Why Doctor Who scooped TV awards

THE man who saved Doctor Who, Russell T Davies, has a favourite story.
Earlier this year, paramedics were called to a car crash.
It looked bad – a man was trapped in the wreckage and firemen were cutting him free.
Fighting the pain, he asked to borrow a mobile phone to ring his wife – and told her: “Can you tape Doctor Who for me?”
Nothing could demonstrate more clearly the amazing success of the telly hit that picked up THREE big prizes at the National TV Awards on Tuesday night.
But this is a show more than 40 years old that was ditched 16 years ago when many thought it had run out of steam.
Most remakes are a pale shadow of their former selves and so deservedly fail.
So how did the BBC buck the trend and make Doctor Who bigger and better than ever?
The fact is they were working with an idea that was always ahead of its time. It was original and imaginative. The Beeb just had to wake up and realise what a gem of a show they had.
When it began in 1963, Doctor Who was unlike any other scifi show on TV. Creator Sidney Newman wanted a teatime serial to fill the gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury.
The Doc was almost an anti-hero – a crochety old bully of an alien played by silver-haired William Hartnell.
Instead of piloting a sleek spaceship, he travelled the universe in a battered old police box which was bigger on the inside than the outside.
It looked like a police box because it had a chameleon circuit to make it blend in with its surroundings. Only the joke was that this cloaking device failed and a police box it stayed.
When Hartnell quit after three years, the BBC had another inspired idea. They gave the Doc the power to regenerate – and the new doctor, Patrick Troughton, and each succeeding doctor had his own distinct personality while staying quirkily like a British eccentric.
It was an idea they used repeatedly. Different generations had their own favourite Doctors, from the elegant dandy that was Jon Pertwee to the jelly-baby loving clown in Tom Baker.
But over the years, Doctor Who lost its magic. It got tired, stale and complacent. Viewers laughed at the cardboard sets and endless quarry scenes.
And it seemed to become an embarrassment to the BBC who played with the format and shunted it around to different timeslots in the week.
When at last the BBC recognised the value of their lost treasure, they turned to Davies, one of TV’s leading writers, to produce it – and gave him £1million an episode to do so.
RTD had long been a Doctor Who fan – and to regenerate his favourite show he and the Beeb went back to basics.
They put the good Doc back to Saturday night primetime TV – perfect family viewing.
This time they had the budget – and the computer technology – to produce some fantastic effects.
They were also able to hire the best actors – with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper in the lead roles and attracting guest talent including Zoe Wanamaker, Simon Callow and Richard Wilson.
RTD brought the show bang up to date – Billie’s character Rose had street cred and was more than a match for the Doctor.
But he also made a show that was true to its roots.
It was oh so British. It had imagination, it had humour and it had flair.
And of course, it had eveyone’s favourite monsters, the Daleks.
The Doctor – now played in his NINTH incarnation by Eccleston – was again a rather mysterious, slightly sinister figure.
And once more he relied on his wits rather than violence to get out of trouble and save the world.
The new man in charge of the Tardis, David Tennant, is another long-term fan as well as a leading actor.
For this timeless hit show, the future looks brighter than ever.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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