A lot has happened since I reached the end of my classic Doctor Who marathon. The fiftieth anniversary special filled in some blanks in the dark pages of the Doctor’s history (and the Time War), while the recent Christmas special reset Steven Moffat’s garbled universe into a (hopefully) simpler one. But that’s nothing compared to the nine years that have passed since I first tuned in to watch ‘Rose’, as a curious non-Doctor Who fan.
I have to admit, at the time, I wasn’t entirely impressed. I was ready for a new sci-fi TV show, and what I got was a briskly-paced run around London with some annoying characters and ‘comedy’ burping bins. Perhaps it’s the legacy I was missing, but coming at it again now, I do appreciate it a lot more (burping bins aside). It’s no easy task to reboot a series like this, having to tick boxes and squeeze a legible plot into 45 minutes. It’s easy to draw parallels with 1970’s Spearhead from Space, another “sort of reboot” (not least of which because this also features the return of the Nestene and Autons), but that had twice the running time to fit everything in. As a result, ‘Rose’ seems a little bit rushed, with the world-ending calamity defeated by a lucky throw of a McGuffin. Yet, despite this, the plot is reasonably sensible and easy to follow, and nicely merges Rose’s story with the Doctor’s, serving as our portal into this strange new world. Generally, I prefer Steven Moffat’s writing to Russell T. Davies’, but compared to some of his recent convoluted plots, this is refreshingly simple.
Following on the from fantastic production values of the TV movie ten years earlier, and despite this being the first Doctor Who production made in widescreen, this does unfortunately look a little bit “BBC kids show” at times, but on the whole it’s a nice-looking production with some decent (if unremarkable) visual effects. The Tardis interior is a bit more coherent than its messy movie incarnation and looks suitably alien, and the new Doctor himself is alien in his own way too, casually disregarding human life, despite his obvious fascination with it. It’s a far cry from the romantic charmer that ‘graced’ the Earth ten years prior, even bluntly deflecting the (frankly, farcical) flirting from Rose’s mum.
So, this new Doctor is pretty upbeat, cheerfully explaining to Rose how the human race is to be wiped out. There’s a hint of guilt within him, although more on that later. He’s also northern, but lots of planets have a north. His dialogue is necessarily shorter and quippier, the beginning of a trend for the modern era, as the pace of the plot is so brisk now. Those old serials are glacial by comparison.
Although we get the impression that this Doctor is recently regenerated (see him checking himself out in the mirror), we also learn that he’s been travelling through time and appears in pictures from history. It is possible, although implausible, that he simply hasn’t looked in a mirror until now, but a funner theory is that he zips off through time between disappearing and reappearing at the end of this episode, perhaps as a way to plant evidence of his time-travelling for Rose to discover!
I wasn’t much a of a fan of Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal in 2005, but I’m quite prepared to give him another chance now that I have a broader understanding of the character. As for this episode, it had to appeal to new audiences and old alike, freshen the franchise up, inject a bit of (admittedly silly) humour and squeeze an exciting plot into 45 minutes. It’s not perfect, but I can’t honestly think of a better way to kick things off. It’s just a shame consistency isn’t Doctor Who’s strong suit.