Episode 1 – Rose
2005! Seems so long ago yet recent at the same time. Rose was broadcast on 26th March, over 13 years ago (at the time of writing). The classic series of Doctor Who aired on 23rd November 1963. If we fast forwarded the original series through the same period we would have passed Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee. Actually we would be watching Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor saying goodbye to Sarah Jane Smith, meeting the decaying Master, taking Leela as a companion and seeing the secondary control room of the TARDIS in its wood-panelled splendour. Pretty mind-boggling to this fan!
For me, the build-up to Who’s revival had been a long time coming. The BBC had treated the show shabbily in the Eighties, running it down, pitting it against television soap behemoth Coronation Street and reducing the budget to such a degree that only 14 episodes with a 23 minute running time were made per year. It was no secret that the BBC 1 Controller, Michael Grade, disliked the show and played a significant part in getting it cancelled. But this is a topic for another article!
The last appearance of the good Doctor on TV was the excellent portrayal by Paul McGann in the the American co-funded TV movie in 1996, some nine years previously. This outing had its faults and a few cringe-making moments – check out my review here – failing to capture the audience in the States needed to spark a series, it looked amazing and made the Eighth Doctor a firm favourite of mine (including the many novels and audio plays that are still produced today!)
But I digress; Rose had it all to do. The brief: Introduce The Doctor, the TARDIS, alien threats in a credible modern day setting, convince with special effects, production values and a modern shooting style. Oh, and most importantly – don’t alienate (no pun intended!) the existing audience base and still be totally accessible to newcomers especially children who may have never seen an episode. The chap for the gig was super-fan and respected TV drama writer Russell T Davies (RTD) who had been pushing for a revival since the early noughties. So, was the 157th Doctor Who story any good?
Rose bursts onto our screens with a fast tempo, pulse pounding Murray Gold-orchestrated theme arrangement accompanying a fantastic time vortex intro. Initial worries were swept aside as this fan was flung headlong into a breakneck opening sequence where we get a fast forward introduction to the life of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) that quickly sets the scene of her life, working in Henrik’s – department store – and her relationships with her mum and boyfriend in today’s London. Within a handful of hectic moments we learn all we need to get a handle on the character, a girl whose life is recognisable by the audience. Coming off the back of the original series and the McGann movie this is unlike any previous Who. Gold’s pop-music-esque beat that follows Rose’s appearance combined with brilliantly sunny location footage, almost-garish colour grading and soft focus of the picture gives this Who a unique style all of its own. It made me feel, ‘Yes! Someone is keen on doing this show properly, it’s not just a nostalgia-driven gimmick!’
Time slows to normal and Rose makes her way into the basement. The damp, dimly-lit corridor (I love a good old-fashioned corridor) is oppressive with its untidy trolleys and sparsely dressed mannequins… Mannequins. Surely Russell won’t, will he? One moves and oh my god these must be Autons! Please let them be Autons! The mannequins come to life and chase our Rose into a corner. The implacable, advancing shop dummies have got to the screen way before the current zombie menace craze. The mannequins are about to strike but Rose is saved by the sudden appearance of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor! He excitedly takes her hand and shouts ‘Run!’ Well I’m grinning like a loony. Eccleston has instantly nailed the Doctor and I’m enjoying the madness of the situation as the pair sprint hand-in-hand away from the menace. This is so much fun and you can’t help but be caught up in the action.
I’m The Doctor by the way, what’s your name?
Nice to meet you Rose.
Run for your life!
The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver (yay!) to help in their escape and then disappears through a door leaving us with a bewildered Rose who makes her way unsteadily onto the street. I might be mistaken but in past Who we would have followed The Doctor not his companion and this marks an interesting take for me. Being in the audience and trying to view this show through the eyes of a new watcher it makes sense that RTD keeps us with Rose, so we share her bafflement. What is going on? Who is this guy? Those dummies were surely a student prank, weren’t they? It doesn’t matter that The Doctor doesn’t explain the sonic screwdriver to Rose/us, we know it’s a device that helps with the electronics. Its casual use doesn’t confuse newcomers and it’s a nice bit of fan service for the rest of us!
The top floor of Henrik’s suddenly explodes in what still holds up fairly well today as a decent visual effect. I wonder if any of the production crew mulled over the pros and cons of seeing a building explode in the capital in the post 9-11 era of terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, the event has Rose fleeing from the scene and we see a brief shot of the TARDIS lurking in an alley (cue another cheer from yours truly)