10 years of new Doctor Who: nerdy in-jokes from series 1

From Autons to tribophysics via Kronkburgers, here's a pick of the best nerdy in-jokes and references from the 2005 series of Doctor Who...

Ten years ago, the world was about to be re-introduced to one of the most enduring and exciting television characters of all time, Doctor Who. The programme’s new 2005 sheen brought with it a cheeky self-referential side (though it did do a bit of that in the 80s) and a knowingly raised pop culture eyebrow. From films such as E.T. to Barbarella to Star Trek to modern literature (The Lovely Bones) and icons (Michael Jackson) – everything was in the Time Lord’s gaze.

So let’s take our very own trip back in time and have a look at the more notable and interesting references and in-jokes from Doctor Who Series One, starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper.


Most obviously, this opener saw the return of the Autons (though they were never actually referred to by name in the episode) and the Nestene Consciousness – both first seen in Jon Pertwee’s debut, Spearhead From Space.

That’s where the continuity pretty much ends for this instalment (apart from obvious facets like the TARDIS and Sonic Screwdriver), though there are a couple of amusing inferences. Clive, the “internet lunatic murderer”, is perhaps your archetypal Who fan (up until that point, at any rate). A man with a shed and conspiracy theories up the wazoo (though his about the Time Lord are actually true); his wife was even surprised that a girl turned up – “She’s read a website about the Doctor? She’s a she?” How the landscape of Doctor Who fandom has changed.

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Eccleston himself manages to poke fun at his ears. Past Doctors upon regenerations had sometimes been irked by their new appearance – Tom Baker’s The Fourth Doctor also had an issue with his ears, and Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison had their disdainful mirror moments, though both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy liked their new faces.

Perhaps one of the funniest moments in Rose, and certainly since the show’s return, was the debate on The Ninth Doctor’s regional accent – “Lots of planets have a North!” he defends himself against Rose’s incredulity. Doctor Who had always been the mainstay of RP when it came to the Gallifreyan’s accent, regardless of where that actor originated from, and so this was a neat prod at the past and a look to the future. (More observant fans will note that the 1979 story The Armageddon Factor featured a Time Lord by the name of Drax, whose accent was distinctly Cockney.)

There are some notable firsts for Rose too: it was the first episode to include the name of the companion in the story title (sorry, we’re not accepting The Feast Of Steven from The Daleks’ Master Plan); the “Next Time” trailer was introduced; and the inside of the TARDIS was visible when the door was ajar.

Doctor Who food fact fans will also no doubt be aware that Rose included the very first use of the word “pizza” in the history of the show.


The End Of The World

And just like pizza, “hell” is used here for the first in Doctor Who as a swear word. “What the hell is that?” comes courtesy of the new more brutish, more direct and less well-mannered Ninth Doctor. He even manages to do something no other regeneration did before him (on screen), shed a tear. When the Time War crops up in conversation (again, another first for the audience), Eccleston’s time traveller wells up. Though he probably needn’t have bothered shedding any tears given the events of The Day Of The Doctor.

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This Russell T Davies tale also saw the start of mobile phones being used extensively in the series, a trope that continues ten years on. We also discovered that the TARDIS translates for the Doctor and his companion, though older readers will remember 1976’s The Masque Of Mandragora where the Fourth Doctor explained (later) to companion Sarah Jane Smith that her understanding of different languages was a “Time Lord’s gift.”

The Titanic gets a mention for the second week in a row (the Doctor had been pictured at its launch in Rose). The doomed ship had also been referenced in Robot (1974), The Invasion Of Time (1978) and would be the intergalactic star of the 2007 Christmas Special, Voyage Of The Damned.


The Unquiet Dead

Fascinatingly, in the audio commentary for this trip back in time to Cardiff, writer Mark Gatiss revealed that there was initially a reference to Time Lords being able to change sex. (We’d have to wait a few years for that to happen.)

Actress Eve Myles joined the rank of a number of Doctor Who stars who managed to return as a different character. Here, she’s Gwyneth but she would return to Doctor Who as Torchwood’s Gwen in the 2008 series finale. The Unquiet Dead set up the rift in Cardiff which became the home for the spin-off show, Torchwood. (And also gave The Doctor an excuse to pop back to Cardiff now and again.)

As an in-joke, The Ninth Doctor berates his hero Charles Dickens for the “American bit” in Martin Chuzzlewit (which was added in the novel for effect), a sly dig at the North American production of Doctor Who back in 1996. Starring Paul McGann in the lead role, it has a few fans though showrunner Russell T Davies was not one of them.

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Aliens Of London / World War III

Continuity fans alerted those who care about such things that The Doctor got his age “wrong” in this two-parter. In Time And The Rani (1987), the Time Lord claimed he was 953 years old, yet here he tells Rose is but 900. Time wimey and all that.

Old skool fans also raised a cheer at the return of UNIT – the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Their first appearance was in the 1968 Cybermen classic The Invasion though their incursion with the Slitheen was to prove the last time their more familiar name was used, as future appearances would see the acronym changed to Unified Intelligence Taskforce.

