Saturday 26 October 2013

Doctor by Doctor #9

Working Class Hero

Christopher Eccleston, 2005

In 2005, Doctor Who finally returned to our screens, nine years after the false start of the TV movie, and almost sixteen years since the original series ceased broadcasting. Russell T. Davies, along with fellow executive producers Mal Young and Julie Gardner, brought Doctor Who to a new generation of children, as well as legions of old fans who kept the faith, and millions of otherwise sensible grown-ups who had once dismissed the series and now found themselves hooked. When the BBC commissioned the series, there was a great deal of trepidation and concern. Many people believed that the series was a relic from the past, and that a relaunch would be doomed to fail. They were wrong. The new Doctor Who was a huge success – but it was very different to the original.

I first saw Rose, the very first episode of the relaunched series, at the BBC five days before transmission. Others had downloaded a leaked rough cut, but I decided not to give in to temptation. It was worth the wait. The new Doctor Who was wonderful, the new Doctor was fantastic, but to an old school fan like me, it was all so very different. It was faster, funnier, aggressively modern and brilliantly written. Looking back, eight years on (eight years!), it all seems a little quaint, but at the time, this was the very pinnacle of Doctor Who. Yet, for all the rapid editing, contemporary setting and Davies-styled dialogue, one thing really stood out: the new Doctor.

Following the announcement that the series was to return, we engaged in fevered speculation concerning the casting of the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston was not a favoured choice. I can't think of anyone suggesting his name in the run up to the announcement. Eccleston was not a name that was associated with the characteristics of the Doctor. He was – and still is – associated with severe, stern roles, hard-hitting dramas and gritty realism. Aside from an unexpected turn as an eccentric in The League of Gentlemen, the one production that might have suggested what we could expect was The Second Coming. This, a previous Russell T. Davies creation, starred Eccleston as the son of God – and was nothing like their version of Doctor Who. For a fast-paced, frequently silly, Buffy-styled version of Doctor Who, Eccleston seemed like a very odd fit. If there was one thing his many respected performances had in common, it was that they were not much like the Doctor at all. That's what made his casting such a masterstroke. Eccleston's casting was a huge coup for the series. A genuinely well-respected actor, critically acclaimed, his casting leant an immediate touch of respectability to a show that had long been seen as inconsequential rubbish. Very probably the best actor to ever play the Doctor, Christopher Eccleston brought a unique intensity to the role, but could also be surprisingly humorous and camp.

"I've changed a lot since the old days."

The ninth Doctor is, in many ways, very unlike his previous selves. For the kids who were discovering the series for the first time, this was irrelevent – Eccleston was the Doctor, as simple as that. But for us old-school fans, he was very different. Elements that had appeared throughout his incarnations, to a greater or lesser degree, were notable by their absence. The new Doctor's appearance is of particular note. Eccleston's peculiar features are accentuated by the severely short haircut he commonly sports, so he remains striking in any outfit. However, the ninth Doctor, unlike his flamboyant former selves, dresses like a normal man of the 20th or 21st centuries. The battered leather jacket, dark sweater, black jeans and boots are notable for nothing so much as their straightforwardness. It's a far simpler look than his predecessors wore, and far more practical – it's certainly more suitable for travelling and adventuring than a velvet frock coat. This Doctor can slip unnoticed wherever he goes – even in periods of history where his clothing was unusually reserved. He might get branded as a navvy, or even a U-boat captain, but the look he sports doesn't grab attention. For once, he dresses like an ordinary bloke – for in many ways, the ninth Doctor is an ordinary bloke. Yet, in his head he has a gigantic wealth of knowledge, a encyclopaedia of the universe that gives him a unique outlook. He's “got five billion languages,” can narrow down the homeworld of the Slitheen by a elimination, and has the complete future history of human civilisation on hand to check his experiences against.

