Rose: Looking Back on Doctor Who’s Revival
Guest contributor Raphael Kiyani examines Doctor Who’s return in Rose.
A Long Wait
After a long and successful history, the much beloved British sci-fi show reached its end in 1989. The series became an ageing relic and was no longer taken seriously by the BBC. With Sylvester McCoy’s portrayal of the character not hugely popular with many viewers, along with dwindling ratings, the BBC cancelled the show.
In 1996, the BBC launched a TV movie to appeal to an American audience, starring Paul McGann. However, hopes were sorely dashed when the follow-up series failed to materialise after a mixed reception. Doctor Who would now live on only as a fan-made spin-off in the likes of comics and audio books.
After many years, a writer named Russell T. Davies banded together with others to pitch a new series of Doctor Who. The BBC eventually gave it the thumbs up and fans rejoiced when the show was officially commissioned in 2003. The BBC announced the show’s return 10 years ago to this day on 26 September, 2003.
2005 and hype was rife. A huge promotional campaign launched with adverts on television and on billboards everywhere. The BBC had given the show a large budget -- this was very much Doctor Who’s last chance saloon. The BBC was gambling on it to be a hit. Would this become a sensational success or frivolous fail? We all know the answer -- over 10 million tuned in to watch - with praise splashed across the papers. It was BACK!
A Modern Tone
Rose is an episode set in present day London and is seen from female protagonist Rose’s point of view. I think this is effective, enabling a brand new audience to relate to the character. Her journey was our journey in discovering the Doctor. Also, the setting, I believe, was the right choice to mark the first episode -- time-travelling and alien worlds will come later -- this is the modern-day world and a modern-day programme.
Davies’ vision of a ‘modern’, ‘relevant’ Doctor Who was well realised. Decisions like including a family background -- something not really seen before in the programme -- helped greatly. Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith, Roses’s mother and boyfriend respectively, played this “family”. Jackie was a character I liked -- comic, caring and a mother you could imagine meeting on your street or something. Mickey on the other hand was slightly bland and rather irritating -- he wasn’t convincing and came across as a hapless cartoon character (note, my opinion changes later in the series).
Also, the Doctor’s (who was “fantastic” but I’ll get to that later) simple clothing was another well-made decision. If they wanted the show to be treated seriously they needed a look that reflected the times, unlike some of the Doctors of old. Also, I like how the dark clothing symbolises the fact that the 9th Doctor was one of the darkest Doctors to date from his experiences in the Time War.
The Doctor + Story
Christopher Eccleston absolutely smashed it. This was a new unpredictable Doctor -- he was sarcastic, confident and just awesome. The beans on toast line has to be one of my favourites. He just has great stage-presence and controls the scenes he’s in perfectly. One little negative is that his gormless grin can get irritating after a while.
The intrigue and mystery of the Doctor was handled well with atmospheric music and shadowy lighting -- this intrigue leading us to the story, a classic invasion-type plot involving the return of the Autons. Done deliberately, I’m sure, to give a sense of familiarity for diehard fans (who will have seen the Autons before) and for them to be jumping around with glee.
Although the underlying threat was a simple affair, it was aided by the fact that it was intertwined with Rose’s story and setting up the character of the Doctor. This is no mistake, the story feels like a running side-note and it is supposed to be so.
Adding to the ‘intrigue’ theme -- the character Clive, a conspiracy theorist, is a realistic character, in that this is how people would behave on coming across such information about the Doctor. In our world, this would happen and I’m glad they tackled this -- showing that the Doctor doesn’t go swanning around history un-noticed (a theme Moffat would also later address). He also talks about how the Doctor is associated with violence, warning Rose that he’s dangerous -- “He has one constant companion -- death.”. I find it sadly fitting that he gets killed by an Auton.
The Autons are done effectively and are very creepy. I like how the first episode has creatures children could be scared about every time they walk down the streets. Every time I see a shop-window I can’t help but think of the Autons, so it’s a powerful image. In the “activation” sequence, I like how they reminded everyone it was all plastic by using bride and child dummies. It was a nice touch -- and I’m glad they showed variety instead of using just generic men.
You felt like you were with the characters and not merely watching them, this was down to the great music and camera shots, giving a real sense of tension, urgency and pace.
Now, how could we forget the titular main gal, Rose? Billie Piper gives a good portrayal of a teenage girl -- one which I said near the beginning many could identify with. That’s what is good.
Now for the bad. I’m going to say this simply -- she comes across as a slight cretin. Blaming her academic failure on a love interest, hanging up on her own mother when she’s in distress, and running away from her boyfriend and to the TARDIS after a flippant comment. But that’s down to the writing and obviously not the actress.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable episode to watch and a confident start to the new series. Not the most dynamic of episodes but there’s nothing much wrong with it. Russell and co. introduced Doctor Who in style to a new audience whilst telling a modern and relevant story. No matter whether you liked it or not it will forever be an important part of the show’s history.
“Run for your life”