Just like the previous ep, a Torchwood actor appears – Naoko Mori. Playing Doctor Sato here, she was better known as Toshiko Sato in the spin-off (which would reveal she was actually covering for her mischievous colleague, Owen Harper).

Another nod to the future was The Ninth Doctor’s insistence at calling Mickey Smith, Ricky. The following year we would meet his parallel Earth alter ego Ricky Smith in Rise Of The Cybermen where he was “London’s most wanted”, leader of The Preachers.

And look out for some graffiti, not BAD WOLF but Salford – the home town of Christopher Eccleston.

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Surprisingly, in an episode called Dalek, one of the first things you see is the head of a Cyberman (sadly not one of the cool 80s ones). A more subtle wink to the past comes when Rose asks the title Skaro bad boy, “What do you expect?” The exact wordage and question was asked by Victoria Waterfield in the Patrick Troughton epic, The Evil Of The Daleks.

During early drafts of the script, writer Robert Shearman (who was loosely adapting his own Dalek adventure, the Big Finish audio adventure Jubilee) had to replace the intergalactic pepper pot with another race when it appeared that rights issues may have prevented their return. The race in question, as revealed by Russell T Davies, was the Toclafane, and they would have their day in the memorable Series 3 finale featuring the return of The Master (as played by John Simm).

In another first for naughty words in the history of Doctor Who, “goddamn” is used by Van Statten. Don’t be like him kids, don’t swear – it ain’t cool.


The Long Game

Comic strip fans raised a glass to a niche mention of “Kronkburgers” – the tasty delights were the snack of choice by soldiers in Doctor Who Magazine’s, The Iron Legion (1979). Just a few years later, Russell T Davies submitted an early version of this episode to the production team, then headed by the flamboyant John Nathan-Turner.

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Without wanting to make you wretch slightly, this episode also featured the almost universally hated Adam (of course, there was a reason for this). He has the honour of being the only “companion” to be chucked out of Team TARDIS. Well, he was an asshat.


Father’s Day

Doctor Who doesn’t often feature narration (though it’s more common these days) and this brilliant slice of time-changing consequences was only the third story to do so (the previous two being 1976’s The Deadly Assassin and the 1996 TV Movie with Paul McGann).

The ep features a snatch from a tune by one-time popular beat combo, The Streets – the band’s frontman Mike Skinner briefly appeared in the Matt Smith romp, The Time Of Angels.


The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

Though there’s been a plethora of stories with “the Doctor” (and variations thereof) in the title post-2005, this was the first us since the first instalment of the William Hartnell adventure The Gunfighters, titled A Holiday For The Doctor.

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This much-loved Steven Moffat World War II tale included numerous kisses to the past: the Time Lord’s “name” John Smith is resurrected; we learn that Captain Jack is a Time Agent, a position previously mentioned in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (1977); and, from more recent times, Albion Hospital is back after its appearance in Aliens Of London.

As a kiss to the future, as it were, the phrase “It’s Volcano Day!” is coined. The Tenth Doctor would get to enjoy an actual volcano and use the same phrase three years later in The Fires Of Pompeii.


Boom Town

“Is that a tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator?” asks Captain Jack whilst fans nod knowingly saying “tribophysics” to themselves. Pyramids Of Mars (1975) saw its only other onscreen mention in Doctor Who.


Bad Wolf / The Parting Of The Ways

The last episodes provided a few fine firsts for Doctor Who. Eccleston’s finale saw: the first mention of Torchwood (during The Weakest Link quiz segment); first same-sex kiss (between the Gallifreyan and Captain Jack); and the first “standing” regeneration (technically, it’s possible that Troughton was standing when he regenerated but we didn’t really see the full thing). Since then, standing regenerations have been the change du jour – Utopia, Journey’s End (sort of), The End of Time, Day of the Moon, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor have all featured this modern style.

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Sticking with regeneration, The Ninth Doctor mirrors The Fifth Doctor’s sentiments on the process – the latter commented, “That’s the trouble with regeneration, you never quite know what you’re going to get” (Castrovalva) whilst the former said, “I mean it’s a bit dodgy this process, you never know what you’re gonna end up with.”

In his pre-recorded message to Rose, the Time Lord asks her to leave the TARDIS, forget about it and move on. “Let it become a strange little thing standing on a street corner. And over the years, the world’ll move on and the box will be buried,” he holographically tells her. Of course, when Russell T Davies was writing this episode, the future for Doctor Who was an unknown quantity, and the writer has confessed he didn’t expect it to be successful let alone the ratings behemoth it became. The beautiful speech could almost have been a message regarding the show itself, an oddity that had no place in the Noughties – thankfully, of course, it did.

Oh, but my very favourite thing to look out for in this series is the credit that Christopher Eccleston receives at the end of every episode – he’s “Doctor Who”. That should settle a few arguments…

This week’s celebration of 10 years of new Doctor Who continues tomorrow with a look at what reviewers made of the show’s returning episode, Rose, back in March 2005…

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