For all his miraculous technology, his alien outlook and centuries of experience, the ninth Doctor is grounded and unpretentious. Sure, he has moments of arrogance, but while he complains about the “stupid apes” that he's here to protect, he never puts himself above them. He keeps himself separate from the human world, but in the manner of a loner and outsider, rather than a great elder statesman stepping down from on high. He's a Time Lord, but he's no longer lordly. Part of this is down to the casting of Eccleston, a proud Salford lad. Previous Doctors all had a degree of poshness, from the Received Pronunciation of Hartnell to the overbearing annunciation of Colin Baker. Tom Baker and Paul McGann downplayed their Liverpudlian lilts, and even McCoy's Scots brogue had a bit of the posh to it. Eccleston's working class Manc accent is something new for the Doctor, and changes the way the character comes across. Davies makes the most of this in his scripts - “Lots of planets have a north!” being the most celebrated line – but other writers had a hard time adapting to it, their scripts notoriously haunted by “the ghost of Pertwee.” With Davies's guidance and Eccleston's performance, though, a new kind of Doctor was created – it's hard to imagine earlier Doctor's saying “This is me, swanning off,” or “Yeah, mate, not now, eh?” Let alone something like “what the hell?” as mild as that would be in any other drama. There's a casual masculinity to this Doctor that is mostly absent from his forerunners. He's frequently physical and aggressive, but in a rough and ready way, rather than the Queensbury Rules style of his third self. Yet there's still a camper side to him that comes out from time to time, usually when he's joking about moisturising.

All of this is surface stuff though. The real difference is at the root of the character. Rather than rebooting the series, as so many telly execs would have done, Davies opted to make a continuation of the original. However, he made a distinct break with the past, setting the new series very much as Doctor Who – volume two. The ninth Doctor is a survivor of the Time War, a catastrophic conflict that we have gradually learnt more about over the course of the series. This casting of the Doctor as a veteran of war changes the ethos of the series to a degree. While the Doctor left Gallifrey and began travelling the universe for still uncertain reasons, there has always been a sense that he's just doing it all for the fun of it, with good deeds and occasional missions just getting in the way. From now on, it's different; the Doctor is running from his past, and in his ninth incarnation, trying to atone for his actions. The Time War divides the series in two, with the first eight Doctors lying before it, the ninth Doctor and his successors coming after, and accordingly, we know little about the beginnings of the ninth Doctor. He was, in his successor's words, “born in battle,” and either he or his predecessor made the decision to destroy Gallifrey in order to end the War. Whatever caused his predecessor's regeneration, it seems likely it was tied to the events of the War; indeed, the War and its fallout define the ninth Doctor and his single series of the show.

"Those would have been terrible last words."

The big tragedy for fans of the ninth Doctor is how little there is of him to enjoy. Thirteen episodes, six novels, a handful of comic strips and short stories and one audiobook, and that's your lot. It seems unlikely that Eccleston will ever return to the role (although who knows, we once said the same thing about Paul McGann and Tom Baker). The reasons for his leaving so soon remain unknown, although from the little he has said, it seems that he had serious problems with the production environment at BBC Wales. While he has always stated that he remains very proud of his time as the Doctor, it's clear he wasn't happy when making the series, and he's not an actor who is known for recovering old ground. It's unlikely we'll see him in the role again. It's also quite feasible that it was only ever intended for him to do a single year; he can only have had a contract for the one year in order to be able to leave when he did, and his initial casting made the series a more impressive addition to the BBC's arsenal. With this groundwork laid, they could go ahead and cast a less left-field choice like David Tennant. Perhaps we'll never know the details. One thing is clear: the revelation that he would be leaving after just one series, leaked after the first episode was shown, made it all the more important to make the most of his time as the Doctor. And with only a few episodes featuring the ninth Doctor, it does mean we can look at his character in great detail, through the course of the series.

The very first episode was named Rose, and this is as big a clue as any to the other most important aspect of the revived series. The new Doctor Who wasn't just about the Doctor; it was about Rose Tyler. For the first time since the very first episode back in 1963, the series was presented to viewers through the eyes of a normal, contemporary person. This was vital in establishing it with a modern audience, and the choice of Billie Piper to play that character was another stroke of genius. Again, for us old fans, this seemed like a bizarre choice. Billie? The popstar? And casting her next to Christopher Eccleston was just... odd. Of course, they knew what they were doing. Billie Piper is an excellent, charismatic actress, and she grounds the first series perfectly.

It's significant how the Doctor is introduced, through Rose's eyes. The first we hear of him - “Run!” - is from offscreen, since the Doctor has crept up beside her. The first time we see him is when she does. Equally, our first sight of the plastic killers, the Autons, is when Rose stumbles upon them. We discover the Doctor's world through her. And while the Doctor initially discards her moments after saving her, his fate is tied to hers, and she's given the chance to prove herself to him. He's impressed by her, despite himself. This is a Doctor who has lost his faith in his own kind, and in humanity, and wishes to carry on his quest for atonement alone. Yet Rose's ability to accept the baffling and terrifying events she's confronted with impresses him first, and then her saving of his life, through nothing more than bravery and determination, seals the deal.

