It’s a split that a lot of the fandom don’t like. Everyone knows that the show that broadcast back in 2005 under Russell T. Davies is the same show that seemingly ended back in 1989 with Survival. However, with a sixteen year gap in between series with just a movie to service the loyal fans, comparisons are of course made between the classic and modern era of the show. Both eras are brilliant in their own way, I don’t want to pick one over the other but I’m going to try and distinguish what is so good and what’s not so good about both eras.
21st century television is scrutinised so much more than it was in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Does that benefit the modern era? Well the quality of acting is undoubtedly better. The classic era did contain a lot of ham acting, although it has to be said none of that was ever from the Doctor himself. A lot of side cast were so keen to take centre stage back then that their performance cast a shadow over some scenes. The actors who have played the Doctor throughout though have been near enough faultless. Tom Baker and David Tennant have both been iconic to their eras. Jon Pertwee and Matt Smith are fan favourites too. Even the less popular Doctors towards the end of the classic era were only liked less because of the writing and production rather than their own performance. And the regenerations have all been brilliantly done too. The golden light in the modern era I like, however I think that the process itself is overdone and over the top. Keep the golden light but tone down the process. In the classic series, they did as well as they could have with the technology available to them. Apart from the Colin Baker into McCoy regeneration where Baker wasn’t present, all the regenerations were done very well.
Looking at the Master, the modern and classic incarnations are hard to split. Roger Delgado is my favourite of all time, however I prefer John Simm and Michelle Gomez to any other classic version. Anthony Ainley was a touch too over dramatic and didn’t possess the same villainous threat as Delgado. Simm and Gomez have both brought wonderfully insane takes to the role.
The Doctor’s TARDIS has also seen change between eras. Although it did slightly change in the classic era, it remained mostly the same, plain white with the console in the middle as usual. We saw more of the spaceship in the classic era too, especially in Peter Davison’s era where we saw some bedrooms. This was interesting and something I’d like to see more of in the modern era. The control room has changed a few times in the modern era and has changed to suit the type of Doctor flying it. This is a concept I really like, Eccleston and Tennant’s TARDIS was dark and dirty to reflect their Time War hangover. Smith had a fun and quirky console that perfectly suited his childish persona. Although Capaldi’s console was introduced slightly early due to set changes, his also fits his Doctor’s darker personality while keeping some mystery about the character. I do prefer the modern TARDIS just because of its tendency to change to suit the current Doctor although the classic look is beautiful.
Monsters were probably better in the classic series. Sometimes too much CGI is used and the villains do not appear as threatening and in some cases comical. Yes the modern series has introduced the famously spooky Weeping Angels, but it has also seen a slump for the legendary Daleks. In the classic episodes, monsters tended to be a bit scarier because of their menace as they were controlled manually, mostly with humans dressed up. This was a way of utilising the enemy that worked better than computer generated monsters that are only added to a scene after filming.
Due to the scrutiny placed upon current day television, the show nowadays is slightly easier to fault. The classic era had the advantage of only really being watched once by fans. That’s how it was made to be viewed. Watch it once, enjoy it, be immersed in the episode and don’t pay much attention to continuity errors. And even when you watch the classic era episode back, it is hard to pick many continuity errors up. However nowadays when the show is accessible to everyone to watch over and over again, plot holes and errors are easier to pick up on, and there are a lot more nitpicks to be found in the modern era. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor was apparently 953 years old, however when the show returned, the Doctor was only beginning his tenth century of life. This is quite a poor piece of writing as it completely disregards part of the show’s history as well as confusing the Doctor’s age mystery even more. The availability of special effects and CGI is sometimes used in excess, and I get the feeling some scenes are blown up so stunningly by such effects to distract viewers from the plot itself. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’d much rather have lots of magnificently eye catching footage than just plain old studio for forty five minutes. However one example I’ll give from the modern era is from Journey’s End. We were treated to a stunning scene, where the TARDIS towed the Earth back home and the Daleks’ ship was destroyed. This was all very pleasing on the eye, however it rather took away from the fact that the reason for all this happening was a bit strange. The Daleks had a button on their control panel that allowed them to be taken over and all of their plans foiled. Really? And Donna Noble managed to find this switch when two Doctors couldn’t. It was a strange way to wrap up the episode but it’s perhaps not remembered by fans because of the CGI we were treated to. Perhaps if these special effects were much harder to include, then the plot itself would’ve been stronger and more valid.
Another clear difference between the two eras is the format of series and episodes. The classic era’s series were made up of a few serials that ranged from three part to twelve part episodes of twenty five minutes. Whereas the modern era has series made up of twelve or thirteen episodes, usually around nine stories made up of one or two parts. I think both formats worked but I’d like to see more of a mixture in length of stories today. In the classic series, some stories did drag on, especially those made up of twelve parts. Trial of a Time Lord comes to mind as an episode that could’ve done with being shorter. My favourite classic era stories were ones that were made up of four to six episodes, around the length of a modern day two parter. Genesis of the Daleks and Earthshock are both perfect stories broadcast in this format. The modern day two part stories are usually amongst the best of a series. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion are both standout stories of the modern series. However, some episodes could do with more time to be allowed to develop. The Wedding of River Song and The Doctor’s Daughter are two stories that could’ve been so much better if they had more air time to tell their story, they both felt a bit rushed. If you compare the two formats though I think I prefer the classic. Their stories definitely were allowed to develop more and although some of the longer ones did drag a tad, it was the multiple episodes format that paved the way for some of the greatest stories in the show’s history.
Finally, the entertainment factor of both eras. In my opinion the modern series is more entertaining and that’s simply because episodes are more action packed and fast paced. Episodes such as Doomsday and The Big Bang are unique to the modern era because of the pace they flow at. It’s hard to compare them to anything in the classic era as there aren’t many episodes as free flowing as these back then. Both finales are so good and epically scaled and it is these sort of episodes that would make me go to watch a modern story over a classic.
Overall, it is so hard to split the two eras. I know it’s the same show and the eras should be viewed as the same but there is such a clear difference. There are no right or wrong opinions. Anyone who prefers one era to another is completely entitled to that view. I would just edge the modern era in front, and only just. The charm of the classic series is something the modern era struggles to compete with but I think watching the modern series is a more exciting experience. I grew up with the modern series and that’s partly why too. I would never turn down the chance to watch any episode of the show in its fifty three year history, but if I had to pick an era to watch from, it would be the modern series.
Classic Vs Modern
7/10 Acting 9/10
9/10 Doctors 10/10
9/10 Masters 9/10
9/10 TARDIS 9.5/10
9/10 Monsters 8/10
9/10 Regenerations 8.5/10
9/10 Continuity 7/10
8.5/10 Format 8/10
8/10 Entertainment 9.5/10
9/10 Writing 9/10
86.5% Overall 87.5%