Poptimism in Space

The key moment for me in the new Doctor Who is when the Doctor, having just twigged that the bad ‘guy’ is using the London Eye as a space transmitter, turns to Rose and grins, “Fantastic!”. “Fantastic!” – you’ve solved the problem. “Fantastic!” – we’ve found the evil base. But also – isn’t this “Fantastic!”, this running around saving the universe thing? It’s not the companion, new to it and in a state of understandable shock, who says this, it’s the Doctor, who has 900 years of it under his belt and seems more wide-eyed and enthusiastic than ever.

In the interviews I’ve read leading up to the new series (which I loved, even more than I expected to – in fact I loved it so much that I haven’t wanted to watch it a second time) I’ve been told a lot of things. Russell T Davies has written about the Doctor as a hero. Chris Eccleston has talked about wanting to bring the emotion back. There have been mutterings of a more human Doctor, or of a darker one. So I was completely blindsided by the simple glee in Eccleston’s performance, which almost nobody mentioned but which on the sliver of evidence we have seems to be something of a keynote. The Doctor has always had a sense of curiosity, sometimes an irresponsible one, but the sense of wonder has been left to the viewer until now. Eccleston, though, fizzes with it, whether he’s chivvying the “stupid apes” to wake up to themselves or grinning like a look when we do.

I’m not going to review every aspect of the show – you name it, I thought it worked, or could at least see what it was doing there. Looking at a big Who news and reviews site and reading the fan reviews there, the main quibble seemed to be the length – the show was rushed, the one episode format simply ‘unsuitable’ for Dr Who. For old Dr Who, maybe, but with a handful of acknowledged classics excepted can anyone really say that the old Who couldn’t have done with editing? Any given story is a rickety mess, superb scenes and great ideas interspersed with repetition, capture/escape routines, slack banter and the very occasional magnificent build up (something I suspect we’ll get in this series’ two-part stories anyway). It’s all lovely stuff but the feeling I get when I consider, say, The Daemons is like the feeling I get when I think of a favourite album. Contemplation of the whole brings a glow, a sense of completeness. The experience of actually listening though leads more often than not to ennui, awareness of flaws, a simple desire to skip to the good bits. Rose though was more like a great single, something thrilling and immediate but affirmational and jumping with possibilities. It was rushed because it was a rush. “Fantastic!”