It looks like a stupid question. There’s a familiar narrative that goes along the lines of brought the show back, broke new ground, didn’t stay long enough, made it a show for a new audience and so on. Obviously I’m not just talking Christopher Eccleston but the whole Ninth Doctor season.
Yes, all those things happened and if handled badly the show could well have crashed and burned, but it didn’t. I’d like to look a little more specifically and pick out some key points in that first season of twenty-first century Doctor Who.
Season 1 – The Ninth Doctor
Episode by episode is the only way I can conceive, so here goes.
The big one. Billie Piper/Rose: success. Northern Doctor with attitude: success. Autons reprising some of the ideas of Spearhead from Space: success. Great production values, CGI, music: success.
If you were a newcomer, it gave you enough to get interested. A longer standing fan had the reassurance this might all just work out OK. It felt like Doctor Who and it felt fresh.
The End of the World
Apart from the thread through to the New Earth, this started to introduce the idea of the Doctor being something special, and hinted at the idea of his race being extinct.
The Unquiet Dead
Travel in history, Mark Gatiss and also the introduction of the Cardiff Rift. Where would we be without it?
Aliens of London / Word War III
Here come the Slitheen. I’ll pass on that being a success, and we also get UNIT (in website) and Harriet Jones (yet to look tired). We also had the idea of replacing government with duplicates out to cause trouble, something reminiscent of Spearhead from Space as well.
The big bad enemy, the Time War, ethical choices, the impact of the companion on the Doctor (Ian and the First Doctor anyone?). It’s a key moment and sets the stall out for much of the next decade or so.
The Long Game
Hmmm. It introduced the set of the season finale and lost a would-be companion. Not for me.
Some nice time travel challenges, Rose’s father Pete works well, and it’s about character not big events. From this do we get a seed that would lead to parallel Earth?
The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
Steven Moffat at his best in many ways, a creepy two-parter and the introduction of Captain Jack.
Cardiff, Torchwood base (though we didn’t know it) and more Slitheen.
Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways
Revelation of a series arc, regeneration, deus ex machina ending and Captain Jack becomes a fixed point in time. And Daleks! What’s not to love! Role on Christmas.
I can see plenty of evidence of design both for this series with the Bad Wolf arc and beyond. It’s not over the top, doesn’t dominate, but (let’s use the word) a journey for both Rose and the Doctor.
The good ship TARDIS set sail into new waters, and it’s hard to see how it could have been bettered, and the momentum propelled it well into the next few years. More on this idea when I cover later Doctors.