The year was 1999. Tony Blair had just become Prime Minister, the Spice Girls were top of the charts and Doctor Who hadn’t been on TV properly in a decade, its triumphant return not even a twinkle in Russell T Davies’ famously twinkly eyes.
But then the Time Lord exploded back onto screens for a special one-off Comic Relief sketch, written by an obscure writer called Steven Moffat (say, whatever happened to him?) and featuring a host of famous faces playing different incarnations of the Time Lord including Rowan Atkinson, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley, as well as eventual Who star Richard E Grant.
Called Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death, the 4-part 23-minute parody paid affectionate tribute to the cancelled series, stuffed full of sci-fi gobbledegook, multiple regenerations and a gloating Master (played by Game of Thrones’ Jonathan Pryce), and the whole thing was greatly appreciated by fans before fading away slightly in their collective memory.
Well, at least until now – because today they’ll have the chance to watch the whole thing all over again, with the entire sketch re-released today
in honour of Comic Relief in all its pastiche-y glory.
Watching the story with modern eyes brings an interesting perspective, and not just because you’re witnessing the first televised Doctor Who script of eventual showrunner Steven Moffat (as well as the first work on the property by future Who VFX team The Mill).
Red Nose Day 2017 – full Comic Relief TV schedule
As fans currently debate whether the Doctor’s upcoming regeneration could see him become a woman, it’s amusing to reflect that this in-jokey take already includes that eventuality nearly two decades before it would become a sticking point, while also featuring the kind of mind-bending time travel narratives that would become the hallmark of Steven Moffat’s tenure on the show.
The fact that the sketch also includes stars who would later have a connection to the series – most prominently Richard E Grant, who appeared for many episodes as The Great Intelligence (as well as a version of the Doctor in an animated story) and Hugh Grant, who was reportedly offered the role of the Ninth Doctor before Christopher Eccleston got the job – is merely the blue icing on the delicious Tardis cake.
So go on and watch the video above, and find yourself transported back to a very different world where the idea of Doctor Who was little more than a fond cultural memory, and there wasn't enough internet bandwidth for TV writers to endlessly witter about it anyway. It’s cheaper than real time travel to the 90s, after all…
Comic Relief night begins on BBC1 today at 7.00pm