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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Time proves no match for the Doctor

By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Scene from Shada
Shada was remade for an internet audience
Doctor Who is returning to BBC One in 2005 in a live-action series - satisfying an army of fans who have waited for years.

His return to the screen after 14 years in the wilderness has been dogged with several false starts - as well as some interesting new directions for the intrepid intergalactic hero.

In 1989, Sylvester McCoy was playing the mysterious time traveller, an independent fighter of intergalactic evil with the ability to regenerate his physical form.

McCoy was the seventh actor to play the Doctor on TV since the show started, with William Hartnell in the title role, on 23 November 1963 - the day after the assassination of US president John F Kennedy.

Its cancellation in 1989 came after criticism the pioneering sci-fi show had lost its way.

But almost as soon as the programme went off air there were campaigns to get it back on screen. A worldwide army of committed fans were mobilised to persuade the BBC to bring it back.

'Fans elated'

Terry Nation, the man who had devised the Daleks, the Doctor's arch foes, was among those bidding to bring the show back, as did several independent production companies.

Anthony Wainer, a spokesman for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society fan club, said fans had been waiting a long time.

"There's been lots of rumours over the last couple of months," he said.

"We thought something was going to happen around the 40th anniversary of the show, and then the online adventure with Richard E Grant was announced.

"The TV series was cancelled in 1989 and we have had to wait 14 years. It has been quite frustrating. I'm sure there are some people who will view it with scepticism - but I think most fans are going to be elated with the news."

Tom Baker
The programme ran for 26 years on TV

Periodic rumours of the Time Lord's return gained weight when it was announced Paul McGann - the brooding actor who had become a household name thanks to the BBC's World War I drama The Monocled Mutineer - was to take up the role.

The made-for-TV movie The Enemy Within, aired in 1996, took it away from the family show to something darker and slightly more adult - given that many of its childhood fans were adults themselves.

But the McGann adventure failed to regenerate into a full-blown series. Bitter fans were left crying into their Dalek annuals once more.

Cybermen battle

The lifeline - when it came - was via the internet in 2001.

BBC interactive producer Martin Trickey has been involved in the Doctor's online adventures since the start.

"We started off with something called Death Comes to Time," he said.

"We got Sylvester McCoy back on board, as well as Stephen Fry and a cameo from John Humphrys."

Originally recorded for Radio 4, the adventure was broadcast through BBCi, with pictures provided by artist Lee Sullivan.

Real Time
Colin Baker reprised his role for an online story, Real Time

Such was its success that Trickey's team made another - starring sixth Doctor Colin Baker - that pitched the time-travelling hero against his old nemesis the Cybermen in 2002.

Next, they resurrected Shada - a story written by Douglas Adams and never completed - which featured Paul McGann.

In November, the 40th anniversary is marked with a new episode which stars Richard E Grant. Of the plot, Trickey is saying little, other than the odd tantalising details.

"We don't see him go through regeneration, you don't quite know what he's been through," he says.

"But he is a bit cheesed off - and he doesn't want to be doing what he does anymore."

Will the Doctor save the day? Time, as ever, will tell.



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