Dr Who and class
Most of the actors playing the Doctor played a slightly foppish eccentric, who if not exactly an aristocrat, certainly had an RP accent and a distinct belief that the rules did not apply him.
One of the delightful things about Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor (yes, I’ve cheated and seen the new episode) is that he has a Northern accent. In his really interesting interview on the BBC website he displays a great sensitivity towards the show’s place in UK culture. He talks about the innocence of the time in which the character was born, an innocence in the face of rapid technological change. He also speaks about his own youthful enjoyment of the show as escapism, but feeling distanced as a council-estate kid from the Britain the foppish Doctor moved in. Eccleston also comments that he wanted to portray a Doctor who was neither assertively working class, nor an aristocrat, but somewhere between. (Apt, really, for the outsider the character should be.)
With a very light touch, the new Doctor Who series is negotiating issues of class and reaching out a little more directly to the child Eccleston was. The Doctor’s new companion, Rose (Billy Piper) is an assertive, self-confident girl who’s left school without A-levels. She lives with her mother (no visible Dad), works in a department store and has a black boyfriend.
In a gorgeous moment she asks why, if the Doctor’s an alien, he has a Northern accent. “Plenty of planets have a North,” comes the reply. Not only does the Doctor now have a regional accent, he has relatively unremarkable (even faintly cool) dress sense. Eccleston in his leather jacket is going to be the first Doctor since Pertwee to completely spurn a hat, and could actually walk down Oxford Street and catch the tube without anyone batting an eyelid.
The initial episode, or the edit of it circulating the internet, has some problems. The incidental music is heavy-handed, the special effects variable, the sense of humour occasionally far too slapstick. However, it has an exuberant sense of fun, and some genuinely creepy moments. It honours the old show, without being subservient. It brings back that sense that the real world is a strange place, that at any moment an eccentric seeming-Englishman might burst from a flimsy wooden blue box and transport us into a dangerous world of adventure.
I’m rather looking forward to it.