In the interim, Rose does some digging and finds a follower of the Doctor. Clive is a stereotypical Doctor Who geek, and is a good reminder how the series was viewed before it came back. Not that we Doctor Who fans have stopped pouring over the minutiae of the series, of course. To begin with, Davies is very reticent of including too much information about the original Doctor Who, to the extent that revealing the Doctor is a Time Lord seems significant. Clive's Doctor database features only images of the ninth Doctor, a notable omission in light of the rest of the series. When the Doctor had these adventures isn't clear. They seem to suggest a long life of travels before meeting Rose, yet in this same episode, the Doctor catches himself in the mirror and comments on his appearance like he's only just seen his own face. On the other hand, as many people have suggested, perhaps he's just had a haircut. One interpretation of the pictures is that they were taken during later adventures in the Doctor's life; perhaps Rose held the camera? It's just another little mystery about the Doctor's long life.

While this isn't the first episode Eccleston recorded, it's a perfect introduction to his Doctor. His performance is really excellent here. At first he seems uncomfortable in the role, and indeed, perhaps he was, but it matches the Doctor's own feelings about himself in this incarnation. There's something preying on his mind throughout the episode – the Time War, although we don't learn this just yet – and there's an itchiness about him, as if he's not quite comfortable in his own skin. He puts a big goofy grin on everything, but more than ever, this is a mask, and one that drops with the slightest provocation. He's tactile, friendly and good-humoured, but quick to anger, and perhaps a little to keen to throw himself into danger. It's a good thing Rose is there to rescue him.

"D'you wanna come with me?"

After some initial reluctance, Rose takes up the Doctor's invitation to join him in his travels. He's very careful with her, to begin with, taking her on one trip to the future and one to the past, before dropping her home. In practice, his messes this up, and as he gleefully admits, his life is continually dangerous. Having been turned down the once, he sets out to impress his new best friend, taking her to the incredibly distant future. The trip to the death of the Earth in the year 5 billion is both the Doctor's attempt to impress Rose and Doctor Who's attempt to impress its audience: here's what we can do. The Doctor picks a terrible spot for a first date; what should have been a relatively safe night out with a bunch of aliens turns into a murder spree at the behest of the last human. Having been saved from the Nestene by Rose in his debut, The End of the World gives the Doctor the chance to show what he's made of. He displays his Time Lord powers, his timing accurate to a split second when passing the deadly (and ridiculously impractical) fans that cool Platform One. He saves the majority of the visitors to the Platform, but not Jabe, the foxy tree-woman with whom he has a brief flirtatious friendship. Jabe gets to him in a way Rose fails to; as a member of the “higher forms,” she is a better match for the last of the Time Lords. Jabe, having knowledge of the Doctor's unique status, is already part of his world, and she is able to comfort him. We see something we have never seen before, even in his lowest moments: the Doctor sheds a tear.

When Rose takes him to task and demands an explanation for the bizarre adventure she has been drawn into, the Doctor becomes angrily defensive. She's not yet special enough to get past his defences. He snaps at her when she asks what planet he's from (although “It's not as though you'll have heard of it,” is a very good point). He's reluctant to let anyone in, to dwell on his past or even acknowledge it. “This me, right here and right now!” The pain of his memories of the War is simply to great. It's only after he has dealt with Cassandra that he warms to Rose fully, taking her back to Earth for a quick stopover and finally coming out with the truth about his origins – or at least, enough to satisfy her curiosity. It's a moment that bonds them, and from this point on, the Doctor and Rose are inseparable.

The trip to the 19th century shows elements of the Doctor's personality that reflect his earlier selves. This is perhaps unsurprising, coming from the pen of retro-master Mark Gatiss. The Unquiet Dead brings the Doctor and Rose to Victorian Cardiff, albeit by accident. That's another quirk of this Doctor: he's a wizard with the TARDIS, except when the story requires him not to be. Arriving nine years and half a continent away from his intended destination, the Doctor throws himself straight into adventure. Amusingly, he insists Rose change into an appropriate outfit for the period, his eyes popping out of his head when he sees her in her dress, but the most he'll do is change his jumper. Any other Doctor would be most at home in the Victorian era, but the ninth is distinctly ill-suited to it. Nonetheless, he has a total fanboy moment when he meets Charles Dickens. He might have shaken off his stiff Victorian vowels and dress sense, but he's still blown away to meet the century's greatest English author, so he hasn't changed that much.

