Complaining about the new Doctor Who

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 12 April 2005
"Forget typecasting! He should never be cast again, in anything. Utter selfishness and a lack of respect for the fans. I, for one, will not be watching any of the rest of the series. He has spoilt it and his timing is so reprehensibly self-serving, he will be thought of badly by a lot of people until the end of his days!"
Mike, Blackpool, UK

One of many well thought out and reasoned responses on the Have Your Say site to the badly handled news that Chris Eccleston was not returning to play The Doctor in a second new series of the show. Similar fan sentiment has been expressed elsewhere with even more vitriol, to the extent that Outpost Gallifrey got mentioned in The Mirror for having to shut down the forums.

Another common theme throughout the News Have Your Say or the many and various Points of View threads about the show is:

"I am amazed that Eccleston was not made to sign a three year contract."

I guess one reason for not tying stars down to golden handshake deals is they don't looked so clever if what you produce doesn't turn out to be a massive success - you can speak to Dom Joly or Johnny Vaughan about that.

I was obviously disappointed to hear the news, but not totally surprised - Eccleston's body language and continual use of the past tense on the Doctor Who - Mastermind Special was a big clue. In order to get all of my negative feelings out of the way I re-watched 'Rose' a couple of nights before 'The End Of The World' was due to transmit. I spent about the first half looking sullenly at the screen thinking bitter thoughts, but then the way Eccleston exclaimed "It's a disguise!" about the glaringly anachronistic police box melted my heart, and I warmed again to his slightly barmy Northerner portrayal.

An interesting aspect to me for this is the way that this shifts the emphasis within the format even more onto the companion. Already Billie Piper has the distinction of being the first companion to have their billing form part of the opening sequence in a regular Doctor Who TV series. Now for the younger target-audience newcomers to the series, it will, by episode one of series two, be Rose Tyler who is the constant familiar reassuring face. I remember being very upset as a child when Elizabeth Sladen departed as Sarah-Jane Smith* - the first time any change in the regular cast happened on my watch, but at least Tom's manic curls where there to reassure me that it was all going to be alright. I dread to think how disconcerting it must have been for children in 1969/1970 when not only did the show move from black and white to colour but the *entire* regular cast were changed in one fell swoop between "The War Games" and "Spearhead From Space".

It isn't just Eccleston's departure though that has upset the public - 'The Unquiet Dead' generated enough complaints from the public that it was too scary for 7pm for the BBC to publish today an official response on the BBC Complaints site:

"Doctor Who is famously remembered by adults as being the family teatime programme which they watched from behind the sofa as children. The series has always been shown in the early evening and, while the monsters may be scary, the content is carefully considered for a pre-watershed audience.

The programme sets out to balance the right amount of humour, drama and suspense in each episode. In The Unquiet Dead broadcast April 9th, the comic character of the Welsh undertaker and a larger than life Charles Dickens together with the laughter and bravery shown by the Doctor and Rose in the face of danger were, we believe, vital elements in putting this 'ghost story' into the right context for a family audience. This is a balance we will strive week by week to maintain and remain vigilant about.

Doctor Who has never been intended for the youngest of children and in line with the BBC's scheduling policy, the later a programme appears in the schedules, the less suitable it is for very young children to watch unsupervised. We would suggest it would be a programme which 8 year olds and above would enjoy watching with their parents. Programmes for very young viewers are clearly indicated in the listings. The programme is well trailed giving a clear indication of its content."

It wasn't just the scariness that was the problem, but the nature of the scariness, at least according to this post on the Points of View site anyway:

"I am a preacher in the Methodist Church and I was completely shocked and unprepared for the Dr Who episode broadcast on Saturday 09 April 05.

The subject matter is very REAL and such activities as seances and contacting the dead DO HAPPEN today with disastrous consequences many times. Messing about with spiritual areas we cannot control should not be done - this is clear from the Bible.

Apart from my disquiet about the content of Dr Who, I was also concerned that it was screened at 7.00 pm when many young and vulnerable people would have been watching. In a day when Christian values seem almost to have been forgotten we need to remember again that LOVE not FEAR should be at the centre of our community and national life."

I've really enjoyed the sometimes heated debate on both Points of View and Outpost Gallifrey about the new series. One thing I don't understand though is people who claim to be fans of the show who want so hard to constrain it. It is surely the most flexible format in television - bloke who can be recast at will, with companions who can come and go as the producer pleases, can travel anywhere in time and space. Yet you get people arguing he can't be last Time Lord (as apparently established on TV in 'The End Of The World' and in many Eighth Doctor books) because we've previously seen The Master or The Rani, as if nothing can change in the Whoniverse off screen. Or that "The Doctor only has Twelve Regenerations. Fact." Even though we've seen The Master escape that particular constraint on-screen. On three different occasions.

If you ask me, you've lost the love of it if you don't think it can be re-written or re-imagined at the stroke of the script editors pen.

And then there is the amusing nit-picking over the details. People can accept a space-ship that looks like a Police Box, and is bigger on the inside than out, and can go anywhere in time and space, but they can't accept that Britney Spears' Toxic ever came out on 7" vinyl, or that any shops in London would still be open after they've seen a night bus go past behind Chris & Billie on Westminster Bridge. Fans have watched and re-watched the episodes to point out bloopers, like the fact that Rose works at "Henrik's" but in the news reports on TV it says "Henrick's". Personally, I suspect this may have been a BBC in-house joke at the expense of the beleaguered live caption writers for News 24.

Whatever, I'm loving all of it. It is, to quote The Doctor, fantastic!

Who’s Who? The Resurrection of the Doctor charts how the Guardian has covered Doctor Who since it was revived in 2005. If features interviews with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and the men in charge of the show's fortunes: Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. It also includes interviews with a host of other Doctor Who actors including Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman and writers including Neil Gaiman and Mark Gatiss. There are contributions from legendary author Michael Moorcock, Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, and specially commissioned illustrations from Jamie Lenman.
Who’s Who? The Resurrection of the Doctor” - £2.99 for Kindle & iBooks.

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