Today, March 26, is the fifth anniversary of 21st-century Doctor Who – that is to say, the day that the world’s longest-running TV sci-fi series moved into a new era.
Written by series showrunner Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk), Rose was the first episode of Series 1, which relaunched the BBC science-fiction drama series after its 16-year hiatus.
NuWho, as it is sometimes called, was first broadcast to UK audiences on March 26, 2005. Back then, many television pundits believed that the show would fail, that there was no longer a family TV audience. The episode’s 11 million UK viewers and the last five years have proved them wrong.
Davies (or RTD, as he is known to fans) and Doctor Who have reinvented family viewing habits. Others have followed, including ITV’s Primeval, BBC’s Merlin (starring Colin Morgan, who played Jethro in the Who story Midnight).
Rose introduced Rose Tyler, a 19-year-old woman (played by Billie Piper) who, one evening, becomes accidentally trapped in Henriks, a London department store, where she works. She’s attacked by plastic shop-window dummies that have come to life in the basement.
The dummies turn out to be Autons. She is saved by a man who introduces himself as “the Doctor”. At the end of the episode, the Doctor persuades Rose to travel with him in his TARDIS – a time machine disguised as a 1960s blue London police box. And the rest is history.
The Autons first appeared 34 years earlier, in the classic series of Doctor Who, against third Doctor Jon Pertwee (in his debut story Spearhead From Space (1970) and, later, Terror of the Autons (1971). RTD used them in this story to deliberately link the revived DW with the original series.
NuWho has, to date, seen three new Doctors introduced to the public – Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and, soon to be seen in his first adventure, Matt Smith. Steven Moffat is the new showrunner, with Series 5 due to start April 3 in UK, April 17 in USA.
Just days after the new series began in 2005, fans were shocked by a headline saying “Eccleston shocks universe”. This was when ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston announced that he would be resigning from the show after just one series.
The BBC released a statement, ostensibly from Eccleston, saying he would be leaving the role because of a fear of becoming typecast. However, just days later, the BBC revealed that Eccleston’s “statement” was falsely attributed and released without his consent. The corporation admitted it had broken an agreement made in January that year not to disclose publicly that Eccleston intended to do only one series. The statement had been made after journalists made queries to the BBC press office.
The reasons behind his leaving the show continued to be debated for some time, with one being that he was exhausted because of the pace of the work schedule. Who producers have consistently insisted that Eccleston was always going to do only one series.
Some fans saw the episode before its first broadcast. On March 8, 2005, the news agency Reuters said a copy of Rose had been leaked onto the Internet. However, it did not contain composer Murray Gold’s new arrangement of the famous theme tune. The leak was traced to a company in Canada, which had a legitimate preview copy. The employee responsible was fired by the company.
The theme tune, composed in 1963 by Ron Grainer, was arranged by the late Delia Derbyshire with the now disbanded BBC Radiophonic Workshop, with which she worked at the time. A BBC archive programme devoted to Derbyshire and her work – Sculptress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Derbyshire – is due to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday (March 27) at 8 p.m. British summertime, with a shortened repeat on Monday at 3 p.m.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams was for a time a Doctor Who scriptwriter and script editor, and he, too, gets a Radio 4 airing with The Doctor and Douglas on April 2 at 11 a.m., in which the impressionist Jon Culshaw explores the role that Adams played in the series back in 1979.