The Doctor seems distinctly bored wandering the streets of Cardiff, until he hears a scream, and gleefully runs into the fray. Simply seeing the sights isn't enough for this Doctor. He has to keep running, keep fighting; if he stops, he'll begin to dwell on the past, and he can't do that. His guilt over his actions in the War leave him vulnerable to the tricks of the Gelth. While his brief falling out with Rose seems to have much to do with a genuine difference of viewpoint - “It's a different morality, get used to it, or go home,” - it's hard to believe that any other Doctor would be so easily duped. The ninth Doctor is so desperate to make amends that his judgment is compromised, and once again, it almost leads to his death. This time, it's Charlie boy that rescues him, with some help from the ghost of Gwyneth the maid, but it's Rose he focusses on. “I'm so glad I met you,” he says, holding her hand during what looks to be their last moments alive. That's it, guys: it's love.

"Don't you dare make this place domestic!"

Aliens of London sees the Doctor make one of his all-time great cock-ups. Again, his piloting of the TARDIS goes awry, but this time at the worst moment possible, and he brings Rose home a whole year late. It's refreshing to see how a companion's life has been affected by her sudden abandonment of ordinary life. Russell T. Davies's version of Doctor Who focusses not only on the companion, but on her family and friends, and this roots it in our world more than any other period of the series (even the UNIT era, set almost entirely on Earth, was set in a fantasy version of Britain). Missing for a year, Rose has left her mother alone, gripped with worry, while Mickey, her poor put upon boyfriend, has the double insult of getting dumped for an alien and being accused of murder. It's a sharply effective way of illustrating the impact on people's lives, as is the simple fact that, having seen his lifestyle, Rose can never go back.

Already though, Rose has become a vital part of the Doctor's life. He still has no problem fobbing her off with a white lie or two, but when it comes to the important stuff, he's becoming more open. He awards her a TARDIS key, the symbolic admission to his world, and admits to her his age. (As an aside, nine hundred years is a surprisingly low figure for an old fan to hear; he was apparently 953 at the beginning of his seventh life.) He can't yet allow himself to become part of her life; he's resolutely against the domestic world of top-up cards and gossip. It's all “a bit too human.” The irony is that it's the Doctor's feelings for Rose that hold him back from saving the Earth from the Slitheen. There's an easy way out all along; just hack UNIT's piss-poor security and send a tactical warhead along to strike Number Ten. The Doctor has to justify himself to Jackie, admitting, when pushed, that he can't keep Rose safe. It's Rose's bravery, and that of Harriet Jones (MP for Flydale North), that eventually convince him to take the risk and blow up the building. He puts Mickey in the same position as himself. Mickey is the one who actually sends the missile flying on the Doctor's instruction, and it's notable that after this, the Doctor's mocking of Rose's ex lightens. There's still some mickey-taking, if you'll pardon the pun, but it's the jokey sort of thing you always get between male friends. Like Rose before him, Mickey has earned the Doctor's respect. Rose herself makes the decision to accompany the Doctor for good, moving herself into the TARDIS permanently. The events to come, though, will threaten to tear her and the Doctor apart.

"Why don't you just DIE!"

For a while after the announcement that Doctor Who was going to return, it looked as though it would be doing so without the Daleks. Eventually, of course, the rights situation was agreed and all was well. It's a good thing too; it simply isn't Doctor Who without the Daleks. They have been the Doctor's perennial enemy since almost the very inception of the series; their cruelty and hatred are the mirror for the Doctor's compassion and bravery. Of course, over the years, the Daleks had, like the series itself, become a joke. With the episode Dalek, Russell T. Davies and Robert Shearman showed just how deadly the Daleks could be, and reinvented the Doctor in the process.

