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Tune in, switch off - The doctor will see you

The nation was transfixed by the promise of a virgin birth this Christmas. How we rejoiced in wondrous anticipation of a defining moment in history. Then, on New Year's Day, it came to pass just as foretold in the Radio Times: a new Dr Who was born. And he was called Matt Smith.

If William Hartnell, the first Dr Who, had stuck around, he would be 102 by now. Though I reckon that's still far too young to play a 900-year-old time lord. Half a human century has passed which, in Tardis time, is 10 galaxy-gallivanting Doctors.

Some things don't change though and his old enemy, the Master, was regenerated specially for the holiday double bill, The End of Time (BBC One). Disguised as a hoody, he had a raging hunger, devouring chicken and burgers at a rate that made those of us in Christmas dinner recovery position feel nauseous. But he burned the calories leaping over buildings as an expert free runner.

The Master transformed himself into everyone on the planet. "I'm everyone and everyone is me," he cackled, sounding like Lord Mandelson during a Cabinet reshuffle. Cloned, he was inside everyone's head.

Ironically, David Tennant was equally ubiquitous. There was no escaping him: in programme trailers riding reindeers, Tardis in tow; playing Hamlet; revealing limited musical taste on Desert Island Discs; appearing on Alan Carr: Chatty Man (Channel 4) and then on the Big Fat Quiz of the Year. Was he battling Simon Cowell for world domination?

By the new year finale, as well as thrilling space chases, we had a Darker Who, a melancholy figure, feeling the creep of death. He railed against unfairness, confessing to companion, Wilf (Bernard Cribbins), that his regeneration would mean: "A new man will go sauntering away".

The regally robed, pedantically plodding time lords turned up, like characters from a Royal Shakespeare Company history play, complete with the feared drumbeat of time. But the White Point Star Diamond they threw to Earth looked like a bargain from the new year sales.

And the Doctor's moral dilemma: would he murder the Master and re-make time or shoot the president of the time lords? He couldn't kill either - a "geekbump" moment for true Who fans.

Old friends and monsters made guest appearances in a 20-minute epilogue where the Doctor greeted his old sidekick Rose (Billie Piper), for example, in January 2005. She didn't recognise him. Either he had not yet met her for real, or perhaps he was Christopher Eccleston then. Finally, in the Tardis, Tennant was vapourised in a burst of flames. A coolly crazy but promising new Doctor was born. It was poignant for me, as I'll get my Dr Who moment in the summer when I rip off the mask and a new master takes over my school. But no virgin re-birth for me: I plan to be the one who saunters away.

Ray Tarleton is principal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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