Why I Love Rose
Guest contributor Will Atkinson celebrates the episode that brought the show back.
For those of you wondering, this isn’t an ode to the brilliance of Billie Piper in the role of Miss R.Tyler. This is an ode to the brilliance of the episode in which she first appeared-Rose. And if you hadn’t known that, I would have been very surprised. Why? Because those four letters are the title of one of, if not the, most important episode of Doctor Who ever. Rose was the episode that launched ‘New Who’. Rose was the episode that made Doctor Who famous again. Rose is the reason why the show is still on screen today.
Rose is the reason why you’re reading this.
When I first saw Rose (both character and episode) I was a younger, smaller (yet no less handsome, amazing and modest) version of myself. I had not yet fully got to terms with the world, and indeed I still had to reach for doorknobs on occasion. I wasn’t very good at writing, I wasn’t very good at reading. But do you know what I was good at? Being a Doctor Who fan.
My Dad had introduced my wee self to the show, and it quickly became tradition for me to come home from school, plonk myself on his knee, and watch the best of Classic Doctor Who, while eating Monster Munch (remember kids, Monster Munch is the keystone of any nutritional diet). I loved Doctor Who, though I have to admit I didn’t truly “get” that it was coming back until the very day it did. As I sat on the sofa, my Dad excited on my left, and my Mum ambivalent on the right (one out of two ain’t bad) I watched as the brand new titles thudded into life, and….
It was alright.
Sorry, my younger self was a bit naff at reviews. But sitting there, however enthralled I was by what was going on, I didn’t really understand it. Not the plot but the newness of it. Why weren’t there multiple parts? Or a floppy scarf? And why didn’t anyone speak BBC English? Of course, back then I was young and daft, and though I quite frankly still am, I can now look at it through the eyes of ten years’ experience. And you know what? It’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.
It has all the hallmarks of Classic Who but, to misquote Spinal Tap, it’s turned up to 11. The Doctor is at his most mysterious, the companion at her most vulnerable and needy, the monsters at their most…er…monstrous. And what a Doctor and companion. Christopher Eccleston shines as the Doctor. Though he’s a bit awkward at moments (this was one of the first episodes he filmed, and he had a lot riding on his shoulders) he is very, very good.
Aided by RTD’s pitch perfect script (of which more later) Eccleston is everything the Doctor should be- funny and scary, silly and serious, bonkers and baleful. Me and my Dad constantly quote “Lots of planets have a north” at each other because it made such a great impression on us when we first saw it; part of that because it’s a funny line naturally, but most of it because of Eccleston’s performance. I love the Ninth Doctor, but I definitely think here he’s at his best.
But even he’s trumped by Billie Piper as Rose. Playing a companion for the 21st century, especially one who’s so important for the show’s success, was always going to be a challenge. But Piper pulls it off effortlessly. She’s excellent-witty, smart, believable and, above all, likeable. Mel she ain’t. Though I feel Rose took a bit of a downturn in Series 2, here she’s showing why she’s such a popular companion. She’s relatable. Like the best companions, she acts like we would in her situation. There’s no unlikely jobs or quickly forgotten family deaths here. Rose is real. Rose is good. Piper nails it, totally in tune with the script and her character. Anybody calling her the result of stunt casting had to eat their words after this. Piper got the part of Rose because she was the best for the job-and she nails it.
Another part of this episode that nails it is RTD’s script. Learning the lessons of the TV movie (of which there were many) Davies does not dump a whole lot of information on the viewer. There’s no mention of Time Lords or regeneration here. Rose is our entry into the story, and we discover the Doctor through her eyes and experiences. This makes the Doctor a true mystery. We only learn he’s an alien, and he has a box that’s bigger on the inside than the outside that goes anywhere. Though this may have frustrated some fans at the time, I think it’s a very good idea and works well. This episode had to get so much right and it does. It’s amazing how nuanced and well thought Davies’ script is. He know exactly who he’s writing for and how to write it.
In addition to this, the script for Rose is the base that all of New Who is based. It introduces so much that is now key to the show – a present day Earth setting, a companions and her family, the Doctor as a mystery. With hindsight, it’s surprising how much of Rose has survived into the current show.
Saying that, there are some parts of this episode that don’t work so well. Firstly, Keith Boak’s direction is a bit shaky at times, and you can see why he wasn’t back for Series 2. As well as this, or perhaps because of it, some of the performances are a bit shaky. Jackie and Mickey are good, but not quite there yet. But they’re not at all bad, and you can see they’ll get better. Clive and his family less so. Though Clive himself is quite good (though his main role is”family man/middle-aged nerd with a good-line in doom-laden dialogue) but his wife is pretty shocking to be honest.
However, my least favourite thing about this episode are the Nestenes. Reduced to the role of generic space monster, these old favourites of mine neither do much or are very good. But, I can’t see how RTD could have expanded their role without reducing the screen time of more important characters and plots, and I applaud his decision not to rush straight in with the Daleks or another more famous foe.
Anyway, apart from a few minor niggles, I love Rose. It’s fast, it’s funny and it brought back Doctor Who with a bang. And now, ten years on, there’s no better time to give it a rewatch.
After all, that’s how it all started.