top of page

'Doctor Who' class notes: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper launched NuWho reboot 10 years

Syracuse Post-Standard culture reporter, Katrina Tulloch, continues her "class notes" coverage of Who Class with key takeaways from the first public offering of the course in the spring of 2015.

Tulloch writes:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Oh, how far we've come.

Last night, Anthony Rotolo's Doctor Who in the Digital Age class finally broke away from covering classic Doctor Who to modern Doctor Who, starting with BBC's official reboot of the beloved show on March 26, 2005.

Yes, that was a decade ago this week, and yes, Rotolo planned our class to coincide perfectly with that anniversary.

Last week, we left off at the end of the Wilderness Years. Fandom even manifested in professional ways, including a 1999 comedy special "The Curse of Fatal Death."

The star-studded parody united Jonathan Pryce as The Master and Rowan Atkinson, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley as multiple incarnations of the Doctor. (You can watch it below.)

While these characters remained recognizable in British culture, rumblings about a reboot continued well into the 2000s.

Conversations became more serious at BBC Worldwide in 2003: What do we do with "Who?" Finally, a new era of "Who" (NuWho) was underway.

After the significant failures by producers in the late 1980s (lookin' at you, John Nathan-Turner), the reboot needed a hero to bring the Doctor back.

1. Russell T Davies

The BBC hired Russell T Davies, the producer of Britain's "Queer as Folk," as show runner for the "Doctor Who" reboot in 2005.

Davies flirts with using an American model for the new show, drawing inspiration from hits like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "24" and "Lost." He wanted to recreate their powerful singular episodes, rather than continue with traditional British serials.

"Remember, the Internet exists now so 'Buffy' and 'Lost' had huge internet communities dedicated to picking apart every little detail," Rotolo said.

Davies embraced modern media and took advantage of buzz on the internet. He played the news cycle, leaking bits of information here and there.

Davies also decided the debut would not show the Eighth Doctor's regeneration into the Ninth. Instead, writers wove missing pieces into the story line, revealing there was a Great Time War, and the Doctor was the last remaining Time Lord.

NuWho premiered March 26, 2005 on BBC One and 10 million people tuned in.

2. Christopher Eccleston

The role of the Ninth Doctor went to Christopher Eccleston, a British actor in Britain, known for serious roles.

Eccleston didn't grow up as a "Who" fan but he agreed to do the show because Russell T Davies was involved. He was seen as an interesting choice, over actors like Hugh Grant (who turned down the role and later regretted it).

In interviews, Eccleston said he believed the central message in "Doctor Who" was to love and accept life in all forms. He reacted with wonder to all forms of life rather than horror. He also renewed a sense of mystery and darkness in the Doctor's character.

Eccleston debuted with a very different costume from classic "Who." His simple leather jacket was edgy, rugged and far more muted than his colorfulcounterparts.

Eccleston was also the first Doctor not to perform with Received Pronunciation, the standard accent of English in the United Kingdom. He kept his native Salford accent from the Manchester area in the North West of England.

"Before, people from different regions didn't see people on TV who represented them," Rotolo said. Rose Tyler, the Doctor's new companion, even points out his accent to which he responded, "Lots of planets have a North."

3. Billie Piper

Billie Piper's casting as the Ninth Doctor's companion, Rose Tyler, was controversial among fans because Piper was known for a very different kind of career.

If you were from U.K., you'd know Piper as Billie, a former pop star who emerged after the Spice Girls era.

We watched Piper's 1998 music video "Because We Want To" in class, a weird, British mashup of Britney Spears and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, set to a Robin Sparkles-level of awful music.

"As you can see, Whovians were nervous," Rotolo said. "If she bombed, the show would bomb."

But many fans (though not all) embraced Rose. She was nothing like the more two-dimensional companions of classic "Who." She's compassionate, multifaceted and stubborn. She has family and friends. She questions everything and takes off on her own, even if when the Doctor tells her to stay put. She's as much of a star on the show as the Doctor is.

The first episode, titled "Rose," opens with a typical day in her life, rather than the Doctor's journey to meet her. Piper and Eccleston developed quick chemistry. They joked, flirted, fought and challenged each other.

NuWho finds its voice with "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances." Steven Moffat's two-part story delivers Rose and the Doctor to London in 1941, where they return to an old "Who" backdrop: The Blitzkrieg.

The story won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and cemented NuWho as a hit.

Doctor Who in the Digital Age covers both classic and recent episodes of "Doctor Who," with discussions and analysis of the history, evolution and cultural impact of the long-running British science fiction series.

Two hundred people (about half SU students, half non-students) enrolled in the live, free class at Syracuse University, but thousands of online students from all around the world follow along and participate in the class discussions via Twitter and Google+.

bottom of page