And so it begins.
Now that I have finished my viewing of “Classic” Doctor Who, I move on to “Modern” Who.
The time between 1989 and 2005 was the Wilderness Years for Doctor Who fans; it was a time when it certainly wasn’t cool to be a fan of the show.
All eyes were focused on BBC Chief Alan Yentob and the hope that he would bring it back.
Sure, there was Dimensions in Time (of which we shall say no more), the occasional repeat season or spoof, and of course the Paul McGann TV Movie, but none of this did anything to get the show back on our screens on a permanent basis.
Every so often, rumours of a revival would force its way into the tabloids, but with names like Ken Dodd being suggested as possible candidates for the lead, you could tell these weren’t to be taken seriously.
No, Doctor Who was a toxic brand, and it didn’t look likely to be back any time soon.
But then, suddenly, it was to make a comeback. And with “Serious” names with real weight behind them, like Russell T. Davies and Christopher Eccleston it looked like it was in with a chance.
I’m not going to lie, it was with a bit of trepidation that I saw the casting of former teenage singer Billie Piper as the companion, and indeed the prospect of a move to 45 minute single episodes seemed a bit of a change, but that was more a feeling of dislike for the unlike than any objective reason.
And so on the 26th March 2005 (or in many people’s cases, two weeks earlier when a copy found its way onto the Internet) Doctor Who was back with the first episode, Rose.
It was a risk, and it needed to be brought back in a way to attract a new generation of viewers. The brand needed an upheaval.
So how did it do?
Doctor Who – Rose Review: What’s This One About
Rose is a normal, working class girl living in a London flat with her mum. One day, at the end of her shift in the department store where she works, she stumbles upon living plastic dummies, only to be saved by a mysterious man called The Doctor.
As their paths cross a couple more times she realises this man is not human, but an alien; an alien who travels inside a mysterious blue box that is bigger on the inside than the outside.
And if she doesn’t help him stop another alien, the world could be in jeopardy.
Thoughts – Now THAT Is How To Do A Reboot
Have a read of my review of Doctor Who – The TV Movie and examine all the things they got wrong in that one.
It failed on almost every level. New fans were left confused – it was like walking into the cinema three-quarters of the way through a film – while existing fans were left irritated by the amount of exposition and the changes to the Doctor’s character.
If Russell T. Davies (from here-on in referred to as RTD) had gone about Rose the same way, starting with Paul McGann dying 20 minutes in to the debut episode and assuming everyone knew what the premise of the show was already, the reboot would have been a disaster.
But he knew better than that – he learned from the TV Movie – and he amended it accordingly.
The focal point is Rose; she’s the audience identification figure just as Ian & Barbara were in 1963.
Through her, we meet and learn about the Doctor. Through her we see the TARDIS for the first time. Through her we begin to understand what this show it about as realise the adventure that lies ahead.
To anyone who had not seen the show before, everything that needed to be explained in the opening episode was explained.
And for anyone who had seen the show before, it was presented so we could appreciate not only what RTD was doing to get the show going again, but could also join in at our own level, appreciating the humour of situations like how the Doctor still believed a Police Telephone Box was a “disguise” as well as the villains being the Autons and the little things like their hand/gun sound effect being the same.
So it worked perfectly.
As a story beyond the concept of an introduction, it’s a little bit shallow, with the Nestene invasion amounting to two set pieces and a final confrontation, but that was fine.
All in all, I’d say it was a success.
Now obviously it goes without saying that times had changed between 1989 and 2005, and that the show was obviously going to look better and have special effects that would be far more impressive.
That was a given.
What wasn’t a given was how the pace of the show was going to change; would it be better or worse?
Looking back to two-part stories like The Sontaran Experiment, Black Orchid, The King’s Demons and The Awakening, these were rather empty affairs because they were told at the same pace as a four-part effort, except with half the plot.
Meanwhile Season 22 was a disaster on almost every level and was paced so slowly that a tortoise would have looked back and laughed.
With the episodes being mostly one-off 45 minuters, the pace had to be snappy. The style of drama seen in those days was gone, and had to be replaced with a new modern format.
And again, the new show succeeds at the first time of asking. Everything moves along briskly with an element of dynamism rarely seen in 80s Doctor Who and that would have seemed weird in the 60s and 70s.
Basically, they got it right for 2005.
The cast too appear to be a hit.
Christopher Eccleston comes across well as the Doctor; friendly and quirky but with a sense of the unusual about him.
It’s clear we’re dealing with a better actor than we’ve seen at the helm for some time.
His opening scene, where he takes Rose by the hand is like he’s taking this brand new audience with him. Superb.
And Billie Piper defied the odds by putting in a sterling performance herself. I’m sure any doubts people had about her because of her pop star past were removed here. She’s really good – the best companion since the 70s at least and the first to truly share top billing in the show since William Russell and Jacqueline Hill.
Beyond them, Noel Clark and Camille Coduri are also good, though they have yet to establish themselves as part of the new “Doctor Who Family”, while guest star Mark Benton plays a significant part in establishing the Doctor’s character to a new audience.
So again, I’m impressed.
- One thing that’s quite clearly stupid about Rose (the story and I suppose the character) is the way she ignores the newly plastic Mickey in the car. I mean, fair enough she’s not going to assume it’s an Auton version of him, but she must
have thought “What the hell have you done to yourself while I’ve been in Clive’s house”.
- Similarly, although amusing, it’s silly to have the wheelie bin burp after consuming him, especially considering he didn’t die.
- Speaking of wheelie bins, I remember a few months later on a windy day I was walking along to the football, and the wind pulled a wheelie bin out into the pavement, turned it 90 degrees to point towards me and then hurtled it along the street. Imagine if that had happened to a child the day after watching Rose?
- Poor old Clive; what a grizzly end that was for him.
- One thing about RTD is that he’s capable of writing good, snappy dialogue; the sort of things real people would actually say in real life. Mostly this emanates from Jackie Tyler, though the Doctor has a few zingers himself. Certainly we’re a long way past the “Faster than the second hand of a watch” scene from the Curse of Fenric.
- Having Rose be the one to save the day first time around was a good move, especially considering she’s just the ordinary girl. What that does is allow both boys and girls to find something to like; something to take from Doctor Who.
- People who over-analyze things (says the guy who’s written more than 300,000 words on the show since 2011) will take from the scene where Eccleston looks in the mirror and comments on his appearance as this being immediately after his regeneration. I don’t really think it is, but that’s just my opinion.
- Writer’s note 2014: And Day of the Doctor backs me up on that.
- What’s interesting about my reviews of Modern Who is that I have no guidebooks to reference against. For the classic series I had plenty, so I could check facts and statistics. So this is a bit of a journey into the unknown for me.
- The new TARDIS set…hmmm. Well obviously the old one wouldn’t have translated well, but the Doctor has downgraded since the TV Movie
- Murray Gold is the man in charge of the Incidental Music, and though Sylvester McCoy criticised it for being understated at the time, I think it’s fine here. Over the course of the next few seasons, we’ll see the best and worst of Gold, I assure you.
- I must admit, I was gutted that they didn’t use the Peter Howell theme tune when I first saw it.
- DWM Mighty 2o0 Ranking: #63 – I think that’s fair.
Doctor Who – Rose Review: Final Thoughts
So the show is back and it’s off to a good start.
But let’s be clear; this works because it introduces the show so well rather than it being an amazing story on its own merits.
It’s unlikely Rose will be anyone’s favourite Doctor Who story, but neither do I think people could dislike it for any particular reason.
The cast seems more than competent and the production and writing of the show looks like it’s in good hands.
Let’s hope that continues.