Doctor Who: 60TH ANNIVERSARY TRAILER BREAKDOWN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Permission To Squee? Why Tony, and the rest of us, are so excited about a one-minute trailer

Since the trailer for the 60th anniversary specials dropped on Christmas Day, most parts of Doctor Who fandom have been on auto-squee, bouncing up and down, and running round like K9 in excited little circles. 


Why? Why has this one-minute funfest got the fan base falling over itself? Oh, let us count the reasons…

Statin’ The Bleedin’ Obvious

Point 1 – it’s a trailer. It’s deliberately constructed to make us bounce up and down and do K9 impressions. It’s a trailer for a great show, made by a great showrunner, who understands exactly how to dangle details in our faces and get us absolutely wetting ourselves with speculation about what things might mean, how things might play out. Russell T Davies is back in the big chair, and nothing so far has announced that fact as much as this trailer. 


The mystery of the new Tennant Doctor not knowing who he is, the human drama of Donna Noble’s missing memories and potentially exploding brain, the fan service of what looks very much like Beep the Meep and the Wrarth Warriors from a comic-strip story written in the early Eighties, Neil Patrick Harris being gloriously theatrical and enigmatic, and lots of running, capped by Ncuti Gatwa sounding distinctly annoyed. That’s a packed minute of anyone’s time, and it’s constructed specifically to get us talking and fizzing and bouncing up and down. 


RTD is rightly lauded for his usually fairly tight writing skills, but it’s in things like this trailer that his gifts as a showrunner come shining through. He wants us to be buzzing for next year’s Who, and he’s delivered a minute’s worth of magic that achieves his devilish goals.


The Nostalgia Factor

It’s like Doctor Who’s back!”


Those are the words of a non-fan (who loved the first RTD era, and who hasn’t felt anything like the same affection for the show since Tennant became Smith and Davies became Moffatt) when they saw the trailer.


There’s some logic to that – if you’re a fan whose “peak” time was the first RTD era, the trailer is going to appeal straight to your heartstrings and your Doctor Who aesthetic. David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Jacqueline King, running about, being daft – if that’s your fondest memory of Doctor Who, the trailer exists to give you a refresher course in why you loved the show back then, and to promise more of the same if you tune in in 2023.


When you hear the same nostalgia from long-term fans who despaired of the Chibnall/Whittaker era, there’s little to be wondered at there, either. Plenty of fans claim the era was an abomination, when all it really needed was a stronger script editor who was prepared to stand up to their boss and tell them “I don’t care how rushed it is, you need to do better.” Again, a return to the familiar strengths of RTD Who – and in the trailer, there are plenty of the familiar strengths of RTD Who on display – will feel comfortable to them, and like a stylistic reset to a point at which the show was both wildly popular and focused on concise and satisfying storytelling. So there are groups for whom the trailer punches direct aesthetic nostalgia buttons, and groups for whom it will punch nostalgia buttons for what they think of as “quality writing.”


One side-note on the nostalgia factor of course is that in bringing David Tennant back, it raises questions of just – to coin a phrase – what the hell is going on here. Is the new Tennant incarnation a DEgeneration, or a special-instance reach-back by a Guardian of the Edge to an incarnation that died crying about how much more it could do? Or something Altogether Else? Having Tennant in the trailer be essentially fairly familiar, with his Tenth Doctor voice and vocal mannerisms is pure, joyous speculation-fodder, and will undoubtedly set the internet ablaze for almost a year as we throw theories into the vortex about just how this has come about in-universe.


Human Drama

The very essence of RTD Who version #1 was equalizing the importance of human drama with alien shenanigans in Doctor Who – the “soapification” effect, as it’s been called. The Christmas trailer goes in heavy on that human drama, showing us Donna Temple-Noble with her family. It shows us her husband and [Speculation Alert] what might be her daughter. And it shows us that, despite those real human connections, Donna Noble is still haunted by something she thinks she’s missing. Something she had and that was taken from her.


In itself, that’s a strong human drama thread, but add the lines of the Doctor in the trailer that reinforce the idea that if she remembers him she will die, and the images it gives us of them subsequently hugging and running into danger together, and it pushes two big squee-buttons. 


Firstly, it looks like there’s been a write-around that allows Donna to be an active companion again without her head exploding, which means we get a handful more of the glorious comic chemistry between Tennant and Tate. And secondly, it raises questions on that human drama level – what will happen to Donna as a result of the Doctor’s unexpected return to her life? RTD is not a writer to shy away from tragedy – will there be some along the road to the ultimately triumphal tone that the 60th anniversary specials need to have?


