19-year-old Rose Tyler has a boyfriend, a department store job, and just enough curiosity to put her in harm’s way. When she finds herself trapped in the basement level at work, surrounded by moving shop window mannequins who seem determined to crush her, she’s snatched out of danger by a total stranger who calls himself the Doctor. While he saves her life, he doesn’t do much to help her job when he completely destroys the department store, claiming that he’s trying to halt an invasion by a force that can possess and control anything made of plastic – such as the mannequins. Rose is surprised when the Doctor reappears the next day at her home, looking for any of the plastic creatures that may have survived the explosion at the store, and she’s even more surprised when he actually finds precisely that, namely a mannequin arm which tries to kill both of them before the Doctor disables it. Rose follows him, persistently trying to find out who he is, but the Doctor isn’t inclined to give straight answers about his own identity; indeed, at her home, he seemed to be surprised by his own reflection. Rose walks away as the Doctor marches into an incongruous 1950s police call box in the middle of London and then turns around to find that the box has disappeared.
In an attempt to find out more about the Doctor, Rose winds up meeting with an internet conspiracy theorist who says that the Doctor has been spotted throughout Earth’s history. Waiting for her in a car outside, Rose’s boyfriend is curious about a dustbin that seems to move on its own, but his curiosity turns into sheer terror as the bin engulfs him completely without a trace. When Rose returns to the car, her boyfriend has been replaced by a duplicate who seems unusually curious about her contact with the Doctor. When the duplicate becomes more aggressive in his line of questioning, the Doctor once again comes to the rescue, and the duplicate is exposed as yet another plastic creature, an Auton. The Auton attacks ferociously, but this time the Doctor is ready for it, disconnecting its head from its body. The headless Auton body still pursues the Doctor and Rose back to the police call box, and Rose is stunned to find that it’s not a call box at all, but the TARDIS – the Doctor’s time machine, bigger inside than outside and definitely not from Earth, not unlike the Doctor himself. Using the Auton’s head, the Doctor follows the signal controlling the Autons to their source, and a confrontation with the Nestene Consciousness masterminding the Auton assault. But the Doctor alone can’t prevent them from invading Earth.
Season 1 Regular Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
written by Russell T. Davies
directed by Keith Boak
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Mark Benton (Clive), Elli Garnett (Caroline), Adam McCoy (Clive’s son), Alan Ruscoe (Auton), Paul Kasey (Auton), David Sant (Auton), Elizabeth Fost (Auton), Helen Otway (Auton), Nicholas Briggs (Nestene voice)
Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green
Earl’s Review: A lovely little adventure to kick off the new series, Rose is almost giddy in its pacing – indeed, if a single thought crossed my mind while watching this premiere of a whole new generation of Doctor Who for the first time, it was that as much as fandom has taken to decrying the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann, the 2005 TV series starring Christopher Eccleston seems to owe an astounding amount of its basic style, and even several more specific elements, to that movie. There are other inspirations clearly on display as well: the all-out Auton attack at the end plays like a Devlin & Emmerich take on similar scenes from 1971’s Terror Of The Autons – much faster-paced and on an almost incalculably grander scale by comparison. The Doctor’s seemingly callous “alien” attitude hearkens back to several early Colin Baker stories, and the fact that, early on, he seems to be almost one step ahead of the Auton advance (and even has a weapon handy to deal with them) is reminiscent of the Sylvester McCoy era. Even though he winds up in real trouble at the end and needs Rose to bail him out, the Doctor’s nonchalant attitude almost makes one think that, up to a certain point, thwarting this invasion started out as a milk run. But if I had to make more solid comparisons, even in Eccleston’s lively portrayal of the Doctor, it all goes back to the McGann movie. Sure, there are certainly archetypal “Doctorish” things that have been around since Hartnell occupied the role, but there’s so much tonal, stylistic and thematic influence from the 1996 movie that it’s nearly impossible to avoid comparison.
But with the reduction to (primarily) stand-alone stories that begin and end in a single 45-minute installment, there comes some problems. Where the original series was frequently guilty of padding stories out to fill four, six, or more 25 minute episodes, this new take on Doctor Who moves at a breakneck speed that barely leave you time to think – and, at least in this installment, seems to conveniently gloss over some vital plot points. The “anti-plastic” element is perhaps the thing that bugged me the most – the Doctor is clearly prepared to use it, since he clearly thought far enough ahead to make or otherwise procure it. He gives lip service to trying to reason with the Nestene Consciousness before resorting to destroying it, and yes, we fans who remember the third Doctor’s run-ins with the Autons will remember that there’s precious little chance of that negotiating tactic working. But is this articulated in the script? No. And some of what is articulated in the script is interesting, but almost completely unconnected to the story: the Doctor “fought in those wars” which apparently saw the destruction of the Nestenes’ home world, and requests an audience with the Consciousness under an article of the “Shadow Accords”? I’m sure the folks doing books and audio plays with the previous Doctors will have a fun time paying that stuff off retroactively. But more on that in a moment.
