Monday, November 18, 2013

Doctor Who: 1998

After episode 696 (Doctor Who): The Final Chapter, part four
First published in Doctor Who Magazine #265, cover dated 3 June 1998
<< back to 1997
Nicholas Briggs is the Doctor!
DWM #265, 1998
Last week, we finally saw how the eighth Doctor died. About time, too.

When Doctor Who returned to TV in 2005, there were mutterings that Paul McGann had not been asked to film a regeneration, handing over to the new Doctor as Sylvester McCoy had done for him. Head writer Russell T Davies explained why not in an early episode of Doctor Who Confidential: a lesson learnt from the TV movie was that an old Doctor got in the way of establishing the new one.

Despite this sensible reasoning, there were still those who grumbled that without a handover we didn't know that Christopher Eccleston really was the ninth Doctor. We weren't offered proof until The Next Doctor (2008), when the Cybermen played clips of each of the first 10 Doctors in order.

(The Cybermen might not be the most reliable sources, but then Doctor Who has relied on the testimony of monsters before.)

Perhaps it didn't help matters that there had been other ninth Doctors already.

In 2003, the BBC's Doctor Who website announced its own ninth Doctor, with Richard E Grant starring in The Scream of the Shalka. In 1999, Rowan Atkinson played the ninth Doctor for Comic Relief. These two stories, too, did not show a regeneration from McGann, but one story did.

In 1998, Doctor Who Magazine's comic strip saw McGann regenerate into a body that looked a lot like Nicholas Briggs. Now best known as the voice of the Daleks, Nick had starred as the Doctor in a series of fan-made adventures released on audio, and 'his' Doctor had appeared in an earlier DWM comic strip, a future incarnation that the seventh Doctor bumps into.

If this Briggs Doctor was a fan in-joke, he was also never intended as a legitimate addition to the canon: four weeks later, we learnt he was an invention of the still very much alive eighth Doctor, a decoy to fool the villains.

Yet the trick only worked if readers could believe that DWM really was prepared to drop the eighth Doctor as the "current" incarnation. It would only do that, we'd think, if there was no hope we'd ever see McGann in the role again, and little chance of new TV Doctor Who any time soon. For all we'd stuck with the magazine in the years without the show, the gag played on our own lack of faith in Doctor Who's future on screen.

Looking back, I think 1998 was the lowest point in those years Doctor Who wasn't on TV. And then things suddenly changed - in ways we couldn't have known the significance of at the time, but which now clearly lay a path to the show's triumphant return.

Next episode: 1999

No comments: