Spoiler Avoider: How Staying Spoiler-Free Helped My Enjoyment of Series 4

Spoilers. They can be fun, in that exciting sort of way. Almost like watching the story for the first time. But then, what happens the real first time you see a story after you have read or seen a spoiler? For me, personally, the episode can seem old. Almost as if I had seen it before, more like a second viewing rather then the much-anticipated first. Not to say that those stories weren’t enjoyable after reading or seeing a spoiler; they just didn’t feel like they had the impact that they should have had.

So I came up with a plan.

It was a few days after watching Voyage of the Damned that I decided to try an experiment. I wanted to see Series 4 completely spoiler free. I wanted to see what moments like Christopher Eccleston’s regeneration into David Tennant were supposed to feel like. I wanted that shocking feeling that all of the surprises that the new production team have cooked up for us were supposed to feel like.

But could it be done? Could one fan stay completely spoiler free?

Let’s begin with what I knew before I started my spoiler-free journey – which is honestly, near as I can tell, not too much. There were the usual rumours of the return of Davros that were all over the place, just as they have been for the past three series. So I took those with the same grain of salt as I did the previous years. Then we had the one about Rose Tyler, Captain Jack Harkness, Sarah Jane Smith, and the Sontarans returning as well. I would have paid these no attention, as they have also been said since at least Series 2, were it not for one small detail.

Just months before the Christmas special, the BBC seemed determined to thwart my plans in advance when they officially announced the return of the Sontarans and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler in Series 4. What were they thinking? Why add to the spoilers? Was my quest a pointless adventure, or was there something more to their madness? Sure, we could argue that they let these out because they wanted it to come from their collective mouths than from some rag paper, but still, they could have at least tried.

Feeling confident that the only rumour I could hang my hat on was the return of Rose made me feel better about my quest. So, by the time of Partners in Crime, I think it would have been safe to say that I really knew next to nothing – though I did have a close call just days before the first episode aired. I heard talk in the forum of the word “Adipose” and luckily had no clue what anyone was on about, so I quickly left that post before the Spoiler Monster swallowed my soul. I was proud of myself for not looking any further and using self-control to protect myself from spoilers, but did it matter? I mean, could I really stay clear of the secrets of the BBC when they were just going to announce them on their own site?

It would seem that the BBC, or more so Russell T. Davies, knew what they were doing because even though they had officially confirmed the return of Rose Tyler, I dare say no one expected to see her in the end episode one of Series 4. For me, this was the way I should have felt for the first regeneration of the new series.

Whatever your thoughts of this story, you can’t deny that this moment worked and that they got us good.

The next few episodes would remain free of spoilers for me, and although the thrill of not knowing was not as intense as it was in episode one, my enjoyment of these stories felt all the better for it. It’s only natural; not every episode will hold the same shock factor, but they should all be something that you need to figure out. You need to sit there and watch the story the first time working out in your head exactly what’s happening and how they will save the day. Wondering who the new threat is. That said…

I have to admit that I am a fan of the old school Doctor Who episode titles such as Day of the Daleks, but when the title, The Sontaran Stratagem flashes up on screen, it does sort of give the game away a bit. Fair enough, a lot of new fans don’t know them but it still takes the surprise away when someone in the story names them for the first time.

I can hear the new fans now: “Oh my, look at these new aliens, aren’t they fun, I wonder what they are called?” “… Er, Sontarans… didn’t you see the episode name?”

Even though those moments seems lessened to me, they still manage to sneak in a surprise that you least expected – I mean they did slip that ATMOS surprise through the cracks didn’t they? Planting stickers on cars in some previous stories – chalk up another one for the New Who team.

By the time of The Doctor’s Daughter, I still knew nothing spoiler-wise aside from the title and the actress cast to play her, Georgia Moffat. You may know her father Peter Davison – she’s quite literally the Doctor’s Daughter. Having not read one single word about this episode, I started coming up with a few theories, as you should, not based on rumors or fact but based on my own thoughts as to how she could be the daughter of the Doctor. Not to burst Russell T. Davies’ or Stephen Greenhorn’s collective bubbles, but I am proud to admit here that I guessed how this family relation was to be.

But this is not to say that my enjoyment was ruined – quite the opposite. This shows us exactly what should happen. It shows that I had a great time guessing and theorising instead of knowing the facts before the episode even aired.

With Doctor Who off air for a week in between The Unicorn and the Wasp and Silence in the Library due to the Eurovision song contest, we were treated to a mid-season trailer just like the year before. As exciting as it was to see these official glimpses of what’s to come, could they have given away too much or just enough to whet our appetite?

Sadly, much like the Radio Times cover from Series 3 with the Human Dalek Sec on the cover, the BBC blew it. In the last few scenes of the trailer, they showed us the shadowy figure of Davros, creator of the Daleks. Never mind the fact that they had never even told us that the Daleks would be back for sure, but now they confirmed one of the biggest rumours around and still had six episodes to go. It’s almost as if Russell’s warnings to avoid spoilers was just a big plan to get us to look out for them.

Which makes sense as Mr. Davies is on record stating that he would do the Radio Times cover situation all over again. He liked the publicity. And it seems that he is a man of his word. But for me, it was a very sad moment. Try as you might, you can’t erase that situation from your head.

At least I still had no clue what was on Donna Noble’s back, why it was that Rose was returning, how Rose and the Doctor did not have any scenes together – as David had stated on a few interviews – or what the real theme of the series was. Was it Rose? The missing bees, planets, and moons? The Medusa Cascade? Or (my theory:) all of them?

Thankfully, some sense of mystery was still there. I found myself thinking perhaps something bigger and better then Davros was looming in the shadows waiting to shock the socks off of me.

Then it happened: Bad Wolf. I’d sort of expected it but can’t say that I expected it on such a scale. The set crew even had Bad Wolf noticeable inside the TARDIS on the door sign! Brilliant!

The Stolen Earth was so captivating that I don’t think I would have had any trouble with a Weeping Angel right there in front of me, as my eyes didn’t blink. Not once. Then it happened, two episodes in a row with an astonishing ending. Regeneration?! What? Really, so soon, could it be true, I’m not ready for this, the adventure isn’t even over. The Doctor and Davros didn’t get to have a scene together face to face. Had the new series’ Tom Baker really been cut down before his time?

The weeks in between episodes are long enough as it is, but now, with a regeneration possibly in the midst…? And me going on vacation and being away for the last episode of Series 4 (poor planning, that), this would be the longest week (and a few additional days) ever. David Tennant hadn’t just won me over as the new Doctor – he was THE Doctor.

I found myself wanting spoilers. Wanting to know that everything would be okay. I had been preparing myself for the death of a companion ever since the end of Torchwood Series 2, but I never prepared for this.

While I was away, the nights were long and my sleep was restless. What the rest of the world was watching I could only wonder about. By this point, I had now became paranoid about even checking my cell phone for fear of hearing from someone who had see the episode.

When I got back to my hometown I thought that I had it bad. Turns out, that my fiancée was just as anxious to see what happens as I was. I didn’t go straight to my computer and check my email, or hit the forums, oh no, I did it: I avoided any and all spoilers, be it visual, audible, or text form. I stayed completely in the dark just as we would have been all those years ago. Professor River Song would be proud.

Journey’s End was a more appropriate title than I suspect even Russell T. Davies would have imagined. My own personal journey had ended with this story as well in more ways then one. For starters, all those months of staying spoiler free(ish) were justified. They left me with not only a great feeling of accomplishment, but they also made my Who experience this year even better than I thought possible. Then, sadly, at the same time this story made a bigger emotional impact in my life because it echoed a personal loss of my own.

While away on vacation, I learned of the death of a friend. This is where I feel that fiction and real life should differ. Death happens in real life through no choice of our own, but in fiction it comes down to the writer. You have so much power in your hands over these characters; why is it necessary to make someone you love die? Just for the sake of what you think would be a good story? Well, I have news for you; it could have ended better: The Doctor Dances is the type of ending that the cap off to Mr. Davies run on the show should have had.

Whatever the end result of Series 4, whatever my personal feelings about this end and whatever losses we and the characters we love so much may have suffered, I can still honestly say that this had been a wonderful journey. Since the show’s return in 2005, each year had been just as exciting as the next, but in 2008, Series 4 takes the cake. I had never been so excited, shocked, saddened, or moved in so many ways by any other series in this show’s history.

Credit, as usual, belongs to the writers, cast, and crew of the new series but then all of those elements were all in place for the past 3 years, so the proper credit for the maximizing of my enjoyment needs to go to the spoiler-free lifestyle I lead for those few months.

With that said, did it work? Could one fan stay completely spoiler free in this hi-tech world we live in? Truthfully, I don’t believe this could ever happen 100% unless you don’t own a computer, have no friends to talk to, or live in a secluded cabin in the dense woods of Vermont, but I do feel that it is possible to stay at least 90% (85-ish%) free of rumors and spoilers if you try hard enough.

Now that we are at the end, the big question is, “Was it worth it?”

Oh, yes. Yes, it was.

(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in July 2008.)