Time, and future episodes, will tell if this series settles into a less hectic pace. This being the reintroduction of Doctor Who’s basic themes in a format clearly geared toward a young audience raised on high-octane, fast-cutting, CGI-laden action-adventure fare, it may not be representative of the series as a whole. As for whether or not it’s representative of any past entity bearing the Doctor Who name…maybe we shouldn’t expect it to, or hold it to that kind of comparison. Rose isn’t an especially deep story…but how much of classic Doctor Who was? A great deal of complexity and continuity infrastructure that wasn’t part of the original scripts has been grafted onto Doctor Who by fandom, and by books and audio plays. Since a huge chunk of Doctor Who history has been added outside of its original medium – Saturday television during family viewing hours – it’s interesting to watch fandom react to it and try to reconcile it all, and perhaps realize that while some loving tips of the hat are aimed squarely at them – namely the Autons – this show, as a whole, is meant to reel in a whole new audience.
One other element bears mention: the character of Clive, a web site “nutter” who has been tracking the Doctor’s appearances throughout history. This was one of Rose’s most interesting elements: it was a clever way to deliver a lot of information about the Doctor while avoiding an obvious info-dump in the middle of the episode, and Mark Benton made quite an impression with such a brief appearance (he was also the nemesis of Eccleston’s character in the Russell T. Davies-written 2002 miniseries The Second Coming). I’m sure some fans will be asking why the Doctor’s other incarnations weren’t in Clive’s archive, but in a way it’s much more plausible that Clive wouldn’t know about the previous eight Doctors, and it simplifies things helpfully for a new audience. And while there’s a promising potential idea of Clive’s paranoia being justified by, perhaps, UNIT interference, I’m glad that the character is done away with within this first show. As interesting as the scene was, I had flashbacks to the original Highlander film, and the Highlander TV series’ Watcher element also came to mind. Considering that the Watcher idea was then run through the Buffy blender a few years later, I’m glad that Clive, at least in this episode, appears to have been a harmless kook. The scene when he realizes what the Autons are – and clearly knows what it means when one of them points an open hand at him point-blank – is priceless. (Kudos to the production team for tracking down the original Auton sound effects, too.)
At the heart of it though, my gut reaction is to enjoy the show’s return. Doctor Who is back on TV, with glossy location shooting, an obvious increase in budget, and creative talent that, for the most part, seems unabashedly proud to be on board. The show is getting a real publicity blitz from the BBC, not the low-key, almost-apologist publicity of the late 1980s and 1996. With these things as a foundation, Doctor Who could well be back for another 26 years, and that in itself is a cause for celebration.
Philip’s Review: Rose marks the return of Doctor Who to the airways, the first full-blown production since the 1996 TV Movie starring Paul McGann. To say that expectations were high would be a monumental understatement. So does it live up to the hopes for the future and the legacy it carries on? To a degree.
The new series takes a radically different tack from the last attempt at a revival for the Doctor Who formula, 2003’s Internet-based animated Scream Of The Shalka. If Shalka was an attempt to re-make the traditional Who story for modern audiences, the new series is an attempt to re-invent the series for modern audiences in a format more like today’s television than that of decades past.
First, and perhaps most obviously, it jettisons the multi-part story for more common 45-minute episodes that generally are meant to stand on their own. More subtle is the change in tone for the show. The world as first seen in Rose is darker and more dangerous. The people who populate it are less attractive (both physically and socially) and, most importantly, the Doctor is not the unquestionable good guy he has been in the past.
Rose also breaks the standard Who mold because it is told basically from Rose’s perspective, not the Doctor’s. While the first episode of the original Doctor Who series, An Unearthly Child, followed teachers Ian and Barbara and could be said to be from their point of view, they really just carry the viewer along on the path to the Doctor. Rose actually feels like it’s the first episode of “Rose: The Series” rather than Doctor Who. Not that this is a negative. It is perhaps the only way a story as dense with material as Rose could be told. By having everything told from Rose’s perspective she more clearly serves the original purpose of the Doctor’s assistants (to give the audience someone to identify with) than any companion since the early days.
At its heart, the story of Rose is a simple one. It seems like a skeleton plot, put together as something to hang the character introductions on (and work in a long-unseen fan-favorite alien). It’s certainly not something that could ever work on its own. But, in and of itself, it serves its function well enough.
