Magazine article The Spectator

Return of the Daleks

Magazine article The Spectator

Return of the Daleks

Article excerpt

Doctor Who is back (BBC1, Saturday) as a TV series for the first time in 16 years and I'm not sure which aspect of his latest incarnation, as written by Russell T. ('Queer As Folk') Davies, I find most objectionable: his new pink headquarters on the planet Stifado One, his mincing young assistant Julian or that his foppish, vaguely Edwardian kit has now been replaced by a pair of leather chaps, a studded belt and an enormous black codpiece with a little holster on the side for his sonic screwdriver.

No, no, I jest. Though it's true that Davies was the first writer ever to show on TV an under-age schoolboy being buggered senseless by a predatory older man, that doesn't mean he's about to mete out similar treatment to our beloved Doctor Who. Au contraire. Davies is such a dedicated Doctor Who fan that he even carried on watching in that difficult period after Peter Davison had gone, when it apparently went down and down. If anyone on this planet was ever likely to breathe new life into an aging Time Lord, then Russell T. was surely the man.

And, sure enough, he has, with extremely unlikely support from the actor playing Dr Who - Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston, I get the impression from all those non-interviews he gives, is an actor who takes himself very seriously. You just know if you sat next to him at a dinner party he'd bang on about the Kyoto Agreement, or some such, and never once vouchsafe any juicy asides like fun actors do about which thesp has the biggest penis, which has the best coital one-liners ('Tom's in now,' is popular with one, I gather), which is secretly gay and so on. The idea of him summoning up the lightness of touch required to play the Doctor seemed about as remote as the Daleks of conquering the universe when they can't even walk up staircases.

But it turns out this is what makes him such clever casting. For too long, possibly even as far back as my favourite-equal Doctor the great Tom Baker, actors have been playing the role that little bit too camp, knowing, lovable or twee. Brusque, sarky and virile with his cropped hair, leather jacket and northern accent, Eccleston's Doctor transports us back to the golden era of Jon Pertwee when the series still had that edge of darkness (the Master; the Sea Devils) that sends children scurrying behind sofas. …

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