I’ve been looking forward to writing this ever since I got four whole series of Doctor Who for Christmas! I’ve already reviewed Series 8, Series 9, and Series 10, but except for this very old (and slightly preachy) post from 2012 and an announcement back in 2017 that I’d started watching Series 7, I haven’t really talked about anything pre-Twelfth Doctor in much detail.
So let’s do this thing. We’ll start with the Russell T. Davies Era first (the Ninth and Tenth Doctors) and then next week I’ll share my thoughts on the Moffat Era (the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors). Worldview issues have already been addressed in the links above (especially the archived 2012 link), so I’m not going to spend much time there except to say that the disclaimer at the very bottom of my site’s page remains applicable.
Also: please remember that the Moffat Era did bring me into Doctor Who, so my personal views/preferences are colored by that. I mean no disrespect to any fans, actors, or writers. These posts are meant to be fun expressions of my Whovian thoughts. That is all.
Allons-y and Geronimo!
The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), Series 1
“Don’t skip Nine,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. So I didn’t skip Nine. In fact, I watched “Rose” and “The End of the World” on Christmas Day before consuming turkey and cornbread dressing, and I enjoyed both episodes! Over the next couple of weeks, I dutifully watched most of Series 1…until I finally wearied of the general campiness.
In its defense, Doctor Who was newly-rebooted at this point. I suspect Russell T. Davies and his team were just trying to find their footing. Where were they ultimately going to take the show? Would it lean more towards the goofball side (which one might’ve legitimately feared after observing the Slitheen), or be predominantly dramatic (as seen in “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”)?
This dissonance, in my personal opinion, carries over into Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal of the Doctor. While he can be as fun as he is mysterious, Nine tends to be all over the place. Ten is primarily emotional and angsty; Eleven is gentle and ancient; Twelve is gruff and logical. But Nine doesn’t have as much of an…emotional niche. Perhaps if he’d had more than just one season, he would’ve had the chance to develop more. I do like him! I just don’t feel like I got a chance to get attached to him.
That said, there were some episodes I really liked in Series 1. I’d even say that “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” is one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time. It has a truly frightening monster and/or disaster, a mystery that the Doctor and his companion must solve together, vividly-crafted supporting characters (Captain Jack Harkness, anyone?), an emotional, character-driven story…and last but not least, a happy ending. This is the prime recipe for a truly fantastic Doctor Who story.
The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Series 2-4
When Doctor Who first came to my attention, David Tennant was still the Doctor. (Why yes, I have known about this show that long.) Tall, skinny, freckled, and almost always grinning from ear-to-ear, he’s clever, adorable, eloquent, and absolutely charming. And as soon as I watched “Christmas Invasion” for the first time back in late January, I leaned back with a gleeful sigh and thought, “Ah yes…this is the Doctor Who I know and love!”
For the most part, I greatly enjoy this era. Ten is at his most endearing in Series 2, from his quoting of the opening lines of The Lion King to his triumphant cry of “I’m the Doctor, and I just snogged Madame de Pompadour!” And in spite of the fact that Rose Tyler remains my least favorite companion, two of my all-time favorite episodes (“The Girl in the Fireplace” and “School Reunion”) do come from Series 2.
Series 3 was much more frustrating. I really like Martha Jones, the next companion, but Ten’s pining for Rose irritated me–not because he pined (that was understandable), but because, to quote a later (and very wise) companion, he left Martha feeling like “a bargain basement stand-in for someone else.” Martha was brilliant in her own right, but she had to compete with a ghost. Also: except for “Blink,” rightly considered one of the All-Time Greats, I found most of Series 3 too plot-driven and on the boring side.
Series 4, on the other hand, is RIP-ROARING GOOD FUN, and all because of these two dorks:
Ah, Donna Noble–my second-favorite companion of all time. She doesn’t put up with the Doctor’s nonsense. She doesn’t put up with anybody’s nonsense. But she’s also remarkably observant, brave, and compassionate. She probably would’ve stuffed the entire population of Pompeii into the TARDIS if the Doctor had let her. (Not that that would’ve been a great idea, when you consider the historical implications plus the unsavory reputation of the Pompeiian citizenry in general…but you get my point.)
Series 4 is chock-full of memorable episodes. My mom, much to my surprise, loved “Partners in Crime.” “Midnight” is a feat of both acting and storytelling, while “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” introduces the delightfully mysterious River Song (more on her in the next post). “The Fires of Pompeii” is definitely on the weird side, but it’s worth watching just to see a much younger Peter Capaldi playing a Roman nobleman who steals the TARDIS and then gets to have Important Conversations with the Doctor.
Overall, however, and much to my disappointment, I found David Tennant’s era a bit depressing. Ten started out so joyful and adventurous, but by the conclusion (especially in the five specials that led up to and included his regeneration), he’s morose and embittered by his many losses. It makes complete sense, given his story arc, but of the four Doctors I’ve watched, his regeneration is the saddest. Nine, Eleven, and Twelve all felt incredible peace at the end of their tenures, but Ten’s cry of “I don’t want to go” just made me feel like drawing a melancholy sigh…
Until POOF!–this uncoordinated baby giraffe appeared!