When the British Film Institute announced their series of monthly screenings throughout 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I thought that they sounded like a nice idea, but I wasn’t particularly fussed about attending any of them myself. I hadn’t been to any Doctor Who events for a very long time, and thought that they weren’t necessarily my sort of thing.
However, last month I had the opportunity to attend the Remembrance of the Daleks event, and I absolutely loved it. The chance to watch a great Doctor Who story on the big screen, with a large and enthusiastic audience who love the series just as much as you do, and to hear more from some of the people who made it happen with the interview panel afterwards… I was hooked, and despite having come to these BFI events rather late in the series, was determined to try and get to more of them before the end of the year.
I was very fortunate, then, to be able to pick up a couple of returns on the BFI website in the week leading up to the Ninth Doctor event, and went along with a good friend of mine on Saturday to enjoy that Doctor's grand finale, the two-parter Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. The observant among you will have spotted that this is the Ninth Doctor, but in the eighth month. Presumably due to the availability of guests for the screenings, they’ve got a little out of order now, with the David Tennant event following next month, and Paul McGann finally getting his moment at the beginning of October. At the beginning of this month’s event, compère Justin Johnson announced that both Tennant and McGann will be attending their respective screenings.
Probably to nobody’s great surprise, there was no appearance from Christopher Eccleston at this month’s showing, although he did send along a note for Johnson to read out before Bad Wolf. It was short, but definitely sweet, and although Eccleston doesn’t often make any statements or appearances related to his period with Doctor Who, you do sense that he remains proud of his time on the series and the work that he did to help establish its successful return. In his note, Eccleston joked that if Joe Ahearne – who directed the two episodes being screened – were to return for the 100th anniversary special in 2063, he’d take part and bring his stair-lift, providing the Daleks do not bring theirs!
You do sense that there was a great bond formed between Ahearne and Eccleston during the five episodes of Doctor Who which they made together. Ahearne, remember, wrote to The Guardian to rebuke those who’d criticised Eccleston for his departure from the show after only one year, and he and Eccleston collaborated on the ITV drama Perfect Parents soon after their work on Doctor Who. Ahearne has rightly won many plaudits from fans down the years for his work on the 2005 series, but has oddly never returned to the show. It does make you wonder whether the fact that Eccleston left has anything to do with his not wanting to come back and do more, but sadly during the question-and-answer session which followed the interview panel, nobody put that one to him – and I wasn’t brave enough to ask him myself!
Nonetheless, Ahearne did give many interesting insights, such as his observation that Doctor Who was a pleasure to work on because it was one of the few British television dramas of the time where the camera could help to tell the story, rather than just being pointed at people having conversations in kitchens. And he did dispel the long-standing fan myth about his having been born on November 23rd 1963 – not true, evidently!
Representing the actors of the Ninth Doctor’s era was Bruno Langley, who played short-term companion Adam Mitchell in Dalek and The Long Game. I felt a little sorry for Langley, as there wasn’t a great deal for him to say, given the fact that he wasn’t actually in the two episodes being screened. Nonetheless, he came across as likeable enough, and another person proud to have been associated with Doctor Who.
Also present as a guest was visual effects supremo Dave Houghton, who was interviewed between the two episodes, and it’s odd to hear someone from that side of things talk about how much more can be done these days – we’re used to hearing those who worked on the classic series day that, but these 2005 episodes themselves are now starting to seem old!
There is no question, however, that both the interview panel and the question-and-answer session were dominated by day’s other guest – Phil Collinson, who was the producer of Doctor Who when it returned in 2005. Collinson is, of course, an old-school, dyed-in-the-wool Doctor Who fan, but he was also the sure head and steady hand who made sure that the whole thing didn’t fall to pieces in those early days when nobody had made a series like this in the UK for so very long, schedules were falling behind and elements both inside and outside of the BBC were predicting an embarrassment. It was anything but, of course, as Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways go to show.
Collinson was a witty, informative and hugely enthusiastic guest, proud not just of these two episodes, not even just of his era, but of all of Doctor Who. Even after everything that’s been said and written about the show and how it is made, he still had some fascinating new insights, too – such as the fact that the first cut of Rose, the first episode of the new series, came in at a mere 28 minutes, necessitating some frantic additions and reworking!
On a technical level, while it was very impressive to see the episodes on a film-sized screen, oddly I thought that they didn’t stand up to it quite as well as Remembrance of the Daleks last month. I don’t know if it’s because I was sitting nearer the front this time, or whether it’s an artefact of the field-pairing process used to ‘filmise’ the video, or simply my imagination, but I thought that the jagged edges you’d expect when 625-line video is blown-up to cinema-screen size were more apparent.
Perhaps it was simply the contrast with some of the high definition Matt Smith-era material we’d seen only a few moments before, when we were treated to a sneak preview of a montage from BBC One’s Doctor Who Prom broadcast. On the basis of that, I’d expect An Adventure in Space and Time and whatever 11th Doctor story is chosen to look fabulously lush on their showings here at the BFI.
Such quibbles aside, I can only thank the BFI once again for putting on this series of celebrations for Doctor Who’s anniversary, and repeat my recommendation from my Remembrance of the Daleks review that if you have the chance to attend one of these events, you should grab it with both hands.