Dalek sees Christopher Eccleston at his finest. It's a powerful, brutal, upsetting performance. Notoriously, the take in which Eccleston let loose some spit in his rage against the Dalek prisoner was kept in at the actor's request, because he thought “the Doctor should be ugly.” The Doctor arrives in order to rescue van Statten's alien prisoner. He cautiously enters, promising to help. As soon as the Dalek reveals itself, his whole demeanour changes. He screams at the Daleks with rage, taunts it, mocks its helplessness, even tortures it. We have never seen the Doctor so angry or so hateful, before or since. It's genuinely quite frightening. The Doctor has hated the Daleks for a long time, but not like this. For the ninth Doctor, it's personal. The Daleks attacked his world, and forced him to carry out reprehensible acts in order to repel them, culminating in his choice to doom both the Daleks and the Time Lords. They represent the very worst that there is in the Doctor. And yet, there's some sympathy here between them, alongside their mutual loathing. They are both the last of their respective peoples. It's what they can see in each other that revolts them the most.

The last of the Daleks is cunning, ingenious and most of all, knows the Doctor well. It might not have met him in the War, but his reputation clearly precedes him. Like the Gelth, the Dalek uses the Doctor's guilt, needling away at him. “You would make a good Dalek,” it hisses. Rubbish, of course – the Doctor fought to save lives, and had to make terrible decisions in the process. The Daleks existed only to conquer and kill. They are nothing alike. Yet that spark of doubt is enough for the Dalek to find and flame. It takes the Doctor aback, but in the long run, only makes him angrier and more dangerous.

However, the Dalek's own weaknesses are exploited by Rose. Having manipulated her compassion for it until she inadvertently releases it from its bonds by touching it – regenerating it – the Dalek goes on a killing spree, showing its incredible power and ferocity. We've never seen a Dalek like this, and never will again: a single Time War soldier, built to destroy on a catastrophic scale. Yet Rose's “human factor” has already begun to work it's way through the Dalek's system. If anything, this makes it all the more deadly – listen to how it goads the Doctor, attacking him for failing to save the woman he loves. A normal Dalek would lack the capacity to even recognise such feelings. The Dalek's link to Rose prevents it from killing her, as it also prevents her from allowing it to be killed. It's a horrifying sight, the Doctor storming in with a gigantic gun, ready to exterminate his foe. It's only Rose's horror at this, the warrior Doctor, that shocks him into stopping. The Doctor is nothing like a Dalek – but he could be, if he let himself. It's perhaps the best reminder we've had for why the Doctor needs someone with him, to keep him from becoming one of the monsters.

"Be careful what you wish for."

Dalek also introduces Adam Mitchell, the companion who couldn't. Bruno Langley's wet genius is probably the worst person ever to travel with this Doctor. It's like Adric's turned up again, only with an uncomfortable romance thrown in to make that little bit worse. This Doctor is unusually aggressive towards other men, particularly those who threaten to come between him and Rose. While his dismissive attitude to Mickey has by this point softened, Adam impresses the free and easy Rose with his Doctor-ish enthusiasm, and the Doctor is openly contemptible of him. “What're you gonna do, throw your A-levels at them?” He mocks him, venting much of his frustration at the young man. It's nothing compared to the testosterone-fuelled squaring up to van Statten, or the vicious verbal attack he launches at him when he believes Rose has died, but it's still aggressively dismisive. In the end, he allows Adam to come along in the TARDIS purely because Rose wants him along. As Adam observes though, it takes a better man than him to come between Rose and the Doctor, even if Rose's feelings for the Doctor don't yet quite match his for her.

The Doctor gives Adam the chance to prove himself, but in fairness, also gives him plenty of rope to hang himself with. The acquisitive, intelligent Adam is a risky element on Satellite 5, and the Doctor leaves him unsupervised, with an unlimited credit card and access to 2001st century technology. It's hard to believe he isn't expecting him to foul up. “I only take the best,” he says (really Doctor? Dodo? Adric? Jeremy Fitzoliver?) and it really seems that he only let the guy come along so that he could prove to Rose how much better they are as just the two of them. There's a definite manipulative streak to this Doctor, calling back to similar behaviour in his second and seventh lives (particularly in The Long Game, a story that was originally submitted for the McCoy era). Despite his hands-on physicality, this Doctor rarely gets too directly involved, preferring to step back and nudge people in the right direction. While he lets Adam tie his own noose, his encouragement of Cathica on Satellite 5 prods her to question her world, and eventually bring down the Editor and his monstrous overlord the Jagrafess.

