New Who: Doctor Debut Episodes
Guest contributor Chris Taylor looks over the debut episodes of each Doctor from the revival so far.
Doctor Who returns to our screens in a week’s time, with Peter Capaldi’s first, full-length episode as the Twelfth Doctor. As this episode marks the beginning of a new era of Doctor Who, I thought this would be an appropriate opportunity to look back in time, and give my thoughts on the past debut (first full-length) episodes of the first three new Who Doctors, as well as my predictions on what to expect in the Twelfth Doctor’s debut episode – Deep Breath.
This episode, in my opinion, is the most important in New Who history, for the simple fact that it’s the very first. This episode was responsible for re-introducing fans of the classic series to Doctor Who, but more importantly introducing the show to a whole new generation of viewers, that had never heard of or seen Doctor Who before.
Whilst the episode marks the debut of Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, its primary focus is on Rose Tyler – introducing her to both the Doctor and us the viewers. I believe that having Rose as the central character of the episode (after all, the episode is named after her) was a brilliant idea by episode writer, and then showrunner, Russell T Davies. The primary function of the companion is to ask questions – to be the voice of the viewer. Whilst Rose investigates and learns about the Doctor we do so as well – we are taken on as much of a journey as Rose is. I believe that this adds a personal level to the episode and makes us feel a part of it.
Something I admire about Rose is that whilst promoting a very new, 21st century Doctor Who, it harks back to a much earlier era by having the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness as the first monsters of new Who. What’s notable about the Autons and Nestene Consciousness is that they first appeared in the Third Doctor’s debut story Spearhead from Space. So whilst the majority of viewers had no idea of the significance of both monsters (the Autons are only mentioned by name in the credits), classic series viewers could enjoy seeing two of the most well known monsters in Doctor Who history brought back for a brand new era. As such, Rose caters well for new and classic fans.
Rose is one of only a handful of episodes which the viewers don’t need to have seen any of the episodes before it to know what’s going on. I believe that this was necessary. Although it’s a continuing story, Rose is very much The Unearthly Child of the 21st century – for many it was their first Doctor Who episode; their starting point. Rose, although technically it is, could have been known as season 27, episode 1 but instead it’s series 1, episode 1. Something I admire about Rose is that it’s promoted as being the start of something very new, whilst also being identifiable as something that had already been going for 41 years and 4 months.
The Christmas Invasion
Essentially The Power of the Daleks of the 21st century. The Christmas Invasion is noted for two things: 1) It’s the first post-regeneration episode of new Who. 2) It’s the first ever Christmas special in the whole of the show’s history. This episode, in my opinion, is the second most important in new Who history – having successfully introduced Doctor Who to a 21st century audience, the Doctor Who team were tasked with introducing a new lead actor, after only having had Christopher Eccleston in the role, on-screen, for just under three months.
Like Rose, this episode was primarily companion-orientated. I believe that this was a good decision by Russell T Davies as it offers a break from the regular “formula” – there is something of a role reversal, with Rose taking a leadership role and caring for the Doctor as he recovers from regenerating. The exploration of post-physical-appearance-regeneration and the effect it has on the Tenth Doctor is a crucial plot device, which allows for this role reversal. It also creates a heightened sense of danger which put me on the edge of my seat when first viewing the episode. It also sets up the Tenth Doctor’s grand entrance, which brings me to my next point:
Although being David Tennant’s debut episode, he had a lot less screen time compared to his usual amount. The lack of it for the majority of the episode does well in hooking the audience for when he does make his entrance. I think that Russell T Davies’ writing is excellent, as the Tenth Doctor’s scenes, from his entrance on the Sycorax spaceship onwards, are fundamentally him analysing himself. As he is, so are we – trying to get an idea of what this new incarnation will be like; this adds, as I mentioned with Rose, a personal level to the episode.
The Eleventh Hour
After Rose and The Christmas Invasion this episode, in my opinion, is the third most important in new Who history. The Eleventh Hour is notable because, as well as obviously introducing a new incarnation of the Doctor, it was the debut episode of the first major overhaul since Doctor Who returned back in 2005. Not a single thing on-screen, from the end of The Eleventh Hour onwards, remained the same. As such, this episode is more relatable to Rose, in that whilst it’s introducing a new incarnation of the Doctor, it’s also introducing, although fundamentally the same, a very new Doctor Who.
This is my favourite Doctor debut episode of new Who, and one of my favourite Eleventh Doctor stories. Why? It’s hard to explain. Essentially, the story is the same – the to-be-companion meets and learns about the Doctor, before deciding to travel with him; this relates to Rose in The Christmas Invasion as well, as she has to get used to a new incarnation and decide whether she wants to travel with him or not. Perhaps I just prefer Moffat’s writing to Davies’, but The Eleventh Hour, for me, is a much faster passed, adrenaline-rush of an episode.
In 65 minutes of storytelling, we’re introduced to Amy Pond. Unlike Rose’s introduction, we get to see Amy at different stages in her life, including as a child. I prefer Amy’s introduction compared to Rose’s because of this reason. I believe it gives The Eleventh Hour the emotional edge as there is a stronger, and for Amy much longer, connection between the Doctor and Amy. Amy’s introduction is one of my favourites of any companion; Moffat’s writing is genius in creating a three-dimensional character that in such a short space of time we feel, well at least I did, totally emotionally invested in.
The Eleventh Hour introduces and focuses heavily on the story arc of the series – the crack in the universe. I admire this episode because it feels like an integral part of series, rather than having the feel of a stand-alone adventure, with the sole purpose of introducing a new incarnation of the Doctor. The Christmas Invasion also focuses on story arc – setting up the story arc for series 2 – Torchwood. Rose however feels much more like a stand-alone episode.
This episode, as you’ve probably guessed by now, in my opinion, is the fourth most important in new Who history. I believe that this episode will be most relatable to The Christmas Invasion, as the companion will remain the same. Also, Deep Breath will feature recurring characters Vastra, Jenny and Strax – relatable to The Christmas Invasion as other recurring characters also featured: Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith. Also, it appears from the recent episode trailer that the Twelfth Doctor will be wearing a nightgown – the Tenth Doctor in Howard’s dressing gown (complete with apple) anyone?
I believe that like all the previous new Who Doctor debut episodes, but more specifically The Christmas Invasion, Deep Breath will be companion-orientated and focus primarily on Clara and how she adjusts and deals with a new incarnation of the Doctor. However, unlike The Christmas Invasion and more like The Eleventh Hour I believe Deep Breath will be much more of an adrenaline-rush – there’s a T-Rex stomping around Victorian London; could there be anything more adrenaline-packed? This brings me nicely onto my next point:
The setting. The three previous new Who Doctor debut episodes have all been set in contemporary times. This is the first to be set in a completely new time period – Victorian England. As such, I believe that this will give Deep Breath a completely different tone and feel to its new Who Doctor debut episode predecessors.
Whilst the episode will have its fundamental job of introducing us to the Twelfth Doctor, I believe Deep Breath will be an original, high-stakes episode. With it being feature-length, I believe that it will serve as one of the grandest introductions of a new incarnation of the Doctor in the whole of Doctor Who history.
Thanks for reading!