The road back had been long and filled with detours. The hopes of fans had been kept alive during this period through original novels as published first by Virgin books and the ten by the BBC itself following the TV Movie. Also, a company called Big Finish productions, founded by fans, somehow got the license to produce original audio plays starring the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and eventually Eighth, Doctors and their companions. All of this ancillary media was well-done and enjoyable, but fans still longed to see new adventures on their television. Many thought it would never happen.
But then along came Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner. Davies was celebrated television writer at this point, having created the original version of the groundbreaking Queer As Folk. Gardner was a producer and script editor who had recently been appointed to BBC Wales as Head of Drama. She immediately set to bringing back Doctor Who, and asked fellow fan Davies to head up the revival.
Both wanted the new series to be a direct continuation of the classic series, not a reboot, and both wanted to make sure they avoided the old charge of dodgy sets and cheap special effects. With a 21st Century approach firmly in mind, they wanted to make sure that the actor chosen for the title role was a name, and one that could be taken seriously. To that end, they chose respected film actor Christopher Eccleston to play the Doctor. Eccelston had a reputation for intensity, and his working class Northern attitude was certainly different from past interpretations. With his casting, Doctor Who was immediately a serious project.
Cast as his companion was pop music star Billie Piper. A relative newcomer to acting, she would surprise pretty much everyone with her nuanced and effective performance as Rose Tyler, showgirl from a council estate who joins the Doctor in the TARDIS. In the clip below, Rose meets the Doctor for the first time, and Eccelston's verve and presence instantly announces that the Doctor is well and truly back:
But Eccleston would only do one series, choosing to leave after 13 episodes. The reasons why are still somewhat unclear. Some say he was hugely unhappy with the production schedule and had creative differences with some of the directors. Other say he didn't want to be typecast and that he never agreed to do more than one series in the first place. Whatever the reason, his daring performance, which was goofy and intense at the same time, secured the future of the series. But it was the next era that returned the series to is status as a bona fide British cultural phenomenon.