For a centuries-old Time Lord, the ninth Doctor really does make some terrible lapses in judgment. Father's Day is a perfect example. Since she began travelling with the Doctor, spurred on by his boast that he can time travel, Rose has secretly harboured a wish to go back in time and meet her father before he died. In this episode, she finally comes out and asks the Doctor, fully expecting to be refused over “the laws of time” or somesuch. The Doctor says yes. “I can do anything I want," he boasts, eager to impress Rose at any opportunity. When Rose can't bring herself to go to her father at the moment of his death, the Doctor makes matters worse by crossing his own timeline and taking her back again. In a moment of panic, Rose saves her father, altering history at a point the Doctor himself has made vulnerable. The Doctor rails at her, accusing her of using him, of being stupid, of endangering the world. We never see them more at odds than here, even during their brief fallings out over the Gelth's plans and suchlike. But what did the Doctor expect? Rose is nineteen years old, na├»ve, hormonal and extremely emotional. The Doctor is nine hundred years old. He should know better, especially considering his penchant for manipulating people in the direction he wants. How did he expect her to react?

Father's Day is the last time we see the Doctor as a surrogate father figure for Rose, an aspect of their relationship that becomes lost as the romantic side comes to the fore. Rose's father, Pete (played by the excellent Shaun Dingwall, who could really lead a series) gets the chance, in this defunct timeline, to know his daughter, and sacrifices himself to save her and the world from the threat of the Reapers. Once again, it's the Doctor's need to keep Rose safe and happy that keeps him from solving events quickly and easily. He knows that there's a way to set things right, and could probably talk Pete into walking in front of the car, but he can't do that to Rose. He uses every avenue he can to try to put things back without losing Pete, but is eventually taken by the Reapers – actually killed, only returning when Pete puts time right. The Doctor risks too much when Rose is involved. This episode shows just how important she is to him, and why: he really is incredibly lonely. Having abandoned his world once, it's now too late to go back, and while the Earth as become his adopted home, he is firmly apart from it. His conversation to the couple whose wedding he's crashed illustrates this beautifully. “Who says you're not important?” he says, before waxing lyrical about the scribbled phone numbers and late night dates lifestyle that he's never had. While we know he once had a family, it's perhaps fair to assume that his life was never like a western human one, and he is envious of the connections that humans have. In reality though, it's unlikely he could ever live like that for long. He needs to keep moving on. He needs the danger too much.

"Just this once - everybody lives!"

The Empty Child sees the Doctor's relationship with Rose begin to change. Once more, he's wrong-footed by another man coming into her life. Captain Jack Harkness, played by TV's John Barrowman, sweeps rose of her feet. He's essentially an Americanised version of the Doctor, suave, sexy and dangerous, albeit with a side order of rampant gayness. Brash, confident and effortlessly charming, he's exactly the sort of time traveller that would impress a teenage girl like Rose, and very unlike the ninth Doctor. He's also arrogant, amoral and selfish, and the Doctor is right not to trust him. There's more to it though, a serious undercurrent of jealousy. Jack's effortless charming of Rose is something the Doctor just can't do. He's too awkward, too antisocial, and too nerdy. The Doctor is far more comfortable with Nancy and her gang of urchins than with a flirtatious rogue. When they finally find themselves alone together, Rose and the Doctor make a breakthrough in their relationship. The dancing metaphor is Stephen Moffat's way on confronting the fans' prejudice and suppositions about the Doctor. Like the fans, Rose has just assumed that the Doctor doesn't do sexy stuff, like he's just above all that stuff. Of course, we know he's had kids, he's been around for centuries, he periodically reverts to youth; it's hard to imagine that he has never taken any interest in sex. The fact is, the Doctor can be sexual, but unlike Jack, his sexuality doesn't define him. Once they've danced (and just danced), Rose looks at the Doctor differently. She's not quite in love with him, not yet, but it's a turning point in their relationship, and Jack doesn't get a look in.

