a deep and profound statement (TM) about the history of viewing your favourite show and everyone picks up on the typo.

Still, pretty aprops typo ;-)

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Daru 2 years, 2 months ago

I remember watching the Eccleston episodes with such utter excitment. I felt very much as you did Adam:

"What I loved about your Eccleston year posts was how you captured the tone of first watching them, the incredible exhilaration of Doctor Who being a freshly produced television show again, and the weird unbelievability of it."

I recall it being such an event as at the time I was working on shifts as a support worker at a learning disability project and found it difficult seeing the whole series. I caught up later on though. It felt like a real television event as I experienced the re-discovery and reawakening of a show I had once loved and thought dead. Wow, what an adventure that was and nothing much in TV has caught that verve and excitement for me - especially as not having the internet then, I had no idea Eccleston was leaving and the regeneration caught me by such surprise!

Great stuff.

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encyclops 2 years, 2 months ago

You say typo, I say gift. :) An opportunity for a terrible joke AND an excuse to hit the "follow this post" checkbox. So thanks for that!

I DID like your comment, though. I totally agree that the pressure on the present season powerfully colors our perception of it, and its lack allows us to relax and enjoy things on their own merits and not what they portend for the future of the show.

My own take on Eccleston at the time was that he was really fun to watch, but somehow not THE Doctor (more like a streetwise younger cousin), and absolutely everything the show was a test of whether it was worthy of carrying on the name. For me it was the same in the McCoy era, the first time I was watching the show more or less concurrently with original broadcast -- there was no historical perspective, it was all newfangled and precarious.

Nowadays, if I'm really honest with myself, despite the bad taste in my mouth Eccleston's distance from the role leaves me (one disadvantage of the historical view), I have to agree it was a stellar first season. There really isn't a single episode I find less than enjoyable; even the Slitheen are bearable once you know they're three-episodes-and-done. And there isn't another season of New Who I could say that of, not even Season 8, I'm afraid.

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C. 2 years, 2 months ago

another Eccles fan here. yeah, I know some Tennant diehards would love to imagine that the series would've been a huge hit if it started with their dreamboat, but the thing was that if Doctor Who had any "public" image in the early 2000s, it was of some eccentric posh Brit in a frock coat. Tennant was safe. Eccleston was the right choice: he felt new, fresh, weird, rather unnerving. The show would not have worked as well without him. I wish he'd done another season, but am grateful for the one he did.

Still recall watching "Rose" for the first time with a bunch of non-fans. By the time Eccleston was walking w/Billie Piper to his TARDIS in the housing estate, you knew it was working, that they were hooked. It was such a triumph: Who was mass entertainment again. I'll always be grateful to Davies, Eccelston and Piper for that.

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Terry 2 years, 2 months ago

I'd love to see The Light at the End get an Eruditorium post.

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Ozy Jones 2 years, 2 months ago

I do sometimes wonder if fans other 'cult' shows suffer the same level of angst as we Doctor Who fans with our particular phobia of low ratings and silly episodes that may cause another great hiatus and cancellation. Perhaps Trek fans, but I'm not one so I can't speak for them.

I do remember absolutely loving Buffy and Angel at the time of broadcast, but there was never any worry or angst over the upcoming episode, just a pleasant expectation of enjoying it and reengaging with the characters and the story.

But then again, a lot of other shows don't take the risks Doctor Who does with its format and storytelling and have a lower percentage of 'below-the-line' episodes.

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William Silvia 2 years, 2 months ago

"The Day of the Doctor" was covered in the Tennant Era.

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William Silvia 2 years, 2 months ago

My relationship with the Eccleston era is interesting. On one hand, it was my introduction to Doctor Who, and features three of my favorite stories. On the other hand, I can't help but think of it as "the David Tennant season in which David isn't actually there yet".

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Aylwin 2 years, 2 months ago

But as a Time Can Be Rewritten (and as a fragment of a longer text starting in media res), not as a mainline post, which is still to come.

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5tephe 2 years, 2 months ago

I'm late to the love-in, but need to also voice my sustained joy for Eccleston's series. It's the one I find myself most frequently revisiting, and to my mind is the only season that consistently feels like it has fidelity to both Classic Who and New Who.

And Eccleston is just superb.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 2 months ago

I agree that there'll probably be a mainline DotD post, since the Time Can Be Rewritten one looks at it as part of the Tennant era, as is the purpose of Time Can Be Rewritten entries.

Not sure about it being a fragment, though; I took "Which makes it all the stranger that he doesn’t" as following on directly from the "Waters of Mars" post, which ends "Given this, the only possible thing that Tennant’s Doctor can do from this point is die."

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Lee Shelton 2 years, 2 months ago

By the time the relaunch came around, I probably hadn't given much thought to Doctor Who in about a decade, having had my first flush of fandom at the end of the McCoy era/early wilderness years. I still think I watched this series more out of loyalty to my younger fan self than anything else (and possibly out of being a big fan of Ecclestone's previous work). I still find this series dreadfully patchy and I'm not sure it really starts working until the finale two-parter (the Moffat episodes being the honourable exception). I'm slightly bemused by the tendency of a section of fandom to regard this as the pinnacle of 21st century Who. But my 'pinnacle' until very recently was series 6, so what do I know?

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