Doctor Who
Project: Who?

Presenter: Anthony Head
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN 0 563 51094 3
Available 02 May 2005

Featuring interviews with the cast and crew of
Doctor Who, Project: Who? examines why the BBC decided to relaunch the television series nearly a decade after the Doctor's last small-screen adventure. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper talk about their experiences, along with executive producers Julie Gardner and Mal Young, writer and executive producer Russell T Davies, director Joe Ahearne, producer Phil Collinson and many others...

It is fascinating to look again at Project: Who?, which was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 2 in two instalments around the time of the new series' launch. Then I was too excited to do anything much apart from listen with glee and wait with bated breath for the next advance clip to be heard. Now I can regard this Doc-Who-mentary more objectively.

Not surprisingly, not a single negative word is said about the new series. This programme is, after all, intended largely as a promotional exercise. However, some controversy is stirred up as the contributors talk about former incarnations of the show. Russell T Davies' fairly high regard for the 1996 TV movie is contrasted with former producer Barry Letts' unmitigated scorn towards it. Both Davies and writer Mark Gatiss agree that the old weekly series was getting tired towards the end of its run, whereas I believe that Season 26 demonstrated a new lease of life that was tragically curtailed.

What is surprising - and encouraging - is the apparent ease with which the new series got green-lighted, once a favourable controller, Lorraine Heggessey, was in place at the BBC. (Star Trek currently faces the opposite situation: cancellation at the hands of an unfavourable new regime at Paramount.)

It is also heartening to know that there are so many evidently enthusiastic and highly intelligent people working on the show. Writer Paul Cornell, discussing the subject of special effects, reminds us that many classic programmes, such as I, Claudius, had production values that we would consider cheap-looking nowadays - it's just that the nature of television and the expectations of its audience have changed over the years. Russell T Davies makes an interesting point when he considers how broadcasters themselves have made science fiction a niche genre by tending not to show it at peak viewing times. Imagine how different the schedules might look today if Star Trek: The Next Generation had been launched at 8.00pm on BBC 1. Davies is also witty and refreshingly honest when he admits to - indeed, embraces - the importance of viewing figures. After all, he says, these shows are made to be watched by people. He remarks upon the creative freedom he has been permitted, but is realistic enough to wryly admit that that might have changed had the show proven to be a ratings flop.

It's also interesting to hear the finality of Christopher Eccleston's comment, "I've done the long haul," in light of the revelation about his departure from the series after just one season.

This double CD contains half an hour of additional material not previously broadcast on Radio 2. This material was omitted for reasons of time or plot sensitivity. Falling into the latter category is an intriguing examination of why it was decided to make the Doctor the last of the Time Lords. Davies also explains the legal reasons why the production team cannot read unsolicited scripts.

Project: Who? is more concerned with the programme-makers' feelings about Doctor Who and its production in the broader sense than it is with the nitty-gritty of the production process (though there is a bit of that too). Most of all, it projects great confidence about the future of the television series.

Richard McGinlay

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