This March sees Doctor Who reach a milestone. And it’s one no Who fan can honestly deny the importance of. It will be the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who’s triumphant return to our television screens. It’s worthy of note. Very few ‘cult TV’ shows make it to ten years in the current climate of television politics, and the cold feet that tends to results in many shows being pulled after a lack-lustre first season (which misses the point that a first season is almost always the weakest of any show, as it is all about finding the show’s identity – often leading to a weak and schizophrenic season). Back in 2005, well, late 2003 when the plans to bring Doctor Who back were revealed, Doctor Who was largely little more than a fondly remembered television show of years-gone, often mocked and derided by critics. Sure, it had a very loyal fanbase, and despite its absence from television since 1989 (and the one-off television film in 1996) the property was still alive and well. Through prose fictions (novels, short stories), through audio dramas (on CD or radio) and in comic strips, Doctor Who had never really disappeared. Arguably, those years off screen saw Doctor Who go through its most creative period – years of strong and original fiction, with creative leaps not hindered by a miniscule television budget. But 2005 changed all that.
March 2005. Hard to believe it was ten years ago. So much seems to have happened since. Doctor Who was taken in-house more than ever before, in a branding drive that saw the novel range shift its focus to younger readers, cutting the output by a good eighty percent, Doctor Who Magazine went through a radical facelift, new merchandise was on the cards. In every conceivable way 2005 saw Doctor Who become a success story – and in the past ten years that success has continued, as the show’s appeal spread wider and wider. New fans have been brought in to the re-energised series, a whole new generation that now think of the show as ‘theirs’, who have their own Doctor (or Doctors, since ten years on there have been four [or five, depending on how you look at it] actors to play the part). In every way, the past ten years had redefined the public perception of Doctor Who. The critics love it, the public love it, kids love it!
But is this worthy of celebration?
On January 6th, Radio Times published an interview with Russell T Davies, and he made it clear that no, it isn’t. ‘A programme can’t have its fiftieth and then it’s tenth. I think that’s just confusing. It's marvellous and glorious; let it carry on,’ said Russell. And he might have a point. Less than two years ago the BBC went a mad marketing drive to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the entire series. Will it confuse matters to now celebrate the tenth anniversary of the ‘new’ series? Will this suggest a division between Doctor Who 1963-1989 and Doctor Who 2005-2015? For some fans there is a division, for others there is not. Russell seems to see it all as one series.
I talked to a few fans and this is what they had to say.
Jim Russell, from Wishaw, Scotland; ‘When I complain about NuWho, I'm told that it's not a new series, it's a continuation of the original series. If that's the case, then there's no reason to celebrate.’
Adam Perks, from Potters Bar, England; ‘I don't think it's necessary. I became a fan during the "Wilderness Years", when there were no new episodes, and as much as my love for Doctor Who came from the videos of old stories, it also came from the Virgin and BBC novels, the Big Finish audios, and the fan fiction produced during that time. To eleven-year-old me, it felt like an infinite toy chest which things could only be added to and never taken from. So I suppose what I'm saying is that, although I loved it when RTD brought it back to telly, to me it never really felt like Doctor Who had been away.’
Philip Bates, from Weston-super-Mare, England; ‘I was born in the “Wilderness Years” so knew little about Doctor Who. But when it came back, I loved it. Still do. 100%. I've caught up on all that I missed and yes, I'd like a celebration of some sort. I can understand why some don't (though I think it's a bit patronising that a "reason" is some may not get why a couple of years ago we were going on about the fiftieth and this year, we're celebrating ten years. People aren't thick - they'd understand!).’
Edward Rees, from Bettws, Wales; ‘I don't think it's necessary if I'm honest. We certainly don't need a big celebration like the fiftieth. A small nod would be nice, like numbering the bus the 200 in Planet of the Dead. An episode penned by RTD would have been nice or perhaps a small scale story with two Doctors or a returning companion. It's the fifty-second year and the tenth since the return, let's just carry on and save the celebrating for the sixtieth.’
Caroline Callaghan, from Bradford, England; ‘It's still Doctor Who, even if it's quite different to the Doctor Who I first watched as a kid fifty years ago. So, no, you can't celebrate its tenth year when it's over fifty years old.’
Ed Sinclair, a Canadian author now living in Maesteg, Wales; ‘I'm of mixed sentiment about the “anniversary”. The new shows are being marketed as series one, two, etc and if anything, the special should be the proper series ten special, not this next year [series nine]. But I wouldn't make a big deal about it. Just lovely little nods to the history of the past ten years would be sweet. After all, how many shows these days run for nine seasons plus? It is an achievement in any terms.’
Jesse Conrad, from Maryland, America; ‘I don't think a tenth anniversary celebration would be confusing to most people. Most people who became fans after Doctor Who returned in 2005 know it has been around for over fifty years and that it was on a very long hiatus before it returned to our screen. I think there should be some kind of celebration, nothing too big, for the fact the show successfully stayed on for ten years, proving those who had doubts about the show back in 2005 wrong!’
Fan opinion is, as ever, mixed. Is it worth celebrating? Maybe. It is an achievement, and should probably be acknowledged in some way, but will making a huge deal of it ‘confuse’ people the way Russell T Davies believes? A question that is not easy to answer. For long-term fans, probably not. For younger fans? Perhaps. For the general public? It would all come down to how it is celebrated, and how well the BBC publicise it.
The bottom line is, if Doctor Who had not returned in such a triumphant way in 2005, then the chances are the series would remain long-dead in the public eye.
What are your thoughts? We’d like to know.