Russell T Davies needs to be widely applauded for many things.
Top of the list is reviving the Saturday teatime TV slot. After years of inane gameshows, poorly conceived and executed revivals of variety shows and other instantly forgettable fare, the return of Dr Who proved a ratings hit for all the right reasons.
Under the guidance of Russell T, the new-look Time Lord captured the audience’s imagination with recognisable actors, crisp writing, tight direction and lashing of good old fashioned entertainment.
After an excellent debut, series two and three were eagerly anticipated and delivered on that early promise.
Then it started to stutter. First with the frankly boring Titanic-based Christmas special with the blessed Kylie as the Doctor’s assistant and then the whole of series four.
Catherine Tate was an inspired choice as the new assistant, but series four was a shambles.
With Tate’s comedic talents available, they tried too hard to play everything for laughs and it ended up being quite silly at times. Also, with major behind-the-scenes changes bubbling (Russell T’s departure and replacement by Steven Moffat and rumours that a new Doctor would soon be required) there seemed to be all sorts of red herrings and plot setting going on – all of which got in the way of the entertainment.
In short, all the things that made Dr Who must-see TV disappeared during series four.
Following another largely forgettable Christmas special – with David Morrissey hamming it up in an annoying rather than entertaining way as the “next doctor” (another irritating red herring) – we got the confirmation we were waiting for and wanted.
Despite his success in the role, it was time for David Tennant to regenerate.
The choice of relative unknown Matt Smith is probably the right one. It is time for a major overhaul of the Who franchise and the choice of a “Who?” to play the lead role means we can probably expect the unexpected.
The next big decision – following the failure to capitalise on Catherine Tate’s talents – is the choice of assistant.
The new behind-the-scenes team is reportedly looking to recreate the Billie Piper factor – picking someone famous for non-acting talents. Names being bandied about include Lily Allen (please no, although she does seem to be flavour of the month at the Beeb) and Rachel Stevens following her Strictly Come Dancing exploits.
If they go down that route, why not pick someone like Nigella? Older, wiser, more mature than the new Doctor, she’d also feed the skinny young lad up.
We wait with slightly anxious baited breath for that announcement.
But the success and subsequent stuttering performance of Dr Who has caused wider problems.
Other than the talent (sic) TV model – X-Factor, SCD, Dancing on Ice, Make Me a Nancy et al – everyone now sees the Dr Who formula as the one to follow on Saturday evenings.
Unfortunately, we’ve had a very mixed bag. Primeval on ITV started with some promise but then became very silly.
ITV has followed it up with Demons, which is just very bad.
I know I should give it at least one more go, but wth memories of the BBC’s Bonekickers debacle still fresh in my memory I don’t really want to waste anymore minutes of my middle-aged life on such drivel.
The Beeb itself hasn’t been immune. Robin Hood was a success (although it never appealed to me), whilst Merlin was a very hit and miss series and one that failed to ignite any sustained interest.
It is, therefore, up to Dr Who, Matt Smith, Steven Moffatt and the new mystery assistant to recapture the magic that Russell T injected into Saturday teatime TV with the first three series of the rejuvenated Time Lord’s adventures.
So, no pressure then.