Tomorrow marks ten years since Doctor Who burst back onto our screens. I remember it well. The TV advert campaign had been building, excitement surrounded the return of one of the BBC's flagship shows from days gone by and I decided, despite only having seen one or two episodes from the original series - and not being overly fussed about them, if I'm brutally honest - to give it a go.
By the end of that first episode, I was hooked.
There was something utterly magical about the show for me, right from the get-go. It was fast-paced, it was a bit silly at times (plastic Mickey and the living wheelie bin didn't make me want to hide behind the sofa; it made me laugh then and still does now), it was intriguing and it felt fresh. After years and years of rubbish gameshows and Casualty dominating the Saturday night TV schedules, this felt like something much-needed. It felt like something for me.
The show felt strangely welcoming. That might seem like a bizarre thing to say, but it's the only way to describe it, really. I was watching something that didn't feel entirely like passive viewing. It was like being grabbed by something and told: "FIND OUT MORE. THIS IS YOUR THING."
And so a love affair began. From that day onwards, I knew where I had to be on a Saturday night. Going out? Pah! No way. I needed to be there when the Daleks made their inevitable comeback. I had to be on my sofa when the TARDIS travelled back in time to the Second World War (and in doing so, increased my weird fear of gas masks by 100%). I couldn't miss the next adventure.
I couldn't find the copyright details for this photo - please don't sue me if it's yours, just let me know and I'll credit you!
The "first" (actually 9th) Doctor was played by Christopher Eccleston. I was already a fan of his, having watched him in other things and it was actually his presence that made me determined to tune in for that first new episode. He didn't disappoint - I loved his slightly cheeky comic timing and I adored the way that he played the Doctor as having a dark, almost tortured side. It felt real - of course he'd seen some horrendous things over the course of his life, so he was bound to be carrying a fair bit of emotional baggage! I fell in love with Eccleston's "fantastic" Doctor and his regeneration at the end of the first series was an absolute hammer-blow to my fledgling relationship with the show.
I knew about regeneration. I knew someone else would come along and hopefully be just as awesome as my Doctor, but I still didn't want it to happen. By the end of series one of new Doctor Who, I'd watched a few more of the original episodes and appreciated them far more, So I was aware that there had been many Doctors and that if the show was to continue, there would be many more. But losing my beloved Eccleston? That was unthinkable. How could the show possible carry on without him?!
(Photo borrowed from Spoiler TV)
I wanted to hate David Tennant. I wanted to think he was terrible in the role. I wanted to cry out that the 9th Doctor was far better than the 10th, but... What can I say?! David came along and brought a new charm to the role. An even greater level of almost childlike enthusiasm. An eye for the ladies. A deeply vulnerable side... He was pretty much perfect.
His relationship with companion Rose Tyler is often talked about - David even recently confessed that in his eyes, Rose was the Doctor's girlfriend, not merely his travelling companion - but for me, his best sidekick - and the best sidekick, whatever criticism she gets from some fans - was the fabulous Donna Noble.
Credit to the BBC. Seriously though, good on you.
By the time Donna joined, however, most of us knew that David was leaving. It made their fantastic union all the more poignant, because we knew it couldn't last. Their comedy, their friendship and their ultimate, tragic separation (death would have been easier than what happened, to be honest...) made for utterly compelling viewing. I defy anyone to watch Donna's last episode (bar the final one, in which David regenerates) and not cry. Her desperate pleas to the Doctor not to send her back to her old, hum-drum existence are frankly devastating. She knows he's really saving her life, but in her eyes, he's ending it.
As viewers, I think the companions are vitally important for us. They play the role we would love to play. They are whisked off on wonderful adventures, fighting terrible foes and exploring incredible new worlds. We see everything through their eyes - the good and the bad - and we wonder what it would be like if our lives were turned upside down by the arrival of a strange, blue box. So to see Donna sent back to her life pre-Doctor, not by choice, but by horrible necessity, was genuinely heartbreaking.
Speaking of which...
All good things come to an end. And so it came to be that David Tennant hung up his sonic screwdriver, in an episode that tugged so hard on the heartstrings, you felt emotionally drained by the end of it. It had everything - the Master, monsters, Bernard Cribbins begging to be allowed to sacrifice himself in place of the Doctor, whilst the Doctor spits venom about how unfair it is that he's got to die. The ecstasy of thinking the Doctor had miraculously survived, followed by the crushing realisation his regeneration was, well, just something of a slow burn...
I know a huge number of fellow Whovians who cry at David Tennant's "long goodbye," as he goes around, visiting his former companions from a distance, saying a silent farewell. But for me, the moment where I become almost inconsolable every time I watch it, is when the Ood softly says: "The universe will sing you to your sleep" and you know the inevitable has come. David's final words: "I don't want to go" were just the final stab in the chest for us fans.
I'm not crying. It's just been raining. ON MY FACE.
Nobody could replace David Tennant. Nobody. There couldn't possibly be anyone I could love as deeply as him in the role. The Doctor was ruined. RUINED, I TELL YOU.
Sorry... What was I saying?!
Every Whovian has "their" Doctor. The one above all others. The one nobody - in our eyes, at least - can ever better. I thought Christopher Eccleston was mine. Then I thought it was David Tennant. David is a hugely close second, but my Doctor? Is Matt Smith.
At first, though, I was too busy mourning David's exit from the show to let Matt's Doctor in. I didn't give him the chance he deserved, until I watched his first series again and was blown away. He's a phenomenal actor.
Matt's Doctor was funny, a bit zany, childishly enthusiastic, warm yet with a dark side, passionate, fiery and fallible. Matt's Doctor made mistakes and - usually - wasn't afraid to admit to them, when he did. He was the absolute king of big speeches and quotable quotes, too. It's a Matt Smith era quote that I have inked on me as part of my Doctor Who tattoo:
And the reason for that choice of quote? Well, that's what Doctor Who means to me, really. the companions are often people who dream of a better, more exciting life than the one they live (even if they don't realise it, until the Doctor comes along). Doctor Who teaches us to reach for those dreams. To be optimistic in the face of doubt and to fight for what's right, even if dreams of peace and unity seem a little far-fetched, at times. And I'm a dreamer, for sure.
We're now ten years into the triumphant return of Doctor Who and the show is still going strong, still changing and still capturing the imaginations of new viewers. For people like me, who grew up watching Buffy, the show was a perfect extension of what we already knew. For some kids, the show became an extension of the brilliant CBBC show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which featured the late, great Lis Sladen. Children getting into Doctor Who today are finding something that encourages them to explore, believe and hold onto something. Doctor Who is more than just a TV show, for many of us. It's something to belong to.
Of course, my Doctor has gone, now. In his place, we have Peter Capaldi, whose Doctor is darker, less zany, a little harsher and seemingly still has many layers we've not reached, yet. I'm enjoying finding out more about him and seeing where he - and his relationship with companion, Clara - will go next.
Some people say that liking a sci-fi show makes you nerdy, as though that's a bad thing. Me? I'm proud of my nerdiness. I'm thrilled to have found a show that delights and devastates me in equal measure. It's something I can be passionate about and I have absolutely zero shame over that. When you find something you love, who cares whether people laugh at you for it?!
Not me, that's for sure. Happy birthday, new Who. Here's to the next ten years.