Boom Town sees a more relaxed side to this Doctor. He's moved on a lot from the unapproachable veteran we met at the beginning of the series. Setting down in Cardiff to refuel the TARDIS at the temporal rift, he actually takes the time to just go out and enjoy the company of his three personally vetted humans. Rose, Mickey and now Jack have all proven themselves to the Doctor, one at a time, going beyond their parochialism, their fears and their selfishness, with a little nudging from the man himself. The Doctor can now go for a fun, laid-back day out with his friends, something it would be impossible to imagine him doing when he first turned up to battle the Nestene. In the event, of course, he is forced to confront Margaret Blaine's Slitheen usurper, something his now well-oiled team is unable to help him deal with. Blon Fell-Fotch Passameer Day-Slitheen sits the Doctor down over dinner, and proves just as astute and manipulative as the last Dalek before her, and the Doctor himself. For once, the Doctor has to look his enemy in the eye and justify his actions. Normally, he's out of there, moving on to the next adventure. This time, he's stranded, and Blon uses this to her advantage. She really has very little moral standing here – she is, after all, a vicious murderer who was quite prepared to wipe out the human race more than once – but her words are enough to sting the Doctor. She gets to him because she understand him, because, underneath their differences, there is enough similarity between them for her to see what will hurt. The Doctor can empathise with a murderer because he too has been responsible for many, many deaths – far more than Blon Slitheen. We never find out just how the Doctor was going to deal with the situation, but I for one believe that he would have sucked it up and handed her in.

"Rose? I'm coming to get you!"

In the end, of course, it's the Doctor's impossible judgment calls that lead to his destruction. From the moment he pulled the trigger or flipped the switch that doomed Gallifrey, the Doctor ran from his terrible responsibility, and along the way, every decision he made pushed him along the road to his death, and the final horror of making that same decision once again.

Diverted by the Controller's transmat beam, the Doctor and his friends arrive on the Game Station, thrown into the obscene TV shows of the Bad Wolf Corporation. Russel T. Davies takes the contemporary obsession with reality television and extends it as far as he possibly can, creating a world where human lives are sacrificed in the ratings war. It's only as he escapes from the bizarre prison of the Big Brother House that the Doctor, accompanied by sweet Lynda Moss, discovers the truth about the world he is in. The Game Station is Satellite 5, and the by facilitating the collapse of the all-powerful news networks the Doctor has doomed the Earth to a century of hellish oppression. It's his mistake, and he suffers for it. Rose is taken from him, seemingly vapourised by the Anne Droid in her twisted version of The Weakest Link (well, more twisted). The Doctor, a man who has faced down armies and seen death on an incredible scale, is left shattered by Rose's apparent death. It's only later that he pulls himself together, tearing his way through the Station and up to the Controller's level, Jack a gun-toting sidekick at his side. What he discovers there is worse than anything he expected.

Of course, Rose is alive, having been beamed aboard the Dalek mothership. But why? Wy was she spared, instead of becoming just more Dalek fodder? Is it simply to keep the Doctor in line? I think it's more than that. The last Dalek is seemingly destroyed, ordered to exterminate itself by Rose. But we know that the Dalek has lied to her, made her believe what she wanted to believe, as it manipulated her into releasing it. We also know, now, that certain, powerful Daleks – such as a fully primed Time War soldier – have technology built-in that allows an emergency temporal shift. Does the Dalek actually kill itself, or does it throw itself through time, plagued by the madness of its own humanity? Surely the reason the Dalek Emperor, the creator of a race of part-human Daleks, the mad mutant with a god complex, spares Rose because it still retains a link with her? Is it not the very same Dalek?

So, once more, the Doctor's judgment comes back to bite him. The Dalek he allowed to take its own life has survived, and used the weakened Earth he created to build his own army. An army created to replace that which the Doctor destroyed at the final battle at Gallifrey. His past continues to haunt him. With a Dalek warfleet, millions strong, on its way to destroy the Earth, the Doctor is forced to act as general to the ragtag crew of the Game Station. While the Doctor gives orders, his right-hand man, Jack, coordinating the battle, men and women go to their deaths against the Daleks. Innocent people are exterminated, including the Doctor's potential new companion, Lynda – someone he'd earlier as good as asked to come with him in the TARDIS. Having finally allowed himself to open up and make friends, the Doctor is once more forced to shut down and become a warrior. It's the best look we've had yet at how he must have been during the War.

As always, though, Rose comes first. His manipulative side showing once more, the Doctor tricks her into entering the TARDIS, which immediately takes her home. I think, at this point, the Doctor has accepted that he is going to die. Nothing else would get him to give up the TARDIS. No, with his fate sealed, the Doctor makes the decision to save the one person he cares about enough to sacrifice his ship for. Rose isn't having any of it though. Deposited back in 21st century London, Rose states, in what's surely her coldest moment, that there is nothing for her to live for there. This is to Mickey, the man she was willing to shack up with just a couple of adventures before, and who was, only months before, her boyfriend. To his great credit, and Jackie's, Rose is able to return to the Doctor, through the help of those closest to her. Breaking open the TARDIS, she accesses its soul, the one being who cares for the Doctor even more than her. Rose merges with the TARDIS, seemingly becoming some kind of composite entity: the Bad Wolf.