Massive, Massive Fan Service

Russell T Davies, bless him, is a writer who, every now and again, loves a bit of fan service. He’s the writer who finally put the Daleks and the Cybermen on-screen together in a meaningful way (rather than, say, the thrown-away opportunities of The Pandorica Opens and The Power of the Doctor). So it shouldn’t really come as any surprise that the trailer revealed aliens that look and sound a whole heck of a lot like Beep the Meep and the Wrarth Warriors. 


For those neither old enough to remember nor curious enough to have done the research, Beep the Meep and the Wrarth Warriors were featured in The Star Beast, a landmark comic strip that appeared in the still fairly new Doctor Who Magazine in 1980, written by Pat Mills and drawn by Dave Gibbons. They were part of what has long been considered a golden age of Doctor Who comic strips, and their original adventure has even been turned into a fairly faithful Big Finish adaptation


Bringing what looks, from the trailer, like a significantly faithful rendition of the Meep and the Wrarth (and yes, we promise that’s not a typo, even though it looks like it is) is more than enough to indicate the celebratory tone of the specials, and has a deeply pleasing combination of reverence for the past and a showcase of how far the TV show has come. Rendering the fluffy, cutesy Meep in the early Eighties TV show would have been challenging to both budgets and believability. And in fairness, adding it to the main run of a modern Doctor would seem a bit… well, a bit like an episode centred on the P’Ting, say. 


But as part of a special episode to celebrate Doctor Who’s history and still deliver some punch in 2023, it’s one of those chef’s kiss decisions that’s perfectly calculated to make longstanding fans talk about it for a year.


In which regard, you’ve been very patient, but step forward Neil Patrick Harris, your time is now.


Harris is absolute screen bait, in that when he’s on your TV, it will be difficult to look anywhere else, both as a result of his acting chops and personal charisma and because he’s widely rumoured to be playing the Celestial Toymaker. If that is who he’s playing, we’re in for a treat, because the Toymaker is one of the most inherently enigmatic and charismatic creations in the history of Who. 


Seeing Harris in the trailer in two outfits gives us scope to spin a thousand potential Toymaker scenarios – to get us thinking and talking about him endlessly, which again, is exactly what you want in an epic trailer.


It would also make a degree of sense in a thematic sense. If you bring back the Celestial Toymaker from the 1960s, and Beep the Meep (Other Meeps are at least theoretically available) from the 1980s, you’re lifting villains that have fascinated fans at (roughly) two-decade instances. By which reasoning, the third of the stories should bring back something from Russell’s own first season as Doctor Who showrunner (1960s, 1980s, 2000s), to spotlight how far the show has come by the 2020s. 


It’s clearly too early to speculate about that, because unless the joyous casting of Ruth Madeley as Shirley Anne Bingham hides some sort of Nesteney goodness (which would also arguably pay tribute to a great monster of the Seventies – just sayin’), the trailer was focused on Neil Patrick Harris’ character, the Meep and the Wrarth, and the human drama of Donna Noble – for whom, “destiny is heading.” 


Oh, and of course on that tantalizing glimpse of Ncuti Gatwa in what looks like a ruined version of the Tennant outfit, demanding to know what the hell is going on. 


The return of a sense of RTD’s storytelling control. The return of Tennant, Tate and the gang. Human-driven drama and a chance of resolution for one of the best companions of the New Who era. Classic comic villainy rendered on-screen. Neil Patrick Harris being enigmatic as all get-out in what’s said to be a classic villain role. Dramatic casting confirmations. Wrarth warriors getting all Wrarthy in a solidly visual way. And a re-run of that line from Ncuti Gatwa, suggesting something interesting may be happening with the regenerative process if our new Doctor doesn’t understand it.


That’s a pretty solidly packed minute – and it was delivered to us at short notice, on Christmas Day, just as fans were realising 2022 would be the first year since the return of Doctor Who when there was no festive episode of any kind.


It may not be enough on its own to keep us excited all the way through to the specials – and of course, it won’t need to be. Russell T Davies is a master at the long lead, and ramping up the reveals to get us positively slavering before the episodes actually drop. But as an unexpected Christmas gift from an incoming showrunner, it was a practically perfect minute of tease, drama, enigma, questions and all-round Doctor Who joy. 


Doctor Who is back in 2023 – and it’s looking spectacular!

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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