As for the performances, the only truly standout one in Rose is by Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. As a character, the Doctor is a puzzle. Bouncy and smiley, goofy and rubbery, he bounds from scene to scene with over-the-top gusto that one has to admire, if only for Eccleston’s ability to let loose to such a degree. In this way, he brings the humor of the story to the forefront, much more than any other character. It is in his engaging jokey self that he is most likely to connect with the audience. The occasional moments of gravity he also portrays well, showing the apparently emotionally wounded Doctor in just a few glances and phrases. While he never seems to manifest that air of authority that Doctors of old could summon up, he does portray the Doctor’s sense of self-superiority (although here more likely to manifest in condescension than self-confidence).
Billie Piper, as companion-in-the-offing Rose Tyler, comes off pretty well. She is engaging, displaying an enthusiasm for all she sees. Unfortunately, her character only comes off as sympathetic in comparison to the others around her. To refer to the “regular people” we meet in Rose as “low class” wouldn’t be far off the mark. When we meet her, Rose is an un-ambitious sales clerk. (I guess. Those scenes whiz by so fast I can’t really be sure.) It’s hard to grasp what it is in her make-up that attracts the Doctor to her so much (emotionally, anyway). She does show a great deal of interest in the Doctor’s world and adapts pretty quickly to her rapidly changing reality, but so have many others the Doctor has met over the years and he hasn’t gone to such great lengths to get them to come along with him. Still, she plays well to the audience, and it’s easy to see how she could win the average viewer over.
As previously stated, the supporting cast doesn’t come off quite as well. Rose’s mother is a standard issue lower class oversexed middle-aged woman always on the make for a quick buck or a tumble. Rose’s boyfriend Mickey is the most clichÃƒÂ©d example of a shiftless male you could imagine: no sign of a job, demeaning attitude to Rose, no appreciation of the wonders he and Rose see… you get the idea. I suppose you could say that Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler) and Noel Clarke (Mickey) do a good job of portraying these unappealing characters, since neither generates any kind of positive feelings. The only supporting character who is unquestionably sympathetic is the Doctor-obsessed Internet geek Clive (watch as millions of “Whovians” instantly self-identify), portrayed by Mark Benton. He is thoughtful, intelligent, well spoken and has an open mind to the mysteries of the Universe (so naturally he’s killed).
Some of these issues are hard to really critique at this point, since the production crew has stated that the characters (the Doctor included) will undergo significant emotional growth throughout the series. Therefore, these issues may be dealt with in time. The question is: will I care enough about these characters by the time they get to that point? It’s a bit too soon to tell.
There is one other character (of sorts) who makes “her” first appearance in Rose: the TARDIS. On the outside, it’s the same TARDIS we’ve known from countless earlier incarnations: a blue 1960s-era Police Box. Inside, however, is yet another massive re-working for the 2000s. The inside of the TARDIS is an impressively huge space, with massive, complex supporting structures and an organic feel to everything. Unfortunately, rather than give the TARDIS a sense of being an almost living creature, as it has often been described, it ends up just being a big mess of knobs, buttons and bumps. Without a hard edge or a clear surface to be found, it makes it difficult to actually place the action in the space in anything other than a wide shot. A close up from anywhere in the room could be, well, anywhere in the room. While the same could be said of the white console rooms of old, the new TARDIS interior really pales compared to the grand scale, beauty and design of the library-like interior from the TV Movie.
The effects in Rose are pretty good for the most part, but nothing really spectacular. This is to be expected, since this first episode is meant to be more about Rose and the Doctor and less about the aliens and stuff like that. Most of what we see is the Nestine-controlled mannequins and they look like what they are: actors in suits. The Nestine Consciousness itself is an interesting, if simplistic, creation of melted plastic in a vat.
The main problem with Rose is its pace. With only a scant 45 minutes to introduce Rose, the Doctor, the TARDIS, the whole concept of the show, a world threat and lead all these elements into a conclusion gives one hardly a chance to breathe. Without the deliberate pace of the classic serial structure of the original show, nor the ample time allowed for the TV Movie, Rose cannot help but feel rushed and cramped: too much going on in too little time. It really illustrates why the old serialized format worked so well. With each episode acting as an independent element of the whole, stories had a better opportunity to play out in digestible sizes.
Another issue is the attitude that Rose takes towards violence. Hundreds of Nestine-controlled mannequins run rampage through a shopping mall, dozens of people are apparently killed (including one shot in the face), but none of it is shown. Not even in a “bang, you’re dead” / shoot and fall down kind of way. Far from protecting the intended youthful audience from violence, it just ends up looking like a foolish attempt to protect them (they can’t help but notice people are being killed).
So back to the main question: does Rose live up to its legacy? While it seems to be trying too hard to be a television show for “today”, it does succeed in presenting a story that is both accessible to an uninitiated audience and acceptable to veteran viewers. It lays down a foundation upon which better and more balanced stories can be built. Only time will tell if they will be.