Meanwhile, two hundred thousand years later, the Doctor is faced with a horrific choice. Having turned the Game Station into a delta wave emitter, the Doctor is capable of wiping out the Emperor and his fleet of insane Daleks. The only problem is that this will also wipe out everyone on the planet Earth below. The Doctor is faced with making the decision for every human in the universe: “Die as a human, or live as a Dalek.” Jack's support galvanises him somewhat, but still, this is an appalling decision for the Doctor to make, and one that reflects his choice to destroy Gallifrey to save the universe. A sacrifice that he now feels was “all for nothing,” since the Daleks survived. With our greater knowledge of the Time Lords' crimes, we can rest assured that he did the right thing, but to be in that position, to have the enemy you sacrificed you people to defeat come back... how can the Doctor possibly face that?

It's possible to argue that the Doctor had no right sending his troops into battle against the Daleks, buying him time to complete a weapon that he had no real intention to use. Where I stand on this, I don't know. It's not as if the Daleks would have left anyone alive for long in any case. The fact remains that, when confronted by the Emperor, the Doctor backs down, choosing to be a coward over a killer. He simply cannot bring himself to doom another world in this endless war, even if it means the Daleks will continue unopposed. Fortunately for the universe, the Bad Wolf appears, a literal deus ex machina. Rose, imbued by the transtemporal viewpoint of the TARDIS, the energy of the time vortex passing through her, is the one being capable of annihilating the Daleks once and for all. She sacrifices her humanity to save the Doctor.

Naturally, he is appalled. Rose's humanity is what makes her so special to him. Rose does impossible things – including bringing Jack back to life, leading the Doctor to abandon him, another decision that will have drastic consequences for him and the Earth. With the vast energies of the vortex running through her, Rose is in danger of being burnt up. But it's more personal that that; with her TARDIS eye view, Rose can see everything, the way the universe runs from start to finish. “That's what I see,” says the Doctor, “and doesn't it drive you mad?” I don't think we can take this as literally meaning he can see everything all at once, but it gives us some clue as to how the Doctor perceives the universe, aware of how time functions, how it is changing, with a vast depository of knowledge in his head. With Rose's life and her humanity both at risk, the Doctor finally allows himself to show something of his true feelings for her. “I think you need a Doctor,” he says (how long had he been waiting to use that line?) and finally kisses her. Sure, he's drawing the vortex energy out of her, but did it have to be a kiss? Not on your nelly. He chose a kiss for a reason.

The Daleks defeated, Rose saved, and the TARDIS back to how it should be, the Doctor goes on his way. It's too late though. Why does the vortex energy damage the Doctor so much, when Rose recovers so quickly? Well, maybe the Doctor absorbs Rose's own damage into his own system, or perhaps it's due to the fact that the energy was merely channelled through her, while he had to absorb it fully? I suspect there may be more to it than that. When Blon Slitheen looked vortex, she was regressed to an egg, able to start her life anew – exactly what she wanted, a clean slate. When Rose did the same, she got what she wanted – the means to rescue the Doctor. So is the Doctor being given his own desire? When he gives up in the face of the ultimate responsibility, he resigns himself to death at the hands of the Daleks. “Perhaps it's time,” he says. Is this, then, the Doctor's wish? To end his life, and begin again, unencumbered by the shackles of the War?

Whatever the case, the Doctor takes his passing with good grace. Russell T. Davies wanted the regeneration to come as a surprise. Can you imagine it? Sadly, that was not possible, and so the scene played out with a painful inevitability. It remains wonderful though. With his every cell dying, the Doctor looks to the woman he loves and bids her farewell. “I'm not going to see you again,” he says. “Not like this, not with this daft old face.” It's heartbreaking. “Before I go, Rose, I just wanna tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I!” And that's it. He burns up in a burst of regenerative fire, upright and boldly. After only thirteen episodes, the ninth Doctor was gone, but you know what? He was silly, jokey, hurt, sorrowful, angry, damaged, passionate, brave, and yes, he was fantastic. We miss you, Mr Eccleston. Come back some day.

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