When I was a kid, "Doctor Who" was not cool. Neither was I -- I grew up a nerd in '80s and '90s Britain, derided for my interest in computers, my side-parting, my big glasses, and for watching "Doctor Who" and "Star Trek".
Those things are all cool now. It's a funny old world. Anyway, this little trip down memory lane is prompted by the fact that today, 26 March 2015, marks the 10th anniversary of a day many thought would never come: the return of a certain much-loved but long-departed British sci-fi series to TV screens.
The classic BBC series, following a time-traveller who saved the day armed only with his wits and his wit, began in 1963 and ran for 26 seasons. Sadly, competition from big-budget US rivals made the cardboard sets and, er, "charming" effects look old hat, while science fiction in general fell out of favour in the school playground. Shunted from its flagship position at Saturday teatime, the show finally fizzled out in 1989, leaving my 9-year-old self bereft.
But 15 years later, "Doctor Who" roared back to the forefront of British telly, revived by "Queer as Folk" writer Russell T. Davies, and Julie Gardner, head of drama at BBC Cymru Wales. The first episode, "Rose", was broadcast on Saturday 26 March 2005, and introduced a new generation to a new Doctor and a new companion, played by feted actor Christopher Eccleston and one-time pop star Billie Piper.
The show was an instant hit -- 10 million people watched "Rose", with at least 6 or 7 million tuning in each week as the series progressed, even when they could watch it any time on iPlayer. Here's 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi remembering the return of the series he had loved as a child:
We've since enjoyed eight seasons travelling the universe in the Tardis, as well as several specials and a Christmas episode every year. And not only is "Doctor Who" once again popular among British fans, but the Internet and BBC America have welcomed an international community of fans of all ages. When the series celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, special episode "The Day of the Doctor" packed cinemas and was broadcast to 94 countries.
Following the revival of the show, Christopher Eccleston bowed out after one season. He was replaced by David Tennant, who was then succeeded by Matt Smith when Steven Moffat stepped into Russell T. Davies' showrunner role in 2010.
Such was the excitement still surrounding the show, last year's announcement of Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor was broadcast as a prime-time TV event in itself. And such is the esteem in which the show is held, guest stars in the past 10 years have included Dame Diana Rigg, Timothy Dalton, Sir Derek Jacobi, John Simm, Olivia Colman, Brian Cox, Hugh Bonneville, Sir Michael Gambon, Jessica Hynes, James Corden, Richard E. Grant, Toby Jones, Sir Ian McKellen, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Kylie Minogue.
Along the way the Doctors have been ably assisted by his loyal companions Rose (Billie Piper), Martha (Freema Agyeman), Donna (Catherine Tate), Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill); not forgetting Mickey (Noel Clarke), Jackie (Camille Coduri), Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and River Song (Alex Kingston). His current companion is Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman.
As a kid, I got to enjoy two seasons of the original "Doctor Who" before it disappeared in 1989, apparently for good. While the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, was maligned at the time, those two seasons stand up as including some really interesting, nuanced and darker storylines.
Those later episodes -- and the spin-off novels that, in the 90s, were the only original "Who" available -- sowed many seeds for the new series: a darker tone, ongoing story arcs and character arcs for the companions. Several writers on the revived series wrote novels during these wilderness years, including Gareth Roberts, Davies himself, and -- in his first published work -- Mark Gatiss.
There was a brief glimmer of hope in 1996 when the Beeb teamed up with US backers for a TV movie starring Paul McGann, but sadly it was not to last. Laudably, the TV movie did tie in to the classic series, but didn't quite nail the story. In hindsight, however, the TV movie did anticipate the new series in many ways: the one-off format, the frenetic pace -- and the snogging. McGann made an engaging Time Lord, and certainly deserved the proper regeneration he was belatedly granted in the online short heralding the 50th anniversary.
When "Doctor Who" returned, Davies drew on these elements while returning the show to its roots as an entertaining show for kids of all ages. Continuity was sidelined in favour of pacy action, witty dialogue and well-remembered monsters back to scare a new generation, alongside a companion we could all identify with.
'You were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic'
The revived series has thrown up so many great moments, from Eccleston's first "Fantastic!" to his ninth Doctor's showdown with the last Dalek in the universe, to his promise "Rose -- I'm coming to get you!" Tennant's highlights range from the first time his 10th Doctor yelled "Allons-y" to the time he fell in love with Madame de Pompadour, to the time he became heartbreakingly human, to his tearful goodbye to Rose on a desolate beach.
Smith's 11th Doctor burst onto the scene dipping fish fingers in custard, wooing River Song and defeating Daleks with jammy dodgers, saving the day wearing a fez and seeing off alien hordes left, right and centre from his "silly little guns" Stonehenge speech to his final farewell on the fields of Trenzalore.
The series was then sensationally turned on its head by the bombshell of John Hurt revealed as an unseen Doctor, while fans around the globe squee-ed as one when Peter Capaldi's eyebrows stole the show in "The Day of the Doctor".
From "Are you my mummy?" to "bow ties are cool!", the past 10 years of timey-wimey adventures have been quite a ride. In a lifetime of cinema-going, I have never felt an entire movie theatre ripple with such emotion as when a certain face from the past sauntered on screen to bring the curtain down on the show's first 50 years.
I was 25 when the Doctor returned, just like he always does, and a long way from the 9-year-old who had loved the show and thought it lost. I might have felt like I'd missed out, except the revived show was too exciting, too compelling, and just too much fun. Best of all, I got to see my nephew and a whole new generation discover the magic of the show.
So here's to another 10 -- heck, another 50 years of "Doctor Who", the TV show that has always been bigger on the inside.